Friday, July 31, 2009

Politically Wise

Every day, there are sensible, even insightful, posts on dailykos. This, unfortunately, is not one of them.

The White House beerfest tonight between President Obama, Officer Crowley, and Professor Gates has been getting a lot of media attention, to be sure. It has also spawned what might be the stupidest criticism of Obama this year, and from a member of his own political party:

In a letter to Obama dated Wednesday, Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal strongly urges the president not to drink Budweiser, now owned by a Belgian company. Nor should the White House consider serving Miller or Coors, Neal writes, both owned by a United Kingdom conglomerate.

Instead, the White House should serve the three men — all with ties to Massachusetts — the local favorite (Sam Adams), not only because of its popularity in the region but also because it remains the largest American-owned and brewed beer, Neal says.

Now, perhaps the genesis of this comes from the fact that Congressman Neal has his first Republican opponent since 1996, and thus felt that a good pander was in order to the hometown brew (although his district is actually to the southwest of the Boston metro area).

But, really, Congressman? Dinging the President for his choice of beer? The President has the fairly inspired idea to bring a simmering culture battle to a halt over a cold one, and you feel the need to pen a letter criticizing him for not patronizing a brewer in your home state? I know members of the House are supposed to have parochial interests, but this is one step beyond ridiculous.

I would fully expect some right-wing mouth-breather to go after Gates for his choices of Red Stripe or Beck's (beers from decadent, foreign lands like Jamaica and Germany are so thoroughly anti-American).

But actually taking the time to write a letter to the President to steer him away from Bud Light?

Was Wednesday that slow a day in the halls of Congress?

This is truly one of those beachfront property in Arizona items. Hey, I understand someone not understanding that this "simmering cultural battle" is a mere drop in the bucket compared to America's great sin of racial discrimination. Morevover, I realize a U.S. representative from Massachusetts (even if not facing a tough re-election battle) is less concerned with the origin of the alcoholic beverage served than with currying support of the electorate.

But to believe that Barack Obama's primary purpose in hosting yesterday's staged event was to strike a blow for racial comity? Give Obama credit- according to Sgt. Crowley in his post-drink press conference, the President allowed Gates and Crowley to do most of the talking. Nevertheless, recognizing the political value of the beerfest, the President situated Obama, Biden, Gates, Crowley counter-clockwise. Wisely, black-white-black-white; or if you prefer, white-black-white black. Not the best, however, if, the primary consideration was facilitation of conversation between the two principals (Gates and Obama). I'm not being critical here; in a similar situation, I would have done the same, and so would you have, and all Presidents with an IQ ranging at least into the high double digits.

But can we liberals not be such knaves? Any beer in the world available to him- to them; and our President chooses Bud (light)? Budweiser may be owned by a foreign company, but in the eyes of many Americans it is as American as Coke, Wal-Mart, or marrying your high school sweetheart (always referred to as "sweetheart," never as the less endearing "girlfriend"). And for a Hawaiian-born President under attack for being born in Kenya and bludgeoned for supporting a black professor from the Ivy League over a white police officer, the choice of beer and seating arrangements is strategically critical.

The United States continues to hemorrhage jobs in light mostly of the recession, but also because of outsourcing and offshoring. A Democratic politician recommends that the President of the United States be photographed hosting a party featuring regional beer(s) brewed in America? And that is supposed to be--- bad? Really, ideological considerations aside, it's not politically savvy to imply that only "right wing mouth breathers" are concerned that jobs should remain in the United States.

There once was a time that liberals consistently were in favor of jobs remaining here- and those who are pro-union, generally concerned with the shrinking of the middle class, still are. And for a party (Democratic) and a movement (liberalism/progressivism) periodically tarred with the accusation of being un- or anti- American? Display of products brewed in America by American companies (such as this one, from the D.C. area, and this one, from the Chicago area) could only have been productive. (And Coors, given the thumbs down by Rep. Neal- what a union record!)

Admittedly, there were only three beers and one near-beer involved in yesterday evening's affair. Still, in an event that is so fraught with symbolism that a presumably serious blogger can seriously refer to it as "a fairly inspired idea to bring a simmering culture battle to a halt," surely there was room for appearance of a product(s) originating in the United States of America.

Think that emphasis in this blog or in the mainstream media on this gathering is unhelpful? Or that Barack Obama is unaware of the political value of the guys getting together for a cold one (in the summer, outdoors in the District of Columbia?)? Your concern should be allayed. Republican Party head Rush Limbaugh began his daily period of invective today by decrying emphasis on what happened yesterday, and promptly segued into his routine denunciation of the evils of providing health care for American citizens. If the hyper-partisan Limbaugh is disturbed at the attention given to last night's gathering on the White House lawn, Barack Obama surely saw the advantage to the display of male testosterone.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Of Popularity

The beginning of the end, hopefully.

No, not the Gates-Crowley-Obama affair, though maybe that also. I'm speaking of a myth discovered, embraced and coveted by the mainstream media.

It started with a Wall Street Journal/NBC survey pertaining to attitudes toward President Obama and his policies and released April 28, 2009, which found

More than eight in 10, 81%, said they personally like the president on the eve of his 100th day in the Oval Office. Of those respondents, 51% said they like him and his policies, while 31% said they like him personally while disapproving of his policies.

Just 12% said they don’t like Obama or his policies, and only 3% said they don’t like him but approve of his policies.

I didn't notice this at the time, but Susan Davis and her editor failed miserably in this article. She writes "of those respondents" (i.e., the 81%), 51% like Obama and his policies. That would be 51% of 81%, or 41.31%. Then she writes 31% like him but not his policies; presumably, that would be 31% of the 81%, or 25.11%.

Davis writes also "12% said they don't like Obama or his policies, and only 3% said they don't like him but approve of his policies." That would be a total of 81-82%.

For those who doubt that is what Davis meant, feel free to assume she meant that 51% of all respondents like Obama and his policies, 31% liked him but not his policies, 12% didn't like Obama or his policies, and only 3% liked Obama's policies but not him. That's how it was generally reported, conveniently.

The traditional media lapped it up. Obama was himself much more popular than his policies, they (it?) exulted. America just adored our cool, new president, but were skeptical of liberalism, they cooed.

As someone situated between the 81%/41% and the 3% (closer to the latter), I had my doubts. Sure, the President was a little more popular than his policies, I understood. Still, it defied reason that somehow tens of millions of Americans liked a chief executive while eschewing his policies. Plus, opposition to the policies of the first black President was, I figured, in part a proxy for opposition to the individual himself, so difficult for some poll respondents to concede to a survey taker, or in some cases even to oneself.

Shoot (for you NRA supporters) forward three months, and what do we have? From another Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll:

In mid-June, respondents were evenly divided when asked whether they thought Mr. Obama's health plan was a good or bad idea. In the new poll, conducted July 24-27, 42% called it a bad idea while 36% said it was a good idea.


....the poll showed strong support among respondents for ideas common to all of the pieces of health-care legislation being considered by Congress.

When given several details of the proposal, 56% said they favored the plan compared with 38% who oppose it.

The description given to poll respondents didn't include a public-insurance plan, which divides the public, nor specifics about what income levels might be taxed to fund the plan.

Reporting on a New York Times/CBS News poll taken approximately a month earlier, the Times had noted

The national telephone survey, which was conducted from June 12 to 16, found that 72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan — something like Medicare for those under 65 — that would compete for customers with private insurers. Twenty percent said they were opposed.

Sentiment shifted somewhat over the following five weeks. Still, the Christian Science Monitor observed on July 20 that "the polls are saying," in part

Some 42 percent of Americans say Mr. Obama’s healthcare plan is a bad idea, up from 32 percent in June, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Thursday. Thirty-six percent call it a good idea....

For all their wariness of big government, Americans generally support the idea of a “public plan” offered by the government alongside private insurers, according to a poll conducted for the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington.

Summary: Though skeptical, poll respondents generally support major health care reform, even a public option, surely a "liberal" change to the present system. Yet, call it Obama's plan, and opposition rises.

It's going to be nearly impossible to convince the mainstream media, with their preconceived notions and class preferences of sympathy for corporate America, to acknowledge what's going on. But the citizens of this country are not as enamored of Barack Obama the man or of the fee-based, profit-driven health insurance industry as the Fourth Estate believe, or would like to believe.
An Odd Way To View Health Care Costs

If Rush Limbaugh weren't carrying water for the health insurance industry or Wall Street, it wouldn't make sense. But he is (always), and it does.

