Sunday, March 31, 2013

My rules

Some of you may not have noticed, but I've recently ticked off a few people by deleting their comments.

Its true that I've gotten quite a bit more picky about what kinds of comments I'll let stand. I figure its my place so I get to make that call. If you don't like it - tough shit.

Perhaps it would also be helpful if I explained some of my thoughts about all that. I won't claim to be consistent, but here are a couple of general themes that have surfaced so far:
  1. I've recently set the controls so that if you comment on a post that's more than a day old, it will go into moderation. That's because the spammers tend to invade older posts. If there's a productive conversation going on in an older post I'll try to pay attention and approve comments as they come in. But generally I don't pay much attention to what's in moderation. So you're likely to stay there.
  2. If you come here to engage in dialogue - then I welcome dissenting opinions. But if you are simply trying to distract, annoy and/or insult, your comment will be deleted. And yeah, I get to make the call on what's distracting, annoying and/or insulting. 
The truth is - I don't get a ton of comments on this blog. But I do put a lot of time and energy into this place and get a fair amount of visitors. I figure that the blog is a reflection of the kind of message I want to put out into the world - so I'm not going to let others define what that message will be. 

Over the last couple of years I've learned a lot from interactions I've had and/or witnessed in the comments here. If you have something to add or want to challenge something I've written, I am more than eager to hear about it. But if you can't do that without distracting or insulting, then don't waste your time - or mine. I'm here to engage...not babysit and/or do battle with opponents.

Grace and beauty under fire

Over the last 4 years I've tried to chronicle the achievements of this historic presidency. But there are times that I also need to remind myself that this is the family that currently occupies the White House.

Being "the first" brings its own kind of special pressure. But I have to marvel at how beautiful and graceful they've all managed to be no matter what kind of hate/vitriol is thrown their way.

We know that no family is perfect. And yet these four people have had to live their lives as close to perfection as possible because THE MINUTE they lose their cool or make a mistake it will be magnified millions-fold.

In the long-term scheme of things we must never forget that - aside from all of his many accomplishments - the one that President Obama is pulling off along with Michelle, Malia and Sasha might just be one of the most significant.

What happens when Republicans don't have fiscal issues to talk about

Recently I read something (can't remember where now) about the fact that Republicans have to talk about the debt/deficit because when they go off that script, all hell breaks lose for them.

As I was catching up on the news this morning, I realized how true that is.

For example:

Republicans are tripping over each other lately to distance themselves from Rep. Don Young's comments about "wetbacks."

And then there's Dave Agema, Republican National Committee Member, who refused to backtrack on his hateful anti-gay Facebook posting.

There's also the problem with rising conservative star Dr. Ben Carson suggesting that gay marriage is some kind of slippery slope to bestiality.

In general, the lunatics are in quite a tither. Apparently the traditionalists are freaked out that the new Pope washed the feet of a couple of young women and Rush Limbaugh says that the fact that Americans aren't copasetic with what Dr. Carson said means that conservatives have lost the country.

But for these folks nothing - and I mean NOTHING - signals the end of the world as we know it more than the fact that the totally extremist company Google chose to honor Cesar Chavez on Easter (this from the same folks who thought it was cool to celebrate Easter with a retrospective on Playboy bunnies).

What more evidence do you need that the conservative movement is a beast lashing out in its final death throes? Obviously liberals are winning the argument on immigration reform, marriage equality, and gun reform. Perhaps conservatives would be better off going back to talking about taking away granny's Medicare and Social Security ;-)

It's a Beautiful Morning

Up here in the tundra we still have crusty old snow on the ground and nothing green has even begun to bud yet. But much of the talk this week was about the fact that spring is definitely in the air.

Easter always means that the long night of winter is coming to an end and...its a beautiful morning!

In other words - what a day for a daydream.

So Happy Keester everybody ;-)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Privacy is the era of Facebook

Here's an interesting story: reports that the New York Police Department is using facial recognition technology to match photos of suspects with images in online databases like Facebook and Instagram.
In what might seem to be a totally unrelated story, you have Glenn Greenwald trying to scare the shit out of people because their right to privacy is about to be obliterated due to surveillance drones.
In sum, surveillance drones enable a pervasive, stealth and constantly hovering Surveillance State that is now well beyond the technological and financial abilities of law enforcement agencies.
I ran across the article by Al Giordano that I used in the post below because I was looking for something he said about all this in Facebook, Privacy, and The New Exhibitionism.
The democratization of public or semi-public exhibitionism has thrown traditional concerns about “personal privacy” out the window. Who needs the CIA anymore when everybody is out there blurting the kinds of secrets it used to take surveillance to discover? Privacy didn’t disappear because Big Brother took it away. We gave it away! Freely! It fell aside to a greater impulse: the need to expose ourselves in public, to have an audience, and to keep it.

There are still, in this day and age, people who are truly clandestine, who really do dangerous and exciting or felonious things out there in the real world. Most of them are either very poor or very rich and therefore are "off the grid" by circumstance or by fortress. But typically, they are not on Facebook. Or, if they are, they kept that stuff carefully cloaked all along, much in the way that a fugitive from justice will never run a red light or break the speed limit.

The rest of us might yearn for days gone by when privacy existed, but the impulse to expose ourselves has simply proved a stronger human instinct. To every man and woman, a stage, and an audience: Welcome to the New Exhibitionism!
Perhaps its just me, but I find that Giordano is raising much more pertinent questions related to the times we actually live in. In other words, I'm not so sure that privacy means the same thing to people today that it did in the past. If that's the case, then we should be having a conversation about privacy rights in the context of what it means today.

The same thing can be said about what it means to have a discussion about war powers in an age of terrorism and insurgencies rather than world wars.

This is exactly why I miss Al Giordano's commentary on U.S. politics so much. Even though he trumps many of the poutragers in age (or perhaps because of it), he seems to always grasp the zeitgeist of our times so much better than they do.

Al Giordano warns us about becoming legal fundamentalists

My "break-up" with the group of emo's I used to hang out with online came back in 2008 when I decided not to join their crusade on insisting that newly appointed Attorney General Eric Holder prosecute Bush/Cheney for torture. Its not that I would have been against such a move by Holder. It was that I had serious questions about its efficacy as well as the idea of making it a priority.

Besides which, I've spent the last 25 years of my professional career working on the outskirts of our criminal justice system and I have lots of questions about what the basic concept of "justice" means.

Those questions have surfaced once again in the context of national politics as I see so many liberals joining on the bandwagon of the need to prosecute the big banks for their activities leading up to the great recession. I'm not feeling like joining up on that one either.

And so it was interesting today to find an old column by Al Giordano that addressed some of those concerns back in the day when the topic was about Bush/Cheney and torture.
The suggestion that the way to make sure torture doesn’t happen in the future is to prosecute it is not reality based. Did the prosecution of so many Nixon era presidential appointees prevent future ones from violating the Constitution? Not at all. Did the 1989 indictment on sixteen felony counts of Colonel Oliver North for crimes in the Iran-Contra drugs-for-arms scandal end the complicity of US agencies and agents in the cocaine trade? Nine years of investigative reporting by this newspaper have demonstrated otherwise...

“The Law” is an ass. And I say that as one who generally likes how the US court system works, compared to those in other lands, when it works...

