Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A short break

So its obvious that I took a break from writing today. Trouble is, I didn't plan it.

But its likely I won't be able to write much tomorrow due to that thing I do for a paycheck.

But I'll be baaaaaack.

Meanwhile, here's something to think about.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

To many Mexican Americans, we are the immigrants

As the debate about immigration reform heats up, it might be helpful to pay some attention to the history of how we got here. Lets face it - the real controversy in this issue is not about immigration in general - but about Mexican Americans. And though we don't pay much attention to it - this conflict has been going on for a very long time.

The whole thing can be summed up in two words...Manifest Destiny.
the belief or doctrine, held chiefly in the middle and latter part of the 19th century, that it was the destiny of the U.S. to expand its territory over the whole of North America and to extend and enhance its political, social, and economic influences.
It was this belief that led President Polk to initiate the Mexican American War in 1846 after Texas  declared independence from Mexico. At the conclusion of that war, Mexico ceded much of the Southwest to the United States.

For the Mexicans living in those areas, it was the influx of European Americans who were the immigrants. Many of the people being harassed by laws such as the one passed in Arizona a few years ago can trace their ancestry back to the days before white people began to question their status as "real Americans."

In reading about some of this history, its fascinating to realize how race has always played such an important role in the development of this country. For example, the people who opposed the Mexican American war and the annexation of these areas as part of the United States did so because they were abolitionist and were fighting the expansion of slavery. In addition, some who opposed it did so because, when they talked about "manifest destiny," they weren't talking about "those people." Here is how that was expressed by Senator John Calhoun of South Carolina.
[W]e have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race—the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind, of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race.
So this whole thing was controversial from the start.

Its also interesting how the concept of manifest destiny is - in some ways - still with us. The words we use to describe it are different now, but have their origins in the same idea. The doctrine of manifest destiny was built on the concept of American Exceptionalism that is so in-vogue today amongst the nativists, and the idea of the United States as a City Upon a Hill that was revived by Reagan. More recently these themes were at the heart of George W. Bush's rational for invading Iraq. In many ways its always been just another name for white American privilege.

As we approach this discussion, it might be helpful to understand that what we'll be fighting is the same battle that has been waging in this country from its founding...when we say that "all men are created equal," do we really mean ALL men (and women)?

Monday, January 28, 2013

OK, now I see how Republicans think the sequester cuts are leverage

By now most people are aware that unless Congress acts, on March first $1.2 trillion of federal spending cuts (called "sequester') will take place as a result of the 2011 debt ceiling deal. Half of the cuts will come from domestic spending and half from defense.

A while ago I thought Boehner was bluffing when he said that these sequester cuts were as much leverage as Republicans were going to get. In a way, he was. To read more about why, check out this recent article by Ezra Klein.

But both Ezra and I need to factor in two things. First of all, the economy is now improving much faster than most people thought it would. That creates a challenge for Republicans. How can they continue to induce fear of economic doom that can only be solved by draconian cuts to the social safety net if the economy gets better?

Secondly, Republicans (including Paul Ryan) are signaling that they'll let the sequester happen (for how long is where the bluff comes in). And if they do, what happens to the economy?
If it kicks in as scheduled in March, Macroeconomic Advisers, a consultancy, reckons it would knock 0.7 percentage points off growth this year.
If that is the leverage the Republicans are counting on, it is a truly Machiavellian deal with the devil. They're still hoping for an economic crash that they can blame on the President and Democrats. And to get it - they're counting on their own policy of austerity to make it happen. Now that's twisted! It simply demonstrates that these guys have NO actual concerns about improving the economy. They know that austerity will ruin the recovery. Its all a power game to them.

Can you guess who said this?

This isn't a competition. But I'm going to provide you with a quote and ask you to guess who said it.
...I had my doubts that linking arms, chanting slogans, hanging effigies, and shouting at passersby were alway the most effective tactics. I could see that troubling the waters was occasionally necessary to bring attention to the urgency of some problem. But this style of political expression sometimes becomes an end in itself and can lose potency if used routinely. If you shout too loudly and too often, people tend to cover their ears... 
Quiet pragmatism, of course, lacks the romance of vocal militancy. But I felt myself more a mediator than a crusader. My strengths were reasoning, crafting compromises, finding the good and the good faith on both sides of an argument, and using that to build a bridge. Always, my first question was, what's the goal? And then, who must be persuaded if it is to be accomplished? A respectful dialogue with one's opponent almost invariably goes further than a harangue outside his or her window. If you want to change someone's mind, you must understand what need shapes his or her opinion. To prevail, you must first listen...
I know this kind of approach doesn't work with people like the Republicans who have made a strategic decision to oppose. But then shouting at them doesn't change their mind either. All it does is fill the emotional needs of the shouter. And the end result is the same. Stalemate.

What the author is doing is thinking a bit more deeply about how someone changes their mind. S/he says that if that is your goal (rather than meeting your own emotional need to ventilate), you first have to listen and understand the need that shapes their opinion. That opens the door to conversation rather than a shouting match.

Would it surprise you to hear that the author is Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and that the quote comes from her book My Beloved World?

Perhaps now you understand why President Obama picked her as his first appointment to the Supreme Court. They came from very different backgrounds, but learned some of the same lessons.

Yep, she is one very wise Latina.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Conservatives offend brown people, progressives ignore them

Its pretty easy these days to point out the racism on the right. Between the election/re-election of Barack Hussein Obama and the changing demographics, those folks have put down the dog whistles and picked up the fog horns.

Racism tends to look a little different on the left side of the political isle. But today I found a pretty good example of how it plays out. That's a link to an article on the front page of Daily Kos. The author pulls up lots of statistics in an attempt to make the point that recent elections demonstrate that Democrats can now appeal to their liberal base and win.

What's interesting is that nowhere in the entire article does the author attempt to define "base." It is taken for granted (as is shown in the comments) that he means those who dominate the discussion on Daily Kos - white highly educated upper income progressives.

People like that always ignore statistics like the one where President Obama only got 39% of the white vote in 2012. Conversely, he got 93% of the African American vote, 71% of the Latino vote and 73% of the Asian vote. You wanna re-think that idea about who represents the "base" of the Democratic Party?

The author points out that more and more voters are embracing the label of "liberal." And that is the sole basis for his belief that Democrats can now run on appealing to the liberal base and eschew their attempts to win over moderate voters.

