Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Teamwork on the Supreme Court

Now that the current term is over for the Supreme Court, analysts are digging into the record to draw conclusions about what happened. In a fascinating analysis, Adam Liptak writes: Supreme Court Tacks Left, With Push from Disciplined Liberals.
The stunning series of liberal decisions delivered by the Supreme Court this term was the product of discipline on the left side of the court and disarray on the right.

In case after case, including blockbusters on same-sex marriage and President Obama’s health care law, the court’s four-member liberal wing, all appointed by Democratic presidents, managed to pick off one or more votes from the court’s five conservative justices, all appointed by Republicans.

They did this in large part through rigorous bloc voting, making the term that concluded Monday the most liberal one since the Warren court in the late 1960s, according to two political-science measurements of court voting data.

“The most interesting thing about this term is the acceleration of a long-term trend of disagreement among the Republican-appointed judges, while the Democratic-appointed judges continue to march in lock step,” said Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago.
For example, this session there were 19 SCOTUS decisions that were decided 5/4. In 10 of those, the four liberals voted together and were joined by one conservative. In contrast, the conservatives only voted together 5 times.

Ian Millhiser suggests that the problem for the conservative justices is that they "represent three - and possibly as many as five - distinct versions of judicial conservatism."

* The Ideologue - Clarence Thomas
* The Partisan - Samuel Alito
* The Reaganite - John Roberts

He points out that Scalia purports to be an "originalist" (like Thomas), but mostly votes as a partisan. And he can't seem to find a way to characterize Kennedy.

Liptak credits the cohesion among the liberal justices to the leadership of Justice Ginsberg. But I'm also interested in how they managed to pretty consistently pick off one of the conservative justices to vote with them. I was reminded of something Adam Winkler wrote about Elena Kagan almost 2 years ago. He described her as a justice in the mold of Earl Warren.
Warren didn’t accomplish these by embarrassing his colleagues or by making sharper arguments on the merits. Warren was a master politician, one who’d sit with the other justices and bring them along slowly and steadily to his side. He sought to understand other justices’ concerns and address them. Unlike most of today’s justices, Warren was willing to work the halls to gain five votes.
He says this about why Kagan was chosen to be the dean of Harvard's Law School:
She was seen as someone who could bring together a faculty known for ideological and personal divisions that institutionally hobbled the law school, especially when it came to hiring. As dean from 2003 to 2009, she calmed faculty tensions, launched an aggressive hiring spree that netted 32 new professors, and earned praise from both left and right.
I remember that some liberals opposed Elena Kagan's nomination. But it strikes me that President Obama would see "bridge-builder" as a necessary role for someone to play on the Supreme Court. It's exactly how people describe his tenure as President of the Harvard Law Review.

If that's the case, here's what we know about the 3 women on the Supreme Court: the senior member is Ruth Bader Ginsberg - the Notorious RBG - tiny woman who throws quite a punch. Then there's my hero - Sonia Sotomayor, the wise Latina with a heart as big as they come. And finally, there's Elena Kagan, the bridge-builder. What a team!

Monday, June 29, 2015

From "Lame Duck" to "Fourth Quarter"

It seems to me that the job of political scientists is to identify patterns in political history as a way to predict the future. One of those patterns that has been pretty generally accepted is that once a presidential campaign begins to replace a second-termer, the White House occupant goes into "lame duck" status. That is certainly what everyone was expecting from President Obama after the huge losses Democrats suffered in the 2014 midterms.

But as we all know by now, the President decided he'd start a new pattern...one that saw his remaining two years as a "fourth quarter" in which he vowed to play to the end. His success in being able to do that hinged on several factors.

1. A scandal-free presidency

During my lifetime, no two-term president has managed to escape the drag of either scandal or terribly flawed policies at the end of their second term. Johnson had Vietnam. Nixon had Watergate. Reagan had Iran/Contra. Clinton had impeachment. Bush had torture, the war in Iraq and the Great Recession.

Recently David Brooks noted that the current administration is the exception to that pattern.
I have my disagreements, say, with President Obama, but President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him. He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free.
That means that not only does the President maintain the good will of most Americans, but he doesn't have to devote an inordinate amount of time to defending himself or attempting to fix policy failures.

2. Previous work is bearing fruit

Last December President Obama sat down for an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep. In response to questions about some of the bold moves he'd already taken since the 2014 midterms, the President said this:
But at the end of 2014, I could look back and say we are as well-positioned today as we have been in quite some time economically, that American leadership is more needed around the world than ever before — and that is liberating in the sense that a lot of the work that we've done is now beginning to bear fruit. And it gives me an opportunity then to start focusing on some of the other hard challenges that I didn't always have the time or the capacity to get to earlier in my presidency.
The major things he is referring to are that the economy was recovering, healthcare reform was working and ground troops were out of both Iraq and Afghanistan. But in addition to all that, diplomacy had opened the doors in Cuba, brought Iran to the negotiating table over their nuclear program and led to an agreement with China about climate change.

3. Pen and phone strategy

A lot of the assumption about President Obama's pending lame duckness had to do with the intransigence of Congress that was only bolstered by the 2014 midterms. But in January of 2014, the President instructed his Cabinet to bring him ideas he could implement via executive order or through persuasion with business leaders and local/state governments. Thus began his "pen and phone" strategy that led to everything from DAPA to new rules for overtime pay to working with local governments to provide paid sick/family leave.

4. Big events

Political pundits are often guilty of assuming that whatever is happening today will be a permanent narrative. But national/international events have a way of changing the current dynamic. Nowhere has that been more evident than the handwringing over President Obama's assumed irrelevance when House Democrats handed him a "humiliating" defeat on TPA a couple of weeks ago. We all know how that one turned out. Just as the House and Senate re-grouped to pass TPA, the events in Charleston, SC were unfolding and the Supreme Court was preparing to hand down rulings affirming Obamacare and marriage equality. As Michael Cohen wrote, we've recently been witness to Ten Days that Turned America Into a Better Place. From an affirmation of his policies to his Amazing Grace eulogy, President Obama has been front and center on it all.

