Sunday, February 28, 2010

JORDAN: "Where Iraqi Women Are Also Fathers"

Hanan Tabbara (Inter Press Service):
Back in Najaf, Iraq, Khayzaran and her family lived in a well-kept house. They had two cars and a small orchard. Her children, two girls and three boys, attended school and came home to modest feasts.

But when her husband, Saad, received death threats, they abruptly packed their lives into a few suitcases and left home, relatives and all that is familiar behind. They sidestepped many obstacles and dead bodies along the way to reach safety outside the inferno that Iraq had become.

Khayzaran's husband and their eldest son, Khaled, were granted asylum in Austria, but she found herself stuck in Jordan, becoming both "the mother and the father" to the two younger boys, Mohammed and Ali, and to the girls, Fatima and Hajar.

"We left unexpectedly. Most of our belongings are still in Iraq. My husband's family sold some of them to help us flee," Khayzaran said, as she braided bamboo sticks into baskets and food trays that she sells on street corners during the day.

Jordan was supposed to have been a temporary stop, a waiting room, until the firestorm in Iraq calmed down. But as the violence in her home country escalated, Khayzaran knew that there was no going back.

She registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and applied for asylum, but she and her younger children were denied it for lack of appropriate documentation.

According to UNHCR estimates, over 4.7 million Iraqis have been displaced since the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, with at least 700,000 of them settled in refugee camps in Jordan.

Today, Khayzaran shares her basket-making skills with other Iraqi women, facilitating workshops at international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for extra cash. She, like other Iraqi refugees here, must navigate semi-legal avenues and the underground economy in order to survive.

The founder of the Bushra Institute for Research on Women, Jehan Nourjan, says that the Iraq war and its aftermath resulted in an over representation of households led by single mothers. This change in family structure has strongly affected women who now find themselves either the primary or the sole heads of their households.

"Iraqi refugee women are bearing a disproportionate burden of family responsibilities," says Nourjan. "Many have had their husbands either killed, disappeared or seriously injured. The onus is now on the women to find a way to secure income," adds Nourjan.

In an effort to help Iraqis, international and local NGOs offer Iraqi refugees, mostly women, a small stipend in exchange for "volunteer time." This play on semantics (Iraqis can "volunteer", but not "work") allows refugees to supplement the inadequate aid they receive.

Dr. Jalal Damra, director of the Institute for Family Health in Amman, says that NGOs specifically target Iraqi women to help with much needed administrative assistance.

"Because women more so than men, were perceived as better equipped to enter homes and build relations with families, and because Iraqi men were more likely to be targeted by local police, aid organisations relied heavily on Iraqi women to volunteer," said Damra. "Now you have a situation where Iraqi men, who were the primary breadwinners, depend on their volunteer wives to bring in food for the family."

The increased breadwinning responsibility that Iraqi women have had to shoulder in exile has impacted traditional gender roles and has become a source of conflict within families.

Ahmed, a father of three, jokingly introduces his wife, Eman, as the "husband." He nudges Eman on the shoulder and chuckles saying that she is "the man of the house." But behind the laughter, Eman, who supplements the family's finances by working as a data collection volunteer for an international NGO, said that he often breaks into violent verbal storms. The trend of Iraqi women providing for the family has "deepened Iraqi men's emotional scars," said Damra, who is also the director of the Trauma Centre at Nour El Hussein in Amman. "The men already feel their sense of dignity degraded, having to depend on aid for their and their family's survival. Having the women in their family supplement the aid adds more pain to an already deep wound," he added.

While much of the outside world considers Iraqi asylum seekers to be refugees, in Jordan Iraqis have no corresponding status. Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Iraqis in Jordan are accommodated as "guests." But, behind this poetic designation lies an uncertain "legal limbo."

Being a "guest" and not a "refugee" means denial of legal protection and services. Iraqis cannot work legally and they can be detained and deported any time for being in the country illegally.

Ibtesam is the mother of a newborn baby girl. She used to sell cigarettes on a street corner in downtown Amman. Her home in east Amman was attacked by a group of men - informants for the militia that was after her husband in Iraq, she says - who came looking for him. Her husband disappeared shortly thereafter, leaving her four months pregnant. IPS met Ibtesam at an Iraqi restaurant and nightclub, where women, Iraqi, Jordanian, Moroccan and East European, entertain clients.

"I've become the mother, father, husband and the grandmother. I am everything to my daughter," Ibtesam, a thin-lipped woman with a hint of rouge on her cheeks said. "When I don't have anything else, what can I do? I need to pay for rent, food, medical bills, diapers and milk. I have no hope that I can live without this," she said.

With no one to look after her month-old baby, Ibtesam takes her to the clubs. The baby sleeps in a seat set next to a table, as Ibtesam and Um Rima, a Jordanian 'madam', and her 20-year-old daughter, Rima, spot clients.

At the night clubs, the women sit at tables, headed by stern looking madams, holding flavoured tobacco water pipes in one hand and whiskey glasses in the other. They eat dinner that the restaurant provides the female workers free of charge.

When the music beats loud, the women get up and dance to live Iraqi tunes, sung by prominent Iraqi performers like Sajida Obaid. The songs are heavy, filled with imagery of bereavement and nostalgia.

At dawn, if the women workers have found a client, they negotiate a price and leave together. The price depends on the club tier. Um Rima told IPS that some women make as much as 500 Jordanian Dinars (700 US dollars) a night, at top end nightclubs.

"When looking at sex work, it's important to not only look at this phenomenon but to look at why this phenomenon is happening," says Damra. "Sex work is not present only in the Iraqi refugee community. Rather, it is present in most refugee communities. We see that refugee communities are one of the most at risk communities," he adds.

Damra is one of the few observers to have followed the situation of Iraqi refugees in Jordan from an early stage. He says that the lack of effective employment opportunities combined with the absence of traditional familial control, "a watching eye" he calls it, and a feeling of exclusion in the new community push refugees to seek financial stability through sex work.

A report put out by the Women's Refugee Commission in December 2009 affirms that the vast majority of Iraqis in Jordan cannot lawfully work and have few sources of sustainable income.

Many receive aid from the UNHCR in the form of preloaded ATM cards to cover basic rent and food. Individuals receive approximately 105 dollars a month; a family of three gets 225 dollars and a family of five is entitled to 310 dollars.

For Khayzaran's kids, their days of plenty are long gone. Living on 310 dollars a month means not only having to secure illegal jobs to help their mother, but also irregular meals.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cantwell, Murray still haven't signed Senator Bennet's Public Option Letter

Democracy for America:

Dear Leader Reid:

We respectfully ask that you bring for a vote before the full Senate a public health insurance option under budget reconciliation rules.

There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach – its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option.

The current list of Senate signers includes:
Michael Bennet (CO)
Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
Jeff Merkley (OR)
Sherrod Brown (OH)
Patrick Leahy (VT)
John Kerry (MA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)
Al Franken (MN)
Roland Burris (IL)
Bernie Sanders (VT)
Barbara Boxer (CA)
Barbara Mikulski (MD)
Dianne Feinstein (CA)
Frank Lautenberg (NJ)
Chuck Schumer (NY)
Jeanne Shaheen (NH)
Jack Reed (RI)
Tom Udall (NM)
Arlen Specter (PA)
Robert Menendez (NJ)
Tim Johnson (SD)
Daniel Inouye (HI)
Carl Levin (MI)

Show these Healthcare Heroes you have their backs -- join them as a citizen signer today.

"Cornel West Questions Obama's Commitment to Black America, Says a Prayer for Rahm Emanuel"

Kathleen Wells (AlterNet):
Last week, I had an opportunity to talk with Dr. Cornel West. He is the professor of Religion and African American studies at Princeton University. Hope you enjoy the conversation.

