Monday, September 23, 2013

The long game of Obamacare

Many of you will remember the great debate that happened on the left as Obamacare worked its way through the Senate. Far too many people prioritized only one thing...the public option. Today I'm convinced that many of them never really knew what the public option was - the requirement that all state health care exchanges include at least one public insurance option - and instead equated it with a single payer system. President Obama has consistently been criticized on the left for failing to support single payer and that critique got equated with the simple idea of a public option on the exchanges.

But lets go back to 2008 and listen to what then-Senator Barack Obama said about single payer.

In addition to worrying about job losses during the great recession, President Obama talked about the fact that so many people rely on their employer for health insurance. Any move towards single payer would have to de-couple health insurance from employment.

As we move towards the unveiling of the state health care exchanges on October 1st, it is with that in mind that I read stories like this.
Home Depot Inc. said today that it would drop medical plans for part-time workers and direct them to the government-sponsored insurance websites scheduled to open next year as part of the health law...

Detroit and Chicago have proposed ending health plans for current or retired municipal workers, since they’ll be able to buy subsidized coverage through the health-care law...

Last week, Trader Joe’s Co., the closely held supermarket chain, said it would end health benefits next year for part-time workers. Employees will get a $500 payment and be sent to the public exchanges. With federal tax credits available there, most workers will get a better deal than the company could offer, Trader Joe’s said in a statement.

By offering other insurance options, “Obamacare has taken the moral imperative away for employers to continue offering coverage,” said Laszewski, the industry consultant. “The days of your father’s health insurance are over.”
Republicans will use this as an example of the havoc they envision coming from Obamacare and I've already seen too many liberals light their hair on fire about it as well. Whether or not employers will provide a subsidy in pay that is the equivalent of what they have been spending to purchase insurance is - of course - a concern.

But what I see in all of this is the extremely effective long game that is so typical of President Obama. He knew at the outset that if he championed the cause of single payer, he would never get it through Congress. And so instead he put in place a system that not only addresses significant immediate concerns, it will slowly but surely move us in the direction of decoupling health insurance from employment - opening up a whole range of possibilities.

Hang onto your hats, folks. This whole Obamacare thing is just getting started! It might be a bumpy ride. But I like where things are headed.

For the teachers

My mother passed away and I spent the weekend at her memorial service (hence the lack of posting). It was held in Texas -  in the town where I grew up but haven't visited since my grandparents died.

At the visitation the night before the memorial service, I was busy greeting family and friends - some of whom I hadn't seen in over over 30 years. A woman walked up to me and said, "You won't recognize me, but I'm Ms. Hodges - your 4th grade teacher." She didn't know if I would remember her - but boy do I! I've thought often about Ms. Hodges. She was tough - but we loved her because we knew she really cared about us. In other words, she made an impression that has lasted these last 50 years.

And there she was a few nights ago demonstrating why. We spent a few minutes talking about what kind of student I was back then and remembering how we'd spent the day in her classroom after we learned that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

One of the things I know about children is that their deepest longing is to feel special to someone. As tough as Ms. Hodges was, she made us all feel special. That's why I remember her. She made me feel that way again on Friday night...because we're all just children at heart, aren't we?

Thank you to Ms. Hodges and all the other teachers out there who make us feel special.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

What's wrong with America?

My title is a twist on an article in Politico titled: What's wrong with President Obama? Its part of the hair-on-fire reaction coming from the DC village pundits I referred to yesterday about the President's political fortunes.

Its fascinating to me that in the midst of the kind of lunacy coming from the Republican Party these days that this is such a hot topic for the DC insiders. And so I scratch my head and wonder WTH is wrong with this country that we're even talking about it.

The truth is that no matter how crazy the Republicans get, the belief in some circles persists that one person in the presidency should be able to control things. This has been referred to as the Green Lantern theory of presidential power. It is ubiquitous, not just with DC pundits, but we see it often coming from the President's critics on the left (he "abandoned" the public option in health care reform even though it NEVER had 60 votes in the Senate) and the public at large.

I'd suggest that rather than trying to figure out what's wrong with President Obama, perhaps its time we held a mirror up to ourselves to find the root of the problem. We really struggle with this whole representative democracy thing. As much as we like to talk about things like "freedom," we are constantly on the look-out for a leader who can fix it all for us. When things get difficult or messy, it must be his (or her) fault. That is the position of a victim and the classic underpinning of authoritarianism.

We don't like messy or difficult and so we want our leader to present things to us in the clear terms of good vs evil or black vs white. Listen to how Harris and Purdum describe that in the Politico article.
This president lately has faced situations that cried out for a black-and-white sense of purpose, and unquestioned public command...

The common theme in both episodes [Syria and Summers] is that they were about projecting power, not summoning sweet reason. Obama’s approach put him in the position of being bullied — in one case by a sworn enemy, in the other by ostensible friends — who could not have cared less about his own nuanced views.
Notice that they wanted President Obama to project power - not reason. As if the two were mutually exclusive. That's because they see power as dominance over others. To fail to project that kind of power means that you get bullied. This is where the frame of weakness comes from.

Nowhere in the analysis of these two situations do the authors discuss actual outcomes. That's because their sole focus is on the either/or process of a win/lose power game. If President Obama isn't winning, he must be losing - regardless of the superior outcome in Syria or whoever becomes the next Federal Reserve Chair. And of course in this framework, all that matters is the win.

Even if winning was possible via dominance, that is not what this President is about. Instead he is about getting the best possible outcomes via the power of partnership...working with people as opposed to trying to win against them. That means we're all involved in the solution - whether he's talking about citizenship in a democracy, the role of Congress as representatives of the people, or working with the global community on shared interests.

From the beginning, one of the questions I've had is whether or not America is ready for the kind of leadership President Obama would provide. Are we ready to explore the power of partnership rather than simply rely on dominance? I suspect that is the experiment we're seeing unfold. As Michelle Obama said about her husband years ago:
Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Take it to the Limit

Let Ms. Etta James break it down for you.

It all comes down to Obamacare

I see this morning that a whole crew of village pundits are lighting their hair on fire over the possibility that President Obama's political fortunes are in trouble these days. Apparently they think the President is in trouble with his "base" or that he's losing the support of Congressional Democrats.

Greg Sargent does a good job of dispelling all the nonsense.
The divisions between Dems and Obama are real, but they are focused on some policy areas and not on others...

...on the need to keep funding the government and raise the debt limit without giving an inch on Obamacare, there are no signs of any serious disunity — and this is what will likely shape the party’s stance in coming fights.
 You want to talk about someone who's having trouble with their "base?" Lets take a moment to look at Speaker Boehner. Republicans have been lathering up their constituency's hatred of Obamacare since 2009. And now they're paying the price. Two weeks out from a government shutdown, the lunatic caucus in the House has refused to even pass a short-term extension of the current budget unless it defunds Obamacare. Apparently today Boehner is giving in to the lunatics and so the bill the House will take up this week to keep the government operating will include a provision to defund Obamacare. If it passes the House, it will die in the Senate...and then what?

The interesting thing here is what Sargent pointed out...the unity of the Democrats in defending Obamacare. Those of us who watched all the drama as that bill was underway can't help but notice how everyone on the left has now rallied around it. If the "kill the bill" folks had any leverage, surely they'd be lining up with the lunatics these days - just as they were trying to do to stop it from passing in the first place. We also remember the concern trolling some in the media were peddling during the 2010 and 2012  elections about how Democrats should distance themselves from Obamacare in their campaigns.

