Thursday, April 30, 2015

Oh, this is rich!

President Obama didn't want Congress to weigh in on the potential deal with Iran until after negotiations with his administration and the P5+1 countries were completed in June. But since so many Democrats joined Republicans in wanting to do so, he worked with them on legislation he could live with.

Today, Senators Rubio and Cotton gummed up the works with poison pill amendments so much that some are doubtful whether or not anything will actually pass.

Let me remind you, that's Senator Rubio - the one who says that President Obama isn't being aggressive enough with ISIS because he's afraid to alienate Iran - the sworn enemy of ISIS. He's also the one who admitted that his own idea on what to do about Iran's nuclear weapons program - pull out of the negotiations and unilaterally re-impose sanctions - wouldn't be effective.

And of course, Senator Cotton is the one who skated as close to the line of treason one can get without crossing over. He opposes ANY deal with Iran and thinks war over their nuclear program would be a breeze.

Who knows if Senate Majority Leader McConnell can muscle these lunatics into line over the weekend. If not, I can just imagine Speaker John Boehner saying, "Welcome to my world, McConnell" as he sips his bourbon.

Meanwhile, President Obama will simply say..."Please proceed, Senators Rubio and Cotton."

Can Bipartisan Love for Dr. Seuss Survive?

I'm thinking that Ted Cruz might have to re-think his whole attachment to Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham when he hears about this.

"I'm still a big Dr. Seuss fan. You know, I was into that. The Sneetches and Horton and all that stuff." —President...
Posted by The White House on Thursday, April 30, 2015


I'm just going to leave this one here for awhile...

Hillary Clinton's First Major Policy Speech of the Campaign

I have to say that I am very encouraged to see that Hillary Clinton's first major policy speech of the 2016 campaign was on the need for criminal justice reform. I know there are those who will brush it off as opportunistic - coming on the heels of the unrest in Baltimore. But apparently it was scheduled two years ago. Something this major doesn't just pop up over night.

We'll get to her specifics on policy shortly. But she started off by putting the issue of criminal justice reform within a context that should remind any listener of what our current President has been saying since he came on the scene back in 2004.
But more broadly, let's remember that everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law and when everyone in every community is respected by the law. That is what we have to work towards in Baltimore and across our country.

We must urgently begin to rebuild the bonds of trust and respect among Americans. Between police and citizens, yes, but also across society. Restoring trust in our politics, our press, our markets. Between and among neighbors and even people with whom we disagree politically.

This is so fundamental to who we are as a nation and everything we want to achieve together. It truly is about how we treat each other and what we value. Making it possible for every American to reach his or her God-given potential—regardless of who you are, where you were born, or who you love.

The inequities that persist in our justice system undermine this shared vision of what America can be and should be.
Clinton also took a moment to recognize the bipartisan efforts on reform that are currently underway in Congress.
Today there seems to be a growing bipartisan movement for commonsense reforms in our criminal justice systems. Senators as disparate on the political spectrum as Cory Booker and Rand Paul and Dick Durbin and Mike Lee are reaching across the aisle to find ways to work together. It is rare to see Democrats and Republicans agree on anything today. But we're beginning to agree on this: We need to restore balance to our criminal justice system.
In terms of specifics, here are the things she mentioned:
  1. Ensure that "federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets"
  2. Ensure that every police department has body cameras
  3. Renew an emphasis on community policing
  4. Promote prevention: "you cannot talk about smart policing and reforming the criminal justice system if you also don't talk about what's needed to provide economic opportunity, better educational chances for young people, more support to families so they can do the best jobs they are capable of doing to help support their own children"
  5. Provide alternative punishments for low-level offenders
  6. Reform arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences
  7. Provide probation and drug diversion programs
  8. Improve mental health services
One distinction that Clinton made is important. She noted that the first 3 are about reforms to law enforcement, while the last 4 have to do with prison/sentencing reform. While she didn't point this out, the reason that is important is because conservatives have engaged on the latter, but they have been silent about the need for the former (not to mention that when it comes to #4, they typically blame the victims).

Overall, in terms of both content and style, I'd say: so good for Hillary '16.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"You can't eat me for lunch."

"You can't eat me for lunch. Then there'd be no President." —President Obama to kids outside the White House after taking a walk with the 2015 Teacher of the Year. #ThankATeacher
Posted by The White House on Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What Religious Conservatives Don't Get About Marriage Equality

I'm not sure that the best way to go about advocating for your cause is to threaten the Supreme Court. But apparently it's what people like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, James Dobson and John Hagee have come up with in their efforts to fight against the legalization of same sex marriage. Here's their Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage.
We will view any decision by the Supreme Court or any court the same way history views the Dred Scott and Buck v. Bell decisions. Our highest respect for the rule of law requires that we not respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with higher law. A decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order. As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.

We stand united together in defense of marriage. Make no mistake about our resolve. While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.
There is a lot in the entire pledge with which I would take issue. But what I want to know is, what do they mean when they promise to "not respect" the law?

Frankly, when I first heard about this I had a little laugh about them saying they won't obey the law. If they want to take the bold stand that they will definitely NOT marry someone of the same sex - no matter what the Supreme Court says - I think we're all cool with that. Just like we're cool with them never having an abortion under any circumstances.

That's what these religious conservatives don't get. Oh sure, now they've gotten into the whole idea that baking a cake for a gay wedding means they've broken their covenant with God. And so we're going to have to deal with the question of discrimination all over again. But let's not kid ourselves. When they go so far as to threaten the Supreme Court if they allow gay marriage, this is about the need to control what WE do, not what they can/can't do.

The One Thing You Should Read About Baltimore

As you know, HBO's series The Wire takes place in Baltimore because it's creator - David Simon - lives there. Today Bill Keller at The Marshall Project interviewed Simon. It's a tough read. Simon is as eloquent as always, but it's a depressing story. My takeaway from it is that - if anything - he went easy on Baltimore's mayor and police department in the television series. Here's a taste just to get you started:
The part that seems systemic and connected is that the drug war — which Baltimore waged as aggressively as any American city — was transforming in terms of police/community relations, in terms of trust, particularly between the black community and the police department. Probable cause was destroyed by the drug war. It happened in stages, but even in the time that I was a police reporter, which would have been the early 80s to the early 90s, the need for police officers to address the basic rights of the people they were policing in Baltimore was minimized. It was done almost as a plan by the local government, by police commissioners and mayors, and it not only made everybody in these poor communities vulnerable to the most arbitrary behavior on the part of the police officers, it taught police officers how not to distinguish in ways that they once did.

Probable cause from a Baltimore police officer has always been a tenuous thing. It’s a tenuous thing anywhere, but in Baltimore, in these high crime, heavily policed areas, it was even worse. When I came on, there were jokes about, “You know what probable cause is on Edmondson Avenue? You roll by in your radio car and the guy looks at you for two seconds too long.” Probable cause was whatever you thought you could safely lie about when you got into district court.
It has been widely known for a long time now that the mayor depicted in The Wire was loosely based on Martin O'Malley - who is now running for president. I was initially interested in his candidacy, but became concerned when this former DLC member suddenly started basing his campaign on running to "the left of Hillary Clinton" and criticizing the work of President Obama. Something just didn't feel right about all that.

