Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don't dismiss Gingrich

As much as I hate to see it, it looks like my predictions about Gingrich being more than another flash in the pan candidate are proving to be accurate.

As some pundits begin to wake up to that reality, they're reminding us who this guy is. First of all, Josh Marshall.

To me it seems clear that Newt is wildly unsuited to be president...He’s the closest you get over the last half century to the guy who invented the brutally polarized politics of today (though it’s much deeper than any one person). He’s always been a highly mercurial and not particularly stable personality. That doesn’t even get into the ethical problems and outlandish positions.

And Paul Waldman.

His natural rhetorical style is one of extremity, in which good things are "profound," "transformative," and "fundamental," while bad things are not just bad but horrific, the worst things that have ever happened. That means that when he embraces a position, it's the greatest thing ever, and when he rejects a position, it's the worst thing ever, even if what today is the worst thing ever was the greatest thing ever yesterday. Consequently, Newt finds himself saying things like, "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood." When questioned about a flip-flop, he's clever enough to find a vaguely reasonable-sounding answer — made more convincing by the fact that he says everything with the same emphatic certainty — but he'll probably give a completely different answer if you ask him tomorrow.

When Republicans worry that Gingrich is "undisciplined," they aren't just referring to the way he'll take off for a cruise to Greece in the middle of a campaign. It's this shooting-off-in-all-directions approach where everything seems improvisational, grand visions of his history-defining personality completely untethered to anything that resembles a concrete plan to get from here to there, whether it's in policy or in politics.

But I saved the best for last. The reason why I appreciate what Charles Pierce has to say about Gingrich is that he explains why for so long now, I've thought that we underestimate this man at our peril.

If Newt Gingrich really thinks he can win, then Newt Gingrich will do absolutely anything to accomplish that. He has no conscience in these matters, and he has no soul to speak of. He believes that the rules governing ordinary mortals in matters like public prevarication and gross public deceit do not apply to him, because he was blessed at birth to be the "definer of the rules of civilization."...

This is no longer a campaign. It is Newt Gingrich's last chance to define himself in history as the grandiose figure he sees when he looks in the mirror. It's not a book tour any more, or an elaborate form of negotiation aimed at jacking up his lecture fees. If he thinks he can win, Newt Gingrich is going to look at this campaign now as a grand opportunity to justify himself as a man of historical moment, a kind of supra-national figure whose like we will not see again. If anyone thinks he's likely to abandon that great quest just because he's fundamentally unprincipled, and because the image itself is a tinpot fraud, they're fooling themselves. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, Newt is fighting for his honor, which is probably more than anyone else has ever done for it.

While I've been fairly comfortable laughing off the candidacies of folks like Bachmann and Cain, I think we should take Gingrich very seriously. He's appealing to the worst in this country right now and they're eating it up. As I've said all along, a sociopath (which is what Gingrich clearly is) is much more dangerous than your garden variety crazy.

I'm not that nervous about Gingrich beating President Obama. As a matter of fact, I don't think there's a candidate out there who would make this more of a choice election than a referendum. I'm just saying that with every day that goes by, Gingrich is looking more and more like a possible contender. And I really hate what that says about our country.

Grover Norquist thinks millionaires are "peasants"

That's the only conclusion you can reach if you listen to what he said to David Gregory.

Referring to the Democrat's insistence that a deficit reduction deal include new taxes on people making over $1 million a year, Norquist suggested that's the equivalent of saying "the peasants aren’t sending enough cash in for the king to spend."

Jeebus...if millionaires are peasants, I cringe to even contemplate what that makes me.


Taking on the myth of a "transformational president" (updated)

Jonathan Chait's recent article titled When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable? is drawing a lot of attention. And rightly so. It is sparking a conversation that needs to happen.

Yesterday, Katrina vanden Heuvel weighed in. While overall I tend to agree with Chait, I found that there were also some aspects of what vanden Heuvel said that I agree with. Most notably, we ARE living in times that require transformational change and no, the Republicans don't always march in lock-step either (the current Romney/not-Romney primary battle should be enough evidence of that).

Its really vandel Heuvel's last point where I part ways with her completely.

We need a transformational presidency, able to smash the failed, entrenched and corrupt politics of the center. That standard isn’t some perfectionism perennially demanded by disappointed liberals. It is required by the times.

I'd love to have the opportunity to ask her to give me an example of one time in our nation's history when a presidency was transformational. The two instances most people site are the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

Many people have written great articles explaining the complexities of the FDR years. I will simply site one way in which it wasn't simply the President during those years who contributed to the transformational change that happened. The Congress that basically passed the New Deal in 1935 consisted of an overwhelming Democratic majority in both houses...Senate 72/23 and House 332/103. So you see, it was more than the President who was transformational. As Ezra Klein points out:

Still, the basic truths of the period remain: By the time Roosevelt took the presidency, the Great Depression had done so much damage that Congress was ready to do something, anything, to end it. At times, FDR harnessed that energy in service of his agenda. At other times, Congress forced him to go further than he had intended.

When it comes to Ronald Reagan's presidency, you have to consider the national conservative movement that essentially started in 1964 with the defeat of Goldwater and passage of the Civil Rights Act. The election of Reagan in 1980 was the completion of that 16 year transformation of the Republican Party (coming also on the heels of the mobilization of the religious right in the 70's).

I suppose that one might call the Lincoln presidency transformational. But both the emerging split between the North and South and the massive changes in our politics since those days makes it only instructive in the very broadest sense.

So I would suggest that this country has never experienced transformational change simply as the result of a President. To put that expectation on Barack Obama (especially given the vitriolic opposition he has faced) is not only unreasonable, but to many it also smacks of racism.

UPDATE: Steve Benen takes up this topic and points out how it gives the Republicans and "assist" in their sabotage efforts.

...this actually creates an incentive for Republicans to be even more irresponsible — if GOP officials believe the public will blame the president for the breakdown of the American political process, even if it’s not Obama’s fault, Republicans will keep up their destructive tactics. The unstated goal is to put a simple-but-misguided concept in voters’ minds: Washington stinks, Obama’s the president, we want a better Washington, so must need a new president.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dog whistle or siren?

Fox Nation headline:


And the Wall Street Journal's William McGurn gives us this: Obama Abandons the Working Class.

At the root of these articles is a paper published by John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira taking a look at the demographics that are likely to affect the 2012 presidential election. It addresses historical and current trends - definitely not campaign strategy.

As Dave Weigel notes:

The funny thing here is that "abandoning" the white working class means "continuing to lose voters who have been voting Republican since 1966."... But with Fox Nation we get an illustration of Obama gritting his teeth and waving "see ya," while flanked by his wife and an unidentified black guy. This is quite subtle.

Yeah, real subtle. As I said, dog whistle or siren?

Elon James White tweets it...


...and then writes about it at The Root: Dear OWS: Welcome to Our World.

While the Occupiers were dealing with such abuse, during civil disobedience, communities of color suffer these type of injustices simply because it's Wednesday, and they may look like someone else. That's what happens to us -- and it's accepted as if it were just a day of the week.

Monday, Tuesday, abuse at the hands of police officers, Thursday, Friday ...

I'm someone who supports Occupy Wall Street. I didn't write that tweet in an attempt to undermine the cause or to belittle the suffering of those who have been victims of the police. I wrote it to highlight the fact that these issues aren't new. Abuse of this kind is all too familiar to the black community. If someone hasn't directly experienced it, they probably know someone who has.

There have been discussions as to why there aren't more blacks involved in the Occupy movement. I can't speak for all of them, but I can speak about what I've read and the folks I've talked to directly about this. The type of outrage that pops up now at what many of us have lived with on a regular basis for years feels insulting.

