Thursday, June 30, 2011

More good news - Fair Sentencing Act applied retroactively

Not long ago, I wrote about the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 that reduced the disparity in sentencing for those convicted of crack vs powder cocaine. At the time, the U.S. Sentencing Commission was considering whether to apply the law retroactively to people currently in jail based on the old laws. Today they reached a decision.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted today to apply retroactively sentencing reform for crack cocaine convictions that Congress passed last year. This will give more than 12,000 inmates—85 percent of whom are black—the opportunity to go before a judge and seek a reduction in their sentences. The Commission estimates that the decision will reduce sentences by an average of more than three years, and could save the government $200 million in the next five years.

In addition to celebrating this success, its interesting to note what Jesselyn McCurdy, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union said about the role of Attorney General Eric Holder.

McCurdy says Attorney General Eric Holder’s personal testimony was an encouraging sign. While he only advocated for limited retroactivity, “He came and testified himself. We felt like that was a signal this was an important issue for him.”

She added that Holder was “bucking the trend,” and a letter from the Association of Assistant United States Attorneys in opposition to retroactivity is a sign Holder is facing internal pressure. (The main argument of that group seems to be that U.S. attorneys worked hard to put these people in jail, so don’t let them out.)

This is yet another example of the one small step-at-a-time progress being made. So when someone wants to tell you that President Barack Obama and his administration haven't done anything for the African American community (yeah, I'm looking at you Cornell West), tell them about this...and this, and this.

Boehner on the ropes

This is why BooMan is one of the sharpest political writers on the blogs.

On this whole debt limit deal, the White House seems to be supremely confident that they'll get something done and that it will be the Republicans who will blink. That's not to say that there won't be some ugly concessions made, but when it comes to facing their respective bases of political support, it's the Congressional Republican leadership who will be getting the worst beating.

The reasons are fairly simple. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are not teabaggers, and the people they answer to want no part of a default, or even the threat of a default. Moreover, the White House feels that they've framed this extremely well and the Republicans have screwed themselves by pushing the Ryan plan, and by walking away from table in support of tax loopholes for multimillionaires' yachts and private airplanes. In short, the White House thinks the Republicans have an awful political argument and that they know it. Finally, and crucially, John Boehner has an incredibly difficult task. He must get a bill passed in the House that can also pass in the Senate, which is still controlled by the Democrats. Everyone knows that Boehner can't do this by relying on his own caucus. And he won't be able to attract any Democrats for anything remotely resembling what he's led his base to expect. To even get a bill on the table, he's going to have to back down and craft something widely acceptable to Democrats. It's not unlikely that he'll wind up in a bind where he actually pushes a bill that has more Democratic support than Republican.

And I don't think the White House plans on giving him a whole lot. Maybe some cost savings on Medicare, but no reduction in benefits. Certainly not a balanced budget amendment. And there will be an elimination of significant tax loopholes.

The thing I am still worried about is that Boehner won't be able to figure out how to get this done. It's basically a suicide mission, as I can't imagine him surviving in a leadership position if he passes a Democratic-majority debt limit bill. But it doesn't appear he has any other choice. The White House just isn't buying his threats. They know his masters expect a deal, and soon.

You see what he did here? Instead of weeping and wailing about how President Obama might sell us down the river, he focused on the completely untenable position Speaker Boehner is in. The "masters" he's referring to in that last sentence are Wall Street financiers, who will not tolerate a failure to raise the debt ceiling - and have told Boehner so.

Boehner rode into power in 2010 with the wind of nutcases in his sails and now is petrified of what they might do to him if he bucks their agenda. On the other hand, the people he's financially dependent on need some rational leadership on this issue. Its the quintessential "rock and a hard place."

As for President Obama's strategy - have we not seen this over and over again? He's let the Speaker hang himself with all of this and yesterday in his press conference stepped in as "the only adult in the room" to turn up the heat. Knowing where Wall Street stands on this, he's been confident that he has the power play and now Boehner is cornered.

The professional left has been so focused on how Obama might betray them that they have totally missed the vice that was forming around Boehner's position. Its the classic mistake of people who are addicted to casting themselves as victims.

What is "the change we can believe in?"

Yesterday Ezra Klein wrote a fascinating post on a strategy dilemma for President Obama. His focus was tax policy, but it could apply to almost any issue.

Let’s agree that what matters isn’t how many jobs you “get caught trying” to create, but how many jobs you actually create. There’s virtually no evidence that if Obama makes more speeches on jobs, his poll numbers will go up or the labor market will improve. There’s lots of evidence that if he passes policies that create more jobs, his poll numbers will go up and the labor market will improve. The question, then, isn’t how Obama can get “caught trying.” It’s how — or whether — he can succeed...

A lot of observers wondered why the Obama administration didn’t push a payroll-tax cut in the 2010 elections. The reason, insiders said, was simple, if frustrating: If they did that, the Republican Party would publicly oppose it and they wouldn’t be able to pass it after the election. By staying quiet on the payroll-tax cut, they made it possible for Republicans to support it as part of the 2010 tax deal.

Recently, the Obama administration has been pushing an expansion of the payroll-tax cut. They want to extend it to employers, not just employees. But they’ve been more public about it. And sure enough, the GOP is suddenly finding itself opposed to a tax cut on business — man, polarization is a powerful force — and gripped by a sudden and, one imagines, soon-to-be-abandoned belief that tax cuts should be paid for.

All of which suggests that if any further jobs measures are going to pass, they’re going to have to start in backroom negotiations and only go public as part of a deal. Taking them public first in the hopes that you can then get them as part of backroom negotiations won’t work. So though I agree with Klain that the right political move for Obama is to push harder on jobs, if I were advising the president, I’d tell him to keep any policies that his legislative team thinks could actually pass out of his speeches. Because the right politics, in the end, won’t do him much good in November. The right jobs numbers will.

We've seen this happen over and over again. Many of the things Obama proposes (ie, insurance mandate, cap and trade, sensible immigration reform, small business tax breaks) are things the Republican Party of the past has supported.

But as we know from their actions as well as public statements by people like Majority Leader McConnell, the number one goal of Republicans is not jobs or governing, its to defeat President Obama. So no matter what he proposes...they oppose it.

When progressives who are political junkies see this, their response is to say "bring it on!" They're looking for battle royal with Republicans. But that's because they pay attention to the details of the policies and want a battle - no matter how messy it is.

What McConnell knows - as well as President Obama - is that the majority of people in this country just aren't paying that close of attention. What they see when that happens are ugly partisan fights and wind up saying "a pox on both your houses."

Let me remind you - once again - of what Obama said back in 2005.

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.

More than anything else, I believe that the "change we can believe in" that Obama promised was to work as hard as he could to end this kind of polarization and dog fight that has become the staple of our political process.

That doesn't mean giving up on our ideals, caving to the Republicans, or being naive about the intransigence of Republican leaders. It means that he believes that when American voters have a rational conversation about the issues - Democrats win. The fear, hysteria and rage play right into the Republican's hand. Here's Obama again:

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. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

Rather than see this effort as a failure due to the ramped up rhetoric from the right, what I see is that they're howling louder just like a cornered wild animal. They know that if President Obama is successful, their days are numbered. So their only hope is to hype up the hysteria and try to get the President to lower himself to their level...not gonna happen!

In the meantime as Ezra points out - the long game is to stick to pragmatic policies that work because "the right politics, in the end, won’t do him much good in November. The right jobs numbers will."