To demonstrate, he uses statistics from suburban and urban counties in Wisconsin.
Consider the difference in the bases for the Democrats and the GOP. In the "WOW" counties that ring Milwaukee (Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington), turnout increased a total of 6.3 percent. Those three counties, which totalled 378,000 voters in 2012, are the home base for Wisconsin Republicans, and have given the GOP their margin of victory in their occasional statewide wins in the state.

Dane County [which he's already defined as a "base" county], meanwhile, saw its turnout increase a total of 10.9 percent in the past eight years. For the first time in a presidential election this year, Dane County crept over 300,000 votes cast in a presidential election.
What he never mentions is that the demographics of Madison (in Dane County) have gone from 15% to 25% people of color during that same time period, with the majority of those increases coming from African Americans and Asians.

Its probably true that more people on the left are getting comfortable with thinking of themselves as "liberals." But to assume that is the major reason for our recent victories without once even mentioning the obviously changing demographics represents more than ignorance. It is white-centric. Even in the thralls of overt racism, the Republicans are recognizing that reality.

Building the coalition vs destroying the enemy

Just in case you haven't noticed, I haven't commented at all about former governor Sarah Palin losing her job at Faux News or about former senator Scott Brown's drunk tweeting (oops, I guess I just did). I'd be the last one to suggest that I don't feel a bit of schadenfruede at their expense. But in the big scheme of things, they really don't matter. Just like the baggers of fire don't matter.

President Obama has made his intentions clear for his second term. He wants to engage the American people in a conversation about things that DO matter...reducing gun violence, reforming our immigration system, setting our fiscal house in order, and dealing with climate change. Oh...and he is also talking about ending our perpetual state of war.

It is true that Republicans stand in the way of getting most of that done. The extremists on either side of the isle think that the President's success is dependent on focusing his energy on direct attacks to destroy them. That's what all the cry babies like Boehner, Krauthammer, Gerson and Brooks are whining about. What's amusing is that the very people on the left who rage the loudest about destruction don't even seem to be noticing their tears. They're too caught up in their own rage and cynicism to see just how weak their opponents are right now.

It seems to me that President Obama's plan is to simply ignore all that and engage the people who aren't interested in that battle. He talked more about that in his recently published interview with the New Republic.
I always read a lot of Lincoln, and I'm reminded of his adage that, with public opinion, there's nothing you can't accomplish; without it, you're not going to get very far. And spending a lot more time in terms of being in a conversation with the American people as opposed to just playing an insider game here in Washington is an example of the kinds of change in orientation that I think we've undergone, not just me personally, but the entire White House.
Later in the interview, he gave an example of how that kind of approach worked with the repeal of DADT.
There were advocates in the LGBT community who were furious at me, saying, "Why don't you just sign with a pen ordering the Pentagon to do this?" And my argument was that we could build a coalition to get this done, that having the Pentagon on our side and having them work through that process so that they felt confident they could continue to carry out their missions effectively would make it last and make it work for the brave men and women, gays and lesbians, who were serving not just now but in the future.

And the proof of the pudding here is that not only did we get the law passed, but it's caused almost no controversy. It's been almost thoroughly embraced, whereas had I just moved ahead with an executive order, there would have been a huge blowback that might have set back the cause for a long time.
That is quintessential Obama...building a coalition led to effective change rather than "huge blowback that might have set back the cause for a long time." Blowback from a direct attack actually empowers the opposition whereas focusing your efforts on building strong coalitions for change not only ensures your success - it is also likely to destroy your opponent in the long run. That's exactly what we mean by conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy.
This apparent paradox is one reason Obama's political identity has eluded easy definition. On the one hand, you have a disciple of the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky turned ruthless Chicago politician. On the other hand, there is the conciliatory post-partisan idealist. The mistake here is in thinking of these two notions as opposing poles. In reality it's all the same thing. Obama's defining political trait is the belief that conciliatory rhetoric is a ruthless strategy.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why ideologues don't like "Zero Dark Thirty"

I mentioned yesterday that I had seen the movie Zero Dark Thirty. I highly recommend that you watch it too.

As I'm sure you already know, the ideologues on both the left and right are pretty pissed about this movie. There's a reason for that...ideologues don't like complexity. And this movie is drenched in it.

The word we sometimes use to describe ideologues is "purists." In their world there are clean lines between right and wrong with no space for moral ambiguity. That gives them the privilege to look down their noses in judgement of anyone who crosses their neat little lines.

That's not how life actually works. Reinhold Niebuhr is right to point out that in order to truly engage, we must live in the world as it is - not as we want it to be.

I don't tend to agree with the commentary that Zero Dark Thirty affirms that torture led to finding Osama bin Laden. But the movie doesn't draw a defining line that it didn't either. It tells a story that is much more complex than that.

As Andrew Sullivan says, the one bright line the movie does draw is that ugly, inhumane, immoral torture was the practice of the United States of America immediately following 9/11.
The first thing I'd say on the political issue is that the film shows without any hesitation that the United States brutally tortured countless suspects - innocent and guilty - in ways that shock the conscience. To my mind, that is, in fact, a huge plus for those of us who have been trying to break through the collective denial and the disgusting euphemism of "enhanced interrogation." No one can look at those scenes and believe for a second that torture is not being committed. You could put the American in a Nazi uniform and the movie would be indistinguishable from any mainstream World War II movie. Yes, that's what we became in our treatment of prisoners.

In that way, it exposes the Biggest Lie of the Bush-Cheney administration: that Abu Ghraib was an exception, and not the rule. What was done to suspects in Abu Ghraib was actually less grotesque, less horrifying, and less shocking than what Bush and Cheney ordered the CIA to do to human beings directly.
That reality is what the first part of the movie is about. And then Michael Moore - of all people - tells us what happens next.
There comes a point about two-thirds of the way through ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ where it is clear something, or someone, on high has changed. The mood at the CIA has shifted, become subdued. It appears that the torture-approving guy who’s been president for the past eight years seems to be, well, gone. And, just as a fish rots from the head down, the stench also seems to be gone. Word then comes down that – get this! – we can’t torture any more! The CIA agents seem a bit disgruntled and dumbfounded. I mean, torture has worked soooo well these past eight years! Why can’t we torture any more???

The answer is provided on a TV screen in the background where you see a black man (who apparently is the new president) and he’s saying, in plain English, that America’s torturing days are over, done, finished...