But big events can help or hurt a presidency. The lesson we should all learn from their recent trajectory is that things can change in a heartbeat. President Obama still has a year and a half to go. There are a few things we know are coming up, like whether or not he is able to work with Iran and P5+1 to reach a deal on nuclear weapons. This December we'll learn whether or not the agreements the Obama administration has crafted with countries like China and India will lead to an international agreement on climate change at the UN Conference in Paris. Both of those would be historic achievements. And then, of course, there are the unknown events that could be on the horizon.

This may very well be the first time in the modern era that a sitting president has as much influence on a presidential campaign as any of the candidates who are running for office. The increasing size of the clown car on the Republican side means that it might be months before any one candidate is able to break through all the noise. That leaves the stage pretty wide open for a Democratic message. And Hillary Clinton has wisely chosen to run with President Obama and his record rather than against it. That means she's looking pretty good right about now.

Whatever happens, this will be one for the history books as lame duckness is tossed aside and President Obama plays through to the end of the fourth quarter.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Photo of the Day: Fearless

I don't know about you, but I've shed a lot of tears over the last 10 days. Some have been tears of grief and some of joy. It's hard to miss that we're going through a great historical moment in this country.

And so I wanted to mark this occasion with a few important words that have been written about it.

Inside Obama's "Amazing Grace" Moment by Joshua DuBois

Obama's Grace by James Fallows

Understanding Obama in the Fourth Quarter by Dan Pfeiffer

The Time Has Come to Recognize President Obama's Game-Changing Liberal Legacy by Gregory
Krieg

Ten Days in June by David Remnick

Barack Obama is officially one of the most consequential presidents in American history by Dylan Matthews

Ten Days That Turned America Into a Better Place by Michael Cohen

The theme, of course, is that we have been led both to and through these last 10 days by a great man...one who has been fearless.

President Obama on Patriotism and Faith

For over seven years now, Republicans have fueled the racism of their base by claiming that our first African American president was neither patriotic nor Christian. On the other hand, a group of what some call "blackademics" have claimed that he wasn't "black enough."

I would like to point out to both groups that President Obama articulated his patriotism at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Selma march and gave voice to his Christian beliefs in his eulogy at one of the original Black churches in this country after its minister was gunned down in an act of racial hatred.

Some have already noted how the President talked about patriotism and love of country at Selma.
What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents: “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”...

Fellow marchers, so much has changed in 50 years. We have endured war and we’ve fashioned peace. We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives. We take for granted conveniences that our parents could have scarcely imagined. But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship; that willingness of a 26-year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

That’s what it means to love America. That’s what it means to believe in America. 
Do you see what he did there? He said that those who fought against racism and Jim Crow demonstrated what it means to be patriotic. At one point, he expanded on that and gave a diverse list of other examples. But on that day, he put the Civil Rights Movement at the center of what it means to love one's country.

Of course nothing in our Constitution requires that a president be a Christian. But it just so happens that our current one is. The attempts to paint him as "other" (usually Muslim) are efforts to elicit fear. In his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, President Obama put his Christian faith - and the African American church - at the center of his message about grace.

First of all, he gave an eloquent history about the meaning of church in the African American community.
To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. The church is and always has been the center of African-American life -- a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah -- rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart -- and taught that they matter. That’s what happens in church.
And then he grounded his next remarks in what might be the one song that could be called the Anthem of Christianity - Amazing Grace.
This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals -- the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see...

Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought -- the cause of slavery -- was wrong -- the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong...By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.

But I don't think God wants us to stop there. For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.

Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don't realize it, so that we're guarding against not just racial slurs, but we're also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American -- by doing that, we express God’s grace.

For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation. Sporadically, our eyes are open: When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed -- the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.

The vast majority of Americans -- the majority of gun owners -- want to do something about this. We see that now. And I'm convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country -- by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.

We don’t earn grace. We're all sinners. We don't deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway. And we choose how to receive it. It's our decision how to honor it.
I wanted to quote that lengthy passage because what the President did was outline what might be called "the civil rights issues of our time." As a country, we've been blind to racism. But perhaps, because of God's grace, now we can see.

And so, over the last few months, we've seen President Obama's powerful answers to those who have questioned his patriotism and faith...questions that were designed to invalidate him via racism. He has done so as in a way that is grounded in his own experience as an African American.

All of that makes me think of one of the four critical steps of the Aikido way: "You must enter the very center of the conflict." In other words, rather than avoid the racist implications of those questions and attempt to make white people comfortable with his answers, the President stepped right into the center of the allegations and responded by saying that he is both patriotic and a man of faith BECAUSE he is African American. That is a unique gift that Barack Hussein Obama has given this country.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hate Won't Win

Wow - yesterday was such an emotionally powerful day! I remember reading my twitter timeline late in the morning as some folks were struggling with the desire to celebrate the SCOTUS ruling making marriage equality the law of the land - and yet preparing themselves for the home-going service of a minister/public servant who had been gunned down by a white racist. And then came the amazing sermon by our Rev. President Barack Obama. OH MY!!!!!

The juxtaposition of these two long struggles for equality in our country reminded me of another day when the two came face-to-face. On November 4, 2008 this country elected our first African American president. But on that same day, California said "yes" to Proposition 8 - a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. I will never forget what terrance - a black gay man - wrote in response.
It has been a strange couple of weeks. Just last week, I saw something that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, and felt like I was witnessing it for all my ancestors who didn’t live to see a hope fulfilled. But — with a “twoness of being” that DuBois probably didn’t imagine when he coined the term — it was a deeply conflicted moment.

As a Black man, in that moment I felt like more of an American than I ever had before, like a barrier to full citizenship and belonging had been raised. As a gay man with a husband and a family, however, I ended up feeling like less of an American than I ever had before; divorced from the celebrating and even the historic significance of the moment by a barrier to citizenship and belonging that fell more firmly into place even as another one was lifted.
It was through terrance's words that day that I gained a whole new appreciation of what we mean when we talk about "intersectionality." While a lot of people slice and dice these issues up and ask us to pick sides, the lines that we assume divide us sometimes run through the actual bodies of human beings.

Watching these two movements for equality once again intersect yesterday was a powerful reminder of history teaching us that the struggle is never over and giving up is not an option. Who would have thought that 6 1/2 years after Prop 8, marriage equality would be the law of the land? And while we all knew that the election of Barack Obama didn't mean that this country was finally post-racial, who knew that it would lead to such an explosion of hate?

