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Showing posts from July, 2015

The Tension Liberals Can't Avoid

It is gratifying to see Glenn Greenwald - one of President Obama's harshest critics from the left - write in support of the Iran nuclear deal against neocons who are trying to sabotage it. As usual with neocons, they are being deceitful about their actual intent. They don’t want a “better deal”: at least not one that’s plausible. They want to keep Iran isolated and demonized and ultimately to depose its leadership through war or other means of aggression. They hate the Iran deal precisely because it’s likely to avert that aggression and normalize the world’s relations with that country, making the war they’ve long craved much less likely . That bolded phrase is probably the closest you're going to get to a Greenwald statement in support of an Obama foreign policy position. So it's worth noting. But paying attention to what Greenwald has to say about the Iran deal is instructive for the bigger picture as well. That's because almost three years ago he wrote a scath

Donald Trump: The Republican Id

I have to admit that there are times I'm tempted to agree with George Will that Donald Trump is just trolling Republicans. But whether intended or not, he is demonstrating what happens when you take Republican rhetoric to its logical (?) conclusion. What is it that Trump is suggesting he would do on the issues the Republicans are so concerned about. When it comes to Obamacare, he'd " repeal it and replace it with something terrific ." Sounds good, huh? And when it comes to the 11 million undocumented workers in this country, just round 'em up and get rid of them . If you think that Mexican immigrants are nothing more than rapists and murderers, that sounds good too, doesn't it? But don't bother fretting your pretty little head about how to go about doing that. Donald will "manage" it. As I said, this is the "logical" conclusion of the path Republicans have taken. Climate change...deny it. Iran nuclear deal...oppose it. Terrorism.

Same Root

You see...this is precisely why I admire our President so much. Nuff said.

Republican Leaders Complain About Conservative Media

Jackie Calmes has written a paper for the Shorenstein Center titled: They Don't Give a Damn About Governing: Conservative Media's Influence on the Republican Party . If leaders of the Republican Party are not setting its agenda, who is? As many of them concede, it is conservative media – not just talk-show celebrities Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, but also lesser-known talkers like Steve Deace, and an expanding web of “news” sites and social media outlets with financial and ideological alliances with far-right anti-government, anti-establishment groups like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. Once allied with but now increasingly hostile to the Republican hierarchy, conservative media is shaping the party’s agenda in ways that are impeding Republicans’ ability to govern and to win presidential elections. “These people, practically speaking, are preventing the Republican Party from governing, which means

Obama Administration Works on Both the Front and Back End of Criminal Justice Reform

Recently I wrote about Evan McMorris-Santoro's profile of Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates . In the course of describing her work on mandatory minimum sentences, he explains something interesting about the politics involved in criminal justice reform. The divide is now between so-called front-end advocates, who want changes to sentencing laws and penalties given to criminals when they first enter the system, and so-called back-end advocates who would rather leave sentencing alone and focus on parole eligibility and anti-recidivism programs. The politics are simple, and crucial. Front-end changes are more risky, opening up politicians to attack ads saying they favored lower sentences for criminals and reduced penalties for drug dealers. The most ardent criminal justice advocates are pushing front-end changes. Back-end changes are an easier sell politically, but have much less impact on prison populations, according to advocates. They’re usually the most favored solution by p

Alternative Media and Campaign Finance

Yesterday Ed Kilgore commented on an article by Steven Shepard titled: The Television Election . I too found it interesting, but reached some slightly different conclusions. Shepard's suggestion that 2016 will be a "television election" isn't as clear as his title suggests. That's because he is simply reporting on how candidates will spend their money - not on how successful the television ads they buy with it will be. Between campaigns and independent groups, television-ad spending during the 2016 elections is projected to top $4.4 billion. That’s more than a half-billion more than in 2012. And it’s at least four times what campaigns and groups are preparing to spend on their online strategies. Based on the last few election cycles, we might be seeing a similar distinction between how big money works in presidential vs midterm elections as we're seeing between Democratic and Republican advantages. Case in point, a big story coming out of the 2012 presid

Barack Obama on Faith and Politics in 2006

Here is a speech Barack Obama gave in 2006 on the topic of "Faith and Politics." In it he echoes many of the same themes he addressed during his commencement speech at Notre Dame in 2009. My favorite part comes towards the end when he cautions those who claim that we are a "Christian nation" that if we really took the Sermon on the Mount  seriously, our Defense Department might not survive :-)

