Friday, March 25, 2016

President Obama's Focus on the Nuclear Threat

We know that when Barack Obama was a student at Columbia University, he was vocal about the issue of a nuclear threat.
In the depths of the cold war, in 1983, a senior at Columbia University wrote in a campus newsmagazine, Sundial, about the vision of “a nuclear free world.” He railed against discussions of “first- versus second-strike capabilities” that “suit the military-industrial interests” with their “billion-dollar erector sets,” and agitated for the elimination of global arsenals holding tens of thousands of deadly warheads.
The student was Barack Obama, and he was clearly trying to sort out his thoughts. In the conclusion, he denounced “the twisted logic of which we are a part today” and praised student efforts to realize “the possibility of a decent world.” But his article, “Breaking the War Mentality,” which only recently has been rediscovered, said little about how to achieve the utopian dream.
Less than two months after he was inaugurated as President of the United States, Obama gave a speech in Prague that focused on his plans for advancing that "utopian dream." Many of us have forgotten that, in that speech, the President laid out an ambitious agenda for limiting the threat of nuclear weapons that went far beyond the much-touted new START Treaty with Russia that was signed in February 2011 and the successful negotiations with Iran to stop their nuclear weapons program. Here is one of the goals Obama set out at the time.
...we must ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon. This is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security. One terrorist with one nuclear weapon could unleash massive destruction. Al Qaeda has said it seeks a bomb and that it would have no problem with using it. And we know that there is unsecured nuclear material across the globe. To protect our people, we must act with a sense of purpose without delay.
So today I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.
We must also build on our efforts to break up black markets, detect and intercept materials in transit, and use financial tools to disrupt this dangerous trade. Because this threat will be lasting, we should come together to turn efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism into durable international institutions. And we should start by having a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host within the next year.
Since that time, President Obama has organized three Global Summits on Nuclear Security in 2010 (U.S), 2012 (Seoul) and 2014 (The Hague). The final summit of his administration will take place next week in Washington, DC. While the administration hasn't reached the ambitious goal set out by the President in 2009, there has been significant progress.

* Removal and/or disposition of over 3.2 metric tons of vulnerable highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium material.

* Completely removing HEU from 12 countries - Austria, Chile, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Libya, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

* Verified shutdown or successful conversion to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel use of 24 HEU research reactors and isotope production facilities in 15 countries, including Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Completion of physical security upgrades at 32 buildings storing weapons-usable fissile materials.

* Installation of radiation detection equipment at 328 international border crossings, airports, and seaports to combat illicit trafficking in nuclear materials.

In the lead-up to next week's summit, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard released a report titled, Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline? Here is part of their summary:
In recent years, significant progress has been made securing vulnerable nuclear weapons-usable material—reducing the number of countries with these materials by more than half, securing scores of sites around the world, and much more. But the work is not done...
Since the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, there has only been modest progress securing vulnerable nuclear-weapons usable material around the globe, and some efforts have lost ground.
A major contributor to the slow-down in progress was the fact that - with the re-emergence of President Putin - Russia pulled out of participation in these activities. And they have made it clear that they will not be attending the summit next week.

However, news following the recent ISIS attack in Brussels highlights the importance of these efforts. Apparently those involved had been stalking a nuclear power plant as a potential target. As that report indicates: "The current theory is that the terrorists eventually chose “softer” targets than the security-tight nuclear power plants." That is exactly the kind of thing next week's summit will focus on.

In other words, thanks Obama!

The Nexus of Trump's Racism/Sexism: Dominance

Recently Greg Sargent posited a reason for Donald Trump's appeal among his supporters.
But what if Trump’s efforts to court white backlash constitute one of the essential ingredients of his success among Republican voters?
A new analysis of Washington Post/ABC News polling strongly suggests this may be the case. A Post/ABC national poll this month asked: “Which of these do you think is a bigger problem in this country — blacks and Hispanics losing out because of preferences for whites, or whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics?”
A large plurality of Republican respondents nationally say that the bigger problem is whites losing out, by 45-19...and it turns out that Trump supporters believe this in far larger percentages.
That is something a lot of people have been noticing. There is a reason why white supremacists have embraced the candidacy of Donald Trump. Here is how one of them put it:
“Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have - that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon.”
And now, Franklin Foer has written this:
Donald Trump holds one core belief. It’s not limited government. He favored a state takeover of health care before he was against it. Nor is it economic populism. Despite many years of arguing the necessity of taxing the rich, he now wants to slice their rates to bits. Trump has claimed his nonlinear approach to policy is a virtue. Closing deals is what matters in the end, he says, not unbleached allegiance to conviction. But there’s one ideology that he does hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor: misogyny.
In a country that feels compelled to - as Barack Obama once put it - "slice and dice" the electorate, those can seem like two different things - one about people of color and the other about women. But then Foer goes on to write this:
Trump wants us to know all about his sex life. He doesn’t regard sex as a private activity. It’s something he broadcasts to demonstrate his dominance, of both women and men. In his view, treating women like meat is a necessary precondition for winning, and winning is all that matters in his world. By winning, Trump means asserting superiority. And since life is a zero-sum game, superiority can only be achieved at someone else’s expense.
As I've written before, our Western white patriarchy has led us to believe that dominance is the only form of power. Trump's call to "make American great again" is all about winning. And for him, winning means dominance.

But a commitment to dominance means that there are those who dominate and those who are dominated. The group that falls into the latter category pretty much includes anyone who doesn't look like or agree with Donald Trump. As Foer says, asserting your superiority over them is how you win.

Rebecca Traister wrote recently that this election is about that kind of white male power in its death throes.
The public spectacle of this presidential election, and the two that have preceded it, are inextricably linked to the racialized and gendered anger and violence we see around us…
Whatever their flaws, their political shortcomings, their progressive dings and dents, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mean a lot. They represent an altered power structure and changed calculations about who in this country may lead…
This is our country in an excruciating period of change. This is the story of the slow expansion of possibility for figures who have long existed on the margins, and it is also the story of the dangerous rage those figures provoke.
There are a lot of issues on the table in this election. My suggestion is that we view all of them through the lens of whether they contribute to dealing another blow to that embrace of dominance as the source of white male power or whether they give it new life.

Here is how David Simon put it after the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012:
You want to lead in America? Find a way to be entirely utilitarian — to address the most problems on behalf of the most possible citizens. That works. That matters...
This election marks a moment in which the racial and social hierarchy of America is upended forever. No longer will it mean more politically to be a white male than to be anything else. Evolve, or don’t. Swallow your resentments, or don’t. But the votes are going to be counted, more of them with each election. Arizona will soon be in play. And in a few cycles, even Texas. And those wishing to hold national office in these United States will find it increasingly useless to argue for normal, to attempt to play one minority against the next, to turn pluralities against the feared “other” of gays, or blacks, or immigrants, or, incredibly in this election cycle, our very wives and lovers and daughters, fellow citizens who demand to control their own bodies.
Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests. And now, normal isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal.
The ultimate irony will be that when/if Trump doesn't win, it will be primarily because he failed to recognize that reality.

Democrats Need to Have a More Thoughtful Discussion About Trade

There is a reason why I have been saying that the Democrats need to have a more thoughtful discussion about trade. The party is not as unified on the issue as we are often led to believe.

As I've written previously, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (which is overwhelmingly Democratic), endorsed TPP. The reason, as Ron Brownstein pointed out, is clear.
New data released May 13 by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program helps explain the mayors’ tilt toward trade…Brookings found that fully 86 percent of U.S. exports now originate from urban areas. Moreover, exports drove more than one-quarter of all metro area economic growth from 2009-2014.
Here is how Christopher Cabaldron, Mayor of West Sacramento and chair of the Mayor's Conference committee on jobs, put it:
Blocking trade agreements, Cabaldon notes, won’t stop the changes powered by the unrelenting forces of technological advance and global competition. “The notion that you can just freeze your metropolitan economy in place right now, or the way it used to be, is just a fiction we [mayors] can’t live with,” Cabaldon says. “So it’s a question of what are the tools we have to make the best of the opportunities, reduce the suffering from the dislocation and then figure out how to compete.”
As Brownstein also notes, there are electoral issues at stake.
These same population hubs are now increasingly indispensable to Democratic political fortunes. In 2012, Obama amassed more of his total victory margin in just his 100 best counties than any presidential winner since at least 1920. And Democrats now control the mayor’s offices in virtually all big cities—even in the reddest states.
Yet in their national debate, Democrats are elevating the protectionist sentiments of blue-collar workers who largely vote Republican over the desire for expanded trade in the growing urban centers that now anchor their electoral coalition.
This doesn't mean that Democrats need to embrace a Republican view of trade. But it does mean that simply shouting "no" to trade deals and demagoguing the issue are not good enough.

Granted, trade deals are complex precisely because they have to deal with so many competing interests. But given a globalized economy, this is not an arena that Democrats can afford to walk away from. Like any other democratic process, it means that we need to inform ourselves, offer solutions and be prepared for the fact that compromise is inevitable. If our elected officials are not embracing that approach, they should be held accountable.

Perhaps a presidential campaign is not the best time to have that kind of difficult conversation. But as Brownstein pointed out, the way the issue is currently being framed means that a large part of the Democratic coalition is not being heard.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice

Because of our media's fixation on superficial optics, what most Americans will hear about President Obama's time in Argentina is that he and the First Lady danced the tango at a state dinner. But for the people of Argentina, the optic in the photo above is likely to be the focus of their attention. That is because today is the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup in that country that led to the brutal massacre of approximately 20,000 people. In Argentina, this is the "Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice."

To understand the significance of the photo above, you have to know that the ruling junta that came into power in 1976 organized death camps with methods that were reminiscent of the Nazi's. One of the most common of these came to be known as "death flights" where prisoners were injected with sedatives before being dropped from airplanes, still alive, into the Rio de la Plata.

Today, President Obama and Argentine President Mauricio Macri paid tribute to those who were "disappeared" by visiting the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism at Remembrance Park and throwing flowers into the river that became the watery grave for so many. The President also said a few words.
“There’s been controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days,” Mr. Obama said at the Parque de la Memoria...The United States “has to examine its own policies as well, and its own past,” Mr. Obama added. “We’ve been slow to speak out for human rights, and that was the case here.”...

“A memorial like this speaks to the responsibilities that all of us have,” Mr. Obama said later. “We cannot forget the past, but when we find the courage to confront and we find the courage to change that past, that’s when we build a better future.”
As Graciela Mochkofsky writes, President Obama is offering more than symbolism and a few words to the people of Argentina. She notes that it was under President Bill Clinton that the United States declassified a wide range of documents that revealed "shocking levels of complicity between the American government and the military regimes in Chile, El Salvador, and Guatemala." Argentina received only a small batch of records before the process was halted following the attacks on 9/11 and then a political meltdown in their country.

Last week National Security Advisor Susan Rice made the following announcement:
President Obama is moving to declassify American military, intelligence and law enforcement records that could reveal what the United States government knew about Argentina’s brutal “dirty war” of the 1970s and ’80s, a senior adviser said on Thursday, hoping to pierce the shroud of secrecy that has surrounded a painful chapter in that country’s history.

Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, said that the president would use a visit to Argentina on Wednesday and Thursday, which coincides with the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup that began the war, to honor the victims and formally begin the declassification process.

“On this anniversary and beyond, we’re determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation,” Ms. Rice said during a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington.
As President Obama said in his speech to the Cuban people on Tuesday, "I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people." Today, he sent the same message to the people of Argentina.

This is exactly the kind of change I believe in! It is clear that most Americans (including too many on the left) have moved on from those dark days of our past and - with the complicit mainstream media - assume that the only foreign policy that matters is what happens in the Middle East. I am reminded of what President Obama said to Jeffrey Goldberg about that:
In Asia, as well as in Latin America and Africa, Obama says, he sees young people yearning for self-improvement, modernity, education, and material wealth.

“They are not thinking about how to kill Americans,” he says. “What they’re thinking about is How do I get a better education? How do I create something of value?”

...“If we’re not talking to them,” he said, referring to young Asians and Africans and Latin Americans, “because the only thing we’re doing is figuring out how to destroy or cordon off or control the malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity, then we’re missing the boat.”
While so many in the media were shifting between a focus on Brussels, Donald Trump and a tango, President Obama was making sure that we don't miss that boat.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What Republicans Could Learn From President Obama

As I was writing this morning about the short-sightedness of establishment Republicans, it struck me that they could learn something from President Obama. What we're witnessing right now in the GOP presidential primary is a party that has been captured by its angry extremist wing. To a lesser extent, President Obama has been pressured by liberal activists. But while he shares many of their goals, he has consistently embraced a long view of how real change actually happens.

One of the ways we saw this tension early on in the Obama presidency was when activists in the LGBT community became angry with him for not signing an executive order to end DADT. You might remember that some of them chained themselves to the White House fence and made headlines for telling gays and lesbians that Obama "just wasn't that into them." What those folks missed was that this President was playing the long game. Here is how he explained it in 2013 to Franklin Foer and Chris Hughes:
There were advocates in the LGBT community who were furious at me, saying, "Why don't you just sign with a pen ordering the Pentagon to do this?" And my argument was that we could build a coalition to get this done, that having the Pentagon on our side and having them work through that process so that they felt confident they could continue to carry out their missions effectively would make it last and make it work for the brave men and women, gays and lesbians, who were serving not just now but in the future.

And the proof of the pudding here is that not only did we get the law passed, but it's caused almost no controversy. It's been almost thoroughly embraced, whereas had I just moved ahead with an executive order, there would have been a huge blowback that might have set back the cause for a long time.
What this kind of long term approach requires is that, first of all, you have to know yourself and set your sights on your North Star. I found that President Obama's description of that to participants in his My Brother's Keeper initiative was extremely insightful.
But I do think that as you get older part of what you have to determine is what’s important to you -- who are you, how do you want to live, what are the principles that you abide by, what are the kind of fixed foundations, what’s the North Star that steers you -- so that when things happen that aren't always according to plan, and when you have tough times and when you are struggling, what is it that's going to keep you going and keep your bearings.

And I think through trial and error and mistakes and self-reflection, over time I've sort of figured out who I am and what’s important to me and what I care about. And I try to stay focused on that...There are different paths to it, but at some point, to be a man or a woman, to be an adult, to be a full-grown person, you have to move beyond just what other people think and you have to make a determination about what do you believe in.
Secondly, you have to understand how change happens in a democracy. Here is how the President described that to Marc Maron:
The trajectory of progress comes in fits and starts and where you’re going is balanced by what is and where you’ve been. Progress in a democracy is never instantaneous and it’s always partial...

