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Conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy - Syria edition

For years now I've been writing about how President Obama employs conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy. After his remarks this morning regarding Syria, I think a few more people are catching on to what I mean by that. For example, here's one of my favorite quotes that describes what it looks like.
One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict. It's how you deal with people with intractable demands -- put ‘em on a committee. What the President just did today was put the United States Congress on the "committee" to decide what we'll do about Syria's use of chemical weapons. That is a bold …

"For everyone who thinks they know Obama's views on war and peace"

I totally agree with Jon Favreau.
Good time for everyone who thinks they know Obama's views on war and peace to re-read his Oslo speech: http://t.co/O7H3aa3D8Q
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) August 30, 2013
But I would also suggest that folks re-read President Obama's speech at Cairo University...particularly this passage.
Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across …

The bar is once again raised for President Obama

When it comes to Syria, what we know at this point is that the Obama administration is making the case for the fact that the Assad regime is responsible for chemical weapons attacks on his own people and that they think a response is required. We're hearing a lot of chatter about what that response might be, but the administration has not publicly endorsed anything in particular.

But it seems that the conversation today is mostly about whether or not President Obama is constitutionally required to get approval from Congress for a military response. There is even talk about the idea that if he doesn't do so - it would be grounds for impeachment.

This is - once again - an example of raising the bar for this particular president (you can decide for yourself whether its because he happens to be black - but its certainly not an irrelevant question). Does anyone remember Reagan getting Congressional approval for the invasion of Grenada? Or Bush I getting it for the invasion of Panam…

In the meantime...progress

As we've all been consumed with what President Obama will do in Syria, this administration is making some serious progress in other areas. For example:

President Obama took executive action to close gun purchase loopholes.

The IRS will recognize all gay marriages.

HHS announced that Medicare benefits will be extended to same-sex couples.

In yet another step to end the "war on drugs," Attorney General Eric Holder gave a green light to state measures legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

But yeah, to some folks, Obama is just like Bush. LOL

White progressive assumptions about African American politics

I am becoming aware of something that I'll bet many African Americans have known for a while now. So I'm hoping you'll apply that sentiment of "better late than never" to my awakening consciousness.

We all know that since the passage of the Civil Rights Laws in the 60's and the Republican Southern Strategy, African Americans have been the most loyal base of the Democratic Party. And I'd suggest that since that base was responsible for one of the most successful movements for change in this country, white progressives on the left have - for decades now - assumed that African Americans generally align with their political views (notice that word "assumed" - its always the basis of privilege).

And so, when an African American gets the Democratic nomination for president, the left wing of that party naturally assumes that he will align himself with their cause.

Whoops! Not so fast. If those white progressives had ever taken the time to learn about w…

Reflections on the power of "we"

Remember this?



When I hear constant cries about "Obama should do ________?" it strikes me that too many of us have forgotten the meaning of "we" in the slogan "Yes We Can!"

As I watch and listen to President Obama, what I've heard as his one overriding message is that he wants us to recognize the power of "we." For example, his entire speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention was dedicated to the idea of citizenship. And yesterday in honor of the 1963 March on Washington, he took up that theme again.
The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate. But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago...

America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumb…

Where courage comes from

"And I believe that spirit is there, that truth force inside each of us. I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It’s there when the native-born recognizes that striving spirit of the new immigrant; when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who are discriminated against and understands it as their own.

That’s where courage comes from -- when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from."

President Barack Obama, August 28, 2013

President Obama's pragmatic foreign policy

As I read various people discuss what they think the U.S. is preparing to do in Syria, I think Jonathan Chait has an excellent point. His title gets the ball rolling: Syria Isn't Iraq. Everything Isn't Iraq.
The generation that came of age during World War II famously — and, in time, tragically — came to apply the formative lessons to every foreign-policy event that followed it. The generation that came of age during the Vietnam War, and then, more recently, the Iraq War, was imprinted with the opposite lessons. Basically what he's saying is that its important to see what is being considered in Syria on its own merits (or demerits) and not project one's feelings about America's past onto this situation.

I see evidence of this in commentators who can't quite wrap their minds around the idea that the United States would take military action in a country minus a goal for regime change. Its understandable that this would be difficult given our country's past. W…

Obama on Syria: Past as Prologue

Back in March of 2011, the discussion was all about whether or not President Obama would/should embrace a no-fly zone in Libya. As we see now with the talk about whether or not he will/should fire cruise missiles into Syria, there aren't clear ideological lines being drawn in that debate. There are those who are honestly grappling with difficult questions and there are those who are attempting to position themselves to critique whatever side the President choses.

