Tag Archives: U.S. presidency

I Sight

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Over the past few months the dreaded “I” word has been floating across the nation: impeachment.  As in the impeachment of President Donald Trump – which sounds pretty good – because his words and actions have put the U.S. in a precarious global position – because he really wasn’t elected to the office – because he’s an obnoxious bastard.  Okay, that last one is more of a personal opinion.  And, of course, we all have a right to that!

But talk of impeaching the president of the United States is like warning Americans about visiting North Korea: don’t go there.  Forcibly removing the president from office was a rare topic of discussion – even among politicians – until the 1970s.  But, after the Watergate left a bitterly angry taste in the mouths of the American populace, impeachment has been tossed around as often as limes at a Mexican barbecue.

Since Watergate, only one sitting U.S. president has faced a concerted attempt at impeachment: Bill Clinton.  And that was only because he engaged in an eel-hunting adventure with a perky, overweight intern, which culminated in a blue dress wardrobe malfunction before anyone invented the term.

Yet, as much as I despise Trump and as little as I thought of George W. Bush, I would look at anyone who talks of impeachment with concern.  Do you realize how serious that is?  Do you understand exactly what it takes to oust such a person from the White House?  It’s almost like a military coup; the kind that occurs in third-world nations.  Think Cuba or the Philippines.  Yes, that kind.  It’s nowhere near as bloody and violent; we use pens and roll-call votes here, instead of guns and machetes.  But it remains a complex and arduous task.

Keep in mind that, aside from Clinton, only 2 other U.S. presidents have faced impeachment: Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon.  The key term here is faced impeachment.  To date, no sitting president has actually been removed from office by impeachment.  The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeaching the president, while the U.S. Senate has the sole power of trying impeachments.  This all occurs under rules of law established in the Constitution; therefore, no single branch of government possesses omniscient power to remove a sitting president.

The first step, obviously, is to identify what acts performed by the president qualify as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  The House votes on articles of impeachment.  If there is just one article, it requires a two-thirds majority of House members.  But, if there are two or more articles of impeachment, only one of them needs to garner a majority to induce impeachment.  Nixon came very close to actually being removed from office.  But he resigned after the House voted in August of 1974.

Second, the proceedings move to the Senate where an actual trial is held.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the case, as they would any other legal matter.  Here, a team of lawmakers from the House serves in a prosecutorial role, while the Senate is technically the jury.  The president has his or her own lawyers.  Once all sides have presented their arguments, the matter is handed to the Senate.  If at least two-thirds of Senators vote in favor of the articles, then the president is removed from office, and the vice-president assumes the presidency.

This isn’t punishment for being tardy.  The U.S. likes to present itself as a beacon of democracy for the world; a master of political dignity and fairness.  If we are compelled to remove our own national leader from office, what does that say about our voting system?  What does it say about the concept of democracy altogether?  Is the presidential vetting process so pathetic that we can’t identify someone with a criminal mindset beforehand?

Elizabeth Holtzman is a former U.S. congresswoman from New York.  In 1974, she was on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon.  In a 2006 essay entitled “The Impeachment of George W. Bush,” she not only describes the arduous process of removing a sitting president from office, but also the emotional toll it took on everyone in both houses of congress at the time.

“I can still remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach during those proceedings,” she wrote, “when it became clear that the President had so systematically abused the powers of the presidency and so threatened the rule of law that he had to be removed from office.  As a Democrat who opposed many of President Nixon’s policies, I still found voting for his impeachment to be one of the most sobering and unpleasant tasks I ever had to undertake.  None of the members of the committee took pleasure in voting for impeachment; after all, Democrat or Republican, Nixon was still our President.”

Curiously, she goes on to state, “At the time, I hoped that our committee’s work would send a strong signal to future Presidents that they had to obey the rule of law.  I was wrong.”

In this regard, she was discussing the possible impeachment of George W. Bush.  I can think of no other Chief Executive in modern times who exhibited such incompetence and corruptness as our 43rd president.  That he got into office under dubious circumstances in the first place is enough to question the integrity of our electoral process.  That he managed to remain there, despite mounting evidence of war crimes, is anathema to the grander concept of democracy.  I’ve always said that, if the Democrats had at least made a concerted attempt to remove Bush from office, they wouldn’t just appear heroic in the eyes of their constituents; they also would have upheld the rule of law governing all institutions.

Remember that congressional Republicans tried to remove Bill Clinton for lying about his sexual dalliances.  It was an incredibly one-sided, vindictive assault on democracy – all because the man didn’t want the world to know he’d screwed around on his wife and because right-wing extremists didn’t like him, no matter what he happened.  You’re going to impeach him for THAT?!  Then-House leader Newt Gingrich – who was married to his third wife with whom he’d cheated on his second wife – had led the cavalcade of self-righteous Republicans.  He and his constituents paid for their hypocrisy when they lost their super-majorities in both Houses of Congress in the 1998 elections.