And so today I'm once again thinking about something Michelle Obama said about her husband - our President - a few years ago.
Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight.

If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.

We always have.
In other words, as long as we continue to show up:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Was Blind, But Now I See

It's hard to avoid feelings of despair when a 12 year-old black boy is gunned down by a Cleveland police officer for playing with a toy gun and yet people continue in their denial that racism was a factor. That kind of thing has been happening on a regular basis these last few months. It was getting difficult to maintain any hope that things could change.

But then last week a young white man who was filled with hate gunned down nine black people in their church. The explicit nature of the racism was too difficult to ignore. That's why the tears started to flow for me at this point in Reverend President Barack Obama's eulogy today.
We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas.

He didn’t know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group -- the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court -- in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley -- how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond -- not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood -- the power of God’s grace.

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals -- the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God -- as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other -- but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.
Our Reverend President knows - like many of us have felt - that over the last week and a half this country has been facing a potential turning point. It's not that we'll cure all of our ills in one fell swoop. But what we make of this particular moment will form the trajectory of our future. Today he went all in on a bet that we'll absorb the amazing grace that allows us to let go of our blindness and find our best selves. He was even willing to go out on a limb and ask us to sing along with him...

Photo of the Day: Equality Wins!

To commemorate the historic decision from the Supreme Court today: Equality wins!


From Justice Kennedy's ruling:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

President Obama and Risk-Taking

One of the critiques of President Obama that has some merit is that he is pretty risk-averse. He doesn't take a lot of chances on things that might prove to be failures. For example, the President has been very clear about the fact that he would have preferred a single payer health insurance system. But he knew that the chances for failure with that were way too high (see: Vermont) and so he went for a more modest change to our current system with Obamacare.

The one time I can think of that the President took a big risk that didn't pay off was when he attempted to negotiate a Grand Bargain with Speaker John Boehner. That one failed. But I also think that after all his talk of wanting to engage in bipartisan reform, he had to at least give it a go or prove himself to be yet another politician made of empty promises.

I suspect that Obama's risk-aversion is tied to his competitive desire to win. We've gotten a pretty big taste of that this week with the SCOTUS Obamacare decision and (even more so) with Congressional approval of TPA. The President tends to take risks when he has pretty well gamed out how to win. I'm reminded of this quote from Steven Waldman:
One can debate the extent to which these achievements happened because of Obama’s skills or his timing. I think his long view, maturity, and pitch-perfect sense of when to take the big risk (e.g., jamming through Obamacare after the Scott Brown election; invading Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden) were major factors.
That "pitch-perfect sense of when to take the big risk" is the reason President Obama almost always wins when he engages on something 100%. His opponents would do well to remember that.

Happy 60th Birthday to a Very Wise Latina!

On a day that the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare and disparate impact, what a great way to celebrate the 60th birthday of one of the greatest gifts President Obama has given us - Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor!






It's Time to Open the Doors to the Benefits of Medical Marijuana


According to Pew Research, a little over half of Americans (53%) support marijuana legalization. That number has risen 11 points since 2010. But an even larger majority - 78% - support its use for medicinal purposes.

No one has done more to increase support for the use of medical marijuana than a young girl named Charlotte Fiji. She suffers from a rare form of epilepsy and by the time she was 5 years old, was having several hundred seizures a week. Desperate, her mother took her to Colorado Springs to ask for help from the Stanley brothers, who were operating a small medical marijuana dispensary.
Wary about giving marijuana to a young girl, the Stanleys took a strain called “Hippie’s disappointment” that was low in THC (the chemical that gives the buzz), and created a new blend, high in cannabidiol (the chemical with the medical potential). Charlotte could take it in small doses.

Remarkably—the Stanleys might say miraculously—Charlotte’s seizures decreased dramatically. They dubbed their blend “Charlotte’s Web,” and started a charity called Realm of Caring, which has helped reduce the seizures of hundreds of children like Charlotte.
Charlotte's story is one of several that changed the mind of CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Take the case of Charlotte Figi, who I met in Colorado. She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.

I have seen more patients like Charlotte first hand, spent time with them and come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana.

We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.
As Jack Healy reported over a year ago in the NYT, Charlotte's story has drawn over 100 families to Colorado Springs to seek the same relief for their own children.
The new arrivals call themselves marijuana refugees. Many have left jobs and family members behind in states where marijuana remains outlawed, or cannot be used to treat children. While some have moved their entire families, others are splintered, paying rent and raising children in two states. During the holidays, they join family gatherings through video chats and swap iPhone pictures of Christmas trees.

But as more arrive to register their children as medical-marijuana patients, they have knitted together a random family here, across the suburbs and foothills of Colorado’s Front Range. They are Muslims and conservative Christians, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

Now, they cook dinners and babysit for one another. They meet to compare progress and seizure diaries. They discuss the best ways to feed the oil to their children. They wait, and hope for results that mirror the astonishing successes they have seen in television reports and online videos.
It is unconscionable that we are putting families through this on the chance that they might find some relief for their suffering children. But that is the price we are paying for maintaining the ridiculous notion that marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that it belongs with other substances that have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse (i.e., heroine and LSD).

As Gupta reported, that classification as well as other federal restrictions have meant that there has been very little research on the medical benefits of marijuana.
While investigating, I realized something else quite important. Medical marijuana is not new, and the medical community has been writing about it for a long time. There were in fact hundreds of journal articles, mostly documenting the benefits. Most of those papers, however, were written between the years 1840 and 1930. The papers described the use of medical marijuana to treat "neuralgia, convulsive disorders, emaciation," among other things.

A search through the U.S. National Library of Medicine this past year pulled up nearly 2,000 more recent papers. But the majority were research into the harm of marijuana, such as "Bad trip due to anticholinergic effect of cannabis," or "Cannabis induced pancreatitits" and "Marijuana use and risk of lung cancer."

