Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nonviolent Guerilla Tactics Are Now Needed in Iran

Today, the Iranian protesters have met the most ferocious brutality thus far. Reports indicate the Basiji have begun to kill protesters in massive numbers. Certainly, this has instilled fear in the hearts of those who have been putting their lives on the line every day hour of every day.

Over the past several days, I have posted about the conflict in Iran, especially regarding nonviolent methods that can be used to shake the system into profound change:
If what I have read and seen via video clips is actually true, it appears that Sayed Mohammed Khatami's plan is not being followed. The swift and violent response by security forces has been potentially overwhelming against the protesters, who are still attempting to demonstrate in the same way as before. The Basiji have known exactly what was planned and, with their superior forces, they have beaten, arrested, and killed many people.

Unfortunately, the protesters are mistaken that large demonstrations are going to bring about change at this point. They must look closely at their strategic organization and begin to redirect their efforts using a broader variety of methods, something Khatami was trying to propose yesterday.

How should they do this? I will try to list a variety of approaches and methods that will lead to confusion and frustration within the government.

Here is my list of recommendations:
  • Spread out the leadership - utilize adults and students of all types, not politicians
  • Stop visible protests. Announce this publicly before the government expects it.
  • Go underground
  • Go low-tech: Stop cell phone usage and limit Internet usage
  • Print out thousands of leaflets outlining the illegitimacy of the government, state demands and goals for the future
  • Drop the leaflets from the tops of buildings in busy locations. Don't stay around. Leave quickly, so as not to be arrested.
  • Print up posters with a large green tsunami wave and "Allahu Akbar" printed in the center.
  • Quickly put up the posters throughout Iran, including on the walls of homes of the Basiji.
  • Develop an internal "Radio Free Iran." I would call it "Green Wave Radio." Broadcast for 1/2 to 1 hour per night, explaining the same information as on the leaflets. Move the broadcast location each night.
  • Avoid government agencies in whatever way possible.
  • In factories and offices, s-l-o-w the work down to a crawl...
If the brutality of the government continues during large protests, eventually an emotional fatigue and a sense of disempowerment will set in among the opponents. The government will then have a greater chance for success.

The opponents' leaders need to regain the upper hand. Now is the time to redirect the passionate energy that has grown over the past several days. Don't let the energy die! Simply recalibrate it for now because, when the time is right, large demonstrations will again play a role.

Then back off again. Redirect. Vary the methods. Nonviolent guerilla tactics are needed at this time - hit and hide, hit and hide, hit and hide.

With smaller, empowering methods, the Sea of Green can keep the government off balance. Eventually, once they recognize that their power is completely false and goes unheeded, they will capitulate.

Sea of Green, go for smaller victories. Empower yourselves! Never give up!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Khatami: "We Shall Only Think of Victory" in Iran

Iran's security forces have clamped down ferociously on large-scale demonstrations in the last couple days, so the opposition is now in a place of shifting direction. This morning, cleric Sayed Mohammed Khatami presented a new strategic plan for Iranian protesters to follow.

Khatami, president of Iran from 1997 to 2005 and current member of the Supreme Council, is perhaps the strongest voice for liberalization and reform in Iran. He has also been Mir-Hossein Mousavi's greatest supporter. Some of his family members were arrested recently and then released, sending a threat to all the leaders of the movement for change.

In his statement, Khatami points out, "We are no longer going to waste our energy [on large demonstrations]." He outlines how Iranians can move in the direction of "divide and conquer" through nonviolent means.

He asks all Iranians to go to their local bazaars (outdoor markets) and protest as a group there. There are some key differences from the group behavior of the large demonstrations: the protesters are not to carry signs, they are not to wear green, and they are encouraged to bring their children with them.

In other words, the protesters should bring no identifying markers that they are protesters when they enter the bazaar and meld into the shopping crowds, as if on a family outing. This should make identification of the protesters more difficult.

Khatami states, "We shall leave no marks or traces behind ourselves, not even the victory sign with our hands."

There is one more central strategy to be followed: the protesters are to buy nothing.

Khatami makes it clear that this is a political and economic event. "[E]very morning we shall protest towards the main bazaars of every single city in Iran. Should the revolutionary guards try to avoid the situation, the bazaar will be shut down. Should they don’t react to our protests, due to the mayhem caused by protesters, the bazaar will automatically shut down. Should they try to cut the phone lines around the country, yet again there will be a massive conflict within all the activities, resulting in the bazaar shutting down.

Theoretically, the methods of nonviolent conflict are simple to understand. In my post yesterday I listed 198 Nonviolent Methods for systemic change. You may have been overwhelmed with the quantity of actions available to a movement. There are so many ways to confront a tyrannical system! Organizers can also be overwhelmed. The difficult part is to select the right methods, at the right time, and with the right people.

We can use this list to understand a specific movement's approach to change. Khatami's strategy, for example, employs several elements from the list of 198:
  • #71 Consumers' boycott of goods. Khatami is now using the economy to place more pressure on the regime in power by bringing this movement into the realm of shop keepers. We'll see what their reaction is.
  • #121 Refusal of public support of the regime. This is an ongoing element of the Sea of Green movement and will play out in a variety of ways over the coming weeks and months.
  • #137 Refusal to disperse. The protesters have stood their ground and are finding new ways to confront the regime in public, even though the Supreme Leader has forbade them to do so.
  • #166 Mill-in. One of the primary purposes of Khatami's strategy is to continue a public presence. It is not a March (#38), but it is still visual. It spreads out the protesters, and therefore the Basiji (secret police) will also be spread out, lowering the risk for casualties. It also communicates to the government that the protesters are without fear and still going strong.
  • #172 Nonviolent obstruction (generally temporary). This type of protest could bring normal activity and economic transactions to a temporary hault. The act of protest in a location where normal, daily activity takes place will make this movement and its complaints more personal to more Iranians.

So, what are the effects of Khatami's strategic plan?
  1. It spreads out the protesting groups, making is much harder for officials to monitor, identify and target individuals for reprisal.
  2. There should be fewer casualties.
  3. Economic pressure should be felt by the Iranian society (and therefore by the government) via the chaos in the bazaars.
  4. Psychological pressure will be place back on the government.
  5. If successful, the protesters should feel an improvement in morale, which will lead to further struggle in a variety of forms.
Many mainstream media commentators have said that the decreased protester involvement in the last couple of days is due to fear. They are not aware that Khatami and the opposition are beginning to shift gears - something that is always necessary for success.

Some may ask, "How long will this take?" The correct response: "As long as it takes."

As Khatami exhorted, "We shall only think of Victory!"

Monday, June 22, 2009

198 Nonviolent Ways to Bring Down the Iranian Regime

Today, due to the elevated threat of violent force against the protesters, the numbers on the street decreased somewhat.

No one should be fooled, however, by a relative downturn in the demonstrations. The opposition is planning how to confront the Iranian leadership in ways that go beyond demonstrations and public protests.

Yesterday, I shared the large picture of how a tyrannical regime can be brought down by removing the pillars of support for an unjust system.

