Friday, July 31, 2015

The Tension Liberals Can't Avoid

It is gratifying to see Glenn Greenwald - one of President Obama's harshest critics from the left - write in support of the Iran nuclear deal against neocons who are trying to sabotage it.
As usual with neocons, they are being deceitful about their actual intent. They don’t want a “better deal”: at least not one that’s plausible. They want to keep Iran isolated and demonized and ultimately to depose its leadership through war or other means of aggression. They hate the Iran deal precisely because it’s likely to avert that aggression and normalize the world’s relations with that country, making the war they’ve long craved much less likely.
That bolded phrase is probably the closest you're going to get to a Greenwald statement in support of an Obama foreign policy position. So it's worth noting.

But paying attention to what Greenwald has to say about the Iran deal is instructive for the bigger picture as well. That's because almost three years ago he wrote a scathing critique of the strategy that was used to get Iran to the negotiating table in the first place: sanctions.
So horrific is the human suffering brought about by such sanctions regimes that some are beginning to argue that killing Iranians with an air attack would be more humane. That was the argument advanced several days ago by the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, Blake Hounsehll, who mused that he was "beginning to wonder if limited airstrikes on Iran may actually be the more morally sound course of action."...

In essence, the same mentality that drives Democratic support for drones sustains Democratic support for sanctions: they tacitly embrace the unexamined assumption that the US is inevitably going to engage in aggression and kill Muslims, and then pat themselves on the back for cheering for the way that kills the fewest (I support drones because they're better than full-scale invasions; I support sanctions because they're better than air strikes). They are seemingly incapable of conceiving of a third alternative: that the US could or should refrain from killing innocent people in predominantly Muslim countries...

Even if it were true that sanctions produces less civilian harm than all-out air strikes on Iran, that would not justify sanctions. But as evidence of the sanctions-caused human suffering in Iran mounts, even the premise of that claim, irrelevant though it is, seems less and less convincing.
It would be interesting to hear Greenwald's thoughts on that today.

But I'd like to take this farther than simply pointing out the inconsistency of Greenwald's position. That's because his earlier critique, as measured by the final result, is something that all liberals must grapple with when we confront real world challenges.

The question we must face is whether a deal with Iran that "normalizes the world's relations with that country, making war much less likely" would have come about without the sanctions. I can't imagine anyone making the argument that it would. And so we get into the messy reality of justifying one form of human suffering in order to avoid much worse human suffering (an argument Greenwald casually dismissed in the middle paragraph up above).

A few years ago I wrote that I'd like to introduce Greenwald to Reinhold Niebuhr - the philosopher who is most commonly known for suggesting that we have to live in the world as it is, rather than as we want it to be. Here's how I ended that article.
Niebuhr would tell us that facing the world as it is involves giving up the comfort of surety and learning to live with the tension, doubt and collateral damages of our choices...all while remaining resolute in our commitment to our ideals.
Considering actions that lead to human suffering as a way to avoid worse human suffering is exactly where the tension and doubt they must. It's an awful prospect to have to consider. But ultimately the only way to escape it is to retreat from engagement and cling to pure ideals while the world rages on. In the face of fascism, Niebuhr was unable to do that - and so he ultimately gave up his commitment to nonviolence.

Here is how President Obama addressed this tension in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:
So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another -- that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly.
I believe that this is why Obama reveres Abraham Lincoln as our greatest president...because he struggled so deeply with the tension between the horror of slavery and the horror of war. There was no path of purity available to him. He had to make a call - knowing that it would mean human suffering on a massive scale with no guarantees of success. That's what it means to lead in the world as it is. And that's the tension that liberals can't avoid.

Donald Trump: The Republican Id

I have to admit that there are times I'm tempted to agree with George Will that Donald Trump is just trolling Republicans. But whether intended or not, he is demonstrating what happens when you take Republican rhetoric to its logical (?) conclusion.

What is it that Trump is suggesting he would do on the issues the Republicans are so concerned about. When it comes to Obamacare, he'd "repeal it and replace it with something terrific." Sounds good, huh?

And when it comes to the 11 million undocumented workers in this country, just round 'em up and get rid of them. If you think that Mexican immigrants are nothing more than rapists and murderers, that sounds good too, doesn't it? But don't bother fretting your pretty little head about how to go about doing that. Donald will "manage" it.

As I said, this is the "logical" conclusion of the path Republicans have taken. Climate change...deny it. Iran nuclear deal...oppose it. tough, but don't get into specifics. Their own party leaders are admitting that their agenda is being set by a conservative media that "doesn't give a damn about governing."

All of these issues - health care, immigration, climate change, foreign policy - are complex and require a lot of thought. Donald is just not into that. What he is appealing to has nothing to do with actual solutions. It has to do with emotions like fear and anger. In other words, what Freud called the "id."
The id (Latin for "it") is the unorganized part of the personality structure that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives...It is the source of our bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulses, particularly our sexual and aggressive drives.
The group of people that Trump is appealing to are scared and angry. They have an idealized view of America where white men are in charge, authority is unquestioned, and the world bows to our dominance. The fact that things are more complicated than that pisses them off.

Back in 2010, Republicans fanned the flames of that fear/anger and rode it to victory on the simple promise that they would stop anything the "Kenyan socialist" tried to do. Now The Donald is tapping into all that and showing what a scam its been all along.

Donald Trump will never be President of the United States. But what he is doing right now is embarrassing the Republicans because he is demonstrating the vacuity of their approach to politics over the last 7 years. Whether he believes his own hype is immaterial.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Same Root

You see...this is precisely why I admire our President so much. Nuff said.

Republican Leaders Complain About Conservative Media

Jackie Calmes has written a paper for the Shorenstein Center titled: They Don't Give a Damn About Governing: Conservative Media's Influence on the Republican Party.
If leaders of the Republican Party are not setting its agenda, who is?

As many of them concede, it is conservative media – not just talk-show celebrities Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, but also lesser-known talkers like Steve Deace, and an expanding web of “news” sites and social media outlets with financial and ideological alliances with far-right anti-government, anti-establishment groups like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. Once allied with but now increasingly hostile to the Republican hierarchy, conservative media is shaping the party’s agenda in ways that are impeding Republicans’ ability to govern and to win presidential elections. “These people, practically speaking, are preventing the Republican Party from governing, which means they’re really preventing it from becoming a presidential party as well,” said Geoffrey Kabaservice, author of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party, and himself a Republican.
I'm not sure this is a huge revelation to anyone. But what is most interesting is that her research was sparked by a conversation with former Senator Trent Lott and even though many refused to go on record, the complaints about conservative media came almost exclusively from Republican leaders.

For most of us, it's hard to be very sympathetic to their complaints when "party leaders" kicked this whole thing into high gear by doing things like this...

...and this.

Five years ago Republican David Frum warned them about what they were doing.
I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.
President Obama practically begged Republicans in Congress to work with him on things like health care reform and a Grand Bargain to reduce deficits. He went so far in making concessions to elicit their cooperation that an awful lot of liberals still haven't forgiven him for it. But Republican leaders went with the escalated rhetoric of conservative media and said "no."