O'Malley comes in for quite the skewering by Simon, even though he says that he will vote for him if he's the Democratic candidate. Simon goes into a lot of depth about the former mayor, but here's the introduction.
The drug war began it, certainly, but the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was Martin O'Malley. He destroyed police work in some real respects. Whatever was left of it when he took over the police department, if there were two bricks together that were the suggestion of an edifice that you could have called meaningful police work, he found a way to pull them apart...It’s not personal and I admire some of his other stances on the death penalty and gay rights. But to be honest, what happened under his watch as Baltimore’s mayor was that he wanted to be governor. And at a certain point, with the crime rate high and with his promises of a reduced crime rate on the line, he put no faith in real policing.
I'm fine with everyone making up their own mind about O'Malley, but that line I bolded answered the question for me about why I've been having a hard time supporting him. I don't mind people having ambitions for higher office. That is expected. It becomes a problem for me when they do stupid stuff with no regard for the consequences in order to fulfill those ambitions.

A lot of Democrats made some awful decisions in the 80's and 90's when it comes to law enforcement and the criminal justice system (including folks like Bill Clinton and Joe Biden). We have to reckon with those mistakes as part of the problem Simon describes so powerfully in this interview. The injustices were certainly there before, but much of what was done made the situation a whole lot worse.

And so I am reminded of something President Obama said recently:
What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?
We've got some work to do, folks.


Just sayin'...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

My New Hero: Karim Wasfi

Here's the story:
On Monday, three car bombs shattered the peace in Baghdad, killing at least 19 people. One of the most deadly of these attacks took place in the upscale district of Mansour, according to Reuters. Yet this area also witnessed one of the day's most powerful displays of resilience.

Famed Iraqi maestro Karim Wasfi set a chair and a cello on the spot of the bombing and began to play. He gathered an awed crowd with his elegiac playing that sent a message to terrorists that they can't suppress the human spirit...

He's also held unpublicized concerts as a means to keep Iraqi music and culture alive against threats of the Islamic State group, which forbids music. "If anyone from any sect bets against gatherings like this one, they'll lose the bet," Wasfi said, addressing an audience at one such concert, according to NPR.
Wasfi shows the same courage on behalf of human resilience that was demonstrated by The Cellist of Sarajevo. These are the kinds of people that keep my hope for humanity alive!

"We Haven't Bothered to Take the Bullet Out"

This morning President Obama shared his thoughts about what is happening in Baltimore. He had six points he wanted to make:
  1. His thoughts are with the family of Freddie Gray, who deserve transparency and full accountability,
  2. His thoughts are also with the police officers who were injured,
  3. There is no excuse for the violence, it is  counterproductive,
  4. The overwhelmingly majority of protesters were peaceful and didn't get the attention they deserve,
  5. The incidents of police violence against minority and poor communities is a crisis that needs to be addressed,
  6. And finally, he said this:
We can't just leave this to the police. I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching. I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching. But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades...

If we are serious about solving this problem, then we're going to not only have to help the police, we're going to have to think about what can we do -- the rest of us -- to make sure that we're providing early education to these kids; to make sure that we're reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons; so that we're not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a nonviolent drug offense; that we're making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs. That's hard. That requires more than just the occasional news report or task force. ..

But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant -- and that we don't just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, and we don't just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We're paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids, and we think they're important. 
Those last remarks reminded me of a speech then-Senator Barack Obama gave at Hampton University back in 2007.

He starts out by telling a story he's heard recently about a young pregnant women who got caught in the crossfire during the riots in Los Angeles. A bullet hit her and became lodged in her baby's arm. Doctors immediately removed the baby and took the bullet out of her arm. The baby was otherwise uninjured and survived the whole ordeal with only a scar to remind her of the events surrounding her birth.

Obama then goes on to talk about the kind of quiet riots that make up the daily life of too many young people.
These quiet riots that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires and destruction and the police decked out it riot gear and death. They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. The spirit takes hold and young people all across the country look at the way the world is and they believe that things are never going to get better. That despair quietly simmers and makes it impossible to build strong communities and neighborhoods.

And then one afternoon a jury says, "Not guilty." Or a hurricane hits New Orleans. And that despair is revealed for the world to see. Much of what we saw on our television screens 15 years ago was Los Angeles expressing a lingering ongoing pervasive legacy...a tragic legacy out of the tragic history of this country, a history that this country has never fully come to terms with.

This is not to excuse the violence of bashing in a man's head or destroying somebody's store and their life's work. That kind of violence is inexcusable and self-defeating. But it does describe the reality of many communities around this country. And it made me think about our cities and communities around this country and how not only do we still have the scars of the riots and the quiet riots that happen every day, but how, in too many places all across the country, we haven't even bothered to take the bullet out. We have left the bullet in. 
He's right, of course...especially when he said today that what is happening in Baltimore is nothing new. We've seen it all before. I was reminded of that today when someone linked to this review by Roger Ebert of Spike Lee's film "Do The Right Thing." That whole story was the fictionalized account of a riot that broke out in Brooklyn after the police killed a black man. We've been talking about this problem for a very long time.

Until we as a country decide that we're finally ready to make an investment (personal, political and financial) in taking that bullet out, those quiet daily riots are going to keep exploding into the kind we saw yesterday in Baltimore...or a few months ago in Ferguson...or a couple of decades ago in Los Angeles...

Two Wise Voices on Baltimore

It just so happens that two of the people who speak with great wisdom on the racial issues in our criminal justice system today are from Baltimore...Ta-Nehisi Coates and David Simon. Yesterday both of them had something to say about what is happening in their city. Their thoughts don't necessarily align. But I wonder if we have the capacity to hold onto both at the same time.

Ta-Nihisi Coates:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.
David Simon:
But now — in this moment — the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.

If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.
I find myself agreeing with both of them. That creates some cognitive dissonance for me. But I want to let that fester for awhile. I think that's a good thing.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Response to Charles Pierce

Charles Pierce took issue with what I wrote comparing the records of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. So I'd like to respond.

First of all, I find it interesting that he couches his critique in the current debate about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. I said nothing about that controversy in my piece. When I want to talk about that issue...I do. Seeing it simply as some kind of effort by President Obama to - as Pierce puts it - "bring people like Warren and Sharrod Brown to heel" is insulting and diminishes the importance of the issues at stake.

My point in making the comparison was to challenge progressives on how we go about assigning hero status to politicians. Where TPP comes into play in all that is that recently I've seen people make the argument against it based on the fact that Senator Warren is against it, and they trust her. Of course they are free to use that as their standard. But it made me wonder how we go about deciding who we trust and who we don't.

