Saturday, April 30, 2011

And humor helps too


If you find that amusing, head on over the Stonekettle Station for Smile, You're On Occam's Razor.

If you don't come back having experienced multiple belly laughs leading to tears in your eyes, I'll give you a full refund...promise!

(h/t to The Obama Diary)

Refreshment for the soul

Last night President Obama gave the commencement address to graduates of Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida. To understand the context, its important to note that the 170,000 students at Miami Dade's 8 campuses come from 181 different countries and 90% are students of color.

With that in mind, here's a part of Obama's speech:

We have carried this dream forward through times when our politics seemed broken. This is not the first time where it looked like politicians were going crazy. In heated debates over our founding, some warned independence would doom America to “a scene of bloody discord and desolation for ages.” That was the warning about independence. One of our greatest Presidents, Thomas Jefferson, was labeled an “infidel” and a “howling atheist” with “fangs.” Think about that. Even I haven’t gotten that one yet. Lincoln -- Lincoln, FDR, they were both vilified in their own times as tyrants, power hungry, bent on destroying democracy. And of course, this state has seen its fair share of tightly contested elections.

And we’ve made it through those moments. None of it was easy. A lot of it was messy. Sometimes there was violence. Sometimes it took years, even decades, for us to find our way through. But here’s the thing. We made it through. We made it through because in each of those moments, we made a choice.

Rather than turn inward and wall off America from the rest of the world, we’ve chosen to stand up forcefully for the ideals and the rights we believe are universal for all men and women.

Rather than settle for an America where everybody is left to fend for themselves, where we think only about our own short-term needs instead of the country that we’re leaving to our children, we have chosen to build a nation where everybody has a shot at opportunity, where everyone can succeed. We’ve chosen to invest in our people and in their future -- building public schools, sending a generation to college on the GI Bill, laying highways and railroads, building ports all across the country.

Rather than turn on each other in times of cultural upheaval, we’ve chosen to march, to organize, to sit-in, to turn out, to petition our government for women’s rights and voting rights and civil rights -- even in the face of fierce resistance -- because we are Americans; and no matter who we are or what we look like, we believe that in this country, all are equal, all are free.

Rather than give in to the voices suggesting we set our sights lower, downsize our dreams, or settle for something less, we’ve chosen again and again to make America bigger, bolder, more diverse, more generous, more hopeful.

Because throughout our history, what has distinguished us from all other nations is not just our wealth, it’s not just our power. It’s been our deep commitment to individual freedom and personal responsibility, but also our unshakeable commitment to one another -- a recognition that we share a future; that we rise or fall together; that we are part of a common enterprise that is greater, somehow, than the sum of its parts...

We didn’t raise the Statue of Liberty with its back to the world; we raised it with its light to the world. Whether your ancestors came here on the Mayflower or a slave ship; whether they signed in at Ellis Island or they crossed the Rio Grande -- we are one people. We need one another. Our patriotism is not rooted in ethnicity, but in a shared belief of the enduring and permanent promise of this country.

After the insanity we've seen this last week, just drink that one up like a tall glass of sweet iced tea on a hot summer day.


When truth is futile

Often when I find myself reeling about political/social events, especially those related to racism, I take some time to read writers of color that I admire in order to get some perspective. One of those is usually Leonard Pitts. Since we seemed to have reached carnival barking peak this week, I decided to take a look at what he has had to say, and I wasn't disappointed.

Pitts isn't writing about the current birther mania, but he might as well be. He starts off with this quote from George Orwell.

Then the lie passed into history and became truth.

His example is the lie we've all been trained to believe about the propensity of African Americans to be criminals. And he uses examples of people being provided with facts, only to dismiss them out of hand in favor of their assumptions.

But then, that’s the state of critical thinking these days: Ignore any inconvenient truth, any unsettling information that might force you to think or even look with new eyes upon, say, the edifice of justice. Accept only those “facts” that support what you already believe.

I wrote about this propensity for truthiness last week. Little did I know that in the coming days we would be met with a barrage of it over this birther issue.

The release of Obama's second birth certificate, which again shows facts and evidence of his birth 49 years ago in Hawaii, is irrefutable. And what is the Republican response? Its all Obama's fault.

There's a great example of the futility of truth. Instead of saying..."ok, I guess that settles that argument, we were wrong," we make it the truthtellers fault that the lies have been spread.

I have to say that given this reality, I'm tending to go with Pitts' response to the birthers:

Donald Trump doesn’t like “birthers.” He calls the word “unfair’’ to people who don’t believe President Obama was born in the USA.

Very well, then. If not birthers, how about if we call them “morons?’’ How about ‘‘jackasses,” “imbeciles,” “idiots’’ or “doofuses?” How about “pinheads’’— or would that require a royalty to Bill O’Reilly?

I’m sorry, dear reader. Forgive me. Generally speaking, I am not much for name calling.
It lowers the level of discourse, it forestalls thoughtful response and it does not suggest an excess of class. Where the birthers are concerned, however, the level of discourse is already lower than Neptune’s basement, a thoughtful response is about as likely as Miami snow on the Fourth of July, and I will just have to chance the loss of class.

As mama used to say, enough is enough and too much stinks...

Frankly, I wish Trump and his fellow birthers would just go ahead and call Obama an N-word. Yes, it would be reprehensible and offensive.

But it would be a damn sight more honest, too.

Hannity...another racist carnival barker (updated)

Just a week ago, you'll remember that the Obama family celebrated Easter by attending services at Shiloh Baptist Church in DC.

Shiloah Baptist was founded in the 1860's by former slaves and many recent Presidents have worshipped there, including Reagan, Bush I and Clinton.

But because President Obama visited there, apparently Sean Hannity felt the need to do some opposition research on the pastor, Rev. Wallace Charles Smith. He found a video of him making a speech on racism in January 2010 at Eastern University in Saint Davids, Pa. Here's what Smith said:

“It may not be Jim Crow anymore,” Smith says in the videotape. “Now, Jim Crow wears blue pinstripes, goes to law school and carries fancy briefs in cases. And now, Jim Crow has become James Crow, esquire. And he doesn’t have to wear white robes anymore because now he can wear the protective cover of talk radio or can get a regular news program on Fox.”

Let me just emphasize, this is not what Rev. Smith said on Easter when the Obama's visited the church. It was not even said at Shiloh Baptist Church. It was said in a speech he was asked to give about racism. I happen to think there is a lot of truth in what he said. But that's beside the point because Hannity uses this speech to resurface the controversy over Rev. Wright:

“I don’t believe that it is a coincidence out of all the churches in the country that Obama finds himself sitting in, why is he always in pews listening to such controversial spiritual leaders?” Hannity said.

As a result, Shiloh Baptist Church has received over 100 threatening phone calls and emails, including a fax that had the image of a monkey with a target across it's face.

But of course, none of this has anything to do with race...they just don't agree with Obama's policies.

Yeah right...

My thoughts and prayers today are not only with the Obama's...but with Rev. Smith and the good people of Shiloh Baptist Church. None of you deserve this and I'd like you to know that there are many of us out here who stand with you.

UPDATE: From Blackwaterdog, I found this article by Charles Blow. What Trump and Hannity are doing is the "what." What Blow describes is the "why."