Today, I'd like to offer a closer look at specific ways those pillars of support can be chipped away. There is an incredible variety of nonviolent actions the Sea of Green opponents can choose from. As Gene Sharp states in Waging Nonviolent Struggle, "The technique of nonviolent action consists of numerous specific "methods," or forms of action. Such methods are the weapons of nonviolent struggle. They are used to conduct the conflict by psychological, social, economic, or political pressure." (49)

I offer below a list of 198 specific nonviolent actions, most of which go beyond protests and demonstrations, that the people of Iran could implement. Not all actions fit every context, so I encourage you to read through the list below to see which ones you think might be applied to the ongoing struggle in Iran. I also encourage you to visit Gene Sharp's website at the Albert Einstein Institution, which contains many materials that are free and downloadable.

Let me know what you think of this list. Which of the 198 would be most applicable to Iran?


(from Gene Sharp, The Methods of Nonviolent Action, Boston 1973 and posted at: Peace Magazine)



1. Public speeches
2. Letters of opposition or support
3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
4. Signed public declarations
5. Declarations of indictment and intention
6. Group or mass petitions


7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols
8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications
9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
10. Newspapers and journals
11. Records, radio, and television
12. Skywriting and earthwriting


13. Deputations
14. Mock awards
15. Group lobbying
16. Picketing
17. Mock elections


18. Displays of flags and symbolic colours
19. Wearing of symbols
20. Prayer and worship
21. Delivering symbolic objects
22. Protest disrobings
23. Destruction of own property
24. Symbolic lights
25. Displays of portraits
26. Paint as protest
27. New signs and names
28. Symbolic sounds
29. Symbolic reclamations
30. Rude gestures


31. "Haunting" officials
32. Taunting officials
33. Fraternization
34. Vigils


35. Humourous skits and pranks
36. Performances of plays and music
37. Singing


38. Marches
39. Parades
40. Religious processions
41. Pilgrimages
42. Motorcades


43. Political mourning
44. Mock funerals
45. Demonstrative funerals
46. Homage at burial places


47. Assemblies of protest or support
48. Protest meetings
49. Camouflaged meetings of protest
50. Teach-ins


51. Walk-outs
52. Silence
53. Renouncing honours
54. Turning one's back



55. Social boycott
56. Selective social boycott
57. Lysistratic nonaction
58. Excommunication
59. Interdict


60. Suspension of social and sports activities
61. Boycott of social affairs
62. Student strike
63. Social disobedience
64. Withdrawal from social institutions


65. Stay-at-home
66. Total personal noncooperation
67. "Flight" of workers
68. Sanctuary
69. Collective disappearance
70. Protest emigration (hijrat)



71. Consumers' boycott
72. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods
73. Policy of austerity
74. Rent withholding
75. Refusal to rent
76. National consumers' boycott
77. International consumers' boycott


78. Workers' boycott
79. Producers' boycott


80. Suppliers' and handlers' boycott


81. Traders' boycott
82. Refusal to let or sell property
83. Lockout
84. Refusal of industrial assistance
85. Merchants' "general strike"


86. Withdrawal of bank deposits
87. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments
88. Refusal to pay debts or interest
89. Severance of funds and credit
90. Revenue refusal
91. Refusal of a government's money


92. Domestic embargo
93. Blacklisting of traders
94. International sellers' embargo
95. International buyers' embargo
96. International trade embargo



97. Protest strike
98. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)


99. Peasant strike
100. Farm workers' strike


101. Refusal of impressed labour
102. Prisoners' strike
103. Craft strike
104. Professional strike


105. Establishment strike
106. Industry strike
107. Sympathy strike


108. Detailed strike
109. Bumper strike
110. Slowdown strike
111. Working-to-rule strike
112. Reporting "sick" (sick-in)
113. Strike by resignation
114. Limited strike
115. Selective strike


116. Generalised strike
117. General strike


118. Hartal
119. Economic shutdown



120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance
121. Refusal of public support
122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance


123. Boycott of legislative bodies
124. Boycott of elections
125. Boycott of government employment and positions
126. Boycott of government departments, agencies, and other bodies
127. Withdrawal from governmental educational institutions
128. Boycott of government-supported institutions
129. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents
130. Removal of own signs and placemarks
131. Refusal to accept appointed officials
132. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions


133. Reluctant and slow compliance
134. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision
135. Popular nonobedience
136. Disguised disobedience
137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse
138. Sitdown
139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation
140. Hiding, escape, and false identities
141. Civil disobedience of "illegitimate" laws


142. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides
143. Blocking of lines of command and information
144. Stalling and obstruction
145. General administrative noncooperation
146. Judicial noncooperation
147. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents
148. Mutiny


149. Quasi-legal evasions and delays
150. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units


151. Changes in diplomatic and other representation
152. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events
153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition
154. Severance of diplomatic relations
155. Withdrawal from international organisations
156. Refusal of membership in international bodies
157. Expulsion from international organisations



158. Self-exposure to the elements
159. The fast
160. a) Fast of moral pressure
161. b) Hunger strike
162. c) Satyagrahic fast
163. Reverse trial
164. Nonviolent harassment


162. Sit-in
163. Stand-in
164. Ride-in
165. Wade-in
166. Mill-in
167. Pray-in
168. Nonviolent raids
169. Nonviolent air raids
170. Nonviolent invasion
171. Nonviolent interjection
172. Nonviolent obstruction
173. Nonviolent occupation


174. Establishing new social patterns
175. Overloading of facilities
176. Stall-in
177. Speak-in
178. Guerrilla theatre
179. Alternative social institutions
180. Alternative communication system


181. Reverse strike
182. Stay-in strike
183. Nonviolent land seizure
184. Defiance of blockades
185. Politically motivated counterfeiting
186. Preclusive purchasing
187. Seizure of assets
188. Dumping
189. Selective patronage
190. Alternative markets
191. Alternative transportation systems
192. Alternative economic institutions


193. Overloading of administrative systems
194. Disclosing identities of secret agents
195. Seeking imprisonment
196. Civil disobedience of "neutral" laws
197. Work-on without collaboration
198. Dual sovereignty and parallel government

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Perfect Storm: How to Sink the Iranian Regime

Barack Obama's speech in Egypt set the tone for change in the Middle East. His words and admonitions for the Iranian leadership since its recent election have also provided a guarded, yet serious, warning for Iranian oppressors.

Although Obama and the rest of the world may inject their perspectives and thinly veiled threats for change to occur in Iran, it is important to understand that the mission for change is the Iranian people's responsibility. This will require much struggle, suffering and even death. It will require, as well, much organization and strategy, elements we do not read about very much.

Neda Soltan is a young woman killed by security forces, and hers has become the face of the movement. Her name in Farsi means "voice" or "calling." Indeed, her face as she lay dying has become the "voice" of this movement. Through her death, she has become a martyr for freedom. It is not a cosmic coincidence that Neda is a woman and young. Her face, her voice, and her person represent the future that Iranians are struggling for.

Neda's face is an extremely powerful symbol, but what is actually sought by the demonstrators in Iran, this Sea of Green? There are three possible levels of change that may be sought, and all these forms of change have been shared by various analysts of the Iranian situation:
  • Policy - more openness domestically and internationally
  • Leadership - Remove Ahmadinejad or, even, Khamenei from power
  • Systemic - Dismantle the Islamic republic and replace with a modern democracy
I believe that the first two are more probable than the final option. If the protests continue to grow and swell beyond the supporters of Moussavi and the demand for a repeat of the election, greater change may occur. If this is to take place, the strategic approach of the opposition must be carefully structured using nonviolent tactics. If they were to turn to violent approaches on a mass level, they would be crushed and thirty years from now they would be remembered as brave, but ineffectual, souls.