In 2003, at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, we held a debate and discussion that is relevant to the current debate over torture-related matters titled “What Is Democracy?” Two very articulate advocates offered very different visions. One offered the traditional liberal view: that democracy is something that comes from a document (for example, the Constitution) and is codified by law, and that if society follows those laws, a kind of utopia ensues. Another said we shouldn’t kid ourselves, that democracy is a lot messier than that: that democracy requires a lot of pushing and shoving and what is ethical and right in one circumstance isn’t necessarily so in another. Social movements and governments alike engage in a little duplicity now and then, and it's not always "wrong" in every single case. Sometimes it's wrong not to bend the rules a bit. This is certainly true, she noted, of the great social movements that have improved every democracy that they’ve touched. My students and I were far more persuaded by the latter definition of democracy because we had already been out there accompanying such social movements across the hemisphere and had lived the rough and tumble realities that the speaker described...

What I see and hear in the words of those who are upset and calling for such prosecutions are that they are mainly adherents to that first definition of “democracy”: essentially, a Fundamentalist view of “The Law.” And it frightens me, somewhat, to think what society would be like if they ever got their way (which they won’t, because human beings are not automatons, so I’m not really that concerned). There are times when “The Law” is dressed up in liberal language in a way that masquerades the bloodlust behind witch hunts and impulses to scapegoat individuals for crimes or taboos that, in a democracy, we’re all responsible for having enabled.

The same tendencies that have always placed me squarely against McCarthyism and Red Scares put me on the opposite side of some liberal and progressive colleagues today when they demand the prosecution of Bush, or of Cheney, or of some of their underlings...

In the end, preventing torture is a political struggle and also a power struggle, so much more than a matter of "The Law." It’s about changing society and its presumptions, and changing institutions, like the military and police agencies, where the culture is so prone to that kind of abuse...

The real task at hand is to evolve American society – and with it, military and law enforcement culture - to change in ways that “The Law” will never be able to touch. That’s what I observe that the President is, step by step, doing. And the legal fundamentalists who fail to consider that larger context are going to continue to be upset, again and again, until they open their eyes to the bigger chess game going on between the new President and the institutions of defense and law enforcement, the only steps that can ever accomplish a permanent ban on torture and more.
In my mind - all of that holds true when we talk about prosecution of the big banks. If it could be done in a way that doesn't set off another great recession, I wouldn't necessarily be against it. But I too worry about liberal bloodlust for witch hunts and how that leads to a complacency about our own responsibilities for the step-by-step process that is really required for change.

Why public opinion - as demonstrated by issue polls - isn't enough

Anyone who read here in the lead-up to the 2012 election knows that I couldn't seem to stop myself from diving into the polling numbers. As it turned out - folks like Nate Silver did pretty well with his formulas in predicting the outcome.

But I've learned to have much less interest in polling on issues (as opposed to elections). Some of that is because polls about how Americans respond nationally to issues doesn't really seem to matter. Even in the election polls, the more accurate read was on the state polls. Politicians don't necessarily care what a majority of the people in the country say about an issue. They care what their constituents think. And even more narrowly than that - many Republicans care mostly about what primary voters in their districts/states think.

Jonathan Chait is even more cynical about it all than I am though.
Actually, since background checks command 90 percent in the polls but lack support from Republicans in Congress, pretty clearly millions of voices calling for change are less powerful than holding a House majority. They're also less powerful than a Senate majority. Or even 41 Senators, who can stop anything they want.
This is the current dilemma that has most of us scratching our can Republicans hope to survive when 90% of the people disagree with their position? It seems to indicate that even those who might face a primary challenge in a deeply red district would be covered in voting for background checks.

Jonathan Bernstein breaks down why that's not the case.
"Public opinion" is barely real; most of the time, on most issues, change the wording of the question and you'll get entirely different answers. At best, "public opinion" as such is passive. And in politics, passive doesn't get results.

Action works.
I say all this to point out that our work is not over when we can simply point to an issue poll and say that the public agrees with us.

Its also interesting to note that this conversation is likely taking place precisely because we have a Community Organizer-in-Chief in the White House right now who - through vehicles like OFA - are bringing the voice of the people to bear on these issues. We're now at the stage where we're honing in on the particulars of how that can happen.

The irony of giving the white guy credit for diversity

Perhaps you've seen this chart that Media Matters put together on the gender/ethnic diversity in Sunday talk shows. The far right column represents a tally of the guests who appeared on MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes.

That's pretty impressive work for Chris and its important to recognize that it didn't just happen naturally...he had to work at it.

But the irony is that Chris is followed on MSNBC on Sunday by - wait for it - a black woman named Melissa Harris-Perry. Her guest line-up wasn't included in the tally (hence, the irony), but based on what I've seen of her show, she'd even knock Chris Hayes' record out of the park.

I can't help but ask myself questions about why Media Matters didn't look at the demographics of Melissa's show. Is it because she's simply expected - as a black woman - to have more diversity on her show but when white men do it there's something to notice? Is it because a show hosted by a black woman doesn't matter in the big scheme of things? Is it because her show doesn't get the ratings that the other one's do? Could that be because fewer people watch shows about topics related to women and people of color with guests that can best discuss those topics?

I don't know the answers to those questions. But it strikes me that no matter what the reason, this is a pretty good example of the domination of white male thinking in our culture.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

As American as apple pie

Can Rand Paul succeed where his father failed?

We all know that the Republican Party is in its death throes. Even its chairman is doing a post-2012 autopsy to try to come up with a way for the party to remake itself. In the meantime, it seems as though Republican legislators are content to continue their obstruction while they scramble to find a coherent platform and/or come up with a leader to take the reins.

Into that breech has stepped Senator Rand Paul. While the neocons like Senators McCain and Graham are sidelined, he is clearly trying to make a case for his brand of libertarianism as the alternative that might save the Republican Party.

Of course Paul's challenge is how to grow a constituency large enough to take on the Democratic coalition that appears to be positioned for national prominence in the years ahead. Knowing that what Republicans have done in the past with things like their appeals to so-called "Reagan Democrats" (ie, Southern Strategy) won't work, Paul is taking a different approach.

Like his dad, Senator Paul is working on his appeal to the left (ie, emo) flank of the Democratic coalition. That's what his 13-hour filibuster about drones accomplished followed almost immediately with his talk about reforming mandatory minimums for drug offenses.

While I think Paul's filibuster was a ridiculous distraction from the conversation we should be having, I'd join him if his efforts to reform the mandatory minimums.

But if he thinks those kinds of positions give him an edge in attracting liberal support for a presidential run, its high time we took a look at the whole package he's offering. I'll admit that there is a problem with clarity in doing so because he seems to be morphing on many of his positions as we speak. I don't trust it though. When those changes come just as he is trying to position himself for a run at the 2016 nomination, they are highly suspect.

For example, it seems that all of the sudden, Sen. Paul supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. He just doesn't want to call it that (upsets the tea party bigots, you know). But as Adam Serwer points out, that transformation comes on the heels of being a believer in the "Amero" conspiracy (the secret plan to merge Canada, the United States, and Mexico and create a "borderless mass continent" under a single currency called the "Amero") as recently as 2008 and cosponsoring a bill to end the 14th amendment's birthright citizenship in 2011.

Senator Paul has also recently gone all squishy on the issue of marriage equality.
”I’m an old-fashioned traditionalist,” the senator later told National Review. “I believe in the historic and religious definition of marriage.”

