Feeds:
Posts
Comments

I recently had the privilege and honor to be the master of ceremonies for the Paralyzed Veterans of America – www.pva.org – 2017 Partners Conference in New York City. I could not help but admire the courage, perseverance and strength of spirit of the men and women who attended – men and women who had overcome heartbreaking bodily damage – and the men, women and children who provide love, support and comfort to paralyzed veterans every day of the month, every month of the year, year after year.

During course of this daylong event, I could not help but reflect on the decidedly mixed history of this country and its veterans. After the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War America’s first veterans had to threaten the new Congress in making demands for back pay and benefits. The threats were so real that those first members of Congress fled the new capital of Philadelphia in order to escape the wrath of the disgruntled first warriors of the Republic.

Indeed, after World War I, soldiers of the United States Army led by Douglas MacArthur shot and killed veterans who had the temerity to march to Washington, D.C. This took place in 1932 as the United States government turned its back on the men who had fought for this country.

Further reflection focused on the fact that the G.I. Bill and other post World War II benefits were certainly a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, despite all the Fourth of July and Memorial Day and Veterans Day rhetoric that is embedded in American culture, a cabinet level Department of Veterans Affairs was not established until 1989, 213 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

What I learned during the PVA conference is that the convoluted and dysfunctional relationship between America and its veterans, particularly its wounded veterans continues to this day. Nevertheless, from President Trump to each and every Teapublican member of the so-call Freedom Caucus in Congress to all the leaders of the Democratic Party – all are more than willing to put their hands over their heart as the “Star Spangled Banner” is played before a ballgame or convention and then sit down and enjoy the festivities while injustice rains on the heads of the men and women who have suffered and sacrificed for this country.

This is not about policy arguments regarding the righteousness of any war or military action. This is about justice and compassion and true honor being afforded to the men and women who fought and died/survived while most Americans stay at home and channel surf from battle footage to the latest sitcom.

Clearly it is past time to hold the U.S. government and its citizens accountable. How is it possible that citizens elect representatives who propose to cut the funding for the National Institute of Health which is engaged in cutting edge research that will allow some paralyzed veterans to walk again? It is time for accountability.

What right does any member of Congress have to deny paralyzed and wounded veterans benefits that included in vitro fertilization so that they can enjoy the warmth and comfort of children and a family? It is time for accountability.

How can there be six month delays in granting benefits and service at V.A. hospitals when we live in a country where Amazon can deliver damn near anything we need in a day? It is time for accountability.

And what President or Member of Congress can dare speak about any future military action in Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea or anyplace on this planet without first mending promises to too many veterans that have already been broken? It is time for accountability.

It is a true national shame that paralyzed and wounded veterans should suffer in a country that lifetime pensions to one term members of Congress and incredible tax breaks to the incredibly wealthy. It is time for accountability.

The designation of the first hundred days of an American presidency as being of singular importance began with the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. Since then, the first one hundred days have been seen as a window in the extent to which the new president is on a path to success, mediocrity or failure. Using that basic set of demarcations, it is possible to seriously take stock of the Trump administration to date.

One thing that any president has needed to do is to staff an administration. Aside from the Reagan cabinet in 1981, President Trump is presiding over the largest congregation of white men as senior cabinet officials in almost four decades. But aside from giving the cabinet a retro-ivory glow, he has not done much.

Consider that, after one hundred days Barack Obama had appointed 69 officials, George W. Bush had brought 35 people on board, Bill Clinton had appointed 49 men and women and George Herbert Walker Bush had appointed 50. As this is being read, President Trump has appointed on 26, outdueling George W. Bush in a race to the bottom of the mediocre barrel.

It should be clear that there are 1028 positions requiring Presidential appointment and Donald Trump has only nominated 37 individuals for that position. Indeed, President Trump has publicly stated he may not fill many of these vacancies because he does not see the need to have that many people staffing the government of a country with a multitrillion dollar economy and interests literally all over the planet.

In actuality it may be that Donald Trump simply does not want to go through the trouble of actually working like a real executive instead of a reality-show imposter and that it is easier to just keep kicking the can down the road. After all, he has freely admitted that he thought that the job of President of the United States was “easy” and amazingly, it has turned out to be harder than he thought.

Whatever the case, the desultory approach to executive staffing by the Trump Administration may turn out to be the first halting baby steps down the road of inevitable mediocrity (see George W. Bush) or epic and historic failure (see Warren G. Harding). And of course, the true tragedy would be the demolition of the hopes and dreams of the American people, hopes and dreams that he has pretended to cherish, not realizing that even his most ardent supporters want something more than a speech and a slogan.

