Friday, May 31, 2013

From too spineless to too stubborn

OMG...for years folks have been screaming that President Obama is "spineless" because he "caves" to Republicans all the time.

But now that its the media's ox getting gored over the leaks investigations, apparently President Obama is too "stubborn."
Stubbornness in the defense of being right is no vice, Obama could rightly note looking back on his political career and most of his time in the White House.

And yet, Obama’s stubbornness regarding the ongoing controversy surrounding the Department of Justice and, in particular, Attorney General Eric Holder may not be his best strategy...

The mentality is simple: We are not going to cave to what political Washington demands because political Washington is often (always?) wrong.
You're right. President Obama is not going to "cave" to your whinny (white) asses when it comes to AG Eric Holder. And he shouldn't.

These folks have NEVER understood this President. And its looking increasingly likely that they never will.

Apparently its not just MSNBC that's in trouble

Yesterday I wrote about the challenges facing major media outlets. A lot of the talk lately has been about the bad news MSNBC got recently about their low ratings. Well, it seems as if the liberal-leaning cable network isn't the only one in trouble. Check this out from Digby:
...but I must point out that it's not just MSNBC. The online left has seen a steep decline in traffic since the election as well...

We've been through a number of elections, crises, other ups and downs over the past decade but I've not seen anything like the drop in interest over the past few months. If it was just me I'd attribute it to my little project having run its course but it's happening across the liberal media spectrum.
Digby didn't provide any names regarding which online left sites she's referring to other than her own (its certainly not this one), but a look at her blogroll might give you some idea (hint: there is only one site she includes that is listed here on my "Pragmatic Progressive Blogroll.")

It would be normal to see a drop in participation on blogs after a general election. But she's saying that what she's seeing is much bigger than that. So whassup? Digby writes it off to a "bored or disillusioned" left reacting to an "ineffectual president." Surprise, surprise.

But I see it differently. The fact of the matter is that listening to most of MSNBC's lineup and reading emo blogs tends to engender one thing after a while...depression. That's what cynicism does to people. Sure, they can ramp up the rage over something like the public option or chained-CPI or drones or (what's coming) the Keystone pipeline. And its great to howl all the time at those lunatic Republicans. But after awhile, where does that leave you?

It reminds me of something Clay Claiborne said a while ago:
Cynicism is a privilege. When practiced by those in a position to do it well, cynicism allows them to criticize the oppressor and sympathize with the oppressed without ever having to move out of their comfort zone. In fact, one of the main objects of this practice of cynicism is to make the cynic more comfortable. He may not, as yet, be wanting for much personally, but he can see the growing misery all around him so he has to think or do something. The cynic solves this dilemma by thinking that nothing can be done!
Cynicism doesn't attract eyeballs. But more importantly, it kills any effort to build a movement. Years ago Tim Wise pointed out how people of color (President Obama's REAL base) know better.
Invariably, it seems it is we in the white community who obsess over our own efficacy, and fail to recognize the value of commitment, irrespective of outcome. People of color, on the other hand, never having been burdened with the illusion that the world was their oyster, and thus, anything they touched could and should turn to gold, usually take a more reserved, and I would say healthier view of the world and the prospects for change. They know (as indeed they must) that the thing being fought for, at least if it's worth having, will require more than a part-time effort, and will not likely come in the lifetimes of those presently fighting for it. And it is that knowledge which allows a strength and resolve few members of the dominant majority will ever, can ever, know...

This isn't to say it's impossible to inspire young whites to fight for justice, nor to stick it out. It's just a bit more of a challenge sometimes, for it requires that the person be open to an entirely different way of thinking about the world and their place in it.
In other words, it requires the audacity of hope in the long game. This is something the great Maya Angelou knows in every fiber of her being.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

But for some, there's only one problem...

Media in trouble - blame Obama

It's obvious that with the advent of the internet as well as other technologies, both the printed press and television news are struggling to find a fiscal model that works. Surely everyone knows that it won't be long before the paper media is dead. And finding a way to make money off of internet publications via advertising and subscriptions has proven to be a challenge.

The major networks still run evening news shows, but I'm not sure anyone is watching. And their morning installments are more gossip tabloids than anything resembling real news.

Cable networks are struggling too. Fox seems to have found a stable "geezer crowd" that is loyal. But its hard to imagine how they continue that business model into the future. And we're learning that CNN and MSNBC are struggling to find their footing recently.

In often hair-brained attempts to deal with all that, the media has faltered with everything from exploitative reporting following the Boston marathon bombing to the hysteria of being taken in by the lies of Jonathan Karl and ABC News.

And yet it is in the midst of all this that so many in the Washington D.C. media think its wise to go into all-out battle mode with President Obama and the Department of Justice.

Those of you who read here regularly know that I have no love lost for Maureen Dowd. And yet in her latest column, she gives a fascinating window into the world of the D.C. press and what is going on here. That's because she links the current frenzy about the Obama administration's pursuit of leaks to the age-old story about the fact that President Obama doesn't cozy up enough to the insider beltway crowd. She does that via channeling Jonathan Alter. Here's how she starts:
Like many others in our business, Jonathan Alter says he is “on fire” about the Justice Department’s snooping on reporters and attempting to criminalize investigative journalism, including labeling the respected Fox News Washington correspondent James Rosen a “co-conspirator” in a leak investigation.
Then she goes on to quote Alter (he has a book coming out) about why the President "disdains" the press. In doing so, she goes back to the same old line she's been peddling for so long now.
Obama is not a needy person, but he needs to think of himself as purer than this town.

He wanted to be, Alter writes, “nontransactional, above the petty deals, ‘donor maintenance,’ and phony friendships of Washington. Here his self-awareness again failed him. In truth, he was all transactional in his work life.”

As Alter observes, “His failure to use the trappings of the presidency more often left him with one less tool in his toolbox.”

Obama did not understand why his stinginess with expressions of gratitude and phone calls could sting, or fathom the thrill of letters from the president.
So somehow in Dowd's petty mind (as well as Alter's) there is a link between President Obama's disdain for the gladhanding power games of the D.C. village and his desire to pursue leaks to the media regarding national security secrets.

I'd suggest its the other way around. It is the inability of the media to self-examine their own situation and their lack of connection to the needs of their customers that has led them to be so defensive over this whole issue regarding leaks (and to blindly follow the other "scandals" of hysteria concocted by the GOP).

The only group in politics that the American public thinks less of than Republicans these days is the media. Perhaps journalists should look at how successful the GOP has been in their all-out war with the administration before they attempt to wage one themselves.

