Point of View Columns

The Answer is No

At the end of last week President Obama announced that all American military personnel will leave Iraq by the end of this year. This news was greeted with expressions of relief and thanksgiving by most Americans, particularly members of the military and their families.

The war in Iraq has lasted nine years and was started under false pretenses (remember the nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction?) and blanketed with a web of lies (remember the fake relationship between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorists?). This godforsaken and misbegotten military adventure by George Bush, Dick Cheney and their neo-con enablers consumed close to a trillion dollars, over 4000 American lives and damaged/wounded/injured over 30,000 men and women. Untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives and their country will be recovering from the catastrophe of the war for decades.

In the “Weekend Edition” of Point of View I predicted that Republicans would immediately criticize and attack President Obama’s decision on finally ending the war on Iraq. The fact that he is following through on an exit plan that was put in place by George Bush is beside the point. The G.O.Tea Party is against anything done by anyone named Obama. Period.

This tactic of political nihilism has been consistent and degrades any sense of true discourse or exchange of rational ideas in this country. When Osama bin Laden was killed on the direct orders of President Obama, the eternally discredited Dick Cheney and the perpetually mistaken Condoleezza Rice proclaimed this executive action to be the direct result of the policies of the Bush Administration even though President Bush failed to pull the trigger when bin Laden could have been killed in Afghanistan in late 2001 and essentially gave up on capturing him for the balance of his administration.

The truly historic Arab Spring which has continued through the summer and fall neither was nor orchestrated by President Obama but his responses have turned out to be pitch perfect. Most analysts give the reason for the seismic changes in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Syria as being the result of indigenous movement and it was clearly important for the United States to be supportive but not to the extent that the Arab Spring ended up with a “Made In USA” label. The Obama Administration has been able to manage that balancing act to date.

Predictably, such noted foreign policy experts as Mitt Romney, John McCain and Michele Bachmann had been demanding direct U.S. intervention since early this year. It is now clear that such a policy would have been a blood-soaked mistake that could have made the Iraq misadventure look like a weekend excursion. Yet the G.O.Tea Party shamelessly peddles its message of ‘No” as if a negative is an answer to the problems of this country.

It is clear that the basic plank in the G.O.Tea Party political platform will be to remove Barack Obama as President of the United States. There are no unifying principles, there are no enlightening visions and certainly there is no decipherable philosophy. Their strategy is “drill, baby drill”. Drill into the American public and exploit the reservoirs of irrational hate and mindless distrust that have characterized too much of the opposition to President Obama.

It is that strategy which empowers the criticism of the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq even when it is accomplished pursuant to the timetable and plan of George Bush. It makes it possible for the Republicans to ignore the relief experienced by the millions of men and women who have served in the military and their families – men and women who have been asked to die and suffer grievously fighting a war that never needed to be fought.

It is also the strategy of “No” and eternal negativity which permits a “serious” candidate like Rodeo Rick Perry to state this week that there has been no definitive resolution regarding the birthplace of President Obama. As a presidential candidate Governor Perry is free to criticize the policies and actions of the Obama Administration, although it would be helpful if he would share an original and intelligent thought or two with the public.

For Rodeo Rick Perry to drill down to the well of (very) thinly-disguised racism in questioning whether Barack Obama is a “real American” is despicable and symbolizes everything that is wrong about the campaign(s) against the president. It degrades the entire political process and makes it almost impossible for any rational exchange to take place regarding the serious issues of the day.

Clearly the G.O.Tea Party is against anything done by anyone named Obama. The fact that it may be something desired by Americans or good for this country is irrelevant on the Planet Tea Party. When it comes to Barack Obama the answer is “No”.

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Point of View Columns

Beware of the Slippery Slope

President Obama was absolutely correct in resisting being hurried into committing American military forces to what is rapidly becoming a cauldron of combat and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

I am hoping that he is in some way correct in ordering U.S. forces to bomb and strafe Libya as part of a coalition of countries that was formed to protect the insurgents who are battling Muammar Gaddafi.
Military geniuses like Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman flailed away at President Obama for “standing by” while Gaddafi “attacked his own people”. Senator John Kerry and others implored him to “do something”. And now he has done something.

