Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cold, detached, professorial???

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Wow...he plans to go BIG! (updated x3)

Dan Pfeiffer just tweeted:

POTUS has requested a Joint Session of Congress at 8 PM on 9/7 to lay out his plan to create jobs, grow the economy, and reduce the deficit

I believe the last time he did this (other than regular SOTU speeches) was when health care reform was stuck in Congress.

To me, this means he's going all out on this one. And he's already let the Republicans know that if they block his proposals, he takes them on the campaign trail.

What's even more interesting is that this is the same night of the MSNBC GOP Presidential debate. I highly doubt that is a mistake.

UPDATE: Oh snap! At the press briefing today Jay Carney said that its up to NBC to decide what to do about their scheduled debate.

UPDATE 2: I can't tell you how much this announcement energizes me! For the last couple of weeks I feel like I've been sitting on my hands while the media trips over everything these nutjob Republican candidates say and the poutragers...well, while they do what they do - poutrage about the President.

He's done this so many times now you'd think they'd get used to it. I knew something was coming and you just have to sit back and wait for him to make his move.

Every time he does this, I'm reminded of my favorite video.



Update 3: Ruh-roh, Rusty has a problem with Wednesday, can we make it Thursday? And yeah, its just a coincidence that Thursday is the NFL season opener. LOL

I'd suggest you might want to duck Rusty. You're about to get "crushed."

What if you could buy a house with a 0% mortgage interest rate?

The Republicans have managed to scare much of the country into not investing in jobs or our country's future because of our deficit. Never mind that the Bush wars and tax cuts are the major culprit in creating that deficit. But there's another question we need to be asking ourselves about that issue. What is the risk involved with deficit spending?

Some colleges that are online have Economics courses for people who want to delve deeper into topics like this. Sometimes it takes even more knowledge about the inner workings of politics and economics to fully understand.

One way to answer that question is to think about a major factor most people consider when making their own long-term investment decisions...like taking out a loan to buy a house. Amongst other things, one item to consider is the interest rate you'll have to pay on that mortgage. We don't have to wonder what kind of decision we'd make if we needed a secure roof over our heads and mortgage rates were 0%. I happen to be old enough to remember when mortgage interest rates were in the double digits back in the late 70's. That was NOT a good time to be making such a major investment. But even at the low rate I'm paying now, I'd perhaps upgrade or at least re-finance if rates were 0%.

That's essentially the question that faces the United States today when it comes to investing in jobs and our future. The truth is - its even a little better than that. The cost for the U.S. to borrow money is below O% right now. Here's how Ezra Klein describes it.

The real yield on Treasury debt has, in recent months, turned negative. Sound impenetrably dull? Sure. But here’s what it means: free money!

Let’s start by defining some terms: The “yield” on Treasury debt is how much the government pays to borrow money. The “real yield” is how much it pays to borrow money after accounting for inflation. When the “real yield” turns negative, it means the government isn’t paying to borrow money anymore. Rather, the situation has flipped, and the government is getting paid to keep money safe...

Right now, the interest rate is 1.52 percent, or minus-0.34 percent after accounting for inflation.

Here’s what this means: If we can think of any investments we can make over the next seven years that have a return of zero percent — yes, you read that right — or more, it would be foolish not to borrow this money and make them.

The case is even stronger with investments we know we will need to make over the next decade. The economy will get better, and as it gets better, the cost of borrowing will rise. The longer we wait, in other words, the more expensive those investments will become.

The only reason we wouldn’t take advantage of these rates is that we have no worthwhile investments to make. But that’s clearly not true.

Our infrastructure is crumbling, and we know we’ll have to rebuild it in the coming years. Why do it later, when it will cost us more and we very likely won’t have massive unemployment in the construction sector, as opposed to now, when the market will pay us to invest in our infrastructure and we have an unemployment crisis to address?

Of course the trick is that the Republicans are still stuck on their message about having to reduce the deficit. But if you ask them why this is important, and can ever get a straight answer from them about that, they'll tell you that the danger of deficit spending is that it could drive up interest rates.

And that's when you'd have to shake your head and go..."Whaaaaa?"

The GOP Church

I'll bet you'd have a hard time guessing who said this:

Rick Perry’s rapid lead over previous Republican front-runner Mitt Romney was predictable. But it is not a good sign for Republicans hoping to reclaim the White House and further highlights the crucial battle within GOP circles: Who is the godliest of us all?

That’s the mirror-mirror question for Republicans. Forget charisma, charm, intelligence, knowledge and that nuisance, “foreign policy experience.” The race of the moment concerns which candidate is the truest believer...

Perry knows he has to make clear that God is his wingman. And this conviction seems not only to be sincere, but also to be relatively noncontroversial in the GOP’s church — and perhaps beyond. He understands that his base cares more that the president is clear on his ranking in the planetary order than whether he can schmooze with European leaders or, heaven forbid, the media. And this is why Perry could easily steal the nomination from Romney.

And also why he probably can’t win a national election, in which large swaths of the electorate would prefer that their president keep his religion close and be respectful of knowledge that has evolved from thousands of years of human struggle against superstition and the kind of literal-mindedness that leads straight to the dark ages.

It was conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, and I think she's 100% right on. It fits nicely with what Steve Benen said recently in an article about Perry, Parties and Pragmatism.

In general, conservatism isn’t pragmatic because policy outcomes aren’t the goal. Indeed, they’re largely irrelevant. As we’ve seen in too many instances, Republicans aren’t principally concerned with solving problems; their goals are ideological.

I wouldn't make the claim that that's always been true of conservatism. Or that its true of all conservatives. But it is certainly true of todays GOP church. It's also what Campbell and Putman found to be true of Tea Party members.

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.

This inclination among the Tea Party faithful to mix religion and politics explains their support for Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Their appeal to Tea Partiers lies less in what they say about the budget or taxes, and more in their overt use of religious language and imagery, including Mrs. Bachmann’s lengthy prayers at campaign stops and Mr. Perry’s prayer rally in Houston.

None of this is new to those of us who have been paying attention. But Infidel753 lays out the consequences for us very well.

It would be nice if, someday, there were once again two parties I could consider voting for.

I know of people who think in terms of weighing the relative merits of the Democrats and Republicans to decide which is better, as if it were still the 1970s. I don't have the option of thinking that way, not now.

As I've pointed out many times, what we have in this country right now is a Christian Right party and a secular party...

This means that I don't have a choice. The Republicans are simply not an option for me. As it happens, the Democrats are also a lot closer to my own views on all the fiscal/economic stuff, but even if that weren't the case -- even if it were the Republicans who favored humane and reality-based economics while the Democrats touted laissez-faire Randroid insanities -- it would make no difference. The Republicans still would not be an option, not as long as they remained under the sway of de facto theocrats.