At the same time, Paul suggests that the tax code and health insurance should be made neutral so that gay couples benefit from the same breaks as married ones. And like Rubio, he has said that gay marriage should be left to the states to decide. He said Sunday that he is okay with the government is “neutral” on gay marriage; in February he said he was “not sure” how he felt about DOMA.
One area where we can be pretty certain of Rand Paul's views is on the issue of a woman's right to choose. As recently as last summer, he was pushing an amendment to the federal flood insurance bill that would have ratified that life begins at conception. I'm not sure how that fits with his "states rights libertarianism" - but there you have it.

Of course we all know about Senator Paul's reluctance with regards to the 1964 Civil Rights law. He's tried to waffle quite a bit on that one. But it seems clear to me that he is at least ignorant about the intransigence of racism in thinking that without federal regulation, private businesses would have rejected their Jim Crow practices of discrimination.

But all of this actually pales in comparison when you take a look at the Senator's position of fiscal policy. It didn't get much notice, but he just released his own budget proposal a couple of weeks ago. The jist of it is that Rep. Paul Ryan's budget didn't go far enough.
To eliminates the deficit in five years, the senator would abolish the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development, while privatizing the Transportation Security Authority. Paul would also slash taxes on the rich by establishing a 17% flat tax and eliminating capital gains taxes.

What's more, Paul's budget plan would raise the Social Security retirement age and privatize Medicare, while taking health care benefits away from millions of Americans by eliminating the entirety of the Affordable Care Act.
I'm one who believes that budgets are a statement of moral values. And to put it bluntly, what Senator Paul proposed is immoral. I know of no other way to express it. Its hard to imagine a federal budget that would do more to beef up the trajectory we've been on towards income inequality than his ideas. No matter who you are or what issues you care about, they would have a devastating impact on your life unless you're part of the 1%.

Any self-respecting liberal who would support his presidential aspirations should be ashamed of themselves - regardless of what he has to say about drones.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is my position on the "war on al Qaeda" racist?

I made a promise to myself years ago that I would take any charge of "racism" thrown at me seriously and examine it fearlessly.

While he didn't refer specifically to me, Glenn Greenwald has suggested that the position of many of the people who I tend to agree with about our current war on al Qaeda is fueled by privilege.

So let me ask myself some probing questions to see if there is any truth to the charge.

When it comes to the war on al Qaeda, is it racist to struggle with the world as it is rather than attempt to live in a world as we want it to be?

Is it racist to be frustrated that a focus on due process is the wrong argument to be making considering the rationale being made for targeted killing has been articulated in terms of the "war" authorized by the 2001 AUMF?

Is it racist to see targeted killing as an improvement over invading countries based on lies?

Is it racist to suggest that we see our current situation in the context of this country's history?

Is it racist to suggest that a focus on the tactic used to fight the war on al Qaeda is a distraction from the conversation we need to be having?

Finally - and most importantly - is it racist to suggest that we focus on ending this indefinite war rather than codifying it?

The assumption Greenwald needs to make to suggest that people like me are fueled by racism is that we simply don't care about the brown people being killed by this war. I think its obvious from the above links that nothing could be further from the truth.

I would instead suggest that Greenwald doesn't feel the need to address the actual arguments his critics are making and is content to caricature them for his own convenience. In other words, he's more interested in being right than in having an actual dialogue. It seems to me that there is a certain privilege at work in that way of interacting with the world.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A couple of things to remember as SCOTUS takes up marriage equality

It will be fascinating to hear what happens in the Supreme Court today and tomorrow as oral arguments are heard about DOMA and California's Prop 8. But I'd like to remind you of a couple of things:

First of all, remember that after oral arguments on Obamacare, almost every commentator said it would be overturned. Of course...they were wrong. So the real news comes when the decision is announced, not today.

Secondly, I'd like to remind you of something I wrote about a while ago called the diffusion of innovations. It is basically a theory about how social change happens.

The blue line represents the rate at which various groups adopt the new idea/technology and the yellow line shows its market share.

When it comes to marriage equality, we are clearly now in the stage where the "Late Majority" is coming around. The question of the day is whether or not Supreme Court Justices like Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts are prepared to play the role of Laggards (I think we can safely assume that Scalia, Thomas and Alito fit that bill).

In other words, we've recently witnessed the arrival of the tipping point and change is inevitable. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Supreme Court will throw up barriers to that inevitability or facilitate it.

The topic of drones has hi-jacked the conversation we should be having

In response to 9/11, the Bush administration declared a war on terror. Many people - including the Obama administration - pointed out both the danger and the error of that response by suggesting that it was ridiculous to declare war on a tactic. President Obama refocused it as a war on the people who attacked us on 9/11 - al Qaeda.

What has been disheartening is to watch too many on the left make exactly the same mistake by focusing on drones as the tactic used in the war on al Qaeda. I believe that if we had focused instead on ending the war - and repealing the 2001 AUMF that authorized it - we'd be having a completely different conversation today.

As an example, there was a fair amount of discussion yesterday about the recent Gallup poll with regards to the use of drones.

As Adam Serwer points out, however:
Although most of the debate over targeted killing has focused on drones, the survey is of limited usefulness because it focuses on the method of killing rather than the authority to kill.
Exactly! The debate has focused on drones because that's what too many on the left have wrongly made the issue. It's what allowed Sen. Rand Paul to hi-jack it into the ridiculous question of whether or not the President thought he was authorized to use drones on American citizens in the U.S. who were "not engaged in combat." As if that wasn't bad enough, some of these very same people jumped on the #StandwithRand bandwagon and further distorted the conversation. Enter Gallup with this stupid question to further distract us from the question at hand.

Let me break it down for you one more time. The 2001 AUMF is what gave the President the authority to kill.
...the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
As long as that law stands, the authority will continue - regardless of the tactic. That is the argument made by both Attorney General Eric Holder and the white paper on the topic released by the White House. We can disagree with the case they've made, but what we can't do is either suggest they haven't made one or try to change the subject to talk about tactics - at least not if we have any interest in actually ending the authority for targeted killing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Passing the baton

E.J. Dionne has written an interesting article about San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. Reading it will explain why it is that President Obama chose him to give the keynote address at the Democratic Convention last year.
What makes Mayor Castro especially interesting is the interaction of his pragmatism with the early radicalism of his mother Rosie, his first political mentor. She was a founder of La Raza Unida Party — she eventually returned to the Democratic fold — and a poster from his mom’s unsuccessful 1971 city council race hangs proudly in the mayor’s office.

Between his mother’s past and his own present, Castro embodies the full range of progressive impulses, from the most activist and visionary to the most practical and middle-of-the-road. Castro says it’s not surprising that his approach is different from his mom’s.

“I had the blessing of opportunity,” he says. As a result, he sees a balance in what is required to achieve change. “You need the folks in the boardroom who have consciences and the people in the streets who can picket at the right time.”

Then he gets to his own role: “And you need public officials who can listen. I see myself as a bridge-builder who can understand both sides.”
When I read that I immediately thought of the recent work of Ellis Cose to define the generational differences in the modern movement for civil rights.

He calls the first generation The Fighters. They would encompass those leaders who - beginning in the 1950's - fought the legal battles against discrimination. The list is long, but includes people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X, Rep. John Lewis, Ella Baker, Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta.

The next generation were The Dreamers. This is the generation that were the first to walk through the doors opened by the Fighters and continued the struggle for equality within the systems they entered. That generation - of course - includes President Barack Obama. But other public figures include his wife, Michelle Obama, Eric Holder, Sonia Sotomayor, Deval Patrick and Kamala Harris.

