Friday, September 30, 2011


Do ya think these two sorta like each other?



Troubling Questions

I'd like to go public with my unease this morning on the news about the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Don't worry, I'm not going to go all greenwald on you here. But lets be honest - it does raise some troubling questions.

As usual, I think BooMan has expressed what I feel extremely well.

Here's my problem. Based on what the government says it knew, I can understand that they did not want to leave this man free to continue his activities. It's our government's responsibility to keep us safe, and this man was quite dangerous. I also understand that capturing him was impractical. It's a highly unusual situation that our laws are not presently designed to address. I don't know if a similar situation will ever present itself again, but we need to craft our laws in a way that can account for this type of situation so that there is some legal review of some sort before a U.S. citizen can be assassinated by his own government.

Because, let's face it, without any legal process, the government could manufacture evidence against a U.S. citizen who is a harsh critic and who gives sermons that incite people against U.S. policies. We don't know what the line is where the government can disregard a citizen's rights, declare him an enemy of the state, and kill him. Even if we agree that al-Awlaki crossed it, we don't know at what point he crossed it. And it's not a simple question to answer.

As much as we all hate to admit it - Obama will not always be our President. While I can be happy that this man is no longer a threat to people and am aware that its important for our elected officials to take their responsibility for American security seriously, I also know that we are a nation of laws and not men. We can't rely on trust of those currently in power because gawd knows we've been very capable of electing some criminals in the past.

So this isn't necessarily a criticism of President Obama as much as its a recognition of the inadequacy of our laws. But then this is an area I always find troubling. For example, I'd take this even farther than BooMan has done. Is it just U.S. citizens who shouldn't be targeted for killing without any oversight? Can an administration otherwise kill people who are citizens of other countries simply because they determine them to be dangerous? That certainly was the case with Bin Laden and most of us didn't have a problem with that. But I can imagine situations where I would see it differently.

But perhaps I'm just not good at this kind of thing. I've always gotten uncomfortable with talk about things like "the rules of war." I recognize its necessary. But there's some kind of absurdity at work in crafting rules for the act of killing other human beings. So the idealist and realist in me really struggles with all of this and I don't have the answers. All I know is that there are important questions here that we shouldn't shy away from. And I, for one, am not willing to cede this ground to the Greenwalds of the world.

What kind of leader do we want?

Yesterday Steve Benen wrote a fantastic column on leadership riffing off of this quote from Gov. Christie's speech this week.

“We continue wait and hope that our president will finally stop being a bystander in the Oval Office,” the governor said. “We hope that he will shake off the paralysis that has made it impossible for him to take on the really big things.”

Really? After years of talk about the Kenyan socialist who "rammed health care down our throats" and is hell-bent on destroying the very fabric of our country, now we're supposed to think he's a bystander constrained by paralysis? Kinda makes your head spin, huh?

Benen also says that he got emails from some of his progressive friends who actually LOVED what Christie said. Those of us who have watched the poutragers over the last couple of years aren't surprised.

While some of President Obama's critics on the left are still tossing around their bags of fire, there are those who are embracing his rhetorical style lately. They just LOVE the fact that the President is finally "taking it to the Republicans" and giving them the outlet for letting loose the frustrations that have built up over all these years.

But we need to ask these folks exactly what this rhetoric is going to accomplish. It all started with President Obama's introduction of the American Jobs Act. What I would love to hear from one of these poutragers is whether or not they think the President's current approach is likely to result in a change of heart from Republicans who will now drop their strategy of obstruction because the President is calling them out. Anyone who believes that really does deserve the label of "naive."

Lets assume what might have happened if President Obama had taken this approach to the first stimulus back in 2009. Remember - at the time we needed at least 2 Republican votes plus Lieberman in the Senate to pass it. And as the country was careening towards another Great Depression - needing stimulus ASAP to stop the freefall - what if he had simply said pass.the.bill and taken off on a tour of the country to sell it to the people - hoping that would convince enough Republicans to support it?

Its now been 22 days since President Obama made his speech to Congress on the jobs bill and we haven't seen any activity on it yet. As a comparison, from the day of Obama's inauguration (January 20, 2009) until he signed the Recover Act (February 17, 2009) 28 days passed. Even if you think that time was not the critical factor, you have to imagine that this approach would have won over support from Collins, Snowe, Specter, and Leiberman. I'd suggest that's a pipe (as in wth are you smoking?) dream.

Beyond that - if the Recovery Act failed to pass - you'd have to imagine where we'd be as a country now. How would a Great Depression and a failed initiative right out of the box for this President have affected his chances for re-election - much less a progressive revival?

I hear precious few (read: none) of the poutragers playing out their proposed strategies for leadership to the end game. Their lack of ability to do so is telling. It leads me to ask what kind of leadership they want. Is it about scoring points that make us feel better - or actually getting something done in the trenches and then going on to fight the next fight to get more?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Photo of the Day - Incognito

Attention shoppers!

First Lady Michelle Obama has said in the past she likes to go shopping incognito. AP photographer Charles Dharapak captured her doing just that in a suburban Washington retailer today wearing sunglasses and a ball cap. 9/29/11

Demand an apology from Salon to Harris-Perry

Just a quickie...

Salon has a page that asks for your feedback.

My suggestion is that we all provide them with some...letting them know that we demand an apology from both Salon and Gene Lyons to Dr. Melissa Harris Perry for the despicable things they printed about her yesterday.

Lyons confirms the problem in his response to Harris-Perry (updated)

The backlash to Melissa Harris-Perry's assertion that racism might play a part in white liberal's critique of President Obama has become even more interesting than her original assertion. Remember that in her response to the backlash, she demonstrated that there are some grounds on which the conversation should take place, but that she has an open mind about the outcome.

It is completely possible that I am absolutely wrong about white racial bias on the left against President Obama. Certainly, it wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong in my political analysis. But listen to this for a moment white allies: many African-Americans (not all, but many) feel that the attacks on President Obama are racialized on both the right and the left. This feeling has meaningful implications for the quality of our national, political fabric. When we tell you that the attacks are racially troubling, painful, we would like you to take our concerns seriously rather than working to simply defend yourself against the claims.

As Gene Lyons demonstrates, her opponents are showing no such grace.

This just in: Not all the fools are Republicans. Recently, one Melissa Harris-Perry, a Tulane professor who moonlights on MSNBC political talk shows, wrote an article for the Nation titled "Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama."...

See, certain academics are prone to an odd fundamentalism of the subject of race. Because President Obama is black, under the stern gaze of professor Harris-Perry, nothing else about him matters. Not killing Osama bin Laden, not 9 percent unemployment, only blackness.

Furthermore, unless you're black, you can't possibly understand. Yada, yada, yada. This unfortunate obsession increasingly resembles a photo negative of KKK racial thought. It's useful for intimidating tenure committees staffed by Ph.D.s trained to find racist symbols in the passing clouds. Otherwise, Harris-Perry's becoming a left-wing Michele Bachmann, an attractive woman seeking fame and fortune by saying silly things on cable TV.

In three short paragraphs he's accused Harris-Perry of being a fool, fundamentalism, obsession, being a photo negative of the KKK and a left-wing Michele Bachmann. Oh, and of being trained to "find racist symbols in the passing clouds."

When it comes to the reality of racism on the left - Mr. Lyons has just made Harris-Perry's point, hasn't he? I mean really, how dare an African American woman who's studied race history and dynamics share an opinion in a way that opens the door to conversation about the subject! The "enlightened" response of the liberal left is to ridicule, degrade and insult rather than simply respond.

