January 31, 2009

What A Difference Ten Days Make

Can you believe it’s only been ten days since President Obama took office?

It’s remarkable: between the Leadbetter Act for fair pay, the order to close the Guantanmo Bay detention center, an outright rejection on torture…President Obama has been very busy rolling back the injustices and errors of the Bush Presidency, and he’s got a lot more work to do to get us out of the mess that he and his Congressional cronies (who continue to try and drive this country into the ground) got us into.

Isaiah Poole, writing for the Campaign for America’s Future blog, has a great rundown of the actions of the past 10 days:

The positives so far are sweeping:

* An executive order that commits the United States to closing the international shame that is Guantanamo Bay, and that will finally mean that Guantanamo detainees will receive legal due process—and that the United States has returned to respecting the rule of law.
* An executive order, and a clear statement from Obama’s attorney general-designate Eric Holder, that reject the Bush administration’s policy on torture.
* Repeal of the Bush administration order that banned funding to international family planning organizations that supported legal abortions, which means that vital women’s health services to poor countries will begin flowing again.
* President Obama’s signing on Thursday of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which will finally allow victims of wage discrimination a fair chance in the courts to get the justice due them. Ledbetter, who lost a conservative Supreme Court ruling that she could not pursue a wage discrimination claim because of an impractical statute of limitations, was able to witness the White House signing.
* A memorandum that allows California and several other states to impose tough auto-emissions standards, a move that a New York Times analysis suggests is the first step in a relationship with state governments of “progressive federalism.”
* Obama’s interview with the Al-Arabiya television network, in which he pledged a relationship of mutual respect with the Arab world, backed with the reminder that he has direct Muslim familial ties. The interview has immediately opened possibilities for diplomatic progress with the Arab world on a host of issues.
* Obama’s visit to the Pentagon this week to make clear his intention to follow through on his campaign promise of a safe and responsible withdrawal from Iraq and a refocusing of resources on repairing the Bush administration’s disastrous handling of the fight against al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

Then there is the economic recovery bill that dominated the news this week, a bill that my colleague Bernie Horn calls “the biggest and boldest progressive legislation in 40 years,” even with its concessions to business interests and conservative whiners. This bill makes a significant down payment toward addressing both the short- and long-term challenges of rebuilding the economy and assuring that prosperity is more broadly spread than it was under President Bush.

That’s the damned truth. I wouldn’t be naive enough to think that the conservatives and libertarians have learned their lesson and understand that progress and progressive policies are nothing to be afraid of (in fact, in a healthy democracy, conservatism would be the check that keeps progress to speeding too quickly and spinning out of control, not what the neo-conservative movement seems to think: that conservatism is to keep the country firmly entrenched in one place, or at best rolled back to a more privileged and preferable time for them and their friends), but I can hope that the American people have learned a lesson that we won’t soon forget.

I just wish we didn’t have to pay with our homes and our savings, thanks to the policies of conservatism. In any event, there’s cause to be happy and look forward, and we have a lot of work left to do, even as we absolutely must keep the memory of the effects of the past 8 years fresh in our minds. President Obama will need all of our help to make sure the vision he shares with us for a stronger, better tomorrow becomes reality.

[ What A Difference Ten Days Make ]
Source: Campaign for America’s Future

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Lie, Lie Again

As a follow up to my last post, I think Bill Scher has a few choice words for the Republicans in the House who voted against the stimulus plan – and the ones in the Senate planning to vote against it:

You’re lying, and we all know it.

For example:

The House is debating the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on the floor as I write this. And the conservative minority is employing the same tactics that have led them into the minority: failed ideas wrapped in fresh lies.

The big lie/talking point being repeated on the floor is that their own alternative economic plan “will create 6.2 million new American jobs over the next two years, according to a methodology used by President Obama’s own nominee as Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, Dr. Christina Romer.”

For the past month, conservatives have been distorting and misapplying Romer’s 1994 economic paper to claim that tax cuts offer a huge “multiplier” effect for the economy, and public investment offers nothing. Of course, the conservative claims have been repeatedly debunked, most prominently this past Sunday by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman on ABC’s This Week, but also by Brad DeLong and Nate Silver

But being debunked hasn’t ever stopped conservatives before. So they released an alternative plan that is all tax cuts, no public investment, then used their fictional Romer formula to calculate it would create 6.2 million jobs.