It’s like steering an ocean liner and making a 2 degree turn so that 10 years from now we’re suddenly in a very different place. You can’t turn 50 degrees all at once because that’s not how societies - especially democracies - work. As long as we’re turning in the right direction and we’re making progress, government is working like its supposed to.
As Michelle Obama once said about her husband, the next step sometimes means blocking out the "noise."
Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight.
With all that in mind it is obvious why Republicans are in such a political mess right now. For years they masked their true North Star with dog whistles and a culture war that was designed to ignite and distract their base. Or as David Roberts described it, they practiced post-truth politics.
Republicans thus talk about “taxes” and “spending” and “regulation” in the abstract, since Americans oppose them in the abstract even as they support their specific manifestations. They talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments.

In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They’ve realized that their rhetoric doesn’t have to bear any connection to their policy agenda.
When that no longer worked, they moved on to post-policy - or an attempt to fuel their total obstruction by fanning the flames of fear and anger at our first African American president.

Now that lack of a North Star combined with a complete abdication of their responsibilities to govern in a democracy have them chasing after whatever it is they think will more inflame their base for short-term gain.

At this point I find myself actually agreeing with something Jonah Goldberg wrote (yes, it totally creeps me out to say that) in a column very accurately titled: Nominating Donald Trump will end the Republican Party as we know it. So will not nominating him.
Trump's cheerleaders insist that he's a symptom of long simmering maladies on the right. I'm persuaded (even though I think Dr. Trump's remedies are nothing but snake oil). Even now too many GOP leaders think Trump's success is purely a result of his brash personality, and nothing more. But only when we accept that a terrible diagnosis is real is it possible to think intelligently about our options.
If we were to ask our magic 8-ball about the possibility that Republicans will accept this terrible diagnosis and think intelligently about their options, I suspect that even the most optimistic among us would turn up this one.


Unfortunately for the rest of us, until they do, they'll probably continue their current trajectory: Dubya to Palin to Trump to ?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

President Obama's Challenge to the People of Cuba - and All of Us Here at Home


The visual in the still shot of the video above is a powerful statement on its own: The President of the United States standing in front of both the Cuban and U.S. flag speaking to the people of Cuba. Who thought something like that could happen in our lifetimes?

But the words President Obama spoke were not merely symbolic - they dealt with the hard truths of reality both past and present.
There’s no limitation from the United States on the ability of Cuba to take these steps. It’s up to you. And I can tell you as a friend that sustainable prosperity in the 21st century depends upon education, health care, and environmental protection. But it also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas. If you can’t access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential. And over time, the youth will lose hope.
I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American President. Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption. And since 1959, we’ve been shadow-boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities. I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.
I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity, nor the intention to impose change on Cuba. What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people. We will not impose our political or economic system on you. We recognize that every country, every people, must chart its own course and shape its own model...
So let me tell you what I believe. I can't force you to agree, but you should know what I think. I believe that every person should be equal under the law. Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads. I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear - to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.
Remember...he spoke those words with President Raul Castro in attendance. But he also acknowledged critiques Cubans have made of this country.
I’ve had frank conversations with President Castro. For many years, he has pointed out the flaws in the American system - economic inequality; the death penalty; racial discrimination; wars abroad. That’s just a sample. He has a much longer list. (Laughter.) But here’s what the Cuban people need to understand: I welcome this open debate and dialogue. It’s good. It’s healthy. I’m not afraid of it.
He went on to use his own personal story as an example of how change happens in our democracy - and then summarized with this message that should resonate here as strongly as it does in Cuba.
So here’s my message to the Cuban government and the Cuban people: The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution - America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world - those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy. Not because American democracy is perfect, but precisely because we’re not. And we - like every country - need the space that democracy gives us to change. It gives individuals the capacity to be catalysts to think in new ways, and to reimagine how our society should be, and to make them better.
I am reminded of the quote from Hillary Clinton's college thesis on Saul Alinsky that I wrote about recently:
As such, he [Alinsky] has been feared — just as Eugene Debs or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embraced the most radical of political faiths — democracy.
That is the challenge President Obama just issued to the Cuban people - and all of us here at home as well.

Donald Trump is a One-Trick Pony

I suspect you've read pundits who have suggested that once Donald Trump secures the Republican nomination he'll do the proverbial pivot and become a more substantial candidate. A lot of this is based on his expertise in playing the media game. But the truth is, he's very good at playing the media "shock" game - the kind that wins ratings with things like "reality TV shows." But when it comes to actually being serious and thoughtful...not so much.

If ever there was a moment when Trump should have made the kind of pivot folks talk about, it was when he sat down with the editorial board of the Washington Post. He had to know that they would go after him if he failed to perform. And yet he simply repeated all the same bluster we've been hearing from him for months. Here is how the editors summed up that meeting.
As Donald Trump observed during a visit to The Post on Monday, we have been critical of his candidacy, so give him credit for agreeing to sit down with us and answer questions for more than an hour. Unfortunately, the visit provided no reassurance regarding Mr. Trump’s fitness for the presidency. “I’m not a radical person,” he told us as he was leaving. But his answers left little doubt how radical a risk the nation would be taking in entrusting the White House to him.
Then they give some examples:
There was, first, a breezy willingness to ignore facts and evidence. Are there racial disparities in law enforcement? “I’ve read where there are and I’ve read where there aren’t,” Mr. Trump said. “I mean, I’ve read both. And, you know, I have no opinion on that.” Global warming? “I am not a great believer in man-made climate change,” he said.
In that, Mr. Trump is not different from many Republican politicians these days. But no one can match the chasm between his expansive goals and the absence of proposals to achieve them. He would remake the nation’s libel laws, but how, given Supreme Court jurisprudence on the First Amendment? “I’d have to get my lawyers in to tell you,” he said. How could he implement a ban on noncitizen Muslims entering the country? “Well look, there’s many exceptions,” he said. “There’s many — everything, you’re going to go through a process.”
One exchange in particular is making the rounds on social media this morning.
RYAN: You [MUFFLED] mentioned a few minutes earlier here that you would knock ISIS. You’ve mentioned it many times. You’ve also mentioned the risk of putting American troop in a danger area. If you could substantially reduce the risk of harm to ground troops, would you use a battlefield nuclear weapon to take out ISIS?
TRUMP: I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting [MUFFLED]…
RYAN: This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?
[CROSSTALK]
TRUMP: I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?
Donald Trump is not an incredibly savvy media player. He's a narcissistic one-trick pony. In other words, he knows how to "shock and awe," but is completely clueless when it comes to intelligent adult conversation.

I am aware of the fact that his style is attractive to a certain segment of the population right now and that those folks will vote for him no matter what he says/does. But on a morning when the news is all about the latest terrorist attacks in Brussels and the leading contender for the GOP nomination is a clueless narcissist, its not surprising that a lot of Republicans are embarrassed. They have every reason to be.

