January 10, 2011

Justice Scalia’s ‘Originalist’ Hypocrisy (and that of the GOP)

This one hit the radar a couple of weeks ago and it makes me laugh every time I read it – for being what lawyers and judges call an “originalist,” as in, he believes in interpreting the constitution to the letter, Justice Antonin Scalia certainly has tons of revisionist ideas of what the Constitution says. After all, this week he says that the whole “equal protection under the law” apparently doesn’t apply to women, and that the Constitution offers them no protection against discrimination.

That’s right – it’s one thing if you want to say something about the Constitution’s implied protections for African-Americans (who were slaves at the time and there was debate even then if they should be protected, culminating in the decision that African-Americans were three-fifths human, which gave them carte blanche to ignore us entirely…what, didn’t know about that? Those are in the parts of the Constitution that the Tea Party thugs who claim to honor the document so highly decided to conveniently avoid reading when they did their theatrical reading on the House floor last week) but the founders made it clear that women were supposed to have the same legal protections, even if they didn’t believe at the time they should have the same rights to vote and own property.

Yet again, Scalia reveals himself as being an “originalist,” but only when he supports the perspective of the founders – anything else is conveniently bent to the right.

“In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation,” Scalia said in a recent interview with the legal magazine California Lawyer.

“So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both? Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that.”

However, if the “original intent” of the amendment’s drafters was so determinative – that the 14th Amendment supposedly was only meant to apply to black men at the end of slavery – it might be safe to assume that the drafters weren’t thinking about protecting a white man like George W. Bush from possibly losing an election in Florida in 2000.

Here’s the beauty of the piece all summed up and pretty:

n other words, Scalia and other right-wing justices operate with a situational ethic when it comes to “originalism” and “strict construction.” If their partisan and ideological interests require the abandoning of those precepts, the principles are dumped overboard.

That is what most of us would call hypocrisy or dishonesty. But Scalia, like many on the Right, operates with a curious sense of false righteousness, at least when his “principles” match up with his ideology and partisan interests.

In the recent interview, Scalia packaged his assessment of “originalist” intent on the 14th Amendment as a tough-minded recognition of the facts. Scalia claimed that the amendment’s provisions should only relate to the “original” intent of extending legal rights to black men.

He framed his argument as an invitation to state legislatures to grant women, gays and other groups equal rights. But that also suggests that the states would be free to deny these Americans their rights, if the legislatures saw fit.

In essence, leave it up to the states, and he’s already laid the groundwork for his own denial of equal rights on Constitutional grounds going forward. It’s not only unfortunate, but it’s horrifying, and it’s horrifying that his perspective has managed to stay on the highest court for so long. I’m far from an originalist, mostly because I think the Constitution, which is an amazing document, is a framework – a prism through which the founders intended future generations to peer and look at the world they lived in, not a stone tablet they expected future Americans to adhere to the letter at all times.

But sadly, the definition of conservatism is to maintain the status quo and avoid progress at all costs – to live in the false righteousness that the way things “are” is the way things “should be,” or the way things “were” are better than the way things “are.” It’s unfortunate, but very real – and as we see in Justice Scalia, it’s a perspective we have a great deal of work remaining to fight against.

[ Justice Scalia’s ‘Originalist’ Hypocrisy ]
Source: Consortium News

January 3, 2011

Arizona Bans Ethnic Studies and, Along With it, Reason and Justice

Oh Arizona, you never cease to amaze me. This was mentioned back in May of 2010 when the depths of the Arizona Republican establishment’s xenophobia, nativism, and ethnocentrism (I’m purposefully stopping just short of using the term “blatantly racist”) are laid bare for the world to see, but the issue has come back up thanks to the fact that on January 1st a new law that effectively banned ethnic studies programs in the state, ensuring that the only history students in Arizona get to hear is good old fashioned edited White American History, nothing more and nothing less.

Here’s the scoop:

While much condemnation has rightly been expressed toward Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, a less-reported and potentially more sinister measure is set to take effect on January 1, 2011. This new law, which was passed by the conservative state legislature at the behest of then-School Superintendent (and now Attorney General-elect) Tom Horne, is designated HB 2281 and is colloquially referred to as a measure to ban ethnic studies programs in the state. As with SB 1070, the implications of this law are problematic, wide-ranging and decidedly hate filled.

Whereas SB 1070 focused primarily on the ostensible control of bodies, HB 2281 is predominantly about controlling minds. In this sense, it is the software counterpart of Arizona’s race-based politicking, paired with the hardware embodied in SB 1070’s “show us your papers” logic of “attrition through enforcement,” which has already resulted in tens of thousands of people leaving the state. With HB 2281, the intention is not so much to expel or harass as it is to inculcate a deep-seated, second-class status by denying people the right to explore their own histories and cultures. It is, in effect, about the eradication of ethnic identity among young people in the state’s already-floundering school system, which now ranks near the bottom in the nation.

I really couldn’t put it any better than that – the goal here is the same as most American nativists have: to make sure the country’s official sentiment towards any newcomer is “if you must come to our country, at least make sure you assimilate as much as possible and become as much like us as you possibly can. Your identity and individual culture is of no interest to us.” Which, of course, is a shame, considering it’s more than clear that while there’s definitely an American “identity,” it’s by no means exclusive of anyone’s cultural heritage – quite the contrary, the cultural diversity of the American people are the components that make up that so-called identity.

