Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year’s Eve invitation to befriend yourself

The view from my window in midwinter.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and the temperature is stuck on cold here in Minn., and we’ve got freezing drizzle due to change to snow later on with a predicted accumulation of three or so inches.

It’s perfect weather for accepting Saki Santorelli’s invitation at Santorelli is director of the stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and he describes practicing mindfulness “as offering hospitality to ourselves.”

Practice: Befriending Self (found in Santorelli’s article: Letting Ourselves Heal)

Mindfulness is an act of hospitality. A way of learning to treat ourselves with kindness and care that slowly begins to percolate into the deepest recesses of our being while gradually offering us the possibility of relating to others in the same manner. Working with whatever is present is enough. There is no need to condemn ourselves for not feeling loving or kind. Rather, the process simply asks us to entertain the possibility of offering hospitality to ourselves no matter what we are feeling or thinking. This has nothing to do with denial or self-justification for unkind or undesirable actions, but it has everything to do with self-compassion when facing the rough, shadowy, difficult, or uncooked aspects of our lives.

This week try taking some time to explore the possibility of sitting with yourself as if you were your own best friend. Dwelling in the awareness of the breath, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go, experiment with the possibility of embracing yourself as you would embrace another person who is dear to you and needs to be held. If you like, try silently repeating a phase on your own behalf. You might offer yourself one or more of the following:

May I be safe.
May I be free from suffering.
May I be peaceful.

Find the words that are right for you in this moment of your life. This may feel awkward, foreign, or lacking in authenticity. None of these feelings need be denied. Nevertheless, if this act of intrapsychic hospitality appeals to you, give yourself the room to work with this practice as a way of caring for yourself. Such a way of working with ourselves is not meant to foster egocentricity or selfishness. It is just asking us to step back into the circle of caring and include ourselves.

Happy New Year to Katalusis readers and please know, you are always welcome here.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Obama and the Michael Vick controversy

In undergraduate school at Mankato State University in Mankato, Minn., I once took a course in which we studied the causes of recidivism of convicted criminals who served their sentences and failed in their attempts to fit back into normal life.

The inability to find a job was a major reason that many ex-convicts soon returned to jail.

That class back in the 1970s came to mind the other day when President Obama called Philadelphia Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie to congratulate him for signing quarterback Michael Vick who had just served a jail sentence for running a dog-fighting business. Obama expressed gratitude to Lurie for giving Vick a second chance.

The president has since received a barrage of criticism for supporting Vick. But even though I’ve never been a big fan of Obama, I’m with him on this one. If we live in a country where it’s not possible to pay your debt to society, correct your ways, and become a contributing, law-abiding citizen, then we’re going to continue to have overflowing prisons throughout the land.

And guess who foots the bill for those overflowing prisons? The taxpayer of course.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Advocating adult behavior in politics, commerce, and foreign affairs

 Secretary Clinton speaking at the International Human Rights Day Town Hall, Dec. 10, 2010
I’m here to tell you that adversarial politics becomes wearing after awhile. Like many of my brothers and sisters in the blogosphere who supported Hillary Clinton in the 08 primary, I continued to express my disillusionment with the sexism and misogyny that arose in the left wing of the Democratic Party and among its media allies well after Obama took office and even after he appointed Hillary as secretary of state.

Bill and Hillary Clinton made peace early on with the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party, but I was still protesting at Katalusis until I burned out in early Feb. 2010. By then several of my blogging pals from 08 like Heidi Li Feldman and LadyBoomerNYC had also shut down.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to resuscitate Katalusis and was surprised to discover that my perspective on American politics had changed in an interval of several months. It’s as if I’ve grown to fit the status I claimed in 08 when I registered to vote as non-affiliated. Consequently, when the No Labels political movement arose recently, I was ready to sign on.

In my opinion No Labels advocates adult behavior in our participation in the democratic process instead of managing local and national elections like corrupt athletic contests. Our politics reflects the same poorly regulated competitive games we see played out in our internal commerce and in trade relationships with other nations and too often in our foreign policy in general.