Watching the Trump presidency collapse around the real estate magnate-turned-reality-TV-star is almost laughable.  But it’s not that funny.  His behavioral quirks and fetish for name-calling are hallmarks of social ineptitude and, perhaps, mental instability.  As with George W. Bush, that Trump actually made it into the White House is an insult to the core of the institution of democracy.  Growing evidence shows that Russia interfered with the 2016 U.S. elections.  Exactly how they did it has yet to be discovered – or revealed.  But I honestly believe the Trump presidency is a fluke.

In his novel, “Shibumi,” author Trevanian (Rodney William Whitaker) relays the incredible tale of Nicholai Hel, a Shanghai-born spy of Russian – German heritage who is the world’s most accomplished assassin.  After surviving the carnage of the Hiroshima bombing, Hel retreats to a lavish and isolated mountain citadel with his beautiful Eurasian mistress.  But he’s coaxed back into the netherworld of international espionage by a young woman.  Hel soon learns, however, that he’s being tracked by a mysterious and omnipotent global entity known simply as the “Mother Company.”  The “Company” is a composite of corporate giants that installs leaders in key nations – even those in the developed world – manipulates the markets for such necessities as food and oil and incites wars whenever it deems appropriate.  The conflict between Hel and the “Mother Company” becomes something akin to a board game, where millions of lives are used as toys for the benefit of a few powerful elitists.

I keep thinking we’re already dealing with that type of set-up; that Bush, Jr., was placed into office, so we could go to war in Iraq and gain access to their oil reserves, and that Trump was planted in the White House for whatever machinations the Russian government has underway.

But I still want everyone to be careful with the “I” word.  It really is just a small step from undergoing the lengthy route of impeaching a president to rigging his limousine with explosives – like they do in those unstable third-world societies.  Democracy is a difficult political state to establish.  It’s even more difficult to maintain.  It doesn’t function on its own; it simply can’t.

This mess we’re in may provide great material for standup comics.  But it also presents us with an ethical dilemma.  Again, I ask, do we truly understand how serious this talk of impeachment is?

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Telling Donald Trump Not to Tweet Is Like…

The 45th President of the United States has achieved a previously unimaginable goal: reduce the size of the federal government.  In this case, it’s the presidency, which has been downgraded to 140 characters.  He has left people disoriented and unsettled; rattled and dismayed; flummoxed and constipated.  Many of his most devout followers have embraced the lemming ideology of life and started following their magical penis-pied piper to the precipice of a faux utopia.  And we thought George W. Bush was mentally-challenged!  Well…he was.  Yet Trump has taken messianic mendacity to supersonic levels.  I keep thinking that someone on his staff should advise him to keep his pre-dawn twittering in the bathroom.  But that would be like telling Abraham Lincoln, ‘Don’t go to the theatre!  You’ll catch a cold.’  It’s virtually impossible to demand this bombastic, bull-headed businessman behave presidential.

It may be hard to imagine, but there are some logical comparisons to such a feat.  But there are plenty.  Therefore, telling Donald Trump NOT to Tweet is like…

  • …telling the Kardashian girls not to take selfies.
  • …telling Bill Clinton to honor his marriage vows.
  • …telling Matthew McConaughey to keep on his shirt.
  • …telling Ann Coulter to stop being such a bitch.
  • …telling Justin Bieber to act like an adult.
  • …telling Michael Moore to lay off the doughnuts and eclairs.
  • …telling Elton John to tone down his wardrobe.
  • …telling Kanye West to stop interrupting people.
  • …telling Paris Hilton to get a job.
  • …telling Rush Limbaugh to take a deep breath.
  • …telling Caitlyn Jenner to grow a pair.
  • …telling Willie Nelson to shave and get a trim.
  • …telling Barbara Walters to retire once and for all.
  • …telling Eminem to act White.
  • …telling Pope Francis to stop wearing those designer gowns.
  • …telling Bill Maher to shut the hell up.
  • …telling Oprah Winfrey no one misses her.
  • …telling Brittney Spears she can’t sing worth a shit.
  • …telling Snoop Dogg to learn proper English.
  • …telling Alec Baldwin to stop making fun of Trump.

Telling Donald Trump Not to Tweet is like… [Readers, please feel free to provide your own response].  The more fun we can have with this, the more likely Trump will get pissed off and Tweet and subsequently provide us all with more joke material.  And the more we can all laugh at and ridicule our mentally-unhinged elected officials will bring us closer to that highly-coveted state of national nirvana.

