Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vietnam III?

The economy is the first concern of Washington these days, but as we move forward with the Obama administration, my biggest fear is another issue that may lead to our President's failure. What brought it to mind was a report on CNN this morning concerning the skyrocketing suicide rate among veterans who have returned from Iraq.

Some people wonder whether yesterday's Republican "shot across the bow" is the beginning of the end of Obama's power and popularity. I couldn't disagree more. First, he's got a lot of political capital stored up before he takes a slide down the 'hill' towards negative ratings.

To a certain degree, if the stimulus doesn't work, Obama will definitely take a hit. But it won't be anything compared to soldiers coming home in bags, or physically and psychologically damaged.

President Obama should be praised for having opposed the war in Iraq. He called it both "dumb" and "a misguided adventure," and rightly so. There was no justification whatsoever to go to war in Iraq because not only was there no al-Qaeda hiding in the desert sands, nor were there weapons of mass destruction sitting half-created inside empty trailers.

Obama also opposed the surge, which on the surface brought relative calm to Iraq. In reality it was actually one of three or four factors that gelled and allowed the Iraqis to resume a semblance of life.

And they needed it. Since 2003 about 90,000 civilians have died in this outrageous war; more than 4,200 American soldiers have been killed. Overall, approximately 100,000 human beings are dead because of this "misguided adventure," this "stupid" war.

Although he opposed the Iraq war, President Obama has always stated clearly that he is not a pacifist. He opposed going into Baghdad on political grounds, since Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and since Al-Qaeda was not based there. Therefore, he plans to exit from Iraq as quickly as possible due to the ineffective role we have played there.

Despite the carnage in Iraq and despite our poorly played role there, as Secretary of Defense Gates testified before Congress this week, President Obama plans to send 30,000 more soldiers into Afghanistan. Because of our determination to take on Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the mountains, he somehow believes that we will be more effective in Afghanistan than we have been in Iraq.

Obama, unfortunately, is taking a great risk by deploying (and re-deploying) those troops to another front. I am concerned that, after Iraq became Vietnam Redux, Afghanistan will soon become Vietnam III.

How many more civilians - Afghan and Pakistani - will die? How many more American soldiers will come home in body bags?

Is our plan to control Peshawar militarily and improve Afghanistan socially? How will we be perceived by the local people?

Could there be another insurgency? If we kill Osama bin Laden, do we leave?

What is the strategy? Slash and burn? Shock and awe...again?

How long will we be there? What is the endgame?

Like bubbles of gas in a mucky pond, many questions rise to the surface. And it just doesn't smell right.

Why are we there? To kill Osama for what he did on 9/11! At least that is what the party line is. This slow-to-finish war, however, has undergirded what Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: History of the CIA, called the "terror industrial complex."

Weiner's term is a slight twist on Eisenhower's concept of the "military industrial complex," which intimates that our society has become inextricably tied to militarism. Indeed, the fear of terror has ingrained itself into the depths of our society and civic beings and has, therefore, permitted - no, encouraged - such militarism to solve all our international problems.

Like the Soviet Union before, we don't know what we're getting into in Afghanistan. It will take a toll on our nation in many ways: socially, financially and psychically. The effect will be both external and internal, as we watch the elephant grass of Vietnam become the buildings of urban Baghdad become the mountains of Peshawar.

It would take a courageous president to bring this war to a quick end because it could easily take on another life of its own and begin to spin out of control, just like Vietnam and Iraq. I hope President Obama has such courage. Otherwise, it could lead to his downfall, like Vietnam did to LBJ.

It will take more than one interview with Al-Arabiya to convince Muslims around the world of our good will. They have been watching our involvement in Afghanistan and, thus far, what they have seen has been a clenched fist more than an open hand.

My eyes are on the economy and the turmoil that has been caused here in our country. In my peripheral vision, however, is on Afghanistan. And what I see are memories in the form of bodybags and damaged soldiers.

I beg you, President Obama, be careful. Very careful.

With considerable modifications, this is a reposting of a piece written on 1/9/09.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Death By Unemployment

What if each unemployed person were considered a potential death? Would congressional Republicans then show a sense of urgency in getting the stimulus package passed? What if each citizen out of work were regarded as having cholera, malaria, or AIDS -- on the verge of dying? Would the Republicans, then, understand the impact of dissing President Obama and obstructing the legislative process has on workers in America?

We have an epidemic on our hands, as bad as an historic influenza outbreak. Every day there is a new report of 5,000 or 3,500 or 6,000 workers being laid off by businesses across the country. It adds up, over time, into the millions currently out of work. Somehow, when the numbers are so large, we lose sight of the fact that these are individual people who are losing their jobs.

I worry for our economy. I also worry for the businesses that may possibly go belly up. I worry mostly though for the workers who have lost their jobs and are struggling. They struggle financially, and a chorus of questions haunts us: "How do I make my next car payment?" "How do I pay the rent?" "Can I afford to take my child to the doctor?"

I spoke with my retired father on the phone this past weekend. The conversation gradually got around to the economy of Indiana, where he and Mom have lived for fifty-seven years. He told me that things weren't good, that the unemployment rate had hit 12.4% in Elkhart County, in northern Indiana.

Yesterday, he emailed me shocking new figures that had just been released. He attached a map that is mind boggling.

The official U.S. unemployment rate right now is 7.1%. The state of Indiana is at 8.1%. Like state and presidential elections, though, to get a clear picture of what's going on you need to look at the local and county levels. In Indiana, Lagrange County's unemployment is at 15.1%. Elkhart County, where my parents live, is at 15.3%. Both are more than double the national average.

Now, since those counties rely heavily on the recreational vehicle industry, I guess you could criticize the the area for not diversifying their economies, for allowing this outcome to occur from some kind of negligence.

That case can be made. In recent decades, Elkhart's economy has been fairly diversified, however. The city used to be supported by a three-legged stool: trailers, trumpets and tablets. The musical instrument industry hit the highway and headed down south in the eighties. Pharmaceuticals - you know, One A Day and Flintstone vitamins - left town more recently. And, now it appears the RV industry is on life support and may have to close up shop if things don't turn around. The stool has crashed to the ground, dragging the city of Elkhart down as well.

What frightens me is that Elkhart, Indiana is not alone. These kinds of events are happening all over our country. Most cities and towns are not yet struggling quite as badly; some though are worse off. If things don't get turned around soon, very soon, our entire country may come face to face with 15% unemployment across the board.

We typically hear about the financial burdens that are placed on our national economy, which leads to discussions of toxic assets or failing banks. I know it is all interconnected, but what about that woman who has just lost her job? What about that guy who was pink slipped?

I'm currently out of work on disability and I have worries: physical, financial and psychological. But I have disability insurance that helps make ends meet. I worry also for those who have lost their jobs and are without insurance because they may not make it.

I read last night of a man in L.A. who killed himself because he'd lost his job. He was canned and didn't know how he and his family were going to survive. He became despondent and, undoubtedly, irrational because he went out and shot himself ... after pulling the trigger on his wife and five kids.

Don't the Republicans in Congress understand that there is more than money attached to work? That there are also pride, self-esteem and emotional security attached to being employed? When you lose your job you certainly take a financial hit. But, perhaps even worse, you go through a psychological death.

And it ain't pretty.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama Reads - How Barack Obama Won

This is a periodic series I will be writing on books I recommend for President Obama.

Please note that these are one reader's opinions, so if you have any other takes on the books I rate, please comment so everyone can see how you feel.

How Barack Obama Won by Chuck Todd and Sheldon Gawiser is the first book I'll discuss. I was excited to purchase this book, since I followed Chuck Todd's analysis of the electoral breakdown during the primaries and general election.

