Friday, April 30, 2010

Chill Baby, Chill

There was always something juvenile about the call of "drill baby, drill," as though all of our oil needs would be resolved overnight (this lot has been on the quiet side of late). It reminded me of the continual whine for tax cuts, as though they are the keys to the kingdom. Anyway, I thought that it would make sense to study ways that we could consider looking into the various reserves that we had available in the country, but I realized that it would take time to get reliable independent data.

So when Obama announced that he was going to push for offshore drilling, I thought that it was way too soon for that. I didn't trust much coming from the Bush administration on this issue for three reasons: both Bush and Cheney were of the oil world (with powerful U.S. industry allies), the government had been littered with oil favoring minions, and industry studies would likely be most beneficial to the industries and not necessarily the American people. So, in my mind, Obama's ascension would provide us an opportunity to step back and look at these issues in a more independent fashion (call me naive).

The only silver lining to the tragedy of the oil spill that is about to impact Louisiana, is that Obama has called for a hold on offshore drilling projects, in order to conduct more studies. I know that accidents are inevitable, but events like this spill, coupled with the mining tragedies that we've experienced make it clear that we need to ensure that the necessary regulatory apparatuses are in place as we push to meet more of our energy needs at home (particularly considering that regulations were eliminated or flouted throughout the Clinton and Bush administrations on nearly all fronts, with impunity).

So for now, let chill and get this as close to right as possible.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ken Blackwell Makes No Sense, and Jon Stewart Gave Him a Forum to Show Us Why

Ken Blackwell is someone with whom I have little in common, politically, and his appearance on "The Daily Show" last night was MasterCard priceless. Wouldn't he be the perfect replacement for Michael Steele as the head of the RNC?

Just watch.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Ken Blackwell Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Ken Blackwell Extended Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Ken Blackwell Extended Interview Pt. 3
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

I will say this. In terms of some of the worst abuses of the Bush administration in dealing with the war on terror, the Obama administration has indeed maintained that "power grab"(warrantless wiretapping, continuing the use of military tribunals for detainees, etc). Mind you, that wasn't a "power grab" according to Blackwell, when Bush did it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Obama (and Every Other DC Politician) Could Use His Wall Street Campaign Contributions and Actually Help "Main Street" Directly

I do not know the exact amount of money that the Obama campaign received from the financial services sector, but I think it would be great if he gave that money to organizations that really are helping to bring jobs back to "Main Street." For example, why not work with the National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and provide money to all of the various Main Street organizations throughout the country? Or give that money to the Save America's Treasures program. I think the positive impact of a move like that from Obama would be immediate (he did something similar with his Nobel Prize winnings, and helped, I think, four charities). It would also put historic preservation, "Main Street" and community revitalization into the spot light, as I've mentioned a couple of times in this blog.

This would be an economic win for the country, and a political win for Obama (or any other politician willing to do it). Wall Street, through the middle man Obama would be funding "Main Street," as is supposed to be the case.

Sticking it to Wall Street, directly helping "Main Street," and creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, while revitalizing communities and spurring economic development? Dude, it's not that hard.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sinead O'Connor: A Modern Cassandra? II

Yet again, my girl Rachel Maddow has come through. I'd already put forth my thoughts about Sinead O'Connor in an earlier post, but it was awesome to hear Sinead O'Connor speak about the issue herself.

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Check Out Tim Wise's Re-imagining of the Tea Party Movement as a Black Movement

Okay, I have to admit that I found an interesting little tidbit on the Internet this morning, and it was something is about to make me re-examine a chapter in the recent past. Over at the blog Ephphatha Poetry, there is a post from Tim Wise who re-imagines the Tea Party movement as a predominantly black movement with a white POTUS in the White House. It was an interesting exercise, to say the least, and it does raise some real questions about how the media would have covered a movement of that sort.

The re-examination that I spoke of regards the Black Panthers. Mind you, I still hold that their approach to the trials of the post-MLK era was not the best, but I will go back and review the information around the events that made the party infamous. I think it is safe to say that there are some shared aspects to the Black Panther phenomenon and the Tea Party phenomenon (particularly the feelings that their freedoms and second amendment rights were being threatened by an overreaching government), but of course one was from the left and predominantly black, and the other is from the right and predominantly white. I might have to consider a comparison post in the future.

Meanwhile, please take a look at Tim Wise's post. I really found myself wondering just what would have happened if, say, there had been a black Tea Party movement under George W. Bush.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Immigration Reform Legislation in Arizona is a Bridge Too Far

Well, the governor of Arizona has signed this legislation. Take a look.

I have to admit that I am one who thinks that racial profiling can play a role in law enforcement. I also recognize that there has been all sorts of abuse of profiling by law enforcement, which is why people are so leery of it. With that said, I think that this legislation is a bridge too far.

