Monday, August 31, 2009

A Torturous Cheney Sunday II: the "Great White Hope?"

I am surprised that it took this long for someone to invoke the century old call for a "great white hope" to defeat Barack Obama. The subject of my master's thesis has been all over the news of late, because it was Jack Johnson's ascension to the heavyweight boxing championship in 1908 that touched off this original call for a redemption of the strength of the white race.

Of course Congresswoman Jenkins claimed not to be aware of the racial implications of the phrase, but as this article shows, Jenkins joined in a resolution (which passed both houses of Congress) for Obama to posthumously pardon Jack Johnson for his conviction for "violating" the 1910 Mann Act.

I decided to go back to some of my books and papers and refresh my memory about Jack Johnson and the calls for a "great white hope." I was reminded that the novelist Jack London was one of the earliest to call for someone to redeem the white race from the spectre of Johnson. As I was looking through Thomas R. Hietala's book, The Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and the Struggle for Racial Equality, I found a couple of interesting quotations from London, who was reporting on the July 4, 1910 fight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries. London, in observing Johnson, noted that he "is not capable of seriously adjusting his actions to remote ends." (Hietala, 35). Yet in observing Jeffries, London noted that "this fight does not mean to Johnson what it does to Jeff." (Hietala, 36)

When I read those lines, I thought immediately of the Dick Cheney interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. Though the racial context is not there, the sentiment that "this fight [against terrorism] does not mean to [Obama] what it does to [Cheney]" is. Cheney, according to the Fox News Sunday transcript of his interview with Chris Wallace, stated plainly that the Justice Department's investigation is "...clearly a political move," and that "there's no other rationale for why their doing this." When Wallace asked if Cheney thought that some of the actions of the interrogators was wrong, Cheney reiterated that their actions saved American lives. Cheney also added, later in the interview, that he thought that Democrats were weak on national security. And when asked about his thoughts on Obama, Cheney had this to say: "Well, I was not a fan of his when he got elected....I have serious doubts about his policies, serious doubts especially about the extent to which he understands and is prepared to do what needs to be done to defend the nation."

Sounds a bit like this fight doesn't mean the same to Obama as it does to Cheney, right?According to Cheney, Obama isn't prepared, or doesn't quite understand the gravity of these issues. Jack London already mapped out a rationale for Cheney there.

Finally, I was taken aback when I saw this headline on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal's website: "Cheney for President." James Taranto follows Cheney's line of thought, and ponders if the moves of the Bush administration kept the country safe, then perhaps it's possible that the Obama administration is endangering us.

So maybe Congresswoman Jenkins has been given her answer to the question of who that "great white hope" to take on Obama may be: Dick Cheney. Though I am not sure that he is as good a bet as Taranto seems to suggest. Cheney, like so many of Jack Johnson's "great white hopes," has some real weak spots that could be exploited to Obama's advantage, especially as Cheney tries to land some serious, though misguided blows on Obama about national security.

Perhaps Obama really is like Jack Johnson, who was one of the best defensive fighters in the history of boxing, and is simply looking for those weak spots and will strike his blows when the time is right. I hope that the Justice Department's investigation will provide the necessary ammunition.

A Torturous Cheney Sunday

Virtually every Sunday, I take advantage of C-Span radio by listening to the re-broadcasts of the Sunday talk shows. In all honesty, it is the most of Fox News that I can take (Fox News Sunday), and as I listen to the likes of Chris Wallace and Bill Kristol, I find myself wondering if I've somehow stepped into an alternate universe, a twisted Narnia if you will. Occasionally, Juan Williams and Mara Liasson will say something that sounds similar to most of the news that I will have been aware of, but the rest of the conversations usually leave me with my mouth agape.

This past Sunday was particularly galling. I listened to the Wallace interview of Dick Cheney, and could not believe what I was hearing. Take a look:

Incredible, just incredible. I've never heard so many misleading and offensive statements. The idea that the Bush Justice Department wasn't politicized, and that the Obama Justice Department is, is just outrageous. Cheney's outright dismissal of the UN Convention Against Torture, which was signed by Reagan, is equally outrageous. That alone should trigger investigations. And I find it interesting that some on the right are using the "morale of the CIA" as a cover for potentially illegal actions. If what the Bush Justice Department did was solidly legal, then a solid review from a new Justice Department should yield similar results. Right?