On July 29 Limbaugh claimed, with the emphasis mine:

"Once considered the quintessence of cool, lighting up has become a social faux pas, discouraged by withering glances and thank you for not smoking signs. Ashtrays, once a fixture ... have all but disappeared. Manufacturers have been subjected to increased, and ever more successful, investigations and lawsuits ... [P]er capita consumption of cigarettes dropped from 4,345 in 1963 to 1,691 in 2006. And the percentage of U.S. adults who smoke has fallen by more than half since 1965, to a level of around 20%." Yet nobody is saving any money. Nobody. It's not saving anybody any money. Well, the people are not smoking don't have to pay the money but in terms of health care costs it has not helped as we've documented.

There are several reasons "nobody is saving money," which is probably Rush's way of acknowledging the increasing cost of health care in this country without acknowledging it. One such reason was described on Bill Moyers Journal by Wendell Potter, former head of corporate communications for CIGNA.

Well, there's a measure of profitability that investors look to, and it's called a medical loss ratio. And it's unique to the health insurance industry. And by medical loss ratio, I mean that it's a measure that tells investors or anyone else how much of a premium dollar is used by the insurance company to actually pay medical claims. And that has been shrinking, over the years, since the industry's been dominated by, or become dominated by for-profit insurance companies. Back in the early '90s, or back during the time that the Clinton plan was being debated, 95 cents out of every dollar was sent, you know, on average was used by the insurance companies to pay claims. Last year, it was down to just slightly above 80 percent.

So, investors want that to keep shrinking. And if they see that an insurance company has not done what they think meets their expectations with the medical loss ratio, they'll punish them. Investors will start leaving in droves.

I've seen a company stock price fall 20 percent in a single day, when it did not meet Wall Street's expectations with this medical loss ratio.

For example, if one company's medical loss ratio was 77.9 percent, for example, in one quarter, and the next quarter, it was 78.2 percent. It seems like a small movement. But investors will think that's ridiculous. And it's horrible....

And they think that this company has not done a good job of managing medical expenses. It has not denied enough claims. It has not kicked enough people off the rolls. And that's what-- that is what happens, what these companies do, to make sure that they satisfy Wall Street's expectations with the medical loss ratio.

And how does an insurance company respond when Wall Street decides its medical loss ratio is too low? Apparently, by rescission, denying claims, jacking up premiums, and dropping employer groups. Potter continues:

Rescission is one thing. Denying claims is another. Being, you know, really careful as they review claims, particularly for things like liver transplants, to make sure, from their point of view, that it really is medically necessary and not experimental. That's one thing. And that was that issue in the Nataline Sarkisyan case.

But another way is to purge employer accounts, that-- if a small business has an employee, for example, who suddenly has have a lot of treatment, or is in an accident. And medical bills are piling up, and this employee is filing claims with the insurance company. That'll be noticed by the insurance company.

And when that business is up for renewal, and it typically is up, once a year, up for renewal, the underwriters will look at that. And they'll say, "We need to jack up the rates here, because the experience was," when I say experience, the claim experience, the number of claims filed was more than we anticipated. So we need to jack up the price. Jack up the premiums. Often they'll do this, knowing that the employer will have no alternative but to leave. And that happens all the time.

They'll resort to things like the rescissions that we saw earlier. Or dumping, actually dumping employer groups from the rolls. So the more of my premium that goes to my health claims, pays for my medical coverage, the less money the company makes.

This is not meant to minimize the role of big Pharma in escalating health insurance costs. But surely the reduction in smoking, despite what Limbaugh says, has not increased health care costs, but rather cut them. From an LA Times blog of November, 2008:

"Lung cancer is the big one when it comes to cancer in the United States," said Dr. John Glaspy of UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. The declines in lung cancer are due primarily to widespread reductions in smoking.

"It's very tough for anybody not to conclude that social trends [against] smoking are having major effects on human life.

California's comprehensive smoking bans and anti-tobacco education programs funded by cigarette taxes have been having a major impact, experts said. California was the only state for which both incidence and mortality for lung cancer dropped in women. In all the other states, the incidence either was stable or increased.

For men, the rate of smoking is as much as three times higher in other states.

"It's a testament to the change in the lifestyle of the people of California," (Dr. Robert Figlin of the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte) said.

And as to heart disease?

Non-smokers live longer and have less cardiovascular disease than those who smoke, according to a 30-year follow-up study of 54,000 men and women in Norway. Smoking, say the investigators, is "strongly" related to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality from various causes.

The results, presented in Stockholm at EuroPRevent 2009, reflect what many other studies have indicated, but, says investigator Professor Haakon Meyer from the University of Oslo and Norwegian Institute of Public Health, these results provide a picture of the long-term, absolute "real life" risk.

But if you're Rush Limbaugh, the big drop in smoking is "not saving anybody any money." Saving lives, perhaps, but not saving any money.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Conservative Way, Often

On July 29 Rush Limbaugh reported an argument on CNN's Campbell Brown between a woman he identified as National Action Against Obesity president MeMe Roth and editor-at-large Mia Amber Davis of Plus magazine. This is, according to Rush's website, a portion of the exchange, an exchange which revealed the conservative mindset in action:

ROTH: If you're obese, you are unhealthy. Reuters recently reported that only 8% of us don't smoke, drink moderately, eat the fruits and vegetables we're supposed to eat, and exercise regularly. So really, fat or thin, only 8% of us are even trying in this country.


ROTH: There's a higher incidence of infertility, pregnancy complications --

DAVIS: I don't have those issues.

ROTH: -- low sperm count, and even a higher incidence of birth defects when it comes to obesity. So don't argue me. Argue with Darwin.

RUSH: Well, you can say arrogant or whatever, but this is who these people are. Her statistics are wrong. Only 8% of us don't smoke? Eighty percent of us don't smoke. Drink moderately, eat the fruits and vegetables we're supposed to eat? Get that? We're supposed to eat? So Mia Amber Davis, she starts getting back at her a little here.

DAVIS: I think that that's insulting, actually. I work out four times a week.

ROTH: Which you're supposed to be working out every day.

DAVIS: I'm not here to argue with you. I'm here to say that stop blaming overweight people or obese people for America's problems. It's not our fault. If you are gay, you can play straight. If you are a certain religion, you can play another religion. You can't hide the fact that you're overweight, and nor do we want to. I'm proud of the way I look. I'm proud of my body. I'm proud of all my friends and the hard work that we do to maintain our curves. So stop blaming us for America's health care issues, because I am not a part of that plan.

Note the classic conservative mindset at work:

1) But overweight does not mean unhealthy. I've been off the charts since I was 12 years old, and I'm perfectly healthy.... I don't have those issues.... I work out four times a week.

Don't bother me with facts or details about a nation of 300+ million people. I'm healthy, and that proves my point.

2) Her statistics are wrong. Only 8% of us don't smoke? Eighty percent of us don't smoke. Drink moderately, eat the fruits and vegetables we're supposed to eat? Get that? We're supposed to eat?

No, Rush, Roth said "only 8% of us don't smoke, drink moderately, eat the fruits and vegetables we're supposed to eat, and exercise regularly. So really, fat or thin, only 8% of us are even trying in this country." The reference, clearly, was to 92% failing to follow the entire protocol- not that 92% smoke.

3) If you are gay, you can play straight. If you are a certain religion, you can play another religion.

If gay, you can play straight? Opinions differ, but most evidence indicates the vast majority of homosexuality (or heterosexuality) is nature, not nurture. Not a choice. And for that vast majority, "playing" straight is not an option- but the suggestion does trivialize human sexuality. So too does the charge that people "play another religion." Trivializing faith- part of the conservative mindset?

4) I'm here to say that stop blaming overweight people or obese people for America's problems. It's not our fault.

Davis probably should have listened a moment earlier when Roth observed "If you wanted to make a nation fat, we have set our culture up to do exactly that. It's like we're living in a brothel and no one's allowed to have sex. Everywhere you go, there's one temptation after another."

5) You can't hide the fact that you're overweight, and nor do we want to.

