Thursday, March 31, 2011

Michelle Obama on mentoring

In so many ways, I see myself in you all. And I want you to see yourselves in me...

- Michelle Obama, Ballou High School, March 30, 2011

Politicians are always finding ways to say things like "children are our future." Its a good line that makes everyone feel good. But when you look at how they spend their time and resources, it becomes just that...a line.

Perhaps I'm biased because I've spent my entire career working with young people. But I have this feeling that people who demonstrate - by their actions - a commitment to children (both their own and other people's children), are speaking volumes to us about their values. Barack and Michelle Obama have demonstrated this kind of commitment since day one in the White House.

Yesterday was such a day for Michelle Obama. In celebration of International Women's Day, she carried on a tradition she started when she first arrived at the White House - a day for successful women to inspire and mentor local Washington DC girls.

First, the women fanned out to visit area schools to tell their stories and talk with students. And then Michelle hosted a dinner at the White House for these guest mentors and 120 students.

Here are a few of Michelle's remarks from last night's dinner.

And their stories were possible because along the way, all of them –- every last one of them -– had someone in their lives who took the time to encourage them and to inspire them. None of us are here on our own -- someone who told them that they’re special, that they’re talented, that they have a place in this world and a whole lot to offer...

Faith and love and hard work, those are the things that got us all through. And that's really all you need. You don't need money. You don't need connections. You just need to work really hard and push yourselves and push beyond your fear, because fear is all a part of it. We have all felt fear. We’ve all felt doubt. But the question is, do you let that stop you, or do you keep pushing through?

But of course, pictures tell the story best.

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NASA Astronaut Ellen Ochoa, Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes and actress Rashida Jones

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Actresses Geena Davis, Hilary Swank and Vanessa Minnillo

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Former basketball player Lisa Leslie

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Recording artist Ledisi

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Grammy Award winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari

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Nancy Brinker, founder and chief executive of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and actress Tracee Ellis Ross

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Actress and comedienne Ali Wentworth

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Obama: "America has done what we said we would do."

Obama just finished delivering a speech about our involvement in Libya. He made some points that over the next few days I'm sure will be dissected to develop what we can say about an "Obama Doctrine." I might even attempt to do that as I have time to dwell on things a bit more.

But my first reaction is that I heard what I hoped to hear about this particular situation. Like so many of us in this country, I was worried about things like "mission creep" and the potential dangers of getting involved in another quagmire of a war.

No one knows exactly how the situation in Libya will end. But Obama was clear about a few things that reassured me he's thought out our role very well.

For example, after recounting what has happened over the last couple of weeks and announcing that NATO will take over command as of Wednesday, he said this:

Going forward, the lead in enforcing the No Fly Zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Gaddafi’s remaining forces. In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role – including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications. Because of this transition to a broader, NATO-based coalition, the risk and cost of this operation – to our military, and to American taxpayers – will be reduced significantly.

So for those who doubted our capacity to carry out this operation, I want to be clear: the United States of America has done what we said we would do.

That doesn't mean that we'll simply do what we've been doing...only less. We will shift dramatically to - as Obama said - a supporting role.

He also recognized that this is not the end of the road for Libya.

Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake...

As the bulk of our military effort ratchets down, what we can do – and will do – is support the aspirations of the Libyan people. We have intervened to stop a massacre, and we will work with our allies and partners as they’re in the lead to maintain the safety of civilians. We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Gaddafi leaves power. It may not happen overnight, as a badly weakened Gaddafi tries desperately to hang on to power. But it should be clear to those around Gadaffi, and to every Libyan, that history is not on his side. With the time and space that we have provided for the Libyan people, they will be able to determine their own destiny, and that is how it should be.

That's what I hoped to hear.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Arrow's Story

Over the last week or so when people talk about our involvement in Libya, a comparison is often made to our intervention in Bosnia. How valid that comparison is will have to be the topic for someone else. Because bringing up Bosnia always reminds me of one of the most beautiful books I've ever read, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. It is a fictionalized account of 4 people's lives during the Siege of Sarajevo, which went on from 1992 to 1996.

It was fought during the Bosnian War between poorly equipped defending forces of the Bosnian government, who had declared independence from Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Bosnian Serb forces (Army of Republika Srpska) (VRS) located in the hills around Sarajevo, who sought to destroy the newly-independent state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and create the Serbian state of Republika Srpska (RS).

It is estimated that of the more than 12,000 people who were killed and 50,000 who were wounded during the siege, 85% were civilians. Because of killing and forced migration, by 1995 the population decreased to 334,663 - 64% of the prewar population.

As Galloway tells us in the afterword of the book, it is based on a true story of something that happened during the siege.

At four o'clock in the afternoon of May 17, 1992, during the Siege of Sarajevo, several mortar shells struck a group of people waiting to buy bread behind the market on Vase Miskina. Twenty-two people were killed and at least seventy were wounded. For the next twenty-two days Vedran Smailovic, a renonwned local cellist, played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor at the site in honor of the dead. His actions inspired this novel.