Donald Trump [and Sean Hannity] is still playing to suspicions of President Obama. And it’s no longer theoretical. It’s theological. For the detractors, truth is no longer dependent on proof because it’s rooted in faith: faith that American exceptionalism was never truly meant to cover hyphenated Americans; faith in 400 years of cemented assumptions about the character and capacity of the American Negro; and faith that if the president doesn’t hew to those assumptions then he must be alien by both birth and faith.

This is how the moneyed interests — of whom Trump is one — want it. That is how sleight of hand works: distract and deceive. They need this distraction now more than ever because the right’s flimsy fiscal argument — that if we allow fat cats to gorge, crumbs will surely fall — is losing traction...

So the right needs to backfill its shaky fiscal reasoning with political segregationist rhetoric — amplifying a separation of the “us” from the “other.”...

In 1965, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described how the strategy of separating people with common financial interests by agitating their racial differences was used against the populist movement at the turn of the century, explaining that “the Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow.”

He continued that Jim Crow was “a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man.” He called this “their last outpost of psychological oblivion.”

But the right, with a new boost of energy from Trump [and Hannity], is reaching for new frontiers. The language and methodology are different, but the goal is the same: to deny, invalidate and subjugate, to distract from real issues with false divisions.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Atwater's "Southern Strategy" Reversed?

[I want to apologize ahead of time if the use of a word in this post offends anyone. Please know that it wasn't my use of the word. But to make the point, I need to be truthful about the original content...thanks for your understanding.]

Back in 2005, Lee Atwater did us the favor of articulating the evolution of the "Southern Strategy.

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

Let's take a look at how our most recent race-baiting carnival barker handled that back in 1973 when the federal government sued his companies for racial discrimination in his Queens apartment complexes.

A few months after the government filed the suit, Trump gave a combative press conference at the New York Hilton in which he went after the Justice Department for being too friendly to welfare recipients. He "accused the Justice Department of singling out his corporation because it was a large one and because the Government was trying to force it to rent to welfare recipients," the Times reported. Trump added that if welfare recipients were allowed into his apartments in certain middle-class outer-borough neighborhoods, there would be a "massive fleeing from the city of not only our tenants, but communities as a whole."

You see...renting to people of color is equal to renting to "welfare recipients" and you never have to use the "n" word. (I assume people will recognize that as disgusted snark, but I'll say so just to be sure.)

But racial euphemisms are soooo last century, aren't they? Johann Hari writes a column about Trump that makes me think that perhaps we're living through a reversal of the tactics Atwater outlined in the Republican playbook of the post-Nixon southern strategy.

Trump is every trend in Republican politics over the past 35 years taken to its logical conclusion. He is the Republican id, finally entirely unleashed from all restraint and all reality.

Hari gives four examples for this claim - only one of which deals with the unleashing of restraint on racist euphemisms. All of it is worth a read. And then he ends with this:

Trump probably won't become the Republican nominee, but not because most Republicans reject his premisses. No: it will be because he states these arguments too crudely for mass public consumption. He takes the whispered dogmas of the Reagan, Bush and Tea Party years and shrieks them through a megaphone.

My question is whether or not the Republicans will be able to put that genie back in the bottle. We'll see.

My uncensored response would echo Eugene Robinson's.

To those deniers who can’t come to terms with the fact of the Obama presidency, I have nothing to offer but this: Yes, he’s smarter, richer, luckier and better looking than you, and he’s your president. Yours, mine and ours. And he’s black. Get over it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I hear you Baratunde!

Its going to take a while for me to absorb what happened today and move from feelings to thoughts. I suppose that's why I appreciate what Baratunde Thurston had to say clearly came from his heart.

The only other thing I can say is that, once again, one of the best commentaries comes from the Republican David Frum.

Even for the small band that sustained the phony controversy until now, the birth certificate so-called issue ends today...

I know there will be Republican writers and conservative publicists who will now deny that birtherism ever did get a grip. Sorry, that’s just wrong. Not only did Trump surge ahead in Republican polls by flaming racial fires – not only did conservative media outlets from Fox to Drudge to the Breitbart sites indulge the birthers – but so also did every Republican candidate who said, “I take the president at his word.” Birthers did not doubt the president’s “word.” They were doubting the official records of the state of Hawaii. It’s like answering a 9/11 conspiracist by saying, “I take the 9/11 families at their word that they lost their loved ones.”

Yet even now, the racialist aspect of the anti-Obama movement has not subsided. Trump has moved from the birth certificate to questioning the president’s academic qualifications for the Harvard Law School. Trump himself was a troubled student (at one point he attended a military school) who nonetheless gained admission to Wharton. His father’s wealth and business success cannot have hurt with that application. Yet he feels himself qualified to pronounce on who is and who is not smart enough to attend Harvard Law. Barack Obama graduated magna cum laude. (And to anticipate a new line of attack – yes, Harvard Law School exams were blind-graded.) He was elected editor of the law review. And his classmates, left and right, universally admired his abilities.

I wish it were otherwise, but it does seem that these racialized attacks on Obama have exacted a toll on him. But they also have exacted a toll on the opposition to Obama. The too-faint repudiation of birtherism by regular Republicans has shaped not only the Obama brand, but also the Republican brand. It was not only white people who heard the implied message about who counts and who does not count as a “real American.”

Yes, the sadness is well identified by both Thurston and Frum...who gets included in our vision of a "real American."

I remember watching a video clip of "The View" the day after the 2008 election. One of the most profound statements about what that event meant was uttered by Whoopi Goldberg. She said that while she always thought of herself as an American, finally after the election she felt like she could put her suitcase down.

It breaks my heart that what she and many others probably experienced today is that perhaps its time to pick it up again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rest in Peace Phoebe

I just learned that Phoebe Snow died today. She's always been one of my favorites. Here's a bit about her life.

Known as a folk guitarist who made forays into jazz and blues, Snow put her stamp on soul classics such as Shakey Ground, Love Makes a Woman and Mercy, Mercy Mercy on over a half dozen albums.

Not long after Snow's Poetry Man reached the top five on the pop singles chart in 1975, her daughter, Valerie Rose, was born with severe brain damage, and Snow decided to look after her at home rather than place her in care.

"She was the only thing that was holding me together," she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008. "My life was her, completely about her, from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed at night."

Valerie, who had been born with hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain cavity that inhibits brain development, was not expected to live more than a few years. She died in 2007,aged 31.

Years ago I went to see Phoebe in concert. It was after Valerie Rose was born and she wasn't performing much. Shortly after the concert started, Phoebe stopped for a moment. She explained that she was having a hard day and knew she wasn't performing well. She apologized and asked us all to send some positive energy her way - knowing that our attention would ground her and help her to be in the moment with us. I'll never forget it...she was that real. And the concert was fantastic!

Of course Phoebe is best known for "Poetry Man." But its never been my favorite. Here are a few that I love.

"A simple desire to do what's best for one's country should preclude such madness."

Here is Speaker Boehner three months ago.

[A debt-ceiling default] would be a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy. I don't think it's a question that's even on the table.

And here he is yesterday.