Corporate Giants Commit $140 billion to Address Climate Change. #ThanksObama

In the immortal words of VP Joe Biden... this is a BFD ! US corporate giants including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Berkshire Hathaway and Goldman Sachs are looking to invest at least $140bn to shrink their carbon footprints, according to media reports... The committed funds will be utilised to cut emissions, provide financing to environmentally-focused companies, reduce water consumption, and produce 1,600 megawatts of new, renewable energy, which is enough to power nearly 1.3 million homes. The announcement comes as part of the Obama administration's efforts to bolster private commitments to climate change, ahead of a summit in Paris later in 2015. The White House expects to announce a second round of similar pledges later from more companies, Bloomberg reported. That's $140,000,000,000 - seeing a number like that written out can begin to help us understand what a huge financial commitment this is. Here's a White House fact sheet on The American Business Act on Clim

What Obama Learned as a Community Organizer

I recently ran across this article that Barack Obama wrote back in 1988 while he was still a community organizer. The closing paragraph speaks not only to what he learned during those years, but it is a great example of why so many people talk about his amazing talent as a writer. Just imagine what it would be like if we had a President who wrote about urban Americans like this :-) In return, organizing teaches as nothing else does the beauty and strength of everyday people. Through the songs of the church and the talk on the stoops, through the hundreds of individual stories of coming up from the South and finding any job that would pay, of raising families on threadbare budgets, of losing some children to drugs and watching others earn degrees and land jobs their parents could never aspire to — it is through these stories and songs of dashed hopes and powers of endurance, of ugliness and strife, subtlety and laughter, that organizers can shape a sense of community not only for

Chamber of Commerce to Go After Incumbent Republicans

One of the things a lot of people have been watching is what the business community - which has typically been pretty conservative - does in response to the Republican dissent into extremism. A lot of the shenanigans pushed by the tea partiers (i.e., debt ceiling crisis) are terribly destabilizing and that is not good for business. According to Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman , the Chamber of Commerce has about had enough with the nonsense. It's interesting to note what finally pushed them to that point. It wasn't the total obstruction employed by Republicans from the beginning of Obama's presidency - or even the constant hostage crises they created. It's something that has come more recently. The early discussions by top-level Chamber operatives like Rob Engstrom and Scott Reed reflect a broad consensus among companies with business before Congress that the political dynamic needs to change on Capitol Hill. The theory is simple: The Chamber spent some $70 million in

President Obama Articulates a Feminist Foreign Policy

Recently I've been writing about what a feminist foreign policy would look like and noted that First Lady Michelle Obama  articulated it well during her recent visit to England. Here is President Obama doing the same thing in Nairobi, Kenya. "Treating women as second-class citizens is a bad tradition. It holds you back. There’s no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence. There’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation. There’s no place in civilized society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century." —President Obama in Kenya: Posted by The White House on Sunday, July 26, 2015 Treating women as second-class citizens is a bad tradition. It holds you back. There’s no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence. There’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation. There’s no place in civilized society for the

A Community Organizing Virtuoso

Years ago I was a program manager at a nonprofit organization and decided to apply to be the executive director of the same agency. The board of directors asked staff to review resumes and interview finalists for the job (including me). The staff I supervised at the time objected to the fact that I included on my resume the accomplishments of the program I managed. Their response was that they had been the ones that did the work and I was taking credit for their efforts. In a way, they had a point. But they also didn't understand leadership. As coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi never scored a touchdown and never kicked a field goal. And yet he is credited with the success of that football team throughout most of the 1960's. In the end, I decided to take the staff objections as a compliment. That's because I value the kind of leadership that facilitates the feeling ownership by employees for their accomplishments. It's the kind that Marshall Ganz desc

Photo of the Day: Family Dinner

President Barack Obama sat down to dinner with a large group of family members on his first night visiting the capital of his father’s homeland of Kenya. Shortly after arriving at his hotel on Friday, the president gathered in the hotel restaurant with about three dozen relatives. Obama sat in the middle of two long tables, with his step-grandmother, known as Mama Sarah, seated to his right and his half-sister, Auma Obama, a close confidante, seated to his left.  This reminds me of part of President Obama's interview with the BBC before he left on this trip. Jon Sopel asked him about the "unfinished business" of his presidency, specifically on race. Here's part of what he said: What I will say is that - eight years - well, after eight years of my presidency, that children growing up during these eight years will have a different view of race relations in this country and what's possible. When it comes to creating a different view of what's possible

Childhood is Not a Mental Disorder

I hope you'll take a couple of minutes to watch this amazing video. Based on my 30 years of working with "troubled youth," there is a lot of truth to it. Many times I thought the labeling of children had more to do with adults who were "troubled" at the fact that some children are not docile and obedient enough. I could tell you lots of stories about that. But this video pretty much says it all.