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Capitalism Has To Be Attended To"

 photo Manufacturing output vs jobs_zpsgrl4onll.png

With all the focus on trade agreements from both the Sanders and Trump campaigns, there are a lot of issues that are being overlooked. The graph above is from an article by Ben Casselman titled: Manufacturing Jobs Are Never Coming Back. It shows that, while manufacturing output in this country has increased over the last 7 years, jobs have been slow to return. The reason: automation.
Here’s the problem: Whether or not those manufacturing jobs could have been saved, they aren’t coming back, at least not most of them. How do we know? Because in recent years, factories have been coming back, but the jobs haven’t. Because of rising wages in China, the need for shorter supply chains and other factors, a small but growing group of companies are shifting production back to the U.S. But the factories they build here are heavily automated, employing a small fraction of the workers they would have a generation ago.
The story Abha Bhattarai tells about Thomaston, GA is an example of what he is talking about.
Not so long ago, this rural town an hour outside Atlanta was a hotbed of textile manufacturing.
In the late 1990s, there were six major mills here. Their machines spun children’s clothing for Carter’s, made tire cords for B.F. Goodrich and produced bed sheets for J.C. Penney, Sears and Walmart.
In all, they employed about 4,000 workers.
By 2001, all of those jobs were gone.
What has happened here in the 15 years since then tracks the slow comeback of manufacturing in the United States. Two textile companies have come in, investing millions in new technology and adding about 280 jobs in this town where one-third of the residents still live below the poverty line. It is becoming more affordable to produce textiles in the United States as machines become more efficient, companies say. Major firms are more willing to pay higher prices for domestically sourced products, and rising wages in China mean there is less of an advantage to making products overseas.
I am reminded of what David Simon said years ago about what he was witnessing that became in inspiration for his HBO series The Wire.
We are in the postindustrial age. We do not need as many of us as we once did. We don’t need us to generate capital, to secure wealth. We are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value. Now, whether or not we can figure out a way to validate the humanity of the individual, I have great doubts...
As for the characters on the program, their lives are less and less necessary. They are more and more expendable. The institutions in which they serve are indifferent to their existence...
I didn’t start out as a cynic, but at every given moment where this country has had a choice - its governments, institutions, corporations, its social framework - to exalt the value of individuals over the value of the shared price, we have chosen raw unencumbered capitalism. Capitalism has become our god. You are not looking at a marxist up here, but you are looking at somebody who doesn’t believe that capitalism can work absent a social framework that accepts that it is relatively easy to marginalize more and more people in this economy. Capitalism has to be attended to. And that has to be a conscious calculation on the part of society, if that is going to succeed. Everywhere we have created an alternate America of haves and have-nots. At some point, either more of us are going to find our conscience or we’re not.
All of that was happening years before the Great Recession and isn't necessarily a result of trade agreements. It points to the need to attend to capitalism in a way that puts the value of human beings into the equation of our social framework. In other words, it requires that we expand our moral imagination.

"A Different American President"

As the Obama family continues their historic visit to Cuba, Jeffrey Goldberg relates a story from national security advisor Ben Rhodes that might have provided the moment that made the opening between our two countries possible.
“The president was going to the funeral of Nelson Mandela—his personal hero—and I remember on the plane to South Africa I raised with him—we had a list of the leaders who were going to be up on the dais where he’d be speaking—and one was Raul Castro, and I said, ‘Look, inevitably it is going to come up as to whether or not you shake his hand.’”
Obama’s response was not necessarily the response of a typical American president. According to Rhodes, Obama said, “‘Look, the Cubans, given their history with Mandela, with the ANC, they have a place at this event, and I’m not going to, essentially, cause an uncomfortable situation for the Mandela family, for the South African people, by snubbing the president of Cuba who has a right to be on that dais.’” The Cubans were early and ardent supporters of Mandela’s African National Congress party, and were also deeply engaged militarily across southern Africa...
Castro, Rhodes said, was a bit surprised, and perhaps somewhat moved. “What was interesting was, in our subsequent meetings with the Cubans, the atmosphere changed a bit, and the first thing they said to me in the next meeting was how much President Castro appreciated that President Obama had done that, and it kind of established a tone where they understood they were dealing with a different American president—one who is willing to leave the history in the past and actually try to get something done.”
This points to a moment when Cuba was actually on the right side of history while the United States - under President Reagan - was on the wrong side.
Reagan ... embraced the South African Apartheid regime. He instituted a policy euphemized as “constructive engagement.” Reagan said that the United States lacked the power to change the internal workings of the Afrikaner government. Not only was the claim false, it contradicted his position on the far more powerful Soviet Union, which was designed precisely to change the evil empire’s internal behavior. Reagan put Mandela on the U.S. terrorist list, a placement that wasn’t removed until 2008, incredibly. This was at a time when the South African civil war was at its peak of violence, with the conflict becoming a global cause.
A young student attending Occidental College at the time was very aware of these events.
The young black university student who walked up to the microphone at an anti-apartheid rally in 1980 was, by his own admission, cynical about the virtues of political activism.
Barack Obama had spent his early years of college submerged in books by African American writers by the likes of James Baldwin, W E B Du Bois and Malcolm X, wrestling with his own mixed racial identity.
But it was the campaign for equality thousands of miles away in South Africa that first spurred Obama, then aged 19, into action: taking part in a divestment rally in his sophomore year at Occidental College in Los Angeles, one of hundreds of similar campaigns sweeping campuses across America.
And so it was thirty years later, on that day in December 2013, that these two leaders - who had very little in common other than their admiration for Nelson Mandela - shook hands and changed the trajectory of the relationship between our two countries. I suspect that Madiba would approve.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

What Happened to the Revolution?

Not too long ago, all the talk about the Democratic presidential primary focused on two issues: electability and theories of change. On the latter, the Sanders case was that he would ignite a revolution that would overthrow the monied interests that currently control both the Republican and Democratic Party establishments.

Now, with Clinton's commanding lead in the popular vote as well as elected delegates, Bernie Sanders is making an interesting case for why he should stay in the race. It starts with a suggestion that the primaries are now moving into states that are more favorable to him. Here is what Sanders told Rachel Maddow last night:
Well here’s the scenario. Secretary Clinton has done phenomenally well in the deep south and she has picked up a whole lot of delegates there. We are now moving beyond the south. We are moving west where we think the terrain favors us. West coast is probably the most progressive region of the united states of America. We think we have a good shot, can’t guarantee it, of winning a whole lot of states of winning a whole lot of delegates. Of perhaps winning California, the state of Washington, Oregon, many of the smaller states, and winning new York state.
Of course, this is the campaign that also predicted that, based on winning Michigan, they would win in states like Ohio - which didn't happen. And as Nate Silver points out, in order to catch up with Clinton, Sanders would have to win these states by something like 16 points.

But the truth is, Sanders isn't counting on catching up with Clinton.
We think if we come into the convention in July in Philadelphia having won a whole lot of delegates, having a whole lot of momentum behind us, and most importantly perhaps being the candidate who is most likely to defeat Donald Trump. We think some of these super delegates who have now supported Hillary Clinton can come over to us.
In other words, Sanders is counting on momentum as an electability argument in a case he will make to win over superdelegates. There are two problems with that strategy. First of all, Sanders points to polls that have tended to show him doing better than Clinton in a general election match-up with Trump. The reason why most people dismiss those polls at this stage of the race is that no one on the Republican side has even started to unleash their attacks on Sanders - because they all assume that Clinton will be the nominee. In the unlikely event that changes, he can expect withering attacks that will likely have an impact.