If the president doesn't get serious about the need to address our fiscal nightmare, yeah, there's a chance it [the debt limit vote] could not happen.

My title is a quote from Steve Benen about this.

He knows what the right course of action is. He practically vowed to be responsible. He assured the nation that Republicans would take our collective obligations seriously. The Speaker's own rhetoric made it clear he wasn't going to risk a catastrophe as some kind of partisan game.

And yet, he we are, and Boehner is now prepared to do exactly that.

I have to hope that Boehner's hostage strategy continues to be a radical stunt, and that he doesn't actually intend to hurt all of us on purpose. He has the proverbial gun to the hostage's head (in this case, our economy), but he doesn't really want to pull the trigger -- Boehner just wants Democrats to think he will so they'll pay his ransom. That's how the game works.

But the damage might come without a bullet ever being fired. As Ezra Klein points out.

Remember that the danger here isn’t simply that we don’t make our payments. It’s that we run such a terrifying and uncertain process that we make the market think it’s more likely that we won’t cover our debts at some point in the future. Giving the market a demonstration of exactly how we could fail them is almost as bad as actually failing them.

The American people should not stand for such madness. Is anyone out there paying attention?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Indefinite Detention

Many of us have made the case over the last few years that the United States has been involved with torture since long before Bush's war on terror. Some have also been pointing out that Bradley Manning is hardly the first US prisoner to experience solitary confinement.

We’re glad Bradley Manning’s treatment is getting some attention, but what about the tens of thousands of others who are languishing in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails? According to available data, there are some 25,000 inmates in long-term isolation in the nation’s supermax prisons, and as many as 80,000 more in solitary in other facilities. Where is the outrage–even among progressives–for these forgotten souls? Where, for that matter, is some acknowledgment of their existence?

In that spirit, I'd like to also raise the question of whether or not prisoners at Guantanamo are the only ones in the US to experience indefinite detention. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is clearly no.

McLeod County Attorney Michael Junge left his courthouse office the other night, feeling the weight that comes with a prosecutor's job and thinking about a sex offender named Jonathon Wieland.

Wieland, 20, is scheduled for release from the Lino Lakes Correctional Facility in July. Junge could allow him to walk out of prison and into supervised parole. Or, endorsing a Corrections Department recommendation, he could ask a judge to send Wieland to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, where the young man might spend the rest of his life behind barbed wire.

Lets be clear about this...Wieland had been tried for a crime, convicted, and sentenced to prison. He had done that time and was scheduled to be released. But a prosecutor and a judge could sentence him to indefinite detention for life on the risk that he might re-offend.

The article linked to above says that Minnesota currently has 600 people sentenced to indefinite detention under those circumstances.

Among their ranks are more than 40 elderly offenders, some in wheelchairs; low-functioning adults considered to be little risk of re-offending; and young men without felony records who were hastily committed to the sex-offender program after completing juvenile sentences.

One story from the article is particularly horrific:

...a Rice County man who was convicted of possessing child pornography as a juvenile and ended up at the program's Moose Lake facility when he became an adult.

Sentenced to indefinite detention for life because he was in possession of child pornography as a juvenile?!!!

These are the nameless faces of people without a champion like Glenn Greenwald to make their case. Excuse me if I'm a bit done with the folks who think that prisoner abuse started with the war on terror and that only Bush and Obama are the problem here.

Solving these issues will only happen when all of us as US citizens are willing to look at the system of injustice we have created and, for the most part, feel pretty comfortable with - as long as it doesn't hurt anyone we know or care about.

Guantanamo and Wikileaks

We're likely to be hearing a lot over the next few days about the supposedly new information on Guantanamo prisoners that has been leaked to news sources - presumably from Wikileaks.

But I'd like to remind everyone that most of this information was available last May when Obama's Guantanamo Review Task Force released its report. I recall that almost no one (including the shouters on the left) paid much attention to the report. But I guess the subterfuge of a leaked report somehow makes all of this a big story today.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

And Happy Keester Too!!!!!


Happy Easter!

The Obamas celebrate Easter at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

I wonder if you can see what caught my eye in this picture.

Republicans impose "financial martial law"

Over the last couple of years, I've been paying attention to how often our political discourse is mired in what Sigmund Freud called projection.

...a psychological defense mechanism where a person unconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, such as to other people. Thus, projection involves imagining or projecting the belief that others have those feelings.

In the last couple of weeks, we've seen a classic example of it from the Republicans that is so blatant, it literally screams out for recognition.

By now we've all heard both Tea Party members and elected Republicans go on and on about how President Obama and the Democrats threaten our freedoms with their "big government" schemes. This is usually accompanied by references to our founding, the Constitution, and lots of flag-waving (including the ever-present "Don't Tread On Me").

What's fascinating is that, once Republicans get elected, they go about creating big government schemes that take away our freedom. Nowhere is this more blatant than what is going on in Michigan with their newly elected Republican Governor Rick Snyder. Rachel Maddow laid it all out. Please take a few minutes to watch this powerful piece.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Here's how she ended the segment:

What is new here is that this state has decided that local elections, locally elected officials are a problem that has to be done away with, that democracy is in the way of fixing problems in the United States now, of making things more efficient, particularly in poor places. Not that democracy is the way we fix problems but that democracy is the problem and it therefore needs to be sidestepped for efficiency sake, for our own good. Governor knows best.

The point here, what makes Benton Harbor a national story and Katherine Ferguson Academy a national story is that the whole idea of choice for them anymore is purely hypothetical. The state has chosen for them. And what they've got is, frankly, that aforementioned dictator. Their hope -- their one hope -- is the dictator is benevolent.

Is that how we think problems should get solved in America now?

Some are casting this as an assault on collective bargaining. But its much worse than that. A Republican supporter of these measures called them financial martial law. Its a clear demonstration that a party whose foundational roots are grounded in authoritarianism is incompatible with democracy...its the classic struggle between power over vs power with.

Bob Cesca says "We have to help Rachel make this a major national story. People have to know." And Steve Benen agrees.

So the next time you hear from a Republican about the dangers of big government and our loss of freedoms, ask them what they think about Benton Harbor, MI and Governor Rick Snyder. In other words, its time to pop their projection bubble.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Time After Time

Glenn Greenwald on civil liberties

One can hardly see Glenn Greenwald's name these days when its not followed by something along the lines of "pre-eminent progressive spokesperson on civil liberties." We all know that he's a constitutional and civil rights lawyer turned journalist and that he has focused most of his writing on the issues of executive privilege and torture.

But I find it hard to square the idea of a progressive spokesperson on civil liberties with this blog post he wrote about illegal immigration back in 2005.

And yet few problems are more pressing. Over the past several years, illegal immigrants have poured into the United States by the millions. The wave of illegals entering the country is steadily increasing. The people living in the border states of California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico know this flow has to be drastically slowed and then halted. The situation is so dire in that region that the Democratic Governors of Arizona and New Mexico were forced to declare States of Emergency as a result of the flow of illegals into their states and the resulting, massive problems which it brings.

The parade of evils caused by illegal immigration is widely known, and it gets worse every day. In short, illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone. Few people dispute this, and yet nothing is done...