I happen to be very pleased with the Democrats who currently represent me on a national level (President Obama, Senator Klobuchar, Senator Franken and Rep. McCollum). But even if I have some qualms with a position or two of theirs, or I don't support their strategies, my choice is clear right now. The sooner all of us understand that and get busy with the task at hand...the better.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not that I want to start up any pootie wars or anything...

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;-)

Attacking the GOP's so-called "jobs agenda"

Last night I talked about the fact that we're going to need to be able to demonstrate how the GOP's so-called "jobs agenda" isn't one.

This morning Steven Benen gives us the slogan to do so.

The GOP leadership believes businesses might hire more if, for example, they were allowed to pollute more, while Democrats believe business might hire more if they had more customers.

There's a lot more info at the Jonathan Cohn article he linked to.

And Stephen Stromberg gives us this tidbit.

There are undoubted costs to environmental regulations. But there are also large benefits...every dollar spent on some of the measures Cantor is targeting — those cutting cross-state particulate and ozone pollution — will result in $30 in economic benefits from employees taking fewer sick days, a lower incidence of many chronic illnesses, and fewer early deaths. And let’s not even get into climate change.

Advancing the liberal agenda through good government

I am convinced that the basic building block to restoring a liberal vision in the United States is to re-affirm the public's trust in good government. The only way to tackle the magnitude of issues that face a country this large and diverse is through the only institution in which we all participate...government.

Over the years, the Republicans have done a great job of promoting mistrust in this one institution that can actually address our collective concerns. And yes, it was Ronald Reagan who gave that kind of thinking a big boost with statements like "Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem."

But more than making a speech about it - the Republicans have done everything they can think of to try to make this a reality. Of course the pinnacle of that was the failure of the federal government to deal with the devastation of hurricane Katrina. We all watched as the victims of that storm were left alone in their misery and the government looked helpless and inept.

But on a national level, the obstruction of the legislative process is another way the Republicans spread this meme of the government being ineffective. What it communicates to many people who don't pay attention to every twist and turn is that the whole system is a mess and can't be relied on to get anything done. That's when people tune out to politics and say "a pox on both your houses."

So we've got our job cut out for us in turning that mindset around. The problem is...the media and too many Americans don't pay attention when something works. What catches everyone's attention is the failures. And prevention is always something that's hard to demonstrate. As an example, its hard to imagine how much more damage could have been done or lives lost if FEMA hadn't been as prepared as they were for hurricane Irene.

But today, Dana Milbank at least tries to tell that story.

Don’t expect anybody to throw a tea party, but Big Government finally got one right.

On Monday, six years to the day after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans and obliterated the notion of a competent federal government, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate offered an anecdote that showed just how different things were with Hurricane Irene...

The Irene government would seem to have its benefits. Before the storm struck, 18 FEMA teams deployed from Florida to Maine, repositioning as the emphasis moved to New England. Food, water, generators and tarps were in place along the storm’s path. In Vermont, when the storm forced evacuation of the state emergency operations center, the workers relocated to a FEMA facility. In North Carolina, FEMA provided in-the-dark local authorities with generator power. And everywhere, FEMA, given new authority by Congress after Katrina, didn’t have to wait for states to request help.

“We have to go fast; we have to base it upon the potential impacts,” Fugate said Monday, describing the Irene response. “That’s why we look at these forecasts we get from the hurricane center, and we make the decisions based upon what the potential impacts could be. If you wait till you know how bad it is, it becomes harder to change the outcome.”

That’s one model. The other model is to have a weak federal government, without the funds to forecast storms or to launch a robust emergency response in time to do any good. You might call that the Tea Party model.

I'm not one that thinks its a good idea to make too many comparisons between Katrina and Irene. We all should know by now that the real devastation of Katrina was a result of the levees breaking more than it was about the actual damage caused by the storm itself.

But on that front, we can also talk about the role of good government in addressing that issue...finally. As Politifact points out, Obama has kept his promise to "ensure that New Orleans has a levee and pumping system to protect the city against a 100-year storm by 2011."

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government (along with state and local help) committed more than $14 billion to develop a levee and pumping system around New Orleans capable of protecting against a 100-year storm. It would be the biggest civil works project in the history of the Army Corps of Engineers. And Obama promised it would be completed by 2011.

As promised, nearly six years since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, that goal has largely been accomplished.

According to a May 29, 2011, story by Mark Schleifstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "The new system represents an unprecedented engineering feat that took six years to build, with more than $8 billion spent so far on design and construction. And it required a complete rewriting of the rules used by the corps to build both levees and hurricane levees."

These aren't the kind of stories that tend to make it to the headlines to beat out the ones about the presidential horse-race to which our mainstream media seems obsessed, or the screaming that tends to come from the baggers of tea and fire. But they are the ones that could convince the general public that, if we work together through good government, we can address our collective concerns. And that would do more to advance the liberal agenda than anything else I can imagine.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Obama's jobs plan will be up against

The Republicans have a plan:

House Republicans are planning votes for almost every week this fall in an effort to repeal environmental and labor requirements on business that they say have hampered job growth.

With everyone from President Obama to his Republican challengers in the 2012 campaign focusing on ways to spur economic growth, House Republicans will roll out plans Monday to fight regulations from the National Labor Relations Board, pollution rules handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency and regulations that affect health plans for small businesses. In addition, the lawmakers plan to urge a 20 percent tax deduction for small businesses.

They know that President Obama will be proposing a plan to grow jobs in the U.S. in a couple of weeks. And they also know that its the number one concern on the minds of American voters. So this is a little window into what they'll be proposing as an alternative.

I don't often do this, but on this one I disagree with BooMan a bit. Where I agree with him is that this plan by the Republicans doesn't have a chance in hell of passing the Senate. So its DOA.

But President Obama's plan for jobs and deficit reduction has the same odds of passing Congress...nada.

The point of both of them is to put an agenda about jobs in front of American voters. The fact that the Republican's plan is a joke is somewhat beside the point. They'll try to convince folks that its those damn government regulations that are slowing economic recovery. And too many people will be open to that argument.

You mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help make the case that we need environmental and worker protections. And that they are not the cause of our current problems.

Let's go out there and get 'er done!!!!!

A must read!

This is going to be a short one.

If you only have time to read one thing today - please make it "Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did" by HamdenRice.

The original is here at Daily Kos.

But Angry Black Lady Chronicles has reposted the whole thing if you'd rather not take a trip to GOS.

The old "I told you so" trick

Steve Benen catches Tom Friedman doing exactly what I suggested Trumka and the poutragers are up to.

Here's Freidman's advice:

As for America, we’ve thrived in recent decades with a credit-consumption-led economy, whereby we maintained a middle class by using more steroids (easy credit, subprime mortgages and construction work) and less muscle-building (education, skill-building and innovation).

It’s put us in a deep hole, and the only way to dig out now is a new, hybrid politics that mixes spending cuts, tax increases, tax reform and investments in infrastructure, education, research and production. But that mix is not the agenda of either party.

