Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It's less about religion and more about class

A few months ago Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin of the Center for American Progress published a paper titled "The Path to 270: Demographics Versus Economics in the 2012 Election" which garnered a lot of commentary in the media. The premise was that, while the changing demographics in the country favor the Democrats, there is a split in the economics between white professionals and white working class voters. The later have traditionally been called "Reagan Democrats." In the last election, this is where President Obama received his weakest support.

Coming into the 2012 election, much was made of Mitt Romney's Mormonism as a potential problem for him in the Republican primaries. And the truth is, that might be affecting some of those who continue to look for a not-Romney candidate. But based on what we've seen so far, the divide seems to be much more about class than it is about religion. Here's Jonathan Cohn's take on last night's Michigan primary results.

Romney succeeded, but the exit polls suggested a familiar class divide. Romney won among voters who attended at least some college and those making more than $100,000 a year. But he lost among voters who attended no college and among those making less than $100,000 a year.

As New York Times economics guru and Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt tweeted, if you genetically engineered the typical Romney voter, it was a single Catholic woman who was older than 65 and with a household income of more than $100,000.

Yes, even pitted against uber-Catholic Rick Santorum, Romney won the Catholic vote...as along as they made over $100,000. For those who attended no college and make less than $100,000 a year - Santorum was their man. The question then becomes whether these folks are up for grabs in the general election or if they'll hold their nose and vote for Romney when/if he is the nominee.

Back to Cohn, that's why President Obama's speech yesterday to the UAW struck just the right chord.

Which brings us to the other guy who was making a play for Michigan votes this week – although he was doing it from Washington. I’m talking about Obama, who gave a fiery speech to a meeting of the United Auto Workers on Tuesday.

By now, if you read this space, you know all about the auto bailout – and why it’s likely to help Obama’s reelection campaign, in Michigan and more contested rust belt states like Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. But, as Greg Sargent observed, "Obama used the auto-bailout argument as a jumping off point for his larger case." It wasn’t just about saving the automakers or even the Midwest. It was about taking action to fix the economy – and about taking the side of working Americans.

So as Romney continues his guffaws about all his Cadillacs and chumminess with NASCAR team owners, and Santorum veers off into his racist dog whistles and extremist cultural issues (and no, denigrating one of the most important speeches by the country's first Catholic president was NOT a good idea), President Obama is telling working Americans that "As long as you’ve got an ounce of fight left in you, I’ll have a ton of fight left in me." This might be the year we win those "Reagan Democrats" back into the fold.

ABC's Bob Woodruff will interview President Obama tonight

The President and First Lady will host a formal dinner tonight honoring Iraq veterans.

On Wednesday, February 29, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will host a dinner at the White House to honor our Armed Forces who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn and to honor their families. This dinner --- an expression of the nation's gratitude for the achievements and enormous sacrifices of the brave Americans who served in the Iraq War and of the families who supported them --- will include men and women in uniform from all ranks, services, states and backgrounds, representative of the many thousands of Americans who served in Iraq.

Just prior to the dinner, ABC's Bob Woodruff will interview both President Obama and some of the honorees. The reason this is important is that on January 29, 2006, just days after he had been named to succeed Peter Jennings as co-anchor of ABC News, Woodruff was seriously injured by in IED in Iraq. When he was able to return to work, Woodruff spent much of his time reporting on the struggles wounded Iraq veterans faced when they came home.

According to ABC News:

The interview and Woodruff’s reports on the formal White House dinner will air Wednesday, February 29 on “World News with Diane Sawyer” and “Nightline,” with an additional report airing on “Good Morning America” on Thursday, March 1.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Last Chance Party

No matter which Republican wins in Michigan and Arizona today, the truth is - as Ezra Klein notes - they're still left with three bad options.

For awhile now I have been suggesting that the white male heterosexual patriarchy is in its death throes - and the Republican Party seems content to join in its demise. This week Jonathan Chait wrote an article saying basically the same thing. I'm going to suggest that its a must-read.

Here's how he describes the situation:

The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had ­increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities...

Obama’s victory carried out the blueprint. Campaign reporters cast the election as a triumph of Obama’s inspirational message and cutting-edge organization, but above all his sweeping win reflected simple demography. Every year, the nonwhite proportion of the electorate grows by about half a percentage point—meaning that in every presidential election, the minority share of the vote increases by 2 percent, a huge amount in a closely divided country.

And here's how that poses a significant problem for Republicans:

Whatever its abstract intellectual roots, conservatism has since at least the sixties drawn its political strength by appealing to heartland identity politics. In 1985, Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist, immersed himself in Macomb County, a blue-collar Detroit suburb where whites had abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. He found that the Reagan Democrats there understood politics almost entirely in racial terms, translating any Democratic appeal to economic justice as taking their money to subsidize the black underclass. And it didn’t end with the Reagan era. Piles of recent studies have found that voters often conflate “social” and “economic” issues. What social scientists delicately call “ethnocentrism” and “racial resentment” and “ingroup solidarity” are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests.

Chait argues (as have I) that after the 2006 and 2008 elections, Republicans had an opportunity to re-think this decades-old "southern strategy."

In the cold calculus of game theory, the expected response to this state of affairs would be to accommodate yourself to the growing strength of the opposing coalition—to persuade pockets of voters on the Democratic margins they might be better served by Republicans. Yet the psychology of decline does not always operate in a straightforward, rational way. A strategy of managing slow decay is unpleasant, and history is replete with instances of leaders who persuaded themselves of the opposite of the obvious conclusion. Rather than adjust themselves to their slowly weakening position, they chose instead to stage a decisive confrontation. If the terms of the fight grow more unfavorable with every passing year, well, all the more reason to have the fight sooner.

For the Republicans, this is a "last chance" gamble.

The way to make sense of that foolhardiness is that the party has decided to bet everything on its one “last chance.” Not the last chance for the Republican Party to win power—there will be many of those, and over time it will surely learn to compete for nonwhite voters—but its last chance to exercise power in its current form, as a party of anti-government fundamentalism powered by sublimated white Christian identity politics. (And the last chance to stop the policy steamroller of the new Democratic majority.) And whatever rhetorical concessions to moderates and independents the eventual Republican nominee may be tempted to make in the fall, he’ll find himself fairly boxed in by everything he’s already done this winter to please that base.
(Emphasis mine)

Chait has done an excellent job of describing what is at stake. Our mission - come November - is to ensure that the gamble fails.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Brush with the Blues

Jeff Beck from Red White & Blues at the White House

Obama's progressive accomplishments as part of a pragmatic long game

For quite a while now I've been saying that if you want to understand President Obama, you have to look at the long game. Its possible that some of his accomplishments will still be coming to fruition long after he's actually left office. In the end, the historians of the future might have the best vantage point.

That's not how we've typically viewed politics in the modern era. With the 24/7 news cycle, too much political punditry gets caught up in the clash of the moment and so that's where we tend to focus. So when we talk about President Obama's accomplishments, we naturally tend to look at the past...things like the stimulus bill, the current implementation of ACA, Lilly Ledbetter, ending DADT, etc. Those are all major "wins" for this administration. But what happens if we look forward a bit at what is developing? In other words, what might President Obama's accomplishments look like in the future?

As I wrote about yesterday, its not only health care pundits - but now corporate insiders - who are saying that ACA will end for-profit health insurance as a business model.

We can only guess what renewable energy alternatives might look like when the world's largest consumer of energy - the US military - goes green.

All of the talk about civil liberties violations as part of the "war on terror" will likely be quieted if the administration is successful in negotiations with the Taliban to end the indefinite war.

The nature of the work and the compensation provided to Wall Street financiers is currently being altered as a result of both the challenges in the economy and the passage of Dodd-Frank.

