Friday, January 30, 2009

Leader of the Pack

As of this moment, two ballots have been cast in the battle for the RNC leadership position and the (current) top two candidates, Michael Steele and incumbent Mike Duncan, are tied with 48 votes apiece. You need 85 votes to win the chairmanship. So the official Republican party is still wandering in the wilderness without any clear leadership. But wait . . . Doesn't the behavior of the Republican congressmen in their vote on the stimulus bill show that leadership clearly exists? Who is the man behind the curtain? None other than Rush Limbaugh who openly wished for the Obama administration to fail and daily exhorts Congress to vote against any Democratic proposals at every opportunity. Congressmen John Boehner, House Minority Leader, and Eric Cantor, House Minority Whip, made it clear to their membership, even before the meeting with President Obama, that they were to stick together and all vote against the stimulus, while picking out a gripe list of small budget items in the bill to complain vigorously about to the media, which, of course just repeated these claims without further investigation. The results are in, zero Republican votes in the House for the stimulus bill. They all followed their leader behind the curtain, Rush Limbaugh, like lambs led to slaughter. Boehner and Cantor then stole the thunder from the 244-188 passage of the bill by cornering the media to announce their victory in maintaining perfect discipline among their members. And it is not just the stimulus bill that the Republicans are fighting tooth and nail. They have also almost unanimously opposed both the digital TV delay and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay legislation. Today Eugene Robinson writes that the vote on the stimulus bill was a "triumph of discipline over reason, of doctrine over observation." Here is Stephen Colbert's take on the "Audacity of Nope":

The Republican lambs must all have blinders on as well preventing them from reading the news, unfiltered by their "leadership." Apparently they remain unaware that they are now an extreme minority in this country. Nate Silver's analysis of the Gallup report on its survey of political party affiliation by voters at the state level shows that "just five states, collectively containing about 2 percent of the American population, have statistically significant pluralities of adults identifying themselves as Republicans." This is the base that the Republicans in Congress are aiming to please. Nate Silver has again put his ability to visualize data to good use to show exactly how this shift in American opinion and party identification has played out in recent elections. The Democrats have picked up large numbers of seats in the most "centrist" districts in the country.

The Republicans are so busy demanding that Democrats agree with them that they have not taken the time to look at what has happened to themselves. They are not a very self-reflective bunch, these lambs. They have a short list of party icons but they have been shortening the quotations used in sound bites for so long that they have entirely changed their meaning by removing them from their context. This situation is shown in detail by an Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by Mickey Edwards, former Republican congressman and a founder of the conservative Heritage Foundation, titled Reagan wouldn't recognize this GOP. Edwards gives as an example:
"Reagan, who spent 16 years in government, actually said this:

"In the present crisis," referring specifically to the high taxes and high levels of federal spending that had marked the Carter administration, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." He then went on to say: "Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work." Government, he said, "must provide opportunity." He was not rejecting government, he was calling -- as Barack Obama did Tuesday -- for better management of government, for wiser decisions.

This is the difference between ideological advocacy and holding public office: Having accepted partial responsibility for the nation's well-being, one assumes an obligation that goes beyond bumper-sticker slogans. Certitude is the enemy of wisdom, and in office, it is wisdom, not certitude, that is required."
"The Republican Party that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, of Ann Coulter, of Newt Gingrich, of George W. Bush, of Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party, it is a party built on the blind and narrow pursuit of power."
I think the American voter recognizes this. It may have been temporarily overwhelmed by the combative media blitz of right-wing talking heads but I think they have had enough now.

Update: They are into the 4th ballot for the RNC Chairman now. Mike Duncan, the incumbent, has dropped out as his support slipped, a black candidate, Fmr. Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, African-American, having overtaken him. So they results of the 4th ballot tell you a lot about the Republican party. Katon Dawson, the South Carolina GOP chairman who recently resigned his longtime membership in a white's only country club, has jumped into the lead now with 62 votes to Steele's 60. Now Ken Blackwell, Ohio African-American official, has withdrawn, throwing his support to Steele, but that gives Steele only 75 votes. Now we will see how Anuzis', the Michigan Republican Party chairman, 31 votes split. Well, not many abandoned Anuzis, so the 5th ballot results are Steele, 79; Dawson, 69; Anuzis, 20. One more ballot should decide this. Steele needs just 6 votes to "win" the chairmanship of the RNC. Let's see if he can get 6 votes out of the 20 Saul Anuzis votes (he got 4 of the 11 votes that moved from Anuzis on the 5th ballot.) Steele has won with 91 votes. Now the fun begins. Who will be the functioning leader of the Republican party, an East coast conservative black man or the radio talk show comedian? We'll wait and see.

Read the rest!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Colonialism and Immigrant Populations in America

I would just like to make a brief return to the Al Arabiya interview because there was one point that I found a bit disingenuous. The interviewer, Hisham Melhem, stated, with respect to Arab- American relations:
"since 9/11 and because of Iraq, that alienation is wider between the Americans and -- and in generations past, the United States was held high. It was the only Western power with no colonial legacy."
To which President Obama responded, "Right."