What changed? Over time it has become obvious to everyone but the lunatics on the right that Obamacare is working (I actually think many of the lunatic leaders also know its working...that's what they're so afraid of). And so, for those of us who buy into the President's commitment to the long game, our trust in those who fought so hard for Obamacare is once again vindicated.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Embracing a "messy" foreign policy

I've had few reasons to be proud of this country's foreign policy in my lifetime. I was born just as we were intervening in Iran to install the Shah and came of age during the Vietnam War. Due to my family's involvement in South America, I paid a bit more attention than most Americans to our sponsorship of coups that installed dictators and supported repressive regimes all over that continent in the name of fighting the "Cold War." And then came the Bush/Cheney neocon-inspired fiascos in the Middle East.

Knowing the involvement of our national security apparatus in clandestine activities such as coups and disappearances and torture and surveillance, the only thing that surprised me about Bush/Cheney is that they weren't trying to hide it anymore...they were doing it right out in the open. The whole idea that American foreign policy EVER followed the rule of international law is naive at best.

When I evaluate President Obama's foreign policy, I always remember that this was the state of things he walked into.  Not only that - he was dealing with a global recession and three wars (I include the war on al Qaeda). My first thought when he nominated Leon Panetta (the ultimate bureaucratic manager) to be the Director of the CIA and then Secretary of Defense was that he needed to find out where all the "bodies were buried" in those systems to find the leverage he'd need to turn that giant ship around.

One of the things I suspect President Obama learned from his father and from his experience of living overseas is that chaos is not an answer to solving this kind of malfeasance. We've seen him employ a far more slow and thoughtful process to systemic change in his approach to both Wall Street and foreign policy. He's seen up close and personal what happens to ordinary people when those systems collapse at the hands of ideologues.

We're just now beginning to see the fruits of his slow and thoughtful progress on all this. It started this spring when he talked about finally ending the indefinite war on al Qaeda. In suggesting that we walk back the ability for the imperial presidency to wage indefinite war, he was also scaling back the ability of our national security apparatus to do so.

One of the major successes in dealing with this national security bureaucracy that progressives often point to is the Church Committee that created the FISA Court. At the time, this court was seen as major progress in providing oversight to many of these clandestine activities - even though it was secret. Now, not only has the Obama administration declassified several FISA Court rulings, the Court itself issued a fascinating ruling last week having to do with further declassification of cases it has adjudicated on the collection of metadata (Section 215).
The unauthorized disclosure in June 2013 of a Section 215 order, and government statements in response to that disclosure, have engendered considerable public interest and debate about Section 215. Publication of FISC opinions relating to this provision would contribute to an informed debate. Congressional amici emphasize the value of public information and debate in representing their constituents and discharging their legislative responsibilities. Publication would also assure citizens of the integrity of this Court's proceedings.

In addition, publication with only limited redactions may now be feasible, given the extent of the government's recent public disclosures about how Section 215 is implemented. Indeed, the government advises that a declassification review process is already underway.
Due to this administration's response to the Snowden leaks, we are now on the verge of the FISA court dealing quite a blow to the secrecy envisioned at its inception following the Church Committee. That's progress on top of progress.

And finally, we have that "messy" process President Obama engaged in to deal with the Syrian situation. It is now obvious that his goals in proposing military strikes were not about the neocon dream of US warmongering hegemony - but just as he stated - to punish and degrade Assad's use of chemical weapons. No matter what you make of his motivations to engage Congress is that decision, he voluntarily walked back the imperial presidency by opening that door. And in using the threat of military strikes, he was able to broker a diplomatic solution that produced the opportunity for even better results.

If liberals really wanted a President who would reform our foreign policy and walk back our addiction to hegemony, short of engendering global chaos, this is what its going to look like. That the neocons are worried about this kind of process indicating a "weakness" in foreign policy should tell us something. If we are going to actually work in partnership with the rest of the world rather than assume dominance, things are going to get messy. Then-Senator Barack Obama warned us about that way back in 2005.
The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives' job. After all, it's easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it's harder to craft a foreign policy that's tough and smart...But that's our job. 
I'd suggest that rather than expect the President to make this messy process look more orderly, we as Americans (especially liberals) should drop our ideas about controlling the world and recognize that we are but one player  (although surely a powerful one) in a global picture that is often messy and difficult. That not only signals the right message to the rest of the world, it might help us avoid all the mistakes we've made in places like Vietnam and Iraq over the years.

I'm anxious for a foreign policy in the US that I can be proud of. At times I get impatient with the slow progress in that arena. But at this point, I have no doubts about where President Obama is taking us on that front. Since the days of Manifest Destiny, we've been trampling on others pretty indiscriminately to get our way. Turning that ship around is going to be messy and take some time. I'm grateful that we have a President who's willing to embrace that.

P.S. If you want to dive in even deeper to the "messiness" that President Obama is traversing with what he inherited in the Middle East - and specifically in Syria - read how BooMan breaks it all down. The hype we got from both sides of the public discussion about all this ignores the deeper issues at play.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Snowden and Manning have cheapened what it means to be a whistleblower (updated)

One of the things that bothers me about the Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning episodes is that they have blurred the lines about whistleblowing. As with any act of civil disobedience, it is an important tool for those seeking justice.

That's why I found myself agreeing with some of what Peter Ludlow has written in a NYT op-ed titled The Banality of Systemic Evil. For example:
In “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” one of the most poignant and important works of 20th-century philosophy, Hannah Arendt made an observation about what she called “the banality of evil.” One interpretation of this holds that is was not an observation about what a regular guy Adolph Eichmann seemed to be, but rather a statement about what happens when people play their “proper” roles within a system, following proscribed conduct with respect to that system, while remaining blind to the moral consequences of what the system was doing — or at least compartmentalizing and ignoring those consequences.
That reminds me of this Martin Luther King, Jr. quote:
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Staying silent in the face of evil is indeed to be complicit.

But nowhere in Ludlow's article does he grapple with the deep moral question of having to isolate what is "evil." Much as Glenn Greenwald simply assumes that anyone in a position of power is lying, Ludlow infers that any bureaucratic system is evil and therefore justifies whistleblowing. When it comes to our government system, you can see how this aligns perfectly with a libertarian view.

Even those who are the loudest critics of Chelsea Manning will note that if she had merely leaked information about malfeasance in Iraq, she would likely be deemed a hero and walk free today. But that's not what she did. She leaked indiscriminately.

When it comes to Edward Snowden, there is even less of a case to be made. To date he has not released anything that points to illegal activities. President Obama has been willing to discuss improvements to NSA surveillance and the administration is busy declassifying at least as many documents as have been leaked so far. The idea that what we are witnessing from this administration falls under the rubric of "the banality of evil" is simply absurd.

Ultimately the job of whistleblower brings with it the responsibility to ask deep moral questions of oneself. To take the easy way out by simply defining every system as evil isn't a moral position - its the abdication that responsibility. Snowden and Manning have cheapened the whole concept of what it means to be a whistleblower. They don't deserve the label.

UPDATE: Just a bit off-topic, but I find this kind of tweet from Greenwald to be fascinating.