A few years ago Helen Cooper wrote a fascinating article about this generation - noting that they are the first to benefit from the Ivy League's attempts to aggressively recruit students of color in 1969.
But the children of 1969 dwell in a complex world. They retain an ethnic identity that includes its own complement of cultural, historical and psychological issues and considerations. This emerged at Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. And it emerged again last week, when Mr. Obama joked in the White House East Room that if he ran afoul of the police, “I’d get shot.” In saying this, he seemed to draw on the fears of black men across the United States, including those within the new power elite.

What Mr. Obama seemed to be demonstrating was what Mr. Lemann of Columbia calls a “double consciousness” that allows the children of 1969 to flow more easily between the world which their skin color bequeathed them and the world which their college degree opened up for them.
Julian Castro and his twin brother Rep. Joaquin Castro are representatives of the third generation - The Believers. We have yet to see what this generation can accomplish, but perhaps Mayor Castro's vision of being a "bridge-builder" says something about the role they will play.

Social change happens most effectively when cross-generational coalitions tap into both the wisdom of the elders and the passion of the young. That requires being willing to listen on the part of the young and a willingness to pass the baton on to the next generation by the elders.

I believe that the ugliness we see from people like Cornel West towards our President can be best understood by his unwillingness to let go of his role as a Fighter and pass the baton onto the next generation. By doing so, he is depriving them of the wisdom he might otherwise share.

I've posted this quote before. But to me, it captures exactly the kind of awareness that is required for a passing of the baton. Here is Rev. Gordon Stewart (a Fighter) reflecting on his reaction to the first inauguration of President Obama.
They are strange tears, like none other I have ever felt. It confuses me. I wonder what they're about. It feels like joy. A joy I have not felt for a long time. Joy... and hope... that something really new is happening. Joy that all the struggles and all the marches that wore holes in my generation's shoes on behalf of civil rights and peace have brought us to this indescribably holy moment that transcends the old divisions.

For sure, the tears that rise up in me are tears of joy. But they're also about something else. They feel like the convulsing sobs of a prisoner released from prison. They come from a hidden well of poison -- the well of deep grief stuffed away over all the years because of all the marches, all the beatings, all the blood, the well of buried anger -- the silent tears of grief over the America we had almost lost.

Then I realize: Only the appearance of joy and hope can release such deep grief. It was the joy on Yo-Yo Ma's face that finally released the poison locked inside my soul. It is the joy and hope of a new generation that's able to take us where my generation cannot -- free of the taint of sore feet and scars and old grudges the new President says we must move past.
Each generation must take on the battles of their time. And it doing so - are likely to bear the scars that can become a prison if not released to the passion of the next generation. When we won't let go, they become the seeds of anger and cynicism. Rev. Stewart was able to release himself from that prison by recognizing the grief - and almost simultaneously opening himself up to the joy and hope of the next generation. That's what it means to pass the baton.

We are in the era of the Dreamers. Rather than the post-racial world some predicted, the struggle continues as the dying beast lashes out in its death throes. But it won't be long now until the Believers are ready to take up the cause and face their own unique challenges.

One of the reasons I wanted to include Ella Baker in the list of fighters is that - as much as anyone - she understood the importance of passing the baton. Here's Ella's Song...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The audacity of trust

When I was in graduate school, there was a theology professor that I credit with my "re-birth" as a human being after years of growing up haunted by the dogmatism of fundamentalist christianity that seemed aimed at crushing my spirit. His name was Ray Anderson and he passed away about 4 years ago.

Anyone who knows me in real life has heard stories about the interactions I had with this man and how he woke up the cowed little girl inside of me. I've often summarized it all by saying that the healing came because he trusted me fearlessly.

I wasn't the only one he touched. A friend of mine spent time with him too. When she first started to interact with him, she told him that she feared she was about to jump off a cliff. His response..."can I go with you?"

Since those days I've often thought about the healing power of trust. It is a powerful elixir that most of us are too fearful to extend to others - much less ourselves. We are so broken inside from our disappointments that we spend enormous amounts of energy protecting our vulnerability.

I have also come to believe that much of the fearless soul-searching work that Barack Obama did in his young adulthood (as was written about in Dreams From My Father) must have involved a reckoning with this brokenness and vulnerability because he reminds me of Professor Anderson in his willingness to trust people so fearlessly.

I was reminded of all that in President Obama's speech to the people of Israel.
Four years ago, I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people -- politically, religiously, they must seem a world away. But the things they want, they’re not so different from what the young people here want. They want the ability to make their own decisions and to get an education, get a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married; to raise a family. The same is true of those young Palestinians that I met with this morning. The same is true for young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza.

That's where peace begins -- not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people. Not just in some carefully designed process, but in the daily connections -- that sense of empathy that takes place among those who live together in this land and in this sacred city of Jerusalem.

And let me say this as a politician -- I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.

I know this is possible. Look to the bridges being built in business and civil society by some of you here today. Look at the young people who’ve not yet learned a reason to mistrust, or those young people who’ve learned to overcome a legacy of mistrust that they inherited from their parents, because they simply recognize that we hold more hopes in common than fears that drive us apart. Your voices must be louder than those who would drown out hope. Your hopes must light the way forward.

Look to a future in which Jews and Muslims and Christians can all live in peace and greater prosperity in this Holy Land. Believe in that. And most of all, look to the future that you want for your own children -- a future in which a Jewish, democratic, vibrant state is protected and accepted for this time and for all time...

Ben Gurion once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” Sometimes, the greatest miracle is recognizing that the world can change.
Imagine that...going into the most conflict-ridden part of the world today and talking about the fact that Jews and Muslims and Palestinians "hold more hopes in common than fears that drive us apart." Now THAT's audacious! He championed hope in a place that is plagued by fear because he trusts the audience he was speaking to.

I believe that's why they responded so powerfully to what he had to say - because that was my own personal response to a trust so fearlessly extended. That kind of gift from another person wakes up your soul.

And so I was reminded once again that we are privileged to be living in an era with this man as our leader. People like him don't come around very often...I've run into 2 during my 50+ years on this earth. Both of them were human with all of the limitations that ensures. But having wrestled with their own inadequacies, they also had the strength and courage to extend the audacity of trust.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Because of Obamacare, Republicans are doomed on entitlements

Steven Benen noted this morning that Republicans seem geared up to try their hostage-taking strategy one more time in demanding serious cuts to entitlement programs in exchange for raising the debt limit sometime this spring/summer. He rightly notes that that train left the station a while ago and its unlikely anyone is going to take their threats seriously if they try it again.

I'm still not sure WTH is up with the Republican leadership. What I do know is that their lunatic base is still all fired up about things that are sure to doom them as a party.

But here's one thing that I DO know. If the Randians in their ranks really are serious about privatizing the big three - Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security - their window of opportunity is getting smaller by the day.

That's because the one thing they've used to convince the lunatic base to screw themselves over with these programs is to scare the shit out of them by saying they are going broke and need "reform." Since doing that with Social Security went nowhere for Bush (and was further doomed with the economic collapse of 2008), they've focused mostly on Medicare and Medicaid. But as I've been saying here...that is looking like a bridge too far as well.
Along with greater coverage of low-income folks through the Medicaid expansion, these initiatives [cost controls] are what “Obamacare” is about. They’re wonky, technical fixes and incentives designed to squeeze the fat out of a system that is uniquely wasteful compared to those in other advanced economies. That’s a lot less sexy than death panels and socialist command-and-control fantasies, but there it is…

So my guess is there’s something lasting going on here, and that means the doctor has just prescribed a very large chill pill for those who want to whack away at Medicare and Medicaid and CHIP because “they’re going bankrupt…bankrupt I tell you!” They’re not, and our energies would be much better spent on careful research on the factors behind these recent cost trends and how we can build on them. The goal is not to diminish these extremely valuable programs. It’s to ehhance their efficiency so as to ensure that they remain a solid part of American social policy.
My guess would be that at least the Republican leadership (perhaps not the actual members of the lunatic caucus) is aware that this is happening. They've got one last shot at taking a whack at these programs before having to face the fact that they'll need come up with a whole other rationale for doing so.