Of note would be the recent Quinnipiac poll saying that "73 percent of American voters nationwide believe that dealing with the economy and unemployment should be a higher priority than the investigations." Or perhaps they could suggest that polling like that needs to be "unskewed."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Early report card on Obamacare looking good

I remember back in 2010 arguing with both Democrats and Republicans about the importance of Obamacare. One of the things I heard all the time is that the President took his eye off the ball on the economy in order to pass health care reform - and lots of folks thought that was a big mistake. But take a look at what the President said in his speech to Congress about the need for health care reform in September 2009:
We spend one and a half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren't any healthier for it. This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages. It's why so many employers -- especially small businesses -- are forcing their employees to pay more for insurance, or are dropping their coverage entirely. It's why so many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to open a business in the first place, and why American businesses that compete internationally -- like our automakers -- are at a huge disadvantage. And it's why those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it -- about $1,000 per year that pays for somebody else's emergency room and charitable care.

Finally, our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. When health care costs grow at the rate they have, it puts greater pressure on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close. Nothing else.
In other words...he was saying that HEALTH CARE IS AN ECONOMIC ISSUE. And as is often the case, as the long game on Obamacare comes into view, we're beginning to see how true that is. For example:
  • Contrary to what Republicans want to believe, the Congressional Budget Office continues to report that repealing Obamacare would add to the deficit by $109 billion over 10 years. 
  • As we've seen in both Oregon and California, states that are responsibly planning exchanges are seeing significantly lower premium rates than were expected.
As a matter of fact, the news on that last bullet point was so good that it forced Rick Unger - one of the biggest supporters of Obamacare - to admit even he was wrong in his predictions about rates on the exchanges. As so he has a little advice for the naysayers.
If you are among the many Americans who have bought into the fear and loathing that has been the campaign against Obamacare, you just might wish to reconsider. With every passing day, the various myths, legends and lies put forward by those with a political axe to grind, TV or radio rating to be raised or vote to be purchased, are falling victim to the facts.

Of course, if you continue to find it more useful to hate the Affordable Care Act than to recognize the benefit of what this program offers to you and your family, nothing I can say is likely to change your mind.

But, accept it or not, the reality is that the early report card on Obamacare—at least in those states willing to give the law a chance to succeed—is looking pretty darn good.
What we have yet to see is all the people who will be willing to take the risk to leave their job and start a new business because they won't have to worry about loosing their health care, or the union contract negotiations that can better balance wage increases with benefits, or the people who can retire - knowing their health care is secure - and leave their job to younger folks entering the work force. So in addition to the security of having health care and the reductions in our federal budget, Obamacare just might wind up packing a pretty good economic stimulus punch as well.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

No, the President didn't admit he was wrong about drones

Here's how Adam Serwer reacted to the news about President Obama's speech last week on counterterrorism.
That argument fails to take the historical record into account. When President Obama took office, the legacy he inherited from Bush/Cheney was that we were involved in THREE wars that were being mismanaged. He needed to get us out of Iraq, refocus the efforts in Afghanistan and narrow the "global war on terror" into a "war on al Qaeda."

In case anyone has forgotten, Osama bin Laden was still alive and actively plotting attacks. People like al Awlaki were preparing "underwear bombers" and sending people to blow up U.S. cargo planes. The President could have simply ignored all that. Or he could have invaded Pakistan and Yemen. He went into great detail in his speech last week to explain that neither of those options was feasible and that an operation like the one used against bin Laden was too risky to replicate. The option he chose was the use of drones.

I'd like to ask the Adam Serwer's of the world how they think the American people would have reacted if al Qaeda had been successful in pulling off another attack like the one's they were planning. It's difficult to engage them in a meaningful conversation about that since they never address alternatives to that risk. Perhaps they think that shouldn't be the President's concern. But as he said last Thursday, his calculation was that to fail to act would have been a dereliction of duty. You can bet that's how most American's would have seen it.

What President Obama did in his speech was to acknowledge that what he has done in the "war on al Qaeda" was a tough call - something he feels personally. But it was not an admission that he was wrong. He was also saying that its now time for that war to be over. And he was trying to prepare the American people to avoid allowing any future incidents to trigger the trauma-based fear that lingers for some after 9/11.
...we have to recognize that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11. With a decade of experience now to draw from, this is the moment to ask ourselves hard questions -- about the nature of today’s threats and how we should confront them...

Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do -- what we must do -- is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. And to define that strategy, we have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Greenwald struggles with cognitive dissonance (updated 2x)

After writing this, I think its important to acknowledge that Glenn Greenwald has apparently wiped enough egg off his face to comment on President Obama's speech on counterterrorism. As is his wont, he uses hundreds of words to basically say, "Obama doesn't mean it."
Until one sees actual changes in behavior and substance on those issues, cheering for those changes as though they already occurred or are guaranteed is the height of self-delusion.
I guess that's the best he can do with the cognitive dissonance he's feeling after declaring that the "war on terror" cannot end only to hear the President say its time to end it.

Greenwald seems to base his entire response to the speech on the idea that we can't believe what the President says.
How many times does Obama have to deliver a speech embracing a set of values and polices, only to watch as he then proceeds to do the opposite, before one ceases to view his public proclamations as predictive of his future choices?
And yet he provides not one example of this - not even a link (as is his habit) to an article where he made a similar accusation. And so, for his major thesis, he provides absolutely zero evidence. Interesting.

In order to deal with his dissonance about the substance of the speech, Greenwald simply dismisses it.
The terrorism speech, when dissected, provided very little in the way of actual concrete substance.
One has to wonder what he did with the parts of the speech where President Obama talked about:
  1. Discussing options with Congress for additional oversight of drone strikes (ie, drone court or an independent oversight board within the administration)
  2. Increasing foreign aid to fight poverty and sectarian hatred
  3. Working with Congress to refine - and eventually repeal - the AUMF
  4. Calling on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo
  5. Lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen
And of course that doesn't take into account the actions this administration has already taken that weren't mentioned in the speech:
  1. The significant reduction in the number of drone strikes
  2. The ending of the CIA drone program (including "signature strikes")
One can almost envision Greenwald sticking his fingers in his ears and singing "La-la-la-la" so as not to hear information that contradicts his Obama Derangement Syndrome.