It all reminds me of something Derrick Jensen wrote about in his book The Culture of Make Believe. In it, he posits that the nexus of privilege - be it or race/gender/class - is a sense of entitlement. You can substitute words like "racism," "sexism," or "classism" for his use of the word "hatred."

From the perspective of those who are entitled, the problems begin when those they despise do not go along with—and have the power and wherewithal to not go along with—the perceived entitlement...

Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, "normal," chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.

Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remains underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode.

We are at the point in our evolution as a diverse country when a Black man has been elected President and people like Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry have the education and platform to speak their minds. "Normal" is being challenged and the ugliness of racism is exploding - as Lyons demonstrated.

This is a critical time for our country. We know where the tea partiers stand on these matters. And we're beginning to see where too many liberals - like Lyons - are going with it all.

I, for one, want to stand up and call this reaction for what it is...racism. Harris-Perry is not saying you need to agree with her. But she wants to have the conversation. The fact that that request elicits this kind of response demonstrates how far we have to go.

UPDATE: Be sure to read The Reid Report's Just an observation: Equating Melissa Harris-Perry to the KKK is a bridge way too far.

But that passage provides a valuable insight into the roots of the chasm between black people — writ large — and white liberals — write large. The latter sometimes demonstrate a stunning lack of interest/understanding of the complex but still present interplay of race in our politics, and really, in our daily lives. The truth is, Perry made a point that is not only not uncommon among black Americans, it is almost rote. Black people experience the opposition to Barack Obama differently from white people, and their observations about his treatment, by the right AND by the left, are not invalid. Part of liberalism, at least in my understanding, is NOT invalidating the experience of marginalized groups...

But more importantly, jumping on board the David Sirota train, by equating black beliefs about the treatment of the country’s first black president with the Ku Klux Klan is so far out there, and so offensive, it’s hard to believe that some editor at Salon didn’t pull Lyons back from the brink. Saying that black people who believe, as Melissa does, that there is a different standard for this president, are just like Klansman, is no different than tea partiers saying that anyone who believes in increasing taxes on the wealthy are just like Marxists. Isn’t that kind of bottom-line obvious?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dancing with the Stars

To be real honest, I was feeling a little down tonight. Who knows why?

I started stumbling around the nets - wound up on youtube - and the next thing you know I'm watching these and smiling.

I hope they brighten your day too.

Assessing the "droppers" and "switchers"

The group Third Way recently did an interesting poll of what they call "droppers" and "switchers." The former are those who voted for President Obama in 2008 and stayed home in 2010. The later are those who voted for President Obama but switched to vote Republican in 2010.

Here's how Jonathan Cowan (President and Co-Founder of Third Way) describes what they learned from the droppers.

Droppers - the name we’ve coined for folks who voted for Obama in 2008 but dropped off in 2010 - have come home, and while an aggressive turnout operation is necessary, with the expected ground game they will be with him next year. By a margin of 50 to 8 they blame the GOP for the near default in August, and three-quarters already say they’ll vote for the President in 2012 (only three percent say they’ll definitely vote for the Republican)...

The idea of putting the tea party and Republicans who are beholden to it in charge of the White House will ensure that key groups like young voters and Latinos will mobilize for the president next year...

Things aren't as clear for the switchers, as Ruth Marcus summarizes.

The switchers represent a bigger headache. Less than a third said they would definitely or probably vote again for the president. A full quarter said they are irretrievably gone.

In all, six in 10 switchers are persuadable, prompting the question: What would it take to do the trick?

It won’t be easy. As the word cloud depicts, these voters continue to like Obama. They think he’s smart and sincere. They give him credit for trying. But the next two words encapsulate their twin doubts: that he is too liberal for their tastes and not effective enough for the country’s needs.

The "word cloud" that Marcus refers to was compiled from the response of switchers to the question about what one word they would use to describe President Obama.

Contrary to what the poutragers would have us believe, these voters DO care about the deficit and are worried that President Obama is too liberal when it comes to those kinds of issues. But they support his position that we'll need to raise taxes to reduce the deficit.

The bigger issue seems to me to be about the strategy of the Republicans (with assists from the media and the poutragers) in painting President Obama as ineffective.

I'd suggest that many of these voters are likely persuadable. We in the pragmatic progressive blogosphere know that our President has been incredibly effective and that the only obstruction to further progress comes from the Republicans.

So there's our task for the next year...bring home the switchers!

Perry's immigration problem forecasts trouble for GOP

We all know that Gov. Perry's bid for the GOP presidential nomination is in trouble. One of the key factors is his position on immigration (read: brown people).

Less than two months into Rick Perry's presidential candidacy, a record on illegal immigration that served him well politically as a border-state governor is proving a tough sell with voters looking toward Iowa's Republican caucuses this winter.

If you remember, Gov. Perry had to run for re-election in Texas last year and for a while the polls against his opponent Bill White were pretty tight. He'd just come out of a bruising primary battle with former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and many prominent Texas Republicans were jumping ship and supporting White.

Perry also knew the kinds of things the 2010 census revealed. Like the fact that in 10 years the White population of Texas had gone from a majority 64% to a minority 45%. And that Hispanics in Texas now make up 38% of the population.

So what did he do during that race? He refused to crusade for a border fence, he signed a law allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities, and he opposed Arizona's draconian SB 1070 because it would "turn law-enforcement officers into immigration officials," and they have more important things to worry about. In other words, he did what he had to do to get re-elected in Texas. And now all of that has come back to haunt him in his presidential bid.

Is it any wonder then, that Texas just got challenged by DOJ for trying to gerrymander Congressional redistricting to restrict the voting power of Hispanics?

Senators and Governors in more and more states will be facing this demographic shift over the next few years while their racist tea partiers scream at them for protection against "the browning of America." Eventually more and more politicians like Perry will get caught in the squeeze.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Subtle Racism of Friends and Allies (reposted)

I see that my link last night to this post I wrote almost two years ago generated some interest. I've thought before about re-posting it and perhaps now is as good a time as any to do that.

Have you ever heard a person of color say that they prefer the open racism of conscious bigots to the subtle racism of us do-gooders on the left end of the spectrum?

I remember an African American friend of mine here in Minnesota who years ago would often tell me that she longed for the day she could move back to the south where racism was right up front for everyone to see. I'd shake my head at her and feel completely clueless about why she would think that. After all, I had grown up in East Texas and couldn't get away from all that craziness fast enough.

Over time though, I've come to understand that view a little better. Much of that awareness came from reading in "the diversosphere." I found that people of color express things in blog posts that would never be said in "polite company," but would typically be shared with each other behind closed doors. I will forever be grateful to so many of them for opening their lives and hearts to me and so many other readers.

For example, here is what I think is one of the most powerful posts ever written on the internet about white progressives and racism. Its from Kai and is titled: The White Liberal Conundrum.

As I've often noted, many white liberals remain oblivious to the depth and breadth of anti-racist work, opting to hide behind the delusion that anyone who votes for Democrats and doesn't have a pointy hood in the closet is "a good guy" in the movement toward greater social justice <...> Some might be surprised to learn that when people of color talk about racism amongst ourselves, white liberals often receive a far harsher skewering than white conservatives or overt racists. Many of my POC friends would actually prefer to hang out with an Archie Bunker-type who spits flagrantly offensive opinions, rather than a colorblind liberal whose insidious paternalism, dehumanizing tokenism, and cognitive indoctrination ooze out between superficially progressive words. At least the former gives you something to work with, something above-board to engage and argue against; the latter tacitly insists on imposing and maintaining an illusion of non-racist moral purity which provides little to no room for genuine self-examination or racial dialogue.