That's why we need to get this story out there...NOW. Everyone needs to take that "chill pill" the doctor ordered.

Keep speaking up!

The volume of articles I've posted lately has gone down. But there have been some stories in the last week or so that I thought were important enough for me to spend some time researching and writing about because they weren't getting much attention. That means I've been off the bandwagon on the really big stories lately. But then I figure you get enough of those stories elsewhere.

This morning I found a few others writing about some of the things I've been spending my time talking about lately. So consider this a bit of an update.

First of all, Adam Serwer has written a great article about the case the racists are making against Thomas Perez - President Obama's nominee as Secretary of Labor. If you'll remember, I wrote about Perez's efforts to uphold the principle of "disparate impact" in cases of civil rights violations. Serwer points out why that principle is so important to maintain.
Civil rights advocates were worried that if this case reached the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts, who as part of the Reagan Justice Department in the early 1980s, had opposed using a disparate impact standard to enforcing the Voting Rights Act, would have another chance to unravel another hard-won civil rights law...

The deal Perez helped cut likely prevented a landmark civil rights law from being struck down by the Roberts court. Perez's civil rights division later used this law to secure record financial settlements against banks that discriminated against minority borrowers during the financial crisis. And Republicans were very angry about it.
We don't know yet whether or not the Robert's Court will uphold the tenants of the Voting Rights Act. But because of what Perez did as head of DOJ's Civil Rights Division, the precedent for considering disparate impact is maintained. In addition, it has been used to settle discrimination cases on behalf of minority borrowers against banks.

It's clear to me that Thomas Perez has been fighting the good fight on our behalf at DOJ and now its time for us to inform ourselves and have his back in the battle for his confirmation as Secretary of Labor.

Secondly, the news about Obamacare's effectiveness is getting better and better - so much so that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius took to the op-eds to write about it.
...this progress has contributed to the slowest sustained growth in health spending in 50 years. National healthcare spending has now grown at historic lows for three consecutive years — and Medicare and Medicaid spending is growing even more slowly. In 2012, Medicare spending per beneficiary rose by less than half of 1 percent, while Medicaid spending actually dropped by nearly 2 percent.

The healthcare law is demonstrating the right way to deal with rising costs. Instead of simply shifting the burden onto seniors and the needy, it’s bringing down costs across the system by improving care coordination and cutting waste. And it’s holding insurance companies accountable by limiting how much of your premium they can spend on marketing and overhead.
If you want a more wonky take on all this, Jared Bernstein has written a great article about it from an economists point of view.

My third story is mostly a bit about how fun and rewarding it can be to get noticed for taking the time to write about some of these things. Last weekend, Andrew Sullivan wrote a post linking to my article on the fact that the use of drones has actually come to pretty much of a standstill. Then yesterday, I noticed that Michael Crowley with TIME Swampland had linked to it as well (the first link in his third paragraph).
There have been some recent indications that the pace of drone strikes is slowing.
Yeah, its a bit of an ego boost to have your work noticed by the folks who are actually paid to do this. But putting that aside, those of you who have been reading here for awhile know that I've been passionate about this idea of actually ending the indefinite war for a long time now. For the most part, the signals the Obama administration has been sending out about doing so have been pretty much ignored. For a single blogger who does this kind of thing in her free time to have even this small impact on the conversation is about as rewarding as it gets.

So take notice all you folks out there. This new media offers us a chance to have our voices heard! Speak up and know that every little thing we contribute makes a difference if we keep at it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Brennan will end CIA drone program

President Obama picked John Brennan to head the CIA for a reason - he had a job for him to do.
Brennan is leading efforts to curtail the CIA’s primary responsibility for targeted killings. Over opposition from the agency, he has argued that it should focus on intelligence activities and leave lethal action to its more traditional home in the military, where the law requires greater transparency.
And who would have thought that less that two weeks into his new job, Brennan is delivering.
At a time when controversy over the Obama administration’s drone program seems to be cresting, the CIA is close to taking a major step toward getting out of the targeted killing business. Three senior U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that the White House is poised to sign off on a plan to shift the CIA’s lethal targeting program to the Defense Department.

The move could potentially toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency.
To understand this move, its important to know that the U.S. actually has 2 drone programs.
The truth is that the U.S. drone war is actually two different, but related programs — the military's and the CIA's — each with conflicting jurisdictions, rules, and procedures. Because Afghanistan is an active war zone, the Pentagon is free to conduct drone operations in that country as it sees fit, striking whenever it deems necessary. In places like Yemen or Somalia, the Navy or Air Force may take part on a case-by-case basis, but all military (or CIA) operations must be directly approved by the President. Pakistan, however, is a different story. The Pakistani government refuses to allow the U.S. military to operate within its borders, yet the Taliban and other terrorists run rampant in the more lawless parts of the country. That's where the CIA comes in.

According to reporting from The Washington Post, in any other country, the CIA needs explicit White House permission to carry out a drone strike, but in Pakistan they were given free reign to target anyone on a pre-approved "kill list," without checking with Brennan or the President first.
It is also the CIA's drone program that engages in what are called signature strikes.
Signature strikes are drone bombings that target individuals that the administration cannot identify. Decisions to kill a person or group of people in these countries can be based on “suspicious behavior,” a loosely-defined judgement that would give the administration carte blanche to kill whoever it pleases.
As the Washington Post reported last fall:
Eventually, Obama and Brennan decided the [CIA] program was getting out of hand. High-value targets were becoming elusive, accusations of civilian deaths were rising, and strikes were increasingly directed toward what the angry Pakistanis called mere "foot soldiers." But with Pakistan's adamant refusal to allow U.S. military operations on its soil, taking what was considered a highly successful program out of CIA hands was viewed as counterproductive and too complicated.
As Daniel Klaidman (who broke this story) points out, those complications mean that this transition could take a year or more. But in the end it sets up the DOD drone program to come under potential congressional or judicial oversight - something that would have been unlikely with the CIA program due to their ability to carry out covert operations.

Overall I see two HUGE takeaways from this story. First is the fact that John Brennan would take the job at CIA only to turn around and give up the agency's authority to operate a program like this. Many have noted that once President's are given executive power, they are loath to give it up. I would suggest that the same thing goes for the people who are in charge of federal agencies. This is a big move on both President Obama and Brennan's part. And I'm sure the backlash in the agency is going to be brutal.

The second is that it is clear to me that this is the first step in a bigger plan to acknowledge what Jeh Johnson said back in November...we're reaching the tipping point where the war on al Qaeda can end as an "armed conflict" and be institutionalized as a counter-terrorism strategy with transparency and oversight.

In other words, by the end of President Obama's second term, he will have ended THREE wars...the 3rd being the one everyone assumed would be indefinite.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Three years later Obamacare is looking better and better

President Obama's critics on both the left and right have taken issue with the fact that he prioritized health care reform so early in his administration. Those on the left claim that it was a distraction from the single most important priority at the time...stimulus and jobs. What that critique fails to address is that the President had just passed the largest stimulus in our nation's history and there was no way further action on that front was likely to occur at the time. It also fails to recognize that - in addition to the recession - both businesses and individuals were being bankrupted by the status quo with regards to health care.