I think you know what happens next. In the final third of ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ the agents switch from torture to detective work – and guess what happens? We find bin Laden! Eight years of torture – no bin Laden. Two years of detective work – boom! Bin Laden!

And that really should be the main takeaway from ‘Zero Dark Thirty’: That good detective work can bring fruitful results – and that torture is wrong.
But the truth is that while Sullivan and Moore echo my reactions to the film, what I appreciated about it was that neither the story nor the characters lent themselves to clear-cut moralizing. I have no way of knowing how accurately it reflects the actual people or events. But I can say that in addition to the ambiguity about the efficacy of torture, some characters who seemed to be "evil" at first, surprised me with their humanity - and vice versa. Isn't that how it most often is in real life too?

That's probably all I should say about the specifics of the movie for those of you who haven't seen it yet. But the real power of ambiguity comes in how it ends. While not giving anything away in particular, lets just say that it is the opposite of the distasteful displays of "USA! USA! USA!" that greeted us here at home with the announcement of the death of bin Laden. The grown-up part of me appreciated that.

President Obama on the importance of telling the story

Yesterday I wrote about the current conversation taking place on whether or not President Obama is changing the trajectory of the Reagan revolution. Given that I'm the kind of person who naturally gravitates towards the big picture and long game, this whole question fascinates me. As I said yesterday, there is a meme developing on this one. And those are the kinds of things that have the potential to shape our thinking for years to come. So bear with me while I dig a little deeper.

One of the people who expressed a dissenting view from the left on this topic is Jonathan Bernstein. Here's his conclusion.
Add it all up and Obama, if he wants to be a president who really changes things for the better, should … well, it’s boring and obvious, but he should mostly focus on promoting good public policy. Not fighting the good fight or talking the good talk for liberal ideals, but just getting done whatever he can get done given all the constraints that surround him. Well-implemented plans will be hard for subsequent presidents to displace. And presidents who make good policy tend to be popular, thereby ensuring that partisans seek to replace them (not only immediately, but into the future) with similar candidates. In other words, he should pretty much focus on being a good president, and let the rest of it take care of itself. No, it’s not as exciting as imagining that Obama can win arguments for a generation by choosing exactly the right words at the right time—but no one, certainly not Ronald Reagan, could do that. And it does have the benefit of being how politics really works.
On one level, I agree with Bernstein. For a long time now I've been saying that the best way to advance the liberal agenda is through good government. But even Bernstein focuses most of his argument on passing good legislation and tends to give short shrift to the equally important work that is supposed to be the main role of the President - which is to administer good government.

Overall, this is something President Obama did very well in his first term (especially the first 2 years). He not only got monumental legislation passed (ie, stimulus, universal health care, Wall Street reform), he also reassured Americans that government can work (ie, rescuing the auto industry, FEMA, etc.)

But many of the President's critics suggested that it felt piecemeal...that he didn't tie it all together with a liberal vision. As much as some of us fought that criticism (rightfully so when it came in the idiotic version of people like Drew Westen), President Obama has suggested they had a point.

"When I think about what we've done well and what we haven't done well, the mistake of my first term — couple of years — was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right," Obama said. "And that's important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times."

Obama acknowledged that he could have been better at "explaining" matters, but also "inspiring" the American people.

"It's funny — when I ran, everybody said, 'Well, he can give a good speech, but can he actually manage the job?' " Obama continued. "And in my first two years, I think the notion was, 'Well, he's been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where's the story that tells us where he's going?' And I think that was a legitimate criticism."
From his speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention with its focus on citizenship to his suggestion that Washington will only change from the outside to the re-formation of Organizing for Action to his inaugural address, you see President Obama putting that awareness into practice.

Yes, he has to get the policy right. But he also knows that in order to tap into the fact that the American people are ready for change, he has to provide a vision of where we are going...together.
You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time -- not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.

Let us, each of us, now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

Friday, January 25, 2013

From "Zero Dark Thirty" to "Lincoln"

Last weekend I watched these two movies almost literally back-to-back (Zero Dark Thirty on Saturday and Lincoln on Sunday). I could write pages about the thoughts both movies sparked for me. But for now I'd like to simply comment on one aspect.

As I'm sure you know, Zero Dark Thirty has received a barrage of criticism from liberals. Some of the things being said about it are justified. But watching both movies so close together makes one of the critiques most interesting.

Poutraging about how the movie portrays the hunt for bin Laden allows Glenn Greenwald to use what must be his very favorite word: hagiography - as in his title: Zero Dark Thirty: CIA hagiography, pernicious propaganda (in other situations that is what those of us who support President Obama are engaging in). But Ben Cohen is a bit more rational with the same critique.
...given what the film didn’t cover, it can only be accurately described as a completely uncritical narrative that presented America as the heroic force for good battling evil baddies in the Middle East...

'Zero Dark Thirty’ is a homage to that naive and ultimately hypocritical version of events where Americans are a force for good, and Arabs relentlessly evil terrorists.
He's right, of course. The film was told from an Americentric point of view. And even more than that - it is a story told through the eyes of the CIA.

But now lets think about Lincoln for a moment. Both movies are riveting tales about powerful moments in our country's history. If Zero Dark Thirty is told from the CIA's perspective, Lincoln is told from the president's perspective.  It certainly would have been a completely different movie if told from a confederate point of view, or from the perspective of abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.

But here's the big kicker...what if the story of the passage of the Thirteen Amendment had been told from an African American's perspective? One of the most soul-crushing moments of the movie comes when Rep. Thaddeus Stevens is forced - on the floor of the House of Representatives - to disavow the franchise of African Americans in order to quell the opposition to ending slavery. With the benefit of history, we know that led to the brutality of Jim Crow. Try celebrating that moment from the eyes of African Americans.

The question then you hear a liberal outcry that the movie Lincoln was hagiography of white people? I think we all know the answer to that question. Just as the perspective of brown people was left out of Zero Dark Thirty, the perspective of black people was left out of Lincoln.

Same as its always been.

The truth is that all history is told from the perspective of the story-teller. We need to know that. It doesn't negate the importance of that person's point of view. It simply behooves us to remember that life is always more complex than that.

From "Government is the Problem" to "We the People"

Following President Obama's inaugural address, that clip from an interview with then-candidate Barack Obama in January 2008 is stirring up a lot of conversation from pundits across the ideological spectrum.  The question is whether or not President Obama is changing the trajectory of our politics in the way Reagan did.

Just to give you an idea about how much attention is being paid to that question, here are some of the pundits who have written a response (in no particular order).

