Thursday, July 31, 2014

Busting a GOP meme

Here are three fascinating tweets I ran across yesterday.



If you were to listen to political pundits, this might come as a bit of a surprise. The conservatives have been pretty successful in pushing a meme about President Obama's falling poll numbers. Just take a look at how Bill Kristol slides that assumption into the column I talked about earlier today.
The president's approval rating is slipping to historic lows. Let it continue to slide.
That's a bald-faced lie. So lets bust that meme, shall we?

Republicans: The "Do-Nothing" Party

Speaker Boehner is once again having trouble with his own party's lunatic caucus. He'd like to pass a bill that purports to do something about the current border crisis. But he's facing some opposition stirred up by Speaker Senator Ted Cruz. We'll see how all that plays out today.

In the midst of all that chaos, Bill Kristol has been honest enough to lay out the real Republican agenda. He's applying it to the issue of immigration. But I think it pretty well summarizes what they've been up to for years now.
If the GOP does nothing... the focus will be on the president. Republican incumbents won't have problematic legislation to defend or questions to answer about what further compromises they'll make. Republican challengers won't have to defend or attack GOP legislation. Instead, the focus can be on the president...And with nothing passed in either house (assuming Senate Republicans stick together and deny Harry Reid cloture today), immigration won't dominate August — except as a problem the president is responsible for and refuses seriously to address.
So here's the play folks: if we simply do nothing, we don't have to face those difficult questions from voters and we also don't expose the deep divisions in our own party. Instead, we get to blame "that one" and pretend like everything is his fault. Works like a charm, huh?

My suggestion would be that we turn this one on its head. With yesterdays great news about the economy (GDP up 4% in the second quarter and consumer confidence at its highest level since Oct. 2007), I'm thinking that labeling Republicans the "do-nothing" party would be a smart political move. President Obama and the Democrats have worked together to get us out of recession, end two wars, provide millions with health care, tackle climate change and provide some security to thousands of undocumented immigrants...all while the Republicans do nothing. Works for me!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Chuck Todd is finally embarrassed

Oh...so I see that Chuck Todd is finally embarrassed by Washington because of all the impeachment talk. I have a few questions for Mr. Todd:
  • Were you embarrassed by the fact that our first African American President was required to produce a birth certificate?
  • Were you embarrassed when Rep. Joe Wilson shouted "You lie" to President Obama during a SOTU speech?
  • Were you embarrassed when the Republicans decided that 60 votes were required to pass ANYTHING in the Senate?
  • Were you embarrassed when a Vice Presidential candidate claimed that Barack Obama "palled around with terrorists?"
  • Were you embarrassed when Republicans made up the lie about death panels in Obamacare?
  • Were you embarrassed when the Republicans held the global economy hostage over raising the debt ceiling?
  • Were you embarrassed when the Republicans shut the government down in an attempt to repeal Obamacare?
  • Were you embarrassed when Republicans politicized the death of 4 Americans in Benghazi?
  • Were you embarrassed when Republicans called President Obama an unconstitutional tyrant?
If none of those things embarrassed you as an American who happens to be a political journalist, then you're an idiot! Chuck Todd - you are an embarrassment to your profession.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"I'm the guy doing his job"

A few months ago President Obama gave Speaker Boehner an option: either pass immigration reform before the August recess, or he would take executive action. I think Boehner was listening to the Chamber of Commerce and actually wanted to pass something. But the teapublicans stopped that from happening.

And so today we're hearing reports about what kind of executive action the President will take. The only question remaining is "how far will he go?" I think Greg Sargent found the sweet spot:
I tend to doubt that Obama’s move will be as ambitious as even some of the reports are indicating. But in the end, I hope the administration makes its decision based solely on what it genuinely determines is legally, rather than politically, possible. 
As Sargent points out, the legal options have actually been provided to President Obama by Congress.
What Obama has done so far on immigration and what he’s likely to do in the future can be justified on the theory of prosecutorial discretion, the long-standing executive branch power to decide in which cases the law should be enforced, [University of California professor Hiroshi] Motomura said.

“We have a system that runs on discretion. There are 11 million people in the country who in theory are not supposed to be here. Congress has funded the capability to deport maybe half a million people a year,” the professor said.
Its a given that the administration has to use discretion in its deportation policy priorities since full implementation of the law (deporting all 11 million) has never been funded. The only question remaining is how that discretion is exercised. It is up to the chief executive to make that call.

When the President announces his executive action and Republicans start screaming about what a tyrant he is, lets remind them that they are the ones who gave him this authority.

This has always been the bugaboo in the Republican position on immigration reform. They can't come out and say that they want to deport 11 million people...its just not feasible. If you remember, that's why Romney came up with his ridiculous notion of "self deportation" during the 2012 Republican primary debates and Newt Gingrich got in such hot water with the base for suggesting deportation wasn't a good idea.
"I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter of a century," said Gingrich.
Of course talk like that has the Laura Ingraham's of the party crying "amnesty!!!!"

The Republicans are gridlocked because they can't agree on what to do to resolve this most basic problem. In the meantime, President Obama will use the authority given to him by Congress to craft a policy that begins to address it. In other words...


Monday, July 28, 2014

Is the world really exploding?

You don't even need to read the article. Michael Tomasky's column today is titled: Is it just me or is the world exploding? So why isn't Obama doing more? I'm going to pick on Tomasky. But he's hardly the only one. The Very Serious People in the media have created a reality out of world events that they want us to ponder. What Tomasky did was pretty much summarize it all in a headline.

But I'm not buying it and here's why:

First of all, lets consider whether or not the world is really exploding. Its true that several "hot spots" have developed in the Middle East. I'm not going to minimize the seriousness of what is going on in Israel/Gaza, Syria or Iraq. I'd simply point out that, for some reason, the U.S. seems to get fixated on what happens in that region of the world. We tend to pay precious little attention when the same kinds of things happen all over Africa, for example. And we certainly don't have columnists who declare that the "world is exploding" when those hot spots flare up. Why do you suppose that is?

If we were to pay attention to the whole globe, I'd suggest there is a framework for understanding what's going on. For decades the places that are inhabited by black and brown people were the playground of colonizers. About the time that was coming to an end, the Cold War heated up and they became pawns in our proxy battles with Russia/China.

Once the United States "won the Cold War," the neocons vision of a new world order was Pax Americana (think: Pax Romana for the origins) as outlined by the Project for the New American Century. Their goals were three-fold:
  1. Total U.S. military dominance
  2. Pre-emptive war against any challengers
  3. U.S. control of the world's oil supply
These are the folks who were advocating for "regime change" in Iraq all the way back to the Clinton administration. The 9/11 attacks simply provided them with an excuse. But it was also their un-doing. The fiasco of our occupation of Iraq dealt a serious blow to the neocons and PNAC was disbanded in 2006. 

