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

Weekend Edition – October 21, 2011

The death of Muammar Qaddafi was bloody and brutal. Somewhere in presidential palaces in Yemen and Syria and Zimbabwe getaway plans are being plotted. And somewhere members of the G.O.Tea Party are trying to find a way to make the obviously successful strategy pursued by President Obama seem like a mistake. Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh proved once again that you can be stupid and be on the radio at the same time. And it seems that, with his 9-9-9 mumbo jumbo tax plan, Herman Cain may have proved that Michele Bachmann can be right even when the moon isn’t blue.

Was Obama Right After All?

The gory death of Muammar Qaddafi was a lesson to the leaders of nations that seek to impose their will on their people with a sense of entitlement that they seem to believe is divinely inspired. One year ago the notion of Colonel Qaddafi being dragged through the streets of his hometown and slain with a bullet through the head would have been the stuff of fiction. Now it is on CNN.

Leaders in countries like Zimbabwe and Yemen and Syria and elsewhere have seen the decline and fall of their fellow leaders for life. There are some important lessons to be learned. The quick learners will find a way to go to London or Geneva for “health reasons” (which will be true). The slow learners will join the ranks of Qaddafi, Mubarak and Ceausescu and all the others who couldn’t read the writing on the wall.

Meanwhile, the G.O.Tea Party must be searching high and low to figure out how to make President Obama’s successful Libyan strategy look like a mistake. By being smart and leading with his brains instead of his chin he was able to avoid American casualties or turning a genuine Libyan revolution into yet another American misadventure.

And, speaking of misadventures, President Obama announced today that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Seeing this country finally extricate itself from this neo-con-inspired morass will do little for the families of all of the dead American troops or for the millions of Iraqis who are struggling to rebuild shattered lives in their shattered country.

We can be sure that the G.O.Tea Party zealots will find some rationale for criticizing Barack Obama for ending this modern American nightmare. I guess that on the Planet G.O.Tea saving American lives and money as well as repairing the prestige of this country is wrong if it is done by anyone named Obama.

Radio Head

Just when you think that Rush Limbaugh can’t get any more stupid, he sets the bar lower.

This past week President Obama dispatched 100 Special Forces troops to Uganda to assist that country in combating the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA, which has been around for over a decade, is a particularly wretched and squalid thug horde which has specialized in torture, rape, murder and gratuitous pillaging through central Africa. Any effort to eliminate the LRA scourge from the lives of the people of Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere should be greeted with approval.

However, Rush Limbaugh, seizing upon the word “Lord” in the title of the LRA assumed that it was some kind of gathering of Christian soldiers waging holy war against murderous Muslims. Limbaugh would be funny if he weren’t so stupid. What isn’t funny is that there are millions of Americans who will actually believe what he says.

The Devil is in the Details

During one of the recent Republican presidential debates – seemingly produced by Comedy Central – Michele Bachmann, commenting on Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” tax “plan” opined that if 9-9-9 was turned upside down it would be 6-6-6 which is, of course, the sign of the Devil. It was a fair to middling laugh line except many observers thought that Ms. Bachmann was serious.

It turns out she was right – and the moon wasn’t blue. Upon further analysis it turns out that the pizza baron’s tax plan, if implemented would raise the taxes on a mind boggling 84% of Americans. Not surprisingly for a Koch brother’s sock puppet, Mr. Cain’s plan would reduce taxes for 26% of the highest earning Americans. A truly devilish outcome that would only increase the structural inequities that already exist.

Mr. Cain asked Americans to “do the math”. The math has been done and it doesn’t look good for him.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Is Cain Able?

Sarah “Lock and Load” Palin wants to call him “Herb”, but lots of people are getting to know who Herman Cain is. This is great news for Herman Cain Enterprises as he has skillfully used the platform of his presidential campaign to sell his books (his latest is appropriately titled “This is Herman Cain!”) and to hike his average speaking engagement fee when his campaign ends. This would be a riff on the Alan Keyes routine of getting rich by running for president. Indeed, Herman Cain reminds me of Alan Keyes, but with a better resume.

Mr. Cain continues to make mini-headlines by telling an unemployed worker to “get a job and get rich” because clearly, on the Planet Cain, that’s all one has to do. The combination of hard work, good fortune and opportunity don’t have a thing to do with financial success.

Mr. Cain repeatedly points out that he has no experience in government as if that is a qualification for being President of the United States. If he really believed that lack of experience is an asset one wonders what the hiring policies at Godfather’s Pizza were like when he was chairman. It also has to be noted that, like so many of the other G.O.Tea Party denizens, Herman Cain has a rocky relationship with the truth.

Mr. Cain served as a board member and then chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. That is not an honorary sinecure and it certainly is a very serious part of government. Mr. Cain was also a senior advisor to the Dole-Kemp presidential campaign which tells us that he is not exactly the pure political virgin that he pretends to be.

When questioned about his knowledge of foreign policy Herman Cain proudly proclaims his ignorance. He stated that he doesn’t need to know about “small, insignificant countries” and that he would have advisors who would tell him what he needs to know in that regard.