While the administration hasn't been able to get immigration reform or the Dream Act through an obstructionist Congress, they have basically begun to implement many of those things through executive order.

Finally, there is all the work currently underway in the Department of Justice on police brutality, fair sentencing, mortgage fraud, medicare fraud and stopping things like draconian immigration and voter ID laws.

I would submit to you that these efforts combined form the blueprint for the most progressive president in my lifetime (perhaps in the country's history).

When President Obama analyzes his own set of accomplishments, these are the kinds of things he keeps his eye on. How do we know that? Michelle told us.

Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight.

If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.

We always have.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"The end of insurance companies...is here."

For awhile now I've been following what Rick Unger has been saying about the ACA triggering the end of for-profit health insurance companies as a business model.

This week Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, agreed with him.

It’s not often that you hear the leader of a Fortune 100 company publicly acknowledge the imminent demise of his venerable, profitable business model.

Yet, speaking at the HIMSS12 Conference in Las Vegas, Aetna CEO, Chairman and President Mark Bertolini, said a reckoning for the traditional health insurance model was at hand. “The system doesn’t work, it’s broke today” Bertolini told attendees. “The end of insurance companies, the way we’ve run the business in the past, is here.”

Bertolini said an amalgamation of regulatory, demographic and economic factors were driving this change. The Affordable Care Act in particular, with its ban on medical underwriting, has made the traditional health insurance business model untenable in the long term, he said. Nonetheless, he offered measured praise for the law, even citing the controversial medical loss ratio rules as having a smoothing effect on premium swings. “We got pulled through the crucible against our will and have been reshaped because of it,” he said. “For most of what has already been implemented, it has been a pretty good thing.”

First of all, I'll let Unger fill us in on what "medical underwriting" means.

Underwriting is the process of separating out the healthy from those more likely to be ill and then offering coverage to the good risks while passing on the bad ones.

In other words, the universality of ACA means that insurance companies can no longer pick and chose their customers to maximize profits (ie, no exclusions for pre-existing conditions). In addition, the medical loss ratios - as I've talked about before - require insurance companies to spend 80-85% of their premium dollars on patient care. Together these kinds of regulations are what both Unger and now Bertolini say will mean the end of the for-profit health insurance business model.

For months now the baggers of fire on the left have been shouting about how the ACA was nothing more than a give-away to these companies. Oh my, how much more wrong could they be?

Now we're beginning to see the "long game" play out on where we might be headed with health care reform. Unger says it will eventually lead us to some type of single payer system. But he has this warning...

If you are a single-payer advocate—and it is no secret that I fall within this category—you are likely pumping your fist in the air at this news. After all, when the CEO of one of the nation’s largest health care insurers waves the white flag, it’s got to be a good thing for those who wish to usher in the era of universal coverage.

To you single-payer supporters who are enjoying Bertolini’s perceived capitulation, I would simply say, “chill out.”

While I have long argued that the for-profit health insurance model no longer works, and that some form of a single-payer system is—whether you like it or not— inevitable, the simple fact is that we are no more ready to make single-payer a success in America then we are capable of sustaining the existing for-profit model.

Why?

Because our healthcare cost issues are going to be as damaging and deadly to a single-payer approach as they have been to the for-profit business model.

So we're not there yet but we're on our way. As the saying goes..."the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step."

Here's what Bertlolini had to say about that:

Reform is not going to stop. It won’t go away.

Thanks Obamacare!

Uncommon courage in unlikely places

I find the story of Dallas County Judge Tonya Parker to be extremely inspiring.

Out lesbian Dallas County Judge Tonya Parker touted her refusal to conduct marriage ceremonies in her courtroom on Tuesday night.

“I have the power, of course, to perform marriage ceremonies,” Parker said. “I don’t.”...

Parker is the first LGBT person elected judge in Dallas County and is believed to be the first openly LGBT African-American elected official in the state’s history. As such, Parker said she takes into account the importance of her position to make members of the LGBT community feel comfortable and equal in her courtroom by “going out of my way to do things that other people might not do because they are not who I am.”...

“I use it as my opportunity to give them a lesson about marriage inequality in this state because I feel like I have to tell them why I’m turning them away,” Parker said. “So I usually will offer them something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry. I don’t perform marriage ceremonies because we are in a state that does not have marriage equality, and until it does, I am not going to partially apply the law to one group of people that doesn’t apply to another group of people.’ And it’s kind of oxymoronic for me to perform ceremonies that can’t be performed for me, so I’m not going to do it.”

The first openly LGBT African American elected official in the state of Texas is a feat unto itself. But to use that position to take this kind of stand takes courage to a whole new level.

My hats off to you Judge Parker!

New Guggenheim film about President Obama

Four years ago David Guggenheim produced this short film titled "A Mother's Promise."



Now we learn that the Obama campaign has hired Guggenheim again.

With Hollywood gathering this weekend for the 84th Academy Awards, President Barack Obama has recruited Oscar-winning documentary director Davis Guggenheim to again produce a short film for his campaign.

Obama’s re-election staff in Chicago spent $162,834 on the film last month, according to the January Federal Election Commission filing. Currently in post-production, the film focuses on the president’s first three years in office, according to a campaign official.

The film will be less than 30 minutes long and released in weeks, though the exact date hasn’t been decided, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The campaign is still considering how it will be used, the official said.

Beach Books (updated)

One of the fun things about having my own blog is that I get to write about whatever I want to. What that means is that when I get bored with politics (as I am right now), I can write about whatever it is that's on my mind.

In a few weeks I'm going to be taking a trip to the beach where I'll get to spend entire days doing nothing much more than staring at what is represented in the picture up above. That's a little slice of heaven as far as I'm concerned.

In between being mesmerized by that, I'll likely fill my time with reading. So yesterday I did some book browsing and bought a few things to take along with me. Here's what I came up with:

The Healing by Jonathan Odell (yeah, I bought this one last week but I'm saving it to savor)

Great House by Nicole Krauss (if you've never read her first book - The History of Love - please do so NOW)

Restoration by Olaf Olafsson

The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future by Fawzia Koofi and Nadene Ghouri

I literally can't wait! Pretty impressive list, huh? Do you have any other suggestions? In case you can't tell, I'm mostly interested in historical novels and biographies of interesting (mostly unknown) people.

Update: Added today - Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why is Santorum so afraid of young people getting a college education?

Here's what Santorum said this week:

On the president’s efforts to boost college attendance, Santorum said, “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”

He claimed that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it,” but declined to cite a source for the figure. And he floated the idea of requiring that universities that receive public funds have “intellectual diversity” on campus.

I'd like to address that one from my own personal experience.

Santorum might put me in that "62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment and leave without it." But there are 2 catches: First of all, I still considered myself a christian when I graduated from college, but the seeds of doubt had been sown. And secondly, I actually went to a private christian fundamentalist college. So whassup?

A friend of mine who graduated from the same college said something very profound about our common experience there are few years ago. He said, "The problem with _______ College (a liberal arts school) was that they were trying to do two mutually exclusive things at the same time...teach dogma and teach you how to think." Nothing I've heard before or since has captured my experience so perfectly. When I left there the questions were beginning to outweigh the power of the dogma. In other words I was beginning to learn how to think for myself.

That's what Santorum is so afraid of when it comes to higher education...that it will teach young people how to think - for themselves.

Questions no one seems to be asking

Listening to a Republican presidential debate, you'd think our country was on a slide towards not only economic but social destruction. Too often folks on the left seem to want to join them in this malaise.

But the truth is, its not just the economy that is slowly improving. There are signs that some of the social issues that have plagued us for at least decades are also improving. But outside "elite" academic circles, no one seems to be noticing...or better yet, asking why.