Countless blogospheric discussions on racism amply demonstrate the manner in which many white liberals start acting victimized and angry if anyone attempts to burst their racism-free bubble, oftentimes inexplicably bringing up non-white friends, lovers, adopted children, relatives, ancestors; dismissing, belittling, or obtusely misreading substantive historically-informed analysis of white supremacism as either "divisive rhetoric" or "flaming"; downplaying racism as an interpersonal social stigma and bad PR, rather than an overarching system of power under which we all live and which has socialized us all; and threatening to walk away from discussion if persons of color do not comform to a narrow white-centered comfort zone. Such people aren't necessarily racists in the hate-crime sense of the word, but they are usually acting out social dynamics created by racism and replicating the racist social relationships they were conditioned since birth to replicate.

Any of that second paragraph sound familiar? Yeah, me too. I've been there, done that. I highly recommend following the link to read the whole diary.

I remember a few years ago asking an on-line friend of color if I ALWAYS needed to take a charge of racism thrown at me seriously. I've been on the receiving end of my share of those kinds of charges and sometimes I've questioned their reliability. She didn't give me a yes or no answer. Instead she said that what I have to do is consider it...fearlessly and honestly.

Over the years as I've tried to heed her advice, I've found that there's so much I don't know and don't understand. That's mostly because I haven't experienced things through the eyes and hearts of people of color. And until I do, applying my experience to their lives leads me to dismiss whole realms of reality...and to racism.

Here's how Nezua put it years ago in a blog post titled The Skin of My Soul.

Mi novia says that it really frustrates White people that no matter how much they know or want to know, there may be an area of experience or knowledge that they cannot access.

This is another way of saying White Privilege.

How dare the world harbor some sort of Thing that I cannot experience! How dare you insinuate that you possess knowledge I may have to ask you about in humility! How impertinent of you to even imagine that I cannot, with study and great wisdom and effort, also know what it is like to grow up Brown™ in America! The voice of privilege thinks no seat is unavailable, no land unconquerable, no food untasteable, no right deniable, no experience out of reach. It is a slap in the face to this line of thought that there exists an area that cannot be known, even to a WHITE person. Gasp.

That's the crux of white privilege...thinking that what we've lived and experienced is a valid way to measure what other people have lived and experienced. And because whiteness has been the default for so long in this culture, many of us are not used to the idea that there's so much that we don't know and need to learn. Until we do - we're likely to hurt people and cause them pain out of our ignorance. I don't imagine that most of us mean to cause that kind of pain...but we do. That's what my friend who longed for the South was trying to tell me I think - that it actually hurts less when it comes from people who openly hate you than it does when it comes from your friends and allies.

A few years ago Donna at The Silence of Our Friends told a story that is both simple and poignant about this kind of pain. It starts off with her explaining that she was once part of a group for Native American women. They were open about who joined - as long as the reasons had integrity. One of the women who joined the group had Native American ancestors way back in her heritage and wanted to learn what she could about them. I'll let Donna pick up the story from there.

It was like any friend or neighbor who thinks you are interesting and you think she is interesting and you get along great. I don't know what got up her nose this one day, but we were sitting around discussing current problems on our reservations and things like unemployment came up. She gets a little huffy and chimes in, "Well why don't you just go get a job?" Now the others in the group just stopped talking to her, they knew they got slapped down, but I didn't. I tried to explain that it wasn't that easy and that alot of our reservations are out in the middle of nowhere and you need a car to go into town or maybe even get on a bus and completely leave your home. She didn't hear any of it. She said of course it's easy, you fill out applications and get a job! I tried one more time telling her that cars and gas cost money, that bus fare costs money, that clothes for an interview cost money, the extreme poverty means there is no money, and because of the distance to the nearest city you might be abandoning everything and everyone you know to go somewhere you know is hostile to you. And she dismissed it saying I was just making excuses. She really thought we were either too stupid to think of her simplistic answers ourselves, or too lazy to go and do it. I lost it and gave her hell over it, but her answer to that was that white people don't have to be our friends and listen to anything we say, and yet she did it all this time, and now I was being so rude and ungrateful when she was just trying to help.<...>

I got quiet. I didn't know what to say. I had to stop and ask myself, am I really equal? Am I even human? At that moment in time, I didn't know anymore. Now these kinds of things have happened to me at other times but this one was especially painful because I had been friends with this woman for 2+ years. I didn't see it coming.

Can you feel it?

Certainly this woman demonstrated some ignorance about the employment barriers for Native Americans living on a reservation. But when challenged with that ignorance...the really ugly aspects of her racism arose. "White people don't have to listen and I'm just doing you a favor by doing so. You should be grateful." It reminded me of all the times I silently (but perhaps not so subtly) assumed that I deserved gratitude from people of color for my efforts to engage. Just another layer of my own racism that Donna helped me recognize.

I tell that story to help us be mindful - not as a request to walk on eggshells (which is a whole other problem). Its the subtle things from the people you're supposed to be able trust that often hurt the most. And that's racism too.

The Great Divide

At the end of the Bush/Cheney era, I thought the contrasts between the Democrats and Republicans were as clear as I'd seen them in my lifetime. After all, we'd just seen the Republicans lie in order to start an unnecessary war we couldn't seem to get out of, crash our economy, and run the national debt into the stratosphere.

Following their electoral defeats in both 2006 and 2008, I wondered what the Republican Party would do to re-constitute itself. There were sure ample reasons to re-think their policies.

Its now clear what they did in response...they doubled-down on everything that had failed before. The great divide between the Republicans and Democrats has never been more clear.

At a time when the ranks of those living in poverty is growing and the middle class is loosing ground daily, the Republicans have firmly staked their ground on fighting for the wealthy. They've drawn the battle lines at protecting billionaire's tax cuts and trying to make an argument that "corporations are people too." All this while continuing to suggest that taxes need to be raised on the poor and elderly in this country.

George Bush found out that talk about privatizing Social Security didn't sell very well. And yet this group of Republicans is back at it. Not only that - they passed a bill in the House that would have voucherized Medicare.

While the economy is still struggling with the financial crisis caused by de-regulation, these Republicans would have us believe that getting rid of government regulations is the only way to solve the problem.

They mock the science of global climate change, boo gay soldiers, cheer the death of an uninsured man, and applaud executions.

Finally, they've taken the unprecedented approach of obstructing anything this President proposes - and been willing to sacrifice the safety and security of our country - in order to score political points.

It used to be that Republicans would take these positions but camouflage them during elections in an attempt to fool the public into voting for them. Its what drove the questions about what was the matter with Kansas. For now, those days are over.

I happen to be one that doesn't think that's just an accident. Our President's attempts to usher in an era of bi-partisanship have challenged the very notions at the heart of the Republican mindset. They know that if the country were to engage in serious rational discussions about the issues that confront us - they lose.

And so as President Obama offered them the opportunity to work together or paint themselves into an increasingly extremist corner - they chose the later. And of course, the racist tea partiers were more than happy to lead the way.