But still, it gets worse:

There’s a word for what Arizona is attempting to do here: ethnocide. It is similar to genocide in its scope, but it reflects the notion that it is an ethnic and/or cultural identity under assault more so than physical bodies themselves. By imposing a curriculum that forbids the exploration of divergent cultures while propping up the dominant one, there’s another process at work here, what we might call ethnonormativity. This takes the teachings of one culture – the colonizer’s – and makes it the standard version of history while literally banning other accounts, turning the master narrative into the “normal” one, and further denigrating marginalized perspectives. America’s racialized past abounds with such examples of oppressed people being denied their languages, histories and cultures, including through enforced indoctrination in school systems.

As if to add insult to injury, HB 2281 barely makes a pretense to hide any of this in its language and intended scope.

The rest of the piece is an amazing close reading of the law that explains and exposes some of its more sinister goals – ones that, if the law stands up in court (which it likely won’t,) could be a bad sign for all Americans, as other states looking to marginalize its minority populations follow suit.

[ Arizona Bans Ethnic Studies and, Along With it, Reason and Justice ]
Source: TruthOut

December 20, 2010

What Progressives Don’t Understand About Obama

This piece hit home in a way that few rarely do – partially because I can see myself in the author for more than one reason, and by proxy I see myself in the logic behind the way President Obama argues and negotiates with people on his side and across the table from him.

It’s remarkable how much progressives – with whom I stand, especially – want someone who rides into Washington, guns blazing, shooting down conservative ideals and missteps with glory, taking us all the way to a progressive American utopia and ultimate victory for the truth and justice that we all know is on our side. The problem is it just doesn’t work that way, ever, and regardless of the fervor around President Obama, he’s not that guy – he can’t be that guy and expect to get anything done. And this – this piece explains why.

I couldn’t possibly cut it, so I’ll present the whole thing here, with all credit due to Ishmael Reed, writing for the New York Times:

Not all of my white teachers viewed me as a discipline problem. To the annoyance of my fellow students, one teacher selected me regularly to lead assembly programs. A high school teacher insisted that I learn about the theater. She was an America-firster who supplied me with right-wing pamphlets and magazines that I’d read at breakfast and she didn’t seem bothered by my returning them with some of the pages stuck together with syrup.

But most of them did see me as an annoyance, and gave me the grades to prove it.

I’ve been thinking recently of all those D’s for deportment on my report cards. I thought of them, for instance, when I read a response to an essay I had written about Mark Twain that appeared in “A New Literary History of America.” One of the country’s leading critics, who writes for a prominent progressive blog, called the essay “rowdy,” which I interpreted to mean “lack of deportment.” Perhaps this was because I cited “Huckleberry Finn” to show that some white women managed household slaves, a departure from the revisionist theory that sees Scarlett O’Hara as some kind of feminist martyr.

I thought of them when I pointed out to a leading progressive that the Tea Party included neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers — and he called me a “bully.” He believes that the Tea Party is a grass-roots uprising against Wall Street, a curious reading since the movement gained its impetus from a rant against the president delivered by a television personality on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

And I’ve thought about them as I’ve listened in the last week to progressives criticize President Obama for keeping his cool.

Progressives have been urging the president to “man up” in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.

One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. His grade would go from a B- to a D.

What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called “paranoid,” “bitter,” “rowdy,” “angry,” “bullies,” and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years. Very few of them would have been given a grade above D from most of my teachers.

When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.

Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.

Reed isn’t just right here, he’s so right on the dot that you’d be able to verify his accuracy with an electron microscope. If Obama were as aggressive and militant as a lot of progressives – especially some who have served in government long enough to know this is the truth (I’m looking at you, Robert Reich,) he’d fail instantly as everyone – include people in his own party and on his side, dug in against him or simply failed to support him.

He’s doing this the right way – and while it’s not as fast as progressives would like and it’s not as winner-take-all leave-no-prisoners as many of us would like it to be, we need to remember that each step forward is a positive one, and one we would never have gotten had the other guy been elected.

[ What Progressives Don’t Understand About Obama ]
Source: The New York Times

October 11, 2010

Forcing the Black Community to Confront Homophobia

When I was an undergrad, I went to see a speech by world reknown poet and author Nikki Giovanni. Her speech changed my life, and completely brought to the fore my own budding political and ideological beliefs. I sat in a room full of my peers – other African-American students at my University – while Giovanni challenged us to move on past our own homophobia, and to not let the racism and privilege that still sits near to the hearts of many of our white classmates deter us from greatness.

She pointed out that we should be less concerned with winning hearts and minds as we are concerned with ensuring equal treatment and equal access – essentially, the end of privilege. Racism is a cancer we may never be able to remove from the human psyche, but racist behavior and the curse of privilege is much easier to attack.

She noted that she hadn’t cared what was in the heart of someone who wasn’t sleeping in bed next to her for years – what was important was how people treated each other in the real world; the doors they opened and the doors they closed.

She also said she was tired of the homophobia in the Black community, and that if we kept this up we were destined to repeat the oppressions and mistakes of the same people who tormented us and marginalized us – she reminded us to be all-inclusive and to fight hatred wherever it rears its ugly head and in whatever form, even if it’s couched in religion and hurled at us from the pulpit of our churches.

She was absolutely right, and to this day I’m irritated at the homophobia in the Black community. Admittedly much of it is religiously driven and I’m not horribly religious, which puts me on the outside of a lot of it, but it still tears at me greatly.