One of the characters portrayed in the book is a woman who's pseudonym during the siege is "Arrow" because she is hired by the government forces as a sniper to fire back at the enemy in the hills conducting the siege. She explains that she has adopted the pseudonym while she does this in order to draw a definitive line between the person she was before and the person she has become in hopes that someday she can return.

Here is one of our first introductions to Arrow.

Ten years ago, when she was eighteen and was not called Arrow, she borrowed her father's car and drove to the countryside to visit friends. It was a bright, clear day, and the car felt alive to her, as though the way she and the car moved together was a sort of destiny, and everything was happening exactly as it ought to. As she rounded the corner one of her favorite songs came on the radio, and sunlight filtered through the trees the way it does with lace curtains, reminding her of her grandmother, and tears began to slide down her cheeks. Not for her grandmother, who was then still very much among the living, but because she felt an enveloping happiness to be alive, a joy made stronger by the certainty that someday it would all come to an end. It overwhelmed her, made her pull the car to the side of the road. Afterward she felt a little foolish, and never spoke to anyone about it.

Now, however, she knows she wasn't being foolish. She realizes that for no particular reason she stumbled into the core of what it is to be human. It's a rare gift to understand that your life is wondrous, and that it won't last forever.

So when Arrow pulls the trigger and ends the life of one of the soldiers in her sights, she'll do so not because she wants him dead, although she can't deny that she does, but because the soldiers have robbed her and almost everyone else in the city of this gift. That life will end has become so self-evident it's lost all meaning. But worse, for Arrow, is the damage done to the distance between what she knows and what she believes. For although she knows her tears that day were not the ridiculous sentimentality of a teenage girl, she doesn't really believe it.

And so, Arrow learns what it means to hate. Here are her thoughts as she watches some girls who leave flowers for the cellist.

Arrow wonders about the two girls who laid flowers in front of the cellist. Do they hate the men on the hills as much as she does? Do they hate them for being murderous bastards, killers without remorse? She hopes not. That's too easy. If they hate the men on the hills, then they are forced to hate her too. She kills just the same as they do. On days like today when she doesn't kill, she feels a loss that reveals a hostility within her that goes deeper than the lack of remorse. It's almost a lust.

But the cellist finally breaks through Arrow's hatred.

Arrow let the slow pulse of the vibrating strings flood into her. She felt the lament raise a lump in her throat, fought back tears. She inhaled sharp and fast. Her eyes watered, and the notes ascended the scale. The men on the hills, the men in the city, herself, none of them had the right to do the things they'd done. It had never happened. It could not have happened. But she knew these notes. They had become a part of her. They told her that everything had happened exactly as she knew it had, and that nothing could be done about it. No grief or rage or noble act could undo it. But it could all have been stopped. It was possible. The men on the hills didn't have to be murderers. The men in the city didn't have to lower themselves to fight their attackers. She didn't have to be filled with hatred. The music demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness. The notes were proof of that.

My prayer for the people of Libya is that, in the midst of all of this madness...they have a cellist.

What's the end game?

My title seems to be a prominent question asked mostly by those on the left about our current involvement in Libya.

Here is a brilliant response by a blogger in just such a discussion.

While I agree that it is a critical question, I also recognize that "end game" is a question that it is not the U.S. place to answer, if this was truly a humanitarian intervention. And since my support for it is predicated upon it having been a humanitarian intervention, "end game for Libya" is a question that has to be answered by Libyans, not pundits, or commenters or even policy analysts sitting in the U.S...

So, uncertainty has to be the price of our principles, and some lack of control.

Lack of certainty and control is a HUGE issue - including for those on the left. For years now we've been raging against the neocon's Pax Americana. But the hard truth is that being a partner rather than a dominator means giving up some control.

I've learned that same lesson on a tiny scale in my own community. The non-profit I work for has been dabbling in some community organizing around the issue of the over-representation of young black men in the criminal justice system. In those efforts, I am constantly reminded that it is the community that we are trying to organize. If we get out front of their goals and aspirations, we're not doing community organizing, we're just one more group telling this community what they need to do. It can be a tough line to walk.

As to the situation in Libya, the rebels asked us for assistance and we provided it. But this rebellion is theirs and not ours. To determine an end game and then pursue it takes it all away from them and makes it our effort. Leaving it to the rebels means we are partners, but not in control. And that means having to live with the uncertainty. That's why Christina Patterson was absolutely correct when she said this about Obama's announcement on the Libyan intervention.

Obama, like every other person on the face of this planet, doesn't know if bombing certain targets in Tripoli, and Benghazi, and Misrata, is going to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi, or if it's just going to strengthen his resolve. He doesn't know if the bombs will just destroy machinery, and kill soldiers, or if they're going to kill men and women who are used as human shields. He doesn't know if the so-called rebels, who said they didn't want international help, and then that they did, but might change their minds again, and who are mostly about as experienced in using AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades as I am, will be able to stand up against a trained army, and highly paid mercenaries, and massive supplies of arms that the West sold them, and now wishes it hadn't. He doesn't know if this is the kind of military action that can be done quite quickly and cleanly, or if, like most military action, and even military action that looks as though it can be done quickly and cleanly, it can't.