If the Sea of Green truly wishes to bring down the current, unjust system, there are various nonviolent strategies that can be applied. What needs to be developed is a "Perfect Storm" of nonviolent strategies and actions to sink the Iranian regime.

First, the organization and tactics of the movement must be developed in a "horizontal" fashion. In other words, many people at various levels must be "in the know" regarding how to organize and confront the Iranian power structure, which will attempt to destroy the movement's leadership.

If there exists only one leader or a few, the powers that be will have no trouble "cut off the head of the 'serpent.'" Already the government is arresting journalists and bloggers to try to undermine the negative communications coming out of the country. They have also already arrested or threatened to arrest primary leaders, such as candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's daughter.

On the other hand, if plans, tactics and training have taken place among various levels of the movement (the 'serpent'), it will have a greater chance of survival. And, the movement's simply surviving will frustrate the government leadership, which will ultimately make tactical mistakes.

So, how can the Iranian system fall or, at least, be pushed to make profound changes?

According to Gene Sharp in Waging Nonviolent Struggle, the "pillars of support" for the unjust system must be brought down. First, how are they upheld and continued? Through the obedience and consent of the people. Once the people refuse to consent to the power of the tyrant and unjust system, eventually they must fall.

What are the "pillars of support" for the Iranian system? There are four that typically uphold an unjust system:
  1. Politics
  2. Communication
  3. Military/Police
  4. Economy/Finance/Commerce
Picture four individuals holding up a mattress on the four corners. These folks represent the pillars of support for the mattress (the unjust system). As these pillars are brought down one at a time, the balancing act of holding up the mattress (maintaining the system) moves from difficult to precarious to impossible. This is what happens when the public consent of these pillars is removed in reality. The tumbling of the pillars in quick order can become a perfect storm for the unjust government. The question is: Will such a perfect storm occur in the case of Iran?

So, where has the Iranian opposition fared regarding these pillars of support? It has basically brought the government into question in the political realm. The political support has not yet been brought down, but it is certainly toppling.

The opponents have taken control regarding the communication of events on an international level. It is not clear yet how that has played out within Iran itself, however. This is something that we may learn at a later date, after the fact.

Thus far, militarily, it appears the movement has the advantage at this point. Yes, there have been people killed, but the numbers are far fewer than those that could have been suffered if there had been a full-fledged military reprisal. So, why hasn't this occurred? There are reports of division within the military, to such an extent that some generals have refused to retaliate against the protesters.

This is a huge reality if it is so! If the military continues to refuse to attack the demonstrators, the current system has lost tremendous credibility within Iran and allows for the relatively smooth continuation of the movement for change.

Finally, any economic impact has yet to be developed and realized. Moussavi has reportedly called for a general strike if he were to be arrested, but neither has yet occurred. What should we look for in this area of finances? Oil and shopkeepers. Oil is Iran's large moneymaker. If there were to be a strike in the oil industry, it could cripple the government.

In addition, if everyday shopkeepers were to support a general strike, the economic impact would be large, but the demographic impact would be even greater on the government and its survival. Khameini and the other supreme leaders would then understand that they have lost the middle, fairly conservative, support that sustains them.

Iranians have shown enormous courage and a willingness to die for their cause of freedom. At this point, however, the pillars of support for the unjust regime have only been shaken, but not toppled. There is much more work to do. The journey is still long and arduous for the opponents.

Do I hope that they come tumbling down? Yes! But I also hope that strategies are being enacted to bring them down, as well as to implement a just, democratic system in its place after they have come down. This will require the incredible courage displayed so far, plus enormous creativity to make it happen and to rebuild afterward.

Is there currently a perfect storm brewing in Iran? I believe it's developing. We are currently in the early phase of bringing down the the pillars of injustice. Nonetheless, the pieces are beginning to fall into place.

The storm is certainly forming. May the Iranian Sea of Green remember Neda Soltan and meld her memory with their emotional and spiritual power to continue to move forward. May they also find creative, nonviolent means to pull down the pillars of support to sink the autocratic system and to bring about a just and long lasting democratic society for the future.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

President Obama's Statement on Iran

This is the President's statement on the Iranian situation. It is so important and carefully crafted that I felt it important to re-post it here.

My analysis here.

Statement from the President on Iran

The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

Martin Luther King once said - "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.


Sea of Green in Iran...and Obama's Response

Due to my medical situation and a variety of complex personal elements, it's been a long time since I've posted a new article. Today, however, I am moved to write about the post-election conflict in Iran.

I am very supportive of the movement for change in Iran. I have particularly been following #iranelection on Twitter, where I have learned of the non-violent demonstrations and the strategies and counter-strategies that have been employed by both the Sea of Green protesters and the leadership.

Here I will share:
  1. Clips of protests today (Sat., 20.6.09) that give a visual sense of the demonstrations
  2. Tactics used by the police/military
  3. Important symbolic tactics employed by the protesters
  4. My perspective on President Obama's stance on the events in Iran
This first clip is from an apartment balcony and shows the general unrest. Embedding has been blocked,but here is the url:

This second clip is from Shiraz University, an indication that the protests are not simply located in Tehran:

Finally, this is the clip that moved me to tears. I warn you that this clip of a young woman dying after being shot in the street is hard to watch:

People have, indeed, given their lives for this freedom movement, this Sea of Green.

The Iranian government has used many strategies to combat their opponents:
  • Although there are reports of some military generals refusing to fire on the protesters, people like the young woman above have been shot and killed - by police, military or Revolutionary Guard.
  • There are also reports that the injured have been forcibly removed from hospitals. Therefore, there are reports that they are now being taken to embassies that have opened their doors to them for medical assistance.
  • Beatings have been routine, with batons and wire. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader, was threatened that he would be held responsible for any illegal (i.e., any) protests.
  • Tear gas has been extensively used, including from helicopters. (Some tweeters have reported it as acid or boiling water...)
  • As has also been reported extensively, the mainstream media have been directly told not to report from Iran right now, and they have complied.
  • Attempts have been made at closing down the Internet, but first-hand reporting and videos have leaked out via social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook. In many ways, Twitter has proven its raison d'etre over the past several days by providing opportunities for the whole world to witness this struggle unfold.

How have the opponents confronted the Iranian leadership?

  • Pure numbers. When hundreds of thousands of protesters march, they are impossible to ignore.
  • When they come out in such numbers, these protesters are know as a "Sea of Green." Green is a positive, empowering color in Islam. Some say it was Muhammad's favorite color. These protesters are using their Muslim identities to bring out the Truth, rather than separating themselves from it.
  • "Allahu-Akbar!" God is Great! Has become the chant of the opposition. This moving poem the night of the 19th is filled with Muslim imagery and wording, including the calling of "Allahu-Akbar" from the surrounding rooftops:
  • Many protesters have covered their heads with the Qur'an, a spiritual protection for themselves, as well as a strategic protection, since attackers would be less will to hit their own holy book.
  • Chants from the protesters have moved into another, surprising realm. They are now shouting: "Death to Khameini" - a reference to the Supreme Leader of Iran. This indicates that the goal is no longer simply voting justice, but also the toppling of the regime in power.
  • Opposition leader Moussavi has stated that he is ready for martyrdom. He has stated that he is willing to go to jail or die for this cause. He has called for a general strike (an extremely important event if it were to take place) if he is arrested.
President Obama has appropriately taken a measured approach to the Iranian conflict thus far. He has voiced his concern for violent repression and stated, "The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights." (Entire text may be found here.)

