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Showing posts from August, 2014

No commentary required 8/31/14

Looks like I'm not going to be writing much today, so here are some things you should read:

Pundits and right wingers are positively freaking out about their assumption that President Obama doesn't have a strategy to deal with ISIS. He does. And Secretary of State John Kerry says its something I've been talking about all along...partnership.
In a polarized region and a complicated world, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria presents a unifying threat to a broad array of countries, including the United States. What’s needed to confront its nihilistic vision and genocidal agenda is a global coalition using political, humanitarian, economic, law enforcement and intelligence tools to support military force. The most comprehensive look at President Obama's foreign policy comes from Michael Cohen: The punditry vs the presidency: How the constant chorus of "do something" Obama foreign policy critics gets it wrong. Nope, I'm not going to provide an excerpt. You…

Beyond Ferguson: Understanding the big picture

I just want to say that Carol Anderson nailed it in her column titled: Ferguson isn't about black rage against cops. It's white rage against progress.
When we look back on what happened in Ferguson, Mo., during the summer of 2014, it will be easy to think of it as yet one more episode of black rage ignited by yet another police killing of an unarmed African American male. But that has it precisely backward. What we’ve actually seen is the latest outbreak of white rage. Sure, it is cloaked in the niceties of law and order, but it is rage nonetheless.

Protests and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respec…

The limits of empathy

Its clear that President Obama believes that empathy is a necessary ingredient for solving our differences. That's why in his book The Audacity of Hope, he wrote:
I am obligated to try to see the world through George Bush’s eyes, no matter how much I may disagree with him. That’s what empathy does—it calls us all to task, the conservative and the liberal … We are all shaken out of our complacency. As we've watched him over the years, this is not the empathy of weakness or surrender. It is about recognizing your own limitations and combining that with a deep understanding of your opponent.

And yet, when I hear him talk about ISIS, I hear the limits of empathy. He's come to the conclusion that they must simply be defeated via force, not understood.

I am reminded of what he said in his Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech:
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individ…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes...

Years ago a friend and I took a vacation to the Enchanted Circle of New Mexico. One day we were hiking and stopped to take a break. The view was so beautiful and calming that I wanted to be able to reflect on it when I got home and the stressors started to build. So I focused, not just on what my eyes were seeing, but also what my ears were hearing and my nose was smelling and my mouth was tasting and my skin was feeling. I wanted to record the whole package.
As we resumed our hike, the tears started to fall unexpectedly. Recording that scene had put me so "in the moment" that I'd shed all the layers of accommodation I normally carry around to protect the most vulnerable part of myself. In that one moment - I was truly and authentically me. They were tears of relief at being found, not sorrow.
Or as Norah Jones would say... And in this place
where your arms unfold
here at last, you see your ancient face.
Now you know...
Now you know.

What Ferguson triggered

One of the things social media has highlighted lately is the fact that words/events can "trigger" the emotional reliving of trauma from a person's past. Without naming this phenomenon, Jelani Cobb suggested that Ferguson was a trigger for African Americans.
In the days after 9/11, it was common to hear people say that it was the first time Americans had really experienced terrorism on their own soil. Those sentiments were historically wrong, and willfully put aside acts that were organized on a large scale, had a political goal, and were committed with the specific intention of being nightmarishly memorable. The death cult that was lynching furnished this country with such spectacles for a half century. (The tallies vary, but, by some estimates, there were thirty-three hundred lynchings in the decades between the end of Reconstruction and the civil-rights era.) We know intuitively, not abstractly, about terrorism’s theatrical intent. The sight of Michael Brown, sprawled …

Shutting the conversation down

I always shake my head at the irony of a Fox News pundit claiming that President Obama has politicized the death of Michael Brown. This comes from the folks who - along with other rightwing media outlets - have made it their goal to politicize EVERYTHING.

I was reminded of how that happens when I read this article in PowerLine about the politicization of history. But we have plenty of evidence about how the right has politicized everything from science (evolution and climate change) to math (unscewing polls). The success of these attempts can be seen by the fact that where we shop is political, how we acknowledge holidays is political, and cultural icons are political.

Fox News and other right wing media play on all this to set up one side as righteous and the other as out to destroy America as we know it. So if you are a truly patriotic American, you agree with our side and any other position is to be excluded as the enemy. It is this attempt to politicize everything that Julian Sanc…

"We must substitute courage for caution"

Today, as Michael Brown's parents and family said goodbye to him, I was reminded of the words Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at a funeral for four little girls in Birmingham 51 years ago. His wisdom is as much of a challenge to us today as it was to those in attendance back then.
And so this afternoon in a real sense they [the four little girls] have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines…

Photo of the Day: Until justice rolls down like waters...