The First Hundred Days of Trump has given the nation a collective case of whiplash as the Administration has lurched from one firestorm – failed immigration – to another maelstrom – picking petty fights with the leaders of Australia, Mexico and Germany for starters.

And all the while the sickly sweet stench of Trump-Russian involvement never leaves the room – and continues to linger as a ticking time bomb for President Trump. He may just find out that there is a limit to how far his lies may take him.

The blatant hypocrisy of the Teapublicans in Congress has also been revealed for all to see. There has to be universal agreement that if President Hillary Clinton had appointed Chelsea Clinton to do anything in an official governmental role, the Teapublican hounds would be baying for immediate impeachment.

But when President Trump appoint Ivanka Trump to be some kind of aide without portfolio, representing the United States around the world while her personal brand of clothing and accessories gets a billion dollars’ worth of exposure, those same Teapublican hounds are as quiet as the lap dogs that you see carried around in the purses of stylish models and movie stars.

What is clear and certainly more important than the Marxist (as in Marx Brothers) antics of the Trump administration, is the clear intent of this president to try to erase every bit of evidence that Barack Obama was President of the United States.

Most presidents during their first one hundred days have sought to establish their own vision for the country and then have tried to transform that vision into reality. Donald Trump has spent the most time issuing a raft of executive orders designed to erase the Obama legacy in areas ranging from the environment to the rights of women.

Interestingly, what President Trump will learn over time is that Barack Obama’s place in history is engraved in the granite of time. And at some point he might try to focus on coming up with a coherent vision for this country that would actually make things better in this country.

The recent departure of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News amid accusations of consistent sexual predatory behavior raises several important questions and points to a larger issue. First, the questions:

  1. We are told that 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, along with Bill O’Reilly paid approximately $13 million to 5 women based upon sexual harassment and generally obnoxious behavior. Question – What company pays $13 million dollars due to the misconduct of its employee and keeps its employee? Question – what collective brain lapse affected the shareholders of 21st Century Fox that they would allow management to pay out shareholder assets in defense of behavior that can simply be described as lousy and borderline criminal?
  2. We are told that upon his departure Bill O’Reilly will be receiving approximately $25 million. Please see Questions 1 and 2.
  3. Since the revelations about O’Reilly and the recently departed and never-lamented Roger Ailes from Fox News, there have been multiple reports that the their behavior was neither incidental or accidental, but represented a pattern of consistent conduct over years. Question – stripped of the defense of ignorance, what explanation do the senior management of Fox News and the senior management and board of directors of 21st Century Fox have for turning a blind eye to ubiquitous slime that too often characterized the experience of women who had the misfortune to work at Fox News. Also, please see Questions 1 and 2.

It should be further noted, that before the American media or Americans in general break their arms patting themselves on the back for bearing witness to the humiliation (with payout) of two sexual predators, this country has a very long way to go before American women achieve anything resembling parity and equity. There is a dangerous tendency to label Fox News and its cretin-like behavior as an outlier, although any woman in any profession will attest to the absolute untruth of that tendency. And there is even further danger in thinking that the possible resolution of sexual inequity at Fox News means that there are no problems left to solve in these United States.

While any number of corporate leaders have criticized Fox News and 21st Century Fox for their outrageous institutional culture, we are reminded that of the Fortune 500 companies only 27 have female Chief Executive Officers. Or how about the fact that in the 240 year history of the Republic there have been exactly 41 female governors and that as you are reading this column, out of 50 states only 5 have women in the State House.

The disgraceful status of women in America is found in every marketplace. Nationally, women make 80% of what men earn in a compilation of earnings in every sector. And the poverty rate for women far exceeds that of men in this country.

And academia provides no safe haven for women. Every year 5% of female college students are raped and throughout the country over 1.2 million are the victims of rape.

Clearly, this country is not in a position to engage in self-congratulation because 21st Century Fox is experience a wee bit of penitence and public shaming. The true shame is that the tragedy of the status of women is not viewed as a national crisis. The progress of many women cannot deflect attention from the greater number of women who suffer from violence, poverty, degradation and absence of opportunity every day.

One can only hope that the only good thing in the slime trail left by Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes is a public awakening to the fact that there is a lot more work to be done.

Having recently finished reading “Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead, I was absolutely pleased to learn that this book, in addition to having won the National Book Award, had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Indeed “Railroad” is that rare combination of artistry, passion and genius that makes it a book that can be simultaneously savored and devoured.