The book begins with an introduction, which serves as a thorough overview of last year's elections. I found many points made here quite interesting, especially the observation that Barack Obama gave a speech to start his campaign, but Hillary Clinton and John McCain did not. The authors seem to intimate that the Clinton and McCain campaigns suffered from this oversight right from the outset. I'm not certain I agree with this analysis, but it's an interesting observation nonetheless.

Four sections follow: "Battleground states," "Receding Battleground States," "Emerging Battleground States," and "Red and Blue States." I appreciate these categories, particularly since they go beyond the traditional, simplistic red/blue paradigm. Although not completely new, this structure allows for both an understanding of what took place in '08 and a better flow as we follow the shifts the electorate may take in the future.

Charts give a numeric, quantitative breakdown for the individual states within each section. Explanation and expansion of these numbers is also the part of each state's chapter. The authors, in so doing, hang flesh on these bones. They also highlight areas that were most meaningful for each state, such as the dynamic that occurred in specific counties that tipped that state's election one way or another.

For those readers who are number crunchers, there are numbers aplenty to chew on. For those of us who are not as quantitatively driven, there is still a lot of good reading. I must put forth the warning that sometimes the text is dense, filled with percentages and trends. The going can be somewhat tough at those moments.

The authors are best when they are concise. When they begin to expound without pausing for the reader to reflect, they run into trouble:

"In just about every red state Obama flipped or every blue state he won substantially, it was a flip in the suburban counties that led the way, whether one looks at the northern Virginia suburbs, which powered Obama's victory in the Old Dominion to the Research Triangle in North Carolina to county flips in the I-4 corridor in Florida and the surrounding suburban counties in Denver, Colorado." (p. 37)

Maybe that's an easily read "sentence-paragraph" for some people, but I needed to re-read it three times before I followed exactly what they were getting at. I think the authors did well by moving beyond pure number crunching, but when they expand their prose too much, they risk confusing the reader.

Overall, this is an interesting, useful book that does a very good job making a difficult topic comprehensible to the general public. I especially recommend it to those "electionholics" who want to see the full set of numbers behind the '08 election. Indeed, it will also be a useful resource four years from now for studying how the trends will have changed by the time we deconstruct the election returns of 2012.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama And A Baseball Fan's Loyalties

At the Commander-In-Chief Ball following his inauguration, President Obama interviewed Chicago soldiers based in Afghanistan via satellite. He was clearly proud of these men and women serving their country and especially so that they were from Chicago.

My own interest was piqued when he began asking each of them about their favorite Chicago baseball team: "Cubs or Sox?" he asked them. He was caught off guard, however, when only one of the eight indicated she was a White Sox fan. His banter showed us how well he interacts with common folk, including the men and women in uniform. He also appeared, though, a bit disappointed in their baseball loyalties.

As a former White Sox fan, I've been following Obama's passion with considerable interest. I grew up in northern Indiana and during my childhood, each and every day, I followed my South Side heroes. It didn't matter that they regularly came up short every summer against the New York Yankees. I gave my loyalty to my team, the White Sox.

I remember driving the 100 miles to Chicago from Elkhart to attend my first baseball game at the age of seven. The radio announced the death of Marilyn Monroe as my father drove the Indiana Toll Road towards Comiskey Park. I had no idea who she was and didn't really care because we were going to see the White Sox play! Dad got off the Dan Ryan expressway at 35th Street and there we were, in front of the biggest stadium I'd ever imagined.

Dad bought two tickets from a hawker in front of the entrance and we went in and headed to our spots in the 300 section down the first base line. I could hardly contain my excitement as we slipped into our seats. If I could create a more boring, difficult first game for a child, though, it would be hard to do so.

The sight line was simply horrible. As a seven-year-old, I could barely see over the head of the guy in front of me. And, since it was the old Comiskey Park, I had this big steel beam between me and the pitcher's mound.

As was common back in the 60's, people were smoking throughout the stadium -- cigars and cigarettes seemed to be the smokes of choice. Right next to me there was a man who chained smoked through the entire game. The stench was horrible. I'd never seen anyone smoke so much! I didn't say anything to Dad, since he was so good to take me to the game in the first place.

For the seventh inning stretch, Dad took me to the restroom, where I stood along side hundreds of men at a trough urinal. They created streams of pee that flowed to the drains situated every four to six feet along the floor. As I watched this method of manly relief, a boy of about fifteen pushed through the crowd and immediately threw up into the stream of urine. It didn't splash me, but like the others standing in the vicinity, I ran away from the mess.

The game itself was, how shall I say, boring. It was a pitcher's duel. I wanted to see home runs and fireworks. Instead, I got Whitely Ford and Juan Pizarro, inning after inning, mowing down the hitters. The Yankees ended up winning 1-0. For a boy of seven, it was a real yawner.

I slept next to my dad in the front seat of the car all the way home, never waking up even when my he carried me up to bed. Through the rest of that summer and future baseball seasons, as well, we watched the White Sox on WGN TV and listened to them on WGN radio as often as possible. Of course, there was no cable back then. So, we had to suffer through the shadowy, snowy, static-filled night time broadcasts. I didn't care, though, since I could follow my heroes: lefties Pizarro and Gary Peters, first baseman Tommy McCraw and third baseman Pete Ward.

Each morning I'd read the Chicago Tribune sports section to re-read the play-by-play from two days before. Night games finished too late to be published in the Indiana edition. Nonetheless, I read each article, followed the standings and calculated each player's batting average.

Honestly, I knew the Cubs existed, but it wasn't until years later that I followed them the way I did the White Sox. However, once I visited Wrigley Field, it was hard to go back to the old Comiskey. The grass, the ivy and the wind blowing out gave a Chicago fan all he could ask for. I once attended a double header at Wrigley when there were twelve homers hit. The guys behind us bought themselves a round of beers with each Cub homer. Man were they sloshed by the time the games were over!

A lot has changed since my childhood baseball days. Back then, the American and National Leagues had ten teams, and the champion of each made it to the World Series. Now each has three divisions, plus a wildcard, and playoffs to make it to the Series. Of course, money drives this system. I support it, but it is one change that indicates how the bottom line drives the game.

The search for justice led Curt Flood to sacrifice his career in opposition to Major Leagues reserve clause. Free agency followed and players were free to sign contracts with whomever they wished. I am, also, a supporter of free agency, but I have found my concept of loyalty has changed from a player to a team focus. In my adulthood I have been forced to accept that the business, not the heart, is the controlling factor in baseball.

My own children are both out on their own now, developing their own adult, professional lives. Like my cozy memories of going to games with my dad, I hope they hold similar feelings for the times we went to games at our city's venue, Philadelphia's old Veterans Stadium.

I'm no longer a White Sox fan, nor a Cubs fan for that matter. Having lived in Philadelphia for almost thirty years, I'm completely, full-throatedly a Phillies fan. I wasn't able to go to any of the games at Citizens Bank Park this past October, but I was sure to ring the cowbells in the celebration when the Fightin' Phils finished off the Tampa Bay Rays. I cheered until hoarse, all the while standing alone in my living room.

Along with millions of other Philadelphians, I have been too often disappointed, but this past year, the Phillies turned my hurt into joy with their first World Series championship since 1980.

Go Phillies!!

Uh-humm. Sorry to disappoint, Mr. President.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Republican Politico-Egotistical, Passive-Aggressive Obstructionism

Although President Obama is doing his best to work in a bipartisan fashion, many Republicans are doing their best to cause trouble. No matter what is proposed, they are opposed to the stimulus plan, saving homeowners, regulating banks, creating jobs, developing a health care system and rebuilding our infrastructure.