So now they want to complain (in whispers behind closed doors) that they have lost control of the agenda to a conservative media that doesn't give a damn about governing. Playing the victim card on this one is definitely NOT a good look for them.

Obama Administration Works on Both the Front and Back End of Criminal Justice Reform

Recently I wrote about Evan McMorris-Santoro's profile of Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. In the course of describing her work on mandatory minimum sentences, he explains something interesting about the politics involved in criminal justice reform.
The divide is now between so-called front-end advocates, who want changes to sentencing laws and penalties given to criminals when they first enter the system, and so-called back-end advocates who would rather leave sentencing alone and focus on parole eligibility and anti-recidivism programs.

The politics are simple, and crucial. Front-end changes are more risky, opening up politicians to attack ads saying they favored lower sentences for criminals and reduced penalties for drug dealers. The most ardent criminal justice advocates are pushing front-end changes. Back-end changes are an easier sell politically, but have much less impact on prison populations, according to advocates. They’re usually the most favored solution by politicians who are still closely tied to the tough-on-crime model of criminal justice that produced mandatory minimums for drug crimes in the first place.
It's important to note that while Deputy AG Yates is focused almost exclusively on ensuring that front-end changes are included in any criminal justice reform legislation, the Obama administration is not ignoring back-end reforms. For example, the ongoing work of the Clemency Initiative that has already commuted the sentences of 89 prisoners is an example of back-end changes.

Josh Mitchell and Joe Palazzolo report that the Obama administration is about to announce another back-end reform.
The Obama administration plans to restore federal funding for prison inmates to take college courses, a potentially controversial move that comes amid a broader push to overhaul the criminal justice system.

The plan, set to be unveiled Friday by the secretary of education and the attorney general, would allow potentially thousands of inmates in the U.S. to gain access to Pell grants, the main form of federal aid for low-income college students. The grants cover up to $5,775 a year in tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.
They go on to explain that this will be a 3-5 year experimental study on the impact of education on recidivism rates. That is mostly due to the fact that in 1994 Congress prohibited state and federal prisoners from getting access to Pell grants, but the Dept. of Education has the authority to temporarily waive rules in order to study their effectiveness.

I'd suggest that there's not much doubt about what the results will be.
A 2013 study by the Rand Corp. found that inmates who participated in education programs, including college courses, had significantly lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who didn’t.
It is encouraging to watch as, one by one, the reactionary policies of the war on drugs and the 90's era "tough on crime" craze are challenged and revoked.

Alternative Media and Campaign Finance

Yesterday Ed Kilgore commented on an article by Steven Shepard titled: The Television Election. I too found it interesting, but reached some slightly different conclusions.

Shepard's suggestion that 2016 will be a "television election" isn't as clear as his title suggests. That's because he is simply reporting on how candidates will spend their money - not on how successful the television ads they buy with it will be.
Between campaigns and independent groups, television-ad spending during the 2016 elections is projected to top $4.4 billion. That’s more than a half-billion more than in 2012. And it’s at least four times what campaigns and groups are preparing to spend on their online strategies.
Based on the last few election cycles, we might be seeing a similar distinction between how big money works in presidential vs midterm elections as we're seeing between Democratic and Republican advantages. Case in point, a big story coming out of the 2012 presidential election was that big donors to SuperPacs got almost nothing for their money.
A study Wednesday by the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks political spending, concluded that Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads, had a success rate of just 1 percent on $103 million in attack ads -- one of the lowest "returns on investment" (ROIs) of any outside spending group in this year's elections...

American Crossroads spent heavily, not just on Romney, but on attack ads on behalf of GOP Senate candidates in eight states -- thanks to mega contributions from conservative donors like metals magnate Harold Simmons ($19.5 million), Texas homebuilder Bob Perry ($7.5 million) and Omni hotel chief Robert Rowling ($5 million.)...

The American Crossroads debacle was only the most dramatic example of the limits of big money in this election, according to the Sunlight Foundation report. About $1.3 billion was spent by outside groups overall -- about two-thirds on the Republican side -- and for the most part their returns were equally low. The Chamber of Commerce, for example, spent $31 million-and had a 5 percent return, according to the Sunlight study. The conservative American Future Fund spent $23.9 million and also realized a 5 percent return. The National Rifle Association spent $11 million, and got shut out.
Then in the 2014 midterms, all of that was turned on its head.
Rove's groups—American Crossroads, a super-PAC; and Crossroads GPS, its dark-money-funded sibling—spent heavily in 10 Senate races. The Republican won in at least six of those elections. If Republican Dan Sullivan defeats Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska (Sullivan was leading the vote count the day after the election) and GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy ousts Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana's runoff next month, Rove will end up 8 for 10. The Sunlight Foundation calculates Crossroads GPS's return on investment—that is, the success rate of GPS's spending to elect or defeat candidates—at an impressive 96 percent.

The Koch brothers' flagship organization, Americans for Prosperity, had an equally stellar Election Day. At least five of the nine AFP-backed Senate candidates won. The Kochs' Freedom Partners Action Fund recorded an 85 percent ROI, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
In other words, Rove's SuperPacs went from an ROI of 1% in 2012 to 96% in 2014. I'm sure Karl would want to take credit for that unbelievable turn-around by suggesting they did a better job in 2014 after learning from their mistakes in 2012. But I think its a bigger story than that.

To break it down, it is first of all important to point out that "outside groups" spend their money almost exclusively on PR - mostly direct mail and television ads. That's because they are technically barred from coordinating with individual campaigns - who are the ones responsible for things like hiring staff to implement a "ground game."

Here's a graph that tells you who those television ads are reaching.

Now...add that information to the fact that voters in midterms skew older than in presidential elections and you might begin to get a picture about why big money spent on TV ads seems more successful in the former. Of course the question remains as to whether or not TV ads made a difference in 2014, or whether the outcomes would have been the same with or without them due to the make-up of those who turned out to vote.

Perhaps Shepard is right that 2016 will still be a "television election." But in the years to come, those older voters who grew up watching television will eventually be replaced with those who grew up streaming online. And the expensive TV ads will lose the impact they might have had once no one is watching.

The implications of this for campaign finance are going to be interesting to watch. Unless/until the Supreme Court re-visits decisions like Citizens United, I'm sure that people will continue to assume that money is a critical factor in election outcomes. There will be no shortage of billionaires who want to try to influence them. But as Shepard notes,
“It’s very difficult to spend massive amounts of money on digital,” said Elizabeth Wilner, a senior vice president at Kantar and former NBC News political director. “It’s cheap.”
But what will the campaigns and their SuperPacs spend all that money on? Shepard seems to indicate that they haven't figured that out yet...hence, continued spending on TV ads.
But even if there is an increased emphasis on digital in 2016, campaigns and their affiliates will so well-funded that they will still spend record amounts on TV.

“It’s all up to the ability of the candidates to raise the money,” said Tracey. “Spending it won’t be a problem. If they can raise it, they’ll find ways to spend it.”

Monday, July 27, 2015

Barack Obama on Faith and Politics in 2006

Here is a speech Barack Obama gave in 2006 on the topic of "Faith and Politics." In it he echoes many of the same themes he addressed during his commencement speech at Notre Dame in 2009.