I would suggest that when the media reduces our understanding of global concerns to either the activities of Russia and/or what is happening in the Middle East, they are playing right into the hands of the script laid out for us by the neocons. It doesn't surprise me when this kind of tunnel vision comes from Bill Kristol (PNAC founder). Someone like Michael Tomasky should know better.

Secondly, this approach to foreign affairs has the added benefit for the neocons of framing the conversation in such a way that Tomasky asks, "So why isn't Obama doing more?" We've been hearing that one for a while now, haven't we? But the truth is that the real critique comes in simply asking the question. It implies that the President isn't doing enough. As Bill Maher so powerfully demonstrates though, the answer to the question about what he SHOULD be doing is always a vacuous reference to "leadership." Tomasky's two big suggestions come down to (1) more positive rhetoric about the Syrian rebels and (2) more pro-democracy foreign aid. Pretty damn weak tea if you ask me. 

What we need from our media is for more of them to go back to first-principles and begin to examine the question of the role of the United States in global affairs. President Obama carefully laid out his own vision in his speech last May at West Point. The reason so many in the media have avoided applying that vision to his actions is that they remain wedded to the idea of Pax Americana - the idea that the United States can/should control world affairs via dominance and that any president who fails to do so is not doing enough. 

As countries in Africa, South/Central America, the Middle East, and Asia emerge from the effects of both colonialism and the Cold War, a certain amount of chaos is inevitable. I believe that President Obama has articulated his North Star when it comes to responding to that chaos:
  1. The people of those countries have the right to determine their own destiny
  2. Global norms and ideals must be followed and enforced
  3. We must face our challenges via partnership
That's an American foreign policy for the 21st century.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Racism is a white people problem

I've always found it interesting that most anti-racism initiatives tend to be about helping people of color overcome the effects of racism. I have no problem with that. But the truth is - if we're ever really going to end racism, its white people that need to change.

That's why one of my favorite authors is Jonathan Odell. He is a white gay man who was raised in Mississippi. As if that wasn't enough of a challenge, he's also a recovering alcoholic. And so he makes a rather interesting comparison.
I am a Mississippian as well as my family’s most notorious drunk. But six years into sobriety, I discovered that alcohol wasn’t my only addiction. Even more insidious was my soul-crippling dependence upon whiteness. I couldn't get through the day without seven or eight stiff shots of feeling superior. That began to change when I decided to write novels about Mississippi. I knew very little outside the white-bubble in which I was raised, and therefore was blind to the story of nearly half the population. Only after interviewing hundreds of black Mississippians, listening to their stories, did I begin to fathom the immensity of the lie behind my superiority and the real cost of my addiction.
But he says that recovery is possible. To get us thinking in that direction, Jonathan shared his first 5 steps (your mileage may vary):
1) I came to believe that I am powerless over my racism. I’ll always be a racist, and might as well stop pretending otherwise. Voting Democrat or watching Oprah won’t cure me. It goes too deep.

2) I came to accept that racism was a gift of love. No evil person made me a racist. Racism was given to me by those whom I love the most, because they wanted me to feel special. Nor am I evil because I accepted the gift. But today I will be responsible.

3) I admitted that it feels good. I enjoy the privileges of whiteness. As soon as I stop pretending otherwise, then I can begin spreading it around.

4) I seek out other recovering whites and listen to their stories. It’s important to find a way out of the right-wing noise machine. Stop listening to those who try to incite the anger and fear that drives my craving.

5) I continually share my story. Not about how I used to be a racist, but how I still struggle with racism, day by day.
Just imagine for a moment how everything would change if white people were to finally accept #1. No more "how DARE you call me a racist!!" We could actually get on with a conversation about how/when we do/say things that are racist.

Some of those steps might come as a surprise to people of color. For example #2. But its helpful to remember that many of those who taught us to be racist weren't consumed by hatred. As a matter of fact, they often had a "good heart." That's what made it appealing. Our job now is to face the fact that our "specialness" is predicated on silencing its impact on others. The best example of that is the racist lie the Duck Dynasty guy tells himself about the "happy Negros" he knew in Jim Crow Louisiana. Overcoming that lie is precisely why Jonathan's novels are so important for his recovery. A good way to advance your own would be to read The View from Delphi and The Healing.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

President Obama's search for his North Star


I read Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father just after his speech to the 2004 Democratic Convention. At the time a lot of people were suggesting that he could be the country's first African American president. But not many folks thought that would happen in four short years - I certainly didn't.

What seemed important to me about the book at the time was that it was one young Black man's search to find his own identity. While Obama's journey was unique in its particulars, it is a road that most of us have to traverse at some point if we are interested in something more than simply following the herd.

I specifically remember how Obama described his teenage years and his attempts to "try on" various identities to see if they fit. At one point he considered Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. But that was before Malcolm's hajj experience when he was still preaching a rejection of the white race. The young Barack considered what that path meant for his relationship with his white mother and grandparents - not to mention the white half of himself - and rejected it.

I say all of this because not many of us go through such a systematic and conscious journey to find ourselves - especially beginning at such a young age. But I believe that journey is why our 44th President is able to maintain his integrity in a political world that often demands it be abandoned. He eventually found his own North Star and demonstrates a relentless ability to keep that in focus through headwinds that knock an awful lot of other people off course.

And so it was fascinating hearing the President respond to questions at the My Brother's Keeper town hall meeting this week. One young man (in the green shirt and bow tie above) asked him how he copes with other people's judgement of him.
But I do think that as you get older part of what you have to determine is what’s important to you -- who are you, how do you want to live, what are the principles that you abide by, what are the kind of fixed foundations, what’s the North Star that steers you -- so that when things happen that aren't always according to plan, and when you have tough times and when you are struggling, what is it that's going to keep you going and keep your bearings.

And I think through trial and error and mistakes and self-reflection, over time I've sort of figured out who I am and what’s important to me and what I care about. And I try to stay focused on that. And that can come about in a lot of different ways. Some people come at it through their faith and God centers them. And some people come at it through their work and they determine, this is what I think is important in terms of my work. There are different paths to it, but at some point, to be a man or a woman, to be an adult, to be a full-grown person, you have to move beyond just what other people think and you have to make a determination about what do you believe in.

Not just what’s your opinion are any given day -- because folks have opinions about everything, and I change my mind about issues. There are times where I think one way, and then I get more evidence, new information comes in, and I say, oh, maybe I wasn’t right about that, let me rethink this. So there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind. But that's different from losing your sense of who you are and what’s important, or just changing your mind because it's easier or expedient.

And what I try to do is be open-minded to new facts but stay pretty fixed in terms of what I think is important. I think, for example, it is really -- this sounds corny, but I think it's really important to treat other people with kindness. So that's a basic principle that I've got. Now, I've got to translate that sometimes in very abstract ways. All right, well, what does that mean if you’ve got suffering children halfway across the world -- what are my responsibilities to them and how does that translate into policy?

