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Showing posts from July, 2013

What you'll be reading about NSA surveillance tomorrow (updated)

Glenn Greenwald keeps promising more "bombshells" from the trove of classified documents Snowden leaked. But after today, he's going to run into some competition for the media's attention . The Obama administration plans to release previously secret court orders that set out the rules and rationale for the bulk collection of U.S. phone records as officials seek to quell growing unrest in Congress over the government's massive information dragnet. According to a senior U.S. official, the government has declassified the order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court, that authorized the collection program, which began in 2007... In addition to the court order from 2007, administration officials are also planning to release two white papers on the telephone-data program that were provided to Congress in 2009 and 2011 before the House and Senate voted to reauthorize the law behind it, the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonym

The Republican leadership problem

Looking at that photo collection of Republican leaders that was attached to Byron York's analysis of the fissures in the party says an awful lot about why they're in trouble. The first thing that stands out is not who they included, but who they left out...the actual positional Republican leaders Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner. But its been pretty obvious lately that no one is paying much attention to those two. So what we're left with is men (notice: no women) who are either preparing to run for president or represent factions that will be competing for the presidency in 2016. Byron York's point in his article is that the Republican Party is too factionalized right now to even wage a civil war. Its interesting to me that a winger like York is the one who provides the most cogent analysis of what is going on in the party right now. His article is worth a read. But regardless of how much chaos those factions are producing r

Whiter Shade of Pale

Tonight's music comes with a bedtime (?) story. In 1967 I was a 13 year-old living a sheltered life in the suburbs of Portland, OR. All I knew of the national angst of the time was what occasionally filtered into my awareness via the news. But one day as I was hanging out in our living room listening to records on the family's hi-fi, I watched a car pull up in the driveway of the house across the street. Two men in full military uniforms got out of the car and walked up to the door. My mother knew that the husband of the woman living there was serving in Vietnam. And so she told me they probably came to tell her he had been killed. I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday - even as I've forgotten so much. There was something deep inside that was sensing the pain so much of our country was going through - but was never discussed in my world. Looking back on those days, I now see that this song got associated with that pain I was sensing. The words are meaningl

Are Americans ready to end perpetual war?

My advice to Glenn Greenwald would be to be careful with the contortions he's engaging to pat himself on the back because he could do permanent damage to his arm. Prior to releasing his next so-called "bombshell" ( which has been pre-emptively debunked very thoroughly by Bob Cesca ), Greenwald is taking some time to give himself credit for the major opinion shifts in NSA surveillance from the latest Pew Poll . Here's his very favorite finding: Of course, he totally ignores this one: Nonetheless, the public’s bottom line on government anti-terrorism surveillance is narrowly positive. The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 17-21 among 1,480 adults, finds that 50% approve of the government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 44% disapprove . These views are little changed from a month ago, when 48% approved and 47% disapproved. Overall, as with other polling on this issue, the results are

What bothers me about what Don Lemon said

Its not so much that mind that Don Lemon challenged the African American community. What bothers me is that he has a national platform to spread his superficiality while those that dig into the real issues often go unnoticed. So I'd like to use this moment to dismiss this notion that the cultural issues are about sagging pants or what words one choses to use or music lyrics. I'll harken back to one of the most powerful articles ever written by Ta-Nehisi Coates . You'll want to read the whole thing because he leads into it with a very personal experience. But here's his basic point. It defies logic to think that any group, in a generationaly entrenched position, would not develop codes and mores for how to survive in that position. African-Americans, themselves, from poor to bourgeois, are the harshest critics of the street mentality. Of course, most white people only pay attention when Bill Cosby or Barack Obama are making that criticism. The problem is that rarely

President Obama's long-term strategy on racism (updated)

One of the things that many people noted about President Obama speech on racism back in 2008 is that he not only addressed the anger of African Americans at the legacy of racism in this country, he addressed the anger/fear of white people that produced it. In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience — as far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything. They built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and they feel their dreams slipping away. And in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their child

President Obama and Martin Luther King on war and morality

Lately critics of President Obama on the left have wanted to claim the mantle of Rev. Martin Luther King in their arguments against the use of drones and the war on al Qaeda. So I'd like to dig a little deeper and see if the critique holds up. My first reaction is to put it all in the context of the fact that MLK's anti-war position was rooted in his adherence to non-violent resistance. I can't help but wonder if these critics make the same commitment. Are they suggesting that they are against all violence under any circumstances - as MLK was? Or is it just this particular form of violence? While MLK is revered by almost everyone today as the father of the Civil Rights Movement, history tells us that not everyone involved in that struggle joined him in his commitment to non-violence. As a matter of fact, there are whole schools of thought that suggest that MLK's non-violence was aided in its success by the alternative of groups like the the Nation of Islam and the B