On the right, the criticism mostly centered around the idea of taking on the costs of a whole new government entitlement program in the midst of a recession. No matter what the CBO said, these folks continued their denial about Obamacare actually REDUCING the deficit.

The truth is that when faced with that status quo on health care/health insurance, there were two issues that needed to be addressed...access and cost.  What we heard most about during the health care reform debate and since its passage has focused on the issue of access. Obamacare included things like the individual mandate, subsidies, expansion of Medicaid and the elimination of both denials for pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps on spending. All of these directly addressed the issue of access.

On the issue of cost control, Obamacare took a slower and more experimental approach. One of the reasons for that is because the focus was not so much on reducing spending as it was in reforming how health care is provided. Here's Ezra Klein explaining the difference.
Cutting health-care costs is hard. And it needs to be distinguished from simply capping spending. When liberals say that single-payer will save a bazillion dollars, or conservatives point to Paul Ryan's plan and say that will save a bazillion dollars, they're talking about capping spending. Liberals do it on the provider side, saying that government will only pay so much for medical services people need, and the system will just have to adjust. Conservatives do it on the consumer side, saying that government will only give individuals so much for the coverage they need, and if that proves insufficient, then tough. But voters haven't evinced much appetite for either proposal.

So smart people have spent the past few decades trying to figure out softer ways to cut costs without cutting things that people need...

The problem, of course, is that no one knows how well this stuff will work. So the legislation is careful in implementation...It tries a lot of different things on a fairly small scale in the hopes that some of them will pan out (hence the legislation's length).
In that article, Klein links to an op-ed by David Cutler who is a professor of economics at Harvard and was the senior health care advisor to the 2008 Obama campaign.  In it Cutler outlined the thinking at the time on 10 potential cost control ideas:
  1. Form insurance exchanges
  2. Reduce excessive prices, ie, Medicare Advantage
  3. Move to a value-based payment in Medicare
  4. Tax generous insurance plans
  5. Empower an independent Medicare advisory board
  6. Combat Medicare fraud and abuse
  7. Malpractice reform
  8. Invest in information technology
  9. Prevention
  10. Create a public option
Cutler's conclusion:
So reform [ie, Obamacare] gets full credit on six of the 10 ideas, partial credit on three others, and no credit on one. The area of no credit (a public option) is because Republicans opposed the idea. One area receives only partial credit because of Democratic opposition (malpractice reform) and two other areas reflect general hesitancy to increase taxes.
I'd add an additional cost control measure that wasn't mentioned because it relates more to insurance than spending - the medical loss ratio that requires insurance companies to re-imburse customers if they spend less than 80-85% of premiums on direct medical care.

Of all of those included, most have only been partially implemented at this point and 3 of the most significant haven't begun at all (exchanges, tax on generous plans, and the Medicare advisory board). And yet the big news this week that you won't be hearing about from Republicans is that decreasing health care costs could close the budget gap. As I've noted previously, this might be why President Obama seems more willing lately to walk away from a grand bargain.

When Obamacare initially passed, there wasn't enough solid evidence about whether or not these experiments would have an effect on controlling the costs of health care. That's why we didn't hear much about them. But so far the real-life experience of implementation looks pretty good.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The case the racists will make against Thomas Perez: disparate impact and my hometown

As many commentators are noting, Republicans are beginning to gear up to oppose the nomination of Thomas Perez as Secretary of Labor.

While the lunatics are likely to be sufficiently riled up about the "scary black men" at a Philadelphia a voting site, the fact that Perez didn't have any role in that case being dropped is not likely to gain much traction outside their ranks.

What the really serious racists are likely to use against Perez is his embrace of something called disparate impact as a way of measuring whether or not the 1964 Civil Rights Act has been violated. Here's the definition:
Adverse effect of a practice or standard that is neutral and non-discriminatory in its intention but, nonetheless, disproportionately affects individuals having a disability or belonging to a particular group based on their age, ethnicity, race, or sex.
Notice the key word there...intention. In other words, it might not be possible to demonstrate that an employer intends to discriminate. It is sufficient to show that her/his actions have an adverse affect on protected groups.

Its important to note that disparate impact is not in and of itself illegal. But it is potentially grounds for an investigation.
...disparate impact only becomes illegal if the employer cannot justify the employment practice causing the adverse impact as a "job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity."
This whole idea of intention is something I've talked about before. Due to the fact that racism has been hard-wired into our brains and institutionalized in most of our systems, conscious intent to discriminate has been pretty much left to the KKKers. Most often those with privilege are oblivious to its presence and yet we continue to see its outcome.

This is something I've had to grapple with personally as an employer. For years we bemoaned the fact that we didn't seem to be able to attract qualified applicants of color for job openings. It wasn't until we began to take a look at what skills were actually necessary to engage and work with the youth our nonprofit serves and began changing our expectations that we rid ourselves of the disparate impact.

So Thomas Perez has championed the need to include disparate impact as a way of enforcing the Civil Rights Act. And the case many will point to as a problem actually has its roots in my home town of St. Paul, MN. Therefore I feel the need to provide you with the facts as we're likely to be in the spotlight in the impending fight over his nomination.

Here's the deal...Back in 2002 the City began to aggressively take on slum landlords - charging them with code violations for things like rodent infestation, inadequate sanitary facilities, inadequate heat, and broken or missing doors. Since fixing these violations would have cost the landlords money, some sold their properties.

One of the offenders was a man by the name of Thomas Gallagher. He came up with the ingenious idea to sue the City because their actions had a disparate impact on the ability of African Americans to find low-income housing.
According to Respondents, because a disproportionate number of renters are African-American, and Respondents rent to many African-Americans, requiring them to meet the housing code will increase their costs and decrease the number of units they make available to rent to African-American tenants.
Oh, and I'm sure Mr. Gallagher was really shedding tears over the idea that African Americans wouldn't be able to rent his slumlord properties - < snark off >.

The case worked its way through the courts with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Gallagher and the City appealing it to the Supreme Court.

It was at that point that Perez and DOJ's Civil Rights Division intervened. Along with former Senator Walter Mondale (who helped write the Fair Housing Act), they negotiated with the City to drop the appeal (by ending their involvement in other cases that affected the City) - which is what finally happened. Here's the press release from the Mayor's office announcing that decision.
The City of Saint Paul, national civil rights organizations, and legal scholars believe that, if Saint Paul prevails in the U.S. Supreme Court, such a result could completely eliminate "disparate impact" civil rights enforcement, including under the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. This would undercut important and necessary civil rights cases throughout the nation. The risk of such an unfortunate outcome is the primary reason the city has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition.
I want to send a shout-out to my City and to Thomas Perez for making this happen. They're going to be taking a lot of potshots for doing the right thing. We need to have their backs on this one!

Monday, March 18, 2013

I Know

This one goes out to all of you who are saying "that shit ain't gonna work this time" to whoever needs to hear it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

As talk about the "drone war" heats up, their use is actually going down (updated)

As all the talk about the "drone war" heats up, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at their actual use lately. Here's what I found...since February 1, 2013, there have been a total of 3 drone strikes and two of those are disputed.