Over at Alternet, Devona Walker is irritated at it as well, and wonders if the Eddie Long sex scandal will force us all to come face to face with its ugliness for what it is:

Atlanta megachurch Bishop Eddie Long faces four lawsuits from young men — either members of his congregation or employed by his church — who alleged that Long coerced them into sex. The news broke a few weeks ago and has caused a huge uproar within the black church community. But black lesbian, gay and transgendered folks as well as numerous civil rights leaders wonder if Long’s downfall could open the door for a long overdue conversation about homophobia in the black church. It also offers an opportunity for the black church to distinguish itself from the anti-gay rhetoric of white evangelicals and reclaim its historical place as being primarily about civil rights, as opposed to hate.

“We have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy within the black community and the black church. As long as you don’t disclose your sexuality, you can be on the usher board, you can be in the pulpit, but don’t you dare talk about it,” said Darion Aaron, a black gay Christian, activist and author who lives in Atlanta. “And it’s killing us as a community, and it’s killing gay and lesbian members of the black church who have to go to church and listen to that mental abuse. We are more accepting of a rapist or a murderer than an unrepentant gay and lesbian.”

Aaron says the gay community in Atlanta has known for some time that Long was a hypocrite. He has personally seen the bishop on numerous occasions out at the mall with young, attractive men who were either gay or bisexual. The gay community in Atlanta is upset, he says, by the hypocrisy, but not surprised.

“When the news broke,” Aaron said. “It was like, ‘Oh, there it is.”

On the upside, Aaron says the accusations have touched off numerous conversations in Metro Atlanta about gay African Americans and their place in the black church. The black church has historically accepted gay folks as long as they kept silent about their sexuality. Many African American gays and lesbians have accepted these limited roles for the sake of having a place within the black community. You can walk into just about any black church in the country and find dozens of gay folks present. Gay men are leading the choir. They are ushering you to your seat. They are cooking the church’s Sunday dinner.

“Gay men and lesbians have always been present in the black church, actively engaged at that,” said Joshua Altson in a Sept. 23 Newsweek.com article. “The prevalence of gay men in black church choirs and bands, for example, is accepted but not widely discussed. The unspoken agreement is that gay men get to act as seraphim, so long as they are willing to shout in agreement as they are being flagellated from the pulpit. It’s an indignity some gay men subject themselves to each and every Sunday. Why should they have to live this way?”

Alston recalled how another black pastor in Atlanta, Dennis Meredith, had gone from espousing anti-gay views to “preaching acceptance” once his own son came out as gay. While some parishioners left, rather than hear a message of love and acceptance for gays, they were replaced by new congregants looking for a church that would accept and affirm them.

“Long’s predicament is bringing back to the surface the endless debate over whether or not homosexuality is fundamentally moral or acceptable, a debate that preachers like Long have prolonged with their bigoted teachings,” Alston wrote. “It’s about the black community on the whole and whether or not gay men and lesbians are going to be considered full citizens in it.”

Ray Taliaferro, of the San Francisco Bay area, is just one of many longtime civil rights activists who have used the Long scandal as an opportunity to blast black homophobia.

“It is inhumane to do what black people do when they approach the issue of homosexuality,” Taliaferro told the San Francisco Examiner. “Why is it that black people, my people, feel they got to get up in the pulpit and they have to condemn a very active segment of the population of our society who happen to be gay, who happen to be homosexual?”

Taliaferro is a former San Francisco NAACP president and has been a choir director for years at several churches in San Francisco.

I’ve wondered for a while – and said for a while publicly – that maybe it’s time for some of the old guard leadership of the Black community – those who so courageously led us through the Civil Rights Movement and the darkest days of the 50s, 60s, and 70s – now retire and appreciate how far we’ve come in that time, and let the young ones who are more familiar with and able to adapt to this new age take the lead now.

The world is different now, the threats to our freedom are different, and many disparate communities being attacked by privilege and hate need the bolster and support of other communities that have been through it and have learned that only be coming together can you face down hatred and injustice.

I can only hope – for the sake of our communities and for the sake of Black people as a unified force for social justice and equality everywhere – that we can get past this, and those of our community that are religious can begin to preach the gospel of acceptance and love instead of thumping the bible in darkness and out of hatred.

[ Will the Eddie Long Sex Scandal Force Black Churches to Confront Their Homophobia? ]
Source: AlterNet

September 27, 2010

The GOP’s Worthless “Pledge” to America

Ever since the media descended on that little hardware store that shall now live in infamy to listen to some of the Teapublican Party’s most worthless representatives unveil their so-called “pledge” to America, I’ve been itching to take it apart piece by piece. Thankfully, a number of other great writers have done so for me, and called out the pledge for what it is – at best a shell of empty promises the Republicans simply can’t keep, and at worst a malicious plan to cripple the American middle class, shovel tons of money into the hands of the Republicans’ best friends, and pull money back from the areas that the American government should be investing in most heavily right now, like education and job training.

But the Republicans, as always, see things differently – mostly through a lens of “I’ve got mine, you can go to hell,” which results in a legislative agenda that does nothing in the good times and actually reverses public progress and common good in the worst times; and that’s exactly what they plan to do.

