Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How the Media Miss the Story

A couple of times I've joked about having a "mind meld" with President Obama that has allowed me to predict when something is up...like I did recently when he had a convo with David Simon. But I'll let you in on my secret. It's not about a mind meld or even being a "smartypants." It's just about paying attention.

A lot of people in the media miss a story like this because they're lazy. I've seen a couple of articles (here's the worst) about the President's recent commutations and they all zero in on a narrative that was started a long time ago about him being stingy with clemency. All that was required to adopt that narrative was counting.

But if you read the President and Attorney General's comments when they kicked off the Clemency Initiative, you knew what had held things up in the beginning and what they were doing to change the process. It was inevitable that - before his second term was over - there were going to be some big announcements. Furthermore, if you pay attention to what the White House said about this announcement, you know there are more to come.

The other thing I paid attention to a long time ago might seem difficult to connect with this story. But hang in there and I'll get to the point.

A couple of years ago reporter Michael Lewis spent six months shadowing President Obama. That resulted in a long-read article titled: Obama's Way. Included in it were all kinds of little and big stories about how Barack Obama approaches his job as POTUS.

One little thing I found interesting is that he only has a couple of choices for what he wears. His reasoning is that his days are so busy and full of demanding/difficult decisions, he doesn't want to waste time on his attire. Overall, he limits any kind of distraction that would sap the energy he needs to do the job.

Paying attention to that, it makes sense that he wouldn't sit down and videotape a conversation with someone like David Simon just for kicks (as much as he might enjoy that). Everything this man does on the job has a strategic purpose - even the fun stuff.

So that's my big secret. Ultimately, understanding President Obama simply means paying attention...something too many in the media are too lazy to do.

Did I Call It...Or What?!

Last week when President Obama sat down for a conversation with David Simon, I KNEW he was up to something. Today we got the first inklings of what that is:
Building on his commitment to address instances of unfairness in sentencing, President Obama granted 22 commutations today to individuals serving time in federal prison. Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years — in some cases more than a decade — longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime.

In total, the 22 commutations granted today underscore the President’s commitment to using all the tools at his disposal to bring greater fairness and equity to our justice system. Further, they demonstrate how exercising this important authority can remedy imbalances and rectify errors in sentencing.
The article notes that these commutations are a result of his Clemency Initiative.
To further this progress, the President has established a clemency initiative to encourage individuals who were sentenced under outdated laws and policies to petition for commutation. At his direction, significant reforms have followed, such as the promulgation of new criteria for potential commutation candidates to meet, including those who pose no threat to public safety, have a clean record in prison, and have been sentenced under out-of-date laws. In addition, the Department of Justice has raised awareness about how to petition for commutation to ensure that every federal inmate who believes they are deserving of this invaluable second chance has the opportunity to ask for it.
And there's more to come...
The Administration will continue to work to review thoroughly all petitions for clemency. And, while commutation is an important tool for those seeking justice and fairness in our penal system, it is nearly always an option of last resort, coming after a lengthy court process and many years behind bars. That is why President Obama is committed to working with Democrats and Republicans on sensible reforms to our criminal justice system that aim to give judges more discretion over mandatory minimum sentencing.
Six years into it...President Obama is still bringing the hope and change we voted for!

Standing Up Against Misogyny and Islamophobia

This is a story that I believe should be getting more attention from those of us in this country who call ourselves feminists.
Running a human-rights-oriented foreign policy is a challenge, even for the Swedes. In October Sweden became the first Western government to recognise the state of Palestine. Margot Wallstrom, the foreign minister, was duly invited to address a meeting of the Arab League on March 9th. Ms Wallstrom wrote a rather anodyne speech exhorting the member states to live up to their commitments on human rights, particularly women’s rights. Saudi Arabia objected, and the league blocked her from speaking. Now Sweden’s relations with much of the Arab world are in shambles.
Ms. Wallstrom is coming under some pretty heavy fire for her intentions to speak up for the rights of women. The Arab League publicly condemned her - calling her cancelled speech an offense, not only to Saudi Arabia, but to Islam.

It is the equating of standing up for women's rights to the current fervor of Islamophobia in both Europe and the U.S. that is meant to silence those who would speak out against state-sanctioned misogyny. That's where we need to weigh in.

This can be a difficult line to walk for many of us. I know that nothing makes me more angry than to hear people like Bill Maher justify his Islamophobia by condemning the treatment of women in many Islamic countries. He usually couples those remarks with statements about how Western countries abandoned that kind of thing decades ago. In other words, he completely ignores facts like this:
While its true that these acts are not sanctioned by our government, the persistence of violence against women and children in this country puts a lie to the idea that we have some kind of moral high ground to stand on when it comes to the treatment of women.

No...I'm certainly not making a case for moral equivalency between the United States and countries like Saudi Arabia when it comes to the treatment of women. What I'm saying is that we have to approach these discussions with humility and with our eyes wide open to the facts.

On the other hand, we must reject the idea that standing up for women's rights is an affront to any religion. Almost every religion on earth (including Christianity) has been used at one point or another to justify misogyny. The particulars are irrelevant. Women are human beings and, as Hillary Clinton declared years go, "women's rights are human rights."

People are free to practice the religion of their choosing. As feminists, we respect that and stand up for their rights to do so. But that gives no one license to abuse and/or oppress women. That's the line we must walk...loud and proud!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Sununu's Lunacy

Sometimes I use the work "lunatic" to describe the right wing that has seemingly taken over the Republican Party these days. Believe me...as a former mental health professional, I don't use that term lightly. It is meant to describe things like this:


Yes folks, that is the former Republican Governor of New Hampshire and Chief of Staff for President George HW Bush suggesting that it is President Obama who is "inciting" birthers by making a trip to Kenya.

A sane person would recognize that it is the birthers who are responsible for their own nonsense rather than blame it on the object of their deranged obsessions. But that's not what we get from a leader of what used to be known as the "Grand Old Party" that once claimed the mantle of "personal responsibility."

Of course, lost in that discussion was also the fact that the President will be traveling to Kenya to attend the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit - the goal of which is to spur economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions and improve security in African nations. And so the pettiness of Sununu's suggestion that it's all about inciting birthers is a direct insult to people all over that continent.

The truth is that I'm probably being kind to call that kind of thing lunacy.

A Ray of Hope

On a day when all eyes are on the celebration of the "Lion of the Senate" in Boston, I thought it might be appropriate to revisit this song dedicated to Ted Kennedy by The Rascals after his brother Bobby was assassinated.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Odds & Ends

In the event that Iran and the members of P5+1 reach a preliminary agreement on Iran's nuclear program this week, we can expect a release of sound and fury from conservatives about how it sets the world on fire. To prepare yourself for making your own determination about the value of any such agreement, Jeffrey Goldberg lists the five questions you should ask.

During the 1980's when Iran and Iraq were at war with each other, the Reagan and Bush administrations facilitated the selling of chemical agents and equipment to Iraq. Then during the first Gulf War, the U.S. bombed some of those chemical weapons facilities and more than 200,000 of our troops were exposed to nerve gas and other chemical agents. If you've ever questioned why President Obama hesitates to arm factions in the Middle East, you'll want to read the whole story by Barbara Koeppel.