Andrew Sullivan rightly puts Wallace's business out in the street for this sad excuse for an interview. I would love to know how Cheney would fare in an interview with Rachel Maddow. If her debut on "Meet the Press" is any indication, then I think we might see real television drama.
Speaking of Cheneys, I saw the Huffington Post link to the Liz Cheney/Sam Donaldson confrontation. There were two things that intrigued me about that entire vid clip. First, I thought that Gwen Ifill did an excellent job of pointing out the inconsistencies with what the Bush administration did and existing public policy, and made it clear that an investigation would only make sense. Second, I was astonished to hear Liz Cheney say that waterboarding "isn't torture."

Yet, John McCain said that waterboarding is indeed torture, and more importantly that "torture harmed us." Our reputation is stained in the world; our moral authority is compromised. And, in that twisted Narnia that the Cheneys occupy, torture helped us.

McCain has this bizarre idea that investigating something in violation of our laws, our treaties, is a bad thing. How can we not look into it? I have not a single doubt that if this were a new GOP administration following a Democratic administration with all that happened in the last seven years, the GOP would want full scale investigations into every possible law that might have been broken, and it would have neither shame nor hesitation in calling for such investigations.

I disagree with the idea that we need to look away. I think that Dick Cheney is just itching for a fight, almost daring the Obama administration to try to take him on. I wish Obama would. With each new interview, Cheney happily displays his disregard for past public policy on the issue of torture; he also sends a message out to the world that the current administration is weak on terror and foreign policy, that Obama simply doesn't know what he is doing and isn't taking American security seriously. That type of commentary once was considered close to treasonous during the Bush administration; it's amazing how standards change so rapidly.

Ultimately, I hope that the special prosecutor, John Durham, finds information that will force the Obama administration to act finally, conduct a full scale investigation, and eventually restore the rule of law (and if Dick Cheney, among others, finds himself in all sorts of legal trouble, I will not be sad).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Boycotting the Whole Paycheck? II

I received a note from the author of the blog "Bloggasm" letting me know that he'd had an opportunity to interview some of the primary organizers of the national boycott. It's definitely an article that I would recommend folks checking out, particularly with regard to how the use of social networks is really helping to connect those who intend to boycott the "Paycheck."

I found out that there was a protest at the P Street Whole Foods on the 21st. The Washington City Paper was there to cover the event. Check out this link (which includes video). Local GOP supporters of Mackey's point of view came out this past weekend to represent.

I wonder if there was any real effect on sales at the P Street location?

Hat tip to Simon at Bloggasm

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Boycotting the Whole Paycheck?

I am not sure about this move to boycott Whole Foods Market ("Whole Paycheck"), because of the comments of the CEO John Mackey. Unless I missed something in his op-ed in the "Wall Street Journal," Mackey did not come across to me as one of those scary, strange and apoplexy edging town hall protesters. He presented 8 reform suggestions. Is there something wrong with considering them on the merits?

What fascinates me about this hullabaloo is that Mackey clearly does not share the political perspective of many of the people I know who haunt the P Street Whole Foods. These markets seem to appear in the affluent/soon to be affluent/hip urban neighborhoods. I don't think too many of these neighborhoods are hotbeds of conservatism (though the few conservatives in my neighborhood are most likely gay).

I mean, for this lot, one of the signs of a revitalizing neighborhood's "arrival" is the presence of a Whole Foods. I vividly remember the strong push to gain a Whole Foods in Columbia Heights a couple of years ago, even with the opening of a pretty snazzy Giant supermarket. But to the newest members of the Columbia Heights community, only a Whole Foods would have the "transition" complete (Harris Teeter came to nearby Adams-Morgan instead).

