Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2011

Heart and Imagination

"I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of the Imagination." -- John Keats

Is this what you voted for America?

We know that in poll after poll, Americans say that their top priority for our government to work on is creating jobs. The Republicans gained a majority in the House in the last election and are now beginning to work on their priorities. What are we seeing so far? 1. A PR stunt of a vote to repeal health care reform - something they knew would never actually happen, but made a lot of noise. 2. A lot of talk about the deficit and how they are going to push for cuts in spending. Two problems with this: first of all, they can't agree on where to cut and secondly, they seem to be trying to make the case that it was government spending that created our financial crisis. Or at least that reducing spending will solve it. The truth is that - in some ways - the increase in the deficit is a result of the crisis, not the cause. Spending is down and so tax receipts are down. This is basic econ. And reducing government spending even further will only mean fewer jobs and less spending by thos

Photos of courage

From GreenQuran .

Obama's speech in Cairo

As we watch events unfold in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, I thought it would be helpful to go back and look at President Obama's speech in Cairo from June 2009. He sets the stage for how to approach the divisions between the Muslim world and the West this way: Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all. For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darf

Self Portrait by David Whyte

It doesn't interest me if there is one God Or many gods. I want to know if you belong -- or feel abandoned; If you know despair Or can see it in others. I want to know If you are prepared to live in the world With its harsh need to change you; If you can look back with firm eyes Saying "this is where I stand." I want to know if you know how to melt Into that fierce heat of living Falling toward the center of your longing. I want to know if you are willing To live day by day With the consequence of love And the bitter unwanted passion Of your sure defeat. I have been told In that fierce embrace Even the gods Speak of God.

The other nine-year-old victim in Pima County, AZ

A couple of weeks ago we all grieved the loss of Christina Taylor Green at the hands of senseless violence. But not many of us have heard the story of Brisenia Flores. She too was murdered in an act of senseless violence at the age of 9 in Pima County, AZ. We don't have many endearing stories about her life because the little notice her death has gotten has been about that awful day it happened. Here's some of that story - not for the faint of heart: "Early on the morning of May 30, 2009, Raul Flores heard a knock at the door of his Arivaca, Arizona, home. When he opened it, he found a man and a woman claiming to be law-enforcement officers in search of fugitives. Minutes later, the man shot Flores to death. Then, authorities say, he pumped three bullets into Flores’ wife, Gina Gonzalez, who survived but played dead. “Why did you shoot my mom?” Gonzalez’s 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia Flores, asked the gunman, according to prosecutors. Those were her last words. The ma

The SOTU and the Obama Method

Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change. - Michelle Obama, 2005 One of the things Michelle is implying here is the question of whether or not politics is capable of making change. I know that is something I grew cynical about not too long ago. There are many theories about how and why our system of democracy seems to be failing us - especially those on the left. But the methods we could use to change that have proven fairly inadequate over the last couple of decades. In an article written in December 2007 about the primaries, Mark Schmitt identified three methods of change and assigned each to one of the leading presidential candidates on the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton's stump speech is built around the speechwriter's rule of three, applied to theories of change: one candidate believes you achieve change by "demanding" it, another thinks you "hope for it," whi


More from Audre Lorde. Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.

The Nexus: Disposability

A few years ago Nezua (one of my favorite bloggers) wrote a series about Nexus. In it, he was trying to find the tie that binds so many of our concerns. For example, in the first installment, he found that the grounding of so much that divides us is a sense of entitlement...and the antidote is gratitude. Similarly, Van Jones has found a nexus in the idea of disposability. For a longer version (13 minutes), here's a talk Jones gave at TED about the effects of plastics on poor people. From about 6:12: The root of this problem, in my view, is the idea of disposability itself. You see, if you understand the link between what we're doing to poison and pollute the planet and what we're doing to poor people, you arrive at a troubling but also very helpful insight. In order to trash the planet, you have to trash people. But if you create a world where you don't trash people, you can't trash the planet. We're at a moment of the coming together of social justice

Just the facts, ma'am.

A few days ago, I wrote about Senator Kyl's attempt to claim that the Republicans were responsible for good economic news...retroactively. As I said then, this is going to be a theme in the upcoming months. It will be an attempt by the Republicans to re-write the history we all just lived. As Steve Benen wrote yesterday, they'll be counting on us all having amnesia about what happened the last few years. Jay Bookman describes the Republican attempt to actually blame the recession on Democrats: By cutting its own budget by 5 percent, Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that “the House has sent a strong signal of its commitment to making the tough choices necessary to end Washington’s job-killing spending binge. ” In comments today on raising the debt limit, Boehner called for action to “cut spending and end the job-killing spending binge in Washington. ” In announcing the tax-cut agreement last month with President Obama, Boehner said that “if we actually want to help our