His final attempt to tackle all that dissonance is to bring in quotes from all the other folks who suffer from ODS to bolster his delusion...Russ Douthat, Jeremy Scahill, Anthony Romero and Michael Hastings. He's basically saying, " buddies all agree with me so I must be right!" One must keep in mind that even Sen. Ted Cruz could find 3 or 4 people who agree with him ;-)

Mr. Greenwald has always been pretty quick to accuse his opponents of being authoritarian. One of the hallmarks of that mindset is to close oneself off from the probing questions created by cognitive dissonance. In one of the most fascinating examples of projection I've seen in awhile - he demonstrated exactly how one goes about doing just that.

Now...if you want to clean up your brain from all that nonsense, go read what James Fallows wrote about President Obama's speech. Couldn't have said it better myself.

UPDATE: Via twitter, it seems that Mr. Greenwald thinks that I left the ACLU off the list of people he quotes on purpose. Because, as we all know...the ACLU is never wrong about anything (how very authoritarian!) So just to be clear, I added Mr. Romero to the list of people Greenwald quotes.

UPDATE II: Just to show what a classy guy he is, Greenwald edited his article to add a couple of links where I noted he had none - without acknowledging the edit. And then he suggests that I need to acknowledge my error. He did that to me once before when I noted an error of his in the comment section at The Guardian - so it comes as no surprise to me. But its worth noting how far this guy will go to avoid the dissonance.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Photo of the Day: Pragmatism and slogans don't mix

This cracked me up!

Via Go Left

What has he done for me lately?

I remember years ago when I first heard about "The Dreamers" I questioned their strategy. These were young people who had grown up in the United States, but were undocumented. They were pushing for a law that would allow them to becomes citizens if they attended college or joined the military.

My concerns about all this initially were that we needed comprehensive immigration reform in this country. I wondered whether the Dream Act was a distraction.

And then I heard what Pete Seeger said about Rev. Martin Luther King's decision to start with a bus boycott in Montgomery, AL.
Why did he start with a bus boycott? Why didn't he start with something like schools, or jobs, or voting? Couldn't a bus boycott come later?

When you face an opponent over a broad front, you don't aim at the opponent's strong points. You aim for something a little off to the side. But you win it. And having won that bus boycott...13 months it took him to do it...then he moved on to other things.
If you want to see the modern-day version of the Civil Rights Movement incarnated, you need look no further than to study what it is these Dreamers have done.
The Dreamers remind me of the Freedom Riders fifty years ago who, deciding they wouldn’t settle for life under Jim Crow, risked jail and racist violence until the Kennedy administration was won to their side, and a political party realignment began. The Dreamers have petitioned, engaged in civil disobedience, lobbied for legislation at state and federal levels, and refused to accept defeats along the way.
I say all that by way of comparison to those African Americans who are critiquing President Obama on a policy front by basically asking, "What has he done for me lately?" I find myself wanting to turn that question on its head and ask, "What is the agenda and where is the movement?"

The expectation seems to be that since President Obama is black, there is no need for an organized movement on behalf of African Americans - he's supposed to identify the priorities himself and pull it off on his own.

The President has been pretty clear...that's not how he sees things working.
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.

The long game on post-partisanship

Let's pretend like you were elected President of the United States of America based mostly on rhetoric like this:

Now let's assume that immediately after your inauguration, you learn that the Republicans have decided to use this against you and are going to oppose anything you try to do - not simply when they disagree, but even when they might otherwise support your proposals on principle.

How would you proceed to try to "change the culture of Washington?"

You could - as many partisans suggested - dig in your heels and further entrench the partisan warfare. I suspect that's exactly what the Republicans were hoping for. Their job of painting your presidency as that of a soshulist Kenyan Muslim would have actually been much easier under those circumstances.

But no. You decided to stick with it and no matter what the issue being confronted - you reached out to try to compromise and find common ground with your opponents. That left them with a continue their "total obstruction all the time" they had to paint themselves into an ever more extremist corner and fan the flames of their ever-shrinking lunatic base. To actually appear to be working with the soshulist Kenyan Muslim would be anathema.

Based on this strategy you handily won re-election and gained seats in both the House and Senate. The Republicans tried a "rebranding" that failed completely and then started to fabricate scandals that went nowhere. Nothing seemed to be working for them and the harder they spun, the farther they fell in the eyes of the American people.

A few members of the opposition saw where all of this was headed and started to get worried. And so you launched a "charm offensive" (that's what the media called it anyways) to try to develop a common sense caucus. Pretty soon your former opponent for the presidency was calling out the lunatics on the Senate floor and agreeing with you on some major policy initiatives. And the 1996 GOP presidential candidate said that the Republican Party "ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says 'closed for repairs' until New Year’s Day next year — and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas." Ouch!

No one knows exactly how all this will end. But at this point you know that the Republicans still have only two choices: (1) work with you on finding common sense solutions, or (2) die as a party. That's the reality you have created. As Mark Schmitt explained several years ago:
...that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.
And so ultimately, this very long game of changing the culture of Washington is still underway. You know that you've set the table for a "win" on this one either way - even if some of the folks still caught up in the past can't see it - because you keep your eye on the prize and don't listen to the noise.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Get Over It!

As a musical accompaniment to my musings about victimhood today, here's one of my favorite songs from The Eagles.

But to demonstrate that Don Henley isn't just a mean old bastard, remember that he's also the one who wrote what I think is the most powerful messages ever about healing from pain.

The Eagles- Desperado (Farewell Tour Live From Melbourne, 2005) from TheLenaOrbit on Vimeo.

Speaking of victims...Tavis Smiley SOOO wants to join that party

I just finished writing about the need to empower victims when I ran across this story about Tavis Smiley.
Smiley contends that members of the Obama administration, whom he didn’t identify, have pressured sponsors to drop their support of his projects, including his anti-poverty initiatives.
Oh puhleeze! Does Tavis really think the White House cares about his sorry-ass "projects?" And just what "anti-poverty initiatives" is he talking about? The only one I've heard about lately is that he and his buddy Cornel West wanted us to petition the White House to sponsor an anti-poverty conference. You where guys like them could preen for the cameras to TALK about how horrible poverty is without DOING a g-d thing about it.

And what sponsors are they that Smiley thinks the White House might be trying to pressure? Of course he won't say. But perhaps he's talking about his relationship with the plutocrats (one of West's favorite words) at Wells Fargo and their "Ghetto Loan" program. No? Mr. Smiley's spokeswoman identifies the one sponsor that's sticking with him:
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the PBS show’s underwriter since the start, has “consistently stood by our side,” said a Smiley spokeswoman.
Yes, you read that right. Mr. Smiley's major sponsor these days is Wall-Mart - the largest purveyor of poverty in the country.