No one has more respect for Alice Walker than I do. But the implication here is that if Walker supports Snowden, so should I, because nowhere in the article linked is her position explained or justified. Its simply stated. This is solely an appeal to authority from someone who constantly decries authoritarianism. It also suggests that perhaps those in doubt should "blindly" follow those they admire.

Alice Walker's view of Snowden doesn't really affect mine. I chose to look at the evidence and decide for myself. If that means I don't agree with her, so be it. I have as much right to my own opinion as she does. I suspect Alice would support that. Its the non-authoritarian thing to do.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Both/And Leader in an Either/Or World

For the record, I don't think President Obama has any magical powers, or that he plays 11th dimensional chess, or that he bluffs, or that he's merely lucky. What I do think is that he develops his North Star, takes the long view, and enters negotiations from the standpoint of finding both/and solutions (partnerships) rather than engage in the power games of either/or (dominance).

Several people are pointing to a fascinating blog post by Jim Stuart where he talks about President Obama being an integral leader. If you haven't already read it, please do so!
On balance, most of us in the US and elsewhere have a binary view of conflict: if you win, I lose, and vice versa. And we are completely immersed in the consciousness of scarcity, resource conflict, and fear of the other. Clearly, Gandhi, Mandela and King operated from a different level of consciousness, where abundance, peacemaking, and trust were the qualities seen first, and were part of each leader's basic operating system. Developmental psychologists call this level of consciousness integral, and tell us that less than 5% of the world has attained this consciousness level. Obama, I believe, is part of this small percentage of people who see things whole...

...none of this makes sense to our pundits - that operational mode doesn't compute - power is everything; the powerful are always the winners; never let your guard down; he who has the gold rules, etc, - so folks just cannot see it when something like what has just happened, occurs. And central to this: Obama truly does not care. He is not attached to being the "last man standing"; he is attached only to the result, to the outcome, to the vision - the North Star he has been following. You may not believe me, or really understand what the hell I am talking about. But this is what has just gone down, and the actions, the patterns, the apparent sudden reversals, the willingness to look the fool - all these are products of an integral consciousness. Obama is an integral leader.
And right on cue, President Obama affirms all this in his interview this morning with George Stephanolpoulos. In talking about Russia and Putin, the President suggests that we need to get out of the old mindset of either/or defined by winners and losers.
You know– Mr. Putin and I have strong disagreements on a whole range of issues. But– I can talk to him. We have worked together on important issues...

I mean the fact of the matter is– is that– if Russia wants to have some– influence in Syria– post-Assad, that doesn’t hurt our interests.

I know that sometimes this gets framed or– or looked at through the lens of– the U.S. versus Russia. But that’s not what this is about. What this is about is how do we make sure that we don’t have the worst weapons in the hands, either of a murderous regime, or– in the alternative, some elements of– the opposition– that– are as opposed to the United States– as they are to Assad.
As so many politicians and pundits are trying to figure out whether Putin won or lost, President Obama is saying that kind of analysis is irrelevant. His North Star in the Syrian situation has always been to deal with the threat of chemical weapons and to bring the world community together to find a diplomatic solution to the civil war. As he said elsewhere in the interview, he thinks all that is in the best interests of Russia as well.

This is exactly the same kind of both/and approach he's always taken with the Republican opposition in Congress. The trouble is, unlike Putin, the Republicans have been locked into the win/lose mindset, even if it means they lose. Here's how mistermix described it a couple of years ago.
...Ezra Klein thinks that Obama’s a bad poker player. He may be right, but the analogy isn’t helpful. Poker is a win/lose game. Negotiation is a win/win game, because both parties get something when a deal is struck. Republicans aren’t playing poker or negotiating. They are playing another game, call it “You Must Lose”. They’re happy with win/lose, if they win, but they’ll tolerate lose/lose as long as Obama loses.
Back in 2010, David Frum practically begged Republicans to give up this lose/lose mentality and suggested that their refusal to do so would be their "Waterloo." Lately President Obama has made some inroads in the development of a common sense caucus that is willing to work towards both/and solutions, but the lunatics in the House still seem hell bent on total destruction.

President Obama has been clear that he will not repeal Obamacare or negotiate over raising the debt limit, but is willing to work towards common ground over the budget. This President doesn't bluff. So I'd suggest that Speaker Boehner should take him at his word - just as Putin did - and work towards a both/and solution. Let the lunatics finally have their Waterloo.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Trust vindicated

I don't mind being called an Obamabot that much. Just like the President decided to embrace the label "Obamacare" that was initially meant as a slam, I suspect history will vindicate that supporting this administration was the right call.

What I've typically reacted to negatively is the idea that I blindly trust President Obama because the fact is - I have my eyes wide open and am watching a fascinating presidency unfold. Over time what has happened is that when I don't see the whole picture yet, I've learned to slow down my reactions and wait until I get more information. I also remind myself of who this man is that we've elected twice and how he's handled things in the past.

All of this came into play when it became clear that President Obama was considering a military strike against Syria because the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against his own people. I knew from watching him closely that he had rather boldly stood up to his own national security team when they united last fall to propose that the US intervene in the Syrian civil war. And so I was pretty confident that he had come to this position both reluctantly and thoughtfully. As I've said previously, my concerns were more about the efficacy of strikes rather than the ridiculous notion that this man was some kind of warmonger. And so I reminded myself of the process President Obama used when he made the decision to intervene in Libya and assumed he'd done the same thing this time.

I can't say that I ever really embraced the idea of military strikes against Syria. But what I can say is that I figured that President Obama was telling the truth about his intentions and that he'd made the best decision he could with the information he had. Doing so doesn't always mean success or landing on the perfect solution. No human is capable of always doing that. But its the best we can hope for from a president in an imperfect world.

There is still a lot of work to be done on Syria, but this morning I can see demonstrated proof that my trust in President Obama is vindicated. SoS Kerry has brokered a deal with his Russian counterpart to identify and destroy Assad's chemical weapons. What is specifically vindicated is not just that this administration had always been working behind the scenes on the "carrot" of diplomacy as an alternative to the "stick" of military intervention. If this deal goes through, it also proves that dealing with Assad's chemical weapons was ALWAYS the President's motivation in all this. That is a critical point because it shows that he is ushering in a new approach to US foreign policy.
What President Obama has been laying out in his Syrian policy is an engagement in the world that rejects warmongering as a solution but also suggests that isolation is dangerous. He wants to promote diplomatic solutions that allow the people of Syria to decide their own fate while upholding the norms against the use of chemical weapons.

If that sounds like a "confusing" policy to anyone - its probably because engaging as a partner rather than assuming our own dominance militarily requires nuance and complexity.
In a resolution to the issue of WMD, this new approach demonstrates how wrong the neocons have been that we have to invade other countries to engage productively. It also proves the President's cynical critics on the left wrong in suggesting that he is just another tool of the neocons. In the end, it is the blindness of those on the right who call this President "weak" and those on the left who suggest that he's just another "warmonger" that has been revealed.

And so yes, with eyes wide open, my trust in President Obama has been vindicated once again.

Friday, September 13, 2013

It's not just GOP that's scared of Obamacare success

I've mentioned before that, as someone who runs a small business (nonprofit), I'm really exited about the health care exchanges that are about to come online next month as part of Obamacare. In Minnesota they're going to be called MNsure and we're starting to get a peek at what they'll look like. I just talked with my Board of Directors last week about getting ready to review our options and make a decision about whether or not to sign up.