That's why I believe that our number one task in supporting the President is to highlight those successes...relentlessly. Because the work President Obama does to get them often has to be "hidden in plain sight" in order to maneuver around Republican intransigence, we need to shout the results from the rooftops.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Woot!!!!!! Good News

There's been a lot of good news today. Like the fact that President Obama kicked some Republcian a** at his press conference today.

And, you know, Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time. Malia is 13, Sasha is 10...

They don’t wait until the night before. They’re not pulling all-nighters. They’re 13 and 10. Congress can do the same thing. If you know you’ve got to do something, just do it...

Now is the time to go ahead and make the tough choices. That’s why they’re called leaders. And I’ve already shown that I’m willing to make some decisions that are very tough and will give my base of voters further reason to give me a hard time. But it’s got to be done.

And the 6th Circuit found the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional.

It’s worth appreciating the fact that the outcome today was by no means assured. The 6th Circuit is considered one of the nation’s more conservative appellate benches, and one of the judges who upheld the constitutionality of the ACA was Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a nominee of George W. Bush, and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Indeed, Sutton, a Federalist Society veteran, has been described as “one of the nation’s leading advocates for conservative states-rights positions.”

Far-right activists hoped, and many assumed, Sutton would be a key ally in overturning the law. He was not. Indeed, he is the first federal judge to consider the legality of the ACA on the merits who “broke ranks” — that is, a conservative judge who sided with the Obama administration’s position.

But I'm sure you news junkies have already heard/read about all of that.

Here's some good news you might not have heard about yet...meet the new front-pager at Daily Kos - Denise Oliver-Velez.

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She has been a political activist and community organizer, was in the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Movement, AIDS activism and was a member of both the Young Lords Party and the Black Panther Party in the late 60's and early 70's. She worked in community media and public broadcasting for many years and was a co-founder and Program Director of Pacifica’s first minority-controlled radio station, WPFW-FM in Washington DC. She was the coordinator of CPB’s Minority and Women’s Training Grant Program and was the Executive Director of The Black Filmmaker Foundation.

She has published ethnographic research as part of several HIV/AIDS intervention projects and is working on a book on the Women of the Young Lords Party with co-author Iris Morales.

Yep, we're talking the same deoliver47, that is responsible for depriving me of way too much sleep a couple of weeks ago because we just could NOT stop talking. LOL

What's up Markos - does sanity finally reign?

Anyway, congratulations to my friend Sis Dee!!!!!!!!

Who is (and isn't) providing leadership?

Here's a great blog entry by p m carpenter.

This year, or next year at the latest, the GOP must decide whether its reason for being is to help govern the country or to avoid being primaried by the Tea Party. It cannot do both.

The problem is simple; it's the solution that assuredly boggles the minds of those GOP pols who know what they're now doing is borderline treasonous. No, I don't know how the solution can -- or if it even will -- play out; that is, I'm no influential GOP insider, so I can't possibly know how much pressure the GOP's residual structural integrity can bear -- how the party can wring itself and the nation out of the contemptible fix into which it has contorted matters.

What I do know, without any doubt, is that for all the GOP talk about President Obama being the one who needs to lead, it is precisely the opposite case, here, that is far more critical. Which is to say, GOP leaders must choose between their country and radical, tea party politics -- and if the former, then that will require real leadership.

Yes, the Tea Party has struck fear into the hearts of GOP politicians. And many of us are waiting for ANY of them to stand up and lead their party back from this madness. As of yet, I don't see any of the current elected officials doing that (some who got dumped over the last two years are - but very few people are paying attention to them). As we watch their presidential contenders, even their candidates that the press likes to call "serious" are pandering as hard as they can.

But its also interesting to me to watch the poutragers look longingly at what the Tea Party is doing to the GOP and think progressives should try to emulate them with the Democrats (let me be clear, I'm not making an equivalency argument on policies here - just a strategic one). What is happening is that they are joining the GOP in letting the 2010 midterms spook them.

Since those 2010 midterms created the most change at the state level, perhaps they haven't noticed this:

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And perhaps they haven't read the most recent McClatchy-Marist poll.

The poll suggests that the "tea party," the grassroots conservative movement that helped elect dozens of Republicans to Congress last year, has limited influence. Only 8 percent of registered voters said they strongly support the movement and 16 percent said they support it. Among Republicans, 45 percent said they supported the tea party, while 39 percent didn't and 15 percent were unsure.

I, for one, don't want to see the Democratic Party follow the GOP off the cliff they're heading towards. And for that reason alone, I'd say that Obama is providing just the kind of leadership we need right now - as "the only adult in the room."

Creating the space

Other than Van Jones' speech, one thing I heard at Netroots Nation has stuck with me.

It was during the African American Caucus. One participant talked about how he thought President Obama should talk more about race and racism. The response from another participant is what stands out to me. He said "We need to create the space for him to talk about it."

First of all, I think President Obama pretty much covered his thoughts about race in his speech in Philadelphia. He is President of ALL the United States. Perhaps you can make a case that he should talk more about the issues that affect people of color, but to focus on race would provide a distraction and fuel for his critics.

But if we ignore the particular issue being addressed, I keep thinking about the idea of creating the space for the President and Congressional Democrats to get the job done. What does that mean?

I'm not sure I have the complete answer to that question. But I do think that we can learn some things from previous progressive movements - like what I wrote about in my last entry.

The one thing I do know is that I don't see people involved in previous progressive movements spending all their time focused on shouting at the President and complaining about what he is/isn't doing. They took leadership themselves and created the space for things to get done.

As an example, what I see coming from the Civil Rights Movement were actions that demonstrated the brutality of racism and Jim Crow. These messages ultimately were directed at white people to stun them into recognizing how dire the situation was. Eventually those white people agreed with the movement's goals and a national call for change was developed.

So in a sense, creating the space was about talking to each other...knowing that "when the people lead, the leaders will follow."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Pace of Change: Learning from History

A few years ago, The Nation and Brave New Foundation teamed up to create a video series This Brave Nation. It featured duos of activists talking about their lives, their work, and their hopes for the future. It included conversations between:

Pete Seeger and Majora Carter
Carl Pope and Van Jones
Bonnie Raitt and Dolores Huerta
Anthony Romero and Ava Lowrey
Tom Hayden and Naomi Klein

I recommend them all to you for a shot of both history and inspiration. But I was particularly struck by a couple of things Seeger said that are captured in this short clip.



First of all, he said this about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Why did he start with a bus boycott? Why didn't he start with something like schools, or jobs, or voting? Couldn't a bus boycott come later?

When you face an opponent over a broad front, you don't aim at the opponent's strong points. You aim for something a little off to the side. But you win it. And having won that bus boycott...13 months it took him to do it...then he moved on to other things.

This struck me as incredibly powerful when I first heard it. I began to imagine the kinds of things facing African Americans in 1955 in the South. It wasn't just segregation - it was the almost complete denial of voting rights, it was lynchings and bombings, etc. At what point does where someone sits on a bus become the priority place to begin?

As Pete Seeger said...it began at the place where the movement could likely win...and use that to build upon for the rest of the work.

Then he goes on to tell the story of how he met MLK and Rosa Parks. It was at the Highlander Folk School (today, the Highlander Research and Education Center).