For a little historical context, the use of drones in Pakistan peaked in 2010 with a total of 122 attacks (an average of over 10/month). Last year there were 48.  So far this year there have been 9. Six of those occurred in January and 3 in the month and a half since then (with 2 disputed). Similarly, their use in Yemen peaked in 2012 with a total of 84 strikes (an average of 7/month).  This year there have been a total of 6 strikes with all of those occurring in January. Since February 1st this year - there have been none.

Not being privy to the intelligence reports our Commander-in-Chief receives, it is hard to predict whether this pattern of the last month and a half will be sustained. But lets plug a couple of events here on the home front into this timeline and I think the picture starts to get a little more clear.

First of all, on November 31, 2012, General Counselor to the Department of Defense Jeh Johnson talked - for the first time - about ending the war on al-Qaeda.
"There will come a tipping point," he said in the speech, "a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States," that al Qaeda will be "effectively destroyed."

"At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an 'armed conflict' against al Qaeda and its associated forces."
Then on January 7, 2013, President Obama announced the nomination of John Brennan as Director of the CIA. Due to his ties to the Bush/Cheney administration, that got many on the left pretty riled up about his position on the use of drones. But as I noted previously, Ben Emmerson - who heads the UN inquiry into the use of drones and targeted killing - supported his nomination.
“Warts and all” conversations with current and former Obama administration officials convince Emmerson that Brennan tried to steer the drone program from a “technology-driven process” to one that attempted to balance the interests of the law, counterterrorism, and the agencies involved in implementing it. “There are significant elements within the CIA who are unhappy about Brennan’s appointment,” Emmerson says. “These are the hawkish elements inside the CIA who would rather have as a director someone who reflected their agenda, rather than someone who is there to impose the president’s agenda.”
But what really got the ball rolling on all this talk about drones was the release of the white paper on the legal rationale for their use. It was published by Michael Isikoff on February 4th.

Many people assume the release of that paper came from a whistleblower in the White House. But I have always maintained that it probably happened with the President's blessing. The fact that it coincides with the time that the actual use of drones has come to a practical standstill leads me to think that President Obama believes we might have reached that "tipping point" Johnson referred to in which our efforts should no longer be considered an 'armed conflict.'

Establishing a "drone court" with oversight from the judicial and/or legislative branches of government would essentially usurp the powers granted to the President via the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and end the indefinite war.

That's just the discussion the release of the white paper sparked in Congress with an assist from President Obama's critics on both the right and left. Imagine what the reaction would have been - especially on the right - if the President had simply proposed to repleal the AUMF and/or an end to the war on al Qaeda. OH MY!!!! This way he gets many of them to use their contempt for him to accomplish what has always been his goal.
My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The Iraq War is over. The number of our troops in harm’s way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to al Qaeda...

This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.

 - President Barack Obama, May 1, 2012
UPDATE: I see that as the result of a link to this article by Andrew Sullivan, commenters on another blog are suggesting that perhaps I "cooked the books" on the number of drone strikes lately by comparing annual data to the last month and a half. The suggestion is that perhaps there are seasonal factors that affect their use and a better comparison would be over the same time frame in years past. Here you go:

Number of strikes in Pakistan Feb 1st to March 17 in -

2010 - 14
2011 - 13
2012 - 8
2013 - 3

Number of strikes in Yemen Feb 1st to March 17th in -

2012 - 6
2013 - 0

No matter how you look at these numbers - there is a very clear pattern.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

May I remind you

My suggestion: Sit down. Be quiet. Let this one ease into you.

This is what happens when you focus on a weapon rather than try to end a war

In case you missed Bob Cesca's take-down of Glenn Greenwald's fear-mongering about domestic surveillance drones, please go take a look at it here. Basically what it comes down to is that this is what we're supposed to be so afraid of...“It’s a radio controlled toy airplane with a fancy camera!”

But in addition to that, we're now supposed to be all hot and bothered that using a drone like that instead of a helicopter will actually save police departments money...oh the horror!!!!
For one thing, helicopters are far more expensive than drones. "Manned helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are expensive to acquire, staff, and maintain. A police helicopter costs from $500,000 to $3 million to acquire, and $200-$400 an hour to fly," according to the ACLU...

By comparison, the ACLU argues, "it’s easy to foresee a day when even a professional police drone could be acquired for less than a hundred dollars, including maintenance costs."
Apparently for the ACLU and people like Greenwald, that presents a problem.

I love the work the ACLU has historically done as much as anyone. But it really busts my chops when they feed into one of the worst narratives out there about how liberals simply love any government spending regardless of its efficacy.

But I guess that's what happens when you mire yourself in an ideological quagmire about a particular weapon rather than keep your eye on the prize of ending a war.

"Doing the right thing for imperfect reasons"

I see that since I wrote about my reaction to Rob Portman's decision to support marriage equality, a whole meme about the role of empathy (or lack thereof) as a base for what divides us has emerged.

I must admit though, that I am a little uncomfortable with some of how that meme is developing. That's because, as I look at my own life, I can see that my journey towards trying to understand my white privilege began 30 years ago when I cared about someone who was constantly being harassed due to racial profiling. And I finally opened my eyes to my own homophobia when a friend who was gay wrote an excruciating letter to me outlining what it was like to try to live her own life in denial about who she was. In other words, it was the people in my life who changed me.

As a matter of fact, based on my own experience, I came to the conclusion that much of the progress we see today on the issue of GLBT rights is a result of Harvey Milk's efforts to coax gay/lesbian people out of the closet. Here is Sean Penn from the movie Milk.

Milk knew that the day would come when the Rob Portman's of the world would change because it was THEIR son/daughter coming out to them. He knew that it was the silence and fear in the GLBT community that fed the myths and destroyed hope.

The title of this post is a quote from an article by Leonard Pitts way back in September 2004 on the occasion of Dick Cheney's announcement that he personally supported marriage equality.
Unfortunately for Cheney, conservativism has no place for him on this issue. It does not strive to be thoughtful or even noticeably principled where gay rights are concerned.

To the contrary, being persuadable is seen as weakness and being persuaded proof of moral failure. In Cheney's world, people do not seek to put themselves inside other lives or to see the world as it appears through other eyes. Particularly the lives and eyes of society's others, those people who, because of some innate difference, have been marginalized and left out.

Then someone you love turns up gay, turns up among those others.

One imagines that it changes everything, forces a moment of truth that mere reasoning never could. And maybe you find yourself doing what Dick Cheney does, championing a cause people like you just don't champion. Doing the right thing for imperfect reasons.
I guess I'm not so sure that Portman and Cheney are all that different from the rest of us when it comes to how we evolve on these issues. I think Harvey Milk knew that.

The critical question is whether the person involved has the capacity to let their love overcome the hate inspired by ideology. We know about public figures - like Alan Keyes - who took a different path. But things like that happen every day in households all across this country. Its why gay/lesbian/transgender youth are so over-represented among the homeless.

I guess that in the end, I agree with President Obama that we have an empathy deficit in this country. The question is - how are we going to overcome that? I think a little fearless self-examination is the answer. That...and embracing the cracks in the deficit when they finally show up.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The most astounding fact...

How's that for a great way to start your weekend????

Could Obamacare make a grand bargain unnecessary?

Yesterday I wrote about why President Obama wants a grand bargain. Its all about rising health care costs combined with baby boomers' retirement and the effect all that will have on Medicare. At the same time, I wrote about the leverage the President has recently introduced into the budget negotiations by being willing to walk away from a deal.

Knowing that President Obama doesn't bluff, why would he be willing to walk away from something he's identified as so important?

