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“Talking Encourages Effective Change”: Obama In Cuba, And The Astounding Legacy Of A Pragmatic President

I’m old. Not as ancient as, say, the dinosaurs, but I’m certainly not young. In fact, I’m only a few years younger than the president, which, while young for the White House, is kind of old in my house.

How old am I? Well, I’ll tell you: I’m old enough to remember when all manner of things now the stuff of daily life were the stuff of Hollywood — the notion of an African-American president, for one.

Or, for instance, relations with Cuba. Are you mad, son? That embargo outlived the Iron Curtain! We will never have anything to do with Cuba (other than smuggled cigars) until the Castros are dead and a unicorn sits on a throne of dollars in the heart of Havana. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and Cuba is natio non grata, forever and ever.

Until this month. Until Sunday. Until, actually, December 2014, when the president announced, “Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba” — an announcement which frankly left me gobsmacked and a little pie-eyed. I hadn’t been paying attention, you see, and seemingly out of the blue, this president had done the undoable, as if 50 years of human history could be changed with human hands. Now he’s walking around Havana and meeting with Raul Castro.

Or how about that other impossibility: U.S.-Iranian détente? I actually remember when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed. I’m also old enough to remember George W. Bush’s 2002 Axis of Evil speech, the one that torpedoed active Iranian cooperation with America in post-9/11 Afghanistan. And yet here we are, one president later, in possession of a nuclear deal with one of our most implacable foes, a foe that has in the meantime elected a slate of surprisingly moderate politicians to its parliament, reinforcing Obama’s position that talking encourages change more effectively than ceaseless saber-rattling.

Oh, I’m old enough to remember all kinds of things. I remember when “LGBTQ rights” were called “the homosexual agenda” and orange juice pitch-woman Anita Bryant told America that the gays wanted to hurt your children. I also remember the AIDS crisis, and how many people had to die before anyone in power began to treat them with dignity. I think that as a young woman I literally wouldn’t have been able to imagine a circumstance in which a sitting U.S. president would oversee the establishment of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. Obama “evolved” on the issue, he told us — bringing America along with him, allowing us to evolve toward that more-perfect union of which our founders spoke.

And don’t think I’ve forgotten health care reform, which has been impossible since Harry Truman. I remember when the current Democratic frontrunner tried her hand at reshaping health care and got so badly burned that she and her then-president husband paid for it for years. Today, on the other hand, millions of Americans for whom basic health care was once as unimaginable as that unicorn in Havana now have insurance, and cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions — such as, for instance, domestic violence or having a cervix. ObamaCare is, in many ways, feminism at its most brass-tacks, and I’m pretty sure Young Me also couldn’t have imagined having a president who is a feminist.

No one accomplishes anything on their own, no matter the office they hold. In the course of seven years, the president has had to learn from, respond to, and work with people ranging from grassroots activists to Pope Francis (while, it should be noted, the opposition party has done all it can to prevent him from accomplishing anything at all). And on many of these matters, Obama has just barely been ahead of the curve. When he announced the change in relations with Cuba, for instance, just less than half of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County supported the embargo anymore — down from 66 percent in 2004 and 56 percent in 2011.

The president has never been a revolutionary; to borrow from Lin-Manuel Miranda, he is and has always been a bold pragmatist — which is, in my book, a compliment.

I don’t want to give the impression that I agree with everything Obama and his administration have presided over. Ask me (or better yet, don’t) about Obama’s record on Israel/Palestine — or maybe talk to the Central Americans deported back to their home countries after fleeing unspeakable violence. To borrow from the internet, your faves are always problematic. My faves are, too.

And yet. There are days on which this old woman looks at her young president’s record, and all but falls out of her chair. The foregoing is but a partial list, missing many things Obama has accomplished or advanced that were, as far as I once knew, impossible or pretty near. The beautiful thing, of course, is that you don’t actually have to be old to see it — you just have to be paying attention.

Thanks, Obama.

 

By: Emily L. Hauser, The Week, March 21, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Cuba, Diplomacy, President Obama, Raul Castro | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Just Get Out Of My Way”: This Progressive Doesn’t Need Your Lectures

Have I mentioned lately how much I’m enjoying the lectures from self-avowed liberals who insist my respect for Hillary Clinton is proof that I am not a “real progressive”?

I haven’t had this much fun since I had my sinuses packed with 40 miles of gauze after polyp surgery.

It’s not just men — my sisters, you disappoint me — but it’s particularly entertaining when the reprimands come from young white men who were still braying for their blankies when I started getting paid to give my opinion. They popped out special, I guess.