But beyond the electability argument, it is interesting what this strategy says about the Sanders' theory of change. If his path to the nomination depends on winning over the support of superdelegates, it is important to note what his supporters were saying about that initially. Steve Benen captured this quote from MoveOn in February.
MoveOn.org Political Action and a group of backers of White House hopeful Bernie Sanders have launched petitions calling for superdelegates to support the candidate chosen by Democratic voters, not party insiders.
Ilya Sheyman, the group’s executive director, in a statement Thursday said voters “will not allow Democratic Party insiders to determine the outcome of this election.” … “The race for the Democratic Party nomination should be decided by who gets the most votes, and not who has the most support from party insiders,” Sheyman said.
To the extent that a Sanders strategy for winning the Democratic nomination rests on swinging the support of "party insiders," what does that say for the prospects of a revolution?

One of the reasons many of the party insiders didn't support Sanders is because he basically accuses them of being bought and paid for by Wall Street/corporate donations. If, as he suggests, they would be willing to switch their support to him based on his projection of momentum in the coming primaries, doesn't that undermine the accusations he has made about them?

One of the things Bernie Sanders has had going for him is that he is not a typical politician. But this "win at all costs" strategy he is promoting undermines that claim and acknowledges that there will be no revolution.

"The Most Radical of Political Faiths - Democracy"

As I read the reaction from some liberals to President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, I am reminded of what Hillary Clinton wrote about Saul Alinsky in her honors thesis at Wellesley College.
If the ideals Alinsky espouses were actualized, the result would be social revolution. Ironically, this is not a disjunctive projection if considered in the tradition of Western democratic theory. In the first chapter it was pointed out that Alinsky is regarded by many as the proponent of a dangerous socio/political philosophy. As such, he has been feared — just as Eugene Debs or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embraced the most radical of political faiths — democracy.”
What many liberals were looking for in a Supreme Court nominee was someone who has a track record of supporting liberal causes. For example:
The liberal grassroots group CREDO noted that “Garland’s background does not suggest he will be a progressive champion.”
While that view makes a lot of sense to progressives, it is interesting to contemplate the message it sends: the way to fight conservative attempts to politicize the Supreme Court is to politicize it.

I would remind you of what President Obama said about Judge Garland yesterday.
On a circuit court known for strong-minded judges on both ends of the spectrum, Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law. He’s shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions.
And this record on the bench speaks, I believe, to Judge Garland’s fundamental temperament — his insistence that all views deserve a respectful hearing. His habit, to borrow a phrase from former Justice John Paul Stevens, “of understanding before disagreeing,” and then disagreeing without being disagreeable. It speaks to his ability to persuade, to respond to the concerns of others with sound arguments and airtight logic.
This President has nominated two other Justices to the Supreme Court. First came Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote this in her book My Beloved World:
...I had my doubts that linking arms, chanting slogans, hanging effigies, and shouting at passersby were alway the most effective tactics. I could see that troubling the waters was occasionally necessary to bring attention to the urgency of some problem. But this style of political expression sometimes becomes an end in itself and can lose potency if used routinely. If you shout too loudly and too often, people tend to cover their ears...
Quiet pragmatism, of course, lacks the romance of vocal militancy. But I felt myself more a mediator than a crusader. My strengths were reasoning, crafting compromises, finding the good and the good faith on both sides of an argument, and using that to build a bridge. Always, my first question was, what's the goal? And then, who must be persuaded if it is to be accomplished? A respectful dialogue with one's opponent almost invariably goes further than a harangue outside his or her window. If you want to change someone's mind, you must understand what need shapes his or her opinion. To prevail, you must first listen...
Second came Elena Kagan, who Adam Winkler compared to Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Warren didn’t accomplish these by embarrassing his colleagues or by making sharper arguments on the merits. Warren was a master politician, one who’d sit with the other justices and bring them along slowly and steadily to his side. He sought to understand other justices’ concerns and address them. Unlike most of today’s justices, Warren was willing to work the halls to gain five votes.
Those two women joined the "notorious" Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who Irin Carmon quotes as saying:
“My advice is fight for the things that you care about,” Justice Ginsburg said. Fair enough — banal enough, really. Then she added, “But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
What strikes me is that all four of these people embrace a commitment to the democratic process. It is one that President Obama has valiantly espoused to the American public. For example, in his last two State of the Union speeches, he talked about "a better politics."
Understand, a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine. A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives...
If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments, but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.
Of course, Republicans have done everything they can to fight the President on that one. But it is interesting to note that perhaps they fear a better politics for a reason. Could it be that - beyond the polarization and gridlock we see today - the most radical of political faiths is actually democracy?

Five Million Americans Could Get a Raise This Summer

One of the lingering issues with this country's recovery from the Great Recession has been that wages have been slow to increase. That is why Democrats have been pushing to raise the minimum wage while Republicans in Congress (and their presidential candidates) have refused to take the matter up.

You might remember that in January 2014, President Obama announced his "pen and phone" strategy by which he would do what he could with executive orders and persuasion where Republicans refused to act in Congress. He opened his first Cabinet meeting that year with a request for proposals.
President Barack Obama offered a brief preview Tuesday of his State of the Union address, telling his Cabinet that he won’t wait for Congress to act on key agenda items in 2014...
“Overall, the message to my Cabinet, and that will be amplified in our State of the Union, is that we need all hands on deck to build on the recovery that we’re already seeing. The economy is improving but it’s in need of improving even faster,” Obama said.
From Secretary of Labor Tom Perez came the proposal that the President had the authority to raise the cap on workers who qualified for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Currently anyone making more than $23,660 a year does not qualify for overtime.

The Obama administration issued a new rule that would raise the cap to $50,440. These kinds of changes are subject to a whole host of processes - including the fact that the proposed rule be available for public comment for months. That period ended this week and the final rule (including changes from the public comments) has been sent to the White House for final review.

Once it completes that process (probably 4-6 weeks) and is made public, Congress has 60 days in which they can vote to disapprove of the change - which the President can override with a veto. Following those 60 days, the rule change goes into effect - probably by the end of July, if not sooner.

This new rule will mean that if an employee who makes up to $50,440 is expected to work more than 40 hours in any given week, their employer will have to pay them at the overtime rate - which is projected to affect approximately 5 million people. Of course, employers could chose to simply hire more workers - which will further reduce the unemployment rate. But given that it is now under 5%, that might be difficult. This is why the timing on this rule change is critical. If it had come when the unemployment rate was higher, it likely wouldn't have had much impact on wages.

So I'd suggest that we keep our eyes on this story over the next couple of months. President Obama once said that he plans to play through the fourth quarter of his term. Even as we all focus on the upcoming election this November, he is still hard at work on advancing the ball down the field.

President Obama Prefers the High Ground

I certainly would have liked to see a Supreme Court nominee who is not another white male. It is also of note that Merrick Garland is 63 years old and is considered by many to be a "centrist" judge.