It’s time we examined all areas of our lives and moved toward an ethic of cooperation rather than competition in addressing the problems we face internally and in relationship to the wider world. It’s possible humanity might find more satisfaction in developing positive relationships than racing one another in efforts that unabated will ultimately destroy the planet.

Training for civility in politics, commerce, and foreign affairs might well begin in attending events and activities sponsored by your local interfaith community. The St. Paul Interfaith Network hosted dialogue sessions last fall that featured two Palestinian speakers one evening and a week later two Israeli speakers.

They were each invited to tell their personal stories of growing up in what has long been essentially a war zone. Mind you, participants in the program and attendees were required to treat one another with respect.

At the final session, Ron Young, a consultant for the National Interreligous Initiative for Peace, emphasized that both the Palestinian and Israeli stories were true and urged that peace is possible now.

I would argue that if the St. Paul Interfaith Network can conduct civil discussions of contentious issues like the above, there is no reason why we can’t adopt similar practices in other areas of our lives.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Justice Sotomayor dispels fears on the left about her position on criminal justice issues

In August 2009, Sonia Sotomayor, A Roman Catholic of Puerto Rican descent, became the Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice and its third female justice.

Born in the Bronx, Sotomayor is no lightweight. She graduated with an A.B., summa cum laude, from Princeton University in 1976 and received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor at the Yale Law Journal.

In today’s NY Times, Adam Liptak sketches Sotomayor’s impact on the Court three months into her second term. He writes:

Justice Sotomayor has completely dispelled the fear on the left that her background as a prosecutor would align her with the court’s more conservative members on criminal justice issues. And she has displayed a quality — call it what you will — that is alert to the humanity of the people whose cases make their way to the Supreme Court.

Read more:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bill George names social networking the most significant business development of 2010

Bill George and I are Facebook friends. There are several reasons that I connected with Bill on the social network site. He and his wife Penny have Minnesota roots; Bill, who currently serves as professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, is a former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, Inc., based here in the Twin Cities, and Bill and Penny have also been supportive of United Theological Seminary, my alma mater.

So I was understandably interested when I glimpsed the title of Bill’s article at the Harvard Business Review a few minutes ago: How Social Networking Has Changed Business.  Bill begins:

Social networking is the most significant business development of 2010, topping the resurgence of the U.S. automobile industry. During the year, social networking morphed from a personal communications tool for young people into a new vehicle that business leaders are using to transform communications with their employees and customers, as it shifts from one-way transmission of information to two-way interaction. That's one reason Time magazine just named Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg Person of the Year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Who was the big winner in the lame duck session, Barack Obama or Olympia Snowe?

A few of us have been saying lately that recently passed legislation during the lame duck session was more about those affected by it than whether or not it was a "win" for President Obama. For example, the repeal of DADT finally allows gays and lesbians to openly die for their country.

Matt Yglesias explains how the media might have done better to anoint Olympia Snowe as the comeback senator rather than anointing Barack Obama the comeback kid:

The problem here, is that once we waited for the lame duck and wound up accomplishing all the legislative stuff that did in fact have substantial Republican support, all the press suddenly turned into how Obama was a “comeback kid” who was “winning” during the lame duck. Every fear that Bob Corker might have had six months ago about voting on Obama’s side of any bill was essentially vindicated. You could just as easily describe the lame duck session as a huge win for Olympia Snowe. After all, unlike Obama she got her way on START and DADT but also got her way on DREAM and one way to describe the tax cut compromise is really that she got Obama to shift to her position on taxes and got Mitch McConnell to give her cover on her right flank on unemployment insurance and ARRA extensions. But nobody is talking about how Olympia Snowe is the “comeback Senator” who, after 12 months of ineffectual moderation, succeeded in making the world turn on her pivotal status.

And yet congress just isn’t set up to function as a parliamentary body. If the passage of legislation per se is deemed a victory for the president, then it’s necessarily going to become an agonizing process to pass or repeal any kind of laws.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yes, Virginia...

My name is Virginia and for lo these many years, friends and acquaintances have approached me jocularly, saying, "Yes, Virginia, ...." and whatever else they saw fit to tell me. You'd think at least by now I'd believe there's a Santa Claus, and in the sense that Santa is described by the editor of the NY Sun in response to the letter from not this Virginia, but Virginia O'Hanlon, count me among the believers on this Christmas Eve, 2010.

The original editorial appeared in the NY Sun in 1897:

We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor,

I am 8 years old.

Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth: Is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon
115 W. 95th St.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except (what) they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
 Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, friends of Katalusis!

Are Americans better off than they were a year ago?

It's Christmas Eve and all through the House, not a creature is stirring, not even a representative, and nothing's happening in the Senate Chamber either.

But out in the media, it's the same old, same old. Don't those pundits, correspondents, reporters and what have you ever sleep? And you can be sure they're still keeping score on which politician is winning and which one is not, regardless of the legislation passed or possibly in the works for the next session.

I mean, what's more important: how much stuff was passed due to or in spite of Barack Obama or whether or not Americans are safer and better off than they were at his inauguration? The ranks of the unemployed might vote in the negative.

Ronald Brownstein over at the National Journal gives it a go this morning, calling the past congressional year One for the Books :

This month’s final flurry of legislative successes for President Obama and the Democratic Congress underscores the difficulty of rendering a single verdict on their tumultuous two years in power.

In November, Democrats forfeited control of the House after suffering the largest midterm losses for either party since 1938. They absorbed stinging defeats in the Senate as well. But before that, and to an utterly unexpected extent after that as well, Obama and congressional Democrats passed into law an enormous agenda. This Congress will enter the history books for the magnitude of both its political losses and its legislative victories.

Read more:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The successes of a No Labels lame duck congress and a bit of poetry as well

To hear the media tell it, recently passed legislation by our lame duck congress is first and foremost a victory for our beleaguered president, and it has nothing to do with what may or may not benefit the American people.

Under those terms, it becomes hard to separate the potentially increased odds of a second term for Barack Obama from the passage of several major bills, including the repeal of DADT, the START treaty, and health care for first responders.

Yes, the media smilingly report, President Obama is taking a victory lap at year's end despite the "shellacking" he and his party received in November.

Is there any way possible to retrain the media to think in terms of how the latest legislation will benefit the people rather than what it means for partisan politics? A new political movement is showing the way. Instead of congratulating President Obama - you know, the comeback kid and all - No Labels congratulated the folks in Congress who did the work:

No Labels: Not left. Not right. Forward.

Dear No Labeler,

It's tough to be a doubter in December, but many pundits and politicians have been cynical about the possibility of No Labels’ success.  To them, Democrats are Democrats and Republicans are Republicans and all they should ever do is try to beat the other side into the ground.  That’s not good politics, and it is terrible for the country.  That’s why No Labels is all about bringing people together so that we can move forward.

And over the past few days, we’ve seen how that is possible.  The two parties came together to pass a tax and economic package, a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the New START Treaty, and health care for 9/11 responders with large, bipartisan majorities.  That is a stark contrast to the kind of “take no prisoners” and “go it alone” politics we’ve seen from both parties over the past few years – and it gives us hope.

But what is most hopeful and inspiring in American politics is you.  In just the past couple of weeks, you’ve helped build the fastest growing movement in America – even with cable TV talking heads, elitist newspaper columnists, and talk radio hosts attacking you every step of the way.  Just this past week, No Labels has been the talk of the nation from “Meet the Press” to your local newspaper.

Help grow our movement. Forward this email to your friends and ask them to join us by signing our No Labels Declaration, join us on Facebook, or make a contribution so we can fund our activities.

In January, we’ll be launching our first monthly Meetups to show Americans can come together to talk about our country across party lines.  Sign up to get involved in an upcoming Meetup.

We’ll be taking a week off from our Weekly Wrap-Ups next week, but here’s a special poem to celebrate the season!
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the land,
Americans were joining a new bipartisan band.

They were calling out the media and the politicians too
For putting parties first instead of me and you.

In 2011, wherever the partisans are found
There will be a new force seeking common ground.