Anyone who looks Hispanic will be under the suspicion of being an illegal immigrant, unless the law enforcement agencies of Arizona really work hard not to make this so. I think that it will have a chilling effect for Hispanics traveling to Arizona. I think that I (black guy) would be safe traveling around Arizona. I think my boy Ron (white guy) would be safe traveling around Arizona. I am not sure that my boy Jerry (Hispanic guy) would be so lucky, especially if the members of law enforcement approach the situation is the same manner as Rep. Brian Bilbray of California.

Hispanics are expressing both outrage and disappointment over this legislation. I think it's deep when a member of Congress representing Arizona suggests that people should boycott the state until this issue is resolved (Rep. Raul Grijalva's offices have received death threats in the wake of this legislation). This does not diminish the fact that immigration reform is needed in the country, and Arizona does see the need to stave off illegal immigration. But, this really is an example of gross overreach.

There has got to be a better approach to immigration reform than this.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

As the GOP Continues to Cringe at the Spectacle (or Diversionary Tactics?) of Michael Steele, He Gives Some Truth

I think it is interesting the Michael Steele said something that the overwhelming majority of black folks, including black Republicans, know: there is little, at this time, that is appealing to black folks about the GOP. Some would argue that I am being generous by using the term "little." But to hear that coming from the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, again (Ken Mehlman essentially said the same to the NAACP a few years ago in his apology for the use of the Southern Strategy). Steele went further by noting that it was the Southern white male vote that the GOP sought through that strategy, and there is no question that the strategy worked. That demographic group is as solidly Republican as the Southern black male is Democratic.

I commend Steele for continually reminding the world that black folks were solidly Republican from the acquisition of the vote for black men until the middle of the 20th century. Both parties made strategic decisions with regard to black voters, from Harry Truman integrating the armed forces, to Barry Goldwater denigrating the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And it is almost comical today to see that if something is appealing to the wide swath of white Southern voters, then it is almost equally unappealing to the wide swath of black Southern voters. So when you add the fact that the national Republican party has essentially become (with small variations) the embodiment of a white Southern voter's world view, then one can understand the uphill battle that Steele has in helping to diversify the GOP.

I still find it funny that many young Republicans from the South seem genuinely unaware that their grandparents, for example, were likely strong Democrats, and that they seem not to know precisely why "granny" or "paw paw" abandoned the party that was their political home. I've actually had those conversations, and they have been rich. And I don't think that anyone would blame black folks for going toward a party that seemed genuinely interested in helping them achieve a better existence in this country.

With all of that said, I wonder if Steele's admission will get folks talking. It needs to. I've long said that black Christianists and white Christianists can certainly bond on those issues that are directly related to their understanding of the Bible, like the abhorrence of gay rights or the disdain for abortion. We saw that type of coalition building come together when the various states passed marriage equality bans.

I think it is sad that we still have this level of enmity within the body politic, but I fully understand why it is there. So does Michael Steele. The fallout from this should be interesting. It's also possible that Steele may be deflecting, once again, negative attention about his management skills at the RNC. As a matter of fact, it wouldn't surprise me at all, but that doesn't diminish the truth in what he said. After all, the GOP is the original home of the black vote.

Shaking Things Up a Little in the Gay Rights Realm

I think that it is important to recognize that shifting circumstances often force civil rights movements to adapt to new conditions. For example, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) came into being because younger people fighting for civil rights in the South felt that the existing organizations were not doing enough to really confront segregationists, and following SNCC's founding, there was a expansion of sit-ins and boycotts throughout the South. The older leaders of the Civil Rights Revolution ultimately incorporated aspects of the more aggressive tactics of SNCC and other upstart organizations. The Birmingham campaign, I think, is the best example of how traditional non-violent civil disobedience tactics, coupled with a more "in your face" style, really brought home to the nation the plight of millions of natural born U.S. citizens.

Perhaps what we are seeing, with the rise of the organization GetEQUAL (which is simply reviving the tactics of older GLBT organizations particularly from the early 1970s, as well as Act Up from the late 80's and early '90s), is the beginning of yet another evolution in the current gay rights movement. Sometimes, someone has to decide that the insider tactic isn't always enough, and it seems that GetEQUAL has decided to take on that heat.

If the White House continues to give bizarre mixed signals regarding gay rights, then we should get comfortable seeing more direct action, like this and this. I also think that it is healthy to have a diversity of organizations working toward the same goal. For example, there is no question that the Human Rights Campaign, Log Cabin Republicans and GetEQUAL are happy to work with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to end DADT, albeit through different means.