One other fascinating tidbit from this article:
Smiley speaks to an overwhelmingly white audience on his Public Radio International shows and on TV, and said he appreciates the opportunity to introduce them to a different perspective.
In other words, the African American community has pretty much abandoned Mr. Smiley and he's eeking it out on PBS with the elite white liberals who are their base. But in a classic case of avoiding any personal responsibility for that - he's attempting to claim the victim mantel and blame it on the nasty folks who occupy the White House. I'd suggest that Mr. Smiley go take a look at what President Obama said to those young brothers at Morehouse last week..."no more excuses."

More on Morehouse

There's something that's been ruminating in my head all week. And I think I'll take a lazy Saturday morning to see if I can put it into words. It has to do with President Obama's speech at Morehouse and those who are criticizing it.

What I've been thinking about is that over the years, we've developed certain rules for how we're supposed to deal with victims of oppression/violence/racism. One of those rules is "never blame the victim." I totally agree with that rule.

For the sake of comparison though, lets imagine that we're talking to a victim of domestic violence. It is important to always affirm that she is not at fault. But the truth is - she has some choices to make about how to deal with her situation. Part of our job should also be to empower her to make those choices...for herself. To simply focus on her as a victim of her circumstances robs her of that choice.

Empowering a victim to make their own choices doesn't mean that you blame them - or that you don't hold the perpetrator responsible for what they've done. But victims are - by definition - powerless. When we reinforce that sense of powerlessness, we are inviting further victimization.

What I've just said here is something that has often put me at odds with much of the human services field I've been a part of professionally for over 30 years. I don't want to disparage the entire profession, but there's a reason why the term "bleeding heart liberal" was invented. It usually refers to the fact that many of us enter this business to rescue the "poor victims." That puts us squarely on what Stephen Karpman calls the Drama Triangle.

In doing so, this becomes not only how we see the world, but these three roles become the only ones available for us to play. 

To empower a victim means inviting them to step out of that triangle and take charge of their own lives. Contrary to "blaming the victim," that is what I believe President Obama was inviting the Morehouse graduates to do.  
I understand there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: “Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.” Well, we’ve got no time for excuses. Not because the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they have not. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there...

Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured -- and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.
Now that's some tough love he's dishing out there, isn't it? You see...he knows that racism and discrimination are going to continue to come their way. But he also wants to empower them to not let that define who it is they're going to become. He was inviting them to step off that drama triangle that would only see the world in terms of victims, perpetrators and rescuers. And the vision he offered as an alternative is a grand one indeed.
As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back. Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share. Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith. Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work -- she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.

So your experiences give you special insight that today’s leaders need. If you tap into that experience, it should endow you with empathy -- the understanding of what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, to know what it’s like when you're not born on 3rd base, thinking you hit a triple. It should give you the ability to connect. It should give you a sense of compassion and what it means to overcome barriers.

So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern -- to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Everybody. Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world. To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table; that everybody, no matter what you look like or where you come from, what your last name is -- it doesn’t matter, everybody gets a chance to walk through those doors of opportunity if they are willing to work hard enough...

That’s what we’ve come to expect from you, Morehouse -- a legacy of leaders -- not just in our black community, but for the entire American community. To recognize the burdens you carry with you, but to resist the temptation to use them as excuses. To transform the way we think about manhood, and set higher standards for ourselves and for others. To be successful, but also to understand that each of us has responsibilities not just to ourselves, but to one another and to future generations. Men who refuse to be afraid. Men who refuse to be afraid.
I think that's a lesson we can all take to heart.

Friday, May 24, 2013

President Obama 1 - Glenn Greenwald 0 (zilch, nada)

I just can't help myself.

Some of you will remember that a few months ago I wrote about the fact that Greenwald said the "war on terror" cannot end.

And yet, here's the headline from the NYT editorial board following President Obama's speech yesterday.

That's gonna be some MAJOR cognitive dissonance for the self-proclaimed "anti-authoritarian" to maneuver. Perhaps that's why he has not - as of yet - written anything about the President's speech but has instead chosen to spend all his time tweeting shit like this:
I can`t even care enough even to write about his speeches anymore.
Before he tackles what the President said, he's going to have to do something about this:

Signs of success for President Obama's long game

I can't help but notice that scandal mania just might be dying as news of success on several fronts of President Obama's long game emerge. A few examples will follow.

Perhaps you've heard that both Oregon and now California are seeing great news when it comes to health insurance costs as they finalize the exchanges established by Obamacare. You'll not want to miss what Matt Yglesias wrote about this. It will come in handy when Republicans try to ramp up their campaign against the law's implementation.
...the aspirations of the law are quite high, and the status quo quite bad. That means any time the situation improves but doesn't improve as much as the Obama administration wanted things to improve, that will tend to be covered as "bad news for ObamaCare". That tendency will be reenforced because Republicans will be eager to trumpet ObamaCare's shortcomings (to make Obama look bad) and advocates for the poor will also be eager to trumpet ObamaCare's shortcomings (to build pressure for improvement).
That last statement strikes me as an important point to keep in mind on how liberals tend to shoot ourselves in the foot when it comes to our messaging about the policies of good government.

And then there is this tweet by Brian Beutler that is 100% on point.
Secondly, remember a few weeks ago when everyone was predicting the sure doom of President Obama's "charm offensive?" My preference for talking about what he was up to was to use the President's own words and call it an effort to develop a "common sense caucus." Well, it looks like with an assist from the Senate's lunatic caucus, his efforts are paying off.
A tea party rebellion by several U.S. senators blocking progress on the federal budget may be working for them, but not for their fellow Republican lawmakers -- even ones who mostly agree with them...

The debate intensified Wednesday, when McCain charged that the tea party members' opposition amounted to distrust of the House GOP leadership. And Cruz admitted it did. "Let me be clear. I don't trust the Republicans," he said, lumping them in with Democrats...

But McCain has held his ground, suggesting on Thursday that senators who object to conference negotiations don't understand "how business has been done" in Congress. Moreover, McCain asserted that most GOP senators agree with him that it's time to stop stalling and go to conference.

Most senators asked by The Huffington Post said they do agree with McCain.
Finally, when it comes to ending the indefinite war, President Obama is actually walking his talk. I've mentioned before that there has been a steep decline in the number of drone strikes recently. But sometimes it helps to have a visual. Here's one showing the number in Pakistan from BBC News.

