Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What you'll be reading about NSA surveillance tomorrow (updated)

Glenn Greenwald keeps promising more "bombshells" from the trove of classified documents Snowden leaked. But after today, he's going to run into some competition for the media's attention.
The Obama administration plans to release previously secret court orders that set out the rules and rationale for the bulk collection of U.S. phone records as officials seek to quell growing unrest in Congress over the government's massive information dragnet.

According to a senior U.S. official, the government has declassified the order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court, that authorized the collection program, which began in 2007...

In addition to the court order from 2007, administration officials are also planning to release two white papers on the telephone-data program that were provided to Congress in 2009 and 2011 before the House and Senate voted to reauthorize the law behind it, the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be quoted.
Lets first of all note that this release - set to happen sometime today - is the fulfillment of a promise President Obama made a few weeks ago when he spoke to Charlie Rose. At the time he promised to work with the intelligence community to release as much information on the surveillance programs as possible. He kept his word on that.

Secondly, the release of the 2 white papers on the metadata collection program is likely aimed at quelling the "Oh my, we didn't know!" coming from so many members of Congress lately. This article goes on to point out that the papers were given to the Intelligence Committees in both the House and Senate - who were then asked to provide them to all members of Congress in a classified setting. The message is that if they didn't know, they chose not to.

My advice to Greenwald - who said he plans to publish another "bombshell" this week - would be to hold off on that one. No one is going to be paying attention to what he has to say until they've fully digested this material...which is the point.

Then, after we've gotten this information, it will be interesting to see how much of Greenwald's sensationalist claims actually hold up. In other words...have a seat Glenn. Its time for the grown-ups to talk.

UPDATE: Oops, my advice came too late. Greenwald published his latest "bombshell" today. The jist of what he said involves a lot of technical information about how NSA collects data. Perhaps that's interesting information for the techies amongst us. But the bottom line is that the NSA exists to do this. Learning HOW they do it is no real bombshell. The overall fact - as even Greenwald has to admit - is that in order to review this kind of information about US persons, they need a warrant.
Under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisa warrant only if the target of their surveillance is a 'US person', though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets. But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.
That last sentence is interesting..."the program he's discussing provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority to target even US persons." Yes Glenn, lets count the number of things in our lives that might be technologically possible, if not for the fact that they are illegal.

On the point about intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets, what Greenwald fails to mention is the process of "minimization" employed by NSA in which analysts immediately remove that material.
Now, anyone who discusses this process without also mentioning minimization procedures is also either very uninformed or intentionally hyping the story. Minimization is a term of art in the world of NSA intercepts which essentially means “stay out of American citizen’s business.” If information about specific Americans (or even foreigners inside the United States) is captured, those details must be removed from all records and cannot be shared with any other entity in the government unless it is necessary to understand and interpret related foreign intelligence or to protect lives from criminal threats.
So a really ginormous "ho-hum" on this latest from Greenwald.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Republican leadership problem

Looking at that photo collection of Republican leaders that was attached to Byron York's analysis of the fissures in the party says an awful lot about why they're in trouble.

The first thing that stands out is not who they included, but who they left out...the actual positional Republican leaders Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner. But its been pretty obvious lately that no one is paying much attention to those two.

So what we're left with is men (notice: no women) who are either preparing to run for president or represent factions that will be competing for the presidency in 2016.

Byron York's point in his article is that the Republican Party is too factionalized right now to even wage a civil war. Its interesting to me that a winger like York is the one who provides the most cogent analysis of what is going on in the party right now. His article is worth a read.

But regardless of how much chaos those factions are producing right now, I can find some categories into which to place two camps represented by those four men. The two on the left (ha-ha), Paul and Cruz belong to the lunatic caucus right now. Whether tea party or libertarian, their goal is the destruction of good government.

But its the two on the right that I find most fascinating. To me they represent the "know better, but too afraid to take them on" caucus. Both Rubio and Bush have been all over the map trying to appease the lunatics and yet sustain some notion of sanity. It's a tough tightrope to walk - one both McCain and Romney failed to maneuver successfully in their presidential bids.

Its too early to predict how all this will play out in the 2016 election. And the truth is that I don't really have a dog in that race. But its worth noting that a couple of years ago the political analysis was all about a Republican Party unified in obstruction. President Obama's strategy was to hold on to reasonableness and sanity (ie, "the only adult in the room") - even as many progressives encouraged him to wage partisan warfare. Its important to ask ourselves whether we'd be seeing this kind of chaos from Republicans if the President had taken their advice. I think not. Conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy worked to get us to this point. And now its time to develop a common sense caucus with the various factions it produced. But recognizing that requires that we notice the long game.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Whiter Shade of Pale

Tonight's music comes with a bedtime (?) story.

In 1967 I was a 13 year-old living a sheltered life in the suburbs of Portland, OR. All I knew of the national angst of the time was what occasionally filtered into my awareness via the news.

But one day as I was hanging out in our living room listening to records on the family's hi-fi, I watched a car pull up in the driveway of the house across the street. Two men in full military uniforms got out of the car and walked up to the door. My mother knew that the husband of the woman living there was serving in Vietnam. And so she told me they probably came to tell her he had been killed.

I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday - even as I've forgotten so much. There was something deep inside that was sensing the pain so much of our country was going through - but was never discussed in my world.

Looking back on those days, I now see that this song got associated with that pain I was sensing. The words are meaningless. But its the mournful organ that always evokes what I was feeling that day as I watched the reality of was happening in the world unfold in the driveway across the street.

Are Americans ready to end perpetual war?

My advice to Glenn Greenwald would be to be careful with the contortions he's engaging to pat himself on the back because he could do permanent damage to his arm. Prior to releasing his next so-called "bombshell" (which has been pre-emptively debunked very thoroughly by Bob Cesca), Greenwald is taking some time to give himself credit for the major opinion shifts in NSA surveillance from the latest Pew Poll. Here's his very favorite finding:

Govt Anti-Terror Policies

Of course, he totally ignores this one:
Nonetheless, the public’s bottom line on government anti-terrorism surveillance is narrowly positive. The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 17-21 among 1,480 adults, finds that 50% approve of the government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 44% disapprove. These views are little changed from a month ago, when 48% approved and 47% disapproved.
Overall, as with other polling on this issue, the results are confusing at best (as they usually are on issue-polling as opposed to election-polling). But what I notice about the graph up above is that previous polling on this question preceded the killing of Osama bin Laden. One might be justified in wondering how much that event - coupled with the fact that there have been no al Qaeda attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 - might have reduced people's concerns about whether or not "government anti-terror policies have gone far enough to protect the country."