John McCain and others on the political right can make all the pronouncements they want against the Iranian government, but they are not our head of state. I am sure that once things have settled down and Iranian society has focused itself once again, Obama will share a more in-depth perspective of where we, as a nation, stand regarding Iran. At this time, it would be irresponsible for him to do more.

Will this Sea of Green bring about central changes in Iran? Many questions need to asked: Who are their leaders? (In many ways, it's a positive for the opponents that there is probably not just one leader.) Will there be the strength to continue over many more days or weeks? Will this movement expand - such as to a general strike? Will the military crack down even more sharply? (Or, are there as reported some generals who have refused to follow orders?) Will Supreme Leader Khamenei shift and offer a concession?

The following is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi about movements for change:

"First, they ignore us.
Then, they mock us.
Then, they fight us.
Finally, we win."

Time will tell if Gandhi's paradigm plays itself out in Iran for the Sea of Green.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Obama: The Good, The Bad, The Grotesque

Barack Obama has now been in office 100 days, plus about a month. Everyone was impressed with all that he accomplished in those first few months. I've noticed that the Obama administration is facing a flurry of legislative battles, Republican challenges and news cycles that spin quickly until the next day dawns and they all go at it again.

In the past month, Obama has maintained his 65% approval rating, despite being faced with challenges from both his opponents and his friends, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes direct and in your face.

I will outline those issues Obama has faced that have had everything from a positive impact on his legacy to those that could drag it down.

The Good:
  • Auto mpg: Seeds planted and pressure applied earlier have given Obama the wherewithal to push for the auto industry to produce cars that get 39 miles per gallon by 2016. This was a helluva coup for the president.
  • Healthcare Reform: The medical industry got behind the need for change last week. After past efforts, they decided they'd prefer to be in the room while decisions are made.
  • Credit card legislation: Although this legislation tacked on an addendum that allows gun possession in a national parks, millions of Americans will be protected while they hold their credit cards due to this bill, which Obama should sign before the weekend.
  • Timing: Not only did our president display incredible timing during his comedy routine at the annual reporters dinner, he is losing no time moving through the many changes he promised during his campaign.
The Bad:
  • Mexico border: Remember when this hit the news and some Republicans were pushing for a military presence along the border? Obama handled it coolly, and somehow it's lost its impact since the flu broke out.
  • Swine flu: This is serious and was raised to a high level of importance. Things have calmed down, but could peak again next fall. Nonetheless, the Obama government, again, demonstrated the scientific approach lacking in the past.
  • Israel/Palestine: Obama and Benyamin Netanyahu met this week. I would be amazed if Barack and Hillary can work out something lasting, especially considering Netanyahu's right wing coalition. Unfortunately, this means a lot more ugliness on both sides of the wall. Now, if for some ungodly reason, Iran were to send a rocket into Israel, all bets are off. This becomes an area of grave, grave concern, since the next large conflagration could then occur throughout the Middle East.
The Ugly:
  • Iraq: Violence is up. There is the agreed upon date for us to get completely out, but we'll be leaving Iraqis to fend for themselves. My projection is that the democracy we imposed upon them will disintegrate and civil war will be a possibility. The end result will be a federation or a religious state, like Iran.
  • Iran: Iran just sent up a long-range missile, which has raised lots of eye-brows, as well as hairs on many people's arms. I pray the talks Obama has begun will grow into open negotiations that will bear fruit. Such a process will be easier if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad loses, and a new leader is elected into power in the middle of June.
The Really Ugly:
  • Guantanamo: Is Obama going to close it? Probably, but it won't be done this year. Personally, I believe there was a sort of collusion between Rahm Emmanuel and the Democratic Caucus, which tacitly allowed the legislators to say "Not in my backyard" and deny Obama the $80 million to close it down. First, it's true a plan has not been developed to shut it down. Second, more time is needed than the year initially anticipated. It sucks, but the Obama timing factor was off on this one. Gitmo will close, though. I'm sure of it.
  • Military tribunals: Will there be any transparency here? How will it play out? I'm not a lawyer and don't get all the legal intricacies, but these military trials must be fair, or else there could be more negative impact in the Muslim world.
  • Torture Photos: Obama was right on this one, but the courts may overturn his decision not to release more disgusting photos to the public.
  • Torture: It's like a cancer spreading. First, the question: Did they torture? Well, as long as the MSM use enhanced interrogation techniques, it'll never end up what it truly was: t-o-r-t-u-r-e. Then, who did it? CIA employees were exonerated. The lawyers who deemed the torture not torture were exonerated. Dick Cheney finally admitted that it was "waterboarding" that was used, and that Bush was aware of it. Then, the Republicans try to spin torture away from "Who did it?" to "Who knew?" Nancy Pelosi has handed them a gift on a platter with her hemming and hawing. Somehow, this issue must be dealt with by an independent group, who should publish a report like the 9/11 Commission. Trying the creators, approvers, and instigators is no longer an option, but this is just dragging on, with only the perpetrators winning out.
All of these negatives remain, festering from the Bush administration, and Dick Cheney's doing all he can to keep the putrid mess he left behind slopping up on Obama. Unfortunately, some it's beginning to stick.

The Outright Grotesque:
  • Economy: Are we seeing just a blip of improvement that heads south again? When will unemployment turn around? This is, again, a problem Obama inherited from Bush. But, after the first 100 days, it's now Obama's problem. If he can't turn it around, he's toast.
  • Af-Pak: No end game in sight. This is a quagmire and Bob Gates' change of the military leadership last week was an indication of just that. What is the mission? I'm not certain they're certain.
President Barack Obama's first 100 days may have seemed like a whirlwind of activity. From here on out, it's all going to get faster and more chaotic. I know that he can take on any challenge. I'll do my best to keep up.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

President Obama: 100 Days and Sailing

Today marks President Barack Hussein Obama's 100th day in office, and the mainstream media are all gaga over this arbitrarily selected date. The pundits will argue how he has done, and many will ultimately give him a grade, as if they were the teacher and he the student.

Part of me would like to avoid the issue completely, but I won't. However, instead of embracing this date, I will shake hands with it and try to address the progress Obama has made since his inauguration last January 20th.

Before I share my perspective, I encourage you to check out a marvelous, Pulitzer-awarded website - the Saint Petersburg Times-created Politifact. It keeps track of how well Obama is doing, especially regarding holding to his campaign promises. At this point, the President is doing quite well, even though Politifact points out some important areas where he has fallen short.

So, how do I feel about Obama at this 100-day mark?