It's hard not to notice that once the right number of white folks are affected, people want to take to the street. Unemployment numbers are high? We've had high unemployment for years. People are living in or near the poverty line? Yeah -- we know.

When minorities speak up and say there is an issue, we are told maybe we are doing something wrong. Perhaps we are targeted by the police because of what we are wearing. Perhaps we don't look for jobs the right way. Maybe we aren't educated enough. But now that it's affecting other folks, now there's a problem. Now we need to come together and fight the power. Someone tweeted at me that we need to come together and not point out silly differences like race because we're in this together!


I'm not making an argument for ignoring the movement because a lot of the movement ignored us. But I am saying take a moment to walk away from your righteousness to understand that your newfound plight has been some people's plight for generations.

We just didn't have a catchy name for it.

And right on time, to prove Elon's point, comes the story about a police raid on the home of civil rights activist Barbara Arnwine.

While Arnwine and members of the Lawyers Committee are calling for the Department of Justice to stop what she, and others call ‘assaults’ on voters, she found her and own family under assault.

She, her son, and nephew were all held at gun point while the officers raided her home.

The reason has yet to be determined...

Arnwine said the officers even went as far as to demean her education asking her in derogatory fashion, where did she go to school and the year she graduated as to suggest she wasn’t properly credentialed. When she told the officers that their actions weren’t warranted and she knew her constitutional rights she was met with ‘they don’t apply here today’.

The officers, with guns drawn, challenged Arnwine and her family, suggesting that if they made one wrong move, she and her family would be met with a unfavorable-like fate.

“Don’t make me hurt you” seemed to be the order of the day, recounted Arnwine.

Arnwine later said after the police failed to produce a warrant, and acted as though they didn’t know who she was, misspelling her name, that she thinks the swat team had the wrong house. She called the ordeal a “fishing exposition”.

Ahhh...her constitutional rights "don't apply here today." That about sums it up, doesn't it?

What most folks in the African American community will tell you is that this story hit the press because of Ms. Arnwine's persistence and notoriety (same with Henry Louis Gates). But it happens every day under the radar.

It's in that context that we need to understand what people like Elon and others are saying about their reaction to the sudden interest in police brutality by folks involved with OWS.

The DNC's brilliant anti-Romney campaign

From the DNC...Mitt v. Mitt: the story of two men trapped in one body.

Steve Benen talked about this campaign yesterday and its one of the few times I find myself disagreeing with him. Like me, he applauds the effort. But I think he misses the mark on their aim.

...the DNC’s new videos leave no real doubt that (a) Dems assume Romney will be the Republican nominee; and (b) they also believe they have plenty of material to work with in order to make the former governor look ridiculous in the eyes of mainstream voters.

I suspect the DNC has lots of doubts about who will be the Republican nominee. I know that many pundits assume it will be Romney. But the truth is - no one knows that at this point. The one thing that is looking more probable is that it is likely to come down to a battle between Romney and Gingrich.

Now...who do you think the DNC would prefer to run against in that duo? I'd suggest that at least part of the audience they're targeting is Republican primary voters who have even more reason to be suspicious of Romney.

Then later in the day Benen takes on David Frum's critique of the ads. Here's what Frum said:

How does DNC hope to sell [the] idea BOTH that Romney believes in nothing AND that he’s an extreme right-winger?

What both Frum and Benen miss in all this is the second audience for these ads...the Romney campaign itself. To understand, you have to look forward to a potential general election between Obama and Romney. Most everyone knows that if that happens, Romney will have to soften his rhetoric and move towards the middle to have any chance of winning. And he'll know that when/if he does, right there waiting for him will be the meme that has been created about him being a flip-flopper. Will he risk it? Tough call.

That's the brilliance of this ad campaign by the DNC.

Monday, November 28, 2011

We have to be our own gatekeepers

I suppose that by now most of you have heard about the ridiculous column by Naomi Wolf over at The Guardian titled The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy. In it she suggests a nefarious plot about local police departments getting their marching orders on police brutality from the Dept. of Homeland Security, Congress and the White House.

I haven't written about the whole affair because bloggers like Angry Black Lady and Karoli have done a superb job of thoroughly debunking her claims.

But I had a special interest in all of this because a couple of years ago I started hanging out at the Guardian's Comment is Free America blog. That was back when Michael Tomasky wrote several columns a day there. What I found were thoughtful columns (though I didn't always agree) and a group of commenters that ranged from the most liberal, to Blue Dogs, to conservatives, to tea partiers. I enjoyed the diversity tremendously and learned a lot.

Then Tomasky left and went to The Daily Beast. Some of us kept an eye on The Guardian to see who they would pick as a replacement (I suggested Steve Benen, of course). A little while ago they made the announcement...Ana Marie Cox. Yes, she of Wonkette and Twitter fame. I was a bit shocked that a respected news organization would make that decision, but kept my eye on the place to see how it would go. Ms. Cox produced the same shallow cynical drivel she has always been known for. I can only suspect that The Guardian was looking to capture some of her 1,370,000 Twitter followers.

And then came the column by Naomi Wolf. Now the picture is getting a little clearer. Today the Guardian's editor of Comment is Free America - Matt Seaton - published a follow-up to Ms. Wolf's post.

When a single article is recommended on Facebook 235,000 times, tweeted nearly 7,000 times, gets close to 1,000 comments and is viewed, over three days, by approximately 1 million people, it is by any account a phenomenon.

So you see where this is going.

I made several comments to that post - basically chatting with Mr. Seaton to suggest that he owed Guardian readers an apology for Ms. Wolf's column. He would have none of it. She's free to speak her "opinion." At one point, he even said this:

...see this AP report, about the role played by federal agency PERF in facilitating conference-call information-sharing between police departments on handling Occupy protests.
(Emphasis mine)

If the American editor of a major newspaper had taken just a moment to google PERF, he would have found this in less than a minute.

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) is a national membership organization of progressive police executives from the largest city, county and state law enforcement agencies.

So no, PERF is clearly not a "federal agency." If I can find that out so quickly - what does it say about journalism these days that he did not.

I say all this to point out something you probably already know. When it comes to information and news these days, we have to be our own gatekeepers. We can no longer rely of "journalists" to give us the facts. Lucky for us, the internet is there and we still have the ability to fire up our critical minds to get them.

Remembering the basics

As political junkies (which I proudly call myself), sometimes we can get so caught up in the trees that we forget to talk about the forest. In E.J. Dionne's latest column, the opening two paragraphs remind us of the big picture.

The deficit that should most worry us is a deficit of reasonableness. The problems the United States confronts are large but not insoluble. Yet sensible solutions that are broadly popular can’t be enacted.

Why? Because an ideological bloc that sees every crisis as an opportunity to reduce the size of government holds enough power in Congress to stop us from doing what needs to be done.

Dionne focuses like a lazer on the heart of the problem we're facing these days. And we need to keep our eye on changing that if we have any hopes of moving this country forward.

Our challenge is to get that message out to all those people who don't pay as much attention as we do and therefore are confused about what's going on.

If you have Republican-leaning friends, one of the ways you can do that is by encouraging them to read a column written by David Frum in the New York Magazine. Remind them that Frum is a lifelong Republican who was a speech-writer for George W. Bush. He's now doing his best to convince his party to abandon the disastrous course they have taken over the last couple of years.

But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) “the only place in the world where it doesn’t matter who your parents were or where you came from.”...

Some call this the closing of the conservative mind. Alas, the conservative mind has proved itself only too open, these past years, to all manner of intellectual pollen. Call it instead the drying up of conservative creativity...