My favorite part comes towards the end when he cautions those who claim that we are a "Christian nation" that if we really took the Sermon on the Mount seriously, our Defense Department might not survive :-)

Corporate Giants Commit $140 billion to Address Climate Change. #ThanksObama

In the immortal words of VP Joe Biden...this is a BFD!
US corporate giants including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Berkshire Hathaway and Goldman Sachs are looking to invest at least $140bn to shrink their carbon footprints, according to media reports...

The committed funds will be utilised to cut emissions, provide financing to environmentally-focused companies, reduce water consumption, and produce 1,600 megawatts of new, renewable energy, which is enough to power nearly 1.3 million homes.

The announcement comes as part of the Obama administration's efforts to bolster private commitments to climate change, ahead of a summit in Paris later in 2015. The White House expects to announce a second round of similar pledges later from more companies, Bloomberg reported.
That's $140,000,000,000 - seeing a number like that written out can begin to help us understand what a huge financial commitment this is.

Here's a White House fact sheet on The American Business Act on Climate Pledge - yet more evidence of the impact of President Obama's "pen and phone" strategy.

What Obama Learned as a Community Organizer

I recently ran across this article that Barack Obama wrote back in 1988 while he was still a community organizer. The closing paragraph speaks not only to what he learned during those years, but it is a great example of why so many people talk about his amazing talent as a writer. Just imagine what it would be like if we had a President who wrote about urban Americans like this :-)
In return, organizing teaches as nothing else does the beauty and strength of everyday people. Through the songs of the church and the talk on the stoops, through the hundreds of individual stories of coming up from the South and finding any job that would pay, of raising families on threadbare budgets, of losing some children to drugs and watching others earn degrees and land jobs their parents could never aspire to — it is through these stories and songs of dashed hopes and powers of endurance, of ugliness and strife, subtlety and laughter, that organizers can shape a sense of community not only for others, but for themselves.

Chamber of Commerce to Go After Incumbent Republicans

One of the things a lot of people have been watching is what the business community - which has typically been pretty conservative - does in response to the Republican dissent into extremism. A lot of the shenanigans pushed by the tea partiers (i.e., debt ceiling crisis) are terribly destabilizing and that is not good for business.

According to Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, the Chamber of Commerce has about had enough with the nonsense. It's interesting to note what finally pushed them to that point. It wasn't the total obstruction employed by Republicans from the beginning of Obama's presidency - or even the constant hostage crises they created. It's something that has come more recently.
The early discussions by top-level Chamber operatives like Rob Engstrom and Scott Reed reflect a broad consensus among companies with business before Congress that the political dynamic needs to change on Capitol Hill.

The theory is simple: The Chamber spent some $70 million in 2014, mostly to help Senate Republicans build their majority. But many of their legislative priorities — immigration reform, the renewal of the Export-Import Bank and a long-term highway bill — have been held up by a clutch of conservative lawmakers in the House.
Apparently these business people thought that by giving control of Congress to Republicans - gridlock would end and some things would actually get done. They put the blame for that not happening on the kind of Republicans who joined the House Freedom Caucus and have made Speaker Boehner's life miserable. And so the Chamber is in the midst of developing a political strategy to challenge them in their re-election.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is gearing up to challenge some House Republicans in primary elections, frustrated after much of its agenda has been stymied by a small pocket of conservative GOP lawmakers.

The influential and well-heeled business group is already eyeing several races, but the plans are still in their infancy and the targets have not yet been decided upon, according to more than a half dozen Republican sources on K Street and Capitol Hill.

The group’s apparent new willingness to engage in hand-to-hand political combat to take out sitting Republicans would represent a major shift for the business community, which has largely shied away from targeting sitting lawmakers.
This will be an interesting story to keep an eye on over the next few months. It speaks to the growing divide in the Republican Party in its march towards extremism. What various entities with traditional ties to the Party do in response will likely tell us whether the GOP can survive and morph into something new or goes the way of the Whigs.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

President Obama Articulates a Feminist Foreign Policy

Recently I've been writing about what a feminist foreign policy would look like and noted that First Lady Michelle Obama articulated it well during her recent visit to England. Here is President Obama doing the same thing in Nairobi, Kenya.

"Treating women as second-class citizens is a bad tradition. It holds you back. There’s no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence. There’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation. There’s no place in civilized society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century." —President Obama in Kenya:
Posted by The White House on Sunday, July 26, 2015
Treating women as second-class citizens is a bad tradition. It holds you back. There’s no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence. There’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation. There’s no place in civilized society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century.

These are issues of right and wrong in any culture. But they're also issues of success and failure. Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women and allow them to maximize their potential is doomed to fall behind in the global economy.

A Community Organizing Virtuoso

Years ago I was a program manager at a nonprofit organization and decided to apply to be the executive director of the same agency. The board of directors asked staff to review resumes and interview finalists for the job (including me).

The staff I supervised at the time objected to the fact that I included on my resume the accomplishments of the program I managed. Their response was that they had been the ones that did the work and I was taking credit for their efforts.

In a way, they had a point. But they also didn't understand leadership. As coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi never scored a touchdown and never kicked a field goal. And yet he is credited with the success of that football team throughout most of the 1960's.

In the end, I decided to take the staff objections as a compliment. That's because I value the kind of leadership that facilitates the feeling ownership by employees for their accomplishments. It's the kind that Marshall Ganz described this way:
Another important distinction is that between leadership and domination. Effective leaders facilitate the interdependence or collaboration that can create more "power to" -- based on the interests of all parties. Domination is the exercise of "power over" --a relationship that meets interests of the "power wielder" at the expense of everyone else.
Over the course of Obama's presidency, we've often heard that he doesn't do enough to tout his own record and when someone else does, activists will jump in and take credit for pushing him to do something. Most recently that happened with his executive orders on immigration. Activists who had interrupted his speeches and called him the "Deporter-in-Cheif" took credit. The same thing happened when DADT was finally overturned a few years ago.

While Obama's supporters will often complain about that, I'm not sure the President would mind. As a former community organizer, he is well-versed in the "dance" between activists and politicians. And I believe that his goal as President has always been to lead in the same way he did back in those early days in Chicago. Here's how James Kloppenberg described him in Reading Obama.
How did Obama, lacking any experience as an organizer, learn the ropes so fast? In Galuzzo's words, "nobody teaches a jazz musician jazz. This man is gifted."