The same old, same old is uttered: "It's way too much government intervention." Well, duhhhh, who's gonna intervene now that the financial system is in the tank? But the Grand Ole Plunderers simply spew forth their opposition to "big government." It'll just lead to socialism, they say.

The whiners have also done all they could to slow down the confirmation of key Obama appointees: Hillary Clinton (State), Timothy Geithner (Treasury), Hilda Solis (Labor), and Eric Holder (Attorney General). They moan and groan and slow things down in committee. And then they give thumbs up in the Senate vote.

Some Republicans, like Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch understand both the politics and fiscal responsibility of the situation. They have swallowed hard and reluctantly supported the Obama appointees and legislation.

The biggest alligator-teared whiners are John Cronyn and John Boehner, who are trying to rally their troops, while simultaneously showing their hound-dogged mugs on the news every night.They cry and stamp their feet, "We will exercise our right as senators..." And, "Our children will be paying tomorrow for what we do today. We can not allow that to happen."

Let's face facts. Cronyn and Boehner don't care about our children or our future. For that matter, they don't care about today...

Both are all about ego - their own need to control - and their own political power. They only want to slow things down, throw a wrench in the works, and embarrass Obama, knowing that they could gain more political standing among conservatives by doing so.

Can you say "Passive aggressive"?

Definition: "Passive-aggressive behavior refers to passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following through with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations. It can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible."

I am a high school teacher who has seen this behavior many times in my career. The Republicans are like a teenager who is dragging his heels, complaining about what's going on and becoming increasingly petulant. When you initially call him on his behavior, he feigns, "I don't know what you're talking about." All the while, he refuses to get involved and undermines any process for positive results.

Sometimes the teenager needs structure, he needs to know that there is someone else in charge. He needs to be told, "No, you will do it this way. We can work together, and I will listen to your concerns, but you will not disrupt the group. As teacher, I won't allow you to negatively impact what we're trying to accomplish as a group."

It's why Obama took control and said, "I won!" In so doing, he displayed his leadership for all to see, even if everyone does not totally agree with him on all points. It was the first of probably many times that he will exert his authority. After all, that's what is meant by the "bully pulpit."

America wants change. This is a fact that was demonstrated on November 4th. Although the term "mandate" is not often used today, let's admit it. There is an across-the-board mandate for change in our country. And it is our job, We The People's job, to hold our official accountable.

I wrote recently about Obama needing to be held accountable. In these times, however, Republicans especially need to be held accountable. The President, Democratic leadership, and We The People must tell Republicans: (1) They are not in charge; they are no longer the majority in Congress, (2) They will not control the outcome -- they screwed things up enough during their eight years. (3) They will not be allowed to embarrass our leaders. They've done a good enough job of that for themselves. and (4) They will not destroy what the American people have called for.

It is a new day for America, and there's no room for Republican politico-egotistical, passive-aggressive obstructionism. The sooner they understand that the quicker the change that we so desperately need will be brought to fruition.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Barack's 10-Month Shopping List

It's day 3. Why count? It's certainly a part of American culture to categorize, rank, rate and count down. Think of a perfect 10... Batting 10/10 or 100/100 on a quiz or test. Grade A. Code Blue. Top 100 colleges. And the first 100 days of a presidency.

Why do we count? Why do we rate? Probably to show who are the winners and who are the losers. And I thought we were all above average.

How ought we calculate accomplishment in the political realm? If you think in terms of what you should accomplish regarding writing policy and applying justice, why use the number 100?

One hundred is old, out-of-date, a flawed paradigm, so yesterday. I think President Obama might even call it "childish."

I think we should go with the number 10. Ten months that is. Hey, it's more than 100 days and we don't necessarily need to let a whole year go by before we judge -- there's no need to follow twelve lunar cycles.

In ten months, we can get a good sense of the direction we're heading in. What should he get done in these 10 months? With tremendous faith, I've made a short shopping for Barack. I'm impressed that he's already been a good shopper and checked off some of the things on the list as he is heading to the supermarket right now............................................


Please go to the hypersuperdupermarket today. This is your list for what we need in the next 10 months.

Be sure to get plenty.

Drive carefully.

I know you have a new shiny car, but don't scratch it on your way to the store.

Here's what we need to stock up on--

___ Close Gitmo
___Outlaw Torture
___Fix Economy
6 areas (give a call if you want more):
___foreclosure relief
___Greening: go for it, apply it to energy
___Regulate system
___Health Insurance for 46 million, incl. e-data
___Iraq: get out (I know you want 16 months, maybe pick up next trip to the market) ___Rethink Afghanistan plans
___Middle East :: George Mitchell can help you and Hillary here
___Education --> can no child left behind, more teachers for recipe tomorrow
___Open Spaces --> keep 'em open & natural
___ Finally, save the car makers, but make 'em get 100 mpg
___Security, keep it tight, but respectful
___Entitlements - don't drop them too hard
___VA - bring $ & respect & clean up the hospitals
___Middle class tax cut

___travel in US and abroad:
___speech in Indonesia (or another Muslim country of your choosing)
___Middle East: Iraq, Israel, Palestine
___ Latin America: do a whole tour

___work out/shoot some hoops (it'll keep you off the smokes)
___cheer on the White Sox (I'd prefer the Phillies, but hey...)
___see the kids a lot - they'll cheer you up when you drop something
___care for your wife - man, she deserves all the love you can give her!
___toss a ball with the new puppy
___ be sure to buy yourself a new pair of shades

Oh yeah, on the way home pick up the following at the spice shop. (Somehow these lost their potency in recent years.):

___Copy of the Constitution

Remember, be careful around Republicans. They'll flex their muscles and try to trip you in the aisles or back into you in the parking lot. Watch that car!

Give me a call once a month, just to keep in touch -- 10 calls in all, OK?

Yes, yes, you can use your BlackBerry - we've got plenty of minutes left on the plan.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rush Limbaugh: "I Hope He Fails!"

One day after the peaceful transition of power, highlighted by the inauguration on the Washington Mall, I heard that Rush Limbaugh say that he cannot wish for the success of the Obama administration.

Stroking himself on the radio today, he said he could express his feelings in only 4 words:


I have tried to make sense of such an idiotic, volatile statement. I know, I'm not supposed to be able to wrap my mind around it. I know, it's meant to incite an angry response. It's impossible to remain rational after that comment.

Nonetheless, let's play this out.

So, here is a short list of what little ol' Rush is actually hoping for.

Rush hopes for:

more foreclosures
more unemployment
more uninsured
more illiteracy
more bridges to fall
more roads to crumble
more oil to be burned
more taxes on the middle class
more polluted air
less potable drinking water
more banks to fail
zero American car companies

Rush wants:

more dead in Iraq
failure to capture bin Laden
worse relations with our allies
another terrorist attack on U.S. soil
more wars on more fronts
no negotiated treaties
Iran to attack someone somewhere
North Korea to test more bombs

Rush truly desires:

American soldiers to be tortured

I wish I had the power to tell Rush Limbaugh just 2 little words:


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Notes - True Poetry

I glanced back over the notes I took while watching MSNBC. They're very cryptic but telling for what I observed. I stopped taking notes when the speech started - I wanted to focus on it without writing. Read it like poetry. The last line is especially moving :)