The White House [George W. Bush at the time] does worse than nothing; to the extent it acts on this issue at all, it is to introduce legislation designed to sanction and approve of illegal immigration through its “guest worker” program, a first cousin of all-out amnesty for illegal immigrants...

There already is a “closed sign on the border” when it comes to illegal immigration. It’s called the law. The problem is that the “closed sign” isn’t being enforced because the Federal Government, which has its interfering, power-hungry hands in virtually everything else, has abdicated its duty in one of the very few areas where it was actually meant to be: border security...

The notion that our nation's laws ought to be enforced and that law-breakers should not be rewarded are not controversial ideas among most voters. The politicians of either party who show fortitude and leadership on this issue will inspire affection among this substantial and non-ideological segment of the voting population.

It becomes a bit difficult to think in terms of a progressive champion on civil rights when that person is claiming that enforcement is the only answer to this "dire situation"...all while equating a guest-worker program with "amnesty." The focus for Greenwald is all on what illegal immigrants are doing to the country. I see no concern about their plight or how we are treating them. That's all a pretty right-wing approach to the issue.

But this was back in 2005, perhaps Greenwald has changed his position. Perhaps...but a simple google search shows not one word written about immigration since that time. So back in 2008, when Bush's ICE agents were trampling on the constitution with their raids in places like Postville, Iowa and Laurel, MS, the preeminent progressive writer on civil liberties had nothing to say.

This got me curious. The other big civil liberties issue in this country is, in my opinion, the problems with our criminal justice system. So once again, I did a simple google search. From what I can find, Mr. Greenwald has written one article on that topic...praising Senator Jim Webb's courage in taking on the issue of prison reform. Otherwise, not a word.

I'm not here today to speak about the veracity of Greenwald's critiques on things like executive privilege and torture. But I do think we need to re-calibrate the idea that he is a spokesperson for the left on civil liberties with such a poor track record on that topic.

What is the future for Republicans like Susan Collins and David Frum?

This week Susan Collins was the first Republican Senator to come out publicly against Paul Ryan's budget plan. Meanwhile, David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote a powerful defense of the welfare state.

Let's take a closer look at some of the things Frum said. First of all, he accurately states the cause of the recent economic collapse.

America and the world were hit in 2008 by the sharpest and widest financial crisis since the 1930s. Conservatives do not like to hear it, but the crisis originated in the malfunctioning of an under-regulated financial sector, not in government overspending or government over-generosity to less affluent homebuyers. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were bad actors, yes, but they could not have capsized the world economy by themselves. It took Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, AIG, and — maybe above all — Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s to do that.

There is something a bit jarring about hearing a Republican say that so clearly. It makes me think that many who say otherwise know better - but feel compelled to maintain the dogma.

Next Frum takes on the idea that "big government" is always bad.

Speaking only personally, I cannot take seriously the idea that the worst thing that has happened in the past three years is that government got bigger. Or that money was borrowed. Or that the number of people on food stamps and unemployment insurance and Medicaid increased. The worst thing was that tens of millions of Americans – and not only Americans – were plunged into unemployment, foreclosure, poverty. If food stamps and unemployment insurance, and Medicaid mitigated those disasters, then two cheers for food stamps, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid.

But he's prepared to temper that with a nod to some of the basics of conservative thought.

Which does not mean that I have become suddenly indifferent to the growth of government. Not at all. Paul Ryan is absolutely right that the present trend is unsustainable and must be corrected. The free marketeers of the 1980s were right that taxes on enterprise must be restrained to leave room for private-sector-led expansion. Over-generous social insurance has all kinds of negative consequences. Private saving must be encouraged. Work must pay better than idleness. The job of designing the right kind of social insurance state is hugely important and hugely difficult, and the conservative sensibility – with its respect for markets and less sentimental view of human nature – is the right sensibility for that job.

To be honest, other than the part about restraining taxes, there's not a lot there that I disagree with. Our long-term debt is unsustainable. And having been professionally involved in social services all of my adult life, I've seen some of the negative consequences that can result from poorly managed social insurance.

But most of all, I agree that a conservative sensibility is needed to balance out the left's tendency towards unproductive sentimentality. The problem is that the current crop of Republicans isn't providing that balance these days. Frum agrees.

I strongly suspect that today’s Ayn Rand moment will end in frustration or worse for Republicans... At that point, Republicans will face a choice. (I’d argue we face that choice now, whether we recognize it or not.) We can fulminate against unchangeable realities, alienate ourselves from a country that will not accede to the changes we demand. That way lies bitterness and irrelevance. Or we can go back to work on the core questions facing all center right parties in the advanced economies since World War II: how do we champion entrepreneurship and individualism within the context of a social insurance state?

Its interesting that Frum talks at the end about entrepreneurship and individualism being balanced with the social insurance state. Where else have we heard something like that recently?

The America we know is great not just because of the height of our skyscrapers, not just because of the size of our GDP. It comes because we’ve been able to keep two ideas together at the same time. The first is, is that we’re all individuals endowed with certain inalienable rights and freedoms. We are self-reliant. We don’t expect others to do for us what we can do for ourselves, and we don’t like other people telling us what to do. That’s part of what it’s like to be an American.

But the second idea is that we’re all in this together, that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper, that I am my sister’s keeper, that I want that child born in a tough neighborhood to have the same opportunities that I had so that someday they may be standing here instead of me.

- President Obama, April 21, 2011

That's right. While President Obama has been out defending our social compact with those in need, he's also launching things like StartUp America to re-energize innovation and entrepreneurship across the country.

So back to my question about people like Senator Collins and David Frum...what is their future? And I'm not just talking about public figures like them. I'm talking about everyday folks who see the world as they do. It's clear the Republican party of today has no place for them.

I'd send out an invitation to join us Democrats in the conversation.

The culture of truthiness

By now we're all aware of the way that our "court jesters" like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert can often play the role of prophet as well. Nowhere was this more evident than back in 2005 (was it really that long ago?) when Colbert coined the term "truthiness."

Let me say that there is a sense in which I've struggled with this concept. Part of my healing as a human being from the dysfunction of dogmatism was a recognition of the wisdom found in our instincts. I've lived the reality that rational thought based on faulty premises can lead to devastating consequences. It was my own sense of emotional dis-ease with those conclusions that led me to begin to ask questions. I finally decided that neither thought nor emotion alone can lead us to the truth of our lives...its a melding of the two.

With that said, I believe that Colbert spoke powerfully to our current situation when he defined the term "truthiness." Nowhere is that more evident than in the Republican right wing reaction to President Obama. We now know that over half of Republican primary voters don't think Obama was born in the US. How does that happen when we've all seen his birth certificate, we've seen pictures of him in kindergarten in Hawaii and heard from his teachers, and the current Governor of Hawaii (who knew his parents) talks about being introduced to the newborn Barack days after he was born?

I say the answer is found in "truthiness" doesn't "feel" right to those who are uncomfortable with or don't like President Obama. Here's how James T. LaPlant describes it:

The false belief that Obama was not born in the U.S. or that he is a Muslim has been tracking upward with economic uncertainty and individuals' worries about the economy. Plenty of conspiracy beliefs go hand in glove with worries and fears about globalization and unexpected/unpredictable economic shocks...