I tend to be an optimist about the American people and think that - as this election rolls out - the public will reject that extremism. But we've got our work cut out for us. Its our job to make sure voters know that never before has the choice been more clear.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Obama and his elders

Ever since the 2008 primaries, I've been fascinated by the reaction of children to Barack Obama. It just dawned on me recently that he gets an equally interesting response from folks who have a few years under their belts.


Race Talk

Melissa Harris-Perry has written a response to the arguments she received against her column about the double standard white liberals are using to evaluate President Obama.

She's not so much trying to make her original point again as she is talking about what gets in the way of conversation about racism with white liberals. In that sense, it takes up the same topic Kai did several years ago when he wrote about The White Liberal Conundrum.

Harris-Perry puts it all neatly into three talking points.

The first is a common strategy of asking any person of color who identifies a racist practice or pattern to “prove” that racism is indeed the causal factor. This is typically demanded by those who are certain of their own purity of racial motivation. The implication is if one cannot produce irrefutable evidence of clear, blatant and intentional bias, then racism must be banned as a possibility. But this is both silly as an intellectual claim and dangerous as a policy standard.

In a nation with the racial history of the United States I am baffled by the idea that non-racism would be the presumption and that it is racial bias which must be proved beyond reasonable doubt...

I believe we must be careful and judicious in our conversations about racism. But I also believe that those who demand proof of interpersonal intention to create a racist outcome are missing the point about how racism works. Racism is not exclusively about hooded Klansmen; it is also about the structures of bias and culture of privilege that infect the left as well.

This demand to "prove it" is why I loved expostfactoid's title on a recent blog post: You can't fact-check a dog whistle. The expectations of what most white people would think of as "proof" are totally unrealistic. In my experience, understanding racism involves listening with empathy to try and understand life from another person's perspective.

She also talks about the mistaken idea of many white people that racism requires intentionality. A blog friend once shared a wonderful analogy on that one. She said that if I drop an anvil on your foot, it doesn't hurt any less if I didn't mean to. Racism is not just what is in one's heart - its more often about how it impacts the person on the receiving end...that's why listening is so important.

Secondly, Harris-Perry brings up something Kai also eluded to...the old "I have Black friends" routine.

Interracial friendship should, ideally, encourage the desire to investigate one’s own racial privilege and bias, not to use the identity of one’s friends against any claim that such bias even exists.

I'd apply this thinking beyond that of having Black friends. Anything in your life that you use as a buffer to suggest that "I can't be racist because..." is nothing but a form of distraction and denial.

And as a matter of fact, it is often the subtle racism of friends and allies that hurts the most.

Finally, Harris-Perry talks about the dismissal of her own professional credentials.

It is common for my interlocutors to question my professional, intellectual and personal credentials. It is as though my very identity as an African-American woman makes me unqualified to speak on issues of race and gender; as though I could only be arguing out of personal interest or opinion rather than from decades of research, publication and university teaching.

I understand what she's saying here and believe that someone with her credentials needs to be acknowledged for what she brings to the table in this kind of discussion. But I also want to say that her personal experience as an African American woman gives her all the credibility she needs to be listened to on a topic like this. Her credentials are icing on that cake.

This, my friends, is how you have an open dialogue about racism:

It is completely possible that I am absolutely wrong about white racial bias on the left against President Obama. Certainly, it wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong in my political analysis. But listen to this for a moment white allies: many African-Americans (not all, but many) feel that the attacks on President Obama are racialized on both the right and the left. This feeling has meaningful implications for the quality of our national, political fabric. When we tell you that the attacks are racially troubling, painful, we would like you to take our concerns seriously rather than working to simply defend yourself against the claims.

That's how it happens folks.

There is an honest, open give and take, non-defensive dialogue: This may sound obvious, but a lot can go wrong when you are trying to prove you are not a racist, intolerant or even mildly prejudiced. Let it go. Defending your credentials deflects attention from the issue at hand.

The emphasis is not getting it right, just on getting it: You have to step out of the “right or wrong” dilemma. The point is not to agree or debate, or to win, but to understand. This takes an entirely different type of listening.

When the audience takes center stage

As establishment Republicans wring their hands over the presidential candidates the tea party has produced, the reality is that the audiences at the recent debates have overtaken the candidates as the main story.

And President Obama noticed. Here's the story from his fundraiser in California last night.

“I mean, has anybody been watching the debates lately? You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change,” Mr. Obama said in a reference to Mr. Perry that drew applause from the 350 donors at a fund-raiser in Woodside, Calif.

“You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have health care and booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not reflective of who we are.”

Yep, that's how you make this a choice election vs a referendum while the Republicans continue to pine after a hero who will save them from their current nightmare.

Its NOT politics as usual

Eric Boehlert has a great column demonstrating how the Republican obstructionism we're witnessing in the Obama era is definitely not politics as usual.

To demonstrate, he goes back to 1983 when Reagan was in his 3rd year as President, the Senate had a Republican majority, and the House was controlled by Democrats - the exact mirror of what we have now. There are other similarities as well. Like the fact that the economy was faltering and Reagan's approval ratings were in the 40's.

Boehlert found this summary of Congressional activity in the New York Times from August of that year.

Congress has gone on vacation after one of its most productive periods in recent history, and to this point, the 98th session of the nation's legislature could well be called ''the bipartisan consensus Congress.''

In a half-dozen major areas, from job legislation to the MX missile to Social Security, the lawmakers were able to succeed by seeking accommodations across party lines. They were also able to establish a decent, if occasionally rocky, relationship with the White House. So far this year, President Reagan has signed more than 60 bills and not used his veto once on a major issue.

The spirit of uneasy detente that has pervaded the Capitol was explained this way by Senator David Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat: ''The fact of life is, we're politicians, and we work within the parameters of what is achievable.''

When the Democrats were in exactly the same position as Republicans find themselves now, they worked for what was achievable rather than threaten the safety and security of the country in order to score political points against the President.

Boehlert rightly calls out the media for failing to provide this kind of historical analysis which demonstrates the unprecedented nature of the Republican sabotage of our government.

As Media Matters has noted for some time, much of the Beltway press corps refuses to put today's Republican obstructionism in any kind of historical context. Pundits and reporters watch the GOP universally reject White House initiatives with party-line votes and the press pretends it's normal. The press pretends that's how the game has always been played; that presidents have always found it virtually impossible to secure votes from the opposition party.

The press is spreading the lie that "they all do it." That's just not true. Its high time we called them out on it and make sure voters know exactly what the Republicans are up to.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Photo of the Day

Bill Russell hits a funny bone

US Army: Land swap for $7 billion investment in renewable energy

The US Army set a goal to get 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. One way they'll move forward towards that goal is to swap 5 million of their 15 million acres of land to companies who will invest $7 billion over 10 years in renewable energy installations. In the process, the Army will be able to tap into the energy produced.


The new program involves building twenty utility-scale renewable energy installations that rely on a mix of solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass power. The installations will be constructed on land owned by the Department of Defense, at Army bases throughout the U.S.

The program calls for the Army to use its land as equity to leverage about $7 billion in private investment for the twenty projects.

The Army’s goal is to provide its bases with reliable energy sources that are insulated from price spikes, shortages and grid disruptions. Aside from these energy security issues, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are key goals.

Rather than paying up front for the installations, the Army plans to attract companies that would build the renewable energy installations in exchange for a commitment from the Army to purchase the energy.

Of course, an additional benefit is the jobs that will be created to build these new energy installations.

I'd say that's another example of good government being implemented by the Obama administration.

