Friday, December 31, 2010

Huge success for the US National Nuclear Security Administration

Early in his administration, President Obama established a goal to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years -- a task that encompasses locking down materials in 35 countries.

Yesterday, Rachel Maddow had an exclusive interview with Andrew Bieniawski, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration's associate deputy administrator for global threat reduction, on the fact that over the holidays, the NNSA has succeeded in removing 111 pounds of highly enriched uranium from Ukraine and sent it to Russia where it will be blended down, making it useless for bomb-making.

All the movement has to be done in secret and coordinated with other nations, he said.

Four nations were involved in the Ukraine operation, he said.

"Pulling this off is a huge challenge," he said.

The removal operation completed Thursday involved 21 specially designed casks for the uranium to be flown on five flights from three cities, officials told The Associated Press. The operation was delayed for days by ice storms in Ukraine. The U.S. also helped deliver some of the replacement fuel to Ukraine.

"This may have been the most complicated operation NNSA has done in recent years," said Andrew Bieniawski, the U.S. agency's associate deputy administrator for global threat reduction.


On Obama's goal of securing it all in 4 years - here's how we're doing.

The "vulnerable nuclear material" was in 35 nations, D'Agostino said.

"We're done with 19 countries and have 16 more to go," D'Agostino told Maddow, noting the U.S. and other countries were on track to complete removal by the end of the four-year deadline established by the nations.


I doubt this story will get much air time - especially during the holiday season. But it really is one of the most important success stories of the Obama administration - and great news for the globe!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mameen - by David Whyte




Be infinitesimal under that sky, a creature
even the sailing hawk misses, a wraith
among the rocks where the mist parts slowly.
Recall the way mere mortals are overwhelmed
by circumstance, how great reputations
dissolve with infirmity and how you,
in particular, live a hairsbreadth from losing
everyone you hold dear.

Then, look back down the path as if seeing
your past and then south over the hazy blue
coast as if present to a wide future,
recall the way you are all possibilities
you can see and how you live best
as an appreciator of horizons
whether you reach them or not,
admit that once you have got up
from your chair and opened the door,
once you have walked out into the clean air
toward that edge and taken the path up high
beyond the ordinary you have become
the privileged and the pilgrim
the one who will tell the story
and the one, coming back
from the mountain,
who helped to make it.

New Year's Resolution - Abandon

Last year at this time I wrote about why I hate new year's resolutions. The process itself signifies so much that my journey in this life has been about changing.

What I remember more than anything growing up is hearing "the rules" about how I was supposed to live my life. And that if I just had enough discipline or willpower, I'd be the "good girl" that God and all of the other adults in my life told me I should be. I tried. As a matter of fact, I tried with every fiber of my being. But ultimately, I always failed in some way. And of course, that failure was a result of my short comings - so then there's the guilt and shame to add to the failure.

But then one day, with the help of some very wise people, I began to realize that I was looking in the wrong direction. In other words, I was looking "out" at what the rules were instead of "in" at who I already was. While absorbing that was eventually a life-changing experience, it didn't come without a price...

Yep...I was free of the rules, but I was on my own. No daddy, or preacher, or god to tell me what to do. That was a frightening moment. But as I (figuratively) stood there for awhile and began to look inward, I saw something with the potential of authenticity and wholeness that could never be attained in my failed attempts to follow the rules. Discovering who I was and what I wanted (warts and all) eventually became my journey.


For all of us "good girls," overcoming this kind of conditioning is hard to do. We've been trained to spend an inordinate amount of energy calculating what it is others expect of us. To abandon ourselves to our own dreams, wishes, desires is something that feels dangerous and frightening. Perhaps that's because we know, at some instinctive level, that there's power there - authentic power just waiting to be tapped into.

And that's why I've always loved this song by Pink...you can feel the power!



So I'll cash my checks and place my bets
And hope I'll always win
Even if I don't I'm fucked
Because I live a life of sin

But it's alright, I don't give a damn
I don't play your rules I make my own
Tonight I'll do what I want 'cuz I can


Here's the Dixie Chick's take on the same theme.



Shania Twain calls her "Juanita."



Does abandon lead to mistakes? Of course.



But Indie Arie tells us what we'll find when we take that journey.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Peace

On second chances

I haven't been blogging much the last few days so I missed the whole controversy over statements Obama made about Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick. But the subject hits home for me in several ways.

First of all - I am a mega dog-lover and what Vick did positively turns my stomach. Secondly, I really hate the attention and resources we tend to lavish on professional athletes. But with all that said, I don't know when I've been more in agreement with our President.

He said, 'So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance. He was ... passionate about it. He said it's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail. And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.''


I've spent most of my professional life working to give a second chance to young people who've made mistakes. As is the case with Vick - who spent 18 months in prison- we hold them accountable. But we also recognize that for all of us, growth happens when we make mistakes, pay the price, and learn from the experience.