Inauguration Morning

Temperature: 10-15 degrees & clear
Crowd: packing metro, filling the mall and the parade route on pa ave
atmosphere is not one of crisis but of hope and renewal bob woodward & carl bernstein
rancor has been set aside
character of the nation must change
consumerism, values of spending
money's must not be as important
seems younger than kennedy - more physical & vibrant
break with the past even more than kennedy
connection with people not seen in decades
this all started before the country was 'in crisis'
he has moved the country and its institutions to a place of confidence and hope
there is less fear of him
smooth transition, including help from GW Bush
I watch the secret service and I fear for his life
Bush wants out - he wants to leave and get back to Crawford
Coffee with the Bushes
cammaraderie among the people a spirit of goodwill td jakes pastor
never seen anything like it before
it's a beautiful day

crowd size like million man march gene robinson
happy, cold crowd
a day of inclusion
feeling breathless all day

demanding change, change is going to come
michelle obama: comments on her clothes, bright and cheery and young
dick cheney in a wheelchair, hurt his back moving boxes
roland burris comes into view with the other senators and he is not mentioned by chris matthews and keith olbermann
mention of note left by bush for obama
this is a moment when we embrace the trappings of 'royalty'
those that stand out fdr, jfk, maybe barack obama
motorcade people go from screaming to just watching and then it's over
bush going into retreat
keith olbermann: "it's show time, everybody."
I see all these officals together and I fear for them
gaza mentioned pull out timed to get out by today
There they are 43 & 44. Ketih O
john paul stevens swearing in vp
chief justice roberts swearing in pres
not a patch of green grass from here to the wash monument david gregory
af amer kids they'll now go back and read those books of our history. this is a part of me now chris matthews
there is a sense of participation more than elections people are all equal cm
theme is unity, hero worship, but obama wants unity
the speech will summon us to personal and collective responsibility -- we are the people
i find myself applauding as the clintons enter
the moving van comes to move
out the bushes and move in the obamas

President Barack Hussein Obama

This is the final post of a five-part series leading up to the inauguration.

I have found myself practically speechless. I've had a real hard time putting anything into this post today. I didn't want to simply focus on the joy of this day of celebration. I planned to discuss substance, either an analysis of President Obama's inauguration speech or a look into the challenges that confront us and will be waiting for us after today is over.

Yet, as I reflect, I wish to share the emotions that well up within me today. I got an excited call from my grown children this morning. They were on the Washington Mall at 9 a.m. with millions of others awaiting the peaceful transfer of power, plus the speech that would follow. They were there to be a part of history being made, and to share it with millions of other people. With their call I began to reflect on what it might mean.

But, what's swirling inside me? The feelings most quickly expressed are relief and joy. Relief that we finally have a new path to follow as a country. We are finally moving in a new direction. Whew! Joy for the young of our country, like my children, who will see their government operate as it was meant to. They can be a part of this process, especially with the technological advances that have quickly become the norm.

President Obama stated, "America is ready to lead again." Our government will lead by example. We will move beyond,"the recriminations and worn-out dogmas" that have controlled us for too long and rebuild our status in the world. Indeed, he offered a hand to the Muslim world, which has grown to question America, if not truly despise us. Obama is willing to reach out and mend the damage we have caused with our shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality.

Most deeply within me, my anger and pain from my childhood have had a chance to rise to the surface. And they fly out with the resounding cry of "YES!" What remains is joy, joy for an African-American becoming the leader of our nation.

You see, I have what at times is a personal flaw in that I sometimes empathize too easily. I readily cry at movies. I also literally cringe when someone is about to be stabbed on a T.V. show. My back curls before the victim on the tube is struck. I'm not sure where I got it from, but I feel the pain of others. And that pain has remained with me for all these years, ever since the civil rights movement of the sixties.

I remember the ugliness of racism in my home town. The racial slurs so easily strewn about like grass seed. The exclusion of blacks from my neighborhood and school. The crosses burned on the lawns and the nooses hung from tree limbs. The seething pain and anger have stewed within me all these years

Today can not eliminate it all. Not completely. But it's a start. As President Obama said this morning, "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them..." Obama has not only given us permission, but more so the expectation, that we will move beyond the hurt of the past.

So, I am not crying right now. The same tears of joy I shed on November 4th have streamed down my cheeks throughout the day. Relief and joy are mixed together into a new, unnamed emotion. I see President Obama and that feeling wells up inside of me. I don't know what to call it, but I simply smile and see better things ahead for America.

President Barack Hussein Obama.

It feels so good to say it out loud.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A New Day for America

This post is the fourth of a five-part series leading up to the inauguration.

For eight years the sun has been setting on America. Some people, especially those with lucrative hedgefunds and stocks that climbed through the heavens, may believe that we've been in trouble only since September. Others feel we have overcome all our social difficulties, and there's no more work to do. They have been so wrong. The sun was actually setting, in fits and starts but setting nonetheless, for eight long years.

No longer. America is inspired, uplifted, excited and psyched about tomorrow's inauguration of Barack Obama. We have been moved by his words, spirit and courage, by who he is, what he is doing and how he wishes to do it. And he has invited us into the process of bringing about the vision he has shared.

He stands the shoulders of a legacy: Frederick, Nat, Sojourner, Mary, Rosa, Martin, John, Emmitt, James, Malcom, Fannie Lou, Coretta, Thurgood, Barbara, and countless others.

He follows after Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, Powell v. Alabama, Shelley v. Kraemer, Brown v. Board, and many other Supreme Court decisions .

After a history of blood and tears, he will stand before us: Barack. He is next in line to share a vision of hope and a deep-seated desire to improve our lives into the future. I feel honored he has invited us to stand with him, to walk with him to bring about the needed change we all seek.

John Legend said yesterday, "People who looked like [Obama] were slaves 140 years ago. It doesn't mean everything's better, but it is a huge thing." There has been progress, and yet there remain difficulties to overcome. Barack Obama has told us that "block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand" we will work through those challenges.

As he stood before Lincoln yesterday, Obama observed,"[W]hat gives me the greatest hope of all is not the stone and marble that surrounds us today, but what fills the spaces in between. It is you - Americans of every race and region and station who came here because you believe in what this country can be and because you want to help us get there."

At no time in the last eight years was I asked to join in partnership to help lift up America. But, now I have been invited -- almost as if I were going to one of tomorrow night's balls -- to join our new president in this great venture of bringing about change on many different levels.

I can't wait for tomorrow's history being made. It will be made on the backs and the events of those who came before. In Spirit, they, too, will be on the Mall with millions of others, waiting to share again in a vision of hope for all people.

For eight years -- no, for centuries -- we have lost sight of America, with no path to guide us out of darkness. Tomorrow will be 'our moment' to join Barack Hussein Obama, to move forward, to follow 'our better angels,' to roll up our sleeves, and to change America into the nation it's always been meant to be. Tomorrow the light of the sun will indeed shine on a new day.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Towards A More Perfect Justice

This post is the third of a four-part series leading up to the inauguration.

In about two days, Barack Hussein Obama will take the oath of office of the Presidency of the United States of America. The hope and inspiration he has already brought to our society is reflected in the polls that indicate that he will bring the change he promised during the campaign. If we reflect on the goosebumps we get from his oratory, our sense of optimism and expectations might outrun the reality before us.

Some pundits have actually made the comment that we are now living in a post-racial society. An example is this morning Bill Bennett mentioned on CNN, "We got there." Continuing, he brought Martin Luther King, Jr. to mind by saying, "Free at last..." I'm no fan of Bill Bennett, but he is only one of many pundits who have stated that we have arrived, that we no longer have to worry about racial discrimination in our society, that we now live in a post-racial society.

I agree that we have come a long way from the days of slavery and Jim Crow. We must not, however, let our emotions get the best of us. Simply by looking around, we can see that a post-racial society is still a part of the dream, not the reality itself. As a privileged white man, I cannot fully internalize the significance of Obama's coming to the presidency. I am truly excited, inspired and eager to see what his achievements will be in the years to come. Nonetheless, we must keep in mind where our society has been and where it is now before we declare the we have actually overcome.