Kruglik explains Obama's genius by describing two approaches community organizers often use. Trying to mobilize a group of fifty people, a novice will elicit responses from a handful, then immediately transform their stray comments into his or her own statement of priorities and strategies. The group responds, not surprisingly, by rejecting the organizer's recommendations. By contrast, a master takes the time to listen to many comments, rephrases questions, and waits until the individuals in the group begin to see for themselves what they have in common. A skilled organizer then patiently allows the animating principles and the plan of action to emerge from the group itself. That strategy obviously takes more time. It also takes more intelligence, both analytical and emotional. Groups can tell when they are being manipulated, and they know when they are being heard. According to Kruglik, Obama showed an exceptional willingness to listen to what people were saying. He did not rush from their concerns to his. He did not shift the focus from one issue to another until they were ready. He did not close off discussions about strategy, which were left open for reconsideration pending results. Obama managed to coax from groups a sense of what they shared, an awareness that proved sturdy because it was their doing, not his. From those shared concerns he was able to inspire a commitment to action. In the time it takes most trainees to learn the basics, Obama showed a virtuosos's ability to improvise. As Galuzzo put it, he was gifted.
There is both a quantitative and qualitative difference between organizing fifty people on the South Side of Chicago and leading the entire country. That is why Michelle Obama described her husband's foray into politics like this:
Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.
And so I suspect that when citizens take credit for the changes they've worked to make happen, the community activist in him counts that as a success.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Photo of the Day: Family Dinner

President Barack Obama sat down to dinner with a large group of family members on his first night visiting the capital of his father’s homeland of Kenya.

Shortly after arriving at his hotel on Friday, the president gathered in the hotel restaurant with about three dozen relatives. Obama sat in the middle of two long tables, with his step-grandmother, known as Mama Sarah, seated to his right and his half-sister, Auma Obama, a close confidante, seated to his left. 
This reminds me of part of President Obama's interview with the BBC before he left on this trip. Jon Sopel asked him about the "unfinished business" of his presidency, specifically on race. Here's part of what he said:
What I will say is that - eight years - well, after eight years of my presidency, that children growing up during these eight years will have a different view of race relations in this country and what's possible.
When it comes to creating a different view of what's possible in this country, watching the African American President of the United States having a dinner with his relatives in Kenya...priceless.

Childhood is Not a Mental Disorder

I hope you'll take a couple of minutes to watch this amazing video. Based on my 30 years of working with "troubled youth," there is a lot of truth to it.

Many times I thought the labeling of children had more to do with adults who were "troubled" at the fact that some children are not docile and obedient enough. I could tell you lots of stories about that. But this video pretty much says it all.

The "Whiteness" of Netroots Nation

There is some history about the Netroots Nation conference that I haven't seen commented upon in all the discussion about what happened there last weekend when #BlackLivesMatter showed up. I don't necessarily think it is determinative in terms of what happened, but it's hard to ignore that it played some role.

I personally have only been to one Netroots Nation conference - in 2011 when it came to my home town. But I have friends who have gone almost every year who have been deeply involved in the racial justice movement for most of their lives. There has ALWAYS been an issue with the lack of diversity at the conference. It's true that those responsible for planning this event have worked very hard on changing that. But many times they've been tone-deaf to the recommendations of people of color on how to go about doing that.

All of that blew up about a year ago when Netroots Nation announced that their 2015 conference would be held in Phoenix, Arizona. As you may know, this event initially started as a get-together for participants at Daily Kos (the name was originally "Yearly Kos"). But a few years ago it became an independent entity. When the announcement was made about the location of the 2015 conference, Markos Moulitsas wrote that Daily Kos would not participate.
Netroots Nation announced two days ago that Phoenix, Arizona would host its 2015 conference. I wish the conference the best, but it will unfortunately take place without Daily Kos' attendance or assistance.

I made very clear in the wake of Arizona's passage of SB 1070 that I would not be setting foot in the state, nor spending a dime in it until the law was revoked. The law, however gutted by the courts, remains on the books, as does systemic harassment of Latinos, so my pledge still stands.
Many of my friends didn't attend either.

While Netroots Nation is obviously a distinct entity from the blog Daily Kos, attendance at the event is primarily driven by blog participants. Moulitsas recently commented about what that means:
Daily Kos is whiter (79%), younger (47% under 44), more male (67%), and more educated (just 21% have no college) than the typical Democratic primary voter...

(And as an aside, I'm personally very focused on working to have Daily Kos break out of the Daily Kos demographic in the years ahead so that we better reflect the Democratic coalition. I consider it an existentialist challenge. How can we represent the party if we don't look like the party?)
I'm not sure that I know what he means by saying that this is "an existentialist challenge." But I suspect that by now he knows the pitfalls that Zuky identified.
Armed with “diversity” soundbites and melanin-inclusive photo-ops, they seek electoral, financial, and public relations support from people of color. Yet the consistent outcome of their institution-building agendas is to deprioritize and marginalize our voices, perspectives, experiences, concerns, cultures, and initiatives.
That is the backdrop on which the altercation between the presidential candidates and #BlackLivesMatter took place.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Black "We" and the White "I"

John Metta had given up talking to white people about racism. But after the shootings in Charleston, he gave this "congregational reflection" to a white church audience. It is one of the most profound explanations of why white liberals have such a hard time talking about race. I'll give you a few excerpts here. But please, go read the whole thing.

First of all, Metta explains how black people and white people see the world differently.
To understand, you have to know that Black people think in terms of Black people.

We don't see a shooting of an innocent Black child in another state as something separate from us because we know viscerally that it could be our child, our parent, or us, that is shot...

Racism affects us directly because the fact that it happened at a geographically remote location or to another Black person is only a coincidence, an accident. It could just as easily happen to us — right here, right now.

White people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals. You are “you,” I am “one of them.” 
That leads to a powerful summary of the problem:
Living every single day with institutionalized racism and then having to argue its very existence, is tiring, and saddening, and angering. Yet if we express any emotion while talking about it, we’re tone policed, told we're being angry. In fact, a key element in any racial argument in America is the Angry Black person, and racial discussions shut down when that person speaks. The Angry Black person invalidates any arguments about racism because they are “just being overly sensitive,” or “too emotional,” or, playing the race card...

But here is the irony, here’s the thing that all the angry Black people know, and no calmly debating White people want to admit: The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings.

Ask any Black person and they'll tell you the same thing. The reality of thousands of innocent people raped, shot, imprisoned, and systematically disenfranchised are less important than the suggestion that a single White person might be complicit in a racist system.

This is the country we live in. Millions of Black lives are valued less than a single White person’s hurt feelings.

White people and Black people are not having a discussion about race. Black people, thinking as a group, are talking about living in a racist system. White people, thinking as individuals, refuse to talk about “I, racist” and instead protect their own individual and personal goodness. In doing so, they reject the existence of racism.
Finally, here comes the kicker. Metta's description of the problem winds up sounding an awful lot like Zuky's "white liberal conundrum."
Here’s what I want to say to you: Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.
A great man said pretty much the same thing decades ago:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What Do Iranian Dissidents Think of the Nuclear Deal

"If we reach an agreement, good opportunities will definitely develop, and we can demand our rights as human beings," says Iranian author Mahmoud Dolatabadi. (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran)

I can't think of a group who's opinion about the Iran nuclear deal is more important than the dissidents who have been fighting the regime in their own country. Based on a report from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran titled: High Hopes, Tempered Expectations: Views from Iran on the Nuclear Negotiations, Danny Postel provides this summary:
61 percent of the respondents [most of whom have been political prisoners] believe that reaching a deal on the nuclear issue “should facilitate progress toward greater rights and liberties” and that “the nation’s attention, previously monopolized by the negotiations, could now turn to critical domestic issues, among them, the state of basic freedoms in Iran,” according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Here's a particularly powerful quote:
“Social hopelessness would increase drastically [if the agreement fell through]. People would once again lose their motivation for reforms. … The failure of the negotiations would equal the failure of moderates and the strengthening of the radical camp. … The atmosphere for cultural activities and journalism would become tremendously more difficult. … [A] continuation of sanctions would place the country in a defensive mode … [and] the domestic security organs would increasingly pressure the media and journalists in order to silence any voices of dissent.”