  • S-CHIP: As under Bush, this bill providing health care to children passed both houses of Congress. Obama signed it, though.
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009: the first act of congress signed by President Obama, which moved us in the right direction regarding equal pay for women in the workplace
  • Economic Stimulus: Obama's first big test in Congress. It passed, but only along party lines. Many of Obama's campaign promises for domestic change are financed here. The jury is still out on the major impact of this package, but reports have been drifting in that they are making a difference in staunching the bleeding of the recession.
  • Budget: The three legs of the stool - health care, education, energy - for progress into the future. Republicans said no, blue dog dems negociated modifications. It passed today, along party lines (again).
  • Justice Department: Eric Holder was noble and smart to drop the Ted Stevens case. The CIA torture documents were released. Nothing concrete regarding the prosecution of responsible parties. Obama is leaving it to Justice - Congress may move forward on their own. I wouldn't be surprised to see a special "9/11-type" committee designated to investigate the torture done under Bush's watch. If nothing comes of it, progressives will become a burr under Obama's saddle. Obama has promised to close Guantanamo, but he has made no move to close Bagram, where torture also occurred.
  • Veteran Affairs: After years of negligence, wounded soldiers will be given appropriate care when and where they need it.
  • Stem Cell Research: After Bush put down the breaks, Obama has given the green light for using embryonic stem cells to seek cures for many serious health problems.
  • Swine Flu: Obama is correct in communicating "concern" and not "alarm" at this time. The MSM are almost pushing the alarm button, unfortunately. Let's hope this outbreak dissipates as the weather invites more people outdoors, making the spread of the virus more difficult.

Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan: Obama's move out of Iraq is an extremely positive development. Unfortunately, soldiers are being re-deployed to Afghanistan, which is the region Obama promised to focus on. I believe that "AfPak" has the potential for becoming a quagmire, not dissimilar to Vietnam. We've been there eight years already and have now upped the ante, without defining an endgame. I find it interesting that many progressives do not confronted Obama here, or on anything else. I have questioned this military mission before on this website and a cross-posting on Daily Kos, and I have been flamed for it.

Other than "Af-Pak" I believe that Obama has done amazingly well in rebuilding America's relationship with the world:
  • Discussions with Syria and projected with Iran
  • Shifts in relations with Cuba
  • Showing real cojones, along with smarts, in taking out Somalian pirates
  • North Korea is still an area of concern. I'm sure backdoor discussion are going on, but Obama may be pushed into a direct confrontation at some point.
  • The G-20 Summit: Obama showed poise and wisdom during his first international exposure.
  • Mexico: As the American President, Obama will do his best to stem the violence along the border and deal with the flu that has predominantly come from there.
  • Some people, especially Republicans, were concerned that Obama did not stand up to Chavez and Ortega during the Latin America Summit. Obama's approach will, ultimately, pay dividends for the U.S. Just watch...

To check how Obama has done in following through with his 500+ campaign promises, I encourage you to visit Politifact. One hundred days are simply not enough to get more than a taste of how things are going, but over all Obama's doing quite well. Except in one area where Politifact nails him: lobbyists. He campaigned against having them enter his administration, but so far he's been more than welcoming to former lobbyists and they've become central members in his administration.

Democrats: The Blue Dogs have become a thorn in Obama's side, but it seems they have moved forward since he has had talks with them directly. Arlen Specter's shift back to the Democratic Party is huge, since once Al Franken finally becomes Minnesota's second senator, the Dems will have sixty members in the Senate, eliminating the potential for a Republican filibuster. It is yet to be seen if Democrats can become as united as the Republicans have.

Republicans: The party of "No," pure and simple. They have no message that's caught on (including the 'tea parties'). The American people are tired of the GOP's negativity and lack of leadership. Fewer than 20% of Americans self-identify as Republican. For a while, Rush Limbaugh's voice was central, but his hot air has dissipated. Eric Cantor has shown himself to be but a whiner. He complains and cries but no one is listening to him any more. As an intellectual, Newt Gingrich is potentially a leader, but his recent comments have shown him to be anything but thoughtful in foreign policy. He's like McCain, he's a knee-jerk reactionary and a blowhard who would only harm us abroad. Along the way the names Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin popped up. Who are they?

Bipartisanship: Obama learned early on that if he offered his hand to the Republicans they would bite it. So, he's abandoned those efforts. Expect this trend to continue, since the large majorities in both houses of Congress mean he needs to rely less and less on Republican support. Should he try to reach out again? No, there's a new game in town, and they don't have a chance of controlling it. If they move in Obama's direction, true bipartisanship is possible. I think hell will freeze over first, though.


President Obama gets high poll ratings for his policies. His personal popularity is even higher. He's riding a huge wave right now, which is why he's pushing so quickly to get as much of his platform passed now, before the inevitable slide downward arrives.

First Family Mystique: The Obama family holds the attention of the American people to the greatest extent since the Kennedy family in the early 60's. Michelle's popularity is in the stratosphere, and everyone follows the lives of the girls (and the dog, Bo). America can't get enough photos and articles about the First Family. Indeed, they are fun, energetic, young, smart and - importantly - nice. All of them. Until and unless some scandal hits, we are in for tons of daily news feeding the Obama Family Frenzy we are all eagerly a part of.

Barack Obama, Teacher in Chief: I couldn't cover all the issues here, but one thing is for sure: Obama is in charge and guiding our country to a more optimistic mindset. He has done this by communicating clearly and firmly what the issues are and how he will address them. His teaching and community organizing backgrounds regularly poke through whenever he addresses the nation or works with a group of individuals.

Barack Obama, The Personality: His popularity has only grown since the election. His powerful speaking abilities have not yet hit a boring note here at home. He even raised interest in NCAA bracket competitions by completing his own on television. In this way, he portrays himself as an ordinary American, not the policy wonk he becomes during the day. Over seas, millions wait and watch whenever he speaks to them. It is simply incredible that he is able to criticize and yet still be loved. He has become, finally!, the new face of America abroad. He is new, fresh, thoughtful and respectful. Time will tell if world opinion of Americans as individuals changes as well. Obama the Leader is firm, yet calm and steady. He brings confidence to us all, something we lacked for too long.

How long can Obama's popularity last? He has done an amazing job, but he could fall fast with one surprising, devastating event. From where might such a tragedy come?

For different reasons: North Korea, Iran, Mexico.

Or, Obama could die a political death by a thousand cuts. Either a continuing withering economy or an unending, bloody military mission in "Af-Pak" could bring it about.

Obama has said that one hundred days is too short a time to judge him. He says that 1000 days would give a better reflection of the job he's done.

Nonetheless, Americans are obsessed with the number 100, which is why today is so significant. So, how has Obama done in his first 100 days?

Have there been mistakes? Yes. But he has admitted them (a novel concept to Dubya). Do I love every one of his policies? No. But I knew that would be the case. He is steady and thoughtful in guiding America toward the change we wanted.

So, how has he done? I will not give him a traditional grade, which diminishes the enormity of the presidency. Suffice it to say that in these rough and treacherous seas we are currently traveling, I would not want anyone else than President Barack Hussein Obama at the helm of our ship.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's Tax Day: Do You Know Where Your Money Is?

Happy April 15h - Tax Day!

Like many Americans, I am concerned with my tax rate, and ultimately how much cash I'll need to pay Uncle Sam this year.

Today, there are supposed to be conservative "Tea Parties" around the country, expressing outrage over the tax policies and stimulus package of the Obama administration. At least, I think that's what they are protesting...

There is a lot of MSM clamor over these protests. I predict they'll get some news for a day or two and then any energy around them will simply dissipate.

These protests do push us to pay attention to where our tax dollars go. Personally, I am pleased with the stimulus funds, since they are used for a variety of important projects throughout the country in an attempt to create and save jobs.

While the media goes gaga over the tea parties' anger over TARP, little noise is made over the percentage of our taxes that go for military spending. Is there anyone out there that lets us know how much of our money goes for military expenditures?

Yes. Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker lobby in Washington, D.C., has determined that this year 43% of our monies pay for war.

