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Ever since the results of the 2014 midterm elections were finalized, it has been clear that this country would be witness to a different kind of Congress – a Congress that would be unique for all the wrong reasons. Clearly closing down the government, the random blocking presidential appointments and threatening the international credit rating of the United States was just a warmup. The Free Range Congress is now on the loose.

After the 2010 midterm elections, we witnessed the ascent of the Tea Party which, in record time assumed virtual control of the Republican Party in Congress creating the nightmare for most Americans now known as the Teapublican Party. The Teapublican Congress spent two years opposing anything and everything proposed by President Obama, reserving special vitriolic ammunition for anything and everything that might serve to credit the Obama Administration.

It must be understood that the Teapublican Congress was motivated by a single ideological goal – to ensure that President Obama served only one term. It was an ideological goal that sacrificed common sense and logic. It was an ideological goal that provided the justification for causing the United States to default on its national debt. It also justified the shutting down of the federal government.

President Obama’s victory over the newly-minted Teapublican Mitt Romney by six percentage points seemed to stem the Teapublican tide, and clearly hell hath no fury like an unsatisfied zealot. Armed with a new goal, seemingly the eradication of the Obama Administration from history, the Teapublican Congress voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) over fifty times. This feat was accomplished while the infrastructure of the United States continues to crumble in real time and while American children lag behind most of the developed world.

But the 2014 midterm elections brought forth a new phenomenon to Washington – the Free Range Congress. This country is now governed by Congress with a Teapublican majority in both houses and by failing or refusing to read the Constitution, the Free Range Congress seems to operate under the assumption that it now controls the United States.

The sketchy and pathetic and transparently partisan ploy of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to criticize President Obama in Congress was just an opening ploy on the part of the Free Range Congress. That boorish act was followed by the mindless and constitutionally dubious letter to Iran signed by 47 senators obviously in the thrall of the Teapublican catechism.

The Free Range Congress is now warmed up and has presented a budget that will repeal the Affordable Care Act (of course), damning over 12 million Americans to the living purgatory of not having health insurance. The Free Range budget also guts Medicare and Medicaid (naturally) and provides tax breaks and windfalls for millionaires (could it be any other way?). The Free Range Congress may prove to be a greater danger to this country than it Teapublican terrorist predecessor.

The Teapublican terrorists sought to hold this country hostage. The Free Range Congress does not seem to care that ignoring the infrastructure, despoiling the environment and extinguishing the hopes of millions of Americans is a recipe for a disaster that does not have to happen.

Most Americans would be shocked and appalled by the actual details of the budget put forward by the Free Range Congress. But then, most Americans do not bother with the details of anything. Let us hope that this time it will be different.

It is a surprise when commentators, white and black, express shock, dismay and surprise at the vile ditties sung by the white and privileged SAE frat boys on the bus at the University of Oklahoma. And then the collective American media are shocked that the Miami police department used images of black men for target practice. And then we hear more howls from the shock echo chamber when the Majority Whip of the United States House of Representatives admits to having addressed a meeting of Ku Klux Klan members.

When discussions regarding race relations in America begin, there is a tendency of some commentators to suggest that “all sides” of this contentious issue be taken into consideration. Once again, this quote provides a useful guide:

“There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.” – Frederick Douglass

The point, of course, is that any consideration of the various factors affecting the relationship(s) between the national black community and the national white community must, of necessity, begin with the recognition that from its literal inception, this nation embraced the theology of racism and the legalization of racist practices. This is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact based on actual American history.

Over the centuries this theology has morphed into schools of thought and political philosophies that link the pathological effects of racism to “cultural” differences instead of anthropological differences. The legalization of racist practices have evolved from outright slavery, to Jim Crow practices, and now to the employment of the law enforcement and correctional systems to continue to subjugate and marginalize huge segments of the national black community.

But the reality is that America is addicted to racism. The reality is that as a nation America is a raceaholic. And like the drug addict or the alcoholic, this country cannot begin to walk down the road of recovery until it stops its denial and accepts the problem that is literally part of its DNA.

It does no good to treat racist remarks by public figures as “misstatements”. It does no good to term the racially-based brutalization and murder of black Americans for centuries as “isolated incidents”. And it does no good to hide behind the fig leaf of “the inherent goodness of the American people”.

Because while all of humanity is inherently good, good people all over the world have stood silently through pogroms, massacres, holocausts and the ritual of the lynch mob. For centuries, good people in this country lived comfortably while black Americans were enslaved, raped, murdered and sold like cattle. For over a century good people in this country lived quite comfortably while black Americans sat in the back of the national bus.

And now, in the 21st century, good people are deaf, dumb and blind to the pathologies in the national black community, becoming conscious only to point out that the people who are damaged did it to themselves – ostensibly in some sort of cultural vacuum chamber that totally absolves the “good people” of blame or responsibility.