But all too often, we tend to withhold that second chance - especially from African American men and boys. The result is that one in three Black boys born in 2001 will spend time in prison.

A few years ago Leonard Pitts wrote An Open Letter To African American Men and talked about this.

Can we please stop being such good customers of the American injustice system? I am sick to my soul of watching shaggy-haired black boys and men in orange jumpsuits led into courtrooms to be judged for doing some stupid and heinous thing. I'm weary of the truth in that old Richard Pryor line about how he went to court looking for justice and that's what he found. Just us.

Contrary to what society has told us, to what so much of our music claims and to what too many of us have internalized, the reason isn't that we carry some kind of criminal gene. No, it's that we don't get second chances, don't have the same margin for error a white guy would. One strike, and you're out.

We need to recognize this. Need to make sure our sons and brothers recognize it.


The fact that Obama recognized and verbalized this meant a lot to me. While I've been one of his most ardent supporters, my biggest disappointment in Obama has been his lack of engagement on this issue of African Americans and the criminal justice system. His support for the death penalty has always been one of the hardest things for me to understand. But I am very encouraged by these words from Obama about the importance of second chances. Its the foundation on which a real system of justice can be built.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Obama goes electric

I'm not going to have the time over the next couple of days to think - much less write anything coherent.

But Dennis G over at Balloon Juice has a GREAT article titled Going electirc... He's noticing that the frustrati on the left seem to be the most angry at Obama over his process (rather than outcomes) and that - as I've talked about several times here - its all about the "long game."

The main objection seems not to be about the goals as they seem to be shared between Obama and those who rage at him from the left—but rather to be about the way Obama moves towards these goals in the short term and in the long term. And it is Obama’s focus on the long term that seems to be at the root of most of the rage.


Dennis then compares this rage to what many felt when Bob Dylan "went electric" and sums up the comparison this way:

From the moment Obama announced his run for the White House to now he has been following his own process and priorities—strategies and tactics—to meet some pretty ambitious progressive goals. So far, the list of accomplishment is long and I doubt there would be a fraction of these successes if he had stuck with the orthodox and predictable game plans of very knowledgeable pundits, bloggers, activists and thinkers who claim to have all the answers for progressive victory. Hell, if he followed their advice he would have never been elected in the first place. And yet for all their rage about how Obama is not following their game plan it is very hard to think of any victories won by anybody who has ever followed their advice.

Based on the evidence so far I think Obama’s approach to getting shit done is more like Dylan’s. I think he has gone electric and that he is changing what is possible in real time. He has produced real results and I expect that the next two years will produce more.

Time will tell.


Great read - go take a look at the whole thing.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Who is this Jesus?

At this time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I like to take some time to reflect on the life he lived. No one has summed that up better for me than Kid Oakland in an article he wrote back in 2004 titled a christmas message.

Let me tell you something about the Jesus that I know.

He was a real man. Born in a poor region to working poor parents. He loved learning, he loved his mother and his father.

But he left them and spent his life with the poor, the outcast, the rejected, the defiled, the sick, the sinners, the bedraggled, the bereft, the self-hating, the lonely, the banished, the foul, the miserable, the desperate and finally, those sick with their own power.

He did this, not because of his ideology or his creed. He did this not because of his doctrine. He did this, quite simply, because he loved them. He preferred them.

Their company, their stories, their lives, their environs, their plight and their faith.

And they loved him. Because he touched them. He looked them in the eye and believed in them. Because, at the end of the day, when they looked to him they saw that his commitment to them was a commitment unsullied by qualifier or clause. It was a commitment to love them, even upon pain of death. And they saw in him, a love that promised to love them as they were, who they were...fully, without judgement or flinching glance, or hypocritical accomodation.

This man, Jesus, was surrounded by friends and disciples whom he mentored....not by carping or enforcing rules...but by example and teaching. By the force of his actions. By his resolute commitment to the least, the smallest, the most in need.


I don't know what I can add to that. But for me - this is the inspiration of the man Jesus.

That's why this song has always been my favorite Christmas carol - especially this one line...

Long lay the world
in sin and error pinning
Til he appeared
and the soul felt its worth


He's always had game, Howie

Howard Fineman is starting to catch on.

People who play basketball with Barack Obama say he's more dogged than flashy, more determined than skillful, more adaptable than unique. He'll trash talk on a dribble-drive with Reggie Love, but in the old days he was a studious, unselfish passer with classroom colleagues at Harvard Law.

And often, they say, he ended up with more points than you thought he'd have. No one noticed until it was over.

As in basketball, so it is now: his life on the court is a parallel to the first two years of his up-and-down-and-now-sort-of-up-again presidency.