One of the negative consequences to the delay in a Senate vote to confirm the nomination of Loretta Lynch as our next Attorney General is that it has given rightwing advocacy groups more time to lobby against her. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the NRA is doing just that.

Yesterday when I listed some of the recent accomplishments of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ, I left one out.
Teenagers awaiting trial on adult charges in Baltimore are being kept in solitary confinement for far too long — up to 143 days in one case, according to a highly critical review by the U.S. Justice Department's Division of Civil Rights.

Federal prosecutors say being isolated for more than a few days can damage a person's mental health — especially if it's a teenager whose brain is still developing. But teenagers accused of breaking rules inside the Baltimore City Detention Center are being isolated for 13 days on average, and in some cases, far longer.
Placing children (and yes, teenagers are children) in solitary confinement is unacceptable. End of story.

On a lighter note, here's something to look forward to this fall.
Focus Features has slated Suffragette, starring Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, for an October 23 limited release. Inspired by the early-20th century campaign for women’s right to vote, the film sports potentially awards-friendly subject matter — not to mention a certain 19-time Oscar nominee...

Director Sarah Gavron’s pic centers on Maud (Mulligan), a working wife and mother who decides she must fight for her dignity both at home and in her workplace. Realizing she is not alone, she joins with several other women in becoming an activist. Those early efforts at resistance were passive, but the suffragettes become galvanized — risking it all for the cause of women’s right.

That provides the perfect segue into the next entry in "Nancy's favorite feminist songs." This one has a definite 80's feel to it. But I still love it a lot.

The Effects of Epistemic Closure

Back in 2010, Julian Sanchez did us all a favor by defining something he called "epistemic closure."
One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile...It’s not just that any particular criticism might have to be taken seriously coming from a fellow conservative. Rather, it’s that anything that breaks down the tacit equivalence between “critic of conservatives" and “wicked liberal smear artist” undermines the effectiveness of the entire information filter.
The only information allowed inside this bubble of epistemic closure conservatives have built is that which confirms what they already believe to be true. Anything that contradicts their beliefs is written off as coming from "wicked liberal smear artists" and so, not only will it be rejected, it must be destroyed for the threat it represents.

As Sanchez points out - that creates a certain vulnerability for conservatives. What happens is that every now and then, the reality outside the bubble is simply too difficult to ignore and/or reject. We all watched as that happened to one conservative commentator after another on election night 2012. Even the Republican candidate himself was finally shaken out of his epistemic closure. Reality stepped in a provided a bitter pill for all to swallow.

But when your whole identity has been built underneath the protection of that bubble of epistemic closure, even moments like that are followed by rationalizations that breech the fabric that was torn by the intrusion of reality.

What we're witnessing right now is that Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana is experiencing just such a breach in the bubble of his own epistemic closure. He actually believed that the people of Indiana (and the country) would hail his state's adoption of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because that's what everyone inside his bubble believes.
I spoke with Pence on the same day that thousands of people rallied at the Statehouse in opposition to the law. And the same day that Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle announced that his company will abandon a deal with the state and city to expand the company’s headquarters in Indianapolis because of RFRA’s passage.

Oesterle’s statement is a telling sign that the outrage over RFRA isn’t limited only to the political left. Oesterle directed Republican Mitch Daniels’ 2004 campaign for governor. And it’s a signal that the damage from the RFRA debacle could be extensive...

I asked the governor if he had anticipated the strongly negative reaction set off by the bill’s passage. His response made it clear that he and his team didn’t see it coming.

“I just can’t account for the hostility that’s been directed at our state,” he said.
Of course Gov. Pence is now backtracking on this bill and promising to clear up the "confusion" about its intent. But, just as legislators in Georgia learned this week, it is the intention of supporters of RFRA to discriminate against LGBT people. He's about to learn precisely what it means to be between a rock and a hard place.

Democrats should take note of this moment. We often give the pronouncements of those who live inside a bubble of epistemic closure too much power. As Stephen Colbert said so many years ago, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Odds & Ends

Recently I wrote about how the Obama administration has strengthened the Civil Rights Division at DOJ. This week they made some big announcements:
Yesterday Ed Kilgore wrote about the confusion Scott Walker's pronouncements have created over the use of the word "amnesty" amongst conservatives. Apparently Walker isn't the only one that has people scratching their heads over this one.
Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz’s office on Friday indicated the Texas senator remains open to a path to legal status for undocumented workers, putting him at odds with conservatives who deride such a position as unacceptable “amnesty.”...

The idea anyone could get to the right of Cruz on immigration, who has repeatedly threatened to shut down the government to defund Obama’s “illegal executive amnesty” might come as a surprise. But by the terms of the immigration debate set out so far, his bona fides could absolutely come into question. Many conservatives, including the leading anti-immigration groups, consider any policy that falls short of deportation “amnesty.”...

This lack of an clear definition of amnesty, beyond “thing conservatives don’t like,” can create a lot of confusion in trying to tease out candidate’s positions.
As we look toward the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year, Mexico is the latest country to get on board with a plan to cap greenhouse emissions.

Astronauts Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka made it to the space station for their #YearInSpace.
The crew will support several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science — research that impacts life on Earth. Data and samples will be collected throughout the year from a series of studies involving Scott and his twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly [Gabby Gifford's husband]. The studies will compare data from the genetically-identical Kelly brothers to identify any subtle changes caused by spaceflight.

Finally, I've decided to adopt a focus for my musical postings. Over the next few months I'm going to highlight some of my favorite feminist songs. Of course there will be a few obvious choices. But stick around...some may surprise you. Also, feel free to suggest what you think I should include.

For today, here is a new cover of Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me" by Grace (featuring G-Eazy). It's good to know that the young folks still respect this feminist anthem.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Free Eric Holder


I can't tell you how much I LOVE this!
A new fashion trend is sweeping the halls of the Justice Department for spring – “Free Eric Holder’’ wristbands, an inside joke among Attorney General Eric Holder‘s top aides and supporters about the months-long political standoff over his successor.

The black rubber bracelets were the idea of Molly Moran, a senior Justice Department official, according to people who have received them. The wristbands, like the kind people wear to support various charities or causes, started appearing on staffers’ wrists a couple weeks ago, when it became clear there was no end in sight to the standoff over the nomination of Loretta Lynch...

Staffers have paid for the bracelets with their own money – not taxpayer funds – and have talked about making Free Eric Holder T-shirts as well.

“We’re hoping for a day we don’t have to wear these bracelets anymore, even if it takes a charity album,’’ joked one.
One of the best ways to deal with the kind of insanity we're seeing from Congressional Republicans over things like the Loretta Lynch nomination is to simply point and laugh. Good job on that front Molly!

What Minnesota and California Have in Common


I've probably done enough humble-bragging about my home state of Minnesota and Governor Mark Dayton. But I did appreciate the way this visual summed it up.

I was also reminded that the two states in the country that are getting a lot of attention right now for their robust economic recovery are Minnesota and California.
For years, business lobbyists complained about what they derided as "job killer" laws that drive employers out of California.

Rival state governors, notably former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, made highly publicized visits to the Golden State in hopes of poaching jobs.