I certainly agree that, within the context of this interview, his response was suitable. However it does gloss over a couple of highly relevant points -- points I am sure President Obama is aware of but which remain hidden to the broader American public.

When my husband was traveling to Washington, and other major American cities, with some regularity, his cab drivers from the airport were always recent immigrants and often Africans. He reported to me that they would tell him that they did not understand our African American citizens. They thought they were unwilling to work hard enough. When he came home, he would ask me what I thought about these comments. So here are my thoughts, I hope in some kind of order.

There are (at least) 2 major populations in this country who have lagged significantly in achievement relative to the rest of the general population: African Americans and Native Americans. Note: Neither population immigrated to this country of their own free will hoping to better their lives by fleeing their homeland. One was brought here in chains to work as slave labor on American plantations. The other was the indigenous population of this continent, displaced from their land by massacres, disease and deceit. In both cases the family structure was deliberately destroyed by the dominant population. The slave families were deliberately broken up by selling family members "down river." The well documented presence of mixed race slaves testifies to the sexual abuse of the female slaves. The children of Native American families were taken from their homes and sent away to boarding schools, some thousands of miles away to be assimilated, that is to be taught to serve as servants and semi-skilled labor. Sexual abuse of the children was rampant at some of these schools. This has been well documented in Canada and the Canadian government has paid reparations.

It is the usual experience and expectation of immigrants that the first generation must work very hard, usually at multiple jobs, in order to earn their way toward their American Dream. Even the second, and perhaps the third, generations will still be working very hard, though probably less hard than that first generation, and with better living conditions and better education. It seems to me that, if we accept the statement of the African immigrant cab drivers, than we still expect these long term American citizens, most here for many generations longer than our families have been, to still be earning their right to have the American Dream. The cab drivers have no perspective on American history and culture through which to view the citizens they hold in contempt. The first several generations of African slaves brought to these shores certainly worked harder than these cab drivers, many times side by side with Natives who had been enslaved. In fact, in at least one "Indian War" in the south, the Indians encourages slaves to escape and gave them refuge in the swamps in Florida. Since that time, this country has denied both groups equal education and equal opportunity, no matter how hard they worked. And those new African immigrants would not have even wanted to come to this country without the civil rights movement in which many of the African American citizens gave their bodies, their freedom, and even their lives to make a reality.

I grant that acknowledging this history would have been out of place in that interview, but it must be acknowledged. This history leads to the cultural differences that now exist. Other groups that may have had the same long term experience in this country are the Hispanics in the West and Southwest who stayed when that part of the continent was "integrated" in to the US, and the descendants of the Chinese laborers who where imported to construct the railroads.

Read the rest!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Media Matters saves me the trouble!

Last night Steve and I commented about how the MSM were now nit picking at any little thing they could find having to do with President Obama and his administration. Well now Eric Boehlert of Media Matters has saved me the trouble of writing about this new found investigative urge. Read his article Right on cue, the White House press awakens from its Bush slumber where he documents the similarity of the MSM's current behavior with their behavior at the start of the Climton administration, and contrasts it with their behavior toward the Bush administration. Somehow they completely missed major sex & drug scandals in the Interior Dept. as well as the selling off of our children's inheritance, the ideological vetting of career lawyers in the Dept. of Justice and too many other illegalities to mention.

They also seem to be very impatient. The delay between the writing of their "idea pieces" and publication has been leaving them a day late and a dollar short lately. The most recent example of this is Jamal Simmons piece in Politico that appeared today titled "Mr. President, listen while you lead." He seemed to miss the Al Arabiya interview that was broadcast last night. I think it is time for the media to sit back and take a breath. The 24 hour news cycle is being driven by the White House now. The news is coming from there. They do not need to generate it themselves! Real things will happen. Forget the self-generated trivia!

Read the rest!

One Must Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn

Yesterday Barack Obama gave his first full sit down interview . . . to Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya, the satellite channel out of Dubai! Those of you who watch the news on PBS have seen Hisham Melhem often, as a Middle Eastern voice on the Israel-Palestine situation, on the Iraq war and on Iran, as well as other news concerning the region. I saw parts of the interview on AC360 on CNN, with comments from David Gergen and Reza Aslan, author of No God but God. The full transcript of the interview is available on the Al-Arabiya website.

Besides the overall tone of the interview, there are a few startlingly clear, direct statements that completely change the tone of the US relationship with the Middle East region. First:
"Well, I think the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away. And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.

And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating -- in the past on some of these issues --and we don't always know all the factors that are involved. So let's listen. "
That is excellent advice about listening, applicable to congressmen and senators as well as to the media and commentariat, who sometimes seem to spend all of their time yelling at each other, and to the public. Second:
"Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what's best for them. They're going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people."
This statement changes the playing field entirely. The goal has been reset. Once the goal becomes "prosperity and security for their people," then the intermediate steps become better defined. It is not just to stop the next missile strike, tunnel smuggling or border incident. It is building something long term for their people. Once you think in those terms the violence is intolerable and immediate steps and planning for the long term must commence. Otherwise it will never arrive.