But from everything I hear, it sounds like he is extremely well-liked and respected by people who know him and have argued cases before him. That sounds like the quintessential kind of pick for President Obama...a lawyer's lawyer. Anyone who has watched this President over the years will recognize this kind of analysis of what Garland would bring to the Supreme Court.
On a circuit court known for strong-minded judges on both ends of the spectrum, Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law. He’s shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions.
And this record on the bench speaks, I believe, to Judge Garland’s fundamental temperament -- his insistence that all views deserve a respectful hearing. His habit, to borrow a phrase from former Justice John Paul Stevens, “of understanding before disagreeing,” and then disagreeing without being disagreeable. It speaks to his ability to persuade, to respond to the concerns of others with sound arguments and airtight logic. As his former colleague on the D.C. Circuit, and our current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, once said, “Any time Judge Garland disagrees, you know you’re in a difficult area.”
On the idea of Garland being a "moderate," Sarah Almukhtar has an interesting chart on the ideological make-up of the Court which places him just to the left of Justice Elena Kagan and barely to the right of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But regardless of the accuracy of her methods, if confirmed, Garland would significantly affect the ideological leanings of this Supreme Court.

It might be that Garland's age is what made him say "yes" to entering into the fray the Republicans have created with this nomination process. Younger potential nominees might have been smart to wait this one out and keep their options open for the future. Garland can retain his seat on the District Court while this all plays out and is not likely to get another shot at a Supreme Court nomination.

There are some on the left who are expressing disappointment that President Obama didn't chose a nominee with a more progressive legal record. But those folks don't understand this President's commitment to pragmatism as a strategy. For those who prefer battle analogies, he prefers to defend the high ground.

A few weeks ago I referred to an essay then-Senator Barack Obama wrote back in 2005 about the nomination of John Roberts. In it, he explained the importance of maintaining the high ground.
How can we ask Republican senators to resist pressure from their right wing and vote against flawed appointees like John Bolton, if we engage in similar rhetoric against Democrats who dissent from our own party line? How can we expect Republican moderates who are concerned about the nation's fiscal meltdown to ignore Grover Norquist's threats if we make similar threats to those who buck our party orthodoxy?
I am not drawing a facile equivalence here between progressive advocacy groups and right-wing advocacy groups. The consequences of their ideas are vastly different. Fighting on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable is not the same as fighting for homophobia and Halliburton. But to the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, "true" progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward.
During his remarks this morning, President Obama acknowledged that Democrats haven't always maintained the high ground during Supreme Court nominations.
I know that Republicans will point to Democrats who’ve made it hard for Republican Presidents to get their nominees confirmed. And they’re not wrong about that. There’s been politics involved in nominations in the past.
Beyond those arguments, it is interesting to note that maintaining the high ground is also a powerful political move. Over the years I've become fond of calling it "conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy."

To demonstrate how that works, notice this from the President in his remarks today.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported his nomination. Back then, he said, “In all honesty, I would like to see one person come to this floor and say one reason why Merrick Garland does not deserve this position.” He actually accused fellow Senate Republicans trying to obstruct Merrick’s confirmation of “playing politics with judges.” And he has since said that Judge Garland would be a “consensus nominee” for the Supreme Court who “would be very well supported by all sides,” and there would be “no question” Merrick would be confirmed with bipartisan support.
In addition to that, Josh Israel has compiled: 6 Quotes From Senate Republicans About Merrick Garland That Are Really Awkward Now. By taking the high ground, President Obama has given Senate Republicans two choices: (1) confirm his nominee, or (2) put their extremism on display in a way that is obvious for everyone to see. In other words, no matter what they chose, he wins. That is the essence of conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy.

Far be it from me to suggest that Obama is responsible for the choices Republicans have made over the years. But the fact that they are so far off the scales of extremism during his presidency is not necessarily an accident of fate. Liberals might not always agree with President Obama's strategy, but he is one smart player. And this is the essence of how he does it.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Saul Alinsky

Oftentimes when Republicans want to paint Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton as a kind of threatening "other" in America, they link these two politicians to the person many consider to be the father of community organizing, Saul Alinsky. That is because Clinton wrote her honors thesis at Wellesley College on his work and Obama's first years in Chicago were spent as a community organizer with a group that based their methods on his teachings.

What is almost amusing about these Republican critiques is that they avoid any description of the actual work and teachings of Alinsky and assume that simply saying his name while combining it with the words "radical community organizer" is enough to demonstrate the threat he posed.

Recently a friend of mine pointed to an article by Bill Dedman that was written in 2007 after he had actually read Clinton's thesis. Perhaps Republicans would be interested in hearing what Alinsky actually believed.
In her paper, she accepted Alinsky's view that the problem of the poor isn't so much a lack of money as a lack of power, as well as his view of federal anti-poverty programs as ineffective. (To Alinsky, the War on Poverty was a “prize piece of political pornography,” even though some of its funds flowed through his organizations.) “A cycle of dependency has been created,” she wrote, “which ensnares its victims into resignation and apathy.”
On the other hand, there is this:
“In spite of his being featured in the Sunday New York Times," she wrote of Alinsky, "and living a comfortable, expenses-paid life, he considers himself a revolutionary. In a very important way he is. If the ideals Alinsky espouses were actualized, the result would be social revolution. Ironically, this is not a disjunctive projection if considered in the tradition of Western democratic theory. In the first chapter it was pointed out that Alinsky is regarded by many as the proponent of a dangerous socio/political philosophy. As such, he has been feared — just as Eugene Debs or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embraced the most radical of political faiths — democracy.”
That might come as a surprise to many of Bernie Sanders supporters who are prone these days to point out that Clinton was at one point in her life, a Goldwater Girl. But as Debman writes, that was before her days at Wellesley.
She grew up as a Goldwater Republican, like her father, in the middle-class Chicago suburb of Park Ridge. By the time she was a freshman at Wellesley, when she was elected president of the College Republicans, her concern with civil rights and the war in Vietnam put her closer to the moderate-liberal wing of the GOP led by Nelson Rockefeller. By her junior year, she had to be talked by her professor into taking an internship with Rep. Gerald R. Ford and the House Republican Caucus. In her senior year, she was campaigning for the anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy.
While writing her thesis on Alinsky, Clinton had the opportunity to interview him personally on several occasions. That connection led him to offer her a job at his newly formed Industrial Areas Foundation, which she turned down in order to study law at Yale.

While Clinton and Obama incorporated some of Alinsky's teachings, they both had critiques for his approach as well. Dedman articulated some of Clinton's and summarizes with this:
“I agreed with some of Alinsky's ideas,” she explained in “Living History,” her 2003 biography, “particularly the value of empowering people to help themselves. But we had a fundamental disagreement. He believed you could change the system only from the outside. I didn't.”
In his 2007 article about Obama's days as a community organizer, Ryan Lizza says this:
But, although he was a first-class student of Alinsky's method, Obama also saw its limits. It appealed to his head but not his heart.
In the end, Saul Alinsky is a fascinating historical figure in this country. But as both Clinton and Obama learned, his work and teachings were a mixed bag in that some were "revolutionary" in their embrace of the power of democracy and some were simply deemed as ineffective in producing the kind of change these two young people sought to see in our country.