In 1932, Miles Horton, Don West, Jim Dombrowski and others founded the Highlander Folk School as a place to train union members, labor leaders, and the unemployed in Tennessee. In the 1950's that mission extended to training organizers in the Civil Rights Movement. As Seeger discusses in the video - people like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks participated in these sessions.

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Rosa Parks on the far left and Martin Luther King on the far right.

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Septima Clark and Rosa Parks

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Martin Luther King, Pete Seeger, Horton's daughter, Rosa Parks, and Ralph Abernathy

I just love the story Seeger tells about being in a group with Rosa Parks at the end of one of these sessions and all of them being asked what they were going to do when they went home. Rosa said she didn't know, but she'd come up with something. Boy did she!!!!!

This is how and where the Civil Rights Movement started...with a few people dedicated to learning, thinking, strategizing and then finally launching it with a battle they could win.

It would be 9 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed. And that was yet another beginning...the struggle continues today.

Its no surprise to me that in our fast food, 24 hour/day news culture, we hear whining about the slow pace of change. So lets continue to remind ourselves of our history and what these wise people have to teach us.

An Honest Republican

Once again, David Frum shows us what an honest Republican might look like with his article titled I was wrong about same-sex marriage.

I was a strong opponent of same-sex marriage. Fourteen years ago, Andrew Sullivan and I forcefully debated the issue at length online (at a time when online debate was a brand new thing).

Yet I find myself strangely untroubled by New York state's vote to authorize same-sex marriage -- a vote that probably signals that most of "blue" states will follow within the next 10 years.

I don't think I'm alone in my reaction either. Most conservatives have reacted with calm -- if not outright approval -- to New York's dramatic decision.

Why?

The short answer is that the case against same-sex marriage has been tested against reality. The case has not passed its test.

Since 1997, same-sex marriage has evolved from talk to fact.

If people like me had been right, we should have seen the American family become radically more unstable over the subsequent decade and a half.

We could respond by saying "Duh" or "we told you so." But I'll just welcome Frum to the world of the rational.

Good Government

Sometimes when we list President Obama's accomplishments, we forget to include the strides this administration has made in improving the basic functions of good government. And we also forget that the previous administration left a HUGE mess to clean up. A simple reminder of "Good job, Scotty" is perhaps all we need to recall how bad things had gotten.

Although often removed from the public eye, perhaps nowhere was that more serious than in the Department of Justice where politicization had certainly crossed ethical boundaries and bordered on criminal. That's why the work of Attorney General Eric Holder is so important, particularly in the Civil Rights Division.

To add to what I've already written about in that area, yesterday we learned that DOJ's Civil Rights Division is suing the city of New Berlin, Wisconsin.

A Wisconsin city in the most segregated region in the nation buckled to racist pressure and shut down an affordable housing project, federal prosecutors say. New Berlin has no affordable housing for general occupancy or families - just for seniors - and truckled to fears that affordable housing would draw minorities to the city, which is 95 percent white, according to a Fair Housing complaint.

The city approved a 180-unit project, but "Immediately afterward, and over the next several weeks, city officials received numerous emails, calls, and other communications from residents of New Berlin, the large majority of whom voiced opposition to the ... project. Some of the opposition was based in part on fear that the prospective tenants would be African American or minority. The Mayor, Aldermen, Plan Commissioners, and staff at DCD were aware that community opposition was based in part on race," according to the complaint.

"The communications they received over several weeks contained express and implied racial terms that were derogatory and based on stereotypes of African American residents. These communications referenced 'niggers,' 'white flight,' 'crime,' 'drugs,' 'gangs,' 'families with 10 or 15 kids,' of needing 'to get a gun,' of 'slums,' of not wanting New Berlin to turn into 'Milwaukee,' of moving to New Berlin 'to get away from the poor people,' of not wanting to provide housing to people 'who work but do not live here.'"...

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. seeks an order requiring the affordable housing project to be approved and built, and damages for discrimination.

But its not just DOJ. Over a year ago, John Judis wrote an article titled The Quiet Revolution in which he pointed out the clean-up underway in the alphabet soup land of federal agencies: EPA, OSHA, FEC, etc.

Yet there is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for--but done it so quietly that almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.

The whole article is worth a read to get the full weight of the task that I imagine is still underway. And I suspect that some good reporting on this (yeah, I won't hold my breath) would update a very important story.

All of this is not only a reason to give our full weight of support to President Obama. Its also an indicator of what the long hard slog of reforming our country actually looks like on the ground level. The best legislation that can be passed will never be successful without competent people and well-run departments to implement it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Local Activism

I thought I'd do something different today and write about some things I'm involved with in real life. These are the kinds of "boots on the ground" experience I've had that also inform how I view national politics.

As I've mentioned before, I am the director of a small non-profit organization focused on working with youth who are starting to get in trouble. That means we provide counseling, mentoring, guidance and support to youth who have been arrested for the first time (with a special long-term focus on youth who have developed delinquency histories before the age of 10), are chronically suspended from school and/or are in the midst of a family crisis.

A few years ago we began to recognize that is wasn't enough to ask these youth (and their families) to change. We also needed to work with community members to make some changes in how they support these young people.

So we did things like host a forum with the local Children's Defense Fund on their report about the Cradle to Prison Pipeline. And we sponsored a premiere showing of the documentary film "Beyond the Bricks" about how/why our public schools are failing to educate African American boys.



We also provided training to staff in local libraries, schools, and recreation centers about how to effectively engage young people who they would otherwise suspend or expel from activities due to bad behavior.

But while smaller in scope, nothing has been as inspiring as something we call the Ambassadors for Youth Academy. We go into specific neighborhoods of the city and invite adults who are interested in making a difference for youth in their community to attend an 8 week course. They are provided with information about youth development, engaging disconnected kids, and local community resources. At the end of the 8 weeks they are asked to write an action plan about what they are going to do to engage youth in their community. If they've had regular attendance and written a plan, we have a wonderful celebratory graduation ceremony and they are provided with $200 as either a stipend for attending or seed money for their plan.

To date, we have held 3 academies and graduated over 100 adults. But even more important than that is the fact that we've engaged people that typically don't get involved in community issues.

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Participants have ranged from their 20's to their 70's with a pretty equal distribution of men and women. Many are living in poverty and some have graduate degrees with lucrative employment. Overwhelmingly they are African American.

At graduation, each participant is asked to go in front of the gathering and say at least a sentence or two about what they plan to do. I have literally never been more inspired in my life.

One young man that I will call Donnie talked about growing up in a gang culture in Chicago. He had seen his first killing by the time he was 13. He made it out of that life by the skin of his teeth and is now married and the father of 2. He'd gotten his GED, but never went to college and worked occasionally in construction.

After the academy, he volunteered at a local boys correctional facility and is planning on going back to school to get a college degree so that he can work with kids professionally. Here's what he said about his experience:

The academy gave me hope and confidence that I could use my experiences to help youth living in poverty. I give credit to the Ambassadors for Youth Academy for showing me the value in my life experiences and assuring me that my struggle was not in vain. I recommend the academy to anyone who wants to understand today’s youth and work with them to find the value they have to offer our society.

At our first graduation event, the commencement speaker was Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds. She reminded us that most often the anger and bravado we see from young people comes from their pain…and that we need to be willing to engage them in love. She also emphasized that what these young people lack is the kind of access to opportunities most privileged youth experience throughout their lives, and that it is our job to “stand in the breech” to provide them with that access. And she quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.