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Good News With Trump

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In my 40-plus years of watching, studying and laughing at American politics, I have NEVER seen the country as divided as it is now.  I thought things were bad in the 1990s, when conservatives tried everything they could to bounce Bill Clinton out of office – and only succeeded in proving he has a female fetish (like most straight men do), while making themselves look like incompetent assholes.

Then came these last two decades, and the country became even more divided; first under George W. Bush (the poster child for closet alcoholics) and then under Barack Obama (the poster child for grace under extreme pressure and stupidity; the latter two courtesy of the even more assholish conservatives, if that’s actually possible).

But now, with Donald J. Trump in the White House (and his third wife several miles away in her gilded penthouse loft), I’ve been surprised.  Again!  The U.S. even more divided than Neapolitan ice cream.  If it gets any more divided, opposing sides will fall off into the oceans; thus making global warming look like a bad day at the beach.  Then again, if the extremists do fall off into the ocean, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Still, amidst the dim-bulb antics of the current presidential administration, I’ve actually found some bright moments.  Yes, even with a psychologically unstable, orange-tinted, womanizing twit-master like Trump occupying the highest office in the land, there are a few positives.  It’s proof that, indeed, you can make wine from prunes!

  • People realize the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is just as important as the Second.
  • They’ve learned the names of their local congressional representatives.
  • Voting (or not) really does matter.
  • Two centuries of civil and human rights progress aren’t 100% safe and untouchable.
  • Not everything on Facebook or Wikipedia is true.
  • Hispanics aren’t “recent immigrants.”  We’ve been here longer than the Trump family.
  • Neanderthals didn’t die off; they became Republicans.
  • The term “alternative facts” makes less sense than “compassionate conservative.”
  • The nation’s infrastructure, like dams and highways, is under greater threat than gun rights.
  • The inexpensive (meaning, cheap) food we buy at Wal-Mart doesn’t grow or pick itself.
  • Decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court actually do impact our lives.
  • Women’s bodies aren’t “hosts.”
  • Not all White males are evil.
  • The British really can get pissed off.
  • The Cold War didn’t end with the collapse of the Soviet Union; it moved into cyberspace.
  • Reality TV is dangerous.
  • Neo-Nazis remain a threat.
  • Politicians who have nothing more important to do than regulate public bathrooms need to be voted out of office.
  • People without English surnames often speak better English than people with English surnames.
  • Building a wall along the U.S.-México border will put a lot of Mexican immigrants to work.
  • Republican politicians have no qualms about eliminating healthcare for poor, sick people; while enjoying their own taxpayer-funded health insurance.
  • Coal mining is as obsolete as it is dangerous and dirty.
  • We need more female politicians.
  • Native Americans have put up with enough shit from the U.S. government.
  • The Kardashians aren’t (and never have been) relevant to anything.
  • President Obama was too nice to his critics, but I still feel he should have been able to run for a third term.  You know…just to piss off the Republicans.
  • American was great long before Trump ran for office.
  • How soon before we can fly to Mars?

 

Image: Gary Larson

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Thank You, President Obama

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th.  Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”

President Barack Obama, January 19, 2017

President Obama, today you officially leave the White House and reenter life as a (somewhat) private citizen.  After an incredible, yet curious, eight years, you leave a unique legacy to a nation that challenged you both professionally and personally.  From my vantage point as an average citizen, I feel you did as best you could do.

First, you took on the most difficult job anyone could have: proverbial leader of the “Free World.”  It’s a position riddled with dichotomies: intensely powerful and emotionally draining; prestigious and notorious; riveting and excruciating; honorific and horrifying.  With a glaring tone of schizophrenia, it’s not so much a job as it is a role.  Chief Executive of the United States of America stretches across the horizon of humanity.  No wonder you leave office looking decades older than when you first arrived!

Second – and perhaps most important – you took on this task at the start of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; when we straddled two wars that left us enraged and tired; when the richest, most powerful nation on Earth suddenly had to question its future in relation to its past.  And you did it with members of the opposition who awoke each day more determined to destroy you than to ensure the nation’s success.

Your life story is fascinating.  Here you are – born of a Black immigrant father who abandoned you almost from the start and a White teenage mother who nurtured you as best as her young age would allow, but who would never see your rise to fame – one individual beginning life under such duress.  You attended Columbia College where you majored in political science and English literature.  You moved on to Harvard University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education and one of the most difficult to access.  You were then president of the Harvard Law Review.  Before that, though, you were a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles where a hint to your political ambition became apparent in a speech calling for the college to sever its investments in South Africa.  None of these are small achievements.