Meanwhile, it is disappointing to see the lack of an organizational strategy from the Obama administration on GLBT issues, a lack of strategy that is helping to fuel this direct action. This is not 1993, and the GLBT community is more in the mainstream now than at any other point in time in our history. It really makes little sense for this White House to dance around the low hanging fruit (pun so not intended) of ending DADT or pushing the Employment Non-discrimination Act to members of Congress, particularly when one considers how hard Obama himself pushed to gain support from the GLBT community.

I've no idea how these direct actions will play out in terms of moving things along at a faster rate, but it will be interesting to see what will happen next, particularly if some of the more established organizations develop a more urgent sensibility about achieving gay rights.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

For Those Who Simply Don't Understand How Discrimination Against the GLBT Community Can Have Devastating Consequences

To the folks who read this blog, please do me a favor and just read the story at this link.

Now, I don't care if you think every person in the GLBT community is going to hell in flaming underwear, nor do I care if you think that every person in the GLBT community is morally repugnant, because stories like the one you read happen to folks in the GLBT community all across this country, regardless of political party, regardless of ideological bent. Stories like this make me even more angry when I hear the tempest in a teapot crowd crow incessantly about "losing their freedom" or "losing their rights." Here is a challenge for that lot: why not take up the cause of Clay Greene and Harold Scull? Better yet, why not do a thorough review of what members of the GLBT community have to go through to prevent disapproving family members and/or insensitive and/or Christianist government workers from intervening directly into the lives of legitimate couples who have taken all of the steps allowed legally to protect their interests?

Instead of making up shit, why not look act actual problems experienced by Americans who actually suffer on multiple fronts, and try to help effect change. I suspect that there would be little interest among the spokespeople of the tea party movement to do that. Prove me wrong, and if not that, then explain why a situation like Greene and Scull's doesn't rise to the fever pitch levels that people have been displaying since health insurance reform under Obama made its debut (and the law does not sufficiently cover the issues related to GLBT health care concerns).

Now, to President Obama I say that the extending of visitation rights to domestic partners and same sex couples is indeed a nice gesture, but Greene and Scull's case only underscores the difficulties that gay couples face from government sanctioned discrimination. Let's not even talk about the difficulties of couples with a partner in the military. Perhaps, Mr. President, if you really took the time to consider the realities of the GLBT community, again regardless of party or political ideology, then you might understand much better why you are getting heckled and why people a chaining themselves to the White House fence.

I am still quite pissed that Greene and Scull, who is now deceased, had to go through the horror that they did. I hope hope that Mr. Greene wins at every level of the judicial system, until it is driven home that the actions of those who destroyed the lives of two men, simply because they could, will not be tolerated.

I pray for all of those in the GLBT community who will suffer similar fates. I will pray that somehow, in my lifetime, the basic civil/secular/governmental rights that we already should have will be recognized.

In Praise of the Music of Guru, May He Rest in Peace

Okay, so I just finished my little tribute to Dr. Dorothy Height, only to see the innovative rap artist Guru passed away. I did not know the he was only a year older than me. Damn.

I will admit that I didn't listen to a whole lot of Gang Starr, even though I knew that I liked Guru's lyrical skills and dead pan vocal delivery. But, it wasn't until he released his solo effort, "Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1," that I really took notice. I love every single track on that album. Guru truly demonstrated how rap and jazz could work in tandem to make beautiful music. Too many folks in this country really slept on that album. Here are some of my favorite cuts.

Thank you Guru for making me a believer that rap and jazz could come together, as well as for producing music that is now a part of the soundtrack of my life. May you rest in peace.

In Remembrance of Dr. Dorothy I. Height

I am sure that many others will have more substantive things to say about the passing Dr. Dorothy I. Height, but I would like to add my own thoughts regarding this Civil Rights and Women's Rights giant. Regal doesn't seem to be a sufficient term to describe Dr. Height's comportment, and transformational doesn't seem really to convey satisfactorily her role in two of the most important social revolutions in American history, but I will stick to those terms.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Height twice during my time in Washington, DC, and they were both at events honoring the contributions of black folks. Dr. Height, who was in her wheelchair by then, congratulated me on my efforts to help spread the word about the importance of the black community really embracing historic preservation to help tell a more rich American story. I was truly humbled.

I think that it is also important to remember that Dr. Height provided pointed critiques to both the Civil Rights Movement (for sublimating the roles of women within the movement) and the Women's Rights Movement (for ignoring the realities of black women, who have been working since their arrival in 1619). Dr. Height was also one, through her work with YWCA, the National Council of Negro Women and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., who helped to provide "boots" to black folks who needed to pick themselves up by those proverbial "boot straps," and she embodied the true spirit of what effective community organizing could indeed achieve.