I refuse to believe that I am the only Republican who feels this way. If CNN’s most recent polling is correct, only half of us sympathize with the tea party. However, moderate-minded people dislike conflict—and thus tend to lose to people who relish conflict. The most extreme voices in the GOP now denounce everybody else as Republicans in Name Only. But who elected them as the GOP’s membership committee? What have they done to deserve such an inheritance?...

This is, unfortunately, not merely a concern for Republican voters. The conservative shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology has ominous real-world consequences for American society.

As the quote from Dionne up above shows, this "fantasy-based ideology" is already racking up "real world consequences" for our country. It's time for Americans to wake up to that and the choices that confront us in 2012.

Dual triggers

Ezra Klein put together a fascinating chart comparing the taxing and spending effects of the various proposals put forward for deficit reduction.

As a reminder, here's a little information on the background of each one:

Simpson/Bowles - the major proposal coming out of a bipartisan deficit reduction commission created by President Obama.

Ryan Budget - the plan put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan. All Republican House members voted to approve this plan.

Obama, April - the plan President Obama proposed at this speech following the release of the Ryan plan.

Obama/Boehner - one of the plans released from the debt ceiling negotiations between Obama and Boehner.

Toomey - The last plan put forward by Republicans on the Super Committee.

Baucus - The last plan put forward by Democrats on the Super Committee.

Dual Trigger - what will happen as a result of the triggers agreed to in the debt ceiling deal and expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

It's important to note that all these plans have failed except the last one - the dual trigger. It is set to go into effect January 1, 2013 unless Congress does something between now and then to change it. To do so will require the President's signature or a Congressional overrule of a veto (2/3 majority).

How nice it is for Klein to put the tax increases in blue and the spending cuts in red. It creates the perfect picture of the two party's priorities.

For the Republicans, this makes it abundantly clear how ridiculous their major proposal - the Ryan plan - really is. Its pure class warfare in stark relief.

But for those on the left who claim that President Obama and the Democrats did such a poor job of negotiating on the debt ceiling deal - the absurdity of that claim is also there for all to see. If Congress does nothing - what happens is that the smallest amount of spending cuts coupled with the largest tax increases will go into effect on January 1, 2013.

Once again, I'm reminded of the pure genius of what the Democrats pulled off in that debt ceiling deal. They turned what was a serious hostage situation into a HUGE leverage advantage. Score one for our team!!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Deconstructing the myth that OFA = the DLC

I've seen too many on the left pretend that Obama for America (formerly Organizing for America - or OFA) is merely an extension of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). That kind of comparison shows a serious lack of awareness about either organization.

To deconstruct that myth, let's start by taking a look at the DLC. I've found no better analysis on it than the one written in 2001 by Robert Dryfuss.

Here's how he describes the founding of the DLC.

With few resources, and taking heavy flak from the big guns of the Democratic left, the DLC proclaimed its intention, Mighty Mouse–style, to rescue the Democratic Party from the influence of 1960s-era activists and the AFL-CIO, to ease its identification with hot-button social issues, and, perhaps most centrally, to reinvent the party as one pledged to fiscal restraint, less government, and a probusiness, pro–free market outlook.

But with an agenda like that - the days of "few resources" didn't last long.

The DLC and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), have blossomed into a $7-million-a-year operation. The New Democrat Network (NDN), which provides funds to dozens of certified co-thinkers in federal, state, and local races, raised nearly $6 million last year.

But here's a critical distinction:

Though the DLC offers a nominal $50 membership to anyone interested, its mass base is minuscule. "There's a New Democrat audience of about 5,000 to 10,000 people who get our stuff on a regular basis," says Matthew Frankel, the DLC's spokesman. And with a nonexistent grass-roots presence, the DLC is generally unknown except to practitioners of "inside baseball" politics. Yet the affiliation of scores of members of Congress has enabled the DLC to establish alliances with Fortune 500 corporate supporters, particularly along the so-called K Street corridor of Washington-based lobbyists and in high-tech enclaves such as California's Silicon Valley.

In other words, it was the classic "top-down" kind of organization built mainly to attract political donations from the corporate world.

Writing about the same time, Senator Paul Wellstone penned what sounds a lot like a direct challenge to this kind of approach. While the DLC cast its political message as being one about catering to the "center" of American politics, Wellstone redefined what the term means.

The American people do want us to govern from the center, in a sense. But it is not the center the pundits and politicians in Washington talk about. Citizens want us to deal with issues that are at the center of their lives. They yearn for a politics that speaks to and includes them--affordable childcare, a good education for their children, health and retirement security, good jobs that will support their families, respect for the environment and human rights, clean elections and clean campaigns.

And then he gets to the heart of the issue.

Progressive politics is successful when it is not top-down and elitist and when it respects the capacity of ordinary citizens...

As important as new ideas are, another think tank or policy institute not connected to local grassroots organizing will not suffice...I am all for representing the democratic wing of the Democratic Party. But progressive politics must draw its energy and ideas from local citizen-activists. Too often we have failed to make that critical connection...

This is more a democratic than a Democratic challenge, though I hope there is a strong connection between the two...But building such a grassroots-based effort to advocate effectively for the progressive agenda, and to put more progressives in office at every level and across the country, is a goal worth fighting for.

And that, my friends, is exactly what OFA has done and is all about...Respect. Empower. Include.

All of that was on display during the 2008 primaries and general election. I'm not sure enough people paid attention though. The one's that did and wrote about it were people like Sean Quinn, Zach Exley and Al Giordano. Those folks knew that something different was happening. Here's how Exley put it.

Inside the Obama campaign, almost without anyone noticing, an insurgent generation of organizers has built the Progressive movement a brand new and potentially durable people's organization, in a dozen states, rooted at the neighborhood level.

The "New Organizers" have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so "top-down" and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or "bottom-up" organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization.

In other words, OFA - which included 5 million volunteers in 2008 and is well on its way to that again in 2012 - is an organization that melded the bottom-up kind of organizing with structural supports from the top to make it effective...just the kind of thing Wellstone was talking about and the opposite of the DLC.

A companion goal and result of this kind or organizing is a change in the way the Obama campaign is financed...with a heavy reliance on small donors (again, the opposite of the DLC).

“We always knew we needed to build a broad-based support network, and we try not to rely too much on one thing,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in an interview. “Our experience is that people who give become volunteers, and people who volunteer become donors. We want to build a relationship with them.”

When folks on the left compare the two organizations, they do what so many activists tend to do - focus on the issues alone and ignore the importance of the process. But when it comes to democracy (and especially the progressive brand), the process of "bottom-up" is what its all about. From that starting point, the issues come from the people.

Yes WE Can!

Learning from the recent history of the 2000 election

Today Nicholas Kristof has an interesting column basically directed to those on the left who are disgruntled with President Obama.

But as we approach an election year, it is important to acknowledge the larger context: Obama has done better than many critics on the left or the right give him credit for.

He then goes on to list the President's accomplishments and ends with this.

But think back to 2000. Many Democrats and journalists alike, feeling grouchy, were dismissive of Al Gore and magnified his shortcomings. We forgot the context, prided ourselves on our disdainful superiority — and won eight years of George W. Bush.

This time, let’s do a better job of retaining perspective.