For Michael:


Are Americans in a permanent funk?

That's from Gallup on August 15, 2014. They note the following:
The last time a majority of Americans were satisfied with the direction of the country was more than a decade ago, a 55% reading in January 2004. Further, satisfaction has not topped 40% since July 2005, amid a struggling economy, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and declining confidence in government. I'll just add a caveat that I've written about before: it is people of color who are the optimists among us these days.  Even so, we might ask ourselves what has put so many of us in such a funk. I'm going to take a stab at outlining three things that are contributing to it.

Changing technology

Robert Fisk has written an interesting article about how ISIS is exploiting social media. Its just another example of how technology has made our world smaller. We now see and hear about events both around the world and here at home with an immediacy that is unprecedented. I've often thought that when it feels like th…

On patriotism and dissent

Today I ran across a speech that candidate Barack Obama gave in June 2008 on the topic of patriotism. We'll just leave alone the irony of the fact that he gave that speech in Missouri. But one of the things he talked about is that patriotism is often defined by dissent to our government/leaders.
Of course, precisely because America isn't perfect, precisely because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy. As Mark Twain, that greatest of American satirists and proud son of Missouri, once wrote, "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals, and there are many times in our history when that's occurred. But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the t…

A pragmatist's musings on ending racism

Racism is a highly-charged emotional issue in this country. Rightly so. But I find it helpful to step back from the emotions every now and then to take a rational pragmatic look at where we are and what our goals should be going forward.

In order to do that, its important to recognize the two broad categories of racism: personal and systemic. Personal racism includes both the covert messages we've all internalized as a result of living in a white supremacist culture as well as overtly racist words/actions. Personal racism is basically a white-people's problem as my friend Robinswing articulated a while ago when she said "We Can't Fix Ya!" Ending personal racism is an individual journey.

I can't speak for anyone else, but that journey for me was initiated and has been maintained by some very patient people of color in my life. I have tried my best on this blog platform to pass those lessons on to the few people who read here. White people are "my people,…

Photo of the Day: Fathers and Sons

A father talks to his son about Michael Brown

The presidency is more than a bully pulpit

There are times when I listen to President Obama's critics that I think they must assume that the only power granted to the presidency by our constitution is access to the infamous "bully pulpit." Lately its been Michael Eric Dyson who has gotten a lot of attention for criticizing the President's statements about Ferguson while totally ignoring anything the administration has actually done.

An example of this phenomenon can also be found in Paul Waldman's attempt to explain President Obama to those who are criticizing his response to Ferguson. He cites the political polarization in polling about what the President has done. But then he assumes that all he's done is talk.
The important context to keep in mind for these figures is that Obama hasn’t actually done much of anything to either be pleased or displeased about. His statements on the subject have been designed to offend no one, trying to touch every possible perspective... Nowhere in that article does …

Seeing racism

Nailed it!!!


On a more hopeful front, Josh Marshall published this comment from a reader: It's incredibly unfair that it worked out this way but I think the historical take of the biggest success of the Obama presidency will be this.

As a white, suburban, middle++ aged liberal, I saw the run up to his first election as proof of what I believed for a long time - we were in a post-racial world where the only thing that was holding individuals of color back was a willingness to do the hard work that the rest of us were doing to get ahead.

The re-surfacing of the hidden racism that had become invisible to me was (and is) worldview shattering. The breadth and depth and virulence of both institutional and individual racism is so enormous that I have a hard time coming to grips with it. I'm entirely embarrassed by my pre-Obama beliefs and am still trying to figure out what I can do to move from being part of the problem and becoming part of the solution.

While discussing Ferguson wit…

President Obama and AG Holder working together

At his press conference on Monday, President Obama recalled some of the work he did on criminal justice reform while he was a state senator.
One of the things I was most proud of when I was in the state legislature, way back when I had no gray hair and none of you could pronounce my name, was I passed legislation requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions and I passed legislation dealing with racial profiling in Illinois. That reminded me that two years ago I wrote about a whole spectrum of work on criminal justice reform then-senator Barack Obama had done during his short tenure in the state legislature. I found it documented at - of all places - the Daily Caller, where they were horrified at the extent to which President Obama had engaged in this type of reform (i.e., "he's really a blackly-black radical!"). It is rare to non-existent to see stories about this in the mainstream or liberal media.