Cain is wrong in so many ways on this. First, Afghanistan used to be a “small, insignificant country” until thousands of Americans were killed through attacks that were plotted there. Yemen, Somalia, Serbia, Rwanda and the not so small Democratic Republic of the Congo might be insignificant on the Planet Cain, but on the planet Earth worldly knowledge and international awareness are critical.

As for “advisors”, we have in recent history the example of President George W. Bush being famously lazy when it came to the details of foreign policy. “Advisors like Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice and Rumsfeld plunged this country into the bloody maw of unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan pursuing a flawed neo-con foreign policy that never had a chance of succeeding. One can only shudder at the thought of a simplistic President Cain being led by foreign policy “advisors” who have agendas that are of no interest to him but could wreck the world.

Herman Cain gets plenty of support from the G.O.Tea Party for saying that there is no racism in the dens and klaverns where the tea partiers gather. When reminded of the clearly racists signage that accompanied the rise of the Tea Party (President Obama with a bone through his nose, for example), he dismisses these occurrences by announcing that those signs don’t appear anymore.

Even Pollyanna would know that the signs have been put away but not thrown away. And even if they have been thrown away for reasons of “political correctness” the hearts of those sign makers and sign carriers are still stained with racism.
And someone should advise Mr. Cain while he sits in his post-racial bubble of delusion that the G.O.Tea Party is not opposing the first black president in order to elect another black president.

The Cain phenomenon is indicative of a truly frightening aspect of the G.O.Tea Party presidential candidacy clown show. There is truly a race to the bottom being played out when it comes to information, awareness and knowledge. Not knowing has become a badge of honor. Not caring about facts and accuracy are surefire applause lines. Denying climate change, believing that Adam and Eve walking with dinosaurs should be taught in public schools, deriding the importance of “small and insignificant countries” is all very dangerous. Knowledge takes hard work. Ignorance is easy.

It has been said that no one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public. I only hope that this doesn’t also hold true for presidential elections.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – April 1, 2011

The weekend begins with April Fool’s Day and, incredibly enough, more birther madness. Barack Obama has been President of the United States for two years and 2 ½ months and there are still some people who just can’t let it go – “this must be a mistake” is their line of reasoning.

Meanwhile we continue to try to make sense of the Libyan conundrum and the slippery slope to which it leads even as the fiscal conservatives on the right wing of the right wing are notably silent about the cost of this venture.

Birther Madness —Really??

This week we were subjected to the renowned genealogical expert Donald Trump proclaiming that there are “serious questions” regarding the location of Barack Obama’s birth. He falsely stated that President Obama’s birth certificate has not been made available to the public (it has been online for three years).

Presumably, on the Planet Trump “reasonable people” have a right to question Barack Obama’s place of birth without a shred of evidence to support that question – and presumably these “reasonable people” can also question legitimacy of his presidency rather than consider the policies and accomplishments of his Administration.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Trump brought his own birth certificate to one of his endless series of television appearances. Interestingly enough, the document that he brought was not an official birth certificate – he brought a document that stated that he was born at Jamaica Hospital in New York, but an OFFICIAL birth certificate in New York City can only be issued by the New York City Health Department – and he did not bring that birth certificate.

Perhaps The Donald is laying the groundwork for a new television show, “The Secret Alien”.

The Libyan Conundrum

At the beginning of the week President Obama addressed the nation to explain the policy underlying American military intervention in Libya. The president was eloquent and factual and referred to the prevention of a human tragedy in Libya if the United States had not intervened, working in concert with its NATO allies.

Barack Obama was elected to make the hard decisions that few of us would aspire to consider, much less make. The commitment of military personnel and resources should never be taken lightly. The Defense Department estimates that $600 million dollars has been spent so far and that the upcoming tab will be in the neighborhood of $40 million per day.

There are CIA operatives in Libya now and sadly, it seems that it will only be a matter of time before there are American casualties to add to the mounting number of Libyan dead and wounded.

Accepting President Obama’s sliding scale for applying military solutions, it is still not clear as to what this country should do in Syria where there is a revolt brewing at this very moment and the Assad family that rules the government shows no signs of leaving.

And what about Egypt, where revolt is simmering again as the promise of revolution has not been realized with the departure of Hosni Mubarak?

And, as we have noted before, what about Cote d’Ivoire where the head of state, the loser of an election in November has simply refused to leave, precipitating a civil war with civilian deaths being recorded every day? And what about Zimbabwe and Yemen?

This is the slippery slope that beckons. We can only hope that the president treads carefully.

Budget Mystery

As the Libyan conflict has played out there has been little, if any concern expressed by the right wing of the right wing regarding the cost of this expedition.

As noted, over $600 million has been spent to date with no ceiling or final price tag.
Nevertheless, the same fiscal conservatives who have proposed to defund Head Start and food stamp programs along with NPR have expressed no criticism of President Obama spending hundreds of millions of dollars without explicit Congressional approval for a military purpose.

The irony is certainly self-evident. Enough said.

Have a great weekend!

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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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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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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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