In my quick running of the numbers, I calculated about 6% of the current U.S. marijuana studies investigate the benefits of medical marijuana. The rest are designed to investigate harm. That imbalance paints a highly distorted picture.
This week the Obama administration took a small step to correct that imbalance.
The White House today lifted a longstanding restriction on medical marijuana research, giving a green light to a growing group of mainstream scientists who are interested in investigating the potential health benefits of pot. Such research will no longer have to undergo review by the Public Health Service, a process that is ostensibly meant to ensure the use of scientifically valid clinical trials, but in practice has served as a barrier to launching studies. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, and even opponents of legalization, had called for the requirement to be lifted.
Beyond that, Senators Gillibrand, Booker and Paul have recently authored a bill that would take some of the necessary next steps. First of all, it would reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug - recognizing that it has legitimate medical use. Secondly, it would prevent federal law enforcement from prosecuting patients, doctors and caregivers in those states where medical marijuana is legal (a total of 23 states and D.C.)

Yesterday that bill (the CARERS ACT) had a hearing at the Senate's Caucus on International Narcotics Control - whose co-chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley, is also chair of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate.

One would hope that with 78% of the public in support of medical marijuana and potentially hundreds of thousands of people who could benefit from further research, this would be slam-dunk in Congress. But I suspect it will hardly get noticed unless more of us know about it and speak up.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Does Racism Require Intent?

For months conservatives refused to accept that police officers killing unarmed Black men was a sign of the racism that still exists in our police departments and criminal justice system. Even when the Department of Justice produced it's report finding that the Ferguson Police Department engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination, the denial persisted.

But for most (certainly not all) conservatives, it became too difficult to deny that racism is what motivated Dylann Roof. Initially they tried, but the facts became overwhelming. And it has been his embrace of what the Confederate flag symbolizes that has led so many to call for its removal.

The reason so many people had to accept that Roof's actions were racist is that he made his intentions clear. If his statement at the scene of the shooting about how his African American victims were "raping our women and taking over our country" weren't enough, his published manifesto made it irrefutable.

But when the Ferguson Police Department records show that African Americans account for 93% of arrests but make up only 67% of the population, there is no statement of intent that officers target Black people. It is the impact of their actions that demonstrates racial discrimination.

This is actually what President Obama was referring in his conversation with Marc Maron when his use of the "n-word" evoked such a huge reaction.
What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, that casts a long shadow and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on. Racism, we are not cured of. And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say 'n-word' in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination.
In her remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors following the shooting in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton made the same point.
Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives…. More than a half century after Dr. King marched and Rosa Parks sat and John Lewis bled, after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and so much else, how can any of these things be true? But they are.

And our problem is not all kooks and Klansman. It’s also in the cruel joke that goes unchallenged. It’s in the off-hand comments about not wanting ‘those people’ in the neighborhood.

Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.
Finally, Justice Sotomayor wrote about it in her dissent against the Robert's ruling that gutted sections of the Voting Rights Act.
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.
It has become easy for white Americans to identify the kind of racism expressed by people like Dylann Roof (or as Clinton said, the "kooks and Klansmen") who broadcast their intent. But when the impact of racism falls only on people of color, we can remain ignorant of it's presence. The question becomes, "is racism any less real when the perpetrator doesn't intend to be racist?" A friend of mine answered that question years ago when she said that if I accidentally drop an anvil on her toes it doesn't hurt any less because I didn't intend to.

We've all been prepped that the Supreme Court will issue important rulings in the next few days about Obamacare and gay marriage. What we haven't heard as much about is that they will also rule on the case of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project. That case hinges on a long-established legal concept: disparate impact, which holds that cases of discrimination can be made on the basis of impact and need not prove intent.

Chief Justice Roberts has long made his thoughts clear about his desire to get rid of disparate impact as a standard. And we can be fairly certain that he will be joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito. So the outcome of this case clearly rests on the vote of Justice Kennedy. A ruling against disparate impact will set our progress on civil rights in this country back decades because it will mean that cases of racial distrcrimination require proof of intent.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Huckabee is As Wrong About Racism As He Was About the Duggars

Here is a video of Mike Huckabee on Fox News earlier today. During the first couple of minutes, he's busy back-pedaling on his initial comments about the Confederate flag. But what grabbed me was what he said at the end. It starts at about the 2:05 mark.


I keep hearing people saying we need more conversations about race. Actually we don’t need more conversations. What we need is conversions because the reconciliation that changes people is not a racial reconciliation, it’s a spiritual reconciliation when people are reconciled to God.
That kind of thinking touches a nerve with me because it is what led to my initial journey to question my own roots as a fundamentalist Christian.

It all started for me when I graduated from a Christian liberal arts college and stumbled into a job as a counselor in a residential treatment program for chemically dependent teenagers. There were 5 of us counselors who worked with 15 youth in the program. According to my beliefs at the time, the other 4 were not Christians (they might have said differently, but we never talked about it). Because up until that time I had lived a very sheltered life as a "good Christian girl," I knew next to nothing about how to help these young people. The other 4 staff I worked with were pretty good at it. The question for me became, "what is the value-added that I bring to the table as a Christian?"

Ultimately, I learned that the answer to that question was, "nothing." Luckily the other 4 staff were willing to take me under their wing and teach me a thing or two about what it meant to help those kids. Many times I had to learn those lessons the hard way - by failing miserably.

To put all that in Huckabee's words, my spiritual reconciliation to God didn't do much of anything to help me build reconciliation into my relationships with those teenagers. And more "conversions" certainly aren't going to solve our race problem in this country. A perfect example of that comes from Huckabee himself, whose own conversion didn't stop him from comparing welfare recipients to roaches.

This is also why Huckabee (and others) can embrace someone like Josh Duggar. They believe that as long as Josh is reconciled to God, he's OK, which is exactly why we are beginning to hear so many stories about sexual abuse in protestant christian circles these days.

What I learned from my journey is that, regardless of how/whether you are reconciled to God, we all have a lot of work to do to learn how to embody that second great commandment from Jesus about "loving one another." Nobody is going to come in and magically make you a better person. We all have to humbly work at that every single day. Truth be told, I've known both Christians and non-Christians who have gotten pretty good at it.

President Obama on the Viability of Politics to Make Change

Back in 2005, when Barack Obama had just been elected to be the United States Senator from Illinois, his wife Michelle described him this way:
Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.
In about a year and a half, that exploration will come to an end when his tenure in politics is over. One of my fantasies lately has been that at that point I'd have the opportunity to interview the President and ask him what he's learned about the viability of politics to make change.