How do they determine this figure, which differs from the 21% outlined by the president?

FCNL is transparent in explaining their math. They state: "When the president’s proposal says that only 21% of the budget goes to the military, it includes Social Security and Medicare in his definition of the budget. Because this analysis starts with a bigger pie (called the “unified budget”), the military appears as a relatively smaller slice, and social spending looks larger."

FCNL, on the other hand, uses the federal funds budget. "This is the overall budget, including discretionary, entitlement, and mandatory spending, supported by general revenues, including income taxes and estate and gift taxes. Because the FCNL analysis aims to illustrate how our income dollars are spent, it does not include trust funds, such as Social Security and Medicare, which have their own dedicated revenues."

They discuss which parts of the budget they apply to their math: "When FCNL talks about military spending, we talk about two slices – current military spending and spending due to past wars and military activity."

Overall, these are the items that are included in FCNL's calculations:
  • all spending for the Department of Defense (DOD).
  • the “050 function,” a categorizing number that OMB uses to identify defense-related spending, regardless of the agency that spends the funds. This category includes funding in many “independent agencies” as well some parts of the Department of Homeland Security, parts of the Coast Guard, and other bits and pieces sprinkled through the budget.
  • responsibility for the Defense Department retirees as a military expense, although it is not listed as such by OMB.
  • portions of the foreign aid budget that are, in fact, military programs. These include the foreign military assistance accounts and international military training.

One thing is for sure. Add it all up, and we're all paying through the nose for that 43% - which directly and indirectly ties us to the military-industrial complex.

Hmmm... maybe that's something we should actually be protesting.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You Go, Bo!

Pix of the First Family & The New First Dog, Bo!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Obama Reads - The Breakthrough

"Obama Reads" is the second in a series of reviews of books about Barack Obama and his politics. The first review was on How Obama Won by Chuck Todd.

The Breakthrough:Politics and Race in the Age of Obama
by Gwen Ifill
288 pages

Early in the new year, Gwen Ifill - PBS senior correspondent for The News Hour, and managing editor and moderator of Washington Week, published The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.

Interestingly, the book received some advanced, unintended publicity a couple days before the vice presidential debate. Ifill was preparing to moderate the debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden when some Republicans called for Ifill to basically "recuse" herself. Because her book had Obama as one of the principle topics, McCain supporters believed Ifill would not maintain her journalistic distance and asked her to removed herself from her role in the debate.

As history demonstrated, the Republicans had little to fear from Ifill because she did her job professionally and maintained her neutrality. Sarah Palin, though, posed a much greater threat to the McCain campaign than any reporter could.

The Breakthrough is Ifill's analysis of contemporary African American politics, which have developed a new identity and M.O. in recent years. The book is based on her long-term observations, as well as interviews she completed with significant African American politicians.

The structure of this book creates helpful alternating tones. The author focuses on current trends and themes in African American politics. She alternates her thematic chapters, however, by delving deeply into the political stories of several prominent African Americans:
  • Barack Obama (U.S. President)
  • Artur Davis (U.S. Representative from Alabama)
  • Cory Booker (Mayor of Newark, NJ)
  • Deval Patrick (Governor of Massachusetts).
The themes Ifill analyzes are:
  • Breaking Through: How African Americans have become increasingly successful, especially in elections where the majority is not African American
  • The Generational Divide: How the younger generation of politicians has bucked the African American norm by not "waiting their turn" to run. Ifill identifies different tactics used today compared to those of politicians who came out of the the civil rights movement.
  • The Race-Gender Clash : Ifill investigates tension that arose during the democratic primary of Obama v. Clinton. She clearly explains that the race-gender line was complex and constantly shifting - which of course added to the confusion and complexity for all concerned.
  • Legacy Politics: The author discusses the relatively new phenomenon of the inheritance of power among African Americans. She focuses especially on the Jackson of Illinois, the Fords of Tennessee, and the Clays of Missouri to look below the surface of how this political power exchange has developed.
  • The Politics of Identity: "Is he black enough?" This is the question that haunted Barack Obama early in his campaign. Ifill thoroughly explains why such a question might be asked. She covers physical (skin color), linguistic (how a politician talks), cultural (how a politician acts), and political ("What will s/he do for us?") attributes in looking at the subtleties of how current African American candidates walk the treacherous tight-rope of racial identity.
  • The Next Wave- Ifill quickly discusses a range of young, up-and-coming black politicians who hold a wide range of local and state positions. A few examples are : San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris, California State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
In addition to Ifill's useful structure, she included the metaphor of "sandpaper," which helped me internalize and remember her concepts. "Sandpaper," as in "sandpaper politics" or "sandpaper moments," was used to explain the tension or discomfort that existed between traditional allies, such as younger and older generations of African Americans. The outcome of the application of such "sandpaper" may ultimately lead to a transformation in perception and/or behavior - a new reality, if you will - becoming a new political M.O.

I highly recommend The Breakthrough. It is a must read for anyone who wishes to to gain a clearer understanding of today's new generation of African American politics, which, in fact, is increasingly making itself a powerful, central dynamic in American politics as a whole.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Please Sign Global Zero's Nuclear Weapon Ban Petition

Dear Friends,

President Obama of the U.S. and his Russian counterpart, President Medvedev, met at the G20 Summit last week. The primary topic of the summit was our economic crisis, but Obama and Mdvedev have decided to meet again this summer to sign a treaty to reduce our two countries' stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Indeed, President Obama spoke at the NATO summit in Prague and lifted multi-lateral elimination of nuclear weapons as a goal for the entire world. This is excellent news!

As ordinary citizens, we must continue to let our leaders know that nuclear disarmament needs to be a priority for the 21st century. I have recently become aware of an organization whose purpose is to convince world leaders to completely ban nuclear weapons. It is called Global Zero, and Queen Noor of Jordan is the spokeswoman for this effort. In addition to presiding over the World Colleges Union and advising the U.N. on global peace-building efforts, she has been a leading voice in recent years for the elimination of land mines and cluster bombs, which have caused so much senseless killing of innocents around the world.

Through Global Zero, Queen Noor is now speaking out for ridding our world of nuclear weapons. I encourage you to visit Global Zero's website to see which world leaders have signed on in support of Global Zero's initiative. There you will see that these leaders, of all backgrounds and political affiliations, support the Global Zero's plan to reduce and eliminate U.S.-Russia and world-wide arsenals, as well as to manage the fuel cycle to prevent future development of nuclear weaponry.

Please add your voice to those from around the world by signing Global Zero's petition.

Please feel free to pass this information along to others in your organization, so they may take part in Global Zero's important initiative as well. We cannot afford not to take advantage of this growing momentum.

In Peace,

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Obama and U.S. Policy at G-20 Summit

I must admit it. Although I am a huge Barack Obama fan, I have been disappointed in his administration's first steps in the foreign policy realm.

I was very excited that Hillary Clinton was named Secretary of State, but she and her staff made an embarrassing translation error before the Russian foreign minister. Clinton was quick to show her embarrassment and laughed it off, and it may have been a small detail, but it showed momentary incompetence at a high diplomatic level.

I was pleased that Obama announced our withdrawal from Iraq. Yet many of the troops will simply be shifted to Afghanistan, which is where I have my greatest trouble. I have posted on this concern more than once. My greatest fear is that Afghanistan will simply become a quagmire, and that thousands more soldiers and civilians will die in the process. In addition, I am not convinced that an endgame has been developed, which means we could be there a long, long time.