It is, presumably, because he doesn't know these things that he took a while to weigh them up.

Are progressives ready for the uncertainty of partnership?

Senators show lack of leadership

Something happened last week that I didn't have time to write about. But I think its an important event that indicates how we exhibit our tendency towards authoritarianism in this country rather than the democratic republic our founders envisioned.

Sixty-four Senators (32 Democrats and 32 Republicans) sent a letter to President Obama that said the following:

As the Administration continues to work with Congressional leadership regarding our current budget situation, we write to inform you that we believe comprehensive deficit reduction measures are imperative and to ask you to support a broad approach to solving the problem...

By approaching these negotiations comprehensively, with a strong signal of support from you, we believe that we can achieve consensus on these important fiscal issues. This would send a powerful message to Americans that Washington can work together to tackle this critical issue.

First of all, as Ezra Klein points out, Obama has already signaled support on this:

If vague statements about “a broad approach to solving the problem” could solve the problem, the problem would be solved. It would’ve been done during the president’s post-budget press conference, when he said “we can get Social Security done in the same way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were able to get it done” and agreed that “Medicare and Medicaid are huge problems...that I’m prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to start dealing with that in a serious way.” That sounds like a “signal of support” to me, and it should be plenty to get the Senate going on a deficit plan -- if, indeed, that’s something a supermajority of senators are actually interested in doing.

But even more important is what Steven Benen has to say:

I can appreciate the unique role the President of the United States plays as a sole chief executive, but Congress is its own branch of government. Senators, especially a massive, bipartisan group of 64, have the power to sit down, negotiate, and craft a policy that would achieve the goal these members ostensibly want to reach. If a consensus could be reached, it'd be filibuster-proof.

But instead of choosing to work on their desired outcome, they chose to write a letter, asking President Obama to endorse work on their desired outcome.

Presumably, the next step will be calls for additional "leadership," from those who aren't interested in demonstrating any leadership.

Absolutely!!! If these 64 Senators sat down and worked on legislation rather than a letter, they have a super-majority that could pass it. So why are they looking to President Obama to do their job?

We all know the answer to that, don't we? Because its politically dangerous to address issues like Medicare and Social Security. But as Klein says,

The reality is that the White House can’t write the bill on Congress’s behalf. It can’t pass the bill through Congress. And it can’t kill the bill Congress pases if the bill has a veto-proof majority. Obama could be doing more to move public opinion, but on this issue, the empowered actor is the legislative branch, not the executive branch. And the legislative branch should begin acting like it.

If this issue is a priority, at some point Congress is going to have to figure out how to work together to produce legislation and it will get ugly. Simply passing that off to Obama is not leadership - its just an attempt to pass the buck.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Imagining World

In my dream, the angel shrugged & said, If we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination & then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.

- Brian Andreas



Imagine My Surprise
by David Whyte

Imagine my surprise,
sitting a full hour
in silent and irremediable
fear of the world,

to find the body
forgetting
its own fear the instant
it opened and placed
those unassuming hands
on life's enduring pain,

and the world for one
moment
closed its terrifying eyes
in gratitude,

Saying,
"This is my body, I am found."

"As good as it gets"

Why, in spite of everything, I still love Barack Obama, by Christina Patterson (h/t to Blackwaterdog).

Obama, like every other person on the face of this planet, doesn't know if bombing certain targets in Tripoli, and Benghazi, and Misrata, is going to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi, or if it's just going to strengthen his resolve. He doesn't know if the bombs will just destroy machinery, and kill soldiers, or if they're going to kill men and women who are used as human shields. He doesn't know if the so-called rebels, who said they didn't want international help, and then that they did, but might change their minds again, and who are mostly about as experienced in using AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades as I am, will be able to stand up against a trained army, and highly paid mercenaries, and massive supplies of arms that the West sold them, and now wishes it hadn't. He doesn't know if this is the kind of military action that can be done quite quickly and cleanly, or if, like most military action, and even military action that looks as though it can be done quickly and cleanly, it can't.

It is, presumably, because he doesn't know these things that he took a while to weigh them up. He may have thought, like David Cameron, that a "no-fly zone" sounded like a good idea, but he probably also thought you didn't get one just by telling the people who would have flown there that they shouldn't. He may have thought that what you had to do to stop people flying there may have been too risky, or too complicated, or too likely to lead to things you couldn't control, to be worth doing. This may be why, when he said he had decided to take action to impose one, he didn't sound like a hero who was going to save people from a terrible situation, and who expected a round of applause. He sounded like a man who had had to make a very, very difficult decision. And who knew that you couldn't know whether some decisions were right or wrong, but that you just had to live with the consequences of the one you'd made.

He also sounded like a man who knew that everyone was saying that he'd been dithering, but who thought that there were more important things in life than whether people thought you were dithering. He sounded like a man who knew that, whatever people said about him, and however much the Right might think he was a socialist who was trying to destroy the country, and however much the Left might think he was someone who had promised the sun, the moon and the stars and delivered instead a country that was in the grip of a massive economic crisis, there were certain things that had happened since he'd become President that had made the world better...