As with any human behavior, we have to be very careful about assuming causation. People change their minds as a result of very complex associations. But I agree with what President Obama said to Charlie Rose about all this.
I've got to tell you though Charlie, I think this is a healthy thing because its a sign of maturity that this debate would not have been taking place 5 years ago. And I welcome it.
I welcome not just the talk about surveillance, but also the President's suggestion that its time to talk about ending perpetual war.  It could be that our embrace of fear following the 9/11 attacks is finally coming to an end.
Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do -- what we must do -- is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. And to define that strategy, we have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom.
Defining a strategy based on hard-earned wisdom is the task at hand. That means being engaged in a rational conversation that relies on neither the fear of terrorists nor the kind generated by those pedaling sensationalist hyperbole.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

What bothers me about what Don Lemon said

Its not so much that mind that Don Lemon challenged the African American community. What bothers me is that he has a national platform to spread his superficiality while those that dig into the real issues often go unnoticed.

So I'd like to use this moment to dismiss this notion that the cultural issues are about sagging pants or what words one choses to use or music lyrics. I'll harken back to one of the most powerful articles ever written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. You'll want to read the whole thing because he leads into it with a very personal experience. But here's his basic point.
It defies logic to think that any group, in a generationaly entrenched position, would not develop codes and mores for how to survive in that position. African-Americans, themselves, from poor to bourgeois, are the harshest critics of the street mentality. Of course, most white people only pay attention when Bill Cosby or Barack Obama are making that criticism. The problem is that rarely do such critiques ask why anyone would embrace such values. Moreover, they tend to assume that there's something uniquely "black" about those values, and their embrace.

If you are a young person living in an environment where violence is frequent and random, the willingness to meet any hint of violence with yet more violence is a shield. Some people take to this lesson easier than others. As a kid, I hated fighting--not simply the incurring of pain, but the actual dishing it out. (If you follow my style of argument, you can actually see that that's still true.) But once I learned the lesson, once I was acculturated to the notion that often the quickest way to forestall more fighting, is to fight, I was a believer. And maybe it's wrong to say this, but it made the rest of my time in Baltimore a lot easier, because the willingness to fight isn't just about yourself, it's a signal to your peer group.

To the young people in my neighborhood, friendship was defined by having each other's back. And in that way, the personal shields, the personal willingness to meet violence with violence, combined and became a collective, neighborhood shield--a neighborhood rep...

I think one can safely call that an element of a kind of street culture. It's also an element which--once one leaves the streets--is a great impediment. "I ain't no punk" may shield you from neighborhood violence. But it can not shield you from algebra, when your teacher tries to correct you. It can not shield you from losing hours, when your supervisor corrects your work...

I suspect that a large part of the problem, when we talk about culture, is an inability to code-switch, to understand that the language of Rohan is not the language of Mordor. I don't say this to minimize culture, to the contrary, I say it to point how difficult it is to get people to discard practices which were essential to them in one world, but hinder their advancement into another. And then there's the fear of that other world, that sense that if you discard those practices, you have discarded some of yourself, and done it in pursuit of a world, that you may not master.

The streets are like any other world--we all assume an armor, a garment to suit that world. And indeed, in every world, some people wear the armor better than others, and thus reap considerable social reward...Inducing them, and those in between, to change class, to trade their plate for robes, to trade the broad-sword for a spell-book, is the real work.
Too many African American boys are learning a "street culture" that is necessary for their survival. But they're not being taught how to code-switch in a way that allows them to succeed beyond the streets. That's part of what President Obama was talking about when he said this:
...we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?
And so Mr. Lemon...simply telling those boys to pull up their pants, change their language, and go to school doesn't cut it. Until we learn how to protect them on the streets, it could get them killed. We have to enter their world, understand the risks they face, and teach them a new language...one that offers them something beyond street survival.

President Obama's long-term strategy on racism (updated)

One of the things that many people noted about President Obama speech on racism back in 2008 is that he not only addressed the anger of African Americans at the legacy of racism in this country, he addressed the anger/fear of white people that produced it.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience — as far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything. They built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and they feel their dreams slipping away. And in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze — a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns — this too widens the racial divide and blocks the path to understanding.
 That's the same history Tim Wise recounts in this video clip on "the creation of whiteness."



The President returned to this theme in an interview this week with the New York Times.
And that’s what people sense. That's why people are anxious. That's why people are frustrated. That's what they talk to me about and that's what they write to me about: “I'm doing okay right now, but what I've seen over the last 20 years and what I learned profoundly during this crisis is that the ground under my feet just isn't as secure, and that the work I'm doing may not be rewarded.” And everything that I am proposing and everything I will be proposing over the next three years goes right at that issue. And if that’s not what Washington’s talking about, then we will be missing the boat.

And racial tensions won’t get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they’ve got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot. If the economy is growing, everybody feels invested. Everybody feels as if we're rolling in the same direction.
So while President Obama's African American critics are wrong - his administration is tackling some of the most insidious civil rights issues of our time - his vision is (once again) much bigger than that. He doesn't just want to ameliorate the affects of racism on black people. He wants to tackle the roots of racism...in white people.

The truth is that all "isms" stem from fear and insecurity. As the President said, we've had a political and economic system that has exploited those fears for decades now. And we're seeing a conservative movement attempt to ramp up those fears to paranoia levels lately.

The President is suggesting an antidote to those fears.



Some might call that crazy. But I'd say its good crazy.



Ta-Nehisi Coates commented on that:
Here is where Barack Obama and the civil rights leaders of old are joined -- in a shocking, almost certifiable faith in humanity, something that subsequent generations lost. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may have led African Americans out of segregation, and he may have cured incalculable numbers of white racists, but more than all that, he believed that the lion's share of the population of this country would not support the rights of thugs to pummel people who just wanted to cross a bridge. King believed in white people, and when I was a younger, more callow man, that belief made me suck my teeth. I saw it as weakness and cowardice, a lack of faith in his own. But it was the opposite. King's belief in white people was the ultimate show of strength: He was willing to give his life on a bet that they were no different from the people who lived next door.
That's the same bet President Obama is making today.

UPDATE: Go read this article about Rev. William Barber - President of the NC NAACP and founder of the Moral Mondays movement. He's enacting this very vision on the ground in North Carolina.
"We have a new demographic emerging that is changing the South. The one thing they don't want to see is us crossing over racial lines and class lines and gender lines and labor lines. When this coalition comes together, you're going to see a New South."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

President Obama and Martin Luther King on war and morality

Lately critics of President Obama on the left have wanted to claim the mantle of Rev. Martin Luther King in their arguments against the use of drones and the war on al Qaeda. So I'd like to dig a little deeper and see if the critique holds up.

