"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“A Stranger To Whom?”: President Obama Has To Work Pretty Hard To Feel Much Empathy With People Like Chuck Todd

We all know by now that Chuck Todd thinks of President Obama as The Stranger. That narrative fits pretty well for a lot of DC pundits who see him as aloof, cold, distant and remote.

But I suspect that description would come as a surprise to the young people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation.

When President Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in June, he and first lady Michelle Obama emerged stunned and emotional from a meeting with six students who spoke of lives affected by homelessness, alcoholism, poverty and suicide.

“I love these young people,” Obama said shortly after meeting them. “I only spent an hour with them. They feel like my own.”

The Obamas emerged from the private conversation at a school in Cannon Ball, N.D., “shaken because some of these kids were carrying burdens no young person should ever have to carry. And it was heartbreaking,” Obama said.

The meeting spurred Obama to tell his administration to aggressively build on efforts to overhaul the Indian educational system and focus on improving conditions for Native American youths.

You can read the rest of the article linked above to get details on the action this meeting with tribal youth spurred.

The very same thing happened when President Obama met with youth involved in the Becoming a Man program in Chicago. The result was the launch of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative where he pointed out that “I’m not that different from Roger.” Here was my reaction that day:

What we’re witnessing for the first time in this country’s history is a President who knows these struggles – just like we now have a Supreme Court Justice who embraces the fact that she grew up poor and Latina in the Bronx and an Attorney General who speaks openly about what it means to have “the talk” with his own teenage son following the shooting of Trayvon. The world looks different when viewed through the lens of those who have lived these experiences. I suspect that means an awful lot to young people like Roger.

I would suggest that President Obama has to work pretty hard to feel much empathy with people like Chuck Todd. But he very naturally gravitates to young people like this. Michael Lewis says that its a pattern for him.

His desire to hear out junior people is a warm personality trait as much as a cool tactic, of a piece with his desire to play golf with White House cooks rather than with C.E.O.’s and basketball with people who treat him as just another player on the court; to stay home and read a book rather than go to a Washington cocktail party; and to seek out, in any crowd, not the beautiful people but the old people. The man has his stat­us needs, but they are unusual. And he has a tendency, an unthinking first step, to subvert established stat­us structures.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 6, 2014

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Chuck Todd, Native Americans, Poverty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Whose Civil War Is Worse?”: Personal Distrust Far More Intense Among Republicans. They Really Don’t Like One Another

For some reason that I should probably determine one day, I’ve always found internal disputes with the conservative movement/Republican party somewhat more interesting than internal disputes within the liberal movement/Democratic party. Perhaps it’s because, as a liberal, I get a little Nelson Muntzian charge out of watching the folks on the other side tear themselves apart. Or perhaps it’s because, immersed as I am in the liberal world, the disputes on the left make more sense to me and therefore plumbing their mysteries isn’t so compelling.

Regardless, it has often been the case that one side is unified as the other is engaged in intramural battles; for many years, it was the Republicans who were together while the Dems were in disarray, while in the last few years the Democrats have been more united while the GOP has been riven by infighting. But could both sides now be at their own compatriots’ throats? And if so, whose internal battle is more vicious? Charles Krauthammer insists that it’s the Democrats who are on the verge of all-out civil war:

I grant that there’s a lot of shouting today among Republicans. But it’s a ritual skirmish over whether a government shutdown would force the president to withdraw a signature measure—last time, Obamacare; this time, executive amnesty…

It’s a tempest in a teapot, and tactical at that. Meanwhile, on the other side, cannons are firing in every direction as the Democratic Party, dazed and disoriented, begins digging itself out of the shambles of six years of Barack Obama.

To summarize him, congressional Republicans may be repeating the battles that led to a government shutdown, but Chuck Schumer made a speech that some other Democrats disagreed with, so obviously it’s the Democrats who are practically on the verge of dissolution.