Here are a couple of examples:

On an issue that came up in the debates last week, you'd never know that teen pregnancy is actually on the decline.

A new study, titled “U.S. Teen Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2008: National Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity” published by the Guttmacher Institute, has found teen pregnancy to be down among all racial groups.

Teen pregnancies are at their lowest rates in 40 years, according to the latest numbers dating 2008 which is when the latest statistics were given.

Conventional wisdom has always believed that when the economy is bad, crime goes up. While that has usually been the case historically, not this time.

The rate of major crimes in the U.S. continues to drop – even during the recent recession and its aftermath – and crime experts aren’t sure why...

According to recently released FBI crime statistics, the number of violent crimes -- murder and non-negligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- reported in the first six months of 2011 declined 6.4 percent compared with the first six months of 2010. The number of property crimes (burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft) decreased 3.7 percent for the same time frame.

The report is based on information from more than 12,500 law enforcement agencies and shows the continuation of a downward trend in crime that began in 2008.

It’s also part of a broader, longer-term trend: Between 1991 and 2010, the homicide rate fell 51 percent and property crimes dropped 64 percent. Crime rates decreased significantly during the 1990s before flattening out at the start of the new century.

The statistical trend is puzzling and not easily explained.

It seems to me that - rather than wail about how awful things are and suggest that we go back to the 1960's - the pertinent question we should be asking is "why are we seeing these improvements?" Doing so might help us build on the successes.

Now wouldn't that make an interesting topic for a presidential debate?

The wheels of justice grind on. Anyone noticing?

A little less than 2 years ago most of the country was consumed with anger at BP and other companies that were complicit in the Gulf oil spill. Much of that anger was turned on President Obama. I remember at the time being confused about just exactly what it was folks wanted him to do...swim down into the depths of the ocean and personally plug the spill? Of course not. I suspect they just wanted him to erupt in self-righteous anger too.

The truth is, even if he had blown his top about it all (which was never going to happen), it would have accomplished nothing other than perhaps make some people feel better. But now that everyone has gotten over that particular outrage and moved on through several others, I doubt many people will pay attention to the fact that on Monday, the federal trial to hold BP and other companies accountable will commence in New Orleans.

My question is whether or not the people of this country have the staying power to really care about accountability. Or did we just want a Presidential temper-tantrum?

Friday, February 24, 2012

You're Still the One











DOD Goes Green - and why that's important

I've grown increasingly frustrated that so few of the people writing about the dangers of climate change and our need to develop renewable energy sources are noticing what I think its the biggest story in this arena...the greening of our military. So this morning I did a little looking around the internet in order to provide you with some idea of what's going on and why this is so important. Science is definitely NOT my forte. Stick with me - I couldn't get too technical about this even if I wanted to.

Last fall leaders from the 4 branches of our military wrote an op-ed about why the development of alternative energy sources is important for our national security. They also highlighted some of their recent accomplishments.

There are some who say now is not the time to invest in clean energy, given our current economic woes. Some say the well-publicized failure of solar company Solyndra is proof that clean energy doesn't work and that government support shouldn't be an option.

That sort of thinking is short-sighted, misinformed and takes the wrong lessons from one company's failure.

In fact, there may be no better time for our country to increase support for clean energy than now, when our economy is in desperately need of jobs and emerging clean-energy companies are trying to grow — and in doing so, add new employees, many of them veterans.

The military knows climate change is happening and that our current energy posture is a growing threat to national security. Clean energy is a solution we must pursue.

Already, the Navy and Air Force have pledged to get at least half of their fuel from alternative sources. We now have planes and ships that run on fuels made from plants and algae, and bases that get their electricity from the sun and wind.

The Army is working toward a "Net Zero" strategy where bases will consume only as much energy or water as they produce.

Marines at forward operating bases are using portable solar panels to charge communication equipment, high-efficiency LED lighting systems to find their way, and other energy-efficient equipment that increases the mission effectiveness of troops while reducing the need for vulnerable fuel convoys.

All these are positive steps, but more can and must be done. As a nation, we should move forward without further delay.

But the issue goes far beyond improving the operations and security of the military. Here's how the writers at Pike Research introduced their 189 page report on the military's involvement in renewable energy.

The various composite branches of the DOD, as an organization, combine to form the single largest consumer of energy in the world – more than any other public or private entity and greater than more than 100 other nations. Energy consumption is the lifeblood of the U.S. military – and the supporting governmental infrastructure that facilitates and controls it.

Military investment in renewable energy and related technologies, in many cases, holds the potential to bridge the “valley of death” that lies between research & development and full commercialization of these technologies. As such, the myriad of DOD initiatives focused on fostering cleantech is anticipated to have a substantial impact on the development and growth of the industry as a whole.

The U.S. military currently spends $15 billion on energy every year. Of that total, the Air Force is the biggest consumer spending $8 billion a year. As these branches pivot to spend more and more of those dollars on renewable sources, they not only have access to more secure sources of energy, they are reducing the military's contribution to global warming and providing the seed that will allow these products to be more available to civilian markets. As Navy Secretary Mabus said recently:

Mabus ran down a litany of programs that by 2020 should render the Navy half as dependent on fossil fuels. “The technology is there, what’s missing is the market,” Mabus said. “We are the market. If the Navy comes, they will build it.”

The various initiatives DOD has underway are too numerous to identify. But they have a web site titled DOD Goes Green that's full of information. Earth Techling is chronicling this story quite thoroughly as well with dozens of interesting articles they've gathered together for easy access. Here are just a few:



The U.S. military’s testing of fuel-cell vehicles in Hawaii is shifting into higher gear as part of a larger effort to encourage hydrogen-powered cars as an alternative to gas cars on the petroleum-reliant islands.

Last December, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and the Office of Naval Research highlighted five General Motors Equinox fuel-cell vehicles being put through their paces at Marine Corps Base Hawaii—and now the Army says the number of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in use by the military in Hawaii is up to 16...

GM is looking forward to moving the program beyond the islands. “Once the key hydrogen infrastructure elements are proven in Hawaii, other states can adopt a similar approach,” said Charles Freese, executive director of global fuel cell activities for GM. “The military is paving the way, demonstrating the practicality and applicability of this technology.”

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Virginia-based Skybuilt Power is providing the US Army with portable power-packs, the SkyCase and the SkyPAK. The SkyCase features at least one lithium-ion battery, while the SkyPAK has a fold-out solar array. Power packs like these are part of the Army's attempt to cut down on diesel, and having free and ready power in the field can potentially save lives.

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Last year, the US Army began testing portable, trailer-mounted wind turbines that were designed to be part of "renewable energy trailers," which would provide power quickly to military units using only solar and wind power. This would be an alternative to diesel fuel, which is often very expensive.

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The US Navy's new monitoring system is powered by microbes. This device, called the Zero Power Ballast Control (ZPBC) is designed to provide power to underwater sensors. The hydrogen gas produced by the microbes provides buoyancy as well.

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Two new barracks buildings being constructed at Fort Lee in Virginia are going to be fitted with geothermal heating and cooling systems, which typically use about 20% less energy than conventional heating and cooling systems, and are 40% more efficient than traditional heat pumps during the winter.

As I've said before, all of this is part of President Obama's progressive policy on renewable energy. Too often, it seems to be hiding in plain sight from those on the left who claim to care about these issues and yet aren't noticing the biggest story out there.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Two things the Republicans can't talk about

Did anyone else watch the GOP debate last night in Arizona? I did. And what strikes me as significant is that there are 2 things the Republicans can't talk about.

