Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Democracy: Balancing private wealth with public voice

Today I found myself re-reading something Marshall Ganz wrote years ago about the historical roots of organizing in this country. Given our concern about the recent court cases that have magnified the problem of money in politics, his opening quote is even more profound today.
“Democracy is based on the promise that equality of voice can balance inequality of resources.” Prof. Sidney Verba, Harvard University, 1993.
Next, he quotes de Tocqueville.
In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.
In commenting on de Tocqueville's observations about our civic associations, Ganz says:
In other words, he saw that we had learned that the choices a few people make about how to use their money could be balanced by choices many people make about how to use their time.
He then goes on to summarize various movements in our history. What de Tocqueville observed was soon challenged by a different kind of organization.
Late in the 19th century, however, other currents began to run counter to this populist, if not always progressive, form of association. A new form of large-scale organization took root...the national corporation. But unlike the civic association, the object of which was to amplify the voice of its members, the corporation was designed for control. The authority of its leadership based on property, not voice, it enabled the few to efficiently — and profitably — harness the effort of the many.
Labor unions and the New Deal initially provided a balance that was later followed by the civil rights, anti-war, women's and environmental movements.

What struck me is that Ganz included something that many other commentators leave out - the social work movement. It is where much of the nonprofit world as we know it today is rooted.
Traditional social work ignored the power disparity most often responsible for poverty, and treated its victims as clients seeking public patronage, rather than citizens able to act together to make their voices heard and thus do something about the power disparity responsible for the problem in the first place.
He also described something most of us are very familiar with today: a market driven approach to advocacy and electoral politics.
...fueled by new targeting, fund raising, and information technologies that replaced constituency based organizing with direct marketing techniques...professional activists began mobilizing individuals to support their causes by contributing money rather than organizing them to act together.
All of that is the historical context for what developed in the 80's and is still at work today.
...the conservative movement had...channeled its energy into a deep restructuring of the relationship of public institutions - and the organized groups to whom they afforded influence – to private wealth. New challenges facing government, rather than providing an impetus to reform, became an excuse to outsource its functions - to the private sector if there was money to be made, to the nonprofit sector if there was not. And these institutions, whether for profit or not for profit — and whether large scale or small scale — assumed a traditional corporate form. As a result, the scope of citizenship itself as way to balance private wealth with public voice, narrowed, as we became “customers” of the private sector or “clients” of non-profit funders.
I want to stop there and just say "wow!" That is perspective you're not likely to hear from any other source. But based on my experience in politics, advocacy and the nonprofit world, I think he nailed it. What runs through almost all of that is the theme of organizations taking on the "traditional corporate form." I'll remind you of part of the quote from up above:
But unlike the civic association, the object of which was to amplify the voice of its members, the corporation was designed for control.
No wonder JFK's words about "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," have been replaced by "what have you done for me lately?" Someone else is in control and we are simply customers/clients of their power.

What strikes me is that if we as liberals want to work towards a "democracy that is based on the equality of voice," we need to not simply challenge corporate power - but the corporate mindset that has been embraced by so many of our institutions.

But before we can even get there, I am reminded of what Al Giordano wrote about "the Wall Street within" in response to the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Wall Street, ahem, isn’t just in your wallet: It’s in everything you own, rent, use, borrow, find or steal. It’s also in the “identities” and roles we put on and take off in each department of our daily lives. And one should never worry as much about the police on the street...as much as one should be very concerned about the cop in one’s head...- the invading army in our innermost thoughts and fears that polices our very behavior, officers of the psyche that we all have, through unspoken fears, invited into our brains and hearts...

In a world where the advertising industry shouts that “everybody is connected,” that’s really to distract from the alienation imposed by an over-mediated technological society. Maybe your family, your relationship, your classroom, your workplace, your home, your building, your neighbors are so caught up in dysfunction and the food chain of domination of one person over another that everything within you screams for an EXIT sign and that you must go out and find that place where you can see a path to begin to drive Wall Street out of your body, the cop out of your head, and the imposed loneliness of residing in a technological “paradise” out of your aching heart.
If your aching heart is screaming for an EXIT sign from the domination of one person over another - its time to take the off ramp. That might be the first step in finding a way for us to work in partnership and develop a public voice.

I'll leave you with the call President Obama gave to us all at the 2012 Democratic Convention.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Sticking with the O-man!

Just a quick thought...

Remember when the triple threat scandal of Benghazi, IRS and NSA meant the sure death of the Obama Presidency?

And then along came healthcare.gov. POTUS was as doomed as Obamacare.

That's just what we've been subjected to in the second term.

There's no doubt that our media is addicted to hysteria. And that means that most of the time, they get it wrong.

So the one thing we can learn is that it doesn't pay to buy into the hysteria. And it never hurts to bet on the O-man ;-)

Racists pick the wrong target

A couple of tweets got me thinking...
Ever since the Republicans dreamed up the Southern Strategy, the targets they've used to inflame racism have been the "welfare queen" and the "street thug" - both groups that have very little money and/or political clout.

What Donald Sterling did was go after current and former NBA players - and that's likely to mean a whole different outcome. He went directly at Magic Johnson, who has spoken out clearly. And as some have noted, this incident even inflamed Michael Jordan. Its clear that a lot of current NBA players are keeping quiet until Commissioner Silver announces his ruling, but are prepared to have their say at some point. And then, as the tweet above suggests, come the sponsors.

These African American players/coaches/entrepreneurs not only have access to money, they have the respect and adoration of millions of American fans of all races. That's clout, babee. And I think its a good thing.

But it also leaves us with a challenge...how do we generalize what has happened to them and show that its really no different than when Rep. Paul Ryan goes after the "culture" in inner cities or Mike Huckabee ups the ante about welfare queens and compares them to "roaches?" In other words, how do we make sure that the outcome isn't just based on class? Because whether you are Magic Johnson or an inner city single mom needing TANF to pay the bills, the sting of racism slices just as deep.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rest

Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is the essence of giving and receiving...To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right; to rest is to fall back literally or figuratively from outer targets and shift the goal not to an inner static bulls eye, an imagined state of perfect stillness, but to an inner state of natural exchange.

The template of natural exchange is the breath, the autonomic giving and receiving which is the basis and the measure of life itself. We are rested when we are a living exchange between what lies inside and what lies outside, when we are an intriguing conversation between the potential that lies in our imagination and the possibilities for making that internal image real in the world; we are rested when we let things alone and let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, breathe as the body intended us to breathe, to walk as we were meant to walk...

- David Whyte

What has brought the Bundy's and Sterling's out of the woodwork? (updated)

Lately it can feel like: another day, another racist unleashed. All the oxygen these days is being soaked up by the recent remarks of Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling. But the truth is - over the last few years we've been exposed to a pretty endless stream of this noxious stuff.


Its no coincidence that this is happening on the heels of electing our first African American president and as the demographics of this country are rapidly changing. But I'd like to look a little deeper and ask what it is these milestones have unleashed.

To answer that, I go back to something I've quoted here many times - the words of Derrick Jensen in his book The Culture of Make Believe.
I have spent the past several hours now thinking about the notion that masters "shall be entitled to their labor," and at the risk of overstating, it seems to me that entitlement is key to nearly all atrocities, and that any threat to perceived entitlement will provoke hatred...

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.
The Civil Rights Movement certainly threatened that entitlement. When the dust settled though, most white people went back to normalizing it with what remained of their tradition, economics, religion, etc. And an awful lot of people of color got busy utilizing the doors the movement had opened up for them.

The next thing you know...we have everything from a Harvard-educated African American POTUS to a basketball player-turned-entrepreneur challenging the hold the 1%ers have on the NBA (why Donald Sterling is threatened by Magic Johnson but not his mixed-race girlfriend). All of the sudden the despised "have the power and wherewithal to not go along with - the perceived entitlement." The rhetoric of superiority is failing and the hatred is exploding.

I'd suggest there are two reasons for us to be clear about this. First of all, its important to note that the rhetoric of superiority is failing. People of color like President Obama, Justice Sonya Sotomayor and yes, Magic Johnson are demonstrating every day that they are the intellectual, political and business equals to white men. No longer confined to the fields of sports and entertainment, they are not only excelling at what they're doing - they're calling out the barriers that still exist (IOW, not playing the "good Negro" game). That threatens the whole fabric of white male entitlement.

But perhaps even more importantly, they're doing it in a way that doesn't leave any room for rational critiques from the naysayers. For example, in his speech on racism during the 2008 primaries, Barack Obama not only empathized with those who have been on the receiving end of racism in this country, he also spoke about the plight of white working class Americans and acknowledged the anger they feel. And much to the indignation of many on the left, the President has consistently held out his hand to those who disagree with him politically to work towards finding common ground.

Lacking any rational response, the entitled are left with only their hatred and fear. It has been unmasked and no longer lingers underground. The question that leaves for the rest of white Americans who are observing all this is: Now what? Are we really going buy into the need to "take our country back" to fighting over our perceived entitlement? Or are we ready to exorcise that fear and let it go? Its up to us.

UPDATE: WOW! Deadspin just published more of the conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend. It demonstrates exactly what Jensen was saying about entitlement. At one point she reminds Sterling that his basketball team is made up of mostly black players. Here's his response:
I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them?
OMG - its not that these players EARN money that they then spend on food, clothes, cars and houses! Oh no - Sterling GIVES it to them. And its not that he makes scores of money off of their labors on the basketball court. He's simply doing it out of the goodness of his heart, I guess. So there you have it...the root of racism. Now, along comes someone like Magic Johnson who has enough money to challenge that entitlement and BAM! it explodes.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What divides us about racism: intent

Even Sean Hannity agrees that Cliven Bundy's comments about "the negro" are racist. He called them "beyond repugnant." One thing the Civil Rights Movement gave us was near universal agreement that skin color does not determine a person's humanity and that intentional discrimination against someone on that factor alone is "beyond repugnant."

For many people in this country, that near universal agreement means that the job of ending racism is done and we can all be "colorblind" now. That's why the Roberts Court did away with the section of the Voting Rights Act that applied only to states that had traditionally denied the franchise to African Americans via Jim Crow laws. Its also why they struck down Michigan's affirmative action program this week. According to Robert's embrace of colorblindness, "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

All of this is based on a white perspective of what racism means. You see, if we don't intend to discriminate...it doesn't happen. In other words, if voting restrictions aren't overtly aimed at denying the franchise to African Americans, its not racism. It doesn't matter if they effectively make it more difficult for large swaths of African Americans to vote. And intent is most often very difficult to prove, isn't it?

If we were to include the perspective of people of color in our understanding of racism, we would see it much differently. As Justice Sotomayor explained:
And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man's view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman's sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, 'No, where are you really from?', regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: 'I do not belong here'...

The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.
Notice that she totally avoids the question of intent and instead is focused on the effects of racism. That is the great divide on the topic of racism that we are facing today. Previous courts that understood this divide have codified Sotomayor's view into law with something called disparate impact. It holds that "facially neutral" practices (ie, colorblind) are not sufficient to combat discrimination.
A facially neutral employment practice is one that does not appear to be discriminatory on its face; rather it is one that is discriminatory in its application or effect. Where a disparate impact is shown, the plaintiff can prevail without the necessity of showing intentional discrimination...
This legal standard is why Sec. of Labor Thomas Perez came under fire during his confirmation hearings for his prior work as the head of DOJ's Civil Rights Division. He did everything he could to avoid a case on the topic of disparate impact getting to the Supreme Court - knowing that doing away with it is the next agenda for the Roberts Court. That's why we need to keep an eye on this rather obscure standard...if struck down, we would be left with having to demonstrate intent to prove discrimination.

But the question of intent also infuses much of our discussion about racism on a daily basis. Its why the defense used by many white people of "having a good heart" is inadequate. The state of one's heart is not the question. We need to focus on the effect of what we do/say. Its also why Jay Smooth says that accusations of "You are a racist" are counter-productive - because they go to intentions.

And so, the next time someone says that what you've said/done is racist, know that a focus on your intentions is not the point. Its important to listen to how if effected them. In other words, its not all about you :-)

Friday, April 25, 2014

No Commentary Required (not about Cliven Bundy edition) 4/25/14

Here are a few of the things you might have missed during our national Cliven Bundy obsession.

From Mark Kleiman at the appropriately titled Reality-Based Community comes the quote-of-the-day.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” It’s not by accident that the party of global-warming denial and poll unskewing is also the party of torture.
*****

For a taste of the kind of racism conservatives never acknowledge, here's George Will basically calling President Obama "boy" in a column titled: Barack Obama: The Adolescent President. Nuff said.

*****

I challenge you to not go verklempt over this one.


*****

HBO is premiering a documentary about Ann Richards on Monday. In case you've forgotten some of her more memorable moments, check this clip out.


*****

U.S. solar energy capacity has grown an astounding 418% since 2010 (thanks mostly to President Obama's American Recovery Act). The future is arriving.
*****

And speaking of the future, yes, its time we all bowed down to our robotic overlords ;-)

Having a wise Latina on the Supreme Court matters


We all saw what happened when President Obama said, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." No other American president could have uttered those words. I was reminded of that when I saw this part of Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissenting opinion on the recent Supreme Court decision about Michigan's affirmative action program.
Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grows up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from,” regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”
Sotomayor knows what it means to question whether or not you belong. In many ways I suspect that is the formative human question - one that haunts those that are denied a seat at the table as a result of white male patriarchy. I am reminded of what Whoopi Goldberg said the day after Barack Obama was elected president: "I always thought of myself as an American...but suddenly last night I felt like I could put my suitcase down finally."

Its not only important that people like President Obama and Justice Sotomayor show us all - by their presence - that women and people of color belong. Their lived experiences and empathy with others who have felt the sting of not belonging are equally important.

That was the message so many critics missed in President Obama's speech to the graduates of Morehouse.
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...

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.
Judge Sotomayor was making the same point in the speech that became so controversial during her confirmation hearing.
I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life...

Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar...

Each day on the bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks at me with suspicion...I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.
A very wise Latina indeed - one who recognizes that part of her job is to demonstrate that when it comes to issues brought before the highest court in the land, understanding those differences matters. In other words, belonging matters.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Desperado

If I had to pick one song that is my number one favorite of all time, it would probably be this one:


The whole thing is packed with wisdom, but think about this line for a moment.
Freedom, oh freedom, well that's just some people talking. Your prison is walking through this world all alone.
I initially fell in love with this song when I had come to care very deeply for a young woman I was working with in a group home who was experiencing all the pain and hunger that come with being a desperado. She, like many other teenagers, clouded her pain in a desperate cry for freedom.

But I think we can broaden the application of this song and think about it as a lament for much of our political discourse these days. We're constantly subjected to cries from the libertarians and conservatives about "FREEDOM." I don't necessarily have a problem with that. But as an emphasis that excludes our need (as human beings) for each other, it is just another prison of its own kind.

This is a theme to which President Obama constantly returns.
We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.
Whatever name we chose to give it: citizenship, empathy, ubuntu,  e pluribus unum, expanded moral conscious - I believe that this is the defining issue of our time. The cultural march towards individualistic independence that was once a healthy development is beginning to show its limits. Its time to climb down from our fences and open the gate.

And so I say to America: You better let somebody love you, before its too late.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kids these days

Just imagine what kinds of messages we're sending our kids these days!









What the clemency initiative tells us about President Obama

At the end of his first term, President Obama had granted clemency to one person. Of course this led many people to conclude that he didn't care about criminal justice reform or correcting the racial disparities in that system - especially those created by our "war on drugs." As of this week, we know those conclusions were premature.

The shift started early in the President's second term when he basically announced an end to the war on drugs saying, "we simply cannot incarcerate our way out of the drug problem." Then last December, he commuted the sentences of eight federal prisoners who were serving long sentences due to crack cocaine convictions prior to the Fair Sentencing Act. Of course there were plenty of progressives who took that as an opportunity to talk about the thousands of others who were not granted clemency and lecture President Obama about the importance of courage.

But this was never about a lack of courage. Instead, its about a cultural bureaucracy that needed to be reformed.
The pardon attorney, former military judge Ronald Rodgers, sends his recommendations of whether or not to grant the petitions to the Deputy Attorney General’s office, which then sends them on to the White House. The pardon attorney was recommending that the president deny nearly every single petition for a pardon or a reduced sentence, according to one senior official in the Obama administration.
We also know that the President didn't like the kinds of recommendations that he was getting.
The president complained that the pardon attorney's office favored petitions from wealthy and connected people, who had good lawyers and knew how to game the system. The typical felon recommended for clemency by the pardon attorney was a hunter who wanted a pardon so that he could apply for a hunting license.
We are in the process of learning that the work on all this has been underway for quite some time. Armed with a scathing report from the Inspector General's Office that concluded in December 2012, Ronald Rodgers is now gone from the pardon attorney's office and will be replaced by Deborah Leff who has been Senior Counselor for Access to Justice at DOJ, an initiative launched in 2010 to:
...address the access-to-justice crisis in the criminal and civil justice system. ATJ's mission is to help the justice system efficiently deliver outcomes that are fair and accessible to all, irrespective of wealth and status.
Today, Assistant Attorney General Tom Cole (who oversees the pardon office) announced six criteria under which they will prioritize clemency applications.
  1. They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
  2. They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;
  3. They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
  4. They do not have a significant criminal history;
  5. They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
  6. They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.
But it doesn't stop there. Back in January Deputy AG Cole gave a speech at the New York State Bar Association in which he asked for assistance in identifying appropriate clemency petitions. As a result, a group of independent outside groups and federal public defenders organized to provide legal assistance to potential applicants. The Bureau of Prisons will notify inmates of this initiative as well as these pro bono services and provide them with an electronic survey that will help them determine their eligibility. Finally...
Deputy Attorney General Cole sent a letter to all of the 93 U.S. attorneys asking for their assistance in identifying meritorious candidates and notifying them that the Pardon Attorney’s Office will be soliciting their views on petitions that appear to meet the criteria after an initial screening by the lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
You see...it takes more than courage to do something like this right. President Obama is demonstrating that he's aware of the institutional and cultural barriers within the system that would line up to thwart an initiative like this. His administration has done the legwork to ensure that deserving inmates - regardless of their race and/or economic status - get access to this opportunity.
Holder told The Huffington Post that it was important for DOJ to "find people who are not traditionally thought of as good candidates" for clemency and "change the focus" of the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

"We have to have a process that I think works better, we need to come up with ways in which we identify people who are worthy of clemency, commutations, and not in the way I think we have traditionally done," Holder said.
That's what real reform looks like, folks. This initiative has been in the works for months (if not years) now.  My only remaining questions are "where has the media been while this has all been happening in plain sight?" And, "what other reforms are either completed or in the works that they're missing?"

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This Earth Day: Soundbites or Impact?


On this Earth Day, I have to wonder if many progressives are making the same mistake on climate change that they did on health care reform.

If you remember back in 2009/10, while the wingers were screaming about "death panels," all progressives could talk about was the public option (which would have made a public health insurance option available on the exchanges). Hardly anyone mentioned the fact that the ACA actually included the largest expansion of Medicaid eligibility in the program's history. When the public option was dropped from the bill because it didn't have 60 votes in the Senate, many progressives started attacking President Obama and weakening support for reform (some even advocated that Congress should "kill the bill").

Today, anyone who is listening to progressives talk about climate change will hear mostly about their fight against the Keystone Pipeline. It has become THE national rallying cry for environmentalists. While there are lots of reasons to not build the pipeline (just as it would have enhanced healthcare reform to have a public option), Coral Davenport explains how the impact of the pipeline is actually dwarfed by other Obama administration activities on climate change.
Consider the numbers: In 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive international data is available, the global economy emitted 32.6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. The United States was responsible for 5.5 billion tons of that (coming in second to China, which emitted 8.7 billion tons). Within the United States, electric power plants produced 2.8 billion tons of those greenhouse gases, while vehicle tailpipe emissions from burning gasoline produced 1.9 billion tons.

By comparison, the oil that would move through the Keystone pipeline would add 18.7 million metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere annually, the E.P.A. estimated. In other words, the carbon emissions produced by oil that would be moved in the Keystone pipeline would amount to less than 1 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions, and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.
Davenport reminds us that - much more significant than the pipeline - are the Obama administration's tough new vehicle fuel economy standards and emission rules on new power plant development. This June, the EPA will issue emission rules on existing power plants that, combined with other regulations, will lead to the reduction of carbon emissions by one billion tons annually. Beyond domestic issues, Davenport points out that:
Secretary of State John Kerry is working aggressively on a 2015 global climate change treaty in which the world’s other major carbon polluters — particularly China and India — would also commit to cuts. And it is domestic actions on coal plants and cars, rather than Keystone, that will give negotiators the leverage they need to extract those pledges.
So if you're looking for a soundbite this Earth Day, the Keystone pipeline will give you one. But if you're actually looking to have an impact on climate change, I'd suggest we keep our eyes on the work the EPA is doing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and Kerry's preparations for the global climate change treaty.

Monday, April 21, 2014

"For such is the kingdom of heaven" - Jesus

"Suffer the little children to come unto me. For such is the kingdom of heaven." That's what came to mind as I watched this video performance. Grab a kleenex and watch these two 14 year old girls nail it!!! This is what wisdom looks like.

President Obama initiates the "Clemency Project 2014" (updated)

Liz Goodwin tells Barbara Scrivner's story to highlight a major initiative by President Obama. She's already served 20 years of a 30-year sentence for selling a few ounces of methamphetamine.
Thousands and thousands of people like Scrivner are serving punishingly long sentences in federal prison based on draconian policies that were a relic of the "tough on crime" antidrug laws of the '80s and '90s. Thirty years after skyrocketing urban violence and drug use sparked politicians to impose longer and longer sentences for drug crimes, America now incarcerates a higher rate of its population than any other country in the world. This dubious record has finally provoked a bipartisan backlash against such stiff penalties. The old laws are slowly being repealed.

Now, in his final years in office, Obama has trained his sights on prisoners like Scrivner, and wants to use his previously dormant pardon power as part of a larger strategy to restore fairness to the criminal-justice system. A senior administration official tells Yahoo News the president could grant clemency to "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of people locked up for nonviolent drug crimes by the time he leaves office — a stunning number that hasn't been seen since Gerald Ford extended amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers in the 1970s.
But Goodwin tells another story too - this one is about changing an embedded culture. You might have heard that so far Obama has commuted fewer sentences than any modern president.
According to former and current administration officials, the fault for this lay mostly at the feet of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, a small corner of the Justice Department that sifts through thousands of pardon and commutation petitions each year. The pardon attorney, former military judge Ronald Rodgers, sends his recommendations of whether or not to grant the petitions to the Deputy Attorney General’s office, which then sends them on to the White House. The pardon attorney was recommending that the president deny nearly every single petition for a pardon or a reduced sentence, according to one senior official in the Obama administration.
The President has been meeting with Attorney General Holder and White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler to resolve this situation. And his intentions are clear.
Over a series of five or 10 discussions, the president said he wanted more recommendations for pardons and commutations getting to his desk. The president complained that the pardon attorney's office favored petitions from wealthy and connected people, who had good lawyers and knew how to game the system. The typical felon recommended for clemency by the pardon attorney was a hunter who wanted a pardon so that he could apply for a hunting license...

Last month, the president walked into the East Room to greet dozens of U.S. attorneys who traveled to the White House to discuss criminal-justice issues. The president told them he was expecting an influx of clemency applications for his new push, and warned that he wanted them to personally examine them all and not "reflexively" deny them.

"I take my clemency authority very seriously," he told them.
They are calling this new initiative "Clemency Project 2014." So I expect we'll be hearing much more about it soon.

Remember when President Obama said he had a pen and a phone that he was going to use? We're about to see how mighty that pen can be.

UPDATE: Today Attorney General Holder released this video announcing the "Clemency Project 2014."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What makes President Obama so divisive?

Bernard Goldberg sums up a lot of conservative thinking these days by suggesting that President Obama is stoking resentments. He points to the President's speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention where he captured our attention by saying, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is a United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America, a Latino America, an Asian America, There is a United States of America.” But then Goldberg asserts:
I suspect he meant that we could all achieve this wonderful, post-partisan, can’t-we-all-just-get-along America if – but only if – Republicans saw things the way he does; only if conservatives jumped on his liberal bandwagon and helped him “fundamentally transform the United States of America” — the way he thought it should be transformed.
Lets examine the record for a moment, shall we? Here's what President Obama's "liberal bandwagon" looks like:
  • Health care reform that was originally designed by the Heritage Foundation and implemented in Massachusetts by a Republican governor who was the party's last presidential nominee,
  • A 60% reduction of the budget deficit via spending cuts and increased taxes on the wealthy,
  • An attempt to reach a Grand Bargain with Republicans on the federal budget that would have traded reforms of entitlements for increased revenue (closing tax loopholes for the wealthy),
  • Proposed spending on infrastructure,
  • A proposal to institute background checks on all gun purchases and reinstating a ban on assault weapons,
  • Resisting attempts at voter suppression,
  • Supporting an extension of unemployment insurance,
  • Supporting the idea that women should be paid the same as men for the same job,
  • Proposing that the minimum wage should be raised to keep up with inflation,
  • Supporting comprehensive immigration reform that would include enhanced border security and a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers.
Most of those items have typically had Republican support in the past. And the list should surprise no one who has understood what Democrats stand for. I'd hardly call it divisive. Its the kind of thing the two parties have been agreeing/disagreeing about for decades. IOW, its American politics.

This is what makes many of us scratch our heads and wonder why - at this point in history - the Republicans resorted to a strategy of total obstruction. Even when President Obama was willing to take on the wrath of many in his own party to consider the idea of implementing chained-CPI, the Republicans walked away from a Grand Bargain on the federal budget.  When President Clinton was willing to negotiate about welfare reform, Republicans took him up on it and then crowed for years about their victory. Not so this time.

In the end, I'd suggest that what drives the Republican's obstruction right now is that its a power play. Its not so much about the policy as it is an attempt to win a battle against their opponent. As Sen. McConnell said during Obama's first term - their number one goal was to ensure he was a one-term president.

Under other circumstances that kind of naked power play wouldn't sit too well with voters - especially those who would benefit from the policies they are obstructing. But there is one thing that is different about this President that hasn't been in the cards before...the thing they could exploit to create fear and suspicion about the man rather than his actual policies. That's where the legacy of racism in this country comes in. Its about divide and conquer - always has been.


At this point, my problem with the Republican Party isn't so much about their policies (at least as they've been articulated in the past). We're finding out that the Heritage Foundation's proposal for health care reform isn't so bad after all and a reduced federal deficit can give us the opportunity to better define our priorities for spending. There are lots of other examples where President Obama has shown his willingness to be open to traditional Republican ideas.

But it is this exploitation of fear and suspicion that is fueling our divisiveness. It is the root of the problem we face right now. President Obama is doing his part to tackle that one. The rest is on us. I'd suggest that we listen to him and take his advice.
I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate...

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Who was the actual "Deporter-in-Chief?"

People have been throwing lots of numbers around to compare the records of Presidents Bush and Obama when it comes to deporting undocumented workers. Nora Caplan-Bricker has done the best job I've seen of helping to clear up the confusion.  It can be summed up with this chart.


The blue part of the graph (removals) represents those who have been deported as a result of a court appearance and the red part (returns) are those who were simply returned to their home country without a court hearing (what the Bush administration so disrespectfully called "catch and release"). What you can see is that the number of "removals" has gone up - but the number of "returns" has gone down dramatically.

What strikes me immediately is the question: which is more in keeping with our legal standards - to simply send someone back without access to a judicial hearing, or to allow them their day in court? Its not surprising that our President's history with constitutional law would mean an emphasis on the latter.

But its true that there have been some consequences to that change. As many have pointed out - those who go through the court system have a criminal record as a result. With the administration's emphasis on deporting those with such records, some undocumented workers are being deported with that as their sole offense. It reminds me what Professor Obama's law students said was his emphasis when teaching:
But as a professor, students say, Mr. Obama was in the business of complication, showing that even the best-reasoned rules have unintended consequences, that competing legal interests cannot always be resolved, that a rule that promotes justice in one case can be unfair in the next.
The best way to clear this up of course, would be to pass comprehensive immigration reform containing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. That's what President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have been working on. Any attempt to solve this via executive order would have meant the sure death of that solution.

But Republicans have engaged in their usually obstruction. And so they have been given an ultimatum: either pass comprehensive immigration reform by this summer, or President Obama will do what needs to be done on his own. That's where things stand at this moment.

All of this reminds me of another way President Obama's record on deportations varies greatly with that of his predecessor. Back in 2008, those of us who were paying attention were appalled at what the Bush administration did in Postville, Iowa. If you want to remind yourselves of how completely they subverted our constitutional principles, go meander around that link for awhile. Or listen to a real whistleblower recount what he saw that day.


The 400 workers who were rounded up at that plant were charged - not simply with being undocumented - but with social security fraud and aggravated identity theft. With limited access to legal counsel in rushed on-the-spot proceedings, many of them didn't understand what was happening to them.

Of course there were other instances of the same kind of thing. A few months later there was a raid on a factory in Laurel, Mississippi. Particularly appalling was that the 600 workers who were rounded up in that one were sorted by race in order to determine who to investigate and who to release.

I'll join with anyone who is working towards improving the situation of the 11 million undocumented workers who live in the shadows in this country. But given the history, I'll be DAMNED if I'll stay quiet when anyone suggests that President Obama has a worse record on this than GWB!!!!

When obstruction meets pragmatism



Those posters highlight just a few facts about the success of Obamacare. You can find a lot more here.

All of that creates a pretty big dilemma for Republicans who - from day one of the debate about health care reform - have chosen to simply obstruct anything President Obama and the Democrats tried to do. As David Frum told them 4 years ago, by refusing to even participate in the discussion, they were buying into creating their own Waterloo.
No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.
Of course it was that kind of pragmatic talk that got Frum kicked out of the Republican tribe.

After Obamacare passed, the Republican mantra became "Repeal and Replace." The trouble is, they never got around to the "Replace" part. And now that its working for millions of Americans, they have a problem. As one Republican aid told Sahil Kapur:
As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act. ... To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA.
Yesterday President Obama said, "This thing is working." That's what happens when you build a policy on pragmatism. Where does that leave the Republicans? Brian Beutler points out that The Republican Position on Obamacare Makes No Sense Anymore. Because nobody believes there is any GOP alternative to Obamacare.

It all reminds me of something Mark Schmitt wrote about President Obama's approach to creating change way back in 2007.
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.
Being pragmatic doesn't tend to get you the soundbite or linkbait that so often fuels our hysteria-driven media. But if you're willing to play the long game, it not only works...it is an excellent strategy for boxing in the obstructionists.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why Taibbi's brand of linkbait works

Perhaps by now you've heard that Matt Taibbi went on Democracy Now to promote his latest book and gin up that old emo meme about how President Obama is worse than Bush - this time its about not holding Wall Street accountable for the crimes that led to the Great Recession. So he managed to get our attention and probably sold a lot more of his books.

Taibbi and his pals at Democracy Now trot out all the inflammatory reasons for why the Obama administration didn't go after the perpetrators.
So, I mean, it’s—you have a whole bunch of people sort of at the top of the regulatory agencies, whether it’s Justice, the SEC, the CFTC, maybe the Enforcement Division of the SEC, who all came from these big banks or from law firms that represented these big banks. And it’s a very incestuous community...as a result of this kind of merry-go-round of people who all work for the same companies—and they’re going to go to government for a while, then they’re going to go back to the corporate defense community after they leave and make millions of dollars—they’re very, very reluctant to be aggressive against these companies, because it’s their—culturally, they’re the same people as their targets...
Easy peasy argument to make, isn't it? Our government is in bed with Wall Street and that's why they let them off. Doesn't take much thought to connect the dots and goes right to our rage. Now we can all rail at how bad our government is and feed our cynicism.

In stark contrast to this approach is a long article by Jed Rakoff, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York (someone who knows a thing or two about securities law and white collar crime). He thoroughly reviews every argument made for the lack of prosecutions (including the one made by Taibbi), discarding them all. Then he speculates about three of his own. The reason you probably haven't heard about it is that he makes intelligent and nuanced arguments. He's writing to educate, not inflame.

In case you are intrigued by what Rakoff has to say, here are his three reasons for the lack of prosecutions:
  1. After 2001, the FBI had reduced the number of prosecutors assigned to securities fraud and prioritized counter-terrosim, while the SEC was focused on Madoff-like ponzi schemes,
  2. The government was complicit in setting the stage for the securities fraud that led to the Great Recession (red meat for defense attorneys to exploit),
  3. For the past 30 years or more, there has been a shift away from prosecuting individuals and towards plea bargaining with corporations in an attempt to alter the culture of corruption that led to the crimes.
Whether or not Rakoff is right about any of these, I am much smarter for having read what he has to say. But there is no singular focus I can point to in blame and rage. IOW, no linkbait. 

Contrasting these two styles tells us a lot - not only about what is wrong with our media - but how we drive those failures. If we want it to change, we're going to have to start paying more attention to the kind of writing Rakoff has provided and less to Taibbi. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Not buying the hysteria or the cynicism

During his speech on voting rights a few days ago, President Obama said something that we should all take a minute to absorb.
If your strategy depends on having fewer people show up to vote, that’s not a sign of strength, that’s a sign of weakness.
Wait a minute! Did he just suggest that the Republican Party is weak? Yes mam, he sure did. But, you might ask, how can he say that when they've managed to obstruct almost everything he's tried to do for the last four years and the pundits are predicting bad news for Democrats in the 2014 midterms?