From Reagan Democrat to Trump Republican

Heather Digby Parton took a look at some data from Alan I. Abramowitz, Ronald Rapoport, and Walter Stone about Trump supporters and reached a conclusion that has seemed obvious for a while now. Parton zeros in on the fact that these voters display an embrace of nativism, authoritarianism and economic populism. She adds nationalistic militarism to the list.
I guess I don't really understand why this is such a mystery. This the profile of Republicans who used to be called Reagan Democrats. They've been part of the GOP coalition or more than 30 years. And their views have always been the same. Nativism/racism, authoritarian/lawandorder, nationalist/militarist, economic populists. These are blue collar white people who used to vote for Democrats until Democrats became the party of civil rights, civil liberties and anti-war protests. In other words, the party of black and brown people, gays, and feminists, globalists and critics of authoritarian police agencies and military adventurism.
After that happened Democrats remained more responsive to economic populism although they foolishly muddied their message so that their differences with the GOP were obscured. But it wouldn't have mattered, not really. People who hold that set of beliefs are Republicans because they do not want to be in multi-racial, multi-ethnic coalition where "liberal peaceniks" and uppity feminists are equal partners. The GOP's fundamental nativism and racism and "patriotic" militarism are the reasons they prefer the Republicans and they are the reasons they prefer Donald Trump. They love him so much because they've finally found someone who boldly expresses all those beliefs.
While Ronald Reagan made a direct appeal to these voters via finely-tuned dog whistles, the Republicans began wooing them to their party after passage of the civil rights laws of the 1960's via their Southern Strategy. Because of that focus, it is tempting to assume that these voters all reside in the South. But as we've watched the rise of Donald Trump, it is obvious that they are also to be found in so-called "Rust Belt" states as well as the Mountain West.

Ever since the inception of the Southern Strategy, Democrats have been attempting to determine how they can entice these voters to return to their party. To the extent that their passions are ignited by Trump's nativist, racist, sexist, militaristic appeal, it is safe to assume they aren't coming back. That should have been clear from the fact that they were willing to remain Republican despite the fact that the GOP has never supported policies that address their economic populism. But if there were ever any doubts, it is now obvious what is driving their political leanings...it is nothing more than an appeal to tribalism.

It is way beyond time to stop calling these voters "Reagan Democrats." To the extent that they now support Donald Trump, they make up what we often refer to as the "base" of the Republican Party - a base that has been catered to for so long that it is now threatening to take control away from people who still pine for the days when they were the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower.

The Challenge of Trumpmania Won't End in November

Let's stipulate a couple of things. First of all, it has been pretty well established that the Republicans have long been laying the groundwork that led to a Donald Trump candidacy. Secondly, even more of a concern the man himself is the fact that so many people are lining up to support Trump in this presidential race.

With that in mind, it is still not a foregone conclusion that Trump will be the Republican nominee and much less likely that, if he is, he will be elected president this November. And yet I agree completely with Leonard Pitts, this thing won't end there.
Assuming his rebuke in November, the natural tendency will be to mop the brow and sigh in relief at the bullet we just dodged.
This would be a mistake. Defeating Trump would not erase the forces that made him possible. As the last few years have shown, those forces, like some virulent cancer, tend to redouble after a setback and return stronger than before.
You thought George W. Bush was a piece of work? Meet Sarah Palin. You think Sarah Palin was scary? Meet Trump.
With that, Pitts provides a list of the five things we must do to end that trajectory.

1. Confront economic insecurity.
2. Confront ignorance.
3. Confront bigotry.
4. Confront fear.
5. Confront apathy.

That's an excellent list. Of course, it's easier said than done. While the alternative is less of a challenge, it leads to obvious disaster. We've faced tougher challenges as a country in the past. The only thing that will keep us from taking on the current one is a failure to recognize the importance of #5.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Two Stories of America on Display in This Election

From Jeffrey Goldberg's interview with President Obama, I've already written about how he isn't enamored with "free riders" and how his foreign policy is a challenge to the Washington playbook. The president also talked about how tribalism is the root of the problem in the Middle East right now.
One of the most destructive forces in the Middle East, Obama believes, is tribalism—a force no president can neutralize. Tribalism, made manifest in the reversion to sect, creed, clan, and village by the desperate citizens of failing states, is the source of much of the Muslim Middle East’s problems, and it is another source of his fatalism. Obama has deep respect for the destructive resilience of tribalism—part of his memoir, Dreams From My Father, concerns the way in which tribalism in post-colonial Kenya helped ruin his father’s life—which goes some distance in explaining why he is so fastidious about avoiding entanglements in tribal conflicts.

“It is literally in my DNA to be suspicious of tribalism,” he told me. “I understand the tribal impulse, and acknowledge the power of tribal division. I’ve been navigating tribal divisions my whole life. In the end, it’s the source of a lot of destructive acts.”
Tribalism isn't merely a phenomenon in the Middle East. It is also obviously animating the "white nostalgia" of Trump's supporters. We've seen similar reactions in Europe. So it's interesting to contemplate what is driving all this.

Following President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 2009, he was interviewed by Will and Jada Smith and discussed our options to the fact that - due to advances in technology - the world is shrinking.


In response to globalization, we can either pull back into our own identifies (race, tribe, religion) or we can work to expand our moral imagination. The latter is why the President so often talks about expanding our definition of "we." In the context of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, that is not merely a call to do so across the lines of race, class, religion in this country - but to expand our moral imagination to encompass the world of a young mother in Bangladesh.

As President Obama said, to retreat into tribalism at this moment is dangerous. While the forces of a changing America and increasing globalization are unsettling and challenging, it is a recipe for disaster to simply identify with those who think/look like ourselves and draw battle lines with those who don't. The goal is not to assume we can all agree with each other on everything - but to be able to see and value the humanity of those with whom we don't.

As Jon Favreau wrote recently: "Every election is a competition between two stories about America." Right now, one of those stories is about tribalism - the need to "take our country back" to a mythological day when a lot of white people assume that things were better. That story rests on demonizing, expelling and/or punishing those who are blamed for the changes that we don't like.

The other story is the one President Obama is talking about...the potential we have to expand our moral imagination. That is not some ideal that humans are incapable of reaching. We see people do it every day. And it is old enough to be embedded in every major religion as something resembling the Golden Rule: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Here is how Barack Obama spelled it out in his speech back in 2004 that brought him into the national spotlight.
A belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief - I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper - that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.
The story of this election isn't so much about the fact that people are angry - it is what we chose to do with that anger. Do we retreat into tribalism in the face of these challenges or do we work to expand our moral imagination?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Some of Us Remember When There Were Consequences to Protesting

In an attempt to justify violence by his supporters against protesters at his rallies, Donald Trump said:
“Part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long [to kick them out] is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore,” Trump said during a speech at the Peabody Opera House — around 12 miles from Ferguson, Mo., the site of racially charged mass protests in 2014.

“There used to be consequences. There are none anymore,” Trump said.
The truth is, Donald, there are some of us who are old enough to remember those consequences. And we have NO interest in going back to those days.

Birmingham, Alabama

Kent State

Selma, Alabama

Stonewall Inn

Friday, March 11, 2016

Rubio Is Asked About Climate Change: Ignorance Ensues

I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which Marco Rubio becomes the Republican nominee. That is likely to be completely obvious if he fails to win his home-state primary in Florida on Tuesday. That's why I'm reluctant to even talk about him. But his performance in last night's debate has me scratching my head at his ignorance and/or deceit.