It hasn't been pretty; it certainly hasn't been easy. Pundits, including this one, have dismissed him as a lousy negotiator, a dreamy academic or worse. He's been a New Dealer one minute, Reaganite the next. He's been rigidly partisan one minute and too eager to cut a deal with the Republicans leadership the next.

He's been called a Socialist by the Tea Party and a Wall Street toady by MoveOn. His public standing is weak; the public thinks the country is headed in the wrong direction. Beltway-wise guys think he can be had.

But through dogged patience, and adaptable style and a refusal to panic, the president has piled up the longest list of new laws, treaties and administrative actions anyone has seen here in decades.


As I've said here, here, and here, you're going to miss Obama's game if you're looking for a sprint instead of a long distance race. This week we just saw some of the culmination of the distance game. As an example, Gail Collins points this out.

But let’s admit it. Nothing would have gotten done if Obama hadn’t swallowed that loathsome compromise on tax cuts for the wealthy.

If he’d taken the high road, Congress would be in a holiday war. The long-term unemployed would be staggering into the new year without benefits. The rest of the world would look upon the United States as a country so dysfunctional that it can’t even ratify a treaty to help keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. The people who worked at ground zero would still be uncertain about their future, and our gay and lesbian soldiers would still be living in fear.

It’s depressing to think that there was no way to win that would not have involved giving away billions of dollars to people who don’t need it. But it’s kind of cheery to think we have a president who actually does know what he’s doing.


Also - do we think the Start Treaty would have gotten all of those Republican votes if Obama hadn't been relentless in getting the entire Republican national security team on board? Do we think DADT repeal would have passed if he hadn't worked with Gates to get almost the entire military establishment on board? These things take time and patience. And this week we saw the fruit of those efforts.

As an aside, Fineman's reference to Obama's basketball game reminded me of the story Michelle Obama told about taking him home to meet her family. She says her brother always wanted to play basketball with her beau's because they thought that was the best way to get a read on the guy. Obama apparently passed with flying colors.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dancers


(Dancer - my niece Dani. Photographer - my brother Don.)

To return to harmony...we must realign our gestures into those of dancers. We must become beings who do not wish to control life, but only to listen to its music, and dance it.

- from The Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor

Mele Kalikimaka

With the ratification of the Start Treaty and passage of the 9/11 Health Care Bill today, the only thing left to do is wish Obama "Mele Kalikimaka" and safe travels to enjoy your holidays with the family in Hawaii.

You Belong

This morning President Obama signed the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." A few pictures from the event speak volumes about what it means to be told "you belong" after years of exclusion.









It reminds me of another moment two years ago when that same message reached a different group of people.





We are not a nation that says don't ask don't tell. We're a nation that says out of many we are one.

- President Barack Obama, December 22, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Swan - Rainer Maria Rilke



The labouring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.

And dying - to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day
is like his anxious letting himself fall
into the water, which receives him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draws back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more
indifferent, he condescends to glide.

Obama's Long Game



With the repeal of DADT, some of the talking heads are starting to recognize Obama's long game.

Andrew Sullivan has seen it for a while now. Here's how he described it on another issue.

My point is rather that he has a clear pattern of behavior that is acutely tuned to the longterm. He lets things take their course. Rather than tipping his hand early and decisively, he tends to hang back, aloof, distant, watching. Only when events have occurred that have proven the pointlessness of options he doesn't favor does he forthrightly present his own. And quite often, he almost seems intent on orchestrating such public failures of others' (and his own apparent) options - even at his own short-term cost.


More particularly related to DADT repeal is this by Greg Sargent.

Obama had been criticized for months on don't ask don't tell, with advocates complaining that his administration aggressively defended DADT in court and that he wasn't doing enough to rally the Senate to pass repeal. But the botton line is that the White House did everything possible to create the political climate necessary to make this happen. The Pentagon report and the testimony by Robert Gates -- and his public round of interviews calling on Congress to pass repeal for the good of the military -- were major game-changers.


"Creating the political climate necessary to make this happen" is something too many political observers don't take into consideration. What Obama has seen is that historically, failing to do so can lead to temporary victories and a tremendous amount of backlash. He's playing the long game though - staying the course even through the hysteria of people who want instant gratification. He's got his eye on the North Star and recognizes that slow and steady wins the race.

And finally, there's Rachel Maddow.



I think that politically, though, the thing to not lose touch of, to not lose touch with here, this is the President's victory. The President took a lot of criticism, a lot of abuse, a lot of skepticism from his otherwise most loyal supporters on this. But this is an issue on which the President did not waver. He continually insisted that this was possible. That it would get done.

It, in fact, was not possible for the President to do this through Executive action. This is something that had to happen legislatively if it was really going to happen in a definitive way.

The President did not waver. He DID work on the Senate to get this to happen. He insisted that this was possible against a lot of people, including me, saying it was not possible.


The abuse Obama took over this one was his insistence that DADT be ended legislatively rather than through Executive action or through the courts. People like Maddow didn't think that was possible - and they let him know it.

While Obama never wavered on his commitment to end DADT, many people questioned that because he had a different strategy - one that created the opening for definitive long-term change. I would hope that his critics take notice.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Let someone touch your soul

Where did the anti-nuke progressives go?

Now that DADT is repealed and (sadly) the DREAM Act failed this time, the next big thing on the agenda for the lame duck session is ratification of the Start Treaty. Here's Obama today.



I concur with BooMan on being a bit mystified about the relative lack of passion we're seeing on this one from progressives.

progressives have become almost completely disengaged from the issues of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and are far more invested in other issues that are important but, let me say, of less monumental importance. I don't want to engage in a war of "my issue is more important than your issue," because the Senate is debating a range of important issues that include progressive taxation, the budget, gay rights, immigrant rights, nuclear issues, and bilateral relations with Russia. I will just say that I am not happy that there is almost no evident interest or angst from the progressive community about the outcome of the START ratification effort. When I was coming of political age, the left was deeply invested in nuclear issues


It reminds me a bit of the obsession progressives demonstrated about the public option during health care reform - all while things like the expansion of Medicaid went practically unnoticed. I find it interesting (to say the least) to watch how these priorities are developed.

Does anyone actually listen to what Republicans are saying?

I ask the question in the title because a few of them have been saying some pretty outrageous things over the last couple of days.

For example, here's what Senator Corker said about DADT repeal.

What’s happened is it’s poisoning the well on this debate, on something that’s very, very important….I’m just hoping that saner minds will prevail and that these issues that have been brought forth that are absolutely partisan, political, issues, brought forth to basically accommodate activist groups around this country. I’m hoping that those will be taken down or else I don’t think the future of the START treaty over the next several days is going to be successful, based on what I’m watching.


We'll ignore the fact that Corker just claimed that this country's military establishment is bringing forth partisan political issues, because what's even more appalling is that he's suggesting that Republicans would avoid dealing with national security legislation because they want to throw a temper tantrum over having to vote on DADT repeal. How do these guys maintain even the illusion of adulthood?

And then there's Senator McCain claiming that voting on health care for 9/11 responders is "fooling around."

The Arizona Republican, dubbed McWeasel for blowing off an ailing Ground Zero construction worker two weeks ago, whipped up new fury last night by suggesting Senate Democrats have wasted time trying to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, among other bills.

At the time, McCain was refusing to accept a time limit for debating the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

"To have a time agreement after all of the fooling around that we've been doing on [the] Dream Act, on New York City ... we will not have a time agreement from this side," he insisted angrily.


Evidently Jon Stewart and a group of 9/11 first responders are paying attention. Anyone else?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Friday, December 17, 2010

Waiting...

Wait

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven't they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Wait.
Don't go too early.
You're tired. But everyone's tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

- Galway Kinnell

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Tortoise and the Hare



Republicans seem to have a love of short-term thinking. Whatever they see as helping their cause in the next election seems to be their guiding principle.

Today, Republican Presidential contender Mitt Romney demonstrates this by criticizing the tax cut deal and ends with this:

President Obama has reason to celebrate. The deal delivers short-term economic stimulus, and it does so at the very time he wants it most, before the 2012 elections.


He's admitting that the deal will deliver "short-term economic stimulus" and thinks that's a bad thing (?)...because it helps Obama in the 2012 election.

Charles Krauthhamer made pretty much the same argument a couple of days ago.

In the deal struck this week, the president negotiated the biggest stimulus in American history, larger than his $814 billion 2009 stimulus package. It will pump a trillion borrowed Chinese dollars into the U.S. economy over the next two years - which just happen to be the two years of the run-up to the next presidential election. ...

At great cost that will have to be paid after this newest free lunch, the package will add as much as 1 percent to GDP and lower the unemployment rate by about 1.5 percentage points. That could easily be the difference between victory and defeat in 2012.


Again, he's not happy that unemployment will be reduced by 1.5% because that will help Obama in 2012.

On another issue, the short-term thinking about resistance to the individual mandate in health care reform might come back to haunt them too.

The individual mandate was created by conservatives who realized that it was the only way to get universal coverage into the private market. Otherwise, insurers turn away the sick, public anger rises, and, eventually, you get some kind of government-run, single-payer system, much as they did in Europe, and much as we have with Medicare.

If Republicans succeed in taking it off the table, they may sign the death warrant for private insurers in America: Eventually, rising cost pressures will force more aggressive reforms than even Obama has proposed, and if conservative judges have made the private market unfixable by removing the most effective way to deal with adverse selection problems, the only alternative will be the very constitutional, but decidedly non-conservative, single-payer path.