Secondly, when I point out that Senator Booker has been willing to reach across the aisle to work with Republicans on criminal justice reform, Pierce doesn't think they're serious.
Within the Republican centers of power, "Criminal justice reform" does not exist as an actual issue. It exists as dumbshow in an attempt to convince minority voters that the Republican party is on their side. If the Republican party really were interested in actually reforming the criminal justice system in this country, it would have gotten behind then-Senator Jim Webb's attempt to do that during his one term in the Senate. Instead, it filibustered even the possibility of a commission to study the problem. When either the REDEEM Act or the Smarter Sentencing Act come to a vote, then I'll take the point.
We will see whether either of those bills Sen. Booker is co-sponsoring comes up for a vote. But to say that Republicans aren't serious about criminal justice reform is to ignore all the evidence to the contrary. It hasn't moved on a federal level yet, but an awful lot of red states are making significant progress on the issue. Rather than get in to all the specifics, I'd simply suggest that you check out the web site Right On Crime.

Pierce suggests that Republicans are using the issue of criminal justice reform to "convince minority voters that the Republican party is on their side." I say, good for them! Those voters have learned over the years to trust walk rather than talk. A "dumbshow" isn't going to fool them. So if Republicans want to impress people of color, they'll have to deliver.

In many ways, the contrast between these two Senators encapsulates what can cause a divide between white progressives and people of color. While black people prioritize criminal justice reform because they are literally going missing and dying from the problems in that system, white people tend to prioritize reigning in Wall Street. There is nothing inherently wrong with a focus on either one. But we need to be able to hear the disconnect that happens when we don't recognize the importance of both.

My point was that in the current Congress, Senator Booker has seen that one of these issues might have a chance of being addressed. And he's going for it. As a pragmatic progressive, I value that.

Congress Has Gotten Really Good at Saying "No!"

Years ago when I was teaching parenting classes, my mentor told a story about an interaction she had with her two year-old daughter. As is often the case with children that age, Mom had heard her say "No!" to just about anything and everything all day. Finally she said, "Congratulations, you've gotten really good at saying 'no.' Now let's work on something else."

I think about that story when I look at what our Congress has been up to lately. Case in point: Colleen McCain Nelson reports in the Wall Street Journal that, rather than be embarrassed by the letter 47 senators sent to Iran's leaders suggesting that they shouldn't trust President Obama in negotiations over their nuclear weapons program, they've now decided to implement the same strategy on global climate talks.
President Barack Obama and Congress are headed for another power clash on the international stage, as key Senate Republicans challenge his efforts to forge a global pact on climate change.

The White House considers the agreement with nearly 200 nations a historic opportunity to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions world-wide. But some GOP senators view it as executive overreach, and they are quietly considering ways to warn other countries that the president doesn’t speak for them and may not be able to deliver on his promises to slash emissions.

The strategy has a familiar ring. Last month, 47 Republican senators signed a letter telling Iran’s leaders that the next president could revoke any nuclear agreement and that Congress could modify it at any time. Some Senate Republicans say they want to send a similar message to the countries negotiating an agreement that would rein in greenhouse-gas emissions.
Of course most Republicans won't even admit that climate change is happening (or that humans have anything to do with it), so they have no reason to do anything other than say "no" to efforts to stop it. But when it comes to Iran, they simply want to obstruct the agreement this administration and the other countries involved in the P5+1 talks come up with. They say they don't want Iran to develop nuclear weapons, but they aren't willing to offer an alternative way to accomplish that goal.

I have to say that we're not seeing much more that is productive from the Democrats these days. It's clear they want to stop the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Many of their arguments rest on the failure of NAFTA. The Obama administration has suggested that one of the reasons TPP is important is because it fixes what's wrong with NAFTA. If the opponents of TPP don't agree with that, have they suggested anything that would improve the status quo? I sure haven't heard it.

So perhaps you see why I'm thinking that it's time to say to Congress, "Congratulations, you've gotten really good at saying 'no.' Now let's work on something else."

If that's not possible, then I'd go with President Obama's line from Saturday night: time to say, (rhymes with) "Buckit."

President Obama As "Angry Black Man" (updated)

I know y'all thought I was kidding when I said that Obama's Anger Translator performance Saturday night was every Republicans worst nightmare. But after taking a tour around red land on the internets this morning, it's clear that some folks took it VERY seriously. Bless their hearts.

Byron York seems to have led the way.
...there's no doubt that Obama, by incorporating comedian Keegan-Michael Key into his act, went public with the anger — specifically, the black anger — that has become part of the general conversation about Obama's time in office...

Of course, it was all comedy — don't the critics understand it's just a joke? — but Obama gave his imprimatur to the Luther interpretation of the Obama presidency. Criticism directed at Obama about seemingly non-racial issues, from Ebola to the BP oil spill to climate change, is more severe for Obama than it would be for a white president because it is rooted in racial animus. That animus showed its face in more obvious ways in the birther and Obama-is-a-Muslim memes, but it's always there. Now, in his second term, Obama is finally free to air his resentments.
John Hinderaker - of course - weighed in.
The annual lovefest between Democratic politicians and Democratic journalists hasn’t generated any actual news in a long time. But this year’s event was perhaps notable because it exposed our president’s bitterness, as he approaches the end of his term.
Hinderaker goes through several of President Obama's jokes and offers his own (very serious) rebuttal. At one point, he says that the President's line about Dick Cheney being the worst president of his lifetime "wasn't humor, it was political aggression." Of course he never mentioned that Cheney's statement that Obama was the worst president of his lifetime wasn't offered in a comedic setting. So it clearly wasn't humor. I guess Hinderaker can't imagine that as being political aggression see...a black guy didn't say it.

Finally, you knew Erick Erickson would have something to say about all this.
President Obama let loose over the weekend that he has concluded all the opposition to him is because he is black...

If only President Obama weren’t black, maybe he would realize that people don’t dislike him because he is black, they dislike him because he is a self-absorbed ass.
Apparently, a right wing pundit thinking it's appropriate to call the President of the United States a "self-absorbed ass" because of things he said in a comedy routine has absolutely NOTHING to do with said POTUS being black. Seriously.

Maybe I was wrong in my initial assessment. Rather than the anger translator being every Republican's worst nightmare, it was actually a dream come true for these guys. For years now they've been trying to paint this President as the ultimate "angry black man" - even as he daily defies all of their racist stereotypes. It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the reality that they have to reach for a comedy routine to confirm their racism.

UPDATE: Apparently Ezra Klein buys into the "angry black man" stereotype too. I would suggest to Ezra that comedy has a very complex relationship with the truth (see: Stephen Colbert). And when a wonk tries to dissect all dies.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Shut Up and Dance

Wow, this is fun!

Every Republican's Worst Nightmare

Especially early on, a lot of liberals got frustrated with President Obama because they felt like he didn't throw enough punches (figuratively) at the opposition. The classic example was when Michael Moore said that he should take off his tutu and put on his boxing gloves.

While it's true that the President usually prefers to best his opponents by being smarter than them rather than by pummeling them with words, last night at the White House Correspondent's Dinner he played with being a rascally fighter (some of us have always known he had that in him). That's precisely why it was so funny...he was taking on his own caricature.

One of the best bits was when he talked about his (rhymes with)" buckit" list following the 2014 midterms (previously known as his "pen and phone" strategy). But then he brought on Luther, his anger translator. Or as I like to call him, "every Republican's worst nightmare."

The whole routine was fabulously funny. So if you haven't watched it yet, I suggest that you do. Enjoy!

Who Threatens Our Privacy?