Over at The Washington Monthly (and reposted at AlterNet) was a fantastic piece calling the pledge out as the sham that it was – snake-oil designed to make Tea Partiers and people who are disenchanted with the fact that this hole the Bush Administration and the Republicans in Congress during the Clinton Administration dug is deeper than they have patience for turn out to the polls:

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s tempting to think House Republicans deserve at least some credit for making the effort. After all, the GOP hasn’t even tried to craft a policy agenda in many years. The point of the “Pledge,” presumably, is to help demonstrate that congressional Republicans aren’t just the “party of no”; this is a new GOP prepared to reclaim the mantle of “party of ideas.”

But that’s precisely why the endeavor is such an embarrassing failure. The document combines old ideas, bad ideas, contradictory ideas, and discredited ideas. The Republican Party that lost control of Congress four years ago has had an abundance of time to craft a policy vision that offered credible, serious solutions. Instead, we’re confronted with a document that can best be described as tired nonsense.

That sounds about right, but there’s definitely more:

Ezra Klein’s take was entirely in line with my own.

[Y]ou’re left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that’s already got too little of it.

You’re also left with a difficult question: What, exactly, does the Republican Party believe? The document speaks constantly and eloquently of the dangers of debt — but offers a raft of proposals that would sharply increase it. It says, in one paragraph, that the Republican Party will commit itself to “greater liberty” and then, in the next, that it will protect “traditional marriage.” It says that “small business must have certainty that the rules won’t change every few months” and then promises to change all the rules that the Obama administration has passed in recent months. It is a document with a clear theory of what has gone wrong — debt, policy uncertainty, and too much government — and a solid promise to make most of it worse.

If Republicans set out to prove that they’re wholly unprepared and incapable of governing effectively, they’ve succeeded beautifully. That may have been obvious when there was an actual GOP majority and they failed on a spectacular, generational scale, but any hopes that the party has since learned valuable lessons quickly fade with the release of the “Pledge to America.”

Indeed, the moral of the story this morning is very likely the fact that Republicans probably shouldn’t even try. Last year, the House GOP released an alternative budget, which was so tragically pathetic, it neglected to include any numbers. Several months later, the House GOP released an alternative health care reform plan, which made no effort to actually improve a dysfunctional system.

In fact, the Republicans’ “pledge” would rob the coffers of K-12 education by millions upon millions of dollars thanks to drastic cuts in public education, but it wouldn’t strike a dime from tax breaks for the wealthy, the Defense Department’s budget, or their own salaries. How’s that for fiscal responsibility?

[ GOP’s New ‘Pledge to America’: A Pathetic, Destructive Sham ]
Source: The Washington Monthly (courtesy of AlterNet)

But the beat goes on: over at the Campaign for America’s Future, RJ Eskow calls out the “pledge” for pretending it’s fiscally sound and that it’s aiming at bloated government spending when it’s really a ruse for deep cuts to public programs that are unpopular with Republicans and their Tea Party ilk: programs like health care, education, and social services. He writes:

Once you strip away the rhetoric, the answer is simple: Off the top, their plan is a trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich – at everybody else’s expense. Their “pledge” would slash needed spending, kill jobs and end any hope of growing the economy. It declares open season on the public’s health and safety with a deregulation agenda that would unleash BP, Goldman Sachs, and every other corporation whose risky behavior endangers us. It would lead to even more financial crashes and environmental disasters. Firefighters, cops,and teachers would be laid off in droves. The deficit would soar. We’d face a permanently stagnating economy. The middle class would wither away.

That’s the future they’re offering. It’s Bush on steroids, fattened up and ready to feast on … you. If you like today’s economy, you’ll love the one these guys are cooking up.

If this document wasn’t written by lobbyists then it was certainly submitted for their review and approval. And there’s a lot for them to love.

He doesn’t waste time diving right into some of the same laughable notions that came up in the Washington Monthly piece – things so laughable that they couldn’t possibly ever become public policy in America unless the American people like shooting themselves in the foot (although the rise of the Tea Party and the “ignorance is bliss” political movement gives me pause to wonder if they’re not the case):

Where would they cut, exactly? They don’t say. David Frum, a former speechwriter for George Bush, explains why: “Here is the GOP cruising to a handsome election victory. Did you seriously imagine that they would jeopardize the prospect of victory and chairmanships by issuing big, bold promises to do deadly unpopular things?”

Deadly unpopular things. At least Frum is honest enough to say out loud what other Republicans won’t: They’re going to subsidize their tax breaks for the wealthy by doing things the American people will hate. They won’t just cut the everyday functions of government that make our lives better. Returning government spending to “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” also means ending the repair work that’s currently being done to fix what their policies have broken. That includes getting people back to work, providing loans for small businesses, and cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico.

But even though they slither past the specifics, the GOP leaders left some broad hints about their defunding priorities. In a graph that lists government spending, for example, the categories aren’t listed by size, or alphabetically. The ones at the top are the targets, and which figure prominently? The Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, Justice … you see where this is going, don’t you? (Yes, the Justice Department’s on the list. Law enforcement isn’t always a convenient thing in their America.)

Their list of 2,050 different assistance programs singles out Federal funding to the states—states that are in desperate need of federal support to keep people working in the fiscal aftermath of GOP policies. They need Federal aid to avoid the kind of cuts they’ll be forced to make otherwise: laying off cops and teachers, slashing Medicaid, letting roads crumble, and shutting down emergency services, just to name a few.

Why not rename this pledge the “fire a cop, buy a banker his own private island plan”?

The Pledge also promises to give “small businesses” a tax deduction equal to “20 percent of their business income” – but, as Rachel Maddow and others have observed, their definition of “small business” includes giant corporations like Bechtel and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That would mean another multibillion-dollar tax break for the wealthiest among us.