First of all, there was one word that was obviously missing from the entire conversation...jobs. Other than a passing reference from Gingrich in the beginning about balancing the budget by increasing employment (with not a word about how he'd do that), it never came up.

We all know that lately the economy has been improving. But we still have an 8.3% unemployment problem. In other words, a significant portion of Americans are either un or under employed. But the Republican candidates for President didn't have one thing to say about that last night.

The second thing Republicans can't talk about is the real Obama. Yesterday, E.J. Dionne summarized that beautifully.

They say that President Obama is a Muslim, but if he isn’t, he’s a secularist who is waging war on religion. On some days he’s a Nazi, but on most others he’s merely a socialist. His especially creative opponents see him as having a “Kenyan anti-colonial worldview,” while the less adventurous say that he’s an elitist who spent too much time in Cambridge, Hyde Park and other excessively academic precincts.

Whatever our president is, he is never allowed to be a garden-variety American who plays basketball and golf, has a remarkably old-fashioned family life and, in the manner we regularly recommend to our kids, got ahead by getting a good education.

Please forgive this outburst. It’s simply astonishing that a man in his fourth year as our president continues to be the object of the most extraordinary paranoid fantasies. A significant part of his opposition still cannot accept that Obama is a rather moderate politician quite conventional in his tastes and his interests. And now that the economy is improving, short-circuiting easy criticisms, Obama’s adversaries are reheating all the old tropes and cliches and slanders.

The truth is...the Republicans are scared to death of President Obama's actual record. They know that if they deal with him honestly, they lose. And so they lie. And try to convince someone about their "most extraordinary paranoid fantasies." Those were on display for all to see last night. Here are the ones that stood out to me.

ROMNEY: I don't think we've seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we've seen under Barack Obama.

SANTORUM: (On Syria) This president has -- has obviously a very big problem in standing up to the Iranians in any form. If this would have been any other country, given what was going on and the mass murders that we're seeing there, this president would have quickly and -- joined the international community, which is calling for his ouster and the stop of this, but he's not. He's not. Because he's afraid to stand up to Iran.

I guess Santorum missed the whole thing about a U.N. vote on the ouster of Assad that was pushed by the U.S. and vetoed by Russia and China.

But the real whopper of the evening came from Gingrich.

This is an administration which, as long as you're America's enemy, you're safe.

You know, the only people you've got to worry about is if you're an American ally.

I have a couple of words for the disgraced former Speaker of the House...bin Laden and Gaddafi. Nuff said.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blues in da house!

I know that by now all of you have probably seen this video. But it won't hurt to take a look one more time will it?



I watched the whole event on the White House web site last night. If you missed it, please know that this was but an over-the-top ending to an amazing evening of music. It was not only a blast to watch, it was also a real pleasure to see both President Obama and Michelle genuinely enjoying themselves. Here's one taste of the brilliance that has been made available on youtube...Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Gary Clark, Jr. and Jeff Beck doing "Five Long Years."

Republican Platform: Screw Fairness (updated)

In his speech at Osawatomie, Kansas President Obama introduced the word "fairness" into the political conversation.

Now, fortunately, that’s not a future that we have to accept, because there’s another view about how we build a strong middle class in this country -- a view that’s truer to our history, a vision that’s been embraced in the past by people of both parties for more than 200 years.

...It is a view that says in America we are greater together -- when everyone engages in fair play and everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share.

The word might have been new but the concept was not. As an example, he'd given a speech back in April 2011 about the country's fiscal situation just after Rep. Ryan had released his budget proposal which basically eliminated Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system. Here's what the President said about that:

It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors. It says that 10 years from now, if you’re a 65-year-old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy the insurance that’s available in the open marketplace, well, tough luck -– you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it...

They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

In other words...that's not fair.

Of course Republicans have been dancing around this concept of fairness ever since he introduced it. Usually they do that by accusing him of being the one to introduce class warfare (instead of those who want to end Medicare as we know it in order to maintain a tax break for the wealthy).

But now conservative writer Thomas Sowell has just come right out and called President Obama's message The Fairness Fraud.

To ask whether life is fair -- either here and now, or at any time or place around the world, over the past several thousand years -- is to ask a question whose answer is obvious. Life has seldom been within shouting distance of fair, in the sense of even approximately equal prospects of success...

More fundamentally, the question whether life is fair is very different from the question whether a given society's rules are fair. Society's rules can be fair in the sense of using the same standards of rewards and punishments for everyone. But that barely scratches the surface of making prospects or outcomes the same.

People raised in different homes, neighborhoods and cultures are going to behave differently -- and those differences have consequences. The multiculturalist dogma may say that all cultures are equal, or equally deserving of respect, but treating cultures as sacrosanct freezes people into the circumstances into which they happened to be born, much like a caste system.

Mr. Sowell's argument at first is that we should all just accept the fact that life isn't fair...learn to live with it. Never mind that wealthy folks have the money and access to tilt the system unfairly in their direction. We should all just pretend to not notice and accept getting screwed by it all. I can just hear him saying the same thing to those living in slavery...don't rock the boat, life was never meant to be fair (by the way, Mr. Sowell is African American so that one might have not worked out so well for him).

But then he exposes where he's been going with this all along. The dog whistles come out blaring when he suggests that people are poor (or not wealthy) because of their cultural roots. So we've now turned the class war into a culture war. And obviously any culture associated with black or brown skin is the cause of unfairness. He didn't come out and say that. But everyone knows that's what he meant.

I doubt that I have to unpack the racism and classism of all that for my readers here. I simply want to point out that this, my friends, is as clear an articulation of the Republican platform as I've seen. If you want to understand the choice we have in front of us this November - there you have it.

Update: Just in case anyone doubts that this is the Republican platform, take a listen to how Gov. Christie responded when asked about Warren Buffet's call for more tax fairness.

"Yeah, well he should just write a check and shut up," Christie said. "Really. And just contribute. I mean, you know, the fact of the matter is that I'm tired of hearing about it."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Speak loudly with silence

This weekend I talked about the destructive nature of silence. But we all know that silence can also be golden. Over the weekend, we saw the power of silence when 1,100 people showed up at the Virginia capital to silently protest the vote to take place on requiring women who seek an abortion to undergo an invasive ultrasound.

From the organizers Facebook page:

The Capitol ground rules say that we cannot assemble, hold signs, chant, yell or protest. We think silence in the face of this struggle and their unconstitutional rules presents the strongest response to their assault on women. Please come out and stand up for our rights and for the rights of all women in VA to choose the best reproductive route for themselves. These people are used to signs, yelling, chanting etc. It is not new. They are not used to silently being stared at and having to look us in the eye. It gives us the power.

In honor of their silence, I'll let pictures tell the rest of their story.













Monday, February 20, 2012

Love's in Need of Love Today

Timeless truth from Stevie that was never more needed than today.

Its not all Mitt's fault

Its deja vu all over again, isn't it? As some new insurgent takes a lead in the polls for the Republican nomination, everyone talks about the lack of depth in the field of candidates (they're talking about you Mitt) and starts looking for alternatives. As that pattern continues in the primaries, we hear increasing talk about a brokered convention where some star (Daniels or Christie...really?) will rise from the ashes to save the party.

Is anyone else noticing that this is an on-going search for a personality when the Republicans really should be looking for ideas?

Before we pin this problem all on the lack-luster flip-flopping campaign Romney has run, lets think about how mind-bogglingly boring Daniels was in his state of the union response. Or how Christie manages to offend one group or another any time he opens his mouth. Just imagine how long it would take for the establishment to dump them when these realities started catching up to them in the polls.

The truth is - the only way you can run a vigorous campaign is when you're telling the voters something that resonates. A good campaign team can then use an individual's personality to further that message.