That one really resonated with me. Just a couple of weeks ago I finally watched the movie Recount. Yeah, I know I'm late to that party. But in some ways my timing was interesting. As I watched the story unfold I got enraged. And I kept asking myself "Where were you at the time? Why weren't you fighting back with everything you had?" It all came home to me that we were inches away from averting the disaster that was to come. And then I realized why I didn't fight back...complacency. I was dismissive of Al Gore at the time. It's also true that I knew George W. was an idiot and would NEVER support him. But, like most folks, I was Clinton-scandal weary and had forgotten just how bad things could get. After 4 years of watching our country go crazy, I was MUCH more affected by the loss of John Kerry in 2004 - even though I'd never been a big supporter of his either. By that time I'd been reminded of just how bad things could get.

That's why I get so crazy when the left gets complacent about President Obama. I can live with the fact that some people don't support his policies and/or process as strongly as I do. I know just how that feels from my experience with candidates like Gore and Kerry. But the Bush/Cheney years as an alternative are NOT ancient history. Living through that nightmare is something I never want to do again. And this crop of Republicans looks even worse to me.

I learned my lesson in 2000. When it comes to Presidential politics - we have a choice between a Democrat and a Republican. That's it! One of those will take us toward incremental change for the better and the other will mean disaster. Its time we all grew up and faced that reality. Those who can't learn from recent history are doomed to repeat it. And NONE of us should be willing to live with that.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It's time


The hate is not new

Today BooMan flags an interesting post to commemorate the passing of New York Times columnist Tom Wicker. Its the article published by Wicker announcing the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In it, Wicker talks about the speech Kennedy never gave that day in Dallas.

Voices are being heard in the land, he said, "voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness."

The speech went on: "At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.

"We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will 'talk sense to the American people.' But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense."

With a simple change of date, Kennedy's words would resonate today, wouldn't they?

I was reminded of a column written this week by Frank Rich titled What Killed JFK: The hate that ended his presidency is eerily familiar.

Thanksgiving week is a milestone for Barack Obama, but not one that many are likely to commemorate. The president who seemed poised to inherit John F. Kennedy’s mantle—in the eyes of Kennedy’s last surviving child and brother as well as many optimistic onlookers (me included) in 2008—will now have served longer than his historical antecedent...

But if the JFK story has resonance in our era, that is not because it triggers the vaguely noble sentiments of affection, loss, and nostalgia that keepers of the Kennedy flame would like to believe...What defines the Kennedy legacy today is less the fallen president’s short, often admirable life than the particular strain of virulent hatred that helped bring him down. After JFK was killed, that hate went into only temporary hiding. It has been a growth industry ever since and has been flourishing in the Obama years. There are plenty of comparisons to be made between the two men, but the most telling is the vitriol that engulfed both their presidencies.

Rich goes on to quote historian William Manchester, author of Death of a President.

While Manchester adds that “obviously, it is impossible to define the exact relationship between an individual and his environment,” he strongly rejected the universal description of Oswald as “a loner.” No man, he writes, is quarantined from his time and place. Dallas was toxic. The atmosphere was “something unrelated to conventional politics—a stridency, a disease of the spirit, a shrill, hysterical note suggestive of a deeply troubled society.” Duly observing that even the greatest presidents have been vilified in their time—Lincoln as a baboon and Jefferson as “Mad Tom”—Manchester saw something “more than partisan zeal” at work in this case. He detected “a chiaroscuro that existed outside the two parties, a virulence which had infected members of both.” Dallas had become the gaudy big top for a growing national movement—“the mecca for medicine-show evangelists of the National Indignation Convention, the Christian Crusaders, the Minutemen, the John Birch and Patrick Henry societies.”

It seems that all the JFK assassination conspiracy theories miss the one that was right out there for everyone to see. As an example, there was the Dallas radio personality Billy James Hargis. Take a listen and see if this isn't one of those things that sounds "eerily familiar."

And then there were people in Dallas like Edwin Walker who worked closely with Hargis and went on to incite violence against the federal troops sent in to de-segregate the University of Mississippi in 1962.

I call for a national protest against the conspiracy from within. Rally to the cause of freedom in righteous indignation, violent vocal protest, and bitter silence under the flag of Mississippi at the use of Federal troops. This today is a disgrace to the nation in 'dire peril,' a disgrace beyond the capacity of anyone except its enemies. This is the conspiracy of the crucifixion by anti-Christ conspirators of the Supreme Court in their denial of prayer and their betrayal of a nation.

I find a kind of strange comfort in all of this. Many times it can seem like the hate we are witnessing in the moment is something new and unique. Its not.

It is also not a coincidence that the hate we're talking about in Dallas during the early 60's was fueled by the federal government's stand on civil rights and de-segregation. We're now at a point in this nation's history when the next steps in our journey towards becoming "a more perfect union" are being taken in the midst of troubling economic times.

As I've quoted before, author Derrick Jensen talks about the unmasking of hate in his book The Culture of Make Believe.

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.

He's basically saying the same thing Rich did up above.

After JFK was killed, that hate went into only temporary hiding. It has been a growth industry ever since and has been flourishing in the Obama years.

And today we can quote the words that Kennedy didn't have the opportunity to speak.

We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will 'talk sense to the American people.' But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The season of "stuff"

I've never been a big shopper and to be honest - days like "Black Friday" give me the willies. I hate to even venture out of the house. Stories like this one pretty much sum up why.

But there's also the fact that today marks the beginning of the season of stuff.

A few years ago Annie Leonard put together a little video about The Story of Stuff. If you haven't watched it before, I highly recommend it. Here's the section that summarizes how we get so caught up in accumulating this stuff.

One of my favorite books of all time is The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. She digs a little deeper into this attachment to stuff and finds it rooted in "the myth of scarcity."

The internal condition of scarcity, this mindset of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life, and it is deeply embedded in our relationship with money. In the mind-set of scarcity, our relationship with money is an expression of fear; a fear that drives us in an endless and unfulfilling chase for more, or into compromises that promise a way out of the chase or discomfort around money.

She suggests that instead, we can reclaim the power of sufficiency.

We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don't mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn't two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn't a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn't an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough and that we are enough.

I find that in our culture these days the concept of "enough" is almost foreign. As soon as we get to the place we worked so hard to reach, we start to see the deficiencies almost immediately and start looking for more. I know that's not always a bad thing. But what I also know is that more money and stuff will never get us there.

"We've done it for 400 years"

The other day Andrew Sullivan wrote an excellent column titled Why Obama still matters. Apparently he got lots of reactions. But this one by a black attorney in his 20's knocked it out of the park.

...not to be too racial about this, but myself and a lot of my minority friends sense that white liberals' disappointment from Obama comes from a sense of entitlement.

Unlike affluent white liberals, minorities in this country seem to have a better grasp of a key truth in life: you don't always get everything you want. We know, if not firsthand then from the stories of our parents, that America isn't always a nice place, and all you can hope for is incremental change. Unlike a lot of our affluent white liberal friends, we are used to not getting it all and have learned to live with it.

To the second point, the way Obama is attacked hurts us personally because so many of us see ourselves in the president. We are middle-class black and Hispanic kids who did all the right things. Worked hard. Went to elite schools. Got the right jobs. We did what conservatives often accuse blacks of not doing. We pulled ourselves up.

And then what? We are torn down, doubted by our white coworkers and called affirmative action phonies by our white supervisors. We see it in the workplace in a thousand different subtle ways. We are held to a different standard. So when we see the best of us, a man who has independently climbed to the top of the American meritocracy, be attacked in such unreasonable and personal ways, we take it hard. If the editor of the Harvard Law Review can't be accepted as competent in this country, then how can we?

But again, we still 'know hope' because we know how the world works. We know how America is. We hold onto incremental progress and don't fixate on what hasn't been achieved. We've done it for 400 years. We'll keep doing it because this is home and we don't have any other choice.