I became a columnist in the fall of 2002. Immediately, I found myself on the receiving end of right-wing vitriol so vile it made “The Sopranos” cuddly by comparison. My first death threats came within weeks, after I wrote that the Confederate flag should be retired. After I supported stronger gun control measures, an NRA zealot posted on a gun blog what he thought was my home address and identified me as “unarmed.” I was a single mother at the time. I bought new locks and kept writing. But by all means, do tell me what I don’t understand about being a progressive.

First, though, let me tell you what you clearly don’t understand about me — I almost added, “and women like me,” but that would be presuming to speak for other women, which would make me sound just like you.

I am a 58-year-old wife, mother and grandmother, who first knew I was a feminist at 17. I was a waitress at a family restaurant and a local banker thought he could stick his hand up my skirt because my hands were full of dinner. In the time it took me to deposit that steaming pile of pasta onto his lap, I realized I was never going to be that girl.

Like so many other women, I soon learned that knowing who you are is no small victory, but making it clear to the rest of the world is one of the hardest and longest nonpaying jobs a woman will ever have. I’ll spare you my personal list of jobs with unequal pay and unwelcome advances. No good comes from leading with our injuries.

It helped — it still helps — that my working-class parents raised me to be ready for the fight. My father was a union utility worker, my mother a nurse’s aide. Both of them died in their 60s, living just long enough to see all of their children graduate from college and start their lives. I’ve said many times that my parents did the kind of work that wore their bodies out so that we would never have to. That, too, is my legacy.

But, please, tell me again how I don’t know what it means to be a progressive.

Last month, I started teaching journalism at Kent State University. One of the first things I did was to lug to my office the large metal sign that used to hang over the tool shed at my father’s plant. “THE BEST SAFETY DEVICE IS A CAREFUL MAN,” it reads. Nice try, management.

I’m stickin’ with the union, Woody Guthrie sang.

Every time I walk into my office, that sign is the first thing I see. Remember, it whispers.

What does any of this have to do with why I admire Hillary Clinton? Nothing. But it has everything to do with why I don’t need any lecture from somebody who thinks he or she is going to tell me who I am because I do.

One of the hallmarks of a progressive is a willingness to challenge a power structure that leaves too many people looking up and seeing the bottom of a boot. I want power for the people who don’t have it. And for the rest of my conscious days, I will do my small part to help get it. I love it when detractors describe Clinton as too angry and not “warm and fuzzy” enough. I want a leader, not a Pooh Bear.

I don’t want to diminish anyone who supports Bernie Sanders. I’m married to Sanders’ colleague, Sen. Sherrod Brown, which is how I’ve gotten to know him over the last 10 years. He’s a good man.

If you support Sanders in this Democratic presidential primary, I don’t assume that you hate women.

See how that works?

But if you tell me that, should Sanders lose, you won’t vote for Hillary Clinton, then stop calling yourself a liberal or a progressive or anything other than someone invested in just getting your way.

There is so much at stake here. The fight for women’s reproductive rights is not a sporting event. Our cities are rife with racial tensions, and too many of us white Americans fail to see this as our problem, too. The Affordable Care Act is not enough, but it is the first fragile step toward universal health care. It is already saving lives of people who had nothing — no health care, no safety net, nothing — before it passed.

Finally, the growing gulf between the obscenely privileged and everyone else is a reason to get out of bed every morning — if we care about the future of the people we are supposed to be fighting for.

If you would sacrifice those who need us most because you didn’t get your way, then please, save me your lectures and get out of my way.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Professional in Residence at Kent State University’s School of Journalism; The National Memo, February 4, 2016

February 5, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Liberals, Progressives | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Still Championing Lost Causes”: Michele Bachmann’s Crazy War On Women’s History

It looks as though Michele Bachmann has chosen to spend her final year in Congress as she spent so much of her tenure: ranting about issues in a manner so overwrought that not even her own party can stomach her.

Yesterday, Bachmann generated a fresh round of no-she-didn’t buzz when she took to the House floor to beg colleagues to shoot down legislation creating a bipartisan commission to explore construction of a National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) on the National Mall. Many Republicans, including the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Marsha Blackburn, presumably saw greenlighting the commission as a relatively painless, if largely meaningless, way to say, “See, we love the ladies!” (Cue Tom Cruise bouncing on Oprah’s sofa.)

But not Bachmann. The soon-to-be-ex-lawmaker expressed her grave concerns that “ultimately this museum that will be built on the National Mall, on federal land, will enshrine the radical feminist movement that stands against the pro-life movement, the pro-family movement, and pro-traditional-marriage movement.”