But this week we got a packet of information from our current health insurance provider. Our renewal with them is scheduled to happen March 2014. They are offering their current small business customers the opportunity to renew early at close to current rates with a warning that if we don't, Obamacare will likely mean steep increases in our premiums.

Here's the catch...we have to renew by September 15, two weeks before we have the opportunity to compare the rates they're offering to those on the exchanges. Fuckers!!!!!!

Guess its full speed ahead on MNsure for this small business.

Beinart understands the role of millennials but not the Obama coalition

I can't say that I have always agreed with Peter Beinart on politics, but a few years ago he took a big picture look at the swings of the political spectrum in one of the best pieces of analysis I've ever read. He's just written another important article in which he attempts to make a case for the emerging "new new left." Once again he makes some important points that many pundits are missing. But there are a couple of big gaping holes in his analysis this time.

Beinart's main point is that up until recently, our politics have been defined by the Reagan/Clinton years. Reagan set the tone with his "government isn't the solution, its the problem," and Clinton solidified that with his ascent to big business, triangulation and suggestion that "the era of big government is over."

Where Beinart gets it right is to suggest that that old frame is over for the millennial generation. But he goes on to focus only on the part about their opposition to the 1%ers in big business and erroneously suggests that President Obama has simply carried on with that part of the Clinton legacy.

It is true that the President didn't use the financial crisis that was underway when he came into office to simply tear down Wall Street as many on the left hoped he would. One can make the case that doing so would have caused even bigger chaos in the world economy and ultimately hurt the already struggling poor and middle class more than they were at the time. But let's leave that argument for another day.

Does the President's failure to go the direction many liberals were suggesting mean he bought into the Clinton legacy of appeasing corporate interests in our political process? Beinart suggests that it does. And yet further down in the article as he's describing the process for the emergence of the "new new left," he points out how Howard Dean initially changed the calculus of political campaigns and Obama eventually succeeded where Dean failed.
...he [Dean] established a template for toppling a Democratic frontrunner: inspire young voters, raise vast funds via small donations over the Web, and attack those elements of Clintonian orthodoxy that are accepted by Democratic elites but loathed by liberal activists on the ground.

In 2008, that became the template for Barack Obama.
The main reason Clinton bowed to corporate interests is that he and the DLC calculated that the only way to avoid another overwhelming loss like the one the Democrats suffered in the 1984 presidential election was to get access to corporate funds for political campaigns (anyone else old enough to remember the Clinton fundraising scandals that emerged as a result? If not, I have two words for you..."Lincoln bedroom.")

What Dean started and Obama finished was to prove that those vast amounts of funds that could be raised via small donations could beat the stranglehold big business had on our political process. Not only did he end the Clinton legacy in that regard, he did so by beating that very same Clinton machine in the process. That allowed President Obama to make pragmatic decisions about Wall Street during the great recession rather than become beholden to them for his political survival.

But an even bigger hole in Beinart's analysis is that he sees the millennial generation confined to their opposition to corporate interests. In doing so, of course he trots out that OWS was comprised mostly of millennias. But what he misses is that OWS appealed almost exclusively to white millenials. At an earlier point in the article, even Beinart has to accede that is not a true representation.
But among Millennials, there are fewer white, Christian non-immigrants to rouse. Forty percent of Millennials are racial or ethnic minorities.
Beinart's big example of the emergent "new new left" is de Blasio's victory in the New York mayoral primary this week. He sees it primarily through the lens of a battle over economic policies. While he makes a casual reference to de Blasio rejection of "stop and frisk" (but fails to even address Bloomberg's racist remarks about de Blasio's family), he doesn't tie it to the idea that millenials of color (and the issues that are primary to them) will have an impact on the "new new left."

Leading in to the 2016 presidential race, Beinart suggests that Elizabeth Warren could pose a challenge to Hillary Clinton and capture this "new new left" due to her strong record of challenging Wall Street and income inequality. This continues the assumption that the issues that are important to black and brown millennials are the same as those articulated by white millennials via OWS. Of course that has almost always been the assumption of white liberals in this country. We've been able to get away with that for decades and so it comes as no surprise that Beinart continues to do so.

I would submit that a day of reckoning on that assumption is fast approaching. National political candidates who recognize that their fortunes are dependent on capturing the Obama coalition going forward are the most likely to help us avoid the consequences of clinging to those old assumptions for too long. As far as I can see, that field is still open for 2016.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Putin wants you to forget

The idea of Vladimir Putin lecturing us about peace, democracy and international law is beyond ironic. And yet here's what he wrote for the New York Times.
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria...

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.
The photo above was taken in March 2011 when Syrians joined in peaceful protests as part of the movement we now call the Arab Spring. They were protesting the brutal dictatorship of Assad. That would have been a moment for Putin's "champion of democracy" to step up. But instead, Assad sent the Syrian Army to quell the uprising with soldiers firing on demonstrators all over the country - thus sparking a civil war.

Its true that since that civil war has now raged for over 2 years, the lines have blurred with various rebel groups. But what Putin wants you to forget is that it was originally an uprising of the Syrian people that his buddy Assad chose to respond to with brutal force.

P.S. Anna Neistat with Human Rights Watch does a more thorough job of filling in what Putin wants you to forget in his op-ed.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Photo of the Day: Comforting Hand

This has always been one of my favorite pictures of President Obama. But I'd forgotten the context until Chipsticks shared it with us today.

Sept. 11, 2010 – Pete Souza: “We were at the Pentagon to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. After the formal ceremony, the President stopped to shake hands with family members of victims attending the event. Here he is holding hands with a little girl.”

What the facts tell us about President Obama's approach to foreign policy

Amidst all the reactions to current events that attempt to play things for partisan spin, or confirm an existing false narrative, or generate link bait, I thought it would be helpful to simply lay out a couple of facts and build our analysis on them.

On Syria, lets remember that for almost 2 years now President Obama has been fighting off the hawks - even in his own administration (yes, that includes Hillary Clinton) - to avoid getting involved because, as the President said last night: "we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force." That one piece of information alone should make the idiots claiming he's a warmonger STFU.

Now we learn that the proposed diplomatic solution that some people suggest simply dropped out of the sky a few days ago is something the Obama administration has been proposing to the Russians for almost a year now (even before the Assad regime used chemical weapons on August 21st). For those who insist on trying to be mind readers to get at the President's real motives rather than just take him at his word - this indicates that his main concern has always been about Assad's chemical weapons.

Any analysis that leaves out either one of those facts is most likely based on mythology or projection. Its as simple as that.

It strikes me that this country is collectively struggling with shedding the idea that the US gets to dictate the outcome of every difficult situation on the planet. The neocons don't want to let go of the premise at all. And the libertarian left sees the old pattern - even when it isn't there. We hear constantly that the general public is "war weary" based on these past misadventures.

What President Obama has been laying out in his Syrian policy is an engagement in the world that rejects warmongering as a solution but also suggests that isolation is dangerous. He wants to promote diplomatic solutions that allow the people of Syria to decide their own fate while upholding the norms against the use of chemical weapons.