The whole Snowden affair has receded into the background by now. But recently Michael Cohen made an important point that seemed to get totally lost in the discussion about privacy.
This week, the group Wikileaks posted on its website the entire archive of data and information stolen from Sony Pictures last fall — and it seems every day there’s a new, earth-shattering scoop...

I needed only 20 minutes on the Wikileaks site to find a credit card number, medical information, private e-mail addresses, salary data, and plenty else that most people wouldn’t want available on a searchable database.

This kind of cyberattack is a greater threat to people’s privacy than anything revealed in the Snowden/NSA leaks, which became a cause celebre for some of the same people chortling over the Sony leaks...

Today, it is harder and harder to stay outside the omnipresent eye of social media, surveillance cameras, and smartphone videos. Wikileaks is only adding to the onslaught on our privacy rights — surreally, in the name of transparency.
I always found it interesting that many of those who were most closely involved with the Snowden leaks (including Wikileaks) have pretty deep ties to the hacker community - people whose raison d'être is to invade privacy.

It's true that the concerns raised by the leaks about NSA are worrisome in regards to the possibility that the government might have access to private information. But the prospects of everyone else having access is equally (if not more) concerning.

Photo of the Day: Every Republican's Worst Nightmare

OMG - hilarious!!!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Odds & Ends

While we were looking elsewhere, yet another battle has broken out amongst Republicans. Ali Gharib has the story about the looming confrontation between AIPAC and the neocons over Iran.

Eric Holthaus, who has been a critic of President Obama's climate policy, changes course and says it's gradually starting to pay off.

For those of us who have been watching to see if Hillary Clinton learned anything from her mistakes in 2008, this is good news: Hillary Clinton Campaign Launches Grassroots Organizing Program in All 50 States.

This week Gov. Scott Walker paid a visit to my home state of Minnesota. He was greeted with some of the information I wrote about recently. It was summed up best by former Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak:
"He promised a 'road to prosperity,'" Rybak said. "About the only road to prosperity that's working in Wisconsin is the bridge that's being built to Minnesota."
This week, the baton was finally passed. Trymaine Lee got the exit interview with outgoing AG Holder.

Chris Rock knows what's wrong with people are abandoning it.

Finally, let's take a listen as India Arie tells us about her journey to find the strength, courage and wisdom that's been inside her all along.

Sometimes a girls just gotta rant

Honestly, I don't rant very often. But these emos getting into their fee-fees about President Obama and the TPP is just so, well...emo of them.

Ever since the President told Chris Matthews that "Elizabeth Warren is wrong," I've seen one diary after another at Daily Kos about how he "attacked" her. Really?!!! He didn't call her a paid shill for the corporatocracy or a warmonger or Bush-lite. As a matter of fact, he didn't call her any names at all. He f*cking disagrees with her. And he said she was wrong. That's what one does if they are sane and rational in their political discourse.

What was really laughable and extremely annoying at the same time was when the author of that diary I linked to up above said this.
...the people and groups I trust the most on economic issues, the people who have fought for my values on just about every major economic issue, folks like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, the CPC, the AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and Moveon, are skeptical about this trade agreement. And let me just add one note here: those are some pretty smart folks. I mean, it's fine to disagree with her, but suggesting that someone like Elizabeth Warren doesn't know what she is talking about on an issue like this seems like a pretty far stretch.
As a veteran of the Obamarox vs Obamasux battles at Daily Kos a couple of years ago, I can personally attest to the fact that if - in defense of Obama - anyone EVER said anything about trusting him, pearls were clutched into oblivion as accusations of "blind Obamabot" were screamed from the rafters.

Well, Mr. Lux, I welcome you to the world where us peons can decide which politicians we think are smart and worthy of our trust. And no, I will reject my temptation to call you a "blind Warrenbot." You're welcome.

OK, rant over. Thanks for listening. And now we'll get back to our regularly scheduled programming.


"Sticking With the Issue After the Media Lost Interest"

It's hard to imagine that it was less than a year ago that the media became consumed with horror stories about child migrants from Central America entering the United States. Some of us noticed that all of that (as well as the fear-mongering about Ebola) disappeared from the headlines as soon as the 2014 midterms were over.

But thanks to the Economist, we learn that the Obama administration is continuing to follow up.
At a summit in Panama City on April 10th and 11th Barack Obama reiterated his goal of spending $1 billion next year to tackle the causes of migration from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, known as the Northern Triangle. Experts say his proposal, coupled with joint efforts by the three countries to stop young people from fleeing, mark enlightened new ways of trying to revive Latin America’s most violent region. They face big hurdles, however.

The $1 billion earmarked for the three countries, which has been championed above all by the vice-president, Joe Biden, is three times what America allocated for spending on the region last year. Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think-tank, says the Obama administration deserves “a great deal of credit” for sticking with the issue after the media lost interest. Four-fifths of the aid proposal is aimed at building up civilian institutions and fostering economic development. This is an “important shift” from the usual focus on law enforcement, says Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group.
One of the "big hurdles" this initiative faces is that Congress will have to approve the $1 billion in funds for development in these countries. That's something to watch for in the upcoming work on budgets. The question to pose to Republicans is whether all their screaming about this issue was an election-year ploy or are they serious about actually solving the root of the problem.

Speaking of the root of the problem, the Economist is right to point out that it goes back further than most Americans want to admit.
The United States helped stoke the region’s troubles, both by backing anti-Soviet regimes in civil wars during the 1980s and by expelling gang members from Los Angeles to El Salvador in the 1990s. More recently, it has focused narrowly on law enforcement and fighting drug-trafficking. A new approach, in which the United States, Mexico and international donors work alongside Central America’s governments to get at the roots of the region’s worst problems, is worth a try.
The "new approach" the Obama administration is taking is exactly the kind of thing that was at the top of liberal's agenda back in the 1980's. With the lack of media attention on that part of the world today, it will be interesting to see if anyone notices.

Friday, April 24, 2015



Do the Personal Qualities of a President Matter?

One of my favorite things is when people bust up conventional wisdom. That's exactly what Paul Waldman did with an article title: Sincerity is Overrated.
You don't need a president who's sincere, you just need one who'll do the things you want.
Even though President Obama's incredible integrity is something I admire most about him, I think Waldman has a point. And in the process of talking about that, he busts up some more conventional wisdom.
As we know well, presidents tend to keep the vast majority of the promises they make while campaigning, and most of those they don't keep are merely the ones they tried and failed to do. The actual number of broken promises, a la "Read my lips: no new taxes" is incredibly small. If a candidate says he's going to do something, he's probably going to at least try to do it. This is particularly true when the thing he's proposing is of vital importance to his party. And it's true even if it was something he wasn't all that enthusiastic about, but adopted out of political opportunism.
I actually don't think that is something we know well. The idea that all politicians are liars and break their promises is pretty pervasive. But for the most part, I think Waldman is right.

So if presidents at least attempt to do what they promise while campaigning, is it true that their personal qualities don't matter? Perhaps not as much as we think.

But there are some ways in which a president's personality affects us all beyond the promises they make. Here's how. Did candidate George W. Bush make any promises about what he would do after a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Did he make any promises about what he would do when a category 5 hurricane blew through the Gulf of Mexico and destroyed the levees around New Orleans? Did candidate Barack Obama make any promises about what he would do when the Arab Spring broke out all over the Middle East? Or when a BP oil rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico?