— a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)
Republicans are fond of criticizing President Obama for not doing more to support the dissidents in Iran. Next time one of them talks about how horrible this agreement is, it would be nice if some journalists were armed with this information and asked them about it.

The Women of DOJ

As we old timers like to put it to the youngsters, I'm old enough to remember when President Clinton nominated Janet Reno to become the first female Attorney General. At the time - as VP Biden would say - that was a BFD. And then last month, Loretta Lynch was sworn in as the first African American female to hold that position.

I recently wrote about Vanita Gupta (right above), who is currently serving as the Acting Director of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ. Today, Evan McMorris-Santoro has written a great profile on the woman in the number two spot at DOJ - Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (middle above).

Apparently Yates has one major job these days:
As real momentum builds on Capitol Hill to rewrite sentencing laws with the goal of refocusing prosecution and lowering the prison population — an issue of prime importance President Obama in the final months of his presidency — Yates is among the top administration aides helping the process along on Capitol Hill. She meets regularly with the members of the Senate in both parties attempting to hash out a bipartisan criminal justice compromise they can pass before the end of the year.

As that effort continues, Yates will continue to be among the most prominent administration faces pushing the Obama team position...

Yates has drawn the praise of advocacy groups who say she’s able to connect with Republicans in a way the Justice Department often wasn’t able to when Holder was in charge, due in part to GOP rhetoric that cast Holder as the biggest villain in the Obama administration.

Criminal justice is a top policy goal for Holder’s successor, Loretta Lynch, and Yates also works closely with top department officials to help push unilateral changes to prosecution procedure set down first by Holder and now by Lynch. She also spends a lot of time talking to working prosecutors, the group that has expressed the greatest skepticism toward the sweeping changes pushed by criminal justice advocates and the administration.
Balancing the demands of politicians on Capitol Hill, criminal justice reform activists and working prosecutors is a pretty tall task. In terms of what she brings to the job, McMorris-Santoro provides this summary of her previous work:
During her career first as a deputy prosecutor and later as the first woman U.S. Attorney running the district based in Atlanta, Yates racked up big victories. She helped put the Atlanta Olympic Park bomber, Eric Rudolph, away for four consecutive life sentences and led prosecutions on a nearly a dozen Atlanta officials on corruption charges in the mid-2000s, including Democratic mayor Bill Campbell. She led the successful prosecution of three Atlanta cops who killed 92 year-old Kathryn Johnson, who was black, in a so-called “no-knock” drug raid that mistakenly targeted her home. Basically, if you can imagine a prosecutor prosecuting it, Yates has done it.
Here's how she sums up her commitment to this task:
For Yates, the movement is a personal one.

“At the risk of sounding really corny now, I’m a career prosecutor. I’ve been doing this for a very long time. And I believe in holding people responsible when they violate the law,” she said. “But our sole responsibility is to seek justice. And sometimes that means a very lengthy sentence, for people who are dangerous and from which society must be protected. But it always means seeking a proportional sentence. And that’s what this sentencing reform is really about.”
Previously I've suggested that there is a role for feminism to play in police reform. I will say once again that it is not simply a matter of gender. But with women of the caliber of Loretta Lynch, Sally Yates and Vanita Gupta at the helm, it will be interesting to see how they impact the work of the Department of Justice.

All Their Hopes for Civil Disobedience are Dashed

When it comes to rhetorically nailing something, no one is better at it than Barney Frank.
In the spirit of conciliation, I want to offer reassurance to those who reacted to the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision with a mix of outrage and horror: It will have no effect on how you live your lives.

This is not a prediction of what will happen in the future. It is a distillation of the nearly 12 years of experience in Massachusetts since our Supreme Judicial Court issued the forerunner of this ruling in 2003. No member of the clergy has had to participate in any marriage she or he found sinful, immoral or even offensive. No house of worship has been forced to open any of its premises – sanctuaries, function halls or, as much as I can ascertain, even parking lots – for ceremonies that contravene their religious tenets.

Opposite-sex marriages have proceeded just as they did in 2002 and before, and the divorce rate has not spiraled. There has been no movement toward legalizing polygamy nor to provide legal sanction to incestuous relationships.

Musical groups have retained fully the right to decide at which celebrations they will perform, and bakers who refuse to decorate cakes with depictions of sexual activity have been under no obligation to change this policy. Contrary to some hysterical expressions of concern, for Massachusetts heterosexuals the “institution of marriage” has not been diminished, unsettled or changed in any way whatsoever by my marrying Jim.
In other words:

You really should go read the whole article by Frank. Here's how he ends it:
I close with a very confident prediction. Within a very few years, if that long, the people now obsessing over the damage they expect from the Supreme Court’s decision will be in severe danger of getting over it.
Heh ;-)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Paul Wellstone would have been 71 today

Happy Birthday, Senator. We miss you!!!

The Bookends of Obama's Presidency

Both Ezra Klein and Josh Marshall have taken up the task of writing about President Obama's recent successes. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at their analysis.

Klein starts out with a big title to his piece: The Unexpected and Ingenious Strategy of Obama's Second Term. But the content sure doesn't live up to that title.
Presidents often turn more moderate to make gains in their final years. Think of Bill Clinton's 1997 budget deal, or George W. Bush's 2007 (failed) immigration reform effort, or Ronald Reagan's 1986 tax reforms. Second terms can feel like new presidencies.

President Obama's increasingly successful second term has been the exception to that rule. It's been a concentrated, and arguably jaded, version of his first term. The candidate who was elected to bring the country together has found he can get more done if he acts alone — and if he lets Congress do the same.

That has been the big, quiet surprise of Obama's second term. Congress has become, if anything, more productive. And that speaks to a broader lesson Obama has learned about polarization in Congress: Since he's part of the problem, ignoring Congress can be part of the solution.
While it's true that President Obama's "pen and phone" strategy has been all about doing things that don't require Congressional action, I guess that I'm just not willing to give this Congress that much credit. Compared to the last few years, they're a bit more productive. But by historical standards, they still have a long way to go.

It's important to remember that Republicans now control BOTH houses of Congress. That means that they can't simply obstruct President Obama and Democrats. But as I've written before, Senate Minority Leader McConnell's initial strategy following the 2014 midterms was to pass bills that would undermine the President's accomplishments, force him to veto them, and then label him the obstructionist. That strategy hasn't worked out too well.