Organizers vs keyboard activists (updated)

On a couple of occasions I've mentioned that back in 2009 Al Giordano wrote about the looming split on the left between the organizers and the activists . You can click on that link to see a summary of how he described the difference between the two approaches. can look at how its all playing out right now. On the one hand, you have the keyboard activists using screaming link-bait headlines about everything from the dangers of drones to warnings about the security state to "Obama's going to take away your social security." Every now and then one of these stories breaks out of the bubble to do a bit more than preach to the choir. But very little actually changes because there's no plan for follow-through and so pretty soon the faithful are chasing after the next shinny link-baited outrage. On the other hand, we're witnessing some pretty powerful organizing happen on the ground. Here's a list of examples that have caught national headlines (I&

The Obama Way: The Long Game and Common Sense/Pragmatism

Its been a busy week so I didn't have time to listen to President Obama's speech on the economy at Knox College  until this morning. But now that I have, I want to say that if you have any curiosity left about who this man is that we elected as our President back in 2008, you'll find your answers there. I'd like to summarize the things that stood out to me. The Long Game I've always said that President Obama plays the long game. One way we see that is that he's still prioritizing the same things he did eight years ago (the last time he gave a speech at Knox College). There are people on both the right and left who critiqued this speech because he didn't offer anything "new." If you haven't already, you should read Ed Kilgore's response to that criticism. I first noticed this pattern of consistency a few weeks after the 2008 election when I took some time to read and write about Obama's previous gig as president (of the Harv

A "southern strategy" for the 21st century

No one can deny that the the Republican Party is in disarray these days. We recently saw a group of Senators challenge Sen. McConnell's leadership by breaking a filibuster on Obama administration nominees. A bipartisan group of Senators passed comprehensive immigration reform - including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers and the Republican establishment/grassroots is split down the middle on whether to support it in the House. Sen. Rand Paul has chosen to support Sen. Enzi in the primary challenge coming from Liz Cheney and Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have joined Sen. Gillibrand in her fight against military sexual assaults - which Bill Kristol called a "pseudo-crisis." And yet folks like Greenwald and Serwer  are feigning surprise that yesterday the vote on the Amash Amendment in the House was bipartisan. Either they haven't been paying attention or their surprise is disingenuous. In case you didn't notice, there is a theme that runs thr

No, the House did NOT vote on an amendment to stop government spying

Today the House voted on what is being called 'the Amash amendment" to the 2014 NDAA bill. It would have eliminated funding for the NSA's collection of metadata on telephone calls. I'd like to remind you of the best description of that program that I've seen. It comes from Mark Ambinder . One official likened the NSA's collection authority to a van full of sealed boxes that are delivered to the agency. A court order, similar to the one revealed by the Guardian, permits the transfer of custody of the "boxes." But the NSA needs something else, a specific purpose or investigation, in order to open a particular box... In the government's eyes, the data is simply moving from one place to another. It does not become, in the government's eyes, relevant or protected in any way unless and until it is subject to analysis. Analysis requires that second order. To suggest that the movement of those unopened "boxes" equates to spying twists

What is fueling the racist backlash?

Last fall Ta-Nehisi Coates noted something significant about the intersection of racism and politics during this era of our first African American president. He spoke to the change in reaction by conservatives to the killing of Trayvon Martin. The reaction to the tragedy was, at first, trans-partisan. Conservatives either said nothing or offered tepid support for a full investigation—and in fact it was the Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who appointed the special prosecutor who ultimately charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. As civil-rights activists descended on Florida, National Review, a magazine that once opposed integration, ran a column proclaiming “Al Sharpton Is Right.” The belief that a young man should be able to go to the store for Skittles and an iced tea and not be killed by a neighborhood-­watch patroller seemed un­controversial... The moment Obama spoke, the case of Trayvon Martin passed out of its national-mourning phase and lapsed into somethin

The Obama administration is tackling some of the most insidious civil rights issues of our time

I'm really glad that Spandan over at The People's View wrote a response to Tavis Smiley yesterday giving him a list of what President Obama has done for African Americans. But I see that Cornel West has (of course) joined Smiley's bandwagon this morning by suggesting that Barack Obama is some "johnny come lately" to concerns about how the criminal justice system has affected African Americans. Of course Brother West is wrong. I'd like to take some time to document why. First, lets go back to the time when Barack Obama was a State Senator in Illinois. It was there that he actually led the fight against racial profiling . But he also spoke out against a state gang database, joined an effort to examine a complete overhaul of the state's criminal code, supported a moratorium on the death penalty, introduced legislation against zero tolerance policies in schools, and spoke out against mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes . But perhaps the Presid

