Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Palin needs civics lesson

By DeWayne Wickham

In a not-so-swift swift-boat attack on Barack Obama, Sarah Palin tried to link the Secret Service sex scandal to the president’s ability to manage this nation’s affairs. But she succeeds only in demonstrating how fuzzy her knowledge is of the government she came close to being a heartbeat away from running.

Palin told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that the Secret Service agents’ inappropriate contact with Colombian prostitutes was “a symptom of a government run amok” and Obama’s “poor management skills.” Then Palin offered up this bit of nonsense as proof of her contention: “The No. 1 thing that he is responsible for is . . . violating Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution in not having a budget.”

What she’s talking about is the section of the Constitution that spells out the responsibility of Congress, not the president, to appropriate money spent by all branches of the federal government. That clause of the Constitution does not mandate creation of a federal budget. It doesn’t even use the word “budget.”

The president is required by the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act to submit a budget to Congress — and that’s exactly what Obama has done every year since taking office. That Congress hasn’t passed any of his budgets is a failing of both Republican and Democratic legislators on Capitol Hill, not the man who occupies the Oval Office.

Blaming Obama for Congress’ failure to pass a budget might be good politics for the former Alaska governor, but it’s bad civics.

It has been “over 1,000 days with no budget, no blueprint to run our federal government,” Palin told Van Susteren. Under Article 2 of the Constitution, which deals with the president’s responsibilities , Obama has a duty to ensure that laws are “faithfully executed.” But to meet that test, he only needs to make sure the money his administration spends is authorized by Congress. And though this may be news to Palin, Congress has spent merrily during Obama’s presidency through the use of appropriations, continuing resolutions and the budget reconciliation process.

To say that Palin ought to know better is to expect too much enlightenment from someone who says Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., tops her list of candidates to be the GOP’s vice presidential candidate. West recently pandered to the fears of some of his right-wing backers when he irrationally proclaimed that 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party are members of the Communist Party.

Palin is a captain in the swift-boat fleet — the same type of smear tactic used against John Kerry in 2004 — that Republicans have launched against Obama. Her mission is to inflict as much damage on him as possible — and to do it in any way she can. Back in December, she got off an early salvo when she criticized the president for sending out a Christmas card that showed his dog in front of a fireplace decorated with a holiday wreath, bulbs and ribbons. It was “odd,” she said, that the card had no overt religious symbols or emphasis on “family, faith and freedom.”

Of course Palin saw nothing wrong with the religious symbols-free holiday card Republican President George W. Bush sent out shortly after she and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were defeated in the 2008 presidential election by Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.

That's because neither logic nor good sense has anything to do with her swift-boating attacks on Obama.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cuba tolerates more free speech, Cuban Americans clamor for less

By DeWayne Wickham

HAVANA – Shortly before Ozzie Guillen was banished from baseball for five games for professing his admiration for Fidel Castro’s survival skills, I chanced upon a meeting in the capital of this communist country where free speech exacted no such penalty.

It was a gathering of Cuban intellectuals – writers, historians, social activists, journalists, educators and communist party functionaries – who met at the National Union of Writers and Artists to discuss racial issues. The topics ranged from the role of hip-hop music in today’s Cuba, to a commemoration of the 1912 massacre of thousands of blacks by Cuban government troops. And while there was a lot of agreement among those who crowded into the small meeting room, there was a surprising amount of disagreement – the kind of dissent that critics say doesn’t go unpunished in Cuba.

Guillen, the newly-minted manager of the Miami Marlins, a Major League Baseball team that just moved into a $515 million stadium with a retractable roof that is largely financed by South Florida taxpayers, was punished for telling Time magazine: “I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro, You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother------ is still here.”

While that seems hardly the kind of praise that would get the Venezuelan-born Guillen a dinner invitation from the 85-year-old Castro, it set off calls for his head in Miami. Despite the chastened manager’s public apology, protestors demanded he be fired and threatened to boycott the team, if he isn’t dismissed.

Sure, they have a free speech right to demand that Guillen be punished for exercising his right to free speech. Our Constitutional guarantee of people’s right to speak freely sometimes extends to the outer limits of good sense. But for those who clamor for a return to democracy in Cuba to attack one of its basic underpinnings in this country is not just ironic. It’s instructive.

The Cubans in South Florida who insist on maintaining Cold War tensions with Cuba tolerate democratic freedoms only when they don’t run counter to their obsessive hatred for Fidel Castro, who led the Caribbean Island nation for 49 years until poor health forced him to retire in 2008. They genuflect wildly whenever someone suggests the United States should afford Cuba’s communist regime the same diplomatic recognition and economic engagement it has given the communist governments of Vietnam and China.

Of course, any visitor to Cuba will quickly see that it has its own paranoia – a tendency to see a plot to topple the revolution that brought Castro to power in 1959 behind every call for political and economic reform. But increasingly Cuba is showing greater tolerance for openness and a willingness to change, albeit slowly. That was apparent in both the frankness of the discussion among participants of the meeting on race – and by the presence of professor Esteban Morales.