Gabriel's Oboe

The inadequacy of the master's tools

For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. - Audre Lorde, 1984 Many of us have heard these wise words of Audre Lord before. But I wonder how often we really dig deep to think about what they mean. She expounded a bit on that in her book Sister Outsider with this: As Paulo Freire shows so well in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed , the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knows only the oppressor's tactics, the oppressor's relationships. Alice Walker picked up that theme in talking about her characters in The Color Purple . She was criticized by many in the African American community for writing the character she simply called "Mr." who abused his wife Celie. But she exp

McConnell vs Obama...a lesson in strategy

First, a little refresher on McConnell's strategy from Joshua Green. “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. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.” And then a bit on the implementation from Greg Sargent in his article titled Why Americans think Obama is too liberal. What McConnell was really saying here is that if any Republicans signed on to Obama's proposals, it risked suggesting to the American people that Obama's governing approach was moderate or even somewhat centrist -- something that could command some agreement. By contrast, when no Republicans signed on to Obama's proposals it made it far easier for them to paint Obama's

Rep. Weiner shows Rep. Cohen how its done

Its clear that in the process of talking about repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the Republicans said some things that just blatantly are not true...things like claiming it will kill jobs, add IRS agents, and death panels. In the midst of all of the talk about our public discourse, today two Democrats took to the floor of the House to call them out on that. I'd suggest that one of them (Weiner) got the job done and the other continued to be stuck in the muck (Cohen). First of all, Rep. Cohen. "They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels," Cohen said, speaking of the notorious Nazi propgandist. "You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually, people believe it. Like blood libel. That's the same kind of thing." Cohen continued to compare the GOP to Nazis as his rant went on. "The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holoca

What does it mean to help?

That seems like a simple question. And many times it is. But as someone who has been working in human services for more than 30 years, I can say that it is also vexing at times. We've all heard the Chinese proverb "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." And yet we still seem to be much better at giving fish than teaching people how to do it for themselves. Why is that? I think there's several reasons. The first being that when a man is starving, its perhaps best to go ahead and give him a fish to eat. When resources are scarce, you have to choose priorities carefully. But secondly, if you've got the money to buy the fish, that first part can be easy. It doesn't ask much. Teaching, on the other hand, is a much harder task. It requires more of a personal investment. And that's where it gets more complex. That kind of helping was described well in the book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Phill

No words for this...

From Discover Magazine's Top 14 Astronomy Pictures of 2010. Space near the Sun is mostly empty, devoid of gas and stars. But travel 7500 light years in the direction of the constellation Carina and you'll slam into one of the largest and most complex star-forming regions in the galaxy: the sprawling Carina nebula. Massive stars being born there blast out radiation and winds that sculpt the surrounding material, creating weird and wonderful shapes. So what better way for astronomers to celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope's 20th year in orbit than to use it to take a huge mosaic of Carina? This astonishing portrait shows the towering pillars of gas and dust being eaten away by cosmic erosion; the narrow, focused jets of material blasting away from stars eating away at their cocoons; ribbons and sheets of compressed gas lighting up space; and the nascent stars themselves as they turn on for the first time. The Whirlpool is actually two galaxies interacting with one a

The expanse of the human heart

As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together. - President Barack Obama, Tucson, Arizona, January 12, 2011 Today Mark Kelly showed us exactly what that looks like. The astronaut husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the politician shot through the head in the Arizona massacre nine days ago, indicated today he would be prepared to meet with the parents of the alleged gunman to express his forgiveness. Mark Kelly, who has been beside his wife's hospital bed since the shootings in Tucson on 8 January, said he probably would see the parents of Jared Lee Loughner, who has been charged with the massacre in which six people died and 14 were wounded. In an interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC,

The verdict is in!

From the ACE News/Washington Post Poll. Americans divide on the risks posed by the tone of the country's political discourse but approve overwhelmingly of President Obama's attempt to redirect it. Most also hold some hopes of political conciliation in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings. Seventy-eight percent in a new ABC News-Washington Post poll approve of the way Obama has responded to the shootings, which he addressed in a speech in Tucson last week; that includes 71 percent of Republicans and conservatives alike.