One of the things I did not know about Dr. Height (a Virginian, by the way) was that she was first awarded and then later denied admission into Barnard College, because Barnard had met its quota of two black women. Barnard eventually provided Dr. Height with an apology and an honorary degree. With that said, I hope that folks will take some time to learn more about this remarkable American. And I am guessing that the ladies of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. will be donning their most fabulous hats in recognition of Dr. Height's signature fashion accessory. May she rest in peace.

Finally, I would like to say that even though I elected not to do a blog post about the passing of another Civil Rights leader, former NAACP head, Benjamin Hooks, I think it would be in bad form not to mention that the country lost another important American historical figure with his earlier passing as well.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The GOP and Its Gay Future

I just read a Towleroad post showing that the Chairman of Duke University's College Republicans was removed from his post after he was discovered to be a gay man. Naturally, there are two sides to this story. The folks within the organization are saying that sexual orientation had nothing to do with the ouster, while the former Chair says that it is precisely the case.

Now, I have no idea what really went down in NC. Yet, I do know that it is completely plausible that this young man was removed simply because of his sexual orientation. The reality is that current iteration of the GOP is downright hostile to GLBT concerns of any and every stripe.

The one saving grace for the GOP in terms of GLBT issues has been the party's young members. Like their generational counterparts, they generally could care less about sexual orientation, particularly if they aren't terribly religious. Meghan McCain is an excellent example of where the GOP can head on gay rights issues over the long haul, and I think that it is a good direction.

I admit that I respect the tenacity of gay Republicans, because they are fighting in the face of a party determined not to budge on GLBT issues. Meanwhile, the Democrats are far from perfect on GLBT issues, and the bizarre fracas with Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and the completely mixed signals on ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," are emblematic of that lack of perfection. But as long as the Christianist right holds sway within the Republican party, then incidents like that at Duke will likely continue.

Gay Republicans are doing difficult, and often thankless, work by trying to move the GOP on its rigidly negative GLBT positions. Though I don't agree with Republicans on most policies, I do respect gay Republicans for trying on GLBT issues. And if that young man at Duke firmly believes GOP principles, then he needs to make sure to work with people like Meghan McCain and other GLBT allies within the GOP to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again.

Countdown to the Opening of the MLK Memorial

I don't know how many folks know, but a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. is being constructed on The National Mall in Washington, DC. The memorial itself will be on the shores of the Tidal Basin, in the midst of the cherry blossoms. The site plans look amazing, and I think that the location, around the bend from the exquisite FDR Memorial, will guarantee maximum foot traffic.

I also like the fact that the memorial will be across the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial ("the Jeff"), if only as a way to say that all men, in fact, are created equal, and King was instrumental in driving that point home nearly two centuries after Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.

I am definitely looking forward to visiting the memorial, which is set to open in the Fall of 2011. Check out the cool video:

If you want more information about the King Memorial, or if you would like to donate to the effort to complete the memorial, please check out this site, and take a look.

How About Directing Some of That "Wasteful Spending" Anger in a Proper Direction (Say Defense Contractors)?

Maybe I should have abandoned history to go for a life in defense contracting. The largest of these organizations seem to have the best of both worlds: high government payouts and lack government of oversight. Check this out from Friday:

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As is probably the case with any rational American, I think that what this clip shows is an example of government waste. In the case of the defense contracts for both the Afghan and Iraqi wars, we have spent billions of dollars for crap results.

Where is the outcry regarding the wasteful government spending on this issue? I would rather that we'd spent less money by simply hiring government workers (military or civilian) to do those jobs. At least we could have oversight and accountability. However, I suspect that because this issue is tied to national security, those who normally are quickest to scream about wasteful spending are almost as silent as the grave.

We appear to have reached the point where national security now means ignoring both prudent fiscal responsibility and substantive governmental oversight. Maybe if we treated defense contractors like we did ACORN....

By the way, Eisenhower totally called it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Upper Big Branch Mine: Dancing Between Labor Concerns and the Bottom Line

Capitalism has worked wonders for this nation. We owe our status as the most prosperous nation on the face of the earth because of it. But capitalism unfettered is simply unacceptable, and the consequences can be severe when the bottom line supersedes the safety of those who help to make that bottom line through their labor. We saw this happen, yet again, and in a horribly tragic fashion, in West Virginia.

Massey Energy, and specifically its CEO Don Blankenship, put the bottom line over the lives of its workers. It seems that only in tragic instances like the sad event at the Upper Big Branch Mine do people understand the positive role that labor unions can play in striking a balance between those seeking profit and those working to make the profit possible.

Unions have been demonized since their inception, but I think that it is fair to say that many non-college educated, blue collar workers (skilled and unskilled) and their families benefited greatly because of the efforts of the Labor Movement. Many people who are descendants of union workers have done well enough to be in a position to criticize the Labor Movement in the 21st century.