The 44th President of the United States, and first black leader of the Western world, who has, arguably, done more for the majority of Americans than any president since Roosevelt, and who has been careful to send out the message that America is no longer seeking swashbuckling adventures on the world stage, and who has done more for gay rights than any president in history, may well have been thinking that politics is a difficult, and complicated, and stressful business, and that it means you have to make impossible choices, while working with people you don't like, and whose political views you abhor. And that the results are unlikely to set people cheering, because people tend not to look at politicians who are in office, and cheer.

I'm not sure that when I see Obama, I want to cheer. I want, instead, to say that in the very imperfect world we live in, with the vested, and opposing, interests that make any kind of change a compromise, this thoughtful, pragmatic and sometimes irritating politician is probably as good as it gets.



It all reminds me of this (warning...language is rough):



I mean, us political junkies are all supposed to be cynical and distrustful of politicians. And then every once or twice in a lifetime, someone comes along and we have to decide whether we're going to let our guard down and believe again. Kinda like I did with this guy.

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Wellstone was not perfect and neither is Obama. But they are two examples for me of "as good as it gets." And now that Paul has been taken from us - I'm even more determined to not let my cynicism rob me of fully appreciating this moment.

Today in Libya



Here's a map of where all of this is taking place.

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On "dithering" and...marshmallows?

We've all been watching over the last week as an attempt to define Obama as "dithering" over a decision about Libya has become the narrative of the GOP and some in the media. It doesn't, however, seem to be catching on with the American public. Recently Reuters conducted a poll asking people how they saw Obama. The results:

48 percent: Cautious and consultative
36 percent: Indecisive and dithering
17 percent: Strong and decisive

That 36% is likely representative of the GOP base that is open to any kind of attack on Obama. The rest were forced into a false choice, assuming that being "cautious and consultative" is somehow at odds with being "strong and decisive."

Timothy Egan wrote a great column defending "dithering" and pointed out what the GOP is doing with this one:

The real problem for Republicans is that they are perplexed over what position to take on an issue that defies partisanship. So, Obama’s least-thoughtful critics attack him for thinking.

And Scot Lehigh does a good job of demonstrating the GOP's "adult deficit disorder."

But I suspect that, if we were to take all of these politicians back to when they were about 4 years old, we could have predicted this with something that has been called the Marshmallow Test. Take a look:



From the article linked above:

A researcher then made Carolyn an offer: she could either eat one marshmallow right away or, if she was willing to wait while he stepped out for a few minutes, she could have two marshmallows when he returned. He said that if she rang a bell on the desk while he was away he would come running back, and she could eat one marshmallow but would forfeit the second. Then he left the room...

Most of the children were like Craig. They struggled to resist the treat and held out for an average of less than three minutes. “A few kids ate the marshmallow right away,” Walter Mischel, the Stanford professor of psychology in charge of the experiment, remembers. “They didn’t even bother ringing the bell. Other kids would stare directly at the marshmallow and then ring the bell thirty seconds later.” About thirty per cent of the children, however, were like Carolyn. They successfully delayed gratification until the researcher returned, some fifteen minutes later. These kids wrestled with temptation but found a way to resist.

The researcher, Walter Mischel, followed up with these children when they were in high school.

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

What is obvious from all of this is that the "low delayers" - those who refer to thinking things through as "dithering" - have problems with delayed gratification. It might also explain the problems many on the left have with Obama's long game..."I want my marshmallow NOW!!!!"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Daydream

The Agitator

Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.

- Michele Obama

No one can say for certain how this change will end, but I do know that change is not something that we should fear. When young people insist that the currents of history are on the move, the burdens of the past can be washed away. When men and women peacefully claim their human rights, our own common humanity is enhanced. Wherever the light of freedom is lit, the world becomes a brighter place.

- Barack Obama, Rio de Janeiro, March 20, 1011

St. Louis, Missouri, USA
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Chicago, Illinois, USA


Cairo, Egypt
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Madison, Wisconsin, USA
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Austin, Texas, USA
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Benghazi, Libya
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Change Square, Yemen
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The people of Benghazi, March 24, 2011



Libyan protest flag

Obama on Obama



I suspect that most of us political junkies have seen this video by now. But I thought of it again when I read this post over at The Obama Diary about a Reuters poll and article.

People were given just three choices to describe President Obama, these were the results:

48 percent: Cautious and consultative
36 percent: Indecisive and dithering
17 percent: Strong and decisive

Note how they separate ‘cautious and consultative’ from ‘strong and decisive’, like being cautious and consultative are signs of weakness when you’re contemplating sending American men and women in to combat. If weakness is being cautious about taking military action against another country, before consulting widely to get the best advice, and then acting accordingly – then I love weakness!