We might want to remind ourselves that the discussion that was happening publicly in March 2011 about Libya was not the one President Obama was willing to engage. Michael Lewis wrote about exactly what happened. On March 15th, the President had a meeting with all the "principals" to discuss the situation in Libya.
Before big meetings the president is given a kind of road map, a list of who will be at the meeting and what they might be called on to contribute. The point of this particular meeting was for the peop…

Who has Obama's back? Those who've been in the struggle all along

Today I'd like to point you all to a diary my friend Denise Oliver Velez wrote back in 2008 when the FISA bill was going through Congress. I don't agree with everything she said (as the saying goes, if I did, one of us would be unnecessary) - but the message is clear.
I have never had privacy. My parents had no privacy. I grew up under the persecution of the McCarthy period, and watched family friends driven out of jobs, and some driven to suicide. I watched my father watch the backs of his friends, and I have learned how to be a trooper since the day I could walk...

The Constitution that has been bandied about here in hysterical FISA diaries of outrage in the last few days has very little meaning for me...The privacy that you are so willing to throw Obama under the bus for has no meaning for me. I’ve never had the luxury to have any...

The Constitution was a series of compromises, and black folks got the worst of them. Legislation is a series of compromises. This country…

Arrow's Story (reprised)

I feel deeply for the President as he struggles with our response to the situation in Syria. There don't seem to be any "good" answers to that question (including doing nothing). If I  was the praying type, I'd be asking God to give him wisdom and let him know that we recognize the burdens he has to bear in making this kind of call on our behalf.

In the meantime, in honor of the good people of Syria, I'm going to reprise a diary I wrote over 2 years ago - with a few adjustments.

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

As Galloway tells us…

Good crazy - Antoinette Tuff walks in the footsteps of Dr. King

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.  - Martin Luther King, Jr. As we commemorate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr, I have to wonder just how much we're really ready to embrace his teachings. And - believe me - I put myself right in the middle of that "we." His life was a testament to how much he believed those words... he walked his talk.

We know that Dr. King grounded that belief in the teachings of another radical...Jesus.
You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE …

A New America

Rev. Sharpton BROUGHT IT this morning in his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.


He ended his remarks with something that might sound familiar to regular readers here.
I come to tell ya, I know why they're screeching and hollerin and talkin crazy...cause old America has passed away. Old America that only worked for white males has passed away. Old America that only worked for English-speaking has passed away. Old American that'd tell you who to sleep with, but don't put food in the kitchen has passed away. Old things have passed away. We see a new America. We see an America of equality...of justice...of fairness. We march because we're gonna bring a new America - one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice - not just for some, not for who you chose, not for who you like - but for all. We believe in a new America.

The left's version of white male patriarchy

About a week ago, @root_e tweeted a link to this story. Fair warning: it literally made me sick to my stomach.

Personally, I enjoy mavericks. In the article, its clear that Matt Taibbi and his pal Mark Ames are trying to cast themselves as such. But its also clear that Taibbi and Ames have an even darker view of that role than Sarah Palin does. In their version, it gives you a pass to abuse and exploit vulnerable people. For example, talking about their time in Russia:
They say they also take advantage of what they like to call the “white god factor” and make trips to the provinces. “Tens of millions of people live in dire circumstances, stranded in the center of the world’s largest continent, with little hope of going anywhere,” said Mr. Ames. “Which means–sexual opportunity for me.” I'm really at a loss to describe how vile that is. But then, I probably don't need to. Most human beings with an ounce of empathy get it.

All of this is part of telling the story of these two pri…

Greenwald jumps Sharknado

Just when I think I'm about done writing about the hysteria being flamed by Team Greenwald these days, along comes another story that grabs me. Part of my soul-searching about all this has been a recognition that this whole story is like finding yourself in the grips of a mystery novel and getting caught up in trying to guess the ending. So todays' installment is written with a bit of humor at watching the wheels come off the charade.

It all started last night when The Independent published an article touting the latest Snowden revelation that the UK government has a facility that spies on people in the Middle East (yes, quell your shock at that one). The trouble is...they didn't explain how they got access to this leak.