“Railroad” is a work of historical fiction that begins by chronicling the horrific banality of slavery in America. An America where torture, damnation and misery were the ordinary characteristics of the ordinary life of a black slave. From “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to “Twelve Years A Slave” to “Roots”, the slime of America’s Original Sin and its Lingering Stain has been told and retold, but America has neither fully accepted the reality of its origins or the absolute fact that the Shadow of Slavery dims the lights of freedom and decency which are supposed to illuminate this land. And that is why America needs to buy “Underground Railroad”.

That is because at some unknowable point this work fiction literally jumps the rails and becomes a work of fantasy woven into an unforgettable fable. But with every word and every page, Colson Whitehead never lets the reader forget that for black Americans in that era, slavery was a constant nightmare – a nightmare from which there was no awakening.

And it is the constancy of horror and fear and humiliation and abject surrender that accompanies the reader on every single page that forces the reader to understand that slavery was not simply a bad but best forgotten chapter in American’s history. “Railroad” has the potential to help every American understand that the institutionalized, regularized and humanized degradation of black Americans for centuries has deformed the character of this country to this very day. And the truth is that this deformity cannot be cured until it is recognized in the first place.

For those who would contend that the combination of the Emancipation Proclamation at the 13th Amendment to the Constitution freed and empowered the men and women who were formerly chattel, “Railroad” clarifies matters. For it is not possible for an entire nation to either enslave or countenance the enslavement of human beings for centuries and then proclaim and amend a new vision and a new day.

Because it is clear that the racial disparities that prevail in these United States 152 years after the end of the Civil War do not exist because of inferiority of black Americans or a lack of remediating strategies ranging from legislation to Supreme Court decisions to black capitalism to affirmative action. The disparities exist because the equality of black Americans is not a fully accepted fact – indeed it is still subject to dispute, particularly when that dispute is thinly veiled in sociological jargon.

Disparities in incarceration rates, mortality rates and unemployment are the strange fruit of the slavery vineyards that were planted centuries ago. The insults and venom that were leveled at the first African American president had little to do with politics and everything to do with his genetic condition to former chattel.

The mandatory reading of “Railroad” will allow all Americans, black and white, see in the book the very clear connection between the language, behavior and spirit of the overseer and the owner in the current political discourse. Because as has been seen in Germany and Bosnia and Armenia and now in Syria, if it is possible to deny the humanity of another human being, it is then possible to do anything and everything to that human being.

And that is why, in addition to the well-deserved accolades, every American should read “Underground Railroad” as a very important first step in finally finding a way to bury the past and to create a future that every American deserves.

Trump as Avatar

Trump as Avatar

What follows are excerpts from a paper on the Socioeconomic Impact of the 2016 Presidential Election presented on 4.11.17 in New York City at the Academy of Business and Retail Management 6th International Conference on Business and Economic Development

The morning of November 9, 2016 was like no morning in recent American history. There have been upset elections in U.S. presidential elections, but Donald J. Trump’s candidacy was sui generis. His fact-free and gaffe-full campaign shouldn’t have even come close to being successful – but it was. And there was a reason.

The Trump campaign may have been fact-free but it also offered simple solutions to America’s socioeconomic challenges, both real and imagined. For example, Candidate Trump bemoaned the rising crime rate that was sweeping the country when in fact during the past two decades the American violent crime rate fell by almost half, from 758.20 per 100,000 in 1991 to a low of 387.1 per 100,000 in 2011. Nevertheless, Candidate Trump created a new reality that supported the overly simplistic Law and Order solution to a nonexistent American crime wave.

 Similarly, Candidate Trump argued vehemently in his uniquely fact-free fashion that the American economy was “a mess”. ……….. What is so remarkable about this alternative fact is that by any useful indicia, it is simply not true. What is true is that between 2009 and 2016, the timeline and arc of the Obama presidency, unemployment declined from 9.4 % to 4.9 %. What is true is the Dow Jones Industrial average rose to a record high of 10,000 during this same period. What is also true is that in this fact-free and truth-challenged reality authored by President Trump, the truth doesn’t matter. …..in examining the socioeconomic impact of the election of Donald Trump, it would be a mistake to overstate it since November 8, 2016 was really a time of revelation. ………..Donald Trump’s successful campaign for president was the result of over 40 years of conservative progression. These efforts, carried on largely by the Republican Party, have sought to deconstruct the federal government so that the dispersal of power to the individual states would have the desired effect of diminishing the power of the federal government – forever.

 This vision of American governance is literally older than the Constitution itself. ….. a cursory reading of the contemporaneous writings of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and James Monroe, including the formal presentations in The Federalist Papers reveal an almost genetic conflict built into the Republic, in effect a contest between those who believe in the need for a strong and powerful central government and those who champion the autonomy and sovereignty of the various and several states of the Union…..Donald Trump is a showman, marketer, occasionally successful real estate entrepreneur and most importantly, he is a man who has cracked the code on how to turn himself into a brand and then sell that brand worldwide.