Kathleen Wells: Dr. West, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

I am speaking with Dr. West — Cornel West — who is the professor of African-American studies and Religion at Princeton University. And this month, February, being black history month, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to speak with you. Thank you very much.

Dr. Cornel West: Thank you so much.

Kathleen Wells: Okay, let me start by asking you some specifics about President Obama’s first year. We know he’s completed his first year, and I know you’ve been a critic — or rather, I’d like to say, you’ve critically analyzed his campaign and his presidency. How do you feel that his first year has impacted the black community specifically and America as a whole?

Dr. Cornel West: Well, I think on a symbolic level I would give him an A in terms of uplifting the spirits and providing a sense of hope and possibility going into the inauguration and sustaining it up to a certain point. On a substantial level I would give him a C- when it comes to policy, when it comes to priority, when it comes to focusing on poor people and working people — which has to do with the vast majority of black people — that he has really not come through in any substantial and significant way.

We’ve got an interesting dynamic going on that at a symbolic level you’ve got this tremendous impact that is beginning now to run out of gas and on a substantial level, the C- — jobs, homes, education, health care — he has not been able to come through, and so he’s at a very pivotal moment in terms of black people. He can no longer take the black base for granted.

Kathleen Wells: Do you feel we’re being fair to President Obama? Has any President other than FDR been able to put working class, the poor, at the center of their agenda?

Dr. Cornel West: Well, I think LBJ actually put all the black folk, given the American apartheid in the south and the Jim Crow junior situation in the north, at the center of his agenda right after JFK died. And so, actually, LBJ is probably the best example, even better than FDR, because, you remember, FDR’s New Deal excluded domestic workers and agricultural laborers, which was the vast majority of black people. So that when you really look at the one President who has done that, it has been LBJ in the 20th century and Lincoln in the 19th century. But Obama talked about Lincoln, he talked about LBJ, he talked about FDR, you see? So it was Obama who raised the hopes of the people.

Kathleen Wells: So he’s one person, he’s the president…

Dr. Cornel West: He’s not one person, he’s the president who chooses an economic team that has put Wall Street and banks at the center of their project and job creation as an afterthought — the homes of ordinary people as an afterthought. Then he’s got a foreign policy team that he chooses, and he chooses to be a war President and escalating the war, not just in Afghanistan, but escalating those lethal drones in Pakistan. You see what I mean?

You know what part of the problem is, Sister Kathleen? That Obama has a team that understands the black agenda to be a narrow, parochial, provincial slice of America that he can assume he always has because he’s a black President. They don’t understand what black history is all about, which is that the black agenda, from Frederick Douglass to Ida B. Wells to Martin King, has always been the most broad, deep, inclusive, embracing agenda of the nation.

Frederick Douglass' agenda was an agenda, not for black people to get out of slavery. It was for America to become a better democracy. And it’s split over for women’s rights; it’s spilt over for worker’s rights and so forth. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s agenda was not to help Negroes overcome American apartheid in the south. It was to make America democracy a better place, where everyday people, from poor people who were white and red and yellow and black and brown, would be able to live lives in decency and dignity. And that black agenda included a love of Vietnamese people, who were being bombed by American airplanes and repressed by gangster communists, right?

So this notion of a black agenda being some narrow thing is part of the duping that is taking place among — how could I put it — it’s part of the manipulation of those in the Obama administration vis-à-vis the press and vis-à-vis black people.

Our agenda is better than the corporate agenda, it’s better than the Catholic agenda, it’s better than the Jewish agenda, it’s better than the Italian agenda, and I love Italians — special place. This whole notion that the black agenda is something you can just cast aside and view as some kind of calculation for the next election is absurd. It’s nonsense and we refuse — I refuse — to put up with it.

Kathleen Wells: You’re saying this is a concerted effort, an explicit decision on the part of his administration, to exclude the interests of black Americans?

Dr. Cornel West: No, not to exclude, to downplay and to marginalize. We’re not talking about exclusion. He’s not a racist. You know what I mean? No, it’s not exclusion; it’s to downplay and marginalize.

Kathleen Wells: Why is that? What would account for that?

Dr. Cornel West: Because they tilt toward a corporate agenda. If you tilt toward a corporate agenda, then black suffering and poor people and working people is not going to be central. Why? Because corporate America ain’t never dealt that much with poor people and working people, right? That he tilts toward another agenda that he doesn’t want to say — he just calls it the American agenda, which is a cop-out because the America agenda is a composite of a variety of different agendas, of people trying to learn how to live together and help an evolving democracy.

That’s why you never hear Barack Obama or President Obama go to the corporate world and say, “I am a president of all America and not corporate America.” You never hear him say that when he goes to the Catholic world — they have a culture of life — “I am not a president of Catholics; I am a president of all Americans.” He would never go there in the Jewish world. He doesn’t go to a Jewish context and say, “I’m president of all Americans; I’m not president of Jewish America.” But when it comes to black people, he thinks he can get away with that. That’s ridiculous. We’re not putting up with it.

Kathleen Wells: This is a democracy, but it’s also a capitalist system. And so, in free market capitalism, isn’t having a poor or working poor inherent in that system?

Dr. Cornel West: Yeah, that’s true. But keep in mind that we’re not talking about anything in the abstract. Sweden is a capitalist society; it has no poverty. Japan is a capitalist society, four percent poverty. Canada is a capitalist society, seven percent poverty. See what I mean?

There are different varieties and forms of capitalism, right? There are priorities within the capitalist society so that you can have countervailing forces come in and empower your working people and your poor people. There are capitalist societies that do not have poverty. America needs to understand that. Look at Norway; look at Sweden. There’s a whole host of– I mean, they are not socialist societies. They are social Democratic societies with a capitalist economy.

Kathleen Wells: Often I’ve heard you say that your calling is Socratic, which is teaching, and prophetic, which is predictive, foretelling.

Dr. Cornel West: No, no. Prophetic is bearing witness to suffering.

Kathleen Wells: Bearing witness to suffering, and that you’re…

Dr. Cornel West: Prophetic is not predicting.

Kathleen Wells: It isn’t?

Dr. Cornel West: No, no, no, not at all. When you say that King was a prophet, you don’t say that he predicted anything; you say that he bore witness. He left a committed life so that people would never forget the suffering of people that he was connected to. King was prophetic because he lived a committed life. Now he did critique society, saying you’re going to go under if you don’t treat your poor right. I mean, that is part of prophetic calling, but it’s not predicting anything. No, that’s a soothsayer.

Kathleen Wells: That’s a soothsayer. Okay, so that was my mistake. So, it’s a…

Dr. Cornel West: I just wanted to clarify that with you.

Kathleen Wells: Yeah, that’s fine. And that you’re committed to unarmed truth and unconditional love. And that…

Dr. Cornel West: That’s right.

Kathleen Wells: And that President Obama’s calling is to progressive governance and trying to shape policy. So, how do these two roles, these two commitments, how are they reconciled? Where do we find common ground?

Dr. Cornel West: Oh, no…well, we do. One is, as you know, I did 67 events for the brotha, right? From Iowa to Ohio. Why? Because I was convinced — and I would do it again — that he was the best politician, given our relative options of McCain and Palin, to take us beyond the age of Reagan. We had to get beyond the greed-run-amok. We had to get beyond indifference to the poor and working people. We had to get beyond polarized politics.

Barack talked about — not greed — he talked about fairness; not indifference — he talked about compassion; not fear — he talked about hope. I was with him all the way. But, of course, I knew that, as a person who would govern, that his democratic rhetoric during the campaign was going to be challenged by technocratic policies of his party and experts who he hired. I understand that.