Good Crazy

Those of you who have watched or read President Obama's speech to the Congressional Black Caucus last night know that he focused his remarks on the words of Rev. Joseph Lowery back when the two of them attended an event in Selma on March 4, 2007.

In case you've never seen it - this is something you won't want to miss.

I first watched this video back in Nov. 2008 when Ta-Nehisi Coates reflected on the historic presidential election and its relationship to an embrace of good crazy.

I'm not a religious man, but I've been enthralled with that sermon since the day I saw it. I posted it on my blog four times. To the chagrin of my partner, I wandered around our house muttering, in a bad imitation of Lowery's Georgia accent, "Crazy things are happening." I woke her up at 5:30 a.m. on Election Day, woke my son, plugged my laptop into the speakers and played the sermon again while I got dressed. When I got home, I posted the clip on my blog again...

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 of this country would not support the rights of thugs to pummel people who just wanted to cross a bridge. King believed in white people, and when I was a younger, more callow man, that belief made me suck my teeth. I saw it as weakness and cowardice, a lack of faith in his own. But it was the opposite. King's belief in white people was the ultimate show of strength: He was willing to give his life on a bet that they were no different from the people who lived next door.
(Emphasis mine)

That's the same legacy President Obama was referring to last night.

And I know at times that gets folks discouraged. I know. I listen to some of you all. I understand that. And nobody feels that burden more than I do. Because I know how much we have invested in making sure that we’re able to move this country forward. But you know, more than a lot of other folks in this country, we know about hard. The people in this room know about hard. And we don’t give in to discouragement.

Throughout our history, change has often come slowly. Progress often takes time. We take a step forward, sometimes we take two steps back. Sometimes we get two steps forward and one step back. But it’s never a straight line. It’s never easy. And I never promised easy. Easy has never been promised to us. But we’ve had faith. We have had faith. We’ve had that good kind of crazy that says, you can’t stop marching.

Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching. Even when they’re turning the hoses on you, you can’t stop. Even when somebody fires you for speaking out, you can’t stop. Even when it looks like there’s no way, you find a way -- you can’t stop. Through the mud and the muck and the driving rain, we don’t stop. Because we know the rightness of our cause -- widening the circle of opportunity, standing up for everybody’s opportunities, increasing each other’s prosperity. We know our cause is just. It’s a righteous cause.

So in the face of troopers and teargas, folks stood unafraid. Led somebody like John Lewis to wake up after getting beaten within an inch of his life on Sunday -- he wakes up on Monday: We’re going to go march.

Dr. King once said: “Before we reach the majestic shores of the Promised Land, there is a frustrating and bewildering wilderness ahead. We must still face prodigious hilltops of opposition and gigantic mountains of resistance. But with patient and firm determination we will press on.”

And then he ended with this:

Tell me that man doesn't know how to fight! He's got some good crazy goin' on.

"Information is powerful. But it is how we use it that will define us."

Zack Matere's story both humbles and inspires me.

There's more to GOP disarray than "we just can't find the right candidate"

Its been interesting to watch the implosion in Republican ranks since their latest hero - Gov. Perry - took a nosedive in the last debate and then proceeded to loose the Florida straw poll to Herman Cain. The line that keeps emerging is that if only they could find the right candidate - they'd sail to victory against President Obama. If you don't mind traveling into strange waters, this post at Red State titled I Need a Hero pretty well sums it up. That particular author seems to think his wish for a hero would be fulfilled if Sarah Palin would actually get in the race. And we know that Bill Kristol (speaking for establishment Republicans) sees Gov. Christie as the GOP savior.

But don't you get flashbacks to when everyone thought Gov. Perry would be the savior when you hear this kind of thing? Remember when Bachmann was all the rage? Or perhaps when Donald Trump was generating all of the excitement amongst the tea partiers? The Republicans are chewing up and spitting out every front-runner that seems to emerge. There's a pattern here.

It all starts with the fact that Republican primary voters have demonstrated that they're not interested in sanity...hence Jon Huntsman at 1-2%. Other than his last name - there's a reason why Jeb Bush decided to sit this one out. And when Perry gets slammed for his moderate take on in-state tuition for those who are undocumented, perhaps Christie should take note before heeding Kristol's call. How long would it take for these folks to seize on things like the fact that he believes global warming is real and actually likes FEMA?

The fact of the matter is that these folks have demonstrated that they embrace teh crazy. And when you do that - you get things like people who accuse vaccine's of causing mental retardation and go after birth certificates and think Social Security is unconstitutional. In that sense, perhaps Palin is the answer since we have already plumbed the depths of her insanity.

Trouble is, there are also enough Republicans who know that not one of these candidates has a prayer of a chance in a general election. And I suspect that haunts them. And so they keep looking for a hero that doesn't exist...unless perhaps its the guy who will say anything the crowd wants to hear in order to get elected.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

My Race Story

Author Jonathan Odell explains why it is important for all of us to know our own race story.

The ticket to get into an authentic dialogue about race, is to have a coherent narrative, detailing not only about how race affected you in the past, but how you struggle with it in the present. Otherwise you are a voyeur, no matter how good your intentions. Only whites with a conscious, on-going race narrative can communicate deeply and effectively with those who are not white.

Here is Jonathan telling parts of his own story.

It was his admonition and example that started me thinking a couple of weeks ago about how I was similarly affected by my grandmother saying things like "When a chigger becomes a chigero, a n****r will become a negro." I realized that ordered my world in the same way that Miss Helen had ordered his.

But I had another experience this week that took things a little deeper for me. I grew up mostly in a small town in northeast Texas. Recent movies have detailed some of the very real terrorism experienced by African Americans very close to what I once called home. For example, I mentioned that this week we watched Deacons for Defense at an all staff meeting. That takes place in Jonesboro, LA - about 150 miles from where I grew up. And The Great Debaters happened in Marshall, TX, only 20 miles away.

Thinking about all of that, I recalled a very vague memory I have about a group of men sitting around our kitchen table when I was young. I didn't hear or don't remember what the conversation was about - but I do remember someone joking about getting guns and killing some n*****rs.

When I relayed this memory to a friend this week - the tears came all of the sudden. I suspect its some of the same feeling Jonathan had when he talks about - for the first time - recognizing that "his people" were those shouting and throwing things at the civil rights marchers. The tears were about the recognition that, in the events portrayed in those movies, it was all of the sudden very real to me who "my people" were.

I don't say that to suggest that wallowing in guilt is where I need to be. But I do need to face the fact that race has always been a part of my life. As Jonathan says in the video - "this isn't Black history, this is my history...this is what formed who I am." It begins to make me a participant rather than a voyeur.

And perhaps that's part of why we so often want to avoid it all in the first place.

The real question is "what is working?"

We've heard enough from Republicans lately to know that they are going to make every attempt to pin the slow economic recovery on President Obama. That will be much easier to do when voters don't have a real sense of economics and what fueled our current situation.

I'm definitely not an economist and tend to struggle with understanding our current global financial system. But its important that we grasp some basics so that when questions come up, we're prepared to address them.

Steve Benen has a great column up this morning putting it all into perspective. He points out that most often when we evaluate how we're doing, we compare things like unemployment to what happened during previous U.S. recessions. I expect that, like me, you've seen this chart showing that comparison going back through all recessions since WWII.

The red line represents our employment situation during this most recent recession. Looking at that comparison, this one was much worse and the recovery is anemic at best.

But what that doesn't take into account is that this recession was caused by the collapse of the financial industry. And the only other time the U.S. has experienced that - it led to the Great Depression.