Michael Cohen at The Guardian has more - not just on the reduction in the number of strikes, but on the fact that the number of civilian casualties has been dramatically reduced.
Not only have drone strikes decreased, but so too have the number of civilians killed – and dramatically so.

This conclusion comes not from Obama administration apologists but rather, Chris Woods, whose research has served as the empirical basis for the harshest attacks on the Obama Administration's drone policy...

When I spoke with Woods last month, he said that a fairly clear pattern has emerged over the past year – far fewer civilians are dying from drones. "For those who are opposed to drone strikes," says Woods there is historical merit to the charge of significant civilian deaths, "but from a contemporary standpoint the numbers just aren't there."...

So how does one explain this rather important shift in the US drone war?

The reasons appear to be three-fold. First, as technology has improved so too have the capabilities of drone operators to be more precise. Second, there appears to be shift in targeting, particularly away from so-called "signature strikes" that rely more on behavior than specific intelligence to justify kills...

But there's a third reason: as the war in Afghanistan has begun to wind down the use of drones against militants across the border from Pakistan has declined as well.
The "signature strikes" are the one's that have been carried out by the CIA. Eliminating them has been part of John Brennan's policy to end their involvement in the use of drones. And here's what President Obama said yesterday about the third point.
In the Afghan war theater, we must -- and will -- continue to support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014. And that means we will continue to take strikes against high value al Qaeda targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces. But by the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we’ve made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.
All that amounts to a whole lot of "win" for President Obama's long game. It explains pretty well why I'm proud to call myself an Obamabot!

President Obama on drones

As I said yesterday, the big picture take-away from President Obama's speech on counterterrorism was that he laid the foundation for ending the indefinite war. Part way through the speech I began thinking to myself that he wasn't hitting that message hard enough. But then I realized that he wasn't just speaking to people on the left who have been screaming about drones - he was talking to the American public that had been traumatized by 9/11 and had their fears exploited ever since. In other words, he was laying the groundwork for all of us to let go of those fears and move forward.

But the President addressed a lot of policy in this speech as well. Specifically, he talked about the use of drones.
As was true in previous armed conflicts, this new technology raises profound questions -- about who is targeted, and why; about civilian casualties, and the risk of creating new enemies; about the legality of such strikes under U.S. and international law; about accountability and morality. So let me address these questions.
He affirmed, as I have said before, that any new war technology raises profound questions. I can imagine this kind of conversation happening, for instance, when airplanes first developed the capability to drop bombs from the air.

President Obama then goes on to explain how his use of drones in this war has been both effective and legal. But he said that's not enough.
And yet, as our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power -- or risk abusing it.
Please take note of what a profound statement that is for a President to make. He's talking about making a moral case for limiting his own power. And after pointing out that drones are used to both protect coalition forces in Afghanistan and to target terrorists who are planning attacks, he says this:
And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured -- the highest standard we can set.

Now, this last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes -- both here at home and abroad -- understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There’s a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in every war. And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred throughout conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives.
That is the burden that rests on the President's shoulders.  To carry that burden, it is clear that President Obama relies on the wisdom of people like Reinhold Niebuhr. I recall that way back in 2007, David Brooks asked then-Senator Barack Obama what he thought of Niebuhr's writing. Here's what he said:
“I take away,” Obama answered in a rush of words, “the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away ... the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from na├»ve idealism to bitter realism.”
People can critique the President's actions in any way they see fit. But to have any real legitimacy, they must wrestle with that tension between naive idealism and bitter realism - and what it means to stare the very real evil in the world in the face. Because that's the job we give to this President.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ending the war: a refutation of fear

There is no doubt. For me, today is one of the most important days of Barack Obama's presidency.

As regular readers here know, for quite a while now I've been writing about the need to end the indefinite war. I must admit that over the last couple of years, I've felt a bit lonely in championing that cause. But I've always had a feeling that this is where the President was going - even as all the talk on the left ignored the fact that we were at war and focused instead on civil liberties as a concern.

Today...headlines like these tell the story:

OMG - all of the sudden I don't feel so alone anymore. And if those titles don't represent a summary of your take-away from President Obama's speech today, you are clearly missing the forest for the trees.

Here's what the President said about that:
So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do -- what we must do -- is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. And to define that strategy, we have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom...

The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.

So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands...

Our victory against terrorism won’t be measured in a surrender ceremony at a battleship, or a statue being pulled to the ground. Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school; immigrants coming to our shores; fans taking in a ballgame; a veteran starting a business; a bustling city street; a citizen shouting her concerns at a President.

The quiet determination; that strength of character and bond of fellowship; that refutation of fear -- that is both our sword and our shield.
Our country experienced a trauma on 9/11/01. I've never been particularly proud of how we handled that. We let our anger and fear be manipulated by the Bush administration into doing some pretty despicable things. President Obama has been tasked with cleaning up a lot of the mess we made of all that. And now he's asking us to join him in completing that work so that we can move on.

Ending this war means not letting our fear drive our actions anymore. We can recognize and deal with the threats we face by summoning our "hard-earned wisdom" and "quiet determination." Who better to lead us into that kind of healing than this President?

"Taking Obama to task for sounding like my father is way, way over the top"

That's what Jack White writes in response to the people who are criticizing President Obama's commencement speech at Morehouse College.
They're determined to find fault with Obama even when he does something right -- and in this case at least, they are as out of touch as the president's right-wing opponents.

That's the conclusion I reached after rereading Obama's Morehouse remarks in light of the strong critiques from Coates and Kai Wright, my esteemed former colleague at The Root. I didn't hear the "convenient race talk" that Coates detected or the browbeating that troubled Wright. I didn't even hear the voice of a politician.

I heard the voice of my father.
Stop. Take a breath. Grab a kleenex. Read on.
It could have been my dad lecturing me across the dinner table when Obama declared, "You have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by."

And again, when he admonished the graduates to "be a good role model, set a good example for that young brother coming up. If you know somebody who's not on point, go back and bring that brother along. Those who've been left behind, who haven't had the same opportunities we have -- they need to hear from you."

And yet again, when he urged them to "recognize the burdens you carry with you, but to resist the temptation to use them as excuses. To transform the way we think about manhood, and set higher standards for ourselves and for others. To be successful, but also to understand that each of us has responsibilities not just to ourselves, but to one another and to future generations. Men who refuse to be afraid. Men who refuse to be afraid."

Those are the messages that my father, a medical-school professor at Howard University who died 25 years ago, pounded into my head as I was growing up, and that I've tried to convey to my own children.