If that sounds like a "confusing" policy to anyone - its probably because engaging as a partner rather than assuming our own dominance militarily requires nuance and complexity. As Americans, we're not used to that in our foreign policy. But President Obama is asking us to move beyond the past and deal with the current reality.
Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"The proposal is a true diplomatic breakthrough long in the making"

Frankly, sometimes I'm a bit shocked at the ignorance of a lot of punditry. There are those out there who are actually suggesting that this potential for a diplomatic solution to Syria's use of chemical weapons just fell out of the sky yesterday. Anyone who suggests something like that should be automatically dismissed from ever reporting on things like this. That's not how it happens.

Here's Gwen Ifill reporting on her interview with President Obama last night.
In an interview with PBS, President Obama said if there is a diplomatic path to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria it would be "overwhelmingly my preference."

Obama also added that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had talked about the plan now on the table both during the recent G-20 meeting in Russia and during another meeting last year in Mexico.

In other words, the proposal is a true diplomatic breakthrough long in the making.
That's how diplomacy happens folks. So while President Obama was trying to convince the US and the world to join him in waging the "stick" of military intervention, he was secretly talking to Russia about the "carrot" of a diplomatic solution. Notice the word "secretly." That is done to help world leaders save face as they explore options. It is absolutely necessary to arrive at diplomatic solutions. Remember that when some folks (cough...Assange...cough) suggest that it is evil for governments to keep secrets.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What's in it for Putin?

Wow! All of the sudden we're talking about Syria turning all of their chemical weapons over the the UN to have them destroyed rather than a US-led military intervention. How did that happen? Freak flags are surely flying on that one today, but here's the bottom line:

For someone like me who has been following President Obama's style now for over 5 years, this one has his fingerprints all over it. My first thought was to remember Jeffrey Goldberg's interview with him about Iran and Israel last year. He repeats his strategy in regards to Iran and nuclear weapons several times. Here's one example:
I think it's entirely legitimate to say that this is a regime that does not share our worldview or our values. I do think...that as we look at how they operate and the decisions they've made over the past three decades, that they care about the regime's survival. They're sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they're experiencing. They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them. They are able to make decisions based on trying to avoid bad outcomes from their perspective. So if they're presented with options that lead to either a lot of pain from their perspective, or potentially a better path, then there's no guarantee that they can't make a better decision.
What we see constantly from the President is that his style of negotiation is to find a way that he and his opponent can agree on an outcome that is in both of their best interests. So last week he spent a few minutes in a pull aside with Putin. You have to ask yourself what Putin's primary interest is when it comes to Syria. I would suggest that it is the survival of the Assad regime - his closest ally in the Middle East.

And what is President Obama's primary interest in Syria? Contrary to much of the hand-wringing that's gone on about all this, I take him at his word...that we uphold the international norms against the use of chemical weapons.

We've all heard talk about the possibility that military intervention in Syria could possibly tip the scales in favor of the rebels and end the Assad regime. I suspect Putin is aware of that. And so one way for both men to reach their ultimate goals is for Assad to voluntarily (?) give up is chemical weapons and take US military intervention off the table.

What we need to be prepared for if all this works is that the civil war in Syria will go on and Putin will continue to do everything he can to keep the Assad regime in power. We'll have to live with that. But one more threat of WMD's will have been taken off the table. As they say...slow and steady wins that race.

"The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based"

OMG - the NSA can use your smartphone to spy on you! That's the latest revelation from the Snowden files anyway. But amidst all the scaremongering in the article comes this:
The material contains no indications of large-scale spying on smartphone users...
In other words, there's no indication that the NSA actually does use your smartphone to spy on you - but they could...technically!!!

This is a theme that runs through most of the Snowden revelations and its why I used a quote of his as the title for this piece. If you want to know what the NSA can do technically, these leaks have been a treasure trove of information. If you want to know what they actually do based on the policy proscriptions, not so much.

For those who are interested in informing themselves about the policies that limit this kind of thing, there hasn't been much reporting on that in the media. The only place that is happening is with the government's process of declassifying documents that outline those policies/procedures. But as long as the media ignore all that, the general public is simply left with the kind of hyperbole and distortion in the latest "revelation."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The fallacy of transparency in an era of media hyperbole and distortion

When it comes to the debate about NSA surveillance, one of the main issues involved is transparency. President Obama has said that when he took office, his goal was to ensure that there was proper oversight of these intelligence activities by Congress and the Courts. Historically, that had been sufficient given the sensitivity of the work involved.

But now even the President is committed to going beyond that and giving the public as much information as possible about NSA activities and procedures. That is the new standard for transparency being placed on this administration.

The problem, as I see it, is that the American public is pretty dependent on the media to inform them about what is put out there for public consumption. Whether its the hyperbole and lies of omission practiced by people like Glenn Greenwald or what might be understood as lazy journalism by others, its frustrating to watch the story be twisted over and over again - giving the public a distorted view of what is happening. Let me give you an example.

Early on when the NSA story broke this summer, there was lots of talk about a FISA court order ruling that certain elements of the NSA program violated the 4th Amendment. Advocates went to court to get it declassified. Last month it was released. How many people do you suppose actually read it? Yeah, I'm pretty committed to this story, but even I couldn't get through the whole thing. The gist of it was that the court ruled that the minimization procedures NSA was using to protect the privacy of US persons when they collected bulk data from the internet were not sufficient. Here's how Kurt Eichenwald describes minimization.
Now, anyone who discusses this process without also mentioning minimization procedures is also either very uninformed or intentionally hyping the story. Minimization is a term of art in the world of NSA intercepts which essentially means “stay out of American citizen’s business.” If information about specific Americans (or even foreigners inside the United States) is captured, those details must be removed from all records and cannot be shared with any other entity in the government unless it is necessary to understand and interpret related foreign intelligence or to protect lives from criminal threats.
What many in the media failed to report is that, along with releasing that particular FISA court ruling, the administration also released a ruling from the following month after they had gone back to the court with more stringent minimization procedures. The court ruled that those procedures met the standards of the 4th Amendment. The administration actually released the new minimization rules as well.

But then along comes the Washington Post with a misleading headline about all this: Obama administration had restrictions on NSA reversed in 2011. Here's how they describe the exact same story I just told.
The Obama administration secretly won permission from a surveillance court in 2011 to reverse restrictions on the National Security Agency’s use of intercepted phone calls and e-mails, permitting the agency to search deliberately for Americans’ communications in its massive databases, according to interviews with government officials and recently declassified material.
Nowhere in the entire article is the word "minimization" used nor is there any attempt to inform the reader that this was the very basis of the FISA rulings. We're once again fed lies ("permitting the agency to search deliberately for Americans' communications") and omissions that go to the heart of the issue involved. Notice also the hyperbole of talking about how the administration "secretly won permission." Of course they fail to note that ALL FISA court rulings are secret - by the design of the Church Committee. And the fact that they know about this one is only because the Obama administration voluntarily declassified it.

If you've gotten this far in reading what I have to say about this, you are probably more diligent than about 99% of the American public. And that's the problem with requires a media that tells the entire story accurately right up front. Its clear that we don't have that right now. Given that reality, the whole idea of transparency is nothing more than a fallacy.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

You're All I Need to Get By

Just a little blast of perfection from the past.