Reuters’ headline? ‘Few Americans see Obama as strong military leader’!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Flower

Picture of the day...Father and Daughter

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The silence of the left on El Salvador

Back in the 1980's I wasn't as politically attuned as I am these days, but I was engaged enough to know that one of the most prominent issues on the left was US support of the military dictatorship in El Salvador. Much of that was sparked by the assassination, in 1980, of Archbishop Oscar Romero. That atrocity was followed up later that year by the brutal gang rape and murder of four American nuns (Jean Donovan, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, and Dorothy Kazel). But it was the murder of 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her 15 year old daughter in 1989 that finally mobilized a world-wide reaction.



All in all, 75,000 people were were killed during El Salvador's bloody civil war. And the US - through Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George HW Bush - continued to financially support the regime that was responsible for most of these killings. According to Congressman Joe Moakley of Massachusetts (who was tasked by Speaker Foley to investigate the murder of the Jesuit priests), "El Salvador was the recipient of $6 billion in military aid from the United States in the 1980s - the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid next to Israel."

What I find interesting is that 30 years later, when President Obama visits President Mauricio Funes (who was elected as a member of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) political party) and when he pays homage at the tomb of Archbishop Romero, the current day left is completely silent.

What is even more puzzling is that all of this is taking place as similar struggles for freedom and democracy are going on in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Except that this time, the US government has committed itself to support the people of those countries rising up against oppression. And yet the silence from the left includes the fact that nowhere are these comparisons being made nor is this turn-around in US foreign policy being discussed.

Perhaps this is further indication that too many on the left don't embrace the "long game" - whether its playing out into the future or looking back at history.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A simple act

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Today we learned that President Obama will cut his visit to El Salvador short by a few hours. We know that there are weighty problems that the President is called on to address. But I'm so grateful that he still took the time to visit the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

The importance of this simple act cannot be overstated. The United States - under both Republican and Democratic Presidents - supplied arms to the junta that is responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Romero...a man of peace who gave his life fighting for the poor and oppressed of El Salvador.

Thank you President Obama. And may this simple act be one that expresses our hope for healing and forgiveness from the people of El Salvador.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Obama visits "City of God"

First, some background...



Then, the preparations...

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Finally, the visit...

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This little angel was running around fearlessly among the bigger kids.

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President Dilma Rousseff and the story of Latin America (updated)

It seems as though the big question on the mind of the American press right now is "Why is Obama in South America with so many other crises going on in the world." Yesterday, he met with Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and I believe her life story can begin to shed some light on why this trip is so important to the United States.

President Rousseff was born into an upper middle class family in Brazil. Her father was a Bulgarian immigrant and her mother a school teacher. In 1964, when Rousseff was 17 years old, the Brazilian military led a coup d'etat against the democratically elected government of left-wing President João Goulart. Anyone who knows much about the history of Central and South America will not be surprised that the military was supported in this by the US government in their on-going fears about the spread of communism.

Rousseff responded by joining left-wing and Marxist urban guerilla groups that fought against the military dictatorship. Eventually she was arrested and imprisoned for 2 years, including being tortured. She worked in local politics and then became involved with the campaign of presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. After he won the election, she served in his cabinet and later became his Chief of Staff. She is now the first female to be elected President of Brazil. Here's an interesting article about Rousseff that was written just prior to her election.

The world's most powerful woman will start coming into her own next weekend. Stocky and forceful at 63, this former leader of the resistance to a Western-backed military dictatorship (which tortured her) is preparing to take her place as President of Brazil...

Her widely predicted victory in next Sunday's presidential poll will be greeted with delight by millions. It marks the final demolition of the "national security state", an arrangement that conservative governments in the US and Europe once regarded as their best artifice for limiting democracy and reform. It maintained a rotten status quo that kept a vast majority in poverty in Latin America while favouring their rich friends.

Rousseff's journey from guerilla to President is one that is mirrored all over Latin America as the people of many countries fought to cast off dictators and form real democracies - usually against the wishes of the United States.

And that brings us to why Obama's visit is important. Not only are these stories highly symbolic of the same kinds of struggles in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Contrary to what many on the right would have us believe - real democracy has been very good for the economies of countries like Brazil.

At a time when global markets are still struggling, Latin America may be one of the few sources of good news for recovering U.S. economy and a rare opportunity to tap new alliances. Thanks to close to two decades of economic reforms that tamed inflation, stanched populist spending, and opened markets to global completion, most of Latin America weathered the global financial crisis unscathed and was one of the first regions of the world to emerge from recession. The region is set to grow by more than 4 percent this year. Brazil, the regional powerhouse, grew 7.5 percent last year. Every $1 billion dollars the U.S. exports to Latin America represents 5,000 jobs in America. “The impressive growth that we've seen in Latin America in recent years is good for the people of the hemisphere, and it's good for us,” Obama wrote in Friday’s USA Today.

UPDATE: Obama just mentioned President Rousseff's story in his remarks at Theatro Municipal in Rio. I'll grab the transcript as soon as I can find it.

UPDATE 2: Here's how President Obama tied it all together in his speech today.