BREAKING NEWS (RealityBurg, ObviousLand): We just spent eight years trying to create jobs and grow the economy with only tax cuts and no public investment. It was a colossal flop, no matter how you interpret one aide’s academic paper from 15 years ago.

Of course, that was only one of the lies spluttered out during the course of debate.

The whole piece is absolute gold.

[ If At First You Don't Succeed, Lie, Lie Again ]
Source: Campaign for America’s Future Blog

House Passes Stimulus, Republicans Forget History…Again

The saying goes, “The House does what the House does,” but this is exceptionally remarkable.

After a stinging election and an utter and complete rebuke of the Bush-era economic policies and the same policies that dominated a Republican-dominated Congress, congressional republicans still don’t get it.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly referred to as “The Stimulus Plan,” passed the House of Representatives with an overwhelming majority – just without a single Republican vote, even after Barack Obama personally went to visit Republican leaders to seek their compromise and agreement on the bill.

I had hoped that in the spirit of unity and collaboration that followed the election of Barack Obama, and the stinging lesson that the American people had previously given the Republicans by taking them out of the majority in both sides of the Legislature in 2006, that they would understand that we see through their lies, we know who they’re really out to protect, and if they’re really interested in the well being of the American people, they’d lift their heads up and start using them – but apparently that’s far from the truth.

As usual, the Republicans feinted against the bill complaining there’s too much spending and not enough tax cuts – the kind of tax cuts that Bush favored, the kind that benefit the wealthiest Americans while the middle class and poor wallow in debt and lose their homes. The kinds of tax cuts that got us into this mess.

The Republicans even went to the point of rewriting history and claiming that The New Deal didn’t work, so we shouldn’t spend money now. They claimed they didn’t have input into the drafting of the bill, when the committee meetings and working groups and the visit by the President prove that’s anything but the truth.

The Republicans claimed that this wouldn’t create jobs and stimulate the economy fast enough – the fast part is the critical one, they don’t debate that the bill will stimulate the economy and create jobs, it’s the speed they care about. What they carefully choose to omit is the fact that most economic indicators say that this recession could be long and difficult.

That means that a quick jumpstart followed by an absolute lack of funding for projects that will keep people employed and create new industries that America can invest in and lead will essentially get us back to the same place we are now. Obama’s plan would get America back to work quickly, while simultaneously building next-generation industries that will employ Americans for decades, and give our children new areas in which to train, find their passions, and find work.

Instead, Republicans are complaining, and want a plan that doesn’t invest in America’s future in any way. No money to retrain workers, no money for educating our children in next generation industries, no money for green jobs and new energy technologies that will benefit us and our children. They just want tax cuts for their buddies who are already sucking at the Treasury to save their businesses.

How short their memories are: when Congress gave us all tax rebates and sent us Treasury checks in the mail, we learned how temporary that kind of tax-based, short-term stimulus can be. We had money in our pockets – many of us saved it, many of us spent it, and the economy delivered an uptick that was widely agreed worked as planned. But what happened? The economy turned south again as the people who got those biggest checks drove our major financial institutions into the ground.

So much for post-partisanship, so much for a new bi-partisan era, and so much for Republican promises that they understand the American people want them to “stop bickering and get back to work.” Instead they sit like defeated bullies, whining that they didn’t get to have their say on one element or another, or their amendment was voted down, all tantamount to “we didn’t get what we want, so we’ll claim you’re not listening to us,” behaving like elementary schoolers rebuffed by a teacher.

Hopefully Obama will have better luck in the Senate, and I sincerely hope so – for the Republicans’ sake. If this bill passes, and it will, and it does the trick, like it will, and the Republicans are caught fiddling while America burns and the Democrats come in with the fire extinguishers, the American people will never forget it. And rightfully so.