How can you not believe in the value of the long-term struggle when you have the privilege of working with folks like this?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Is Hamsher the left's Limbaugh?

Some of you may remember David Frum's Waterloo article that got him fired from the American Enterprise Institute. Most of us thought it was an accurate critique about how the Limbaughs of the right had captured the Republican Party.

Lately I can't help but think about how one paragraph of that article fits so perfectly with what I see people like Jane Hamsher doing on the left. I'll quote it with the italicized words altered to make the point.

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and the blogs, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Blogs thrive on confrontation and recrimination. When Jane Hamsher supports efforts to primary the President, she was intelligently explaining her own interests. What she omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that she also wants Democrats to fail. If Democrats succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Jane's readers get less angry. And if they are less angry, they read the blogs less, and see fewer ads for Citibank.

Works, doesn't it?

Let's not let Hamsher do to the Democratic Party what Limbaugh has done to the Republicans. As an alternative, I'll simply quote what then-Senator Barack Obama wrote at Daily Kos in September 2005.

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives' job. After all, it's easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it's harder to craft a foreign policy that's tough and smart. It's easy to dismantle government safety nets; it's harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It's easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it's harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that's our job. And 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.

I'm so tired of the "bully pulpit" argument

Have you ever tried to talk to one of these poutragers about actual Obama accomplishments? Part of that usually involves discussing one of the foundations of US democracy - the separation of powers and the need to compromise to get anything done in Congress. Ultimately, what you'll hear is that Obama hasn't used the bully pulpit enough. The idea is that if President Obama would just orate more on a particular topic, recalcitrant Republicans (whose ONLY goal is to deny Obama ANY successes) would come around and see the error of their ways. That is such ignorant analysis on soooo many levels - one of which is the irony Vyan highlighted in a great diary.

Uh, yeah...ok. Now I see. Liberals should be furious with Obama because he's been too busy Doing Great Stuff to constantly talk about it all the time. Wow, isn't that exactly the Opposite of everyone predicted that a Presidency by an "inexperienced leader who just makes great speeches" would be like?

Oh yes, that brings back some memories of the primary and general election when the most common attack from Clinton and McCain was the idea that Obama was all talk.

Last fall Ezra Klein wrote an article titled People don't listen to the President that was a sad commentary, but certainly true.

To read pundits talking about presidential speeches, you'd think there was a statute requiring every American to watch every presidential address and then score a 75 percent or higher on a quiz testing their listening skills. In fact, pretty much no one watches presidential speeches...

And that's fine. It's good that we're not a dictatorship where everyone feels the need to memorize every word the leader utters. But it puts the lie to the idea that the president can simply orate a narrative directly into the American psyche. A small minority -- many of them political junkies who already know what they think -- will occasionally tune in to a particularly momentous address, and they may or may not stay for the whole thing, and they may or may not actually pay attention while they're watching. Somewhat more people will then get a partial summary through news coverage the next day. A week later, most people won't have heard the speech, and the few who did see or read the whole thing will largely have forgotten it. This is, in part, why presidents are worse at persuasion than people think: They do not have the rapt audience that so many assume.

...since no one is paying attention to the speeches, there's a lot in there that never penetrates into either the public consciousness or the media's thinking, and all White Houses are routinely criticized for not making arguments that they make all the time.

So if the "party of no" is not going to be swayed by use of the bully pulpit and voters don't tend to listen anyway, you have to wonder what the point is, don't you?

Then there's the kind of argument I recently had with one of these folks about all of this. S/he tried to make the point that Obama NEVER once used the bully pulpit to advocate for the public option during the debate about health care reform. When I pointed out that Obama had - in fact - advocated for the public option in dozens of speeches and town hall meetings, s/he said that you couldn't believe anything he said - its deeds that matter. Well then, WTF were you doing going on about his need to use the bully pulpit in the first place? That's when you just have to stop and recognize that this is not a rational discussion...its a poutrage.

The fact is that President Obama is both doing and saying what progressives advocate for all the time. The trouble is - the tree is falling in the forest - and none of them seem to hear.

If you doubt the part about what President Obama is saying, as an example I'd point you to the speech he gave not long ago on fiscal policy. Here's a snippet from that one.

In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes?

They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President...

The America I know is generous and compassionate. It’s a land of opportunity and optimism. Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future that we share...We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit our investment in our people and our country.

To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

Poutragers: Karl Rove is counting on you

This week Karl Rove wrote an article titled Why Obama is Likely to Lose in 2012 (yeah right, in your dreams Karl!). He listed 3 reasons for this prediction. Other than the economy and the fact that President Obama hasn't signed on to Republican policies, he says this:

Mr. Obama also has problems with his base. For example, Jewish voters are upset with his policy toward Israel, and left-wing bloggers at last week's NetRoots conference were angry over Mr. Obama's failure to deliver a leftist utopia.

Given some of what we see just on the surface, do we really think that Karl is not at least fanning the flames - if not subsidizing this kind of thing financially? If your answer is "no," then you haven't paid enough attention to Rove's career.

I'm tempted to chalk this up to another one of those examples of Common Goals...where the poutragers team up with Karl Rove.

And of course, villagers like Dana Milbank are weighing in as well.

Democrats are less angry with Obama now than when he struck a deal with Republicans preserving the Bush tax cuts. But the breadth of Obama’s fights with his political base is striking.

I'd suggest that you all go check out p m carpenter's takedown of this particular meme. Man, can that guy write. Its a thing of beauty to behold.

I persist, as does Obama, in a philosophical fidelity to progressive goals. But, good God, those progressives themselves, what an embarrassing, counterproductive, pathologically hypervirtuous bunch of infantile nincompoops they can be.

But as to Milbank's reference to Obama's "base," I'd simply point you to Gallup's latest weekly poll on Obama's favorability. His approval stands at 83% with Democrats and 86% with Liberal Democrats. Over and over again, people have tried to point out that the poutragers are not "the base." They are a small group of keyboard activists who go around shouting a lot and creating enough noise to get the attention of the controversy-addicted MSM.

Another example of where the real base stands comes today from Blackwaterdog. She quotes an article from the LA Times reporting on the fact that the Obama campaign is attracting more small donors.

Reporting from Washington— President Obama's next major fundraising filing will show a dramatic increase in the number of small donors so far this year compared with 2008, his campaign said Saturday.

"We had 180,000 contributors at this point in the last campaign; now it's well over 300,000," said spokesman Ben LaBolt in an email previewing the upcoming filing. LaBolt declined to elaborate except to say in his note that the filing will show "small dollar contributors back in greater numbers."

The total as of this writing is up to 378,358 with a goal of 450,000 by this Thursday (end of the quarter). I'd suggest we all click on that link and donate whatever we can afford. It doesn't matter how much, lets just show Karl that his predictions are terribly wrong and if he's counting on the poutragers - his strategy has failed miserably.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Buyer's Remorse

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"What if one more person thinks about immigration reform that wouldn't normally"

A mother's plea.

Karoli...you go girl!!!!!!

I Obot?

It’s time to address this once and for all. Here are a couple of things about me that you can count on. First, when I criticize the President, I endeavor to do so in a constructive way. Second, I will give this administration the benefit of the doubt. Third, there is never going to be a time where I will grunt and say that Obama is just like Bush. This is because that would be a lie of the highest magnitude.