Now let’s take a look at what conservative journalist Byron York is reporting:

A headline by Breitbart News—”Boehner Crafts Surrender Plan on Obama Executive Amnesty”—echoes the idea that GOP leaders will back down even when they have full control of Congress. It’s a view that is shared by many conservatives, from Twitter devotees to radio talk-show hosts.

Underneath it all is a toxic distrust among Hill Republicans. In conversations and email exchanges in the past few days—none of it for attribution and some of it completely off the record—GOP aides on both sides of the issue have expressed deep suspicion of the other side’s motives.

“Conservative Republicans believe leadership will cave to Obama because conservative Republicans are not stupid,” said one GOP aide. “Leadership is bound and determined to never have a funding fight on executive amnesty.”

“Ask them what their backup plan is after the government shuts down,” said another GOP aide, referring to the forces who want action now. “They don’t have one. They know their plan is a dead-end strategy, but they don’t care. All they care about is making themselves look good to the Heritage Action/purity-for-profit crowd.”

In both cases, there’s wide agreement on policy. There really isn’t any significant policy that Ted Cruz supports but John Boehner doesn’t, and you could say the same of almost any two major Democratic figures. Everybody’s arguing about tactics. But the differences seem much more meaningful on the Republican side, where the question is whether they should engage in a kamikaze mission to shut down the government, not whether some new phrasing to describe longstanding ideological values might yield a few more votes. And the personal distrust and dislike York describes seem far more intense among Republicans. They really don’t like one another.

The other major difference is that the GOP is actually divided into organized factions in a way that Democrats aren’t. As Joel Gehrke reports, there could be as many as 50 to 60 House Republicans who will vote against John Boehner’s plan to fund the government, which would mean Boehner would once again need to go on his knees to Nancy Pelosi asking for her help to avoid a shutdown. There’s nothing remotely comparable on the Democratic side.

But if it makes people like Krauthammer feel better to say, “We’re not the ones in disarray, they are!”, then I guess they should go right ahead.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 5, 2014

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Democrats, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Color Blind Lie”: The Same Lie White Racists Have Been Telling Themselves For Centuries

I grew up mostly in East Texas. To give you an idea of the politics of the area, I lived in the district that is currently represented by Louie Gohmert. During that time, I knew all of two black people – my grandmothers’ maids.

When I was about 10 years old, a group of black men in Jonesboro, LA (less than 150 miles from where I lived) organized Deacons for Defense and Justice – eventually sparking a showdown with the KKK that resulted in federal intervention on behalf of local African Americans. I never heard a word about it until I watched the movie – Deacons for Defense – a few years ago.

That’s how I was trained to literally be color blind.

I thought of that when I read this interaction Molly Ball had with former Louisiana Governor Mike Foster about why southern whites are leaving the Democratic Party.

“I don’t think it’s racial,” Mike Foster, the Republican former two-term governor of Louisiana, now 84 and retired, tells me, without my having asked…”You know, the races have gotten along down here for years. Look at what’s happening in Ferguson right now. We don’t have a bunch of people running out in the street hollering about that.”

“I think what has changed it is that this is a hardworking state. People work hard, and they really don’t take to people who are on the dole,” he continued. “You’d better not be supporting people who are sitting on their front porch while I’m trying to work! You drive around these small communities, you see a lot of able-bodied people sitting around, when you know there’s work to be had …. That’s the only thing I can figure. This part of the country, people have been raised by families who worked very, very hard. But now we’ve got a president who loves to sit down every day and see how much he can give away of what they make.”

Those sentiments aren’t new. We heard pretty much the same thing from Duck Dynasty’s Phil Roberts about the Jim Crow era in Louisiana.

I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field …. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

If I had the patience to do the research, I’m sure I could find quotes from plantation master’s who also claimed their slaves were “happy slaves.” Its all part of the same lie white racists have been telling themselves for centuries.

And it leads right into the lie that – while those black people were happy when they were slaves/terrorized by Jim Crow – now they’re all just sitting on their porches collecting goodies from the black guy in the White House while the rest of us white folks work hard (could Lee Atwater have summed up the Southern Strategy any better?)