I'd suggest that Josh Marshall makes a much more cogent point.
When I look at Obama I don't see a President desperately trying to cram legacy achievements into the declining months of his presidency. I see achievements coming to fruition that were usually years in the making but often seemed errant or quixotic and uncertain in their outcome. This is what for many was so bracing about the end of June. This has been a long long seven years. What seemed like an uncertain list of achievements, long on promise but hacked apart by mid-term election reverses and Obama's sometimes over-desire for accommodation, suddenly appeared closer to profound, like a novel or a play which seems scattered or unresolved until all the pieces fall into place, clearly planned all along, at the end.
When I read that one the picture that came to my mind about Obama's presidency was bookends. During the first 2 years, with a Democratically controlled Congress, he was able to pass big progressive legislation, i.e., stimulus, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank. Over the next 4 years, Congress obstructed as the White House went about working on the economic recovery, getting out of two wars, dealing with all the hostage crises created by Republicans, and ensuring that the big three pieces of legislation passed in the first two years were implemented effectively - all while laying the groundwork for some of their recent accomplishments.

President Obama has said several times that 2014 was a "breakthrough year." Here's how he talked about it with NPR's Steve Inkeep.
I have spent six years now in this office. We have dealt with the worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression. We have dealt with international turmoil that we haven't seen in a lot of years.

And I said at the beginning of this year that 2014 would be a breakthrough year, and it was a bumpy path.

But at the end of 2014, I could look back and say we are as well-positioned today as we have been in quite some time economically, that American leadership is more needed around the world than ever before — and that is liberating in the sense that a lot of the work that we've done is now beginning to bear fruit. And it gives me an opportunity then to start focusing on some of the other hard challenges that I didn't always have the time or the capacity to get to earlier in my presidency.
So we're now in the final 2 years - which will be the closing bookend. I kinda like how Marshall described it.
As the budget deficit has receded from public view, Obama's fucks deficit has come to the forefront. After six and a half years in office, he may have a small stockpile of fucks left. But he has none left to give. He is increasingly indifferent to the complaints and anger of his political foes and focused on what he can do on his own or with reliable political supporters. You can see it too in the more frequent lean-in-on-the-lectern moments during press conferences and speeches. He's truly out of fucks to give. But it's more a product of focus on finishing aspects of his presidency in motion for years than of cramming at the end.
A lot of people have decided that the President's "fucks deficit" is a result of not having to face any more elections. But that would be irresponsible for someone who has been so thoughtful about succession planning. I think it's more about being freed up from the weight of fixing messes left to him by the previous administration (wars and the Great Recession) as well as how liberating it must be to see his initial efforts in the first two years begin to bear fruit. It's like he's finally able to answer the question, "Are we having fun yet?" with a resounding "YES!!!"

Will the Real Jeb Bush Please Stand Up?

It's interesting to me that, of the top tier of 2016 Republican candidates, the one who seems to be trying to position himself best for the general election is the same one who is saddled with the last name Bush. But right out of the gates, Jeb tried to distance himself from the nasty tone that has become the hallmark of his competitors.
"Two people can disagree and they can disagree vehemently. But if they see in each other an honest broker motivated by good intentions and sincere beliefs, they can find accommodation."
Accommodation is the opposite of what most Republican candidates are running on these days.

I was reminded of that when, after Jeb Bush called out Donald Trump for criticizing John McCain's military service, a letter surfaced from January 2005 in which Jeb thanked the Swiftboaters who made it their job do to the very same thing to John Kerry during the 2004 campaign. Here's the money quote from that letter:
Please let them know that I am personally appreciative of their service to our nation. As someone who truly understands the risk of standing up for something, I simply cannot express in words how much I value their willingness to stand up against John Kerry.
In case you've forgotten, the way these Swiftboaters stood up against Kerry was to criticize and lie about his military service in Vietnam. There is practically no daylight between what they said about Kerry and what Trump said about McCain. It was vicious and ugly. And Jeb Bush thanked them for their "service to our nation."

Of course, Michael Shiavo (husband of Terry Shiavo) knows a thing or two about how Jeb Bush can be vicious and ugly. He recently described his experience with the Governor of Florida this way:
Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.

For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.

“It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”
Of course, Jeb is the son of the man who didn't hesitate to use the racist ad about Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis. And he's the brother of the guy who is credited with fueling racist rumors about John McCain's adopted daughter in the 2000 South Carolina primary. So assuming your opponent is an "honest broker" is not exactly a family tradition.

Perhaps Jeb Bush has turned over a new leaf in the last 10 years. But you can certainly count me as someone who is skeptical about that. I fully expect that before this primary is over, we'll see the darker side of him emerge once again.

Monday, July 20, 2015

"What its like to be an outsider"

As we watched two white male presidential candidates struggle to respond to the concerns of #BlackLivesMatter activists, another thought I had was to remember what President Obama told the graduates of Morehouse two years ago. Some blackademics criticized him for this speech. But this is exactly where he nailed it!
As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back. Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share. Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith. Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work -- she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.

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

So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern -- to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Everybody. Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world. To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table; that everybody, no matter what you look like or where you come from, what your last name is -- it doesn’t matter, everybody gets a chance to walk through those doors of opportunity if they are willing to work hard enough.
It's not that white males can never understand what it's like to be an outsider. But the more notches you check off on the straight white able-bodied male list, the harder you're going to have to work at understanding what it's like.

President Obama was telling those Morehouse Men that - because they have faced racism and discrimination - they can use that experience to "widen their circle of concern" for others who have experienced what its like to be marginalized. That is a gift they bring to whatever path they chose in life.

I hope that at least some of those Morehouse graduates go into politics. And that someday they are able to mix it up with the white guys running for office who can sometimes seem oblivious.

A Dose of Hope

Sometimes it can feel like the whole purpose of our media is to convince us that the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket. Nothing grabs clicks and eyeballs like stories that either horrify us or get us pissed off.

Whenever I can, I try to bring stories that counter that narrative. Sometimes it can feel like (as Crowded House once sang) trying to "catch a deluge in a paper cup." But as Gandhi said, "Everything you do will seem insignificant, but it's important that you do it." So here's a couple I saw today that gave me a dose of hope.

This one reminds us that comedy can be a powerful tool:
Saudi comedian Nasser Al-Qasabi is hoping laughter succeeds where bombs have failed by taking on extremist group ISIS. Al-Qasabi, one of Saudi Arabia’s most popular figures, is facing down death threats from the terrorist organization after mocking them in his hugely popular Ramadan series Selfie. Aired on pan-Arab TV market leader MBC, Selfie is a satirical sketch show that fearlessly tackles sacred cows in the region. Prime in Al-Qasabi’s radar this year was the group who have murdered and pillaged their way across large swathes of Iraq and Syria in recent months.
And how about nominating this guy as today's hero? The story takes place at the First A.M.E. Church in Pueblo, CO - which celebrated its 140th anniversary on Sunday.
After a June 20 vigil, Rev. Margaret Redmond received a call from a man who, distressed by the mass murder in Charleston, wanted to stand guard during First AME Church services.

The man, Michael Williams, also told Redmond he didn’t believe in God.

“He said, ‘Although I am an atheist, I’ll be damned if my fellow countrymen can’t worship in peace,’ ” Redmond said. While a bit surprised by the offer, Redmond said a reference from a trusted community leader led her to take Williams seriously.