NONE OF THESE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES HAS THAT!

So no attempt to find a personality that can spin tax cuts for the wealthy or an out-dated culture war is going to cut it.

The fact is that the Republicans are going to have to get serious about WHAT they're trying to sell and stop focusing so much of WHO.

I know...they're not going to do that. And personally, I don't care if President Obama has to beat Romney or Santorum or Daniels or Christie. But lets at least be clear about what's going on here...the old saying "all hat and no cattle" comes to mind.

On finding nexus

One of the things that concerns me as we watch the Republicans revert to their old culture wars against women, people of color, gays & lesbians, poor people, unions, etc. is that we will all divide again into our camps to defend our root causes and forget the bigger picture that binds us. Other than fear, the right's most effective weapon against us is division.

What will keep us united is to always remember the big picture of what's happening. As I've been saying, keeping an eye on the forest means recognizing that the old white male heterosexual patriarchy is dying and the Republican Party is in chaos. What we can expect is that the old beast is going to strike out at anything it perceives as a threat and therefore the cause of its demise.

Along those lines, a few years ago Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican wrote a series of posts titled Let's Have Nexus which I found to be brilliant. You can feel him striving to find what the dictionary defines as nexus: the core or center that provides the connection. Here he is talking about that in the introduction to the series.

I prefer not to dally too long dissecting the symptoms of manifested underlying ills, but prefer to look directly at those broad reaching paradigms or beliefs that inform them, as regular readers here know. This is why I don't comment extensively on today's political back and forth—unless as it relates to the dialogue on racial dynamics that I explore and engage in on the regular...Because if we all are truly interested in forming an ongoing conversation that cuts away the the husk of empty discourse and scoops out the Essential, we have to look not only at the symptoms of hate, violence, authoritarian rule, and oppression, but at the seeds that inform them and keep them entrenched, as well as socially acceptable. These vines are by now thorny and tangled and hearty, but the seeds were planted long ago, and the nourishment is delivered by all of us, and every day.

Nezua finds that nexus in something David Jensen wrote in his book The Culture of Make Believe.

I have spent the past several hours now thinking about the notion that masters "shall be entitled to their labor," and at the risk of overstating, it seems to me that entitlement is key to nearly all atrocities, and that any threat to perceived entitlement will provoke hatred.

And then Jensen goes on to sound almost prophetic in describing what happens when that sense of entitlement is threatened.

From the perspective of those who are entitled, the problems begin when those they despise do not go along with—and have the power and wherewithal to not go along with—the perceived entitlement. ...

Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, "normal," chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.

Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remains underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode.

I'd suggest that we're witnessing just such an explosion right now as the entitlements associated with being male, white, heterosexual and rich are threatened.

Nezua ends his article in a very Gandhian "be the change you want to see" way. In other words, he challenges each of us to examine our own sense of entitlement.

And after all, what happens when we remove that sense of entitlement?

We grow humility.

What happens when you nurture a sense of humility in place of entitlement? You place your feet on the same ground as I...Entitlement is the antithesis of gratitude. And honestly, you are one lucky human.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

On silence and invisibility

I'm going to do something today that perhaps I shouldn't...write about something that I'm still in the process of figuring out. But its what's on my mind these days and perhaps some folks who read this can contribute to my understanding.

Let me start with a story that is actually embarrassing for me.

For most of the 1960's I lived in a town in East Texas of about 40,000. I don't know what the racial breakdown of the town was at the time, but what I do remember is that there were two high schools - one for black students and one for white. Of course I attended the white school. All of this was after Brown vs Board of Education but just before our schools were forced to integrate. So I never knew or talked to any black kids in town.

Just a few years ago I pulled out my old high school year book for some reason and started looking through it. I was shocked to see how many black students actually attended the so-called "white school." It wasn't near parity, but there they were!

What was difficult for me about that is that I never saw them. Let that sink in for a moment...I never saw them. For me it was as if they didn't even exist. It is only in retrospect that I can imagine their stories - what it meant to chose to go to that school and why they would do so.

But I have to ask myself how that happens. How is it that a living, breathing, thinking young girl can go to school with black students in the 1960's south and not know that they exist?

The only answer I have to that so far is that it was some powerful conditioning - most likely on both our parts. I wasn't taught just that black people were inferior. I was taught to not even see them right in front of my face. And they were taught to lay low enough so as not to be seen.

There are other examples of this silence and invisibility that shaped my racial thinking. For example, I now know that all around me the terrorism and violence of Jim Crow was taking place - especially as the Civil Rights movement was underway. And yet I remained blissfully ignorant about it all. I heard nothing about Malcolm X or the Nation of Islam or Medgar Evers or Loving vs the State of Virginia or Fred Hampton. I do remember hearing that Martin Luther King had been shot. But that was usually paired with talk about how he deserved it and then dropped.

What I'm still unpacking is to identify what forces were at work that kept me so blind - whether it was to actual people around me or historic events taking place. I don't think it was me. One of my strongest traits - especially as a child - was to be an observer. Instead I'm thinking that this was all part of what it meant to be white in the south those days. Its what segregation and Jim Crow were designed to do...keep black people and their lives silent and invisible.

I'll invite you once again to watch this video of Jonathan Odell talking about his experience growing up in Mississippi.



Here's how he ends:

It's the silence and invisibility of black people in America today, and how that gives us white people our privilege. Its the silence.

Perhaps this gives us some idea of why President Obama is such a threat to racism - whether he talks about it or not. It is impossible to maintain the silence and invisibility when a black family lives in the White House.

It also points the way for those of us white people who want to know what we can do to combat racism...start seeing and hearing.

Keeping an eye on the forest

We're living in an historic moment. And yet, as is always the case, when you are in the middle of tectonic cultural/political shifts - it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees.

I wrote earlier this week about the imminent death of the white male heterosexual patriarchy. When I say "imminent," I don't mean in will happen today, this week, this month, or even this year. But it is underway. As it does so, we can expect all the ugliness it harbors to surface as a last gasp effort to defeat the inevitable.

The only question remaining is whether the Republican Party will go down with it. At the moment, that appears to be their strategy.

I think its important for us to keep the reality of this big picture front and center as we watch not only the 2012 election play out - but as we witness the next few years of our political process.

Never lose sight of the fact that we're witnessing a Republican Party in complete disarray - no matter how hard they try to spin it away. The truth is that the Bush/Cheney years destroyed the Republican brand. And, just as importantly, led to the election of this country's first African American president. This "perfect storm" of challenges to the core of what Republicans have stood for should have created a thoughtful identity crisis in which the party re-thinks its core commitments and what they mean going forward in the 21st century. But instead we see them flailing around trying to find a foothold based in a quest for power rather than ideas.

Their first strategy was to simply obstruct anything and everything put forward by the opposition (ie, President Obama). While that seemed pretty effective at first, there were 2 big downsides: First of all, it meant they didn't need to come up with any alternatives on which to stake their claim politically. And secondly, as President Obama reached out in a pragmatic way to include ideas Republicans formerly embraced, they were forced to become more and more extreme in order to obstruct.

As the nomination process got underway, all of this led to all-out war between the two major constituencies of the Republican party...the 1%ers and the religious extremists. Those two factions are now lining up to fight it out between Romney and Santorum. I expect there are a lot more fireworks to come in the next few months as that one plays out.

But notice what isn't happening while all this is going on. There is NO attempt to develop Republican ideas about how we deal with the challenges that face us today. The 1%ers jut want us to go back to giving Wall Street free reign and the religious extremists want to take us back to the 1950's to fight about things like contraception. Neither of these address the reality of a 21st century America.

I would suggest that a party that is that severely devoid of ideas will not survive over the long term.