As president, you helped to salve the damage of the Great Recession with investments in an economy that created 11 million new jobs; the longest such streak on record.  Unemployment is now down to pre-recession levels.  With exports up by 28% and a deficit cut by $800 billion, the stock markets have nearly tripled, the auto industry is flourishing again, and our reliance on foreign oil stands at a 40-year low.  High school graduation rates increased substantially, and Pell Grants doubled.  Your administration instituted new federal student loan payment plans; established a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; put in place a new mortgage refinance program; passed a Patient’s Bill of Rights; extended protection for land and water resources; and placed limits on carbon pollution.

If I have any grievances regarding your record, they are few, but noteworthy.  I personally don’t care for the Affordable Care Act, as it presently stands.  You and your fellow Democrats seemed to spend too much time designing and implementing this law, instead of focusing even more time and energy on the economy.  Americans certainly don’t need another tax, when they’re having trouble finding stable employment!  I was also disappointed in your response to threats by your Republican colleagues to withhold benefits for the long-term unemployed at the end of 2010, if you didn’t agree to maintain the Bush-era tax cuts; the very items that shoved the nation into economic jeopardy shortly before you took office.  I believe you had the executive power to force the dreaded tax cuts to expire as originally scheduled and further ensure benefits for those hapless citizens – people you rightfully deemed “hostages” – remained in place.  There were other down moments: “Operation Fast and Furious” and the Benghazi tragedy, in particular.  These episodes may haunt you, but they don’t define you.

You withstood the worst personal attacks on any public official I’ve ever seen.  From vicious protests by a band of (all-White) conservative students at Texas A & M University to a South Carolina congressman shouting “You lie!” in the midst of your first State of the Union address (something that had never happened before); the Arizona governor jutting her crooked finger into your face and later claiming you intimidated her; and finally to the asinine “birther” movement propagated by the incoming president, you’ve endured extreme social and political animosity.  As someone who began following U.S. politics with the Watergate scandal, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never witnessed such levels of verbal barbarity and recalcitrance as what your Republican counterparts slung at you.

It’s obvious you tried to restrain your frustration; fighting through the muck of political swamp water.  But I still wish you had simply gotten ugly with these clowns.  With each personal assault, I kept wishing you’d strip away your professional comportment momentarily and bring forth the worst parts of your personality (the kind that exists in all of us); the nigger and / or redneck sides of you – all in a concerted effort to try to communicate with your adversaries.  They didn’t like you anyway.  Nothing you did or said could possibly satisfy their pathetically myopic attitudes.  If you tried to negotiate and compromise, they dubbed you weak and ineffective.  If you dared to raise your voice and talk back to them, they declared you uppity.  You couldn’t win no matter what you did.  So, why remain polite and dignified all the time?  Yes, I realize that’s not your nature.  But, in dealing with arrogance and outright stupidity, you occasionally have to jump into the gutter with those fools, merely so they can understand you.  I’ve had to do just that in my own professional life and I always hated it.  I despised dumbing down my intellectual capacity just to get my point across.  It’s nasty and painful to we intellects who understand the value and necessity of good dialogue.  But, like cleaning a dirty toilet in your bathroom, sometimes you just have to behave in such a manner to get things done.

And, despite the blatant, unapologetically crude and juvenile behavior your opponents exhibited, you tightened your lips, held your head high and kept your back straight.  You let your emotions show on only a handful of occasions; mainly when yet another deranged gunman rained terror on unsuspecting innocents.  In other words, you allowed the true nature of your humanity gush forward when it really mattered.

Your poise and demeanor are unmatched among modern-day public servants.  You and your beautiful family are emblematic of grace and class.  Mrs. Obama, in particular, displayed personal charm and studious refinement; more so than all four of her predecessors combined.

In 2012, I published an essay on this blog entitled “Barack Obama – The Unintentional Martyr”; where I highlighted that your professional troubles were a predictable, almost unavoidable evil; a grueling necessity to compel America to hold up to its promise of dignity and equality for all citizens.  You paved the way for future candidates who won’t fit into the pre-ordained mold of what an American president should look and sound like.  I suspect if your father had been born in Europe, Canada or even Australia, no one would have questioned your citizenship or your legitimacy.  But he was from Africa – the “Dark Continent” – that massive region of Earth that is the birthplace of humanity and whose indigenous peoples had the audacity to expel a cavalcade of brutal European colonists and – gasp! – demand they be treated with the proper deference naturally due to them as human beings.

I understand the hate that a mixed ethnic background incurs from the cerebrally- challenged.  I’m White (mostly Spanish, but also one-quarter German) and Mexican Indian.  I tell some people I’m justified in criticizing middle-aged White guys because…well, I’m one of them; while I told others who didn’t care for you to just vote for the “White Obama.”  My ancestry in the state of Texas extends back to a time before the Mayflower pilgrims had even begun making travel plans.  I celebrate my complex heritage because it ultimately spells A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N.