But I was struck by a comment by David Gergen who said Obama was a man of staggering ambition who obviously wanted to change the world. Duh. I guess he wasn't listening either. The entire purpose of the campaign for the presidency was in order to change the way the world operates. Had he been listening through the entire campaign he would have known this. Gergen later stated that it was remarkable that Obama had undertaken these steps so quickly. Reza Aslan described himself as giddy about the interview, especially about the use of the word, respect, many times during the interview. Aslan felt that the President was trying to set himself up as a bridge between the cultures.

Let us hope that this is a beginning. We'll see where it goes.

Update: Andrew Sullivan has an excellent post on his response to President Obama's interview.

Al-Arabiya Interview Part 1:

Al-Arabiya Interview Part 2:

Al-Arabiya Interview on AC360:

Read the rest!

Friday, January 23, 2009

I am really proud of my country

Almost a year ago Michelle Obama made this statement: "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback," for which she got much undeserved grief.

Well, this week I can truly say that, for one of the few times in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback. Let me exclude times like the moon landing and such technical achievements and restrict myself to social justice issues. I venture to state that the same must be true of very many of my fellow citizens, the ones weeping in Grant Park on election eve, the ones who traveled to Washington for the inauguration, and those of us who were weeping elsewhere. We had marched in Boston and Washington, kept our children in integrated schools, supported organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Council who worked for voting rights for all but seen the movement appear to stall. But over those "quiet" years, we began to see blacks taking their place on our television sets as ESPN commentators and anchors, then as news reporters, finally as at least weekend news anchors. And yes, there were black family sitcoms, but you rarely saw these people at work. These came later as we saw black doctors and lawyers in "integrated" TV dramas. Gradually Americans got used to seeing black Americans as competent professionals. Sometimes change is quiet and unobserved until it hits us in the face.

Note: Sorry for not posting in so long. I was away but had my laptop along and had planned to post. But . . . on the second day my laptop refused to start up, and continued in that mode throughout the trip. It is now in for repair and I am now home.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Blame Game - Headlines

For a long time I have been irritated by many of the headlines written for news stories. They seemed written solely to get you to read the story no matter how poorly they may represent the content of the news. Apparently it is not even necessary for the person who writes the headlines to have read the story although some headlines are merely ambiguous/misleading because they have been removed from the context in which they were written. Casting blame on someone is a commonly used way to craft an eyecatching phrase.

Today, in Slate, the headline Understimulated: Obama has only himself to blame for the delay in the spending bill was used for an article on the stimulus bill by John Dickerson. Here is the part of the article from which this headline was extracted:
A politician can never go wrong urging Congress to pick up the pace, and in the Senate, where three open seats have turned into circus shows, you could see how Democratic leaders might get distracted. But if it takes awhile to put the stimulus package together, the delay is of Obama's own doing. To produce the thoughtful, bipartisan bill he has called for, Congress will have to take some time.
The article then continues with a discussion of the various constituencies that President Obama must deal with and the effect of how he does this on the success of the rest of his administration. Overall the article is complimentary, finishing with:
The legislation is going to pass. It's how it passes that will determine whether Obama increases or diminishes the political capital he needs for his next set of tasks, which include addressing the country's health care problems and rewiring the nation's energy policy. Legislation of the stimulus bill's size and complexity would be difficult under any circumstances. And Obama is trying to do more than just get his first program passed—he's trying to create a whole new way of doing business. It's going to take time.
The choice of this headline for use with the story speaks to the way the editors at Slate use headlines to manipulate the readers instead of offering them information.

Further, on the question of delay, the media lately has been criticizing President Obama for not jumping in to every situation and speaking out on or solving it immediately. It is as if he were named king, not President-elect who won't take office until January 20! The other thing they fail to take note of, perhaps because it has been so long since they have had to deal one, is that President Obama insists on thinking about problems instead of just giving a knee-jerk reaction to whatever happens. The most intelligent commentary on this that I have read is from Kathleen Reardon, Professor, USC Marshall School Of Business, in The Huffington Post, entitled What to Expect from an Intelligent President. She notes that:
Barack Obama is what social scientists describe as "cognitively complex." He can accommodate within his views and values what others see as contradictions. He inhabits an abstract rather than concrete world. For the cognitively complex among us, the gray area is broad.

That's why he doesn't rush to a microphone to explain actions that generate controversy. He operates on this rule: "They won't remember you got it to them late so much as that you got it to them wrong."
This article gives the best discussion of the way that "cognitively complex" people think. I highly recommend that you read it, probably several times over the next few years. It will help you understand how our country is being governed. For the long term, for our children and grandchildren, not for just tomorrow.

Read the rest!