My first reaction is to put it all in the context of the fact that MLK's anti-war position was rooted in his adherence to non-violent resistance. I can't help but wonder if these critics make the same commitment. Are they suggesting that they are against all violence under any circumstances - as MLK was? Or is it just this particular form of violence?

While MLK is revered by almost everyone today as the father of the Civil Rights Movement, history tells us that not everyone involved in that struggle joined him in his commitment to non-violence. As a matter of fact, there are whole schools of thought that suggest that MLK's non-violence was aided in its success by the alternative of groups like the the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers. As you know, some of the most quoted words from Malcolm X are "...by any means necessary."

And so we must start with a recognition that, while we all admire the legacy of MLK, even his most avid supporters know that to simply suggest that he would have spoken out against President Obama's actions in the war on al Qaeda does not mean that he would have found 100% agreement on that position.

The President himself acknowledged this back in 2009 in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak – nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world.
In other words, he was acknowledging that King would have disagreed with him. And he gives us a hint about the conversation they might have had. President Obama's response would have been grounded in the Niebuhrian conflict of having - as President - to deal with the world as it is rather than the world as we want it to be. I imagine it is a conversation Barack Obama has had in his head many times. What a fascinating thing that is to imagine!

Its interesting to note that many of President Obama's critics seem to rely on an appeal to authority and assume that no black President (or his supporters) should ever take a position that is different from what MLK would have championed. I will say that I tend to lean more towards King's position of non-violent resistance. But this is a deeply complex moral question that is degraded by a simple appeal to authoritarianism - even if that authority is the Rev. Martin Luther King.

But beyond the moral question, the biggest difference I see between King's approach and Obama critics is the audience they speak to. Whether its Cornell West or Tavis Smiley or Glenn Greenwald or David Sirota - the critique is always leveled at President Obama. In contrast, I suggest that you read Rev. Martin Luther King's seminal speech against the war in Vietnam given in 1967 when Lyndon Johnson was the president.  He didn't call Johnson a "war criminal" (even though the charges might have been valid) or accuse him of hypocrisy/mendacity. He doesn't even mention the president's name. That's because he wasn't speaking to politicians - not even the president. He was calling out the American people. For example:
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin...we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
What a powerful statement that is as relevant today as it was in 1967! On that question of values and morality, both King and Obama agree.
Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions."...

Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more -- and that's the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there's something irreducible that we all share.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Woman shall not live by politics alone...

...and so I give you Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Organizers vs keyboard activists (updated)

On a couple of occasions I've mentioned that back in 2009 Al Giordano wrote about the looming split on the left between the organizers and the activists. You can click on that link to see a summary of how he described the difference between the two approaches.

Or...you can look at how its all playing out right now.

On the one hand, you have the keyboard activists using screaming link-bait headlines about everything from the dangers of drones to warnings about the security state to "Obama's going to take away your social security." Every now and then one of these stories breaks out of the bubble to do a bit more than preach to the choir. But very little actually changes because there's no plan for follow-through and so pretty soon the faithful are chasing after the next shinny link-baited outrage.

On the other hand, we're witnessing some pretty powerful organizing happen on the ground. Here's a list of examples that have caught national headlines (I'm sure there are thousands more working at the local level):

Organizing for Action

The DREAMers

Moral Mondays

Stand with Texas Women

The Dream Defenders

I'd suggest that what we're witnessing is a veritable renaissance in community organizing. Wouldn't you?

Its hard not to notice that the keyboard activists are dominated by white men whereas all of these groups who are organizing involve various members of what has come to be known as "the Obama coalition"...women, minorities and young people.

It will be interesting to watch - as these issues play out - which approach yields more results. I sure know where I'd place my bet :-)

UPDATE: I have to add Battleground Texas to the list of groups having a HUGE impact on the ground.

The Obama Way: The Long Game and Common Sense/Pragmatism

Its been a busy week so I didn't have time to listen to President Obama's speech on the economy at Knox College until this morning. But now that I have, I want to say that if you have any curiosity left about who this man is that we elected as our President back in 2008, you'll find your answers there. I'd like to summarize the things that stood out to me.

The Long Game

I've always said that President Obama plays the long game. One way we see that is that he's still prioritizing the same things he did eight years ago (the last time he gave a speech at Knox College). There are people on both the right and left who critiqued this speech because he didn't offer anything "new." If you haven't already, you should read Ed Kilgore's response to that criticism.

I first noticed this pattern of consistency a few weeks after the 2008 election when I took some time to read and write about Obama's previous gig as president (of the Harvard Law Review). He has always taken the time to review the big picture and set his sights on a North Star. Here's what he said about that back in 2010.
So, my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there, what is helping people live out their lives; what is giving them more opportunity; what is growing the economy; what is making us more competitive. At any given juncture there are going to be times that my preferred option, what I am absolutely, positively sure is right, I can’t get done. And so then, my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way or that way because I am keeping my eye on the long-term and the long fight. Not my day-to-day news cycle, but where am I going over the long-term.
And here's what President Obama said about that this week.
But with this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop. This needs to stop.

This moment does not require short-term thinking. It does not require having the same old stale debates. Our focus has to be on the basic economic issues that matter most to you, the people we represent. That’s what we have to spend our time on and our energy on and our focus on...

Now, some of these ideas I’ve talked about before. Some of the ideas I offer will be new. Some will require Congress. Some I will pursue on my own. Some ideas will benefit folks right away. Some will take years to fully implement. But the key is to break through the tendency in Washington to just bounce from crisis to crisis. What we need is not a three-month plan, or even a three-year plan; we need a long-term American strategy, based on steady, persistent effort, to reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades. That has to be our project.
For me, this is the essence of good leadership...clear vision and a consistent steady hand working tirelessly to get us there.

Common Sense/Pragmatism

One of the major obstacles in reaching those long term goals has been the strategy of obstruction adopted by the Republicans in Congress. As I've noted before, President Obama's response lately has been to work to develop a common sense caucus made up of both Democrats and Republicans who are willing to work together.

These efforts were made possible due to his consistent application of conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy in the first term. To sum up, that means that when he was made aware right after his first inauguration that the Republican plan was to simply obstruct anything he tried to do, his response was to reach out to them with offers of compromise. Their failure to accept that offer left them no choice but to consistently marginalize themselves more and more into an extremist corner until some Republicans began to break ranks and be willing to deal with him.

As we have seen recently, that common sense caucus is beginning to materialize. Those who can't see the long game of this strategy are currently asking questions like WTH has happened to Sen. John McCain.
The unlikeliest of alliances forged between two once-bitter rivals stands to upend the status quo of congressional gridlock and potentially resolve a bitter partisan chasm that has characterized the modern era of crisis governance.

Yes, President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are essentially working together against GOP leadership and the tea party to break the Senate out of its current situation and resolve major budget rifts that have plagued Washington for years...

“Senator McCain is the Senate Republican leadership’s worst nightmare,” said a senior Democratic aide, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record. “He is very interested in fixing sequestration, he has railed against the tax loopholes, he is clearly not afraid to defy them when he thinks it’s the right thing to do, and he takes 10 Republican members with him.
As that article goes on to point out, what is it that is motivating McCain to work with President Obama and Democrats? That awful (?) deal they negotiated in 2011 on the debt ceiling that included massive cuts to defense spending via sequestration. But you have to watch the long game to get the connection. Just sayin...

A couple of times in his speech this week President Obama reiterated his willingness to work with a common sense caucus.
And we’ll need Republicans in Congress to set aside short-term politics and work with me to find common ground.

It’s interesting, in the run-up to this speech, a lot of reporters say that, well, Mr. President, these are all good ideas, but some of you’ve said before; some of them sound great, but you can't get those through Congress. Republicans won’t agree with you. And I say, look, the fact is there are Republicans in Congress right now who privately agree with me on a lot of the ideas I’ll be proposing. I know because they’ve said so. But they worry they’ll face swift political retaliation for cooperating with me.

Now, there are others who will dismiss every idea I put forward either because they’re playing to their most strident supporters, or in some cases because, sincerely, they have a fundamentally different vision for America -- one that says inequality is both inevitable and just; one that says an unfettered free market without any restraints inevitably produces the best outcomes, regardless of the pain and uncertainty imposed on ordinary families; and government is the problem and we should just shrink it as small as we can.

In either case, I say to these members of Congress: I’m laying out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot. So now it’s time for you to lay out your ideas. You can't just be against something. You got to be for something...

If you’re serious about a balanced, long-term fiscal plan that replaces the mindless cuts currently in place, or if you’re interested in tax reform that closes corporate loopholes and gives working families a better deal, I’m ready to work. But you should know that I will not accept deals that don’t meet the basic test of strengthening the prospects of hardworking families. This is the agenda we have to be working on.
In other words, President Obama is once again saying that he's laid out the North Star. With that, he's willing to be pragmatic in considering anyone's ideas about how we get there. But, as he said, "Repealing Obamacare and cutting spending is not an economic plan." He's calling out what we've talked about as post-policy politics. That's our Community Organizer-in-Chief talking.
The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear: higher taxes, you won't be able to choose your doctor, liberals coddle terrorists, etc. One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.
Those of you who have been reading here for awhile now will recognize all of this as nothing new. While people who either don't understand President Obama or don't agree with his approach constantly look for a change in what he's doing, some of us "get it" and are simply reminded once again how fortunate we are to have such a wise leader. It's not only the Obama Way, its damn smart politics.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Make You Feel My Love

Nothing fancy. Just a simple piano, a gorgeous song and an unbelievable set of pipes. So sit back...relax...enjoy.

A "southern strategy" for the 21st century

No one can deny that the the Republican Party is in disarray these days. We recently saw a group of Senators challenge Sen. McConnell's leadership by breaking a filibuster on Obama administration nominees. A bipartisan group of Senators passed comprehensive immigration reform - including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers and the Republican establishment/grassroots is split down the middle on whether to support it in the House. Sen. Rand Paul has chosen to support Sen. Enzi in the primary challenge coming from Liz Cheney and Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have joined Sen. Gillibrand in her fight against military sexual assaults - which Bill Kristol called a "pseudo-crisis."

And yet folks like Greenwald and Serwer are feigning surprise that yesterday the vote on the Amash Amendment in the House was bipartisan. Either they haven't been paying attention or their surprise is disingenuous.

In case you didn't notice, there is a theme that runs through my litany describing the disarray up above...and his name is Rand Paul. That's the same Rand Paul too many liberals decided to stand with in his ridiculous filibuster and who's father Edward Snowden voted for in 2012.

No one doubts that Rand Paul is in the early stages of a campaign to run for president in 2016. His only hope for success given the sad state of affairs in the Republican Party is that he can develop a coalition of tea partiers and lefty emos (ie, white people) to challenge the national dominance of the Democratic Party. Today's article by Greenwald (linked above) is nothing short of a clarion call for just that.
To say that there is a major sea change underway - not just in terms of surveillance policy but broader issues of secrecy, trust in national security institutions, and civil liberties - is to state the obvious. But perhaps the most significant and enduring change will be the erosion of the trite, tired prism of partisan simplicity through which American politics has been understood over the last decade. What one sees in this debate is not Democrat v. Republican or left v. right. One sees authoritarianism v. individualism, fealty to The National Security State v. a belief in the need to constrain and check it, insider Washington loyalty v. outsider independence...

The sooner the myth of "intractable partisan warfare" is dispelled, the better. The establishment leadership of the two parties collaborate on far more than they fight. That is a basic truth that needs to be understood.
Basically he's saying that the partisan battle against the lunatic caucus in the Republican Party needs to end and we should join forces with those who support "individualism" (ie, libertarianism). We all know who swells the ranks of the anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party. Digby over at Hullabaloo put it more bluntly when it comes to the looming battle over a budget deal.
The way to stop this is to get enough Democrats in the House to join with the Tea Partiers so they cannot get a majority. It's got to be done.
As the beast that is the white male patriarchy in this country is dying, these folks are suggesting that we throw them a lifeline and join their cause. Remember...these are the same people who are attacking things like voting rights and women's rights and immigration reform.

Now I'm no supporter of the "National Security State" - or, more broadly, the military industrial complex. But I happen to believe President Obama when he says he wants to end perpetual war and have a rational conversation about surveillance. The folks who don't believe him have always assumed he's a liar - regardless of what he actually does. And so they prefer to join forces with folks who have a history with southern secessionists and yet tell whoppers like this:
During a visit to Iowa, the junior Kentucky senator and 2016 contender told Yahoo! News that he's going to continue to do his part to lure blacks and Hispanics to a Republican Party that has been plagued by an inability to win over minority voters.

“I’m not easily dissuaded, so it’s not something that makes me shrink away, it makes me come out even stronger to say that I don’t think there’s anyone in Congress who has a stronger belief in minority rights than I do,” Paul said.
Only a blind white privileged person could possibly swallow that one. He's not reaching out to blacks and Hispanics (who know better), he's trying to assuage the discomfort white emos might feel in their support of him.

Make no mistake about it...this is a re-invention of a 21st century southern strategy aimed at the idea of forming a national coalition of white male libertarians during a time when the rights of women and people of color are on the line. There is not one iota of doubt in my mind about where I stand on that one. And its not with Rand.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

No, the House did NOT vote on an amendment to stop government spying

Today the House voted on what is being called 'the Amash amendment" to the 2014 NDAA bill. It would have eliminated funding for the NSA's collection of metadata on telephone calls.

I'd like to remind you of the best description of that program that I've seen. It comes from Mark Ambinder.
One official likened the NSA's collection authority to a van full of sealed boxes that are delivered to the agency. A court order, similar to the one revealed by the Guardian, permits the transfer of custody of the "boxes." But the NSA needs something else, a specific purpose or investigation, in order to open a particular box...

In the government's eyes, the data is simply moving from one place to another. It does not become, in the government's eyes, relevant or protected in any way unless and until it is subject to analysis. Analysis requires that second order.
To suggest that the movement of those unopened "boxes" equates to spying twists that word so far out of sight that it loses all sense of any real meaning. Opening one of those boxes to investigate its contents is spying - and that requires a warrant.

This amendment was never going to pass. Putting it up for a vote was a chance for some Democrats to wave their progressive credentials around to pacify the emos and it gave the Republican lunatic caucus a chance to take a pot shot at President Obama (who opposed the amendment). What's sad is to see some Democrats join the Republicans in their habit of taking meaningless votes.

What is fueling the racist backlash?

Last fall Ta-Nehisi Coates noted something significant about the intersection of racism and politics during this era of our first African American president. He spoke to the change in reaction by conservatives to the killing of Trayvon Martin.
The reaction to the tragedy was, at first, trans-partisan. Conservatives either said nothing or offered tepid support for a full investigation—and in fact it was the Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who appointed the special prosecutor who ultimately charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. As civil-rights activists descended on Florida, National Review, a magazine that once opposed integration, ran a column proclaiming “Al Sharpton Is Right.” The belief that a young man should be able to go to the store for Skittles and an iced tea and not be killed by a neighborhood-­watch patroller seemed un­controversial...

The moment Obama spoke, the case of Trayvon Martin passed out of its national-mourning phase and lapsed into something darker and more familiar—racialized political fodder.
Of course all the President said at the time was that we could empathize with the pain Trayvon's family was feeling and that if he had a son, he could have been Trayvon. The backlash of racism those simple words set off provide us with some insight into what has happened since the President made more extended remarks last Friday following the verdict in the Zimmerman trial.

Its gotten really ugly. And its not just coming from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.  Jennifer Rubin used it as a platform to suggest that President Obama is not honest and simply wants to incite people for political ends.  The National Review used both the President and AG Holder's remarks as an excuse to fuel the fear of all those dangerous black men/boys. Those are just a couple of examples. The white male patriarchy is doubling down on their racism since the black President spoke. That shouldn't surprise us.
From the perspective of those who are entitled, the problems begin when those they despise do not go along with—and have the power and wherewithal to not go along with—the perceived entitlement...

Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, "normal," chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.

Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remains underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode.
As I said the other day, the mere fact that a black man is president is enough to send them into total obstructionist freak-out mode because the "rhetoric of superiority no longer works to maintain the entitlement."  But when he actually makes comments - as innocuous as they were - about the state of racism in American today, the hate really explodes. Its always been there. We all know that. The fire is lit by a simple statement of reality that challenged the masks.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Obama administration is tackling some of the most insidious civil rights issues of our time

I'm really glad that Spandan over at The People's View wrote a response to Tavis Smiley yesterday giving him a list of what President Obama has done for African Americans. But I see that Cornel West has (of course) joined Smiley's bandwagon this morning by suggesting that Barack Obama is some "johnny come lately" to concerns about how the criminal justice system has affected African Americans.

Of course Brother West is wrong. I'd like to take some time to document why.

First, lets go back to the time when Barack Obama was a State Senator in Illinois. It was there that he actually led the fight against racial profiling. But he also spoke out against a state gang database, joined an effort to examine a complete overhaul of the state's criminal code, supported a moratorium on the death penalty, introduced legislation against zero tolerance policies in schools, and spoke out against mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

But perhaps the President's critics will suggest that somehow he has been corrupted since he got to the White House. Let's remind ourselves that the President's primary responsibility is administering laws. And so often we forget to look at what he has done in that capacity as opposed to simply focusing on the legislative arena.

When it comes to civil rights, the most powerful thing the President did was nominate the first African American Attorney General - Eric Holder. And then they nominated Thomas Perez to head up the DOJ's Civil Rights Division - the one that had been decimated by the Bush administration. What we saw immediately was that the Division started actually hiring lawyers with a background in enforcing civil rights. Just take a look at some of the people they brought on board.

These folks got to work pretty quickly bringing an unprecedented 17 investigations of police brutality to departments in some of the countries largest urban areas like New Orleans, Seattle, and Newark. Of course the most noted story along these lines was the suit DOJ brought against Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for civil rights abuses.

Back in the summer of 2011, the Department of Justice teamed up with the Department of Education to launch the Supporting School Discipline Initiative, which was the opening act for this administration to tackle the school-to-prison pipeline. One outcome of that effort was that DOE's civil rights office resumed the collection of racial data in school disciplinary activities. That data has led to investigations of racial bias launched in 20 school districts across 14 states. In the most serious case, DOJ filed charges against the town of Meridian, MS - leading to a consent decree to protect students of color.

Finally, the Obama administration recently issued A Drug Policy for the 21st Century that basically declared the "war on drugs" over.
Put simply, an enforcement-centric “war on drugs” approach to drug policy is counterproductive, inefficient, and costly.
I get that people like Smiley and West are more interested in listening to themselves talk than they are in actually taking the time to learn what this administration is doing. But lets be clear...on the ground where it really matters, the Obama administration has been busy tackling some of the most insidious civil rights issues of our time.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Some personal reflections

Next month I will have been in the same job for 22 years. I must admit that there have been times I've wondered whether I needed to move on to something else. That's a long damn time!

But there are also lots of reasons why I've stayed. Watching the African American community stand up for their children these last few days and hearing our President say this...
We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?
...has reinvigorated me more than I can say.

 How do I express what it feels like to be privileged to spend my days doing just that in my own small way in my own community? I am not only affirmed, but challenged to raise my game.

But to be honest, its not me that is doing the work. Its my job to make sure that the resources are there for some amazing people to do it. There were a few people missing the day we took this picture, but it will give you an idea of who some of them are.


These are the people who work every day to lift up children who are in trouble - mostly young African American men in this community. Each of them has a fascinating story themselves - but they all share the mission President Obama talked about...giving young people who are often told that they don't belong "the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them."

If you'd like to learn more about how we do that, you can visit our web site or Facebook page

Years ago I adopted a quote from Gandhi as my signature at Daily Kos:
Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it.
This small group of dedicated people isn't going to eliminate racism and other barriers faced by every child. But they are letting one child at a time know that someone stands beside them and cares. I am immeasurably blessed to be a part of that.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

#HeIsNotASuspect

Essence started it. And its catching on.






You can find more here.

President Obama doesn't want to lead a conversation about race

From the President's remarks yesterday:
There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven't seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.
I think this is one of the things that pisses off the President's African American critics on the left. He didn't seek this job to be a civil rights movement leader. He sought it to be POTUS - and to be the best damn POTUS he could possibly be.

If you want to know what is absolutely driving the white male patriarchy nuts about our first African American president - its that he's succeeding in doing that. Their freak-out is all about the fact that their game of dismissing this black man as a "boy" who is out of his league is up.

That's the role Barack Obama chose to play in this struggle. It doesn't mean that its the only one that is needed in this country for us to continue on the path to a more perfect union - that requires an "all hands on deck" approach. But the integrity and competence he's bought to the office is an important piece of the puzzle.

And beyond that, there's this...

Friday, July 19, 2013

President Obama talked to White America as a Black man

Other than his "race speech" back in 2008, when President Obama has talked about issues facing the African American community, it has usually been to an audience of black people (ie, commencement address at Morehouse). As a result, a lot of African American intellectuals have criticized the fact that when he talks about race, he tends to focus on a call to responsibility and excellence in the face of racism.

Today was different. Barack Hussein Obama was talking as a black man to white America in an attempt to help us understand the pain the African American community is dealing with in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict. And in doing so, he made it personal.
But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African- American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that -- that doesn’t go away.
He then went on to provide that context that comes from both the history of African Americans in this country and the present experiences of black men just like himself. President Obama knows the pain the African American community is feeling over this incident - because he feels it himself. He wanted us to have the chance to hear why.

After talking about some things we need to do to improve things, he ended with a challenge to us.
...at least ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.
I know that a lot of white people won't be able to hear what he said or take up that challenge. But I sure hope that some of us will. Regardless, this country has now experienced its first racial crisis with an African American in the White House. He spoke to us as as that man today. I am SO grateful to be living in this moment and so amazingly proud of our President!

A thoughtful President speaks from the heart

I'm not going to be breaking any news - this video is all over the internet already. But I wanted it to be here on my little corner of the blogosphere too.

When things move me this profoundly, it takes a while to collect my thoughts. So I'm not going to provide much commentary at this point. The most powerful reaction I've heard so far are the comments by African Americans that these words from our President give them a lift up out of the depression they've been feeling since the Zimmerman verdict.

We certainly don't always deserve it - but yes, this man is our President. I am thankful every day for that.



The transcript is here.

"That's Vice President Joe Biden"


"I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds here," says John, in the front seat. It's the first time he's stepped in like this. It feels like a rescue, a guy taking a bullet. Lay off my boss. "Quick little story. We stopped at Dunkin' Donuts. A man comes up. 'Joe, you gotta come see my wife, she's really ill.' A small little house there. Hospital bed in the living room, her deathbed. No air-conditioning. And the vice president told a staff person, 'Hey, let's make sure we get an A/C unit here.' I was like, wow. That's Vice President Joe Biden."
Even if you are Vice President of the most powerful country on earth...you still gotta let your little light shine when/where you can.

President Obama's common sense caucus is beginning to materialize

I'm wondering if our political memories are capable of reaching back to recall what was happening about four months ago. Back then President Obama was engaged in what most of the media called a "charm offensive" that they were sure was doomed to fail.

Of course those predictions failed to consider the fact that the President tends to play a long game in politics and so the chatter about it was dropped because the village can't contemplate a strategy that doesn't produce profound and immediate results.

But some of us actually paid attention to what the President was saying and knew he was working on building a common sense caucus.
I do know that there are Republicans in Congress who privately, at least, say that they would rather close tax loopholes than let these cuts go through. I know that there are Democrats who’d rather do smart entitlement reform than let these cuts go through. So there is a caucus of common sense up on Capitol Hill. It’s just -- it’s a silent group right now, and we want to make sure that their voices start getting heard.

In the coming days and in the coming weeks I’m going to keep on reaching out to them, both individually and as groups of senators or members of the House, and say to them, let’s fix this -- not just for a month or two, but for years to come.
That was way back in March. Now, a little over halfway through July we've seen that common sense caucus pass bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate, break Sen. McConnell's hold on the obstruction of presidential nominees via filibuster, and continue talks about a budget deal. Greg Sargent does a good job of describing what's happening even though he calls it a "compromise caucus" - I suppose to avoid tying it to an actual strategy being implemented by President Obama.

The result of this work is that BooMan is right - the Republicans are in disarray. And their purists are going to continue to give both McConnell and Boehner hell in the months to come.

But - the lefty purist asks - why should the Republicans have all the fun? Its true, some of them aligned with tea partiers in an attempt to "kill the bill" during the battle over health care reform. And we watched them #StandWithRand over his ridiculous filibuster. So should it surprise us that they are siding with the lunatic caucus to try to stop immigration reform? Or that they are blatantly promoting the idea of joining with the tea party to stop a budget deal?
The way to stop this is to get enough Democrats in the House to join with the Tea Partiers so they cannot get a majority. It's got to be done.
Lets be clear. There are purists on both the left and the right who think "compromise" is a dirty word and want to stop any real governing from taking place. President Obama has been dealing with this for 4 1/2 years now. That's why he's placing his bet on developing a common sense caucus.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Deterrence vs Fairness

At the nonprofit where I work, one of the services we provide is pre-court diversion. What that means is that youth who are arrested for the first time for a misdemeanor offense are referred to us as an alternative to going to court. Our job is to work with that young person (and their parents) to prevent them from further involvement with the juvenile justice system. That means providing counseling, education and restorative services.

Years ago I realized that about a quarter to a third of the young people referred to that program never showed up. It wasn't that they set up an appointment and didn't keep it. They simply ignored the referral (perhaps more specifically, their parent's ignored it). It struck me that this group likely represented the highest risk group of young people referred to the program so I had lots of questions about who they were and why they didn't show up.

When an opportunity arose for grant funds to find some answers to those questions, we took it. We hired a staff person to track these families down and talk to them. The first thing we learned is that I was right - these young people had a significantly higher rate of re-offending. They were also almost all African American.

But the more significant information we learned was why they didn't respond to the referral. The parents weren't militant or angry or criminal. They simply didn't trust "the system" to do what was in the best interests of their child. In other words, they didn't trust that the system would treat their child fairly. And so they opted out.