If anyone reading this column truly believes that the University of Oklahoma is the only university where the word “nigger” is spoken freely, then they are invited to visit any college or university in America. If anyone truly believes that Ferguson, Missouri is the only town in America where police officers racially mock President Obama and jail black Americans disproportionately, then they are invited to visit any town in America.

It is too bad that there isn’t a Betty Ford Clinic for nations. Perhaps this country could go, admit its addiction and begin a twelve step program that will heal this country and allow all the good people in this country to become truly good people.

Ever since Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, there has been a split screen perspective on his administration. On the one hand the livid, steel-boned opposition of the Teapublicans has been described as normal politics – perhaps a tad more strident, but nothing worse than what Lincoln or both Roosevelts or Clinton faced during their presidencies. But there is another perspective which is a reflex that reflects the vile virus of racism that still afflicts this country.

“There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.” – Frederick Douglass

The eloquence of Frederick Douglass in damning slavery and its racist foundation reverberated in real time and has echoed through the ages to this very day. His challenge to the American people to “live up to their own constitution” could have been spoken this week.
One of the interesting aspects of the United States Constitution is that even though it was written over 200 years ago, it continues as the governance document for this country because of its initial clarity and its continued capacity for adapting to modern times. On the issue of the role of the President and Congress with respect to foreign policy, Article II of the Constitution states:

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur

This week that 47 members of the United States simply defied the Constitution that they are sworn to uphold by sending a letter to the leadership of Iran that was clearly intended to interfere and subvert the Obama Administration’s negotiations with Iran regarding limiting its nuclear energy usages. Even the most serious student of American history would be hard pressed to locate a similar instance of absolute insult and disrespect by Congress for any President of the United States.

It is reasonable to ask whether these 47 senators and their supporters are so firm in their fear of Iran or so steadfast in their unequivocal and unquestioning support of Israel that they felt it necessary to shatter the centuries old divide between the Presidency and Congress on matters of foreign policy. Was there some imminent danger to which the Obama Administration had turned a blind eye which warranted this shameless conduct?

The answer to all three questions is simply “no”. So why would these senators take such an outrageous action that embarrassed the entire nation in the eyes of the world. Could it be the “negro problem” to which Frederick Douglass referred?

Could it be that the fact that President Obama is black suddenly changes the Constitution, rules of decorum and traditions of probity and respect? How the unprecedented pledge of the Republican opposition in January 2009 to ensure that President Obama would “fail” as president be explained? What other reason can there be for no sanctions being imposed on South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson when he called President Obama during his speech to Congress?

Could there be any other explanation other than the “negro problem” for Congress shutting down the federal government and precipitating the lowering of the nation’s credit rating by doing the default death dance with the national budget. And for what other reason would Congress unilaterally invite a foreign head of state to speak for the sole purpose of criticizing the policies of a sitting president?

It would be a waste of time to search for other explanations. The “negro problem” has unhinged the Obama Administration’s opponents to the point that they cannot even feign respect. The “negro problem” has stripped the Teapublicans of their ability to respect the Constitution and it is proper to wonder if this “negro problem” has impaired their ability to think clearly, if at all.

When will the Teapublicans have “loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution”? Inquiring minds need to know.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt termed it “A Day of Infamy”, as indeed it was. It also presaged the formal entrance of America into World War II and the eventual death of over 400,000 military personnel. Historians looking back on the 21st century may call March 19, 2003 “A Day of Infamy” as it was the day that the United States wrongfully invaded Iraq, presaging the deaths of millions and the destabilization of virtually the entire planet.

We know now that even before the dust of 9/11 settled, the Bush-Cheney administration was determined to invade Iraq. Even though there was no credible (or even plausible) evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, it soon became a doctrine of American foreign and military policy that the regime of Saddam Hussein would be targeted and destroyed.

The straw man of Weapons of Mass Destruction has been debunked and degraded so that even the most gullible Teapublican zealots choose to avoid a serious discussion of this exercise in mendacity by the Bush-Cheney team. The right wing of the right wing in this country chooses to ignore the cascade of lies and the torrent of misinformation that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003.

The American people, and the world, were told that this military action would bring democracy to Iraq and set the framework for regional peace throughout the Middle East. The Bush-Cheney team even bribed and cajoled members of a faux alliance into supporting this adventure to put a multinational fig leaf on its naked aggression.

The entire world now knows the consequences of this misadventure. By precipitously collapsing the most powerful military force in the Middle East, America destabilized a region that has been a ticking bomb for decades. By dismantling the Iraqi military structure every religious and political faction with a grievance in that country had the opportunity to arm, mobilize and terrorize its perceived opponents, enemies and competitors for power and domination.