Left/Right Libertarianism as the developing threat to progressive change

Three years ago when Jane Hamsher decided to team up with Grover Norquist to try to defeat Obamacare, most of us were shocked by her obvious Obama Derangement Syndrome. And yet today, that effort to hoodwink progressives into signing up with tea party libertarians is a pretty common phenomenon. Lately we've watched these folks:
  1. #StandWithRand on his ridiculous anti-drone filibuster
  2.  Suggest that we should join forces with the tea party to defeat a budget deal
  3. Tell us that America's only hope is Ron/Rand Paul and the Drudge Report
  4. Team up with tea party Rep. Justin Amash to defund the NSA
  5. Agree with Sarah Palin's "Let Allah sort it out" on the gassing of civilians in Syria 
As someone who is addicted to looking at the big picture, I think it behooves us to take a look at what is happening here. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is exactly the direction folks like Assange and Greenwald have wanted to see things go for a long time. But the question still remains, "why is this sort of movement gaining traction with progressives these days?" There are two things that make this all seem counter-intuitive:
  1. The Republican Party is pandering to its most reactionary lunatic base. Not in my lifetime have I seen so much distance between where the two parties would take the country, and
  2. We now have the most liberal President we've seen in a generation.
But if we dig a little deeper, those are exactly the things that are providing a platform for this movement towards libertarianism. We all know that Ron Paul actually getting the Republican nomination for president was a pipe dream. But with the disarray that we've seen recently, his son Rand is actually being seen as a serious contender. The Republican neo-cons failed so disastrously during the Bush/Cheney years that they gave an opening to the libertarian alternative.

On the other hand, folks are talking about an ascendant Democratic Party for the foreseeable future unless the Republicans can get their act together (which is clearly not happening yet). The trouble is, too many progressives have spent so long on the outside, that they don't know how to behave when they're finally on the inside. They've convinced themselves that any attempt to actually govern in a democratic republic (ie, compromise) indicates that our leaders have simply sold out to the oligarchs, plutocrats, and military industrial complex. They've perfected the art of tearing down the opposition but don't have a g-d clue about how to rebuild. And so, in their frustration, they simply continue to tear down - opening the gate to libertarianism. 

Oh, and did I mention that both the President and the ascendant Democratic base are neither white nor male? Yep, what's happening is that its time for the good ol boys to regroup.
Make no mistake about it...this is a re-invention of a 21st century southern strategy aimed at the idea of forming a national coalition of white male libertarians during a time when the rights of women and people of color are on the line.
I would suggest that going forward, this developing coalition between left/right libertarians will be a bigger threat to actual progressive change than the vestiges of the Republican Party in its previous incarnation. In the near future, keep your eye on Rand Paul. As long as his bid for the presidency is under the banner of the Republican Party, he's toast. But if he makes a break and runs as a third party candidate, its because he thinks this coalition is big enough to give him a shot.

In the meantime, lets keep our eye on the prize of what a true fusion politics has always looked like and the kind of opposition it has historically engendered. As the saying goes, "Those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it."

Friday, September 6, 2013

Rep. Keith Ellison asks us to listen to Syrian Americans

While an awful lot of liberals are jumping in front of TV cameras to announce their collaboration with tea party libertarians to oppose military intervention in Syria, one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (and one of only two members of the House who are Muslim) seems to be struggling a bit more deeply with the issues involved.

You can bet that with that kind of nuance, Rep. Ellison isn't going to be asked to appear on any of the cable network shows.

But I'd ask you to do what the Congressman has requested: take a moment to read the letter to the anti-war movement from the group known as United for a Free Syria.
While based upon good intentions, the anti-war movement today may inadvertently be standing with forces that support a continuation of the conflict in Syria. The conflict in Syria has reached a new level after the Syrian regime carried out large-scale chemical weapons attacks on August 21, 2013, killing more than 1,400 people in the suburbs of Damascus. This large scale use of chemical weapons is a serious and dangerous escalation, a bold sign of the regime’s disregard of US warnings, and a clear indication of the regime’s willingness and capacity to engage in future attacks on an even greater scale...

Although you may still remain skeptical of action, non-acting only costs more civilian lives. Just last week in Syria, on September 1st, the Syrian regime launched 43 airstrikes on the country killing dozens of civilians. As Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, and other non-government organizations have documented the use of air power by the Syrian regime against its civilian population is a war crime. Syria is already being bombed but by its own government. The use of chemical weapons by the regime to kill over 1400 civilians is a significant escalation and truly a red line that goes against basic international norms, peace, and human decency. By not acting, the Assad regime and other dictatorships around the world will only be emboldened to use these weapons in large amounts against their civilian populations when their regimes are challenged.
No matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum, surely the words of these particular Americans should be factored in to your opinion about what our country should do. Thank you Rep. Ellison for being willing to listen.

President Obama and WMD's (updated)

The whole concept of reducing the threat of weapons of mass destruction was seriously discredited when Bush/Cheney used it as an excuse to lie us into an unnecessary war. Its clear by now that some people simply cannot have a rational conversation about the topic as a result.

But since President Obama has been trying to convince the US and the world to live up to their commitments about responding to the use of chemical weapons, I've been thinking about how that position is linked to a rather bold promise he made back when he was running for president in 2008.
"Will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years - the most effective way to prevent terrorists from acquiring a nuclear bomb. Barack Obama will fully implement the Lugar-Obama legislation to help our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction."
As is documented here, initially he made huge progress towards that goal. But as PolitiFact noted in the article linked above, Putin announced that Russia would no longer cooperate with the agreement in October 2012.

This summer, President Obama upped the ante.
“After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third,” Mr. Obama told an audience of 4,500 gathered in scorching heat on the east side of Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate — the side of the city walled off by the Soviets during the darkest days of the cold war. “And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond cold war nuclear postures.”

The proposal to limit American and Russian deployed strategic warheads to about 1,000 each would bring the two countries back to around the levels of 1954, experts said. The president also vowed to work with NATO to reduce the unrestricted smaller tactical nuclear weapons still in Europe and to push the Senate to finally ratify the 17-year-old Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
That seemed to work to get the ball rolling again.
...a separate agreement announced this week by Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin when they met in Northern Ireland served as a reminder that for all the rhetoric, the two sides can do business. The agreement renewed a two-decade-old pact aimed at helping to decommission and secure nuclear weapons and material in Russia even though Moscow said last year that it would back out of the arrangement.
We now know that President Obama and Putin are once again at loggerheads over the situation in Syria - this time over the use of chemical weapons. I would submit that this ongoing effort to deal with nuclear arms at least plays a role in all of that. And so the context of President Obama's overall strategy on dealing with weapons of mass destruction is an important policy to keep in mind.

Those who are intent on always seeing something nefarious about the actions of the US on the global stage have made all sorts of ridiculous claims about what is really motivating President Obama to propose this military intervention in Syria. They are the same ones who totally ignore that bold promise he made in 2008 and his ongoing efforts to keep it. That's exactly why they'll never understand this President and his pragmatic approach to a more progressive foreign policy.

As I've said before, my concerns about military intervention in Syria are centered around whether or not they will work to accomplish his goals. But I have no doubt about what his goals rid the world of the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.