E.J. Dionne

Michael Tomasky

Greg Sargent

Charles Krauthammer

Jonathan Bernstein

Matthew Continetti

Philip Klein

Ross Douthat

Paul Waldman


Those are just the ones I found - perhaps there are others. But its clear there is a meme developing here. The question is whether or not it is simply the hive mind type of groupthink we often see from the press or does it have some validity.

The answer of course is that we can't know right now. It is a question that can only be answered by future historians.

What we can know is that it is clearly President Obama's intention to try to change that trajectory. Its the one that can be summed up by the words of Reagan in his first inaugural...that government isn't the solution, it's the problem. As Obama said in the video clip above - Americans were ready for that message in 1980. So much so that the very liberal notion of effective government became anathema and even Bill Clinton affirmed that "the era of big government is over."

And now - as we see the very underpinnings of the social safety net under attack - it is clear that for Republicans the pendulum has swung too far in that direction. Obama saw - back in 2008 - that Americans were ready to challenge that trajectory.

The one fallacy of some of the liberals addressing this question (ie, Greg Sargent) is to think that this notion of changing the trajectory is something new that President Obama initiated in his inaugural address. Xpostfactoid has done great work in digging up previous speeches that indicate he's been at this all along (more here and here).

As the President has done so often, he grounded his inaugural address in our founding and history as a country.
What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.
And then he pointed out that it is only through working together that "we the people" can address the challenges we face today to those self-evident truths.
But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action...Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people... 
For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it... 
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity... 
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity... 
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. 
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.
Our government is the vehicle through which we the people join together to address the challenges to the self-evident truths on which this country was founded. As Americans hear and embrace that message, we set our course going FORWARD.

A few GOP governors learn math

It became obvious during the last election that not only did many Republicans eschew science, they aren't very interested in math either.

That's why I got such a kick out of a headline at the conservative site Real Clear Politics this morning:

Medicaid Math Trumps Ideology for GOP Governors

Just savor that one for a moment. 
Call it the revolt of the West or, alternatively, the triumph of economics over ideology.

Breaking ranks with Republican colleagues, four conservative GOP governors who preside in capitals west of the Mississippi River have decided to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for low-income families and the disabled.
That's what a little pragmatism will do for you :-)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Photos of the Day: Hillary is not impressed

You go girl!!

The Obama legacy starts to take shape

By now we are all familiar with this powerful moment that happened after President Obama was re-elected.

At 4:13:
Your journey is just beginning. You're just starting. And whatever good we do over the next 4 years will pale in comparison to what you guys end up accomplishing for years and years to come.
It kind of reminds you of what he said in his inaugural speech.
We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
The President clearly has faith in the next generation's ability to carry the torch forward.

Today I came across one pretty important way that's happening. President Obama's former field director, Jeremy Bird, is starting an organization called Battleground Texas.
National Democrats are taking steps to create a large-scale independent group aimed at turning traditionally conservative Texas into a prime electoral battleground, crafting a new initiative to identify and mobilize progressive voters in the rapidly-changing state, strategists familiar with the plans told POLITICO.

The organization, dubbed “Battleground Texas,” plans to engage the state’s rapidly growing Latino population, as well as African-American voters and other Democratic-leaning constituencies that have been underrepresented at the ballot box in recent cycles...

At the center of the effort is Jeremy Bird, formerly the national field director for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, who was in Austin last week to confer with local Democrats about the project.

In a statement to POLITICO, Bird said the group would be “a grass-roots organization that will make Texas a battleground state by treating it like one.”
Texas currently has 38 electoral votes - second only to California with 55. And it is on track to have 42 after the 2020 census. In addition, Texas is one of the states that is leading the way on reflecting the demographics of the "new America." In the 2010 census, white people became the minority at 45% of the population.

This week Speaker Boehner joined the group of cry-babies saying that President Obama wants to "annihilate the shove us into the dustbin of history." Boo-hoo. Its true, the President has drawn the battle lines for the next 4 years of governing. But the cry-babies better be keeping their eye on the long game. If folks like Jeremy Bird that were trained in the "Obama method" are successful in turning Texas into a battleground state - the GOP's days are surely numbered.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Paul Ryan's challenge

Yesterday Speaker Boehner said that by April 15th Rep. Paul Ryan will have put forward a House Republican budget that will balance by the year 2023 - in 10 years. This might be just a hoax to get the lunatics in his party to vote today to "suspend" the debt limit until May 18th. But just in case they are actually serious, we should take a look at the challenge Ryan faces.

First of all, its important to note that Ryan's last budget in 2011 didn't get to balance until 2040. So he's got to compress it all down even further. But Ryan and other Republicans have hammed themselves in with things they WON'T do on the budget:
  • they won't raise taxes
  • they won't cut military spending
  • they won't cut Medicare and Social Security for people 55+ (is that something they're still committed to? If so, are they taking entitlement reforms off the table in these negotiations?)
Jonathan Chait gives us the bird's eye view of what that means.
According to Richard Kogan of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, balancing the budget in 2023 will require an estimated $800 billion in savings that year...

So what's left? You have, mainly, programs for the poor and very sick, like Medicaid, child nutrition, unemployment benefits, and so on. Then you have domestic discretionary spending, which is basically all the major functions of government that aren't either defense or writing a check to people — infrastructure, food inspectors, scientific research, and on and on...

...that's the pot of available savings. It's around a trillion and a half dollars in 2023. So, that means House Republicans will have to cut domestic discretionary programs and spending for the poor by about half.
So Ryan is going to have to find $800 billion in savings from those programs out of a total of $1.5 trillion by 2023 - more than half of what is currently projected. Damn "takers!"

Here's what President Obama said last time Ryan tried this.
But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known certainly in my lifetime. In fact, I think it would be fundamentally different than what we’ve known throughout our history.

A 70 percent cut in clean energy. A 25 percent cut in education. A 30 percent cut in transportation. Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year. That’s the proposal. These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget. These aren’t the kinds of cuts that the Fiscal Commission proposed. These are the kinds of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America that I believe in and I think you believe in.

I believe it paints a vision of our future that is deeply pessimistic. It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them...

It’s a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit. Who are these 50 million Americans? Many are somebody’s grandparents -- may be one of yours -- who wouldn’t be able to afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down’s syndrome. Some of these kids with disabilities are -- the disabilities are so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves...

The America I know is generous and compassionate. It’s a land of opportunity and optimism. Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future that we share...