And sometimes I've got tough choices because, on the one hand, I may want to help those children; on the other hand, I've got a bunch of young people I need to help here. And if I want to help those children I may need to, then, deal with bad people who are hurting those kids, but that may involve the United States in the kind of conflicts that ultimately hurt some of our young men and women who I might have to send there. So there are complexities to it. It’s hard. But I don’t lose track of the fact that I think treating somebody with kindness, that’s a core value of mine.
Frankly, that interchange kind of blows my mind. Can you think of a time a POTUS talked this deeply, candidly and authentically about - not only his own personal experience - but what it means to  mature into adulthood (a place an awful lot of adults never reach)? The fact that President Obama could do this unscripted means its a process he has reflected on quite a bit.

Agree or disagree with the man. He's the real deal.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Field Full of Roses


If I had another life
I would want to spend it all on some
unstinting happiness.

I would be a fox, or a tree
full of waving branches.
I wouldn't mind being a rose
in a field full of roses.

Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.
Reason they have not yet thought of.
Niether do they ask how long they must be roses, and then what.
Or any other foolish question.

Mary Oliver

The Great American Freak-Out

Ever since the BP gulf oil spill we've needed a name for how we tend to respond to immediate crises in this country. I'll nominate "The Great American Freak-Out" for the honor. But if you have a better idea, I'd love to hear it.

The general pattern goes something like this:
  1. The media airwaves are saturated with stories about the crisis.
  2. Conservatives scramble to find a way to cast it all as Obama's fault.
  3. Liberals wring their hands over the President's lack of decisive action.
  4. Pundits pontificate about whether or not this is "Obama's Katrina" and are convinced that this will be the one thing that dooms Obama/Democrats in the next election.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration keeps plugging away at analyzing the problem and working on ways to resolve it. But in the end no one notices what they've actually done because by then everyone's bored with it all and has moved on to the next Great American Freak-Out.

The Republicans have exploited this tendency in the media ever since the 2010 summer of "death panels" by creating hostage-taking and government shut-down crises. But when the media doesn't have a real crisis, they can do one of two things:
  1. Create their own - "the government is listening every phone call you make and reading every email you send," or
  2. Rely on those that the right wing conspiracists are always generating - Benghazi!, IRS, VA.
The impression this leaves low information voters is that the President has failed to address the crisis because they never hear the end of the story. This isn't just the media's fault. They feed the cycle, but we participate by chasing after every hysteria and getting bored with the nitty gritty of actual solutions. For example, congratulations to you if you are up to date on what is being done to resolve the backlog at the VA. I'm pretty sure they're not talking about that any more on CNN's Crossfire.
Years ago then-Senator Barack Obama acknowledged this problem. He didn't have a simple solution though.
The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives' job. After all, it's easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it's harder to craft a foreign policy that's tough and smart. It's easy to dismantle government safety nets; it's harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It's easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it's harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that's our job. And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.
In other words, he suggested that we NOT join the freak-out. This is one of those places where he displays an almost unfathomable faith and trust in the American people. Because he thinks we are capable of this:
Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will.
That's the kind of thing that makes partisans "suck their teeth" (as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it) and the Very Serious People call the President "naive." My response to all of them would be to ask "What's the alternative?" A cynical selfish electorate addicted to freak-outs?

Even after all these years of being obstructed and maligned, President Obama still believes we're better than that. Here's what he said in Austin, TX a couple of weeks ago.
There are plenty of people who count on you getting cynical and count on you not getting involved so that you don’t vote, so you give up. And you can’t give into that. America is making progress, despite what the cynics say...

Cynicism is popular these days. It’s what passes off as wisdom. But cynics didn’t put a man on the moon. Cynics never won a war. Cynics didn’t cure a disease, or start a business, or feed a young mind. Cynicism didn’t bring about the right for women to vote, or the right for African Americans to be full citizens. Cynicism is a choice.

Hope is a better choice.
So I'll keep plugging away here in my little corner of the internet in the hope that people will forgo the freak-out and be interested in a conversation that "can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Best read of the day

Here's my favorite: Number 5
No one trash-talks like a New Yorker. And so it’s no surprise that Holder found it preposterous that anyone would suggest that a guy from Hawaii, President Barack Obama, was better at basketball than a baller like himself, from the mean streets of Queens, N.Y.

“He’s from Hawaii. I’m from New York. You figure out who has the better game.”

The good news about Obamacare you might have missed (updated)

While almost everyone is focusing on the recent Halbig decision by a federal court, you might have missed some good news that was just announced about Obamacare. As background, I've been paying a lot of attention to what I think is one of the most important insurance reforms included in the legislation - the medical loss ratios. They require insurance companies to spend 85% (80% for those in the small group market) of premiums on healthcare. If they spend more than 15-20% on administration/profit, they are required to pay it back in a rebate to their customers.

The Department of Health and Human Services just announced that those rebate checks will be in the mail shortly.
U.S. health insurers will send out about $330 million in rebates to employers and individuals this summer under President Barack Obama's healthcare law, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday...

The rebates will go to about 6.8 million people and have a value of about $80 per family. They are to be sent by Aug. 1 either directly to consumers or to the employer providing the health coverage, who is required to pass the savings onto employees, the agency said in a report.
But perhaps even more important is the impact this provision has had on premiums overall.
If insurance companies had maintained the 2011 ratio of premiums relative to the cost of medical care, consumers would have spent $3.8 billion more in additional premiums in 2013, the health agency said.
In other words, in 2013 Obamacare saved us all $3.8 billion in premiums via the medical loss ratios. That, my friends, is a BFD!!!

UPDATE: The White House just released this image showing the total savings from 2011-2013.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Some food for thought

In some ways, Rep. Steve King is right

Apparently Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) went on a racist tirade against President Obama recently.
“His vision of America isn’t like our vision of America. That we know,” King said about Obama at an immigration rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, according to Buzzfeed.
It was racist in that he went on to say that President Obama's experience was not "an American experience." But the truth is, he was right in saying that his own "vision of America" is different from Obama's.

As a white person, I can only speak for myself is saying that my experience of America never included:
  • having my qualifications for a job questioned until I proved my citizenship
  • being racially profiled
  • an assumption that I got into college only because of affirmative action
  • being called "gangsta" if I got angry
  • having to carry my papers with me in case of a traffic stop
  • regularly being followed by security in stores
  • threatened with my life if my music was too loud in my car
  • an assumption that I was a threat because I wore a hoodie
  • a demand that I prove I'm in my own home and subsequent arrest for disorderly conduct when I resisted
  • getting pulled over by police for "driving while black"
  • being stopped and frisked for no reason
I could go on. But perhaps you've gotten the point by now. Those are the kinds of things that are happening to brown/black people in this country. President Obama's vision of America is one where the idea that "all men (and women) are created equal" applies to everyone and those kinds of things don't happen anymore. In that way, his vision of America is very different that Rep. King's - who seems to have no problem with the status quo.