But we also know that there’s certain aspirations shared by every human being: We all seek to be free. We all seek to be heard. We all yearn to live without fear or discrimination. We all yearn to choose how we are governed. And we all want to shape our own destiny. These are not American ideals or Brazilian ideals. These are not Western ideals. These are universal rights, and we must support them everywhere.

Today, we are seeing the struggle for these rights unfold across the Middle East and North Africa. We’ve seen a revolution born out of a yearning for basic human dignity in Tunisia. We’ve seen peaceful protestors pour into Tahrir Square -– men and women, young and old, Christian and Muslim. We’ve seen the people of Libya take a courageous stand against a regime determined to brutalize its own citizens. Across the region, we’ve seen young people rise up -– a new generation demanding the right to determine their own future.

From the beginning, we have made clear that the change they seek must be driven by their own people. But for our two nations, for the United States and Brazil, two nations who have struggled over many generations to perfect our own democracies, the United States and Brazil know that the future of the Arab World will be determined by its people.

No one can say for certain how this change will end, but I do know that change is not something that we should fear. When young people insist that the currents of history are on the move, the burdens of the past can be washed away. When men and women peacefully claim their human rights, our own common humanity is enhanced. Wherever the light of freedom is lit, the world becomes a brighter place.

That is the example of Brazil. That is the example of Brazil. Brazil -– a country that shows that a dictatorship can become a thriving democracy. Brazil -– a country that shows democracy delivers both freedom and opportunity to its people. Brazil -- a country that shows how a call for change that starts in the streets can transform a city, transform a country, transform a world.

Decades ago, it was directly outside of this theater, in Cinelandia Square, where the call for change was heard in Brazil. Students and artists and political leaders of all stripes would gather with banners that said, “Down with the dictatorship. The people in power.” Their democratic aspirations would not be fulfilled until years later, but one of the young Brazilians in that generation’s movement would go on to forever change the history of this country.

A child of an immigrant, her participation in the movement led to her arrest and her imprisonment, her torture at the hands of her own government. And so she knows what it’s like to live without the most basic human rights that so many are fighting for today. But she also knows what it is to persevere. She knows what it is to overcome -- because today that woman is your nation’s president, Dilma Rousseff.

I am so incredibly proud and moved that President Obama told this story. I hope the world recognizes the shift he is making in how we think about our past, present, and future with Latin America. I am sure the people of Brazil heard it loud and clear.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Paying homage to Oscar Romero

As we watch the unrest in several countries of the Middle East and North Africa, it is easy to forget that these kinds of struggles occurred a few decades ago all across Central and South America. Listen to the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero and I'm sure you'll find them prescient in terms of the current situation in Libya.



And so tonight President Obama and his family leave for visits to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador. The last day of the trip will fall one day short of the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Romero. And President Obama has planned a visit to this great man's tomb.

This is a powerful testament to the different direction this President has taken as people of the world stand up and fight back for their dignity and freedom.

But the symbolism will also resonate profoundly with the people of El Salvador and speak to a healing of the wounds inflicted in the not-so-distant past.

Rest in peace Archbishop Romero...your words and legacy are still alive.



"If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people."

"Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity."

Another example of the "Obama Method"

Last Sunday, President Obama wrote a ope-ed in the Arizona Daily Star that called for a common sense conversation about gun violence.

Clearly, there's more we can do to prevent gun violence. But I want this to at least be the beginning of a new discussion on how we can keep America safe for all our people...

We owe the victims of the tragedy in Tucson and the countless unheralded tragedies each year nothing less than our best efforts - to seek consensus, to prevent future bloodshed, to forge a nation worthy of our children's futures.

And that was followed up by a meeting convened by the Justice Department.

On Tuesday, officials at the Justice Department will meet with gun control advocates in the first of what will be a series of meetings over the next two weeks with people on different sides of the issue, including law enforcement, retailers and manufacturers, to seek agreement on possible legislative or administrative actions.

The effort follows Mr. Obama’s call, in a column on Sunday in a Tucson newspaper, to put aside “stale policy debates” and begin “a new discussion” on ways to better enforce and strengthen existing laws to keep mentally unstable, violent and criminal people from getting guns.

As we have seen so often, this kind of effort was totally misunderstood by folks on the left like E.J. Dionne in a column he wrote titled Why won't Obama stand up to NRA bullies? I don't really get a coherent response from Dionne in terms of what he's suggesting, but he does include this from the administration:

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, explained the approach in an e-mail. “There are real problems that need to be solved, so we could just retreat to traditional positions and rehash the old arguments until we are blue in the face, but we have done that for the last couple of decades,” he said. “Or we could try something different — drain some of the politics from this and look for areas where we can actually get something done.”

Dionne's problem seems to be that Obama isn't continuing the decades-long shouting match that has accomplished nothing but taken this entire issue off the radar and actually weakened our existing gun laws.

As we've seen so often when Obama tackles issues that have been stalemated for a long time, his strategy is to try to calm down the rhetoric and look for common ground.