In spite of the politics of the CEO, I am confident that the sales at Whole Foods will not diminish significantly. Too many people still seem invested in being seen with the ubiquitous Whole Foods paper bag. It's a status symbol, a lifestyle indicator. There are just some things that politics will not penetrate.

Now where is that organic brine soaked crumbled feta cheese?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer Thinking on Health Care Reform IV: Of Protesters and Jews

In less than a week, we have witnessed two protestors against health care reform resort to making direct references (here and here) to the era of the Third Reich to Jewish supporters of health care reform. I'll ask a variation of Cong. Barney Frank's question: On what planet do these protesters spend most of their time?

How dense can one be to bring up Nazi references to Jews, and then accuse them of supporting a "similar" policy, or to invoke the name of Hitler to make one's point (and then look sheepish when called out on it)?

As I've said before, there are legitimate questions regarding health care reform legislation that is bubbling up through Congress, but neither of these protestors seem very interested in having a substantive debate. I suppose that substance can only be found in post Weimar Republic era Germany.

Tom Ridge's "Shocking" Revelation

I was watching Hardball this afternoon, and not really paying attention (we had company), but I did notice that there was something on the screen about a revelation from former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

Ridge has written a book, The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege...and How We Can Be Safe Again, due out on September 1. In it, Ridge reveals that he was pressured to raise the terror alert to help affect the outcome of the 2004 election.

Tom, tell us something many of us already didn't know. I assumed that the terror threats were manipulated so that people could remain in a constant state of fear.

I admit it. I had no confidence in former President Bush with regard to "keeping us safe." That position hardened when we dropped the ball in Afghanistan and set our sights on Iraq. So, of course it should come as no surprise that the terror threat levels were occasionally manipulated for political purposes.

As with General Colin Powell, I respect Gov. Ridge; however, I am disappointed in both them for not leaving the Bush administration when they first realized that it was shady. Duty should only go so far. Both men are now on the road to redemption, but I am sure that I am not alone in feeling sad to see the reputations of genuinely good men tarnished by the fatuous actions of the last administration.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer Thinking on Health Care Reform III

I recently finished an extremely informative article on health care that will be published in the September 2009 edition of The Atlantic. I STRONGLY encourage everyone to read it. David Goldhill, is a businessman who details what happened to his father, and then moves on to try to explain, from a business perspective, the roots of the problems with the American health care system. He ends his article with suggestions for beginning to tackle our health care problems in a meaningful way.

As one who is still studying this issue, and is still of the mind that a single payer system properly administered would be a good way for Americans to receive health care, I felt the beginnings of a mind change when I finished Goldhill's article. I realized that this is precisely what I hope for when it comes to important issues. I want to be challenged. I want information that will force me to reconsider my presumptions. Goldhill's article did that in a way that not a single member of the Hill has done. I also think that could appeal to quite a few people. I was also reminded of the disservice that we as Americans are experiencing as this "debate" on health care reform continues.

What could have been a discussion on topics like those introduced by Goldhill, and led by the White House, has become pure political theater, and bad theater at that. I am looking at BHO and wondering what happened.

At the beginning of the year, the overwhelming majority of Americans wanted health care reform of some kind. This was the best opportunity to do something meaningful. Yet, here we are in the middle of a public relations nightmare. I fully understand Cenk Uygur's comments in his post on the political weakness of the Democratic party (even when the stars align in their favor), especially since it seems clear that the GOP has no intention of supporting any bill that emerges this fall in Congress.

Last I checked, the Democrats have a super majority in Congress. Technically, they do not need Republican support for any measure they want. Remember what happened when the situation was nearly the reverse under Bush from 2001-2007? Imagine the GOP in the current Democratic position. The Democrats wouldn't even be consulted, and the more conservative Dems would be climbing over one another to look bi-partisan.

That the debate on health care reform has essentially been reduced to discussions about non-existent "death panels," and protestations against the "public option," shows how pitiful this whole thing has become. On this, I do blame the White House for not putting forth its own plan that could be shopped around among the Democratic congressional leadership. It also rings hollow when BHO talks about "a plan," because we already know that there are potentially five plans with different components coming from the Hill. This discrepancy only adds fuel to the fire of those who simply want health care reform stopped (something that few of these protesters understand, I think), and fans the flames of fear for these protestors.