[ House Passes Obama's Stimulus Plan (With Zero GOP Votes) ]
Source: AlterNet

On Juan Williams and Michael Steele

The Republicans are furious right now. They’re tired of being viewed as the party of hatred; the party that opposed voting rights for Black Americans, civil rights and anti-discrimination laws, affirmative action, and in general is tired of being viewed as the party whose chairman is perfectly comfortable sending out hateful CDs to his colleagues with songs like “Barack the Magic Negro” on them.

The only problem is that their solution to that little problem, as it has always been, is not to actually do something about the real problem, to reach across the aisle and work with the people who may disagree with them, or do something to break down the veneer of hatred that’s surrounded the GOP. Their preferred solution is to find as many minorities that agree with them on one principle or another and trot them out in front of the cameras to prove that they can’t possibly be racist or hateful.

The election of Michael Steele – former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland (I should know, I voted against him, twice, once when he ran under Robert Ehrlich who became governor literally because the former Lieutenant Governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend absolutely failed to run a campaign. No, I’m not saying she didn’t campaign well – I can’t say that because she didn’t campaign at all. I voted against him the second time when he tried to run for an open Maryland US Senate seat, and was glad he lost.) and failed US Senate contender – to the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee reaffirms the GOP’s desire to do essentially what Steele did: talk a lot about being a party of inclusiveness and cooperation, and do very little to back up that talk.

The plan is obvious: Steele has a compelling personal story (Republican congressmen who voted simply couldn’t stop talking about his personal story) that could give them a serious national political contender with charm power like Barack Obama who also happens to be black. They saw how Barack Obama galvanized the Black American community, and they’re trying desperately to find a way to reproduce it. It’s a standard play from their playbook, a day late and a dollar short, and trust me, when they tried it in Maryland, the black community saw through it.

In any event, I don’t envy Steele. He has a huge job ahead of him: unifying a party that secretly, truly, and openly hates him. He’ll be trying desperately to bring the Republican party out of the wilderness, all when the majority and base of the party would rather dismiss him outright at best, or send him to the back of the bus at worst. (No, at worst you’d get the folks who would happily string him up at worst, but I’ll continue to hope and pray that those folks are on the fringe…even if mounting evidence proves otherwise.)

But on to Juan Williams, a commentator whose opinions I rather enjoyed on NPR when he happened to be on until he started slipping in his own political bias whenever possible – something that likely wound up getting him expelled (I would hope) from NPR to the point where I don’t have the displeasure of hearing his voice anymore. (There was a time whenever a Morning Edition host would utter the words “Black Americans” that I knew that Juan William’s voice would be drooling from my speakers in the next 30 seconds)

Juan really lost me when he broke a “study” that claimed that Black Americans could legitimately be considered “two different races,” which in reality had more to do with the fact that sociopolitical opinion in the Black American community stratified based on class when it came to certain issues – an assumption that likely wouldn’t hold true today, and was highly in doubt back then.

In any event, Williams has retreated to the safe haven of Fox News, where he’s the effective “yessir” commentator, parroting back agreement anytime someone like Bill O’Reilly says something imminently racist or inflammatory. For example:

Williams has, over the years, found it very hard to dissent from Fox News’ unregulated hatred of black people. His ability to remain at the service of his bosses has earned him a special place in O’Reilly’s and Hannity’s hearts. A frequent analyst, he is prone to say what he feels is compatible with Fox News’ racist identity. As the African American go-to guy for black-bashing, immigrant-bashing, Iraqi-bashing, Williams knows his role and plays it well. A couple of nights back, on the O’Reilly factor, Williams showed why he’s, after all, Fox News’ golden black boy.

Speaking with the avowed racist-host, Bill O’Reilly, Williams mentioned that Michelle Obama is a cause of concern for President Obama. On the subject of “liabilities for President Obama,” Williams said the first lady was “right there.” Further characterizing her as “Stokely Carmichael in a designer-dress,” Williams would go as far as stating that Michelle Obama’s “instinct is to start with this ‘blame America,’ you know, ‘I’m the victim [narrative].’ ”

The slow-witted pundit had some assistance from O’Reilly, who followed up, saying that such a step would signal death for Michelle Obama. For many readers, O’Reilly’s strong analysis invokes an eerie feeling, as one who, earlier in the ‘08 presidential race, promised to investigate Michelle Obama’s patriotism, and thereafter, decide if a “lynching party” was appropriate for her.