Since the beginning, Rubio has been assumed to represent "moderate" Republicans and people have posited that he has a chance of appealing to young people - perhaps simply because of his age. But at last night's debate, he was finally asked to talk about climate change, something that is of great importance to young people. And it's hard to overstate how ignorant his response was. For example, how about this whopper:
But as far as a law that we can pass in Washington to change the weather, there's no such thing.
That misses on so many levels for such a short sentence! Of course there's "no such thing." That is why no one is proposing any laws that would attempt to change the weather. Rubio leaves us with a familiar conundrum: is he really stupid enough to think that anyone is actually suggesting that a law can change the weather, or is he merely lying as a way to distract us from the issue at hand? In the end, does it really matter?

Then, in talking about President Obama's actions to address climate change, Rubio made this statement that might have been relevant several years ago.
You know what impact it would have on the environment? Zero. Because China and India will still be polluting at historic levels.
That Paris climate accord folks like Rubio have been trashing since it was reached...does he even know what is in it? Does he have no idea that China and India have committed to reducing their carbon emissions and will not - in fact - be polluting at historic levels? Again - ignorance or lie? You tell me.

Rubio went on to make the usual Republican claim that Americans have to chose between a habitable planet and a healthy economy - something that is being proven false on a daily basis. But when Jake Tapper asked him to comment directly on whether humans are contributing to climate change, he laid out another whopper.
I would say there's no law we could pass that would have an impact on that.
I don't really think that Rubio wants to suggest that laws can't be passed to affect human behavior. And yet that's what he just implied.

How about this for a closer:
America is not a planet. It's a country.
I have no idea what he means by that. Of course, it's true. It's like saying, "the sky is blue." But what does that have to do with what we're talking about? Nothing.

Watching this exchange I came to one conclusion: if Rubio is any indication, Republicans REALLY don't want to talk about climate change during this election season. Obfuscate, distract, make meaningless assertions - that is what we'll see. In the process, they'll just look ignorant.

Obama's Challenge to the Washington Playbook

President Obama said something to Jeffrey Goldberg that strikes me as critically important to understanding the way he has defined his approach to foreign policy.
Real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence.
He made that statement when addressing the critique some have made that - by invading Crimea and engaging militarily in Syria - Vladimir Putin is gaining credibility on the world stage. But Obama's statement is also a direct challenge to what he calls the "Washington playbook."
“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”
Goldberg goes into great detail explaining the inartful process that ensued in the White House after Assad's use of chemical weapons. I remember that at the conclusion of all that, I was confused as to why a consensus developed that President Obama had bugled the situation. Eventually I realized that conclusion was based on the rules of the Washington playbook. They assumed that the "red line" the President had drawn was a threat to punish Assad if he used chemical weapons. By failing to do so, he had damaged America's credibility.
For some foreign-policy experts, even within his own administration, Obama’s about-face on enforcing the red line was a dispiriting moment in which he displayed irresolution and naivete, and did lasting damage to America’s standing in the world. “Once the commander in chief draws that red line,” Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and then as secretary of defense in Obama’s first term, told me recently, “then I think the credibility of the commander in chief and this nation is at stake if he doesn’t enforce it.”
What I understood from the beginning was that President Obama's goal was to use our power to get Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons - which is what actually happened, with an assist from Putin. The threat of punishment was a means towards that end. This is also why so many Republicans are reeling at the lifting of sanctions against Iran. Their ultimate goal is to punish Iran, whereas Obama used the sanctions as a way to reach his goal of stopping them from developing a nuclear bomb.

While there is some truth to Panetta's assessment, the whole idea of maintaining credibility has overshadowed the actual role of punishment as simply a means to - as Obama says - "get what you want." Real power lies in "keeping your eyes on the prize" of the end goal - which keeps all of your options on the table.

President Obama Doesn't Like "Free Riders"

Over the course of Obama's presidency, no one has done a better job of digging deep into his thoughts and strategy on foreign policy than Jeffrey Goldberg.

There was the interview in March of 2012 that focused on the President's relationship with Iran and Israel and laid out his thinking on a strategy to negotiate with the former on ending their nuclear weapons program. One of the things I noticed from that interview is that this President prefers a strategy to co-opt his adversaries rather than an attempt to dominate and/or defeat them. That is where many of us see the influence of his Asian background.

In May 2015, Goldberg published a report on his interview with President Obama following the announcement of the Iran agreement. But perhaps the most powerful segment came in the President's heartfelt empathy with the Jewish people.


Now today, the Atlantic cover story is an article about President Obama's foreign policy based on several interviews Goldberg held with both he and some of his staff. There is much to comment on. But I'll limit myself to one thing that stood out to me - his dislike of "free riders."
If Obama ever questioned whether America really is the world’s one indispensable nation, he no longer does so. But he is the rare president who seems at times to resent indispensability, rather than embrace it. “Free riders aggravate me,” he told me...
Part of his mission as president, Obama explained, is to spur other countries to take action for themselves, rather than wait for the U.S. to lead. The defense of the liberal international order against jihadist terror, Russian adventurism, and Chinese bullying depends in part, he believes, on the willingness of other nations to share the burden with the U.S. This is why the controversy surrounding the assertion—made by an anonymous administration official to The New Yorker during the Libya crisis of 2011—that his policy consisted of “leading from behind” perturbed him. “We don’t have to always be the ones who are up front,” he told me. “Sometimes we’re going to get what we want precisely because we are sharing in the agenda...
The president also seems to believe that sharing leadership with other countries is a way to check America’s more unruly impulses. “One of the reasons I am so focused on taking action multilaterally where our direct interests are not at stake is that multilateralism regulates hubris,” he explained. He consistently invokes what he understands to be America’s past failures overseas as a means of checking American self-righteousness. “We have history,” he said. “We have history in Iran, we have history in Indonesia and Central America. So we have to be mindful of our history when we start talking about intervening, and understand the source of other people’s suspicions.”
This is one of the things that makes this President unique. Most people who have the drive to seek that office are profoundly ego-driven. As such, they want to be in charge and up front. Obama is certainly not devoid of ego or ambition. But he is not driven by those things as much as he is by his intense commitment to thoughtful pragmatism. And he has no time for the victim/rescuer/persecutor world view captured by Karpman's Drama Triangle.

I first realized this about Barack Obama when I read a fascinating article that Ryan Lizza wrote back in 2007 about his days as a community organizer in Chicago. Lizza recalls a story Mike Kruglik (Obama's boss) told about one of their first meetings over a cup of coffee.
On this particular evening, Kruglik was debriefing Obama about his work when a panhandler approached. Instead of ignoring the man, Obama confronted him. "Now, young man, is that really what you want be about?" Obama demanded. "I mean, come on, don't you want to be better than that? Let's get yourself together."
Kruglik remembers this episode as an example of why, in ten years of training organizers, Obama was the best student he ever had. He was a natural, the undisputed master of agitation, who could engage a room full of recruiting targets in a rapid-fire Socratic dialogue, nudging them to admit that they were not living up to their own standards. As with the panhandler, he could be aggressive and confrontational. With probing, sometimes personal questions, he would pinpoint the source of pain in their lives, tearing down their egos just enough before dangling a carrot of hope that they could make things better.
What I noticed is that Obama didn't just ignore the panhandler, he also didn't simply give him a handout. Instead, he admonished him to do/be better. THAT's what made him a great community organizer.

Many of the stories Goldberg tells in this article are about President Obama providing leadership that asks the rest of the world to assume responsibility...to agitate for them to "do/be better." That was his message back in 2009 during his speech in Cairo. It was a call for partnership rather than dominance.
For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.