Back in 2009 economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff completed a study of financial crises in 66 countries over 8 centuries, documenting how they happen and the similarities between them.

And this week, the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis updated their information on recovery patterns with what has happened in the U.S. over the last two years. Here's how it looks (once again, the red line represents the current U.S. situation):


According to this data, the U.S. is doing better than almost any other country when it comes to employment following a financial crisis. As Benen points out - that's cold comfort to those who are unemployed.

But it does beg the question of "what is working?" Those are the questions posed from this analysis by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis:

The question that naturally follows and is not answered here is why does the current U.S. cycle measure up in terms of the aftermath of financial crises except in the percentage of employment loss? Relative to Spain, Norway, Finland and Sweden, it appears that the U.S. did something right. Is it as simple as ARRA? Is it TARP and the backstopping of the financial industry? Is it the fact that, more or less, the world had a coordinated response in late 2008/early 2009 for expansionary fiscal and monetary policies?
(Emphasis mine)

From this non-economists perspective, it was the policies of de-regulation that got us into this mess. Now Republicans want to try to convince us that more of that will get us out of it. That's absurd on its face.

Meanwhile, it also seems clear to me that government intervention via stimulus, TARP, auto bailouts, etc. have at least helped us begin to improve things faster than other countries have been able to climb out of similar recessions. So we should be doing MORE of that kind of thing.

I know that's an uphill battle of an argument to make with American voters because we are an impatient people who are used to instant gratification. But that's reality and we need to do our best to explain it - at least to folks who are willing to listen.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Electoral Racism

Melissa Harris-Perry lays it out.

The 2012 election may be a test of another form of electoral racism: the tendency of white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts. If old-fashioned electoral racism is the absolute unwillingness to vote for a black candidate, then liberal electoral racism is the willingness to abandon a black candidate when he is just as competent as his white predecessors.

That's just a tease.!

Dreams Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore -
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over -
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes

Much has changed since Langston Hughes wrote that poem back in 1951. But I’m not sure that we’ve addressed the deferred dreams that he talked about for many young people.

Alex Kotlowitz uses this poem as the introduction to his book There Are No Children Here. Its the story he wrote after following the lives of Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, two young boys living in Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex in Chicago.

In the preface, Kotlowitz tells the story of one of his first conversations with Lafeyette.

And then I asked Lafeyette what he wanted to be. “If I grow up, I’d like to be a bus driver,” he told me. If, not when. At the age of ten, Lafeyette wasn’t sure he’d make it to adulthood.

At such a young age, Lafeyette had been surrounded by so much violence that his dreams were not only deferred, they were close to not existing at all. That's a recipe for explosion.

Last year Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a column in which he had the courage to talk about his own experience of what it means to grow up like this. As an adult, he almost went to blows with someone who challenged him verbally on his first gig as a contributing editor at The Atlantic. When he realized what he'd done, he was mortified...and then reflected on where it came from.

If you are a young person living in an environment where violence is frequent and random, the willingness to meet any hint of violence with yet more violence is a shield. Some people take to this lesson easier than others. As a kid, I hated fighting--not simply the incurring of pain, but the actual dishing it out... But once I learned the lesson, once I was acculturated to the notion that often the quickest way to forestall more fighting, is to fight, I was a believer. And maybe it's wrong to say this, but it made my the rest of my time in Baltimore a lot easier, because the willingness to fight isn't just about yourself, it's a signal to your peer group.

To the young people in my neighborhood, friendship was defined by having each other's back. And in that way, the personal shields, the personal willingness to meet violence with violence, combined and became a collective, neighborhood shield--a neighborhood rep. And so it was known in my time, for instance, that "North and Pulaski" or "Walbrook Junction" or "Cherry Hill" were not to be fucked with.

I think one can safely call that an element of a kind of street culture. It's also an element which--once one leaves the streets--is a great impediment. "I ain't no punk" may shield you from neighborhood violence. But it can not shield you from algebra, when your teacher tries to correct you. It can not shield you from losing hours, when your supervisor corrects your work. And it would not have shielded me from unemployment, after I cold-cocked a guy over a blog post.

I suspect that a large part of the problem, when we talk about culture, is an inability to code-switch, to understand that the language of Rohan is not the language of Mordor. I don't say this to minimize culture, to the contrary, I say it to point how difficult it is to get people to discard practices which were essential to them in one world, but hinder their advancement into another. And then there's the fear of that other world, that sense that if you discard those practices, you have discarded some of yourself, and done it in pursuit of a world, that you may not master.

The streets are like any other world--we all assume an armor, a garment to suit that world. And indeed, in every world, some people wear the armor better than others, and thus reap considerable social reward. In the main, it's been easy for me to discard the armor of West Baltimore, because I wore it so poorly. I was never, as they say, truly built for the streets. And still, even I struggled to take it off. But I know others who were masters. (My own brother, for instance.) Inducing them, and those in between, to change class, to trade their plate for robes, to trade the broad-sword for a spell-book, is the real work.

Coates knows what happens to young people who grow up with this kind of violence - and he knows how hard it is to let go of that armor that serves as a protection.

As a country, we're paying the price for ignoring all of that every day. And so the cycle repeats and feeds back on itself - to the point that today, one in three black boys will spend time in prison during their lifetime. That's the answer to Hughes question about what happens to a dream deferred.

I understood immediately what Coates is talking about because that "real work" he refers to is what I attempt to do every day in my professional life. For years we've worked with these kids trying to show them that they can take the risk of dropping that armor. It works when the adult involved understands what's at stake and is willing to stand beside them in those moments that take tremendous courage. And now we're doing what we can to spread the word to other adults in these children's lives - parents, neighbors, teachers, police officers, librarians, etc. - that they too need to understand and step in to provide alternatives rather than simply condemn and discard these children.

A few years ago I adopted a goal for our organization of changing the way this city deals with young people. It may not happen in my time, but that's what we work towards every day. Our children WILL dream again!

Women for Obama

This past Tuesday, Michelle Obama attended a "Women for Obama" luncheon in New York City. She was joined by Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, NARAL President Nancy Keenan, EMILY’S List President Stephanie Schriock, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health’s Maria Elena Perez, and DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

"Right now, we stand at a fundamental crossroads," the First Lady said. "When it comes to just about every issue—[our] health, our economic security, our basic rights and freedoms—the stakes for American women have never been higher."






GOP Dilemma: The Party of Lies or the Party of Crazy? (updated)

This is what its come down to - is the GOP the party of lies or the party of crazy? One place that is being manifested is in the battle for the presidential nomination between these two men.

Some talk about Romney being a "flip-flopper," but I prefer lies because we all know by now that he'll say anything to get elected. And I remember what happened when people believed George W. Bush when he said he'd be a "compassionate conservative" and wasn't in to "nation-building." We all know how that one turned out.

The pundits seem to think that Romney got the better of Perry last night, but will their primary voters agree? You see, there's that whole alpha male thing going on that should never be underestimated.

We're also seeing the dilemma in Congress. Speaker Boehner initially couldn't get a continuing resolution passed to fund the government because - according to the crazies in his party - it didn't cut ENOUGH money (ie, jobs) from the bargain that was agreed to during the debt ceiling negotiations. In that case, the Speaker has shown where his loyalties are...its with the crazies. And so unless something happens between now and Friday, the federal government will shut down in a week.

In the end, I don't pretend to know whether the GOP will pick lies or crazy. But it sure would be nice if - for the country's sake - there was a third option on the table.