This is the part where I have the exquisite opportunity to remind you that no individual black person has the right to or the authority to speak for everyone of their ethnic group, racial group, or any other self-identified group. Christians get in arms when evangelicals claim to speak for them, for example, there’s no reason to think that one Black person – or even a handful – have the right to speak for an entire community, or are even in sync with the opinions of an entire community.

The sad thing is that as people like Michael Steele and Juan Williams continue to make their appearances and continue to nod their heads at the racism in their own ranks, White Americans who see this and self-identify as conservative will slowly become more and more entrenched in their own racism and their own privilege, if for no other reason than a Black face is on the television telling them essentially, “It’s okay, you can hate me, I totally see why you would.”

[ Fox News Is Using the Obamas to Perfect Its Racist Attacks on Black America ]
Source: Alternet

January 25, 2009

President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

If you missed the Inaugural address on Tuesday, you missed a fabulous speech (the Benediction was a close second). But did you know the White House has a blog?

It does! And the video from the address is available right now. Watch it below, or head over to the White House Blog to read the speech and download a high-quality version of the video, or watch in HD at YouTube.

[ President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address ]
Source: The White House Blog

We Must Answer King’s Call to Serve

One of the strongest sentiments that I got from Obama’s Inauguratal speech was the call to serve – the call to serve the community, the call to make America a better place, and the fact that when I called my mother and father to see how they were doing on Tuesday afternoon, listening to my father – who never thought he would live to see Tuesday – explain to me that I’m living in a wonderful time, to see the beginning of something wonderful, and that President Obama will need every helping hand he can get to change course in America and make our wonderful land a better place to leave to our children. I started digging around non-profit organizations and charity groups that could use someone with the professional skills that I have. One of the great things about living in the Washington DC metro area is that I’m close to a lot of this action, and the atmosphere in the city has changed entirely with the new President sleeping at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But this is bigger than me, and it’s bigger than any one of us, and it’s much bigger than any of the cynics and detractors who are already rubbing their hands together waiting to crow failure from any mistake that President Obama may make. These are the folks who are sitting in the shadows like cockroaches, waiting for their opportunity to jump forward when you’re not looking and say something horrifying – the ones that are already claiming that Obama’s presidency is a failure, less than a week into it – the people who are more than willing to sit back and complain without doing anything to make their country a better place.

When Bush was in office, a lot of us on the left talked a big game, but through it all was the need for us to get up, get out, and make our voices heard, either in the boardroom, the classroom, on the street, or in the halls of government – and especially in the voting booth on Election Day. The same is true now, if not more so. The temptation may be to sit back and relax and let someone trustworthy and intelligent take the wheel for the first time in eight years, but we have to resist that temptation. One man can make a lot of difference, but the difference he can make with all of us on board supporting him and making the changes in ourselves that we want to see in America is immeasurable.

As we remember the civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today, parts of his famously eloquent speeches will be repeated. Yet in these trying economic times, and on the eve of a historic presidential inauguration, one of his simpler declarations rings especially true:

“We have an opportunity to make a better nation.”

The country is celebrating the memory of its greatest civil rights leader the same week its first African-American president takes office. As if completing the circle, King’s words laid the historical groundwork for President-elect Barack Obama’s “Yes, we can.”

When King spoke of a better nation, he often encouraged community service. In that same spirit, Obama has called for a national day of service today, the federal holiday commemorating King’s birthday. It’s a theme the Obama administration is expected to emphasize over the next four years.

President John F. Kennedy famously challenged citizens: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” President George H.W. Bush talked of “a thousand points of light,” referring to volunteers and other public servants. But Obama’s declaration of King’s birthday as a day of service has a special resonance this year.

If the unprecedented enthusiasm of last year’s campaign and election translates into higher levels of volunteerism and community service, all Americans will benefit.

Find a cause you’re involved in, regardless of your perspective or opinion about it, and get involved. It’s enriching to the mind, spirit, and our nation.