Finally, we all know that the demographics of this country don't favor the Republicans over the long-term. In particular, their relentless dismissal of the major concerns of Latinos might be paying off well with their white and generally older Tea Party base. But they don't seem capable of understanding the down side of such a strategy.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have the ultimate long-term thinker in the White House.

So, my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there, what is helping people live out their lives; what is giving them more opportunity; what is growing the economy; what is making us more competitive. At any given juncture there are going to be times that my preferred option, what I am absolutely, positively sure is right, I can’t get done. And so then, my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way or that way because I am keeping my eye on the long-term and the long fight. Not my day-to-day news cycle, but where am I going over the long-term.


We all know that our crisis-driven 24 hour new cycle is addicted to the sprint rather than the long-distance race. But when it comes to a contest between the tortoise and the hare, I know where I'm going to place my bets.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Just sayin...

A couple of items of note:

Numero uno:

Its not just lefties who think Obama needs to man up. (warning...RedState link) Kind of amusing thinking about conservatives having a "man crush" on a commie, isn't it?

Numero dos:

Just when I lose sight of the impact race has on the constant critique of Obama, something like this comes along. John Cole quoted from this great column by Ishmael Reed. And what's the response? I'll let John describe it. (warning...extreme language)

Just look at this thread. I post a piece telling how a lot of African Americans feel regarding the over the top treatment of Obama. A number of African American commenters chime in and say, “Yes, we don’t think they are racist, but we don’t think other politicians have been treated this way, and we feel that Obama is being treated differently.”

So what do the members of the dickhead colony do?

Loudly scream “Fuck you for feeling that way and fuck you for calling me racist and fuck Obama for being such a weak pussy.”


I'm usually not one to talk about similarities between the extreme left and the extreme right. But its getting hard to avoid that kind of thing.

Obama's North Star




This kind of critique of Obama is nothing new. We've been hearing it almost since day one of his Presidency.

It seems to me that the outcome of the process isn't something he has a vested interest in ensuring. He says, often in fact, that "all options are on the table" or "I'm willing to listen to anybody." ... He doesn't see himself as an advocate, but an arbitrator. The worst thing for President Obama to deal with is not a bad outcome, but a bad process. It is a mistake to believe that the president doesn't have a preferred outcome and that it isn't often progressive. He does, but he isn't willing to disrupt the process over it with political fights. He believes that whatever a calm, orderly process produces is what is best, even if he disagrees with the results. Even if it occurs in backrooms. Perhaps this is why so many Democrats are scratching their heads trying to figure out what the president believes. What his motives are. What his politics are.


While this writer begins his article stating that he doesn't think this makes Obama naive or weak, that is the conclusion of many who see things this way.

What I hear is people trying very hard to understand Obama. And yet they continue to apply their own frames and patterns rather than make an effort to see things through fresh eyes. I'd like to suggest that these folks read James Kloppenberg.

Throughout his career, Obama has refused to demonize his opponents. Instead, he has sought them out and listened to them. He has tried to understand how they think and why they see the world as they do. His mother encouraged this sense of empathy, and it’s a lesson Obama learned well. Since January 2009, Obama has watched his efforts at reconciliation, experimentation, and -consensus--building bounce off the hard surfaces of political self-interest and entrenched partisanship, but there is no reason to think he will abandon that strategy now. He knows that disagreement is a vital part of the American fabric, and that our differences are neither shallow nor trivial.


And perhaps, even listen to Obama himself on what he has to say about outcomes.

So, my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there, what is helping people live out their lives; what is giving them more opportunity; what is growing the economy; what is making us more competitive. At any given juncture there are going to be times that my preferred option, what I am absolutely, positively sure is right, I can’t get done. And so then, my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way or that way because I am keeping my eye on the long-term and the long fight. Not my day-to-day news cycle, but where am I going over the long-term.


While I do believe that Obama values a process where all sides are brought to the table and heard (in other words - democracy), he has a North Star...:"what is helping people live out their lives; what is giving them more opportunity; what is growing the economy; what is making us more competitive."

That North Star is not dependent on a particular ideology - much to the confusion of extremists on both sides of the equation. By nature, a North Star is off in the distance (ie, long-term) and is used to guide our journey in the here and now...to ensure that we stay the course, even as we have to "tack a little bit this way or that." If your vision is too short-sighted, this is probably something you're likely to miss.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Eagle and the Condor



I first wrote about this a little more than three years ago.

So when I hear people saying that Obama needs to man up, implying that he is "too feminine," I see a world in transition and feel the seeds of hope that perhaps we are beginning to struggle with this kind of transformative change.