The truth is that an awful lot of what makes or breaks a presidency is unpredictable at the time candidates are running for the office. How someone reacts to those situations is at least as important (perhaps more so) than what they promise to do.

When the unexpected happens, it is a candidate's personality that drives how they will respond. I would agree that sincerity might not be the most important thing in those situations. But, as was the case with Bush, a knee-jerk reaction focused on revenge turned out to be a pretty big liability after 9/11. That's why the personal qualities of a president matter.

The Myths That Feed White Supremacy

Adrien Schless-Meier has written a thought-provoking article about the ties that bind everything from Nellie Andreeva's questions about whether or not people of color are currently taking up too much space on television to the shooting of unarmed black men by law enforcement. Her analysis finds that the one thing all of these reactions have in common is that they are based on a "zero sum game" when it comes to the relationship of white people to people of color.
While it’s easy to cast off discussions of pop culture as trivial or inane, Andreeva’s article draws on and reinforces a logic with deep, pervasive implications. It is the axiom according to which white folks organize our histories, our lives, our relationships: In a world based on whiteness, there is only room for one winner — and it had better be us...

The irony of this fear shouldn’t be lost on us — white people simply wouldn’t exist as we do today, embedded within and sitting atop a racial hierarchy, if it weren’t for systematic violence against Native people and African slaves in the early years of colonialism. We have learned, over the course of generations, that the path to power runs through the graveyard...

When we ask whether we’ve gone “too far” in creating spaces for people of color to explore and articulate nuanced, intricate life experiences, we are reinforcing the idea that only one narrative — that people of color represent a threat to white people — can or should endure. Left unchecked, this belief is the bedrock for the justification of everything from forced deportations to police killings. We cannot do the hard work of reshaping both the limits of our own empathy and the structures of our institutions if we continue to buy into the logic of the zero-sum game.

The sustained assault on people of color in the U.S. demands, at the very least, the dignity of better questions. Rather than wonder what white people might lose if people of color win, we should start by asking why we continue to tolerate, even condone, a world where the cost of protecting whiteness is measured in real, valuable lives lost.
What Schless-Meier has tapped into is the win/lose aspect of what Riane Eisler calls the domination model of human relationships. In this instance, it assumes that in order for white people to win, people of color must lose. One must dominate. That myth is what underscores our fears - which leads to a defensiveness to change.

The entire edifice on which that myth is based needs to be challenged if we are ever going to get past our fears. It is a sad commentary on our religious life in the 21st century that so many of our institutions fail to address this deep anxiety (and in some cases, even reinforce it).

The questions Schless-Meier suggests that we ask ourselves as white people about why we tolerate such a world were at least partially answered for me by Lynne Twist in her book The Soul of Money. In it she suggests that the zero sum game is based on the myth of scarcity.
Whether we live in resource-poor circumstances or resource-rich ones, even if we're loaded with more money or goods or everything you could possibly dream of wanting or needing, we live with scarcity as an underlying assumption. It is an unquestioned, sometimes even unspoken, defining condition of life. It is not even that we necessarily experience a lack of something, but that scarcity as a chronic sense of inadequacy about life becomes the very place from which we think and act and live in the world. It shapes our deepest sense of ourselves, and becomes the lens through which we experience life...

This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life, and it is deeply embedded in our relationship with money.
A world-view based on scarcity means not only that I am not enough (the bedrock of fear), but also the belief that there is not enough for everyone. And so, one of us wins and one loses. In such a world, I am going to fight to make sure that I'm not the loser.

Twist says that we need to let go of the lie of scarcity and replace it with a sense of sufficiency.
We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don't mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn't two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn't a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn't an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, and a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough...

When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather than a desperate longing to be complete.
As long as we tell ourselves a story of scarcity, we will be trapped in our fears and the zero sum game. Knowing that "there is enough, and that we are enough" releases us from all that and opens up the possibility for empathy, and perhaps the ability to let go of the need to defend "whiteness" at the expense of others.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Photo of the Day: Passing the Baton

It's a bittersweet day for me. As regular readers here know, I've been a big supporter of Attorney General Eric Holder. But it's time to say, "Thank you for your exemplary service," and allow him to go on to the next chapter in his life. It's also time to say, "Welcome Madame Attorney General Lynch!"

What Makes Us Exceptional

This morning President Obama did something unprecedented...he took responsibility for a terrible mistake that took the lives of two good men.

Here's a part of what he said:
But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.
In some ways, that echoes what he said at the 50th Anniversary Celebration in Selma.
What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?
Of course, the events he was commemorating at that time didn't happen on his watch. So the personal burden wasn't as heavy.

But I was reminded of another time when President Obama's administration made a mistake and he stepped right up to take responsibility. It was when the rollout of was such a disaster. Here's what he said then:
…there are going to be ups and downs during the course of my presidency. And I think I said early on when I was running – I am not a perfect man, and I will not be a perfect President, but I’ll wake up every single day working as hard as I can on behalf of Americans out there from every walk of life who are working hard, meeting their responsibilities, but sometimes are struggling because the way the system works isn’t giving them a fair shot.

And that pledge I haven’t broken. That commitment, that promise, continues to be – continues to hold – the promise that I wouldn’t be perfect, number one, but also the promise that as long as I’ve got the honor of having this office, I’m just going to work as hard as I can to make things better for folks. And what that means specifically in this health care arena is we can’t go back to the status quo...

I make no apologies for us taking this on – because somebody sooner or later had to do it. I do make apologies for not having executed better over the last several months.
At the time, I remember thinking that was one of the most courageous things I'd ever seen a president do. And now, under even more somber circumstances, he's done it again.

Some people think that our exceptionalism as a country comes from being better than everyone else and focusing only on the positive. Admitting mistakes certainly makes us vulnerable. But pretending to be perfect is nothing but a lie. And it robs us of both the ability to learn from our mistakes and to embrace the kind of humility that opens the door to empathy for others.

President Obama has been willing to put his ego aside, admit when he's been wrong, and make a determined effort to learn from those mistakes. Those are the kinds of lessons that we - as individuals - need to learn. But they also apply to how we go about "perfecting our union."

President Obama is Determined to Close Gitmo

Perhaps because none of the 2016 presidential candidates is talking about it, I haven't seen much in the media about this:
Facing a potential showdown with Congress, the Pentagon is racing to move dozens of detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in coming months before lawmakers can block future transfers and derail President Obama’s plan to shutter the U.S. military prison.

As a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June. In all, the Pentagon hopes that 57 inmates who are approved for transfer will be resettled by the end of 2015. That would require “large muscle movements” by at least two countries, which officials hope will each agree to take in 10 to 20 Yemeni detainees, who cannot be repatriated because of security conditions in their war-torn homeland.
The potential showdown with Congress they are referring is that Sen. Ayotte is sponsoring a bill that would extend the current ban on bringing prisoners to the United States and effectively bar transfers to other countries. Of course President Obama could veto such a bill - unless, as we've seen in previous years, it was part of the Pentagon's omnibus budget appropriation.