Unfortunately, future history-making presidents will have to face the same barrage of disquieting irreverence: the first female, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, atheist, or gay / lesbian Chief Executive.  All of them will have their character questioned and their birthright authenticity shredded by those who think America’s sacred promise of opportunity and equality actually applies only to them and their ilk.  These prospective White House occupants will be forced to prove their place in this great American society is not defined by other peoples’ ideals.

Sadly, you leave office – and the fate of the nation – in the lap of a maniacal, temperamental, foul-mouthed, proudly bigoted oaf; a cretin who holds no qualms in lambasting anyone who is the least bit different from or disagrees with him, yet seethes about the most diminutive of sleights.  He has single-handedly reduced the prominence of the U.S. presidency to 140 character rants.

I’m trying to imagine you entering the White House with a much-younger third wife for whom you left your second wife.  My brain cramps as I try to envision you standing before a crowd of thousands demanding they pummel a dissenter into the ground.  I can only wonder the reaction you’d get telling a mass of financially-struggling Appalachian Whites, “What do you have to lose?”

I will miss you, Mr. Obama, along with your eloquent words and unimposing determination to make the United States live up to its full potential as a nation for all people.  You can rest now, my good man; start building your library; await the days you become a father-in-law and a grandfather; and – above all – get some sleep!

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I Hope Ted Cruz Runs for President

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Texas Senator Ted Cruz splashed onto the political scene two years ago when he easily won the seat vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Well-educated and highly intellectual, Cruz was a championship debater at Harvard University and, in 2003, became the youngest Solicitor General in the state of Texas; a role he served in until 2008. Unlike many first-year senators, Cruz quickly established himself as a rugged individualist by being blunt and outspoken. He held true to his base by bashing anyone and anything that didn’t fit his narrow agenda: taxes, regulation, the federal government, and, of course, President Obama. While the Republican National Party was already moving in a more staunchly conservative direction, Cruz seemed to break off his own small faction that slid even further to the right; making Hitler and Stalin look like tree-hugging liberals.

In September of 2013, Cruz incited a shutdown of the entire federal government over funding for the Affordable Care Act. He spoke on the Senate floor for 21 uninterrupted hours and was hailed as a hero by his “Tea Party” acolytes. Cruz and his Republican cohorts were unwilling to reach even a modest agreement with Democrats and Independents on funding the government; so on October 1, 2013, it essentially shut down. Approximately 850,000 workers were furloughed, and another 1.3 million were required to report for work with paycheck dates. The 16-day stalemate was the third-longest government shutdown in U.S. history and cost about $24 billion. As usual, whenever government officials skirmish, average citizens bore the brunt of the shutdown.

Now that Republicans are scheduled to take control of both houses of Congress next month, Cruz is demanding that funding for any of Obama’s programs – namely the ACA – be severed and any presidential appointments be thwarted. In other words, Cruz is pushing for nothing to get done so he can prove his point.

For all of these reasons, I sincerely hope Cruz runs for president in 2016. Not because I like and admire him. I want to see his arrogance get shoved down his throat.

Cruz is already positioning himself for a run. He’s engaged in the vital prerequisites: he’s visited the state of Iowa several times (Iowa is where the nation’s first voting primaries are held each election cycle); he’s solicited a bevy of affluent donors; and he’s expressed his unmitigated support for Israel. All he has to do is give a speech at Bob Jones University saying he doesn’t think Negro slavery was all that bad, and he’ll be good for the Republican Party’s nomination.

But I think once Cruz enters onto that stage, spouting off his vitriolic rhetoric and twisted views on American values, he’ll be shocked to learn not everyone loves him. His right-wing extremism will become apparent. Politics has a way of cutting people down to size. I sincerely feel Cruz will get diced up quicker than squid at a sushi restaurant.

A brief examination of Cruz’s voting record shows his true dimension. Among other things, he’s voted against funding for highways and transportation (three times); the “Bring Jobs Home Act”; the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act”; “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act”; the “Minimum Wage Fairness Act”; the “Protecting Access to Medicare Act”; the 2014 “Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act”; the 2013 “Employment Non-Discrimination Act”; and the 2013 “Student Loan Affordability Act.”