Fresh Eyes



A few years ago at work I was talking to a potential funder about some innovative work we were doing with our public libraries. Many urban youth are beginning to use the libraries more often. It might be because they are one of the few places left that are safe for kids to go to. Or perhaps its because they can get access to computers...who knows?

But being loud, boisterous and mostly youth of color, the (often white female) librarians were having trouble with these kids...behavior was escalating and without seeing other options, the cops were often called to intervene.

So we were training librarians on how to better interact with these kids. Hold them accountable..yes, but also engage them. This was producing amazing results when you looked at the police calls to the libraries.

When I got done explaining all of this, the woman I was talking to suggested that perhaps we should talk to a similar program. It turns out this other program was offering tutoring for kids in the libraries.

I realized that she hadn't understood what I was talking about at all.

As I reflected on this experience (because its happened more than once at work), I began to think about what we're learning about how our brains work. Since we tend to take in WAY more stimuli than we can process, we develop patterns that are familiar to us. So when we see/hear something new, we tend to place it in a pattern that has already developed. The woman I was talking to understood tutoring programs. What I was talking about was an approach she probably hadn't been exposed to before - at least not in the context of libraries.

Right now I'm thinking alot about how communication about politics on the blogs breaks down. I think some of the same principles are at work.

Rather than hearing what an individual says in a particular moment, we tend to do one of two things:

1. If we've talked to the person before, we think we know them. We've developed a pattern about them based on our previous conversations and we put what they say into that pattern. This is especially true if we've had an emotional response to the person in question. If we have gotten angry at them in the past, we hear what they are currently saying through that anger.

2. If we've not talked to the person before, certain words and phrases bring up a pattern and we tend to place them in it without hearing the newness they might bring to the topic.

What this kind of communication does is that it enables us to retain our patterns and the opinions we have already formed. Its hard to break through with fresh ideas.

As I watch this happen, I have to ask myself how often I do it. There's not much that's more important to me than the process of challenging my thoughts and learning. So I write this to say (mostly to myself) that I want to try to enter every conversation with fresh eyes.

No more drama!!!

This is another day when reading the news about our political situation can only be summed up with this.



We know the Republicans are obstructionists, intent on destroying Obama's presidency and doing all they can in the process to help their wealthy friends cash in on the goodies.

But did you see the latest from congressional Democrats?

Incensed over President Obama’s tax compromise, House Democratic leaders are showing signs of abandoning the administration and going their own way on critical issues such as national security.

In a striking move, the Appropriations Committee late Wednesday attached a provision to a $1.1 trillion resolution to keep the government funded next year that would prevent Obama from spending any funds to try terrorism suspects in civilian court instead of military commissions.

The language would essentially prevent the closing of the detainee prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.


So in order to punish Obama for negotiating with the Republicans on the tax deal - they're going to side with those same Republicans by tying the hands of DOJ in prosecuting terror suspects and making it impossible to shut down Guantanamo. Yeah, that makes alot of sense...not.

Seriously, I don't get it.

Right now, if the Democrats had any ounce of awareness - they'd recognize that the majority of people in the country are with them on the issues that are in front of Congress (ie, tax cuts, DADT repeal, unemployment insurance, Start Treaty, etc.) and they'd be making a case together (there's the operative word) that Democrats are better able to govern. But instead, their egos got damaged and they're striking out at "Daddy" in a way that can only remind one of 2 year olds.

I've had enough for now. I'm going to chill and listen to the wisdom of Mary J. Blige...no more drama!!!!!!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Listen to the man!

A few months ago, Ezra Klein wrote a column titled People don't listen to the President. I think he's right. President Obama gives hundreds of speeches and other than the SOTU - who ever really watches or listens to them? Even many political junkies just read a few reactions to what he had to say from sources that tend to share our viewpoint - and therefore confirm what we already thought.

I'd like to suggest that anyone who wants to comment on Obama - his thoughts and/or strategies - watch his press conference from today. I don't believe he's ever been so open, clear and passionate. Its also the first time I can remember him talking directly about how he thinks about political strategy. Like it or not - he lays it all out there for you to see if you take the time to listen.



There are many powerful moments, but here's how he ended.

So, my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there, what is helping people live out there lives; what is giving them more opportunity; what is growing the economy; what is making us more competitive. And any given juncture there are going to be times that my preferred option, what I am absolutely, positively sure is right, I can’t get done. And so then, my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way or that way because I am keeping my eye on the long-term and the long fight. Not my day-to-day news cycle, but where am I going over the long-term. And I don’t think there is a single Democrat out there who if they looked at where we started when I came into office and look at where we are now that we have not moved in the direction that I promised. Take a tally, look at what I promised during the campaign. There is not a single thing that I said I’d do that I have not either done or tried to do. And if I haven’t gotten it done yet, I am still trying to do it. And to my Democratic friends, let’s understand that this is a long game not a short game.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Man Up"

As I read and hear criticisms of Obama, there is a theme to some of them that I find pretty fascinating - especially when it comes from liberals and Democrats. Here are some examples that I think will be telling:

Obama needs to:

man up
grow some balls
take off the pink tutu

There are others, but you get the point.