What's interesting is that the President is currently working on an alternative with Sen. Ayotte's best buddy, Sen. McCain.
The White House is drafting a plan that officials hope will receive the support of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as an alternate to Ayotte’s measure. McCain has previously expressed openness to shutting the prison.

But it’s far from certain, even with McCain’s backing, that lawmakers would fall in behind the White House’s plan, which would allow detainees to be brought to the United States for trial or detention and would enable the continued transfer of others to foreign nations.

“It’s looking very difficult,” said Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and a leading advocate for allowing prisoners to be brought to the United States. “I don’t see what changes minds or persuades people at this point,” he said. “But that’s what [the White House] is attempting to do.”
If that were to fail:
In the event that Congress does pass legislation that would freeze Guantanamo Bay’s population, currently at 122, White House officials are exploring options for the unilateral closure of the prison and moving detainees into the United States, an action that Congress has opposed from the president’s first months in office.
Notice that they are "exploring options for the unilateral closure." So it's clear they don't have a plan yet. But do you get the idea this President is serious about this? One way or the other he is determined to have this blight on the reputation of the United States closed before he leaves office.

A Feminist Foreign Policy

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the fact that Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom was being accused of Islamophobia for her attempts to speak up for the rights of women in Saudi Arabia. Jenny Nordberg has also written about the story in the New Yorker and interviewed FM Wallstron. In discussing the possibility of a "feminist foreign policy," she said this:
Wallstrom also cites a growing body of research showing that women’s security is directly related to both national and international security. In the 2012 book “Sex and World Peace” a team of four researchers (Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett) present data indicating that the more violent a state and its citizens are toward women, the more violent that state is likely to be over all, both internally and in its dealings with outside world. “In fact, the very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated,” Hudson wrote in a piece for Foreign Policy.

Politicians rarely see women’s rights as having a direct impact on problems of war and peace. But according to this school of thought, a foreign policy that strives to address global gender inequity should in fact be on the agenda of any politician concerned with global security. Particularly at a time when the overwhelmingly male foreign-policy establishment, including international organizations such as the United Nations, appears to have run out of ideas for how to manage or even approach violent conflicts, a more gendered perspective on foreign affairs may in fact be a pragmatic strategy. The authors of “Sex and World Peace” go so far as to suggest that, in the future, “the clash of civilizations” will be based not on ethnic and political differences, but rather on beliefs about gender.
With all due respect to the authors of "Sex and World Peace," this is something that women like Riane Eisler have been saying for a couple of decades.
Terrorism and chronic warfare are responses to life in societies in which the only perceived choices are dominating or being dominated. These violent responses are characteristic of cultures where this view of relations is learned early on through traditions of coercion, abuse, and violence in parent-child and gender relations.

It's not coincidental that throughout history the most violently despotic and warlike societies have been those in which violence, or the threat of violence, is used to maintain domination of parent over child and man over woman...

Surprisingly, none of our conventional social categories takes the relationship of intimate violence and international violence into account. Indeed, classifications such as religious versus secular, right versus left, East versus West, and developed versus developing do not tell us whether a culture's beliefs and institutions—from the family, education, and religion to politics and economics—support relations based on nonviolence and mutual respect, or rigid rankings backed up by fear and force.

In studying societies across cultures and epochs, looking at both the public and personal spheres, I discovered configurations that transcend conventional categories. Since there were no names for these configurations, I coined the terms partnership model and dominator or domination model...

Progressives urgently need a social and political agenda that takes into account both the public sphere of politics and economics, and the personal sphere of family and other intimate relations. Only through an integrated progressive agenda that takes into account both the personal and public spheres can we build foundations for cultures of peace rather than war.
A feminist foreign policy would not simply mean going around the globe to lecture men and women about gender equality. It would mean first of all, working to get our own house in order when it comes to violence against women and children in this country. And then it would mean providing women and girls around the globe with the support/tools they need to work towards their own equality...much like the President and First Lady's Let Girls Learn initiative.

I'd issue this as a challenge to Hillary Clinton: As you campaign to become this country's first female president, can you run on being the best candidate to truly incorporate a feminist foreign policy?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Senator Warren Is Still Wrong

During his interview with Chris Matthews, President Obama said that Senator Elizabeth Warren was wrong about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. The Senator responded with a blog post on her web site.
The Administration says I’m wrong – that there’s nothing to worry about. They say the deal is nearly done, and they are making a lot of promises about how the deal will affect workers, the environment, and human rights. Promises – but people like you can’t see the actual deal...

If most of the trade deal is good for the American economy, but there’s a provision hidden in the fine print that could help multinational corporations ship American jobs overseas or allow for watering down of environmental or labor rules, fast track would mean that Congress couldn’t write an amendment to fix it. It’s all or nothing.

Before we sign on to rush through a deal like that – no amendments, no delays, no ability to block a bad bill – the American people should get to see what’s in it.
First of all, you'd think that Senator Warren hasn't seen what's in the deal so far. You can click through and read her whole post. She never mentions anything in particular that she objects to. And yet, as President Obama said the other night, the administration has held over 1,700 briefings with Congress as the negotiations have progressed.

But all that aside, on her point about the deal being secret. Yes, as it is being negotiated, it is not available to the public. But here's what's in the bill granting so-callled "fast-track" trade authority.
The bill would make any final trade agreement open to public comment for 60 days before the president signs it, and up to four months before Congress votes. If the agreement, negotiated by the United States trade representative, fails to meet the objectives laid out by Congress — on labor, environmental and human rights standards — a 60-vote majority in the Senate could shut off “fast-track” trade rules and open the deal to amendment.
So the public will have four months to review TPP once negotiations have been completed BEFORE Congress votes on it. When it comes to the objectives laid out by Congress, here's what they include:
In all, the bill sets down 150 negotiating objectives, such as tough new rules on intellectual property protection, lowering of barriers to agricultural exports, labor and environmental standards, rule of law and human rights. Reflecting the modern economy, Congress would demand a loosening of restrictions on cross-border data flow, an end to currency manipulation and rules for competition from state-owned enterprises.
Once the deal becomes public, Senator Warren will have four months to round up 60 votes to end "fast-track" authority if she feels that the negotiating objectives were not met.

I know that for much of the progressive world, Senator Warren has become the great liberal hero of our time. But that doesn't exempt her from being wrong. And on this one, that's exactly what she is right now.

It's Not Sexist, Just Irrelevant

I'm going to be brutally honest here. If the press were to have written this about Hillary Clinton instead of Jeb Bush, you could bet your last dollar that there are folks who would be screaming "SEXIST!!!"
Jeb Bush is eating like a caveman, and he has literally shrunk in size.

The former Florida governor, expected to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, is on the popular Paleo diet, which is based on what are believed to be the eating habits of the Paleolithic hunters and gatherers.

For Paleo practitioners, lean meat and fruits and vegetables are in and processed foods, dairy products and sugary delights are out.