Hide being overweight? Where did that come from? Roth did not argue that individuals should hide being overweight, or anything else. Rather, the concern was with why individuals are overweight, and she noted "We need to make good food, real food, produce available, cheap, accessible to everyone. The economics of it are shifting. Big Pharma has made a bundle on obesity. The weight loss industry has made a bundle. Beverage and food have made a bundle. Now we're seeing it. We're picking up the tab, and we're pushing back."

Details are irrelevant ("I don't have those issues"). Misrepresent your opponent's position ("only 8% of us don't smoke?"; "stop blaming overweight people"). Ridicule personal characteristics, such as sexual orientation and religion, which are either immutable or largely a factor of family background ("If you are gay, you can play straight"). Play the victim ("it's not our fault... so stop blaming us").

Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking. It's the liberal mindset to generalize like this! But if you listen to Rush, or to some (not all) other conservatives, you'll find that this is pretty standard fare.
Article Of The Week

Syndicated columnist and author E.J. Dionne asks a poignant question:

Isn't it time to dismantle the metal detectors, send the guards at the doors away and allow Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights by being free to carry their firearms into the nation's Capitol?

Dionne notes that Senator John Thune (R.-S.D.) barely failed to get the 60 votes he needed for approval of his amendment to mandate all states to allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry a firearm into any state. And that NRA shills have pushed legislation to allow guns into taverns, colleges, and workplaces. And that legislation already has been approved legalizing firearms in national parks.

In support of his amendment, Thune claimed "The benefits of conceal and carry extend to more than just the individuals who actually carry the firearms. Since criminals are unable to tell who is and who is not carrying a firearm just by looking at a potential victim, they are less likely to commit a crime when they fear they may come in direct contact with an individual who is armed."

The logic, then, of permitting firearms in the Capitol building is inescapable. If felons are deterred by the fear that a law-abiding individual in a bar or at a college will be packing heat, won't there be even more certainty that a member of Congress will be in possession of a firearm- especially because that same Congress has approved the legislation authorizing carrying of the gun?

Congressional conservatives should demonstrate that they are willing to live under the same set of (Wild West) rules to which they're anxious to subject other Americans. Dionne is not offering his piece as a joke, as a humorous antidote to the serious business of reform of the health care industry, the financial sector, or of energy policy. Instead, he challenges them "to put up or shut up," an approach insufficiently displayed by House, Senate, and Oval Office Democrats these days.
That Beer

This will sound like a stretch to you, a little conspiratorial, and violative of the law of parsimony/Occam's Razor, but please stay with it.

The controversy surrounding the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Officer James Crowley of the Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Department emanated from one issue: the allegation of racial bias. To refresh the memory, President Obama, first from July 22, 2009, finding nothing unacceptable in police behavior but racial predudice:

Now, I've -- I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that....

And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing disproportionately. That's just a fact.

As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society.

That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that's been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us.

And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and oftentime for no cause, casts suspicion even when there is good cause. And that's why I think the more that we're working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody's going to be.

From Barack Obama on July 24, 2009, unaware that intemperate behavior of a police officer cannot be laid solely at the feet of racial misunderstanding:

What I’d like to do then I make sure that everybody steps back for a moment, recognizes that these are two decent people, not extrapolate too much from the facts — but as I said at the press conference, be mindful of the fact that because of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African Americans are sensitive to these issues. And even when you’ve got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding.

My hope is, is that as a consequence of this event this ends up being what’s called a “teachable moment,” where all of us instead of pumping up the volume spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity. Lord knows we need it right now — because over the last two days as we’ve discussed this issue, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but nobody has been paying much attention to health care. (Laughter.)

Race may, or may not, have been a factor in Sgt. Crowley's handling of the situation- or in Professor Gates' reaction to the officer's actions at Gates' home. But surely there is a racial angle to the entire affair.

That suspicion of racism lies in the reality of racial stereotyping, the fiction that all blacks are criminals and all criminals are black. (Racial profiling, as those who understand the term, was not involved in the incident, unless one attributes it to Lucia Whalen, which evidence shows would be inaccurate.)

The victims of ethnic stereotyping, however, are not only black. They are (among others) Hispanic, Asian, Polish-American, Jewish- and Irish American. And we all know what that unfair generalization is: drunks. In addition, they are cheap drunks- beer, if you will. And likely to be priests (or nuns) or cops.

Barack Obama notes "indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately.... is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society." Stopped disproportionately because, presumably, of the ethnic stereotype of black people- criminals, always up to no good.

And then Barack Obama invites Sgt. James Crowley, a Boston-area policeman (it doesn't get any more stereotypical than that, unless he were a cop in Boston proper) to the White House for.... a beer! Why, you might ask, would President Obama consciously play to the stereotype of the Irish-American, other than figuring what's good for the goose is good for the gander?

First, Barack Obama does nothing that's not conscious. Bright, thoughtful, and deliberate- that's a stereotype of Obama, but one almost everyone would accept as valid. He does virtually nothing by accident, with no room for serendipity.

Second, the birther movement. Oh, of course, few people believe there is any reasonable chance that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States. But some do. And this perception feeds into, and is in part a result of, the sense that Barack Hussein Obama is different than you or me. Not a guy from Mayberry, nor anyone Wally and the Beaver would have recognized. And this strange person will be photographed Thursday night.... drinking a beer! With a white police officer (and another fellow)! Even better- drinking a Bud! Budweiser, a symbol of the everyday, down to earth American fellow (never mind that Anheuser-Busch has been sold to a Belgian company).

After the photo op at the White House, the birthers could come up with (no, really they couldn't, but just suppose) a certified, long-form birth certificate verifying that Barack H. Obama was born in Kenya. No matter. Barack Obama is an American, maybe even a good-ole boy- you'll see it yourself Thursday night.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Look At White Souterners And Obama

Obviously, the claim that Barack Obama was born not in Hawaii but in Kenya and thus ineligible to serve as President of the United States is little more than ludicrous, as indicated by this "Certification of Live Birth," supplemented by this announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser of his birth on August 4, 1961.

The birther movement is ripe for entertaining political cartoons, and here is one from Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the first panel, one of the two white men sitting on a couch says "Obama's not president because he wasn't born in the U.S. He was born in Hawaii,!" to which his companion responds "But Hawaii became a state two years before his birth." In the second panel, the first man replies "All part of the conspiracy...."

An interesting sidelight to this cartoon is the Confederate flag draped on the wall behind the two men. Philadelphia radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish interviewed Luckovich on July 27. After the phone conversation between Smerconish and Luckovich had ended, a caller criticized the presence of the Confederate flag, contending the cartoonist had unfairly impugned white Southerners.

A little fact-checking suggests that this complaint has a little, but limited, validity. An article by Charles Franklin appearing on on November 15, 2008, compared by state the percentage of the white vote received by Barack Obama in 2008 with that received by John Kerry in 2004. Obama did better- substantially- among whites than did Kerry in North Carolina and Virginia, equally poorly in Georgia, and worse in Mississippi, Louisiana (with a 10% drop), and in Alabama, where he received only 10% of the white vote, his worst performance in any state.

Citing the substantial increase from 2004 to 2008 in the portion of the white vote for president going Democratic in Indiana, Kansas, Montana, and North Dakota, Franklin observes in "states below 25% African American, the trend line for Obama is above that for Kerry, indicating a general improvement among whites."

Although he emphasizes the role of "the next four years" in determining how whites will vote in the 2012 presidential election, the numbers Franklin found indicate a tendency for whites in southern states, in which the percentage of black residents is quite high, to vote against the Mr. Obama. (This doesn't, of course, mean that racism was the primary motivation.) However, the numbers in the overwhelmingly white states of Kansas, Montana, and North Dakota, as well as the accompanying graph, imply that the tiny white vote in the South for Obama may not reflect something endemic in the southern character, but rather the aforementioned proximity (or something akin) to blacks.

Nevertheless, identification of Southern whites (as reflected in the Confederate flag) with anti-Obama animus is somewhat valid, especially given the artistic license generally, and legitimately, taken by political cartoonists. Causation (i.e., I am a white Southerner and therefore hostile to Obama), however, is harder to demonstrate and begs further analysis. And given the election of the first black President, brought into focus with the flap over Gates/Crowley, research would be not only grist for small-time blogs but would give us a better idea of what happened in 2008, why it happened, and what might happen in the future.
And The More Things Change....

