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Showing posts from March, 2014

Mondays don't always have to get you down. Today was a GREAT one!

There's so much going on today that is wonderful I'm just going to let my twitter timeline tell the story. Here's the biggest and most important news of the day: Obamacare enrollments are surging. Record volume on today. 1.2M visits through noon and 125k+ concurrent users at peak so far today. #GetCoveredNow — (@HealthCareGov) March 31, 2014 Of course, this might signal pretty good news as well: Russia says battalion withdrawing from near Ukrainian border — Nancy LeTourneau (@Smartypants60) March 31, 2014 As we pivot away from perpetual war, this happens: RT @ksieff : Number of US troops who died in combat over the last month: 0. First time in years that can be said. — Nancy LeTourneau (@Smartypants60) March 31, 2014 Republicans are asking for trouble on this one: Western growers, major GOP constituency, now threatening to withhold checks if Rs don't act on immig: —

"As President of the United States, I don't bluff"

Back in March of 2012, Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed President Obama about Iran and Israel just prior to a visit by Netanyahu. In explaining his strategy with respect to Iran and nuclear weapons, the President said this: It means a political component that involves isolating Iran; it means an economic component that involves unprecedented and crippling sanctions; it means a diplomatic component in which we have been able to strengthen the coalition that presents Iran with various options...and it includes a military component. And I think people understand that. I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff. I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say. Later in the interview, President Obama ex

Private charity is no substitute for the commonweal

For decades Republicans have tried to claim that - in their attempts to eliminate the government's social safety net - they are not heartless. They simply suggest that private philanthropy should do the job. Today Michael Hiltzik does a pretty good job of explaining why that won't work. He provides two reasons. To begin with, charitable organizations typically fall prey to the same economic pressures as the rest of society. "Giving falls when it's needed the most," observes Christopher Wimer, an expert on poverty and the social safety net at Columbia University. In economic terminology, charitable giving is pro-cyclical, not counter-cyclical, unlike programs such as unemployment insurance and food stamps, which expand to meet rising needs... Another issue is that philanthropic giving is not synonymous — at all — with helping the needy. Quite the contrary. As charitable giving is structured in the United States today, it too often plays out not as the rich h

Barack Obama: "What I am constantly trying to do is balance a hard head with a big heart"

I mentioned the other day that, as we begin to see the Obama Doctrine  unfold, we can see the roots of President Obama's time spent as a community organizer come into play. In the picture above, the young Chicago lawyer is teaching a class on "power analysis." Right under the title, you'll see that he's talking about "relationships built on self interest." Those are critical components of what we are watching unfold on a global scale right now. The best article I've seen that unpacks the President's thinking in this area is one that was written by Ryan Lizza way back in 2007 titled The Agitator . It is where I first saw Michelle Obama's great quote: "Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change." The Obama Doctrine is firmly rooted in what the President learned as a community activist. Lizza outlines some of the things Barack Obama learned fro

Speaking of heros...

I've just got to drop this one in here : The NAACP has dedicated this final full week of March to celebrating women who put their lives on the line for justice. In doing so, these courageous, brilliant, revolutionary women shook the world and reshaped the United States. Women like liberation activist and internationalist, Vicki Ama Garvin, Black Panther Party leaders; Ericka Huggins, Kathleen Cleaver and Elaine Brown, and lawyer, activist, civil rights advocate, and feminist Florynce Kennedy. Yesterday, they honored... Denise Oliver Velez - applied cultural anthropologist, writer and revolutionary--was a part of the Young Lord's Party, which rallied a crew of women that fought for open enrollment in the City Colleges of New York, for the formation of Puerto Rican Studies Programs and bi-lingual education in grade schools. I am honored and humbled to be able to call Denise a friend. She has more passion, intelligence, heart and soul than anyone I have ever met. And ev

Honoring a Hero

Back in November 1992 I was attending a 3-day seminar on "Undoing Racism." On the second day one of my African American friends who was also participating arrived in a suit and tie. During a break I asked him why he was so dressed up. He said it was to honor the opening day of the movie Malcolm X . That simple act of solidarity struck me so deeply that I remember it vividly over 20 years later. And so I want to join all the folks who are finding ways to honor another great American hero today. Si Se Puede  

Can we talk? High-fiving Coates and Chait (updated x4)

No one is going to accuse me of breaking any news when I say that our politics has become polarized. When we're not retreating into information bubbles that confirm what we already think (ie, epistemic closure ) we're yelling ad hominems at each other and then storming off in outrage. Years ago then- Senator Barack Obama warned us that this played completely into a conservative agenda. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate. That's exactly why I want to notice and applaud the conversation that is currently underway between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait. Yes, they are disagreeing with each other. And not only that - we're watching a black man and a white man have a conversation about race in America. The odds that

Fareed Zakaria on a 21st century foreign policy

I've been reading responses to President Obama's speech in Brussels and various people commenting on the emerging Obama Doctrine . It should come as no surprise that spokesperson for the neocons in the Bush/Cheney administration - Condoleeza Rice - doesn't get it. When the President calls on the global community to act in partnership, she sees a vacuum of leadership because she is wedded to the idea of dominance as the only source of power. On the other hand, Russian apologist Roger Cohen seems to be saying that until our union is perfected, we can't speak to our ideals in the world. What neither of these critics provide is a real alternative addressing the situations that confront us at the moment - like the one in Ukraine. One writer that is struggling to understand is Michael Cohen . Where he stumbles a bit is that he limits himself by trying to fit President Obama into the framework of an either/or split between a "realist or internationalist." For f

The Obama Doctrine

After the decision was made to intervene militarily in Libya, some pundits made the case that an Obama Doctrine was evident and called it " leading from behind ." I'd suggest that is a small part of an emerging Obama Doctrine - but not the heart of things. As the President openly takes the lead on responding to the situation in the Ukraine, we can see how flawed it was. Watching President Obama deal with various foreign policy challenges over the last year, a much more comprehensive view of how he approaches these things is evident. His North Star when it comes to evaluating situations and developing a strategy to deal with them is three-fold. First of all, he bases his reaction on international laws, principles and ideals. This is where so many people misjudged his intentions in Syria. As we saw, he routinely rejected the advise of many ( including those in his cabinet ) to get involved militarily in that country's civil war. The pragmatist in him knows there

President Obama's speech in Brussels - one of the most important of his presidency

One of the things we know from reading about President Obama's life story is that while he was practicing law in Chicago, he taught classes on the topic of "power." I've always wished that either he or someone who attended one would outline the content of what he taught. Perhaps the President will do that once his second term is over. He doesn't tend to speak directly about the topic, but from listening to him refer to it in other contexts, what I've deduced is that he embraces the power of partnership as the alternative to our more traditional concept of the power of domination . Today the President began his speech in Brussels with a history lesson on the power of partnership vs the power of domination. Throughout human history, societies have grappled with the question of how to organize themselves – the proper relationship between the individual and the state; and the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe

As Florida rejects funding from Obamacare - children die

What I'm about to write about will likely be uncomfortable to read. But it is because of our fundamental humanity that we want to turn away from stories like this - we care and it hurts like hell to hear this kind of thing. We'd rather not know. But this story isn't happening in some far-away country where we are more or less helpless to change things. Its about something going on in the state of Florida (and other states) as a direct result of Republican attempts to demonize government and cut off its resources. So I'm going to ask you to risk a few tears in order to inform yourself and then get busy changing things. Carl Hiaasen tells the story in the Miami Herald . Most of the dead are babies and toddlers, and they perish in horrible ways — starved, punched, shaken, burned, thrown from cars or simply forgotten. There’s nothing left to protect them except the state of Florida, which fails over and over. Kyla Joy Hall was beaten to death by her father at age 1

What more could a progressive ask of a president?

I've never claimed that President Obama is a progressive. I think the term is outdated and confusing. The President has always been clear - he's more interested in what works than he is in partisanship or labels. That's what makes him a pragmatist. And yet, when it comes to issues that progressives have traditionally cared about - I'm wondering what more any president could do to address them. Let's take a look at what has been happening lately. In Congress these days, you have the President and Democrats fighting for an extension of unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage, and passing comprehensive immigration reform (including a pathway to citizenship). On the docket is the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (EDNA), which would make it illegal to discriminate against people who are LGBT. Did you catch VP Biden's speech about that at the Human Rights Campaign Gala this week? If not, check it out . Meanwhile, over the last few days we've heard mor

President Obama and the Aikido Way on Surveillance (updated)