We often ask why do people believe weird or silly things? It can provide them with comfort and consolation in a world that appears increasingly complex, globalized and difficult to understand.

David O. Sears takes it one step further and talks about the power of racial resentment.

Party identification and racial resentment are perhaps the two most strongly held contemporary political attitudes...

And Obama’s persona is inherently ambiguous. He is multiracial and did not grow up in a traditional African American community. He is associated with Kenya, Indonesia, Kansas, Hawaii, Columbia and Harvard, not Harlem. No one would doubt that Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton was born in the United States. In our research we found that evaluations of Muslims were powerfully associated with evaluations of Obama, even controlling on racial resentment. We interpreted that as meaning that many see Obama as “other,” like Muslims and other unfamiliar groups.

The birther controversy is further evidence of the uphill road that even the best qualified African Americans have always had to traverse.

So we have the unease created by economic uncertainty coupled with a President who is "inherently ambiguous." Next you throw in what Julian Sanchez calls 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!)

Have you talked to conservatives lately about stuff like this? I have, and it generally comes down to "I don't believe that information because it was written in the New York Times." As Sanchez says, the test is first and foremost the "truthiness" of the information. If it doesn't pass that test - its simply dismissed due to the source.

I believe we all do this to some extent. Witness progressive blogs who dismissed Ezra Klein during the health care debate as a "tool of the administration," but then LOVE him lately when he agrees with them about the deficit discussion. I know I'm much more drawn to writers who agree with my position. Its why I have to continually remind myself to try to see the world through fresh eyes.

But perhaps the most important ingredient is to question ourselves when we're basing our view on our feelings of anger, fear and insecurity. Those are very potent emotions that have their place. But devoid of thinking things through...they can be dangerous.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Beautiful Mess

"Out of many, one" (updated)

I tend to be a "big picture" person. Part of that is because I know that it is our fundamental beliefs that guide us when it comes to making decisions about the particulars. It's what President Obama calls his North Star.

Yesterday at his town hall in Reno, the President ended his remarks with this:

This isn’t a matter of charity; it’s a matter of what we think it is to live in a good society. And I think it is good for me, it is good for my life if when I’m driving around, I’m saying to myself, you know what, that school is producing all kinds of kids who are smart and are going to help build America’s future.

And I drive around and I see some seniors, and they’re out for a walk. And I know, you know what, I’m glad that I live in a country where in their retirement years, they’re going to be secure. That makes me feel good. That’s the kind of country I want to live in. That’s the kind of country you want to live in. And we’ve got to make sure we’re willing to fight for it.

It reminded me of a speech we all remember that he gave way back in 2004.

For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people.

If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child.

If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent.

If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work.

It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: "E pluribus unum," out of many, one.

I believe this is the core challenge of our times. In the particulars, it looks like we're fighting over medicare, or taxes, or immigration, or education, or budgets, or unions, or religion, or birth certificates. On and on the list goes.

But in the end...we're trying to decide whether or not we are our brothers' and sisters' keeper - if that is the kind of country we want for ourselves and future generations.

Answering that question in the affirmative will require us to set aside some childish things, like selfishness, and begin to act like the grown-ups John F. Kennedy challenged us to be so many years ago...

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.

UPDATE: From President Obama's speech last night in Los Angeles:

My vision is for one where...we live up to the idea that no matter what you look like or where you come from, whether you landed here — your ancestors landed here on Ellis Island or they came here on a slave ship, or they just came over the Rio Grande, that we are all connected to one another and we all rise and fall together.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Your Song

"The time has come to set aside childish things"

David Kennedy provides an almost poetic description of Obama's long game:

"We remain a young nation," Barack Obama said in 2009, but he added an unsettling admonition that "in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things." No passage in his Inaugural Address more vividly reflected the President's vision of his country and his times or more accurately foreshadowed the vexations that were to beset his leadership.

Like FDR before him, Obama, 49, has looked beyond the near horizon. He has paid the political price of setting far-visioned initiatives on health care and financial reform ahead of short-term relief. And he has tried to persuade his countrymen to shed some of their youthful illusions: to forsake the frontiersman's faith in unbridled individualism for a recognition of the complex interdependencies of modern life, to replace the rebel's fear of government with the citizen's trust that government of the people and by the people is for the people too, to stop assuming that Santa Claus will give us cheap energy forever and the Easter Bunny will pay our bills. Whatever the near term holds, history is likely to record that Obama set the country on the path to a future with fewer illusions.


Many times a look back at history can provide perspective that helps us better understand today. Booman provides some of that perspective in an article he titles How They Got So Vicious.

I still think one of the most important factors in why the Republican Party is the way it is today is because they spent so much time during the 20th-Century in the minority. From 1931 to 1995, the Republicans had control of the House of Representatives only twice, and both times they had it for only a single two-year cycle...

The history of the Senate is much the same. The Democrats took over the Senate in 1932 and held it with the same two brief interruptions (1946-47 and 1953-54) until the Reagan Revolution swept them into power in 1981. They lost their majority after the 1986 midterms and gained it back in 1994.

When you think of all the changes the country went through between 1954 and 1994, and you realize that the Republican Party didn't have much control over the federal government in Congress during all that time, it helps explain their pathological hatred of Washington DC. And, for conservatives, who weren't very keen on most of the changes going on in the country, the situation was even worse than for your polite Yankee banker Rockefeller Republican-types.

We're living with the accumulated bile of a power-deprived movement. It's no wonder that they act with the viciousness of a dog who was tortured as a puppy.

So what's the prescription for dealing with a "dog who was tortured as a puppy?"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stanley Ann Dunham

I always appreciate reading information about President Obama's history and provides a depth of understanding for the man we see today. In that context, so much of the narrative in Dreams from My Father was devoted to the search for the absent parent. It seems that we've known much less about Ann Dunham and how the woman she was influenced her son.

In today's New York Time Magazine, Janny Scott fills in some of that missing information with an article titled Obama's Young Mother Abroad.

To describe Dunham as a white woman from Kansas turns out to be about as illuminating as describing her son as a politician who likes golf. Intentionally or not, the label obscures an extraordinary story — of a girl with a boy’s name who grew up in the years before the women’s movement, the pill and the antiwar movement; who married an African at a time when nearly two dozen states still had laws against interracial marriage; who, at 24, moved to Jakarta with her son in the waning days of an anticommunist bloodbath in which hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were slaughtered; who lived more than half her adult life in a place barely known to most Americans, in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world; who spent years working in villages where a lone Western woman was a rarity; who immersed herself in the study of blacksmithing, a craft long practiced exclusively by men; who, as a working and mostly single mother, brought up two biracial children; who believed her son in particular had the potential to be great; who raised him to be, as he has put it jokingly, a combination of Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and Harry Belafonte; and then died at 52, never knowing who or what he would become.

Obama placed the ghost of his absent father at the center of his lyrical account of his life. At times, he has seemed to say more about the grandparents who helped raise him than about his mother. Yet she shaped him, to a degree Obama has seemed increasingly to acknowledge. In the preface to the 2004 edition of “Dreams From My Father,” issued nine years after the first edition and nine years after Dunham’s death, Obama folded in a revealing admission: had he known his mother would not survive her illness, he might have written a different book — “less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life.”