I say all this because it goes to the heart of the challenge we are facing as a country today...who's vision of America will prevail? Does our vision include the experiences of everyone - or only those of white people? The truth is - I don't know what its like to be a person of color in this country because I haven't experienced it. In order to craft a vision that includes everyone, I need to listen to those who have a different experience. That is the only way we'll ever "form a more perfect union."  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Four Simple Questions

In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions:
  1. When did you stop dancing?
  2. When did you stop singing?
  3. When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
  4. When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?
Let's see...it seems I've heard something similar from a great man. Where was that? Oh yeah, here:

"It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world...and at peace with myself."
Nelson Mandela

The most unrecognized element of President Obama's legacy

When people consider President Obama's legacy, most often they'll talk about health care reform or saving us from another great depression. But rarely do people cite what BooMan talked about.
I have a theory that when the Republican Party finally collapses as a national party it will happen suddenly and without much warning. It could happen as early as this November, although I am not ready to make that prediction just yet...

But the game is nonetheless up. The best movement conservatism can hope for at this point is a flash in the pan confluence of bad news timed at just the right moment to give them the unlikeliest of national victories. This country has totally moved on from their ideology.
Actually, the country moved on from their economic and foreign policy ideology after the disaster of the Bush/Cheney administration. On cultural issues, it was just a matter of time.

But it didn't have to be this way. From the beginning, President Obama reached out to Republicans to work with him on developing bipartisan responses to the challenges we faced as a country. David Frum lamented the fact that Republicans could have taken another path on health care reform.
At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994...

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big...Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views?
As I've written so often, in response to this kind of obstruction, President Obama implemented conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy. In other words, his outstretched hand demonstrated the intransigence on the Republican side of the isle and left them with no choice but to embrace increasingly marginalized positions in order to justify their obstruction.

Just as Frum speculated on a different course for Republicans, imagine with me for a moment what would have transpired if President Obama had taken the advice of many on the left and decided to fight fire with fire. What if, for example, he had responded to their obstruction by insisting on single payer for health care reform or refused to include tax cuts in the stimulus bill? Don't even THINK about suggesting Republicans would have budged on either of those if he had insisted. Neither side would have prevailed and the resulting chaos would have been a Republican dream come true.

In the end, the Republicans chose their own path of obstruction and increasing marginalization. President Obama's response ensured that would mean their demise...not his. It might take years for us to see the full result of those decisions. But when it all unfolds, it will be one of the most important ingredients of this President's legacy.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Photo of the Day: What the world needs now...


Will Bunch writes that "What the world needs now is more like this guy...James Garner." He goes on to quote this from a 2011 interview with Garner.
Garner is what he calls a "bleeding-heart liberal," having participated in the 1963 civil rights March on Washington and later advocating for a number of progressive causes. He voted for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, he writes, but never cast a ballot for a Republican again. He voted for Adlai Stevenson in 1956, and calls him "the most intelligent presidential candidate we've ever had. I think Obama runs a close second."
And then Bunch adds his own commentary about current events.
Yes, the world needs some replacements for James Garner, and it also needs, in the words of the song, some love, sweet, love. One reason I posted this photo tonight is that it struck me as the antidote to the last week -- to the brute force and continuing stupidity in eastern Ukraine, to the non-stop killing in Gaza, to the haters blockading buses of refugee kids fleeing from violence, to the senseless police brutality that took place this week on a Staten Island street corner. It's hard to deal sometimes. For just a minute or two, I'd rather think of these two holding hands in the maelstrom, 51 years ago this summer.
Ditto a thousand times!!!!!

Hat tip to my friend Alan who somehow knew I needed this today.

I'm going to let the kids of PS22 finish things out for me.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Building a moral fusion movement

I know a lot of you will think that you don't have an hour to listen to Rev. William Barber's speech at Netroots Nation. The media ignored it because he's not likely to be a presidential candidate in 2016. But if you want to be inspired to build a fusion movement that takes our political discussion above the snake line to the moral high ground, I suggest you find the time. Lordy...this man is just what our spirits need these days!

How my grandmother learned to be racist

My maternal grandmother was raised in Kentucky. She was a church-going woman with basically a good heart. And yet as a child, I remember her saying things like, "When a chigger becomes a chigero, a n*gger will become a negro." How does one reconcile that?

Peter Smagorinsky provided some insight that helps answer that question. He recently ran across a 1906 elementary school textbook titled Frye's First Steps in Geography that contained things like a chapter explaining the world's five racial groups. Included was a picture of the "ideal head."

Smagornisky goes on to summarize:
According to this textbook, the white race is the most advanced in the world. Most other races, schoolchildren were taught, tended to have a “savage” character, living in remote areas without industry and Western-style education.
This is the kind of thing my "good-hearted" grandmother would have learned when she was in elementary school.

I grew up pretty blind to how all of this affected me until a few years ago when I watched the series Race: The Power of an Illusion. The film documents that, beginning during the years of slavery in this country, many of our most renowned scientists (i.e., Samuel Morton) devoted themselves to proving that dark-skinned people were inferior. It was a classic case of science being used to bolster ideology. When a country incorporates slavery based on race and its founding documents state categorically that "all men are created equal," it becomes necessary to find a scientific basis to exclude black (and brown) people from that "all."

And so for well over 100 years, children in this country were taught scientific racism. Its more recent manifestation can been seen in Charles Murray's The Bell Curve, which posits that African Americans have lower intelligence than white people.

Of course we now know that there is no science to the construct of race. That's why the documentary calls it an "illusion." But that doesn't change the fact that these notions have been embedded in both our institutions and our psyches. To finally rid ourselves of them requires introspection and examination. For people who haven't begun that journey, images like this one ignite all kinds of unconscious triggers that have been passed on for generations.


Friday, July 18, 2014

The real deal

I remember a scene on West Wing where Josh Lymon tracks down Sam Seaborn, who is working at a law practice, to discuss whether or not they want to get back into politics. Josh is thinking about going to work for Jed Bartlet's presidential campaign. He tells Sam that he's going to check Bartlet out and will get back to him. After doing so, Josh calls Sam to tell him this guy is "the real deal."

I've looked for a clip of that scene on youtube and can't find it. So I'm going from memory. But it stood out to me because that's how I feel like I've spent most of my time following politics...looking for the real deal. One of the reasons I've followed President Obama so closely is that I finally felt like I found just that.

The real deal doesn't come along very often in politics. But I had that same reaction today when I watched this video of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick talk about his plans to work with the federal government to provide shelter for the unaccompanied children who have come here from Central America. You can skip to about 4:45 on the video to see the pertinent portion.


Patrick offered two reasons for his decision. One is the U.S. tradition of helping children from other nations in need. The other, Patrick explained, is deeply personal.

"I believe that we will one day have to answer for our actions and our inactions. My faith teaches that 'if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him,' but rather 'love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,'" Patrick said , quoting scripture, as he grew visibly emotional.
Yep, that's the real deal!