And they're pretty much the same sentiments I've heard expressed in every HBCU commencement address I've ever attended. To have them delivered by the first black president brings joy and inspiration to my heart -- as it seems to have done to the graduates, who, perhaps lacking the critics' exquisite sensitivity to condescension, stomped, cheered and whooped in response to the speech. To accuse the president of talking down to the throng is to miss the occasion. What he said was entirely appropriate -- and entirely familiar.
Thank you Jack!

President Obama's base won't desert him

Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting for Public Opinion to Turn Against Obama:
The president has a base of loyalists that won't quit...

Given the noise level on Capitol Hill, cable TV, and social media, Obama's 50 percent-plus showings in recent polls from CNN, Pew, and ABC/Washington Post seem somewhat surprising. But two veteran political pollsters, one from each party, say that Obama can expect to maintain his standing as long as there's no evidence that he was involved in the two big furors of the moment...

Republican Bill McInturff and Democrat Stan Greenberg agree that Obama is in a relatively strong position short of "a real set of facts that implicates the president," as Greenberg put it. The reasons include Obama's steadfast coalition of blacks, Latinos, and young people...

The president's core base has kept his approval rating in the mid-40s or higher through the five years of his presidency, McInturff says, and won't desert him.
You bettcha!!!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

President Obama pivots towards ending the indefinite war

For someone like me who has been writing for quite a while now about ending the indefinite war, tomorrow is a HUGE day. President Obama will give a speech that begins the process of delivering on the promise he made almost exactly a year ago.
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.
I've been so excited about this speech that I'm jumping on some of the news that is coming out about what he'll have to say.
In his first major speech on counterterrorism of his second term, Mr. Obama hopes to refocus the epic conflict that has defined American priorities since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and even foresees an unspecified day when the so-called war on terror might all but end, according to people briefed on White House plans...

A new classified policy guidance signed by Mr. Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not overt war zones, countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The rules will impose the same standard for strikes on foreign enemies now used only for American citizens deemed to be terrorists...

In effect, this appears to be a step away from the relatively unrestricted use of force allowed in war zones and toward the more limited use of force for self-defense allowed outside of armed conflict...

In his speech, Mr. Obama is expected to reject the notion of a perpetual war with terrorists, envisioning a day when Al Qaeda has been so incapacitated that wartime authority will end.
As VP Joe Biden once said..."that is a big fucking deal!"

Rosen sought leaks in order to influence foreign policy

This week the Washington Post broke the story about Fox News reporter James Rosen being investigated due to national security leaks he received from State Department employee Stephen Jin-Woo Kim. Their reporting was based on an affidavit submitted to a federal judge seeking a search warrant for Rosen's email. The WaPo article links to and quotes heavily from the affidavit.

Tommy Christopher reviewed the affidavit and noticed something pretty interesting. In an email to Kim, Rosen lays out what it is he wants to accomplish with the information he receives.
Let’s break some new[s], and expose muddle-headed policy when we see it – or force the administration’s hand to go in the right direction, if possible.
Can we finally dispense with the "whistleblower" crap? Its interesting to me that WaPo left that little bombshell out of their article.

One other thing that struck sounds like Rosen knew Kim enough to be confident that they were of like mind when it comes to what the "right direction" would be. So regarding Kim - can you spell M.O.L.E?

If the press wants special protections, they need to come to the table too

I get what all the howls are about in the press on the "chilling" effects of being investigated. The first amendment that guarantees a press free from government interference is a bedrock principle for any democracy. So I agree that there is an issue here that needs to be resolved.

But its not enough for them to simply point the finger at the Obama administration as the party that is in the wrong here. For example Eugene Robinson's article today sounds like it was written in some reality that no longer exists (and perhaps never did).
Obviously, the government has a duty to protect genuine secrets. But the problem is that every administration, without exception, tends to misuse the “top secret” stamp — sometimes from an overabundance of caution, sometimes to keep inconvenient or embarrassing information from coming to light.

That’s where journalists come in. Our job, simply, is to find out what the government doesn’t want you to know.
That kind of thinking doesn't take into account the fact that the press also includes people like Jonathan Karl - who blatantly lie to the American public based on information that is planted by political opponents for the express purpose of undermining an administration.

It also doesn't take into account the fact that Republicans have demonstrated - through their "leaks" to the press - that they are willing to use the media (who are willing to be played) to lie us into a war and put national security at risk in order to undermine their critics. Its clear to most of us outside the media that it is a continuation of those kinds of abuses that are being investigated here.

Robinson ends his article with the same old canard many of us have been talking about lately.
The president needs to understand that behavior commonly known as “whistleblowing” and “journalism” must not be construed as espionage.
What I want to say to him is that when you are willing to drop this idea that what is being investigated is "whistleblowing," and recognize that there are real issues to be grappled with ON BOTH SIDES of this government/press tension, I'm one who's ready to come to the table and talk about solutions. Until then, you're missing the point.

Is Sharyl Attkisson CBS's Jonathan Karl?

CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson has been in the news quite a bit lately. For example, the Washington Post did a story recently about her as the one major news network journalist who has reported extensively about Benghazi.

And then yesterday, she went on the radio show of right winger Chris Stigall to imply that the Obama administration had been hacking her computers.
CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson said on Tuesday that her personal and work computers have been "compromised" for over two years.

Attkisson told a local Philadelphia radio station that she has been working with investigators to discover the source of the activity.

"There has been an issue in my house and there has been an issue with my computers that's gone on for quite a long time that we're looking into," she said.
So its been going on "for quite a long time" but she still doesn't have any definitive answers about these "issues" with her computers. And yet she makes no bones about linking it to the stories about DOJ getting phone records for AP reporters or investigating James Rosen's involvement with national security leaks.
"I think there could be some relationship between these types of things and what happened to me," she said, adding that something suspicious had been happening since "at least February of 2011 and I think probably a significant period of time before that."
Let me remind you, this is not a Brietbrat...this is a CBS News reporter.

In defense of CBS, it looks as if the network pretty much ignored her Benghazi reports and Politico says she's in negotiations with them to leave (I'm sure Fox News has a opening). But a look at her record indicates an interesting array of stories that she's focused on.
  1. Waste and abuse in the ARA investment in green energy
  2. Fast and Furious
  3. Benghazi
  4. The link between childhood inoculations and autism
Yeah, she's pretty much in Michele Bachmann territory with most of that.