But Marc Maron may have beaten me to the punch. During his interview with the President, he made the cynical but provocative observation that perhaps the presidency was simply "middle management" in a system that is already entrenched. President Obama didn't necessarily disagree. But here's what he said (I'll summarize because I haven't been able to find a transcript):

The emphasis on "hope and change" during the 2008 election captured our aspirations about where we should be going. But the question becomes, "how do we operationalize these concepts into concrete actions?" When it comes to specifics, the world is complicated and there are choices you have to make. The trajectory of progress comes in fits and starts and where you're going is balanced by what is and where you've been. Progress in a democracy is never instantaneous and it's always partial. 

On the idea of "middle management," sometimes your job is just to make things work. And sometimes your task is to make incremental improvements. It's like steering an ocean liner and making a 2 degree turn so that 10 years from now we're suddenly in a very different place. You can't turn 50 degrees all at once because that's not how societies - especially democracies - work. As long as we're turning in the right direction and we're making progress, government is working like its supposed to. 

A visualization of what he's saying would look something like this:


That is very similar to what the President said to David Remnick about a year and a half ago, using Abraham Lincoln as an example:
“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”
Earlier in the interview, President Obama talked about something he spends a lot of time thinking about these days. It was prompted by a discussion about the shooting in South Carolina and our country's inability to implement common sense gun laws. In a sense, it was a reflection on why our politics today is so limited when it comes to change. The President said that his time in office has confirmed his belief that the Americans are overwhelmingly good, decent, generous people.

The problem is that there is a gap between who we are as a people and how our politics is expressed. We're not having a common conversation. Both news outlets and politicians profit from simplifying and dividing us. As a result, people check out because politics is detached from our daily lives. This creates a negative feedback loop because, as the public withdraws, we get more gridlock.

The question is, "how do we build institutions and connections that allow the decency of the American people to express itself in the decisions about how to move forward as a country?" 

I suspect that if we were to ask President Obama what he feels is his biggest failure in office, he would note that it's about his inability to change this. But he did go on to say that this is exactly why he's doing things like going to Marc Maron's garage to have a conversation. The suggestion is that he's still experimenting with ways to break through.

Whether or not you agree with the President's take on these questions, it was a fascinating discussion that provided a lot of insight into his thinking. But damn...I'd still love to have the chance to ask my question in a couple of years.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Don't let the media pull your strings!!

I've got a little rant to let loose.

Today we all got to listen to the conversation between Marc Maron and President Obama. But based on what I'm reading/hearing, you'd think all the President did was walk into Maron's garage, say the N-word, and walk out.

All day today I've been seeing people either blast the President for using that word or defend the context. Let me add my 2 cents: THAT'S NOT ALL PRESIDENT OBAMA SAID!

Over the course of an hour, he talked about some fascinating topics, like:
  • How/why he was able to craft an identity for himself, as a Black man, that was different from his father.
  • How he still believes that the American people are better than our politics.
  • The angriest he's ever been at Congress was when - after all those babies were killed in Newtown - they still couldn't pass common sense gun control.
  • The thing that makes him happiest is to watch his daughters grow into such kind, compassionate young women.
  • How turning the ship of state a couple of degrees in a different direction gives us the possibility for a whole new trajectory as a country. 
Any one of those topics could be turned into a whole article by themselves. And over the course of the next few days, I just might do that.

Those are the things we should be talking about - not letting the media pull our strings into a pointless argument. 

How Does Your Community Commemorate the Confederacy?

It's beginning to look like the movement demanding that South Carolina take down the Confederate flag is having an effect. Republicans who at first refused to take a position are increasingly being pressured to call for it's removal.

My position all along about this is that it's important for us to remember that flying the Confederate flag is a symbol. In that sense, it is a reflection of the problem rather than the problem itself. And yet symbols have great meaning. And so, as Republicans join the call for the flag's removal, they are affirming that we can longer celebrate the ugly past the flag represents. That means something.

These symbols abound. For example, as I wrote last weekend, on the SC capitol grounds very near where the Confederate flag flies is a statue commemorating reconstruction era terrorist Benjamin Tillman. But it isn't just South Carolina and it isn't even just the Southern States of the Confederacy.


I happen to live in the very Northern, fairly "blue" state of Minnesota. As you may have heard, we are called the "land of 10,000 lakes." The crown jewel of the City of Minneapolis is something called the "Chain of Lakes" that cover the southwest portion of the city. Right in the middle of the chain is Lake Calhoun - named after another South Carolinian, John C. Calhoun.
Calhoun died eleven years before the start of the American Civil War, but he was an inspiration to the secessionists of 1860–61. Nicknamed the "cast-iron man" for his ideological rigidity as well as for his determination to defend the causes he believed in, Calhoun supported states' rights and nullification, under which states could declare null and void federal laws which they viewed as unconstitutional. He was an outspoken proponent of the institution of slavery, which he defended as a "positive good" rather than as a "necessary evil". His rhetorical defense of slavery was partially responsible for escalating Southern threats of secession in the face of mounting abolitionist sentiment in the North.
Apparently there was a grassroots movement a few years ago to rename the lake. But it stalled when it became clear that the change would require action from the state legislature. The shootings in South Carolina have revived the movement and perhaps we'll see a change here as well.

None of this is a cure-all for ridding ourselves of racism. But if, rather than simply point to South Carolina, we all pay attention to the tales we tell in our own backyard, perhaps it gets the conversation going.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Small Steps Towards Progress in Libya

President Obama greets Gulf State leaders at Camp David

If you're like me, your knowledge of what's been happening in Libya is limited to the fact that the country is in chaos. But apparently that's not simply because of the involvement of terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been fighting a proxy war in that country.
The Qatar-backed, Islamist-aligned Tripoli government controls most of western Libya, while the UAE-linked, internationally recognized Tobruk government dominates the east...