What Republicans need to learn from Putin

I have always maintained that Republicans faced a crossroads in 2008. Bush/Cheney policies - both foreign and domestic - had proven to be a disaster. Their choice was to either go back to the drawing board and think things through or double down and cling to a failed agenda.

Of course they chose the latter...with a twist. They decided to play the power game of obstruction to anything President Obama proposed. This meant that as he offered an outstretched hand to them, they painted themselves into an ever more extremist corner and fanned the flames of hysteria amongst their base. And so we found ourselves dealing with everything from birth certificates to death panels to accusations of his socialist agenda and - most recently - the idea that the president is a tyrant.

Occasionally this hysteria has bubbled into potentially explosive confrontations (i.e., Bundy ranch). But mostly its been limited to rhetoric - like the talk about "second amendment remedies." Nevertheless, by refusing to compromise and actually govern, the Republicans have been playing a dangerous game that feeds on fear and hate.

Today when I read David Remnick's take on what Putin has been doing in Russia and Ukraine, I couldn't help but notice the parallels.
What’s far more certain is that Vladimir Putin, acting out of resentment and fury toward the West and the leaders in Kiev, has fanned a kind of prolonged political frenzy, both in Russia and among his confederates in Ukraine, that serves his immediate political needs but that he can no longer easily calibrate and control. Putin’s defiant annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of eastern Ukraine inflated his popularity at home. Despite a flaccid economy, his approval rating approaches levels rarely seen beyond North Korea. But the tactically clever and deeply cynical maneuvers of propaganda and military improvisation that have taken him this far, one of his former advisers told me in Moscow earlier this month, are bound to risk unanticipated disasters...

Since returning to the Presidency, Pavlovsky said, Putin has “created an artificial situation in which a ‘pathological minority’—the protesters on Bolotnaya Square [two years ago], then Pussy Riot, then the liberal ‘pedophiles’—is held up in contrast to a ‘healthy majority.’ Every time this happens, his ratings go up.” The nightly television broadcasts from Ukraine, so full of wild exaggeration about Ukrainian “fascists” and mass carnage, are a Kremlin-produced “spectacle,” he said, expertly crafted by the heads of the main state networks.

“Now this has become a problem for Putin, because this system cannot be wholly managed,” Pavlovsky said. The news programs have “overheated” public opinion and the collective political imagination.
Remnick discusses the likelihood that it was "messianic nationalists" inflamed by this political frenzy who are responsible for shooting down the Malaysian passenger plane yesterday over Ukraine. I see that today Putin is trying to tamp things down by calling for a ceasefire and negotiations in Eastern Ukraine. I certainly hope he can put this genie back in the bottle. We'll see.

But Republicans could learn a lesson from all this. Their leaders need to stand up and calm down the escalating rhetoric they've been fueling before someone gets hurt.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What we've learned from the Snowden revelations: The difference between abuse and the potential for abuse

Much of the heat produced by the Snowden revelations has started to calm down. I thought it might be a good time to take a look at the big picture and see what we've learned.

We've learned a lot about the methods/programs NSA uses to collect information: metadata, PRISM, XKeyscore, etc. Its true that all of them provide fertile ground for the potential of abuse by the government. What we haven't learned about are any actual examples of abuse.

Its true that last August Bart Gellman reported that an internal NSA audit found that there were "thousands of 'incidents' or violations of the rules or court orders" under which the agency operates. But there is a significant difference between operator/typographical/computer errors and abuse. That report contained nothing to document the latter.

Recently Glenn Greenwald attempted to demonstrate abuse by reporting on five Muslim leaders the FBI and NSA spied on. But he failed to provide two pieces of important data that might have indicated there is an actual problem with abuse. First of all, he doesn't know whether or not the court approved warrants for this surveillance and if so, why.
Given that the government’s justifications for subjecting Gill and the other U.S. citizens to surveillance remain classified, it is impossible to know why their emails were monitored, or the extent of the surveillance. It is also unclear under what legal authority it was conducted, whether the men were formally targeted under FISA warrants, and what, if anything, authorities found that permitted them to continue spying on the men for prolonged periods of time.
I almost laughed out loud when I read that first sentence. Here is Greenwald reporting on millions (?) of documents Snowden stole that were formerly classified. And yet he claims that he can't report on the reasons these men were surveilled because that information is classified. IOW, Snowden didn't manage to steal any documents that would tell us why.

Secondly, the spreadsheet Greenwald uses to demonstrate this surveillance indicates that it was terminated for two of the individuals in 2008 and extended for 3 of them about the same time. After that...nothing. So the surveillance he reported on occurred prior to that time (under the Bush administration) and he provided zero evidence that it continued beyond that date. I'll simply note that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended by Congress in July 2008. Whether or not this is why the spreadsheet contains no further information, we don't know. What we can be sure of is that if Snowden's documents contained proof that this surveillance had continued into the Obama administration, Greenwald would certainly have reported that.

In the end I'd suggest that what hasn't been reported is probably more important than what has been. We've just witnessed the biggest breach of national security secrets in our country's history. And after over a year of reporting, we have not seen one case of abuse documented. That's a pretty BFD.

So it is appropriate to question whether or not we are comfortable with the potential for abuse that these NSA programs make possible for future administrations. But other than the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping that was reported by the NYT in 2005 (and ended in 2007), the Snowden documents have provided zero evidence of illegal surveillance or abuse.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pundits join Putin in 19th century thinking

An awful lot of pundits these days seem just as stuck in the 19th century as Vladimir Putin. For example, check out this jaw-dropping commentary on the Israel/Palestinian situation from Cokie Roberts on ABC's This Week:
It's a real absence of the American leadership in the region...We haven't made a strong enough presence in that region to have people be afraid of this country. So I think there's a sense that they can get away with anything they want to get away with. So much criticism of President Obama for not going in, conducting the air strikes against Syria.
Its almost hard to know where to begin. In the end, her point seems to be that if President Obama had bombed Syria he could have prevented the current escalation of the situation in Israel/Gaza. And that's - of course - because there aren't enough people in the Middle East who are afraid of us. So lets go bomb some more brown people over there because they're sure not going to get mad about that and fight back. What they'll do instead is be afraid and quit all that shooting/bombing each other.

You have to wonder if folks like Roberts actually think about stuff like this before they say it. But the patriarchal myth of dominance runs deep in folks like her. They seem quite capable of ignoring all of post-WWII history. After all, its not like military dominance was actually effective in Iran, or Korea, or Vietnam, or Chile, or Iraq. No matter how hard we've tried, it seems that we can't get the rest of the world to cower if fear and do what we want them to. They just keep fighting back. Imagine that.