I remember reading that line from the 2004 preface to Dreams and almost weeping myself from the regret you could hear in Obama's voice. By then it was too late and she was gone.

There's much from this article that explains Ann as well as the Indonesian influences on Obama's young life that we often overlook. Here's just one example:

After lunch, the group took a walk, with Barry running ahead. A flock of Indonesian children began lobbing rocks in his direction. They ducked behind a wall and shouted racial epithets. He seemed unfazed, dancing around as though playing dodge ball “with unseen players,” Bryant said. Ann did not react. Assuming she must not have understood the words, Bryant offered to intervene. “No, he’s O.K.,” Ann said. “He’s used to it.”

“We were floored that she’d bring a half-black child to Indonesia, knowing the disrespect they have for blacks,” Bryant said. At the same time, she admired Ann for teaching her boy to be fearless. A child in Indonesia needed to be raised that way — for self-preservation, Bryant decided. Ann also seemed to be teaching Barry respect. He had all the politeness that Indonesian children displayed toward their parents. He seemed to be learning Indonesian ways.

“I think this is one reason he’s so halus,” Bryant said of the pres ident, using the Indonesian adjective that means “polite, refined, or courteous,” referring to qualities some see as distinctively Javanese. “He has the manners of Asians and the ways of Americans — being halus, being patient, calm, a good listener. If you’re not a good listener in Indonesia, you’d better leave.”

Explains a lot - doesn't it?

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Its like a fourth-inning analysis of a nine-inning game"

That's a quote from WH Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer in an article by Andrew Romano titled From Wimp to Winner.

How to explain the gap between what lefties feared Obama's speech would be and what it actually was? One interpretation is that after a long, lily-livered lull, the president finally decided to man up. But the truth is more complex. Whatever your opinion of Obama, "weakness" is not a particularly illuminating description of his leadership style. It makes more sense to see him as a hard-nosed pragmatist determined to maximize results. When liberals whine, says White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, it's like "a fourth-inning analysis of a nine-inning game."

It sounds a lot like what many of us have been saying about Obama and his long game for some time now.

The whole article by Romano is worth a read. Thanks to The Obama Diary for the tip.

How being President is different from being a CEO

I've talked before about the difference in leadership styles between President Obama and some of our new Republican governors. Many of the later (ie, Governor Rick Scott of Florida) want to tout their CEO experience as somehow qualifying them for political leadership. And of course, now we have Donald Trump suggesting the same thing (when he isn't too busy touting conspiracy theories). We'll leave aside the business failures of these men (Trump with his multitude of bankruptcies and Scott running a company that was convicted of the largest Medicare fraud in the country's history) and simply focus on the proposition of whether or not experience as a CEO is anything like being President or Governor. PespsiCO Chairman & CEO Indra Nooyi destroys the premise.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Obama on Unity

Unity is the great need of the hour - the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny...

Unfortunately, all too often when we talk about unity in this country, we’ve come to believe that it can be purchased on the cheap. We’ve come to believe that racial reconciliation can come easily - that it’s just a matter of a few ignorant people trapped in the prejudices of the past, and that if the demagogues and those who exploit our racial divisions will simply go away, then all our problems would be solved.

All too often, we seek to ignore the profound institutional barriers that stand in the way of ensuring opportunity for all children, or decent jobs for all people, or health care for those who are sick. We long for unity, but are unwilling to pay the price.

But of course, true unity cannot be so easily won. It starts with a change in attitudes - a broadening of our minds, and a broadening of our hearts.

It’s not easy to stand in somebody else’s shoes. It’s not easy to see past our differences. We’ve all encountered this in our own lives. But what makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart - that puts up walls between us.

We are told that those who differ from us on a few things are different from us on all things; that our problems are the fault of those who don’t think like us or look like us or come from where we do...

Every day, our politics fuels and exploits this kind of division across all races and regions; across gender and party. It is played out on television. It is sensationalized by the media. And last week, it even crept into the campaign for President, with charges and counter-charges that served to obscure the issues instead of illuminating the critical choices we face as a nation.

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others - all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face - war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

- Barack Obama, Ebenezer Baptist Church, January 20, 2008

Saturday, April 16, 2011

This Week and the Obama Method

WOW - what a week!!!! I haven't had much time the last few days to write about events as they happened. But perhaps that's a good thing because sometimes it helps to stand back and summarize the overall direction rather than get too mired in the particulars.

Speaking of the later, I must say that I had some fun last weekend watching frustrati heads explode about the budget deal BEFORE the details were known and then listening to them be just SURE Obama was going to go after not only Medicare and Medicaid in his speech on Wednesday, but they also just KNEW he was going to gut Social Security!

Meanwhile, those of us who have watched Obama closely held our cool and said...lets wait and get the facts. Boy, it feels good to be right!

But rather than say, "I told you so," perhaps it would help to examine why we see things so differently. People who paid attention to what Obama actually said during the campaign and watch his process closely now tend to have some idea about how he does things - but more importantly - we know his intentions. Those who thought Obama was some kind of progressive crusader have misconstrued his intentions and now feel betrayed. So they expect more of the same. Sometimes they even see it when it doesn't exist. That becomes a self-reinforcing loop for some of them (ie, Glenn Greenwald) and pretty soon they are completely lost when it comes to reality. Rootless did the best job I've seen of explaining how that happens.

Since Roger Aisles managed Nixon's campaign, Republican marketing has zeroed in on associating Democrats with "weak", "untrustworthy/unreliable", and either "effeminate" or "bitchy" depending on the gender of the target. Republicans on the other hand are tough, strong, decisive, manly or desirable. In the last couple of years the Republicans have made use of blogs and social media as well as the "alternative media" to pitch this story as "criticism from the left" or "principled opposition". So in addition to Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman of the Times referring to the President as "Obambi" and "this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular", respectively, DailyKos writes "President grovelling beaten lump Obama still believes in unicorns", and FireDogLake tells us about "further spineless capitulation". Once the brand is established, it is automatic and self-reinforcing and immune to "excuses".

Although President Obama seems to have faced down and fended off a very aggressive Republican attack via the budget process, the impression of capitulation has been sold so well that many people will never have a clear idea of what happened.

So the brand gets developed and anything that contradicts it - like actual facts - is dismissed as an "excuse." I'm constantly amazed at our brain's ability to do this...and how difficult it can be to change the contours of that "brand" once its been established.

But for some that happened this week when news about the facts of the budget deal were followed almost immediately with President Obama's speech on Wednesday. Since the frustrati had determined that he had been a weak negotiator on the budget deal, their expectations of the speech went totally over the top. I actually read things about him being worse than Republicans because even Bush had been unable to destroy Social Security. But that's exactly what they expected Obama to do.

And then BAM - came the speech.

In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes?

They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

Reality broke so hard against those expectations that a few of them had to stop for a moment to reconsider.