I write all this so that when/if any mainstream media starts linking these ridiculous claims of hers about her computers (to date, its only wingnuts, Politico and HuffPo that are talking about it) to the current scandal mania, you'll know where the nonsense comes from. Ms. Attkisson might not have the obvious historical ties to right wing groups that we've noted with Jonathan Karl. But her own legacy of reporting should make anyone call into question the claims she's making.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Nothing is more important"

Apparently President Obama ad libbed the addition of "or your boyfriend" to his prepared remarks...a HUGE shout-out to our gay brothers in the audience.

Then he went on to say this:
I know that when I am on my deathbed someday, I will not be thinking about any particular legislation I passed; I will not be thinking about a policy I promoted; I will not be thinking about the speech I gave, I will not be thinking the Nobel Prize I received. I will be thinking about that walk I took with my daughters. I'll be thinking about a lazy afternoon with my wife. I'll be thinking about sitting around the dinner table and seeing them happy and healthy and knowing that they were loved. And I'll be thinking about whether I did right by all of them.

How journalists get played

Here's how Karen Tumulty responded to the story yesterday about Stephen Jin-Woo Kim leaking classified information to Fox News reporter James Rosen.
Now, I'm not a paid reporter. But even I can imagine that there are alternatives somewhere in between just writing what the government tells you and just writing what a leaker tells you.

Imagine this...what if a journalist actually knew their history and had a bit of curiosity? For example, what if they had questions about why a State Department employee was interested in sharing classified information only with a Fox News reporter? I know real journalists aren't supposed to ask those kinds of questions. But everyone with even a modicum of a brain knows that Fox News has an agenda. There's a story there and only the willfully blind would ignore that.

The next place a little curiosity might take you is to wonder just who this Stephen Jin-Woo Kim is. As even I was able to find out from a simple look at wikipedia, he was an employee of a federally funded research and development center that consulted with Rumsfeld via the Defense Policy Board - which was chaired by Richard Perle. In 2008 - just before the Obama administration began - Kim went to work for the State Department. One might be curious about that.

The history journalists might want to keep in mind is how the likes of Cheney, Rove and Libby used leaks to the media to both further their lies about WMD in Iraq (ie, Judith Miller) and to undermine their opponents (ie, Valerie Plame).

Wouldn't a curious reporter want to look into these kinds of things? Apparently not. I haven't seen anyone else who seems to be asking these kinds of questions. If you have, please let me know. The result is that reporters are left with merely being stenographers for the administration or the leakers. That's how they get played.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Photo of the Day: A teacher's love

A teacher hugs a child at Briarwood Elementary school after a tornado destroyed the school in south OKC Oklahoma City, OK, Monday, May 20, 2013.

President Obama on being black in America

President Obama in his speech to the 2013 class of Morehouse:
As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back. Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share. Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith. Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work -- she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.

So your experiences give you special insight that today’s leaders need. If you tap into that experience, it should endow you with empathy -- the understanding of what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, to know what it’s like when you're not born on 3rd base, thinking you hit a triple. It should give you the ability to connect. It should give you a sense of compassion and what it means to overcome barriers. 
Powerful stuff! It reminded me of this from Eric Wattree.
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.
I know from my own experience that when I do my best to try to see the world through different eyes, it is often my experience as a woman in a patriarchal society that I draw on. Its what makes the task of overcoming privilege so very difficult for straight white men. I know they can tap into empathy because I've seen it happen, but it takes special effort.

Those of you who read here regularly will know that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tim Wise. More than any other straight white man, he has explored the depths of privilege and has an awful lot to teach us. But in my mind, he demonstrated the limits of that exploration in his reaction to President Obama's speech yesterday at Morehouse.
President Obama’s commencement address today at Morehouse College — one of the nation’s preeminent institutions of higher learning, and perhaps its most famous historically black college or university — during which, among plenty of rather standard commencement speech boilerplate, the president lectured this year’s graduates about the importance of taking personal responsibility for their lives, and not blaming racism for whatever obstacles they may face in the future...

Barack Obama has for once and all revealed himself to be not nearly the deep and analytical thinker so many have long believed. After all, Morehouse men like the ones to whom the president delivered his commencement address today, are not the type to slack off, or make excuses for their shortcomings, or wait for others to do things for them. They earned admission to an amazing school, and have now graduated from said school, on the basis of their own merit and hard work. To hector them like supplicants looking for a handout is crass and beneath the dignity of a President of the United States, and especially one who shares the coloring of most, if not all of those graduates.

Barack Obama knows how demanding a school Morehouse is. So to preach hard work to these men, as if they had never heard of it — as if they now intended to kick back and wait for things to be handed to them — is to not only insult their intelligence, but also to feed every vicious stereotype already held by too many white Americans about black males, no matter how educated. It is to give us fuel for our already too-well-stoked racist fires, made ever hotter now by the ability to say, “See, even Obama knows the truth about black men! Even he knows they’re always making excuses for their failures.”
I know that there are many African Americans who also cringe when President Obama talks about this to black audiences. So its not simply Wise's privilege talking here. The valid point they are making is that this kind of talk does get used by white Americans to feed their stereotypes about irresponsible black men.

But my own experience as a woman and the time I've spent listening to strong young black people tells me that the challenges faced by these Morehouse graduates doesn't end with commencement from this historic institution. President Obama knows that both the individual and systemic racism these young men will face in their futures will be unrelenting and often insidious. And as hard as they worked to get into Morehouse and complete their degree, it will continue to come at them in ways that eat at their souls - if they let it. That is what it means to be black in America.

The danger President Obama was warning about is letting that kind of thing distract them - through anger or depression - from the commitment to excellence and the empathy the world so desperately needs from them.
You now hail from a lineage and legacy of immeasurably strong men -- men who bore tremendous burdens and still laid the stones for the path on which we now walk. You wear the mantle of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, and Ralph Bunche and Langston Hughes, and George Washington Carver and Ralph Abernathy and Thurgood Marshall, and, yes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These men were many things to many people. And they knew full well the role that racism played in their lives. But when it came to their own accomplishments and sense of purpose, they had no time for excuses.

Every one of you have a grandma or an uncle or a parent who’s told you that at some point in life, as an African American, you have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by. I think President Mays put it even better: He said, “Whatever you do, strive to do it so well that no man living and no man dead, and no man yet to be born can do it any better."