There is one seemingly innocuous fact about Cruz that may play into the hands of his opponents: he wasn’t born in the U.S. He was born in Canada; something from which he doesn’t shy away. Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, was born in Cuba and lived under the brutal dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. In 1957, Cruz managed to escape Cuba and arrive in Texas with only 100 U.S. dollars and the clothes on his back. He had supported Fidel Castro, but now claims he didn’t know at the time that Castro was a communist. There’s a politician, if I’ve ever heard one! In the 1960s, Cruz met and married Eleanor Elizabeth Wilson. Eleanor was born in Delaware to Irish- and Italian-American parents. Rafael and Eleanor Cruz moved to Alberta, Canada where they worked in the oil industry. In 1974, the Cruz family (now including little Ted) moved back to Texas. Rafael and Eleanor divorced several years later. Why they abruptly relocated to Canada in the first place and when exactly they were married and divorced remains unclear. But doubts about Sen. Cruz’s citizenship keep surfacing.

In order to qualify to be President, the U.S. Constitution states, “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

The precise definition of “natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States” has confounded plenty of legal scholars and amateurs. To many of us, it simply means that you were born in one of the 50 United States, a U.S. territory, or a U.S. military base. But, if at least one of your parents was born in the U.S., then you are a U.S. citizen. My mother, for example, was born just outside of México City in 1932; yet she and her three siblings were U.S. citizens because their father was born in Michigan in 1902. Does that mean she’s qualified to run for U.S. president? I’m not certain. I don’t think she’d want the job anyway; she’d scare the crap out of too many people.

The issue of U.S. citizenship in relation to the presidency has come up before. In 1964, when Barry Goldwater garnered the Republican Party’s nomination for president, some speculated he wasn’t qualified, since he’d been born in Arizona, three years before it became a state. In 1968, when George Romney sought the Republican nomination, he didn’t avoid the fact he had been born in México in 1907. Both of his parents had been born in the U.S. and allegedly fled religious persecution by relocating to México where they and fellow Mormons set up a Mormon colony that still exists. (In reality, the Romneys wanted to maintain their polygamous lifestyle.)

The right-wing hysteria surrounding President Obama’s birthplace and birth certificate is well-documented. The self-righteous “birther” gang maintains that Obama was born in Kenya, like his father, and not in Hawaii, as the president’s birth certificate declares. Some people still don’t realize Hawaii is one of the United States. When I worked for the wire transfer division of a bank in the 1990s, we’d invariably get calls from branch offices asking if a transfer to Hawaii was domestic or international. Not much was made of the fact Senator John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936, when it was still a U.S. territory.

Ted Cruz tackled his own citizenship last year when he released his official Canadian birth certificate and then renounced his Canadian citizenship. I’m sure Canada was heartbroken.

Citizenship matters aside, Cruz may feel self-assured about a presidential run. Anyone who dares to tackle such an office has to be extremely self-confident and just a little bit arrogant. Cruz will find, though, that he has to appeal to a much larger base of people than the gaggle of conservative hardliners that orgasm with his every word. For one thing, he’ll have to appeal to Hispanics. That’ll be especially tough. I guess you have to understand the Hispanic identity in the U.S. Cuban-Americans don’t like to be dubbed “Hispanic” or “Latino” because that places them in the same category as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, etc. For some ungodly reason, some Cuban-Americans – Rafael Cruz among them – think they’re superior to other Spanish-surnamed peoples in the Western Hemisphere. As comedian Paul Rodriguez once noted, “When Mexicans enter the U.S. illegally, they take them to jail. When Cubans enter the U.S. illegally, they take them to Disney World.”

Ted Cruz will have no choice but to court Hispanics – and everyone else, regardless of ethnicity – if he wants to live in the White House and be considered the “Leader of the Free World.” It won’t be easy for him; not at all. He won’t be able to justify his extremist views to a broader audience. Then he’ll find himself on that sushi board. And me, personally, I think sushi is disgusting.

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The Worst Legacy

broken_promise_by_don_paolo

This past April marked twenty years since the death of President Richard M. Nixon, which came nearly two decades after he became the first Chief Executive in U.S. history to resign from office. That ignominious fortieth anniversary is coming up next month. It’s not something to be celebrated. The Watergate affair that brought him down has left an indelible stain on both American politics and the soul of the American people. Those of us in the 50 and under crowd have pretty much grown up in a world suspicious and even hostile towards all levels of government. The over 50 crowd helped build and fuel that distrust after a brutal sense of betrayal for a nation that set itself up more than two centuries ago as a beacon of democracy and freedom.

I’ve always said Watergate burned whatever bridges of faith and trust the American public had in their elected officials. But, the wicked uncertainty actually began the moment President John F. Kennedy had his head blown apart by an assassin’s bullets and Jacqueline Kennedy clambered onto the trunk of the presidential limousine in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The ensuing Warren Commission Report hoped to quell doubts that the murder was anything but the act of one deranged ex-Marine with delusions of grandeur. Yet, people saw it for what it really was: a rush to judgment. Americans weren’t so gullible anymore. The quagmire in Vietnam; the various energy crises of the 1970s; and the absolute failures of the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter Administrations (the latter burdened by the ineptness of the Iran hostage ordeal) only sealed the fate of Americans’ general distrust of their government.