Bachmann allowed that there is much to celebrate about women. But based on her “cursory review” of the museum’s online exhibits, she had sadly concluded that any worthy offerings would be overshadowed by the feminist propaganda of the left. Singled out for opprobrium was the planned exhibit on Margaret Sanger, birth-control crusader and godmother of Planned Parenthood.

The House responded to Bachmann’s clarion call by passing the bill 383-33.

Now, I understand that the gentlewoman from Minnesota wishes (and sometimes, late at night snuggled up with Marcus, maybe even likes to pretend) that she lived in a right-thinking theocracy with an Old Testament approach to dealing with gays and loose women. But the history of the United States is what it is, and any museum celebrating the ladies and exploring their hard-won fight for equal rights will include a few figures that rub Bachmann the wrong way. Most museums feature exhibits that are controversial, if not downright objectionable, to plenty of visitors. (One can only imagine what Bachmann thinks of the Museum of Natural History’s representations of evolution.)

Come to think of it, some gals might object to the NWHM’s decision to create an online exhibit about Michele Bachmann (an irony that Bachmann had the good graces to mention in her floor speech). After all, the four-term Congresswoman is hardly dripping with historical, or even political, import. As a lawmaker, she has always been more of a show pony than a workhorse. Sure, she became a political celebrity as “Queen of the Tea Party,” and in 2011 she won the why-won’t-someone-euthanize-it-already Ames straw poll. But demagogues are a dime a dozen these days, and Bachmann never displayed any talent for transforming her raving into either legislative achievement or higher office. As Politico noted during her 2011 campaign:

Now in her third House term, Bachmann has never had a bill or resolution she’s sponsored signed into law, and she’s never wielded a committee gavel, either at the full or subcommittee level. Bachmann’s amendments and bills have rarely been considered by any committee, even with the House under GOP control. In a chamber that rewards substantive policy work and insider maneuvering, Bachmann has shunned the inside game, choosing to be more of a bomb thrower than a legislator.

But! If Bachmann has been a mediocre public servant (not to mention an appalling influence on political discourse) she was, back in the day, a phenomenal foster mom, which is what the NWHM exhibit is all about. In its “Profiles in Motherhood” section, the museum has Q&As with a number of women in various categories: “Working Mom,” “Stay at Home Mom,” “Military Mom,” “Adoptive Mom,” and so on. As the featured “Foster Mom,” Bachmann talks about the motivations, challenges, and joys of fostering nearly two dozen teens over the years. No matter how toxic many—many—people find the congresswoman, her willingness to embrace so many children in need is beyond controversy. In this one area, at least, Bachmann found a way to walk the walk and accomplish some lasting good.

The folks at NWHM deserve props for finding a way to spotlight this inspiring aspect of Bachmann’s story—despite how loudly she’s tried to stop them.

 

By: Michelle Cottle, The Daily Beast, May 9, 2014

May 10, 2014 Posted by | Mchele Bachmann | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paul Ryan’s Worthless Attempt To Save Face”: Why He’s Still An Overrated Fraud

Beltway writers have recently tried to outdo themselves with breathless profiles of a “new” Paul Ryan, deeply concerned about the poor. I’ve warned repeatedly that Ryan’s views on poverty are just warmed-over Reaganism, and now we have proof. McKay Coppins’ piece “Paul Ryan Finds God” should have revealed that his God is no longer Ayn Rand but Charles Murray, the man who put a patina of (flawed) social science on Reagan’s lyrical lie, “We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won.”

But let me explain all of what it means to cite Charles Murray in 2014. Murray is so toxic that Ryan’s shout-out must be unpacked. First, Rep. Barbara Lee is absolutely right: Ryan’s comments about “inner city” men who are “not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work” are, in fact, “a thinly veiled racial attack,” in the congresswoman’s words. “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”

Ryan denied that Wednesday night. “This has nothing to do whatsoever with race. It never even occurred to me. This has nothing to do with race whatsoever.” On Thursday morning, he issued a statement saying he regretted being “inarticulate” in trying to make his point.

A tip for Ryan: If the racial subtext of your remarks “never even occurred to me,” as you cite a writer who has been repeatedly charged with racism, who is categorized as a “white nationalist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (I’m not sure I’d go that far), well, that in itself is a problem. As Murray himself told the New York Times about his landmark book “Losing Ground:” “A huge number of well-meaning whites fear that they are closet racists, and this book tells them they are not. It’s going to make them feel better about things they already think but do not know how to say.” Apparently Ryan is one of them, if we give him the benefit of the doubt and call him “well-meaning.”