If Ms. Roberts were to actually have studied recent history, she might have seen that our military adventurism in Iraq demonstrated the folly of her 19th century assumptions. Speaking of "the experiment in American unilateralism that has failed with the collapse of the adventurist campaign in Iraq," Michael Weinstein rather presciently wrote the following back in 2004:
Whoever occupies the Oval Office after the November 2004 election will have to try to recoup the power that the United States lost during its rendezvous with neo-conservative fantasy. That can only be done - if at all - through an attempt to reconstitute a multilateral consensus on globalization in which the United States is primus inter pares*, guaranteeing the security of world capitalism militarily, but not using its military power to impose its policies on its allies and independent limited collaborators without genuine negotiation and compromise...The Iraq adventure has demonstrated that unilateralism alienates allies and collaborators, resulting in the loss of American credibility and clout. Multilateralism [ie, partnership] remains the path that leads to the maximization of American power in the world.
* First among equals

Unfortunately it took us until 2008 to find a president who understands this. As he said in 2009:
For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.
President Obama isn't interested in making the people of the Middle East fear us. Nor does he assume they need to do what we tell them to do. What he is interested in is protecting our own national security interests and holding other governments accountable to global norms/agreements/ideals. Beyond that, "our problems must be death with through partnership."

If Ms. Roberts is interested in seeing what real American leadership looks like, I suggest she read this story about how one phone call from President Obama followed up by staff on the ground calmed a potential civil war in Afghanistan last week. While she wants to rely on fear, the President promoted patience and calm. The result?
After weeks of intense bad feelings between their camps, Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani embraced in the living room after striking the deal. They would do the same thing a short while later, at the end of news conference to announce their agreement to the Afghan people.
The presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah, right, and Ashraf Ghani, after a pact was announced, as John Kerry looked on.

More of this, please.

Just sayin'...


Monday, July 14, 2014

Its time to leave home

In 1981 Bernice Johnson Reagon gave a speech that I believe was prophetic titled: Coalition Politics: Turning the Century. She begins by summarizing the impact technology has had on our social constructs:
We’ve pretty much come to the end of a time when you can have a space that is “yours only”—just for the people you want to be there...To a large extent it’s because we have just finished with that kind of isolating. There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. It’s over. Give it up.
David Simon captured how the re-election of Barack Obama sealed this change when he talked about the death of normal.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying...
What makes Reagon's words so prophetic is that she talked about what our reaction would likely be to this reality. She warned that it would lead us to create spaces she called "home."
Now every once in awhile there is a need for people to try to clean out corners and bar the doors and check everybody who comes in the door, and check what they carry in and say, “Humph, inside this place the only thing we are going to deal with is X or Y or Z.” And so only the X’s or Y’s or Z’s get to come in...

But that space while it lasts should be a nurturing space where you sift out what people are saying about you and decide who you really are. And you take the time to try to construct within yourself and within your community who you would be if you were running society. In fact, in that little barred room where you check everybody at the door, you act out community. You pretend that your room is a world.
She said that there are dangers associated with pretending "that your room is a world."
I mean it’s nurturing, but it is also nationalism. At a certain stage nationalism is crucial to a people if you are going to ever impact as a group in your own interest. Nationalism at another point becomes reactionary because it is totally inadequate for surviving in the world with many peoples.
For Reagon, the alternative is coalitions.
Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort. Some people will come to a coalition and they rate the success of the coalition on whether or not they feel good when they get there. They’re not looking for a coalition; they’re looking for a home! They’re looking for a bottle with some milk in it and a nipple, which does not happen in a coalition. You don’t get a lot of food in a coalition. You don’t get fed a lot in a coalition. In a coalition you have to give, and it is different from your home. You can’t stay there all the time. You go to the coalition for a few hours and then you go back and take your bottle wherever it is, and then you go back and coalesce some more.

It is very important not to confuse them—home and coalition.
She says that forming coalitions is a matter of life and death.
It must become necessary for all of us to feel that this is our world...And watch that “ours’ make it as big as you can—it ain’t got nothing to do with that barred room. The “our” must include everybody you have to include in order for you to survive. You must be sure you understand that you ain’t gonna be able to have an “our” that don’t include Bernice Johnson Reagon, cause I don’t plan to go nowhere! That’s why we have to have coalitions. Cause I ain’t gonna let you live unless you let me live. Now there’s danger in that, but there’s also the possibility that we can both live—if you can stand it.
The polarization we're currently seeing in our politics is a direct result of people looking for a home and being fearful of a coalition. Too many of us are simply seeking out the comfort of those who are like us and/or agree with us. As a weigh station to nurture ourselves, there is value in that. But in the end, we have to leave home and face the world as it really is.

I believe that this is why President Obama is a leader for our times. Remember what he wrote in The Audacity of Hope way back in 2006?
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.
Wow! Its hard for us to imagine an "ours" that is big enough to include George Bush. But that's exactly why Reagon said this kind of work is dangerous and uncomfortable. It doesn't mean we have to agree with Bush, but it does mean that the "our" has to include his perspective.

This is exactly the message the President gave to the young graduates of Morehouse.
As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share...

So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern -- to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Everybody. Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world. To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table...
It's what he was talking about with Will and Jada Smith when he discussed what it means to expand our moral imagination. And its what he was talking about in Cairo back in 2009.
For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.
President Obama's rhetoric about this is often uplifting and visionary. That is as it should be. But Reagon got down to the nitty gritty in her speech about what this actually means for all of us.
The reason we are stumbling is that we are at the point where in order to take the next step we’ve got to do it with some folk we don’t care too much about. And we got to vomit over that for a little while. We must just keep going.
In other words, its time to leave home, vomit for a little while about that, and get busy dealing with the world as it is rather than as we want it to be.  In the end, its about survival..."Cause I ain’t gonna let you live unless you let me live. Now there’s danger in that, but there’s also the possibility that we can both live—if you can stand it."

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Photo of the Day: What's on this young man's mind?

Photo by Ayman Mohyeldin - July 12 | Beit Lahia, Gaza. A young Palestinian boy sits on a grave at the local cemetery staring at the skyline. Off in the distance is a plume of black smoke rising from an Israeli strike. On Saturday, in this one cemetery, local residents buried five bodies. All of those killed were from the same neighborhood killed in Israeli airstrikes overnight.

This photo has been on my mind since I saw it this morning. I just can't shake the feeling that whatever it is that this young man is thinking about what he's seeing/experiencing could be predictive of the future. Is he contemplating revenge? Is he thinking "this shit has GOT to stop!" 

Yesterday I heard a report on NPR that the median age in Gaza is 18 (compared to 37 for the US). The future of the Middle East will be decided by whatever it is young men like this decide to do about what is happening in their home.