But new numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tell a different story. Total jobs created in the 12 months ending Jan. 31 show California leading other states. California gained 498,000 new jobs, almost 30% more than the Lone Star State's total of 392,900 for the same period.
Of course these two states have almost nothing in common. But there are a couple of things that stand out. Both Governors - Mark Dayton and Jerry Brown - took office in January 2011 following Republicans who had served more than one term. They beat the odds of the 2010 midterm elections that brought in Republican Governors like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder and Sam Brownback.

But what I find even more interesting is that both of these Governors are old white guy political re-treads. Perhaps that's just a meaningless coincidence. But in an era when there is a lot of focus on young up-and-coming energetic newcomers in politics, it does make me wonder if the old guys who have already been around the block once or twice might not bring something to the table that we need these days.

Just a thought...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Two Men I Admire Most...In Conversation (updated)

As soon as I saw this, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven ;-)

Barack Obama and David Simon talked about The Wire and our failed war on drugs.


I also have to note that, in the midst of this conversation, President Obama points out something that I wrote about a few weeks ago: the fact that one of the reasons why the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) remains low is that our over-incarceration during the war on drugs has produced a record number of Americans with felony records (mostly brown and black men).

UPDATE: Question: Why would President Obama do this interview now? He's laying the groundwork and setting the stage. Somethin's up.

The Lack of Consensus on GOP Foreign Policy

Over the last few elections, the centerpiece of Republican campaigns has been to blame President Obama and Democrats for the slow economic recovery from the great recession. But now that Americans are finally feeling the benefits of a stronger economy, that is going to be a tough sell.

For now, it appears that the big issue Republicans want us to all focus on for 2016 is foreign policy. Step one in that process is to convince us all that the "world is on fire" and we are threatened by "Islamic extremists." Step two is to suggest that this is all President Obama's fault and he is doing nothing to stop it.

If this were a rational approach to political differences, step three would be to promote an alternative strategy to address the problem. But other than truly deranged people like John Bolton (who actually laid out a plan for war with Iran), we get no specifics.

Unlike Republican attempts to hide their actual economic policies (see budget gimmicks), I would suggest that their lack of specifics on foreign policy has less to do with an awareness that Americans wouldn't support their proposals and more to do with the fact that there is no consensus about what an alternative strategy would be.

Right now the fear-mongering that is fueled by Obama Derangement Syndrome is playing right into the hands of the neocon interventionists. That is making life difficult for Sen. Rand Paul. As some have noted, it puts him in the position of having to decide whether or not to abandon his father's non-interventionist libertarianism and contempt for Israel.

As I have been pointing out recently though, it also puts Jeb Bush in a bit of a bind. Matt Lewis suggests that the pressure he is feeling is whether or not to align himself with his father's "realists" on foreign policy or his brother's neocons. Lewis reminds us that it wasn't just James Baker who parted ways with the latter. Back in 2002, Brent Scowcroft (national security advisor to both President's Ford and George H.W. Bush) published a prescient op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled: Don't Attack Saddam.

Over the Bush/Cheney years, this disagreement between the neocons and the realists was mostly kept under wraps. But as I have suggested, it appears that in 2006 (when Rumsfeld was fired and Cheney sidelined), the realists staged a quiet coup and took over. The idea that Poppy Bush and his friends would sit quietly by and watch Jeb make all the same mistakes brother George did is not likely.

The truth is that, in their modern-day iterations, the lines that separate Republicans and Democrats were more clearly driven by domestic than foreign policy differences. After all, it was Kennedy who got us into the war in Vietnam, Johnson who escalated it, and Nixon who ended it. In a fascinating overview, Ronald Reagan's assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb has written about where there is overlap between President Obama's foreign policy and that of Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

I'm not sure that in today's political climate it is possible to have a rational discussion about what a foreign policy for the 21st century should look like. President Obama has clearly outlined his own thoughts on that and we are just now beginning to finally extricate ourselves from the mess the neocons made of things during the Bush/Cheney years. As they ramp up the fear-mongering to suggest we should repeat those mistakes, it will be interesting to watch whether or not the libertarians and realists still have a voice in the Republican Party.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

GOP Sanity? Oh No - We Can't Have That!

It's clear that the sanity expressed by Former Secretary of State James Baker on Israel and Iran that I wrote about yesterday has posed a bit of a problem for Jeb Bush. The so-called "establishment candidate" is already in trouble with the Republican base for his lackluster demonization of Common Core and his position on immigration reform. So it should come as no surprise that today the latest Bush candidate for president had to respond to Baker's speech with an op-ed in the National Review.

Jeb didn't really say anything noteworthy in his commentary. It contains all of the usual distortions about President Obama's actual positions and policies as well as being completely devoid of alternatives. But I have to say that this sentence is particularly absurd coming from someone named Bush.
And Iraq continues to fall further under Iran’s orbit — a surrender of American influence and an insult to the troops and commanders who sacrificed mightily to stabilize that country.
Of course Jeb wants us to blame that on Obama and completely forget that it was his bother's decision to force regime change in Iraq that installed a Shia government led by Iran-friendly Nouri al-Maliki - whose suppression of Sunnis is what led to the formation of ISIS in Iraq.

But nevermind...Jeb has a presidential campaign to run. Appealing to Republican sanity has become a losing proposition.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Photo of the Day: Supergirls

President Barack Obama made some waves and warned the robots at the White House Science Fair on Monday, but it was the elementary-school Supergirls who captured his science-loving heart. Wearing red capes over their Girl Scout uniforms, the 6-year-olds from Tulsa, Oklahoma, showed off a page-turning robot, made from Lego blocks and designed for use by disabled people. Later, Obama confessed he was tickled by the kids' command of techno-lingo. "This is a quote. They said, 'It's just a prototype,'" he recalled.

Let's Run the Tape Back

Last week in Cleveland, President Obama said this:
It’s important to note that at every step that we’ve taken over the past six years we were told our goals were misguided; they were too ambitious; that my administration’s policies would crush jobs and explode deficits, and destroy the economy forever. Remember that? Because sometimes we don’t do the instant replay, we don’t run the tape back, and then we end up having the same argument going forward.
The folks at NowThis pulled the tape so we could run it back.


It's a total unambiguous route for President Obama.

The Good Ol' Days When Republicans Were Capable of Sanity

I've often thought about how out of touch the George H.W. Bush administration would be with the current iteration of the Republican Party. That perspective was confirmed after reading former Secretary of State James Baker's remarks about Netanyahu. I am relieved that at least someone in the GOP is still capable of telling the truth.
Blasting “diplomatic missteps and political gamesmanship,” former Secretary of State James Baker laid in hard to the Israeli prime minister on Monday evening, criticizing him for an insufficient commitment to peace and an absolutist opposition to the Iran nuclear talks...

Baker, who was the chief diplomat for President George H.W. Bush and is now advising Jeb Bush on his presidential campaign, cited mounting frustrations with Netanyahu over the past six years — but particularly with comments he made in the closing days of last week’s election disavowing his support for a two-state solution and support for settlements strategically placed to attempt to change the borders between Israel and the West Bank...

Baker said while Netanyahu has said he’s for peace, “his actions have not matched his rhetoric.”

Some Republicans in Congress have claimed Obama has eroded American support of Israel. That’s wrong, too, Baker said.