Obama's experience at the G-20 summit gave me mixed hopes for our foreign policy future. First, it was announced that Obama would visit President Medvedev and discuss the joint reduction of both countries' nuclear arsenal. Nice step!

Then, word came out that late this summer, Obama will visit China, where I am sure the economic relationship will be discussed in depth. In a shifting economic world, this is a crucial direction to move in, particularly since China is the number one banker for the U.S.

French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Obama for seeking too much economic stimulus. I rolled my eyes when Sarkozy threatened to walk out if world banking regulations were not changed to his liking - his manipulation quickly got under my skin.

I was more understanding of Chancellor Merkel's fears of excessive stimulus leading to high inflation, since German society has historically been ravaged by inflationary practices. Indeed, many would say that Hitler was a result of such policy.

Obama understood that European economic systems differ from America's. They have greater entitlements, which have protected their citizens from the effects of the crisis to a greater degree than ours has.

Therefore, Sarkozy and Merkel's calls for greater banking regulation made sense. In addition, Europeans felt that the U.S. should be more contrite, since this crisis began in America, they say. Plus, they didn't want the United States to dominate the conversation or the economy, as it has since World War II.

Obama pushed for more economic stimulus infusion on international fronts, yet he also agreed to greater regulatory oversight and controls. Somehow, the world's leaders reached the middle ground Obama desired with a multi-pronged agreement, and Sarkozy kept his little feet from walking out.

They agreed to $750 dollars from the International Monetary Fund to support seriously troubled economies and $250 billion to boost foreign trade. In addition they decided:
  • Bankers' pay and bonuses will be subject to stricter controls
  • A new Financial Stability Board will be set up to work with the IMF to ensure co-operation across borders and provide an early warning mechanism for the financial system
  • There will be greater regulation of hedge funds and credit ratings agencies
  • A common approach to cleaning up banks' toxic assets has been agreed
  • The world's poorest countries will receive extra aid.
Unfortunately, American pundits treated this entire process as a football season, focusing on who was "winning or losing." "Will Obama be pushed around?" they asked.

Give it a rest, folks! This process was not zero-sum, as Dubya always approached it. He swaggered around the world stage and refused to cooperate with other leaders. Obama, though, moved in another direction by modeling cooperation and positive engagement. He said he was there to listen - he couldn't force others to do something they didn't want to do.

Nonetheless, he stood firm in his directing America's leadership, and both our international reputation and influence improved. For the moment, though, we must work to find ways to solve this international crisis. And it didn't come from either the Europeans pointing fingers at the U.S. or from the U.S. throwing its weight around.

The irony is that, once he moves on to NATO discussions, Obama may be able to convinced more countries to join us in Afghanistan. That move would put more people in danger, increase civilian death and destruction, and potentially place everyone in the throes of another interminable Asian war. The positive reputation that Obama so carefully nourished at the G-20 would then find itself flushed down the toilet, of not only international opinion, but of history itself.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama's Press Conference: Chuck Todd's Stupid Question

Usually, I post here first and then cross post at Daily Kos. This evening I did the reverse. I knew I'd get quick feedback at Daily Kos, so I started there. This is my diary, as it's called on that site, and if you'd like to see the comments that the Kos community added, you may go here.

With a few additional points, here is my response to MSNBC's Chuck Todd's stupid question during President Obama's Press Conference:

As Chris Matthews said, the reporters were "zombies" during the Obama news conference tonight.

And there was none "stupider" (my academic term) than Chuck Todd.

After a lot of lead up to Chuck's asking a question that had been solicited from "the public," all he could come up with was a question that compared the economic crisis to "war" and asked the American public for sacrifice.

Who asked this question? I was enraged with it.

Obama answered by stating that the American people, especially the military, have sacrificed an awful lot already.

It was a good answer.

If we're in this war, however, it's the economy against us! Americans suffer and sacrifice each and every day. How can we be asked to sacrifice more when we are the victims?!

Sacrifice? Give me a damn break. Get us out of this "war" and I will then make whatever "sacrifice" is requested.

Americans have lost their jobs, homes and health insurance, and Chuck is asking them to give up more?

I wonder what Chuck had in mind - something he'd be willing to give up? Where does he live? How much does he make? What kind of health insurance does he have to protect his family?

Give it up, Chuck. Once you make the sacrifice your talking about for this "war," then come back and see if you have the gall to ask that same question.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is Anybody Listening to Our Children?

Last night, The News Hour reported on the video project of Michael Steinman's AP English class at Village Academy High School in Pomona, California. Steinman sensed that the economic downturn was impacting the lives of his students. So, when he asked them to write about their experiences with the current recession, he was stunned by the emotions and fear that filled their essays.

Steinman asked them if they would agree to be filmed while sharing their experiences on camera. They did so, and when the project was completed, he posted the result, "Is Anybody Listening?," on YouTube:

The students' fears for their families and their sense of abandonment personalize the unemployment and foreclosures in a state with some of the worst statistics in the country. After the New Hour's presentation of Steinman's video, Mark Shields stated a truism: "Unemployment rates don't bleed; statistics don't cry."

The response to "Is Anybody Listening?" has been extraordinary. Not only have national newscasts covered the story, but President Obama also referred to the project in his address to the Hispanic Chamber of Congress.

As a follow up to his speech, the president met with the students of Village Academy this week during his trip to California, and he personally answered their questions concerning the economy.

One thing that is clear to me is that President Obama is listening because he has presented plans to change the way we operate in our country regarding energy, health care and education.

But are other politicians and pundits listening? Or, are they only looking at the quantitative effects of the recession? Are they proposing failed approaches, such as tax cuts for the wealthy, which have failed in the past?

Many of those same politicos have stated that, as a country, we must confront the recession as "war." I would beg them not to treat our country's children as expendable, "collateral damage," in this "war of economics." If that were to happen, our country would continue to suffer the following long-term negative effects on this generation of children:
  • school absenteeism
  • low graduation rates
  • high teen pregnancy
  • high unemployment
  • low taxes
  • shattered dreams
The recent Japanese recession is often referred to as a "lost decade". Our country's economy is also in danger of suffering long-term negative consequences. On top of years of negative economic growth, I fear that we will continue the legacy of "lost generations" of young people.

But, how long will the recession last? How long will it be until the parents of these children once again have the security of a job and comfort of their own home? I am confident that the president is on the right path to solving our economic woes, but many - Republicans and Democrats - oppose him.

I encourage all politicians to watch this video, especially those Republican governors who have refused stimulus funds for their states and those Democrats who are threatening to block the changes President Obama is proposing. If they were to watch it, they would understand that their political decisions are failing those who need our care most desperately: our children.

What is particularly sad is that such a video could have been filmed in any state, any congressional district, of our country. The Village Academy students' tears grip our hearts and remind us that we must never ignore the faces of those who are suffering through this economic crisis, wherever they may reside.

We must lobby our congressional representatives to support President Obama's budget to bring about the change he has promised. I, for one, do not want to experience more lost generations of children.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Recommendation: "Literary Obama"

Several weeks ago I wrote my first book review for Reflecting Obama. My plans are to write another one as soon as I've finished Gwen Ifill's The Breakthrough.