We have significant overlap. One is, I do want to protect him against the vicious right-wing attacks, many of which are lies. I do want to make sure he is respected as a human being, as a President and as a black man in the White House with a precious black family. But I want him corrected when he leans toward the strong and not toward the weak. I was hoping he would be a progressive politician. That’s a politician like Russell Feingold, like the late Paul Wellstone — who leaned toward the weak as a politician — like Harold Washington in Chicago. Has he been a progressive politician who leaned toward the weak? Well, that’s a good question.

Healthcare. What does that look like? Public option is negotiable. Deals behind the counter with pharmaceutical companies because they know that the government is the biggest seller of the drugs that they sale. That doesn’t look like progressive in that regard. It looks like typical centrist manipulation of the forces — interest groups — in order to make deals.

Kathleen Wells: And this goes back to what I sort of touched on before. Is America ready for that kind of radical change, that kind of revolutionary change?

Dr. Cornel West: It’s not revolutionary, though. To give money to community banks and small banks rather than billions and billions and billions of dollars to a few huge investment banks too big to fail and the rest of it too small to be rescued? That’s not revolutionary at all.

What I’m talking about is really consistent with much of what you read in the columns of New York Times with Paul Krugman, and Bob Herbert and Joseph Stiglitz’s wonderful new book, Freefall, that needs to be read and reread. I don’t think that calls for anything revolutionary. In fact, I am a bit more radical than they are, but I resonate with what they have to say, but it’s not revolutionary, I don’t think, at all. In fact, I think it’s commonsensical. I think if Obama doesn’t begin to move in that direction, he’s going to lose the black base. The white Independents have already begun to distance themselves, and the right-wing are coming on with tremendous vigor, and it’s dangerous.

These tea-party brothers and sisters — I’m telling you … conservative? They’ve got some crypto-fascist element. And Barack, if he can’t somehow displace that populist energy that they have in a progressive way, he’s going to be left dangling there with his experts and brainy smart folks who refuse to side with the weak. Then we got a bigger mess.

Kathleen Wells: So, give me some specifics. How can he change this C- or C+ into an A?

Dr. Cornel West: He’s got to zero-in on jobs. He’s got to use his might to try to push through serious legislation for jobs and investment and infrastructure, job-training centers. He’s got to re-channel much of this money to these small banks who are lending and make accountable these big banks who got all of these billions of dollars, and not just giving them out for bonuses for their executives, but are sitting on it because they don’t trust one another, and none of the money is getting down to the ordinary people who need the money for lending to get their own projects off the ground, their lives together.

And so, once you get caught within that kind of Wall Street connected — or put it this way, intimate relation between Wall Street, Washington elites and the investment bankers — then you can’t talk about job-creation. Job creation has to be a very, very slow evolutionary process in which the Federal Reserve that has no public accountability whatsoever. Who did he choose to be head of the Federal Reserve again? Same chap who got us in the mess in the first place. He certainly came to his defense strong, didn’t he? Come to Van Jones’ defense? No, no. But he came to Bernanke’s defense strongly. He came to Geithner’s defense strongly. Progressives — sell down the river; centrists who are elites — come to their defense strongly because he gives us a sense of where he leans — what his priorities are. That’s what I find upsetting and disturbing.

Kathleen Wells: You mentioned, you said, the President is going to lose the base, the black base. He’s going to lose us as a base.

Dr. Cornel West: That’s because black people will sleep-walk, tied to symbolic victories, only for so long. Once they wake up and see, My God, my child has gone to Afghanistan! My God, my girl is still unemployed and these schools are still dilapidated and this housing is disgraceful and I see more and more an Obama administration siding with bankers, investment, commercial insurance companies, black folk are gonna say, “Wait a minute, this symbolic victory only goes so far. I am waking up.” Then he’s in deep trouble.

Does it make sense to you though, my sister?

Kathleen Wells: It makes sense to me. But…

Dr. Cornel West: You think I’m being too unfair? I don’t want to be unfair, I love my brother. I just love the people more than I love him.

Kathleen Wells: I know that, and I’m just thinking of the mechanics of D.C., all the competing and conflicting interests.

Dr. Cornel West: That’s real. That’s real.

Kathleen Wells: That’s real, and so…

Dr. Cornel West: That’s very real. But the part of it is, you got to tell the people that. You see what I mean? Just explain to the people: “You know what, I’ve got these lobbyists paying millions and millions of dollars. It’s around my neck. I’ve got these banks that put a gun to my head.” Just explain that to the people the way that Harold Washington used to explain it. And say, “I can’t do that much.” Right? That’s not what he’s doing? What have they said this past week? Look at that, Sister Kathleen? They are arguing there’s not even such a thing as a black agenda. That’s what Al Sharpton, that’s what Charles Olgetree, that’s what Marc Morial, that’s what Benjamin Jealous have said. Now, that, to me, is ridiculous.

How could there be a corporate agenda, a Catholic agenda, a trade union agenda, a Jewish agenda — whatever agenda — but when it comes to black people, especially with 96 percent behind him, we don’t have an agenda? He must be losing his mind, especially when we have the best agenda for the country if we take the legacy of King as our agenda, you see? We got the best agenda out there — accountability for the corporations, job creation, priority on education, focus on the young children until the early child educational development, green policy, be cautious when you go to war — that’s King’s legacy. Was King a black man? Was King part of a black agenda? Was he at the center of black history?

Kathleen Wells: But what accounts for this? What is the intention? What is the motivation?

Dr. Cornel West: It’s because Obama people have predicated their whole project on speaking to the white moderates and white Independents to easing their fears and anxieties, and assuming that there is black solidarity by giving black folks only something symbolic, and not wanting to respond with any substantial way and saying, “Just let it trickle down like everybody else.” And you know what? The white Independents have now backed off and the black base is upset. So they are in a world of trouble. That’s why I pray for them ’cause I’m a Christian, too, you know?

Kathleen Wells: So, is this basically a political strategy and you’re saying it’s failed?

Dr. Cornel West: Absolutely. And I’m saying also that you can only engage in a strategy of cutting deals that will take you so far. You have to end up taking some stands. And he has been reluctant to take stands when it comes to poor people and working people and black folks.

Kathleen Wells: And we should also keep in mind, this has just been his first year, correct?

Dr. Cornel West: Yeah, that’s true. And he can change, you know? You’re absolutely right. But a lot happens in 12 months, though.

And part of the problem is, is that, as you know, given this sped-up process and 24/7 cycle of news, they’re already talking about 2012 anyway. It’s permanent campaign. Now, permanent campaign — what did he do during the campaign? Couldn’t get too close to black folk ’cause he assumed black people are going to vote for him. Have to present himself as the non-angry black man for the white moderates in order to win. So black folks say: “OK, on the down-low, we know, you’re with us, but you can’t be connected too closely with us because you will lose.”

That goes over and over again for eight years? And there’s no serious wrestling with the level of suffering, not just in black communities, but in poor communities, and working communities. With an economic team that is in the back pocket for the most part of Wall Street. Come on, now.

Kathleen Wells: You’re presenting a really persuasive argument of course, right?

Dr. Cornel West: I think I’ve got a case that you seriously have to come to terms with and there is no doubt about that. Keep in mind, the aim is not for me to be right. The aim is to make sure that we keep the focus on the people who are suffering. That’s what we’re here for, you know?

Kathleen Wells: And so this goes back to me about expectations. What can we reasonably expect?

Dr. Cornel West: I think that part of what is needed (and I applaud the Huffington Post for being very much a part of this — Tavis Smiley is a part of it; Amy Goodman is a part of it) that in the end, until we have a social motion and social movement to put pressure on Barack Obama from the vantage point of poor and working people (because we love poor and working people and they are too unloved in our society; they are low priority in our society) we have to keep our voices consistent, strong and hope that an awakening takes place of the sleepwalking of poor and working people so that there’s some kind of movement to put pressure on Obama.

If we had 300,000 poor and working people in the streets in Washington, D. C., while Obama is having one of his nice little socials where they’re listening to some music, then they’d have to take notice. And people would say, “Oh, my God, why would they be marching against him? That’s the fundamental part of his constituency!” No, he is symbolically speaking to that constituency. But he’s not substantially speaking to the conditions of that constituency. So in some ways, the ball is also in our court.

Kathleen Wells: It’s totally in our court, I believe, because Obama said, during when he was campaigning, that he needed us. We the people…we the people are the government. So where is the answer to…

Dr. Cornel West: There’s another side to it you’ve got to keep in mind. He has to be receptive. He has to be receptive. I want to listen to “We the people.” But he has nobody in his circle who has this perspective other than Eric Holder and probably Christina [Romer] and Cecilia Rouse. But, for the most part, the people who are closest to him — the Rahm Emanuels and the Geithners, and the Summers and the Valerie Jarretts — they are not thinking this way at all. So then, in other words, when he said “We the people,” he was saying either we make a loud noise because he is not really listening that closely when we don’t speak that loud. And those who he does listen to view those of us as these — what did Rahm Emanuel say? — these “f-ing activist?” Isn’t that what he called us?

Kathleen Wells: [laughter] Where did you read that?

Dr. Cornel West: Pray for you, Rahm. Pray for you, Rahm.

Kathleen Wells: Where did you read that?

Dr. Cornel West: That’s what he told the … It’s in the issue of Rolling Stone, the recent issue of Rolling Stone. When he met with the Organizing for America, people who wanted to try to galvanize into a movement, and Plouffe said, “No, we’re going to push them into the Democratic National Committee.” So they got incorporated, diluted, and they capitulated, just like so many black leaders right now are incorporated, diluted, and incorporated into the Obama administration and not speaking to the needs of black people and poor people.

Kathleen Wells: Well, I don’t mind telling you that it disappoints me to hear this. I don’t know if it’s cynical or pessimistic. But I’m…

Dr. Cornel West: Oh, but I’m not pessimistic, because poor people tend to bounce back. We’ve been through worse than this — working people been through worse than this. We’ve got slavery and Jim Crow. We’ve got workers with no rights up until '35. We’re going to bounce back. We are resilient, resisting people. So, it’s not pessimism, but it is blues-like. It’s not optimistic. We’re just prisoners of hope, that’s all.

Kathleen Wells: Prisoners of hope. Well, I wanna ask you. There is no grassroots movement. There is no answer to the Tea Party movement. I mean, we have to at least start there before we…

Dr. Cornel West: That’s right. Actually it’s around but it’s not organized yet. We haven’t reached the point where we’ve come together. We’ve got different fragments of expressions of it here and there in poor communities, progressive trade unions. We’ve got certain black activists who have been very critical from the very beginning of Obama administration, just haven’t come together.

And right now, we’re working on the churches because, as you know, you know Obama does not have a strong relation to the black churches. He has a strong relation to black talk radio. He can call up Steve Harvey. He can call up Tom Joyner and talk with them anytime he wants. But the black church leaders, they’re getting more and more frustrated. Can you imagine telling black churches that there’s no black agenda in America given all the suffering they have to go through and all the funerals they go to and all the hospital rooms they have to attend to?

Rahm Emanuel and company must be losing their minds when they tell Barack that and he allows them to say that. Good God almighty! [laughter] They are not going to put up with that too long.

Kathleen Wells: Well, I’m glad you brought up the black churches because, as a professor of religion, speak to me about the tradition of religion in the black community. Has it been a disservice and a service? Can you approach it from that point of view?

Dr. Cornel West: Well, what happened, so many black churches went to sleep during the age of Reagan, became addicted to prosperity gospel, the market- driven conception of religion, of chamber-of-commerce religion, a market spirituality, a commodity-centered religion. Lexus, Lexus, Lexus, commodity, commodity, commodity becomes a means by which blessings are distributed. It’s a sick, impoverished form of religiosity but it was — it went hand in hand with– the market-obsessed culture, a market-obsessed religion. You saw the mega churches that became dominant. These mega-churches — you see an ATM before you see a cross on a lot of these churches.

Kathleen Wells: How can this be addressed?

Dr. Cornel West: We got to tell the truth. We got to love the folk enough, tell them that we can’t turn the blood of the cross into Kool-Aid. That there’s a difference between just gaining access to a commodity as opposed to a spirit that allows us to live a life of love and justice, that when crisis and catastrophe hits you, that the biggest mansion in the world is not going to help you. If you don’t have anybody who loves you, if you don’t have any God who cares for you, that you’re not going to have what it takes to move to the next stage in your life. And the prosperity gospel is coming to a close just like the age of Reagan is coming to a close, and the churches are also beginning to wake up.

And Obama, of course, wants to be able to incorporate them, too, but one thing you can rest assured is that when you let the Holy Ghost loose among black people, no politician can control it. It’s just that the churches have been sleeping for a long time. A lot of people argue that the churches are even dead. I don’t believe they’re dead, but they’ve been sleeping, but they, I hope, will wake up, and that’s one of my tasks is to make sure they wake up as much as they do before I die.

Kathleen Wells: What are you doing specifically to make sure they wake up?

Dr. Cornel West: Well, you read the Chicago Sun Times today where I was at a black church in Chicago, saying exactly what I just told you. In fact, you can get the tape — it’s an hour. Life is too short to get the whole thing. But it was a sermon, precisely on this issue: How do we wake up, how do we protect, respect, and correct Obama? How do we create possibilities for movement? How do we ensure that we bear witness to a deep and profound love of poor people and a deep and profound love for working people? Not hating the rich but just knowing that the rich have had priorities and privileges from the S&L crisis of the ‘80s to the bail-out of last year that is unprecedented and it’s nothing but corporate welfare at the highest level, and, therefore, their priorities ought not to be at the center of public policy right now. I do that every Sunday.

Kathleen Wells: You do that every Sunday? I wasn’t aware of that. That sounds interesting and I would be interested in hearing a tape on that.

Dr. Cornel West: It’s the Chicago Sun[-Times]. You know that newspaper?

Kathleen Wells: Right.

Dr. Cornel West: They had a story this morning on the sermon. I think it was: “West’s tough words for Obama” or something like that.

Kathleen Wells: OK, let me…what would you say…

Dr. Cornel West: One last question. I gotta let you run here, though. So good talking to you, but I had a 6 o’clock thing and it’s almost 6:30 now.

Kathleen Wells: OK, let me say, thank you very much for taking the time.

Dr. Cornel West: But did you want one more question now?

Kathleen Wells: Oh, yeah, I have one more question.

Dr. Cornel West: Okay, sure.

Kathleen Wells: Race-Talk is committed to revolutionizing the way we talk about race and promoting equality. How have we been talking about race? How can we do better, and what does equality look like?

Dr. Cornel West: All talk about race that is serious and substantive is tied to how we expand the possibilities for democratic practice. What I mean by that is that all talks about legacies of white supremacy must be tied to empowering the lives of poor and working people as a whole. This is precisely what I meant at the very beginning when I talked about the black agenda — from Frederick Douglass to A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr, Fannie Lou Hamer to Ella Baker– has always been tied to race talk inseparable from expanding possibilities of democracy, expanding empowerment of everyday people.

And in that sense, the black agenda becomes the best agenda that we have right now in the country. But for 40 years there’s been such a vicious attack on any talk about race or any talk about black agenda that is not cast as — they would want to reduce the black agenda to some narrow parochial, provincial agenda about the interest of black people only — that has no moral content, no ethical substance, just Machiavellian calculation. That has never been the black agenda. That’s not what Martin King was about. That’s not what Frederick Douglass was about. That’s not what A. Philip Randolph was about.

There is no evidence whatsoever in the history of black people at our best that our black agenda was just being concerned about us. But that is how it is cast. And it’s wrong. It’s a lie. It needs to be revisited. And that, in fact, the irony is we got a black President who needs to be saved from himself and his experts and cabinet, for the most part, because only a black agenda can save him, because the legacy of King is the very thing that must be expanded if America is to be free and democratic in the 21st century. It’s just as simple as that. Somebody said, “Well, well, King, he didn’t really have a black agenda. He had a — What kind of agenda did he have? He had a democratic agenda.” That’s the point. Yes, he did have a democratic agenda. But it was a black agenda because it started with what? The needs of black and working poor people. And he had a spill-over love that went to poor and working people across the board of all colors. And then he had a critique of American imperial foreign policy, of invasion and occupation of Vietnam in his day, Iraq in our day, Afghanistan in our day, drones in Pakistan in our day. That was — the black agenda has always been like that.

And the best analogy, of course, is music. Anybody who thinks that Louis Armstrong is only concerned with black music, tied to black people, don’t understand what jazz is. Is jazz black music? I think so. Is it a music for the world? Absolutely. Because it’s always been all-embracing. It’s always been cosmopolitan, but it’s rooted in a specific people’s creative vision and practice. It is black music. Is Stevie Wonder black music? Absolutely. Is it narrow, parochial, provincial? When was the last time they heard Stevie’s records? It is as cosmopolitan and universal as it can get.

And that’s the same truth for black agenda, if we’re talking about black history as I understand it. Now, somebody else might have a different version of black history, you know what I mean? The black history that I understand — Douglass, A. Philip Randolph, Ella Baker, Martin King — that is the center of the black freedom movement. That’s the center of American democratic expansion. Do we have any other movement that has done more for American democracy than that movement? And Barack says he comes out of that movement, but now, all of a sudden, there’s no black agenda. Please. Please, my brother, let us have cognac together and learn some history.

Kathleen Wells: Well, I want to thank you for taking the time…

Dr. Cornel West: Thank you so much. I’m sorry to go on, and I hope that my holy anger and righteous indignation was not viewed in any way as either disrespect of either you or my dear brother, Barack Obama. But I’m deeply concerned about this crisis and all this suffering out here.

Kathleen Wells: I really appreciate you taking the time.

Dr. Cornel West: Definitely. You take good care now.

Kathleen Wells: Okay. Thank you very much.

Kathleen Wells is a political correspondent for Race-Talk. A native of Los Angeles with degrees in political science and law from UCLA and UC Berkeley, respectively, she writes/blogs on law and politics.

"Healthcare Summit Ends in Deadlock; Single-Payer Advocates Excluded" (with video)

Democracy Now! with video/audio (17:47):
After nearly seven hours of televised debate, President Obama’s so-called bipartisan healthcare summit ended Thursday without any substantive agreement between Republicans and Democrats. Republican lawmakers remained staunchly opposed to using the federal government to regulate health insurance. We speak to Columbia Journalism Review contributing editor Trudy Lieberman and pediatrician Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program. [includes rush transcript]
Howie P.S.: Best short description of the summit from Jon Stewart: "A long, boring seder."

Dan Savage on Countdown on Miss Beverly Hills says "Gays Should Be Put To Death" (video)

PoliticsCentralX with video from MSNBC-Countdown (05:39).

H/t to Darryl.

Friday, February 26, 2010

"A 'Hootenanny for Haiti' is Happening" in Seattle

Gene Stout:
In all-star cast of Seattle-based musicians are teaming up for “A Hootenanny for Haiti” Sunday at the Showbox at the Market.

The stellar group includes Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses, Loaded), Star Anna, Gary Westlake, Jeff Rouse, Kim Virant, Mark Pickerel, Kim Warnick, Ty Bailie and others.

Audience participation is encouraged at this latest benefit concert for the people of Haiti, which was devastated in an earthquake last month. Read an early CNN report here.

Tickets, $15, are available at Ticketmaster. Just follow this link.

A portion of the Ticketmaster fees will be donated to Partners In Health and their relief efforts in Haiti.

Howie P.S.: Via Wikipedia
According to Pete Seeger, in various interviews, he first heard the word hootenanny in Seattle, Washington in the late 1930s. It was used by Hugh DeLacey’s New Deal political club [1] to describe their monthly music fund raisers. [2] After some debate the club voted in the word hootenanny, which narrowly beat out the word wingding. Seeger, Woody Guthrie and other members of the Almanac Singers later used the word in New York City to describe their weekly rent parties, which featured many notable folksingers of the time. [3] In a 1962 interview in Time Joan Baez made the analogy that a hootenanny is to folk singing what a jam session is to jazz. [4]

"Why Growing Numbers of Baby Boomers and the Elderly Are Smoking Pot"

Conventional wisdom dictates that as younger generations slowly replace the old, conservative social traditions are jettisoned. This may be true for issues such as gay marriage, where there are clear divisions among younger and older voters, but when it comes to marijuana reform, the evidence indicates that simplistic divisions of opinion along age lines don't apply for pot.

Earlier this week, an AP wire article picked up a lot of buzz in the news-cycle, with a title and premise meant to shock the mainstream: "Marijuana Use by Seniors Goes up as Boomers Age."

The AP article was pegged to a December report released by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It revealed that the number of Americans over 50 who had reported consuming cannabis in the year prior to the study had gone up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent in the period from 2002 to 2008.

This is supported by earlier polling results. In February 2009, a Zogby poll found that voters aged 50 to 64 were almost equally divided in their support for marijuana legalization at 48 percent. In that same poll, young voters aged 18 to 29 were the cohort who most enthusiastically supported legalization, at 55 percent. But overall support among all ages came in at 44 percent.

So who brought the average down? Don't lay the blame on the elderly. In fact, as early as 2004, an AARP poll found that 72 percent of its members (all 50-plus, with the lion's share over 65) supported marijuana for medical purposes, indicating their understanding of the benefits of legal cannabis availability.

Some expert observers in the marijuana reform movement believe that the bulk of marijuana detractors are made up of 30- and 40-somethings -- adults of parenting age. And as more of the 65-and-over crowd is populated by Baby Boomers, it appears that in the not-too-distant future every age demographic including the elderly will approve of marijuana reform more than Americans in their 30s and 40s.

"These are people who have had children, and whether they used marijuana in the past or not, they've become very concerned that young children will have access to it," says Paul Armentano, deputy national director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "They've been swayed by prohibition and are leery of the option to end it, even though controlling and regulating marijuana would provide less access to children."

In the breakdown of the 2009 Zogby poll -- which NORML allowed AlterNet to review -- 38.7 percent of respondents 65 and older approved of taxing and regulating marijuana for adults. A low number, but compare it to the group aged 30 to 49, who approved it at 38.2 percent. Nearly the same, but still lower. And it ought be noted that in an earlier Zogby poll, commissioned by NORML in 2006, 30-49 year-olds stood out even more starkly, opposing marijuana legalization at 58 percent, while the 65-plus crowd opposed it at 52 percent; approximately two-thirds of the young adult and boomer cohorts approved.

And just as children are the reason many younger parents are against marijuana reform, offspring (or the lack thereof) may also be behind why greater numbers of aging Boomers are embracing marijuana -- most or all of theirs have left the nest.

This makes sense to George Rohrbacher, a 61-year-old cattle rancher in Eastern Washington state who smokes weed every day. When his kids -- now 25 to 35 -- were growing up, marijuana was something he had to keep a secret.