Throughout the campaign and transition periods, I have had several "Proustian moments" when when Barack Obama has spoken on an issue and a flashlight inside me was flicked on. That light has led me down the tunnels of my past into the corners of my being that I thought I had forgotten.

The issue of race was present, often below the surface, during the years i spent growing up in Elkhart, Indiana. Although I was born in 1955, at the beginning of the post-Brown era, my hometown was very divided along racial lines, especially regarding housing and schooling. Red lining was a common practice in Elkhart back in the 1960's, so neighborhoods and schools were often segregated by race.

It wasn't until I was in high school that I had a number of African-American classmates. One important class I took was "Black History" with Mr. Middleton. The curriculum opened my eyes to the black experience, plus I was in the minority in the classroom -- a valuable experience to have since I'd only been in the majority throughout my life.

I played on the football and basketball teams at Elkhart High School (at least through 10th grade - after that I left athletics to those who were more gifted than I). Battling for positions and supporting one another on and off the field, no matter what your race, was uncommon in our racially divided city. Nonetheless we teammates usually did just that since we had so many common bonds from the field of play.

It was impossible for the racism outside of school, like so many other social issues, to remain there, however. The pain, anger of racist policies and activities -- such as cross burnings and racist graffiti -- ultimately flowed into the high school and led to race riots in the hallways.

Teammates and classmates of mine who played together on the football team in the fall took baseball bats and chains to one another that spring of 1970. Nothing is so insidious as racism to destroy the humanity in ourselves and towards others. The police broke up the riots, using the tools of their trade: water hoses and German shepherds.

At the height of the riot, I and other teammates on the baseball team were sent to the auditorium by our baseball coach. He didn't want any of us to come between the racist groups roaming the halls, which could have led to more trouble. The last thing he wanted was his players suspended in the middle of the season.

I moved away from Elkhart in 1973, just after high school. I have, however, returned on a regular basis for visits and to keep up with events within the city. I read in the local paper that violence struck ten years ago as a 19-year old Sasezley Richardson was carrying diapers home from the supermarket. He and his white girlfriend, along with their baby, were making a life for themselves in an apartment two blocks away. As he turned a corner, he was shot to death by a two white supremacist, Neo-Nazi teenagers, Alex Witmer and Jason Powell. They were arrested and taken in for questioning the next day. The reason they gave for shooting the young man was he was black. Pure and simple, he was black.

Inauguration Day will certainly be a time for celebration. We will be feting Barack Hussein Obama as the first African-American president of America. Since the days of my high school experience in Elkhart, Indiana, much has changed for the better. Many of the racist barriers have been broken down, and many new opportunities have arisen in the light of a new day.

But let us not delude ourselves into thinking we are in a time of post-racial America. Look at the nooses drawn or placed secretively "as jokes" in our educational institutions. Look around on the corners of our cities where unemployment is visibly evident. Look into our prisons, where men of color are incarcerated at a rate extraordinarily greater than whites. Look at the graduation rates, which in many cities remain below fifty percent. Look at the murder rates, which in Philadelphia average between one and two per day. Look inside the childhood poverty rates. Look at the victims of HIV/AIDS, who are predominantly patients of color.

Yes, let us celebrate Tuesday, but let us look through the glow of the moment to see that there is still a long road to travel until we reach racial justice in America. Barack Obama realizes, as well, that we have not yet arrived. For him, racial injustice remains one of the great challenges before us.

Obama is clear that we must continue our efforts on the road towards equality. He is certain that it will be difficult to prevail and that we ought not take the easy path in overcoming racism and prejudice. As with many other difficulties ahead of us, he wants us to join him in the struggle for a more perfect union. And in so doing, he implores that we "look to our better angels," as we move forward towards the reality of full racial justice in America.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pragmatic Progressivism: Process, Not Ideology

This post is the second of a four-part series leading up to the inauguration.

Since November 4th, that Night Like No Other, Barack Obama has floated in 70th heaven. Over 70% of Americans support our next President and the plans he is making for when he takes office in two days. Although his popularity is extraordinarily high, I don't believe it is just from the sunglasses.

To some people, the approach Obama has taken in managing his transition to office has been confusing. It is a complex method that Obama has applied, which requires us to take a look below the surface. If we can understand how he has operated, we may also get a glimpse into how Obama may govern once in office.

First, there has been crisp, effective organization. Although it has not been as tightly sealed as during the campaign, this organization has run more smoothly and more effectively than any transition in memory.

Second, Obama and his team have collectively bought into a process, not an ideology. That process has been referred to as "pragmatic progressivism," and it has been applied in a variety of areas since election day. The most visible application of this process has been in Obama putting together his "Team of Rivals," his cabinet.
Another area where pragmatic progressivism has been in play has been regarding our struggling economy and the necessary stimulus package. Finally, pragmatic progressivisim was used in determining the religious speakers for the inauguration events, where first Rick Warren was announced as offering the invocation, and only later was Gene Robinson invited to fill a similar role in the inauguration events.

What is pragmatic progressivism? Where did Obama develop a sense of it? How is it used?

When Obama worked as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, he needed to find ways to build coalitions and move groups of disconnected people forward for the purpose of change. By clearly identifying a problem and the desired outcome, he would then find creative ways to empower those people towards that end.

Pragmatic progressivism, as I've seen it applied with Obama, is not purely an ideology. Many people equate progressive with the term "liberal," from former political generations. Progressive is certainly related to liberal in that it is located left of center on the political spectrum. However, it is not an ideology in that it entails a position of beginning, not a rigid point to hold onto with a refusal of shifting to the right.

"Pragmatic" indicates that a strategy must work in two ways: first, it must actually be implemented -- in government this would usually happen by passing legislation, and second, it must meet the desired goal for change -- it should fix the problem once implemented. When the term "pragmatic" is used simultaneously with "progressivism," we can see that the initial focus is on a left of center objective. But, if that exact point is not obtainable, then it must be calibrated more towards the center through the negotiation process.

Such negotiation involves bipartisan coalition building. Since Richard Nixon's administration, the primary way of operating has been zero sum: we win, you lose. Through the approach of pragmatic progressivism and bipartisanship, there can be a greater outcome -- one of win-win. Not only is there a positive outcome for change, but also a firmer foundation for future bipartisan opportunities. Some may say that this becomes post-partisanship, but in reality it is based on the simple concept of inclusivity.

Ultimately, the goal is to find a way of bringing about change for the good of the people. Often in the past, proponents of change held onto an "all or nothing" ideology. If the opposition would not accept the liberal position, then the conservatives would be blamed for not getting on board. There was one big problem with this: The status quo tended to remain in place, i.e., no change. The result was fingers pointing out the blame in all directions.

Obama's pragmatic progressivism takes a different tact. He starts with his focal point left of center. If he sees that such a goal is obtainable, he will quickly and decisively grasp ahold of it without the need of building a greater coalition. Change is successful without a lot of horse trading with his opponents because the majority fall quickly onto his side. An example of this is with stem cell research, where Obama will not have to exert this change via presidential powers. George W. Bush's order to block federal funding should be quickly overridden by Congressional legislation because there is already a majority who oppose Bush's executive order.

If, on the other hand, Obama wants to pass an $850 billion stimulus package, he needs Republican and Democratic support. Initially, he wanted to include $300 billion of tax cuts -- a right of center move -- to assure Republican support. Democrats, however, expressed their concern over such a shift to the right, so it now looks like the tax cuts may not be included in the plan.