I know that every time we try to talk about guns, it can reinforce stark divides. People shout at one another, which makes it impossible to listen. We mire ourselves in stalemate, which makes it impossible to get to where we need to go as a country.

However, I believe that if common sense prevails, we can get beyond wedge issues and stale political debates to find a sensible, intelligent way to make the United States of America a safer, stronger place.

I'm willing to bet that responsible, law-abiding gun owners agree that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few - dangerous criminals and fugitives, for example - from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.

I'm willing to bet they don't think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas - that we should check someone's criminal record before he can check out at a gun seller; that an unbalanced man shouldn't be able to buy a gun so easily; that there's room for us to have reasonable laws that uphold liberty, ensure citizen safety and are fully compatible with a robust Second Amendment.

That's why our focus right now should be on sound and effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.

This is a quintessential example of the Obama Method. Dionne belittles it because the NRA isn't willing to participate. But that's not the point, as Jonathan Chait points out:

This is a perfect summation of Obama's strategy. It does not presuppose that his adversaries are people of goodwill who can be reasoned with. Rather, it assumes that, by demonstrating his own goodwill and interest in accord, Obama can win over a portion of his adversaries' constituents as well as third parties.

As Obama said in his op-ed:

I know some aren't interested in participating. Some will say that anything short of the most sweeping anti-gun legislation is a capitulation to the gun lobby. Others will predictably cast any discussion as the opening salvo in a wild-eyed scheme to take away everybody's guns. And such hyperbole will become the fodder for overheated fundraising letters.

But I have more faith in the American people than that.

Certainly he would welcome the NRA to the conversation. But Obama is aware of the reality he's dealing with. And the NRA isn't his audience at this point. This is a first step in an effort to marginalize them in the conversation. Unbeknownst to Dionne, this is a very effective way to deal with bullies.

The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith...One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Watch "Brick City"



I just finished watching Season 2 of the documentary Brick City. Many people have described this series as a real life version of HBO's "The Wire." I think there is some merit to that.

Anyway, I highly recommend it. Both seasons are available on itunes - Season 1 for $8.99 and Season 2 for $15.99.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Checkmate for Boehner

Now THIS is the kind of headline I love to see: Checkmate: No Good Moves for Boehner in Spending Fight.

The House of Representatives passed emergency legislation Tuesday to keep the government funded through mid-April and avoid a shutdown reminiscent of the one Newt Gingrich triggered back in 1995.

That was the broader result Speaker John Boehner wanted, and, indeed, House GOP leadership has insisted for months now that they don't want a shutdown, period.

But Tuesday's outcome was nonetheless a mixed one for Boehner. It illustrated a reality he'd hoped to escape -- that a large chunk of his caucus won't vote with him if he compromises. Indeed, the 54 Republicans who voted against the stop-gap legislation put him in an unenviable box: Either he kowtows to his right flank, and pushes initiatives that can't pass in the Senate; or he abandons them, as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has suggested, and passes consensus legislation. The latter option, however, would require significant concessions to win Democratic votes, and further delegitimize himself with the Tea Party base.

If he chooses option (b), he will need Democratic votes. And that would abruptly flip the dynamic on Capitol Hill, where Republicans have been riding high since they trounced Democrats in the November elections.

If he chooses option (a) -- if he and his party don't back off their pitched demand to fundamentally reshape the U.S. government -- the consequences they'd hope to avoid -- shutdowns and worse -- will become all but inevitable.

Your move Mr. Speaker...

Shifting enthusiasm gap

In a post reporting on some bad news for Governor Kasich in Ohio, Public Policy Polling draws some interesting conclusions:

Of course the reality is that Democratic leaning voters did this to themselves to some extent. It's a small sample but among those who admit they didn't vote last fall, Strickland has a 57-13 advantage over Kaisch. It was a similar story in Wisconsin the other week where Tom Barrett led Scott Walker 59-22 among those who had stayed at home in 2010. Democratic voters simply did not understand the consequences- or didn't care- of their not voting last fall and they're paying the price right now. But the winners of that realization in the long run may be Barack Obama, Sherrod Brown, and Herb Kohl- these states are already looking politically a whole lot more like 2008 than 2010.

Obama warned us over and over again that we shouldn't "give them the keys back." Now we're seeing the results of letting that happen. We'd better get "fired up and ready to go!"

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Republican Governors continue to demonstrate dominance over leadership

Last week I wrote about leadership and contrasted the style of Republican Governors (dominance) to that of Obama (partnership). In that piece I used Governors Scott and Christie as examples.

But now I see that I left an important player our of that group...Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan.

Perhaps lost in the Wisconsin shuffle is the story of what exactly is happening in Michigan. Newly elected Republican governor, Rick Snyder, is set to pass one of the most sweeping, anti-democratic pieces of legislation in the country – and almost no one is talking about it.

Snyder’s law gives the state government the power not only to break up unions, but to dissolve entire local governments and place appointed “Emergency Managers” in their stead. But that’s not all – whole cities could be eliminated if Emergency Managers and the governor choose to do so. And Snyder can fire elected officials unilaterally, without any input from voters. It doesn’t get much more anti-Democratic than that.