President Obama  has prepared a proposal about changes to the bulk telephone data collection program currently operated by the NSA. The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a legislative proposal for a far-reaching overhaul of the National Security Agency’s once-secret bulk phone records program in a way that — if approved by Congress — would end the aspect that has most alarmed privacy advocates since its existence was leaked last year, according to senior administration officials. Under the proposal, they said, N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The records would be stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order. You'll likely hear some folks respond by saying this isn't a big deal. In a way, they're right. One way to unders

Nuclear Security Summits: An Obama Initiative

Today, as world leaders gather in The Hague for the third Nuclear Security Summit, it is important to note that these meetings were initiated by President Obama . In his 2009 Prague speech, President Obama stated that nuclear terrorism “is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.” To mitigate this threat, the President urged that “we act with purpose and without delay,” announcing “a new international effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material around the world” that would begin with “a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host.” By focusing high-level attention on the threat of nuclear terrorism, the Nuclear Security Summits are designed to energize, enhance, empower, and elevate the many existing multilateral, cooperative institutions and structures aimed at securing nuclear materials and preventing nuclear smuggling. In March 2010, nearly fifty heads of state gathered for the inaugural Summit in Washington, the largest gathering of worl

Where did the time go?

Then... And now...

Let's bust some memes about the 2014 election

The internet is abuzz with developing memes about the 2014 midterm elections. Liberal pundits are tripping over themselves to give President Obama and the Democrats advice about how to minimize (or gawd help us, overcome) their losses. Purists are busy blaming the President for not appealing to them and pragmatists are gearing up to blame the purists for staying home on election day. My message would be: NONE OF THIS IS HELPING!!!!! Its true...Democrats face an uphill battle in 2014 when it comes to Congressional races. There are 3 reasons for this: Gerrymandered Republican House districts, Almost all of the contested Senate races are in red states, and The Obama coalition hasn't demonstrated that they will turn out for midterms the way the teapublicans do. The one and ONLY thing that will make a difference this time around is if we change the trajectory of #3 above by getting people out to vote. It is a fact that the majority of the American people support the Democrat

Why I support President Obama - in photos

Earlier today I wrote about why I support President Barack Obama . Here is that same story in pictures.

What Ta-Nehisi Coates got right

In his original article responding to Rep. Paul Ryan's remarks about the lack of a work culture amongst inner city men ( he's since written a second) , Ta-Nehisi Coates makes what I think is his most important point here: the culture of West Baltimore actually less virtuous than the culture of Wall Street? I've seen no such evidence. It reminded me of something Derrick Jensen wrote in his book The Culture of Make Believe (p. 278-279). I've heard it said that approximately the same number of people control 95 percent of the world's economy as are in solitary confinement in the United States. There can be little doubt as to which group has killed the greater number of people. The truth is - if we want to go on moralizing about dangerous cultures, how about the one that developed in the Bush/Cheney White House that brought us rationales for torture and a war based on lies? Of course that says nothing about a culture that used every tool available to it to

Why I became an "Obamabot"

Sometimes I think about what goes into a decision about whether or not to support a political candidate. It seems to me that many of us argue about this without ever acknowledging all the factors that go into that decision. The fact is that people prioritize these factors differently, but that is rarely taken into consideration. Since Barack Obama was elected president, his critics on both the left and right often accuse his defenders of engaging in blind support of him no matter what he does. They call us Obamabots. I'd like to suggest that is because they think we support the President solely based on his position on issues. I'm here to say that's not the case for me. There is a lot of truth in the old adage: If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary. That's what allows Democrats to consider FDR one of our greatest presidents, even though he is responsible for the Japanese internment camps. Its also why I never wavered in my support of Paul Wel

The real question is: "How can Democrats win in red states?"

Yesterday Markos Moulitsas wrote an interesting post touting the success of progressives over the last decade. I want to dig into the specifics of what he said in a minute. But first of all, I find it interesting that nowhere in the article does he mention the fact that during that time we elected President Barack Obama...twice. I'm not going to get into why he left that major milestone out. Suffice it to say that it is telling that he made such an obvious glaring omission. Markos spends most of his time talking about the changes in Congress - primarily in the Senate. He notes that most of the conservative Democrats are gone and highlights the progressive Democrats that have been elected. If those progressives had replaced the conservatives - he might have a point. But the facts are that that has happened Connecticut where Chris Murphy replaced Joe Lieberman. The remainder of the Senate seats formerly held by conservative Democrats have gone to Republicans. And that&

Melissa Harris-Perry: What would you say to Lucia McBath?