I thought about that when I read this fascinating article by John Buntin where he contrasts the LAPD's success in stemming gang violence with the "stop and frisk" approach of the NYPD.
“Why do we obey the law?” asks Tracey Meares, a Yale Law School professor and a leader in this field. The answer to that question, it turns out, is not just because we think we are going to be punished if we don’t. Meares’s research showed that even felons care about and respond to perceptions of fairness...

The stop-and-frisk approach in New York City puts a priority on deterrence over fairness, Meares says. The purpose behind stop-and-frisk is to deter youths in high-crime neighborhoods from carrying guns by increasing the likelihood that they will interact with the police. The N.Y.P.D. approach may be effective theoretically, Meares says, but it comes with high costs. The police must make large numbers of stops in order to make the threat of being stopped credible — that’s expensive. And, to the extent that communities view such tactics as unfair, the police lose legitimacy.

“There is a direct link between the feeling that police are illegitimate and high levels of violence,” said David M. Kennedy, who helped design Operation Ceasefire. “When you get into the communities that are the most distressed, the feeling that the police are not legitimate goes up and violence goes up.” (In New York a recent curtailing of stop-and-frisk has, in fact, coincided with a decline in homicides.) If academic theories of legitimacy are correct, the police can encourage high-crime neighborhoods to comply with the law by making some fairly simple changes to their own behavior: by explaining police actions, by listening to people’s grievances and by demonstrating respect.
When a "justice system" doesn't demonstrate fairness and respect for the very people it is designed to serve, it loses its legitimacy. That is the dangerous precipice on which police departments like NYPD tread with the African American (and increasingly Latino) community.
A 2009 Pew Research Center study found that just 14 percent of African-Americans had a great deal of confidence in the proposition that their local police officers treated blacks and whites equally, compared with 38 percent of whites who thought so.
Both stop and frisk as well as the Zimmerman verdict do grave damage to our attempts to reduce gun violence and crime in our country. Its why the racism that fuels the lack of respect and fairness is so deadly.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

No Commentary Required 7/17/13

Some things you should know:

We've all heard that Edward Snowden has set up a "dead man's switch," by which secret documents that he says will damage the U.S. will be released if something bad happens to him. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to identify at least one person who likely has control of that switch...the guy who said this:
Nick Davies, an investigative journalist on The Guardian, describes working with Assange before publishing leaked US intelligence documents, many of which contained information about ordinary citizens who had been of assistance to coalition forces. To publish the documents without blacking out such names, as Davies says he pointed out, could well be the equivalent to signing a series of death warrants.

He alleges in the film that Assange simply replied that: “if an Afghan civilian helps coalition forces, he deserves to die.”
_______________ 

Jorge Ramos - the leading voice in Hispanic media - had a pretty strong warning for Republicans, especially Speaker Boehner.
Univision's Jorge Ramos penned a column in Spanish Tuesday warning House Republicans that if they torpedo immigration reform, they will lose the Hispanic vote and the White House in 2016.

By attacking a group that represents the fasting growing constituency in the United States, Ramos wrote that it often seems the GOP is following a plan devised by its worst enemy.

He then put the blame in House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) hands, asking; "Does John Boehner really want to be the new villian of the Hispanic community, replacing the hated Sheriff Joe Arapaio?"
_______________ 

The good news keeps rolling in on the exchanges in Obamacare. This time, from New York.
Individuals buying health insurance on their own will see their premiums tumble next year in New York State as changes under the federal health care law take effect, state officials are to announce on Wednesday.

State insurance regulators say they have approved rates for 2014 that are at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available in New York. Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to shop for health insurance for as little as $308 monthly. With federal subsidies, the cost will be even lower.
_______________ 

And finally, my photo of the day comes from the cover of the Texas Monthly.


No, that's not a mirror image on either side of TX State Senator Wendy Davis. Its twin brothers Julian and Juaquin Castro. Julian is the Mayor of San Antonio (and keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic Convention) and Juaquin represents the San Antonio area in the U.S. House of Representatives. That's some fusion politics at work in the great state of Texas.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Attorney General Holder at the NAACP

Elections have consequences. And one of the consequences of electing President Barack Obama is that this is the man that is our Attorney General.



Anyone who has been reading what I have to say for any length of time knows that I have been both proud and impressed with the job he has done - even as those on the left and right have attacked him or called for his resignation. His speech before the NAACP today was reminder of why.

AG Holder dedicated the first half of his speech today to talking about the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. He said a lot of important things. But what stood out to me is that THIS is the experience of the man who serves in that office.
Trayvon’s death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15 year old son, like my dad did with me. This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down. But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to do this to protect my boy. I am his father and it is my responsibility, not to burden him with the baggage of eras long gone, but to make him aware of the world he must still confront. This is a sad reality in a nation that is changing for the better in so many ways.

As important as it was, I am determined to do everything in my power to ensure that the kind of talk I had with my son isn’t the only conversation that we engage in as a result of these tragic events.
As the saying goes...this is a man with some real skin in the game. Its about his son.

Just as importantly, AG Holder spent the second half of his speech talking about the Voting Rights Act. I've not seen many people comment on this part, but he said something pretty powerful.
Unfortunately, last month, an important piece of this foundation was chipped away – when the Supreme Court invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act...

Let me be clear: this was a deeply disappointing and flawed decision. It dealt a serious setback to the cause of voting rights. And, like all of you, I strongly disagree with the Court’s action.
I'm no historian so I can only wonder if there is precedence for a sitting Attorney General to publicly say that a Supreme Court decision is flawed and state strong disagreement with it.

At any rate, Holder is not going to sit on the sidelines while this all gets sorted out.
Therefore, the struggle for voting rights cannot be relegated to the pages of history. And this is why protecting the fundamental right to vote – for all Americans – will continue to be a top priority for the Department of Justice so long as I have the privilege of serving as Attorney General...

...the Justice Department will continue to monitor jurisdictions around the country for any changes that may hamper voting rights. We will not hesitate to take aggressive action – using every tool that remains available to us – against any jurisdiction that attempts to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling by hindering eligible citizens’ free and fair exercise of the franchise.

We also will not wait for Congressional action to refine – and re-focus – our current enforcement efforts. In fact, I am announcing today that I have directed the Department’s Civil Rights Division to shift resources to the enforcement of Voting Rights Act provisions that were not affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling – including Section 2, which prohibits voting discrimination based on race, color, or language – in addition to other federal voting rights laws.
Thank you Attorney General Holder. This is exactly why I'll always have your back!