Ronald Reagan fed off that fear like a lion gorging on a sick zebra and metamorphosed it into two successful political campaigns. One of his most popular statements, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’,” resonated strongly with the frustrated masses. Indeed, he had a point. But, Reagan’s own professional disconnect and ineffectiveness – Iran-contra, covert U.S. involvement in Central American conflicts, ignoring the AIDS epidemic, a pathetic war on pornography – placed him in the same pantheon of “Them.”

Almost from the moment Bill Clinton announced his candidacy for president, Republicans took retribution against their Democratic counterparts over Watergate by targeting Clinton every chance they could. They dissected the Whitewater deal and found – nothing. So, they turned to First Lady Hillary Clinton and manufactured something called “Travelgate.” When that didn’t work, they pounced on the events surrounding the suicide of Vince Foster; dragging the memory of a man who may have had severe emotional problems into their cesspool of arrogance and striving fruitlessly to twist it into an evil political plot. Alas, in 1998, they zeroed in on something totally unrelated to politics: the Monica Lewinsky affair and tried to impeach Clinton over a tawdry sexual indiscretion. The final report by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr read like a soft-core porn novel. I remember looking at that mess and thinking, “They want to impeach a U.S. president over that?! A blowjob?!”

We see that stubbornness now with the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. They complain that President Obama has no viable plans to help the U.S. economy, for example, but stand in their buckets of ideological cement and won’t budge. Thus, Obama (slowly growing some semblance of a backbone) has been forced to invoke executive privileges to get the work done. Now, Boehner is threatening to sue him because of it! I remember Boehner repeatedly asking, “Where are the jobs?” But, when Obama wanted the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans to expire at the end of 2010, Republicans balked and threatened to block extension of unemployment benefits, which were also set to expire at the end of that year; thus holding struggling Americans hostage. Obama relented, and the wealthiest citizens continued to see their after-tax incomes grow, while average Americans continued to lose their jobs and their homes.

The administration of George W. Bush solidified, in my mind, the corruptness and intransigence of the U.S. government. The 09/11 horror compelled many Americans to question what our government officials know and what they’re doing about it. That the Bush Administration then tied the 09/11 affair to Iraq’s alleged development of nuclear and / or chemical weapons convinced so many of us that our government is willing to go to extreme lengths to obfuscate and mislead just to embolden its own agenda. They tap-danced on the dead bodies of the innocent people who hurtled themselves from the World Trade Center’s burning Twin Towers and merely wiped the blood of soldiers from the millions of dollars they earned from oil revenue.

Bush was a puppet president; a doll adorned in designer business suits and propped up with ersatz ‘Mission Accomplished’ bravado. I almost feel sorry for him. Even he said, after leaving the White House, that he felt “liberated.”

Obama hasn’t done much better. At least he’s more verbally adept than Bush. But, I wish he’d make the time to rummage through his wife’s cache of designer handbags for his gonads before telling John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, “Fuck you. I’m president of the United States. I run this shit here – not you guys.”

It bothers me, for example, that we’re still entrenched in Afghanistan. I feel we should have bombed the crap out of them twelve years ago – damn their civilians, including the children and women, because they didn’t care about ours – and then leave. Maybe airdrop a few high-protein biscuits and bottled water into the mountainside, just to show we’re not complete assholes and go about our own business.

But, it bothers me even more that Obama hasn’t empowered Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the causes of the near-total economic collapse in 2008. The worst financial downturn since the 1930s didn’t happen because someone on the Dow Jones trading floor accidentally unplugged a computer before the end of the business day because they needed to do a software upgrade. It resulted from a multitude of events; such as hefty tax cuts for that “job-creating” 1%; extreme deregulation of the housing and banking industries; and the billions of dollars on the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Except for a handful of notable exceptions – Bernie Madoff, Mark Dreier – no one has been held accountable for the “Great Recession.” But, if I walk into a local convenience store with a toy gun and rob the Pakistani clerk of fifty bucks, I could spend thirty years in prison. I believe there were other more diabolical machinations in play, beginning in 2001, that caused the economic downturn. Yes, economies endure cycles of bull and bear markets. But, this fiasco wasn’t just cyclical, like rainfall. Somebody did something, and it wasn’t by accident.