So, in spite of Limbaugh delusions, the miners at Upper Big Branch did not have a union. There were unionization efforts that failed over the years at that mine. There was also the cavalier attitude of the CEO about safety violations, the fines for which were considered merely the costs of doing business. It is not hyperbolic to say that that capitalist impulse costs lives, as well as dollars, and it wasn't worth it. I am sure that the families of the 29 miners who lost their lives that day would agree.

Big business supporters from all political spectra have aversions to regulations and labor concerns. It's a part of the reason why this Congress is having such a difficult time doing financial reform with any punch or substance. My guess is that efforts to address the coal industry would have been the same, but for that mine explosion, and those 29 people who lost their lives. I hope that

Do labor unions go too far? Sometimes. Do big businesses look for a profit, even at the expense of the needs of workers? More often than not. It's about dancing along that line between the two and finding a balance that benefits as many as possible. Americans won't be losing their freedom, or joining on a march toward socialism by pushing for that right balance. As a matter of opinion, I believe it strengthens our capitalist system.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Reminder That Elections Do Indeed Have Consequences

Now I am not even close to being an expert on Iran. I have read the various reports coming from the elections last year that set off the "green revolution," and I found the outpouring of protesters fascinating. I remember the hostage situation from my youth, and I've certainly read the history of U.S. involvement with the former Shah.

With that said, I was reminded all over again why Obama was the better choice in November '08. Considering that Sen. McCain joked about bombing Iran, and wanted the U.S. to jump into the middle of the Iranian election fallout, unnecessarily, I don't get warm and fuzzy comfort from his sense that we should be "pulling triggers." Were McCain POTUS, I would not be surprised if we ended up knee deep in shit regarding Iran.

No, we needed in the White House someone who believed in diplomacy, exhibited patience and had a willingness to engage our allies for substantive help in dealing with Iran. That was not John McCain.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Adolescent Music Flashback: Donald Fagen

Sometimes, I am totally guilty of being utopian in my dreams. I recognize that utopianism is unrealistic, but a man can dream, can he not? And then I heard Donald Fagen's "IGY (International Geophysical Year)," and for a short time, I wondered if aspects of his vision were possible (though I am not exactly a fan of a big machine making all of the decisions). As a song, though, this is near perfection.

Little did I know that "IGY" would lead me to the album "The Nightfly," which is one of my favorite albums of all time. From one song to the next, it's just one gem after another. And I didn't know until much later (when I finally read the liner notes) that Valerie Simpson of the legendary R&B duo Ashford and Simpson was one of Fagen background singers.

However, I think that the story that Fagen tells in both the song "New Frontier" and the companion video is just a wonderful cultural piece of remembering mid 20th century Cold War culture. It is such a great song to sing out loud. By the way, I am also "mad about Brubeck," and I still haven't made up "my mind to learn design and study overseas." Maybe some day.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I Was Trying to Sort Out McDonnell's Possible Motive for the Confederate History Month Proclamation, but Now...

I get it. In discussing why the issue of slavery was not included in his proclamation for Confederate History Month, McDonnell explained his omission this way: "there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia." (emphasis mine)

In the post I wrote yesterday on this subject, I made it clear that I still think that studying the Confederacy is indeed important, even airing out competing points of view are appropriate. I also added that a proclamation for Civil War History Month would have been even better, since Virginia has so much Civil War hallowed ground.

However, McDonnell's statement to the Washington Post is offensive on its face, and I feel it clarifies his sentiment behind issuing the proclamation. It appears that the Sons of Confederate Veterans' perspective on what the "number of aspects" surrounding the Civil War guided him. That is really good to know. Considering that slavery, this "obviously" significant aspect of the Civil War, was born in the Virginia in 1619, and also considering that this same "obviously" significant aspect of the Civil War evolved and was later codified into an elaborate labor system based on race here in Virginia in the long years prior to the conflict, I would think that McDonnell would see the benefit of Virginia focusing on something so significant, "obviously."

I was trying to give McDonnell the benefit of the doubt on this one, really. I also was hoping that, after his heartfelt beat down of GLBT Virginians who want to work for the state, McDonnell might not go for the "Full Monty" regarding the depths of his hostile brand of conservatism regarding minorities, but it looks like I was wrong.

UPDATE: Since I was raised in a proper Virginia household, I will offer Governor McDonnell some respect for apologizing for his omission. However, my original conclusion still stands.

An Important News Segment that ACORN Opponents Will Likely Never See, and Would Probably Dismiss as Lies Even if They Did

I am going to sound like a broken record soon, but once again, I have to offer praise to Rachel Maddow and the staff of her show. Now, I wrote a post recently that dealt in part with the California Attorney General's Office investigating ACORN for any wrong doing based on the James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles video widely promoted by Fox News and the others on the right. The following report from Maddow, I think, unveils the truth about that little piece of propaganda that helped to bring down an organization, though flawed, that was dedicated to helping the nation's poor improve their lives and gain a foothold in the political process.