“No one around the entire world should ever doubt America’s commitment to Israel, Not now, or at any point in the future,” he said.

“Although Netanyahu and his right-and-center coalition may oppose a two-state solution, a land-for-peace approach has long been supported by a substantial portion of the Israeli body politic, by every American [administration] since 1967 — Republican and Democratic alike — and a vast majority of nations around the world,” Baker said.

As to Netanyahu’s opposition on Iran, Baker warned against seeking only a perfect deal.

“If the only agreement is one in which there is no enrichment, then there will be no agreement,” Baker said.

After all, Baker said, no military solution could work in his assessment: an American strike would only generate more support among Iranians for the fundamentalist government, and an Israeli strike would neither be as effective nor carry American support.
In case it's been so long that you can't remember, that's what grown-up Republicans were capable of before they contracted Obama Derangement Syndrome.  It's a great example of just how far afield the current crop has gotten.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Watch This...You Must



Hat tip to my friend @AlanMandel

Blurring the Lines

Remember that time Maureen Dowd wondered why President Obama couldn't be more like the president Michael Douglas played in the movie The American President? And remember when President Obama's response was to point at her during the White House Correspondent's Dinner and laugh?

Well...I've got some material for the President's next comedy routine. Apparently the pollsters at Reuters/IPSOS have a bit too much time on their hands because they recently decided that it would be worth it to find out how President Obama's popularity stacks up against his television counterparts in pretend-world.

Seriously. I'm not talking about fake pollsters at Comedy Central. Reuters (supposedly a serious news outfit) really invested time and money to find out whether fake presidents are more popular than a real president.

I was reminded that John Stewart tends to react negatively when people compare him to real journalists. Even though he often packs more actual news into segments than the serious people do. And so I wonder when its time to start comparing journalists to comedians...even if what they produce isn't funny at all.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"There Can Be No Democratic Jewish State Unless There Is Also a Palestinian State"

As I mentioned recently, here is something President Obama said to Jeffrey Goldberg about a year ago:
What I’ve said to him [Netanyahu] privately is the same thing that I say publicly, which is the situation will not improve or resolve itself. This is not a situation where you wait and the problem goes away. There are going to be more Palestinians, not fewer Palestinians, as time goes on. There are going to be more Arab-Israelis, not fewer Arab-Israelis, as time goes on...

I have not yet heard, however, a persuasive vision of how Israel survives as a democracy and a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors in the absence of a peace deal with the Palestinians and a two-state solution. Nobody has presented me a credible scenario.
For those who don't understand what he was talking about (i.e., Rep. Steve King), Dana Milbank makes it all perfectly and profoundly clear.
...for abandoning the idea of a Palestinian state will destroy the Jewish state just as surely, if not as swiftly, as an Iranian nuclear bomb.

This is a matter not of ideology but of arithmetic. Without a Palestinian state, Israel can be either a Jewish state or a democracy but not both. If it annexes the Palestinian territories and remains democratic, it will be split roughly evenly between Jews and Arabs; if it annexes the territories and suppresses the rights of Arabs, it ceases to be democratic...

...in the end there can be no democratic Jewish state unless there is also a Palestinian state.
This is the reality Netanyahu (and his supporters) want to deny. Its also why his fear-mongering on election day about Arab-Israelis voting is of such great concern.

Those who want Israel to survive as a democracy and a Jewish state at peace with their neighbors have no choice but to work towards developing a two-state solution. That is exactly what President Obama will continue to do.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

GOP Projection

Sen. Marco Rubio:
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says that if elected president, he would "absolutely" defy stalwart European allies if necessary in order to revoke an Iranian nuclear deal he might inherit from President Barack Obama.
Sen. Lindsay Graham:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned Thursday that he would slash U.S. funding to the United Nations if the body decides to lift its sanctions on Iran as part of a nuclear agreement.
Sen. Tom Cotton:
Cotton, apparently unbowed by the outcry over his recent open letter to Iranian leaders, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would cut U.S. funding to countries that receive former Guantanamo detainees who are later suspected of terrorism.
Yep. These are leaders of the same Party that says President Obama has caused the United States to lose the trust and confidence of our allies. At what point have we demonstrated that about 99% of what they complain about is simply projection?

Is the World on Fire?

Paul Waldman had the appropriate response to the whole kerfuffle about Sen. Ted Cruz scaring a child with his assertions that the world is on fire. Whether or not one child was scared is apparently debatable and mostly irrelevant. The real question is why Cruz would say such a thing in the first place (a statement like that is designed to scare people...that's the whole point) and whether or not it's true.

The Republicans have made it their business to scare people. I suspect that if it wasn't for ISIS, they'd find something else to use for those purposes (Ebola worked for a while, as did the children crossing our border from Central America). But for right now, ISIS is their weapon of choice. And according to the data Waldman provided from the latest CNN poll, it seems to be working.

What's interesting is to compare that with what John Simpson reports from Baghdad - a city that was feeling a real threat from ISIS just last summer.
After 12 years in which the worst of any range of possibilities usually came about, it does feel as though Iraq could at long last be starting to turn the corner. That is certainly what people here in Baghdad, probably the most pessimistic city on earth, are now allowing themselves to hope. 
Why would the people of Baghdad be thinking that their country "could at long last be starting to turn the corner?" Perhaps its because their future depends on knowing the truth rather than being fed lies that are designed to stir up fear...truth like this:
The call of the caliphate has galvanised zealots. Yet, even as IS launches terrorist attacks, the good news is that cracks in the caliphate are becoming increasingly apparent. IS is losing ground, money and the consent of the people it rules.

The caliphate has been pushed out of the Syrian town of Kobane by Kurdish fighters, backed by American air power. It is being squeezed in Tikrit (the tribal base of the former dictator, Saddam Hussein) by the Iraqi army and Shia militias co-ordinated by Iran. Compared with the peak, when it was at the gates of Baghdad, its territory has shrunk by about 25%.

IS’s funds are dwindling, too. America and its allies have bombed lucrative oil facilities. Most of the hostages have been sold or murdered in video-recorded beheadings. Now that IS’s forces are retreating, the loot of conquest has dried up. Some analysts reckon it may have lost up to 75% of its revenues. That makes it harder for IS to keep fighting and to provide services to the roughly 8m people living under its rule.

That may help explain signs of internal tension. The movement has started to kill its own followers, sometimes for fleeing before the enemy and on at least one occasion supposedly for zealously beheading too many people. Residents complain of extortion, violent repression and declining public services. There are reports of tensions between local and foreign members over disparities in pay.

Judged by its own standard, then, the caliphate is failing as an all-conquering state and model for society. That matters because a proto-state with a large territory and population to defend is also more vulnerable to setbacks than terrorist groups that are not rooted to a patch of land. Precisely because IS claims to be running a model Islamic state, its visible failure exposes the bankruptcy of its ideology and the hollowness of its claims to would-be recruits. If, as some say, the secret of IS’s success is success itself; then failure will gain momentum, too.
As that article goes on to say, the "degrade" portion of President Obama's strategy of "degrade and destroy" is underway. But...
Destruction is much further off. As much as Islamic State is a cause of chaos in the Middle East, it is also a symptom. Its ideology feeds off Sunnis’ sense of victimhood. The group has taken root across the region, and especially where the state has collapsed. Defeating it is ultimately a matter of rebuilding governments in the Arab world—a task that will take decades.
That echoes exactly what President Obama told Matt Yglesias.
So the biggest challenge we have right now is disorder. Failed states. Asymmetric threats from terrorist organizations...