But Murray proves you can embrace noxious racial stereotypes about African-Americans, and also hold contempt for a lot of white men, and women. He demonstrated that in his last book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” Murray argues that white people have developed the same character problems that claimed African-Americans 50 years ago, which he outlined in “Losing Ground”: They prefer shacking up to marriage, they don’t go to church, they’re lazy and dishonest and enjoy the government dole. After all, the same percent of white children are now born to single mothers – just over 25 percent — as were black children back when Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his alarms about “the Negro family.” And the reasons are largely the same: promiscuity, laziness, women who insist on equality – and lower IQ.

“Coming Apart” relies on the same ugly genetic fatalism and bogus notions of genetic differences Murray’s been peddling for years – this time among upper- and lower-income whites. In his awful book “The Bell Curve,” he relied on explicitly racist (and mostly discredited) scientists to argue that blacks and Latinos lagged behind whites and Asians in wealth and income because they had lower IQs, and the basis wasn’t centuries of oppression and deprivation but genetics. This time around Murray told his reviewers he was going to dodge the racial trap, and talk about white people. And again, he finds an IQ gap between the “cognitive elite” and lower-class whites that he says helps explain our winner-take-all society.

The other deeply offensive argument Murray makes in “Coming Apart” is that feminism helps explain the decline of work among lazy lower-class men. He approvingly cites Reagan-era anti-feminist George Gilder, author of the insane “Sexual Suicide,” who blamed women’s equality for letting women give up the job of civilizing men. “Gilder saw disaster looming as women stopped performing this function, a position derided as the worst kind of patriarchal sexism,” Murray noted. “But put in less vivid language, the argument is neither implausible nor inflammatory: The responsibilities of marriage induce young men to settle down, focus and get to work … George Gilder was mostly right.”

And again, the proof of Murray’s sexist theorizing turns out to be bogus geneticism:

There are genetic reasons, rooted in the mechanisms of human evolution, why little boys who grow up in neighborhoods without married fathers tend to reach adolescence not socialized to the norms of behavior that they will need to stay out of prison and hold jobs….[Liberals] will have to acknowledge that the traditional family plays a special, indispensable role in human flourishing and that social policy must be based on that truth.

All of that helps explain why Ryan thinks he can get away with insisting, “This has nothing to do with race whatsoever.” Rick Santorum pulled the same trick when he claimed he didn’t say “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them other people’s money.” (It gets funnier every year that we were supposed to believe he said “blah people.”) Santorum, too, quoted Charles Murray and “Coming Apart” on the campaign trail, and even said explicitly that white people were coming to share the same “dependency” on government that had ruined African-Americans.

But it’s worth noting that even with all the evidence that Murray is now stigmatizing a lot of white people, Paul Ryan is still using dog-whistle racist language like “inner city” to share his concern about poor people lacking “a culture of work”. In denying any racism behind his remarks, he actually didn’t use the best evidence he could have mustered. He didn’t have the courage to say, “Hey, my boy Charles Murray thinks lower-income white people are lazy and shiftless, too!” But that would require insulting much of the GOP base. Ryan’s too ambitious for that.

I once foolishly believed Murray’s equal-opportunity contempt for the poor and working class might wake up those struggling white folks that he and his Republican admirers disrespect. That didn’t happen, because outside of the rarefied confines of right-wing think tanks and the occasional Rick Santorum speech, they don’t talk about white people that way. The folks Murray – and Ryan – hold in contempt went big for Romney-Ryan in 2012.

But there’s one final reason that Paul Ryan’s hailing a “culture of work” and stigmatizing government assistance is particularly offensive. This is the same Paul Ryan whose family’s construction firm fattened itself on government contracts; who received Social Security survivor benefits after his father died and used that public money to put himself through college; who then went on the government payroll and has never done anything other than attack poor people while on the government’s dime; who makes $174,000 a year in taxpayer dollars while keeping himself camera-ready with his PDX90 routine (Paul Ryan shirtless is still one of the top prompts on Google); who enjoys $350 bottles of wine thanks to lobbyists; and then dumps on the lazy, immoral inner-city poor with gambling addict and fellow government assistance recipient Bill Bennett.

This is the guy to whom the GOP is outsourcing its anti-poverty policy. Maybe he can hook the “inner city poor” up to the gravy train he’s ridden his entire life.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 13, 2014

 

March 14, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Nothing Short Of Radical Inclusiveness”: The Power of Pissed-Off Women United For Equality

I’ve just begun my second four-year term as president of the National Organization for Women. I was reelected — by acclamation, I’m proud to say — at NOW’s 2013 Conference in Chicago over the July 4th weekend.