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I am becoming more convinced that this little activity was done in order to tarnish the image of community organizers, because it was something that President Obama touted as helping him gain a perspective on the world, and something that Sarah Palin mocked as being essentially of little worth.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due to Sen. Tom Coburn

Check out this segment of Keith Olbermann's show from last night on the issue of Sen. Coburn not only clarifying what the health insurance reform bill will not do (force people to go to jail), but also letting his supporters know that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is actually a nice person with whom he simply disagrees with on policy.

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It will be interesting to see if Sen. Coburn becomes the recipient of not so nice voicemail messages and/or threats for offering support for Nancy Pelosi. If that does in fact happen, then that will say much more about those folks than Sen. Coburn.

However, I think that the more important point is that Coburn admitted that Fox News can be particularly biased. Now I know that people have their issues with Keith Olbermann, and even I admit that he can jump the shark on occasion, but Fox News is just.... I wonder how it will respond to Coburn's point.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Just Not Too Sure About This

I have very mixed thoughts about the new Virginia Governor declaring April "Confederate History Month."

In terms of American history, it is very important to learn about and understand all aspects regarding the history of the Confederacy. Its formation, of course, led to the deadliest war on American soil. The political, economic and social issues surrounding the Confederacy raised important questions regarding our understanding of the powers and limits of the U.S. Constitution, and those questions were mostly settled (in spite of the neo-secessionist and neo-nullification rhetoric coming, ironically, from politicians from the old Confederate states (and a few others)).

Yet, some of the language within the proclamation troubles me. For example, "[w]hereas, it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth's shared history to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War," bothers me. Perhaps it's that whole slave heritage in my family thing that makes me bristle at the notion of "the sacrifices" of Confederates, particularly when compared to "the sacrifices" of Virginia's slave and free black populations from the middle 1600s until the passage of the 13th Amendment). And even if the average Virginia Confederate soldier or sailor didn't own a slave, or was concerned only with defending his home, the end result would have been a continuation of black slavery, period. I will not apologize for feeling a bit less sanguine about Confederate sacrifices, just as, I am sure, some descendants of Confederate soldiers or sailors felt (or feel) about Union sacrifices.

Another trouble spot for me is as follows: "Whereas, all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace...." I think that a quick review of the history of Reconstruction and Redemption will belie the notion that these folks worked to rebuild their communities in peace, overall. They did work to reassert their authority based on white supremacy, legalized segregation and political disenfranchisement, cancers allowed to fester unchecked until the middle 20th century.

My concern is that those who have pushed for this recognition, have neither the desire, nor the intention, to discuss the multi-layered historical reality surrounding the rise, fall, and psuedo-resurrection of the Confederacy, faults and all. Instead, I think that this is an opportunity to glorify the "Lost Cause," to cloud the fact that the Confederacy was a direct threat to the political entity that we know as the United States, and to try to sell the notion that the Confederacy was formed, not to preserve slavery (though CSA Vice President Alexander Stephens, through his "Cornerstone Speech" seems to belie this), but to affirm states rights that they felt the U.S. was abrogating.

Again, I am all for people learning more about American history. We are woefully deficient in that area. I also believe that we should know more about the history of the Confederacy, because there is no denying its historical importance. But I do not believe in a single sided historical narrative, regardless of subject. History has been, is, and always will be a complicated enterprise, fraught with difficult questions and issues. It seems that, too often, too many supporters of Confederate History Month proclamations are not really interested in those things. And therein rests my discomfort with promoting Confederate History Month.

UPDATE: A good friend of mine made an excellent proposition. I think that declaring April "Civil War History Month" would be totally appropriate, especially considering that the war came to a close in Appomattox. It would hit all of the educational points that the Governor says Virginians should get this month, and it would allow for a greater chance for having those more interesting and complicated discussions that all of the historical information surrounding the Civil War, particularly in Virginia, would merit.

This is What Happens When a Company Does Not Care About Mere Workers

As the truly tragic story in West Virginia continues to unfold (and my prayers go out to the families who lost or are missing loved ones), I am becoming more angry with each report about the cavalier attitude of the Massey company with regard to safety violations, regulations and fines.

Over 3,000 safety violations (since 1995)

Flippant commentary from the Massey CEO regarding worker safety

Though I know that it will not bring back a single loved one, and it will not ameliorate any pain that has been felt, but I hope that each of those families sue the shit out of Massey. Those people were working in a ticking time bomb, and the people who profited from their labor cared enough about their safety to amass over 3,000 safety violations in 15 years. I am a fan of capitalism, but these are moments when I am reminded that the system needs checks, balances and strong enforcements.