Ta-Nahisi Coates (a black man), blogging on about the Gates-Crowley-Obama affair, makes a couple of interesting, and critical, points.

Mr. Coates is a little hard on law enforcement when he contends "The rest of us are left with a country where, by all appearances, officers are well within their rights to arrest you for sassing them. Which is where we started." But he is right about this: wherever the incident has taken us, it is precisely "where we started." Most of us are not Harvard professors, and notwithstanding the little, if any, potential benefit of a discussion of police-black community relations, clearly there will be no consideration of the relationship between police departments and the white, Hispanic, or Asian communities. We are, notwithstanding- and in part because- of Obama's response, left "where we started."

This demonstrates the ultimate futility of Obama's response, and the limited impact his victory in November is likely to have upon the historic American struggle with race.

Once Barack Obama prevailed against a hapless GOP nominee and his ill-equipped running mate, many whites patted themselves on the back for overcoming racial prejudice while many blacks were relieved that, finally, someone would pay attention to the unique problems of their community.

Naivete reigned supreme, across racial lines. And as Coates notes

Here is what the election of Barack Obama says about race--white people, in general, are willing to hire a black guy for the ultimate job. That's a big step. But it isn't any more than what it says.

Well put, even if he could have gone further. Reporting on its poll taken from November 6-8, 2008, Gallup observed "only 27% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing as president." That would be Republican President George W. Bush, from whom an exasperated John McCain, who had spent much of the campaign disassociating himself, blurted out during an autumn debate, "I am not George Bush." Yes, (sarcasm alert) Barack Obama faced the daunting task of running as a Democrat against a nominee representing a party with an incumbent president about whom Gallup explained:

With barely two months remaining in his second term, Bush could quite possibly finish with the lowest final job approval score of any president serving out his term in at least a half century. His current 27% job approval rating is below Harry Truman's final rating of 32% in December 1952, as well as Carter's 34% in December 1980. No other president since the advent of polling was rated below 49% as he was leaving office.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And as Ta-Nahisi Coates apparently understands, sometimes an election is just an election.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Barack Obama, The Educator

I may be jumping the gun- or, as the shills from the NRA would put it, jumping the constitutional right to bear arms- but this begs for comment.

On Friday, President Obama appeared unexpectedly before the White House press corps during Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' daily briefing. He explained (transcript here) that he called Sgt. James Crowley, the officer who had arrested Henry Louis Gates at the latter's home after a confrontation deriving from a suspected burlary. Crowley and Obama discussed "about he and I and Professor Gates having a beer here in the White House." (Later, Obama called Gates, who agreed to join them.)

Prior to that surprising announcement, the President issued the standard non-apology apology of celebrities and politician, conceding

I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I unfortunately gave the impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department and Sergeant Crowley specifically....

I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sergeant Crowley....

My sense is you’ve got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.

Citing faulty relations "between police officers and minority communities," the President continued

My hope is, is that as a consequence of this event this ends up being what’s called a “teachable moment,”

A "teachable moment?" If you wonder who the President anticipates doing the teaching, you may stop wondering. Mr. Obama continued:

There are some who say that as president I shouldn't have stepped into this at all because it's a local issue. I have to tell you that that part of it I disagree with. Whether I were black or white, I think that me commenting on this and hopefully contributing to constructive -- as opposed to negative -- understandings about the issue is part of my portfolio.

No. If you flunk Civics 101 (or History 101 or Basic Math- you get the idea), you don't get to be an adjunct professor teaching that class. And Obama did fail in what he said Wednesday night. He said as much himself: "I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I unfortunately gave the impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department and Sergeant Crowley specifically- and I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sergeant Crowley."

No apology, but he did acknowledge that he had used the wrong words, which seems to mean that he shouldn't have said what he said. And with it came serious ramifications: "the impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department and Sergeant Crowley specifically...."

President Obama may have merely expressed himself carelessly.

But read those words again: President Obama may have expressed himself carelessly. Barack Obama rarely expresses himself carelessly and his facility with the English language is nearly unsurpassed.

And now this same man believes it "is part of my portfolio" that he be "contributing to constructive- as opposed to negative- understandings about the issue."

And might this President be reconsidering his own views, in light of the controversy justifiably aroused by his remarks two days earlier? Think again:

There are some who say that as President I shouldn’t have stepped into this at all because it’s a local issue. I have to tell you that that part of it I disagree with. The fact that this has become such a big issue I think is indicative of the fact that race is still a troubling aspect of our society.

Translation: I was right to wade into this issue because race (no problem of crime here, folks, move on) "is still a troubling aspect of our society." Additionally, "as I said at the press conference, be mindful of the fact that because of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African Americans are sensitive to these issues." White Americans must, you know, "be mindful of the fact" amidst their ignorance and insensitivity. (And he's going to make this "a teachable moment?")

Could the President really be that patronizing? Here is how began his bit:

THE PRESIDENT: Hey, it’s a cameo appearance. Sit down, sit down. I need to help Gibbs out a little bit here.

Q Are you the new press secretary?

THE PRESIDENT: If you got to do a job, do it yourself. (Laughter.)

The good news: Gibbs need not worry because (a)Obama wasn't suggesting his Press Secretary wasn't up to the job; (b)Obama's remark wasn't about Gibbs. The bad news: see (b).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Searching For Middle Ground, Finding None

What do ladies' nights and Barack Obama have in common?

Not much, actually. Still, there is a moral to the story of ladies' nights promotions (free admission and/or discounted drinks for women), which the State Division on Civil Rights ruled in 2004 violated New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination. Minority Leader of the New Jersey Senate, Tom Kean Jr., son of the popular former governor and co-chairman of the vastly overrated 9/11 commission, understandably has introduced legislation to overturn the ban.

Instead of sensibly emphasizing, however, that an unenforced rule is at best no better than no rule, or demonstrating political courage by calling for repealing the law which was violated by ladies' nights, Kean claims

As long as New Jersey has an overbearing and meddlesome government that refuses to cut red tape and end this foolishness, we will keep our reputation as a terrible place to do business."

New Jersey decides, because of ideology, limited resources, or otherwise, to pull back on regulation and a prominent Repub accuses it of "an overbearing and meddlesome government."

This guy doesn't understand what is happening here- or chooses to frame it in the context of the classic, pro-business Repub talking point. How would he have reacted if the state actually believed in regulatory enforcement? Probably the same way.

And so it is with national Republicans in their response to the agenda of President Obama. The President could have nationalized the banks, or a bank, to assure American businesses and consumers credit, the lack of which has contributed enormously to the economic crisis. Even GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, of the staunchly Republican and conservative South Carolina, conceded on February 15

This idea of nationalizing banks is not comfortable, but I think we have gotten so many toxic assets spread throughout the banking and financial community throughout the world, that we're going to have to do something that no one ever envisioned a year ago -- something no one likes.

But Barack Obama has not.

The President could have proposed, as a bargaining tool, to acquire leverage in health care negotiations, a single-payer health care system, which

would make possible a set of mechanisms, including public budgeting and investment planning, that would allow us to address the real sources of cost increases and allow us to rationalize our health care investments. The drivers of high cost such as administrative waste, deterioration of our primary care infrastructure, excessive prices, and use of non-beneficial or detrimental high-tech services and products could all be addressed within such a rationalized system.

But Barack Obama has not.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D.-N.D.) wrote of the recently passed Waxman-Markey climate and clean energy bill (though for a critique of Dorgan's criticism, click here:

I support capping carbon emissions. But it has to be done the right way, with targets and timelines that allow us to accomplish our goals without driving the cost of energy for homeowners and businesses out of sight. The cap-and-trade plan does not meet that test for me.

I know the Wall Street crowd can't wait to sink their teeth into a new trillion-dollar trading market in which hedge funds and investment banks would trade and speculate on carbon credits and securities. In no time they'll create derivatives, swaps and more in that new market. In fact, most of the investment banks have already created carbon trading departments. They are ready to go. I'm not

The President could be actively supporting the efforts of those U.S. Representatives who wanted to add to the bill a provision which would have imposed "stricter trading limits and reporting requirements so that no single operator could assume more risk than it could handle or capture so much of the market that it distorted prices."