[ We Must Answer King's Call to Serve ]
Source: Truthout

Yes, We Can Make the Stimulus More Stimulating

Aside from the photo of President Obama eating at Ben’s Chili Bowl (I really need to head down there now, I haven’t been in a couple of months), the topic of the article is the economic stimulus package that’s currently working its way through the House and Senate right now. There’s no question that the stimulus is necessary, and the things that Obama is planning on using the stimulus money for are more than worth the investments (science, technology, education, public works, etc). Even so, congressional Republicans, ever so eager to make sure the financial turmoil that they so helped create manages to persist long enough that no one on the other side of the aisle from them can claim success in trying to fix it (seriously, you’ll earn more points with the American people for helping fix the mess you created, not trying to stand in the way) are crowing about the cost (although they had fewer problems with the $700 billion for Wall Street) and the speedy nature of the package.

The fact that folks on the left who generally stand with me are somewhat displeased and want the bill to be bigger and spend more money on government programs and folks on the right are irritated at how successful it’ll be really means that it’s probably really close to what it should be. But that all being said, there are some improvements that can be made to the bill to make it even more appealing. Dean Baker, writing for TruthOut, has a few suggestions, including extending health insurance benefit, providing a cash payout to get older, environmentally unfriendly and clunky cars off the road, money for the development of innovative open-source and free software, funding for creative workers like artists and writers, paying out to businesses for encourage shorter workweeks and longer vacations to make happier and more productive employees, and more.

The list is pretty solid, and while there’s already talk about a government “cash for your clunker” program in the works, I don’t know how much the government will want to get involved with things like subsidies for shorter workweeks and longer vacations, as much as I’d love to see it. That being said, when the stimulus program is finally unveiled, I’m sure there will be people crowing that their industry didn’t get enough funding, or other industries who weren’t included at all – here’s hoping that a good chunk of the money will wind up going to the States where they can funnel into other projects that benefit local communities; that’s where I think programs like public transit subsidies will come from. It’s unlikely that the Federal Government will create a national program when they can instead send the money to the States to create programs more targeted to their local community needs, unless it’s something that’s critical to all Americans like health care and public funding for clinical trials.

[ Yes, We Can Make the Stimulus More Stimulating ]
Source: TruthOut

January 20, 2009

Lifting a Glass

I could go on about how today is a historic day, and how much it means to me personally on a number of levels, but I’m really just feeling the culmination of the same feelings I’ve already discussed. But that being said, watching President Obama (damn it feels good to say that) walk on the street during the Inaugural Parade, waving at hundreds of thousands of onlookers crowded in the Washington DC winter to see him, listening to him give a rousing Inaugural address, watching him recline happily while listening to music composed by John Williams and performed by Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill with every fiber of his being – all of that filled me with a sense of hope and optimism that I don’t think will be matched anywhere in the near future.

I called my parents to speak to them about what they were doing, and they both explained how emotional this moment was for them; that they never thought they’d live to see the day. It was remarkable, sharing this moment with them, and hearing my father explain to me how this is the beginning of something wonderful that I’m living to see, and that I have the time to make an impact on its outcome. That being said, I choose to.

As I watched Executive 1 (formerly Marine 1) take off with George and Laura Bush aboard and take them to Andrews, and then again as the jet formerly known as Air Force One took off from Andrews to take them firmly away from the seat of American power and to the middle of Texas, my friends and I gathered around the TV (because we were too chicken to head into town to join the masses ourselves) and heaved a sigh of relief as we gleefully waved him off.

It’s been quite a remarkable day, and as the night falls and the celebration begins, we’re embarking on an American journey unlike any we’ve been on before. The symbolic nature of this inauguration is indisputable, and it coming on the heels of Martin Luther King Day heightens its impact. The challenges are great, but I can’t think of a better man to lead us in tackling them – and with our help and support, overcoming them.

So raise a glass to our new President: Barack Hussein Obama. Wish him the best, because he’ll need it, our support, and perhaps most of all, our participation in turning our country around. He can’t do it by himself, and he’s already said he has no intention to go it alone.