Forwarding "An open letter to conservatives," a Must Read

While checking in over at Talking Points Memo, I stumbled upon "An open letter to conservatives." What an incredible array of links and citations. I mean, wow. Just hit the link. I am sure this will generate an answer "open letter" of some sort. But, seriously, check out the link.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Why Even Go There Michael Steele?

People accuse President Obama of using race to get his way. Others have claimed that Obama supporters call racism whenever criticism comes his way. A whole host of things can be said about Obama regarding race. Some are true. Some are totally false. And others are just plain odd. But, I don't recall Obama, when on the ropes, resorting to what Michael Steele said, when asked about the current problems with his leadership in the RNC.

Now, if I am wrong about this, please let me know. But I just don't remember Obama saying something like black pols are held to a different standard, and that is why I am experiencing difficulties with getting health care passed, or difficulty with cap & trade.

What Steele did, was in my mind, classic for what non-black folks suggest most black folks do: when in a corner, regardless of circumstance, go for race. Naturally, the problem with this tactic is that it has been abused often enough that when something genuinely troubling happens that has to do with race, then people are less inclined to believe you.

Let me add as a small aside that I do not believe that the majority of Obama's critics are racist; that is just silly. Nor do I believe that it is racist to challenge him on the merits of the issues. Hell, I do that, and will continue to do so. But, too often, people embrace what I've just said, then ignore my usual follow up: There are people who oppose Obama purely because of race. There is no way around that, just as there is no way around the fact that there are people who support Obama, blindly, purely because of race. Let's just agree to agree on that.

Regarding Steele, any objective observer would acknowledge that he has had difficulty in his position from the beginning (and for those itching to say it, Obama had his problems as well), but instead of owning up to them publicly and moving to correct them, Steele went racial.

It's disappointing, and I am sure that members of the GOP threw their hands up in exasperation. I am sad that Steele has given more ammunition to folks who are already inclined to disbelieve that race can still be a factor in our society, and I think that he has made himself look that much worse.

UPDATE: I think the folks over at Talking Points Memo hit the nail on the head with this editorial. The GOP seems to have hired a tiger that it now has by it's tail. Good luck with letting it go.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

On Presenting American History: Don't Make Up Facts, and Don't Ignore the Existing Historical Record

Anyone who has studied the history of Reconstruction should be familiar with the Dunning School from Columbia University. In the main, William Dunning argued that blacks were wholly unprepared for being anything more than slaves, and that their participation in government was, as historian Claude Bowers suggested, representative of The Tragic Era. The historical period known as Redemption, when whites redeemed the South from the Reconstruction era governments (Radical Republican governments), was necessary in order to right the wrongs put forth by blacks, Carpetbaggers and Scalawags. It was during Redemption when Jim Crow laws really solidified.

The historiographical stamp of the Dunning School lasted through the 1960s. W.E.B. DuBois was the first historian to challenge the Dunning School's interpretation in his work Black Reconstruction. Of course in 1935, when it was published, the historical community essentially ignored it. DuBois' prescience was ignored until the mid-20th century, when the historical community slowly, but surely, began re-examining the period, DuBois' work served to be a guide. Now, the definitive work on Reconstruction is Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (which is also my favorite history book, which I re-read periodically).

I bring all of this up now, because I feel like the folks now pushing for a "conservative" interpretation of U.S. history are Dunning-like. Check out this story from McClatchy about this issue. Dick Armey's take on Jamestown as a socialist experiment is laughable on its face, because it is clear that the Jamestown colony was purely a capitalist venture in every sense of the term. Alexander Hamilton, also mentioned by Armey, was most definitely in favor of a strong central government, and would have been horrified, most likely, by all of the rabble (me included) who now participate in government. These are clear examples of making up facts.

There have always been conservative, centrist and liberal interpretations of historical events. There always will be, and that is a good thing. We always have to be prepared for the discovery of new information, new papers, hidden diaries, lost records. These primary sources help us to learn more about what was happening in the past, and illuminates information that we may not have been aware of before.

Yet, as was shown with the Dunning School, where a socio-political acceptance of the inferiority of black folks reigned supreme, historians are neither allowed their own facts, nor should they ignore the historical record (or sources). And the political conservatives pushing to ignore some facts at the promotion of other facts is detrimental to the field (and liberals doing the same should also be admonished). The things happening in Texas give us a window into the problem. There is nothing wrong with talking about the important conservative resurgence of the 1980s. There are likely classes that will be dedicated to just that subject, one that I would happily take to be honest. But, when you have politicians creating facts about what the historical record reflects, or omitting facts because they don't support a specific political perspective, then I have a real problem.