But Barack Obama has not.

And the reaction of national Republicans? Similar to that of Tom Kean in New Jersey. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee charging of the bailout/rescue package "Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff;" South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint calling Obama "the world's best salesman of Socialism;" prominent conservative writer and blogger Michelle Malkin sarcastically claiming of Obama's policies "We didn’t start the fire, therefore dumping more gasoline on it is not socialism."

Americans elected a president whose strategy is to compromise, cajole, and negotiate, a chief executive who believes half a loaf is better than none, if not better than a full loaf itself. And the right wing, confronted by a neo-liberal, pro-corporate president, accuses him of being socialist or promoting socialist policies. It would be astonishing, if they actually were sincere.
Maybe Not Race

There is on today a post, by veteran blogger Ian Welsh, entitled "The Gates Conundrum: Racism or Police Authority." Mr. Welsh describes his own approach to the arrest of Henry Louis Gates and quotes approvingly Scott Greenfield, who commented on Simple Justice: A New York Criminal Defense Blog

But there is similarly a possibility, based upon a larger experience by those who follow the conduct of police officers, that this was unrelated to Henry Louis Gates' race. This encounter could have, and has, happened to whites as well as black, to Hispanics as well as Asians. To old women and young men.

Henry Louis Gates was arrested for engaging in "tumultuous" behavior. Only in Cambridge would the complaint use the word "tumultuous". But many a man forced from his castle upon the command of a police officer who refused to accept that he was at home would have been outraged. Tumult seems an appropriate way to act. The crime was Gates' hurling words at Sgt. Crowley at a time when the sergeant commanded him to be obsequious and compliant. Gates would not calm down. There is no law that requires him to be calm because a police officer ordered him to do so. Other than the expectation that we do what an officer tells us to do, no matter what.

It may well be that what happened to Henry Louis Gates reflects, as he is accused of screaming at Sgt. Crowley, "what happens to a black man in America." Because the black man happens to be the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, perhaps the pre-eminent black scholar, it will open a discussion that we still need to have, black president notwithstanding.

It is also possible, however, that what happened to Henry Louis Gates is the outgrowth of the conflict between law and order, order represented by police who have been empowered, in our post 9/11 age, to believe that their every command is the law, that our blind obedience is mandatory. Other than a few old-timers on the Supreme Court who live in a fantasy world where ordinary people can assert their rights and refuse to comply with the command of a police officer with impunity, this encounter between a distinguished scholar, within his own home, and a police sergeant who believes that his command is sufficient to create the divide between citizen and criminal, may offer the chance to question who commands whom in our society.

Perhaps Henry Louis Gates suffered the experience of a black man in America. Perhaps he suffered the experience of all men in America. The conversation needs to include both possibilities, as neither one is acceptable.

In the category of quibbling: it's a little unfair to charge that the police officer commanded Gates to be "obsequious and compliant"- compliant, sure; obsequious, a little much. Similarly, it's a (minor) stretch to argue that police typically "believe that their every command is the law." It is a major stretch to argue "As the picture came into focus, reports firmed up the details of Gates' encounter with Sgt. Crowley" given that these "reports" appear to come from the subject's lawyer, fellow Harvard professor Charles Ogletree.

Worst of all is the crack about the Boston-area university, Harvard, by the New York attorney, who claimed "Only in Cambridge would the complaint use the word "tumultuous." Mr. Greenfield: say what you wish, the Red Sox are still better than the Yankees.

But Greenfield's theme is justified. He notes "perhaps he suffered the experience of all men in America" (maybe women, too, but there still are far fewer women than men arrested). Officer Crowley less likely reacted because of racial animus or even racial consciousness than because he is a police officer, and Gates is not. Or as Welsh more generously puts it,

I don't think it's necessary to invoke racism to explain officer Crowley's behaviour. He was disrespected by someone who didn't obey his every command. To his mind he was even lenient, he gave his orders multiple times. Gates stepped out of line and needed to be put in his place, not because he was black, but because he was a civilian who wasn't doing what a police officer told him.

This demonstrates yet another problem with Obama's comments at his press conference about the incident. Not only did he smear police departments generally with the implied charge of racism, the President managed, indirectly, inadvertently, and paradoxically, to absolve this nation's police culture of a more common failing. Too often, as Welsh observes, "something as simple as a question is interpreted by many policy as a direct assault on their authority."

Some of this may be unavoidable, especially with crime being more common in the United States than almost anywhere else in the developed world. Still Welsh, a Canadian resident, does not surprise when he comments, "I don't fear Canadian police the way I do American ones." This reflects a syndrome- not born of paranoia- that is increasingly common in American society. Hopefully, the concern/obsession with the role of race which dominates much of our nation's educated class does not blind those individuals to the need to consider bigger problems.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Treading Into Dangerous Territory

It is still, at this moment, fewer than 24 hours since President Obama concluded his press conference on health care, and impossible to assume credibly the emphasis network and cable news coverage will give to the event over the next 48 hours. Still, if undue (relative to its importance) attention is given to the Dr. Henry Louis Gates affair, there is only one person to blame- Barack Obama. Comment on an issue tangentially involving race- and invoke race- and the floodgates open.

From the transcript (helpfully provided by Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times), the question from the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet and the President's response:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Recently, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge. What does that incident say to you? And what does it say about race relations in America?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I -- I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here.

I don't know all the facts. What's been reported, though, is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house; there was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place.

So far, so good, right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger into -- well, I guess this is my house now, so -- (laughter) -- it probably wouldn't happen.

(Chuckling.) But let's say my old house in Chicago -- (laughter) -- here I'd get shot. (Laughter.) But so far, so good. They're -- they're -- they're reporting. The police are doing what they should. There's a call. They go investigate. What happens?

My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I'm sure there's some exchange of words. But my understanding is -- is that Professor Gates then shows his ID to show that this is his house, and at that point he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.

Now, I've -- I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing disproportion ately. That's just a fact.

As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society.

That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that's been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us.

And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and oftentime for no cause, casts suspicion even when there is good cause. And that's why I think the more that we're working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody's going to be.

In a press conference replete with tough, probing questions, this one should have been a gimmee- or at least one easily punted. The nation's first black president could have remarked about the need for communication (perhaps even tying the principle in to the health care debate) among people of all ethnic groups. Similarly, he could have praised the Cambridge Police Department for dropping charges and thereby quelling the passions raised by this incident. Or he could have reminded Ms. Sweet that the press conference was called to discuss health care, arguably the second most pressing issue in the minds of the American people (and intimately connected to the most pressing issue, the economy).

Instead, the President, fresh off acknowledging "not having been there and not seeing all the facts," proceeded to

1- assume everyone would react the same: "number one, any of us would be pretty angry";

2- blame the investigating officer: ""But I think it's fair to say.... number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home;"

3- charge the Police Department with disproportionate treatment of minorities and, with it, imply racism: "And number three,what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing disproportionately. That's just a fact."

4- suggest there was no basis whatsoever for the arrest, stating without qualification: "And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and oftentime for no cause...."

To take these in reverse order:

4) Blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, per capita, than non-Hispanic whites. But whether that is the case here is unknown, especially when the President of the United States himself concedes that he does not know all the facts. And as to the implication that only minorities are susceptible to being arrested "for no cause".... (see my next blog, please);

3) Certainly, there is "a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing (sic) disproportionately." And there is a long history of minorities, especially blacks, being arrested disproportionately, which suggests that not all these stops are unjustified. And, to quote Mr. Obama, that's just a fact.

2) Clearly the officer did act "stupidly" in arresting Mr. Gates. Dropping the charges against the professor demonstrated that (and nothing else), the arrest having sparked a controversy the Cambridge P.D. would rather do without. But there is no law or procedure absolutely precluding someone from being arrested when he is in his own home; and though Gates did not possess illegal drugs, weapons, or anything else which precipitated the arrest, the police report does indicate behavior on the part of the subject which would have resulted in most individuals, similarly situated, being charged;

1) It's an unsubstantiated generalization, as generalizations usually are, that "any of us would be particularly angry." This assumption might remind some of us in middle age and beyond of the "they're all the same" generalization many white Americans would voice, most often prior to the 1990s. There was a word often applied to those individuals prone to generalizing about another race (although Obama was speaking more universally): bigots.