If these are the kinds of young people who hold our future in their hands...we're going to be ok.

Why the Republicans hate math as much as they hate science

There's been a lot of talk about the Republican's efforts to destroy science. But we've seen less talk about their attempts to undermine basic math. I suppose you've heard by now that Newt Gingrich called the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office a reactionary socialist institution. As is his habit, Gingrich was simply adding a little hyperbole to what many Republicans have been saying for awhile now.

"Reality," Stephen Colbert famously told President Bush to his face, "has a well-known liberal bias." That inconvenient truth is at the heart of the expanding Republican war on the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Increasingly frustrated by CBO analyses showing that the 2009 economic stimulus worked as designed, that the Paul Ryan GOP Medicare rationing plan would massively shift costs to seniors, that income inequality is at record levels and, most damning of all, the Affordable Care Act reduces the national debt, Republican leaders have slandered the agency's work as "smoke and mirrors" and "budget gimmicks, deceptive accounting, and implausible assumptions used to create the false impression of fiscal discipline."

This is a basic tool Republicans have been using for awhile now...when you don't like the facts, simply create distrust about their source. The truth that Republicans want to avoid in all this is that, for all their talk to the contrary, they don't really care about the deficit. The only thing they care about is a redistribution of money from the poor to the rich.

This truth was made totally obvious to anyone who took a look at the basic math of what happened with the Super Committee. A couple of days ago, it was reported that during deliberations Democrats and Republicans each released wish lists for what they wanted the committee to produce. I took a few minutes to track down the math.


- $1,000 billion in new tax revenue
+ $447 billion for the American Jobs Act

Total: $553 billion in deficit reduction


+ $4,000 billion to extend the Bush tax cuts
+ $250 billion to repeal ACA
- $700 billion to block grant Medicaid
- $400 billion for reductions in mandatory spending
- $150 billion by cutting the federal work force

Total: $2,500 billion added to the deficit

So the Republicans - who took the world's economy to the brink of collapse supposedly over the issue of deficit reduction - actually presented a wish list that added $2.5 trillion to the deficit. I didn't even include in that tally the fact that they also wanted to include Ryan's budget plan, which has been scored to increase the deficit by $6 trillion over the next ten years. That's because some of its provisions might overlap with the rest of their wish list and I'm trying to be as fair as possible. So the end result would likely have added more to the deficit.

This is why Republicans don't want the American people to understand the exposes their lies. Too bad some of us are still capable of adding and subtracting.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Left Colorblindness and White Democracy

Many thanks to Chauncey DeVega for pointing me to an article titled Whiteness and the 99% by Joel Olson. So much of what Olson says applies not only to OWS, but any progressive organizing in which we might be involved.

First of all, Olson defines "left colorblindness."

Left colorblindness claims to be inclusive, but it is actually just another way to keep whites’ interests at the forefront. It tells people of color to join “our” struggle (who makes up this “our,” anyway?) but warns them not to bring their “special” concerns into it. It enables white people to decide which issues are for the 99% and which ones are “too narrow.” It’s another way for whites to expect and insist on favored treatment, even in a democratic movement.

Then he summarizes the historical development of "race" in this country as a way for the 1%ers to maintain power.

Race was created in America in the late 1600s in order to preserve the land and power of the wealthy. Rich planters in Virginia feared what might happen if indigenous tribes, slaves, and indentured servants united and overthrew them. So, they cut a deal with the poor English colonists. The planters gave the English poor certain rights and privileges denied to all persons of African and Native American descent: the right to never be enslaved, to free speech and assembly, to move about without a pass, to marry without upper-class permission, to change jobs, to acquire property, and to bear arms. In exchange, the English poor agreed to respect the property of the rich, help them seize indigenous lands, and enforce slavery.

And thus was "white democracy" born.

As this white race expanded to include other European ethnicities, the result was a very curious political system: the white democracy. The white democracy has two contradictory aspects to it. On the one hand, all whites are considered equal (even as the poor are subordinated to the rich and women are subordinated to men). On the other, every white person is considered superior to every person of color. It’s democracy for white folks, but tyranny for everyone else.

After covering how that white democracy still exists today as is catalogued in the disparities we see in almost every system of our culture, Olson demonstrates how the issues faced by people of color are not divisive - but central.

The roots of left colorblindness lie in the white democracy and the distorted mindset it creates. It encourages whites to think that their issues are “universal” while those of people of color are “specific.” But that is exactly backwards. The struggles of people of color are the problems that everyone shares. Anyone in the occupy movement who has been treated brutally by the police has to know that Black communities are terrorized by cops every day. Anyone who is unemployed has to know that Black unemployment rates are always at least double that of whites, and Native American unemployment rates are far higher. Anyone who is sick and lacks healthcare has to know that people of color are the least likely to be insured (regardless of their income) and have the highest infant mortality and cancer rates and the lowest life expectancy rates. Anyone who is drowning in debt should know that the median net wealth of Black households is twenty times less than that of white households. Only left colorblindness can lead us to ignore these facts.

This is the sinister impact of white democracy on our movements. It encourages a mindset that insists that racial issues are “divisive” when they are at the absolute center of everything we are fighting for.

And then he tells us how we can be successful in organizing the entire 99%.

The only thing that can stop us is us. What prevents the 99% from organizing the world as we see fit is not the 1%. The 1% cannot hold on to power if we decide they shouldn’t. What keeps us from building the new world in our hearts are the divisions among us...

Creating a 99% requires putting the struggles of people of color at the center of our conversations and demands rather than relegating them to the margins. To fight against school segregation, colonization, redlining, and anti-immigrant attacks is to fight against everything Wall Street stands for, everything the Tea Party stands for, everything this government stands for. It is to fight against the white democracy, which stands at the path to a free society like a troll at the bridge.

I wholeheartedly agree with Olson. And as I was reflecting on this, it struck me once again how the election of Barack Obama shook this white democracy to its core. Contrary to what folks like Cornel West say, the President doesn't need to talk about race at every turn. Its in everyone's face every time they look at him and his lovely family. Their very presence in the White House and his position at the pinnacle of power takes the whole issue of race to the center of its existence and threatens to completely undo the foundation of white democracy. When we forget this, we lose sight of the basis for the kind of resistance he's facing when it comes to left colorblindness and white democracy.

Republicans don't want the truth - and Romney's not about to give it to them

All the talk about Mitt Romney yesterday was about how he told a blatant lie in his first campaign ad of the season. And my gawd, the man can't even tell the truth about his own name. But when it comes to policy - especially about something as explosive for Republicans as immigration - he's not about to tell the truth either.

In last night's Republican debate, Newt Gingrich fell into the compassion trap on the issue of what to do with the 11 million undocumented people who currently live in the U.S.

During a discussion of illegal immigration led by moderator Wolf Blitzer, Gingrich — who Blitzer pointed out voted in favor of so-called “amnesty” legislation in the past — the latest frontrunner for the nomination said clearly that Republicans need to show a little compassion to illegal immigrant families who’ve been living in this country for decades.

It would be worth spending some time talking about Gingrich's entire answer and how very little compassion he's actually demonstrating in this area, but for now, I'd like to focus on Romney's response. Of course he's aware that right now Gingrich is the only thing standing between him and the nomination - so he immediately went on the attack crying "amnesty!" (something that is sure to rile up the Republican base).

But just what would Romney do about those 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S.? A reporter went there with one of his staff after the debate and what he got was classic Romney.

I followed up by asking Fehrnstrom whether Romney believed in deporting those immigrants who are already here illegally.

“He doesn’t believe in granting them amnesty,” Fehrnstrom responded.