American missiles and bombers are now raining death and destruction upon the forces of Colonel Gaddafi. And there have been “unavoidable civilian casualties”. We are told to blame Gaddafi for interspersing his military assets in civilian areas but you can be certain that many people will see Americans killing Muslim men, women and children in Libya, just as this country has done in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen have acknowledged that regime change is not the goal of this mission. We are asked to see the natural justice in protecting the Libyan insurgents in Benghazi and Misrata who Gaddafi had virtually promised to massacre. And there is no doubt that preventing slaughter is a noble cause. But where does it stop?

As this column is being written over fifty people, killed over the weekend by Yemeni government troops, are being buried. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered the bloody crackdown against “his own people”. His people were, it should be noted, demanding his ouster.

It gets even more complicated, of course. President Saleh has been supported by the United States and Yemen is a strategically positioned country. Is it time to unleash some more Tomahawk and Cruise missiles on Yemen to prevent fratricide from becoming genocide?

In Damascus, Syria, President Bashar Assad ordered his police to fire on thousands of “his own people” who were protesting the multiple decades of rule by the Assad family. Several Syrians have already died and it would seem to be virtually guaranteed that there will be more bloodshed unless President Assad decides to leave for Geneva to audit his Swiss bank accounts.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain ordered his troops to fire on “his own people”, wounding and killing scores of protestors. While much is murky, it is very clear that this story is far from over and much more blood will be spilled in the very near future in Bahrain.

If the standard for American military intervention is going to involve preventing governments from punishing and killing its own people we are moving towards a very slippery slope from which there is no turning back.

In addition to Yemen and Syria, which are very much in the news, there are indigenous government forces abusing and torturing and killing citizens in Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe. The military rulers of Myanmar are infamous for their cruelty and violence in maintaining their power and the list goes on.

The United States simply cannot be the policeman for the planet. Aside from the questionable commitment of the lives of men and women of the U.S. military one has to wonder about the long term impact of these incursions, even in the name of truth, justice and the American way.

As in Egypt and Tunisia, no one knows the philosophy, ideology or allegiance of the insurgents in Libya. We certainly don’t know what the insurgents and protestors in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria are looking for in the future. We simply don’t know if we are trading the devil we know for the demon that we will come to fear. And all the while we are creating recruitment photo ops and propaganda videos for Al Qaeda and other real enemies of this country.

The lessons of Vietnam, if they are not remembered, will be relearned at a terrible cost. Many should remember that, from the American perspective, the Vietnam War began with a few troops with the limited mission of providing training and technical assistance to the South Vietnamese so that they could fight the communists. Then it was necessary to protect the trainers. And then those troops started getting killed and there was a need for more troops. And then Vietnam became a charnel house for American troops and the Vietnamese people.

We are all familiar with the George Santayana quote, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Perhaps we should recall another of his less famous quotes, “Habit is stronger than reason”.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 25, 2011

This week Motown came to the White House and from all appearances, everyone had a great time – President Obama had a chance to dance with someone other than the Republicans. Meanwhile rumors persist that Donald Trump might be a presidential candidate. Also, how long will Barack Obama continue to ignore Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on his wife. And finally, how long before the freedom movement moves from North Africa to the rest of Africa?

Obama vs. Trump in 2012?

In a recent hypothetical poll Donald Trump and Barack Obama were in a statistical dead heat in a 2012 run for the presidency. I don’t know who was polled but I do know that more people voted in the last “American Idol” competition than in the last presidential election. Therefore there is a strong likelihood that Trump’s self-proclaimed star power propelled him to these Olympian polling heights.

I also think that President Obama and his advisors are crossing their fingers and lighting votive candles all over the place hoping that The Donald and his hair would somehow be the Republican nominee next year. Just his presence in the Republican primaries would roil the right wing waters all over the place.

While it is true that sometime the American public confuses celebrity with competence the presidency is not another reality show. It makes all the sense in the world to take Donald Trump seriously as an entrepreneur and promoter. It makes no sense to take him seriously as a presidential candidate.

The real question – could Barack Obama be so lucky?

Obama vs. Limbaugh?

Barack Obama is famously know for being cool, unflappable and restrained. Nowhere has this restraint been more evident than in his non-response to the ever infamous Rush Limbaugh. This is the same Rush Limbaugh who stated publicly that he wanted Barack Obama to “fail” as President of the United States.