Nope, nothing racial about that at all.

Pundits all over the spectrum are suggesting that Democrats need to reach out to people like this. Until they can identify their self-interests in a form other than these racist lies, I’m not sure that’s going to be possible.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 7, 2014

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Louie Gohmert, Racism, Southern Whites | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Democrats Against Reform”: Democrats Should Be Celebrating The Fact That They Did The Right Thing

It’s easy to understand why Republicans wish health reform had never happened, and are now hoping that the Supreme Court will abandon its principles and undermine the law. But it’s more puzzling — and disturbing — when Democrats like Charles Schumer, senator from New York, declare that the Obama administration’s signature achievement was a mistake.

In a minute I’ll take on Mr. Schumer’s recent remarks. But first, an update on Obamacare — not the politics, but the actual policy, which continues to rack up remarkable (and largely unreported) successes.

Earlier this week, the independent Urban Institute released new estimates of the number of Americans without health insurance, and the positive results of Obamacare’s first year are striking. Remember all those claims that more people would lose coverage than would gain it? Well, the institute finds a sharp drop in the number of uninsured adults, with more than 10 million people gaining coverage since last year. This is in line with what multiple other estimates show. The primary goal of health reform, to give Americans access to the health care they need, is very much on track.

And while some of the policies offered under Obamacare don’t offer as much protection as we might like, a huge majority of the newly insured are pleased with their coverage, according to a recent Gallup poll.

What about costs? There were many predictions of soaring premiums. But health reform’s efforts to create meaningful competition among insurers are working better than almost anyone (myself included) expected. Premiums for 2014 came in well below expectations, and independent estimates show a very modest increase — 4 percent or less — for average premiums in 2015.

In short, if you think of Obamacare as a policy intended to improve American lives, it’s going really well. Yet it has not, of course, been a political winner for Democrats. Which brings us to Mr. Schumer.

The Schumer critique — he certainly isn’t the first to say these things, but he is the most prominent Democrat to say them — calls health reform a mistake because it only benefits a minority of Americans, and that’s not enough to win elections. What President Obama should have done, claims Mr. Schumer, was focus on improving the economy as a whole.

This is deeply wrongheaded in at least three ways.

First, while it’s true that most Americans have insurance through Medicare, Medicaid, and employment-based coverage, that doesn’t mean that only the current uninsured benefit from a program that guarantees affordable care. Maybe you have good coverage now, but what happens if you’re fired, or your employer goes bust, or it cancels its insurance program? What if you want to change jobs for whatever reason, but can’t find a new job that comes with insurance?

The point is that the pre-Obamacare system put many Americans at the constant risk of going without insurance, many more than the number of uninsured at any given time, and limited freedom of employment for millions more. So health reform helps a much larger share of the population than those currently uninsured — and those beneficiaries have relatives and friends. This is not a policy targeted on a small minority.

Second, whenever someone says that Mr. Obama should have focused on the economy, my question is, what do you mean by that? Should he have tried for a bigger stimulus? I’d say yes, but that fight took place in the very first months of his administration, before the push for health reform got underway. After that, and especially after 2010, scorched-earth Republican opposition killed just about every economic policy he proposed. Do you think this would have been different without health reform? Seriously?

Look, economic management is about substance, not theater. Having the president walk around muttering “I’m focused on the economy” wouldn’t have accomplished anything. And I’ve never seen any plausible explanation of how abandoning health reform would have made any difference at all to the political possibilities for economic policy.

Finally, we need to ask, what is the purpose of winning elections? The answer, I hope, is to do good — not simply to set yourself up to win the next election. In 2009-10, Democrats had their first chance in a generation to do what we should have done three generations ago, and ensure adequate health care for all of our citizens. It would have been incredibly cynical not to have seized that opportunity, and Democrats should be celebrating the fact that they did the right thing.