I'd suggest two reasons for it. First of all, you have to be someone who sees the long game in order to understand what he's saying. If you are addicted to the 24 hour hysteria-inducing media, you might miss it.

Interestingly enough, one person who has recently shown that he gets it is Markos at Daily Kos. His latest is titled: Liberalism has won, which is why conservatives do what they do. In it he points out that Republicans have basically lost their "culture wars" and that the rise of economic populism has the billionaires so scared they've taken to calling us Nazis. If you think of it in terms of the stages of grief, the current battles inside the Republican Party are between those who are in the denial stage (Sarah Palin), those in the anger stage (Ted Cruz) and those who are ready to bargain (Chamber of Commerce).

But Markos nails it when he points out that we've still got work to do.
We certainly have won the battle of ideas. But power isn't just about ideas. It's about wrestling the institutional levers of government from the retrogrades. Those entrenched economic and conservative interests wield power via the Supreme Court, through gross gerrymandering, through voter suppression efforts. So we've got a lot of work ahead of us.
That brings us to the second reason why President Obama defines the Republican Party as weak...he still believes in the democratic process.
James Chaney and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner believed so strongly that change was possible they were willing to lay down their lives for it. The least you can do is take them up on the gift that they have given you. Go out there and vote. You can make a change. You do have the power.
The cynics among us are suggesting the end of democracy - especially since the latest Supreme Court ruling on campaign financing. I have to admit that there have been times in my past that I've gone there. But that all changed for me on November 4, 2008. As President-Elect Barack Obama said that night:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
The old cynic in me says that's corny. But the realist says that I had just watched a grassroots small donor-funded campaign beat both the establishment Democrats (in the primary) and Republicans (in the general election). Now we've seen it happen twice. The second time around, all the big money Karl Rove could put his hands on after Citizens United opened the floodgates couldn't defeat the will of the Obama coalition in the voting booth.

So as we watch the white male patriarchy lash out in its death throes and speculate about what that means for the future of the Republican Party, I'm not going to take my eyes off the prize by getting caught up in either hysteria or cynicism. That's because I can see the long game and I still believe in the democratic process. Here's what that looks like:
For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sweet Darkness


 Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you

by David Whyte

President Obama: Defending voting rights is a two-way street

On Friday President Obama gave an impassioned speech about voting rights. He promised that he and Attorney General Eric Holder will do what it takes to challenge the restrictions Republicans are attempting to put on those rights.
...as President, I’m not going to let attacks on these rights go unchallenged. We’re not going to let voter suppression go unchallenged. So earlier this week, you heard from the Attorney General -- and there’s a reason the agency he runs is called the Department of Justice. They’ve taken on more than 100 voting rights cases since 2009, and they’ve defended the rights of everybody from African Americans to Spanish speakers to soldiers serving overseas.
And yes, he pointed out that its not Democrats who are attacking the franchise.
But it’s a fact this recent effort to restrict the vote has not been led by both parties -- it’s been led by the Republican Party. And in fairness, it’s not just Democrats who are concerned...I want a competitive Republican Party, just like a competitive Democratic Party. That’s how our democracy is supposed to work -- the competition of ideas. But I don’t want folks changing the rules to try to restrict people’s access to the ballot.

And I think responsible people, regardless of your party affiliation, should agree with that. If your strategy depends on having fewer people show up to vote, that’s not a sign of strength, that’s a sign of weakness.
But then he pointed out that there is an even bigger threat to our voting rights.
...the truth is that for all these laws that are being put in place, the biggest problem we have is people giving up their own power -- voluntarily not participating.

The number of people who voluntarily don't vote, who are eligible to vote, dwarfs whatever these laws are put in place might do in terms of diminishing the voting roles...

Like the three civil rights workers in Mississippi -- two white, one black -- who were murdered 50 years ago as they tried to help their fellow citizens register to vote. James Chaney and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner believed so strongly that change was possible they were willing to lay down their lives for it. The least you can do is take them up on the gift that they have given you. Go out there and vote. You can make a change. You do have the power.
Its not enough to get enraged at Republican attempts to restrict access to voting when so many Americans give it up willingly. President Obama has promised that he and his administration will do everything they can to ensure our right to vote. Its up to us to use it!

The problem with single payer

When President Obama was asked about why, during the debate about health care reform, he said "If you like your insurance you can keep it," he had an interesting response. He pointed out the fact that the status quo prior to reform was unacceptable, but that calls for things like single payer would be too disruptive. He took a middle ground that didn't upend the way all Americans get their health insurance - just those who's only choice was to buy it on the individual market.

You often hear the opposite when you talk to the proponents of single payer. Their claim is that the current system of private insurers is the problem and the least disruptive option would have been to insure everyone via something like Medicare for all.

Who's right? We're about to have a test case on that question. The entire country is in the midst of adjusting to Obamacare, so we're experiencing how disruptive that change will be. But there's one exception. The state of Vermont is currently working on putting together a single payer system. As Sarah Kliff recently wrote, its not as simple as it sounds.

In 2011, the Vermont legislature passed a law committing the state to single payer. But they left out one thing.
Now comes the big challenge: paying for it. Act 48 required Vermont to create a single-payer system by 2017. But the state hasn’t drafted a bill that spells out how to raise the approximately $2 billion a year Vermont needs to run the system. The state collects only $2.7 billion in tax revenue each year, so an additional $2 billion is a vexingly large sum to scrape together.
Its important to keep in mind that the $2 billion is already being spent for health insurance in Vermont. So its not necessarily "new" money that is needed for health care. Its that the government needs to find a way for the people spending it to send it to the state for single payer. That's the rub.