President Trump is not the leader of a movement to change America. He is an avatar who conveniently appeared at a time when he could ride the rising tide of the conservative agenda – a tide that has been rising for half a century.

 There are deeper trends and movements that lie just below the surface and we ignore those trends and movements at our own peril. That is because the 2016 U.S. presidential election is mirrored in France and Germany and Poland and in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. …..there is more to the ascendancy of Donald Trump than the vengeance of underemployed angry white men who never could accept the reality of an African American President of the United States. Although it would be a mistake to ignore the race rage that Donald Trump has been able to channel.

 There is the reality that the deconstruction of the American economy played a major part in the Trump as President scenario. Theories about the rights of states and the role of the federal government do not resonate as loudly with the base of his electorate as the very real fact that access to a better life is less accessible than ever before.

Terms like “leveraged buyouts” and “green mail” and “corporate raiders” and “vulture capitalists” entered the vocabulary of global finance about 35 years ago. Since then there has been an incredible accumulation of wealth for bankers, financiers and well-placed corporate executives……….This upward distribution of wealth – and power – is unprecedented in world history and has created political debates and contests that are unknowingly based upon new and uncomfortable economic realities.

 In this kind of a scenario, a Donald Trump can be successful because he has continuously provided simple solutions to what should be obviously complex problems. ………one could argue that Donald Trump is the perfect candidate for the conservative movement.

 First, viewing his public persona over the last four decades, it is clear that he is politically agnostic when it comes to most major issues………… Donald Trump weaves between expediency and reflecting the loudest, last voice that he has heard.

 As a result, he has been able to levitate from one political position to another without regard to his precedent position or his latest speech. Being politically agnostic also has allowed Donald Trump to espouse contradictory statements with ease and more importantly, he has advanced the conservative agenda without seeming to be fully conscious that he was doing so……………………Because he has few core beliefs, Candidate Trump had no problem advocating incredibly simple solutions to incredibly complex challenges facing the United States. Consider, for example, his “solution” to the issue of illegal immigration – deport over 12 million men, women and children, many of whom have established credible and worthwhile lives in this country – all while building and unbuildable wall…………………His position with respect to trade deficits and how the three card Monte of international trade had left many Americans with hands thrust into their empty pockets – to “get tough” with China and Russia and Mexico – toughness that to date has produced late night television fodder but no new jobs for Americans. And yet, the Trump base” has not wavered in its support.

The real issue for the United States, however, is how the various socioeconomic challenges of the world’s largest economy can be addressed. It is fair to state that many of these challenges – health care, income inequality, trade deficits, the lingering legacy of racism, structural unemployment, urban displacement and environmental endangerment, lend themselves to simple conservative solutions. In many instances that solution can be summarized as giving the power to the states – a.k.a. the people – denying the reality that these challenges are impervious to local or regional solutions.

Donald Trump is the perfect messenger for these simplistic solutions.

 And, since many Americans do not have the appetite for, or interest in, the more complex and nuanced solutions to these challenges, progressives find themselves marginalized as the United States careens from crisis to crisis, a player in a demonic pinball game where the American people lose every time. And, in the process the socioeconomic changes do not disappear, they do not go away, they do not get better.

 The delays in addressing these concerns only exacerbate these concerns and, in the final analysis we find that the socioeconomic challenge of the Trump presidency is the deferral of legitimate and thoughtful solutions. And since the time of any nation is never infinite, delays can result in irreparable damage.

 This vision only seems apocalyptic if viewed in a singular prism. But history tells too many stories of great civilizations that became memories because they did not act,

The reality of the Trump presidency has now found a home in the national consciousness. The demonstrations and shouts and screams from the disappointed, the disaffected and the newly awakened will continue, but the reality remains – Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. And there is another reality – Trump and his Republican enablers have now become the dogs that caught the bus.

For the past few decades, the conservative wing of the Republican Party has invested enormous amounts of time and money articulating a vision of America which might or might not be dystopian, depending on one’s point of view. But there is no doubt that this right wing vision is remarkably different from the America in which we have lived for the past half century.

Reduction in the role of government makes for a great sound bit until that sound bite bites back. Reduction in the role of government means less – a lot less – than what most Americans are used to. Less healthcare, less oversight of food, drugs and industrial chemicals. Less control over environmental factors and fewer stated rights for the underserved and those have been historically marginalized.