So in the mid-term, what I expect is that as the Republicans finish their nomination process and look towards the general election, they will fall back on their one tried and true message...fear. I won't try and predict exactly what it is they'll dream up to scare us (ie, rumblings about Iran) but I would be willing to bet $10,000 of Romney's money that it's coming.

That's why its so important that we keep ourselves grounded in what is going on here. We need to remember all of this ourselves when the fear starts to take hold - and we need to assure those around us as well.

The one thing we can learn from our history about what is happening right now is that the old white male patriarchy has always depended on fear for its sustenance. The more we deny it that foothold, the sooner it will die.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

When I dare to be powerful...

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Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934 – November 17, 1992)

My challenge to the MSM

Here's Rick Santorum today:

At a campaign appearance here on Saturday morning, Mr. Santorum described the “president’s agenda” as being “not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your job.”

It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology. But no less a theology,” Mr. Santorum said, to wide applause.
(Emphasis mine)

Can we hold up on the false equivalency about negativity in campaigns and the politics of personal destruction until we hear President Obama question Mr. Santorum's religious faith? Because that is definitely NOT going to happen.

Letting folks like Santorum get away with crap like this on the grounds that "everybody does it" is unconscionable.

Black women making history

This morning I watched Melissa Harris-Perry host her own news show on cable television. And yes, what a glorious way to celebrate the focus on Black women during African American History Month.

But there's more!

When it comes to the historic 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama, who will ever forget the contribution of Edith Childs? She joined up when hardly anyone was paying attention...but was fired up and ready to go.

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She's still at it.

Now, exactly four years after South Carolina chose Barack Obama as its Democratic nominee for President, Mrs. Childs is still as fervent as ever in her support of President Obama and her belief in what he stands for. “I was with him, and I’m still with him,” she told the South Carolina team during a recent visit. She hasn’t forgotten one minute of the history-making election she was a part of, and she reflects on trips to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration and visits to the White House with pride and passion. “It was worth every minute of it,” she said. “I wouldn’t change anything.”

Mrs. Childs put a lot of herself into the 2008 election – registering voters, making calls and knocking on doors in her community – all in support of Barack Obama. And 10 months out until the 2012 election, she is gearing up again to help ensure he stays in the White House. Re-connecting with her team from 2008, Mrs. Childs plans to get back out into her Greenwood community over the coming months and encourage folks to talk to their families and people in their neighborhoods and churches about President Obama and all that he has accomplished over the last three years.

But she's not the only African American woman making history in South Carolina. Meet the first female African American Mayor of Manning, South Carolina - Julia Nelson.

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President Obama's bid for the presidency and then his election stirred up an interest and a gift that I was unaware I possessed. From my grassroots work with President Obama's campaign, I learned how to organize effectively, recruit and staff volunteers, create databases, raise funds, maintain momentum, and utilize social media to have successful regional and local campaigns.

It also gave me the courage and belief that I could become the mayor of my hometown. I was elected in July 2011 as the first African American female mayor of Manning, S.C. I completed the term of the former Mayor Kevin L. Johnson, the first African American mayor of our city who was elected as the first African American for S.C. House District 64 in more than a century. Now, I am unopposed to run for the full term election to remain mayor until 2016.
I would have never believed that my work on President Obama's campaign would lead me to being elected as a delegate for the Sixth Congressional District of South Carolina for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, a member of my local school board, and eventually the mayor of my hometown.

There you have it folks...changing the world one voice at a time.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Melissa Harris-Perry debuts on MSNBC tomorrow

Melissa Harris-Perry's show on MSNBC debuts tomorrow morning at 10:00 am ET. The show also has a new blog which I've added to the list on the left. Here's what Melissa says about what she hopes to accomplish with her new show:

We will have discussions across the partisan aisle and ideological divide. We will quiet the noise of the echo chambers so that we can hear the many different voices that are bouncing around in there. We plan to cross lines of race, gender, generation and belief in order to push ourselves to new understandings. We will ask people to leave the talking points at home so that we can really talk to each other -- even if it is hard to do. I’m hoping that we can actually bring you some stories that may not have dominated the news cycle and others you’ve been hearing about all week -- but not like this.

I've pretty much abandoned watching newtwork and cable news shows. But you can bet that will change tomorrow morning!

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly"

Last week I posted Michelle Obama's video about Black History month and its dedication this year to African American women. It is within that context that I note the powerful emerging voice of Viola Davis.

As she has made her way around the Oscar circuit Viola Davis has impressed the Bagger – and everyone else who has heard her – by speaking eloquently about subjects that many shy away from: race, class and sexism, in Hollywood and in the real world. Even as she campaigns hard in the best actress race, Ms. Davis continues to speak her mind.

I've been paying attention and have to say that I too am impressed. Here she is this week on CBS This Morning.



I was struck by how no matter what typically shallow inane question they threw at her - Viola seemed to be able to find some depth. For example, when asked about her mother's reaction to the film, Davis says she hasn't seen it because its too painful. She goes on to talk about the life of her grandmother (gave birth to 18 children and raised the 11 who survived) and mother with tremendous respect - all while noting that her mother was from a generation that was taught to "suck it in" and bury her own dreams, saving them for the lives of her children (the very definition of the character - Aibileen Clark - that she plays in the The Help).

Here's how Davis explained that connection to Essence:

What I learned from Aibileen is the courage it took to just live the every day being black in 1961 Mississippi. The courage it took to just stand on your own two feet, put food on the table and just survive. Just to simply survive. And to me, it’s homage to my mom, grandmother and women in my life.

You can see her go into even more depth in an interview she did with co-star Octavia Spencer on Tavis Smiley's show. All I'll say about that one is that she puts Tavis to shame.

It was in response to a question in the CBS clip about what it feels like to be in "full flight" right now that Davis shared the quote that is my title..."what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly." No matter what your feelings are about the controversy surrounding the movie The Help, Davis lets us know that it is in the process of justifying her choice to do the film that she has found her voice. As far as I'm concerned, that alone makes it all worthwhile. She is truly a Phenomenal Woman.

P.S. On another note, this week a novel about African American women titled The Healing will finally be published (I've had it on pre-order for weeks!) I've talked about the author Jonathan Odell before. Whenever the controversy about The Help comes up, I refer people to his first novel The View From Delphi. Last week, Odell tweeted a link to this review from Goodread about The Healing.

This is a story that seems to be about the slave experience in pre-Civil War Mississippi, but is, in many ways, a universal story. I loved that a strong, smart, independent woman was a central character. I loved that this was a story about the black person's experience that did not have a good-hearted white person come to the rescue and resolve all the problems. I loved that this was a story about how each generation touches future generations, and how important it is to learn that history and pass it along. I loved that this book was so well-written that I felt like I was living it along with the characters. "The Healing" is a beautiful story, and will resonate with me for a long time to come.
(Emphasis mine - important point)

I suggest you consider being a trend-setter and buy this book early. I have a hunch it's going to be one of the greats and am certain that I'll be talking about it in the weeks ahead.

Contraception issue brings out some truly ugly misogyny (updated)

I guess that when you fuel arguments like the one we're engaged in now about contraception, it should not be a surprise that it can bring really ugly misogyny out from under a rock. But I must admit to feeling a punch in the gut when I read this headline this morning at the Daily Caller: What are women for?

Of course I had to go take a look - at least on the off chance that perhaps the author was doing some metaphysical look at the purpose of humankind. But of course I knew better given the nature of the site on which its posted.