The message is clearly that Obama is too feminine.

I suppose that if he had been unsuccessful, there might be a reason to look at a critique like that. But the truth is, he has accomplished more in 2 years than Clinton and Carter did in 12.

I know there are some who are not happy with his accomplishments, but that's a disagreement on substance and not style. The examples I listed above are clearly a critique of his style.

So is Obama "too feminine?" If so, what does that mean? And what does it say about us that so many have a problem with it?

These are questions I'm asking myself these days as I listen to the political discourse. I don't have a lot of answers yet. But I would invite you to listen to the critiques you read/hear about Obama. We all know that there is an underlying theme of racism that permeates a lot of it. But there also seems to be a yearning for a more "manly' response from him. There are centuries of stereotypes that undergird that kind of call. We seem to be a culture that still has a long way to go in recognizing the value of soft power.

I am invariably reminded of the work of Riane Eisler and her book The Chalice and the Blade where she outlines the historical difference between cultures organized around the blade (dominance) and those who value the chalice (partnership). Here's a short video of an interview that will tell you why her thinking about this is so relevant.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Some of the things I found interesting today

From the NYT, Cables Depict Range of Obama Diplomacy.

The cables suggest that Mr. Obama’s form of engagement is a complicated mixture of openness to negotiation, constantly escalating pressure and a series of deadlines, some explicit, some vague...

While WikiLeaks made the trove available with the intention of exposing United States duplicity, what struck many readers was that American diplomacy looked rather impressive. The day-by-day record showed diplomats trying their hardest behind closed doors to defuse some of the world’s thorniest conflicts, but also assembling a Plan B.


On that bad report on jobs from the Dept. of Labor, Time says we might need a job recount. That's because the published numbers are seasonally adjusted - which means that retail employment numbers were adjusted down to accommodate the holiday season. Actually, instead of retail loosing 28,000 as the report indicated, that sector added 350,000 jobs in November.

From This & Such, Weak Tea, Brewed in Cold Water.

Save me the twaddle about how Dems are weak—you want to know why that is? Because their constituency is weak. And cowardly. And intransigent. If it is true that attitude reflects leadership, then the attitude of cowardice I see in the blogosphere is in perfect harmony with the leadership provided in Washington.

Flash Mobs - Dancing a Revolution

We've all heard that Emma Goodman quote..."If I can't dance - I don't want to be part of your revolution." Well, I'll bet Emma would love flash mobs.

Wikipedia defines flash mobs this way:

A flash mob is a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual act for a brief time, then disperse.


If you want to see what that looks like - or you just want to brighten your day - watch these examples.

Here's one of my favorites. From the youtube description:

Kim MacGregor organized this flash mob of 200 dancers to launch the "feel good" movement, "I Believe She's Amazing" in honor of her friend Erika Heller who passed away May 28th, 2009 at 31 yrs. old...this is her living legacy.




Or how about this one from Oprah's 24th Season Kick Off Party.



But flash mobs aren't just about dancing. How about some singing?



Or maybe just a "freeze frame?"



Some flash mobs are just for fun, but corporate advertisers know a good thing when they see it.



As does some creative young guy who wants to propose to the woman he loves.



I first heard about flash mobs while reading an article by Al Giordano titled Summit Protests Are Obsolete in which he was commenting on the protests that took place at the G-20 Summit in Toronto. He thinks we can do better.

And to think: At least twice in recent months, in the same city of Toronto, there were two creative actions – neither of them “protests,” per se – that were designed, and succeeded, to win over hearts and minds and public support. They involved planning, discipline and a lot more fun than the tired summit protests offer, and they show us a possible path toward a new kind of protest that, rather than provoking automatic police repression, sneaks up on society with stealth and then disappears quickly avoiding any physical confrontation at all...

Add a coherent political message, banners, leaflets, a dance tune that resonates with the message, and such to a dancing musical flash mob like these and you have the seeds of a new, more effective, kind of protest than the tired old marching around in circles of the last century that has ceased to win any cause for anyone.


I'm with Al on this one. One thing I'd add is that, if you watch these videos, the feelings are contagious. People are smiling, appreciative, and want to join in.

Because liberals are often in the mud and muck with what's wrong in the world, we can be dour and depressing (or simply angry and rageful all the time). Who wants to join a movement like that? But isn't our message also about what's best in human beings - things like respect, compassion and empathy? What better way to invite people into that kind of movement than a flash mob?

As the quote up top from Madeleine L'Engle says:

Our truest responsibility to the irrationality of the world is to paint, or sing, or write, [or dance], for only in such response do we find the truth.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Summing things up...