At one point in time the concept of privatizing Social Security or Medicare seemed as extreme as……privatizing the prison system. But just ask the executives at CoreCivic – formerly the Corrections Corporation of America – how business is these days, and they will tell you just fine. And similarly, there are healthcare companies and financial services institutions that cannot wait for the bonanza that would appear if Social Security or Medicare are privatized.

These change in the political environment did not begin on November 8, 2016 – indeed Trump’s victory and the Republican hegemony over the Executive and Legislative branches of government are the harvest of years of laboring in the political vineyards of America. While liberals and progressives lapsed into complacency or internecine battles over arranging the deckchairs on their personal Titanic, the conservatives have spent decades registering their voters, gerrymandering their districts, suppressing the opposition votes and seizing or greasing the levers of power to their advantage.

No one factor is responsible for the outrageous incarnation of pride, bigotry and bombast that the Trump presidency. But a bit of close analysis and introspection will reveal that this conservative cloud has been looming over the horizon for decades. And now, millions of Americans are discovering that elections do matter, that politics is not an affair of the heart but a condition of the mind and that winning is important.

The first round of Trump appointees, nominees and Executive Orders predict a type of chaos not seen in the Oval Office since the days of Andrew Jackson. Chaos is rarely good for the economy. Chaos is always bad for the poor and the marginalized segments of our body politic. But chaos is where the financial and political predators live – it is their native environment.

We will now have to see if the self-identified progressive Americans can find a way to be strategic, committed, focused and determined to win back this country. Taking America Back Again may be the new rallying cry that is shouted across this nation.

Why Elections Matter

It has now been 50 days since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. That means that there have been 50 days and 50 nights of men and women trying to figure out how a man, believed to be unfit for office by the majority of his supporters, could actually become President of the United States. It also means that there have been 50 days and 50 nights of an intensive, interactive, real time seminar demonstrating that elections do matter.

During the presidential campaign there was too much baseless rhetoric spewing, disseminated the shameful notion that the presidential election did not matter as there was no real difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Even as Trump and Clinton tried mightily to demonstrate the very real differences between their candidacies, there were so many “pure progressives” who tried to persuade their followers (or listeners) that there was no real choice between them and that no vote, or a third party candidate protest vote, was the best course of action. And now, we are witness to the first 50 days of a 4 year seminar on why elections do matter.

Consider the initial Trump cabinet appointments:

Attorney General – Jefferson Beauregard Sessions – That this U.S. Senator from Alabama is named after not one, but two Confederate heroes, should not be a disqualifying factor in and of itself. But Sessions is on record as being against the Justice Department inquiring too closely into police shootings or other local and state violations of civil rights. He is staunchly opposed to Roe v. Wade and is certainly a supporter of less governmental oversight of major industries.

The next time a white police officer unlawfully shoots and kills a black citizen and the Justice Department does not act, remember that elections do matter.

Secretary of the Department of Labor – Andy Puzder – Puzder is the founder and CEO of the company that operates the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food chains. He is an implacable opponent to raising the minimum wage, family leave, equal pay for women, overtime pay and other seemingly basic recognition of the humanity of workers, particularly low wage workers. There is no doubt that he will do everything in his power to roll back any and all progress and protections for workers that have taken place over the past decade.

The next time workers are needlessly harassed or injured and the Department of Labor stands by and does nothing, or even worse, advocates for more power for employers, remember that elections do matter.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency – Scott Pruitt – The current Oklahoma Attorney General is a self-described “leading advocate against the activist agenda of the EPA” and will now be in charge of that agency. Since the establishment of the EPA during the Nixon Administration, it has been a matter of rare bipartisan agreement that the EPA is an important component of the effort of the federal government to protect the environment and the health of the American people. Pruitt clearly thinks differently.

The next time that a water contamination tragedy like the one in Flint, Michigan occurs and the EPA does little or nothing, remember that elections do matter.

Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services – Tom Price is a Congressman from Georgia and a dedicated opponent to the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare. He has already developed a plan to repeal the ACA, which would leave over 24 million Americans without healthcare coverage. Price (and Trump) supposedly have a plan to replace the ACA so that no one who is currently covered would lose that coverage – but, of course, Donald Trump has a tradition of making a breaking promises and has been a litigant in over 1000 cases to prove it.

The next time that an emergency room in a city near you becomes the source of primary care for poor people – again – remember that elections do matter.

There can be no doubt that if Hillary Clinton had been elected President of the United States, her cabinet would not be overstocked with overwhelmingly white and mean spirited avatars armed with a dystopian vision that includes the few and excludes the many.

In sum, due to the vengeance of 18th century elitist attitudes, aka the Electoral College, and the boneheaded notion that elections don’t matter, the entire American populace will soon have a lesson on why, and how, elections do matter.