[ Drowning Our Sorrows, Lifting a Glass ]
Source: The Nation

Unexpected Wisdom from Some-Ecards

after 8 years
January 11, 2009

The RNC and the “Magic Negro”

Regardless of how you might try to explain it, and how some people seem to think this is nothing serious and just another example of the black community getting riled up over what the privileged community perceives to be “nothing,” the whole “Magic Negro” controversy has some very important lessons to be learned, and they have little to do with the subject of the song or the people the song demeans and everything to do with the people who publicized the song and the people who seem willing to step up to its defense as “satire” and “humor.”

Some brilliant commentary about what this means for the Republican party from Dr. Wilmer J Leon III, writing at TruthOut:

Most people are “hypersensitive” to being insulted and demeaned. As it relates to African-Americans and the Republican Party, one only has to reflect upon recent history to understand their sensitivity. The Republican Party has a history of using race to create fear and galvanize its base. Examples include the Southern Strategy, Willie Horton, the attack on affirmative action, tying Harold Ford in Tennessee to relationships with white women, and the constant quoting of President-elect Obama’s middle name in a veiled attempt to make him appear a threat and un-American. With this history, one must ask, can the Republican Party ever become a party of inclusion?

As the Republican Party tries to reinvent itself and appeal to a broader cross-section of the electorate, it must come to grips with the reality that words without deeds ring hollow. The Republican Party lost control of the House, Senate and Executive Branch for a number of reasons. One of which is that over time, reality caught up with their rhetoric and the two were not consistent.

The right’s attack on the black community is more than well documented, historically and anecdotally. The transgressions continue today as white Americans seem to think it’s just hilarious to make claims that a wing of the White House will now be home to a KFC or that Watermelon will be planted over the Rose Garden or that grape soda sales will shoot through the roof now for some absurd reason. Apparently black people are loud in movie theatres as well, although that’s not something I’ve ever experienced – at least not to any extent that’s greater than white people or people of any other race or ethnicity. If this is what the right thinks is “humor,” and if their only definition of funny is something that’s subsequently demeaning, then they’re farther behind the rest of us than I could have possibly imagined.

There’s proof to this point, as the original song was distributed by the party leadership:

This past December, Republican National Committee chair candidate John “Chip” Saltsman distributed a CD to fellow party officials entitled “We Hate the USA.” One of the songs on the CD is entitled “Barack the Magic Negro.” It was written by conservative satirist Paul Shanklin and aired on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program.

The title of the song is based on a March 19, 2007, Los Angeles Times article entitled Obama the “Magic Negro,” written by David Ehrenstein. In the article, Ehrenstein makes the argument that then-Senator Obama lends himself to white America’s idealized standards of a less-than-real black man. According to Ehrenstein, “For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems; the more desirable he becomes.”

The song is a parody of Rev. Al Sharpton lamenting the fact that much of the national spotlight has shifted away from him and now shines brightly on President-elect Obama. The song (sung to “Puff the Magic Dragon”) opens with:

Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C. The L.A. Times they called him that ’cause he’s not authentic like me … See, real black men like Snoop Dogg or me or Farrakhan; have talked-the-talk and walked-the-walk, not come in late and won.

This song is one of forty-one on the CD entitled “We Hate the USA.” Other titles include “Bank of Amigo;” “The Star-Spanglish Banner;” “Mister Tan Marine Man;” and “I am Woman.” At a time when the Republican Party is seeking to reinvent itself and expand its base, America is not well-served by such futile attempts at humor.

Sharpton’s arrogance and jealousy aside (with note that I wish he would simply step aside and let a new generation of leaders step up), his own ignorance and anger has turned into a weapon to be used against the very community he claims to serve (although in reality, it’s been clear for years that he serves no one but himself and his own interests). But the point here is the climate in the Republican party that brings them to so clearly “satire” the people they obviously hate: blacks, women, and hispanics.

What’s perhaps most remarkable is that while the Republicans were out front courting votes and approval from all of these groups during the campaign, they were -as they usually do- snickering and laughing and admonishing them in the background. If there’s any doubt that the party on the right is the party of hate, let it be quelled now.

[ The RNC and the "Magic Negro" ]
Source: TruthOut