UPDATE: Here is President Obama tying all of this together in his press conference today at the G20 summit.
But ultimately, what I believe in even more deeply [than UN action] - because I think the security of the world...requires that when there's a breech this brazen of a norm this important and the international community is paralyzed and frozen and doesn't act - then that norm begins to unravel. And if that norm unravels then other norms and prohibitions start unraveling and that makes for a more dangerous world. That requires even more difficult choices and more difficult responses in the future.
Anyone who wants to challenge the President's proposal needs to address that argument. It is the foundation on which it is based. From there - I'm sure the President would be willing to consider alternative responses. But ultimately his goal is a united global community in condemnation of the use of weapons of mass destruction. He's "all in" on that one.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Latest Snowden leak: US is spying on al Qaeda

Wait a minute! I thought this conversation about NSA surveillance was supposed to be about how the government was invading our privacy. At least that was the rationale Edward Snowden used for stealing classified documents.

But while we've all been talking about Syria, where the intelligence gathering of several countries is helping answer the questions about the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons, the most recent Snowden revelations have clearly gone off the rails.

First of all, we learned that NSA spies on foreign governments (OMG!). But the latest leak published by the Washington Post is really disturbing. Apparently some of the documents Snowden stole show us that the US is spying on al Qaeda.

The primary reaction to that one would be a ginormous "DUH?" But beyond that, you have to ask yourself what the hell Snowden thought he was doing in stealing and leaking information about that?

I suppose that journalists find it irresistible to pass up the chance to report on how al Qaeda is responding to drone attacks (they're trying to avoid them...another ginormous "DUH?"), but don't you really have to wonder when at least one of them is going to stand up and ask the obvious questions about what Snowden's REAL motives were in stealing this stuff? Both his and Greenwald's original explanation that this was all about an individual's right to privacy are nothing short of absurd at this point.

With Snowden now ensconced in Russia and being handled by an alliance between Putin and Wikileaks, there's really a MUCH bigger story here that the media is totally ignoring.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why the most liberal president in a generation is driving some progressives bonkers

Just as President Obama is taking huge steps to walk back the imperial presidency and making tremendous strides on issues like health care reform and LGBT rights and ending the war on drugs and fighting to curb climate change and ending the perpetual war and taking on the NRA and fighting for immigration reform and trying to curb the rising costs of college tuition and proposing things like a minimum wage increase along with universal day care, there is a group of progressives who have gone absolutely bonkers with their conspiracy theories about him. As Bob Cesca points out this morning, many of them are are so deranged that they're staring to line up with tea party libertarians to destroy the Democratic Party.

Its no wonder that many of us are saying "WTH? Why now? You want to jump ship just when we're starting to make some progress?"

To be honest, I've been trying to understand this particular variety of Obama Derangement Syndrome for quite a while now. It doesn't speak well to the potential for what the late Sen. Paul Wellstone called "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party." Politically, that's where I've tended to find my "home" for years now. But I find that I have almost nothing in common with them these days.

The only thing I can make of it is that these folks never contemplated what it means to be on the inside of the political game as opposed to the outside. They got so used to being cynical about government that they don't know what it means to actually govern. So even when we've got someone in a power position on the inside, the cynicism prevails and their only recourse politically is a freefall into libertarianism.

Due to the fact that this is a really big country with lots of divergent views on politics combined with the fact that we still have at least the vestiges of a democratic republic, governing is always going to be about compromise and incremental steps towards change. If someone like Sen. Bernie Sanders could get elected president, much less actually govern when he got there, I suspect he would have given it a go by now. I'll at least give him credit for knowing better.

The other thing these folks seem to have missed is that they never learned the historical lesson about how outside activists have actually accomplished change. President Obama remembers:
Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that day -- that change does not come from Washington, but to Washington; that change has always been built on our willingness, We The People, to take on the mantle of citizenship.
While they spend their time ranting about what President Obama has/has not done,  the real change agents in our past spent their time convincing the people that change was necessary. And eventually the politicians took note. As the saying goes..."when the people lead, the leaders will follow." That's how democracy works.

What I learned a few years ago from Al Giordano is that to be that kind of change agent is inglorious work often done in the trenches rather than in the spotlight. These folks thought President Obama was going to do it all for them. And when that road got difficult and strewn with too many compromises, they started abandoning ship. A moment in the sun (ie, on the Daily Kos recommended list LOL) with their ranting and raging was the alternative course they took.

Sometimes I can despair about what this means for the future of the "democratic wing of the Democratic Party." And then I remember the group President Obama was talking to here.

In addition to what he accomplishes in office to slowly turn this ship of state in a more progressive direction, they will be his legacy.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

All roads lead to Putin

There are two big foreign policy stories in the news these days and it seems significant that Russian President Putin is integrally involved in both. The picture above was taken at a G8 meeting in June when President Obama said that the US was going to provide arms to some Syrian rebels. Obviously Putin wasn't happy with that decision because Russia has been backing the Assad regime - his closest ally in the Middle East. 

Now that Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people and President Obama is proposing military intervention against him, Russia is determined to veto any UN Security Council resolution condemning Assad or supporting President Obama's call for the international community to respond. But apparently obstruction at the UN isn't enough for Putin. He is actually preparing to lobby the US Congress to vote against the President.  I certainly hope the media will follow this story and let us know which members of Congress are open to being lobbied by the Russian government (cough...Rand Paul...cough). 

The other story of course involves Edward Snowden. Shortly after the picture above was taken, he fled to Hong Kong and began leaking the classified documents he'd stolen from the NSA. We now know that not only did Snowden wind up getting legal representation from a Russian lawyer with ties to the FSB (formerly the KGB), he eventually received asylum in Russia. Now we also know that wasn't simply because he got stranded at the Russian airport. As a matter of fact, he stayed at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong for a few days prior to his flight there

We've previously looked at the connection between Julian Assange (Wikileaks) and Russia. The WaPo story reporting on Snowden's stay in the Russian consulate ends with this.
The article [in the Russian newspaper Kommersant] implies that Snowden’s decision to seek Russian help came after he was joined in Hong Kong by Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks staff member who became his adviser and later flew to Moscow with him.

Harrison, the article suggests, had a role in making the plans.
As Snowden's revelations have recently begun to be less about domestic concerns and more designed to undermine US foreign policy around the world, one has to wonder about Putin's role in all this.

Just so you don't worry that I've donned my tin-foil hat in making these connections, check out what Glenn Greenwald retweeted yesterday.

Yep, things have gotten pretty weird in this saga when American reporters are suggesting that Putin's policy of backing a regime that used chemical weapons against its own people is preferable to our own policy against such crimes.

Monday, September 2, 2013

President Obama is working on bigger change than the purists can even contemplate

I've been thinking a lot lately about this passage that Al Giordano wrote years ago.
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.
While he was specifically addressing the emo cries for the Obama administration to prosecute Bush/Cheney for torture, it continues to be the main cause of the rift between the Obamabots and the purists on the left side of the political spectrum.

As I wrote about earlier, I see many of the purists thinking they can use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house. What we get with that approach is a continued bloodlust for witch hunts and scapegoats. Whether its McCarthyism looking for communists around every corner or lefties trying to scare us about the plutocrats and autocrats, it all reeks of the same paranoia.

The first time most of us ever heard of Barack Obama, he came with a totally different message.

If you've never listened to Barack Obama's speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church on January 21, 2008, please take some time to do so.