Morales was expelled from Cuba’s communist party in 2010, a defrocking that is tantamount to internal exile, after he wrote two articles arguing that corruption is “much more dangerous” that dissidents within the country. He was reinstated last year without backing away from his criticism.

During an interview at his home three days earlier, Morales told me Cuba continues to struggles with racism, despite laws making such practices illegal. He blames this on the actions of individuals, not the complicity of government. Even this kind of nuanced acknowledgement of bigotry hasn’t always been tolerated in Cuba.

But the trend here is towards more freedom of speech and a movement away from the kind of intolerance that got Ozzie Guillen suspended.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

We need justice for Trayvon and many others

By DeWayne Wickham

I want justice for Trayvon Martin. But even more than that, I want an end to the slaughter of the many blacks for whom there were no mass protest demonstrations or rabid news media coverage.

Justice demands that George Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, get his day in court. But it also cries out for an even greater showing of outrage for the thousands of black men and women whose murders have rarely gotten more than fleeting notice in a local newspaper. And that’s a crying shame.

While blacks are just 12.6 percent of the nation’s population, they’re roughly half of the people murdered in this country each year. The vast majority of these killings are at the hands of other blacks.

If that doesn’t shock you, maybe this will: More blacks were murdered in the United States in 2009 alone than all the U.S. troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date.

Now that really makes me want to holler. But this painful truth hasn’t produced the kind of sustained national outrage that Martin’s death at the hands of a white Hispanic has generated. Why such a parsing of contempt? Maybe the people who’ve taken to the streets to protest Martin’s killing don’t care as much about the loss of other black lives because those killings don’t register on the racial conflict meter. Or maybe they’ve been numbed by the persistence of black-on-black carnage.

“The devastation homicide inflicts on black teens and adults is a national crisis, yet it is all too often ignored outside of affected communities,” according to a report on black deaths released in January by the Violence Policy Center, a Washington-based, anti-violence think tank.

Sure, there have been occasional marches and calls for action to stem the deadly black-on-black violence. But these killings continue without an appropriate national response.

The fault for this doesn’t just lie with black leaders, though the failure to kick and scream should weigh most heavily on them.

Just about everyone who claims the mantle of black leadership, or aspires to it, has come to Sanford, Fla., to march in protest of the death of 17-year-old Martin, or queued up before a television camera to voice their outrage. So why won’t these leaders take to the streets with equal fervor to stop these genocidal killings of blacks by other blacks?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Martin murder case revives civil rights movement

By DeWayne Wickham

SANFORD, Fla. – For America's flagging civil rights movement, this place has become a Resurrection City.

The senseless death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin not only has made the city ground zero of a protest movement that has energized people from Boston to Los Angeles, it has resuscitated a civil rights movement that has long needed a cause célèbre to generate a wider following. And that is just what it got when gun-toting George Zimmerman killed Martin, who was armed with just a cellphone, a bottle of ice tea and a bag of Skittles.

Zimmerman, a 28-year-old whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, said he killed Martin in self-defense after trailing the black teenager inside the gated community he patrolled as a volunteer watchman. At some point, there was a confrontation and Zimmerman fired a single shot into Martin's chest. The police refused to arrest Zimmerman, who claims the protection of Florida's "stand your ground" law, which allows people who feel threatened to use deadly force instead of retreating to safety.

The idea that an armed man who stalks a teenager who has committed no crime can get away — if only for a time — with saying he was the victim has outraged a lot of people. Add race to this explosive mixture, and the case propelled civil rights activists into the front ranks of protesters.

Over the weekend, when thousands of demonstrators marched through Sanford demanding Zimmerman's arrest, they were led by the "Big Three" of this nation's aging civil rights movement. Walking behind a blue and yellow "Justice for Trayvon" banner were NAACP President Ben Jealous, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, leader of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network.

Unlike the old days of the movement that transformed America, they were riding the waves of this protest, rather than creating them. That's not an indictment of these men, but rather an acknowledgment of their ability to take control of a movement created largely by social media. As a result, the campaign to get Martin's killer arrested and tried on murder charges has brought about an interesting fusion of the old and the new.

The "new" movements are in cyberspace, causes such as the Kony 2012 video, to which Millennials easily connect. The old are the on-the-ground movements such as the 1963 March on Washington that were attended largely by the so-called Silent Generation, which was anything but silent about such issues.

The mishandling of the initial police investigation of Martin's death — and the quick recognition by civil rights leaders that they could use this tragedy to regain the center stage of social protest in America — has bridged the gap between old street protesters and the new Internet activists. The immediate effects of this will likely result in Zimmerman's arrest and trial.

The long-term impact might well be a partnership between the organizations that Sharpton, Jackson and Jealous lead and those of the less organized but far more numerous Generation Xers, who have already used Facebook, Twitter and blogs to express outrage nationwide over Martin's shooting.

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman said of the prophesies of futurists George Orwell and Aldous Huxley: "Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression." But Huxley worried that "people will come to love their oppression (and) to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think."

What the broad, cross-generational response to the death of Martin suggests about social struggle in this country is that its future might be even better than its past.