In his latest foray into swamp talk Limbaugh referred to Michelle Obama as a hypocrite for urging Americans to have healthier eating habits while she herself occasionally dines on something less healthy than tofu.

Limbaugh, the overweight, cigar chomping, recovering addict, also proceeded to opine on the attractiveness of the First Lady of the United States. In his view Michelle Obama wouldn’t qualify as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and Alex Rodriguez would never ask her for a date.

Perhaps it’s best that Limbaugh chose to pick on the wife of a man who is restrained, calm and cool. By now any number of men would be knocking on Rush’s front door before kicking him in the rear.

African Freedom?

Since the insurrection in Tunisia, followed by the revolts in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, there have been constant news reports and analyses regarding “change that is sweeping through the Arab world”.

A look at the map will reveal that all of the aforementioned countries are in Africa and that the “change” taking place involves the replacement of sclerotic regimes that have been around for too long.

Africa is a big place, however, and we should also note that there are a number of other African countries with regimes that have been around too long to the detriment of their people.

Consider – Teodoro Obiang – Equatorial Guinea – 32 years, Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe – 24 years, Yoweri Museveni – 25 years, the Bongo family – Gabon – 43 years.

Do not be surprised if the “change” sweeping its way across North Africa turns south sooner than later.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 18, 2011

The first tendrils of Spring appear in seeming defiance of Winter’s presence. The Arab world is simmering and no one knows what broth will ensue. U.S. states are returning billions of dollars to the federal government as their citizens search for jobs. And Donald Trump continues to act as if he was a direct descendant of Barnum.

The Missing Safety Valve

In all of the discussion and controversy concerning the political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East there has been no shortage of theories and pronouncements as to what caused this frenzy of political awakenings. The internet and Facebook are given as major enablers of the ongoing rebellions and revolutions. The not so glowing example of democracy at work in Iraq is rarely cited.

But we should certainly consider the fact that over the past decade the United States and most countries in Europe have imposed more restrictions on immigration either through legislation or administrative practice. These restrictions have given special attention to those seeking to leave North Africa and the Middle East. Could there be a connection here?

After all, in the past educated and ambitious and eclectic men and women from places like Tunisia and Algeria and Egypt could emigrate to someplace and pursue their hopes and dreams.
Whatever their motives, many of them shared a common dissatisfaction with the status quo and the marble ceiling that was constructed over their ambitions.

Since 9/11, most of these “dissenters” do not have the option of moving to America or Europe. But their dissatisfaction with the status quo has not abated. The result has been the turmoil that we see every day and we will, in all likelihood, continue to see the drive for change.

It may turn out that Europe and America were the safety valves for the oligarchs and monarchs in the Middle East and North Africa. And it would appear that the safety valves just aren’t there anymore.

A Constant Struggle to Stay Behind

On November 2, 2010, the voters in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida elected Republican governors who ran on very conservative platforms. These men all claimed that the root cause of many of the problems of the citizens of their respective states was the federal government.

Since their election, all three of these governors have rejected and returned billions of federal dollars that were intended to finance high speed rail systems. These dollars were also intended to provide jobs and income for men and women in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.

That would be Ohio with a 9% unemployment rate, Wisconsin with a 7% unemployment rate and Florida with an 11.6% unemployment rate.

The rail infrastructure of this country is woefully behind that of most of the developed world (including China) and it needs to be improved everywhere and now. The men and women seeking work, any kind of work, in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida most certainly would welcome federal government “interference” that came in the form of a paycheck.

When ideology overcomes common sense, the outcome is almost always a poor one.

Donald Trump for Pope?

Two weeks ago Donald Trump announced that he was “seriously considering” running against Barack Obama in 2012. He clearly assumes that his serial corporate bankruptcies and thousands of stranded bondholders will somehow disappear from the national memory banks by November of 2012.

Last week Mr. Trump announced that he was “seriously considering” purchasing a controlling interest in the New York Mets. Presumably he doesn’t think that Mets fans have suffered enough.

Who know what’s next? But Pope Benedict should watch his back!

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Obama’s Egyptian Puzzle

Beginning with the very recent demise of the presidency of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, President Obama has been confronted by a change in the house rules that have governed American foreign policy in the Middle East.

The current governmental crisis in Egypt is already being replicated in Yemen, Algeria, Syria and Jordan and only a political Pollyanna of the highest order would think that the turmoil will end there.