I understand that it’s all the rage these days to take anger at Republican obstruction and project it onto the President. I also understand that it’s all the rage, and I do mean rage, to take disappointment that he hasn’t moved whatever heaven and earth he should have moved for your personal pet issues quickly enough...

Like it or not, this guy in the White House right now is the best hope you’ve got. You can batter him or you can back him. I choose the latter. That isn’t OBotic. It’s simply reality.

I’m done apologizing for my support for this President, who has worked hard since the day he took office, done his best, isn’t a slacker, and can’t please everyone. I support him unapologetically and wholeheartedly. That’s my right, just as it is the right of others not to. I respect that right, but will no longer waste time or give attention to self-indulgent complaints. It’s time to be strategic rather than spewing scattershot criticism. If you can’t do that, then really, I’m probably not going to help your cause anyway because I will assume your goal is to elect a Republican, and I will oppose you with all the might I can muster.

Please give her some love and go read the whole thing!

What's behind "Obama derangement syndrome?"

I suspect that most of us have always assumed that "Obama derangement syndrome" is rooted in progressive idealists who are impatient with the pace of change. I'm sure that's true for many who are showing those symptoms.

But, as I begin to look a little deeper, I'm starting to suspect that there's more to it than that.

For example, take a look at this article by Sebastian Jones. He points out that The Huffington Post recently ran an article by Dick Gebhardt criticizing the Independent Payment Advisory Board that is part of health care reform. Here's what Ezra Klein says about the IPAB:

The board will propose packages of reforms that bring Medicare in line with certain spending targets. Those reforms won't increase cost sharing or taxes and they won't change eligibility or benefits. Instead, they're reforms of what Medicare pays for and how it pays for it...this is the most powerful cost-cutting agency we've seen.

So why would Gebhardt be against it? Jones has the answer.

These arguments are cut directly from the talking points of industry groups that pay Gephardt—like PhRMA, which is now engaged in a full-throated campaign to kill IPAB...

Even in a town as full of mercenaries and shills as Washington, Dick Gephardt is a special case. Just a handful of years ago, the then-Congressman touted himself as a friend of unions and a universal healthcare crusader. During his failed 2004 presidential bid, he was a man who stood against “the status-quo apologists” and “the special interest lobbyists running amok.” Today, he’s at the helm of his very own lobbying firm, working for the likes of PhRMA, Goldman Sachs and the coal company Peabody Energy. Even when compared to his many peers who have made trips through the revolving door, the list of issues on which Gephardt has been paid to reverse his position is very long indeed.

As I pointed out in this 2009 profile Gephardt’s real value as a lobbyist is his ability to approach and solicit support from progressives in ways that big banks, the pharmaceutical industry or coal companies could not dream of doing on their own. Even if he fails to win over liberal constituencies, Gephardt’s agitating pays for itself by muddying the waters and sowing confusion in liberal ranks. This was what has made his sellout so complete: he is not simply putting a price tag on his ideals, he is selling the reputational capital he spent years accruing among progressives and using it to manipulate the people who have come to trust him. This is precisely what Gephardt is up to once again, this time by aiding the healthcare industry in its efforts to kill IPAB.

Do we really think that Gebhardt is the only one being paid to "muddy the waters and sow confusion in liberal ranks?" Jones also asks some interesting questions about why Huffington Post would publish his article without disclosing who pays his bills. Good question.

It is a pity the Huffington Post is allowing itself to be a tool for K Street, making its job all that much easier. Scanning the comments below the piece, it’s clear that Gephardt’s muddying of the waters is working, primarily, I would guess, because those readers have not been informed of his vested financial interest in the program’s demise.

When supposed Democrats start sounding just like Republicans, its time to start asking these questions.

Common Goals?

I might make this a regular feature (yeah, I'm that pissed).

Republicans:

Republicans have launched an assault on AARP, which joins a growing list of groups supportive of the Democrats’ agenda that are being targeted by conservatives.

Jane Hamsher:

Save Social Security, burn your AARP card

Empire Goes Rainbow!!!!!

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Congratulations New York!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rais Bhuiyan: An act of kindness towards hate

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From ColorLines.

Ten years ago, Rais Bhuiyan was living his dream. Having recently emigrated from Bangladesh, Bhuiyan was enrolled in classes and became a partner at a new gas station in Dallas, Texas. But two weeks after September 11, 2001, a man walked into the mini-mart where Bhuiyan was working and asked him where he was from. The man then shot Bhuiyan in the face.

Bhuiyan was the only surviving victim of Mark Stroman’s hate driven shooting spree, which took the lives of Vasudev Patel, originally from India, and Waqar Hasan, a native of Pakistan. Stroman was sentenced to death for the murders.

Meanwhile, Bhuiyan endured years of painful surgeries. He lost the vision in his right eye and still has more than 35 pellets in his face. But despite the trauma to him and his family, Bhuiyan is now fighting to save Stroman’s life.

“Yes, Mark Stroman did a horrible thing, and he brought a lot of pain and disaster, sufferings in my life. But in return I never hated him,” Bhuiyan told Laura Sullivan of NPR’s All Things Considered. “I strongly believe that executing him is not a solution. We will just simply lose a human life without dealing with the root cause, which is hate crime.”

Stroman, a white supremacist with a long history of crime, reportedly broke down in tears when he learned of Bhuiyan’s efforts and said, “This is the first act of kindness that I’ve ever known.”

Bhuiyan said he drew on his Muslim faith to forgive Stroman, and is campaigning with Amnesty International to have Stroman’s death penalty commuted. Bhuiyan is working with Stroman’s defense attorney and hopes to meet with Texas Gov. Rick Perty and Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, both supporters of the death penalty, ahead of Stroman’s July 20 execution date. Waqar Hasan’s family have also publicly supported Bhuiyan’s efforts, and Hasan’s wife, a widowed mother of four, submitted a notarized letter to Watkins, asking to commute the death sentence.

What an amazing story!!! But its hardly the only one. The Forgiveness Project has chronicled dozens of others. THIS is the human potential we could all strive towards. And how appropriate for our times in the US that it comes from someone of the Muslim faith. Today I am thankful for the life of Rais Bhuiyan - and what he has to teach us all about the very real power of an act of kindness.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault on Michelle Obama's Trip to Africa

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I highly recommend that you visit The Root and read Charlayne Hunter-Gault's article about why Michelle Obama's trip to Africa matters.

Here's a brief quote. But I hope it encourages you to go read the whole thing.

But standing in Regina Mundi, the church that was respite for the young people who lit the fuse that ignited the most critical phase of the anti-apartheid struggle in 1976, Michelle Obama reminded them of lessons they should never forget: "The story of young people 20 years ago, 50 years ago, who marched until their feet were raw," she said, "who endured beatings and bullets and decades behind bars, who risked and sacrificed everything they had for the freedom they deserved. And it is because of them we are able to gather here today. It is because of them that so many of these young women leaders can now pursue their dreams."

And the clear payoff of looking back came as Michelle Obama said, "It is because of them that I stand before you as first lady of the United States of America." Those words brought thunderous applause and, I would bet, no small amount of moist eyes, if not tears -- but tears of pride that someone who looked like they did could speak the words no other black woman in history could utter.

"Protest signs are important - they can't stop a bullet"

Last night I watched the live feed of the Rebuild the Dream movement launch featuring Van Jones and The Roots. If you missed it, here's the video.