The reason why this retrospective is important is due to the fact that revisionist historians and delusional politicians are creating the narrative that the rise of ISIS and the death spiral in Syria and the homicidal outrages in Libya and Egypt and Yemen and Somalia and Afghanistan are somehow related to the “weakness” and “lack of leadership” of the Obama Administration. We are already witnessing what appears to be the Quadrennial Teapublican Clown Dance, where presidential aspirants from this political cohort find multiple combinations of the words “leadership”, “American exceptionalism”, “power”, “strength” and “democracy” to characterize their foreign policy vision.

One quickly notices that words like “restraint”, “intelligence”, “vision” and “consequences” don’t make the cut when Teapublican speechwriters are at work. Other missing words are “casualties”, “collateral damage” and “unexpected consequences”.

What we know with certainty is the misguided and deceit-drenched policies of the Bush-Cheney regime in Iraq resulted in thousands of American deaths and economic damage to this country in excess of a trillion dollars. What we know with certainty is that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died unnecessarily and that the infrastructure and national identity of Iraq have been compromised, if not forever, than at least for a generation. What we do know if that without the March 18, 2003 invasion the malevolence of Al-Qaeda does not become a force in that region and the apocalyptic ISIS is never born and is not threatening the planet as it does now.

It is important to understand that as the Teapublican Clown Dance begins that we do not listen to a replay of the music and lyrics that were first released in March of 2003. We literally cannot afford a repeat of the consequences of the Bush-Cheney misdeeds that were not “mistakes”. These misdeeds were the result of a malevolent and deceitful world view that should be denounced and renounced by anyone who presumes to run for the presidency of the United States.

Last week Rudy Giuliani reminded this country that he remains the rhetorical thug and philosophical bully that most New Yorkers remember about his tenure as mayor of the City of New York. Giuliani is interesting just like a train wreck is interesting. You want to turn away but cannot resist taking a look. But it is clearly past time for all of us to turn away.

Rudy Giuliani is not the first Teapublican to cast doubt on the citizenship and patriotism of President Obama. Indeed, Giuliani was speaking at a fundraiser for Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin when he channeled his inner Angry White Man. That would be the same Scott Walker who, when asked after the Giuliani diatribe whether he thought President Obama was a Christian, opined that he “did not know”.

So Giuliani is not alone when he casts aspersions and launches attacks that are outside the pale (pun intended) of what passes for normal political discourse in America these days. If words had an odor, you would have to brace yourself for the stench emanating from Giuliani’s speech. But if you listen closely to his words, you will hear the words of a frightened and emotionally shriveled little man who is afraid of the now and terrified of the future.

Giuliani spoke of President Obama not loving this country like “we do”, saying this in a room with an overwhelming majority of white males. He said that President Obama did not grow up like “us” and you can be sure that he wasn’t just referring to the president’s childhood residences in Hawaii and Indonesia.

Over and over Giuliani beat the moribund steed of racism. His lips were dripping with words that were bloated with bigotry and echoed of discrimination. While he did not say that he hates Barack Obama because he is black – his dog whistle was in perfect working order – and the hounds heard him.

Although it is rare to see a racist burning a cross or wearing a bed sheet, this country should not stand in the shelter of smugness believing that those days are long behind us. While we do not often see a black person lynched – we do see Ferguson and Staten Island and we remember the name of Trayvon Martin just as we remember the name of Emmett Till.

The white robes of the Klan have been replaced by the black robes of Supreme Court justices who have gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While the film Selma harks back to the days of the civil rights movement and hard won victories, Shelby v. Holder reminds us that racism is a seven headed Hydra that does not die easily or quickly.

Indeed it reinvents itself and disguises itself with verbiage that is supposed to be “conservative” but in too many instances is just dog whistle rhetoric. Calls for “law and order” and “makers and takers” are just coded language that empowers that racists and bigots. These words allow a pitiful and largely forgotten nobody who wishes that he were somebody scuttle into the limelight for a moment.

Rudy Giuliani is a forgettable footnote in American history. But last week he spoke for all the scared and frightened white men in America who feel that “we” are losing this country and that “they” will soon outnumber “us” and then the world will be different for all time.

But here is a news bulletin for Giuliani and his dog whistle listening bigoted hounds – the world has already changed.

February 21, 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Malcolm X. This means that more than half of all Americans were not even alive on that day, and an even larger number of Americans have no real time memory of the man whose name now adorns schools, street signs and countless birth certificates. Historians and biographers will debate the details of his life, as is the case for the narratives of all great lives. But it is also important to know and understand what Malcolm X meant in real time.

It is important to know that during his ascendancy onto the national stage in the latter part of the 1950’s until his assassination in 1965 Malcolm X lived and spoke truth to power at a time when a black person could be killed for defending his life or his wife. But it was also a time when a black person could be denied a job or fired because that could not abide by casual slurs, incidental degradation or careless bigotry.