"Children under 18 don't need to be high on anything other than life," Rohrbacher says. His wife Ann espouses the same belief and quit marijuana just before 1976, when they had their first child. She later became a school superintendent.

Although Rohrbacher didn't give up the herb except for small stretches of time -- such as when he served in the Washington state senate -- it wasn't something he shared with his kids. "I didn't want them to have to defend me in the DARE program at school," he says. "But when my youngest son was 19 and off to college, I went from completely undercover to the opposite of that."

An advocate for marijuana legalization today, Rohrbacher speaks to many Baby Boomers who, like his wife, gave up pot. "Due to career choices, family-raising choices, they've not imbibed in years and they tell me they can't wait until they get to that spot in their career or family lives when they can go back to smoking pot," he says.

SAMHSA's study showed that past year marijuana use among those aged 55 to 59 tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent in 2008. Nearly 9 percent of men aged 50 to 54 admitted to using marijuana in the past year, bringing that demographic's level of cannabis use to nearly the same 10 percent rate that the general U.S. population is estimated to consume pot. While SAMHSA has jumped to the alarm on this trend, suggesting that "by the year 2020, the number of persons needing treatment for a substance abuse disorder will double among persons aged 50 or older," the reality of the matter is that may more realistically apply to aging Americans who use harder drugs like cocaine or meth -- not cannabis consumers.

Boomers' enthusiasm for weed is likely due to their being the first generation to experience widespread marijuana use in their youth. Nearly everyone smoked it or knew someone who did. And if what Rohrbacher has observed is true, many of them gave it up not because they didn't like it anymore, but because they felt it might interfere in their efforts to raise families and maintain jobs where drug testing is a concern. After all, legal and salary ramifications are much more significant once you have a family to raise and support.

As the nation's 78 million Boomers go grayer, they will also return to pot to soften the pains of aging. "I played a lot of sports when I was younger and I have aches now -- plain old aches from sleeping wrong or doing something wrong -- and those aches are as bad as various moments on the football field years ago," Rohrbacher said. "And I'd rather smoke marijuana than reach for a pharmaceutical."

Rohrbacher isn't alone. Though pharmaceuticals are marketed heavily to aging Americans, among all adults over 50 who admitted to using some kind of illegal substance in the previous year -- 4.3 million adults, or 5.7 percent of adults in that age range -- 44.9 percent admitted to using marijuana, compared to 33.4 percent who'd used prescription drugs for non-medical use.

And in addition to lessening the pain brought on by common ailments -- like joint pain and menopause -- one study found that cannabis might prevent osteoporosis in the elderly. (Interestingly, it might weaken bones in younger people.)

Americans, as a whole, are trending toward marijuana legalization. By mid-last year, a few polls showed that the taxing and regulating of cannabis had support from a majority of Americans for the first time ever. The majorities are slim, but they're majorities nonetheless.

And with an enormous aging population that is more accepting of pot legalization, that more clearly understands its benefits and the downsides to its prohibition, that majority may grow to be a decisive one in the public debate, even if today's -- and tomorrow's -- parents might be the last ones to be dragged on board.
Howie P.S: In Washington state, Sensible Washington is pushing I-1068 that "would remove criminal penalties from the adult use, possession and cultivation of marijuana in Washington State."

"Under-30 Americans: The next new dealers"

E.J. Dionne:
Young Americans are the linchpin of a new progressive era in American politics. So why aren't Democrats paying more attention to them?
The relative strength of conservatives in American politics since the 1980s was built on generational change: Voters whose views had been shaped by the New Deal were gradually replaced with the more cautious souls who came of age after FDR. Enter the Millennials -- generally defined as Americans born in 1981 or after. They are, without question, the most liberal generation since those New Dealers, and they could transform our politics for decades.

Yet this will happen only if progressive politicians start noticing their very best friends in the electorate. Progressives who doubt this should spend time with the exhaustive portrait of the Millennials that Pew Research Center released Wednesday. The study underscored the generation's "distinctiveness," and a big part of that distinctiveness is how progressive younger Americans are compared with the rest of the country.

For one thing, they are not allergic to the word "liberal." Americans under 30 include the largest proportion of self-described liberals and the smallest proportion of self-described conservatives of any age group: 29 percent of the under-30s called themselves liberal, compared with 28 percent who called themselves conservative.

"In every other age group," Pew notes, "far more described their views as conservative than liberal."

Among Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), the conservative advantage over liberals was 38 percent to 20 percent. Among baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964), conservatives led 43 percent to 18 percent. Among those born in 1945 or before -- Pew uses the classic "Silent Generation" tag -- the conservative advantage was 45 to 15 percent. (Moderates and a few respondents who refused a label made up the remainder in all groups.)

The difference in self-labeling reflects differences in attitudes. It's well-known that younger voters are more liberal on social issues, particularly gay rights. But their liberalism also includes sympathy for activist government. Fifty-three percent of Millennials said that "government should do more to solve problems." In every other age group, pluralities preferred the alternative statement offered by the pollsters, that "government is doing too many things better left to business and individuals."

"Millennials," the report concludes, "are significantly less critical of government on a number of dimensions than are other age cohorts."

Scott Keeter, a principal author of the report, said that while individuals often become more conservative as they get older, not all generations start off as liberal as the Millennials have. "Many in Generation X came of age in the Reagan years and started out as conservatives," he said. Baby boomers, he added, are more conservative than they were in the 1970s, but older boomers "retain a distinctively Democratic tilt."

Though not the whole story, demographic factors help account for the Millennials' progressive leanings: Census data cited by Pew show that 61 percent of Millennials are white, compared with 70 percent of Americans age 30 and over. This means that political outreach to the young will require particular attention to Hispanics (19 percent of Millennials) and African Americans (14 percent).

For Democrats looking ahead to this fall's election, the Pew study has some disturbing news.

It's true that Millennials are the most Democratic age group in the electorate -- they voted for Barack Obama by 2 to 1. Their turnout rate relative to older voters was higher in 2008 than in any election since 1972, the first presidential contest in which 18-year-olds could vote.

But Pew notes that since 2008, the Millennials' "enthusiasms" have "cooled" -- "for Obama and his message of change, for the Democratic Party and, quite possibly, for politics itself."

Obama's personal ratings among the Millennials remain very high -- three-fourths have a favorable view of the president -- but his job-approval rating has slipped from 73 percent a year ago to 57 percent this month. In the early months of last year, Democrats had a 29-point Millennial advantage over the Republicans. By the end of the year, their lead had been cut to 14 points.

That still keeps the 18-to-29s the electorate's most Democratic age group. But Democrats face disaster this fall and real problems in 2012 if the Millennials become disaffected from politics and if the Republicans continue to erode the Democrats' generational edge.

And what will Democrats do about it? Politicians have a bad habit in midterm elections: They concentrate on older folks, assuming younger voters will stay home on Election Day. This may be rational most of the time, but it is a foolish bet for Democrats and liberals this year. The young helped them rise to power and can just as easily usher hem to early retirements. Obama cannot afford to break their hearts.

Sargent: "Obama To GOP: It’s Over"

Greg Sargent:
Obama listened politely for six hours, with occasional flashes of temper, but in the end, the message was clear: It’s over. We’re moving forward without Republicans.
Whether Obama and Dems will succeed in passing reform on their own is anything but assured, to put it mildly. But there’s virtually no doubt anymore that they are going to try — starting as early as tomorrow.

That was the subtle but unmistakable message of Obama’s closing argument. After hours of hearing Republicans repeat again and again that only an incremental approach to reform is acceptable to them, Obama rejected that out of hand.

Here’s the key bit from Obama:

I’d like Republicans to do a little soul searching to find out if there are some things that you’d be willling to embrace that get to this core problem of 30 million people without health insurance, and dealing seriously with the pre-existing conditions issue. I don’t know frankly whether we can close that gap.