Santa Claus may be just one of the fables
But you’ve made something real: You’ve created No Labels.
Happy New Year from all of us at No Labels!
Many thanks,

Nancy Jacobson & Mark McKinnon
Co-Founders of No Labels

A succinct, passionate, and effective Sen. Gillibrand

Back in August 2009, when Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to replace Hillary Clinton as senator from New York,  it was again necessary to remind left wing Democrats that just because a female party member held different views, it was not open season for their sexist and misogynist attacks. I explained:

Every so often African-Americans and members of other minority groups remind one another that they are not all required to be on the same page all the time; there’s room for diversity. Just so, women are beginning to realize that although they may not agree on every political issue, they can stand united in their opposition to sexism and misogyny as well as all other forms of bigotry. Representing 51 percent of the nation’s population, women could thus assure a major upsurge in political power.
Vindication of my support for Gillibrand may be found in the NY Times article this morning headlined: Gillibrand Gains Foothold With 9/11 Aid Victory.

Describing Gillibrand's effective leadership in the Senate on the passage of the 9/11 bill and the repeal of Don't  Ask Don't Tell, the Times article by David Halbfinger gives credit where its due:

Once derided as an accidental senator, lampooned for her verbosity and threatened with many challengers who openly doubted her abilities, a succinct, passionate and effective Senator Gillibrand has made her presence felt in the final days of this Congress.

Her efforts have won grudging admiration from critics, adulation from national liberals and gay rights groups, and accolades from New York politicians across the political spectrum, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who once shopped for potential candidates to oust her.

Even her relentlessness, which once drew mockery, is now earning the highest compliment of all: professional jealousy from her more senior colleagues.

“To have gone from a virtual unknown to being a major player on some landmark legislation in such a short period of time just shows what Kirsten is capable of,” said Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy for
Yep, it's time for left wing Democrats and right wing Republicans to grow up and let the adults in Congress get on with the nation's work.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Time to boycott Target?

So you thought Target had mended its ways?
 The December 4th Star Tribune article begins, "It isn't easy being CEO of a public company." The business section's ode to Minneapolis-based Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel, which describes the executive as "always classy," was a public display of affection Minnesotans stereotypically avoid.

The author makes little mention of the recent revelations of gay-friendly Target's long-standing support for many of the most openly anti-gay politicians. Of these donations, the Star Trib says only, "The worst one could say about this incident is that Steinhafel may have been naive. But he admitted his mistake and reaffirmed the company's long-standing support for gay rights."

According to documents filed with the FEC in October 2010, Target continued donating to a bevy of anti-gay politicians even after Steinhafel apologized and committed to reforming the review process for future political donations. These donations even included some of the same anti-gay politicians the company had already been criticized for supporting.
Read more:

Foreign policy and Internet freedom

CLAY SHIRKY,  Professor of New Media at New York University and the author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, offers a compelling article on the political power of social media in the January/February 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs. 

 Looking at the topic in depth, Shirky supports Internet freedom, but he argues for an environmental approach to intervening in the efforts of other nations to censor Internet use rather than the instrumental method supported by the U.S. State Department.

Despite this basic truth -- that communicative freedom is good for political freedom -- the instrumental mode of Internet statecraft is still problematic. It is difficult for outsiders to understand the local conditions of dissent. External support runs the risk of tainting even peaceful opposition as being directed by foreign elements. Dissidents can be exposed by the unintended effects of novel tools. A government's demands for Internet freedom abroad can vary from country to country, depending on the importance of the relationship, leading to cynicism about its motives.

The more promising way to think about social media is as long-term tools that can strengthen civil society and the public sphere. In contrast to the instrumental view of Internet freedom, this can be called the "environmental" view. According to this conception, positive changes in the life of a country, including pro-democratic regime change, follow, rather than precede, the development of a strong public sphere. This is not to say that popular movements will not successfully use these tools to discipline or even oust their governments, but rather that U.S. attempts to direct such uses are likely to do more harm than good. Considered in this light, Internet freedom is a long game, to be conceived of and supported not as a separate agenda but merely as an important input to the more fundamental political freedoms.

What are your thoughts on this critical issue?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A long overdue act of social justice on behalf of gay men and women in the military

Eugene Robinson's column in today's Washington Post illustrates perfectly what's wrong with our political system and why many people are beginning to take No Labels seriously instead of mocking its founders for daring to think outside of the partisan box.

