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Showing posts from September, 2013

The long game of Obamacare

Many of you will remember the great debate that happened on the left as Obamacare worked its way through the Senate. Far too many people prioritized only one thing...the public option. Today I'm convinced that many of them never really knew what the public option was - the requirement that all state health care exchanges include at least one public insurance option - and instead equated it with a single payer system. President Obama has consistently been criticized on the left for failing to support single payer and that critique got equated with the simple idea of a public option on the exchanges.

But lets go back to 2008 and listen to what then-Senator Barack Obama said about single payer.



In addition to worrying about job losses during the great recession, President Obama talked about the fact that so many people rely on their employer for health insurance. Any move towards single payer would have to de-couple health insurance from employment.

As we move towards the unveiling o…

For the teachers

My mother passed away and I spent the weekend at her memorial service (hence the lack of posting). It was held in Texas -  in the town where I grew up but haven't visited since my grandparents died.

At the visitation the night before the memorial service, I was busy greeting family and friends - some of whom I hadn't seen in over over 30 years. A woman walked up to me and said, "You won't recognize me, but I'm Ms. Hodges - your 4th grade teacher." She didn't know if I would remember her - but boy do I! I've thought often about Ms. Hodges. She was tough - but we loved her because we knew she really cared about us. In other words, she made an impression that has lasted these last 50 years.

And there she was a few nights ago demonstrating why. We spent a few minutes talking about what kind of student I was back then and remembering how we'd spent the day in her classroom after we learned that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

One of the thin…

What's wrong with America?

My title is a twist on an article in Politico titled: What's wrong with President Obama? Its part of the hair-on-fire reaction coming from the DC village pundits I referred to yesterday about the President's political fortunes.

Its fascinating to me that in the midst of the kind of lunacy coming from the Republican Party these days that this is such a hot topic for the DC insiders. And so I scratch my head and wonder WTH is wrong with this country that we're even talking about it.

The truth is that no matter how crazy the Republicans get, the belief in some circles persists that one person in the presidency should be able to control things. This has been referred to as the Green Lantern theory of presidential power. It is ubiquitous, not just with DC pundits, but we see it often coming from the President's critics on the left (he "abandoned" the public option in health care reform even though it NEVER had 60 votes in the Senate) and the public at large.

I'…

It all comes down to Obamacare

I see this morning that a whole crew of village pundits are lighting their hair on fire over the possibility that President Obama's political fortunes are in trouble these days. Apparently they think the President is in trouble with his "base" or that he's losing the support of Congressional Democrats.

Greg Sargent does a good job of dispelling all the nonsense.
The divisions between Dems and Obama are real, but they are focused on some policy areas and not on others...

...on the need to keep funding the government and raise the debt limit without giving an inch on Obamacare, there are no signs of any serious disunity — and this is what will likely shape the party’s stance in coming fights.  You want to talk about someone who's having trouble with their "base?" Lets take a moment to look at Speaker Boehner. Republicans have been lathering up their constituency's hatred of Obamacare since 2009. And now they're paying the price. Two weeks out from …

Embracing a "messy" foreign policy

I've had few reasons to be proud of this country's foreign policy in my lifetime. I was born just as we were intervening in Iran to install the Shah and came of age during the Vietnam War. Due to my family's involvement in South America, I paid a bit more attention than most Americans to our sponsorship of coups that installed dictators and supported repressive regimes all over that continent in the name of fighting the "Cold War." And then came the Bush/Cheney neocon-inspired fiascos in the Middle East.

Knowing the involvement of our national security apparatus in clandestine activities such as coups and disappearances and torture and surveillance, the only thing that surprised me about Bush/Cheney is that they weren't trying to hide it anymore...they were doing it right out in the open. The whole idea that American foreign policy EVER followed the rule of international law is naive at best.