“After prayerful reflection, I felt comfortable that he was genuine,” Redmond said. “And he’s been there at every Sunday service, standing in front of the church, observing and making sure that nothing happens.”...

Williams said he doesn’t see himself as a hero or savior but simply an American “who is doing his duty to his fellow man. I mean, if you can’t be safe in a church, then where in the hell can you be?”
"An American who is doing his duty to his fellow man." Wow!

Talk amongst yourselves...I'm a bit verklempt.

The White Liberal Conundrum

It's relatively easy for liberals to recognize and call out the racism of conservatives. But the interaction between #BlackLivesMatter activists and Bernie Sanders has given us an opportunity to examine our own unique brand.

I'm not here to judge or support the manner in which these activists confronted Sanders. I'll simply note that many of the people criticizing them are the ones who have celebrated the same tactics when used to challenge President Obama: Exhibit A.

As so often happens when these opportunities present themselves, I am reminded of something "Zuky" wrote way back in 2007 about the "white liberal conundrum." I'd like to take a moment to review what he said because it captures many of the interactions I'm reading on social media right now.

First of all, let's define what we're talking about:
Anti-racism is a rewarding but grueling journey which must be consciously undertaken and intrepidly pursued (both inwardly and outwardly) if one hopes to make serious progress along its twisting passageways and steep inclines. There’s no static end-condition at which an anti-racist can arrive and definitively declare, “Hallelujah! I am Not A Racist!” Rather, it’s a lifelong process of historical education, vigilant self-interrogation, personal growth, and socio-political agitation.
Now, let's look at the difference between conservative and liberal racism.
Some might be surprised to learn that when people of color talk about racism amongst ourselves, white liberals often receive a far harsher skewering than white conservatives or overt racists. Many of my POC friends would actually prefer to hang out with an Archie Bunker-type who spits flagrantly offensive opinions, rather than a colorblind liberal whose insidious paternalism, dehumanizing tokenism, and cognitive indoctrination ooze out between superficially progressive words. At least the former gives you something to work with, something above-board to engage and argue against; the latter tacitly insists on imposing and maintaining an illusion of non-racist moral purity which provides little to no room for genuine self-examination or racial dialogue.
Ouch! If that one didn't sting a bit, you're probably not paying attention.

What usually happens when we're confronted about this?
Countless blogospheric discussions on racism amply demonstrate the manner in which many white liberals start acting victimized and angry if anyone attempts to burst their racism-free bubble, oftentimes inexplicably bringing up non-white friends, lovers, adopted children, relatives, ancestors; dismissing, belittling, or obtusely misreading substantive historically-informed analysis of white supremacism as “divisive”, “angry”, “irrational”; downplaying racism as an interpersonal social stigma and bad PR, rather than an overarching system of power under which we all live and which has socialized us all; and threatening to walk away from discussion if persons of color do not comform to a narrow white-centered comfort zone. Such people aren’t necessarily racists in the hate-crime sense of the word, but they are usually acting out social dynamics created by racism and replicating the racist social relationships they were conditioned since birth to replicate.
Any of that sound familiar? Zuky goes on from there with a description that sounds an awful lot like what happened both at Netroots Nation and in the aftermath.
From what I can see, though, a solid majority of white liberals maintain a fairly hostile posture toward anti-racist discourse and critique, while of course adamantly denying this hostility. Many white liberals consider themselves rather enlightened for their ability to retroactively support the Civil Rights movement and to quote safely dead anti-racist icons, even though their present-day physical, intellectual, and political orbits remain mostly segregated...Armed with “diversity” soundbites and melanin-inclusive photo-ops, they seek electoral, financial, and public relations support from people of color. Yet the consistent outcome of their institution-building agendas is to deprioritize and marginalize our voices, perspectives, experiences, concerns, cultures, and initiatives.
Why is it so hard for white liberals to confront this bias? Because doing so will likely cost us...perhaps a lot.
For those white liberals and progressives who become serious about extracting racism from their worlds and their lives, who wish to participate in the dismantling of white supremacism, the white liberal conundrum usually culminates in some sort of series of crossroads and reckonings. They’re often forced to make tough decisions about which of their previous alliances and networks — newly illuminated and often unfavorably recontextualized by anti-racist analysis — are worth trying to maintain, which are too invested in the distortions of the white lens to salvage, and which new directions and networks to pursue.
On a personal note, I read this article by Zuky back when he first posted it in 2007 and I can tell you that putting his advice into practice is mostly aspirational for me. I still get defensive and shut people down. The one thing I can say for myself is that it usually happens in my head rather than out loud, and most of the time I recognize what I'm doing. But the farthest I've gotten is to walk away from the discussion to give myself time to put a halt to that kind of reaction and attempt to open my mind up to what I'm hearing. In my best moments, I might or might not agree with the challenge, but I can at least hear it out and give it serious consideration. In that process I've learned more about myself and the world we live in than I could possibly capture in a blog post. But Zuky is absolutely right, doing so has meant that I have left some old alliances behind and found "new directions and networks to pursue." In the end, I have no regrets.

I Won't Be Supporting Sanders in the Primary

I thought I'd take this moment when so many are caught up in the kerfuffle at Netroots Nation to give an overview of my thinking about the Democratic presidential primary. Of course, all of this is subject to change as events unfold.

My thoughts leading into this primary were that I will have to reckon with the idea that there is not another Barack Obama on the horizon. Over the coming months, that means that I'll probably go through something akin to a grief process over the end of living through two terms of the best president in my lifetime. I have loved every minute of these last seven years and plan to keep my eye on what President Obama does as he plays through to the end of the fourth quarter and will likely follow his post-presidential activities as much as possible.

As a die hard political junkie though, I will also be sizing up the 2016 candidates - knowing that none of them will measure up to what I've become accustomed to. My preferred candidate, Deval Patrick, isn't going to run. And so yes, I have to choose between people I may not be able to support 100%. The way I see it, that's the more normal state of politics. Barack Obama's are few and far between. What I'll be looking for is someone who will protect that gains we've made over the last seven year and possibly build on them.

While I've never been a big Hillary Clinton supporter, I decided early on to stay open to the possibility of supporting her candidacy rather than simply writing her off from the get-go. Some of my questions about her have been answered sufficiently. Mostly I wanted to know if she'd learned anything from her mistakes in 2008. Here's what I've seen so far:

1. Her campaign team is light years better than the Mark Penn fiasco in 2008
2. She is running to build on Obama's successes rather than distancing herself from them
3. She is making all the right moves to reach out to the Obama coalition both in who she has brought onto her campaign team and the issues she's highlighted

The questions that remain for me are about how hard she'll fight to defend the successes of Dodd-Frank financial reform and how she'll respond to future chaos in the Middle East.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about Martin O'Malley because it seems obvious to me that he's going nowhere. But I will say that initially I was interested in his candidacy. But when he came out of the gates raising every issue about President Obama that has been championed by the "disappointed left," I lost interest real quick. Hearing more about his record as Mayor of Baltimore pretty much killed the deal for me.