And Benen's response:

It’s not? Let’s see, a combination of long-term cuts, combined with additional revenue, with an emphasis on boosting investments in infrastructure, education, research, and production. Why does this sound familiar? Because it’s President Obama’s agenda. It’s not as if the White House has made an effort to keep the president’s vision under wraps — the president has been touting this approach for a long while. He recently wrapped up a bus tour in the Midwest in which Obama talked up this vision a few times a day.

How could Friedman have missed this?

Jeeze, its not like President Obama hasn't been saying all of that since his last State of the Union address.

But its August and everyone is on vacation. We all know the President is going to make a speech outlining these kinds of proposals in a couple of weeks. So lets act like we haven't paid an ounce of attention to anything he's said over the last year or so and think we come off like geniuses for coming up with the ideas. When in reality, Freidman makes a joke of himself.

De-evolution

Seriously...I get bored with tracking down every nutty thing the Republican presidential candidates say. I feel that tension between wanting to demonstrate how ridiculous they are and giving them credence they don't deserve. But they're at it a mile-a-minute these days and I feel like taking on every crazy utterance would leave me with time for nothing else.

But I couldn't resist this one. It really captures most everything I'd want to say about all of them.

Know-it-alls

Gawd, I love this post by Beeryblog!

That which I cannot study empirically I do not understand. If there is nothing for me to have observed and I have either not sought or not been persuaded with evidence, then my answer is I do not know.

My peace is not in knowing; it is in wanting to know. And my bliss is not in knowing; it is in trying to know.

This makes me a liberal. Evidence is not something I fight against, and answers are not something I require.

That which one cannot study empirically the conservative claims to understand anyway. Even when there is nothing to observe and the conservative has neither sought nor been presented with evidence, the conservative’s answer is I know.

The conservative finds peace only in knowing the answers to questions that she has not even asked. And once she knows, she will not be persuaded by evidence; hers is to defend her truth, not to find nature’s.

It reminds me of something Nezua said a while ago about the essence of white privilege.

Mi novia says that it really frustrates White people that no matter how much they know or want to know, there may be an area of experience or knowledge that they cannot access. Bingo, Gringo.

This is another way of saying White Privilege.

How dare the world harbor some sort of Thing that I cannot experience! How dare you insinuate that you possess knowledge I may have to ask you about in humility! How impertinent of you to even imagine that I cannot, with study and great wisdom and effort, also know what it is like to grow up Brown™ in America! The voice of privilege thinks no seat is unavailable, no land unconquerable, no food untasteable, no right deniable, no experience out of reach. It is a slap in the face to this line of thought that there exists an area that cannot be known, even to a WHITE person. Gasp.

When did we stop asking questions and become know-it-alls?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weeping Willows

I've always loved sad love songs. More than a testament to my love life, its about the power of music to connect with something very deep inside. Going all the way back to when I was a child, this was one of the first songs to touch that place.

Don't appropriate what isn't yours

About a month ago, I made a rare recommendation to read a diary over at Daily Kos. I'm going to do it again today. And its no surprise that this one comes from the same author - dmitcha - and is titled Please hear and understand: Posting to a blog is not giving your life for justice.

If you have not yet been shot at, had your life threatened, marched thousands, or even hundreds, towards a danger-filled doorway towards freedom, if you have not placed country before family, if you have not been imprisoned for your beliefs and the actions they evoked, if you have not devised workshops and trained thousands of followers on how to lay their own lives on the line at your word, if you do not each day place your head down while reflecting on the lives you are changing city-/state-/nation-/worldwide and simultaneously listening for rustling leaves, broken glass, screeching tires and guns being cocked, if you have not abandoned your home and career for a cause that is greater than yours, if you have not sat down with both your enemies and your supporters to tirelessly campaign for rights you yourself may never enjoy...

If you, indeed, have done nothing but write a series of blog posts with defensive, profanity-laced comments in your responses, and will not have hundreds of thousands to millions weeping because progress, in your absence, may, in fact, end...then you are not fully an heir to this particular legacy of "not being silent." You may, perhaps, dine with friends of different backgrounds, make sure your children are loving and tolerant and treat all people of all color as equal. You may be an heir, then, to Dr. King's dream of racial equality. But that does not grant you the entire estate of his accomplishments to assign to your actions, particularly those that directly contradict his teachings and his choices...

Do you not see the irony of taking Dr. King's legacy for your own...rather than recognizing that the true and acting heir is the president himself that you so disparage and disrespect?

Do you, at least, understand that an entire community of people not only recognizes the irony but the offense of this?

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest.
- Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963

Amen and amen!

"We have lost the South for a generation"

With those words reportedly spoken to Bill Moyers after signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, LBJ showed that he actually underestimated the power of racism to affect our politics. If generations are counted in 20 year increments, we're now in the middle of the 3rd generation and the South is still lost.

I think of that today when I remember that Rick Perry was once a Democrat and switched parties in 1989. The post Civil Rights re-alignment of the South outlasted LJB's prediction.

This kind of historical analysis is important when we wonder why the GOP has become so extreme. There are probably many reasons for it - but there have been swings, as LBJ predicted, that have led us to this place. Perhaps the biggest reason is the exit from the Republican Party of the so-called "Eisenhower Republicans" in the northeast and African Americans all over the country after passage of the Civil Rights Act. That was matched by the exodus of southern whites from the Democratic Party - with folks like Perry only switching relatively recently.

Of course, the other dynamic that occurred was the development of the moral majority in the late 70's and its alignment with the Republican Party. As we've seen recently, this group of formerly disengaged fundamentalists has now morphed into the Tea Party. No one has documented that better than Frank Schaeffer.

You essentially have a party that has shed its economic conservatives in favor of racists and religious fundamentalists. The old guard of establishment Republicans are now finding themselves increasingly threatened by these rabble-rousers and are fearful of falling prey to the same fate that caught up with the former Senator from Utah, Bob Bennett.

But the long-term demographics spell trouble for a party based on these issues. We all know by now that in 30 years white people will be the minority in this country. But we also know that the extremism of fundamentalists is causing many Americans to reject Christianity.

America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether, a survey published Monday found...

The rise in evangelical Christianity is contributing to the rejection of religion altogether by some Americans, said Mark Silk of Trinity College.

"In the 1990s, it really sunk in on the American public generally that there was a long-lasting 'religious right' connected to a political party, and that turned a lot of people the other way," he said of the link between the Republican Party and groups such as the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family.

"In an earlier time, people who would have been content to say, 'Well, I'm some kind of a Protestant,' now say 'Hell no, I won't go,'" he told CNN.

The truth is that what racism and fundamentalism have in common is that they are based on irrational fear. During these times of economic stress, people are more vulnerable to being manipulated by that kind of fear. And that's what the Republicans are counting on. With the end of the Cold War and the Obama administration's masterful handling of the threat of terrorism, the extremist Republicans are counting on a fear of each other via racism combined with cultural wars to spread division.