Why President Obama isn't doing a photo-op

I have to say that I'm disgusted when a supposed liberal pundit writes crap like this:
Still, this is the kind of situation where the people who voted for Obama want him to do...something. They understand the political constraints. They know he can’t do a lot. But a Pope Francis-esque gesture of some kind: As the pope washed the feet of women, would it be too much for Obama to go to one of these horrid shelters and read these children a story? Kick a soccer ball with them? Would that really kill him in the polls? Most liberals aren’t unrealistic, contrary to what you normally read. But they want to see little manifestations of courage from the man they voted for. This is a prime moment for exactly that.
Perhaps some of my revulsion is a result of the years I spent fundraising for a non-profit that worked with troubled kids. The philanthropists always wanted us to parade a young person we had helped in front of them to tug their heart-strings wallets. It pissed me off because these kids had been traumatized for the better part of their lives - often by their very own parents. Can you imagine putting all that on display for a bunch of rich folks so we could beg them for money? The needs that were being met by that kind of display were never those of the children - but the philanthropists.

Make no mistake about it - the children who are the object of these efforts have been traumatized. Its a very different kind of trauma than people experience as a result of a hurricane or other "act of god" - much more personal. Its clear that President Obama respects the need for privacy when people are in the midst of this kind of trauma. I am reminded of what Joshua DuBois wrote about his individual meetings with families of the victims of the Newtown shooting.
President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.
By refusing a photo-op with these children President Obama is protecting their privacy - and perhaps their safety. Can you imagine what the consequences might be of blasting their picture/story all over the global media if they ever have to go back home? In other words, he's putting their needs above both ours and his own. That's what grown-up empathetic people do!

Friday, July 11, 2014

The lesson of an open door

Watching and listening to the reaction of people in this country to the children from Central America who are fleeing violence and murder in their home countries has reminded me of a powerful book I read years ago: Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. It is the story of how Andre Trocme - a protestant minister - and his wife Magda inspired the small village of Le Chambon, France to take in refugees from the Nazi's - mostly children. They saved thousands of lives in the process.

Prior to those events, Andre was arrested and questioned by a Vichy police captain. Here is how the author of the book (Phillip Hallie) describes his reaction:
This was a moment Trocme would never forget. In fact, his overnight stay in the police station in Limoges changed his view of mankind. He discovered people like the captain - patriotic, sincere, but above all, severely limited. These people were capable of repeating hate-ridden cliches without any concern for evidence or for the pain of others. Before he entered that police station, he thought the world was a scene where two forces were struggling for power: God and the Devil. From then on, he knew that there was a thrid force seeking hegemony over this world: stupidity... Now and for the rest of his life, he knew that there were some people - indeed, many people - who did not realize what suspicion and hatred were doing to their own minds and to their victims.
Remind you of anyone?

Then one night Magda heard a knock on her door and answered to find a snowcovered Jewish woman refugee there. And of course, at the potential cost of her life, Magda took her in.
For the rest of the Occupation, Magda Trocme and all the other people of Le Chambon would know that turning somebody away from one's door is not simply a refusal to help; from the point of view of that refugee, your closed door is an instrument of harmdoing, and your closing it does harm... Magda's word to her first refugee, "Naturally, come in, and come in," were part of an ethical action. Ethics, especially the ethics of crisis, or life and death, deals with the lives and deaths of particular human beings.
I don't know about you, but - when the history books are written - I want to be remembered as someone who saw that this crisis is about the lives and deaths of particular human beings...and was willing to open the door.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

President Obama plays tortoise to the media's hare. And we know who wins that one!

I've often thought that the best metaphor for the Obama presidency is the fable about the tortoise and the hare. Of course - in the role of the hare is our linkbait-obsessed media that runs from one form of hysteria to another in a constant quest for "Obama's Katrina," only to tire almost immediately before the story's conclusion. The role of the tortoise is played by our President, who is always focused on the long game ("slow and steady wins the race"). As FLOTUS once said:
Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight.
As we approach the finish line, we can begin to see who is going to reach the tape first. Here are some recent "long game" headlines:

The Economy

June jobs report
All told, over the last 12 months, the U.S. economy has added over 2.49 million jobs overall and 2.43 million in the private sector. What’s more, June was the 52nd consecutive month in which we’ve seen private-sector job growth – the longest on record.

At this point, with the year about half over, 2014 is currently on track to be the best year for U.S. job creation since 1999.

...it’s worth noting that the unemployment rate has now dropped to 6.1%, its lowest point since September 2008, nearly six years ago. The rate has dropped more than a full point since last fall, and is down nearly four full points since its Great Recession high of 10%.

The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits in the first week of July fell by 11,000 to 304,000, putting initial claims close to a seven-year bottom again and offering more evidence that U.S. hiring has accelerated while the rate of layoffs remains low.

Healthcare

The survey, from the Commonwealth Fund, a research group, came to similar conclusions as other surveys about the expansion of health insurance. It found that about 15 percent of adults younger than 65 now lack health insurance, down from 20 percent before the Affordable Care Act rolled out in January.

What was more surprising is that people who got the new coverage were generally happy with the product. Overall, 73 percent of people who bought health plans and 87 percent of those who signed up for Medicaid said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their new health insurance. Seventy-four percent of newly insured Republicans liked their plans. Even 77 percent of people who had insurance before – including members of the much-publicized group whose plans got canceled last year – were happy with their new coverage.
Medicare cost control
What this chart shows is how much the Congressional Budget Office expects we'll need to pay for each and every Medicare beneficiary. And over the past four years, the forecasting agency has consistently downgraded the price of covering one senior's health care costs.

Saving $1,000 per patient adds up quickly in a program that covers about 50 million people. More precisely, it adds up to about $50 billion in savings this year. The reduction in expected costs grows to $2,369 in 2019. With an expected 60 million seniors enrolled in Medicare that year, it would work out to more than $120 billion shaved off the total cost of the program.

Foreign policy

No fancy charts for this one. Just quotes from one of the few pundits who seems to understand the Obama Doctrine - Michael Cohen.
On June 23, the last of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was loaded onto a Danish freighter to be destroyed. The following day, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia asked his Parliament to rescind the permission that it had given him to send troops into Ukraine. Meanwhile, there is still cautious optimism that a nuclear deal with Iran is within reach.

What do these have in common? They were achieved without a single American bomb being dropped and they relied on a combination of diplomacy, economic sanctions and the coercive threat of military force. As policy makers and pundits remain focused on Iraq and the perennial but distracting discussion about the use of force, these modest but significant achievements have, perhaps predictably, been ignored. Yet they hold important lessons for how American power can be most effectively deployed today...

All too often, though, our foreign policy debates are defined by simplistic ideas: that force is a problem-solver, that America can go its own way and that mere application of American leadership brings positive results. But the results with Syria, Russia and Iran remind us that when American foreign policy is led by painstaking diplomacy, seeks multilateral consensus and acts with an understanding of its own limitations, it can produce positive results. More often than not, boring is better.
Note: I encourage you to go read the whole column by Cohen. Its very rare that I agree totally with almost every sentence a pundit writes. This is one of those times.