That started a back and forth exchange worthy of Abbott and Costello, as Fehrnstrom kept continuing to drive the "no amnesty" point home, and I tried to get more details.

I followed up again, asking what "no amnesty" would mean for the people already here.

“Well, first, you have to get turn off the magnets to get them to stop coming.”

Again, I asked about those already here.

“He would not grant them amnesty," Fehrnstrom said.

"But what would he do with them?" I asked.

He reiterated, "He would not grant them amnesty."

I asked again, "But what would he do?"

“I just told you, he’s not going to grant them amnesty," he said.

Again, I said, “That’s not an answer, that’s telling me what he won’t do. What would he do?

“He would not grant them amnesty," he repeated.

Finally, after I asked the question for a seventh time, Fehrnstrom responded by emphasizing employer enforcement as a way to get illegal immigrants to leave through attrition.

“Well, if you cut off their employment, if they can’t get work, if they can’t get benefits like in state tuition, they will leave," he said.

I asked if that would take care of all of the illegal immigrants, and he said, “Enough of them would leave that it wouldn’t be as big of a problem as it is today.”

After 7 tries - he still didn't get an answer. That's because Romney and his team know that the federal government isn't going to institute some massive roundup of undocumented people and ship them out of the country. If anyone can't imagine why that would be inhumane - not to mention costly and a serious problem for employers all over the country who depend on cheap labor - then they're not paying attention. None of the Republican candidates would do that - including Romney - its just that they're not willing to admit it.

The truth is that undocumented people are a convenient foil for Republicans in a couple of ways. As long as they're forced to live in the shadows, they will be cheap fodder for employers who want to exploit them. And they're also great bait to throw to the nativists who fear the "brown" in our midst.

That's why all of the Republican candidates make such a big deal about their claims that before anything else can get done about illegal immigration - we need to completely secure the border with Mexico. That's something that is impossible to do and so they know that if they have their way - they can keep this issue alive in perpetuity.

Its also why we need to re-elect President Obama and give him enough Democrats in Congress to finally get the job done on immigration reform.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stories that caught my eye today...

My thoughts this morning are wandering to a variety of places. I'm not sure there's a theme. So perhaps the best thing to do is to simply let you know what has caught my eye.

Last night Lawrence O'Donnell pretty much summed up what I've been saying about President Obama's handling of the debt ceiling issue. Take a few minutes and watch.

The New York Magazine has a long article about Arianna Huffington. This part will probably not come as any surprise to you.

Huffington’s own thread has seemed to follow a similarly circuitous path, from right to left and now seeming to bend back, making the Huffington Post’s political leanings a bit more red-state-friendly for the AOL culture—though one could argue that, in fact, she’s never been that far left...Huffington says now that she is disappointed in Obama and could even see herself voting Republican in the next presidential election. “To me,” she says, “the issues are more important than the party.” She pauses. “Trust me, I realize how hard it is to change the system, but Obama has demonstrated only the fierce urgency of sometime later, and at the same time the middle class is under assault”—she smiles—“which is of course the topic of my last book.”

So Arianna might vote for one of the lunatic Republicans...because the issues are important. I'm sure she'd be happy to support the "corporations are people too" Romney or "lets get 9 year-olds in the workforce" Gingrich - all in her faux support for the middle class. Why anyone continues to take her seriously is WAAAY beyond me.

By way of good news you might not hear about, this week President Obama has issued pardons for more than a turkey.

President Barack Obama on Monday pardoned five people convicted of charges ranging from intent to distribute marijuana to running an illegal gambling business.

And he issued his first commutation, ordering the release of a woman next month after serving 10 years on a 22-year sentence for cocaine distribution.

As I said yesterday, while Republicans start their 2012 campaign rhetoric about tax cuts and defense spending, President Obama will focus like a lazer beam on what matters most to Today he goes to New Hampshire to do just that. I'm sure you'll be able to read/see all the details about that at The Obama Diary.

Finally, today is the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Sunday would have been Robert Kennedy's 86th birthday. My tribute is this song "A Ray of Hope" by The Rascals that was written after RFK's assassination.

Our "Ray of Hope" today:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Watch a President use leverage

@ 3:25

Already some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple..."No." I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one. We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not turn off the pressure. The only way these spending cuts will not take place is if Congress gets back to work and agrees to a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.
(Emphasis mine)

In other words, unless Republicans agree to increase taxes on the wealthy, the President will veto any attempt to undo the cuts to defense.

Is that clear enough for you Senators Graham and McCain?

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are collaborating on legislation that would undo at least some of the automatic spending cuts aimed at the Pentagon.

Get that poutragers?

But the GOP won't fret over those defense cuts. Because all they have to do is pass separate legislation refunding the Pentagon and Senate Dems (either too scared or too compromised) will cave on that and what will Obama do? Veto spending "for the troops"?

Obama demonstrates once again the brilliance of "knowing when to fold 'em"

All this talk from Republicans about trying to blame President Obama for the failure of the Super Committee to come up with a deal is truly amusing. I guess they don't realize how much they sound like 2 year-olds trying to blame Daddy Obama for the mess they created.

To the contrary, I think the President's decision to stay out of this one demonstrates why he's such a good poker player in the tradition of Kenny Roger's song The Gambler.

You've got to know when to hold 'em
know when to fold 'em
know when to walk away
and when to run.

We all know too well that President Obama put all he had into trying to negotiate with the Republicans last summer to come up with a "grand bargain" on deficit reduction. And while most folks recognize that he put it all on the table only to run into the intransigence of folks like Cantor and Boehner, many Americans still seemed to hold him accountable for failing to get the job done.

The deal they reached at that point gave the Super Committee all the tools they needed to come up with a deal (including the fact that they could by-pass the filibuster rules in the Senate). And so President Obama stood back and let them give it a go. They failed.

This allowed President Obama to do 2 things:

1. He could pivot away from deficit reduction to focus solely on the American Jobs Act and initiatives like We Can't Wait...addressing the number one concern of voters.

2. He could show that whether he was in the picture or out - Congress failed to deal with deficit reduction.

These are the kinds of things that low-information voters notice. And it was played beautifully by our President. He knew exactly when to "fold 'em."

P.S. Do you think that after spending months leading the charge on dealing with the likes of Cantor and Boehner that perhaps President Obama knew this committee was destined to fail? And that staying out of it would be to his advantage this time?

Yeah, me too.

Republicans just made their 2012 campaign all about tax cuts and foreign policy

A little over a month ago, I suggested that the looming failure of the Super Committee - and the consequences of that failure - would overtake the conversations leading up to the 2012 election. And that conversation begins today.

As an example, here's the headline of an article by Peter Wallsten in the Washington Post: Supercommittee's failure pushes Bush tax cuts to the forefront of the 2012 campaign.

The imminent failure of the congressional deficit “supercommittee,” which had a chance to settle the nation’s tax policy for the next decade, would thrust the much-contested Bush tax cuts into the forefront of next year’s presidential campaign...

That makes December 2012 the next critical deadline in the budget wars, with Obama, safely reelected or acting as a lame-duck president, wielding a veto pen with the power to return tax rates to Clinton-era levels.

Democrats say they see the issue as an easy way to portray Obama’s opponent in the presidential election as a defender of tax cuts for the rich.

I suspect that Wallsten is right in assuming that a vote to extend the tax cuts will be delayed until after the election. But that's perhaps the one remaining question to be answered. Of course the Republican-controlled House is likely to vote on the extension. But will Majority Leader Reid even bring it up for a vote in the Senate? We'll see.

Pretty soon all the presidential candidates (as well as Congress members up for re-election) are going to have to start weighing in.