Qatar and its ally, the Islamist government of Turkey, have proved willing to back Islamist groups throughout the Muslim world in the wake of the Arab Spring. The UAE and its ally, Egypt, which often equate political Islam with extremism, have gone so far as to intervene directly to undermine Islamists, launching air strikes within Libya.
President Obama put this issue on the table back in May when he hosted the Gulf States Summit at Camp David.
Obama was the first to bring up the Gulf states' proxy war at the Camp David summit, according to a senior Gulf diplomat present at the meeting. "The president said people from this table are supporting each side in Libya," the diplomat told HuffPost. Obama emphasized that he would like to see an "inclusive" political solution -- implying he was unwilling to allow the UAE-backed Tobruk government to dominate other actors, specifically the Qatar-backed Islamists in Tripoli. The president's comment prompted Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, to appeal to the top official present from the UAE, Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to agree to a political solution, according to the diplomat.
That is actually a pretty bold move by President Obama. He essentially said that he wasn't willing to let the internationally-recognized government backed by UAE and Egypt dominate the Islamist government that is backed by Qatar and Turkey.

This is pretty similar to the President's refusal to take sides in countries like Iraq and Syria on the ancient battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims. He consistently advocates for political solutions that are inclusive.

The result is that the two sides in Libya are at least talking.
The Gulf diplomat present at the meeting, who is familiar with the past few years of Qatari and UAE involvement in Libya, called that commitment a first-of-its-kind agreement. It is understood to have paved the way for the current talks, particularly because the two Gulf states agreed not to criticize the peace process publicly.

Reclaiming the Turf

I'm growing increasingly weary of the kind of political analysis exemplified most recently by Dana Milbank. He takes a look at some recent polling that suggests more people are identifying themselves as liberal and prefers this explanation.
A third theory, which I find compelling, is that the rise in liberalism is a backlash against the over-the-top conservatism displayed by the tea party movement. The Pew Research Center and others have documented a dramatic increase in ideological polarization within political parties over two decades. The Republican Party has long been dominated by conservatives, and the recent rise in liberalism among Democrats may be a mirror image of that — the beginnings of a tea party of the left.
A "tea party of the left?" Oh puhleeze!

Let's spend just a moment recapping some history. First of all, with the routing that Ronald Reagan gave Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election, a lot of Democrats decided that it was time to moderate and play some ball on Republican turf. That gave us things like "the era of big government is over," signing on to the need to reform welfare, and a big push to "get tough on crime." The overall conversation felt - to many of us on the left - like it was being based on Republican terms.

And then came eight years of Bush/Cheney. As I wrote previously, by the end of their term it was clear that Republican policies had us mired in two wars in the Middle East, careening towards a second Great Depression, and a federal deficit that was ballooning out of control. At that point, smart pundits knew that the real 2008 presidential election was the one that happened in the Democratic primary. Whoever won that one was likely to be our next POTUS because - no matter how loudly the right wing screamed - the majority of Americans were done with Republican policies.

It was in that scenario that the tea party was born - stoked by the racist fears of this country having elected our first African American president. As just one example of how radical these folks are, let's remember that they are the ones who wanted to blow up the entire global economy rather than raise the U.S. debt ceiling. That their "establishment" accomplices were willing to take us to that brink on a couple of occasions tells us all we need to know about how radicalized the Republicans have become.

Now we have had six and a half years of a Democratic President who ended those two wars, has presided over the longest expansion of private sector job growth in our history and provided millions of Americans with access to health care. The candidate most likely to be his successor is running on such non-radical notions as raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation, investing in infrastructure, addressing climate change, immigration reform, criminal justice reform and expanded educational opportunities.

In other words, Democrats are reclaiming the turf. That means having the conversation on our own terms and running on issues that have traditionally been the staple of a Democratic agenda. That they also happens to align with the views of a majority of voters in this country means that it is the opposite of tea party extremism. The mirror Mr. Milbank sees is the one Democrats are holding up to reflect the views of the people they're running to represent.

That's what is making it cool to be a liberal again.

Catholics Mobilize on Climate Change

According to Coral Davenport, Republican presidential candidates aren't just going to be hearing about climate change from the Pope.
As the steamy hurricane season descends on Miami, the city’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Thomas G. Wenski, is planning a summer of sermons, homilies and press events designed to highlight the threat that a warming planet, rising sea levels and more extreme storms pose to his community’s poorest and most vulnerable...

Archbishop Wenski will repeat those messages in his sermons, and he hopes that they will resonate with two members of his flock in particular: Florida’s junior senator, Marco Rubio, and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both Catholics and both Republican presidential candidates...

Florida is not the only crucial presidential state where Catholic bishops will push the pope’s climate message. In Iowa, the bishops of Des Moines and Davenport are planning a news media event at a wind turbine manufacturing facility, where they will highlight findings that climate change drives the drought and floods that plague Iowa farmers. The bishops of Cincinnati and of Las Cruces, N.M., are also planning news conferences and events for the coming weeks. The bishop of Sacramento, in a state in the grips of a record drought, is planning an event highlighting the link to climate change.
Davenport points out that most of these activities are being planned by the Catholic Climate Covenant, a group that is also engaged in media and letter-writing campaigns. Apparently these folks aren't buying Jeb's position that, when it comes to climate change, the church should stay out of politics.  That whole argument lost it's legs a long time ago when, as Governor, he brought the entire Florida government into the very difficult discussion among family members about the tragic situation with Terry Shiavo.

I'm thinking that the most important position on the campaigns of these Republican candidates will be  their event planner/coordinator. That's because protecting their candidates from a public with whom they are increasingly out of step on issues like immigration and climate change is going to be a major challenge.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Right Wing Media and Their "Racialized Political Fodder"

In what is purported to be Dylann Roof's "manifesto," he writes that this is where it all began:
The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. 
Reading that reminded me of how Ta-Nehisi Coates had meticulously laid out the process by which the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman became "racialized political fodder" for right wing media.
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.

By the time reporters began asking the White House for comment, the president likely had already given the matter considerable thought. Obama is not simply America’s first black president—he is the first president who could credibly teach a black-studies class...

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. The illusion of consensus crumbled. Rush Limbaugh denounced Obama’s claim of empathy. The Daily Caller, a conservative Web site, broadcast all of Martin’s tweets, the most loutish of which revealed him to have committed the un­pardonable sin of speaking like a 17-year-old boy. A white-­supremacist site called Stormfront produced a photo of Martin with pants sagging, flipping the bird. Business Insider posted the photograph and took it down without apology when it was revealed to be a fake.