But this is going to be a generational challenge in the Muslim world and the Middle East that not only the United States but everybody's going to have to deal with. And we're going to have to have some humility in recognizing that we don't have the option of simply invading every country where disorder breaks out. And that to some degree, the people of these countries are going to have to, you know, find their own way. And we can help them but we can't do it for them.
Allowing fear to guide our response to these challenges is exactly what FDR warned us about when he said: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." To avoid that danger we need to inform ourselves, accurately assess the situation and support efforts to tackle these issues both in the present and over the long term. Simply shouting "the world is on fire" won't cut it.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Quick Take

I promise that I'm not going to waste my time commenting on every stupid thing a Republican candidate for 2016 says. But now and then, when one of them says something really ignorant, I might go with a quick take(down). Such is the case today with Sen. Marco Rubio.
If there are differences, they need to be dealt with privately, like you do with other allies. And more than anything else, they deserve to be treated with more respect, not less than the respect this President and this White House is giving the Supreme Leader of Iran. For he would not dare say the things about the Supreme Leader of Iran now that he is saying about the Prime Minister of Israel because he wouldn’t want to endanger his peace deal or his arms deal that he’s working out with them.
When President Obama proposes to unite the world to impose global sanctions on Israel until they give up their nuclear weapons, perhaps we can talk about some kind of equivalency with Iran. In the meantime, your ignorance is showing, Sen. Rubio.

I'm Not Buying O'Malley on Wall Street Reform

It is clear that Gov. Martin O'Malley is trying to position himself with people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and portray himself as a "populist Democrat." To do so, he wrote an op-ed in the Des Moines Register titled: Prevent Another Crash, Reform Wall Street. I'm sorry to say that all he's done is demonstrate that he doesn't understand what caused the financial crisis of 2008 or the Wall Street reforms that have already been enacted.

O'Malley suggests the need for two structural reforms: (1) reinstatement of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, and (2) break up the "too big to fail" banks.

In order to understand why those two reforms are unnecessary, we have to understand what happened to create the Great Recession of 2008. Financial institutions (some of which included commercial banks and some who didn't) made a lot of risky investments without the capital to back them up if those investments failed. When they did fail, it became necessary for taxpayers to bail them out or run the risk that the entire global economy would collapse.

Dodd/Frank did two things in regards to these large financial institutions:
  1. It gave a special council the ability to identify those who are "too big to fail" and label them "systemically important financial institutions" (SIFI). They are now required to maintain enough capital to survive the kind of market failures that led to the Great Recession. In order to ensure that happens, they must pass annual "stress tests" that are designed to replicate those conditions. 
  2. It gave the government "orderly liquidation authority" - or the legal right to seize complex financial institutions in times of crisis. This is something the government has had the ability to do with failing commercial banks since the Great Depression. Dodd/Frank ensured that, even if a SIFI were to fail, rather than have taxpayers bail them out, the government could take them into receivership.
I noted recently that, as a result of the capital requirements included in Dodd/Frank, the too big to fail institutions are already shrinking. Last week the Federal Reserve released the results of their stress tests on SIFI institutions and all U.S. banks passed (with an asterisk for Bank of America).

In light of all that, Gov. O'Malley needs to explain how Glass-Steagall and breaking up the "too big to fail" banks will improve things. My cynical self says he's playing on our anger at bailing out the banks 7 years ago and hoping we don't understand the success of Dodd/Frank in preventing it from happening again.

The GOP's Repudiation of Bipartisan Precedents

If you're like me, you probably grew up occasionally hearing the phrase "politics stops at the water's edge" when it was time for American politicians to put their differences aside on the global stage and show a united front. It set a precedent for not airing our dirty laundry in public.

But I never knew the history behind that phrase. So today I decided to look it up. In 1948, the Truman administration was working on what would become the North Atlantic Treaty at a time when the Senate was controlled by Republicans. Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI) worked with Truman's State Department to craft the Vandenberg Resolution, which paved the way for the United States to negotiate an agreement with our European allies.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he [Vandenberg] asserted that "politics stops at the water's edge" and cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support.
I am reminded that our current Senate Majority Leader has a different view about the value of bipartisan support.
“We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” McConnell says. “Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan."
That was Senator McConnell's rationale back in 2009 for his strategy of total obstruction to any domestic proposals from President Obama and Democrats. It was a complete rejection of what David Frum suggested would be a more productive approach. Much like Senator Vandenberg, Frum thought Republicans should work with Democrats to produce bipartisan legislation that at least incorporated conservative ideas. That path was rejected by McConnell.

Now, with Speaker Boehner's move to go behind the President's back to invite Netanyahu to address Congress and Tom Cotton's letter to Iran undermining his negotiations, we see that same approach to foreign affairs. It is a complete repudiation of Vandenberg's principle that "politics stops at the water's edge."

This is one of many bipartisan precedents Republicans have repudiated. Others include things like requiring a super-majority to pass most any bill through the Senate, using a vote on the debt ceiling as a hostage, and now - using the Social Security Disability Fund as a hostage.
A top adviser to President Barack Obama on Friday slammed a House Republican maneuver aimed at forcing a showdown on Social Security as early as next year, signaling that it won't fly with the White House.

"The House provision was un-constructive and at odds with how this issue has been addressed time and time again in a bipartisan manner," Brian Deese, senior advisor to the president, told reporters at a breakfast downtown hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "It is just not tenable to walk away from what has been a very clear bipartisan approach to addressing the [disability fund] issue."...

The remarks set up a potential battle if Republicans seek to pass binding spending bills that forbid a reallocation. Congress has transferred funds between the program's retirement and disability funds 11 times, most recently in 1994.
These precedents are not written into the Constitution, so there is nothing illegal about recent Republican moves to abandon them. On occasion, it is probably a good thing to review historical precedents to determine if they continue to be useful and/or productive.

But the precedents the GOP has abandoned all have to do with guidelines our elected officials have established to work together - despite their differences - for the good of this country. Regardless of who is right or wrong on those differences, their approach is hurting us all.

One More Time for Dale Hansen

By now you probably know about Dale Hansen - the Dallas sportscaster. In the past year he's called out homophobia and racism in sports. Well...he's done it yet again. This time he's calling out his hometown Dallas Cowboys for looking the other way on domestic violence.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Quick Take

You need no more evidence for how deeply Netanyahu stepped in it when he said there would be no Palestinian state on his watch than to see just how fast he back-tracked on it all as soon as he was re-elected. It's good to know the White House isn't necessarily ready to forgive and forget.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with White House policy, said that U.S. officials understood Netanyahu’s “need to tack to the right” during his campaign. “We get that those are tactics,” the official said.

But, the official added, referring to the prime minister by his nickname, “Bibi needs to understand that there are policy ramifications for the way he did this. You can’t say all this” about rejecting the two-state policy “and then just say, ‘I was just kidding.’”