As further facts become known- if in fact they are- President Obama should be asked for clarification of his analysis of the racially-based policies or procedures of law enforcement in this nation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Limbaugh Did Not Like The NAACP Speech

You really have to give Rush Limbaugh credit. Some people say consistency is the hobglobin of little minds, but it is just as accurate to suggest that it adds a welcome predictability to public discourse. And Rush consistently attacks Barack Obama and never has a positive word to say about him- unless it is to contrast him with evil villans Nancy Pelosi or Barney Frank.

Somehow, Limbaugh was able to condemn President Obama's speech given to the NAACP on July 16, including this virtually unassailable remark:

Our kids can't all aspire to LeBron or Lil Wayne. (applause) I want them to aspiring to be scientists and engineers, actors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. (applause) I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be the president of the United States of America. (wild applause)

Not totally unassailable. Main Street Liberal would not have included "actors" in the same sentence as scientists, engineers, and teachers. The pursuit of the cult of celebrity, in which no one aspires to a bit part or even to be a good actor, but only to attain stardom, is a slightly less noble pursuit; and the social good to come of it is inarguably inferior. (But this country certainly needs more scientists and engineers; and teachers, if only because there has to be a whole occupational class underpaid, unappreciated, and called upon to serve in the front lines of America's divisions of class and race.)

Unsurprisingly, the conflation of acting with that of more essential professions was not Rush's beef. Instead, as his heroine Sarah Palin often does, he played the victim card:

Unless you're Clarence Thomas. Unless you're Condoleezza Rice. Unless you're Walter Williams. Unless you're Dr. Thomas Sowell. Then you can forget about all those aspirations because people like Obama are going to chop you into liver. And finally this is Obama's worldview.

Personally, I don't recall State Senator, Senator, or President Obama leading the charge against Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Walter Williams, or Dr. Thomas Sowell. And neither does Rush. And it's frankly difficult to think of Clarence Thomas, a man of limited qualifications, who very likely perjured himself when speaking of Anita Hill, and who was rewarded with a seat on the United States Supreme Court, as a victim. Is Condoleezza Rice, who set out to scare the American people with visions of a "mushroom cloud" if we did not invade Iraq- and who still receives relatively little criticism for her role in spreading disinformation- a victim? I don't think so. As for Walter Williams or Thomas Sowell- what is Rush even thinking about? But then, playing the race card is an essential tactic in Limbaugh's rhetorical quiver.

Oh, there are phrases or comments laced throughout the President's speech that are objectionable. Obama refers to "Muslim Americans," a misleading construction akin to the growing reference to American Jews as "Jewish Americans," in the same way we refer to "Italian Americans," "Irish Americans," "Polish Americans," "Greek Americans," and so forth. But these are, unlike status as Jews or Muslims, ethnic groups. It would be as if we started to refer to Catholic Americans and Protestant Americans. Which we don't, for good reason.

Obama also naively believes that the presence of Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg, and Newt Gingrich in the Oval Office talking education represents agreement about the need and benefit in improving education for all American children. A race hustler, an egomaniac who can't leave office gracefully, and an overrated, washed-up politician on the far, far right. If there is anything they agree on, it can't be good. Similarly, Obama's remark "We're creating incentives for states to promote excellent teachers and replace bad ones," though consistent with earlier remarks he has made regarding education, blithely assumes that it is easily done, and will not do more harm than good.

But Obama does understand, critically

....that our task of reducing these structural inequalities has been made more difficult by the state and structure of our broader economy; an economy that for the last decade has been fueled by a cycle of boom and bust; an economy where the rich got really, really rich, but ordinary folks didn't see their incomes or their wages go up; an economy built on credit cards, shady mortgage loans; an economy built not on a rock, but on sand.

(And he gets an extra point for referring to "the last decade," the incomparably destructive Financial Services Modernization Act having been passed on November 12, 1999.)

But Rush primarily has race on the brain, such as when he claims

Oh, folks! Folks, this is the original litmus test. This is the original list of sins. This guy is out there stoking more hatred among these people. He's not bringing us together. Where's the unity? Here, we have three more of these. Here President Obama lists all of the excuses the left makes for African-American failure.

And what are these excuses? Rush quotes Obama as maintaining

If you're African-American the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are high. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood you will face challenges that somebody in a wealthy suburb does not have to face. But that's not a reason to get bad grades. (applause) That's not a reason to cut class. That's not a reason to give up on y'education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands, you cannot forget that, that's why we have to teach all of our children! No excuses! No excuses!

Somehow, Rush interprets "no one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands...." as being an excuse for anti-social behavior. (Of course, one's destiny cannot be in one's hands or anyone else's; otherwise, it wouldn't be destiny.) And it's hardly making "excuses" to explain

....I also know what can happen to a child that does. I was raised by a single mom. I didn't come from a lot of wealth. I got into my share of trouble as a child. My life could have easily taken a turn for the worse. When I drive through Harlem or I drive through the South Side of Chicago and I see young men on the corners, I say, there but for the grace of God go I. (Applause.) They're no less gifted than me. They're no less talented than me.

But I had some breaks. That mother of mine, she gave me love; she pushed me, she cared about my education; she took no lip; she taught me right from wrong. Because of her, I had a chance to make the most of my abilities. I had the chance to make the most of my opportunities. I had the chance to make the most of life.

At least Rush Limbaugh is interesting. While most of the rest of America, with fits and starts, two steps forward and one step back, tries to put race hostility behind it, the Republican Party head sticks to script.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Little Off The Mark

It would be more sophisticated, or at least enlightening, to submit a post about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's views on guns, abortion, business, or any one of another subjects. But, alas, after a week of hearings, we don't know what she believes, which suggests that she performed as needed, avoiding direct responses.

So, inspired by the tone and direction of Saturday's post on, I can't help but remark on yet another commentary lamenting what is pictured as racism, or at least narrow-mindedness, of the conservative Senators on the Judiciary Committee. This one is by Al Hunt of, who, true to form, avoids the "r" word, but is clear nonetheless that he is offended by

the spectacle of middle-aged, white Republicans instructing the first Latin female nominee about the irrelevance of race, gender and life experiences for a judge. Even Graham, one of the more enlightened lawmakers, a strong immigration advocate and a thoroughly modern Republican, didn’t get it.

Leave aside, for a moment, the spectacle (and irony) of someone becrying bigotry by what he terms "middle-aged, white Republicans." Hunt deserves credit for noting that such conservative Republican jurists as Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas have cited their cultural background as influencing their approach to jurisprudence. Clarence Thomas cited as among those judges "influenced by how they were raised." And that is what- good?

But while Hunt contends that judges do well by incorporating their personal experiences into their decisions on the bench, he is more interesting when he undermines his own argument. He notes that Justice John Paul Stevens, declining to block a sexual misconduct civil suit againt then-President Clinton, unwisely rejected "the president's argument that such actions should be delayed until the term of office was over." While Stevens believed that the suit would not "occupy any substantial amount of petitioner's time," Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a historian and United States Senator, knew otherwise through experience.

This demonstrates the benefit of selecting a judicial candidate on the basis of something other than immutable characteristics such as gender, race, or the national origin of the candidate. Moynihan knew better than Justice Stevens not because the late Senator, unlike Stevens, was Irish-American and Roman Catholic, or because he had (if that were the case) more numerous sexual liaisons. Moynihan knew through experience applicable to that matter that the civil suit would occupy "a substantial amount" of the time of the Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces when called into service. That is chiefly why Sotomayor should be confirmed- she's a well-qualified, experienced individual with an impressive knowledge of the law.

Oh, and this: Hunt seems surprised that Senator Lindsay Graham (R.-S.C.) would, as "a strong immigrant advocate" have been so condescending (Young Turks video below) toward what the columnist calls "the first Latin female nominee." The surprise is unwarranted. Whether Graham is an advocate of "immigration" isn't well known; we know only that he is a strong advocate of illegal immigration. And if Al Hunt ever thought that was because of a deep appreciation of pluralism or of the American cultural mosaic, well, you know that one about beachfront property in Arizona.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rush And Sarah

Rush Limbaugh's love affair with Sarah Palin continues. On his show of Thursday, July 16, he rants about a Gallup Poll taken July 10-12, 2009. Limbaugh argues

Let me give you the unfavorables, too: 72-21 unfavorable Palin, 56-17 favorable-unfavorable Romney, 59-16 favorable-unfavorable Huckabee. Now. Now, Sarah Palin's favorable rating among Republicans is the top: 72%.