Our mission is not to ramp up yet more extremism, but to make sure those efforts fail.

Unity is the great need of the hour - the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.

- Barack Obama, January 2008

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Say something nice



Via The Dish

Obama administration had trained for NYC hurricane

I've been writing about the fact that it is the role of the Presidency to implement good government. That doesn't just happen. It takes foresight and planning. Like the kind we saw in the President's prescience about an Arab Spring.

Now we learn that this administration had also done a training exercise for a NYC hurricane.

If the possibility of escaping from New York seems like something only for Hollywood to you, you probably do not work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In May 2009, the Obama administration conducted a simulation exercise around the possibility of a Category 3 hurricane hitting New York City, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Friday.

The National Level Exercise, as it is known, was part of a coordinated effort by federal officials to prepare for a variety of disaster scenarios, including one very similar to what is likely to take place this weekend. President Obama himself participated in the exercise, one of the first of its kind by the new administration.

"The federal government's preparation for this storm didn't just begin as the clouds started to gather and form a tropical depression," Earnest told reporters traveling with President Obama to Martha's Vineyard.

"The federal government and this administration in particular is constantly exercising and preparing and testing and evaluating our readiness for situations like this," he said.

I believe that this is the kind of government the people of the United States expect and deserve. We just have to work a little harder to get through the noise to tell them that they've got it.

Understanding the end game

BooMan makes a great point at the end of his post about the Pew Research poll I wrote about yesterday.

People now are much more likely to tell pollsters that they want to see the president take a confrontational tone with Republicans rather than cooperate with them. That plays right into Obama's hands as he shifts to campaign mode.

I thought of this the other day when Trumka issued his big warning to President Obama about wanting to see a jobs proposal. Haven't we known for a couple of weeks that Obama is going to present a jobs proposal? When he does, Trumka thinks he's positioned himself to go back to his members and say, "See, look what I got for you." Except he didn't get a damn thing, we all know the President was going to do it anyway.

So get ready for it, when the President goes into campaign mode - as we all know he's going to do - there are plenty of people who will say "See, he's finally doing what we told him to do." We've seen it happen over and over again. And its nothing more than an attempt to stay blind to President Obama's long game strategy and build up their own egos (and clicks to their blogs).

As I said yesterday, Jonathan Chait is someone who seems to understand.

The question hanging over Obama's political strategy has always been the endgame. His obsession with seeming reasonable makes sense if he uses it as an asset to spend down at the end. You do everything to show your willingness to compromise, and when the opposition refuses and refuses, finally you assail them for their fanaticism.

The poutragers always seem to miss that its the President's reasonableness that sets up the end game...not their constant yelling about it.

On Dreaming

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

- Marin Luther King, Jr., August 1963

I'd suspect that what most people in this country remember about Dr. King is his dream. It is what awakens the soul in a time of struggle.

I have often thought that this is part of the problem for many on the left today...they seem dreamless. They spend too much time thinking that it's their job to critique and criticize what someone else is doing/not doing. There's not enough dreaming going on.

But dreams alone can be deadly as well, as Langston Hughes warned us.

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

How do we keep our dreams from drying up or exploding? We understand that, once the dream is in place, life is a game of inches. No one explained that better than Al Pacino's character in "On Any Sunday."



On this team, we fight for that inch...Because we know, when we add up all those inches, that's going to make the fucking difference between winning a loosing, between living and dying. I'll tell ya this, in any fight, its the guy who's willing to die whose going to win that inch. And I know that if I'm going to have any life anymore, its because I'm willing to fight and die for that inch. Because that's what living is - the six inches in front of your face.

A couple of years ago I adopted a totem for myself...the tortoise. After all these years, I recognized that when it comes to the race, I'm one that believes in slow and steady - an inch at a time. I don't know if that is a genetic inheritance or whether its a reaction to living with too many people who dreamed big but never produced. Either way, I tend to distrust people who spend all their time dreaming and promise a quick fix.

We know from his life that Dr. King not only had dreams, he knew the importance of inches when it comes to keeping the dream alive.

The dream of "change we can believe in" will be realized one inch at a time. Anyone who tells you anything different is only peddling a dream to be deferred.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Poutrager argues for a world where only extremists matter

If you ever want to read an article from the left that is the total antithesis of everything President Obama stands for, I'd suggest this one by David Atkins titled No Consequence for Extremism.

There's really nothing new that Atkins is arguing for. The poutragers are jealous that the Republican Party has become a tool for their extremists and want the same kind of power in the Democratic Party. But what is different about this article is that Atkins actually tries to lay out the thinking behind why this would be such a good idea. Its because he doesn't think our current system forces extremists to pay a price.

Well, one way of looking at it is that the GOP has figured out that there is no consequence for extremism in American politics. America has a de facto two-party system. And as much as both parties dream of building the electoral coalition that will turn the other into a "permanent minority", the truth is that in a binary system with sophisticated political strategists and media machines on both sides, no party will hold office forever at a national level. Scandal, recession, and general malaise will ensure that the Party in power will be voted out by a disgruntled electorate, and that by default the beneficiaries of that event will be the Party currently out of power.

What Atkins fails to realize is that we don't have a parliamentary system in this country. I'm not sure what he means by "the Party in power." The truth is that Americans are notorious for voting in divided government.

So I'd suppose Atkins doesn't think we should worry so much about the fact that the 2010 elections were considered a political landslide for the Republicans. We should simply keep pushing our agenda even further to the left and assume that at some point the voters will swing back our way. Seriously, why bother with trying to compromise to get something passed that will actually help those without a job or health care or a roof over their head? If we just wait it out long enough - we'll get our chance to do something. Of course, that means waiting until we have a filibuster proof majority of progressives in the Senate along with control of the House and the Presidency. But surely...that will happen some day. Meanwhile, we can talk REALLY big about what we'd do when that happens.

In the meantime, what does Atkins suggest? He thinks we should obstruct as good as the Republicans.

The GOP has figured out that it is much more intelligent in American politics to consolidate an unassailable ideological voter and donor base, win what elections they can essentially by default, and push the Overton Window as far as humanly possible toward conservatism while in office. And when Democrats hold office, as they inevitably will? Then prevent them from governing as Democrats...

Far from being insane, this approach is actually eminently rational...

Insanity is what Democrats do: try to win every election and remain popular in the polls by compromising and appealing to the moderate voter while insulting their natural base, whether they're in office or out of office...The Democrats' job should be to push policy in as far a progressive direction as possible and build the base while in office, and then prevent Republicans from governing as Republicans when they naturally oscillate out of the majority.

I can see it all now...when Republicans are in the majority, Democrats obstruct. And when the Democrats are in the majority, Republicans obstruct. Now that sounds like a recipe for success, doesn't it? In other words, we take the one thing that is keeping our democratic republic from functioning, and apply it to both parties. The only thing I can think of to compare that to is what happens when children are left unattended and there is - literally - no adult in the room. Of course, the other analogy would be the "mutually assured destruction" of the Cold War era.