Congress Has Abdicated Its Role on Foreign Policy

I have to admit to a fair amount of eye-rolling when liberals insisted that Congress get involved in approving a new Authorization For the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS or when they take a stand against fast-tracking trade authority on things like the Trans Pacific Partnership. Of course I have the same reaction to conservatives who insist that Congress weigh in if/when a deal is negotiated on Iran's nuclear program.

In a world where Congress can actually function, those demands would make sense. Unfortunately, that's not the world we currently live in. Case in point: the ISIS AUMF.
More than a month after the White House sought Congress’ blessing for the expanding war against the terrorist group, congressional action has gotten bogged down in partisan rancor and divergent viewpoints over what the war should try to accomplish, how long the administration should be authorized to wage it, and what level of force will be required. Some say that the liberals who insisted the White House include extra conditions, such as a deadline and limits on ground troops, overplayed their hand, undercutting potential Republican support.

“I just don’t hear many people standing up for what the president has proposed, so I think we’re kind of moving beyond that,” the panel’s chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), told reporters Wednesday.
Neither side gets a pass here. The Republicans insisted that President Obama's proposal wasn't "tough enough." But Thronberry is right - a lot of Democrats didn't like it either. As Steve Benen put it:
...some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn’t go far enough.
I don't mean to suggest that I take this lightly, but the first thing I thought of when I read that was the story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Essentially what we have is a group of people playing small-ball with their ideologies and special interests. And its nothing but a food fight. Meanwhile, someone has to be an adult and take charge. That task has been left to President Obama.

Over the long term, that's a pretty big problem for our democracy. But right now I don't see a reasonable alternative.

A Different Way to Takle Money in Politics

A lot of people are commenting on the fact that President Obama said this yesterday in Ohio:
President Barack Obama on Wednesday suggested that if American voters want to “counteract” the role of money in politics, it may be worth making voting mandatory.

“It would be transformative if everybody voted,” Obama said during a town hall event in Cleveland, Ohio. “That would counteract (campaign) money more than anything. If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country.”
What is interesting to me about this is not only the idea of mandatory voting as a way to counteract recent efforts by Republicans to restrict voting (which is the angle a lot of commentators took) but the President's stated reason for contemplating the idea - its affect on money in politics.

It strikes me that for too long progressives have focused only on legislative fixes to limit the role of money in politics. It's not that I would abandon those possibilities. But one thing I've always appreciated about President Obama is that he's clearly thinking creatively about other ways to tackle the problem.

What I see from this President is not so much an attempt to limit how much rich people spend on campaigns (although he has made clear statements against the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United) - but to engage the grass roots in a way that makes their money less relevant. He did that in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns by raising millions of dollars in small donations. That success will be one of his most significant legacies.

Now he's planting the seed of an idea that if everyone voted, it could counteract the role of money in politics. That - my friends - is a community organizer at work.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Maintaining the Trust and Confidence of Our Friends

Here's one of Jeb Bush's favorite lines on the stump these days:
Under this administration, we...have lost the trust and confidence of our friends. We definitely no longer inspire fear in our enemies.
That's why it is so jarring to hear this kind of thing from Sen. Marc Rubio:
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says that if elected president, he would "absolutely" defy stalwart European allies if necessary in order to revoke an Iranian nuclear deal he might inherit from President Barack Obama.
I guess you can at least give Rubio points for acknowledging that the negotiations aren't happening unilaterally between the U.S. and Iran (as Cotton's letter implied). But he's pretty clear that  he's ready to forgo the "trust and confidence of our friends" when it comes to a potential deal.

Of course many people hear a line like that one from Bush and assume that he's really talking about "friend" in the singular rather than plural and that it refers to Israel. That is where the re-election of PM Netanyahu ensures that all of this is going to get increasingly challenging over the next few years.

On the day before the election, Netanyahu declared that there will be "no Palestinian state on my watch." In other words, the long-standing goal of negotiations between Israel and Palestinians towards a two-state solution are over. As Joe Biden would say, "that's a BFD." And not in a good way.

I am reminded of a conversation President Obama had with Jeffrey Goldberg about a year ago.
What we also know is that Israel has become more isolated internationally. We had to stand up in the Security Council in ways that 20 years ago would have involved far more European support, far more support from other parts of the world when it comes to Israel’s position. And that’s a reflection of a genuine sense on the part of a lot of countries out there that this issue continues to fester, is not getting resolved, and that nobody is willing to take the leap to bring it to closure...

I’ve said directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu he has an opportunity to solidify, to lock in, a democratic, Jewish state of Israel that is at peace with its neighbors and...with permanent borders. And has an opportunity also to take advantage of a potential realignment of interests in the region, as many of the Arab countries see a common threat in Iran. The only reason that that potential realignment is not, and potential cooperation is not, more explicit is because of the Palestinian issue...

What I’ve said to him [Netanyahu] privately is the same thing that I say publicly, which is the situation will not improve or resolve itself. This is not a situation where you wait and the problem goes away. There are going to be more Palestinians, not fewer Palestinians, as time goes on. There are going to be more Arab-Israelis, not fewer Arab-Israelis, as time goes on...

I have not yet heard, however, a persuasive vision of how Israel survives as a democracy and a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors in the absence of a peace deal with the Palestinians and a two-state solution. Nobody has presented me a credible scenario.
Netanyahu's rejection of a two-state solution means that - over time - Israel will become even more isolated from the rest of the world. And it remains to be seen how he will maintain any notion of democracy in Israel as the number of Arab-Israelis continues to rise.

What Republicans need to grapple with is if they are willing to lose the "trust and confidence of our friends" around the globe in order to continue to support Netanyahu's increasing recklessness.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Scott Walker's Record

A few weeks ago, I suggested that the antidote to Scott Walker would be to compare his record to that of Gov. Mark Dayton in Minnesota. But it's also telling to see how his state's economy compares to the rest of the country.

Scott Walker's Wisconsin ranks:
That - my friends - is what conservative economic policies will do to a state. 

As for Scott Walker, his favorite punch line these days seems to be: "You don't have to go to the center to win the center." I'd suggest that once those in "the center" actually take a look at his record, he won't be going anywhere but home.

Really Bad Moves from McConnell

It's time for me to admit that I was wrong. In the past I've thought of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as uninterested in any particular policy issue, but pretty good at being strategic when it comes to the power games that often drive our politics. It's on that latter part that I've obviously been wrong.

Case in point: How he's handling the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be our next Attorney General.

You might have read by now that he slipped an anti-abortion poison pill into the Senate bill on human trafficking - which Democrats won't support. His position is that he will not hold a vote on the Lynch nomination until that bill is passed. In other words, his new hostage is confirmation of our next Attorney General.

Allow me to ditto what my friend Allan Bauer tweeted yesterday.

Not the brightest move, McConnell.

But then, apparently yesterday he demonstrated his complete hackery on all this by blaming the Democrats for not voting on Lynch during the lame duck session last year. Ummm...Mr. McConnell, that wasn't that long ago and some of us remember (or can google) what you said back then.
“Ms. Lynch will receive fair consideration by the Senate. And her nomination should be considered in the new Congress through regular order,” McConnell said in a statement.