For the time that remains during the congressional recess, I hope that Democrats will begin to make more substantive arguments, and that BHO will more aggressively beat back these lies, scare tactics, and bullying coming from the right. I would love to see BHO and other Democrats challenge the GOP on the merits.

Finally, I think that Rachel Maddow, with guest Matt Taibbi (love him!), really hit the nail on the head. Though good questions can be asked about the efficacy of the public option, the White House should have been doing a better job of orchestrating this process, knowing the limitations of this Congress.

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Thursday, August 13, 2009

You Want "Your" Country Back From What Exactly? II

Since today was a travel day for me, I didn't have the opportunity to get the video clips from Fox News and Hardball with the young woman, Katy Abram, who asked Sen. Specter to restore the country back to what the Founding Fathers created. I found this clip on Fox News that was taped right after the town hall meeting:

I finished that clip still confused by what it is that Abram thinks is "really" happening in this country that "scares the life out of [her]."

So, I looked forward to reviewing the Hardball clip to see if Abram really addressed that, or if O'Donnell really asked her. Here is the Abram interview conducted by Lawrence O'Donnell:

I thought that O'Donnell's questions were reasonable, but I still don't know what scares her about what is happening in the country right now. O'Donnell was gracious in making sure that Abram could feel as comfortable as possible. Hell, I would be nervous on national television. But, I remain unsatisfied.

I liked that O'Donnell took her comment to its logical conclusion with regard to Social Security and Medicare. Perhaps the opponents of health care reform, particularly those who cry "socialism" or "socialized medicine," should really consider advocating for opting out of those socialistic programs already in existence. Maybe it would be worthwhile to consider legislation that would allow people to opt out. I think some of my conservative and libertarian friends might find this an interesting prospect.

So, I'm still longing for an explanation of what is so frightening about what is happening in this country. I just don't see any reason to feel like the United States, with regard to health care reform proposals, is in danger of no longer being the country we all know and love.

Now a review of the last eight years might yield much more material for consideration when it comes to worrying about the potential loss of the country we know and love. Perhaps it good that Abram only just started paying attention to politics. Lord knows what she would have felt like if she'd been paying attention during the Bush years.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You Want "Your" Country Back From What Exactly?

I'll keep this short and sweet. During some of these town hall meetings on health care reform, I have heard people all but crying out the following statement: "I want my country back." What exactly do they mean? They want their country back from whom?

It would be too easy, and I think incorrect (mostly), to argue that these are people who simply aren't mentally able to process the fact that a bi-racial man of African descent, who is married to a multi-generational (and allegedly grievance ridden) black American woman, was elected POTUS. But something is driving this. I just don't know what it is.

Here is Jon Stewart's humorous take on it (and I love the montage of the commentary on the right regarding opposition to the run-up to the Iraq War).

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Though I was no fan of George W. Bush, and I thought that the comparisons of Dick Cheney to Darth Vader and/or Voldemort were almost apt, I don't think that I ever felt the level of fear that these folks seem to be displaying. It is genuinely fascinating.

Any thoughts?

UPDATE: Here is video from yesterday's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" that inspired this post:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My High School Years and John Hughes' Films

So I leave town for a few days, and I find out that John Hughes passed away. When I heard the news, I saw flashes of "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club," "Pretty In Pink," "Weird Science" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" in my head for the next few days.

Those movies were so central to my high school experience. Molly Ringwald and I are the same age, and I loved the fact that her characters and I were in the same year of high school each time. I was totally taken in by the world Hughes created. I finally understood what my older cousins felt when they talked about their love for the movie "Cooley High."

I remember clamoring for the soundtracks from the movies, because Hughes had the best taste in music (Thompson Twins, Psychedelic Furs, New Order, INXS, Echo and the Bunnymen, Wang Chung, The Smiths, and of course Simple Minds, just to name a few). My love of Suzanne Vega, for example, begins with "Left of Center" on the "Pretty In Pink" soundtrack.