I am confident that politically conservative historians would agree with me on the following points. Let the sources tell the story. Find as many relevant sources as possible, including those that provide oppositional perspectives. Review the work of your peers to see commonalities and differences in historical interpretation. Present those findings, and your interpretation, to the world. Doing anything else, I believe, compromises the history that one is attempting to share. Historians may not always be happy about their findings, but you present those findings nonetheless.

By the way, I am still waiting for a conservative interpretation of the Civil Rights Movement. If there is one out there, please let me know. It will be a fascinating read.

Sinead O'Connor: A Modern Cassandra?

It's interesting the amount of perspective one can gain in the course of almost twenty years. I totally remember when Sinead O'Connor was on SNL, and the whole ripping of the pic of the Pope.

Sinéad O'Connor - WAR - SNL - The top video clips of the week are here

At the time, I simply didn't get it. I didn't have a visceral reaction one way or another, but I did wonder what on earth it was that happened to provoke such a reaction. Well, in light of the revelations from the Irish Catholic Church concerning the years of abuse Irish children were subjected to, I think I now finally understand O'Connor's anger at the time. And it is clear that O'Connor's anger with the Catholic Church has not gone away.

In a way, O'Connor reminds me of the Greek figure Cassandra. The world reacted in angry horror to that 1992 performance on SNL, and O'Connor paid a heavy price for daring to condemn the Catholic Church in such a public fashion. Yet here we are 18 years later. Look at that clip again. O'Connor's message seems crystal clear, doesn't it? I think in many ways, O'Connor has been vindicated.

Better 18 years late, than never.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Antithesis of Fox

I watched this segment of Rachel Maddow's show last night, and I found it quite interesting.

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So, I am just now finishing the report issued by California's Attorney General's Office regarding ACORN's activities in California. ACORN in CA definitely had its problems, and the AG's office cites those problems and legal violations. However, what is also striking, and supports Maddow's reporting, is the section on the work of the now famous "pimp and ho." The AG's office granted James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles immunity from prosecution (which they needed, since the report shows that they indeed appear to have violated California privacy laws), in order to review the unedited footage from their ACORN office visits.

According to the report, the actions of some of the California ACORN employees could be seen as inappropriate, but not illegal. O'Keefe didn't actually walk into ACORN offices in CA dressed as a pimp; that was edited in separately. One worker tried to get Giles to see a counselor who dealt with torture victims, but that help was refused, and didn't make it into the footage presented to the world. One worker did call the police about the two characters, but the cops backed off when it was clear that the story was a hoax.

Maddow also mentioned the whole "climategate" phenomenon that Fox News touted religiously. Here is the report from the Science and Technology Committee of the British House of Commons. The report concludes that the scientific conclusions about climate change still hold. So, to use "climategate" as a way to disprove the actual science of climate change simply doesn't work.

This segment is, once again, representative of why I make it a point to tune into "The Rachel Maddow Show." I trust her. I know that I can believe in her reporting. I know that I can do what I did here, and check on a report from the AG's office of California about ACORN or read a House of Commons report re-affirming the validity of the science behind climate change, and come away with an understanding that Maddow and her staff did their homework. I also know that for many, Maddow's status as a known liberal, is enough to render anything she says as suspect. However, I've heard little about Maddow actually distorting the news. I've heard of few attacks from the right on the merits of her reporting. When Maddow is challenged, she addresses the issue on the air, in public.

Keep fighting the fight Maddow, and keep us all informed, even those reluctant to hear honest reporting.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due to Bill O'Reilly

I am always more than happy to give props when props are due, and Bill O'Reilly deserves props for covering the expenses of the father of a fallen Marine who has been ordered to pay the legal costs for the whack jobs of the Westboro Baptist Church. Perhaps my friends who are attorneys can help me with why the ruling fell as it did. Yet, that seems particularly callous when one considers the circumstances the Snyder family were experiencing, burying a family member and dealing with people with signs the read (among other things) "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

Again, it should tell you something when people across all spectra of political thought are coming to the defense of this family with open wallets. So, hats off to Bill O'Reilly, and to all who help the Synders.

Adolescent Music Flashback: Wang Chung

I have to admit that I'd almost forgotten these guys, but then I watched a scene from "The Breakfast Club," and I was reminded of why I really enjoyed Wang Chung's music back in the 80s. The scene was of the kids running about the school trying to avoid the dean after they'd snuck out of the library:

I also really enjoyed my introduction to the band, "Dance Hall Days," mostly because Wang Chung had a different sound.

And though I know that most people probably remember them for their song "Everybody Have Fun Tonight,"

my all time favorite song from Wang Chung is "To Live and Die in L.A." I think it is one of the best songs of the 80s (now that I've listened to it again), from the opening piano, to the fading of the lyrics. It's just an incredible song to me.