Libya is on high alert. The House of Saud in Saudi Arabia is watching everything that is happening everywhere. The leadership of the United Arab Emirates is uncomfortable, unhappy and in all likelihood they are keeping their private jets fully fueled and at the ready.

When he became president, Barack Obama was presented with certain orthodoxies regarding U.S. foreign policy – certain accepted facts. A central theme with respect to the Middle East and Africa was that stability was more important to American national interests than the aspirations of the average citizens in countries located in the Middle East and Africa.

The United States has supported the stability (and longevity) of monarchies, oligarchies and dictatorships in these two regions in exchange for support of American policies, strategies and initiatives.

These have ranged from anti-communism during the Cold War to support for the American “war on terror” in its various forms and manifestations. Support for American policies with respect to Israel, war against Iraq, war in Afghanistan and opposition to the regime in Iran has been the currency that purchased American support.

This seemed to work well when the United States built coalitions and secured statements of endorsement for the two wars against Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. The tempering of Arab hostility towards Israel from military to simply rhetorical has also been a part of this not so simple equation.

The political awakening of the people in many Middle Eastern and African countries has complicated the equation. With or without American support and endorsement, regime change is coming to these regions.

With or without American support there will be new leadership, new priorities and new visions being articulated in the near future. The right of self-determination is not an American right, it is a human right and that right is now being claimed by more and more people.

Incredibly, but predictably, some critics of the Obama Administration have actually gone on record to suggest that the United States should continue to support soon-to-be-deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak because he has been a “reliable ally” of this country.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, conveniently omits reference to the many billions of dollars that have flowed to this “reliable ally”, enriching Mr. Mubarak, his family and his coterie of supporters, enablers and sycophants. For a billion dollars most people would be reliable.

During the mythologizing of Ronald Reagan that continued over the weekend with the celebration of his 100th birthday, there has been little reference to the inconvenient truth regarding his foreign policy. Wherever and whenever American business and political interests benefited, this country supported and endorsed dictatorial regimes and oligarchies around the world, especially in the Middle East and Africa.

President Obama inherited an American foreign policy tradition that many supported as long as the odor of oppression, torture and repression wasn’t unbearable. Of course, now the winds of change are blowing that odor in all directions and it is the unenviable task of the Obama Administration to come up with a new playbook right in the middle of the game. It’s just like trying to change tires on a moving car.

President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton have been very clear in supporting the concept of change in Egypt, for example. They have not allowed the United States to be anchored by the Reagan policy of supporting stability even in the face of repression. They have recognized the inevitable nature of the change that is sweeping across the region and are taking useful steps to keep America relevant instead of insuring that it will be reviled.

The eternally recalcitrant members of the Party of No will continue to suggest that facing reality doesn’t make sense. But in point of fact the Obama Administration is taking the logical path by supporting and endorsing a process of change.

In this case, it is also the right path.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 4, 2011

As the first week of the second month comes to an end we should remember that Egypt and Tunisia are in Africa. Also, do we still care that the Republicans took over Congress one month ago and can anybody spare $3 million for a Super Bowl ad?

Egypt and Tunisia – A Lesson in Geography

In a little more than a fortnight the oligarchy in Tunisia collapsed and the ones in Egypt, Yemen and Algeria are teetering. Most observers correctly point to these events as a precursor to further seismic changes in the Arab world, places like Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

But these same observers seem to have forgotten their sixth grade geography lessons.
While Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Yemen are identified as Arab countries they are most certainly African. Their importance as a part of the African Union cannot be overstated.

So it is a mystery why none of the contemporary commentary points to possible seismic changes in the rest of Africa where there is also no shortage of oligarchies, ruling elites and one-party faux democracies. In this transglobal 24/7 news world in which we live it would be ludicrous to think that young men and women in many of these countries aren’t wondering why the miracle of change cannot visit them as well.

The serial tragedies that have visited Africa have many roots and causes. But in the present day the causal connection between elite oligarchies and the burdens of poverty, instability and economic dysfunction are crystal clear.

There have been references made to the “domino effect” in the Arab world as a result of what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt. Do not be surprised when some of those dominoes begin to fall in Africa.

Republican Countdown

Let’s see……..at the beginning of January 2011 the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives amid clarion calls for immediate and uplifting change. The G.O.Tea Party promised its supporters the red meat of defying President Obama and the potatoes of taking back this country.