And I promise you, what was needed in Dr. Mays’s time, that spirit of excellence, and hard work, and dedication, and no excuses is needed now more than ever. If you think you can just get over in this economy just because you have a Morehouse degree, you’re in for a rude awakening. But if you stay hungry, if you keep hustling, if you keep on your grind and get other folks to do the same -- nobody can stop you.
Wise suggests that in saying this, President Obama is perhaps the one "who has internalized the idea that black people, even highly educated ones, are would-be malingerers, just waiting for a reason to go soft and blame the world for trying to keep a black man down.” But that would be like suggesting that every grandma, uncle or parent who has said the same thing to a young black person has internalized all that as well. There is a reason these messages are so prominent in the black community. And it has more to do with how young black people are treated in our culture than any shortcoming on their part.

President Obama was calling these young graduates to something better. He knows how badly this world needs their leadership...and their empathy. He knows that they have a unique role to play in healing what divides us. Rather than getting mired in the rage that racism can engender, he was asking them to step up to that plate and carry on the legacy of Morehouse Men.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Deal with it!

I'm going to talk some more about President Obama's speech at Morehouse later. Suffice it for now to say that it was clear that his passion came from feeling "at home" with that group of powerful young black men and the entire Morehouse tradition.

In a perfect display of exactly how that unnerves some people, here's Drudge's headline today.

You got that right Drudge. And even though he never actually uttered the words you chose to put in quotes, today was a magnificent celebration of THE BLACK MAN THAT IS OUR with it!

Photo of the Day: Obama v the Matrix


Rep. Issa blows up GOP talking point on IRS

Now that the attempt to create a controversy over the Benghazi story has pretty much fallen apart, the Republicans are going all-in on the IRS "scandal" to see if they can gin up something there that will hurt President Obama. We saw Nate Silver's takedown of Peggy Noonan's attempt to do that yesterday.

The thing that's making that difficult for Republicans is this statement in the Inspector General's Report.
We asked the Acting Commissioner, Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division; the Director, EO; and Determinations Unit personnel if the criteria were influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS. All of these officials stated that the criteria were not influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS. Instead, the Determinations Unit developed and implemented inappropriate criteria in part due to insufficient oversight provided by management. Specifically, only first-line management approved references to the Tea Party in the BOLO [Be on the Look-Out] listing criteria before it was implemented.
Oops, there was no attempt by President Obama to target his political opposition. So the only "scandal" they have left to exploit is the old canard about "what did you know and when did you know it?" Trying to find some way to suggest that Obama administration officials knew about what was going on prior to last week but did nothing is the focus of most of the chatter about this one lately.

Enter Rep. Darrell Issa to kill the buzz on that one. Here's the story: Last summer it was Rep. Issa who requested that the IG look into IRS targeting of conservative groups. It was the imminence of them issuing their report last week that broke this story to the general public. But the fact that they were doing an investigation was no secret. As a matter of fact, it was reported on their web site.

In needing to brag about all this, Issa told Bloomberg Businessweek:
"I knew what was approximately in it [IG report] when we made the allegations about a year ago. This is one of those things where it's been, in a sense, an open secret, but you don't accuse the IRS until you've had a nonpartisan, deep look. That's what the IG has done. "you don't accuse the IRS until you've had a nonpartisan, deep look." And that's EXACTLY what President Obama did. Once he'd seen the final report, he spoke out against the practice of political profiling and took action. And now AG Eric Holder is investigating whether any laws were broken.

Yet another "scandal" you can put a fork in.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The strange contours of Republican outrage

Apparently Governor Bobby Jindal is going to give a speech to Virginia Republicans today and (surprise, surprise) Politico got a scoop on what he's going to say. A couple of quotes stood out to me.
“It won’t do to have a few lower-level staffers in the Tucson field office lose their executive washroom privileges,” he’s planning to say. “This is much bigger than that.”...

“The President of the United States must have the moral authority to go around the globe and call out tyranny when he sees it,” he’s slated to argue. “He must be able to be freedom’s evangelist. He cannot do that if he tolerates basic constitutional violations right under his own nose.”
I couldn't help but think that perhaps Jindal is referring to something like this:

But no, he's talking about how a few overworked IRS agents engaged in what might be best referred to as "political profiling" to determine whether or not a tax exempt organization could keep their donors a secret.

It comes down to the difference between manufactured outrage and the real thing. 

Noonan vs Silver...its a rout!

If there was a picture in the dictionary next to the term "pearl-clutching," it would have to be one of Peggy Noonan. She has perfected the art of "oh my, isn't it awful." But the veneer is only skin deep. Underneath she wields a brutality of lies and innuendoes based on the most extreme partisanship.

All of this was on display yesterday in her column titled This is No Ordinary Scandal. She comes out swinging with this opening statement:
We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate.
Yeah, right. I thought the Republicans were going to work on that "overreach" thing. Guess not.

Of course she engages about the scandal trifecta the Republicans are insistent on exploiting...Benghazi, AP/DOJ and IRS. But its the latter that she really wants to focus on. And she gets pretty creative in ginning things up.
The IRS scandal has two parts. The first is the obviously deliberate and targeted abuse, harassment and attempted suppression of conservative groups. The second is the auditing of the taxes of political activists. haven't heard about that second one? Peggy has examples for you. Four of them. Yes, four conservatives who have come forward to say that they had their taxes audited. And she claims that many more will come forward to say the same thing.

Riding in on his white horse to save the day is the man who so vexed the Republicans during the 2012 campaign by not scewing the polls towards a Romney win...Nate Silver.
The I.R.S. publishes data each year on the number of taxpayers it audits. In 2012, it conducted just shy of 1.5 million audits out of 144 million individual income tax returns...

The point is, however, that even with no political targeting at all, hundreds of thousands of conservative voters would have been chosen for audits in the I.R.S.’s normal course of business. Among these hundreds of thousands of voters, thousands would undoubtedly have gone beyond merely voting to become political activists.

The fact that Ms. Noonan has identified four conservatives from that group of thousands provides no evidence at all toward her hypothesis. Nor would it tell us very much if dozens or even hundreds of conservative activists disclosed that they had been audited. This is exactly what you would expect in a country where there are 1.5 million audits every year.

It's a joy to belong to the side of this argument that has things like science, math and facts on our side ;-)

And while being ever-so-cordial in this Noonan take-down, Silver provides just a bit of "stick a fork in this one" at the end.
Ms. Noonan, and many other commentators, made a similar mistake last year in their analysis of the presidential election, when they cited evidence like the number of Mitt Romney yard signs in certain neighborhoods as an indication that he was likely to win, while dismissing polls that collectively surveyed hundreds of thousands of voters in swing states and largely showed Mr. Obama ahead.
Take a bow, Mr. Silver.

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