This “deficit-conscious” plan wants to expand the “military/industrial welfare state,” too. “We are a nation at war,” it says, calling to “fully fund” a missile defense system that’s already plagued with persistent test failures, laden with cost overruns, and which most experts don’t think is needed or can ever wok. What it can do, however, is transfer a lot of middle-class income to Boeing and Northrop Grumman. We’ve already spent more than $60 billion on the “Star Wars” missile program in the last eight years, in fact. Why, that’s nearly as much as the GOP intends to give to the top 25 billion-dollar-a-year hedge fund managers!

They dress their plan up with the usual mumbo-jumbo about government spending that’s “crowding out the private economy.” That may sound good, Tea Partiers, but think about: How does it do that, exactly? Every government employee buys things from private companies—from supermarkets, pharmacies, auto dealers, and yes, hardware stores. Makes no sense when you think about it.

And while their rhetoric’s pretty polished, they tried a little too hard to channel the Founding Fathers with lines like this one: “Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course.” (Note for whichever lobbyist wrote that: “Agenda” is a business word, not an inspirational one. It doesn’t fit. It’s like writing “When in the course of human events we are called upon to write a Mission Statement …”)

Here’s the bottom line: They’ll raid your money to make their rich patrons even richer. The middle class will continue to wither away, and those manage to hold on will be worse off than ever. More and more people will slip into permanent unemployment, poverty, and penurious old age. More roads will crumble. More aging pipelines will explode in towns like San Bruno, Calif. This “pledge” is the oldest kind of promise in the world: the promise than con men make to their victims.

Remember, the Republicans made a lot of promises the last time they took control of the Congress. They promised to create more jobs, and their policies led to record unemployment. They promised to limit their own terms, then settled in for a long comfy stay in Washington. They promised that businesses would regulate themselves, and both the Gulf Coast and the Main Street economy were ruined.

Seriously people, remember this when you head to the polls. There may be no way to heal this wound in time for the elections, but there’s definitely time to stop the bleeding so we can continue the work of repairing the damage that these same people – and then the people who inspired the worst of them that are rising to influence – have caused and are eagerly planning to cause.

[ GOP’s “Pledge” To Rob The Middle Class: No Jobs, No Health Care, No Security ]
Source: The Campaign for America’s Future

September 20, 2010

The Obama Achievements Center

I know I ranted about this at length in my post, That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking! but I wanted to drive it home a little more because memories fade so quickly and people forget exactly how far America has come in the few short months since Obama took office, and how quickly this American ship has managed to right itself and set a course for prosperity. Are we there yet? No. Is Obama perfect? Not at all – but has he accomplished a lot? Is he trying? Is he a hell of a lot better than who we had before – both in the White House and his cronies in Congress? Absolutely on all counts.

That’s why I’m really thrilled to point out the existence of the Obama Achievements Center, a great resource for people who want quick ammo to rebut the claims of history-rewriting conservatives who think that Obama hasn’t done anything, or at least hasn’t done anything good, and are basking in this kind of false reality where America has become a worse place since he took office. Quite the contrary, to fact. Here’s what the site’s builders have to say:

This site is the preview version of our new Obama Achievements Center. It’s a work in progress and a labor of love — for our country.
We’re building a crowd-sourced compilation of the achievements of the Obama administration, with documentation for each achievement linked to it. It
In today’s frenzied media zones, far too much time has been spent putting the spotlight on complaints while significant achievements are either ignored, not reported, or minimized.

The Achievements

Determined to change the media narrative to finally include the good works of this administration, a group of Twitter users got together under Shoq’s leadership and compiled a list of the achievements and promises of the Obama administration, with documented links to every item. It will be updated on an ongoing basis, as this President accumulates more successes and lasting reforms.
Defining what an achievement is in any administration, is itself an interesting issue. We decided that we would define it broadly to include executive orders,important legislation, and significant initiatives or outcomes of any kind, both foreign and domestic. We worked hard to screen out minor or subjective items whenever we had agreement on them. As anyone can see from this very impressive list, they weren’t needed.

Isn’t it beautiful? This is worth a bookmark, people, and includes everything I mentioned in my last post and then some. Best of all, it’s organized by topic and category, so if you have a favorite cause of topic, you can zoom right to it.

[ The Obama Achievements Center ]

August 23, 2010

Lest We Forget: What it means to be an American – Have You Forgotten? [Video]

Found on YouTube – absolutely fabulous, and I think it should be required viewing for some of our conservative friends, if not in most schools. Maybe we should re-do this with a modern twist, but I worry it might lose some of its effectiveness.

Conservatives Try to Smear Islam the Way they Smear Judaism, but Voters don’t Care

I’ve been pretty quiet about the matter of the community center near ground zero that everyone is calling a “mosque,” when in reality it’s nothing of the sort. I’ve also been quiet because logically it doesn’t make sense to care so much about a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, because if people cared so much about such things they would have shut down the other community centers nearby, the strip club nearby, and just about everything else the conservative right could work themselves into a lather over that’s just as close or closer than the community center that’s being planned for the region.

Sadly, it’s just another example of first – how there’s a small group of very vocal people who are still trying to use a tragic event in American history that occured almost 10 years ago to benefit themselves both monetarily and to their own political gain, with no respect for the events of the day or the people who died, and how there’s a small group of people who are still trying to use that same event to steer political policy in a way that retains their power and privilege, making sure that Americans live in the same state of fear we experienced that day – only now backed with a strong dose of hatred against a minority group that, the way the Germans did with the Jewish people after World War I, are easily blamed for all of society’s ills and dangers without demand of evidence.