Newt Ging­rich pounced on Obama’s comments: “Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be okay because it wouldn’t look like him?” Reverting to form, National Review decided the real problem was that we were interested in the deaths of black youths only when nonblacks pulled the trigger. John Derbyshire, writing for Taki’s Magazine, an iconoclastic libertarian publication, composed a racist advice column for his children inspired by the Martin affair. (Among Derbyshire’s tips: never help black people in any kind of distress; avoid large gatherings of black people; cultivate black friends to shield yourself from charges of racism.)

The notion that Zimmerman might be the real victim began seeping out into the country, aided by PR efforts by his family and legal team...In April, when Zimmerman set up a Web site to collect donations for his defense, he raised more than $200,000 in two weeks, before his lawyer asked that he close the site and launched a new, independently managed legal-defense fund...

...Before President Obama spoke, the death of Trayvon Martin was generally regarded as a national tragedy. After Obama spoke, Martin became material for an Internet vendor flogging paper gun-range targets that mimicked his hoodie and his bag of Skittles... Before the president spoke, George Zimmerman was arguably the most reviled man in America. After the president spoke, Zimmerman became the patron saint of those who believe that an apt history of racism begins with Tawana Brawley and ends with the Duke lacrosse team.
There you have it, folks. Because President Obama simply said, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," the right wing media in this country went into a frenzy. That's when they got Roof's attention. The rest was up to the white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Dylann Storm Roof is certainly responsible for his own horrific actions this past week. But we can't ignore the way the right wing media has consistently stirred up racial animus amongst their viewers/listeners at every turn over the last seven years.

This one seems to be beyond them

Apparently Republicans think it's easier to understand young people on the other side of the globe who join ISIS than they do the racists in their own back yard.


For Republican Candidates, It's White Evangelicals 13/Latinos 1

Remember that Republican Party autopsy after the 2012 election? One of their six big take-aways was that GOP candidates needed to do a better job of reaching out to Latinos if they ever wanted to win back the White House.

Well...that's not happening.
An obvious place to start would be the nation’s annual “Latino political convention” here this week in Las Vegas, where more than 1,200 Hispanic leaders have gathered for, among other things, a presidential candidates forum.

Yet out of the GOP’s 16 declared or likely presidential candidates, only one — retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — showed.

The absence of the others — including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who made outreach to Latino voters a central theme of his Miami campaign launch Monday — illustrates the gulf between the GOP’s urgent need to present a more welcoming face to Hispanics and how far those running to be the party’s standard-bearer are willing to go to do so.
Of course all the no-shows cited "scheduling problems" as the reason they couldn't attend the presidential candidate forum at the 32nd annual NALEO convention. And yet, low and behold, 13 of them are available to attend the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to the Majority" conference this weekend in Washington, D.C. Funny that.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what would hurt these candidates more...to diss the Latino community by not showing up, or to go and spout their nativist nonsense.

On the other hand, it doesn't look like any one of them has the white evangelical vote nailed down. So we're treated to the spectacle of 13 of them parading around for that crowd.

Excuse me, but so far this is looking an awful lot like the hot mess the 2012 Republican primary turned out to be - only worse.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Quote of the Day: Finding Truth

I have to say that this is something I've really been feeling the last couple of days.


There are times I've felt overwhelmed with grief and can't imagine being able to write a rational word. And so I've tried to just let those moments be.

But then the need to say something returns. As I write, I feel myself once again being moored in my own truth. And when I'm done...relief. Its a blessing.

The Racist Fear: "You're Taking Over Our Country"

It's hard to believe that just three months ago we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. But today I'm thinking of something President Obama said at the time.
We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
That one goes down a little harder today than it did three months ago. As I said yesterday, the shooting at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston this week evokes memories of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church 52 years ago in Birmingham. Combined with the recent high-profile police shootings of unarmed Black men, it's no wonder that people are starting to question whether things have really changed much.

As I do so often at moments like this, I go back to something Derrick Jensen wrote in the book The Culture of Make Believe.
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.
So we must ask ourselves, "what is it that has threatened the entitlement?" In other words, what was Roof talking about when he said "you're taking over our country?" To approach an answer to those questions, I think about something Jonathan Chait wrote after watching the movie 12 Years a Slave.
Notably, the most horrific torture depicted in 12 Years a Slave is set in motion when the protagonist, Solomon Northup, offers up to his master engineering knowledge he acquired as a free man, thereby showing up his enraged white overseer. It was precisely Northup’s calm, dignified competence in the scene that so enraged his oppressor. The social system embedded within slavery as depicted in the film is one that survived long past the Emancipation Proclamation – the one that resulted in the murder of Emmett Till a century after Northup published his autobiography. It’s a system in which the most unforgivable crime was for an African-American to presume himself an equal to — or, heaven forbid, better than — a white person.
The situation Chait is describing involves a whole different kind of challenge than the one's we've dealt with in the past over slavery, segregation and Jim Crow. With the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, white people are having to deal with a black man as not only our equal, but our leader. Too many of us are prepared for neither. While most white people would not support slavery or legal discrimination, we're not really ready to look black people in the eye as equals, much less see them in positions of authority over us. That is what centuries of programming has done to our collective consciousness...we assume deference.

I'm not suggesting that the election of Barack Obama as president is the sole reason we're seeing this explosion of hatred. I think Tim Wise did a pretty good job of explaining what's happening when he talked about "the perfect storm for white anxiety." But what has prompted the Third Reconstruction that Rev. William Barber talks about is clearly rooted in the racism evoked by the idea of our first African American president.

David Remnick - who, as Barack Obama's biographer, perhaps knows him better than any other journalist - suggests that the President is well aware of all that.
Like many others, I’ve often tried to imagine how Obama’s mind works in these moments. After one interview in the Oval Office, he admitted to me that he was hesitant to answer some of my questions about race more fully or with less caution, for just as a stray word from him about, say, monetary policy could affect the financial markets, so, too, could a harsh or intemperate word about race affect the political temper of the country.

Obama is a flawed President, but his sense of historical perspective is well developed. He gives every sign of believing that his most important role in the American history of race was his election in November, 2008, and, nearly as important, his reëlection, four years later. For millions of Americans, that election was an inspiration. But, for some untold number of others, it remains a source of tremendous resentment, a kind of threat that is capable, in some, of arousing the basest prejudices.