The important part of the process is to see how Obama "calibrates" his approach as he moves forward. He is clearly not stuck on ideology; he wants change that can actually be passed by Congress and implemented.

The criticism of such an approach is that it sometimes appears that, rather than sticking to principles, Obama is licking his finger and sticking it in the wind to get a sense of the most current opinion. It will be interesting to see how this approach plays out over the term of his administration.

Obama will frustrate progressives at times, which is why we must hold him accountable to the promises he made. The temptation for him to slide too far right is great and, in the process, end up with a solution that is found simply for the sake of compromise,"the least common denominator." We The People will need to identify those decisions where we simply swallow hard and accept it and those where we will have to communicate with Obama so clearly that he follows the will of the people who elected him to office.

Keeping Obama accountable will nudge him to take the risk to move things where his heart actually is, left of center. When all is said and done then, the change that millions voted for this fall will actually come to fruition. Instead of following an out-dated way of doing politics, Obama will apply an organic, give-and-take, inclusive process that we will be seeing a lot of in the years to come: pragmatic progressivism.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Night Like No Other

This post is the first of a four-part series leading up to the inauguration.

It is a night like no other, this night of November 4, 2008. Hundreds of thousands of diverse individuals in Chicago’s Grant Park, and millions in living rooms from Maine to Florida to Hawaii and Alaska know change is on its way. Barack Obama has just been elected to the presidency, and Americans eagerly await his words, a speech that will undoubtedly raise our expectations even higher. Families in each of our fifty states anticipate a message of hope that will bond them with thousands of excited, giddy supporters who pack themselves into every square inch of the park.

Obama and his family – wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia –are carried hand-in-hand across the stage by the resounding music of John Williams and the jubilant cheers of the throngs before them. At the appropriate moment, after waving and smiling more than ever before in their lives, Michelle and the girls exit. Obama remains alone, standing at the podium, where his presence immediately takes on presidential proportions.

He is confidant his words will resonate with America, just as they have over the two years of campaigning. This will not be, however, just another stump speech. His words will certainly maintain their message for change, yet on this night like no other, Obama also needs to strike a grave tone, one of seriousness and purpose. As he readies himself at the podium, he knows his opponent is no longer Republican John McCain. Obama is all too aware the opponents he faces now are the many crises that strangle our nation, including the American mood that has fallen precipitously.

Obama begins with a greeting that immediately connects with the millions watching him:

Hello Chicago! If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer…

In only a few lines, he parries his naysayers and unites all of us dreamers who stood with him for a better America.

So as to sweep aside any notion of egocentric ambition, Obama announces:

“I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to - it belongs to you… “

And then, as if he were in my own home, he reaches out his hand:

[This victory] was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory...

Obama’s tone grows appropriately somber, more serious than most had anticipated, because he will not allow America only to revel on this night like no other. He explains the global approach for confronting the difficulties that lay ahead. The victory has not actually been won yet because there is still work to do:

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there. There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

* * *

In his Grant Park speech, Barack Obama made the first movements to unifying all Americans. He reminded us that, instead of simply singing and dancing in the streets and deluding ourselves, we needed to move forward together to overcome the problems of today.

The problems for me were also very personal, since I have been suffering from a mysterious lung disorder since the summer. Countless doctors, medicines and trips to the hospital brought me no relief from the coughing, wheezing and lethargy that kept me housebound during the autumn months. Since I was unable to teach, walk about or take part in any normal daily activities, I counted the hours between medications and the days between doctor visits.

Those moments in between were spent reading the presidential campaign news and following the polls. The outcome of the election virtually became my raison d'etre, the purpose I found to struggle through each day. Upon awaking in the morning, even before leaving bed, the first thing I'd check was Obama's progress in the polls. If he was up so was I; if he dropped a few points my mood sank with him.

The days and weeks passed as the calendar counted down to November 4th. That morning I slowly climbed out of bed, got dressed and made it over to my polling place, the local fire station. After signing in and pulling the curtain behind me, I suddenly feared that my electronic machine would register my vote wrong. The Simpsons clip where Homer votes for Obama but the light flashes for McCain came to mind as my finger reached to press my choice. What if it didn't register correctly?

With a quick, index-finger touch to the smooth, plastic-faced screen, however, my votes were correctly cast. My worries had been needless; I had proudly added my piece to the electoral puzzle that would take shape later that evening.

My wife and I sat on our sofa and watched the Grant Park event on our television, hundreds of miles away from Obama and his podium. I felt, though, that he was standing there in our living room and that his message was for both America and for me. As I listened, tears welled up in my eyes. My wife asked me what was troubling me, and I choked up, smiled and whispered, “Things are going to change.”

On that night like no other, Obama inspired me and brought hope back into my life. I realized that my suffering paralleled that of our country, and I believed in my heart of hearts that my country and I, we would both recover.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Needed: We The People

So, after all, a gay man will be giving the invocation on Sunday to begin the inauguration festivities. Bishop Gene Robinson has been invited to starts things off with a bang, and people are wondering why he received the invitation to do so at this time.

Robinson believes that this was in the works from the start of the planning. I believe that this is, again, a political decision, one where Obama needed to balance things out after asking Rick Warren, the anti-gay California pastor, to start of the inauguration on Tuesday.

I made my case very clearly on December 27, 2008:

"I'm not one of the people who says that this decision will either lead to the downfall of Obama or be indicative of how he will govern. I do believe that it is a clear political decision, not a spiritual one. Yes, Warren and Obama do not agree on many things, and politically that can be a strong suit for Obama - especially since he is such a strong believer in the proverbial "Team of Rivals."

"However, is not the invocation meant to be a symbolic spiritual part of the inauguration? What does this symbol, therefore, symbolize? It should represent our significance in God's presence, all of us, united. Here is where Obama misread the power of his decision and the potentially negative impact it could have on America. He has shared so frequently a message of unity, but with this decision, he has sown division.

"It's just a shame that Obama, who felt the pulse of America so sensitively over such a long period of time, decided to feel his own, personal, individual pulse instead - and in so doing laid a lot of hurt and separation on many, many people."

Since then, thousands of people expressed their concern and outrage regarding the invitation of Warren. It appears that Barack Obama was nudged enough to move in the direction that is truly inclusive, something I believe reflects his true sentiments. It's just that he tends to vacillate between what is politically expedient and what reflects the beliefs of the majority of people.

So, M.O. is something we need to keep an eye on. Obama has a tendency to slide to the right of his beliefs initially. Then, pressure comes from his supporters to glide him back to the left a tad.

It's a reminder that first, Obama is flexible and second, he must be held accountable in the months and years ahead if he is to hold fast to many of the positions he held during the campaign.

It will require, therefore, that Obama must regularly hear from us and that We The People maintain an active and loud vox populi, a compass that will keep him moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Madoff: No Jail - $urpri$e!

I feel like Gomer Pyle: "$urprise! $urprise! $urprise!"

Bernie Madoff went before the judge again today, and once again he was allowed his freedom$ He didn't need to go to jail$ In many ways, this time he got to pass"Go!"$

Up til now, I wasn't sure what was going on$ I think I'm starting to get it$


Obama, Biden, Graham Press Conference

In a show of bipartisanship, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Lindsay Graham just held a press conference. The focus is on the trip Biden & Graham just took to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They spoke of the need to send 35,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Elsewhere, I expressed my concern over the possibility that such a move could become a quagmire, like Vietnam. I see a mess coming and worse than Biden indicated, when he said, "It's going to get worse before it gets better."

Worse? For how long?

In the vein of Hillary Clinton's message of "smart power," Graham said he would encourage bipartisan support for a development package to go to Pakistan. This package will come before Congress soon after the inauguration.