My vision for the next four years of activism begins with something that’s long overdue — the election of a women president of the United States.

And not just any woman. A feminist woman who will stand up for our issues against those who would turn the clock back to the 1950’s.

Women need to be thinking — and acting — for the long-term, not just for this year’s elections or next year’s. We need to be preparing for the next president, and the ones after that. That’s what our adversaries have been doing.

As the grassroots arm of the women’s movement, NOW is strong and getting stronger. We are focusing our power — the power of a whole lot of pissed-off women — identifying targets and achieving goals.

As we look towards the 2014 elections, we know that the stakes couldn’t be higher. The radical fringe that controls the Republican party is chomping at the bit for a replay of 2010, and this time they mean to take over the Senate as well as the House.

The Supreme Court has just made our job harder by eviscerating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now dozens of state and local jurisdictions, freed from having to pre-clear changes in their voting laws with the U.S. Department of Justice, will race to erect new barriers against voting by such “undesirable” voters as people of color, seniors, immigrants and younger citizens.

We are committed to restoring the Act, and correcting the Supreme Court’s sordid attempt to enhance the political power of those who already have so much.

Beyond our electoral challenges, NOW is doubling down on fighting for women’s economic security. We support the initiative launched last week by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD), and House Democratic women to address real economic needs facing women and families: ensuring equal pay for equal work, promoting work and family balance, and providing access to quality, affordable child care.

It’s called When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families.

As Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said,

Women are really struggling financially. They are looking for an increase in the minimum wage and equal pay, so they can raise their income, support their families and have a chance for a better life. So today, 165 years after the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, we are launching a woman’s economic agenda to address these severe financial pressures. Raising wages for millions of struggling women is central to ensuring work pays for them and their families. Closing the wage gap, increasing the minimum wage, expanding educational opportunities and supporting women entrepreneurs are crucial to making sure that women — and America — succeed.

Of course, wage security isn’t the only linchpin of economic equality for women. We need access to the full range of reproductive health services, because, as this Valerie Tarico column in the Huffington Post says, “Anybody who says that talking about reproductive rights is a distraction from talking about economics is not running the numbers.”

Unintended pregnancies push women out of the workforce, keep women from earning their full potential as business leaders, contribute to absenteeism and lost wages and throw state and federal budgets out of whack. According to the Guttmacher Institute, every public dollar spent on contraception saves three dollars that would otherwise be spent on Medicaid payments for pregnancy-related and newborn care.

Another enormous economic burden facing women is the crushing cost of student loans. As Elizabeth Warren, the sponsor of the Bank on Student Loan Fairness Act has said,

Students owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt — more than all the credit card debt in the entire country. But they didn’t go on a shopping spree at the mall–they did exactly what we told them to do. They worked hard, they played by the rules, and they got an education.

As I wrote in this column for the Huffington Post, because women are paid less than men are paid after college, student loan repayments eat up a larger part of women’s earnings.

Like a bad penny, economic insecurity follows women through school, in the workplace, at home, and far too often, in what should be a safe and secure retirement.

This year, we are rolling out NOW’s Campaign to Break the Social Security Glass Ceiling to add a good offense to our ongoing defense against cuts in this crucial program.

We are calling for a range of improvements in benefits for women — including a caregiver credit, so women will no longer be penalized in their retirement years for having dropped out of the paid workforce to care for children or family members; a higher minimum benefit for low-wage workers (who are, very disproportionately, women); modernized rules for divorced and widowed spouses; and equal treatment for same-sex couples and their families — and we show how to pay for it by requiring the wealthiest to pay their fair share into the system.

Simultaneously, our national action campaign to Let Them Put a Ring On It expands and deepens NOW’s commitment to achieving equal marriage rights in all states, at all levels of government. We’ll engage NOW’s chapter leaders and activists to press for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA including the provisions not struck down by the Supreme Court. And we’ll ramp up our work with coalition partners in key states to reverse anti-marriage measures and pass laws recognizing the full rights of loving, committed same-sex couples.

As NOW feminists, our goal is nothing short of radical inclusiveness, as we work to build an organization, a movement, and a society that values diversity and upholds respect for every single woman and girl, no matter where she comes from, what she looks like, where she works or who she loves. We are stronger together, and united for equality.

 

By: Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women; The Huffington Post Blog, August 5, 2013

August 6, 2013 Posted by | Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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