And if we can’t close that gap, then I suspect Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner are going to have a lot of arguments about procedures in Congress about moving forward.

Unless I’m misreading that, Obama is saying that unless Republicans support comprehensive reform as Obama and Dems have defined it — dealing with the problem of 30 million uninsured and, by extension, seriously tackling the preexisting condition problem — they will almost certainly move forward with reconciliation.

What’s more, Obama also essentially accused Republicans of approaching today’s summit in bad faith — after they had sat there with him for six hours. He said that even after the public option was taken off the table, Republicans continued to use the same “government takeover” slur.

“Even after the public option wasn’t available, we still hear the same rhetoric,” Obama said. “We have a concept of an exchange which previously has been an idea that was embraced by Republicans before I embraced it. Somehow, suddenly it became less of a good idea.”

This accusation, combined with his assertion that Repubicans need to do some “soul-searching” on whether they wanted to join Dems in tackling reform as they have defined it, amount to an unmistakable vow to move foward without them.

Democratic aides are already interpreting Obama’s remarks along these lines. As one senior aide emailed: “We may make one last effort to try to get a Senate Republican.”

In terms of who “won” today’s debate, I tend to think Republicans actually accomplished much of what they needed to do today. It seems likely that some Congressional Dems will be just as skittish tomorrow as they were yesterday about moving forward alone via reconciliation. That means Dems still have an enormously difficult task ahead.

But Obama’s message to Dems and Republicans alike today was that barring some kind of major change on the GOP side, this is exactly what he and Dem leaders are about to attempt.


Update: To clarify, this was a call to Dems, perhaps more than anyone else, that the time has come for them to stiffen their spines and move forward with reconciliation, which Republicans, and even some nonpartisan observers, have repeatedly characterized as akin to marching off a cliff.

Also: This summit was always about laying the groundwork for Dems to go forward alone, barring a major capitulation from Republicans. As noted here repeatedly, Dems will find themselves in exactly the same position tomorrow as they did yesterday: Confronting the enormously difficult task of passing ambitious reform on their own.
Update II: A GOP aide emails the Republican take: “They badly needed a win today and they didn’t get it. Not even close. Republicans were prepared. The President was pedantic and peeved.”

"House sends extension of Patriot Act to Obama"

Key provisions of the nation's primary counterterrorism law would be extended for a year under a bill passed by the House Thursday evening after Democrats retreated from adding new privacy protections.
The House voted 315 to 97 to extend the USA Patriot Act, sending the bill to President Barack Obama. Without the bill, the provisions would expire Sunday.

The Senate approved the extension Wednesday. The privacy protections were cast aside when Senate Democrats lacked the necessary 60-vote supermajority to pass them. Thrown away were restrictions and greater scrutiny on the government's authority to spy on Americans and seize their records.

The Democratic retreat is a political victory for Republicans and a major disappointment for Democrats and their liberal allies who believe the Patriot Act fails to protect privacy and gives the government too much authority to spy on Americans and seize their property.

The three sections of the Patriot act that would stay in force:

—Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.

—Allow court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations.

—Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., noted that the bill with privacy protections had been approved in committee by a bipartisan majority. He said the measure "should be an example of what Democrats and Republicans can accomplish when we work together, but I understand some Republican senators objected to passing the carefully crafted national security, oversight and judicial review provisions in this legislation."

But Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on Leahy's committee, said Thursday that any changes to the Patriot Act would weaken it.

"Recent terror attacks, such as those at Fort Hood and on Christmas Day, demonstrate just how severe of a threat we are facing," Sessions said. "This extension keeps Patriot's security measures in place and demonstrates that there is a growing recognition that these crucial provisions must be preserved."

The Obama administration supported the revisions to the law as approved by the committee.
Republicans have been steadily pounding the Obama administration over the closing of the detainee prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as the possibility of holding civilian trials for detainees in the United States. They have also criticized federal agents for informing a Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (OO'-mahr fah-ROOK' ahb-DOOL'-moo-TAH'-lahb), of his right to remain silent after 50 minutes of questioning for allegedly trying to ignite explosives on a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Dr. Dean's prescription for health reform" (with video)

Bennington (VT) Banner with video (27:07):
As President Obama struggles to salvage health care reform after months of drift while Republicans tore apart his party's plans, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is clearly laying out what the Democrats should have focused on and what still might be possible on reform.
The former governor, sounding more polished on stage than during his unsuccessful presidential run in 2004, deftly nailed point after point in the ongoing health care debate when he spoke before Windham County Democrats a week ago. A video of that speech can be found on the Web site of our sister paper, the Brattleboro Reformer, and watching it is guaranteed to provide disheartened reform supporters a shot of adrenaline.

Dr. Dean's most telling observation was that Democrats typically see the glass as one quarter full even when it is, in reality, three quarters full, and a little more resolve and push might prove decisive. Hearing complaints from some party members about the Democrats' stumbling efforts toward meaningful reform, he asserted that the party should not beat itself up too much. The problem, he said, is primarily the politicized opposition of Republicans and four conservative Democratic caucus senators who have blocked true reform.

In fact, he said, 56 senators seemed willing to back a public option in reform, which is the element he rightly insists is vital, and one the Obama administration made the mistake of not pushing harder. "The people can't allow reform to be held hostage to the Joe Liebermans of the world," Dr. Dean declared, referring to the Connecticut senator who did the most to block a public option in the Senate bill.

Stressing the importance of a public option, Dr. Dean notes that Medicare covers about 50 million Americans, Medicaid millions more, and Veterans Administration health care -- insuring about 25 million -- was ranked the best plan in the nation over all public and private insurance programs.

Dr. Dean also forcefully makes the point that the lack of firm direction by the administration allowed Congress to create a pork-laden, Christmas tree bill that angered voters across the political spectrum and may have led to Republican Scott Brown's upset Senate victory in Massachusetts. The lack of a public option, he said, also likely means voters will not realize any great benefit from reform that might induce them to vote for Democrats.

Favoring a simple expansion of Medicare to cover more Americans, rather than "re-inventing the wheel," Dr. Dean added that the current bills before Congress also delay the reform for years. During that time, he said, Republicans will continue to tee off on the ideas and distort the legislation's effects, and the public will not have any firm evidence one way or the other.

If a public option were offered immediately, he said, millions of Americans would feel more secure in a severe and lingering recession, and they might reward the Democrats come election time. He added that he'd welcome a Republican challenge to a public option once the voters saw its value in not only providing insurance security, but in helping to control the soaring cost of health care.

Addressing President Obama's failed efforts toward a bipartisan reform plan, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, who oversaw the party's comeback from the political wilderness, said, "I think people would rather see a strong health reform bill than bipartisanship."

Paraphrasing Lyndon Johnson, he said that sometimes "you have to break a few eggs to make a good omelet." Democrats, he said, should get tough now and push to enact a bill they believe in, not a muddled compromise, and if they are right the voters will reward them. The best "cure for lies" about the reform plans "is to just do it, just show them," he said.

This focused speech showed how Dr. Dean has evolved as a speaker and an advocate for reform since his presidential run six years ago. It also makes us wish he were now into his second term as president. The country might be in much better shape.

Howie P.S.: "Senate Dems warm to reconciliation" (Politico) seems to bolster Dean's position. Instant analysis from Howard Dean, Darcy Burner, Joan McCarter and others on HuffPo today here.