Some personal reflections

Next month I will have been in the same job for 22 years. I must admit that there have been times I've wondered whether I needed to move on to something else. That's a long damn time! But there are also lots of reasons why I've stayed. Watching the African American community stand up for their children these last few days and hearing our President say this ... We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them? ...has reinvigorated me more than I can say.  How do I express what it feels like to be privileged to spend my days doing just that in my own small way in my own community? I am not only affirmed, but challenged


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President Obama doesn't want to lead a conversation about race

From the President's remarks yesterday: There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven't seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. I think this is one of the things that pisses off the President's African American critics on the left. He didn't seek this job to be a civil rights movement leader. He sought it to be POTUS - and to be the best damn POTUS he could possibly be. If you want to know what is absolutely driving the white male patriarchy nuts about our first African American president - its that he's succeeding in doing that. Their freak-out is all about the fact that their game of dismissing this black man as a "boy" who is out of his league is up. That's the role Barack Obama chose to play in this struggle. It doesn't mean that its the only one that is needed

President Obama talked to White America as a Black man

Other than his "race speech" back in 2008, when President Obama has talked about issues facing the African American community, it has usually been to an audience of black people (ie, commencement address at Morehouse). As a result, a lot of African American intellectuals have criticized the fact that when he talks about race, he tends to focus on a call to responsibility and excellence in the face of racism. Today was different. Barack Hussein Obama was talking as a black man to white America in an attempt to help us understand the pain the African American community is dealing with in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict. And in doing so, he made it personal. But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, i

A thoughtful President speaks from the heart

I'm not going to be breaking any news - this video is all over the internet already. But I wanted it to be here on my little corner of the blogosphere too. When things move me this profoundly, it takes a while to collect my thoughts. So I'm not going to provide much commentary at this point. The most powerful reaction I've heard so far are the comments by African Americans that these words from our President give them a lift up out of the depression they've been feeling since the Zimmerman verdict. We certainly don't always deserve it - but yes, this man is our President. I am thankful every day for that. The transcript is here .

"That's Vice President Joe Biden"

From the fascinating GQ article about Biden : "I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds here," says John, in the front seat. It's the first time he's stepped in like this. It feels like a rescue, a guy taking a bullet. Lay off my boss . "Quick little story. We stopped at Dunkin' Donuts. A man comes up. 'Joe, you gotta come see my wife, she's really ill.' A small little house there. Hospital bed in the living room, her deathbed. No air-conditioning. And the vice president told a staff person, 'Hey, let's make sure we get an A/C unit here.' I was like, wow. That's Vice President Joe Biden." Even if you are Vice President of the most powerful country on still gotta let your little light shine when/where you can.

President Obama's common sense caucus is beginning to materialize

I'm wondering if our political memories are capable of reaching back to recall what was happening about four months ago. Back then President Obama was engaged in what most of the media called a "charm offensive" that they were sure was doomed to fail. Of course those predictions failed to consider the fact that the President tends to play a long game in politics and so the chatter about it was dropped because the village can't contemplate a strategy that doesn't produce profound and immediate results. But some of us actually paid attention to what the President was saying and knew he was working on building a common sense caucus . I do know that there are Republicans in Congress who privately, at least, say that they would rather close tax loopholes than let these cuts go through. I know that there are Democrats who’d rather do smart entitlement reform than let these cuts go through. So there is a caucus of common sense up on Capitol Hill. It’s just -- it’s

Deterrence vs Fairness

At the nonprofit where I work, one of the services we provide is pre-court diversion. What that means is that youth who are arrested for the first time for a misdemeanor offense are referred to us as an alternative to going to court. Our job is to work with that young person (and their parents) to prevent them from further involvement with the juvenile justice system. That means providing counseling, education and restorative services. Years ago I realized that about a quarter to a third of the young people referred to that program never showed up. It wasn't that they set up an appointment and didn't keep it. They simply ignored the referral (perhaps more specifically, their parent's ignored it). It struck me that this group likely represented the highest risk group of young people referred to the program so I had lots of questions about who they were and why they didn't show up. When an opportunity arose for grant funds to find some answers to those questions, we t