Senate Republicans are unified against Lynch’s nomination moving through the lame-duck session...
Finally, Majority Leader McConnell seems to be out on a limb with his insistence that an anti-abortion provision be included in the human trafficking bill without the support of Republicans in the House.
The House versions, carried by U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minnesota, did not include the abortion language.

Paulsen, who is back in Minnesota during a House recess, called the Senate stalemate disappointing Thursday.

Paulsen supports restricting federal funds for abortions and the morning-after pill, but said that language has no place in the Senate bill.

“There is no reason it should be included in these bills. This issue is far too important to tie it up with an unrelated fight with politics as usual,” he said. “To me, this is about saving lives.”
Over the last four years, a lot of ink has been devoted to wondering whether or not John Boehner is the worst Speaker in history. Who knew McConnell wanted to get in on that action?

The People Who Want to Take our Country Back

Jeff Horwitt has an interesting take from the latest WSJ/NBC News poll.
Ninety-five percent of self-identified Republican primary voters are white. That’s among the findings of the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, as well as that 74% of all Americans age 18 and older are white, a figure that tracks with census data. This means that heading into 2016, the Republican primary electorate is dramatically less diverse than the country overall. The GOP primary electorate is even less diverse than the country was in 1916, when 91% of the voting-age population was white, according to historical census data.

Nominating a candidate for president from an electorate that is less diverse than America was a century ago, when voting rights were limited to men ages 21 and over, is not good for the Republican Party or its eventual nominee.
Ya think?!!!

He then goes on to provide data about how out of touch these white Republican primary voters are with the rest of the country when it comes to current issues - like Obamacare, taxes and immigration reform.

And yet this is the group that will not only decide who the next Republican presidential nominee will be, they are the ones the Republicans in Congress are pandering to. Here's how President Obama explained it in his interview with VICE News.
A lot of times from the outside - and sometime mainstream media reports this as a food find and its a problem with both parties just being partisan. Well...that's just not accurate...There are times in history where Democrats have been unreasonable. There are times that Republicans have led the way. But right now - on a lot of the issues that young people care about - its not both sides arguing and creating gridlock. You've got one side that is denying the facts - who are often motivated principally by opposing whatever it is that I propose. That's not inevitable to our democracy. That's a phase that the Republican Party is going through right now...

One thing young people could do immediately is vote. And the fact of the matter is that in the last midterm election, about a third of eligible voters voted. And so, if you've got gridlock and you've got people who aren't producing, the fact that a lot of them got rewarded with re-election and the people who were in power creating the gridlock stayed in power, that's a consequence of everybody staying home and acting cynical.
Thanks in part to what Barack Obama did so well in 2008, we expect our political candidates to inspire us. And when they don't, we get cynical and stay home. That means we're making politics an emotional enterprise rather than a strategic one. The Republicans have mastered that by using fear to motivate those white primary voters. But we can do better than that.

Mitch McConnell's game plan from day one has been to take the energy of Barack Obama's presidency away by doing everything he can to stop him from getting anything done. Getting cynical about politics because of that plays right into his hand.

In 2016, I'm very likely to vote for politicians who don't inspire me. But I will do so anyway because I'll be strategic in thinking about who is most likely to ensure that we at least hold our ground (if not go forward) rather than going backwards. I've seen enough of what the Republican primary electorate wants these days. Giving up on the advancements we've made over the last century is not an option.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Quick Take

The other day when I was reading Mehdi Hasan's article about ISIS and Islam, I began to contemplate the interplay between personal identity, culture and the gods we worship. I was reminded of this quote from the book, The Great Cosmic Mother, by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor.
The world's definition of God is the self-definition of humanity...We do not know if a "God" is a true God or a false God until we see what kind of world is created in that God's image...

Because, as human beings, we not only worship our gods. We become them.  

The Power of the Executive Branch to Bring Change

A comment someone made on Facebook after President Obama's speech in Selma has been rolling around in the back of my mind for a few days now. I'm not going to link to it because my purpose is not to call out the individual. But it captured some things we've heard before.

Basically this person was criticizing the President for not talking more specifically about how racial issues manifest themselves today or proposing policies that address them. Here's just a bit of it:
On such a stage as he had yesterday, I feel it would have been prudent for him to address the particular issues that we face. To detail the real world problems that the "long shadow" of racism has created and to bring to the table real policy positions that could address our present reality.

Instead, I feel, he offered only hopeful language and dazzling rhetoric.
Regardless of whether you think the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Selma was the place for such specifics (I don't), that comment points to the way in which too many of us assume that change only happens in this country via Congress or the Courts. The reason I say that is because this person obviously has not paid attention to how the actions of the Executive branch of government have addressed those issues.

Just one example I would point to is what has happened at the Department of Justice - specifically with the Civil Rights Division (created in 1957 to enforce Civil Rights laws). Some people might remember how that division was corrupted during the Bush/Cheney administration. Everything about the division became politicized - including hirings, firings and prosecutions. Here's how Joseph Rich, chief of the Voting Rights section from 1999 to 2005, described it in 2007:
Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.
But it wasn't just voting rights. Stephen Rushin, a professor at the University of Illinois Law School, has studied the implementation of the portion of the 1991 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that gave the Civil Rights Division of DOJ the authority to investigate systemic problems within law enforcement departments and implement reforms. He found that - rather suddenly in 2005 (when Gonzales became Attorney General) - the number of investigations declined sharply. His research found that, at that time, the division quit working with civil rights organizations (who often initiated the investigations) and instead simply offered voluntary technical assistance to law enforcement units.

What we see is that on at least two issues that are of primary importance in maintaining civil rights in this country - voting rights and investigating police misconduct - the Executive branch of our government purposefully dropped the ball.

All of that changed with the Obama administration. At a speech in 2010, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division Tom Perez, said this:
In case you haven’t heard, the Civil Rights Division is once again open for business. Our job is to enforce the civil rights laws – all of the laws – and to do so fairly, thoroughly and independently.

President Obama and Attorney General Holder have made the restoration and transformation of the Civil Rights Division a top priority. The Attorney General has called the Division the “crown jewel” of the Justice Department. As a result of the President and Attorney General’s leadership, and the support of Congress, the Division has received one of the largest infusions of resources in its history.
That talk was backed up by plenty of walk. It all began with the Civil Rights Division hiring attorneys with actual civil rights experience. The Division has been aggressive in defending voting rights and investigating police misconduct.  On the latter:
The Obama administration has used its power aggressively to take on widespread problems of police brutality, discrimination and other abuse in local jurisdictions, negotiating more settlement agreements than either the Clinton or George W. Bush administrations.
I would simply note that the Civil Rights Division of DOJ started an investigation of the Cleveland Police Department more than a year before Tamir Rice was killed.

That summarizes the importance of leadership in the Executive branch of our government by looking at just one department. We could note similar changes in, for example, the fact that under Bush the Department of Education stopped collecting racial data from public schools. When the practice was re-instituted in the Obama administration, the information provided the impetus for disciplinary reforms that disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

By focusing only on Congress and the Courts, we completely neglect the power of the Executive branch to implement change (either good or bad). It's true that with his "pen and phone strategy," President Obama is beginning to open our eyes to this oversight. But really...its been happening all along.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Odds & Ends

How about some good news on climate change?
Global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn.
Especially because I'm a bit of a tortoise fanatic, this was also really good news to me.
After more than a century without a single baby tortoise sighting on the Galapagos island of Pinzón, a small group of the tiny, shelled youngsters have been spotted again.