When I evaluate President Obama's foreign policy, I always reme…

Snowden and Manning have cheapened what it means to be a whistleblower (updated)

One of the things that bothers me about the Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning episodes is that they have blurred the lines about whistleblowing. As with any act of civil disobedience, it is an important tool for those seeking justice.

That's why I found myself agreeing with some of what Peter Ludlow has written in a NYT op-ed titled The Banality of Systemic Evil. For example:
In “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” one of the most poignant and important works of 20th-century philosophy, Hannah Arendt made an observation about what she called “the banality of evil.” One interpretation of this holds that is was not an observation about what a regular guy Adolph Eichmann seemed to be, but rather a statement about what happens when people play their “proper” roles within a system, following proscribed conduct with respect to that system, while remaining blind to the moral consequences of what the system was doing — or at least compartmentalizing and ignoring those consequences. That reminds me o…

A Both/And Leader in an Either/Or World

For the record, I don't think President Obama has any magical powers, or that he plays 11th dimensional chess, or that he bluffs, or that he's merely lucky. What I do think is that he develops his North Star, takes the long view, and enters negotiations from the standpoint of finding both/and solutions (partnerships) rather than engage in the power games of either/or (dominance).

Several people are pointing to a fascinating blog post by Jim Stuart where he talks about President Obama being an integral leader. If you haven't already read it, please do so!
On balance, most of us in the US and elsewhere have a binary view of conflict: if you win, I lose, and vice versa. And we are completely immersed in the consciousness of scarcity, resource conflict, and fear of the other. Clearly, Gandhi, Mandela and King operated from a different level of consciousness, where abundance, peacemaking, and trust were the qualities seen first, and were part of each leader's basic operatin…

Trust vindicated

I don't mind being called an Obamabot that much. Just like the President decided to embrace the label "Obamacare" that was initially meant as a slam, I suspect history will vindicate that supporting this administration was the right call.

What I've typically reacted to negatively is the idea that I blindly trust President Obama because the fact is - I have my eyes wide open and am watching a fascinating presidency unfold. Over time what has happened is that when I don't see the whole picture yet, I've learned to slow down my reactions and wait until I get more information. I also remind myself of who this man is that we've elected twice and how he's handled things in the past.

All of this came into play when it became clear that President Obama was considering a military strike against Syria because the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against his own people. I knew from watching him closely that he had rather boldly stood up to his own national…

It's not just GOP that's scared of Obamacare success

I've mentioned before that, as someone who runs a small business (nonprofit), I'm really exited about the health care exchanges that are about to come online next month as part of Obamacare. In Minnesota they're going to be called MNsure and we're starting to get a peek at what they'll look like. I just talked with my Board of Directors last week about getting ready to review our options and make a decision about whether or not to sign up.

But this week we got a packet of information from our current health insurance provider. Our renewal with them is scheduled to happen March 2014. They are offering their current small business customers the opportunity to renew early at close to current rates with a warning that if we don't, Obamacare will likely mean steep increases in our premiums.

Here's the catch...we have to renew by September 15, two weeks before we have the opportunity to compare the rates they're offering to those on the exchanges. Fuckers!!!!…

Beinart understands the role of millennials but not the Obama coalition

I can't say that I have always agreed with Peter Beinart on politics, but a few years ago he took a big picture look at the swings of the political spectrum in one of the best pieces of analysis I've ever read. He's just written another important article in which he attempts to make a case for the emerging "new new left." Once again he makes some important points that many pundits are missing. But there are a couple of big gaping holes in his analysis this time.

Beinart's main point is that up until recently, our politics have been defined by the Reagan/Clinton years. Reagan set the tone with his "government isn't the solution, its the problem," and Clinton solidified that with his ascent to big business, triangulation and suggestion that "the era of big government is over."

Where Beinart gets it right is to suggest that that old frame is over for the millennial generation. But he goes on to focus only on the part about their oppositio…

What Putin wants you to forget

The idea of Vladimir Putin lecturing us about peace, democracy and international law is beyond ironic. And yet here's what he wrote for the New York Times. Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria...