To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect"

Many progressives seem surprised at the progressiveness of President Obama's inaugural speech yesterday. BooMan is surprised at their surprise. I'm with BooMan on that one. It was surely a great speech, but nothing - in terms of ideas - that we haven't heard from him before. Even in terms of style, xpostfactoid documents President Obama's tendency to "to equate liberal priorities with the nation's founding principles and historical development."

But as we've often seen, I suspect that many progressives are just ignoring this part of the speech that came after his enunciation of how "our journey is not complete until..."
We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
Yesterday, I heard echoes of President Lincoln in those words. But Andrew Sullivan heard the pragmatism of Niebuhr and the bottom-up approach of our Community Organizer-in-Chief.
Over the years, I've never let go of that understanding of conservatism's core truth - that all politics ends in some version of failure, that we cannot change and should not want to change the whole world over night, that constant failure is integral to human life and action - and the key spur to fleeting success. But I've also come to accept and more firmly believe that the flip-side to that must never be cynicism or retreat or nihilism. It must be to play our part where we can to fight injustice, knowing that our achievement will be partial, knowing that as soon as we have solved problems, new ones will replace them, and knowing that the process never ends. In fact, the true hero is the one who acts even in the knowledge of inevitable failure, who puts the realizable good before the unrealizable perfect. Yes, over the last six years, Obama has helped me understand his method of community organization, of leading from behind. And it is as conservative in its understanding of how society really changes from below as it is liberal in its refusal to relent against injustice.
He's certainly describing a kind of conservatism that hasn't been on display with our current crop of Republicans. But I suspect that in a more perfect world, conservatism would be about a measured approach to change.

In that way we can understand President Obama's pragmatism...high ideals matched with an awareness of the ongoing nature of the struggle.

I've mentioned before that it was when I read The Audacity of Hope that I realized how President Obama had assessed the recent history of liberalism in this country. He saw that the backlash against the liberalism of the 60's led to the Reagan revolution and a general rejection of our ideals (we even had to change the name to "progressive" because "liberal" became so vilified) by the majority of people. One of the ways Obama set his sights on being a transformational president was to reverse that trend. As he speaks to the liberalism that is not only embedded in our history but the hearts and minds of most Americans, he's sparking that very transformation.

I suspect that once the rhetoric of ideals that we heard articulated yesterday returns to the imperfect world of actual governing, today's progressives will resume their disappointment. Thus has it always been.

The truth is, they are not this president's audience. Its the rest of the country he's busy transforming.

Monday, January 21, 2013


I hate to get so mundane on such a wonderful day, but I have a quick announcement to make.

This site has been getting overwhelmed with spam lately. The blogger filter system catches some of it - but not all. Anyway, its a pain in the neck.

So I've changed the comment setting to require a word verification system. It doesn't look like it comes into play if you sign in with an existing account. But please let me know via email (in the "Contact" tab at the top) if you have trouble.

I'm hoping this will discourage the spam-a-lots. I'll turn it off if it presents a problem though.

Thanks for understanding.

And just to keep this from being a total bore, here's a little eye candy.

Photo of the Day: Big Sis

There were all kinds of gorgeous images from today's ceremonies. But none is more beautiful to me than this one.

Thanks Chipsticks!

"Our journey is not complete until..."

From President Obama's inaugural speech:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. 
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  
For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. 
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law -- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. 
Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.  
Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity -- until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. 
Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

That is our generation’s task -- to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.

President Obama: Ending perpetual war

From President Obama's inaugural speech:
A decade of war is now ending...

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war...But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends -- and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.
The talking heads I've heard comment on this part of the speech have assumed that he was talking about Iran. But my take is that he was actually talking about ending the perpetual war in which we are currently engaged.

President Obama channels Abraham Lincoln

Last night I finally watched the movie Lincoln (great timing, huh). What struck me was not only the gravity of the moment he faced. He also had to battle the racists on his right and the purity demands of those on his left in order to help the country take the one insufficient and yet important step forward of getting the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed.

In hindsight it was so inadequate...having to disavow the franchise of African Americans in order to end slavery. Painful to watch - especially knowing all the suffering that inadequacy foretold.

We'll never know if we would have gotten to where we are today if President Lincoln hadn't been willing to help us take that one step forward. It meant having faith in future generations to take the next steps.

That's exactly what President Obama said today.
We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

I am - quite frankly - speechless

It wasn't just President Barack Hussein Obama's  speech - as marvelous as that was.

It was the historical significance of Myrlie Evers-Williams' invocation.

It was the diversity and power of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

It was the simple beauty of James Taylor's rendition of America the Beautiful.

It was the "you've come a long way baby" of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor giving the oath of office to Vice President Joe Biden.

It was the first openly gay Latino inaugural poet Richard Blanco talking about who we are...together.

It was the still-awkward girl from Texas - Kelly Clarkson - singing My Country Tis of Thee.

It was the benediction by Dr. Luis Leon with a closing in Spanish.

And it was Beyonce rocking the house with her rendition of the National Anthem.

Part of me was in tears the whole time as I saw the country of our collective dreams and aspirations on that stage. The other part of me knew that the dying beast of white male heterosexual patriarchy would be raging at the very "in your face" representation of what they so desperately fear.

Whether you embrace it or fear it - WELCOME TO AMERICA!

Perfecting Our Union

History will once again unfold before our eyes today. As we wait for the ceremonies, I can't think help but think of my favorite part of the celebration four years ago.

I'm pretty sure that many people watching weren't aware of the origin of Rev. Lowery's words at the beginning. But some were. They knew that he was marking that historic moment for the significant role it played in our history.

That history moves forward today as we continue the work of perfecting our union.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Look of Love

For quite a while now I've been struck by the way President Obama looks at Michelle.
The look of love is in your eyes
A look your smile can't disguise
The look of love is saying so much more than just words could ever say
And what my heart has heard, well it takes my breath away
I'm not sure he could hide it if he wanted to. But the fact is that every now and then we are invited to share in the intimacy of their deep passion and partnership.

Even as an outsider looking in - sometimes it takes my breath away.

The many faces of strength

In the poem For Strong Women, Marge Piercy describes strength this way:
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
This is a different kind of strength than we are used to hearing about in our patriarchal culture. But in my experience, when I've seen both women and men demonstrating true strength (as opposed to macho bluster), its been the type Piercy is referring to.