Other than government spending on health care via Medicare and Medicaid, health insurance costs are currently a patchwork of spending by employers and employees. The question becomes: how do you tax these entities in a way that covers the costs, is not disruptive to the economy and doesn't unduly burden anyone?

Four years after committing to single payer, Vermont's Governor Shumlin is still working on that.
"We haven’t figured this one out yet," Shumlin says. "Every time you think you have the answer, there are ten people who will point out the flaw with that particular answer. And they’re usually right."
When confronted with this question, the few single payer advocates who have actually addressed it suggest that we simply expand the payroll FICA tax that covers Medicare - which is paid by both employer and employee. That is certainly the most viable solution. But questions there abound as well. The portion of insurance currently covered by employers ranges from O% to 100%. Any fixed percentage payed in a FICA-like tax will result in employers/employees who line up as winners and losers. After that comes questions about how high the new tax will be and wrestling with the fact (at least for liberals) that FICA is the most regressive federal tax we pay.

So I've gone into the weeds with this one a bit. But its the kind of thing advocates of single payer need to wrestle with. Because when/if it ever becomes an actual option in the U.S., these are the political land mines that will blow up...immediately. That is what is happening in Vermont as we speak. Perhaps the best option is to simply watch and see how it goes there.

In the meantime - viva Obamacare!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Doctor is in



Its good to know these two guys are covered :-)

An open letter to my "disappointed" Democratic friends

Dear Disappointeds:

Back in 2010 you told us that you were disappointed in the President you helped elect. And because of that, you weren't motivated enough to vote in the midterms. While I don't share your disappointment, I want to say that I hear you.

Now we're facing another midterm election and we have the benefit of hindsight to tell us what changed as a result of your lack of enthusiasm.

Sure, you might have wanted single payer and a larger stimulus package. But you have to admit that Obamacare is doing an awful lot of good. And perhaps you should read Michael Grunwald's book The New New Deal to learn how the American Recovery Act was way more than many of us thought it was at the time. Of course the list of legislative accomplishments during those first two years goes beyond those two milestones to include things like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and an end to Don't Ask Don't Tell.

But since 2010, take a look at what has (or better yet, hasn't) happened. As President Obama said, we've witnessed the least productive Congress in modern history.


If you originally voted for President Obama because you wanted to see some changes, we were on that path prior to 2010. Its all come to a screeching halt since then.

Come November this year we're going to have an opportunity to decide whether we want more gridlock, government shutdowns, endless debates over repealing Obamacare and a political environment that feeds the Republican narrative by fueling cynicism, or whether we want a Congress that will work with President Obama to tackle what he believes is "the defining issue of our time."
I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American. It’s why I ran for President. It was at the center of last year’s campaign. It drives everything I do in this office. And I know I’ve raised this issue before, and some will ask why I raise the issue again right now. I do it because the outcomes of the debates we’re having right now -- whether it’s health care, or the budget, or reforming our housing and financial systems -- all these things will have real, practical implications for every American. And I am convinced that the decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real.
Its "gut check" time for all of us. I don't know about you, but after these last four years I'm actually psyched to get back to Democrats arguing with other Democrats over HOW MUCH change we want to see rather than being pissed at Republicans all the time for their total obstruction. There's a lot riding on this one. I hope we can all work together to make that happen.

Sincerely,
Nancy LeTourneau

Why we can't have nice things

Fox News has a conversation about Race in America:


Republicans hold a hearing about women's reproductive health:


White House Press Corp criticizes the Obama administration for lack of diversity:


Nuff said...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What we can learn from LBJ

We are right to honor President Lyndon Johnson on this 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Its also fitting that we honor him for working so hard to pass the Voting Rights Act, launching things like Medicare/Medicaid and initiating the Great Society. That is a powerful progressive legacy. Perhaps its true, as Adam Serwer implies, that it took a racist white southerner to do all that in the 1960's.

But before we go wishing for a return to that kind of leadership - as some have done recently - lets also remember that the same heavy hand that accomplished all of that is the one who was driven out of seeking re-election by chants of "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"


The same man who muscled legislation through Congress by doing things like giving Sen. Richard Ruseell "the treatment"...


...is the one who lied to Congress about the Gulf of Tonkin in order to escalate the war in Vietnam.

An argument can be made that this is the kind of power that must be wielded in order to bring about the progressive change we witnessed in the 1960's. That is a discussion worth having. But we cannot afford to do that without taking into account the "dark side" of that kind of power. President Lyndon Johnson is a perfect example of that. He used the power of dominance for tremendous good and unconscionable evil. I would suggest that its very likely you don't get one without the other.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A coup in the GWB White House?

You won't find many liberals/Democrats who want to talk about this. We tend to be much more interested in vilifying the Bush administration than understanding what went on. But for a while now we've been seeing evidence that the George HW Bush realists implemented a coup inside the George W Bush White House sometime in 2006. I'm not going to try to guess at their motives or tactics, but it came right on the heels of the midterm election. The most public event that signaled the coup was the "resignation" of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.

And now, from the leaked report of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into the detention and interrogation practices (ie, torture) of the Bush administration, comes this:
The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program ended by 2006 due to legal and oversight concerns, unauthorized press disclosures and reduced cooperation from other nations.
Its also true that by January 2007, the Bush administration stopped the NSA's warrantless surveillance program and started going to the FISA Court for approval.

Cheney/Rumsfeld/et al had their field day from 2001-2006. Then something changed. I'd love to hear more about the back story on that. But regardless, at some point even the Republican realists recognized that those folks had gone off the deep end.

When people suggest that President Obama is continuing some policies of the Bush administration, a correction is in order. That might apply to the policies of the post-coup Bush White House of 2007-2008. But definitely not its prior incarnation.