I just know that I'm sticking with the guy who has demonstrated over and over again that he's the only adult in the room.

UPDATE: Oh my. You know the Republicans are in trouble when none other than Bill Kristol agrees with me about the debate last night.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD’s official reaction to last night’s Republican presidential debate: Yikes.

Reading the reactions of thoughtful commentators after the stage emptied, talking with conservative policy types and GOP political operatives later last evening and this morning, we know we’re not alone. Most won’t express publicly just how horrified—or at least how demoralized—they are...

The e-mails flooding into our inbox during the evening were less guarded. Early on, we received this missive from a bright young conservative: “I'm watching my first GOP debate...and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

Obama campaign's "Double Down" scorecard

As we watch the Republicans candidates square off against each other in this primary, its no secret that teh stupid is ruling the day. So many times the dilemma is whether to laugh at the clownishness or cry that this is what the "grand old party" has been reduced to.

Last night's debate was no exception. There were so many moments of teh stupid that its hard to pick one as a standout.

Just after it was over, I happened on the Obama campaign web site and saw that the team there is up to the challenge of taking this all on. In a perfect mixture of humor and facts, they produced a GOP Debate Watch Scorecard. The crux of the game:

As the Republican candidates square off in Florida tonight, where will they double down on previous statements and where will they backtrack?

You got to pick whether or not the candidates would backtrack on teh stupid or double down. The graphic is too big to reproduce here - but go take a look. This morning they've updated it with the "double downs" from last night.

What this does is both poke a little fun at the ridiculousness of it all while still providing a record of the outlandish statements these candidates are making. And its particularly damning for someone like Romney who, if he wins the nomination, is going to be doing everything he can to backtrack from all of this in the general election.

Score one for our team. Way to go guys!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Some stories that caught my eye today (9/22/11)

First of all, Steve Benen had a great find today. Notice anything interesting in this picture from the last GOP debate?


Ya think it will cause the same stir that this one did?


Nah, me either. Of course Gov. Perry is patriotic. We know that because he's...oh wait, nevermind.

Secondly, did the DOJ really pay $16 for a muffin? Not likely.

Thirdly, from Greg Sargent comes the story that AFSCME is going to put some muscle (and $) into fighting for the American Jobs Act. Here's their first ad with an interesting twist.

Fourthly, the headline of the day goes to xpostfactoid for this one: You can't fact-check a dog whistle. You KNOW its going to be a good read when it starts out like that! And this one doesn't disappoint.

Finally, here's the photo of the day. This one's for you Speaker Boehner.

Hostile work environment?

You have to wonder what kind of whispers Suskind might have heard if anyone had the courage to talk about the work environment in this White House.




The Agitator

My position is that most people don't begin to understand President Obama. That's why we get stupid questions like this one from Gloria Borger...Obama: Clark Kent or Superman? We're trying so hard to put him in a box we already know and can define, that we miss looking at what is actually there.

Recently I went back to read something Ryan Lizza wrote about Obama back in early 2007 - long before anyone really thought he could be President. Lizza dove in deep to Obama's roots as a community organizer. He tells this story about one of his first encounters in Chicago.

Not long after Obama arrived, he sat down for a cup of coffee in Hyde Park with a fellow organizer named Mike Kruglik. Obama's work focused on helping poor blacks on Chicago's South Side fight the city for things like job banks and asbestos removal. His teachers were schooled in a style of organizing devised by Saul Alinsky, the radical University of Chicago trained social scientist. At the heart of the Alinsky method is the concept of "agitation"--making someone angry enough about the rotten state of his life that he agrees to take action to change it; or, as Alinsky himself described the job, to "rub raw the sores of discontent."

On this particular evening, Kruglik was debriefing Obama about his work when a panhandler approached. Instead of ignoring the man, Obama confronted him. "Now, young man, is that really what you want be about?" Obama demanded. "I mean, come on, don't you want to be better than that? Let's get yourself together."

Kruglik remembers this episode as an example of why, in ten years of training organizers, Obama was the best student he ever had. He was a natural, the undisputed master of agitation, who could engage a room full of recruiting targets in a rapid-fire Socratic dialogue, nudging them to admit that they were not living up to their own standards. As with the panhandler, he could be aggressive and confrontational. With probing, sometimes personal questions, he would pinpoint the source of pain in their lives, tearing down their egos just enough before dangling a carrot of hope that they could make things better.

The Saul Alinsky agitator relies on discontent to fuel the energy of hope.

So I thought of what Obama said to that panhandler. And what if we changed the audience to whom he is speaking:

Now, America, is that really what you want be about?" Obama demanded. "I mean, come on, don't you want to be better than that? Let's get yourself together."

Isn't that the question he's been asking us for 3 years? Rather than give a hand-out to the panhandler and enable his state of being a victim, he's saying "Come on, don't you want to be better than that?"

Random Thoughts

As some of you might have noticed, I haven't been able to write about Troy Davis. I don't know why. All I know is that sometimes my feelings are too deep for my limited writing ability to capture. And so I watched and read, and last night I cried. But I chose to do so in silence. Perhaps that's cowardly - I have to think that one through.

Yesterday we showed the movie Deacons for Defense at our all-staff meeting. Its the true story of a group of black men in the South who had finally had enough of the terror and took up arms to defend themselves against the Klu Klux Klan. In a room made up of mostly African American staff, when the movie was over there was mostly silence as well.

One scene from it comes to mind. The leader of the Deacons is talking to one of the non-violent civil rights organizers who had joined him in the struggle but fought the idea of meeting violence with violence. The Deacon tells him that he killed white men for the military during World War II on behalf of his country and was considered a hero. But when he took up arms in this country against the same kind of evil, we condemn him.

That's not an analogy for what happened in the Troy Davis situation, but this idea of when we sanction killing ourselves and when we condemn it is a question that goes deep. I see that's where Geov's thoughts at BooMan Tribune went this morning as well.

And perhaps that's why last night my thoughts went to this:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Women in the White House


By now most of you have probably heard about the controversy stirred up about women in the White House coming from Ron Suskind's latest book Confidence Men. From what I've read, it sounds like there was a problem in the beginning. But when folks want to suggest that this indicates the President has a problem with strong women, I have to say "puhleeze...have you taken a look at who he's married to?" For a long time now I've suggested that the best way to evaluate a man's embrace of feminism is to look at who he chooses to commit himself to in a long-term relationship. Barack Obama passes that one with flying colors.

Now that we've gotten that one out of the way, it's significant to look at how Suskind misquoted former staffer Anita Dunn. Here's how Suskind wrote the quote in his book:

Looking back, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace....Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace for women.

But a recording of Suskind's conversation with Dunn shows that this is what she actually said:

I remember once I told Valerie [Jarrett] that, I said if it weren’t for the president, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace....Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.

Those six words Suskind decided to leave out change the whole trajectory of the story.

According to this article by Peter Wallston and Anne Kornblut, there were tensions about this in the beginning of this administration.

In interviews at the time, female officials complained that top aides fueled the high-testosterone atmosphere. Footballs were occasionally thrown during staff meetings, by one account. Rough language abounded...

According to another official, the president initially discounted the complaints he heard that women, particularly on his economic team, were making. He saw the tough climate as just that — the intense atmosphere of a White House, fostered by competitive people at the top of their game.

It seems that much of this was fueled by the disagreements between Christina Romer and Larry Summers. And of course, we're all shocked that Summers can be an asshole, right? LOL

But here's what Romer said about her experience.