Even though the supercommittee’s Thanksgiving deadline had not yet passed, events Sunday offered a taste of what is to come. Romney blamed inaction by Obama for the panel’s failure, while the president’s reelection campaign spokesman, alluding to Romney’s support for retaining the Bush tax cuts, charged that he “rejected asking the wealthiest for a dime to reduce the deficit.”

As this discussion heats up, its time to start pulling out those graphs that demonstrate the crux of the deficit problem. Like this one:

Given President Obama's successes in the area of foreign policy, the last thing the Republicans wanted was to have that issue overshadow the country's concern about our weak economy. But that's just what they're going to have to try to do in order to make a case for restoring the triggered cuts to defense.

All of this will also provide President Obama and Democrats with the opportunity to distance themselves from the Republican obsession with tax cuts and defense spending by staying focused on what Americans really care

So hang on to your hat folks. The 2012 election officially begins today!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

We've got your back Michelle...

...because you've always had ours.


Oops, guess we should have been paying more attention to the Obama administration's crackdown on police brutality

I must admit that watching the OWS supporters rail about police brutality all of the sudden is rather interesting. Apparently the truism about it depending on "whose ox is being gored" has been born out once again.

I remember some of the same people who are doing the complaining now are the one's who wanted us to STFU about Professor Henry Gates getting manhandled and arrested inside his own home (and no, I'm not making an equivalency argument, but that shit goes on in the African American community every g-damned day). They also didn't want President Obama to comment on it because it was a distraction from the "really important issues" of the day.

Now all of the sudden they are suggesting these police tactics are somehow the President's problem and demanding he do something about it. Here's a recent twitter by Joan Walsh that set off a firestorm last night.

The militarization of cops came after 9/11 under Bush. It wasn't that Davis decided to go nuts. Our president now has something to do w/it.

First of all, the idea that the "militarization of cops" started after 9/11 would come as a serious surprise to activists in this country going back decades.

And secondly, I'd suggest its too bad Ms. Walsh doesn't seem to read the publication she writes for because only a few months ago a co-worker of hers wrote an article at Salon titled Obama cracks down on abuses by big-city police departments. That news went almost completely unnoticed by the left. And NOW they want to scream at President Obama to DO SOMETHING?

I can guarantee you that what we can expect from this administration is to monitor this situation and intervene when/where its called for and the law allows.

A little more laziness wouldn't be all bad

As I watch all this talk about who's calling who lazy, I tend to have a different kind of reaction than most people. One of the things that comes to my mind is this parable.

A management consultant, on holiday in a African fishing village, watched a little fishing boat dock at the quayside. Noting the quality of the fish, the consultant asked the fisherman how long it had taken to catch them.

"Not very long." answered the fisherman.

"Then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the consultant.

The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The consultant asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, have an afternoon's rest under a coconut tree. In the evenings, I go into the community hall to see my friends, have a few beers, play the drums, and sing a few songs..... I have a full and happy life." replied the fisherman.

The consultant ventured, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you...... You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have a large fleet. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to a city here or maybe even in the United Kingdom, from where you can direct your huge enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the fisherman.

"Oh, ten, maybe twenty years." replied the consultant.

"And after that?" asked the fisherman.

"After that? That's when it gets really interesting," answered the consultant, laughing, "When your business gets really big, you can start selling shares in your company and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" pressed the fisherman.

"After that you'll be able to retire, move out to a small village by the sea, sleep in late every day, spend time with your family, go fishing, take afternoon naps under a coconut tree, and spend relaxing evenings havings drinks with friends..."

~author unknown

Earlier this week I was struck by something Matt Taibbi said about the yearnings of those involved with OWS.

We're all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket.

It strikes me that we might all do a little better if we disgarded the advice of that consultant and listened to the fisherman.

Of course, we'd have to ask ourselves what we'd do with all the time we'd have on our hands. And that reminds me of one of my favorite quotes.

It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.
― Gertrude Stein

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Taking on the myth that Democrats caved

It all started right away from the get-go. Our country had just elected Barack Obama at the moment we were careening towards a second Great Depression. Something had to be done...and fast. Twenty-eight days after the inauguration, President Obama signed the Recovery Act (yes, that's right folks...28 days!) It was the largest stimulus package every passed by a U.S. Congress.

And yet the wails of "Obama caved" coming from the left were already well underway. Nevermind that time was of the essence and Democrats (who had 57 Senators at the time) had to negotiate with the likes of Lieberman, Snowe, and Specter (who was still a Republican back then) in order to get something passed. The myth was born.

Almost 3 years later, the myth persists. That's why I thought I'd take a few minutes and bust it up a bit.

The second stage in the development of the "cave" myth came, as everyone knows, when the public option was dropped from inclusion in health care reform. At that point, the Democrats had 59 Senators + Lieberman (who never supported the PO). But there were also moments like the day Sen. Blanche Lincoln - one of those 59 - took to the floor of the Senate and said she would join with a Republican filibuster of the bill if it contained a public option. We don't need to go any further than those 2 (although there were other Senators in opposition) to demonstrate that it NEVER had 60 votes in the Senate. That is sufficient to explain why it was dropped...not some other myth that President Obama gave it away in a secret deal or that he and the Democrats caved to Republicans.

Of course in the midst of all the hollering about the public option, way too many people missed that health care reform actually included one...Medicaid expansion.

Among all the changes and ramifications for health care forthcoming as a result of passage (and now law) of the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), none may be as large and impactful as the expansion of Medicaid. In terms of impact I am referring to economic, political, social and systemic (present access and delivery of care to the targeted population)...

Best estimates place the increase in additional enrollees at 16 million to 18 million.

Next comes the deal that was struck on the extension of the Bush tax cuts in December 2010. To many on the left, President Obama once again caved to Republican demands. But the truth is that he took a stand on the idea that we should not - in the midst of a recession - end the tax cuts for the middle class. He was also insistent that Congress needed to extend unemployment insurance for those who continued to be out of work. But once again, a small group of Democrats would not support that position and actually voted against extending the tax cuts only to the middle class.

Given that reality, what President Obama did was compromise on extending all of the tax cuts for two years while getting the Republicans to sign on to a second stimulus.

Mr. Obama effectively traded tax cuts for the affluent, which Republicans were demanding, for a second stimulus bill that seemed improbable a few weeks ago. Mr. Obama yielded to Republicans on extending the high-end Bush tax cuts and on cutting the estate tax below its scheduled level. In exchange, Republicans agreed to extend unemployment benefits, cut payroll taxes and business taxes, and extend a grab bag of tax credits for college tuition and other items.

The third so-called "cave" is actually one of my favorites. Its about the deal that was struck when the Republicans threatened to shut the government down over the 2011 budget. By then Republicans had taken over the House and were looking to cut $100 billion from the budget in one year. As negotiations wore on, that number jumped around. But Speaker Boehner mistakenly kept his eye on the figure of the moment while President Obama and the Democrats went to work looking at the details. In the end, it was announced that the deal they reached contained $78 billion in spending cuts. What was amusing was to watch many on the left rise up in outrage over the "cave" while folks on the right woke up to the reality that the deal only cut $352 million from the deficit.

Finally we come to the debt ceiling deal. I've been talking about that one quite a bit lately - especially about how the Democrats outsmarted the Republicans. But I'll just add that while many on the left have been howling about the potential gutting of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - not a penny has been cut from any of those programs yet and it looks increasingly likely that all the focus next year is going to be on how much we can afford to cut from defense. I don't know about you - but I hardly call that a "cave." Instead I call it rather genius strategy.