And Rush concludes:

All you have to do -- all you have to do -- is listen to the media. They will tell you. Listen to the Democrats! Sarah Palin, they are trying to destroy. They've been trying to destroy her. They filed another ethics investigation into her in Alaska, after she announced her resignation! They are trying to destroy her." The liberals, the left, the Drive-By Media, they are telling us who our nomination should be! They are telling us who they are most afraid of.

Not surprisingly, our favorite demagogue neglected to tell us that the same Gallup Poll measured support also among Democrats and Independents of the three leading GOP contenders for the party's presidential nomination in 2012. It found

Huckabee's numbers among all Americans look better by comparison. Although each GOP contender receives a similar favorable rating from the American public -- 43% for Palin, 37% for Romney, and 42% for Huckabee -- Huckabee's negatives are lower. As a result, his +19 net favorable score is much better than Romney's +8 and Palin's -2.

Really, it's a stretch to argue that Democrats fear the Repub Party nominating in 2012 the candidate least popular among the American people. It is undeniable that Palin is attractive, charismatic, and an inspiring speaker. Also, she could shore up her weaknesses. These wold be her lack of curiousity, lack of knowledge of current issues, and relative lack of governmental experience, the latter by demonstrating that she is an effective Governor- oh, wait, never mind, she quit that gig.

And not a moment too soon, it appears from a recent report about a budding scandal in Alaska regarding the mismanagement by state government of its Medicaid program. The Anchorage Daily News (7-14/7-15) reports

State programs intended to help disabled and elderly Alaskans with daily life -- taking a bath, eating dinner, getting to the bathroom -- are so poorly managed, the state cannot assure the health and well-being of the people they are supposed to serve, a new federal review found.

The situation is so bad the federal government has forbidden the state to sign up new people until the state makes necessary improvements.

No other state in the nation is under such a moratorium, according to a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In the meantime, frail and vulnerable Alaskans who desperately need the help are struggling. One elderly woman is stuck in a nursing home, for lack of care at home. Another woman, suffering from chronic pain and fatigue, said she's so weak, she often can't even pop dinner into the microwave.

The moratorium is expected to last four or five months. State officials estimate about 1,000 Alaskans will be affected.

A particularly alarming finding concerns deaths of adults in the programs. In one 2 1/2 year stretch, 227 adults already getting services died while waiting for a nurse to reassess their needs. Another 27 died waiting for their initial assessment, to see if they qualified for help.

The programs at issue provide in-home help for thousands of Alaskans with the basics of life, from medication to meals. The goal is to help people stay in their own homes rather than go into nursing homes or other institutions.

The services are paid for by Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor and the disabled, and overseen by the state Division of Senior and Disabilities Services. Individuals qualify based on income and need. Private contractors do most of the work. The programs cost about $250 million this year, with the federal government currently paying 61 percent of the bill.

Palin faces another problem, according to Rush, because she is not the candidate "the sophisticates in the media in Washington and New York approve of" and that media will attempt to destroy her. Limbaugh neglects to mention the rave reviews, the widespread adulation that met Sarah Palin after her triumphant speech at the Republican National Convention last September- and, to a lesser extent, the overwhelmingly positive reaction that accompanied her mere selection by John McCain. She was given a tremendous opportunity last year by her party and repaid it by contributing to a losing campaign. Rush Limbaugh will do all he can to resurrect her image but the nation is unlikely to turn to someone who decided to take Harry Truman's advice: "if you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Empathy, Sometimes Dreaded

The hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee over the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court are over. Network executives are breathing a sigh of relief, able now to return to coverage of Michael Jackson or whichever celebrity they're obsessing over now.

And it was, as expected, a kind of dance with everyone playing his/her roles: the impressive nominee avoiding answering questions while member of the opposition party play to their base and, well, members of her own party playing to their ethnic base.

Senator Tom Coburn (R.- OK) was particularly entertaining as he acted out his part, wringing his hands over the despised "empathy." In his opening statement, on July 13, Coburn described his concern that judges strictly adhere to the law, eschewing personal instincts:

We expect a judge to merely call balls and strikes? Maybe so, maybe not. But we certainly don't expect them to sympathize with one party over the other, and that's where empathy comes from.

Judge Sotomayor, you must prove to the Senate that you will adhere to the proper role of a judge and only base your opinions on the Constitution's statutes and, when appropriate, treaties. That's your oath. That's what the Constitution demands of you.

You must demonstrate that you will strictly interpret the Constitution and our laws and will not be swayed by your personal biases or your political preferences, which you're entitled to.

As Alexander Hamilton stated in Federalist Paper Number 78, the interpretation of the law is a proper and peculiar province of the courts. The Constitution, however, must be regarded by the judges as fundamental law. He further stated it was indispensable in the courts of justices that judges have an inflexible and uniform adherence to the rights of the Constitution.

A nominee who does not adhere to these standards necessarily rejects the role of a judge as dictated by the Constitution and should not be confirmed.

Reasonable men and women can disagree about this philosophy, though ironically Judge Sotomayor strained endlessly during the hearings to convince the GOP Senators that she agrees, while the very conservative and Republican Justice Alito disagrees. Two days, later, however, Senator Coburn questioned the nominee about the right to arm bears bear arms:

Thank you. Let me follow up with one other question. As a citizen of this country, do you believe innately in my ability to have self-defense of myself -- personal self-defense? Do I have a right to personal self- defense?

SOTOMAYOR: I'm trying to think if I remember a case where the Supreme Court has addressed that particular question. Is there a constitutional right to self-defense? And I can't think of one. I could be wrong, but I can't think of one.

SOTOMAYOR: Generally, as I understand, most criminal law statutes are passed by states. And I'm also trying to think if there's any federal law that includes a self-defense provision or not. I just can't.
What I was attempting to explain is that the issue of self- defense is usually defined in criminal statutes by the state's laws. And I would think, although I haven't studied the -- all of the state's laws, I'm intimately familiar with New York.

COBURN: But do you have an opinion, or can you give me your opinion, of whether or not in this country I personally, as an individual citizen, have a right to self-defense?

SOTOMAYOR: I -- as I said, I don't know.

COBURN: I'm talking about your...

SOTOMAYOR: I don't know if that legal question has been ever presented.

COBURN: I wasn't asking about the legal question. I'm asking about your personal opinion.

SOTOMAYOR: But that is sort of an abstract question with no particular meaning to me outside of...

COBURN: Well, I think that's what American people want to hear, Your Honor, is they want to know. Do they have a right to personal self-defense?

Do -- does the Second Amendment mean something under the 14th Amendment? Does what the Constitution -- how they take the Constitution, not how our bright legal minds but what they think is important, is it OK to defend yourself in your home if you're under attack?

In other words, the general theory is do I have that right? And I understand if you don't want to answer that because it might influence your position that you might have in a case, and that's a fine answer with me.
But I -- those are the kind of things people would like for us to answer and would like to know, not how you would rule or what you're going to rule, but -- and specifically what you think about, but just yes or no. Do we have that right?

SOTOMAYOR: I know it's difficult to deal with someone as a -- like a judge who's so sort of -- whose thinking is so cornered by law.

This line of questioning amusingly went on slightly longer (continuing to the "splaining to do" remark), but Sotomayor wasn't lured into the Senator's trap. Sure, she could have said that she agreed with (presumably Coburn's position) a constitutional right to self-defense or she could have demurred, allowing the denizens of the right to brand her as an activist leftist judge. (Just for the fun of it, check the consitution. Right- nothing in it about "self-defense.")

But that is apart from the sheer inconsistency of the Oklahoman's remarks. On Day One he praises Alexander Hamilton for his advocacy of "an inflexible and uniform and adherence" approach to the Constitution and warns the nominee that she "must demonstrate that you will strictly interpret the Constitution and our laws and will not be swayed by your personal biases or your political preferences." Then on Day 3 he pirouettes and probes whether she believes "personally, as an individual citizen, (citizens) have a right to self-defense."