Robinson's topic was the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which he apparently supports. But instead of reporting the historic vote by the Senate as a long overdue bipartisan act of social justice on behalf of gay men and women serving in the US military, Robinson describes it as a political victory for the Obama Administration - one that will satisfy the president's so-called progressive critics:

Repeal of the military's bigoted and anachronistic "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military - a campaign promise that seemed to be slipping out of reach - doesn't fully mend the relationship between Obama and the Democratic Party's liberal wing. But it's a pretty terrific start. 
Robinson notes that independent Joe Lieberman and Republican Susan Collins were instrumental in getting DADT repealed, but he's unable to let it go at that - he feels compelled to stab the two a couple of times for not living up to his expectations throughout their political careers.

Some of us have beeen around long enough to appreciate the many times over the years when political leaders like Lieberman, Collins, Snowe, Bayh, et al have succeeded in breaking the gridlock in Washington in order to solve the nation's problems.

Our nation will have reached maturity when its leaders will cease to think of the national political process as a winner-take all athletic contest; the people's welfare be damned. Likewise, we can say the grown ups are in charge when we begin to consistently stress cooperation, rather than competition in relationship to the rest of the world.

You gotta love Elizabeth Warren

If you've seen and heard Elizabeth Warren, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,  making the rounds to school the public on financial matters, you have to love her. She dives in during discussions of weighty financial issues with the likes of Jon Stewart and provides clear, cogent explanations for the current state of our economy - plus, she offers a straightforward path to fixing it.

It seems that Warren's grasp of financial matters carries over into her personal life as reported in the upcoming January issue of  Vogue Magazine. Amy Parnes writes in Politico:

Elizabeth Warren is known for her frugality — after all, she's helping the Obama administration whip the financial industry back into shape. Still, her extreme thriftiness might surprise you. During an interview with Warren earlier this fall, Vogue contributing editor Rebecca Johnson was taken aback by one of Warren's money-saving habits.
Read More:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Two years later and oh, how America loves the Clintons

Amazing. Flashback to the 08 primary when the Journolisting media were busily smearing Bill and Hillary Clinton as racists; the smug Bob Schieffer was speculating on the air that Bill was deliberately trying to undercut Hillary's campaign; and "liberal" pundits, Dionne, Rich, Herbert, Robinson, et al, were accusing Hillary of harboring death wishes for Obama.

Lately, wherever you scan online news coverage, there's Bill Clinton's smiling face being lauded with yet another honor. If he isn't on demand at the White House to assist President Obama, he's making headlines for his newly adopted vegan diet. Politico has it:

Sarah Palin may have riled People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) this year with her televised animal slaughter, but at least one politico has earned the organization’s praise. President Bill Clinton has been named PETA’s 2010 Person of the Year, the animal rights organization announced Monday.
And in case you've missed it, Hillary, the woman labeled "too polarizing" for the Dems to nominate in 08, was voted on October 7, 2010 the most popular political figure in the nation, receiving a favorable rating of 64 percent in a Bloomberg National Poll.

Michelle Obama came in second, and President Obama lagged behind in third place.

"Country-boying" George W. Bush in Decision Points

Throughout George W. Bush's career on the national stage, I argued that the offspring of '41, born in New Haven, Connecticut and educated at Yale, offered a fake persona as a swaggering, near-illiterate Texan to garner votes from the lower classes. He was never as dumb as he pretended to be.

In his NY Times review of  George W. Bush's, Decision Points, Michael Kinsley describes the pose '43 adopts as if it's limited to the pages of his recently published memoir:

I believe the Texas term for what George W. tries to do in this book is “country-boying.” That is, pretending to be an unsophisticated hick who can smell a phony a mile away. 
But evidently, Dubya succeeded way too well in convincing the public of his ignorance. Kinsley's review continues:

But it’s not all country-boying. Although he never says so, Bush clearly resents the widespread suspicion that he’s not too (choose your euphemism) intellectually engaged, and loses no opportunity to clear that up. Referring to a book about Lincoln, he boasts that it is just “one of 14 Lincoln biographies I read during my presidency.” Elsewhere he reveals that “I read a lot of history,” from which he has concluded that presidents “who based decisions on principle . . . were often vindicated over time.” Bush and his Rasputin, Karl Rove, even had a book-­reading contest, measuring their reading by number of books, number of pages and square inches of type. That’s how much he loves books. Asked at one of the presidential debates who his favorite philosopher was, he thought of answering Locke or Mill, he says, but felt mysteriously compelled to answer, “Christ.” 
Kinsley's review offers a chuckle or two and even a few insights in response to Decision Points.