Yeah, I know its over an hour and its hard to give up that kind of time. But believe me - its worth every minute.

In case you just can't watch the whole thing, at least take 6 or 7 minutes to watch the beginning where Van Jones tells his own life story. He talks about what his father (who was in the military) taught him - and how he rebelled against that when he went off to Yale. After graduation, he found himself in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the Bay Area. And this is what he learned:

I wound up going to many many more funerals than I went to graduations for those young people I was working with. And as the years went on, I learned that angry rhetoric might feel good to people like me, but it didn't make a difference in the neighborhoods I was trying to move forward. I learned that education and real opportunity is what makes a real difference. Protest signs are important - they can't stop a bullet. Nothing stops a bullet like a job. That's what I learned working in the toughest communities in our country.

This seems to be a critical lesson that folks learn when they go from poutrage to pragmatism. Until you put "boots on the ground" to try to get something done, angry rhetoric can seem sufficient because, as Jones says, it makes you feel better. But it is never enough. Whether its working with urban young people or trying to start a movement to Rebuild the American Dream, real progress is a long-term struggle that takes time, patience and hard work. Most of that is done in the shadows - outside the glare of the media/blogosphere spotlight. But its not only the foundation for real change, its the process that actually prepares us to live out the change.

First Lady Michelle Obama knows this.

The only thing that happens in an instant is destruction … everything else requires time.

Common Goals?

Newt Gingrich:

Gingrich stopped off at an airport Marriott near Baltimore Thursday to keynote the Maryland GOP's annual Red, White & Blue banquet. Before the speech, he assured reporters that his campaign was still going strong. When he took the podium, he offered Republican donors a long, dense speech full of red meat and warnings about the state of the world around us.

He also said it was time for Republicans to tell African Americans how terrible Obama has been for them...

"No administration in modern times has failed younger blacks more than the Obama administration," Gingrich said.

Metamars at Firedoglake:

Specifically, [Cornell] West, with the NPA’s [New Progressive Alliance] backing, could undertake an education program, with the initial target the US black community, of teaching them about, say, Obama’s Top 10 betrayals, and Obama’s Top 5 betrayals of Afro-Americans.

It seems that there are white people all over the political spectrum that assume African Americans are in need of some education. My gawd, if this wasn't white privileged thinking in a nutshell, I'd have to laugh.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Next Movement



Just a reminder that tonight The Roots will join Van Jones to launch the "Rebuild the Dream" movement. You can livestream it here at 8:15 pm EDT.

It all depends on your perspective

This is the chart I was seeing all over the progressive blogosphere last night after President Obama's speech on Afghanistan.

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And then today, this one comes to us from The White House Blog via Blackwaterdog.

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People can use whichever one backs up the story they're trying to tell.

Did Obama implement the Dream Act via executive order?

The wingnuts think so.

On Friday, the Obama administration issued a memo announcing that federal immigration officials do not have to deport illegal aliens if they are enrolled in any type of education program, if their family members have volunteered for U.S. military service, or even if they are pregnant or nursing.

This new policy of “prosecutorial discretion” was quietly announced on Friday afternoon, and completely ignored by the mainstream press.

What happened is that last Friday ICE Director John Morton issued a memo (pdf) directing his staff to use "prosecutorial discretion" in the "apprehension, detention and removal" of undocumented people based on several criteria.

The following positive factors should prompt particular care and consideration:

veterans and members of the U.S. armed forces;
long-time lawful permanent residents;
minors and elderly individuals;
individuals present in the United States since childhood;
pregnant or nursing women;
victims of domestic violence, trafficking, or other serious crimes;
individuals who suffer from a serious mental or physical disability;
and individuals with serious health conditions.

This sounds exactly like what many of us on the left have been asking the administration to do until we get a Congress that will pass the Dream Act. But once again, it looks like yet another tree in the forest fell without anyone noticing.

"It's not about us now - its about them"

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From left to right: Leslie Robinson, Malia Obama, Archbishop Tutu, Michelle Obama, Sasha Obama, and Avery Robinson

My title is a quote from Michelle Obama today when she met with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town South Africa. He asked her, "What do you feel? How are you feeling being here?" Her response was that its all about them - gesturing to her two daughters, niece and nephew.

The First Lady had teamed up with Archbishop Tutu for a youth outreach event at the World Cup soccer stadium to spread the word about HIV/AIDS and to encourage young people's participation in sports to stay healthy.

There were some wonderful fun moments captured on film.

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WOW - if he can do it - certainly this old lady (moi) can.

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Fist bumps all around.

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And of course - hugs!

Jane Hamsher is pulling the netroot's chain

Sure, sites like Huffington Post and Daily Kos get more hits than her little corner of the world at Firedog Lake. But I've decided that the woman behind the scenes pulling the poutrager's chains is Hamsher. Whether others are willingly cooperating with her schemes is perhaps another story that will eventually be told. Right now, I don't know. But folks need to wake up and smell the coffee about how they're getting set up by Hamsher.

The other day I wrote about the message at Netroots Nation that should have been highlighted. Its the one that came from Van Jones. But as we all know by now, the "President is just not that into you" panel featuring Dan Choi berating a local activist took center stage. Not far behind was the insulting hit job on White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.

Perhaps because I was at the conference, I feel like I've got some "skin in the game" and so I'm following some of the stories in the back alleys that have surfaced about how that happened. Hamsher is actually the one who gave me some clues on that in a column she wrote about the incident with Choi. She says this:

I hadn’t planned on going to Netroots Nation until a few weeks ago. Dan Choi, Bill McKibben and I had participated in a panel called “What to do when the President’s just not that into you” at the Powershift conference in April, which was oriented towards environmental activism.

In May, Dan decided it would be great to reprise it for Netroots Nation. Not being a fan of summer travel (okay, well, travel period), I said “yes,” thinking it would never happen. The submission and selection process for Netroots Nation panels had long been completed, and I really didn’t think there was a chance to get on the schedule.

Well, never count Dan Choi out. Netroots had a last-minute panel cancellation and suddenly we were on...

I don't for a minute buy the crap about her disaffection with travel. But it is interesting that she uses the excuse that she didn't intend to grace us with her presence here initially. Perhaps there's something to the idea that they were dismissive of following the schedule for submitting a proposal for a panel. Since, as I said in a previous post, a little birdie at the conference told me that she has stacked the panel selection committee with her minions, it comes as no surprise that they found a spot for her.

The folks that I hung out with at the conference were pretty upset about 2 panels that were rejected by the committee. One was going to be about the invisibility of Native Americans in our political discourse that would have featured Native elders from around the country along with Navajo and Meteor Blades from Daily Kos. The other was meant to bring in local activists from the Twin Cities area to highlight their real work on the ground to address issues. Of course the people in charge of the conference were sooooo sorry they couldn't include these panels because there were so many wonderful alternatives and so little time. But somehow they found a way to plug in Hamsher and Choi with their hatefest at the last minute...interesting.

Here's how Hamsher summarized the conference:

If you had told me a year ago that a panel entitled “What to do when the President’s just not that into you” would be a love fest, and White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer would be greeted by booing and hissing, I would have said it was time to put down the crack pipe. But that is pretty much what happened.

Blind, tribalist loyalty to the President was in short supply.

Hmmmm Jane, did you maybe have something to do with that?