Like the girls and closeted gay boys around me, I wanted my own "Jake Ryan" from "Sixteen Candles." My friends were a combination of the "Brain," "Princess" and "Athlete" from the "Breakfast Club." And who did not want Cameron's house from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off?" I wouldn't have minded Cameron either.

Though Hughes also wrote "National Lampoon's Vacation" and "Home Alone," both incredible films, it was Hughes' perspective on the American high school that will be his most significant legacy. I feel privileged to have been there to see it on screen first hand, and I will be having a little Hughes movie fest really soon (I'll make sure to have some wine coolers for the occasion).

Here are some of the tunes of the time, and may John Hughes rest in peace:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summer Thinking on Health Care Reform II

I thought that Maddow provided an excellent analysis, last night, of the fracases happening at town hall meetings of Democratic members of Congress across the country. What conservative pundit Michelle Malkin called a grass roots effort, Maddow shows is not really the case.
In continuing her analysis of these protests from the right, Maddow provides a breakdown of who participated in the "grass roots effort" to stop the recount of votes in Miami, Florida back in 2000, which I found illuminating; it illustrates the capacity of the GOP to organize protests, and then tell the media that they are grass roots efforts (even when made up of GOP Congressional and political staff members, who most likely are not from the district where the protests are being held).
Of course, we all agree that people have the right to question their elected officials on all issues related to the work those officials are elected to do. I've signed petitions and attended meetings about issues of interest to me. But I think that it is folly to believe that all of these protests in the last few days are genuine grass roots efforts that emerged organically within those communities (check out this post on the site Crooks and Liars, and this post from The Plum Line). "Astroturf" is the term being bandied about to describe this effort from the right. Seemingly, the ghosts from 2000 have emerged once again.

Clearly, there are all sorts of questions to ask about the effort to reform the health insurance industry (I don't know if health care reform is the proper term anymore), and they need to be asked. Yet, as one can see from the footage of those town halls, there is no dialog, only shouting and accusations. So, I would suggest to those organizing the town hall disruptions to come armed, not with random commentary about socialism and government run health care, but with say some of the examples provided by Congressman Tom Price (see here) with his "Empowering Patients First Act," and then discussing the merits of the various plans. That's what is supposed to happen at town hall meetings; those types of meetings have the prospect of being productive.

This current madness? Not so much.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Regarding the Black Church

I'd an interesting conversation with my mother a few years ago. On the television was some black minister preaching, and my mother turned to me and said that she was a little sad that my brother and I were not raised in the black church. I was a little surprised by this admission, because it came from out of the blue. I let her know that I was glad, actually, that she did not raise us in the black church, or any church.

The black church, as an institution, has been horrific with regard to the GLBT communities in its midst. While checking out Rod McCullom's blog, I saw this post about HIV/Aids in the black community as shown on the CNN special on Black America. Judge Penny Brown Reynolds makes excellent points about the way that the black church has beat down, with a stick of shame, its black gay parishioners. This, in my mind, most anti-Christian approach to HIV/Aids in the black gay male community, both early in the epidemic and currently, should be seen as one of the most shameful developments in the history of the black church, which for centuries was the one place to find succor in a world bent on denigrating black people.

In the 1980s, when one of the most vulnerable parts of the black community started suffering, most of the collective black church seemed either to sit in silence or pass judgment with impunity. Only when black women and children began to be afflicted with HIV/Aids did the black church seem to begin talking about the issue. See, these were the real "victims" of this disease; gay men cannot serve in that capacity within the black church.

Even in the clip I linked to, and as McCullom noted, Roland Martin discussed white gays, black women and black children in his question about the public policy debate surrounding the epidemic. Do you think black gay men crossed his brain? Or Ben Jealous' brain? It was Soledad O'Brien who re-inserted the issue of homosexuality into that discussion. This is all too typical a perspective for the black church (and the black community), and it is a tragedy. The responses to the Civil Rights Movement and the HIV/Aids crisis by the black church were like night and day (as Judge Reynolds suggested), and for those gays and lesbian within the black church right now, I wonder whether they truly feel the love that the church is supposed to provide. Stories like those about DC's own Pastor Rainey Cheeks reminds me that there are pockets within the black church that can indeed provide the support that the black church has been known for providing.