Read more:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A NY Times columnist's bitterly cynical attack on No Labels

I know I should not have been surprised to read Frank Rich's vitriolic attack in the NY Times this morning on No Labels, the recently launched political movement supporting civility and bipartisanship in government.

But I had to ask myself,  "Is this the same columnist who went all out in the 08 Democratic primary to support Barack Obama's 'hope and change' candidacy, while joining forces with DNC leaders and media allies in their determined effort to destroy Hillary Clinton?

A foremost charge against Hillary in 08 was that she was too polarizing, even though in her years as senator from New York, she had earned a reputation for her ability to work across the aisle with her Republican colleagues - it can be done, Frank!

Ironically, the polls have shown that in his first term, Obama ranks as the most polarizing US president in contemporary history.

Maybe Rich's subsequent disillusionment with Obama's failure to transform Washington overnight explains his bitterly cynical response to the rise of the radical center, represented by No Labels.

Regular Katalusis readers know that after the 08 primary, I was one of many Hillary supporters who left the Democratic Party and re-registered as non-affiliated. At the time, I had concluded that the extreme right and the extreme left were mirror images of one another, and I was disgusted with both.

No Labels offers a potential home for those of us who prefer civility and  bipartisanship in the conduct of the nation's business.

Friday, December 17, 2010

More news from No Labels and the radical center

The No Labels weekly wrap up that just arrived in my inbox:

No Labels: Not left. Not right. Forward.Dear No Labeler,
This week began with the launch of our No Labels movement – and ended with signs of hope that America’s frozen political system might begin to thaw.

Thank you for participating in the No Labels Launch on Monday.  We had 1,100 citizens from all 50 states including civic leaders, politicians, academics, business leaders and college students from over 90 different universities.  Democrats, Republicans and Independents gathered to put our labels aside to focus on what unites us as Americans rather than what divides us.  It was a day of stirring calls to bring our nation together to tackle its big challenges.  You can watch videos from the day on our blog.

Every major news outlet in America covered our launch and more than 50 million Americans learned about who we are.  But now that we’ve been introduced, its time to grow our movement.  Forward this email to your friends and ask them to join us by signing our No Labels Declaration, getting involved in an upcoming Meetup, or joining us on Facebook.

We need you to stand with us because it’s clear that those who see America from a purely partisan viewpoint are coming after us from day one.  From Rush Limbaugh to Keith Olbermann, we’ve been attacked by those who thrive on partisan warfare (Please see John Avlon’s Article in The Daily Beast My War With Rush Limbaugh below).  We expected these attacks – and welcome them.  The fact is that most Americans have been left out of a political system that is built on the left and the right lobbing shots at each other.

What the partisan fighters don’t get is that the area between the warring factions isn’t a no man’s land, it is a place where we can find common ground.  We saw that at our launch in New York on Monday and we saw it as the week ended in a place few would have expected: the United States Congress.  There, for the first time in a long time, Democrats and Republicans came together to pass a new package of tax cuts and benefits for those facing unemployment.  In the Senate, the package received 81 voters.  In the House, it was supported by 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans.  This is the first time in a long-time that this level of bipartisanship has been seen on major legislation. It shows that compromise, while difficult, is possible.

We’ll need that spirit to be alive on even harder issues in the months and years ahead – and we’ll need you to build the No Labels movement to make this a reality every step of the way.
Many thanks,

Nancy Jacobson & Mark McKinnon
Co-Founders of No Labels

My War With Rush Limbaugh
By John Avlon
The Daily Beast
December 16, 2010 | 1:23pm

Limbaugh is taking nasty shots at me and my new "No Labels" group, and Keith Olbermann named us a “world’s worst”—examples of the all-or-nothing politics tearing the country apart.