Yesterday, when talking about this kind of strength, I ended with a song. In response, @AlisaJass tweeted to me that South African Singer Lira will be singing that very song for President Obama at the Ambassadors Inaugural Ball tomorrow night. Now there's a serendipitous moment for you!

All that inspired me to make this video as my celebration of the 2nd inauguration of President Obama. Before you watch it, I'd like to say that all of the pictures I chose represent - to me - the kind of strength I'm talking about. I purposefully avoided putting them in any kind of order or category because I think that better represents the many faces of strength.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Republicans take a stab at

News coming out of the House Republican retreat sounds like they might have learned a thing or two about pragmatism.
“As Ryan very clearly articulated, we're the minority in Washington, [so] how do you impact real change when you only have the House and you don't have the Senate or presidency? It's pretty hard,” the source conceded.

With Ryan’s conservative cache, leaders laid out a somber situation to manage expectations. That entailed telling rank-and-file Republicans no to “promise something you can't deliver on,” the source said.
They pretty much blew all that to shreds with their latest nonsense about withholding Congress' pay if they don't pass a budget - raising questions about whether or not that is Constitutional.

But here's the really amusing part. In their statements about all this, Republicans have focused on the need for the Senate to pass a budget. But under their proposal, the House will have to pass one too. Trouble is...they can't agree on one.
But what has emerged from the House GOP retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia is that Republicans did not have an entitlement-cutting proposal to present to Obama in debt-ceiling talks, had the president ever agreed to negotiate with them. The talk about big entitlement cuts, at least in connection with a debt-ceiling agreement, was mostly talk...

As for the actions on entitlements that might have been part of GOP demands for a debt-ceiling deal, says one participant in the Williamsburg meeting: “Long term, those have to be figured out. But my sense of that is that it is not going to happen in ten days. This is complex, important.”
So the Republicans are demanding government spending cuts that can only be accomplished by trashing entitlements. But they don't have a f*cking clue about how to do that, wouldn't be able to agree on a plan if they tried, and would get killed in public opinion for the effort.  How do you even think about pulling "something you can deliver on" out of that mess?

Let me give you a clue Mr. can't. Pragmatic fail.

The air is thick with history

150 years ago

50 years ago

1 year ago

While so much has changed, some things are still the same - bigots will be bigots (yeah, I'm looking at you Rush).

But today I'm thinking of a small way that history is repeating itself - this time with a powerful dose of courage. Let me back up for a minute and tell the story.

From all the news coverage of Newtown, there is one moment that devastated me more than any other. It was reading about the news conference of the coroner. I hesitate to write about it even now because it was so painful. We are all programmed to avoid that kind of thing. But the crux of it was that there were little babies with dozens (dozens????) of bullet holes. I imagine that is still what keeps those first responders who saw it awake at night.

Should we shield ourselves from that nightmare? I'll tell you one person who would likely say "no." That would be a woman named Mamie Till. She had the courage to not only face what a murderous gang had done to her son 58 years ago. She also demanded that the world see it as well.

Following in Mamie's footsteps today is Veronique Pozner - mother of Noah Pozner, who was one of the victims at Newtown.  
Veronique told me that Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy visited her in the funeral home, and she brought him to see Noah’s open casket. I asked her why it was important for her and for the governor to see Noah’s body. “I needed it to have a face for him,” she said. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.”

Veronique continued on in this vein for a few minutes. But I still felt that I didn’t understand why she, as a mother, chose to see Noah’s body, so I asked her again: Why, for her? “I owed it to him as his mother, the good, the bad, the ugly,” she said. “It is not up to me to say I am only going to look at you and deal with you when you are alive, that I am going to block out the reality of what you look like when you are dead. And as a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother. I had to bear it. I had to do it.” Several family members also chose to view Noah’s body.

Then, unprompted by me, Veronique described what she saw: “We all saw how beautiful he was. He had thick, shiny hair, beautiful long eyelashes that rested on his cheeks. He looked like he was sleeping. But the reality of it was under the cloth he had covering his mouth there was no mouth left. His jaw was blown away. I just want people to know the ugliness of it so we don’t talk about it abstractly, like these little angels just went to heaven. No. They were butchered. They were brutalized. And that is what haunts me at night.”
Many have suggested that it was Mamie's courage to look her son's brutalization in the eye - and ask others to see it as well - that led to the Civil Rights Movement. That is surely a request that requires us to tread lightly. Its no moment for exploitation.

But what happened to these children SHOULD haunt us at night...until we get something done to prevent it from happening again. Now is the time.

Something inside so strong

This week I started reading Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's book My Beloved World. She summarizes a big part of her motivation to write the book this way.
There are uses to adversity, and they don't reveal themselves until tested. Whether it's serious illness, financial hardship, or the simple constraint of parents who speak limited English, difficulty can tap unsuspected strengths. It doesn't always, of course: I've seen life beat people down until they can't get up. But I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with.
It reminded me of a magnificent article by Eric Wattree titled Why I Love Being Black (h/t to Extreme Liberal for tweeting a link). I'm only going to quote a bit of it here. But I hope that everyone will take a few minutes and go read the whole thing.
I absolutely LOVE being Black - and I'm not just saying that because it's expected of me. While I have the ultimate respect for the unique character of every race and ethnicity, if I'm reincarnated a thousand times, I want to come back Black each and every one of them.

Being Black in America gives one an education and perspective on life that you can't get anywhere else. That's not widely recognized, because public attention is often focused on the most dysfunctional in the Black community. But contrary to popular belief, that might not be an altogether bad thing, because it allows the excellence within the Black community time to incubate, untainted by the public eye. That's what allowed Barack Obama to explode upon the world stage as a fully developed powerhouse, and there are hordes of others just like him who are currently incubating in Black cocoons in suburbs and inner cities all over America...

So this is an exciting time for Black people, because we recognize that the world is about to discover what we already know - that there is nothing in the human experience more impressive than watching the development of a Black child, who's been dragged through the pits of Hell and the brutal experience of “American Exceptionalism,” then emerge on the other side as a well adjusted, uniquely eclectic, resolute, and learned product of his or her environment.

These are society's unsung heroes, and there are many more to come. They've been tested by fire, and they've prevailed. By the time they've reached thirty, they've faced down more adversity than the average American at eighty. So simply having survived America unscathed, by definition, makes them special.