Enter Team Greenwald. He provides a quote from Snowden saying that he is not the source of this leak  and that what is happening here is that the UK government leaked harmful information to The Independent to create the illusion that previous leaks are har…

President Obama follows through on promises...poutragers set their hair on fire

Two weeks ago President Obama held a news conference to talk about NSA surveillance. At the time, he proposed several things to improve the system.
Release more information about surveillance programs.Work with Congress to reform the Patriot Act.Establish an opposition advocate on FISC.Establish a Civil Liberties officer at NSA.Set up a website as a “hub” for information on surveillance policies.Set up an NSA review panel to consider how we can maintain the trust of the people and ensure no abuse in how surveillance technologies are used. In just two short weeks, he's made good on #'s 1, 5, and 6. Today the White House will announce the members of the review panel and yesterday they launched the web site - including the release of a whole trove of previously classified documents from NSA. 
Among the documents released were 3 FISA court rulings - one of which (from Oct. 3, 2011) involved the court's opinion that procedures related to collecting internet data on foreign targe…

An adversarial approach vs the aikido way

In my line of work, I occasionally deal with lawyers - often the type who spend a lot of time in a court room. When we have trouble working together on tackling community issues, its often because they approach things in the way they've been trained to practice law in a system that is designed to be adversarial. Too often the goal of our legal system is "winning" (or at least not losing) rather than finding the truth. And so facts that could hurt one's chance of winning are left out or distorted in order to go for the win.

It should come as no surprise then that Glenn Greenwald (a former lawyer) describes himself as an adversarial journalist. His job is to present information in such a way that he wins the argument. If you understand that about him, you've basically got his MO.

And so, when President Obama says that, despite the fact that what Edward Snowden did was illegal, he welcomes the conversation about US surveillance, that presents some real cognitive dis…

Another one bites the dust

When it comes to foreign policy issues related to the Middle East, one of my "go to" sources has always been Juan Cole. Its not that I always agree with him. Its that he knows legions more about that topic that I do. So I pay attention to what he says.

That's why I am so terribly disappointed in him - much like I am in so many other reporters lately. You want hyperbole? Take a look at this headline from Cole.

Greenwald Partner falsely detained as Terrorist: How to Create a Dictatorship
And then his opening statement makes it even worse. How to turn a democracy into a STASI authoritarian state in 10 easy steps: Since "Greenwald's partner" was detained by the UK government, its interesting that his "10 steps" are focused completely on the US - not the UK. But what's a little omission like that when you're talking about a "STASI authoritarian state?"

Then he goes on to make several outrageous claims:
Classify all crimes and violations…

A little soul-searching

As regular readers here know, I've been pretty consumed lately by the NSA/Snowden story. That hasn't come without a lot of soul-searching. You all know that I've been following Glenn Greenwald for years and have no love lost for his reporting. So just as we see people who seem to be motivated by "Obama Derangement Syndrome," I've been worried that I'm suffering from "Greenwald Derangement Syndrome." I don't want my view of these important issues to be driven by my feelings about any particular individual.

And while I've obviously been a strong supporter of President Obama, I also regularly question myself about whether or not I'm "blindly" supporting his administration. I'm very aware of the history of the intelligence community in this country. Their record is abominable. But I also want to think about what it looks like when we want to change that. Its a much more complex process than simply saying "shut it all d…

Sunny!!!!!!

Greenwald's challenge

I'm not going to recount the whole hysterical drama that unfolded last night as the story about Glenn Greenwald's partner being detained at the London airport unfolded. Bob Cesca has done a great job of breaking it down.

But this whole story about Edward Snowden and his handlers ignites my sometimes dormant "recovering therapist" mode and so I find myself considering Greenwald's challenge as the public mouthpiece of the handlers. That challenge, as I see it, is to maintain their role as merely victims of the big bad surveillance state while simultaneously aggrandizing their role in uncovering the "story of the century." Give the guy some chops...he's pretty good at it.

The first ingredient in pulling this off is to hype the hell out of stories about stuff most of us knew already. They did this by using documents Snowden had stolen while working as a contractor of NSA. So now we don't just know that NSA collects metadata on our telephone calls, w…

Assange's latest op underway (updated)

On Friday I remember seeing this tweet. But, being terribly tech-impaired, I didn't know what it meant.
Please mirror: WikiLeaks insurance 20130815-A: 3.6Gb http://t.co/WAXtszZl8E B: 49Gb http://t.co/Ca1Hqi1VCJ C: 349GB http://t.co/iu00DmfQ0A
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 16, 2013
Well, I just found out and thought I'd share it with you.
Someone remind WikiLeaks that the U.S does not respond well to blackmail.

We'd think this was some kind of interactive Internet mystery if we didn't know better, but in fact WikiLeaks has released about 400 gigabytes' worth of mysterious data in a series of encrypted torrent files called "insurance." And no one can open it.

With nothing better to go on, the Internet has decided that "insurance" may be code for "back off" to the U.S. government...

File encryption means that the data is hidden and no one can see what's in the shared files without a key to unlock them—which, of course, hasn't be…

Sirota goes all in on the "incompetent or liar" argument

OK...so its David Sirota and he's an idiot with an acute case of Obama Derangement Syndrome. I should probably ignore him. But he's taken something we see pretty regularly to an extreme. So I'll just use him as a test case to make a point.

Sirota dusts off the argument of "either he's incompetent or a liar" and applies it to President Obama. Of course President Obama is too smart to be incompetent - and so he is, by default, a liar. The line about incompetence vs liar made sense when President Reagan said he didn't know about Iran/Contra. But its not like President Obama is suggesting he doesn't know about NSA surveillance. What it comes down to in Sirota's case is that he's using it as a tool to try to stop people from considering the President's arguments. In other words, its a rhetorical device used to distract rather than engage.

So lets take Sirota's three examples and break them down. First he suggests that President Obama said t…

One library at a time

A little over 7 years ago, the nonprofit where I work moved into a new building that is located directly across the street from one of our city's public libraries. In the spirit of being a good neighbor, I went for a visit to introduce myself to the director. As we talked, she said that one of their biggest challenges was unruly kids in the library disrupting other patrons. As a matter of fact, things often got so out of control that they had to call the police to intervene.

I told her that - given that our agency's mission was "to redirect youth who are starting to get in trouble at home, at school or with the law" - I thought we could help. And so we got her staff together to provide some training/consultation. This issue was only partly about librarians not being trained in behavior management, it was also infused with the reality that most of the unruly youth were black and the librarians were white. What we might call these days the "Trayvon affect" wa…

Snowden leak contradicts Snowden's assertions

By now you've probably heard about the latest Snowden leak published by Bart Gellman in the Washington Post. It is a report issued by SID Compliance and Oversight (the agency tasked with producing compliance reports on FISA implementation) on the NSA. With a screaming headline about "thousands of violations a year" sucking up most of the reaction to this report, it seems to me that a lot of folks are missing how this particular leak contradicts at least one of Snowden's assertions.

Let's go back to what he said in the online chat The Guardian hosted just after Snowden had "outed" himself as the leaker.
...audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5% of those performed. I'll admit that I had to google GCHQ to find out what it is...the UK's version of the NSA.  I suppose that Snowden's intent in referring to them was to suggest that - like the UK - the NSA…

There's no such thing as "privacy" online

Earlier I wrote about the fact that Edwards Snowden's "handlers" aren't really concerned about privacy. If they were, they surely wouldn't completely ignore things like this:
...Acxiom [a commercial data broker] reportedly has information on about 700 million active consumers worldwide, with some 1,500 data points per person. Such data brokers learn about us from the cookies that hitch rides as users travel online and from the social media sites where we post everything from home addresses to pictures to magazine subscriptions and store purchases, as well as deeds on file in towns and counties. They load all this data into sophisticated algorithms that spew out alarmingly personal predictions about our health, financial status, interests, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, politics and habits. As Bob Cesca pointed out the other day, visiting Glenn Greenwald's article about XKEYSCORE at The Guardian would have provided information to 27 different trackers …

The battle for the world-wide web

I think its high time we took a look at the people who are "handling" Edward Snowden and what their agenda is in all of this. That's because I think the questions are more broad than the one's we're currently hearing about related to NSA surveillance and actually go to the question of who controls the world-wide web. There is a battle raging beneath all this that has serious implications for all of us.

But first its important to recognize that Snowden is being handled. The question is "by whom?" Yesterday we saw that his father (and his father's lawyers) are starting to speak out about what's happening.
More fractious is the relationship among Lon Snowden, WikiLeaks and Mr. Greenwald. Mr. Fein's wife and spokeswoman, Mattie Fein, said Lon Snowden's legal team doesn't trust the intentions of Mr. Greenwald or WikiLeaks and worry they are giving Edward Snowden bad advice.

"The thing we have been most concerned about is that the peo…