It’s been a month now and what has happened? There was the grade school exercise of reading the Constitution out loud. The only real result was that the Americans that bothered to listen learned that the Constitution is not a series of commandments but it is a working document that was designed to be flexible.

Then there was the vote to repeal the recently passed health care reform legislation that the Republicans like to call “Obamacare”. Of course the vote passed in the House, went nowhere in the Senate and would never have made it past the promised presidential veto in any event.

The only other occurrences worthy of note were the dopey utterances of some Republicans to the effect that they would carry guns to town hall meetings in the aftermath of the Tucson Massacre.

Others have promised to shut down the federal government and evaporate the global financial standing of the United States as a serious strategy to accomplish their goals to restructure the federal budget.

In the meantime the educational system in this country is in need of immediate attention, unemployment continues to beleaguer too many Americans and there are wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that demand attention and treasure.

The crises in Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere point out the urgent need to re-examine this country’s foreign policy. And where is the Party of No on the great issues of the day?

Gone missing.

Can You Spare $3 Million?

As a fan of the New York Jets I have to grudgingly and sadly accept the fact that the Super Bowl will be held this coming Sunday without the Jets.

In accepting this sad reality I have also learned that Super Bowl ads will be costing advertisers $3 million per minute! What on earth could they have to say that was so important that it would be worth spending that much money?

Is there a new kind of taco that flies? The Jesus hates Obama ad was banned, perhaps there are sneakers that make you invisible?

I guess we will just have to find out on Sunday.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – January 28, 2011

The first month of the new year has seen the renaissance of the Obama presidency, a massacre in Tucson and revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Looks like 2011 is off to a flying start:

A Tale of Three Justices

Tradition holds that for the State of the Union address all of the members of Congress, the Cabinet (save one Secretary for security purposes) and the Justices of the United State Supreme Court are in attendance.

For the attendees it is not an optional event, it is part of the job. Attending doesn’t indicate political or philosophical support for the President; it is a matter of respect for the institution known as the government of the United States.

Somehow three Supreme Court justices didn’t get the memo. Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas did not attend -Justice Scalia having accepted a speaking engagement in Hawaii that conflicted with his being present in Washington on that day.

The fact that these three neo-con icons saw fit to disrespect the President and the institution that they represent should come as no surprise. They have routinely imposed their right wing political vision in the guise of judicial pronouncements.

The theft of the 2000 election by Justices Scalia and Thomas will go down as one of the great heists in history. The institutional damage to democracy in this country wrought by the three of them in the Citizens United decision is beyond calculation.

The absence of these Three Judicial Amigos was little noted but it should have been. Chief Justice John Roberts is no less a conservative than Scalia, Alito and Thomas, but at least he had the decency and respect to be present last Tuesday.

I guess they didn’t get the memo.

Along Comes Ms. Bachmann

At the beginning of this year’s Congress Representative Michele Bachmann from Minnesota was appointed to the House Intelligence Committee. For anyone familiar with Ms. Bachmann’s mindless ranting and raving this sounds like a punch line waiting for a joke. But its no joke, it is true.

This is a member of Congress who has called President Obama and his supporters Un-American and has publicly stated that the “Founding Fathers” were always against slavery. Of course, these would be the same Founding Fathers who were slave owners (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among many, many others).

She claimed that President Obama’s recent trip to Asia cost $200 million per day (a lie). And she is now conducting an ongoing seminar on constitutional law for members of Congress – one of her faculty members is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (can you say “conflict of interest” or “impropriety”?).

And, by the way, she is contemplating running for the presidency. I just don’t believe that Barack Obama could be that lucky.

Alternative Universe

Anyone watching the State of the Union address saw newly enthroned House Speaker John Boehner looking like a man who had swallowed a lemon and had a train to catch. I hope he doesn’t play poker because he doesn’t have a poker face.

He was clearly not pleased to have to listen to President Obama for almost an hour.
He also wasn’t listening.

The entire planet heard the President say “…..the United States is the greatest country in the world…” Then within 48 hours Speaker Boehner was quoted as saying that Barack Obama doesn’t believe in American “exceptionalism”.

Huh? We know that John Boehner is addicted to smoking cigarettes and that smoking is bad for your health. Obviously it is also bad for your hearing.

Have a great weekend!

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