“Unity is the great need of the hour.” That’s what Dr. King said. It is the great need of this hour as well, not because it sounds pleasant, not because it makes us feel good, but because it's the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exits in this country.

I’m not talking about the budget deficit. I’m not talking about the trade deficit. Talking about the moral deficit in this country. I’m talking about an empathy deficit, the inability to recognize ourselves in one another, to understand that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, that in the words of Dr. King, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”
He's talking about much bigger change than the left purists can even contemplate. Instead of simply doing things like pointing to Bush/Cheney as the criminals, he's asking us to take responsibility for the country that elected them and the culture that enabled them. In that challenge, he is echoing what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said to those who had gathered to mourn the loss of four little girls after the bombing of their church in Birmingham.
They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.
When those on the left simply want to mirror that system, that way of life, that philosophy that leads to fear, paranoia, witch hunts and scapegoats, I reject their premise. Instead, I agree with President Obama.
The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency...

And we'll suffer the occasional setback. But we will win these fights. This country has changed too much. People of goodwill, regardless of party, are too plentiful for those with ill will to change history’s currents...

(T)hat’s the lesson of our past. That's the promise of tomorrow -- that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. That when millions of Americans of every race and every region, every faith and every station, can join together in a spirit of brotherhood, then those mountains will be made low, and those rough places will be made plain, and those crooked places, they straighten out towards grace, and we will vindicate the faith of those who sacrificed so much and live up to the true meaning of our creed, as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Finding Nexus: Patriarchy, White Supremacy, American Exceptionalism

A few years ago Nezua wrote about Finding Nexus at his blog The Unapologetic Mexican.
I prefer not to dally too long dissecting the symptoms of manifested underlying ills, but prefer to look directly at those broad reaching paradigms or beliefs that inform them, as regular readers here know...Because if we all are truly interested in forming an ongoing conversation that cuts away the the husk of empty discourse and scoops out the Essential, we have to look not only at the symptoms of hate, violence, authoritarian rule, and oppression, but at the seeds that inform them and keep them entrenched, as well as socially acceptable. These vines are by now thorny and tangled and hearty, but the seeds were planted long ago, and the nourishment is delivered by all of us, and every day.
As we once again begin to hear claims that President Obama is weak due to his recent decision to go to Congress about taking military action against Syria, I can't help but recall that those charges have often in the past been coupled with statements about how he needs to "man up" or "grow a set of balls." In other words, his so-called "weakness" is often conflated with being too feminine (as if that was something really bad). So it likely contains what Nezua referred to as a "nexus."

As I've written about before, I find that nexus in a conflation of power with dominance. Whether we're talking about male dominance over female, white dominance over people of color, or US dominance over the world...all power is defined as having power over others. And anyone who doesn't wield that kind of power is weak.

Until we as liberals break from that perspective in our own minds and lives, we will have nothing but the masters tools to use in our struggle for change. That is why I think President Obama's overriding message is bound up in asking us to unleash the power of "we." He's talking about wielding the power of partnership.

That is anything BUT a show of weakness.
Another important distinction is that between leadership and domination. Effective leaders facilitate the interdependence or collaboration that can create more "power to" -- based on the interests of all parties. Domination is the exercise of "power over" --a relationship that meets interests of the "power wielder" at the expense of everyone else.

- Marshall Ganz
Its a way out of the authoritarian embrace of an imperial presidency. It is a call towards the ongoing work to perfect our union as a government of, by, and for ALL the people. It is a statement to the world that the United States is ready to leave the failed policies of subjugating others for our own interests and move towards a foreign policy based on partnership. It will require all of us to expand our moral imagination. But it is also about how one voice can change the world. Its how "we become the change we want to see."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The argument the non-interventionsts must make

President Obama has made his argument for military intervention in Syria in response to their use of chemical weapons. And he has once again said that he welcomes the debate.

It is now time for those who oppose this military intervention to make their case. I'll tell you what won't work: suggesting this is just like what Bush/Cheney did when they lied us into an invasion of Iraq. Rather than looking for an excuse to invade another country, we all know that President Obama has fought off advice to engage in Syria - even when it came from his closest national security advisors. This large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime is what finally changed his mind. But even more importantly, President Obama is not talking about invading Syria - he's talking about an action that would be limited in scope and duration - with no boots on the ground. An argument against the President's proposal has to take that into account.

If those arguing against intervention want to make a case that they are non-violent pacifists who would speak out against ANY military intervention under any circumstances - including this one - I think that could be a strong case. But that argument must also deal with the consequences. It requires that we either ignore the criminal slaughter of civilians or develop alternative forms of resistance. No one gets a "pass" on these difficult questions.

Since President Obama has abandoned the "regime change" argument that drove so many of our military misadventures in the past and is instead making the argument based on the United Nation's Chemical Weapons Convention, liberals who believe that military intervention is sometimes appropriate have a harder case to make against this one.

I believe that the strongest case is the one that asks the pragmatic question: will it work to stop the use/spread of chemical weapons? I know that's the question I've been wrestling with. President Obama tried to assure us about that yesterday.
I'm confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.
But short of making the operational details public, that is probably as far as he can go. So this is where the rubber meets the road for me. The argument I'll make to those who represent me in Congress is that their primary job is to determine the efficacy of these actions in reaching the goals President Obama has laid out. And yes, that involves some trust...that's why elections matter.

Walking back the imperial presidency

Whether anyone will admit it or not, much of political discourse in this era has moved away from the concept of a democratic republic and towards an imperial presidency. We tend to see that more clearly on the right (ie, Dick Cheney) but the left critics of President Obama exhibit the same thing when they lay all issues at the President's feet, completely ignoring the role of Congress and the people who elected them.

One of the main reasons why I originally signed up to support Barack Obama's candidacy was that I saw in him someone who wanted to reverse that trend. He knows its a long game, but when you really listen to what he's saying, its clearly his overriding concern (especially in this second term).
But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations...

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.
And so it should come as no surprise to us that yesterday the President called on Congress (the people's elected representatives) to take up the question about intervention in Syria.
Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual...

So to all members of Congress of both parties, I ask you to take this vote for our national security. I am looking forward to the debate. And in doing so, I ask you, members of Congress, to consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment.

Ultimately, this is not about who occupies this office at any given time; it’s about who we are as a country. I believe that the people’s representatives must be invested in what America does abroad, and now is the time to show the world that America keeps our commitments. We do what we say. And we lead with the belief that right makes might -- not the other way around...

...our democracy is stronger when the President and the people’s representatives stand together.
Those who don't understand the primacy of restoring our democratic processes seem stunned that this morning Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated exactly what President Obama said yesterday...that he has "the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization," but is choosing not to use that authority. After all, that's not a "manly" thing to do (and is therefore inconceivable) - which is why some on the right are calling the President's position "weak."

But we must never mistake the boldness of what President Obama is doing. He is slowly walking back the imperial presidency. We've seen that lately in his proposals to finally end perpetual war, to provide more oversight and transparency in our intelligence practices, and now on the question of intervention in Syria.

As a believer in the long game, its clear the President isn't making sudden leaps in this process. That would be foolish - especially given the lunatic caucus that currently holds power in the House of Representatives. But he is certainly working to change the course our ship of state has been on lately. That, more than anything else, is why I support him. This Community Organizer-in-Chief is the perfect leader for these times.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.

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