Over at Tablet Magazine, Daniel Luban explains why this is exactly the issue at hand, and why this isn’t about one community center, this isn’t about a mosque, this is about the rampant Islamaphobia that’s spread out from the ignorance and bigotry of Americans far from New York City and is sweeping the nation thanks to the fervent push from the conservative right to actively deny and smother education to the contrary:

After Abraham Foxman waded into the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy,opposing plans to construct an Islamic community center a few blocks from the World Trade Center site, the Anti-Defamation League chief was assailed by critics who charged that the ADL was giving license to bigotry and betraying its historic mission “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.” A week after initially coming out against the mosque, Foxman announced that the ADL was bowing out of the controversy, but the damage to the group’s reputation had been done.

The problem for the ADL is that there simply isn’t much anti-Semitism of consequence in the United States these days. While anti-Semitism continues to thrive elsewhere in the world and to molder on the fringes of American society, Jews have by now been fully assimilated into the American ruling class and into the mainstream of American life.

At the same time, many of the tropes of classic anti-Semitism have been revived and given new force on the American right. Once again jingoistic politicians and commentators posit a religious conspiracy breeding within Western society, pledging allegiance to an alien power, conspiring with allies at the highest levels of government to overturn the existing order. Because the propagators of these conspiracy theories are not anti-Semitic but militantly pro-Israel, and because their targets are not Jews but Muslims, the ADL and other Jewish groups have had little to say about them. But since the election of President Barack Obama, this Islamophobic discourse has rapidly intensified.

While the political operatives behind the anti-mosque campaign speak the language of nativism and American exceptionalism, their ideology is itself something of a European import. Most of the tropes of the American “anti-jihadists,” as they call themselves, are taken from European models: a “creeping” imposition of sharia, Muslim allegiance to the ummah rather than to the nation-state, the coming demographic crisis as Muslims outbreed their Judeo-Christian counterparts.

Heard this story before? Of course you have – it’s what led to the Germans locking up Jewish families and barricading Jewish communities during the early years of World War II. Now I normally hate to Godwin’s Law up any discussion like this, but the parallels are too close to ignore – and the frothing hatred is starting to get to that eerie fever pitch where an entire group of people are to be subjugated to culling and retribution by the masses because of the actions of a few. The last time I saw behavior like this was in the 1970s and 1980s when the conservative right, largely White Americans, were outraged at the so-called epidemic of “Black on White crime,” while killings among and between other minority groups went largely ignored. I fear we’ll see the same apathy until the drug war simmering in Mexico spills over enough to take White American lives; then Latinos may find themselves bundled up with Muslims.

Here’s the clincher though – voters really don’t care. Over at The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel points out some interesting statistics about recent polls:

Pundits and politicians are working themselves into hysteria over a mosque near Ground Zero. But this election won’t be about mosques in Manhattan. It won’t even be about the deficit, really. It will be about manufacturing on Main Street, and which party can talk effectively about the progressive solutions Americans desire.

Not surprisingly, polls from Gallup to the Wall Street Journal show Americans are worried most about the economy and jobs. And a just-released poll—from progressive outfits Campaign for America’s Future and Democracy Corps with sponsorship from MoveOn.org Political Action and two labor unions—gives a more detailed look at what voters are looking for. Respondents, in particular the “rising American electorate” —youth, single women and minorities that constitute a majority of voters and are President Obama’s most supportive base—support bold steps for renewing the economy.

The poll tested a range of messages, with the greatest support for one calling for “rebuilding infrastructure” and another calling for constructing “an economy on a new foundation”—that is, investing in education and a 21st century infrastructure, leading in the green industrial revolution and balancing our trade.

But what about that deficit? Americans worry about the deficit, but less for reasons usually given by deficit hawks than because they think it may get in the way of creating jobs and of protecting Social Security. The poll shows equal support for a five-year plan to revive America’s industry and a five-year plan to cut deficits—and in equal intensity. The two are linked. Put people to work and revive manufacturing, and you will bring the deficit down. Bring the deficit down, and you’ll help put people to work.

And by large margins, Americans don’t think deficit-cutting should include cuts in the federal benefits workers have already fought to get. It is widely rumored, for example, that President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission is considering raising the retirement age on Social Security as part of a deficit-reduction plan. It better think again. Poll respondents want Social Security and Medicare protected. Over 60 percent of Republicans, of independents and of Democrats oppose raising the retirement age on Social Security—or Medicare, for that matter. Similarly, when AARP asked if Social Security should be cut as a “way to help reduce the federal deficit,” 72 percent of respondents were strongly opposed.

Proof of the matter is that right now, the American people care more about the economy and jobs, and care enough in an intelligent way, that it’s safer to say “It’s the economy, stupid,” and that the President is doing the right thing by dismissing the entire controversy about the community center in Lower Manhattan as exactly what it is – an arbitrary attempt by a few bigoted people who are more interested in carrying the American flag for their own benefit and trampling the graves of those who died on 9/11 in a rush for their own personal and political gain than it is any substantive controversy or matter of concern. He points instead at the first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as a shining example of exactly why such a community center should be built, over all opposition.

He’s right – but the conservative right in America has never listened to reason over the voices of hatred in their own heads – it’s up to the rest of us to make sure they listen to us and our voices at the polls instead.