That's why I find articles like this one, where supposed…

The new sheriff in town

The shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent events in Ferguson, MO have resulted in the media finally waking up to something I wrote about over three years ago: the Civil Rights Division of DOJ has been extremely aggressive in going after police brutality.  "I think the Civil Rights Division in this administration has been much more aggressive in pursuing police misconduct, both in criminal cases and especially the big civil 'pattern and practice' cases ... to reform police departments," said Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor who was the administration's second-ranking civil rights official from 2009 to 2011. And so, when AG Eric Holder visited Ferguson yesterday and met with community members to discuss their concerns, this was at least one of the messages he was sending to local law enforcement as they investigate the shooting of Michael Brown and respond to protesters:
"I expect that when all this cools down, you'll see the Ci…

Who are the peacekeepers?

Journalists on the ground in Ferguson last night credit the reduction in violence to the presence of community peacekeepers.
Peace Keepers guy helped calm the other guy and prevented a fight. Lots of folks trying to keep the calm #Fergusonpic.twitter.com/Xj3STUoMd3
— Amanda Terkel (@aterkel) August 20, 2014
Protestors forming line in front of police #Fergusonpic.twitter.com/YsLT0gwFfE
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 20, 2014
I remember this same thing happened in St. Paul in 2008 when local law enforcement adopted a militarized response to protesters at the Republican Convention. Community members came forward to receive training and act as mediators between the police and the protesters.

While I think that this is ultimately the answer to what is happening in Ferguson right now, it begs the question about the role of law enforcement. Shouldn't we be expecting THEM to be the peacekeepers? Isn't that what they are supposed to do? We won't get to the root of this prob…

The Obama Way...on Ferguson

Yesterday President Obama once again talked about the shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent events in Ferguson. Like clockwork, he got criticized from the right for "racializing" the situation and from the left for not being bold enough in talking about the racial dynamics. Same story, eighty-second verse.

What I find interesting is that this time around, we're seeing some journalists attempt to explain the President's measured response to his critics on the left. Ezra Klein jumped into those waters as did Christi Parsons and Kathleen Hennessy at the LA Times. Both articles make claims that President Obama has learned from "mistakes" in the past and that he has changed his approach to dealing with this issue. I suspect there there is an element of truth to that. But overall, his response seems to fit perfectly into what I have always seen as "the Obama Way."

Klein goes on at length about candidate Obama's speech on race. He sees it in high…

Context: What it means to be a black person in Ferguson, MO

My number one wish for this country is that white people across the land would fire up their "mirror neurons" and take a moment to think about what it means to be a black person living in Ferguson, MO.
The fraught relationship between African Americans, a majority in Ferguson, and the nearly all-white police force long preceded the eruption of protests.

In interview after interview, black men and women talked about their fears of random stops while driving in the city, as well as in neighboring municipalities.

Marcus White, an acquaintance of Brown who works for a moving company, said he frequently has to spend the night in his employer’s office because he can’t find anyone to drive him home to Ferguson.

“They’ll tell me, ‘I don’t go past Goodfellow,’ ” he said, referencing one of the streets near the line that separates the county of St. Louis from the city of the same name.

Many here have their own catalogue of towns that they dare not drive through. They sketch long, circ…

What Michael Brown's preliminary autopsy does/doesn't tell us

The New York Times released this graphic from the autopsy done by Dr. Michael Baden at the request of Brown's family. The local police have done their own autopsy but not released any results. Yesterday the FBI announced they will perform a 3rd independent autopsy.
What we learn from these results is:
1. Michael Brown was not shot in the back. That conflicts with at least one eye witness testimony and precludes an almost automatic conclusion of murder.
2. Its difficult to imagine the shots to the inside of the hand/arm unless Michael Brown did in fact have his hands up, as several witnesses said.
3. The shot to the top of the head raises the most questions and was described by Baden: One of the bullets entered the top of Mr. Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when it struck him and caused a fatal injury... Baden goes on to suggest that could be because he was giving up or because he was charging forward at the officer. But the latter explanation seems like a stre…

What's going on in Ferguson?

My head is a jumbled mess these days about what is going on in Ferguson, MO. That's probably a result of spending too much time following the story on twitter. You get the news first there. But its mixed in with all the emotional reaction. So I decided its time for me to analyze what I think we do/don't know.

First of all, I think its helpful to recognize that there are two separate issues to deal with. First there's the shooting of Michael Brown. Secondly, there's the police response to the protests.

An awful lot of people are assuming we know what happened in the altercation between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson. Those who have been paying attention have heard a couple of eye witness reports and a reported friend of Wilson tell his side of the story on a radio call-in show. I certainly hope that at some point we get a clear picture. But there's a lot that is disputed or unknown right now.