Finally, not long after the speech we had the delicious moment of Obama (supposedly) not knowing a mic was live (tee-hee) and saying things like this:

I said to them, let me tell you something: 'I spent a year and a half getting health care passed. I had to take that issue across the country and I paid significant political costs to get it done. The notion that I’m going to let you guys undo that in a 6 month spending bill?' I said, 'You want to repeal health care? Go at it. We'll have that debate. You're not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. You think we're stupid?'

It gets more and more difficult to maintain the narrative that Obama is weak and a poor negotiator through events like this. I'm sure some folks will still cling to it. But it was a good week for getting out the message that the Obama Method is alive, well, and most of all...effective. Sometimes its better to out-play your opponents than it is to out-scream them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Did you ever have to make up your mind?

I am not posting this video because of any political implications. I was just recently reminded of how much I've always loved the Lovin' Spoonful.


Summer in the City
You Didn't Have to Be So Nice
Younger Girl

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Some facts might help

Yesterday there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth amongst the frustrati about how President Obama and the Democrats caved in negotiating a deal on the 2011 budget to avoid a government shut-down. I'll not provide a link, but the recommended list at Daily Kos was yet another testament to the proposition of preemptive ranting before the details are known.

Then last night WH Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer provided some specifics. Here's a summary:

Crop Insurance Good Performance Rebate - $35 billion
A job training program that was narrowly targeted at certain student loan processors - $30 billion
Defense Department - $18 billion
Labor, Education, HHS - $13 billion
State and Foreign Operations - $8 billion
Transportation earmarks - $3 billion

I'd like to see more specifics about the cuts to Labor, Education & HHS. But overall, this doesn't look too bad. The biggest looser is farm subsidies.

I wonder if there will be a diary on the recommended list today at Daily Kos outlining these specific cuts and exploring the real impact. Or is it enough to simply assume the Democrats caved when they agreed to any cuts and spread a message about what wimps they are? Since when is political analysis on the left simply a matter of emotional reaction devoid of actual facts?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

When they're willing to kill the hostage

From Matt Yglesias:

Details on the appropriations deal are still hard to come by, but you don’t need the details to know that substantial short-term cuts in domestic discretionary spending will hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance. The problem with not agreeing to the deal, of course, is that a government shutdown would also hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance. If you genuinely don’t care about the interests of poor people and stand to benefit electorally from weak economic growth, this gives you a very strong hand to play as a hostage taker. And John Boehner is willing to play that hand.

What Yglesias is hinting at here, but doesn't come out and say, is that a hostage-taking strategy works very well if you're willing to kill the hostage but the other side isn't willing to let that happen. In that scenario, the deck is stacked.

People who are screaming about Obama and the Democrats needing to be willing to "draw a line in the sand" need to understand that drawing that line means you're willing to let the hostage die over it. That's the calculation. In the case of this budget deal, we can see that the Democrats were willing to let the government shut down (ie, let the hostage die) over funding for women's reproductive health. But they weren't willing to do it over $39 billion in budget cuts. Since we haven't yet seen the details of where that $39 billion will come from, I'd say its a bit pre-mature to say whether or not that's a good bargain.

But we're going to need to prepare ourselves for the next hostage-taking. It is going to come in about a month and involves raising the debt ceiling. This is something most voters won't instinctively understand, but the ramifications make a government shut-down pale in comparison.

We don't know yet what the Republican demands on this one will be. But Steve Benen lays out the stakes.

But while we wait for the ransom note, keep in mind that Republicans know they're playing with fire. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently said failing to raise the debt limit "would be a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said failure to raise the debt limit would lead to "financial collapse and calamity throughout the world." Fox News' Charles Krauthammer said the consequences would be "catastrophic." Fox News' Dana Perino said Republicans are inviting "economic disaster." George Will said policymakers would have to be "suicidal."

At this point, it appears that Republicans know all of this, but don't much care. They're the hostage takers, they're looking for "leverage," and they think they've found it.

I'm sure there's already been a lot of thought about what kind of price the Republicans plan on putting to this one. They already know that there is NO WAY Democrats are going to let this kind of economic disaster happen. We cannot afford to let this hostage die - no matter what. So we should prepare ourselves for something big.

And then we need to remember why we're having to play this game with people who are willing to kill this particular hostage. Yglesias spells it out.

I hope people remember this year next time large Democratic majorities produce an inadequate stimulus bill, a not-good-enough health reform bill, a somewhat weak financial regulation bill, and fail to deliver on their promises for immigration and the environment. It’s easy in a time like that to get cynical and dismissive about the whole thing. But there’s actually a huge difference between moving forward at a slower-than-ideal pace and scrambling to reduce the pace at which you move backwards. Now we’re moving backwards.

Elections have consequences. This is the price we pay for November 2010.

I suspect we'll have to bite the bullet and take it. Our next chance to solve this will come in 2012. We need to vote the hostage-takers out of office!

What is at stake

We all know by now that a government shutdown was avoided late last night. And we know that the Republicans were not successful in eliminating funding for women's reproductive health care.

But before that deal was reached, Lawrence O'Donnell made a powerful argument about why these issues matter. He talked about truth, responsibility, and accountability. He also told one woman's story. She was at risk of being on the receiving end of the consequences of the lies and distortions we are exposed to every day.

This isn't just about Planned Parenthood. Its about the truth of people's lives. Please take a moment and listen.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Friday, April 8, 2011

Who are your people?

When I watch progressives today, I tend to think we've lost our way. A historical look at progressive movements in the past - as well as some of the successful ones lately in the Middle East - have much to teach us all.

As much as I love blogging, I have to wonder if this medium isn't partly responsible. When it came on the scene, it seemed like it provided us all with a huge megaphone that would allow us to get our voices heard. And for many progressives, that turned into a mantra of "yell louder." I see two problems with that strategy:

1. As hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of us yelled louder - who was listening? The battle ground became who could yell the loudest over all the others yelling loudly.

2. Way too much energy has been spent on yelling at politicians. I'm immediately reminded of the line "when the people lead, the leaders will follow."

I've talked before about the power of partnership as the kind of leadership that fueled successful progressive movements in the past. This week, Barbara Ransby wrote about that kind of thing powerfully in an article titled Quilting a Movement. She draws on the example of Ella Baker to make the point.

In order to map our next moves, we would do well to look to the example of the late civil rights leader and radical intellectual Ella Baker. She understood that in order to create a broad-based progressive movement that would fight for palliative reforms and push for institutional change we have to build deep ties (not one time “hook up” coalitions) between diverse communities of activists. It is easier to say “let’s build a movement,” however, than it is to do it. The work is gritty not glamorous, messy not neat, protracted not immediate. As both Baker and Brazilian educator Paolo Freire insisted, we have to engage in active listening as the first step to movement building...

Ella Baker was fond of asking the question—who are your people? She meant where do you come from, but she also meant, who do you identify with? When you have to take sides, where do you stand and who will be there with you? She pushed educated college students to see illiterate sharecroppers as “their people,” their allies and their political mentors. She pushed Northerners to embrace Southerners in principled solidarity. She organized back and forth across various color and cultural lines, and most importantly, across generational divides. In other words, she was a political quilter. She did not advocate forging coalitions of convenience: short-lived and limited. Instead, she wanted to create a movement and nurture the kind of long-term relationships that would sustain it. She tenaciously stitched together fragments of a progessive community into a patchwork of a movement.