Of course, in Atkin's scheme, moderate voters are merely the fickle pawns who are easily manipulated by "sophisticated political strategists and media machines." So who cares what they think? We can easily dismiss them from our discourse in this new world where only extremists matter.

I have to say that this kind of strategy turns my stomach in just about every way possible, which shouldn't surprise anyone who has read what I've been writing over the last few years. So to clean out the synapses a bit, lets re-read that quote from President Obama that I use so often.

A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate...

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

Revving Up

Via Kevin Drum:

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From the LA Times:

Taxpayers bailed out much of the U.S. auto industry. Now the carmakers might be what saves the nation's economy from falling back into recession.

After a massive restructuring and several high-profile bankruptcies, a leaner, more aggressive auto industry is making a comeback, hiring workers and ramping up manufacturing plants. From a trough two years ago, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Chrysler Group and other auto companies have added almost 90,000 manufacturing jobs, a 14% increase, according to federal employment data.

And in case you missed it, What IS Working brought us the story this week about Toyota and Ford collaborating to build hybrid trucks in order to meet the administrations new fuel efficiency requirements.

Steve Benen reminds us:

Two years ago, NBC News established a tough benchmark: “As the GM bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency.”

Interesting views about Obama in Pew's latest poll (updated)

Pew published a poll yesterday showing some of the same things we've seen in others recently. Namely, approval ratings for everyone in D.C. are down. As I watch that, I tend to write it off to the debt ceiling deal where, as I've suggested before, Republican intransigence tends to result in "a pox on both your houses." It's a hard message to overcome, but since Republicans are doing significantly worse than President Obama and Democrats, I'd suggest we did as well as can be expected in getting the story through the media's addiction to false equivalency.

But there are some other numbers about President Obama that struck me as significant - especially in the midst of all that.

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The drop in the first two numbers is likely a reaction to what I described above. Yes, it becomes difficult to "get things done" when you're dealing with Republicans who oppose anything you propose...just because it's you who propose it.

But take a look at the rest of that list.

A large majority of people think President Obama "stands up for what he believes in." That flies in the face of the extremists on both the left and right who call him "weak" and suggest that he compromises too readily.

Also incredibly strong are the numbers of people who find him "warm and friendly" (that one's for you MoDo), "trustworthy" and someone who "cares about people like me."

I'm one of those that thinks polling numbers on the presidential race are pretty meaningless right now. But these numbers suggest that, while people are frustrated with the politics of Washington, they also have some awareness of who is fighting for them.

UPDATE: Jonathan Chait, the man who so accurately described "Obama's method" as of one conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy - highlights this finding from Pew's poll.

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And then he reminds us of this:

The question hanging over Obama's political strategy has always been the endgame. His obsession with seeming reasonable makes sense if he uses it as an asset to spend down at the end. You do everything to show your willingness to compromise, and when the opposition refuses and refuses, finally you assail them for their fanaticism. It's harrowing to watch, because we don't know until the last minute whether we're witnessing a rope-a-dope strategy, or just a boxer being beaten to a pulp.

Those who doubt Obama haven't typically had the patience to wait and see that end game.

Join the actual revolution in progress Brother West!

I see that Brother West is at it again with a column today in the New York Times titled Dr. King Weeps From His Grave.

My first thought is a reaction to the title. I find it appallingly disrespectful for those of us who are living to project how the deceased would react to events today. Dr. King lived in a particular time and space. He spoke to that moment. To assume that we know what and for whom he would weep today is the height of arrogance and demeaning to the legacy of the flesh and blood man.

Of course West cannot discuss Dr. King's legacy without talking about President Obama. And I will give him this, perhaps he learned a lesson from the last time he spoke up because he steers clear of talking about his own personal piques as well as an analysis of whether or not the President displays sufficient "blackness." I guess that's progress.

But he does spend some time on things like this:

The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.

As the talk show host Tavis Smiley and I have said in our national tour against poverty, the recent budget deal is only the latest phase of a 30-year, top-down, one-sided war against the poor and working people in the name of a morally bankrupt policy of deregulating markets, lowering taxes and cutting spending for those already socially neglected and economically abandoned. Our two main political parties, each beholden to big money, offer merely alternative versions of oligarchic rule.

Of course I could list all the things this administration has done and is trying to do for homeowners, workers and poor people as well as investments in education, infrastructure and housing. But West wants to sweep all of that under the rug with this claim about there being no difference between the two parties. Really? He wants to go there right now? Seriously, I can't imagine a more ridiculous thing to say at this moment in time when the choice is so clear.

Brother West then outlines what he wants, couched in language that suggests its Dr. King's vision:

King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.

In concrete terms, this means support for progressive politicians like Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles County supervisor; extensive community and media organizing; civil disobedience; and life and death confrontations with the powers that be. Like King, we need to put on our cemetery clothes and be coffin-ready for the next great democratic battle.

I can go along with that. But I have to wonder what West is going to do about that other than put pen to paper about it while shaking his fist at President Obama. Where is his "skin in the game" when it comes to this revolution?

Reading this made me think of all of the people I know who are living out that revolution every damn day. I have the honor of working with some of them. An example is someone I'll call Luke. He grew up on the streets of Detroit. Luke had a whole bunch of siblings. A few of them didn't survive and some of them are in prison. He made it out, got through not only college - but completed 2 Master's Degrees and spends his days going the extra mile for young people who are facing some of the same challenges. Now THAT's what I call leading a revolution!

President Obama has put himself in the line of fire from folks like West. He's out there attempting to actually get something done in a culture that's fighting him every step of the way.

When I see Brother West actually join the battle in the way that Luke and/or the President have done, I'll have a bit more respect for the revolution he's calling for.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Did you hear the one about "Democrats" predicting a third party candidacy in 2012

"Democratic" pollsters writing in Murdoch's Wall Street Journal:

The United States is in the midst of what we would both call a prerevolutionary moment, and there is widespread support for fundamental change in the system. An increasing number of Americans are now searching beyond the two parties for bold and effective leadership.

They're oh so balanced in combining this...

There are now rumblings from Donald Trump, a former contender for the Republican nomination, that he may run as an independent. There are certain to be others.

...with this:

These findings are consistent with what we learned from a series of in-depth focus groups conducted by Patrick Caddell with nearly 100 Americans across the country—of every economic class—who had voted for President Obama in 2008 and are at the moment undecided. These focus groups indicated that the American people are desperate for a leader who stands outside of the political establishment currently running Washington. A leader who can speak for the American majority—offering not just rhetoric, but a new direction and a proven record of getting things done.

Wow...100 out of the 69 million who voted for President Obama! And it sounds like they were picked because they are undecided now. That sounds an awful lot to me like picking your sample to generate what you want to find.