When it comes to Bernie Sanders, I don't think the current enthusiasm for his candidacy will grow much beyond where it is now. Dan Pfeiffer did a really great job of explaining why. But beyond all that - as well as his response at Netroots Nation - I wrote Sanders off a while ago. The reason is because watching President Obama over these last few years has turned me into a die-hard pragmatic progressive. When I listen to Sanders, I see that he is not offering serious proposals.

My issue with Sanders is not that he won't be able to get his proposals through Congress. None of the candidates (Republican or Democrat) will be able to do that in the current environment. And I suspect that none of them will address that issue truthfully. I'll at least give Sanders credit for being up front with the fact that electing him won't get the job done. He hopes to ignite a movement.

To illustrate what I mean about his proposals not being serious, I'll take two examples from his current list of priorities. First of all, he wants to implement single payer health insurance. But we all know that it failed in his home state of Vermont because they couldn't figure out how to pay for it. One might expect someone like Sanders to address that issue. But he hasn't. Until he does, it's not a serious proposal.

Secondly, he wants to break up the "too big to fail" banks. Sanders has actually produced a bill to do just that. Trouble is...its a total of four pages long. Most of that is taken up with the legalese required in any bill. What his comes down to is basically telling the Treasury Secretary to break up the banks. To a pragmatist, that is not even close to good enough. He's basically giving the Treasury Secretary the power to decide how to manipulate the largest most complex institutions in our country. Even if done well, that would cause tremendous fallout all over our economy. Someone needs to pay attention to the backlash and unintended consequences of such a huge move in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. Sanders doesn't seem interested in that.

While I certainly align myself much more closely with Sanders on values and priorities, I see his failure to address these kinds of concerns in the same light as I did Bush/Cheney's recklessness. It is dangerous.

That's where I stood on Sanders leading up to what happened at Netroots Nation. While I can respect a lot of what BooMan wrote about the need for both sides to listen to each other, I personally don't have a "dog in that fight" because I won't be supporting Sanders in the primary under any circumstances and I'm not interested in engaging in all the drama.

But on the issues involved, I do have an opinion. It's based on how Dara Lind describe the underlying problem.
There is a legitimate disconnect between the way Sanders (and many of the economic progressives who support him) see the world, and the way many racial-justice progressives see the world. To Bernie Sanders, as I've written, racial inequality is a symptom — but economic inequality is the disease. That's why his responses to unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore have included specific calls for police accountability, but have focused on improving economic opportunity for young African Americans. Sanders presents fixing unemployment as the systemic solution to the problem.

Many racial-justice advocates don't see it that way. They see racism as its own systemic problem that has to be addressed on its own terms. They feel that it's important to acknowledge the effects of economic inequality on people of color, but that racial inequality isn't merely a symptom of economic inequality. And most importantly, they feel that "pivoting" to economic issues can be a way for white progressives to present their agenda as the progressive agenda and shove black progressives, and the issues that matter most to them, to the sidelines.

So Sanders' performance at Netroots confirmed the frustrations that his critics felt. And Sanders' supporters' reaction to the criticism was just as predictable.
On this one, I stand firmly with what Lind calls the "racial-justice advocates." Addressing economic inequality is a necessary but insufficient step in addressing racial inequality. Watching Sanders respond to the fact that black people in this country are dying as a result of white supremacy by talking about the unemployment rate among black youth told me all I need to know about how he sees racial inequality as a symptom rather than a disease. I wanted to know how more jobs for black youth would have helped 12 year-old Tamir Rice...or the 9 people who were gunned down in Charleston. It's clear to me that Sanders doesn't get that. Perhaps the events this weekend and the follow-up will help him understand. We'll see.

I want to end this long piece by saying that, when it comes to the general election in November 2016, I'll be voting for the Democratic nominee - no matter who that is. The alternative is unthinkable. But each of us has to make a decision about who to support in the primaries. I have until the March 1st Minnesota caucus to make up my mind. If I had to chose between the candidates in the race today, I'd go with Hillary Clinton.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Obama Doctrine

With the successful conclusion of negotiations with Iran over their nuclear weapons program, it's a good time to revisit the idea of an Obama Doctrine in foreign affairs.

When candidate Obama was running for president he was perfectly clear that he wasn't against all wars, just dumb wars. He has consistently said that when/if America is directly threatened/attacked, he will not hesitate to defend the country militarily. Fortunately, other than dismantling the perpetrators of 9/11, that situation has not presented itself and our ground troops are no longer involved in military actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

At the time the President decided to join the coalition involved in military intervention in Libya, some people began to describe the Obama Doctrine as "leading from behind." There is some truth to that characterization. In combating ISIS, President Obama has been very clear:

But when it comes to his broader response to foreign policy issues, "leading from behind" is an insufficient description of the President's approach. Instead, we have consistently seen him lead from the front based on the following three principles.

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's no workable solution there. But when Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, it was a serious breach of international law. That was the basis for his attempts to rally the international community to respond. When Putin realized that the President was serious, he counseled his ally Assad to give up those chemical weapons.

When it comes to the situation in Ukraine, here's how President Obama articulated that during his speech in Brussels last year:
...our enduring strength is also reflected in our respect for an international system that protects the rights of both nations and people -- a United Nations and a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international law and the means to enforce those laws.

But we also know that those rules are not self-executing.

They depend on people and nations of good will continually affirming them.

And that’s why Russia’s violation of international law, its assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, must be met with condemnation, not because we’re trying to keep Russia down, but because the principles that have meant so much to Europe and the world must be lifted up.
Secondly, when it comes to a strategy to uphold those international laws and principles, President Obama continually affirms the power of partnership. Whether it involves military action to stop a genocide in Libya or economic sanctions that bring Iran to the negotiating table, President Obama has taken the lead in bringing the weight of a united global community to bear on the offenders of international norms. As he said in Cairo, that is a strategy particularly suited to our interconnectedness in the 21st century.
For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.
Thirdly, as the weight of global pressure mounts on the offenders of international law, President Obama continually affirms that it is in their own best interests to change course. In other words, he always offers a way out. Here's how he talked about that with respect to the negotiations with Iran.
I think it's entirely legitimate to say that this is a regime that does not share our worldview or our values. I do think...that as we look at how they operate and the decisions they've made over the past three decades, that they care about the regime's survival. They're sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they're experiencing. They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them. They are able to make decisions based on trying to avoid bad outcomes from their perspective. So if they're presented with options that lead to either a lot of pain from their perspective, or potentially a better path, then there's no guarantee that they can't make a better decision.
And here is how he described the message to Russia.
But with time, so long as we remain united, the Russian people will recognize that they cannot achieve the security, prosperity and the status that they seek through brute force.

And that’s why throughout this crisis we will combine our substantial pressure on Russia with an open door for diplomacy.

I believe that for both Ukraine and Russia, a stable peace will come through de-escalation, a direct dialogue between Russia and the government of Ukraine and the international community, monitors who can ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, a process of constitutional reform within Ukraine and free and fair elections this spring.
Those three principles encompass the Obama Doctrine as it relates to U.S. involvement in global affairs. It is a complete rejection of the isolation espoused by libertarians and the reliance on military dominance of the neocons. In other words, it is a strong, principled foreign policy that has now been proven to produce results.

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