So when I come into contact with the "strivers" in the Black community, I may not say it, but my heart whispers, "Thank you for your service." Because, in my heart, I know that these are the people who have been selected by nature, and circumstance, to blaze the trail of a new reality and move America forward - and considering America's history, these young people represent the very height of irony. But as the old folks used to say, "God works in mysterious ways."
When I first read Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father, he had just been elected as the U.S. Senator from Illinois. I remember thinking that the value in the book was that it was one young man's unique story of what it means to grow up in America as a black man. It's not every young black man's story, but it pointed out the struggle. And as Wattree suggests, its about how he emerged on the other side as the amazing leader we all see today.

Wattree's article also hits on something I've seen in my own personal life. At the non-profit where I work we tend to hire young people like he's describing. And I see in them every day those who, in smaller ways, are blazing the trail of a new reality and moving America forward.

So I'll simply suggest that I agree with Justice Sotomayor and Mr. Wattree...there are hordes or others just like them currently incubating in the Black/Brown cocoons in suburbs and inner cities all over America. That's exactly what scares the nativists racists we're hearing from so much these days. And its also exactly what gives me hope for our future...there's something inside so strong.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Obama's True Legacy

Other than the fact that the Republicans totally caved on the debt ceiling fight, the really big news of the day is the launch of Organizing for Action. I find it fascinating that it is Michelle Obama that made the announcement.

But the fact that this is happening should come as no surprise to anyone who has actually been listening to the President. Last fall I suggested that we should all be prepared to keep working after the election was over. President Obama said it loud and clear...

To Michael Scherer:
But for me to get those accomplished, I do think I’m going to need to bring in the voices of the American people much more systematically, much more regularly.

Finding the right mechanisms to do that is something that we’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about. Obviously, the Internet and the digital age helps. We’ve been able to do that on our campaign. We now need to translate that more to how our government works. But I think the American people are ready for it.
In his speech at the Democratic Convention with its focus on citizenship:
But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations...

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.
To Michael Lewis:
It’s not a fear-versus-a-nice-guy approach that is the choice. The question is: How do you shape public opinion and frame an issue so that it’s hard for the opposition to say no.
At a Univision forum:
I think that I’ve learned some lessons over the last four years, and the most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside. That’s how I got elected, and that’s how the big accomplishments like health care got done, was because we mobilized the American people to speak out. That’s how we were able to cut taxes for middle-class families.

So something that I’d really like to concentrate on in my second term is being in a much more constant conversation with the American people so that they can put pressure on Congress to help move some of these issues forward.
Now is the time.

None of us want to think about the day 4 years from now when President Obama's second term is over. But as our Community Organizer-in-Chief, this is likely to be his true legacy.

Now its David Brooks' turn to feel the ruthlessness

Over the last couple of weeks, we've watched the "ruthless" part of conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy dawn on people like Charles Krauthammer and Michael Gerson. Now its David Brooks' turn. He has a new name for it..."Kill the Wounded."
It’s more likely that today’s majority party is going to adopt a different strategy, which you might call Kill the Wounded. It’s more likely that today’s Democrats are going to tell themselves something like this:

“We live at a unique moment. Our opponents, the Republicans, are divided, confused and bleeding. This is not the time to allow them to rebuild their reputation with a series of modest accomplishments. This is the time to kick them when they are down, to win back the House and end the current version of the Republican Party.

“First, we change the narrative. The president ran in 2008 against Washington dysfunction, casting blame on both parties. Over the years, he has migrated to a different narrative: The Republicans are crazy. Washington could be working fine, but the Republicans are crazy...

“Then, wedge issues. The president should propose no new measures that might unite Republicans, the way health care did in the first term. Instead, he should raise a series of wedge issues meant to divide Southerners from Midwesterners, the Tea Party/Talk Radio base from the less ideological corporate and managerial class...

“Then he could invite a series of confrontations with Republicans over things like the debt ceiling — make them look like wackos willing to endanger the entire global economy. Along the way, he could highlight women’s issues, social mobility issues (student loans, community college funding) and pick fights on compassion issues, (hurricane relief) — promoting any small, popular spending programs that Republicans will oppose.
If you're not laughing your ass off by now, you clearly haven't been paying attention (or more likely - you're a Republican that bought into teh crazy).

First of all, its high time someone like Brooks admitted that the faction of the Republican Party that is getting "killed" these days IS CRAZY. For the good of the country, someone needs to kill it. And if the Republicans aren't willing to do that - Democrats have an obligation to help that along.

Secondly..."wedge issues." Oh my. Is Brooks really implying that it would be a good idea for the President to introduce something that "might unite the Republicans, the way health care did?" This is truly Orwellian logic, isn't it? The idea is that the President should be more partisan because it would unite his opposition. Those damn wedge issues are just WAY too post-partisan and pragmatic. Gosh darn-it - they split the sane Republicans from teh crazy. How ruthless is that?!

Finally, one might ask Brooks a simple question: Who is it that invited the crazy idea of a confrontation over the debt ceiling? It certainly wasn't President Obama.

But gosh darn him again...the President is really rubbing it in when he goes to bat for women and the low/middle class and hurricane relief. How dare he?

For four years now, President Obama has stood up for sanity as teh crazy went nuts. The right thought they were winning and many on the left called him naive for not getting crazy back. No matter how hard either side egged him on - the man maintained his pragmatism.

Now the ruthless side of that strategy is leaving folks like Brooks dissembling before our very eyes.

Please excuse me while I enjoy the moment.

Bending the arc towards sanity

Every now and then someone puts words to not only our own heart's ambitions but to the wisdom our souls have gathered over time. See if you don't agree that Adam Gopnik has done just that in talking about President Obama's remarks this week on gun violence.
In the end, the President didn’t speak from the bully pulpit. He didn’t even speak from an elevated post. He just spoke from the mind, and from the heart, and he raised spirits still haunted by the image of twenty small, terrified children, heaped up in a pile of death, whose last breaths were spent in a state of terror because a madman got his hands on a military weapon that no one in a free country should ever be allowed to hold. Good and great causes don’t advance without resistance. First the thing is impossible, then improbable, then unsatisfactorily achieved, then quietly improved, until one day it is actual and uncontroversial. So it was with putting military weapons into the hands of openly homosexual soldiers, and so it shall be with taking military weapons out of the hands of crazy people. It starts off impossible and it ends up done. The arc of the universe may be long, but the advance of common sense actually can take place very quickly. And if it bends toward justice, or simple sanity, it is because people bend it. What we are seeing may be the first signs of a nation deciding, at last, to bend back.
All I can say in response is: Now is the time.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hoist on their own petard