Obama hates to talk about this. He allows himself so little latitude. Maybe that will change when he is an ex-President focussed on his memoirs. As a very young man he wrote a book about becoming, about identity, about finding community in a black church, about finding a sense of home—in his case, on the South Side of Chicago, with a young lawyer named Michelle Robinson. It will be beyond interesting to see what he’s willing to tell us—tell us with real freedom—about being the focus of so much hope, but also the subject of so much ambient and organized racial anger: the birther movement, the death threats, the voter-suppression attempts, the articles, books, and films that portray him as everything from an unreconstructed, drug-addled campus radical to a Kenyan post-colonial socialist. This has been the Age of Obama, but we have learned over and over that this has hardly meant the end of racism in America. Not remotely. Dylann Roof, tragically, seems to be yet another terrible reminder of that.
In an interview with Remnick last year, President Obama gave us some idea of how he sees his role in the long process of "perfecting our union."
“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”
Perhaps that's why I've always loved the pairing of this song with these images. It captures that "long-running story" and ends with the moment that sparked both the hope and the threat that Remnick described. We just need to add a clause at the end..."to be continued."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters"


That is a picture of the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, AL. In the background is a paraphrase from the book of Amos that was used by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his "I Have a Dream" speech at the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott: "...Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I'm thinking about that quote as I continue to contemplate the shooting at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC. Will the prosecution and conviction of the shooter - Dylann Storm Roof - bring justice?

It's hard not to think of the tie that binds this event to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church 52 years ago in Birmingham that killed four little girls. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke that their memorial and had a much bigger view of what justice requires. He talked about the message we should hear from those four little girls.
And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.
Whoah, he got up in everybody's business there, didn't he? Preachers, politicians, Dixiecrats, Republicans, black and white. All of us got called out. And while he acknowledged that we should be concerned with those who murdered innocent people, he cautioned us against thinking that is what would bring justice. To do that, we all have to play our part in changing the "system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers."

That's exactly why I wrote earlier about how we learn to hate/fear. The system that produced Dylann Storm Roof will survive the justice meted out to him personally. And it will continue to result in everything from dog whistle racism to the killing of innocent people until we make changing it our priority. Our criminal justice system hasn't figured out a way to tackle that one yet. And so it's up to each of us. Everyone has a role to play. That is our task. And it will continue..."until justice rolls down like waters."

Children Will Listen

Last year I wrote about how my good-hearted grandmother, who grew up in Kentucky, learned to be racist. While I can't particularly point to this textbook, I'm sure she was taught what we now call scientific racism in school.

According to this textbook, the white race is the most advanced in the world. Most other races, schoolchildren were taught, tended to have a “savage” character, living in remote areas without industry and Western-style education.
A few months ago, as we approached the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the period of "reconstruction" in the South, I found this prophetic poem by Charles Dinkins:
When fails the sword, the better way
Becomes the soldier’s part to play;
The south will whip the north some day
With ink and pen.
That poem captured what I was taught as a child about reconstruction and the particular brand of racism that I learned growing up mostly in Texas. Will Moredock, who was raised in South Carolina and obviously has a better memory of the specifics he learned from textbooks like The History of South Carolina by Molly C. Simms Oliphant, explains it better than I could.
It was not until I was an undergraduate at the University of Georgia several years later that I began to discover that almost everything I had learned in the first 18 years of my life was a lie. One of my first discoveries was African-American history. Until that time I had been taught that black people had been brought here from Africa, they had been slaves, and then ... then ... nothing! They had no history, no culture, no identity. The black people I saw on the streets and in the stores of my small South Carolina town every day were ciphers, as alien to my young eyes as creatures from another planet.

At UGA, I discovered John Hope Franklin, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Dubois, and Zora Neale Hurston. Learning that black people actually had a history and a culture was like discovering a secret, invisible nation hiding right here in our midst, should-to-shoulder with the white nation I had inhabited so blithely. It was a nation with its own history and heroes, its leaders and martyrs, its writers and artists, most of whom I had never heard of. I had never known that African Americans served in every American war, built the transcontinental railroad, journeyed to the Pacific Ocean with Lewis and Clark and to the North Pole with Robert Peary. I had not heard these stories because my teachers and school administrators, the white men who ran my state and who ran my church, even my own parents, did not want me to know about them. Perhaps most importantly, Mary C. Simms Oliphant did not want me to know them.
I say all that because I think its way past time for white Americans to do some soul-searching about how a young man like Dylann Storm Roof learned to hate.

Moredock gives us just one example of what Roof was taught in his hometown of Columbia, SC. On the state capitol grounds is a statue of Ben Tillman with an inscription that describes his "life of service and achievement ... In the home loving and loyal, to the state steadfast and true for the nation." That's a lie.
Ben Tillman's long and bloody public career began in 1876 at what would ultimately be called the Hamburg Massacre.

The then 29-year-old Tillman led the members of the Sweetwater Sabre Club, a.k.a. the Edgefield Redshits, against a local militia group, all black. Several African-American militia men were killed in a pitched battle with red-shirt-wearing white terrorists. After the militia surrendered, five of them were called out by name and executed. A few weeks later, when vigilantes captured a black state senator named Simon Coker, Tillman was present when two of his men executed the prisoner while he was on his knees praying.

Later, the terrorist leader Tillman explained his intentions on that fateful July 8 day: "It had been the settled purpose of the leading white men of Edgefield to seize the first opportunity that the Negroes might offer them to provoke a riot and teach the negroes a lesson; as it was generally believed that nothing but bloodshed and a good deal of it could answer the purpose of redeeming the state from Negro and carpetbag rule." In a 1909 speech at a Red Shirt reunion in Anderson, Tillman reiterated this point, noting that he believed in "terrorizing the Negroes at the first opportunity by letting them provoke trouble and then having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable."

He added, "That we have good government now is due entirely to the fact that Red Shirt men of 1876 did all and dared all that was necessary to rescue South Carolina from the rule of the alien, the traitor, and the semi-barbarous negroes."
As long as a state capitol contains a monument revering a man who was a terrorist, the insurgency lives on. And we will continue to teach our children to hate. Because children will listen.