Overall, I am glad that I was not raised within an institution that people I know still have to make excuses for. I am glad that I was not raised within an institution that would have made my struggles with my sexual orientation even more painful than they were. In the end, I concluded that if one wants to have a sense of faith, then that should be something that is mostly private and individualized. Where some see the Bible as the inerrant word of God, I see a rich historical document that has been subjected to levels of reinterpretation that should make the head spin. For so many, organized religion has provided a wonderful sense of purpose. That is great, for them.

Meanwhile, I think my mother did just fine by me.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Summer Thinking on Health Care Reform

I am going to wade into the water of an issue I am still researching, and trying desperately to be as dispassionate about as possible (it will be difficult given my current circumstances), so bear with me.

As was reported at Think Progress, and on the "Rachel Maddow Show," Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York introduced an amendment to the America's Affordable Health Choices Act in the Health Subcommittee that would eliminate Medicare. I thought it was a stroke of genius in the wake of the disparaging comments that have been coming from corners of the right about the horror of the prospect of government run health care. What I have found interesting is the impression that a number of Seniors seem not to be familiar with the fact that Medicare is a government run health care system.

Many on the right have muddled the issues so sufficiently that many Americans are getting confused about this whole issue. Is the goal to reconstruct the American health insurance model? Is the goal to tinker with Medicaid/Medicare to bring more people into it? Is there really a need for a public option and what does that mean? I recognize that the primary goal seems to be health insurance reform with the idea of trying to lower costs sufficiently enough to allow more people to become insured, and that would include, if BHO had his way, a public option for government provided health insurance.

I agree with much of the analysis that Nate Silver provides a Five Thirty Eight; the Dems and Obama are indeed doing a miserable job of selling the product they want us to buy.

During the August recess on the Hill, I think that members who want health care reform need to make one thing quite clear: Medicare is a popular government run health care program. Therefore, when the right tries to attack the notion that such a system cannot work, the Dems will have an answer. They can also add the health care that is received by our military as well. Even Bill Kristol conceded on "The Daily Show" that the government is capable of running a good health care program, when he referenced the military plan.

The Dems also need to be clear about the fact those on the Hill who do not support health care reform, or worse a toothless version of health care reform, are not only satisfied with the status quo, but they also are major recipients of the health care lobby's largess, a lobby desperate to stop this process. David Sirota's latest analyses (here and here) are, I think, particularly informative.

Finally, I think that the Dems need to call out those on the right who are trying to scare the bejesus out of the elderly, which in my mind is a real form of abuse, by saying that BHO and the Dems are out to murder them with health care reform.

But the Dems are going to have to be mindful of an effort by some on the right to disrupt town hall meetings with all of the tools they can muster to frighten the public out of having frank discussions about the need to reform our health care systems.

Personally, I think that it is outrageous that we do not have universal health care in this country. Joan Walsh was onto something when she wrote about some of the reasons why this country did not follow its Western kin in developing a universal health care system. I am all for those who can afford it to purchase top of the line health care policies for themselves and their families. If you have the cash, go for it. But I think it beyond sad that the "have nots" are left to fend for themselves for even basic health care. There should be no need to hunt to find out what public programs might work (buried in the current bureaucracy). Every American who needs health care should be able to get that health care without worrying about going bankrupt for having done so.

I have many friends who disagree with me on this, and I am cool with that. Of course we would have to look at ways to make sure costs were kept under control. I don't mind paying higher taxes to get something like universal health care, and I think I echo the sentiments of the millions of us who currently lack health insurance.

We have many of the planet's smartest people at our disposal who could devise systems that would allow for such benefits for the nation. Why not challenge them on that? We send men and women up into space. Yet, we can't figure out how to guarantee quality health care to the U.S. population? Talk about not reaching for the stars.