The next piece of the puzzle comes from a post by Angry Black Lady (ABL) In it, she tells the story of Matt Osborne who, a year and a half ago, wrote a piece calling Hamsher a ratfucker in the Nixonian tradition. ABL cites Osborne's twitter feed during the conference in which he points out that Hamsher managed to get her partner in crime Arianna to feature a story about her panel prominently at Huffington Post. Of course, that was followed up almost immediately by a story in Politico. And we're off to the races with a theme in the MSM about the conference.

But even more disturbing in Osbornes' twitter feed is him saying that, during the conference, he was offered a paid writing gig in "the movement" (his term), but was told that if he took it, he would have to dial back the criticism of Hamsher. Here are his three posts about that:

Oh, but now that I'm being offered paid work inside the movement I have to "dial back" my criticism of ratfuckers

The reason I must "dial back" is that everyone has something going on w/Jane. But wait, there's more

The word to "dial back" came with FRESH HELL stories of how awful Jane is!

So everyone "has something going on w/ Jane" (I assume that means they're beholden to her for $) and whoever it was that offered a paid gig has "FRESH HELL stories of how awful Jane is!" If Osborne wants to actually start trying to make some money doing this work - he'll have to play it Jane's way and be nice to her.

We've all known for a long time that there's a lot of behind the scenes dealing in the Netroots as folks try to figure out how to make this blogging world financially sustainable. It looks to me like Jane has figured out how to play the game with the power brokers and they're beholden enough to her to feed into her agenda - even though they think she's "awful." She's the ultimate "professional left" the Obama administration was referring to.

With that in mind, I'd suggest that folks who are participating in the netroots need to decide if they want their chains yanked this way by Jane Hamsher. Either find a way to take back the forums or get the hell out and refuse to be a part of the game she's playing.

Oh, and perhaps one other reason why I took all of this so personally. Here's how Hamsher ends her article.

The anonymous trolls who flood social media channels with blind obedience to the White House were almost nowhere to be found at Netroots Nation 2011, while the people who were willing to match their faces to their names don’t seem willing to accept “better than Sarah Palin” as a sufficient response to the problems the country faces right now. It might behoove some enterprising journalists to start asking why these mysterious people who spend all day long cheering the President and attacking his critics on social networking sites apparently don’t want to show their faces.

Yeah, I guess she missed the fact that I was there - and not anonymously. Of course, anyone who doesn't buy into her Obama derangement syndrome is channeling blind obedience. Is it a surprise to anyone that more of us didn't choose to attend because of the hatefest she and her minions dish out on a daily basis? You can find us showing our faces daily doing the work on the ground - be it in our local organizations or with groups like OFA. We even occasionally blog about it...anonymously or otherwise. Careful Jane, those enterprising journalists you want to send to find us just might find a story worth telling.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What does it mean to be an American?

I've asked this question on a couple of occasions here - once about Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo and again after listening to the benediction at the Tucson Memorial delivered by Carlos Gonzales.

Now, the question is being asked very powerfully by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. Please take a few minutes to watch this.



Vargas has also written an article titled My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant for the New York Times Magazine.

Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.

I have no idea what kind of toll it takes on one to live this kind of life - nor the courage it must have taken for Vargas to speak about it all publicly now. What I do know is that however you choose to define American - Vargas, and the thousands of others like him, need to be included.

Michelle Obama speaks at the Young African Women Leaders Forum

Today Michelle Obama delivered the keynote address to the Young African Women Leaders Forum at the historic Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, South Africa.

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Here are some excerpts from her speech:

And you all know the story –- how 35 years ago this month, a group of students planned a peaceful protest to express their outrage over a new law requiring them to take courses in Afrikaans. Thousands of them took to the streets, intending to march to Orlando Stadium.

But when security forces opened fire, some fled here to this church. The police followed, first with tear gas, and then with bullets.

And while no one was killed within this sanctuary, hundreds lost their lives that day, including a boy named Hector Pieterson, who was just 12 years old, and Hastings Ndlovu, who was just 15...

So the question today is, what will you make of that inheritance? What legacy will you leave for your children and your grandchildren? What generation will you be?...

So over the next 20 years, the next 50 years, our future will be shaped by your leadership.

And I want to pause for a moment on that word -– leadership -- because I know that so often, when we think about what that word means, what it means to be a leader, we think of presidents and prime ministers. We think of people who pass laws or command armies, run big businesses, people with fancy titles, big salaries.

And most young people don’t fit that image. And I know that often when you try to make your voices heard, sometimes people don’t always listen. I know there are those who discount your opinions, who tell you you’re not ready, who say that you should sit back and wait your turn.

But I am here today because when it comes to the challenges we face, we simply don’t have time to sit back and wait.

I’m here because I believe that each of you is ready, right here and right now, to start meeting these challenges.

And I am here because I know that true leadership -– leadership that lifts families, leadership that sustains communities and transforms nations –- that kind of leadership rarely starts in palaces or parliaments.

That kind of leadership is not limited only to those of a certain age or status. And that kind of leadership is not just about dramatic events that change the course of history in an instant.

Instead, true leadership often happens with the smallest acts, in the most unexpected places, by the most unlikely individuals...

Now, I have to be honest. Your efforts might not always draw the world’s attention, except for today. You may not find yourself leading passionate protests that fill stadiums and shut down city streets. And the change you seek may come slowly, little by little, measured not by sweeping changes in the law, but by daily improvements in people’s lives.

But I can tell you from my own experience –- and from my husband’s experience -– that this work is no less meaningful, no less inspiring, and no less urgent than what you read about in the history books...

I hope that all of you will reject the false comfort that others’ suffering is not your concern, or if you can’t solve all the world’s problems, then you shouldn’t even try.

Instead, as one of our great American presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, liked to say, I hope that you will commit yourselves to doing “what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are,” because in the end, that is what makes you a lion. Not fortune, not fame, not your pictures in history books, but the refusal to remain a bystander when others are suffering, and that commitment to serve however you can, where you are.

Now it will not be easy. You women know that already. You will have failures and setbacks and critics and plenty of moments of frustration and doubt. But if you ever start to lose heart, I brought you all here today because I want you to think of each other...

So you may not always have a comfortable life. And you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once. But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own...

So today, I want you to know that as you work to lift up your families, your communities, your countries and your world, know that you are never alone. You are never alone.

As Bobby Kennedy said here in South Africa all those years ago: “…you are joined with fellow young people in every land, they struggling with their problems and you with yours, but all joined in a common purpose…determined to build a better future.”

And if anyone of you ever doubts that you can build that future, if anyone ever tells you that you shouldn’t or you can’t, then I want you to say with one voice –- the voice of a generation –- you tell them, “Yes, we can.”

And with that...the church said "Amen."

To close, just a couple of pictures that I absolutely adore. First of all this one...to think of the legacy Malia and Sasha are inheriting.

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And then, just more absolutely adorable children!

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The MSM and Netroots Miss the Story

A few weeks ago I was thrilled to see that Salon highlighted the story about the DOJ's Civil Rights Division focus on police brutality. But it didn't surprise me that almost no other media (traditional or alternative) picked up on the story.

The same thing happened last week when Time broke this story.

It has been nearly a decade since Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi prisoner known as "the Iceman" — for the bungled attempt to cool his body and make him look less dead — perished in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib. But now there are rumbles in Washington that the notorious case, as well as other alleged CIA abuses, could be returning to haunt the agency. TIME has learned that a prosecutor tasked with probing the CIA — John Durham, a respected, Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney from Connecticut — has begun calling witnesses before a secret federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., looking into, among other things, the lurid Nov. 4, 2003, homicide, which was documented by TIME in 2005.