I see that Melissa Harris-Perry has picked up on Ta-Nehisi Coates' suggestion that there is no difference between the words of Rep. Paul Ryan and President Obama. Because both writers brought up Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, I was reminded of a conversation Coates had with Davis' mother, Lucia McBath. It's almost hard not to wince when he recounts her saying this: "We always encouraged him to be strong. To speak out," McBath told me. "We tried to teach him to speak what you feel and think diplomatically." She took a moment here. Her voice quavered but held. She said, "Even in that case with Jordan and the car, I think that he was not as diplomatic as he could be. That does not let Michael Dunn off the hook," McBath told me. "But I say to myself as a mother, 'I didn’t teach you and train you to do that. Adults are adults and you are still a child.'" Can you believe that the mother of a son who has been gunned down nee

"What I learned from President Obama" (updated)

I had to decide whether or not to wait until I'd stopped crying before I posted this video. As regular readers know, I'm a huge fan of Jon Favreau . And no, its not simply because he's so nice to look at. He is an incredibly wise, thoughtful, authentic, and articulate young man! Also - I don't believe I've ever heard anyone capture the essence of Barack Obama any better than he does. In this speech, Jon gives us a glimpse into how Barack Obama - and his election as President - helped a young man overcome his cynicism and follow his dream of making a difference in the world. As someone entering their "golden years," I'm facing that same thing on the other end of life's journey. Through the tears, I just want to say: "Thank you, Jon. You are an inspiration." UPDATE : Here's the kind of thing Favreau tells us about the man who is our President. From about 5:55 in the video: He [President Obama] taught me the value of honesty an

What you need to know when you hear conservatives predicting that health insurance premiums will skyrocket

Apparently conservatives have started searching for another doom-and-gloom narrative about Obamacare now that their attempts to drum up individual horror stories has been a bust. From the look of things, I'd suggest that the next line of attack will be to forecast that Obamacare is going to result in skyrocketing health insurance premiums next year. The opening salvo on this one came from Elise Viebeck at The Hill yesterday. Unfortunately, the first thing you need to know is a little bit about the reporter writing the story. That's what our polarized media means these days. And as BooMan points out, Ms. Viebeck comes from the same "journalism" outfit that has given us Rich Lowry, Jonathan Karl, Ross Douthat, and Dinesh D'Souza. Now that we have that context, its time to look at the actual arguments she's making. Jonathan Cohn does a comprehensive job of covering that. But I want to emphasize two things. First, back in December 2011, Rick Ungar told us

A question for Ta-Nehisi Coates

As regular readers here know - I LOVE the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates - even when I don't agree with him. And so after his magnificent response to the guy from Duck Dynasty , I was very anxious to read his take on Rep. Paul Ryan's remarks about the non-existent work culture among lazy black "inner city" men. But I wound up confused by what he had to say . A number of liberals reacted harshly to Ryan. I'm not sure why. What Ryan said here is not very far from what Bill Cosby, Michael Nutter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama said before him. The idea that poor people living in the inner city, and particularly black men, are "not holding up their end of the deal" as Cosby put it, is not terribly original or even, these days, right-wing. From the president on down there is an accepted belief in America—black and white—that African-American people, and African-American men, in particular, are lacking in the virtues in family, hard work, and citizenship... C

The Great Experiment

In condemning Bill Kristol and the neocons for their foreign policy failures during the Bush/Cheney administration, BooMan sounds a warning to liberals. Putin's actions in Ukraine do pose a challenge to progressives, who must begin to think carefully about America's proper posture in the world. Where we move back, other powers may move in, and often with unfortunate and destabilizing results. Whether we like it or not, he's right. For the last 60 years, the United States has either dominated global affairs or shared that stage during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. To simply decry that kind of hegemony is not enough. We have to be realistic about the alternatives. In order to do that we have to discard the notion that the only form of power is military dominance. Whether its the U.S. in Viet Nam/Iraq or Russia in Afghanistan - we've learned the hard way that military dominance doesn't work. I thought of that last night when I watched the movie Mandela: T