If you are interested in following Obama in the literary world, you don't need to wait for me to get through my reading list. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a blog that dedicates itself entirely to Obama in the written word. When I first visited Literary Obama, Qiana Whitted's beautifully organized blog, I found myself scrolling from top to bottom and from page to page, savoring one morsel after another.

Qiana states that Literary Obama is "about President Barack Obama and the creative works that he inspires (or that have inspired him). My goal is simply to keep track of original writing by notable authors and everyday citizens as well as book reviews and essays, links, quotes, videos, and photographs that celebrate our 44th President’s love of reading. When possible, I also hope to include literary news about our First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha."

A university professor, Qiana writes in a clear, yet enjoyable fashion. Her articles are intelligently written and regularly vary in their topics.

Some of Literary Obama's recent posts include the following titles:
I feel very lucky to have found Literary Obama. I'll be returning on a regular basis, especially since I've already added it to my Google Reader RSS feed. I'm also following Qiana on Twitter. In addition, she invites her readers to find out what she's reading on Goodreads. I suggest you take her up on her offer!

One thing is certain, when you're hungry for information about our new president that goes beyond the usual punditry, head on over to Qiana Whitted's Literary Obama.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cramer Contrition on Daily Show

I feel I owe readers of "Reflecting Obama" an explanation as to why I have spent time writing about CNBC and their pundits. After all, what do they have to do with Obama, the theme of this blog?

In my extremely humble opinion, CNBC and pundits like Jim Cramer and Erin Burnett have been unfairly attacking President Obama regarding the downward trend in the stock market. They've blamed him for not exuding confidence (therefore the dow dropped) and for not focusing only on the economy (as if health care, budget and housing were not connected to our economic crisis).

One of the things I like about Obama is his ability to work in an organic, nonlinear, fashion. Unfortunately, the pundits are often unable to do that. Indeed, some of their approach is what got us into this crisis.

Yesterday, I discussed the questionable journalistic abilities of CNBC pundits Erin Burnett and Jim Cramer. At the end of my article I wondered out loud how the Jim Cramer visit to The Daily Show would actually play out. The "war of words" between Cramer, CNBC and Jon Stewart and been ongoing for eight days, so the direct confrontation was something to really look forward to.

I was somewhat surprised to find, hours in advance, reviews online in Huffington Post and USA Today. Neither article gave a lot of details, but they did say that Stewart had gotten the better of Cramer. This is exactly what I was waiting for.

Frankly, I was a bit disappointed that the articles were published ahead of the event, since the anticipation was sort of destroyed - kind of like hearing the outcome of a ball game before it's actually played (although the show was taped yesterday afternoon). Nonetheless, I was still eager to watch the show, especially to see all the "plays" and the nuances and reactions of the "players."

So, how did it really play out, watching it live?

If you are interested in watching, check out this Daily Kos article by Jed Lewison that contains the links to the entire show. Basically, Stewart took Cramer "to school." Indeed, as Lewison states:

"Sometimes listening to Jon Stewart is like what you'd imagine it would be like to listen to a great journalism professor...except you're laughing so hard you've fallen out of your chair. In tonight's interview, Stewart makes the case for what CNBC should have been doing over the past few years: actual business reporting, instead of acting like they were an entertainment channel for the stock market."

This is exactly the point that I made yesterday: CNBC and its pundits have not been reporting about Wall Street, but rather they've been playing Wall Street cheerleaders. And, along the way, they watched the house of cards tumbled down around everyone.

The problem is that CNBC has tried to exonerate themselves from any responsibility for contributing to the mess we're in. My article -- and to a much greater extent The Daily Show -- has tried to criticize their brand of reporting and bring their irresponsible actions into the light.

My take on the interview has several angles: what was said, the psychological exchange, and the impact.

After the humorous and gracious start to the show, Stewart explained how the whole thing began with his criticism of CNBC's Rick Santelli for calling foreclosed home owners "losers." To Cramer's credit he criticized Santelli and called those folks "fighters."

Jim Cramer's approach was one of denial, justification and contrition. His message was to offer a mea culpa along with a justification of the way CNBC operates. He tried to hide behind a wall of innocence: "I would think you'd want people like me to reveal what is going on." Stewart answered that Cramer and CNBC had known all along what had been going on and remained silent.

Stewart fumed, "I know you want to make finance entertaining, but it's not a fucking game. When I watch that it makes me so angry because it tells me you all know... You can draw a straight line from these kinds of shenanigans to what went on at Bear [and] AIG..."

Once Stewart showed a 2006 clip of Cramer explaining off air how he manipulated his clients, it was all over. That clip was the "smoking gun" that destroyed any credibility Cramer may have been able to portray. The interview was, for all intents and purposes, over.

Each time that Cramer tried to explain what he does on his show, Stewart made a point of letting Cramer know, "It's not just about you." Early in the interview he said, "CNBC sells itself as financial experts... It's about the way your company does business."

Other memorable lines from Stewart were:
  • "At least we advertise our show as selling snake oil."
  • "You knew this was happening."
  • "The banking institutions were playing these games with our 401K's."
  • "You were promising something that couldn't be delivered."
  • "Who are you responsible to?"
Throughout, he returned to the issue of the question of responsibility - that CNBC needs to become more responsible in reporting information to the public.

In the end, Stewart told Cramer and CNBC not to live on the "commentator" laurel and become real reporters. And, with one last verbal swipe, Stewart asked CNBC to get rid of the show's promotional line: "In Cramer We Trust."

If my audio had gone out during the show, I still would have clearly picked up content of the interview. As a teacher, I've seen it a hundred times. A student shoves another to the ground in anger. I see the whole thing out my window and run out to confront the culprit. First, he denies having done it. When I say I saw the event, he says the other kid deserved it.

Then, after my prodding, he says he didn't mean to hurt the kid. Once he knows all's lost, he apologizes for his actions hoping the teacher will just drop it. But, it's not over, because there are still explanation of motive and personal change that must be dealt with. Once the student sees that I haven't just let go of the issue, he is forced to take these last steps.

All of these steps were evident last night, with Stewart playing the role of teacher dealing with Cramer, the culprit. Cramer was contrite, but like a good teacher, Stewart did not want to accept anything at face value. He delved deeper and deeper, until Cramer was wrung dry of excuses and had to move into the realm of personal change.

We'll see if the promised change actually comes about. For me, it will only be valid if Cramer and CNBC understand why it's important that they change.

First, they were involved in convincing the public to stay in the stock market game, even while it was tanking.

Second, all the emotion and hype of shows like Cramer's "Mad Money" actually coerce people into going further into the market, even though their rational mind says they should not.

Recently, Richard Peterson - a psychologist and economist - explained on "Radio Times" (on Philadelphia's public radio station, WHYY) - that it is not uncommon for the levels of dopamine to increase dramatically during multiple stock transactions. There is a physiological reaction to make people want to continue trading.

That's why, like with gambling, people must be extremely careful in the stock market. As Jon Stewart so brilliantly stated, "Its not a fucking game." Yet, for years it's been treated as a game, millions of people were getting high off it, and CNBC and its pundits simply added fuel to the fire - and made a bundle in the process.

Like Stewart, I implore CNBC to make the changes to bring honesty and professionalism to their financial programming, for their sake and ours. I also implore Americans to use this crisis to reconsider their own behavior, both with the stock market and televison shows that prod them along. As my wife - the wisest person I know - often says, "Just turn it off."