For Bush, the results have been noticeable. Late last year he was something of a pudgy doughboy with a full face and soft jawline. Today the 6-foot, 4-inch-tall Bush sports a more chiseled look. His campaign-in-waiting would not say how much he had lost, but he looks to have shed 20 or 30 pounds.
Of course, all the stuff about a caveman diet from hunters and gatherers makes it sound like a much more "manly" thing to do. And going from "doughboy" to "chiseled look" is nothing any man would sneeze at. But perhaps - from the photo they included - it's a bit over-the-top. Does that one on the right say "chiseled" to you?

But you see, now they've got me doing it. My original point was that - minus all the attempts to masculinize the story - if someone had written something similar about Hillary, we'd all be pouncing on it as an example of how women are treated differently.

The truth is that an awful lot of what the press does when they get so addicted to the silly season of campaigns more than a year and a half before an election, is fill space with tons of irrelevant information and try to convince us that it's important. The latest edition in Hillaryworld is that she apparently flew first class back to Washington D.C. Really!!! How could she?!!

I've joked with some of my friends that I'm going to literally lose my mind before all of this is over. I just keep reminding myself to ignore what's irrelevant. With Hillary as the likely Democratic nominee, that will mean being able to distinguish sexist from irrelevant.

Stepford Husbands

No cinematic endeavor better captured what patriarchy did to women than The Stepford Wives. We still have a ways to go in freeing women from those kinds of constraints, but as the saying goes, "You've come a long way baby!"

I would, however, suggest that in order to end patriarchy, men have to change too. In many ways, the myth of the "Stepford Husband" still exists. It's what Bill Pozzobon calls "the code," but it pretty much comes down to the idea that, in order to be a man, you have to prove that you are the opposite of the stereotypes we typically associate with feminine. I was reminded of that when I read this commentary recently.
It was always true that women matured faster than men but part of the reason for that is that the transformation from boy to man is much more complete than that from girl to woman. In recent decades, it’s become worse, in that males are increasingly doing jobs where brute strength and physical courage have little value and, to make matters worse, are doing them alongside women. I think a significant percentage of men are naturally going to seethe at the structure of an office environment and they’re going to be especially resentful of having women as their bosses or even colleagues. Basically, it’s harder to actually distinguish oneself as “a man.”

I was never much into gaming and, in any case, it wasn’t a massive social activity in the way that it is now with the Internet. But skill at certain types of video games was a nerd’s equivalent to being a successful hunter or warrior, a way of setting themselves apart and gaining a source of pride in their manliness. Having women and girls demonstrate that they can do it just as well is thus very literally emasculating.
Notice how the author assumes that the only vehicle for pride in manliness is being a successful hunter or warrior (even if it's only in a game). And to be bested by a woman at these tasks is "emasculating." I suspect that there are an awful lot of men for whom those expectations are just as troublesome as The Stepford Wives was for women.

Thankfully, there are those who are beginning to say that we need to change all that. Take a look at the trailer for this documentary titled The Mask You Live In.

It's not that boys/men need to abandon every stereotype they've been taught about what it means to be a man. It's that first of all, they need to know that they have nothing to prove when it comes to being a man. And secondly, that they have choices about how to be a man...the same choices women are fighting to have for themselves.

This is why I often say that feminism isn't just about women. Men have also been constrained and damaged by patriarchy. If we are ever going to free ourselves of the authoritarian impulses that rely on fear and oppression, we are going to have to free men/boys from the expectation that their manhood is something they have to prove. Our human potential for nurturing, compassion and empathy are no more "feminine" than strength, courage, and toughness are "masculine."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hey There Lonely Girl

I had totally forgotten about this song until it showed up when I was looking for something else on youtube. And oh my...the memories that had also been forgotten came back with it.

Anybody else out there old enough to remember it?

The Kids Are All Right

Ebony published an article by Brooke Wilson and Cynthia Boateng, who are seniors at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA.
Mistakes are as common as they are guaranteed. No matter who you are, and regardless of your particular walk in life, you are bound to stumble sometime. While no one aspires to blow it, one can only hope their mistakes are met with grace and second chances.

The notion of second chances is not at all revolutionary. Yet imagine a world where no one, or only a small few, received do-overs. Worse still, imagine a world where people are penalized for mistakes that aren’t mistakes at all; where children are punished for trivial and non-consequential matters. I wish this were an imaginary tale. Sadly, it’s reality for many students across the country.
Is that gorgeous writing, or what? They go on to talk about discriminatory discipline practices in our schools and advocate for a restorative justice approach as an alternative.

I love reading stuff like this. It reminds me that, "Yeah, the kids are all right." We just need to listen to them.

Perhaps Republicans Aren't So Happy With Their Choices

Offered for your consideration:

That was posted on Facebook by the conservative group Human Events. It showed up in my timeline because a few of my Republican friends passed it on. As of this writing, it has been shared over 200,000 times.

What does that tell you about how Republicans are feeling right now about their clown car field of 2016 candidates?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Things That Took Less Time Than Loretta Lynch's Confirmation

I just had to pass this one along.

Thomas Perez on TPP

To my mind, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez is the most unacknowledged liberal champion in the Obama administration. I followed him closely during his years as head of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ as he resurrected and reformed that department following it's demise under the previous Bush administration. He has also been doing some amazing work at the Department of Labor lately.

And so, when Greg Sargent interviews Sec. Perez about the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement - you bet I'm going to pay attention.
THE PLUM LINE: There’s a tremendous amount of suspicion about trade deals. Prior trade deals didn’t raise wages or bargaining rights. What specifically will be in TPP that is somehow different from these other deals, from the point of view of the standard of living of American workers?

THOMAS PEREZ: I share the skepticism that my friends have about NAFTA. It was woefully weak in protecting workers and on the enforcement side. The question is: Can we meaningfully build a trade regime that has as its North Star protecting American workers and American jobs through meaningful enforcement? I think we can. It’s imperative that we not default to the status quo, which would mean we don’t fix NAFTA.

We have to bake labor provisions into the core of an agreement. TPP would do that. Under NAFTA, countries had to simply promise to uphold the laws of their own nations. Now the provisions baked into TPP are: You must enact or make sure you have already in place meaningful labor protections, such as the freedom of association, health and safety, acceptable conditions of work.
Did you catch that? If you don't like NAFTA, we need to fix it with TPP. That kind of turns the whole progressive argument on its head, doesn't it?

Sargent goes on to ask Perez about most of the issues the opponents of TPP have brought up. So I'd suggest that you go read the whole thing.

A Whole New Brand of "Political Correctness"

As the media becomes consumed with the 2016 presidential election and begins to (as President Obama said back in 2004) "slice and dice" the electorate, I've started to notice a pattern. The group of voters that seems to fascinate them the most is working class whites - mostly men. Even though they are a shrinking part of the electorate (from 1/3 in 1980 to 17% in 2012), countless articles have already been written about how the Democratic Party has lost them and what they can do to win them back. Former Democratic Senator Jim Webb is even considering a candidacy based almost solely on his appeal to them.

But what's even more interesting to me is how, in talking about what might motivate white working class men to avoid the Democratic Party, journalists seem to have decided that it's important to avoid talking about one set of issues at all costs: racism/sexism/homophobia.