Conclusion

I think Cohen summed all of this up quite well with that last line: "More often than not, boring is better." President Obama focuses on the long game towards pragmatic policies that work. That is anathema to the hysteria-obsessed hares. Is it any wonder that the Republican's only play is to try to feed that hysteria? But we all know who wins in the end, don't we?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

They are all "our" children


I believe that it is wired into humans to protect children. But we have developed a mechanism for avoiding that instinct by defining "our" children (who are to be protected) and "their" children to whom we have no obligation. We do that by excluding the ones that don't look like us (black and brown) and then blaming their parents for their condition.

I've seen all of that on display as we discuss what to do about the children who are coming into this country illegally from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Lately I've been finding myself wanting to scream..."These are f*cking CHILDREN we're talking about!!!!" Can we take just a moment to remember that and think about what's going on here before we simply plug them into our politically polarized narrative about how every problem we face is a plot by President Obama to ruin this country?

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has no interest in playing our political games with this issue. They produced a report titled Children on the Run which summarizes over 400 interviews they conducted with unaccompanied or separated children who arrived in this country illegally.
Our data reveals that no less than 58% of the 404 children interviewed were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.
In terms of what harms they faced, the report says this:
Forty-eight percent of the displaced children interviewed for this study shared experiences of how they had been personally affected by the augmented violence in the region by organized armed criminal actors, including drug cartels and gangs or by State actors. Twenty-one percent of the children confided that they had survived abuse and violence in their homes by their caretakers.
For example, here is the story of a 16 year-old boy from Guatemala:
Gangs in a nearby neighborhood wanted to kill me and some other people. They wanted me to give them money, but what money was I supposed to give them? I didn’t have any. They asked me a bunch of questions, like who was my father, and who was my family. I told them my father was dead. They told me to say goodbye because I was going to join my father. They asked me if I knew who they were, if I could identify them. I said no, because I knew if I said yes they would kill me. They held my cousin and me for three hours, tied up. My cousin was able to untie the rope and he helped me untie mine. We heard gun shots and we ran. They kept looking for us, but we escaped.
Please identify for me how the President's deferred action on DREAMers played a role there. It didn't. The Center for American Progress shows the data proving that violence in their home countries is causing this humanitarian crisis - not our current or proposed policies on immigration.

There is no quick fix to this crisis and there certainly isn't a "one-size-fits-all" response our government can give to these children. It is our responsibility as a member of the international community to hear each child's story and do what we can to ensure their safety and protection. That's what we would surely want for our own children, right?

Its interesting that right in the midst of all this I ran across the most wonderful photo exhibit of children around the world at play. I am going to include a few of them here as a reminder of the universality of childhood.

Indonesia

India 

 Russia

 Thailand

 Uganda

 Vietnam

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What are the 2014 midterms going to be about?

NBC has posted a fascinating set of questions about the 2014 midterms.
Now less than four months until Election Day 2014, everyone is so sure about what is going to happen in November. Republicans are either going to have a good night (picking up four to six Senate seats), or a great night (picking up more than six, including in blue and purple states). And yet, given this apparent certainty in the Acela Corridor about how the elections are going to play out, here is something to ponder: We still don’t know what the fall campaign is going to be about. Is it health care? (Premium increases could be news in fall; then again, health care hasn’t received much national attention in the last two or three months). Will it be about the economy? (Maybe, maybe not -- see below for more on its limited midterm impact in the past.) What about immigration? (Possibly, but we haven’t seen Democratic or GOP campaigns eager to run on this subject, especially Democrats in the red states) Foreign policy? (Remember Ukraine or Bowe Bergdahl? Or the debacle that is America’s Syria policy?) Will the midterms be about President Obama and Democrats suffering from a thousand different cuts? (Perhaps.) Or will it simply be about the red-leaning map and the fact that key parts of the Democratic base just don’t turn out in midterm elections? (Could be.) Bottom line: Election Day is a little more than 100 days away, and it’s hard to come up with a defining issue, even as so many folks are so sure about the outcome.
I tend to agree with their overall point. Given the outcome of a few of the Republican primaries (Cantor and Cochran), the certainty about the outcome of these midterms is pretty overrated.

But other than their inclusion of the fact that the Senate races tend to be in places that are "red-leaning" and that the Democratic base doesn't tend to turn out in midterm elections, take a look at the list of possible policy issues that could come into play.
  1. Healthcare - we've all noticed by now that Republicans have pretty much gone silent on this one due to Obamacare's overwhelming success lately. Its true that this fall we'll be hearing a lot about what premiums will look like in 2015 on the exchanges. But so far the hysteria that the conservatives are hoping for doesn't seem to be playing out.
  2. The economy - with unemployment going down, the stock market reaching new highs, and the federal deficit reduced by half, its going to be hard for Republicans to gin up much hysteria about this one. If we continue adding jobs over the next two months at the same pace we have for the last three, its likely that we will go into the fall with an unemployment rate below 6%. There's not much for the Republicans to work with there.
  3. Immigration - the current humanitarian crisis on our southern border means this one could be volatile for a while. But I suspect that by this fall, the Obama administration will have competently handled that situation and we'll be back to a focus on the need for immigration reform. Once again Republicans will be faced with the fact that opposition riles up their base for the midterms but dooms them with Latino voters in the future. 
  4. Foreign policy - given the fact that none of the current "hot spots" in foreign policy affect American voters directly, I doubt this will be a focal issue. There's also the fact that foreign policy is primarily the responsibility of the president and he's not on the ballot this year. Nevertheless, if Republicans want to talk about this one, they're going to have to get specific and that brings up a couple of problems. They are pretty divided about an alternative and - while Americans don't rate President Obama's handling of foreign policy favorably - they tend to agree with his actions
The common theme with these so far is that President Obama and Democrats are controlling the agenda on issues while Republicans have proposed NO alternatives. What this means is that Democrats are going to be talking about the issues and Republicans are going to want to avoid them like the plague. Its important for us to keep pointing that out.

But take a look at NBC's next question: "Will the midterms be about President Obama and Democrats suffering from a thousand different cuts? " That is some fascinating spin by this major news network. Notice that they can't contemplate the possibility of Republicans "suffering from a thousand different cuts" - like their opposition to the science of climate change, reproductive freedom, voting rights, immigration reform, common sense gun reform, LGBT equality, unions, raising the minimum wage, paycheck fairness, and student loan relief. Heaven help us if we mention that those things might hurt Republicans with voters.

But overall NBC is right in that all Republicans have these days is the hysteria of opposition. As they focus on suing President Obama for doing his job, the Democratic response has basically been "bring it on!" Talking about who is doing their job these days and who isn't might not be a bad conversation to have.

The truth is that in many ways the deck is stacked against the Democrats in this midterm election (Senate races in red states and gerrymandering of House races). But right now it looks like the Republican base has trapped the party into doing all they can to even the playing field. Our task is to simply get the voters who actually care about issues out to the polls.