“I was told before I went to Washington that there has always been a lot of testosterone in the West Wing,” Romer said Friday. “What was different in the Obama administration is that there were so many women in important positions and, when problems arose, the president worked hard to fix them. I felt respected, included and useful to the team.”

What President Obama did, at the suggestion of Valerie Jarrett (gotta love that woman!), is to have a dinner with the women who worked in the White House on November 5, 2009 (picture above).

“I really want you guys to talk to me about this openly because recently there has been this suggestion that there are some issues here,” Obama said, according to Suskind’s account of the session. “I’d like to know how you guys feel.”

And the result:

The complaints seemed to subside over the last year, as officials have made a greater effort to promote women and the tight-knit inner circle has shifted to bring new advisers into the building.

Rather than being a critique of the President, I think this kind of process should be held up as an example of how to resolve the ubiquitous effects of patriarchy in the workplace. First of all, the women were strong enough to speak up about what they were experiencing. Secondly, they were heard. And finally changes were made. In too many workplaces change gets bogged down in one of those three steps. President Obama and his team demonstrated how to make it work!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Beauty I Would Suffer for

by Marge Piercy

Last week a doctor told me
anemic after an operation
to eat: ordered to indulgence
given a papal dispensation to run
amok in Zabar's.
Yet I know that in
two weeks, a month I
will have in my nostrils
not the savor of rendering goosefat,
not the burnt sugar of caramel topping
the Saint-Honore cake, not the pumpernickel
bearing up the sweet butter, the sturgeon
but again the scorched wire,
burnt rubber smell
of willpower, living
with the brakes on.

I want to pass into the boudoirs
of Rubens' women. I want to dance
graceful in my tonnage like Poussin nymphs.
Those melon bellies, those vast ripening thighs,
those featherbeds of forearms, those buttocks
placid and gross as hippopotami:
how I would bend myself
to that standard of beauty, how faithfully
would consume waffles and sausage for breakfast
with croissants on the side, how dutifully
I would eat for supper the blackbean soup
with madeira, followed by the fish course
the meat course, and the Bavarian cream.
Even at intervals during the day I would
suffer an occasional eclair
for the sake of appearance.

For me, one of the most powerful lines ever penned by a poet..."the scorched wire, burnt rubber smell of willpower, living with the brakes on." It seems as though ever since Eve took that first bite of the apple, this is the curse with which we've been afflicted.

A few stories I found interesting today

First of all, DOJ's Civil Rights Division continues its impressive performance.

The Justice Department said Monday that Texas' state House and congressional redistricting plans didn't comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), indicating they thought the maps approved by Gov. Rick Perry (R) gave too little voting power to the growing Latino population in the state...

DOJ veteran and redistricting expert J. Gerald Hebert saw the Justice Department's filing as a "good sign" for the Civil Rights Division, which had undergone politicization during the Bush administration...

"I think it's a good sign that voting rights is back in the hands of people who are going to make a judgement about the facts and the law," Hebert continued.

Ahead of the decision, some were anticipating the Justice Department's decision as an indication of how hard the Obama administration would fight for Latino voters, especially in a proxy battle with a potential 2012 rival.

Secondly, does anyone else think this is a big story?

Sen. Lamar Alexander will resign from his influential Republican leadership post in January, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO - a stunning decision by the former two-time presidential candidate who has played a central role shaping GOP strategy during President Barack Obama’s time in office...

Alexander says the decision was rooted in his desire to foster consensus in the gridlocked Senate, a role he felt constrained playing while spearheading the partisan Senate GOP messaging machine.

Do you suppose that Alexander is maybe getting a little tired of Majority Leader McConnell's singular focus on defeating President Obama? Here's hoping for more stories like that one.

Thirdly, Jonathan Alter apparently doesn't agree with Suskind that former Clinton employees who are currently working for the Obama administration are pinning for Clinton's return.

They thought Clinton was more creative and his policymaking, but they prefer to a person Obama in a crisis, which was what they were in. He was decisive and making as many decisions in a week as Bill Clinton made in a year, and making the decisions crisply. The idea that somehow all the former Clinton officials working for Obama were longing for Bill Clinton because they had this inexperienced president who didn't know what he was doing is not what they were saying at the time.

Finally, this is pretty funny. And a good example of why no one listens to James Carville much anymore.

It's OVER!!!!!!!

Via Chipsticks

Thank you President Obama and Congress!


It's the tone that's changed - not the policies

Narratives in politics are interesting to observe. And we certainly have one developing right now. I wish I had a nickel for every time I've read this morning that - for once - President Obama didn't pre-compromise his position. Here's how the New York Times editorial board put it.

This time, President Obama did not compromise with himself beforehand, or put out a half measure in hopes of luring nonexistent Republican support.

It's a convenient narrative if you're looking for a way to craft the last 3 years in national politics under the roof of one man's responsibility and generalize that everything that's happened has come from one script played out over and over again. But it doesn't work so well when you ask these folks to talk through a specific example.

The most obvious way it doesn't work is if you take what President Obama has proposed over the last couple of weeks and suggest its a policy break from anything he's been proposing over the last year. For example, when it comes to deficit reduction, here's what he said in his State of the Union this year.

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success.

When it comes to jobs and economic recovery, need I remind you that the theme of that whole speech was about investments in innovation, education, and infrastructure? Sound familiar?

These same themes were contained in the deficit reduction speech he gave in April - including the idea that we need to reform programs like Medicare and Medicaid while protecting beneficiaries. Here's how he described his fourth step in deficit reduction.

The fourth step in our approach is to reduce spending in the tax code, so-called tax expenditures. In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. We can’t afford it. And I refuse to renew them again.

And did folks miss that the whole reason we went to the brink of not raising the debt ceiling was because President Obama and the Democrats insisted on tax increases as part of the deal?

So whether its about job creation or deficit reduction, I don't see anything in what President Obama has proposed over the last couple of weeks that's different from what he's been saying all along when it comes to specific policies.

But there's something that has changed. Here's how the NYT talked about it:

And this time, standing in the Rose Garden on Monday, he seemed to speak directly to a public that has been parched for farsighted leadership in Washington.

And watch how Dana Milbank pivots to the heart of the matter.

At last, the president hasn’t conceded the race before the starter’s gun, hasn’t opened the bidding with his bottom line, hasn’t begun a game of strip poker in his boxer shorts. Whichever metaphor you choose, it was refreshing to see the president in the Rose Garden on Monday morning delivering a speech that, for once, appealed to the heart rather than the cerebrum.

Yes, its that second sentence that captures the reality much more than the first. I'd suggest that all of these folks are responding to the way President Obama is talking rather than the specifics of what he's saying.

You can come up with all kinds of reasons for why he's changed his rhetorical tone. It could be because he recognized that how he'd been talking wasn't working. Or it could be that he no longer considers members of Congress to be his target audience and now assumes its all directed at the American public. In line with the later, it also could be that he's switched from governing to campaign mode.

Regardless of why, I suspect we all welcome the change (which I would actually date back to some of his press conferences during the debt ceiling negotiations). But lets just be clear about what has changed and what hasn't. We are obviously still a sound-bite nation. Folks love the "its not about class war - its about math" kind of rhetoric. It's a pretty good thing that this President can pull that one off too.

Israel owes Obama a huge debt of gratitude

While we don't know the outcome of Iran's attack on Israel yet, it appears as though the worst has been avoided. According to report...