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. The photo above was taken in March 2011 when Syrians joined in peaceful protests as part of the movement we now call the Arab Spring. They were protesting the brutal dictatorship of Assad. That would have been a moment for Putin's "champion of democracy" to step up. But instead, Assad sent the Syrian Army to quell the uprising with soldiers firing on demonstrators all over the country - thus sparking a civil war.

Its true that since that civil wa…

Photo of the Day: Comforting Hand

This has always been one of my favorite pictures of President Obama. But I'd forgotten the context until Chipsticks shared it with us today.

Sept. 11, 2010 – Pete Souza: “We were at the Pentagon to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. After the formal ceremony, the President stopped to shake hands with family members of victims attending the event. Here he is holding hands with a little girl.”

What the facts tell us about President Obama's approach to foreign policy

Amidst all the reactions to current events that attempt to play things for partisan spin, or confirm an existing false narrative, or generate link bait, I thought it would be helpful to simply lay out a couple of facts and build our analysis on them.

On Syria, lets remember that for almost 2 years now President Obama has been fighting off the hawks - even in his own administration (yes, that includes Hillary Clinton) - to avoid getting involved because, as the President said last night: "we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force." That one piece of information alone should make the idiots claiming he's a warmonger STFU.

Now we learn that the proposed diplomatic solution that some people suggest simply dropped out of the sky a few days ago is something the Obama administration has been proposing to the Russians for almost a year now (even before the Assad regime used chemical weapons on August 21st). For those who insist on trying to be mind readers to get …

"The proposal is a true diplomatic breakthrough long in the making"

Frankly, sometimes I'm a bit shocked at the ignorance of a lot of punditry. There are those out there who are actually suggesting that this potential for a diplomatic solution to Syria's use of chemical weapons just fell out of the sky yesterday. Anyone who suggests something like that should be automatically dismissed from ever reporting on things like this. That's not how it happens.

Here's Gwen Ifill reporting on her interview with President Obama last night.
In an interview with PBS, President Obama said if there is a diplomatic path to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria it would be "overwhelmingly my preference."

Obama also added that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had talked about the plan now on the table both during the recent G-20 meeting in Russia and during another meeting last year in Mexico.

In other words, the proposal is a true diplomatic breakthrough long in the making. That's how diplomacy happens folks. So while President…

What's in it for Putin?

Wow! All of the sudden we're talking about Syria turning all of their chemical weapons over the the UN to have them destroyed rather than a US-led military intervention. How did that happen? Freak flags are surely flying on that one today, but here's the bottom line:
Turns out POTUS talked w Putin about this Russian plan last week in their 20-min pull aside at G20. #Syria
— gwen ifill (@gwenifill) September 9, 2013
For someone like me who has been following President Obama's style now for over 5 years, this one has his fingerprints all over it. My first thought was to remember Jeffrey Goldberg's interview with him about Iran and Israel last year. He repeats his strategy in regards to Iran and nuclear weapons several times. Here's one example:
I think it's entirely legitimate to say that this is a regime that does not share our worldview or our values. I do think...that as we look at how they operate and the decisions they've made over the past three decades…

"The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based"

OMG - the NSA can use your smartphone to spy on you! That's the latest revelation from the Snowden files anyway. But amidst all the scaremongering in the article comes this:
The material contains no indications of large-scale spying on smartphone users... In other words, there's no indication that the NSA actually does use your smartphone to spy on you - but they could...technically!!!

This is a theme that runs through most of the Snowden revelations and its why I used a quote of his as the title for this piece. If you want to know what the NSA can do technically, these leaks have been a treasure trove of information. If you want to know what they actually do based on the policy proscriptions, not so much.

For those who are interested in informing themselves about the policies that limit this kind of thing, there hasn't been much reporting on that in the media. The only place that is happening is with the government's process of declassifying documents that outline tho…

The fallacy of transparency in an era of media hyperbole and distortion

When it comes to the debate about NSA surveillance, one of the main issues involved is transparency. President Obama has said that when he took office, his goal was to ensure that there was proper oversight of these intelligence activities by Congress and the Courts. Historically, that had been sufficient given the sensitivity of the work involved.