I suspect that its very likely that there was a verbal altercation betwe…

The power of "You Belong"

In response to the events in Ferguson, President Obama said this yesterday:
I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of our democracy. But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law; a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest; a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us; and the need for accountability when it comes to our government. The bolded phrase reminds me that for years now he has been talking about empathy and expanding our moral imagination. His focus on that is totally validated by this video about the possibilities of an empathic civilisation. Please take a few minutes…

Photo of the Day: What Works

This one goes out to law enforcement all over the country. Take a look at what works...partnership with the community!

Captain Ron Johnson marches with protesters in Ferguson, MO

What it will take to fix law enforcement

What is going on in Ferguson, MO after the killing of Michael Brown should horrify all of us. It is WAY past time that we took a long hard look at what is happening to local law enforcement. And I am very happy to hear that the Department of Justice is doing just that.

About 25 years ago I was surprised and impressed as I watched our local law enforcement embrace the concept of community policing. That whole movement developed far beyond the idea of cops walking the beat. It embraced the reality that in order for cops to do their job - they had to work in partnership with the community, not see them as a threat.

But 9/11 stopped most of that in its tracks. One high ranking officer told me that his work on crime prevention all got put on hold as the department geared up its anti-terrorism efforts. The culmination of that came into view when our local law enforcement geared up for protests at the 2008 Republican convention. It scared the shit out of me!


This is what was on display befor…

Healing the wounds

President Obama released a statement today on the death of Michael Brown.
The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time. As Attorney General Holder has indicated, the Department of Justice is investigating the situation along with local officials, and they will continue to direct resources to the case as needed. I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve. The sentence I bolded reminded me of the speech Robert Kennedy gave the day after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Please take a few minut…

Hillary Clinton's tone problem

Yesterday Al Giordano tweeted something interesting about Hillary Clinton's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg.
@tomwatson@Smartypants60 The neg react to today's HRC gaffe was as much about tone as policy. Hearing that tone again is Pavlovian.
— AlGiordano (@AlGiordano) August 11, 2014
I starting thinking..."Yeah, its her tone as much as her policies. What is it about that?"

And so this morning I went back to an article Giordano wrote way back in September 2007 in which he predicted that Barack Obama "the insurgent" was going to give Hillary Clinton "the inevitable" a run for her money (literally). He pulled quotes from both candidates in New Hampshire talking about "change."

Listen to Clinton:
'Change' is just a word without the strength and experience to make it happen. . . . I know some people think you have to choose between change and experience. Well, with me, you don't have to choose. . . . I have spent my whole life fight…

Soft, medium and hard power

One place where I agree with Hillary Clinton is on the importance of "smart power."
That’s why I use the phrase “smart power.” I did it deliberately because I thought we had to have another way of talking about American engagement, other than unilateralism and the so-called boots on the ground. The problem is, she never indicated what she means by smart power. It strikes me that President Obama has actually defined three options: soft, medium and hard power.
The President has expanded the traditional definition of soft power beyond the idea that its mostly about foreign aid. In situations where international norms/ideals have been breeched, he has worked to develop partnerships to impose sanctions on the offending country (see Iran and Russia).He has also used medium power in calling for targeted military strikes (no boots on the ground) to prevent mass killing/genocide (see Libya and Iraq) or the use of chemical weapons (Syria). Finally, he has reserved the power of full mil…

Hillary Clinton is wrong about the lessons of the Cold War (updated)

Jeffrey Goldberg has published a fascinating interview with Hillary Clinton about her views on foreign policy. Its disappointing that the headline: "Hillary Clinton: 'Failure to help Syrian Rebels led to the Rise of ISIS" is so misleading. In the actual interview, she states that she supported a policy to arm the rebels early on - in disagreement with President Obama. But when pushed to say whether or not it would have led to a different outcome, she declined (three times) to do so.
I can’t sit here today and say that if we had done what I recommended...that we’d be in a demonstrably different place. There are several places where I disagree with Clinton - such as her unequivocating support of Israel's recent actions in Gaza and her suggestion that disagreement with that position is fueled by anti-Semitism. For many liberals like me - we have a much more nuanced view of that situation. But my tendency is always to look for the big picture. It was in her recounting of…

"There's something subterranean about the way these people process things"

Eleanor Clift has written a totally superficial column suggesting what she thinks will define Barack Obama's post-presidency. I'm not going to bother responding though, because embedded in the article is this fascinating exchange.
Dallek is among a small group of historians invited to the White House on an occasional basis to meet with Obama. He recalls at one point talking to Obama about the Tea Party and its anti-government rhetoric: “I called it the politics of resentment, and he said, ‘Bob, I think you’re right, there’s something subterranean about the way these people process things’.”

“We didn’t talk about race,” Dallek told the Daily Beast, “but I took it as an expression of feeling on his part that race is part of the resentment... Ya think?


Of course, leave it to President Obama to express it so eloquently. Did he nail it, or what?!