And what to make of Senator Coburn's curiosity about whether S.S. believes "innately in my ability to have self-defense of myself." Innately- does Coburn really believe Sotomayor's ideas are in her genes? That she comes to her views by heredity? (And "self-defense of myself"- is there some other kind of self-defense we're not aware of?) Clearly, Coburn was not encouraging discussion about the finer points of the law or the Constitution- rather, about whatever instinct, feeling, or, yes, sense of empathy Sotomayor might have for an individual needing to defend himself/herself.

Unsurprisingly, these hearings provided nary a glimpse into the nominee's opinions about major issues- not gun rights, abortion, national security, the economy, or anything else. Not very enlightening, but as spectacle, a reasonably pleasant diversion.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Compromise, Not Likely

Back in early June, the well-meaning William Saletan wrote for an article entitled "Let's Make an Abortion Deal," subtitled "Four recommendations for Obama's common-ground talks." He urged both sides of the debate to "watch the president's Cairo speech. He's making serious concessions and taking real risks," while (digression alert) failing to notice the brunt of blame placed by Obama on the Europeans and the Israelis.

Saletan encouraged pro-life activists and pro-choice activists to be more respectful and accomodating of the other and makes to each two suggestions for overcoming distrust. To the latter group he recommends: don't blame the entire pro-life movement for the murder by one individual of Dr. Tiller, performer of late-term abortions; and support not only the need to reduce abortions, but the number of abortions itself. To the pro-life group he recommends: don't reflexively oppose contraception; and in trying to reduce the number of abortions, consider supporting the funding of "the family planning organizations you keep trying to defund."

Mr. Saletan, and Representative Tim Ryan (D.- Ohio) have received one answer to their effort to achieve common ground. From The Vindicator of Eastern Ohio:

Upset by what is sees as U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan abandoning his pro-life position, Democrats For Life of America removed the congressman from its national advisory board.

“DFLA gave Congressman Ryan ample opportunities to prove he’s committed to protecting life, but he has turned his back on the community at every turn,” said Kristen Day, the Washington, D.C.-based pro-life organization’s executive director.

Ryan of Niles, D-17th, insists he’s still a strong pro-life advocate, but grew frustrated with Democrats For Life of America and other pro-life groups that refuse to accept contraceptives as an option to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

“We’re working in Congress with groups that agree with preventative options while [the DFLA] is getting left behind,” Ryan said. “I can’t figure out for the life of me how to stop pregnancies without contraception. Don’t be mad at me for wanting to solve the problem.”

This is not surprising, given that the anti-abortion rights movement truly is pro-life; or, rather, pro-conception. Take a trip back to early autumn of last year. The GOP, the party heavy on personal morality such as abstinence among the unmarried and teenagers, reacts to the pregnancy of Bristol Palin. Would Republicans lament the breakdown of sexual morality among the young? Most of us thought so, but were wrong:

The early response among Republicans to the announcement that Bristol Palin, the 17-year-old daughter of GOP VP hopeful Sarah Palin, is pregnant, has been calm and collected....

Republicans have either taken the line that Bristol Palin's pregnancy is a personal matter for Palin and her family, or they are suggesting that it is a situation that lots of normal Americans can relate to, either from their own family history or that or friends and classmates.

"I don't think this is going to be a big deal down the stretch" of the 2008 election, said a top House Republican aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"It's nobody's business but the Palins," added another Senate GOP leadership staffer

Was this the America's conservative party, characterized by steadfast resistance to changing mores? Or was this the GOP hypocritically refusing to condemn (the daughter of) one of its own? Neither. It was pro-life and pro-conception, consistent with God's admonition to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 8:17b)- to Noah over 4,000 years ago.

Certainly many, perhaps a majority, of people opposed to a right to an abortion support contraception. Still, the opposition of many of the extremists to prevention of pregnancy may be in part a throwback to the Old Testament- and prevents an obstacle to the common ground William Saletan and some others think they can help bring about.
Not Quite Undisclosed

Enough. Enough of the jokes about Dick Cheney's "undisclosed location."

Dick Cheney's "undisclosed location" has been disclosed for at least five years (minus five days) and possibly for as long as seven-and-a-half years. So where is it?

In December, 2001 staff writer Dennis Roddy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (hint) wrote

Three hours after Osama bin Laden turned the Pentagon into a broken rectangle, five helicopters touched down a few hundred yards from Hal Neill's house at the base of Raven Rock Mountain along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

Within minutes, a convoy of SUVs with black-tinted windows zoomed up Harbaugh Valley Road, turned left, and deposited the weight of the free world inside Site R, the inexplicably named city-in-a-mountain from which the Pentagon has operated and, from all indications Vice President Dick Cheney has directed his office in the days since the Sept. 11 attacks.

But if you do a google search under "undisclosed location wikepedia," you'll find, as the second entry, "Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." The wikipedia entry on Blue Ridge Summit notes that is the location of Vice President Cheney's "undisclosed location," crediting this article as appearing in the Boston Globe on July 20, 2004. More specifically, the piece was written for Knight-Ridder by Steve Goldstein and appeared in not only the Boston Globe, but also The Philadelphia Inquirer and probably elsewhere. Goldstein visited the site, dubbed "the underground Pentagon" by "government insiders," and explained

The location is a highly secure complex of buildings inside Raven Rock Mountain near Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., close to the Maryland-Pennsylvania state line and about seven miles north of Camp David.

A recent book, "A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies," by James Bamford, was credited with spilling the beans about the supposedly supersecret hideaway....

Site R -- also known as Raven Rock or the Alternate Joint Communications Center -- is a 53-year-old facility conceived at the start of the Cold War as an alternate command center in the event of nuclear war or an attack on Washington.

Sloping, round-humped Raven Rock Mountain sprouts a thicket of antennae, satellite dishes, and a microwave tower. From state Route 16, the main road that passes the mountain, two oversize metal doors in the hillside are visible through the heavy foliage giving it that Fortress of Solitude touch.

Serious newscasters, pundits, politicians, and others really should quit grinning about an "undisclosed location" which, with a little curiousity, they would realize is fully "disclosed." Which, presumably, would leave out this silly (and somewhat fickle) Senator.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cornyn, The Constitution, Guns

Guess which members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in the opening day of hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court, said:

(of two among the Bill of Rights) Judges just haven't enforced them like the people expected them to.

(to the nominee) Would you vote to return to the written Constitution and the laws written by the elected representatives of the people?

If you think logically, you're wrong. Oddly, they were uttered by the same man, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

Cornyn apparently was confused. First, he implied that judges should take a poll or maybe hold a focus group to determine how to vote- enforcing Constitutional amendments "like the people expected them to." Then, deftly switching gears, the Senator proposes the Justice "vote to return to the written Constition."

On a less contradictory note, Senator Cornyn claimed "the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Commerce Clause limitations in Article I, and the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms have been artificially limited...."

Senator Cornyn has apparently read the Second Amendment as "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," conveniently skipping over the inconvenient "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State."

Title 10, Section 311 of the U.S. Code explains

(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
(b) The classes of the militia are—
(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.

Section 332 is entitled "Use of militia and armed forces to enforce Federal authority," thereby reiterating a distinction between "militia" and "armed forces."

There was, of course, a time when a militia was needed to protect the citizens of a state. As this 2006 editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune put it, "Having opted against a standing army, the Constitution's cobblers determined that every able-bodied man would serve as a member of a local militia — prepared to respond in unison against invasion."

Now, however, we have an army (and navy and air force and marine corps), with professional soldiers protecting the nation. The armed forces have replaced "a well-regulated militia," rendering the Second Amendment, well, moot. That is, if one reads the Constitution and interprets it as it is written rather than "invent rights that do not exist in our written Constitution" as, ironically, John Cornyn put it.

Banning the private possession of firearms would be unwise- but not precluded by a strict reading of the Constitution. Suggesting that, of course, would be politically masochistic. Until conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court, however, put aside rigid ideology and instead interpret the supreme law of the land as written, perhaps a Democrat might want to put the Second Amendment in a different context. These hearings provide an opportunity to remind colleagues and the American people that states have a right, legally and morally, to do within reason what is necessary to protect their citizens. In some cases, that means enacting reasonable regulations to address the rampant violence in many areas, violence that imperils even law enforcement officers. Some members of Congress may not understand the United States Constitution, but they ought to understand that.


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