For example, Politico recently published a story by Larry Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelly titled: Clinton's Real Opponent: Barack Obama. Interestingly enough, the article wasn't about how Clinton's platform was at odds with the President (because it isn't). It was actually about how his approval rating in states with a large white population was lower than would otherwise be expected. Not once in the entire article did they mention that racism might be a factor. But a more appropriate headline might have been: Clinton's Real Opponent: Racism Against Barack Obama.

Doyle McManus also took up the cause with the appropriately titled: Democrats' Hunt for the White Working Class Male Voter. When it comes to why this group has abandoned the Democratic Party, he identifies a couple of reasons.
Almost by definition, identity politics is one source of the problem; some white noncollege voters have come to view Democrats as a party that cares about women and minorities more than it cares about them...

The biggest driver of white working-class disaffection, however, is clearly economic insecurity, combined with a sense that big government hasn't done much to stand up for the little guy.
All of that is fairly accurate. But it totally avoids the very well-documented history of the Republican's Southern Strategy and their more recent attempts at dog whistles (and sometimes fog horns) to gin up the racism/sexism/homophobia of white working class males.

I'd suggest that we are now in an era where "political correctness" has been turned on it's head. Due to all the fear-mongering and backlash, it has become unacceptable to name all that for what it is and instead focus all our energy on protecting the feelings of racists/sexists/homophobes.

McManus goes on to quote Stan Greenberg on what Democrats can do about the problem.
But Greenberg has proposed adding another piece to the Democrats' message: a more serious commitment to both campaign reform and a leaner, more efficient federal government — an updated version of Bill Clinton's 1996 pledge that the era of big government is over.
Part of what Greenberg is suggesting is that Democrats need to adopt the Republican message of a "leaner" federal government. In other words: stop giving away those "freebies" to blacks/women/gays.

I'd like to propose an alternative solution. We should listen to this guy.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Change

I cannot count the number of times this song brought me back from the edge of the abyss we call "cynicism." And so today, on the 20th anniversary of a horrific tragedy, I thought it would be a good time to share it with all of you.

Garth Brooks video: The Change from Big Chief Studio on Vimeo.

What Maureen Dowd Doesn't Know About Feminism Could Fill a Book

Yes, I know. I should just stay away from Maureen Dowd columns. Every time I read one I am reminded that the New York Times gives valuable real-estate space to an idiot. My only excuse for reading this one is that I saw a clip of it on twitter that was so awful, I clicked through. Now I have to write about it to let off the steam. So sue me!

One thing you can say about Maureen is that she is an equal opportunity basher. Now she's all about trashing Hillary Clinton the same was she did Barack Obama and George W. Bush. The truth is that she seems to have a natural inclination to be disgusted by anyone who is either president or who wants to be. I'll leave it to the rest of you arm chair psychiatrists to analyze that one.

In going after Hillary today, Maureen shows that she knows absolutely NOTHING about feminism. To the extent that she has a point other than railing about Hillary, its that she was too masculine in 2008 and is being too feminine this time around.

Here's a news flash for you Maureen...the whole point of feminism is that women get to be whatever the f*ck they want to be. It's their CHOICE. No only that - they can be a bitch one moment and a sweet old granny the next. It is patriarchy that wants to put us in a box that they've labelled "feminine." And it is feminism that says that we don't have to conform to Maureen's definition of what it means to be a woman any more than we have to be Stepford Wives.

What's ironic is that after penning a condescending, misogynist, distorted column about Hillary, Maureen ends by saying that she needs to be ready to take on the condescending, misogynist, distorted attacks from her Republican rivals. Oy Vey!!! As I said, what Maureen doesn't know about feminism could fill a book.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Photo of the Day: Pallin' Around with Tiggers

Ruh-roh. I sure hope Momma Grizzly doesn't find out about this!

A Study in Contrasts

I'm about to write something that will likely get me in hot water with a lot of my progressive friends. But in the end, if I make you pause to think, it will be worth it.

What I want to do is contrast the records of two fairly new Democratic Senators: Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. Senator Warren has 10 months of seniority on Senator Booker - but they both began their terms in 2013. Other than that, their names are rarely mentioned together.

As we've seen, Senator Warren has become the hero of progressives, while Senator Booker became persona non grata when he criticized Democrats and the Obama campaign for going after Romney over his connections to Bain Capital during the 2012 campaign.

Its interesting to note what these two have achieved in their short history in the Senate. On Warren's web site, you can see what bills she has sponsored. There is one of note having to do with student loan refinancing. The other three appear to be symbolic in nature. Looking a bit deeper, we can see who Warren has recruited to be cosponsors on the bill related to student loans. The list is long...all Democrats. On the other issue Senator Warren is known for - punishing Wall Street - there is nothing she sponsored the "21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013," which was never voted out of committee and has not been re-inroduced.*

Booker has made criminal justice reform his signature issue. On that front, he has cosponsored legislation called the REDEEM Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act. The former takes six steps to help those coming out of the criminal justice system be more successful in their attempts to re-intigrate back into society. The latter gives judges more leeway to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences.

Other than tackling different issues (all of which are important to progressives) the other big difference is that Booker is cosponsoring the REDEEM act with Republican Senator Rand Paul. The list of cosponsors on the Smarter Sentencing Act is nothing short of mind-blowing: Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Dick Durban (D-IL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

I know that many names in that group are odious to progressives. But the question is this: Who do you think is more likely to get their sponsored legislation passed in this Congress, Senator Warren or Senator Booker?

I point all this out because I'd like progressives to take a moment to think about how it is that we chose people to be our political heroes. Are they more likely to be those who master the bully pulpit to speak out strongly against our opponents? Or are they those who do the dirty job of building coalitions with people on the other side in the hopes of making life better for Americans? Does it need to be either/or?

When it comes to the political icon whose seat Elizabeth Warren now inhabits in the Senate, I think I know what he would say.

* The previous statement that Sen. Warren had never sponsored legislation related to Wall Street was an error and has been corrected.

Politico Redefines Political Correctness

Given that the Clinton campaign has suggested that they are going to run on President Obama's record rather than away from it, I found this headline at Politico to be rather provocative: Clinton's Real Opponent: Barack Obama. But when I read it, I found that they were talking about something very different than what I'd assumed.

The gist of the article goes like this: When a sitting president's job approval rating is below 50%, a candidate from their party is not likely to win. In several swing states with a high white population, Barack Obama's approval rating is lower than would otherwise be expected.

The case they are trying to make gets rather convoluted and eventually left this reader with the thought that some political scientists just have too much time on their hands. But other than that, I was amazed at how far the authors were willing to go to avoid saying the obvious: Among white voters, Barack Obama's approval rating is affected by racism.
When you combine the lower support among whites for Obama nationally with what we know about race and political affiliation in America today, it makes sense that the whiter a state is, the lower the president’s current job approval.
The really fascinating part is that, rather than give this article a title like: Clinton's Real Opponent: Racism Against Barack Obama, the folks at Politico came up with one that suggests that the President is the problem (i.e., Clinton's "opponent").

Personally, I find the whole topic of "political correctness" to be a distraction. But perhaps these days we might suggest that publications like Politico think it means that we should avoid naming racism and instead, blame the results on black/brown folks.

Israel owes Obama a huge debt of gratitude

While we don't know the outcome of Iran's attack on Israel yet, it appears as though the worst has been avoided. According to report...