TIME has obtained a copy of a subpoena signed by Durham that points to his grand jury's broader mandate, which could involve charging additional CIA officers and contract employees in other cases. The subpoena says "the grand jury is conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving War Crimes (18 USC/2441), Torture (18 USC 243OA) and related federal offenses."

In 2009 — after President Barack Obama replaced President George W. Bush — new U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder tapped Durham to review roughly a dozen cases of alleged abuse against “war on terror” suspects that had gone dormant. Holder's decision to expand the probe occurred shortly before the CIA released a five-year-old IG report detailing a litany of detainee abuse by the agency.

Anyone who has travelled in places populated by the poutragers knows that - other than criticizing the Obama administration about the Wall Street bailout - the biggest complaint they have is that Attorney General Holder is not going after torturers and war crimes.

What they fail to realize are two things:

1. The passage of the Military Commissions Act combined with the OLC memos made much of what the previous administration did very difficult (if not impossible) to prosecute in a court of law.

2. Building a case that has a chance in court takes time - often years. We're now seeing the fruits of some of the Special Prosecutor's work.

But perhaps more importantly, the narrative that Obama and Holder are complicit with the Bush administration in all of this because of their apparent failure to prosecute, got developed and will not be budged. I learned about this Grand Jury from the diary at Daily Kos linked to above. But it sunk into oblivion there without much notice. And of course, champions of torture prosecutions like Glenn Greenwald seem to have failed to notice it at all.

I tend to think about the story of the tree falling in the forest. If no one is around to hear, does it make a sound? The Obama administration is very often at work on the very things that progressives say they want. But what happens if no one notices?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Message Netroots Nation Could Have Promoted

I finally found a decent video of the whole speech Van Jones gave at Netroots Nation.



This was an important message...especially for this crowd. He started off by talking about the fact that he can guarantee that - after traveling the country - people are ready to fight back. The thing he can't guarantee is whether we will fight together or fight alone.

In order to demonstrate the issue, he had some slides that showed us all in silos centered around our various concerns...labor, racial justice, enviros, women's rights, LGBT rights, immigration rights. And then he talked about how we all came together during the election under the "Obama brand." He pointed out how "our guy got a promotion" and now we're back to where we started - the splintered silos.

In contrast, he talked about the Tea Party being organized around principles rather than a person. That kind of movement is more enduring.

Here's something close to a quote:

They talk about rugged individualism but they have enacted the most collectivist strategy for taking power in the history of the republic.

The irony...we talk kumbaya, solidarity forever.... but we have enacted the most individualist approach to politics.

Then he asked whether we can find a common brand to march under that nobody owns.

We can no longer rely on a single charismatic individual. People let you down...principles and values are enduring.

Van's proposal...in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr:

I have a dream. Its deeply rooted in the American Dream.

He distinguished this from the "American Fantasy" that's about everyone getting rich and the idea that buying things will make you happy.

I’m talking about something much, much deeper than that. Something that we had in this country until the commercializers turned it into something else. The American Dream was simply the idea that hard work should pay in our country. That you should be able to get up in the morning in America, and if you willing to and are able to work, walk out your front door, go to a dignified job, put in a good day’s work and come back home with a paycheck that you can feed your family with and give your children a better life. That’s the American Dream. That’s what our parents fought for and our grandparents fought for and we should not let it be taken away from us on our watch. That’s the American Dream.

And we have Dream killers. Dream killers, who have a wrecking ball agenda for our country. A wrecking ball for America. But they painted that wrecking ball red, white and blue. And they think we’re going to salute their red, white and blue wrecking ball? They got another thought coming in the United States of America. No. It’s time for the deep patriots to stand up to the cheap patriots. It’s time for the deep patriots who love this country and who love everybody in this country, no matter what color you are or who you want to marry or what kind of piercing you got in your nose, we love everybody, we are the deep patriots. They’re the cheap patriots and I’m tired of them questioning us and what we stand for.

So are we going to stand together?

Van has teamed up with some other progressive organizations to Rebuild the Dream. This Thursday night you can live stream their kick off event featuring Jones and "The Roots" at 8:15 EDT at that link.

This is such an important question - are we going to stand together or try to fight alone? I know that I have been wrestling with it ever since I first heard his speech. It should have been the theme coming out of Netroots Nation rather than the crap about "He's just not that into you." In my fantasy world, every liberal/progressive blog would be highlighting this message, but so far there's barely a peep about it.

I have my reasons for why I think its been overlooked. Of course the MSM is much more attracted to the schisms that were on display at the conference. And then there's the fact that, while I was there, a little birdie told me that a certain female blogger (that apparently will work for any politician - Democrat or Republican - who is willing to put up the dough) has stacked the deck with her minions on the panel selection committee for NN. Is it any wonder that the news out of the convention is that liberal bloggers have broken up with their boyfriend Obama? I'm not a conspiracy theorist - but I know manipulation when I see it.

For me, whether they are on the left or the right, I'll not follow those who promote division. Please listen to and heed the wise words of Van Jones and keep working to find the common bonds.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Daily Kos Front-Pager Needs a Civics Lesson

One of the things I looked forward to at Netroots Nation was the opportunity to attend the plenary session with Dan Pfeiffer (White House Communications Director) and the breakout with Jeremy Bird (Obama's National Field Director). I might have more to say about the later at some other time, but I actually had to walk out of the session with Pfeiffer just a few minutes before it was over because I was so frustrated I could feel my blood pressure rising.

Interviewing Pfeiffer was DK front-pager Kalli Joy Gray (Angry Mouse). The first thing that got under my skin were her unprofessional, dismissive, irony-loaded "tut-tuts" at the end of almost every answer he gave. And then came her line about how "tired" we all are of hearing about the Lilly Ledbetter Act - which was rather ironic in itself coming from someone who is supposedly focused on the current "war on women." I'd guess she's also done with hearing about Roe vs Wade. It's just been soooo overdone. < snark >

But I was totally shocked at the ignorance she displayed about our political institutions. During the course of the interview she focused several times on legislation happening in the states about women's health and immigration - asking what President Obama is going to do about that. Is she not aware that he is not the Governor of all 50 states?

It really went over the top for me when she started the questioning you can see at about 6:00 on this video.



First of all, she wants to draw a comparison to George W. Bush, who was able to accomplish so much of his agenda. To lead into this, she states that Bush had a minority of Republicans in Congress for much of his tenure. I'd simply like her to take a look at history to get a clue. Bush had Republican majorities in both the House and Senate for 6 of his 8 years as President.

She goes on to ask "Is there anything Obama can do without Congress?" (Of course, another angle on the irony of all this is that she had previously criticized the administration for not getting Congressional approval for our involvement in Libya.) My response to her would have been to ask her to go back to her civics books and learn a little bit about the separation of powers that is written into our Constitution - and why our founders thought that would be important.

The crux of the problem is that she's saying that she wants President Obama to be more like Bush. I have 2 words for you Kalli...imperial presidency. We're not supposed to be FOR it.

Of course this session got a lot of media attention and the poutragers are giving themselves huge pats on the back for going after the administration. I'd suggest that instead they ought to be ashamed of their ignorance.