I think that about catches us up to the current situation. I hope its clear by now why many of us reject this mythology about President Obama and the Democrats caving all the time. What they've done in each and every case is to deal with reality, minimize the damages, and get some pretty incredible "wins" along the way. And folks, that about sums up what good progressive politics is all about.

Army Captain who was booed at Republican debate is home now and speaking out

I'm sure you all remember the Republican debate when Army Captain Stephen Hill - who was serving in Iraq at the time - submitted a youtube question about whether or not the presidential candidates would reverse the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell...and was booed. He was also told by Rick Santorum that his relationship with his partner Joshua Snyder was only about sexual activity, which "has no place in the military."

Captain Hill is home now (yeah!) and speaking out.

Hill says the fact that he just outed himself on national television had barely registered when he absorbed the boos and Santorum's answer followed by applause.

"When the actual booing occurred, my gut dropped out, because my first inclination was, did I just do something wrong?" he said. "The answer, obviously, wasn't very supportive of gay people, and there was a lot of fear of how the Army would take the question."

He did not have to wait long to find out. At breakfast later that morning, the segment was playing on the chow hall television. Hill immediately tracked down his commander, who told him she had no problem with what he'd done but that she would need to run it up the chain of command. She later relayed the response.

"She said, 'What the military's most concerned with is that you are OK, because it's a lot of pressure on you and we want to make sure if there is anything we can do to help,'" he recalled...

What Hill remembers most was that a presidential candidate defined his marriage and military service in terms of sex. He holds that up against the times he hid Snyder's photograph because Army buddies were coming over to play video games, introduced his husband as his roommate or brother, and the legal vows they exchanged at the grave of Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, who was discharged in 1975 after becoming the first gay service member to challenge the U.S. military's ban on gay troops.

Snyder and Hill last month joined other same-sex military couples in suing the government for the same benefits as straight military couples, which the Pentagon denies them on grounds that federal law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

"This is not about sex," Hill said. "A special privilege is not hiding pictures in my house or God forbid, taking mortar fire again and not knowing if Josh will be recognized. I'm fighting every day to protect everyone's rights as human beings, and it seems counterintuitive for me to be fighting for those rights and not have them."

Thank you Captain Hill...for your service and your courage.

Republicans showing their true colors

For a long time now too many Republicans lied to poor people. They'd pretend that things like tax breaks for the rich would "trickle down" and ultimately help them economically. It never worked that way. But enough poor and working class people believed them that they continued to lie.

In many ways that era is over for the current crop of Republicans. Don't believe me? Then take a look at a couple of stories from yesterday.

First of all, you have Newt Gingrich's answer to income inequality: get rid of child labor laws and put the children to work.

Newt Gingrich tonight said at an address at Harvard that child work laws "entrap" poor children into poverty - and suggested that a better way to handle failing schools is to fire the janitors, hire the local students and let them get paid for upkeep.

The comment came in response to an undergrad's question about income equality during his talk at Harvard's Kennedy School...

He added, "You go out and talk to people, as I do, you go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between nine and 14 years of age. They all were either selling newspapers, going door to door, they were doing something, they were washing cars."

"They all learned how to make money at a very early age," he said. "What do we say to poor kids in poor neighborhoods? Don't do it. Remember all that stuff about don't get a hamburger flipping job? The worst possible advice you could give to poor children."

So he wants to fire these children's parents from their janitor and hamburger flipping jobs and send the 9 year olds in to take their place. This, dear friends, is the "brilliance" of Newt Gingrich.

But Rick Santorum is even worse. He just thinks poor people should suffer.

During a town hall meeting in Ottumwa, Iowa Friday afternoon, Rick Santorum argued that Americans receive too many government benefits and ought to “suffer” in the Christian tradition. If “you’re lower income, you can qualify for Medicaid, you can qualify for food stamps, you can qualify for housing assistance,” Santorum complained, before adding, “suffering is part of life and it’s not a bad thing, it is an essential thing in life.”

Santorum's reference to Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance was by way of saying that the government shouldn't provide those things. Instead, poor people should "suffer," in the "Christian tradition," by not having health care, food and a roof over their head.

This isn't the argument some Christians make that government shouldn't be providing those things but it should be up to private philanthropy (a ridiculous idea too, but at least a step up from Santorum). He's saying we shouldn't help them at all - that they should suffer. I have NO idea what Bible this guy's reading that tells him that!

So there you have it folks...the Republican Party in all its true colors.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Jay Smooth: "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race”

Jay Smooth doing a TED talk? How cool is that?

This guy knows what he's talking about when it comes to the race conversation. Please take a few minutes to listen.

From "satan sandwich" to eating crow

I just have to quote a bit of an article from The Hill because it fits so perfectly with what I wrote about this morning on how Obama and the Democrats outsmarted Republicans on the debt ceiling deal. The title of the article tells the story: Democrats' 'Shit Sandwich' starts tasting pretty good.

The bipartisan debt-limit deal, famously called a “Satan sandwich” by a prominent Democrat this summer, is looking more heavenly to the left.

Republicans crowed after striking the agreement with President Obama, while congressional Democrats cried foul. Despite the White House’s endorsement of the bill, 95 House Democrats voted against it.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the Budget Committee, subsequently said Republicans called Obama’s bluff. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he got 98 percent of what he wanted in the deal.

Three months later, members of both parties are looking at the deal much differently.

A GOP lawmaker who requested anonymity told The Hill that “it’s the 2 percent that’s killing [Boehner]"...

Now, in sharp contrast to this summer, Democrats say they are in the driver’s seat. They note that Republicans are already vowing to torpedo the sequestration [triggered] cuts to the Defense Department, something Democrats say they will not go along with...

Republicans privately acknowledged they are more fractured than they were in July and early August. A handful of GOP legislators have recently bashed anti-tax activist Grover Norquist’s tax pledge while others have defended it, claiming Republicans should not even be considering raising taxes.

How's that crow tasting now to all those of you who said we'd been handed a "satan sandwich" and bought into Mr. "I got 98% of what I wanted" Boehner's bloviating?

Right wingers are showing their desperation

Its got to be hard to be a Republican these days. As their presidential nominees take turns demonstrating that they're the definition of the gang who couldn't shoot straight, their Congressional leaders are crying for Daddy Obama to come home and fix this Super Committee mess they got themselves in to. And when it comes to attacking President Obama, their whole "birther" scheme went down in flames and the guy is relentless in depriving them of scandal material.

As a result, desperation is the only way I can explain the fact that Breitbart, Fox, The Daily Caller, and Drudge have all featured this 1991 video of Barack Obama on their websites over the last couple of days.

They're acting like this is a new revelation (their youtube version was posted two days ago). But if you check out the origin of the one up above, it was posted way back in March 2009. So its hardly some recent "find" from Obama's "dark" past.

None of the sites are writing much about it. Most of them just posted the video with no comment. But the Daily Caller provides some background, talks about how Obama's voice was much deeper back then, and then ends with this.

Obama’s approval numbers have fallen precipitously as the economy has deteriorated. Additional vintage videos of the president may yet emerge for the benefit of a public more eager than ever to vet their future leaders.

So what we have here folks is a really lame attempt at a dog whistle. First of all, they want the racists to be alarmed that Obama was touting Black history way back in 1991. And then they want them to wonder what other nefarious stuff he was up to long ago that perhaps we haven't heard about yet.

I'm sure this provides a little red meat to the folks on the right who suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome. But have to laugh at their desperation, don't you?

The root of the problem is a theology that enables sexual abuse

As someone who was raised in a white evangelical Christian family and church, it deeply saddens me every time we hear that another leader o...