But now even the President is committed to going beyond that and giving the public as much information as possible about NSA activities and procedures. That is the new standard for transparency being placed on this administration.

The problem, as I see it, is that the American public is pretty dependent on the media to inform them about what is put out there for public consumption. Whether its the hyperbole and lies of omission practiced by people like Glenn Greenwald or what might be understood as lazy journalism by others, its frustrating to watch the story be twisted over and over again - giving the public a distorted view of what is hap…

Left/Right Libertarianism as the developing threat to progressive change

Three years ago when Jane Hamsher decided to team up with Grover Norquist to try to defeat Obamacare, most of us were shocked by her obvious Obama Derangement Syndrome. And yet today, that effort to hoodwink progressives into signing up with tea party libertarians is a pretty common phenomenon. Lately we've watched these folks:
#StandWithRand on his ridiculous anti-drone filibusterSuggest that we should join forces with the tea party to defeat a budget dealTell us that America's only hope is Ron/Rand Paul and the Drudge ReportTeam up with tea party Rep. Justin Amash to defund the NSAAgree with Sarah Palin's "Let Allah sort it out" on the gassing of civilians in Syria As someone who is addicted to looking at the big picture, I think it behooves us to take a look at what is happening here. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is exactly the direction folks like Assange and Greenwald have wanted to see things go for a long time. But the ques…

Rep. Keith Ellison asks us to listen to Syrian Americans

While an awful lot of liberals are jumping in front of TV cameras to announce their collaboration with tea party libertarians to oppose military intervention in Syria, one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (and one of only two members of the House who are Muslim) seems to be struggling a bit more deeply with the issues involved.
PEACE community, consider thoughtful words of Syrian Americans as you think about Congress' vote next week. http://t.co/yduqX4kIt0
— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) September 5, 2013
You can bet that with that kind of nuance, Rep. Ellison isn't going to be asked to appear on any of the cable network shows.

But I'd ask you to do what the Congressman has requested: take a moment to read the letter to the anti-war movement from the group known as United for a Free Syria.
While based upon good intentions, the anti-war movement today may inadvertently be standing with forces that support a continuation of the conflict in Syria.…

President Obama and WMD's (updated)

The whole concept of reducing the threat of weapons of mass destruction was seriously discredited when Bush/Cheney used it as an excuse to lie us into an unnecessary war. Its clear by now that some people simply cannot have a rational conversation about the topic as a result.

But since President Obama has been trying to convince the US and the world to live up to their commitments about responding to the use of chemical weapons, I've been thinking about how that position is linked to a rather bold promise he made back when he was running for president in 2008.
"Will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years - the most effective way to prevent terrorists from acquiring a nuclear bomb. Barack Obama will fully implement the Lugar-Obama legislation to help our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction."As is documented here, initially he made huge progress towards that goal. But as PolitiFact …

Latest Snowden leak: US is spying on al Qaeda

Wait a minute! I thought this conversation about NSA surveillance was supposed to be about how the government was invading our privacy. At least that was the rationale Edward Snowden used for stealing classified documents.

But while we've all been talking about Syria, where the intelligence gathering of several countries is helping answer the questions about the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons, the most recent Snowden revelations have clearly gone off the rails.

First of all, we learned that NSA spies on foreign governments (OMG!). But the latest leak published by the Washington Post is really disturbing. Apparently some of the documents Snowden stole show us that the US is spying on al Qaeda.

The primary reaction to that one would be a ginormous "DUH?" But beyond that, you have to ask yourself what the hell Snowden thought he was doing in stealing and leaking information about that?

I suppose that journalists find it irresistible to pass up the chance to re…

Why the most liberal president in a generation is driving some progressives bonkers

Just as President Obama is taking huge steps to walk back the imperial presidency and making tremendous strides on issues like health care reform and LGBT rights and ending the war on drugs and fighting to curb climate change and ending the perpetual war and taking on the NRA and fighting for immigration reform and trying to curb the rising costs of college tuition and proposing things like a minimum wage increase along with universal day care, there is a group of progressives who have gone absolutely bonkers with their conspiracy theories about him. As Bob Cesca points out this morning, many of them are are so deranged that they're staring to line up with tea party libertarians to destroy the Democratic Party.

Its no wonder that many of us are saying "WTH? Why now? You want to jump ship just when we're starting to make some progress?"

To be honest, I've been trying to understand this particular variety of Obama Derangement Syndrome for quite a while now. It does…

All roads lead to Putin

There are two big foreign policy stories in the news these days and it seems significant that Russian President Putin is integrally involved in both. The picture above was taken at a G8 meeting in June when President Obama said that the US was going to provide arms to some Syrian rebels. Obviously Putin wasn't happy with that decision because Russia has been backing the Assad regime - his closest ally in the Middle East. 
Now that Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people and President Obama is proposing military intervention against him, Russia is determined to veto any UN Security Council resolution condemning Assad or supporting President Obama's call for the international community to respond. But apparently obstruction at the UN isn't enough for Putin. He is actually preparing to lobby the US Congress to vote against the President.  I certainly hope the media will follow this story and let us know which members of Congress are open to being lobbied by th…

President Obama is working on bigger change than the purists can even contemplate

I've been thinking a lot lately about this passage that Al Giordano wrote years ago.
There are times when “The Law” is dressed up in liberal language in a way that masquerades the bloodlust behind witch hunts and impulses to scapegoat individuals for crimes or taboos that, in a democracy, we’re all responsible for having enabled.

The same tendencies that have always placed me squarely against McCarthyism and Red Scares put me on the opposite side of some liberal and progressive colleagues today when they demand the prosecution of Bush, or of Cheney, or of some of their underlings...

In the end, preventing torture is a political struggle and also a power struggle, so much more than a matter of "The Law." It’s about changing society and its presumptions, and changing institutions, like the military and police agencies, where the culture is so prone to that kind of abuse...

The real task at hand is to evolve American society – and with it, military and law enforcement cultu…

Finding Nexus: Patriarchy, White Supremacy, American Exceptionalism

A few years ago Nezua wrote about Finding Nexus at his blog The Unapologetic Mexican.
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...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. As we once again begin to hear claims that President Obama is weak due to his recent decision to go to Congress about taking military action against Syria, I can't help but recall that those charges have often…

The argument the non-interventionsts must make

President Obama has made his argument for military intervention in Syria in response to their use of chemical weapons. And he has once again said that he welcomes the debate.

It is now time for those who oppose this military intervention to make their case. I'll tell you what won't work: suggesting this is just like what Bush/Cheney did when they lied us into an invasion of Iraq. Rather than looking for an excuse to invade another country, we all know that President Obama has fought off advice to engage in Syria - even when it came from his closest national security advisors. This large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime is what finally changed his mind. But even more importantly, President Obama is not talking about invading Syria - he's talking about an action that would be limited in scope and duration - with no boots on the ground. An argument against the President's proposal has to take that into account.

If those arguing against intervention want t…

Walking back the imperial presidency

Whether anyone will admit it or not, much of political discourse in this era has moved away from the concept of a democratic republic and towards an imperial presidency. We tend to see that more clearly on the right (ie, Dick Cheney) but the left critics of President Obama exhibit the same thing when they lay all issues at the President's feet, completely ignoring the role of Congress and the people who elected them.

One of the main reasons why I originally signed up to support Barack Obama's candidacy was that I saw in him someone who wanted to reverse that trend. He knows its a long game, but when you really listen to what he's saying, its clearly his overriding concern (especially in this second term).
But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations...

A…