The recent births are helping to pull the critically endangered animals back from the brink of extinction after they were nearly laid to waste as a result of human activity.
Baby tortoise seems to be a bit camera shy.


Former Mayor of Madison, Dave Cieslewicz, says the reason Scott Walker survived the recall and got re-elected is because he has mastered the art of playing on people's resentments.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg turned 82 today. Happy Birthday to the Notorious RBG!

Last week, the 2014 General Social Survey was released.
When asked their “religious preference”, nearly one-in-four Americans now says “none.”Up until the 1990s, this group of so-called “nones” hovered in the single digits. The 2014 GSS showed that the so-called nones are 21 percent. How large is this group of nones? There are nearly as many Americans who claim no religion as there are Catholics (24 percent). If this growth continues, in a few years the largest “religion” in the U.S. may be no religion at all.
Finally, when the perfect voice meets the perfect song - musical magic happens. With a hat tip to the original - Roy Orbison - enjoy the magic!

Humor and Sanity

As Republicans continue to lose their ever-lovin' minds, it's important to remember that humor can be a great tool for maintaining one's sanity when all about you are abandoning theirs. Leonard Pitt's expressed it well in response to the news that John Stewart was retiring from The Daily Show.
We tend to underestimate humor, but it has this way of clarifying that which is difficult and opaque. You can often make a more trenchant point with a joke than with a 10,000-word treatise, something Stewart proved night in and night out.
Nowhere was that done more powerfully and adeptly than when Stephen Colbert challenged both the Bush/Cheney administration and the media at the 2006 White House Correspondent's Dinner.

Much has been written about how President Obama can be professorial. Not so much about his use of humor. Beyond appearances between two ferns, late night shows and Comedy Central, he has used it quite effectively on the campaign trail. Anyone remember Romnesia in 2012? When he delivered those lines for the first time I knew - beyond a shadow of a doubt - that he would be re-elected.

Here's another example that is not as well known. It was 2010 and the President was in Nevada stumping with Harry Reid - whose opponent was Sharon Angle. To talk about Angle seriously is to give her more credit than she deserves. Hence...


Last night at the Gridiron Dinner, President Obama provided us with some humor to combat the current crazy.
...getting older changes you. For example, coffee really disagrees with me these days — which is why John Boehner just invited coffee to address the joint House...

Despite a great performance tonight, Scott has had a few recent stumbles. The other week he said he didn’t know whether or not I was a Christian. And I was taken aback, but fortunately my faith teaches us forgiveness. So, Governor Walker, as-salamu alaykum...

And, finally, Governor Walker got some heat for staying silent when Rudy Giuliani said I don’t love America — which I also think is a problem. Think about it, Scott — if I did not love America, I wouldn’t have moved here from Kenya...

And we can’t just focus on 2016, people. We just had an election. This new Congress is just getting started, which is why I want to acknowledge the leader of the House Republicans — as soon as I figure out who that is.

The fact is, I really genuinely like John Boehner. But from your press reports, I gather he may be in real trouble. Over the past several weeks, many of you have been writing about a possible conservative coup — or as Bill O’Reilly calls it, “reporting from the war zone.”...

And then I got flak for appearing on a video for BuzzFeed, trying to reach younger voters. What nonsense. You know, you don’t diminish your office by taking a selfie. You do it by sending a poorly written letter to Iran. Really, that wasn’t a joke.
Ahhhh...I can feel my sanity quotient rising even as we speak.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Can I Make You Smile?

There is very little news today, so I thought I'd close out this edition of Saturday blogging by doing my best to see if I can make you smile.

The big question of the day is: Where is Vladimir Putin? If he's not really in Martin's basement (call me skeptical), then Max Fisher's idea is that we round up the kids from "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" to go look for him.

Have you ever run across the work of Russian photographer Elena Karneeva? Her images of children and animals are so astounding that I've often wondered if they are real. Apparently they are. Here's one of my favorites.


Speaking of photographs, Pete Souza just released a lot of new ones. I call this one, "It's Mutual."


Finally, as humans, we still seem to be struggling with the issues of race and gender. Some of you might wonder where it all started. Here ya go. Enjoy!

ISIS and Islam

A few weeks ago Graeme Wood garnered a lot of attention for his article in The Atlantic titled: What ISIS Really Wants. Conservatives (like Peggy Noonan) used it to attack President Obama for his unwillingness to call ISIS "radical Islamists."

Mehdi Hasan has written a thorough and comprehensive response to Wood's assertions titled: How Islamic is the Islamic State? Not at All. This is a must-read article for anyone who not only has an interest in understanding ISIS, but who would like to avoid the whole idea of a "holy war" with the 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet.

Hasan gathers data from a variety of professionals who have studied Al Qaeda and ISIS to make her case that ISIS is far outside the mainstream of Islam. She includes psychiatrists, intelligence experts, theologians, a former radical, and pollsters. I'm going to pull a couple of quotes that stood out to me in the hopes that it will entice you to go read the entire article.
Sageman, the former CIA officer, says we have to locate terrorism and extremism in local conflicts rather than in grand or sweeping ideological narratives – the grievances and the anger come first, he argues, followed by the convenient and self-serving ideological justifications. For example, he says, the origins of ISIS as a terror group lie not in this or that Islamic book or school of thought, but in the “slaughter of Sunnis in Iraq.” He reminds me how, in April 2013, when there was a peaceful Sunni demonstration asking the Shia-led Maliki government in Baghdad to reapportion to the various provinces what the government was getting in oil revenues, Iraqi security forces shot into the crowds. “That was the start of this [current] insurrection.”
At the heart of much of the Islamophobia we see today is a complete dismissal of the centuries-old conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims and how that is fueling much of the discord in the Middle East today. In highlighting that anger is more of a motivator than religion, Sageman points out that it was the brutality of Maliki against the Sunni majority in Iraq that led to the ISIS insurrection in that country.

The pollster Hasan consults is Dalia Mogahed - former Gallup pollster and co-author, with the US academic John L Esposito, of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. The information she provides will likely surprise a lot of Americans.
Gallup polling conducted for Mogahed’s book found, for instance, that 93 per cent of Muslims condemned the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The 40-year-old Egyptian-American scholar tells me, “In follow-up questions, Gallup found that not a single respondent of the nearly 50,000 interviewed cited a verse from the Quran in defence of terrorism but, rather, religion was only mentioned to explain why 9/11 was immoral.”

The 7 per cent of Muslims who sympathised with the attacks on the twin towers “defended this position entirely with secular political justifications or distorted concepts of ‘reciprocity’, as in: ‘They kill our civilians. We can kill theirs.’”

It is thus empirically unsound to conflate heightened religious belief with greater support for violence.
The argument conservatives try to make is that in order to defeat ISIS, we need to understand them. There is some truth in that. But as Hasan has shown, that requires deeper thought and study than simply fear mongering about "radical Islamists."