Pride, Prejudice and Presidents

     Recently the President of the United States embarked on a multi-country tour of the African continent.  Africa has become, in recent years, the most fertile ground for economic growth in the world.  Its various countries, some long mired in bloody civil strife, are now emerging into stable governments, and its people are seeking the various products that will improve their economny and, hopefully, their lives.  The President is taking his family along, and he is subjecting them to a grueling schedule of meetings and public events.  The nations on his schedule are all wildly excited about his arrival, because, among many other reasons, the President’s father was an African, born and raised in Kenya.  The United States faces extremely stiff competition, particularly from China, for the business opportunities that Afica has to offer, so the President’s tour will clearly give the United States’ economic interests a huge boost by his presence there.

     It was, therefore, sad beyond measure to face two items in my local newspaper, the decidedly conservative Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, about this trip.  The first was a cartoon published by the Journal criticizing the President for travelling to Africa after claiming that climate change was the global threat of our time.  That is just the Journal being the right wing rag that it is.  Far worse was a letter from a suburban woman criticizing Obama for “traveling all over the world”, with his wife no less, and suggesting that this was “vacation time that’s being funded by the taxpayers”. 

     I can understand that this person is completely ignorant of how important to the American economy this trip is.  What utterly galls me is that this President has worked harder than any president in recent memory.  The last president, Bush 43, set a record that will likely never be broken for the amount of vacation time he took.  That vacation time included the morning in August of 2001, when he ignored a specific FBI warning that Al Qaeda was planning an attack on American soil using commercial airlines.  Yet not a peep of ccriticism did we hear.  Yet President Obama takes a grueling public relations trip to Africa, and he is criticized and even ridiculed.

     Here’s a question:  Why?  Well, I suppose that the suburban woman is a Republican, and she is just following the current Republican tactic of rejecting out of hand anything done by someone not of her persuasion.  I suppose we could say the same thing of the right wing Journal. 

     That, however, is being far too kind to both the lady and the paper.  Such ignorance is not only not excusable, particularly for the supposedly well-informed editors of a newspaper.  It tramples reason.  I would hazard a guess that President Obama’s trip has the potential to contribute billions of dollars and many, many thousands of jobs to the American economy.  It would take an idiot to ignore that point.

     Or, it would take a bigot.  It is time to stop tiptoeing around the issue, because it has for far too long been wrecking the political and social atmosphere of this country.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and a whole bunch of papers like it, and the suburban woman and a whole bunch of people like her, have been slamming the President becuase he is an African American and they are bigots.  They don’t like the fact that an African-American is the President of the United States.  They so dislike that fact that they are willing to seriously damage the social and political atmosphere of the United States to make sure that this African-American does not succeed. 

     There.  There it is.  I am sick and tired of the bigotry that persists everywehre including my own community.  Far more important, this country can no longer afford to base political and social policy and strategy on race.  I am sick and tired of having to endure the racist jokes at the country club and the snide racist comments at the cocktail parties.  I am sick and tired of having to apologize to friends and clients of a different race or a different gender or a different religion who are subjected to insult and mistreatment at the hands of white-faced hatemongers.  Stop it.  Stop it.  Stop it.  Hatred sucks, and it is one of those weapons that hurts most of all the person that yields it.  Stop it.


Government and people: Who Serves Whom?

     Recently, someone I know went through one of those Kafkaesque moments with government bureaucracy.  His father had been killed in combat in the invasion of Europe in World War II, and, when his mother remarried, he was given his stepfather’s last name, but no formal adoption took place.  So his legal name remained that of his birth father, but the name he used throughout his life was that of his stepfather. 

     Now, many years later, he wanted to set the record straight by having his birth certificate formally amended to reflect the name he had used all his life.  Let us say that the name he had used all his life was Frank Jones, but that his birth certificate listed him as Frank Smith.  So he went to the clerks of records in the county of his birth and said he would like to have his birth certificate amended to list him as he had been known all his life.  The clerk said he would need a copy of his original birth certificate.  He asked for that certificate, and the clerk asked him to prove that he was the person listed on that certificate — Frank Smith.  Well, he said, all of my identification lists me as Frank Jones, and that is precisely the problem I am trying to solve.  Well, said the clerk, if you can’t show identification as Frank Smith, you can’t have the birth certificate of Frank Smith.

     A perfect catch 22.  To change his birth certificate to the name he had used all his life, he must have the original certificate, but he cannot have that certificate unless he provides identification that he cannot possibly get unless he has the certificate. 

     What is sad about this is that approximately 300,000 people are in this situation.  They were the children of women widowed by the war who remarried and gave their children their stepfather’s surname, so that none of these children have an accurate birth certificate.  It is probably not an issue for all but people like Frank Jones, who needs the certificate for international travel and security clearance.  But it does illustrate a point that is becoming ever more obvious in today’s political climate.  Government, said Lincoln, is supposedly, in America, by the people, for the people and of the people.  More than ever today, however, it is by, of and for someone distinctly other than the people.  It is far more likely, at the moment, by, of and for those who pay the most to get politicians elected.  That is, of course, an old song, but more and more, it strikes me, the practice is far more blatant.  In Wisconsin, where I was born raised and lived my life, the government is tearing apart a tradition of progressivism and populism that was once a model to the nation.  Legislation is being passed to burden the poor and the middle class, to further disadvantage the already disadvantaged and to weaken education and health care coverage, all in the name of frugality.  It has never been, until now, the practice of this nation to solve its problems on the back of its most disadvantaged.  We are at a sad moment in the life of our country, and we desparately need to return to a time in which our government serves, rather than punishes, our citizenry.  Mr. Jones should be able to walk into a government office and get helped rather than frustrated.  Politicians need to spend their time serving the people rather than themselves.  Yes, frugality.  Yes, eliminate irrational regulation.  But, for crying out loud, serve the people.


     I am not one to sympathize with those in the radical right who coopted the Tea Party movement and turned it into a tool for radical right wing causes.  Nevertheless, I too was offended when I originally heard about the IRS people in Cincinatti who profiled the Tea Party in adjudging applications for 501 (c) (4) status.  Profiling of any kind violates the American ideal of fair play, whether it is against Hispanics, as they do in Arizona, or against African-Americans as they do to some extent in every state, or against women, or gays, or the poor or aged or sick.

     That said, there is a problem here.  The IRS got thousands of applications for this tax-free status, which was meant for groups primarly promoting social welfare.  A great many of these applications were made immediately after the Citizens United case came down from the Supreme Court.  One could legitimately infer from that flood of applications that a good many of them were intended by the applicants for use primarily as a tool to support a political person or program.  As it turns out, many of the applicants who did obtain the tax-free status did just what they should not do, i..e., use the status to promote their politics.  After all, is there anyone on this planet who thinks that Karl Rove’s 501c4 exists for any purpose at all other than a political purpose?

     So, if the radical right makes a bunch of applications, and they all look lke political dodges, it is likely that those who analyze such things would begin to suspect the radical right applications more than others.  In fact, it is fairly amazing that the radical right, which has endorsed profiling in a host of other circumstances, should now feel so righteously offended when they are caught out on it themselves. 

     I have a grave suspicion that we will see yet another flood of these pseudo-groups applying, and each of them will claim discrimination if it is turned down.  So I am just sending word to those embattled folk at the IRS — if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, keep calling it a duck.  Don’t let ’em get you down.