On Iraq, there was an indication that troops would be coming home, but there are still many challenges before this happens. So, a lot of money and troops will be needed before we reach the goal of withdrawal.

How much money?? How many soldiers??

This was a warm and fuzzy display of bipartisan voices speaking on behalf of working with the administration. Things can go sour very fast though if they are not careful.

Worse? How much? How many? These are questions that will haunt us until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are resolved.

You won't find me holding my breath.

Blago 'Swears' in Senate

Governor Rod Blagojevich just swore. Well, that's not news, what with all the f-bombs the potty-mouthed governor is used to tossing about. Today, however, he swore in the Illinois senate for their next session.

Ironically, it is this same body, the Senate, that may end up fully removing Blago from office. Last week the Illinois House of Representatives impeached the governor in a vote of 114-1, and if the senate does the same, he'll be gone from office.

Bad Boy Blago has been accused of selling off former U.S. Senator and current President-Elect Barack Obama's empty seat. If the governor is impeached by the senate and removed from office, he nonetheless gets his day in court. It is there he will be faced with federal charges of corruption and attempting to sell an appointed seat.

I have maintained, and still do, that the Illinois legislature certainly has the right to impeach Blagojevich. I am still not convinced that he has committed a felony, for which he would be found guilty and sent to jail.

Complicating matters for outsiders, the federal prosecutor has kept evidence out of the public's eye. Perhaps Blago did actually exchange the cash for the job. If he did not, I believe it will be very difficult to prosecute and convict him.

In the meantime, The Bad Boy, is performing his gubernatorial job as if nothing has transpired to make this an extraordinary event. First, he appointed Roland Burris to replace Obama and caused a firestorm for days in the process. Then he welcomes his future hangmen home to the senate. It's simultaneously perfectly normal... and strangely surreal.

Will the governor go easily? I take him at his word; he will never resign. It is, therefore, up to the feds to prove their case in court, with evidence that proves more than the governor talking big and swearing like crazy - beyond his role as governor, like today.
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The New Day of Smart Power

'Hill'ary Clinton was queen of another "hill" yesterday - Capitol Hill, that is. Although there were other cabinet nominees sitting before their confirmation panels, Hillary was by far the most popular. Throngs of photographers filled the hearing room as Mrs. Clinton gave her testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee.

Although there was initially a circus atmosphere with all the cameras and reporters hovering about, the Secretary of State nominee imparted serious messages that communicated a dramatic shift in policy from the Bush years.

After eight long years of bravado, bluster and saber rattling, it appears the Obama administration will be making a sharp turn away from current foreign policy. Instead of militarily pounding our opponents into submission and humiliating our allies in a attempt to coerce them to support our positions, we will follow one of "smart power," according to Mrs. Clinton.

Senator Johnny Isakson, (R) Georgia, asked her about following the three D's of international policy: defense, development and diplomacy. Mrs. Clinton stated, "American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted." She agreed withIsakson that, indeed, such "smart power" would bring a new approach to our involvement in world affairs.

It has been clear for too long that our over- and misapplication of military power has lowered our esteem in the eyes of the world. Much of the world is hesitant to look to America as a model of democracy and freedom. Many of our allies have distanced themselves from our government and its policies.

In addition, our inappropriate use of military force has not been effective in making the U.S. more secure. The largest stains on our reputation have come from our unquestioned support of Israel, our misdirected involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and our brutal treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib. Ironically, in the meantime, the number of Muslim extremists has dramatically increased -- putting the United States at greater danger of being attacked again.

President Bush should be a commended for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). It was very effective in cutting the rate of HIV/AIDS transmission in subsaharan Africa. Unfortunately, similar international development programs have been few and far between. More development could have done a lot, particularly in the Muslim world, to improve America's standing in the world. Clinton indicated the Obama administration will move forward quickly on the development front.

Mrs. Clinton was clear, as well, that is certainly time for more diplomacy. The Bush administration constantly refused to talk and negotiate with governments with whom we disagreed: Iran, Syria, Hamas, the Taliban, etc. Clinton stated that once paths were paved with specific conditions, she and the president would negotiate with many leaders who had been shunned by Bush.

She also stated that the Obama administration would push forward and seek new avenues of peace in the Middle East. Unlike the Bush administration that appeared to 'give up' on such negotiations, Clinton would be involved opening doors of communication, so that ultimately new treaties could be accomplished.

In commenting on Iran and potential discussions, she said, "It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy with all its multitudinous tools." She continued that in developing workable strategies, the new administration would follow a pragmatic approach. Clinton emphasized, "Foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology, on facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice."

Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, has already offered his support for this type of approach. He has worked to improve multilateralism, decrease militarism and revived diplomacy. It is without doubt that he is a Secretary of Defense. Nonetheless, in that role, Gates understands that a complex and nuanced approach will strengthen our national security.

As Bill Moyers might say, "Yes, Virginia, it's a new day." It certainly is that -- a new day in Washington and around the world.
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Monday, January 12, 2009

B & B: The Masters of Hardball

Today Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader confirmed Roland Burris's designation to the U. S. Senate: "The Secretary of the Senate has determined that the new credentials presented today on behalf of Mr. Burris now satisfy Senate Rules and validate his appointment to the vacant Illinois Senate seat. In addition, as we requested, Mr. Burris has provided sworn testimony before the Illinois House Committee on Impeachment regarding the circumstances of his appointment.

"We have spoken to Mr. Burris to let him know that he is now the Senator-designate from Illinois and as such, will be accorded all the rights and privileges of a Senator-elect. Accordingly, barring objections from Senate Republicans, we expect Senator-designee Burris to be sworn in and formally seated later this week. We are working with him and the office of the Vice President to determine the date and time of the swearing-in. We congratulate Senator-designee Burris on his appointment, and we look forward to working with him in the 111th Congress."

This is exactly what I anticipated a few days ago. In that recent post I said he would be seated in the Senate, in spite of what most pundits were saying. Of course, what tilted things in Burris's favor was the law, not public and political opinion.

Now it'll be interesting to see what happens to Governor Rod Blagojevich. The bad boy of Illinois will see his day in court. I'd love to see the evidence against him, but it seems to so far, that what he's guilty of is (1) a potty mouth, and (2) saying he was going to do some illegal things, including something fairly out of line - selling the seat of former senator Barack Obama.

To quote the movie Jerry McGuire, "Show me the money!!" If the feds don't have the goods, Bad Boy Blago will walk. He'll then continue as the governor of Illinois until his term is finished.

Remember, B & B took politicians and pundits alike "to school." They have, thus far, shown themselves to be the teachers - the masters of hardball politics. I particularly don't like or respect Blagojevich, but when all is said and done he beat everyone at their own game.

As for Burris, it's his job now to roll up his sleeves and work hard to get our new president's agenda through the Senate.

I must say that after all the rigamarole in recent days, I'm looking forward to it.
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I feel like I'm missing something in the Bernard Madoff case$ With all the thievery he did, with all the futures he destroyed, with all the pain he inflicted here and around the world, why isn't he in jail$$??