The "Whiteness" of Netroots Nation

There is some history about the Netroots Nation conference that I haven't seen commented upon in all the discussion about what happened there last weekend when #BlackLivesMatter showed up. I don't necessarily think it is determinative in terms of what happened, but it's hard to ignore that it played some role. I personally have only been to one Netroots Nation conference - in 2011 when it came to my home town. But I have friends who have gone almost every year who have been deeply involved in the racial justice movement for most of their lives. There has ALWAYS been an issue with the lack of diversity at the conference. It's true that those responsible for planning this event have worked very hard on changing that. But many times they've been tone-deaf to the recommendations of people of color on how to go about doing that. All of that blew up about a year ago when Netroots Nation announced that their 2015 conference would be held in Phoenix, Arizona. As you may

The Black "We" and the White "I"

John Metta had given up talking to white people about racism. But after the shootings in Charleston, he gave this "congregational reflection" to a white church audience. It is one of the most profound explanations of why white liberals have such a hard time talking about race. I'll give you a few excerpts here. But please, go read the whole thing. First of all, Metta explains how black people and white people see the world differently. To understand, you have to know that Black people think in terms of Black people . We don't see a shooting of an innocent Black child in another state as something separate from us because we know viscerally that it could be our child, our parent, or us, that is shot... Racism affects us directly because the fact that it happened at a geographically remote location or to another Black person is only a coincidence, an accident. It could just as easily happen to us — right here, right now. White people do not think in terms of

What Do Iranian Dissidents Think of the Nuclear Deal

"If we reach an agreement, good opportunities will definitely develop, and we can demand our rights as human beings," says Iranian author Mahmoud Dolatabadi. (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran) I can't think of a group who's opinion about the Iran nuclear deal is more important than the dissidents who have been fighting the regime in their own country. Based on a report from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran titled: High Hopes, Tempered Expectations: Views from Iran on the Nuclear Negotiations , Danny Postel provides this summary: 61 percent of the respondents [most of whom have been political prisoners] believe that reaching a deal on the nuclear issue “should facilitate progress toward greater rights and liberties” and that “the nation’s attention, previously monopolized by the negotiations, could now turn to critical domestic issues, among them, the state of basic freedoms in Iran,” according to the International Campaign for

The Women of DOJ

As we old timers like to put it to the youngsters, I'm old enough to remember when President Clinton nominated Janet Reno to become the first female Attorney General. At the time - as VP Biden would say - that was a BFD. And then last month, Loretta Lynch was sworn in as the first African American female to hold that position. I recently wrote about Vanita Gupta (right above), who is currently serving as the Acting Director of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ. Today, Evan McMorris-Santoro has written a great profile on the woman in the number two spot at DOJ - Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (middle above). Apparently Yates has one major job these days: As real momentum builds on Capitol Hill to rewrite sentencing laws with the goal of refocusing prosecution and lowering the prison population — an issue of prime importance President Obama in the final months of his presidency — Yates is among the top administration aides helping the process along on Capitol Hill. She

All Their Hopes for Civil Disobedience are Dashed

When it comes to rhetorically nailing something, no one is better at it than Barney Frank . In the spirit of conciliation, I want to offer reassurance to those who reacted to the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision with a mix of outrage and horror: It will have no effect on how you live your lives. This is not a prediction of what will happen in the future. It is a distillation of the nearly 12 years of experience in Massachusetts since our Supreme Judicial Court issued the forerunner of this ruling in 2003. No member of the clergy has had to participate in any marriage she or he found sinful, immoral or even offensive. No house of worship has been forced to open any of its premises – sanctuaries, function halls or, as much as I can ascertain, even parking lots – for ceremonies that contravene their religious tenets. Opposite-sex marriages have proceeded just as they did in 2002 and before, and the divorce rate has not spiraled. There has been no movement toward legalizing

Paul Wellstone would have been 71 today

Happy Birthday, Senator. We miss you!!!

The Bookends of Obama's Presidency

Both Ezra Klein and Josh Marshall have taken up the task of writing about President Obama's recent successes. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at their analysis. Klein starts out with a big title to his piece: The   Unexpected and Ingenious Strategy of Obama's Second Term . But the content sure doesn't live up to that title. Presidents often turn more moderate to make gains in their final years. Think of Bill Clinton's 1997 budget deal, or George W. Bush's 2007 (failed) immigration reform effort, or Ronald Reagan's 1986 tax reforms. Second terms can feel like new presidencies. President Obama's increasingly successful second term has been the exception to that rule. It's been a concentrated, and arguably jaded, version of his first term. The candidate who was elected to bring the country together has found he can get more done if he acts alone — and if he lets Congress do the same. That has been the big, quiet surprise of Obama

Will the Real Jeb Bush Please Stand Up?