On Leadership: MLK and Obama

In honor of Martin Luther King's birthday, The Grio has identified a list of The 25 Most Influential Black American Leaders of All Time. These kinds of lists are always controversial, but I found it interesting and educational. I hope you'll go take a look. Melissa Harris-Perry follows up the list with commentary on From MLK to Obama: How we define black leadership. This is because #1 on the list is MLK and Obama is #2. She ponders why that is. I humbly say that her thoughts bear a striking resemblance to what I wrote about Good Crazy. The close proximity of Dr. King and President Obama at the top of the list makes me wonder how we judge leadership and to ask what these two men share that lead our experts to evaluate both so highly. I believe that one reason Dr. King and President Obama share top billing is because they both insist that means are as important as ends in our efforts to achieve freedom, equality, and a more racially just America... I believe that it is this

Senator Kyle goes there

I expected this would happen, I'm just frankly a little surprised it came so soon. HUNT: Let me talk about the Obama administration and business. Corporate profits are soaring. Goldman Sachs named 110 new partners. Bonuses are flowing. S&P has risen more than in any three-year period since the tech bubble. General Motors is — the IPO. This isn’t an anti-business administration, is it? KYL: I would contend that, for the last two years, it’s been highly anti-business. Some of the results that you just talked about, I suspect, are coming from the fact that we extended tax rates that the president did not want to extend, but was willing to do so at the end of the year last year. HUNT: But, of course, all these things happened before that. KYL: No, all these things are, I think, partially a – a result of the knowledge now that taxes are not going to be raised in the next two years. What I expected was that, as the economy slowly improves over the next two years, Republicans

Good Crazy

As we are celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., I saw this short video online for the first time. It reminded me of a great column by Ta Nahisi-Coats following the 2008 election. He was reflecting on the words of Rev. Joseph Lowery about Good Crazy. "I came over here where crazy things are happening," Lowery told his audience, and then, referring to Obama and the echoes of his own history, added: "There are people in this country who say certain things can't happen, but who can tell? Who can tell? . . . Something crazy may happen in this country."... Here is where Barack Obama and the civil rights leaders of old are joined -- in a shocking, almost certifiable faith in humanity, something that subsequent generations lost. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may have led African Americans out of segregation, and he may have cured incalculable numbers of white racists, but more than all that, he believed that the lion's share of the population

It Takes More Than One

One of the local leaders that I've been following for awhile now is Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker. I first learned about Booker from reading an article by Matt Bai titled Is Obama the End of Black Politics? In it, he talked about the changing role of African American politicians in this country and featured stories about emerging Black politicians. Cory Booker graduated from Stanford and was a Rhodes Scholar. He then went on to get a law degree from Yale and returned to Newark - initially to work in the non-profit world before becoming mayor. But he certainly has brought a fresh perspective to that job. For example, he's been the subject of 2 documentaries... Street Fight was about his first failed run for mayor against incumbent Sharpe James. The second, Brick City (which was actually a 5-part series on the Sundance Channel) chronicles his work as mayor to tackle violent crime in Newark along with the stories of several city residents. Many people have described this film

Liberals and Cynicism

I've seen evidence that Obama's speech this week has affected people - on both the right and left of the political spectrum. But as soon as you hear folks acknowledging that what he said has had an impact, they will most often follow that by saying "but it won't last." Of course, they're right. And to feel the need to say that indicates an unrealistic view of change and how it happens. The vitriol in our political discourse will not be dealt with by one good speech. For some, it will spark a backlash. We've seen that from many on the right. And for others, its hard to change patterns of behavior. That will take time and practice. I suppose its a good thing that people even want this kind of change to happen. But we're so infected with this idea of instant gratification, that we often get discouraged too easily and then become cynical. Tim Wise wrote beautifully about this a while ago in an article titled The Threat of a Good Example: Reflections on

What does it mean to be "an American?" Revisited

Over two years ago I wrote about Henry Cejudo and asked, "What does it mean to be an American?" This week, I'm hoping that many others are asking that same question after hearing the blessing at the Tucson memorial service by Carlos Gonzales. He opened his blessing, as he said, in the traditional way by introducing himself. I am Carlos Gonzalez. On my mother's side, I am Mexican. A child of descendants of this valley, pioneer family from Mexico that came in the 1800s. On my father's side, I'm Yaqui. Refugees from Mexico that escaped the genocide in the Rio Yaqui in the 1800s. We have been here -- for myself, I am fifth generation in the valley of Tucson. Much of our teaching of history ignores the fact that white people first took over land that was populated by Mexicans. The Mexican-American War took place from 1846-1848 and resulted in the United States incorporating much of the territory formerly claimed by Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Unison Benediction by May Sarton

Return to the most human, nothing less will nourish the torn spirit, the bewildered heart, the angry mind: and from the ultimate duress, pierced with the breath of anguish, speak of love. Return, return to the deep sources, nothing less will teach the stiff hands a new way to serve, to carve into our lives the forms of tenderness and still that ancient necessary pain preserve. Return to the most human, nothing less will teach the angry spirit, the bewildered heart; the torn mind, to accept the whole of its duress, and pierced with anguish… at last, act for love.