The short answer might be that the Medicare costs controls included in Obamacare are being even more effective than was originally forecast. This morning Sarah Kliff wrote about an economic report released today by the White House. Included was a graph that showed the difference between prior projections for Medicare spending compared to projections if it grows at the same rate it has since 2009.
 photo cea_medicare_zps2ba57e19.png
As an example, the report included the fact that the level of hospital readmissions for Medicare patients (which is penalized via Obamacare) has dropped from around 19% to 17.8%.

Kliff's conclusion:
Either way, this data underscores how important the changes happening in our health-care system, right now, will be to the future of health-care spending. If they stick around, they could completely reorient the typical Washington discussion of Medicare as a budget-buster.

Greenwald = Krauthammer

For folks who suggest that Obama = Bush, doesn't it also hold that Greenwald = Krauthammer?

For years now Greenwald has been arguing for transparency and due process in the use of drones. He even recently wrote an article outlining how the war on terror can never end. So in other words, his position seems to be that we need to codify the war rather than end it.

Krauthammer agrees:
It is time to rethink. That means not repealing the original AUMF but, using the lessons of the past 12 years, rewriting it with particular attention to a new code governing drone warfare and the question of where, when and against whom it should be permitted.
Before any Greenwald acolytes get all hot and bothered, I don't really think that - other than in this particular way - Greenwald actually agrees with Krauthammer on most foreign policy issues. Its simply demonstrates how completely ridiculous it is to say that Obama = Bush.

Other people's kids

As you may have heard, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) has just come out in support of marriage equality and he roots that change of heart completely in the fact that his son is gay.
I’ve thought a great deal about this issue, and like millions of Americans in recent years, I’ve changed my mind on the question of marriage for same-sex couples. As we strive as a nation to form a more perfect union, I believe all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joy and stability of marriage.
While I welcome Sen. Portman to this cause, I can't help but notice that his motivation spells out the very reason we are often so polarized on these issues.

In that vein, I think Teagan Goddard might have authored the tweet-of-the-year:
That reminds me of a quote from then-Senator Barack Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic Convention.
For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people.

If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent. If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work.
If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty of why our politics seems so broken these days, perhaps it all comes down to not thinking about "other people's kids" - or what President Obama calls the empathy deficit.
I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

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

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How to win friends and influence Supreme Court Justices

I'll grant you, making legal arguments for discrimination is a tricky business. But that's the task some folks have taken on in arguing for DOMA and California's Prop 8 at the Supreme Court.

For example, check this one out from the Thomas More Law Center:
Reserving marriage to a man and a woman thus reflects the inherent distinction between those pairs capable of engaging in the act which can produce human offspring, and those pairs which cannot.
The thing is, they're making that argument to a court made up of one woman who was never married, one who was married and divorced with no children, one man who is married with no biological children and one man who is married with two adopted children.

That last one happens to be Chief Justice John Roberts.
Chief Justice John Roberts is the father of two children, Jack and Josie, both 12. They were adopted four months apart as babies in 2000, after Roberts and his wife, Jane, then 45, spent several years trying to adopt.
John Eastman, Chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, had this to say about Robert's family:
You're looking at what is the best course societywide to get you the optimal result in the widest variety of cases. That often is not open to people in individual cases. Certainly adoption in families headed, like Chief Roberts' family is, by a heterosexual couple, is by far the second-best option.
Oh yeah, I'm sure that's going to go over really well with the Chief Justice. Wouldn't you want your kids to know that the home and loving family you've provided for them ranks as "second-best?"

This just goes to show that making an argument on behalf of fear and hate is always a losing proposition.

Why President Obama wants a grand bargain

This chart from the Center for Budget Policies and Priorities explains the situation.

 photo longtermdebt_zps1772aef8.jpg

The chart represents the national debt (not deficit) as a percentage of GDP. The dark blue line is where we were headed prior to the debt ceiling deal in the summer of 2011. The light blue line is the projection after that deal. The yellow line shows the long-term picture after the so-called "fiscal cliff" deal and the red line is where we'd be heading with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings over the next 10 years.

A couple of weeks ago at his press conference, President Obama called the sequester cuts that just went into effect - providing an additional $1.2 trillion in savings - "dumb." The reason he said that is because they don't tackle the one thing that is driving those upward care costs. Here's how Kevin Drum explained it.
In other words, we don't have a discretionary spending problem. We don't have an interest expense problem. Once we withdraw from Afghanistan we don't have a big defense spending problem. And Social Security, at worst, is a very small and very manageable problem.

Our only serious problem is Medicare, thanks to an aging population and rising health care costs. That's it. End of story. If you actually care about federal spending, that's the only thing you should be focused on.
We all know that Rep. Ryan's budget does nothing to address this problem other than transfer those increased costs on to seniors. Here's what President Obama is proposing:
While the Affordable Care Act was an historic step toward getting health care costs under control, there is still more that we can do to realize efficiencies, cut waste, and improve Federal health care programs. Most importantly, we can make modest adjustments to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid in a way that does not undermine the fundamental compact they represent to our nation’s seniors, children, people with disabilities, and low-income families. For this reason, the President's Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction included proposals to save approximately $320 billion in federal health spending over the next decade. As these reforms save money, they also will strengthen these vital programs so that they are robust and healthy to serve Americans for years to come... 
More specifically, the President’s proposals:
  • Create payment incentives for skilled nursing facilities to improve their care to prevent avoidable hospital readmissions. 
  • Include incentives for people with Medicare to choose high-value health services. 
  • Reform Medicare payments to better align with patient care costs. Accelerate the availability of lower-cost generic drugs. 
  • Take steps to make Medicaid more efficient, accountable, and flexible.
Yesterday President Obama conceded that if Republicans aren't willing to make this kind of deal, the opportunity to tackle these issues will have been missed.  He's basically echoing the same thing he said in response to Rep. Ryan's release of his last budget back in 2011.
They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.
So Ryan's plan is once again DOA. If any Republicans are really interested in a deal - there's one on the table. If not...we move on.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Right Wing Nanny State

The fact is that much of the political/cultural angst we hear these days is rooted in projection: "a defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own negative attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world instead."

This morning I have a perfect example of that. We often hear right wingers whining about the "Nanny state." Lately this has been targeted at Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative that educates children about healthy eating and exercise.

As liberals, we often scratch our heads and wonder how they come up with this shit. When you find yourself asking that question, its probably a good idea to assume that it springs from their own this case, to control what they view as negative behavior in the form of a Nanny State.

That's why one conservative woman felt the need to "educate" adults about what to wear/not wear to the CPAC conference. Take a look:
 photo whattowear_zpsc6c66016.jpg

One you're done laughing your ass off, think about this for a moment. While Michelle Obama is trying to educate children about diet and exercise, what we're talking about here is adults who are attending a political conference. In most arenas a simple "business or casual business attire" would have sufficed. But these folks think attendees need to be educated about the particulars of what to wear/not wear. Talk about a Nanny State!

Of course what underlies all of this is an attempt to control the one thing the white male patriarchy fears most...women's sexuality. Notice in the "What not to wear" section, other than athletic shoes and t-shirts (which are pretty unisex), all of the "no-no's" apply to women. We'll have none of that leg and/or cleavage showing!

That anyone thought this was necessary speaks to the fact that wingers infantalize adults - mostly women - as children in need of supervision. And you wonder why they don't want us to have choices about what to do with our bodies?

When it comes to the presidential race, are polls all that matter?

A little more than five months from the 2024 presidential election,  conventional wisdom  suggests that  Biden is losing . But according to ...