Except it does. The governor simply has to declare a financial emergency to invoke these powers – or he can hire a private company to declare financial emergency and take over oversight of the city. That’s right, a private corporation can declare your city in a state of financial emergency and send in its Emergency Manager, fire your elected officials, and reap the benefits of the ensuing state contracts.

I am reminded of a line by Lily Tomlin in the play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe...

No matter how cynical I get, I'm afraid its never enough to keep up.

What I'm feeling these days is that no matter how hard I try, I can't keep up with the crazed antics of the GOP these days. It is truly disturbing.

"We're all victims now"

From Leonard Pitts:

Indeed, one need not travel far these days to encounter signs of acute anxiety emanating from the nation's white majority, a visceral sense of dislocation and lost privilege.

You see it in the hysterical (in both senses of the word) reaction to the election of the first black president. You see it in the spike in the number of hate groups. You see it in the screeching that passes for debate on illegal immigration and in the clangor that seems to confront any Muslim who seeks to build a mosque anywhere. You see it in the apocalyptic rantings of Glenn Beck and in the peevish mutterings of Rush Limbaugh.

You see it also in a 2010 survey by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute, which found that 44 percent of us believe bigotry against whites is a significant problem.

Among tea party followers, the number rises to 61 percent.

If you didn't know better, you'd think white kids were being funneled into the criminal justice system in obscenely disproportionate numbers (as black ones are) or that the unemployment rate among white workers stood at 15.3 percent (as it does nationally among blacks). But if the perceptions of four in 10 Americans and six in 10 tea partyers suggest estrangement from objective reality, they also suggest a certain ability to read the writing on the demographic wall.

The Census Bureau says that within 40 years, there will no longer be such a thing as a racial majority. All of us will be minorities. While such fundamental change will challenge every American, it seems to have already panicked some of those Americans for whom being a minority will be a new experience.

Sympathy is in order. It cannot be easy to go from being lead actor to a member of the ensemble — from Gladys Knight to a Pip, as it were. Thus we find ourselves in this odd new paradigm. Those who have felt marginalized by the color of their skin, the name of their God, the double-X of their chromosomes, find themselves joined in their choirs of the put upon by newcomers who feel marginalized by the loss of their primacy.

Nobody knows the trouble they've seen. And, Lord have mercy, we're all victims now.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Open - by David Whyte


It is a small step to remember
how life led to this
moment's hesitation.

How the door to the deeper world
opens, letting the body fall at last,
toward the few griefs it can call its own.

Oh yes, I know. Our wings catch fire
in that downward flight
and we come to earth afraid
we can never fly again.

But then we always knew
heaven would be a desperate place.
Everything you desired coming
in one fearful moment
to greet you.

Your full presence only in rest
and the love that asks nothing.
The rest where you lie down
and are no longer found at all.

Another hostage crisis looming

Remember when President Obama talked about the Republicans holding middle class tax cuts hostage in order to extend tax cuts to the wealthy? Well, that was just the beginning of this kind of scorched-earth strategy. They're in the process of doing it again, only this time their game of chicken has even more serious potential consequences.

In the next couple of months, Congress will need to vote to increase the debt ceiling. Steve Benen summarizes what is at stake.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently said failing to raise the debt limit "would be a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said failure to raise the debt limit would lead to "financial collapse and calamity throughout the world." Fox News' Charles Krauthammer said the consequences would be "catastrophic." Fox News' Dana Perino said Republicans are inviting "economic disaster." George Will said policymakers would have to be "suicidal."

And yet, here's what Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox News yesterday.

There are 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans. My prediction is not a single one of the 47 Republicans would vote to raise the debt ceiling unless it includes with it some credible effort to do something about our debt.

So what McConnell is saying is that the Republicans are willing to hold the financial stability of the entire global economy hostage unless he gets his way.

Do you think he's really concerned about the US debt? If so, you have to wonder why he supported those tax breaks for the wealthy that raised it by $700 billion. And you have to wonder why he voted for GWB's Medicare Part D program for prescription drugs that was completely added to the debt. And why he voted to repeal health care reform - a move that would add billions to the debt.

No, this isn't about the debt. Its about the Republican strategy of being willing to risk calamity on the world in order to bully their opponents.

Its dangerous and the American people shouldn't stand for it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

They're protesting in Austin too!

From the Statesman:

Thousands of parents, teachers and other education advocates poured onto the Capitol grounds Saturday to rally against proposed state budget cuts that school districts say could force layoffs of thousands of teachers and other public education employees.

Demonstrators sprawled across the statehouse grounds, carrying signs scrawled with "Save Our Schools" and "Fund the Future."

Others carried umbrellas to underscore their desire that lawmakers tap into the state's rainy day fund to help balance the budget...

Organizers handed out stickers to attendees as a means of counting the crowd and said they ran out of the 11,000 stickers they had on hand...

Current state budget proposals would leave public education more than $9 billion short of the funding required under current law. Under the proposals, about 100,000 public school employees could be laid off, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

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