In February 2012, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe stunned her constituents by announcing that she wouldn’t seek reelection that year. She didn’t hesitate to explain why: the level of hostility and unwillingness to compromise in the U.S. Congress had become unbearable. To her, I guess, it wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. It was a shame. Snowe was one of the most level-headed politicians in Washington, regardless of party affiliation. She was willing to listen to and work with all of her colleagues. But, many of them just didn’t seem to share the same ethic.

I still say it all goes back to Watergate. Nixon and his band of henchmen were determined to keep the president in power, as the 1972 elections neared. Nixon had a modest tenure as Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower, but suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the upstart Kennedy in 1960. When he lost the California governor’s race in 1962, he vowed to exit public life altogether, loudly proclaiming, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.” But, he just couldn’t stay away. He loved the political game and desperately wanted the presidency. His dogged ambition put him in the White House six years after the California debacle – and forced him back out six years later.

Things have never been the same since. And, we still can’t bring ourselves to trust anyone in government.

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Barack Obama – The Unintentional Martyr

From the moment Barack Obama declared his campaign for president in 2007, the hate mongrels came out of the sewers and began attacking him.  That happens every election cycle here in the United States.  But, this time was different.  It became particularly vicious.  The level of animosity was so intense the Secret Service granted him protection almost immediately.  It was the earliest in which the agency had ever provided security to a presidential candidate.  Technically, Hillary Clinton holds that record, but – as a former First Lady – she already had Secret Service protection.  Then, Obama won, and the hate got worst.

I think it shocked many old time politicians – especially in the Southeast – that even a half-blooded Negro could attain the highest elected office in the nation.  Yes, in most cases, it really is about race.  But, it appalled many in the old guard; the self-proclaimed protectorates of all that is sacred and holy in America who cry freedom and independence for everyone in this great land, but – deep down inside – only reserve it for a handful of select individuals.

This kind of sentiment was the genesis for the “birther” movement and ultimately the Tea Party crowd.  They didn’t like that Barack Obama’s father had been born in Kenya, a nation on Africa’s eastern flank.  But, although his mother was born and raised in Kansas, the birther clan insisted the junior Obama was born in Kenya, too; that his parents had met here in the U.S. and then – for some ungodly reason – traveled all the way back to Kenya to have their son and then, returned to the United States.  In other words, it’s part of some vast left-wing conspiracy.  Notice the birther goons didn’t highlight the fact that John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, or make an issue of the fact Mitt Romney’s father was born in México.  In the minds of these people, it seems Latin America is a despicable entity on the same scale as Africa.

Many Black Americans collectively shook their heads at the fiasco.  It’s an extension of the belief that many Blacks – as well as others – always get special treatment from the federal government; that things are handed to them on a silver platter and they really haven’t had to work for it.  In other words, they’ve done something outside of the norm to achieve their success.  It’s not genuine; it’s manufactured.  They couldn’t possibly have done it on their own; they had to have help.  Whenever disenfranchised groups have succeeded in business or politics, questions often fall upon the veracity of their accomplishments.  Did they really do all that work?  They couldn’t possibly have the same degree of intellect and fortitude as White males.  It’s affirmative action gone awry.

Thus, when Obama won in 2008, many of the old guard claimed that something dubious must have occurred.  I suspect if Obama had been a full-blooded Caucasian whose father was born in Europe, we wouldn’t be having this discourse.  But, even if, say, he was a full-blooded Negro whose father had been born in Nashville or Atlanta with the surname Smith, I’m sure someone somewhere would cry foul.  Obama just can’t win that particular battle.  Bigotry is as tough as a diamond sometimes; it takes so much pressure to break it.

But, despite the unpleasant nature of it all, it’s a necessary dilemma; a requisite bad chapter for our nation to undergo as we continue our march forward.  We’ll probably encounter this same mess with the first Hispanic president (Ann Coulter’s worst nightmare), the first Native American president, the first Asian, the first female, the first Jewish, the first Muslim, the first Hindu, and the first openly gay or lesbian.  They’ll all face similar angst from the old guard who just don’t like the fact America is becoming more diverse and can’t believe that anyone aside from White heterosexual Christian males are actually able to lead the richest, most powerful country on Earth.  Never mind that White heterosexual Christian males are, in fact, a demographic minority in the U.S. and have been for some time.  So Barack Obama has become a martyr of sorts in the name of true American freedom.  He’s been crucified and demonized more than any other Chief Executive.  He’s endured more disrespect – from Donald Trump refusing to look at a copy of Obama’s birth certificate to Jan Brewer jutting a crooked finger into the president’s face and later crying that he “intimidated” her.

And, in a very sad way, it has to happen.  It’s part of our growth and maturity as a nation.  The pathways toward equality and freedom are paved with rocks, not velvet.

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