No Commentary Required 7/17/13

Some things you should know: We've all heard that Edward Snowden has set up a "dead man's switch, " by which secret documents that he says will damage the U.S. will be released if something bad happens to him. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to identify at least one person who likely has control of that switch... the guy who said this : Nick Davies, an investigative journalist on The Guardian, describes working with Assange before publishing leaked US intelligence documents, many of which contained information about ordinary citizens who had been of assistance to coalition forces. To publish the documents without blacking out such names, as Davies says he pointed out, could well be the equivalent to signing a series of death warrants. He alleges in the film that Assange simply replied that: “if an Afghan civilian helps coalition forces, he deserves to die.” _______________  Jorge Ramos - the leading voice in Hispanic media - had a pretty strong war

Attorney General Holder at the NAACP

Elections have consequences. And one of the consequences of electing President Barack Obama is that this is the man that is our Attorney General. Anyone who has been reading what I have to say for any length of time knows that I have been both proud and impressed with the job he has done - even as those on the left and right have attacked him or called for his resignation. His speech before the NAACP today was reminder of why. AG Holder dedicated the first half of his speech today to talking about the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. He said a lot of important things. But what stood out to me is that THIS is the experience of the man who serves in that office. Trayvon’s death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15 year old son, like my dad did with me. This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down. But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had

The inadequacy of a "good heart"

In attempting to defend herself against charges of racism, Paula Deen claimed that she has a "good heart." Juror B37 said the same thing about George Zimmerman. When people make these claims I suspect they have pretty good evidence that the ones they are referring to have shown caring and concern to the people in their lives and that they do not exhibit hate for anyone. The underlying assumption is that racism involves hate. But that's where they are mistaken. The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death. - Elie Wiesel As a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, Wiesel knows a thing or two about the topic. The issue today is that most racism doesn't depend on hate - but indifference. We are indifferent to the lives and perspectives of people wh

NSA prevents Al Qaeda Lebanon

As folks like Snowden, Assange and Greenwald do their best to disrupt diplomatic relationships between the United States and other countries, I'm guessing this story about the NSA might blow a few minds . The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency warned Lebanese officials last week that al Qaida-linked groups are planning a campaign of bombings that will target Beirut’s Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs as well as other political targets associated with the group or its allies in Syria, Lebanese officials said Monday. And yes, the information was gathered by NSA surveillance. “They had transcripts of calls made from known al Qaida people in Lebanon to people in the Gulf that included detailed information about the attacks, including the amounts of explosives that had been smuggled into Lebanon,” said one Lebanese intelligence official who is barred from speaking openly to reporters. “We have already begun to make arrests.” The official said Lebanese officials had monitored a s

This seems important

Back in 2008, the NSA wanted Yahoo to participate in what we are now calling the "PRISM" program. Yahoo challenged that in the FISA Court and lost . When the Snowden revelations were made public, Yahoo requested that the court release the documents from that 2008 case and today the FISA Court agreed to do so . This is only the second time it its history that the court has released information about their proceedings. In his interview with Charlie Rose, President Obama said this: What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program, number one. And they are in that process of doing so now so that everything that I’m describing to you today, people, the public, newspapers, etc., can look at because frankly, if people are making judgments just based on these slides that have been leaked, they’re not getting the complete story. And so while Glenn Greenwald talks endlessly about himself and Snowd

Vicious Cycle

David Simon on the Zimmerman verdict : Behold, the lewd, pornographic embrace of two great American pathologies: Race and guns, both of which have conspired not only to take the life of a teenager, but to make that killing entirely permissible. I can’t look an African-American parent in the eye for thinking about what they must tell their sons about what can happen to them on the streets of their country. Tonight, anyone who truly understands what justice is and what it requires of a society is ashamed to call himself an American. It is worth listening to Mr. Simon because he has documented the ongoing shame of what is happening in urban America in  The Wire . The truth, as Anthony Hamilton says, "Ain't nobody worryin" about all that. Except for when vigilantes appropriate this reality to justify arming themselves to racially profile any black teen who dares to invade the sanctity of their gated communities. And when an innocent teenager winds up dead and his k

Hey white people...its on us!

Last night I went on twitter when the Zimmerman verdict was least until I read the words of a father wondering WTH he was going to say to his black son. Then I started balling and the evening was basically over for me. Surely every parent of a black child in this country has to grapple with teaching them some form of the Black Male Code . I remember the profound sense of what white privilege means hit me when one of my co-workers talked about how she had to make her son cut off his dreads when he was 13 so as not to make him a target. What mother of a white child has to think about those kinds of things? And what mother of a white child has to fear for their lives when they're walking home from the store? It looks to me like no perfect calculation of the Black Male Code could have saved Trayvon. That's where we hit a brick wall. This is just no country for young black men. The randomness of these incidents is where the fear lurks. What it all comes down to