The inadequacy of a "good heart"

In attempting to defend herself against charges of racism, Paula Deen claimed that she has a "good heart." Juror B37 said the same thing about George Zimmerman.

When people make these claims I suspect they have pretty good evidence that the ones they are referring to have shown caring and concern to the people in their lives and that they do not exhibit hate for anyone. The underlying assumption is that racism involves hate.

But that's where they are mistaken.
The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.

- Elie Wiesel
As a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, Wiesel knows a thing or two about the topic.

The issue today is that most racism doesn't depend on hate - but indifference. We are indifferent to the lives and perspectives of people who are not like us. That's what allows jurors to see things from George Zimmerman's perspective but not from Trayvon's. Its what allows Paula Deen to fantasize about a slave-themed wedding reception. There is no empathy for the black person's plight.

A "good heart" that displays concern for people like us and indifference for anyone not like us is the definition of racism today. If you have any curiosity at all about how that indifference has been passed on to us all from the time we were young, listen as Jonathan Odell talks about Ms. Helen - someone with a "good heart."

NSA prevents Al Qaeda terrorism...in Lebanon

As folks like Snowden, Assange and Greenwald do their best to disrupt diplomatic relationships between the United States and other countries, I'm guessing this story about the NSA might blow a few minds.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency warned Lebanese officials last week that al Qaida-linked groups are planning a campaign of bombings that will target Beirut’s Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs as well as other political targets associated with the group or its allies in Syria, Lebanese officials said Monday.
And yes, the information was gathered by NSA surveillance.
“They had transcripts of calls made from known al Qaida people in Lebanon to people in the Gulf that included detailed information about the attacks, including the amounts of explosives that had been smuggled into Lebanon,” said one Lebanese intelligence official who is barred from speaking openly to reporters. “We have already begun to make arrests.”

The official said Lebanese officials had monitored a series of militant phone calls but had not been able to listen to the calls’ content because it was encrypted. The United States, however, was able to listen to the calls, he said.

“America might hate the NSA right now, but they were able to actually hear the calls and warn us what was said,” the official said.
What makes this even more intriguing is that the Al Qaeda plot that was thwarted targeted Hezbollah and Russian support for the Syrian regime in Lebanon. Its not difficult to imagine that it is in the United States interests to prevent the violence in Syria from spreading to Lebanon. But it certainly makes for some strange bedfellows, doesn't it?

This example demonstrates that - while many foreign governments will feign outrage about NSA surveillance - they are also aware of how this technology benefits them. And its also a reminder of the complexities involved in avoiding a "good vs evil" foreign policy. That is a lesson that not only folks like Sen. McCain need to learn. Snowden, Assange and Greenwald - who cast the United States as the "evil" in a simplistic view of the world - make the same mistake in mirror form.

Monday, July 15, 2013

This seems important

Back in 2008, the NSA wanted Yahoo to participate in what we are now calling the "PRISM" program. Yahoo challenged that in the FISA Court and lost.

When the Snowden revelations were made public, Yahoo requested that the court release the documents from that 2008 case and today the FISA Court agreed to do so. This is only the second time it its history that the court has released information about their proceedings.

In his interview with Charlie Rose, President Obama said this:
What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program, number one. And they are in that process of doing so now so that everything that I’m describing to you today, people, the public, newspapers, etc., can look at because frankly, if people are making judgments just based on these slides that have been leaked, they’re not getting the complete story.
And so while Glenn Greenwald talks endlessly about himself and Snowden - all while wailing about how no one is talking about the surveillance issues involved - we see President Obama taking step one in making good on his promise.

Anyone notice?...Anyone paying attention?

Vicious Cycle

David Simon on the Zimmerman verdict:
Behold, the lewd, pornographic embrace of two great American pathologies: Race and guns, both of which have conspired not only to take the life of a teenager, but to make that killing entirely permissible. I can’t look an African-American parent in the eye for thinking about what they must tell their sons about what can happen to them on the streets of their country. Tonight, anyone who truly understands what justice is and what it requires of a society is ashamed to call himself an American.
It is worth listening to Mr. Simon because he has documented the ongoing shame of what is happening in urban America in The Wire. The truth, as Anthony Hamilton says, "Ain't nobody worryin" about all that.



Except for when vigilantes appropriate this reality to justify arming themselves to racially profile any black teen who dares to invade the sanctity of their gated communities. And when an innocent teenager winds up dead and his killer acquitted, all of a sudden it becomes a justification...something "they" should be worryin about. Its a vicious cycle that locks the privileged out of responsibility for any of it.

One more quote from Mr. Simon:
The Wire is certainly an angry show. It’s about the idea that we are worth less. And that is an unreasonable thing to contemplate for all of us. It is unacceptable. And none of us wants to be part of a world that is going to do that to human beings...

Everywhere we have created an alternate America of haves and have-nots. At some point, either more of us are going to find our conscience or we’re not.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hey white people...its on us!

Last night I went on twitter when the Zimmerman verdict was announced...at least until I read the words of a father wondering WTH he was going to say to his black son. Then I started balling and the evening was basically over for me.

Surely every parent of a black child in this country has to grapple with teaching them some form of the Black Male Code. I remember the profound sense of what white privilege means hit me when one of my co-workers talked about how she had to make her son cut off his dreads when he was 13 so as not to make him a target. What mother of a white child has to think about those kinds of things? And what mother of a white child has to fear for their lives when they're walking home from the store?

It looks to me like no perfect calculation of the Black Male Code could have saved Trayvon. That's where we hit a brick wall. This is just no country for young black men. The randomness of these incidents is where the fear lurks.

What it all comes down to is that this is not a "black people's problem" - even as it is their children's lives at stake. Surely they will do everything they can to protect them. But the sad thing is that these kinds of things won't stop happening until white people get their shit together. That realization sent me back to something my friend Robinswing wrote years ago: We Can't Fix Ya!
The blackwoman has been thinking it might be time to seek out some solutions for eliminating racism. A more difficult project than I imagined.

I have come to one conclusion.

Race is a problem for white people to solve. If black people or brown people could have made racism go away it would have long since disappeared back into the nothing-ness from which it came.

Nah, it’s on white folks to make the necessary moves to kill and bury, once and for all, the notion of race.
Perhaps a good place to start is to listen to black people talk about what it means to be a parent these days.  And keep your g-d mouth shut when it comes to advice - even when what they have to say makes you uncomfortable. Right now they feel like their children's lives are at stake - with good reason. Can we find a touch of empathy to spur some curiosity about what that might feel like as a parent?

That's what its going to take, folks. As overwhelming as it might seem, every time a white person opens themselves up to that reality we get one step closer to ending days like this. If we're ever going to get there - its on us.