[ Rage Against Islam: The New Anti-Semitism ]
Source: Tablet Magazine (courtesy of AlterNet)

[ It’s About Main Street, Not the Mosque ]
Source: The Nation

August 16, 2010

The Racists Return

If you ever have questions about whether or not racism still exists in America, I think we’ve provided you dozens of examples here over the years – and while conservatives like the folks at rags like the National Review would claim that there’s no such thing as racism in America anymore (despite mountains of evidence to the contrary – but then again, the National Review was never in the business of printing facts) I think there’s more than enough evidence that in this so-called post-racial society, the loud and proud racist hordes, marching under their Tea Party banners and frothingly obeying their lord and master Glenn Beck, are not only racially motivated, they’re racially driven as well. It plays a role in everything they do, and ensuring that their hatred stays good, high, and at the fever point.

Because I simply can’t bear to dice the piece up, this is the entire op-ed by Joe Conason of the New York Observer, published over at TruthDig:

Among the most revealing aspects of life during the Obama presidency is the panoply of responses to a black family in the White House. What made so many of us proud of our country on Jan. 20, 2009, has increasingly provoked expressions of hatred from the far right. That is troubling, but not nearly as troubling as the behavior of conservatives who excuse, embolden or simply pretend to ignore the bigots surrounding them.

Last spring, after unruly tea party protesters on Capitol Hill were accused of spewing racial epithets at civil rights hero John Lewis, an African-American congressman from Georgia, conservatives rose up in furious denial. Where was the proof? How could anyone suggest that racial prejudice lurks behind the festering right-wing hatred of President Obama (and his family)? Anger over that episode still lingers in certain quarters, motivating the deceptively edited video attack on Shirley Sherrod and the NAACP by a website called Big Government, Inc.

Even if the alleged assault on Lewis and other black congressmen did occur, argued prominent commentators on the right, it somehow only proved that there is no racism in America worthy of concern. A writer for National Review (the conservative magazine that historically opposed civil rights legislation) confided that the whole subject made him yawn:

“That these things are even remotely newsworthy leads me to one conclusion: Racism in America is dead. We had slavery, then we had Jim Crow—and now we have the occasional public utterance of a bad word. Real racism has been reduced to de minimis levels, while charges of racism seem to increase.”

But this summer has seen several loud and ugly outbursts of very real racism—including threats of violence against the president of the United States—that go well beyond the utterance of any single word. As if suffering from a facial tic, leading figures on the right cannot seem to suppress their inner Klansman these days.

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Is there any other way to explain Glenn Beck’s crazed rant comparing the Obama administration to an old movie about a society where apes and chimpanzees dominate humans? What did the Fox News host mean, exactly, when he shrieked: “It’s like the damned Planet of the Apes. Nothing makes sense!” Is there any other way to explain the grotesque new best-seller by radio host Laura Ingraham, “The Obama Diaries,” where, among other things, she depicts first lady Michelle Obama eating ribs at every meal? Why would she feel the need to describe the president as “uppity” by putting the word in the mouth of his mother-in-law? No wonder Stephen Colbert taunted Ms. Ingraham to her face for “hideous and hackneyed racial stereotyping.”
Of course, these are only two of the more egregious instances in recent weeks of social poisoning that dates back well over a year. Symptoms can be seen across the country now, even in amusement parks and church carnivals, where small children are exposed to this spiritual sickness.

At the Big Time fair held by Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Roseto, Pa., last week, a game called “Alien Attack” featured “an image of a suited black man holding a health care bill and wearing a belt buckle with a presidential seal,” at which players were encouraged to aim their popguns. Anybody who hit the cardboard figure in the head or the heart could win a prize. Irvin L. Good Jr., owner of Goodtime Amusements, who is responsible for this disgusting garbage, denied that the figure represents Mr. Obama. “We’re not interpreting it as Obama,” the inaptly named huckster told a local newspaper. “The name of the game is Alien Leader. If you’re offended, that’s fine, we duly note that.”

Meanwhile on the New Jersey shore, patrons of the Seaside Heights boardwalk could hurl baseballs at a black, jug-eared Obama figurine, winning a prize if they managed to smash it. As seen in a video posted on the Gawker website, this object closely resembles the grinning “lawn jockey” statuettes that used to festoon suburban lawns in a less decent era.

Most conservatives were late in taking responsibility for their movement’s immoral opposition to civil rights. It is time for them to step up and denounce the racism that is again disfiguring our country in their name.

[ The Racists Return ]
Source: TruthDig

August 9, 2010

That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking!

I’ve never been a fan of bumper sticker politics: I find it overall relatively crude and demeaning not only to everyone involved (both the person idiotic enough to put something like “Miss Him Yet?” on their car and the person who has to see it while they’re headed to work or home from it) but there’s been one little trend of short-memory and revisionist history among conservatives and Republicans that I feel compelled to note.

Admittedly, the Right’s attention span has always been short, and their capacity to revise history to make themselves look glowing (see Ronald Reagan) has always been remarkable, but President Obama has been in office for 18 months and not only are conservatives trying to pretend that he’s not still busy cleaning up the messes of the past 8 years (“hurr when will you stop blaming the last guy for what’s happening now, hrurr”) but also conveniently shaping today’s issues in short-term language (instead of properly pointing at the near 30-year history of American conservatism as responsible for the deregulation of our financial industries, energy industries, and transportation industries to the point where they’re only accountable to their shareholders and the desires of their executives to line their pockets – at the expense of the American people.)