"Where to Watch Obama's Health Care Summit Online"


Granted, the beer summit had a catchier name, but today’s Health Care Summit is still hotly anticipated. Democrats want to prove that Republicans don’t have any substantial ideas for health care reform and Republicans are eager to show that the whole process is flawed. Sounds like a recipe for success, right?
The summit, which was initiated by President Barack Obama, will start at 10 am EST / 7am Pacific and end at about 4pm EST / 1pm Pacific. CSPAN will air the whole thing live, as will CNN and Fox News. No TV at work? No worries, there’s also going to be plenty of live video coverage online, so you won’t have to call in sick to watch why actually being sick won’t get better any time soon. will once again squarely compete with news websites and live streaming start-ups by carrying the entire event live on its own site as well as through its Facebook application. owes the Health Care Summit a lot — after all, the network has gotten lots of plugs from Obama himself, who vowed to show the whole thing on CSPAN ever since he first proposed the summit. CSPAN is giving back by streaming the entire event on its web site. has vowed to also stream the entire event live.

MSNBC won’t carry the event in its entirety on TV; after all, it’s still Olympics. However, the network has announced that it will stream the whole summit on its website.

CNN Live will carry the Health Care Summit as well, and it may even bring back the Facebook integration we all learned to love during the 2008 election cycle.

Howie P.S.: Ari Melber offers this intriguing alternative:
The Sunlight Foundation, a webby, nonpartisan transparency organization, announced it will route around the traditional media to provide its own interactive broadcast of the proceedings, with information that many TV channels can't (or won't) share. Jake Brewer, the group's engagement director, says that as each politician speaks, Sunlight's website will compliment video footage with "campaign contributions that the person speaking has received, their connections to lobbyists and industry, personal finances, and key votes that the leaders have made on health care in the past." Like C-SPAN meets Common Cause.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Anthony Weiner calls out the Republicans (video)

Anthony Weiner, video (05:09).

Josh Marshall and Glenn Greenwald with Dylan Ratigan (video)

TPM, video (05:38).

Howie P.S.: They talk about the US government's dealings with Toyota and Blackwell.

AP: "Dem Youth Support Waning Amid Gov't Gridlock"

Whither the youth vote? A year after backing Barack Obama by an overwhelming 2-to-1 ratio, young adults are quickly cooling toward Democrats amid dissatisfaction over the lack of change in Washington and an escalating war in Afghanistan.

A study by the Pew Research Center, being released Wednesday, highlights the eroding support from 18-to-29 year olds whose strong turnout in November 2008 was touted by some demographers as the start of a new Democratic movement.

The findings are significant because they offer further proof that the diverse coalition of voters Obama cobbled together in 2008 -- including high numbers of first-timers, minorities and youths -- are not Democratic Party voters who can necessarily be counted on.

While young adults remain decidedly more liberal, the survey found the Democratic advantage among 18-to-29 year olds has substantially narrowed -- from a record 62 percent identifying as Democrat vs. 30 percent for the GOP in 2008, down to 54 percent vs. 40 percent last December. It was the largest percentage point jump in those who identified or leaned Republican among all the voting age groups.

Young adults' voting enthusiasm also crumbled.

During the presidential election, turnout among 18-to-29 year olds was the highest in years, making up roughly 20 percent of the voters in many states including Virginia and New Jersey, due in part to high participation from young blacks and Hispanics.

That percentage, however, dropped by half for the gubernatorial races in those states last November where Republicans celebrated wins as black groups pushed Obama to do more to soften the economic blow from mortgage foreclosures and Latinos saw little progress on immigration reform. Young adults were also the least likely of any age group to identify themselves as regular voters.

''This is a generation of young adults who made a big splash politically in 2008,'' said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and co-author of the report. ''But a year and a half later, they show signs of disillusionment with the president -- and, perhaps, with politics itself.''

Democrats saw evidence of this last November, when Republicans toppled Democrats from power in governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia. Young, minority and new voters who Obama pulled into the fold in 2008 didn't turn out at the same levels for the two Democratic candidates. The same thing happened in the Massachusetts Senate race last month.

The lesson: Neither party has a hold on 18-to-29 year olds. They tend to vote far less than other age groups, yet they have proven to be a powerful constituency if they are persuaded to vote. And that means the race is on by both Republicans and Democrats to make inroads into the next generation of voters.

Analysts say the findings reflect the fast pace at which young voters live their lives, and both parties should take note of their fickleness.

''If you don't respond to their needs, hopes or dreams quickly, they're gone,'' said Matthew Dowd, an independent political analyst who was a strategist in former President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. ''They'll leave the playing field or switch their allegiance.''

''They haven't become Republicans and they aren't solid Democrats. They're just looking for leaders who are where they are and will deliver,'' Dowd said. ''Both parties have to be cognizant of the volatility of that group.''

According to the Pew survey, large numbers of young adults said they personally liked the president but were dissatisfied with his rate of progress in changing Washington, such as improving the economy and fixing health care. Just 46 percent of 18-to-29 year olds said they believed Obama had changed Washington, compared to 48 percent who said he had not. Only baby boomers were more cynical, with 52 percent saying Obama had not changed the way things work in Washington.

The young adults also were the only age group in which more disapproved than approved of Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan. Only 34 percent supported his decision in December to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to the region, while 50 percent disapproved.

Still, when asked why Obama hadn't done more to bring change, young adults were somewhat forgiving, with about 56 percent blaming the president's opponents and special interests; only 30 percent said Obama was the one at fault for not trying hard enough.

The findings are part of Pew's broad portrait of the so-called millennial generation, the children of baby boomers who came of age in the new millennium. Demographers believe this generation can reshape U.S. culture and politics because of their demographic size and political outlook.

Making up nearly one-fourth of U.S. voters, 18-to-29 year olds are less religious, more racially diverse and liberal on social issues such as gay rights. They are steeped in digital technology and social media, and are strong believers in the view that the government should do more to solve problems.

For example:

--Nearly two-thirds admit to texting while driving, and more than 8 in 10 sleep with their cell phones by their bed.

--Nearly 4 in 10 have at least one tattoo; about half of those people have two to five tattoos. Roughly 1 in 4 have a body piercing in a place other than an earlobe -- six times the share of older adults.

--About 37 percent of young adults are unemployed or out of the workforce, the highest share among this age group in more than three decades. A record share -- 39.6 percent -- was enrolled in college, and one in 8 millennials ages 22 and older say they had ''boomeranged'' back into their parents' home because of the recession. The Pew survey is based on interviews with 2,020 adults by cell phone or landline from Jan. 14 to 27. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all respondents, higher for subgroups.

Howie P.S.: These words
AP National Political Writer Liz Sidoti contributed to this report.
cause me to question whether there is some spin going on here. I just don't trust "Donuts" anymore, although I find the overall results fascinating, particularly regarding the sleeping in bed with cell phones. Better news for the WH from Business Week: "Stimulus Created or Saved as Many as 2.1 Million Jobs, CBO Says. Another ray of sunshine: "Democrats block filibuster on scaled-back jobs bill."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Howard Dean on Countdown: "Support for public option creeps ahead" (video)

MSNBC-Countdown, video (04:06)

Sable: Standing-Room Only For McGinn’s Youth And Family “Workshop”

The crowds spilled into the main hall of the Rainier Community center even before the 7:00pm meeting was underway.

“I’m here because I raise kids in this city, and they don’t feel safe,” said one woman who attended with her neighbor. Both women said youth violence, safety and opportunities were their top concerns.

“I want to know what the guy [Mayor McGinn] is actually going to do,” said one man who identified himself as “Gary”. “He talks a whole lot of stuff, but I want to know, when he is done hearing from all of us, is he going to put the city’s money where its mouth is, or leave these kids out to dry?”

Dozens of parents neighbors, volunteers crammed into a small room prepared to begin the discussion.

The co-chairs of the new initiative are former mayor Norm Rice, former deputy mayor Bob Watt and Estela Ortega, executive director at El Centro de la Raza and were on hand to lead the meeting.
Read the whole post here.