I must say that I'm having a bit of fun watching the Republicans get hoist on their own petard. For example, there's this story from Ashley Parker about the "vote no/hope yes caucus."
These are the small but significant number of Republican representatives who, on the recent legislation to head off the broad tax increases and spending cuts mandated by the so-called fiscal cliff, voted no while privately hoping — and at times even lobbying — in favor of the bill’s passage, given the potential harmful economic consequences otherwise.
It would be reasonable to wonder why these representatives would vote no on a bill they secretly hoped would pass. Here's your answer:
Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and once the top spokesman for the former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert, a Republican, described the phenomenon thusly: “These are people who are political realists, they’re political pragmatists who want to see progress made in Washington, but are politically constrained from making compromises because they will be challenged in the primary.”
That's what happens when you turn your party over to extremist lunatics, folks. Back in 2009 Republicans were grinning like cheshire cats when the loonies showed up at town hall meetings to decry the fact that the Kenyan Muslim was giving us socialized health care. They fanned the flames and rode that horse all the way to sweeping victories in the 2010 midterms.

Now that crazy chicken is coming home to roost. And they're not going to let them get away with being reasonable.

I have zero advice for ya fellas. You brought this one on yourselves and you're going to have to figure a way out on your own too.

Meanwhile, its quite a hoot thinking about Paul Ryan (yes, THAT Paul Ryan) having to talk the lunatics down.
After meeting with members of the GOP conference at the party’s retreat in Williamsburg on Thursday, VA, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP’s top budget guy, told reporters, in so many words, that they’re trying to talk their members off a ledge... 
“[W]e aspire to give the country a very specific and clear vision about what we think is the right way to go on the major, big issue of the time,” Ryan said. “We have to at the same time recognize the divided government moment we have and the fiscal deadlines that are approaching — what those involve and then how we’re going to proceed forward.”
We pragmatic progressives have been patiently waiting for this moment because we're the ones that saw it coming as the end product of the Obama method. I hate to say I told you so - but I told you so :-)


Via Politico:
House Republicans heard it loud and clear Wednesday: They are unpopular and need to change their ways.

Speaker John Boehner’s House Republican Conference is more disliked now than when it took the majority two years ago, lawmakers and aides here found out. After taking a bruising in the 2012 elections, the Republican Party needs an image makeover and the GOP must learn to relate better to voters.

That was the message delivered by the party’s most trusted pollsters during the first day of the House GOP’s retreat at the posh Kingsmill Resort on the edge of this colonial town, where the lobbyist-funded Congressional Institute is putting on the annual confab....

Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will host two sessions: one that will serve as a strategy session for the first legislative quarter, which will be dominated by the debates over the debt ceiling, government funding and automatic cuts to federal spending. The other will be a broader discussion about the “113th Congress and beyond.”
So how's that total obstruction thing you guys came up with last time working out for ya? When even your favorite polling outfit says that 63% of GOP voters think Congressional Republicans are out of touch, not too well I'd say.

Here's the DCCC having a little fun with that.

Keeping it real

President Obama has often lamented the bubble that tends to surround him in the White House. He does lots of things - both rewarding and painful - to keep in touch with the lives of people he went there to fight reading letters from ordinary Americans every night and visiting privately with the families of the children lost in Newtown.

But when getting something done is especially important to him - he takes all that one more step. Remember Natoma Canfield?

That's her on the right meeting with the President this past December. In 2010 she wrote him a letter about losing her health insurance during her battle with cancer. After the Supreme Court ruled on Obamacare, President Obama said he had carried her letter with him every day during the fight over health care reform. Now it hangs on a wall in the West Wing.

Yesterday at the end of his remarks about gun violence, President Obama said this:
When I visited Newtown last month, I spent some private time with many of the families who lost their children that day. And one was the family of Grace McDonald. Grace’s parents are here. Grace was seven years old when she was struck down -- just a gorgeous, caring, joyful little girl. I’m told she loved pink. She loved the beach. She dreamed of becoming a painter.

And so just before I left, Chris, her father, gave me one of her paintings, and I hung it in my private study just off the Oval Office. And every time I look at that painting, I think about Grace. And I think about the life that she lived and the life that lay ahead of her, and most of all, I think about how, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now -- for Grace. For the 25 other innocent children and devoted educators who had so much left to give. For the men and women in big cities and small towns who fall victim to senseless violence each and every day. For all the Americans who are counting on us to keep them safe from harm. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s do the right thing for them, and for this country that we love so much.
In this battle, it will be Grace who will be helping him keep it real.

I'd suggest we all join him in remembering Grace - and all the others who've been lost. Now is the time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

And now we're down to the racism

I've been thinking about what Peggy Noonan said on This Week ever since I saw the clip a few days ago.

You have to ask yourself what is the root of this anxiety/fear Noonan is talking about in all her unctuousness. Paul Krugman nailed it when he said that the reality of life in America is that its safer than its been in decades. So where is the fear coming from?

About the same time this discussion was happening, Colin Powell was answering that question.

America is changing. The "majority" will soon be a "minority." And not only that...the leader of the free world is an African American.

I have long thought that we are passing through a milestone in this country's long march towards "perfecting our union." History might not judge it as significant as the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement, but it represents a critical stage in our development. A black man is no longer simply leading African Americans, he's leading the country. Moving from a stage where white people "granted" African Americans their freedom from slavery or their civil rights, we now in an era where white people are required to look black people in the eye with respect and equality - even be led by one. That's not going down real well for some folks.

Yesterday I ran across one of the most vile things I've ever seen on the internet. Its a Facebook page titled Christians Against Obama's Re-election (click through at your own risk). Sure its filled with all kinds of racist pot-shots at the President of the United States. But the main content appears to be anti-immigrant and pro-gun. This is from people who want to call themselves "Christian."
That's what the beast looks like in its death throes, folks. 

I don't for a minute think that people like that represent the majority of this country. As a matter of fact, I think they're even a smaller group than the one faced by Martin Luther King, Jr. As Ta-Nehisi Coates suggested, MLK stood his ground at the time - just as President Obama is doing today - with a kind of "good crazy."
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.
As our history shows us, this small group of fearful racists can do a lot of damage. We're seeing some of that unfold as the President begins to discuss a very courageous agenda on gun control today. So what should our response be to all of that? To have his back like we've never done before and to continue to believe in "good crazy."

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