I've been reading the news around the internets and wanted to write something. But this is one of those moments when a picture is worth a thousand words. Here's what I'm hearing...



Thanks to Chipsticks at The Obama Diary for the image.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Responding to the Republican's "lose/lose" Game

With the Republicans toying with sabotage over the New Start Treaty and holding the Senate hostage unless they get exactly what they want on tax cuts, what is a reasonable strategy for Obama and Congressional Democrats to pursue?

Mistermix over at Balloon Juice nails it in Playing Cards with Judas.

...Ezra Klein thinks that Obama’s a bad poker player. He may be right, but the analogy isn’t helpful. Poker is a win/lose game. Negotiation is a win/win game, because both parties get something when a deal is struck. Republicans aren’t playing poker or negotiating. They are playing another game, call it “You Must Lose”. They’re happy with win/lose, if they win, but they’ll tolerate lose/lose as long as Obama loses.

The only analogy that springs to mind when I look at the Republicans’ recent behavior is a bad divorce. Think of a situation where Lisa and Bob are getting a divorce, and Bob is so hell-bent on hurting Lisa that he doesn’t care about their kids or their bank account. Bob will deploy a hundred variations on the same tactic: put the Lisa in a bind where she has to choose between damaging the children and losing money. Lisa will lose money almost every time in order to save the children.

In this situation, capitulation is inevitable, the only question is what form it will take...

Obama has three tactics he can use, all of them weak: The first is to try to fracture the Republican caucus, and he’s flailing around with deficit appeasement (e.g., the federal wage freeze) and half-compromises (the millionaire tax) that are designed to pick off a few caucus members, like Collins or Snowe. The second is to use executive power to its limit, by rule-making (like stopping drilling in the Eastern Gulf until 2017). The third is institutional reform, specifically, ending the filibuster.

None of these tactics is especially effective, but when you’re working with someone who’s only happy if you lose, what else is there?


Exactly!!!!

When the Republicans are willing to play chicken with the American people (and ultimately even national security), what are mature adults supposed to do?

As a former Family Therapist, I've thought of his analogy often. I saw many cases like the one he describes...used to call them "divorce wars." Sometimes the Lisa's in that situation buy in and use the same tactics to fight back (what many Democrats are suggesting Obama should do). That never ends well and the children are the ones who suffer. I saw one family who had been to court over 20 times on custody issues. The welfare of the children was the ammunition they were using to get back at each other.

There's no point in playing this game with folks who are content with "lose/lose." Its a downward spiral that leads to nowhere but chaos and destruction.

In the short-term, I agree with the tactics mistermix suggests. But in the long-term, the only way this gets solved is for the "children" (voters) to let Bob know that they're not going to be used this way anymore and tell him to take a hike.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Remembering December 1, 1955




Obama Consistency

Whether you agree with Obama's approach or not - you have to give him credit for consistency.

Here's what he said (via email) after the White House meeting with Congressional leaders.

Now, none of this is going to be easy. We have two parties for a reason. There are real philosophical differences -– deeply held principles to which each party holds. And although the atmosphere in today’s meeting was extremely civil, there’s no doubt that those differences are going to remain no matter how many meetings we have. And the truth is there’s always going to be a political incentive against working together, particularly in the current hyperpartisan climate. There are always those who argue that the best strategy is simply to try to defeat your opposition instead of working with them.

And, frankly, even the notion of bipartisanship itself has gotten caught up in this mentality. A lot of times coming out of these meetings, both sides claim they want to work together, but try to paint the opponent as unyielding and unwilling to cooperate. Both sides come to the table; they read their talking points; then they head out to the microphones -– trying to win the news cycle instead of solving problems, and it becomes just another move in an old Washington game.

But I think there was recognition today that that's a game that we can’t afford. Not in these times. And in a private meeting that I had without staff -- without betraying any confidences -- I was pleased to see several of my friends in the room say, let’s try not to duplicate that. Let’s not try to work the Washington spin cycle to suggest that somehow the other side is not being cooperative. I think that there was a sincere effort on the part of everybody involved to actually commit to work together to try to deal with these problems.

And they understand that these aren't times for us to be playing games.


As a reminder, here's a quote from Kloppenberg's Newsweek article again.

Since January 2009, Obama has watched his efforts at reconciliation, experimentation, and -consensus--building bounce off the hard surfaces of political self-interest and entrenched partisanship, but there is no reason to think he will abandon that strategy now. He knows that disagreement is a vital part of the American fabric, and that our differences are neither shallow nor trivial.


We might as well get used to it. This is how Obama operates. He's bound and determined to "change the way Washington works." I assume he'll continue to give it a go - whether that means one term or two - regardless of how much the left hates it and the right obstructs.