It's interesting to me that, of the top tier of 2016 Republican candidates, the one who seems to be trying to position himself best for the general election is the same one who is saddled with the last name Bush. But right out of the gates, Jeb tried to distance himself from the nasty tone that has become the hallmark of his competitors. "Two people can disagree and they can disagree vehemently. But if they see in each other an honest broker motivated by good intentions and sincere beliefs, they can find accommodation." Accommodation is the opposite of what most Republican candidates are running on these days. I was reminded of that when, after Jeb Bush called out Donald Trump for criticizing John McCain's military service, a letter surfaced from January 2005 in which Jeb thanked the Swiftboaters who made it their job do to the very same thing to John Kerry during the 2004 campaign. Here's the money quote from that letter : Please let them know that I am p

"What its like to be an outsider"

As we watched two white male presidential candidates struggle to respond to the concerns of #BlackLivesMatter activists, another thought I had was to remember what President Obama told the graduates of Morehouse two years ago. Some blackademics criticized him for this speech. But this is exactly where he nailed it! 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. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back. Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share. Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith. Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work -- she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. So

A Dose of Hope

Sometimes it can feel like the whole purpose of our media is to convince us that the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket. Nothing grabs clicks and eyeballs like stories that either horrify us or get us pissed off. Whenever I can, I try to bring stories that counter that narrative. Sometimes it can feel like (as Crowded House once sang) trying to "catch a deluge in a paper cup." But as Gandhi said, "Everything you do will seem insignificant, but it's important that you do it." So here's a couple I saw today that gave me a dose of hope. This one reminds us that  comedy can be a powerful tool : Saudi comedian Nasser Al-Qasabi is hoping laughter succeeds where bombs have failed by taking on extremist group ISIS. Al-Qasabi, one of Saudi Arabia’s most popular figures, is facing down death threats from the terrorist organization after mocking them in his hugely popular Ramadan series Selfie . Aired on pan-Arab TV market leader MBC, Selfie is a sat

The White Liberal Conundrum

It's relatively easy for liberals to recognize and call out the racism of conservatives. But the interaction between #BlackLivesMatter activists and Bernie Sanders has given us an opportunity to examine our own unique brand. I'm not here to judge or support the manner in which these activists confronted Sanders. I'll simply note that many of the people criticizing them are the ones who have celebrated the same tactics when used to challenge President Obama:  Exhibit A . As so often happens when these opportunities present themselves, I am reminded of something "Zuky" wrote way back in 2007 about the " white liberal conundrum ." I'd like to take a moment to review what he said because it captures many of the interactions I'm reading on social media right now. First of all, let's define what we're talking about: Anti-racism is a rewarding but grueling journey which must be consciously undertaken and intrepidly pursued (both inwardly

I Won't Be Supporting Sanders in the Primary

I thought I'd take this moment when so many are caught up in the kerfuffle at Netroots Nation to give an overview of my thinking about the Democratic presidential primary. Of course, all of this is subject to change as events unfold. My thoughts leading into this primary were that I will have to reckon with the idea that there is not another Barack Obama on the horizon. Over the coming months, that means that I'll probably go through something akin to a grief process over the end of living through two terms of the best president in my lifetime. I have loved every minute of these last seven years and plan to keep my eye on what President Obama does as he plays through to the end of the fourth quarter and will likely follow his post-presidential activities as much as possible. As a die hard political junkie though, I will also be sizing up the 2016 candidates - knowing that none of them will measure up to what I've become accustomed to. My preferred candidate, Deval Patri

The Obama Doctrine

With the successful conclusion of negotiations with Iran over their nuclear weapons program, it's a good time to revisit the idea of an Obama Doctrine in foreign affairs. When candidate Obama was running for president he was perfectly clear that he wasn't against all wars, just dumb wars. He has consistently said that when/if America is directly threatened/attacked, he will not hesitate to defend the country militarily. Fortunately, other than dismantling the perpetrators of 9/11, that situation has not presented itself and our ground troops are no longer involved in military actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. At the time the President decided to join the coalition involved in military intervention in Libya, some people began to describe the Obama Doctrine as " leading from behind ." There is some truth to that characterization. In combating ISIS, President Obama has been very clear: But when it comes to his broader response to foreign policy issues, "leadi

Conservatives Going After Sec. Julian Castro

One year ago, Julian Castro (former Mayor of San Antonio, TX) was sworn in as the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Many people (including this writer) assume that he is the most likely prospect to be Hillary Clinton's running mate in 2016. Apparently a lot of conservatives share that assumption because lately they have launched some interesting attacks on Castro. First of all, there was Samuel Rosado writing in the National Review that Julian Castro was never a "real" mayor. Juli├ín Castro is often introduced as the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Presumably, journalists and the general public think of this as a major accomplishment and a useful dose of executive experience — it is, after all, a city of 1.4 million people. But San Antonio doesn’t work like most high-profile American cities, such as New York and Chicago, which are largely run by their mayors. It runs under the council-manager form of government, meaning the city cou