Malcolm X gave a voice to a people who saw their brothers hung from trees while their killers walked the streets with arrogant impunity. He wove into his rhetoric the frustration of mothers and fathers who knew that at birth their daughters and sons would never drink from the fountain of unbounded opportunities and that instead they would have to be satisfied with a few drops of beneficence tainted with condescension.

Because he presumed and preached that black Americans were endowed with, and entitled to, all the pride and glory of manhood and womanhood to which they were entitled by the Creator, he was branded a radical. That he demanded this pride and glory caused many to term him dangerous. And it was not only white Americans that branded him a dangerous radical, many black Americans joined in the chorus of caution and denial, afraid of what real freedom for black people might mean.

For the white Americans who bathed in this soiled pool of fear, they were afraid that by achieving opportunity black Americans would take opportunities away from them, opportunities that were theirs simply because of the hue of their skin. For black Americans who also wallowed in this pool the fear was plain and simple – if black Americans achieved real freedom their role as intermediaries, interlocutors, translators, conciliators and bridge builders between the white bastion and the blacks on the other side of the walls would evaporate because the gates would be open.

Even a casual student of history knows that in looking back we find ourselves looking through the prism of whomever his holding the looking glass. And so some may be surprised to learn that although Malcolm X preached self-defense he was passionate in his calling for an end to crime in the black community and he simply never called for or led an attack on white Americans.

Some may be surprised to learn that while Malcolm X did indeed preach the virulent anti-white rhetoric of the Nation of Islam for a number of years, he did evolve into a man who understood that definitions of good and evil transcended race. And he evolved into a secure black man who could and did embrace anyone who advocated and believed in justice.

Everyone appropriates historical figures for their own purpose. This is why the radical side of Martin Luther King is conveniently forgotten and erased from the common memory bank. It is also why the passion for justice that fueled the shooting star that was Malcolm X is also a footnote instead of the headline.

Malcolm X believed in justice and spoke out against injustice when black Americans felt the cold breath of racism in the North and the South. He called for justice when it was inconvenient for many to hear. And when he died the New York Times opined that he was an “extremist” who spoke with “bitter eloquence against what he considered to be the white exploitation of Negroes”.

Perhaps what the writers at the Times didn’t understand is that Malcolm X was not bitter nor was he an extremist. His message was bitter for the exploiters to hear and he was only extreme to those who thought that full justice and real freedom for black Americans were extreme notions.

Fifty years later we can only wonder how far we have really come since February 21, 2015.

Whose Death is it?

A bill was recently introduced in the New York State legislature that would in effect permit doctors to assist patients who wished to commit suicide due to terminal illness. Unfortunately, but predictably, the usual suspects immediately announced their opposition to the bill and in the process, their support for enforced suffering.

End of life care and the decisions attending that care are deeply personal and understandably complicated. These decisions are further complicated by medical technology that can keep a person alive for what can seem like forever to the seriously ill patients and their families. Ironically, and sadly, we are at a point where we know how to keep people alive indefinitely but there are no generally accepted protocols in this country regarding the ending of life.

As a result, these personal decisions have to be made in a maze of contradictory laws and procedures. We have progressed to the point where a patient can appoint a proxy to make certain decisions regarding the cessation of so-called “extraordinary care” which can result in the patient’s death. But anyone who has ever had to make that decision knows that it is a heart breaking and soul wrenching decision.

It should be no surprise that people who are seriously ill would want to spare their family and loved ones from this ordeal. It should also be no surprise that anyone who is terminally ill may not wish to have their family and loved ones witness the last stages of physical diminishment and devastation that precede death, especially when recovery is simply not possible.

Opponents of pro-active end of life strategies probably congratulate themselves on their graciousness in supporting pain relief for the terminally ill. But there are terminally ill patients that simply do not wish to walk the torture gauntlet of pain and fear as certain death inexorably approaches.

No one suggests that these are decisions that should be made lightly. There comes a time when medical science can no longer provide a person with the quality of life that every individual deserves. It is at that time that medical science – and society – should be permitted to assist a person if they request to die with dignity at a time of their choosing.

What is astounding is the presumption of religious leaders, ethicists and politicians who would presume to introduce themselves into these deeply personal and unquestionably intimate decisions. It is difficult enough for an individual to confront a terminal diagnosis. It is painful enough for the family and loved ones of that individual to have to come to terms with that reality. And it is at that precise moment in the life of a person when assisted suicide can be a true act of mercy, if that is the will of that person.

By what right, by what notion of moral superiority, by what conceit does that religious leader, ethicist or politician even consider substituting their judgment of how a person should live or die? More to the point, who conferred upon them the power to determine precisely what constitutes enough suffering….suffering by the patient, suffering by the family.

We should have no problem with anyone following the teachings of a religious leader, ethicist or politician. But we should be shocked and offended that anyone would impose their vision of morality on a person who chooses to day. After all, whose death is it?

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