So who are these "Democratic" pollsters? Here's their byline at the WSJ:

Mr. Caddell served as a pollster for President Jimmy Carter. Mr. Schoen, who served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton, is author of "The Political Fix"

Sounds impressive, huh? But if you haven't heard of these two before, you might want to head over t0 Media Matters where they've been the topic of discussion on more than one occasion. Like when they accused President Obama of playing the race card or when they compared him to Richard Nixon or when they suggested he shouldn't run for re-election.

You get the drift? As the saying goes, when you look up "conservative concern troll" in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of these two. Its why they are evidently so very popular in Murdoch's other empire...Faux News.

The fact of the matter is that no left leaning person with an ounce of sense (yes, that would exclude people like Kucinich and Nader) is going to challenge President Obama in the primaries or as a third party candidate. Get over yourselves Caddell and Schoen. Nobody is listening but the nutters.

Where are the Pragmatic Conservatives and Independents?

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

- Barack Obama, September 2005

If you look over to the left of these words, you'll see a list of blogs representing some people who got fed up with the ideological rantings of the extreme left and are trying to have a different conversation about politics.

Today I'm wondering if there aren't Republicans who have gotten fed up with the mirror image of that extremism on the right and might be looking for some pragmatism as well. I'm also thinking about what kind of conversation we could spark if we started talking to one another. I'd guess that we wouldn't always agree, but six years ago then Senator Barack Obama threw out that challenge to us as quoted above. We hear lots of griping from various quarters about his so-called attempts at bipartisanship. And yet, I think he's been referring all along to how we talk to each other more than how he talks to John Boehner. But we haven't done much on the blogs to ever give that a go.

I know that a couple of blogs from the right switched gears during the Bush years. Andrew Sullivan's The Dish and Little Green Footballs come to mind. But I wonder if there are other smaller places where an identified conservative or two might be hanging out who is just as fed up with their brand of poutragers as we are with ours. I'd be open to starting a blog roll of "Pragmatic Conservative Blogs" where we could read and perhaps even initiate some back and forth conversation.

That would be one way I think we could live out what it is President Obama stands for and "be the change we want to see." So if you know of any blogs like that - please let me know in the comments. And if you have other ideas about how we could engage pragmatic conservatives and/or independents, I'd love to hear about it.

With the Palinization of the GOP...our choices are clear

I blame John McCain.

We all know that in the last 3 years, the GOP has changed. As if Bush/Cheney weren't bad enough, we now have the entire Republican Party taken over by crazed tea partiers.

I think that was sparked by John McCain's nomination of Sarah Palin. It was a move of desperation. Prior to that time, McCain had been known as a "moderate Republican" and the right wing of the party had been captured by folks like Mike Huckabee, who was seen as a fringe candidate. Once McCain won the nomination, instead of moving to the center (he was already there), he needed to shore up his base. Thus the Palinization of the GOP began.

In the wake of the country's disillusionment with Bush/Cheney, the Republicans needed some fuel to stoke their weakening fires and so they seized on the Tea Party momentum...fanning the flames. Now they are beholden to the extremists.

It has changed the discourse coming from the Republicans. We are seeing the end of what David Roberts called "post-truth politics."

For decades Republicans have single-mindedly pursued a few core goals: reducing taxes on the wealthy, dismantling the post-war social welfare state, and freeing corporations from regulatory restraints. Sometimes that has meant short-term compromises and half-measures, sometimes it's meant exploiting culture war resentments, sometimes it's meant a pose of moderation (compassionate conservatism). Very often -- almost always -- it's meant couching the agenda in other terms, since it is, if you poll it directly, wildly unpopular with the public. Americans want to tax the rich more, protect entitlement programs, and put tighter rules on corporations.

Republicans thus talk about "taxes" and "spending" and "regulation" in the abstract, since Americans oppose them in the abstract even as they support their specific manifestations. They talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments.

In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They've realized that their rhetoric doesn't have to bear any connection to their policy agenda. They can go through different slogans, different rationales, different fights, depending on the political landscape of the moment. They need not feel bound by previous slogans, rationales, or fights. They've realized that policy is policy and politics is politics and they can push for the former while waging the latter battle on its own terms. The two have become entirely unmoored.

Want an example of how that kind of obfuscation is over? Just look at how open Republicans are now being about ending things like Social Security and Medicare. In a post-truth politics era, they sold the ending of Social Security as "privatization." In other words, they weren't going to end it - just hand it over to Wall Street. And they knew better than to even talk about changing Medicare.

Then came Paul Ryan's plan to voucherize Medicare. Yep, they just came out and put a plan on the table that would essentially do to Medicare what privatization would do to Social Security.

But now they're starting to talk about the real end-game...ending those programs. You have folks like Rick Perry suggesting they're unconstitutional. And this week, we saw the "reasonable" guy who is the Republican's hope for the future, Mark Rubio, say the most outlandish thing I've heard about these programs.

These programs actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever, it was institutions in society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and your future because you had to. We took these things upon ourselves in our communities, our families, and our homes, and our churches and our synagogues. But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities. All of a sudden, for an increasing number of people in our nation, it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government’s job.

I guess Rubio is too young and/or ignorant to have bothered to look back and see why these programs were created in the first place...because seniors in this country WERE NOT SECURE. Family, neighbors, and other institutions were not able to provide that. As Volsky points out in the linked article, prior to Medicare and Social Security, about half did not have hospital insurance and one in four were living in poverty.

For a long time, this kind of thing didn't need to be said because the majority of Americans know this and support these programs. Republicans, who have always wanted to get rid of them, needed to hide these kinds of sentiments or they'd never get elected to anything more than dog catcher.

But now the flood gates are open and they're telling us something that is at least closer to the truth. I suppose we could suggest that's a good thing. In reality, the choices in front of us as voters have never been more clear.

It seems that in 2012, we're going to need to go back to making the case that FDR did in his 1944 inaugural address:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

Or as President Obama said just a couple of months ago:

From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity. More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.

But there’s always been another thread running through our history -– a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves...

Part of this American belief that we’re all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff may strike any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves. And so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, those with disabilities. We’re a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further. We would not be a great country without those commitments...

The America I know is generous and compassionate. It’s a land of opportunity and optimism. Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future that we share...

To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

That's the past we stand on as Democrats and the future we'll fight for in 2012 and beyond.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Economics vs Demographics

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a hundred times...the re-election of President Obama will depend on how the economy is doing. While I'm sure there's a lot of truth in that, even Republican political consultant Mike Murphy knows its more complicated than that.

The race is close because next year both Obama and the Republican nominee are likely to be skating on wafer-thin ice. For while the weak economy is one huge force driving these numbers, there is a second force in play that could be equally unsettling. The 2012 election is shaping up as a battle between economics and demographics. The economy is threatening to end the President's political career. The demographics of a changing America might just re-elect him.

Actually, as I've written about here before, Ron Brownstein made this same point several months ago.