Bumper stickers like “How’s that change working out for you” and “Miss him yet?” have been appearing on the cars of the angry, who want you and I to believe that the world may as well have ended 18 months ago and now we’re all picking through the smoldering ashes of our civilization. To those questions, I have two very simple answers:

* That change is working out great for me, thanks for asking!
* No, I don’t miss him at all – in fact, I’m happily on my way to forgetting he ever existed.

Starting at the very bottom, I’m particularly glad that I have a President who, while he isn’t perfect, is leaps and bounds more perfect than the last guy, and a President who I don’t have to worry will lock me up and waterboard me if I disagree with him and don’t march in lock step behind. Now I have a President who, as a matter of policy, doesn’t strip American citizens of their rights and due process just so they can be thrown in a dark cell until the powers that be can think of what do to with them. Again – our current Administration isn’t perfect on this point, but at least they’re willing to listen to suggestions and open to changing course – the last Administration would have simply called you “un-American,” “un-patriotic,” and thrown you in a cell just for speaking your mind.

The last Administration listened in on the phone calls of American citizens without a warrant, and the last Administration locked up American citizens for no reason. The last Administration was responsible for the Patriot Act, which while it hasn’t been repealed, has been used with significantly more caution and judgment than it had been in the past. The last Administration was obsessed with the State Secrets Act and shutting down human rights lawsuits just by invoking it.

So no, I don’t “miss him yet” at all, and that “change” has been a huge breath of fresh air.

Let’s move on to some more tangible examples though:

Would Mad King George have appointed two women to the Supreme Court? Likely not.

Would McCain have signed the Lucy Ledbetter Act, mandating equal pay for equal work? Never.

Would Bush Jr. have committed to drawing down troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, even if those plans are slow to take shape? Never – they would have said even talking about leaving would have emboldened our “enemy.”

Would the Little Bush or McCain ever strive to provide health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans, pass a Patient’s Bill of Rights, put Medicare on sound financial footing, and cut near a trillion dollars from the budget defecit over the next 10 years by reforming the way Americans get and spend on health care? It would have been a laughable proposition.

Would McCain or Palin have signed an executive order mandating that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be repealed? Wouldn’t have even crossed their minds.

Would Bush Jr. ever thought to close Guantanamo, much less actually try? Never.

Would a Republican president ever have sought to re-vitalize the Civil Rights wing of the Department of Justice, ousting political appointments that sought only to minimize the amount of work the agency did by throwing out legitimate cases and complaints and marginalizing career lawyers who have fought for equal rights their entire lives? Nope.

Would McCain or Palin have fought to restore science and scientific analysis to its rightful place in American discourse, especially on such important topics as climate change, space science, and medicine? Never.

Would McCain or Bush Jr. be on nearly as solid terms with our allies as Obama is, and managed to completely turn around our antagonistic relationship with Russia the way he has? Never – we would have seen more bluster and saber rattling, and likely be in the middle of another war with another faceless enemy designed to make us afraid by now had we voted differently.

Would McCain ever have gleefully signed ethics reform into law that would ensure there were strong rules to make sure the the field day that Republicans had during their majority time in office prior to 2008 (remember the cascade of ethics and sex scandals coming out of Congress back then? Oh how soon the right wing forgets…) never happen again? Not a chance.

Would Bush Jr. ever have given woefully needed money to the American auto industry – even if it was unpopular – and then been able to stand behind them as, as happened last week, they all post revenue gains and profits as opposed to the record losses and debts they had over a year ago?

The economic downturn was in full swing when President Obama was elected, as were both wars and all of their issues – so blaming President Obama is only ad accurate as you can blame someone for not cleaning up someone else’s mess fast enough. Someone recently pointed to a story about the vast majority (something like 96%) of money slated for reconstruction in Iraq being unaccounted for, and snarkily commented about whether or not this was something that people would just blame President Bush for – to which I responded that yes, it is – it’s only the right that seeks to unload accountability for their own actions and leadership decisions onto the people that follow them. President Obama has accountability to cleaning up that mess, but he has no accountability for having made the mess in the first place.

To that end though, would Bush Jr. or McCain ever have pushed through legislation designed to stimulate the economy, fund thousands of new infrastructure projects, put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work, and, with time, eventually turn the job decline into a slow but steady job incline? Not at all – there would have been some tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans (like the Bush tax cuts being debated now in Congress – you remember, the ones that did nothing to stimulate the economy or create new jobs?) and the Republicans would have resorted to their old stand-by, that people who are unemployed somehow “want to be jobless” or “deserve it.”

Would Bush ever have had the gravitas or political will to push through a massive financial system reform bill into law that not only forces more accountability in the financial sector but also establishes a new government agency that the public can turn to for their own protection against those massive Wall Street entities? Never. Would McCain? Hardly – he may have handed over some more money to them, but never have fought on our behalf.

So when you ask me if that “change” is working out for me, I’m more than happy to say yes.

When you ask me if I “miss him yet,” I can answer with a smile and say “miss who?”

Because overall, there’s plenty of work left to be done, and we’re not out of the woods, and everything isn’t perfect, but I’m more hopeful now than I ever have been, and I’m confident that America is moving in the right direction under a leader who at least considers the best interests of the people and the nation over their own personal whim or delusional personal “calling.”

Yup, that change is working out for me just fine, thanks. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.