Father, Husband, President

From John Dickerson : More than eloquence, the president also offered an argument, one he has been making for years. Aides say Obama stayed up all night working on the speech. We know that's his way. But the speech wasn't just the product of an all-nighter. It came from someone who thinks about children and the obligations of being a parent, who knows how it feels to be startled by your desperate love for a spouse whom you might have taken for granted in the rush of the day. The president may not be emotional. But you can't write that speech if you're all ice water. What do we want in a president? The office has become so misshapen it's hard to say what it doesn't encompass. Giving speeches isn't the entire job, of course. But if part of the job requirement is someone who reminds us that our public life can reflect our best private selves, then Obama showed that he is up to it. He has been thinking about that idea long before this tragedy called for a spe

A few changes

If there's anyone out there who has actually visited this blog more than once (lol), you'll notice that I have done some remodeling. Between being a bit of a change-junky and how easy they've made it to do this kind of thing, I expect that I'll get the bug to do it every now and then. Also, I changed the comment settings a couple of weeks ago. Should make it a bit easier to talk back at me. So feel free to leave your thoughts. And now...a little Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Obama's Speech and the Power of Story

After Barack Obama won the Iowa primary, there was a lot of talk about how he'd used his community organizing background to set up his winning ground game. I got curious about all of that and began to read almost everything I could about what that meant. I learned that a man by the name of Marshall Ganz , who had been involved with the Civil Rights Movement as well as with Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers, was responsible for Camp Obama . So I read everything I could about/by him. One of the things Ganz talks about is the power of story. In fact, he uses Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention (video) as an example of how to use story to motivate action. He explains that action requires breaking through the inertia of habit and that we do that by creating the tension between the way the world is and the way we want it to be. That tension can inspire despair or hope. How do we inspire the later instead of the former? Hope is not only audacious, it is substa

Grief...and a vision

While others were busy trying to tell us who is to blame, Obama shared our grief...and a vision of our better selves. I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.


Via Balloon Juice. If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit. - Barack Obama, January 12, 2011

Obama: Together We Thrive

I know most everyone has heard this speech by now and some of the text is below. But I want to place the video here. It was a moment - not of our political history - but our common human history. Joe Klein put it well. His description of the victims was at the heart of it: Judge Roll went to mass every day. George and Dot Morris had a 50-year honeymoon. Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard lost their teenaged love and then regained it many years later. Phyllis Schneck sat quilting under her favorite tree. We all know them--and we know people like Daniel Hernandez, big and loyal and kindly, who would have stopped a bullet to save his boss, but saved her instead by tending to her wounds and begging her to hold on. Their ordinary decency, simply evoked, made the tragedy our own. Their simple nobility beggared the absurd screech of the debate surrounding this terrible event. His appreciation of their humanity was an appeciation of our own. And in summoning the community and the nation and the Congr

Words that inspire us to be better

So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others. That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have

A poster worth a thousand words

Inspired by...Egypt

On New Year's Day a bomb exploded in a Coptic Church in Egypt killing 21 people and injuring 79. It also led to street violence between police and Coptic Christians. This is likely what the terrorists wanted, to heighten the divide between religious groups in the country. But what was the response of the Muslim community in Egypt? Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside. From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife. “We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cu

Faith by David Whyte

I want to write about faith, about the way the moon rises over cold snow, night after night, faithful even as it fades from fullness, slowly becoming that last curving and impossible sliver of light before the final darkness. But I have no faith myself I refuse it even the smallest entry. Let this then, my small poem, like a new moon, slender and barely open, be the first prayer that opens me to faith.

Its all about fear

Over the last couple of days, we've seen a lot of talk about the debasement of our political discourse in this country. I wish we could have a reasoned discussion about that. But I'm not sure its happening...yet. One of the things I've been thinking about is how our experience on 9/11 has affected all of this. I know that many feel that it was the election of Barack Obama as President that was the spark - and there's a lot of truth in that. But it seems to me that we also took a wrong turn after 9/11 that is part of all of this. I know that in the aftermath of that day, I felt abandoned by the conversation I heard. Mostly I felt stuck in confusion and sadness while it seemed that the rest of the country had moved on to anger and revenge. I wanted some time to grieve and some answers about what would lead people to do this kind of thing. Most people wanted to see those who were responsible killed. The sense of fear and powerlessness was palpable. And so we not only att

Tim Wise on Paranoia

From Paranoia as Prelude: Conspiracism and the Cost of Political Rage. We live in a culture in which it is utterly normal, to a degree that has sadly made it nearly banal, to hear multi-million dollar, best-selling authors and talk show hosts suggest that the nation is on the verge of total fascism, death panels for the elderly, door-to-door gun confiscation, and the reconquest of the American southwest by Latinos bent on ethnic war. In short, in a society where paranoia is the daily currency of mainstream commentators, and pseudo-schizophrenic ramblings are elevated to the level of persuasive argument, we ought not be surprised that such a tragedy as occurred on Saturday might happen... Whether or not Loughner was influenced directly by any of these words, these verbal daggers aimed at civil discourse, is quite beside the point. For these words, these daggers, are the very ether of the political culture in which he has come of age. They comprise the fabric of the larger ideological