The next America is arriving ahead of schedule. And it could rattle assumptions about the coming presidential election.

Last week’s release of national totals from the 2010 census showed that the minority share of the population increased over the past decade in every state, reaching levels higher than demographers anticipated almost everywhere, and in the nation as a whole. If President Obama and Democrats can convert that growth into new voters in 2012, they can get a critical boost in many of the most hotly contested states and also seriously compete for some highly diverse states such as Arizona and Georgia that until now have been reliably red.

Yesterday, Public Policy Polling came out with some fascinating numbers in the presidential race. In terms of Latino support, here's what they found:

Obama: 66%
Romey: 29%

Obama: 72%
Perry: 26%

Obama: 74%
Bachmann: 26%

So the next time you hear Perry compare the Civil Rights Movement to tax cuts for the wealthy, or you hear Romney say he's against immigration reform because he doesn't want to read a long bill, or Bachmann tries to tell us that Black families were better off during slavery, remember that they are just continuing to dig their own hole even deeper.

President Obama can at least run on a record of doing everything he could to improve the economy. For these folks, there's no salvation from the stupid.

Bower-in-Chief

Remember back when it appeared as if President Obama had bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia and the rightwing went nuts about it?



Well, I think those folks have been slacking off in their opportunities to dig up things to complain about when it comes to our President. Because ever since then, he's been demonstrating that he is - in fact - the "bower-in-chief." And I have photographic evidence!

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He even bows sideways!

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Why, he practically gets down on his knees in front of some folks.

Somebody dial up those wingers and tell them to get cracking'! Time's a-waistin' to get on this President for being willing to show this kind of deference.

;-)

Is no news good news?

I remember when I was a little girl, I used to want to know what would happen if there was ever a day that there was no "news." I'd ask adults and they would always disappoint me by answering that it would never happen.

I have no idea what drove that curiosity I had as a child. But the truth is that today seems like one of those days when there's no "news."

Oh, I know - there was a big earthquake on the East Coast yesterday that we're supposed to talk about. Here's my pictorial analysis of that one.

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And events are still unfolding in Libya. I think BooMan might be taking it a little too far, but I also suppose he has a point in saying that we all might deserve an excessive celebration penalty.

Finally, you know its a slow news day when the lead story on The Today Show is about Hot Sauce Mom. I know those morning shows aren't known for their in-depth analysis of world events, but they at least usually try to open with something significant.

So perhaps this is what those adults were trying to tell me all those years ago. There won't ever be a day we can't dream up something to talk about. The question is whether or not it has any real significance.

It also might be the case that my brain has been affected by reading a fascinating article last night about our cultural attention deficit disorder.

Over the last several years, the problem of attention has migrated right into the center of our cultural attention. We hunt it in neurology labs, lament its decline on op-ed pages, fetishize it in grassroots quality-of-life movements, diagnose its absence in more and more of our children every year, cultivate it in yoga class twice a week, harness it as the engine of self-help empires, and pump it up to superhuman levels with drugs originally intended to treat Alzheimer’s and narcolepsy. Everyone still pays some form of attention all the time, of course—it’s basically impossible for humans not to—but the currency in which we pay it, and the goods we get in exchange, have changed dramatically.

Back in 1971, when the web was still twenty years off and the smallest computers were the size of delivery vans, before the founders of Google had even managed to get themselves born, the polymath economist Herbert A. Simon wrote maybe the most concise possible description of our modern struggle: “What information consumes is rather obvious: It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” As beneficiaries of the greatest information boom in the history of the world, we are suffering, by Simon’s logic, a correspondingly serious poverty of attention.

So perhaps I'm storing up my attention and focus until something more interesting comes along.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You're All I Need to Get By

RIP Nick Ashford who, along with your lovely wife Valerie Simpson, wrote what I think is one of the most beautiful love songs ever.

DOJ investigates LA Sheriff for profiling

I've been documenting the work of the DOJ Civil Rights Division here - especially to combat those naysayers who want to claim that this administration has done nothing for African Americans (yes, looking at you Travis and Cornel).

Today comes this story from ColorLines.

The Department of Justice announced an investigation into allegations of racial discrimination by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on Friday. Deputies in the Antelope Valley, specifically in the historically white cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, have been repeatedly accused of unwarranted stops and searches of black and Latino residents of government subsidized housing, according to the Associated Press.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is accused of attempting to identify and harass residents of subsidized housing in the region through unjustified but routine traffic stops. Additionally, the Justice Department wants to determine whether warrantless searches of housing projects by LASD deputies violated the civil rights of their low-income residents, according to AP...

Joe Brown, president of the Pasadena chapter of the NAACP, believes the profiling is not the result of poor individual policing, but rather a sign of top-down discriminatory practices. He explained that as the price of real estate in cities like Pasadena began to rise, places like Lancaster and Palmdale, with affordable housing more readily available, began to look attractive to lower-income people of color. Because of public transportation, people could live in these outlying distant communities yet still make the commute back to more central areas of Los Angeles for work. Brown charges that Lancaster’s mayor, R. Rex Parris, has worked to turn his city back into the white haven it once was by ordering the sheriff to harass people in public housing.

“It’s really about economics, but the city’s mayor has made it about race,” said Brown...

Brown has hope that the Justice Department’s L.A. investigation will change institutionalized bias of law enforcement agencies all over the country. “It will send a message that you cannot target any particular group because of their income,” he said.

This, my friends, is how you fight institutional racism.

I'm Yours

As we celebrate his badassness...



...I thought I'd have a little fun with what I'm sure motivates it. ;-)

Working in the world as it is...for the world we want to see

The events of the last few days have reminded me of the speech President Obama gave at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. In it, he talked about the tension between our need to work in the world as it is and maintaining our vision of the world we want to see.

In the speech, President Obama demonstrated his understanding of the teachings of Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Here is the best summary of Niebuhr's thoughts on that tension that I have found.

Christians were obliged to work actively for progressive social causes and for the realization of Christian social ideals of justice and righteousness. But in doing so they had to abandon their illusions, not least in the way they thought about themselves. The pursuit of social righteousness would, he believed, inexorably involve them in acts of sin and imperfection. Not because the end justifies the means, but because that was simply the way of the world. Even the most surgical action creates collateral damage. But the Christian faith just as inexorably called its adherents to a life of perfect righteousness, a calling that gives no ultimate moral quarter to dirty hands. The result would seem to be a stark contradiction, a call to do the impossible.

And here's President Obama laying out that tension in Oslo.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world... To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason...

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another -- that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly...

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But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place...

For if we lose that faith -- if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace -- then we lose what's best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass...

Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.

Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he's outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school -- because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child's dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

I suspect that we all face challenges daily that require living with that kind of tension - working to deal with the realities of the world while maintaining our belief and commitment to what is possible. Perhaps we don't see it in such stark terms as President Obama did when he approved U.S. military involvement in Libya. But his words are no less applicable to me because my sphere of influence is smaller. I can both be grateful that this country is blessed with a leader who understands this tension and use his words and actions to inspire me to hold that tension to the best of my ability.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Obama's prescience about the Arab Spring

In looking for the origin of the quote below about leading from behind, I found this article by Ryan Lizza titled The Consequentialist. Its a great read - taking you through a lot of the White House process on dealing with the Middle East.

But I found one section of it fascinating. Its probably best if I just let Lizza tell the story.

On August 12, 2010, Obama sent a five-page memorandum called “Political Reform in the Middle East and North Africa” to Vice-President Joseph Biden, Clinton, Gates, Donilon, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the other senior members of his foreign-policy team. Though the Iranian regime had effectively crushed the Green Revolution, the country was still experiencing sporadic protests. Egypt would face crucial parliamentary elections in November. The memo began with a stark conclusion about trends in the region.

“Progress toward political reform and openness in the Middle East and North Africa lags behind other regions and has, in some cases, stalled,” the President wrote. He noted that even the more liberal countries were cracking down on public gatherings, the press, and political opposition groups. But something was stirring. There was “evidence of growing citizen discontent with the region’s regimes,” he wrote. It was likely that “if present trends continue,” allies there would “opt for repression rather than reform to manage domestic dissent.”

Obama’s analysis showed a desire to balance interests and ideals. The goals of reform and democracy were couched in the language of U.S. interests rather than the sharp moral language that statesmen often use in public. “Increased repression could threaten the political and economic stability of some of our allies, leave us with fewer capable, credible partners who can support our regional priorities, and further alienate citizens in the region,” Obama wrote. “Moreover, our regional and international credibility will be undermined if we are seen or perceived to be backing repressive regimes and ignoring the rights and aspirations of citizens.”

Obama instructed his staff to come up with “tailored,” “country by country” strategies on political reform. He told his advisers to challenge the traditional idea that stability in the Middle East always served U.S. interests. Obama wanted to weigh the risks of both “continued support for increasingly unpopular and repressive regimes” and a “strong push by the United States for reform.”

He also wrote that “the advent of political succession in a number of countries offers a potential opening for political reform in the region.” If the United States managed the coming transitions “poorly,” it “could have negative implications for U.S. interests, including for our standing among Arab publics.”

The review was led by three N.S.C. staffers: Samantha Power, Gayle Smith, who works on development issues, and Dennis Ross, a Middle East expert with a broad portfolio in the White House. Soon, they and officials from other agencies were sitting in the White House, debating the costs and benefits of supporting autocrats. A White House official involved said the group studied “the taboos, all the questions you’re not supposed to ask.” For example, they tested the assumption that the President could not publicly criticize President Hosni Mubarak because it would jeopardize Egypt’s coöperation on issues related to Israel or its assistance in tracking terrorists. Not true, they concluded: the Egyptians pursued peace with Israel and crushed terrorists because it was in their interest to do so, not because the U.S. asked them to.

They tested the idea that countries with impoverished populations needed to develop economically before they were prepared for open political systems—a common argument that democracy promoters often run up against. Again, they concluded that the conventional wisdom was wrong. “All roads led to political reform,” the White House official said.

The group was just finishing its work, on December 17th, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable vender in Tunisia, set himself on fire outside a municipal building to protest the corruption of the country’s political system––an act that inspired protests in Tunisia and, eventually, the entire region. Democracy in the Middle East, one of the most fraught issues of the Bush years, was suddenly the signature conflict of Obama’s foreign policy.

I think I remember hearing something about the review written by Power, Smith and Ross. But I didn't know about the memo President Obama wrote that sparked it. And, of course, its interesting to think about the President writing a 5-page memorandum.

He knew "something was stirring" and that there would be the "potential for political reform in the region." Boy was he right!

Sometimes this guy just blows my mind.




"Leading from behind"

Back when President Obama first announced that the U.S. would be involved in the NATO-led intervention in Libya, one of his advisors called it leading from behind. Of course, that gave the wingers a case of the vapors.

But it struck me as a powerful statement - especially coming from a President who had a background in community organizing. That's because a couple of years ago the organization I run had started to work on expanding our mission from direct service to youth and families into doing some community organizing around the barriers that so often get in their way. For example, we held forums to highlight the over-representation of African American youth in the criminal justice system and the educational achievement gap that is so striking for African American boys.

One of the things I realized in this work was that I had to resist the kinds of approaches that delineated what needed to be done and ask people to join our bandwagon. That's what you do in public relations, but it doesn't work for community organizing. The whole point of the later is to spur people to take action on their own self-interests. To do that successfully, it is important to give them a forum, help them identify their common self interests, and assist them in organizing to make changes. But if you get out ahead of the community in terms of solutions, you make them tools in your own process rather than empowering them to implement their own agenda. I found that its a hard line to walk...this leading from behind.

And yet that's exactly what I think is the appropriate role for the U.S. in the spread of democracy. We found out what a colossal failure it is to impose it from the outside based on our experience in Iraq. Now, in Libya, we're seeing how it can be done successfully.

But it begs the question for me about how you "lead from behind" when it comes to domestic issues. In thinking about how President Obama has/has not done that, I reflect on his first two years in office. The first thing confronting the administration was our economic freefall. In some senses, there was not time for leading from behind on that one. Something needed to be done. And it had to happen quickly. And so we got the Recovery Act.

Then came health care reform. It seemed to me like that was something Obama was determined to do from the get-go. He knew it had failed too many times and so, like with the stimulus, he pushed as hard as he could and got it done.

But take a look at what he did with the repeal of DADT. In that case he essentially asked the military to take a look at whether a policy of subterfuge and lying was good for the institution. Was it in their self-interest? When they decided it was not, he had the most important ally he could find in putting and end to it. In other words, he led from behind.

With the election of a majority of Republicans in the House, President Obama recognized that the people had empowered Congress to focus on deficit reduction. And so he essentially said, "If that's what you want, I'll join you. But here's how I would do it." He knows this is an important concern for many Americans - as is the need to create jobs. And so he's asking us to get involved in telling our members of Congress what we want to see happen to address those concerns. He's leading from behind.

Overall, I'd suggest that President Obama is most comfortable in this role of leading from behind. Please note that it is NOT an abdication of leadership. Its just not the kind we're used to. As I've said on many occasions, its the implementation of partnership power over dominance in a leader.

Its been clear for a long time now that President Obama thinks that what most often stymies our ability to solve problems are the power plays that seem to define the game in Washington. He knows that if we can talk to each other reasonably, we can reach solutions. But the Republicans find that possibility to be a major threat to their power because it rests on voters defining their own self interests rather than being manipulated to do the bidding of the rich and powerful.

In other words, President Obama is doing everything he can to restore the ideal of democracy in this country by leading from behind. That's what I saw in him early on and is why he has my unqualified and total support. Over anything else I value in terms of policy, its democracy that I'm rooting for!