And one related observation: If more Democrats had been willing to defend the best thing they’ve done in decades, rather than run away from their own achievement and implicitly concede that the smears against health reform were right, the politics of the issue might look very different today.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 4, 2014

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Democrats, Health Reform | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Only Way To End Police Violence”: Convince Americans That Their Lives Truly Matter

Here’s something one is not supposed to say at a time like this, but it’s true and we all know it’s true, so let’s say it: There will be more Eric Garners; more Michael Browns. There will be, it’s sad to say, piles more of these dead, black, male bodies, and dozens or hundreds more white police officers walking away from the inconvenience of having added to the pile, for the simple and obvious reason that our political system and our culture have neither the will nor the capacity to ensure that there won’t be.

This is also usually when we pause to take note of the great racial progress we’ve made in this country over the last two generations, while adding dutifully and ruefully that there is still much more to do. We’ve made progress for sure. But on the criminal justice front, we’ve gone backwards. The harsh sentencing laws passed from the 1970s through the 1990s have seen to it that one out of three black men in America will do some jail time at some point in his life. If Putin did that with one of his ethnic minorities, we’d be calling him a greater monster than Stalin.

The dollar value of a statistical life in the United States is purported to be around $5 million. That’s what safety analysts say. Of course that dollar value, callous as it may seem, is based on certain inputs—a person’s education, her earnings, her contributions to community and society. But if that’s the average, what’s a young black male life worth in the United States? Is it worth $1 million? Maybe $500,000? Michael Brown’s was apparently worth something closer to zero.

This is not going to change in America, at least for many, many years. Ask yourself: What would it take, really, for your average white cop not to see your average black male young adult as a potential threat? Because we can pass all the ex-post facto laws we want, and we can even convict the occasional police officer, which does happen from time to time. But that’s not where the problem starts. The problem starts in that instant of electric mistrust when the cop reaches for his gun, or employs a homicidal chokehold. That moment is beyond the reach of legislation, or of any punishment that arrives after the fact.

So to answer the question of what it would take—well, cops will make different and less deadly decisions in those fateful moments when they no longer reflexively see black males as a priori threatening figures. But there’s so much history and cultural DNA threaded into that reflex that it’s hard to see how it can change.

Which is not to say that we shouldn’t try things. But to me, we should be putting a lot more emphasis on the front end than the back end; that is, on prevention more than punishment. By which I mean, for example, the training, education, and screening of white cops who will be dealing regularly with black citizens.

Back when I was writing about New York City, I once participated in a public forum where I was one of the journalists questioning then-Police Commissioner Howard Safir. One of those big incidents—Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, I can’t remember which, and they happened every few months—had recently taken place. Others asked Safir about after-the-fact approaches—a stronger civilian complaint review board, for example, which had been kicking around at the time, or steeper departmental penalties.

I went in a different direction. I asked Safir whether the NYPD did any kind of racial screening of police academy hopefuls; any battery of psychological tests, say, designed to identify and weed out the potential bad seeds? He didn’t say yes. But he didn’t say no, either. He had no idea! The commissioner—no idea how or whether applicants were screened for racial biases. Now, I don’t know whether any such testing goes on today, but if it doesn’t, it should.

We could also try more integrated police forces. Things are better on that score in many cities than they were 30 years ago, but still woefully out of balance, especially in a city like Ferguson. So there are a few things we can do to try to prevent these tragedies.

But I doubt the political will exists for anything beyond the most transparently cosmetic changes, and at bottom the will is not there because not enough value is attached in American society to young black male lives. If more were, society would never stand for this. If someone out there with a passion for this issue and a couple billion dollars wants to work on a project, maybe it’s just this: Show Americans that young black men don’t have to be either hoodlums or rappers or occasionally actors, that they are just like young white men in their infinite variety, goodness, badness, talent, mediocrity, and decency. When they become simply human to the rest of America, that’s when America will do something to lessen the pile.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 5, 2014

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Law Enforcement, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

%d bloggers like this: