Point of View Columns

Their Freedom Not Yours

While many of us were anxiously awaiting the news about the lost Malaysian Airlines jet and others were watching the NCAA basketball tournaments (Men and Women), the United Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that has incredible ramifications regarding the definition of religious freedom. A number of corporations are plaintiffs in a case claiming that their religious freedom is being violated because they cannot impose their religious beliefs on their employees.

Mitt Romney is on record as saying that corporations are people. The Supreme Court in the infamous Citizens United case has ruled that corporations have First Amendment rights and can therefore hurl untold gobbets of cash into the political fray. Clearly this mindset has emboldened the plutocrats and billionaire Masters of the Universe who believe that their wealth translates into moral superiority in all matters.

The toxic combination of the entitled one percent united with religious zealots who believe that their personal understanding of spirituality should dominate has produced an alternate universe where religious freedom means religious oppression and domination. In this bizarre logical inversion the Supreme Court is being asked to affirm religious freedom at the expense of the religious rights of others.

The current case before the Supreme Court is based upon the contention of corporations that the Affordable Care Act, which requires that private sector employers must provide contraception and related services to their employees. The plaintiffs contend that being required to do so will offend and violate their religious principles. Seriously.

The problem with this case is that it is a classical slippery slope. If employers have religious beliefs that are not consistent with contraception and are entitled to deny such services to their employees, there is a long of line of alternative believers who also will need to be heard. There are religious adherents who oppose blood transfusions, vaccinations and, in some instances, any traditional medical care whatsoever.

People are entitled to adhere to those beliefs but it is unconscionable to suggest that these beliefs should be imposed on people simply because they are employees. Indeed, if a condition of employment means submitting to the religious beliefs of the employer, we are about to witness the tyranny of religion that would make Savonarola smile.

There is also a need for a real world discussion regarding religious liberty. From the inception of the Republic, it has been clear that every American citizen should be free to practice their religion and expression of spirituality in whatever fashion they deem appropriate and satisfying. The corollary to this right is that no American citizen has the right to impose their religious beliefs on another citizen.

This is a fairly simple and fair concept. But there are those who are using the right of freedom of religion as a cudgel to bash and batter their fellow citizens into their belief universe.

This is dangerous, wrong and unfortunate in the extreme. We can only hope that the Supreme Court will, in this case, observe the original intentions of the Framers of the Constitution and not confuse religious rights with the right to oppress in the name of religion.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 12, 2011

One of the (many) definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result while expecting a different result. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas and Lieutenant Governor while serving with Governor George W. Bush, is now going to run for president. Sound familiar? Could this country actually elect George Bush’s lieutenant governor? The G.O.Tea Party had a debate in Iowa yesterday, and the theme song “Send in the Clowns” played in the background. And finally, Mitt Romney has announced that “corporations are people”, confirming his belief in the lousy Citizens United Supreme Court decision as well as confirming his permanent confusion regarding the reasons why corporations even exist in the
first place.

Déjà vu?

One of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes is “…it seems like déjà vu all over again”. The much anticipated entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry into the G.O.Tea Party presidential race is one more sign that the Republicans are determined to do their very best to re-elect Barack Obama.

Let’s see…..Rick Perry was lieutenant governor when George W. Bush was governor. President George W. Bush presided over multiple disasters – 9/11, Katrina and the collapse of the American economy come to mind. Former Texas Governor Bush led this country into not one, but two misguided and mismanaged wars costing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. Rick Perry has never breathed a word of dissent regarding the policies of President Bush.

Let’s see, Governor Rick Perry declared that Texas should seriously consider seceding from the United States. The last time that was tried 600,000 Americans died. Clearly secession is not a term that should be bandied about, even for rhetorical effect.

And, it should be noted that Governor Perry has stated on numerous occasions that serving as governor (and presumably as president) is part of a plan to fulfill his Christian mission. While we should respect any person’s religious beliefs we should be wary of anyone seeking to advance their Christian, Jewish or Muslim mission through holding public office.

Barack Obama is certainly losing sleep (and gaining grey hairs) over the many challenges his Administration has been facing. He shouldn’t lose any sleep over facing Rick Perry in a presidential election.

Would You Like a Clown with that Pie?

A veritable gaggle of G.O.Tea Party presidential candidates showed up for a “debate” in Ames, Iowa yesterday. The word “debate” is in quotes because it was really not a contest of ideas, rather it was a competition for who could blame President Obama the most with a sub contest for catchiest sound bite. Mitt Romney muttered something about not eating “Obama’s dog food” – a real head scratcher.

Newt Gingrich railed against “gotcha questions” from the media. Presumably he is growing weary of explaining how he served his former wife with divorce papers as she was waking up from cancer surgery – and how he and his wife managed to get a $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany’s and still be part of the middle class – and how his entire senior campaign staff just got up and walked out after working for him for………2 weeks.

Michelle Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty had a veritable Twin City Smack Down, but it was very hard to imagine any of the candidates on the Ames stage actually being on the world stage – without a clown suit.

Corporations Are People?

Campaigning in Iowa last week Mitt Romney stated that “corporations are people”. I guess it is now official. In the Citizens United case the United States Supreme Court led by G.O.Tea Party stalwarts Alito, Scalia, Roberts and Thomas ruled that corporations have First Amendment rights including the right to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns.

Now the former governor of Massachusetts has gone a step further by stating that entities that only exist by reason of law are actually people. Presumably he means that corporations have rights and are entitled to safeguards that were previously reserved for human beings.

During my first year at Harvard Law School we were taught that corporations are simply a creation of the law. Clearly Mr. Romney, the G.O.Tea Party stalwarts on the Supreme Court and the right wing of the right wing intend to rewrite law to suit their own purposes.

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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Point of View Columns

Tears of a Clown

A sad and tragic joke would be telling the sad and tragic epic of the Scottsboro Boys as a Broadway musical. It would be even worse to use the historically demeaning and culturally offensive device of minstrelsy.

Who in their right mind would have to the bad taste to produce such an obscenity. And who would invest millions of dollars in the process?

A bit of history is in order. According to the Archives at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, 3, 445 black men and women were lynched between 1882 and 1964. This does not take into account the tens of thousands of black men and women who were illegally imprisoned, beaten or driven from their homes.

The story of the Scottsboro Boys took place in 1931. Nine young black men were falsely accused of rape by two white women and in a rush to judgment they were tried, convicted and sentenced in record time by an Alabama court. Only the intercession of civil rights lawyers saved their lives with countless appeals, ultimately resulting in two Supreme Court decisions.

One decision affirmed the right of all defendants to a lawyer. The other decision declared it unlawful to exclude persons from juries because of their race. (One wonders what ruling might issue from Robertson, Alito, Scalia and Thomas – Four Blocks of Right Wing Granite on today’s Supreme Court)

What is clear is that the Scottsboro “boys” were denied counsel and that they were tried before juries from which black people had been excluded. What is also clear is that but for the intercession of lawyers from outside of Alabama they would have been executed on the basis of false allegations of rape by two white women, joining the legions of other black men who met their demise in a similar fashion.

It is this historical context that makes the Broadway minstrel muscial “Scottsboro Boys” so perplexing and unacceptable. I have seen reviews of the show and read words like “brilliant” and “riveting”. But there are boundaries of taste and sensitivity and historical respect that are worth observing, even in an artistic enterprise.

Using the name “redskins” as the name for a football team is an affront to all Native Americans, even if it is “just for fun”. Portraying Jews dancing the Hora at Auschwitz would be simply awful, no matter the ironic intent of the artist. Disco dancing in the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11 is offensive even in its contemplation.

I have no doubt that the directors of “Scottsboro Boys”, had some artistic vision that is being articulated in this show. But minstrelsy – a truly distinct American art form that originated from white men imitating black men who were imitating white men who were imitating black men – is a device best left on the shelf of some art history class.

It is not the best way to introduce the subject of injustice to an audience that is largely ignorant with respect to the subject of lynching and miscarriages of justice that have been perpetrated against black Americans while most of America remained mute.

As noted, it takes millions of dollars to produce a Broadway musical. Most productions are financed the old fashioned way – “angels” (individuals or consortia that make their money by betting on which projects can become box office hits). These are very personal investments and mini-productions are organized for these “angels” who literally sit in judgment.

I wonder if any of these “angels” thought that minstrel musical “Scottsboro Boys” might be in bad taste? Were any of the angels concerned that there might be black men and women in the audience who lost uncles and fathers and aunts and sisters to the tsunami of outright violence against blacks that swept across this land less than a century ago?

I wonder if anyone cared. The fact that “Scottsboro Boys” is now on Broadway is the answer.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – October 15, 2010

The miraculous rescue of the Chilean coal miners reaffirms the potential for triumph in the human spirit. The spiraling inane insanity of political discourse that has conferred legitimacy to birthers and tea partiers and Nazi wannabees is breathtaking in its capacity to dismay. And the beat goes on:

Clarence and Ginni
A few mainstream news articles have begun to focus on the rather interesting story of Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The facts are that Mrs. Thomas, affectionately known as Ginni, is the founder and head of Liberty Central, a nonprofit political action group that committed to “ending the tyranny of Barack Obama” and other right wing of the right wing principles.

While no one can deny the freedom of speech rights of Mrs. Thomas, the appearance of propriety is critical to the legitimacy of jurisprudence and there can be no doubt that the spouse of a Supreme Court justice appearing of Fox News with a Lady Liberty crown and braying about the need to reclaim America and hurling epithets at the President of the United States has to cause one to wonder.

I wonder, for example, if there is any way that a nominee to the Supreme Court would be confirmed if their spouse engaged in these kinds of high profile political forays – regardless of political affiliation or philosophical point of view.

Further, there is the very real matter of the Citizens United case which was decided by the Supreme Court. Citizens United held that corporations can make unlimited campaign and public contributions since corporations have the same rights to free speech as citizens.

This contorted perversion of the Constitution has not only skewed the political landscape throughout this country, it also legitimized an unlimited flow of funds to —- you guessed it — Liberty Central, a 501© (4) corporation that does not have to disclose its corporate donors, including the two companies that provided her with $550,000 to get her hatchet job operation started a few years ago.

One would think that, at the very least, the esteemed Justice Thomas (the favorite Supreme Court Justice of Sharron Angle, by the way) would have recused himself from the Citizens United case as its outcome directly affected the work of his wife. But there is no shame and very little observation of propriety on the right wing of the right wing and Justice Thomas chimed in with his fellow Blocks of Granite on the Supreme Court, Justices Roberts, Alito, and Scalia to make certain that this godforsaken decision went forward.

What is most distressing is that the Thomas-Thomas-Liberty Central connection is not news and has not been revealed through investigative reporting. These facts are known and have been known for quite awhile.

And then think about the hue and outcry if the wife of Justice Stephen Breyer, a noted progressive on the Supreme Court, was a regular contributor to Truthout or The Huffington Post or Point of View.

Clearly we are in an era where the right wing of the right wing doesn’t even pretend to adhere to basic principles of propriety and decency. And just as clearly, the progressive cohorts in the political fray have yet to find their voice.

Dazed and Amazed
Every day there are polling reports and surveys to the effect that Republicans and their Tea Party progeny are “enthusiastic” about voting in the November 2nd midterm elections and Democratic Party supporters are lukewarm and reluctant on the subject.

I confess to being dazed and amazed by this continuous news flow. The G.O.Tea Party has been very clear in setting forth its agenda to roll back each and every legislative achievement of the Obama Administration to date – from health care, to nuclear disarmament, to equal pay for women. The right wing of the right wing has declared its intention to dismantle key elements of government like the Department of Education and the Department of Energy.

Some avatars of the right have questioned the constitutionality of unemployment insurance (Joe Miller – Alaska) and the need for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Rand Paul – Kentucky). Others have engaged in such reprehensible personal conduct (Carl Paladino – New York) and have made their fortunes promoting misogyny and violence (Linda McMahon – Connecticut).

And I am dazed and amazed at the reported apathy of the progressive and moderate sectors of the electorate. Can it be that people simply don’t believe Joe Miller when he says that he thinks that unemployment insurance is unconstitutional and that he will not vote for any legislation that is not expressly permitted in the Constitution (a document that was written over two hundred years ago)? Can it be that the promise of Senate and House of Representatives populated by former witches (Christine O’Donnell – Delaware) and Nazi wannabees (Rich Iott – Ohio) is not enough to get people to go to the polls and vote?

I understand that political battle fatigue may have set in given the all out assaults from the right wing of the right wing and its Fox News megaphone. But now is not the time to retreat and hunker down. There is a promise of a darker tomorrow on the horizon. Stemming the tide of witches and wrestlers and Nazi wannabee and strict constitutional constructionists is not simply another cause.

There is a cause for alarm right now and if there was ever a time for mobilization and taking a stand against the outrageous proposition that this country was better in some mythical past, now is the time.

Or to be perfectly accurate, November 2nd is the time.

Burn Baby Burn
Recently, in Obion County, Tennessee a residence burned to the ground while the fire department stood by. What was the reason for their inaction?

The owners of the home had not paid an annual $75 fee for fire protection service. The family in question had paid in previous years, had forgotten this year and offered to pay on the spot. The firemen refused the payment and the home burned to the ground.

That eloquent voice of the right wing of the right wing, Glenn Beck, praised the Tennessee firemen for standing up for what is right and teaching a lesson to Americans who would “sponge” off their fellow citizens. As bizarre and heartless as this statement seems, Mr. Beck was supported by his fellow travelers who call themselves conservatives and libertarians.

Terms like cruel, heartless and clueless come to my mind. But keep in mind that the point of view expressed by Mr. Beck and his colleagues is held by many who would put into action these views if the G.O.Tea Party and the Blocks of Granite on the Supreme Court have their way.

VOTE ON NOVEMBER 2nd!!!

Have a great weekend!

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