So yes, the author - James Poulos - is really asking the question about the utility of women. Of course, the next question that comes to any non-misogynist's mind is "utility to whom?" For the author who is obviously a man, the answer to that question must be a given because it never comes up. The result is that underlying the whole thing is that the question of women's utility to men must be an important question that we should all ponder deeply. I'm sure that next in the series will be questions like "What are Blacks for?" and "What are Jews for?" etc.

Mr. Poulos only makes the matter worse by embracing the medieval idea that to find the utility of women, one must focus only on their sexuality. That also comes as no surprise...the question itself is a launching pad to talk about abortion, contraception, homosexuality and women's sexual lives in general. So not only are we required to justify our utility to men in the first place, now the only part of our being under consideration is as sex objects. And yet, the author finds us wanting even in that realm.

Given all that, you might not be interested in Mr. Poulos' answer to the question about "what are women for?" But just in case you are even slightly curious, he does answer the question...finally.

To the growing discomfort of many, that framework hasn’t come anywhere close to answering even the most basic questions about what women are for — despite pretty much universal recognition across the political spectrum that a civilization of men, for men, and by men is no civilization at all, a monstrously barbaric, bloody, and brutal enterprise. A few inherently meaningful implications about what women are for flow naturally from this wise and enduring consensus, but no faction of conservatives or liberals has figured out how to fully grasp, translate, and reconcile them in the context of our political life.

In his view, the purpose of women is to somehow tame the "monstrously barbaric, bloody, and brutal enterprise" of maleness. Other than giving men a pass for their individual acts of brutality, this seems to me to be equally insulting to men. And given his views, one might want to ask Mr. Poulous what he thinks these "monstrously barbaric, bloody, and brutal" men are for. But of course that never occurs to him. Men are the default...the given in this equation.

I have to admit that after reading this I wondered if it was important enough to even write about. It appears as if Mr. Poulos is a neanderthal living in some by-gone day. But in some ways he's not. He's simply saying some things that the men who are making these arguments today keep under wraps. It's ugly stuff. And the more we bring it into the light, the more we'll see it as such.

Update: BooMan's reaction to the same article.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

More baby steps towards ending the indefinite war

Yesterday Afghani President Hamid Karzai said that his government had begun talks with the Taliban and the US. At this point, there doesn't appear to have been any actual negotiations, but contacts between the three entities have begun.

...the mere possibility that the Taliban would entertain continuing direct talks with the Afghan government is significant. In the past, the Taliban have described Mr. Karzai as a “puppet leader” and the Afghan government as a “puppet government.” Since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, they have insisted they are the rightful Afghan government. In the last year, they have insisted on face-to-face talks with the Americans rather than with the Afghan government.

If they continue to talk directly to the Afghan government, it would suggest an admission that the Afghan government is legitimate. It also begins to get key players needed to start discussions in the same room, but the obstacles to real breakthroughs remain formidable.

Public Radio International spoke with Michael Semple, Afghanistan expert, who sees even more significant movement from the Taliban.

Semple, a fellow at The Carr Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said the Taliban admitted to him they made “serious mistakes” when they were in power in Afghanistan. Among the mistakes they cited include giving refuge to Al-Qaeda and implementing social policies — especially targeting women — that alienated many Afghans.

"It's not just that I've heard it from senior Taliban," Semple said. "It's clear that now it's starting to drive the politics of the movement. It's gone from being a lunatic fringe part of the Taliban saying this to the mainstream of the Taliban have realized 'We have to endorse this position.' "

And finally, from Reuters we learn that the US hopes to have formal talks underway by May.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Karzai's comments showed Afghanistan was involved in reconciliation discussions.

"What President Karzai's statement confirmed is that Afghanistan is now very much involved in the process of reconciliation," Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon.

"That's extremely helpful and important to determining whether or not we are ultimately going to be able to succeed with reconciliation or not," he said.

Washington wants to accelerate contacts with the Taliban so it can announce serious peace negotiations at a NATO summit in May, officials say, in what would be a welcome bright spot in Western efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.

The United States hopes it can declare a start to authentic political negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban at the May 20-21 summit in Chicago, after a year of initial, uncertain contacts with militant representatives.

You may have heard some on the left talking about a report written by Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis on his assessment of the war.

That assessment is essentially that the war has been a disaster and the military's top brass has not leveled with the American public about just how badly it’s been going.

I would suggest that's not surprising. The history of the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan should tell us that a military solution was never going to be the answer. But if its been enough to bring both the Taliban and the Karzai government to the table to do the hard work of negotiating some kind of agreement, perhaps there's a tiny flicker of hope starting to shine on the horizon.

Hang in there for the long game!

You can read more about my thoughts on the importance of these negotiations here.

A sure sign the economy is improving

I expect that many of you are like me - we celebrate but hold our breath a bit when the good economic news continues to roll in. Sure unemployment is down and auto-makers are back in business. But there's still that voice that wonders if the other shoe is going to drop.

Indicators that you might not have been following when it comes to our economy are also suggesting that things are improving.

For example, why else would Fox and Friends have to be peddling conspiracy theories?

On "Fox & Friends" this morning, Brian Kilmeade noted that good economic news matters a great deal when it comes to the president's fortunes, but only "if you believe these numbers."

A minute later, Gretchen Carlson added, "Unemployment has gone down, more jobs have been created. Now, you can argue about how those numbers, some people say they've been fabricated."

That level of cognitive dissonance must be painful. And its not likely to be fabricated.

If it weren't improper to psychologically analyze strangers, one might think the Fox hosts are displaying a textbook example of cogitative dissonance here, a psychological phenomena in which people who hold on strong belief about something invent (sometimes farfetched) explanations for new evidence that conflicts with their existing views. Obama is bad for the economy, the jobs numbers show the economy is doing better, so there must be something wrong with the jobs numbers.

On the other hand, I tend to visit Daily Kos every morning. One of the most popular and prolific writers there is bobswern. For yeas now I could always count on seeing a diary of his on the rec list every morning that warned of impending economic doom. These days he's gone all but silent while front-pagers like Meteor Blades (who have to report the actual news) are forced to document the progress (always with the caveat of "not good enough yet" of course).

So there you have it - my economic indicators that suggest things are actually getting better...conspiracy theories hatched on the right and silence from the doom-and-gloomers on the left. Things really MUST be improving!!

;-)

I'm anti-war

These days we hear that there is a war on women, a war on workers, a war on contraception, a war on science, a war on christmas, a war on school choice, a war on religion and on and on...

Last summer at Netroots Nation I watched Kali Joy Gray (a Daily Kos front-pager) interview White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. Her snarky juvenile approach to him and the administration turned me off completely. But during part of the conversation, she made great hay out of berating him because the President hasn't acknowledged that there's a "war on women." You see, it doesn't matter what the President does to actually support women unless he uses those words. It all makes me wonder what's behind the need to hear them.

In the case of what Gray was doing at NN, its all about a loyalty test to demonstrate whether one is a true enough ally. The way to do that is to commit oneself verbally to the battle to defeat the enemy on a particular chosen cause. Folks who do this have already decided where those battle lines lie and what their only concept of victory will look like. The point is that once one agrees to the idea that there is a war going on, your comrades in arms will expect you to adhere to those battle lines to reach the only victory they can imagine. Failure to do so in lock-step means you're a traitor to the cause. Any conversation with the enemy to reach compromise or a solution that leads to anything other than the total defeat of your opponent is considered appeasement.

In other words, governing in a democratic republic becomes impossible. So it should come as no surprise that the Obama administration was never going to sign on to the idea that there is a war on women (or any other war for that matter)...it would hand them the shackles with which to defeat themselves in actually making progress.

If you flip this to a metaphor for the wars the Republicans are identifying these days, you see exactly why they're losing politically. In an effort to determine who their true allies are, they're engaged in purity tests where only the true extremists are acceptable.