Bernie Madoff created and ran a fifty (50) billion dollar ponzi scheme and, when he finally turned himself in, he was initially given a court date and he could do what he wanted and go where he wanted within his jurisdiction$

People cried foul, so judge Ronald Ellis decided to put Madoff under house arrest - basically under his own reconnaissance$ Poor guy, he had to hole up in his $7 million Lexington Avenue penthouse apartment$ So, Bernie decides to ship one million dollars worth of jewelry and other valuables to family members$ This is money, cash, assets that could have been used later to paid back some of his clients' losses$

So, Bernie stays put$ He does not pass GO$ He certainly does not collect 500dollars$ But, the worst part is that Bernie Madoff does not go to jail to await his trial$

Tell that to a kid who was caught on the corner with 500 bucks in his pocket$

Tell that to a purse snatcher$

Tell that to a cat burglar caught with the goods$

Yet, I feel like I'm missing something in the Bernard Madoff case$ Why do I have a sneaking suspicion he will ultimately get off scott free$$??
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The Terrorism Industrial Complex

One of the concerns that conservatives had curing the presidential campaign was that Barack Obama was inexperienced when it came to the military and national security issues. My personal fear, however, very well may come to fruition if he moves down the road he's currently traveling - that of encouraging a growth of the terrorism-industrial complex.

In his final television address to America, President Eisenhower warned us about the increasing entrenchment of the military-industrial complex. As a retired general and retiring commander in chief, he understood all too well the pervasive nature of the military and how it was beginning to invade our private sectors. He saw a clear danger in who we were becoming as a people and the nature of our lives because nationalism and militarism were getting ingrained in the lives of all Americans.

This evolution of sustaining a federal institution, the military, by private institutions is described in The Complex: How The Military Invades Our Everyday Lives by Nick Turse.

In his book, Turse maps the "matrix" of influence the military has on our lives. He states that every sector of our private society is tied into the military: industrial, technological, entertainment, academic, media, and corporate. The military is entwined in virtually everything we see, touch, smell, eat, and do during our daily lives.

Under the Bush administration, we have seen an entire industry and mindset laid on the American people to, supposedly, protect us from terror. Since 9/11 we have been bombarded with fear tactics and lies to manipulate us into accepting changes that are undemocratic and unconstitutional. Why do we not oppose these unilateral changes? Fear. It's why we now have "Homeland Security," terror alert levels, and domestic spying. Few legislators, including President-Elect Obama, were opposed to these transformative shifts.

We have also seen carefully regulated institutions change their mission, without congressional approval. Now, I'm not a fan of all the CIA has done in the past, but things it used to do in a clandestine fashion are now routinely a part of its operation, out in the open.

One horrendous activity has been the sanctioned torture committed against prisoners of "the war" we've made on terror. In Legacy of Ashes, Tim Weiner gives one example by explaining how the nature of the CIA has changed, from an information-gathering institution to a militaristic one. In an interview, he stated, "I believe the president has misused the CIA as a paramilitary police force. ... You have to put it in the context of the great fear that swept Washington after 9/11, but ... the orders that came down were basically to go snatch and grab anyone who might pose a threat. ... What's happened has exponentially harmed (the CIA's) ability to function in foreign countries. You get intelligence by convincing people to help you, and you're not going to win them over by beating the living daylights out of them."

Following Eisenhower's example, Weiner has termed this new framework for operations the "terrorism-industrial complex." What used to be closely regulated and separate from our daily lives becomes somehow acceptable and glued to our mindset and way of being. It has changed our national paradigm and, in the process, us as a people.

Our taxes, in addition to our fears, have been used to pay for paramilitary security forces, i.e. Blackwater. They also pay for the airport security checks, which have been determined to be of little use, since they are not effective at securing the planes they are meant to protect.

We have, in the process, become increasingly nationalistic and militaristic as a country. We have changed who we are in the depths of our national soul. No longer can we say we have the greatest constitution in the world when it has not protected us, when it has not prevented our soldiers from torturing, and when it has covered its ears at the lies that got us into Iraq.

Why? All in the name of "The War on Terror." President Obama has needed to cozy up to the military so as to show his support for them. He has also leaned heavily on former military for his cabinet. And he is making plans for swimming from the shallow end towards the deep end in Afghanistan. All in the name of "terror."

Obama, nonetheless, may be able to return us to a balance, where the military is used only when definitely needed, and he may be able to restore a sense of national confidence that will allow us to move through the misty barrier of terroristic fear. If so, perhaps we will be less controlled and consumed by the military and terrorism industrial complexes. Then we may return to being a people proud of the those who apply our constitution and the behavior they display towards our country, both here at home and abroad.
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Crazy Like Foxes

I'm generally a supporter of Philadelphia instructional opportunities, but we need to pay close attention to education in Chicago. It is there that two politicians have -- how shall I say? -- taken their colleagues and the media "to school." And dear President-elect Barack Obama was also embarassingly caught up in the lesson.

Indeed, the B & B team have turned the events of this past week into teaching opportunities. Rod Blagojevich, the beleaguered Illinois governor, and Roland Burris, the yet-to-be-sworn-in United States Senator replacement for Barack Obama, are both crazy like a fox. B & B may be tossed around, punched and slapped in the press, but ultimately it is they who have played the media like a song.

The problem with the media is that they have become too smug, too arrogant and full of themselves to actually look beyond their own noses when it comes to events - local, national and international.

All you have to do is watch Zbigniew Brzezenski embarrassing Joe Scarborough on MSNBC's Morning Joe:

When Joe confronted Dr. Brzezenski on his explanation of events in Gaza, the good doctor simply called him "stunningly superficial." All Scarborough wanted was a sound bite, embarrassing Brzezenski in the process. Instead, Joe was shown the door and got his behind paddled on the way out.

Joe Scarborough, like the majority of reporters now days, relies on intimidation and bluster to make their points. News shows are rarely based on reporting and analyzing with depth and honesty. Instead too many pundits use reporting opportunities to be entertainers, not journalists to sway public opinion. They rely on superficial reporting, which comes off as eye and ear candy - it looks and sounds good, but is not intellectually rigorous. In other words, it does not fill the bill of true journalism.

What exacerbates this problem is that many politicians have bought into the same game. The soundbite, quick smile and wink, and part-truths fill the time on the news but do not take the viewer below the surface. They rarely tell the complete story of what they are doing in office. Instead, they rely upon manipulating their constituents in order to get re-elected.

Which is exactly why both the media and Democrats were worked over by Blogojevich and Burris this past week. No matter how they attempted to diminish and destroy B & B, the dynamic duo refused to be intimidated. Instead, on multiple occasions, they both used the law and quickly-called news conferences -- in both Illinois and Washington -- to call the bluff of their opponents, who ultimately have had to back off. B & B elevated their state constitution and diminished the attacks of their accusers, as if they were little doggies nipping at their heels.

Blagojevich (whom I find frankly to be arrogant and reprehensible, as well) seems to see himself as the Rocky from Chicago. He has been impeached but has not yet been found guilty in a court of law. Every time Blago takes a hook to the head, he's expected to stay down for the 10-count. Yet, he gets up, dusts himself off and, of all things, refers to the constitution and then finishes by ... reading poetry.

Burris, on the other hand, is a Columbo-like figure. On the surface,he appears somewhat bumbling and naive but is actually brilliantly sharp. When he was denied entrance into the U.S. Senate this week, he held an impromptu news conference - in the rain. Sentiment could only go in one direction, his way.

Some folks say these two individuals are crazy because they refuse to back down. Certainly, I would say Burris and Blago are both crazy... crazy like foxes.

Blago has been impeached, but will not resign unless found guilty in a court of law. Burris, who later was genteelly invited to discuss the situation with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, will end up being sworn into the U.S. Senate very soon.

What's startling is how horribly unprofessional and naive both the pundits and pols have been. It makes me wonder: What makes politicians... politicians? Doing politics. And what makes the pundits...pundits? Doing punditry. The problem is neither has been very good at their respective jobs on this one.

Instead, it's as if the pundits and the pols simply cozied up side-by-side at the breakfast counter and finished with egg aplenty dripping down their chins. Obama, who had been two seats down from them, even ended up with some on his tie.

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