Ella Baker taught us how we ought to do our movement work: take time to be inclusive, be active listeners, walk the thorny and sometimes circuitous path of participatory democracy, mutual respect and genuine solidarity; and build campaigns from the bottom up not the top down. Today’s progressives should take these lessons to heart, if they want to succeed in creating the social change our world desperately needs.

The focus here is not on yelling at each other or at politicians - but on talking AND listening to each other...forming the bonds that lead to the power of partnership.

Speaking of listening...take a few moments to hear Sweet Honey in the Rock sing the words of Ella Baker - and be blessed.

Ella's Song
Lyrics and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon
Sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers' sons

That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me

To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm

Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny

Struggling myself don't mean a whole lot, I've come to realize
That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives

I'm a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I'll bow to no man's word

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Count your presidential blessings, libs"

Mark Morford has some words for the "professional left" in his column titled The Great Barack Obama Conundrum. You'll need to plant your tongue firmly in your cheek as you read this one.

To the sneering disappointment of the puritanical left, Obama has turned out to be pretty much exactly what he said he'd be during his '08 campaign: flawed, exceedingly moderate, a resolute compromiser, overly pragmatic when he should've been a badass, temperate when he should've been white hot and furious, offering concessions when he should be bringing the hammer down.

In short, Obama has failed. He has not at all been the delicious chocolatey superjesus of radical sociopolitical transformation most on the hard left hoped, prayed and sacrificed precious Prius bumper ad space [thought] he would be.

Hence, the conundrum. Given all this mealy disappointment, how now to best rally the troops and get out the vote in 2012 with anything resembling the passion and fervor of 2008, so as to defy any further sickening GOP onslaught? How to champion a guy who has been such a general liberal letdown, even though, when all is said and done, he's been mostly completely remarkable?...

Now, you can argue, as I often still do, that Obama has a sense of the long view like no president in our lifetime. He seems to understand that his true positive impact will be felt cumulatively, over time, way down the road (your kids will love him). He thinks not egomaniacally, not insta-gratifyingly, but historically. This alone makes him one of the most remarkable politicians of any stripe, now or ever.

And this is precisely the problem. As it stands right now, by the inflammatory, Glenn Beck/Charlie Sheen standards of the day, Obama isn't merely annoyingly calm and liberally imperfect, he also just a little bit ... boring...

So while libs can whine all they want about Obama's imperfections and so-called failures, the instant you turn it all around and look at the alternatives, and then hitch them to the current GOP-led House's plans to gut the budget and spew hate on women and gays, the arts and the poor, promote Islamophobia and kowtow to the rich, well, suddenly Obama shines all over again like the gleaming savior we all want him to be.

Suddenly all the complaining turns into nitpicking. Suddenly that vague dissatisfaction is instantly overshadowed by this shuddering, sour tang deep in the gut that just about screams OMFG, thank God Obama's there, how much worse off we'd be without him, how much good he's actually accomplished, how blessed his articulate intelligence, how proud we are every time he travels abroad -- please, please, please don't ever leave and sorry we complained in the first place and oh my God please don't leave.

Yes, it's moral and political relativism, writ large. Who cares? What else could it ever be? So count your presidential blessings, libs, for while they may be tattered and rashy and often pinch and ride up, they are, on the whole, still plentiful and hugely impressive and just shockingly better than any alternative you can name, much less vote for. And you know it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The truth about Medicaid

Sometimes I think the Republicans want to throw so much crap out there that we don't have time to respond to it all. Today, Rep. Paul Ryan announced his budget plan. We know that it does everything from dismantling Medicare to raising taxes on middle class Americans and giving yet more tax breaks to the wealthy. There's a lot to tackle there.

But he also wants to block grant payment to states for Medicaid - which means that once the funds are used up, either the states pick up the tab or those who require assistance are SOL. Ryan describes this as welfare reform.

Matt Yglesias straightens him out.

In other words, people are supposed to think Medicaid is that “bad” kind of government spending, the one that goes to shiftless black folks not hard-working Americans like you and me and Paul Ryan. But look at the actual distribution of Medicaid dollars:


This is mostly a program for the elderly and the disabled. It’s the main way we finance long-term care in this country. If you don’t directly benefit from it, you very likely have a parent or grandparent who does and whose financial needs will simply tend to fall on you if the program is cut. Meanwhile, in terms of the “welfare” aspect of Medicaid by far the largest set of poor people it covers are poor children.

Who's rooting for a government shutdown?

By the end of today, we are likely to have some idea about whether or not the government will shutdown next week. So lets all just remember who is rooting for that to happen.

House Republicans huddled late Monday and, according to a GOP aide, gave the speaker an ovation when he informed them that he was advising the House Administration Committee to begin preparing for a possible shutdown.

"Obama now has Republicans cornered in budget negotiations"

Over the last few weeks we've been hearing complaints from both the left and the right about the fact that Obama isn't engaged in the current Congressional battle to pass a budget for the remainder of this year. Of course no one seems to be mentioning what a good job Sen. Schumer is doing on this (here's his latest) or that VP Biden has been in the thick of things since the get-go. The hue and cry has all been "Where is Obama?" From the left, this has especially been a critique of why he's not utilizing the "bully pulpit" to condemn the worst elements of the Republican's proposals.

This has presented one of those moments for me when I don't understand what Obama is doing, but after watching him for over 3 years, I figure eventually we'd see the strategy.

Lately Steve Benen has been postulating that if Obama gets into the battle, it simply intensifies Republican intransigence and gives them a target. That makes some sense.

But this morning it was Michael Gerson (Republican and former speech-writer for Bush) who put some meat on those bones. You have to wade through his partisan framing - but here it is:

...Obama now has Republicans cornered in budget negotiations. By accepting $33 billion in cuts for the remainder of 2011, Obama has taken the middle ground and exploited a major division within the Republican coalition. The administration has transformed a weak record into a strong political position...

This maneuver has also placed House Speaker John Boehner in exactly the position he wanted to avoid. Obama’s offer is more than reasonable. A $30 billion reduction, after all, was the initial Republican negotiating position back in early February. Given that Republicans control only the House, this level of cuts would normally be viewed as a remarkable success. But a portion of the Republican conference longs for a confrontation that results in a government shutdown, preferring a fight over a victory. And the only worse outcome for Boehner than a politically risky shutdown is a deeply split conference, pitting the Republican establishment against Tea Party purists — a result that would undermine all future Republican progress.

So Obama has managed to lighten his liberal baggage, turn Republicans against each other and ensure they would be (justifiably) blamed for a shutdown. Not a bad month’s work.

Once again, we see how conciliatory rhetoric can be ruthless strategy when the opposing party has given their radical fringe so much power.

Many on the left criticize Obama for not being more strident in his condemnations of the radical elements that have taken over the Republican Party. What I see is a calculation that those folks are the fringe in the country as a whole and engaging with them only brings the Democratic rhetoric down to their level.

But a strategy that deepens the divide between the two existing factions - all while continuing to present himself as "the adult in the room" - shows the real power plays that are going on behind the scenes.

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