In the end, whether its the right or the left identifying new wars to be fought, the real goal in using this analogy is to rally the troops into providing eyeballs and web site clicks. In other words, its a way to ramp up the rhetoric and provide red meat to your base. As such, its effective as a cheap marketing trick. But as a political tool...just dumb.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

For those who have his back...literally (updated)

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It was the night of the 2008 Iowa caucuses when many African Americans in this country woke up to the fact that this skinny guy from Illinois with the funny name just might have a shot at winning the Democratic nomination for president. I remember because I was hanging out on several blogs written by African Americans at the time. There was a moment of awareness - and then the reaction that showed me once again that there is a rift between black and white consciousness in this country. Because what came immediately and profoundly after that for them was fear.

As an outsider watching it happen, it seemed to resemble the kind of PTSD soldiers experience after being in combat. The emotional script that came to the surface at that moment was the fact that when a black man enters white political consciousness, an assassin's bullet is not far behind. Think Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Update: From the comments, nellcote posted the article I read that night that blew me away. Its by Lower Manhattanite at Group News Blog. Here's just a taste - but please go read the whole thing!

We have developed an unfortunate Pavlovian response to the repeated sight of our best and brightest being blown away like so many dandelion bits in the wind.

We have our moments of pride, and then...then, those uncontrollable palpitations. Worrying about when the ax will fall. Or the grenade. Or the bullet's sharp crack, the diving security and guests, and the inevitable cut to a shocked newsroom.

Dave Chappelle used to have segment on his show featuring Paul Mooney called “Ask a Black Dude”. Well, I won't wait for you to ask, I'm just telling you what goes on. What went on...in my house, and I would assume hundreds of thousands of households like mine, where recent history's bloody spectre hovers in a tattered 60's sack-cut suit and skinny tie. He hovers and points at today's goings on.

“There”, he moans. “There,” as his dusty hand notes the television and all the happiness on the screen. He doesn't smile. he doesn't blink. He just says “There,” as he crooks a bony finger. And up Black America's collective spine, goes his chill.

He was there in Iowa too. I know Barack and Michelle saw him. But maybe the kids didn't. And I'm guessing that Barack and Michelle fought like hell to push him out of sight eventually.

Dropped balloons and confetti on him. Drowned his “There.” out with McFadden and Whitehead, or Curtis' “Move On Up” or some such blaring counter to that hollow moan.

I hope to God they did. 'Cause that'll make them the lucky ones. Unlike the rest of us.

I have no doubt that this same emotional script occurred to someone like Michelle - as well as to friends and family of then Senator Obama - when he made the decision to get into the race in the first place. I envision reams of information being shared with them about the protective powers of the secret service. As we now know - those fears were starred down and a decision was made to go for it. Fear would not be a barrier.

Four years later (we should all knock on wood) those men and women who take on the task of protecting our president have performed their job not only successfully, but in a way that keeps those fears quieted and mostly at bay.

I thought of all this while perusing another wonderful diary by Chipsticks of photos of President Obama in Wisconsin today. There's one face that has been present in so many that its become familiar to me. Whenever I see him I think of all of the others we don't see and am reminded to be grateful for what they do every day.

I love watching eyes open up to see the long game!

The blinders that keep us from seeing something new can be extremely powerful. The fact that "the way we've always done it" doesn't work anymore is often not enough motivation to open our eyes to different possibilities. Its much more comfortable for us to judge the present based on the yardsticks of the past.

But watching those scales come off the eyes of an observer can be a beautiful and uplifting thing. I truly enjoyed reading about it from Georgie Anne Geyer. I suspect you will too.

While the Republican presidential candidates are trying their best to grind the story of the Obama administration into the dust, something largely unnoted has been happening behind the scenes. President Obama and his team have been quietly building a new narrative and structure for America that should outlast his years in office.

Until the last few months, it has been possible to wonder if Barack Obama and his stirring admonition of "Yes, we can" were failing. There seemed to be little accomplishment to grasp onto there. Even American liberals, who were supposed to be enchanted by his magic, were wondering what had gone wrong.

But now, step by cautious step, the new post-Cold War America (a little late, but that's the way the world works) is falling into a distinctly unmartial cadence under Obama's hand. A sense of what he wants to do, and why and how, has been sneaking up on us...

One can trace his approach through his attitude toward education, toward new industries like that exemplified by Microsoft and Google, to talk about the environment and conservation, to true equality among the races, and to the changes in American attitudes as a whole.

One can rightly ask whether his lawyerly approach can continue to work or whether nations will, or must, resort eventually to undiluted force. One can say, "This is not Hawaii, after all, where conciliation and negotiation among human beings is primary."

When Barack Obama steps down from the presidency, whether a year from now or five years from now, Americans will surely find that the conversation in the country has changed. Perhaps Americans, too, have changed, with a deeper understanding of a world transforming before our eyes.

The white male heterosexual patriarchy's death throes

I am struck today by how it used to be that Republicans would lie voters into thinking they were on the side of "everyman(woman)" only to fleece them when they got into office. I'm not saying that's totally gone - all one has to do is take a look at Romney's rather tortured attempt to explain himself to Michigan voters in order to see those efforts continue.

But based on what we've seen so far in this campaign, I can't help but envision a cadre of heterosexual white men sitting in some smoke-filled room trying to decide which group of American voters to piss off next.

Lets be honest, Republicans have never made much of an attempt to woo the gay and lesbian vote. As a matter of fact, they've done everything they can to fight the so-called "gay agenda." But in a few days one of their darlings of the future, Governor Chris Christie, has promised to veto a gay marriage bill passed by both houses of the New Jersey legislature.

Gays and lesbians pissed off - check

Its also true that African Americans have been a common punching bag for Republicans for years now with their dog whistles that stir up the base. And the truth is - since the Civil Rights era - there's no constituency that has been more loyal to Democrats than African Americans. So the likelihood of them providing much Republican support in 2012 against the first African American president is pretty much nil anyway. So I suppose you might say that it wasn't a touch call to take the dog whistles up to quantum level in terms of racism about "Blah Americans" and do everything possible to keep them from being able to vote.

African Americans pissed off - check

Dana Milbank thinks that when it comes to Latino voters, Republicans have an un impulso suicida.

What else but a death wish could explain the party’s treatment of the fastest-growing voting bloc in the nation? First was the wave of Arizona-style immigration laws. Then came the anti-immigrant rhetoric from the GOP presidential candidates. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans roughed up Adalberto Jose Jordan — because, well, just because they could.

Milbank goes on to explain that Adalberto Jose Jordan - who was nominated to become the first Cuban-born judge to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida - is being blocked from confirmation in order to allow Republicans to play political games.

Latino Americans pissed off - check

But who would have thought that Republicans would take on the task of pissing off half the US population that happen to have a uterus (as well as those without one who support them)? And yet that's exactly what it looks like we're witnessing in the whole bru-ha-ha over access to contraception. I don't need to link to all the polls - I'm sure you've seen them by now. But you'd be hard pressed to find a woman these days who hasn't used these products either to prevent pregnancy, for other medical reasons, or both.

Female Americans pissed off - check

In the rational part of my brain the wheels are spinning trying to understand all this. Have those men in the smoke-filled room figured out some electoral path that leads to victory with the few remaining folks they haven't pissed off in this process? I'm pretty sure that's not the case.

This isn't rational. As much progress as we've seen over the decades on the racism/sexism/homophobia on which this country was founded, the white male heterosexual patriarchy has still assumed it was in charge. Those days are numbered now and everyone knows it...the beast is in its death throes. And in the process, its lashing out at every available target it perceives as a threat.

Time to let it die.