According to Rush Limbaugh, I’m a hard-core liberal, no different than Michael Moore who paid the bail for “the serial rapist Julian Assange.” Also, I’m not willing to admit who the terrorists are, and I’m helping to kill Christmas.

It’s all because I co-founded a new group that launched this week called No Labels. We’re Republicans, Democrats and Independents—dedicated to confronting the culture of hyper-partisanship that is distorting our debates and stopping our nation from solving the serious challenges we face.

This idea is threatening to professional polarizers like El Rushbo—which is why he devoted an hour of his show this week to attacking us. In particular, he took personal aim at co-founders Mark McKinnon (a Republican Bush/McCain adviser and fellow Daily Beast columnist), Kiki McLean (a Texas Democrat and Clinton administration alum) and myself. In the process, he again proved the need for No Labels.

Rush’s core concern seems to be that there is no such thing as the center or independent voters. He believes that America is divided between the far-right and the far-left, and he likes to offer only that false choice because he believes it’s a fight he can win. But an emphasis on swing voters or independents—the largest and fastest-growing segment of the electorate—makes the math more complicated. It screws an inflexible ideologue up.

“If we do this right, we can discredit this whole mind-set of the ‘moderate center’ being the defining group in American politics,” said Rush. “Because this No Labels group is going to end up illustrating what a fraudulent idea that whole concept of, ‘There are people who decide issue by issue. On the left they like certain things, on the right they like certain things.’”

So Rush believes that there are no principled Americans who decide what they believe on different policies issue-by-issue. For someone who talks about freedom a lot, he doesn’t have much faith in free will or free-thinking. He doesn’t believe that Americans—especially independent voters—can consider themselves fiscally conservative but socially liberal. You either walk in lockstep as a social conservative and fiscal conservative or you are a ‘hard-core liberal’—libertarians, apparently, need not apply.

It is an illustration of one of the lies of modern American politics—that people who surrender their individuality to an ideology and vote the party line are somehow "courageous." That’s not courage, it's conformity.

But this all-or-nothing mindset is what allows Rush to look at the range of people who spoke at the No Labels launch and dismiss them all. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is "an ├╝berliberal" as presumably is the self-described libertarian-conservative congressman turned cable host Joe Scarborough, Bush-era Comptroller General David Walker, Reagan administration alumni David Gergen, Congressman Mike Castle and keynote speaker David Brooks who cut his teeth at William F. Buckley’s National Review before joining The New York Times. Rush also took time to dismiss other bipartisan initiatives to achieve fiscal responsibility like the Concord Coalition (co-founded by Granite State Republican Warren Rudman) and Nixon Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson’s legion efforts to education Americans about the crippling impact of the deficit and the debt.

Says Mark McKinnon: “Rush thrives on hyper-partisanship. He's against everything we stand for. He doesn't want us to get along. He doesn't want Republicans talking to Democrats. It's a zero sum game for Rush. It's all about winning for Republicans and losing for Democrats. Rush said he wants the President of United States to fail. Forget about the good of the country, it would be good for Republicans. No Labels could not disagree more. We hope that any president succeeds, Republican or Democrat. Because progress for the country is more important that points for a political party."

Criticizing Limbaugh is not the same thing as demonizing him. We can recognize that he is a talented broadcaster, a popular political entertainer for folks on the far-right. He also helped create a big part of the problem in our politics today. He uses conflict, tension, fear and resentment to drum up his ratings, appealing to a narrow but intense (and aging) niche audience by using the old trick of dividing Americans into "us" vs. "them," perpetuating the polarization he profits from. That’s why it’s a little absurd to hear Limbaugh point out disapprovingly that my book Wingnuts itself uses a label to describe the use of fear and hate by hyper-partisans. Its funny how quickly people who throw around labels for a living ("feminazi," for example) cry foul when a term like Wingnut is directed at them. But bullies are always shocked when you punch back.

While Limbaugh was busy arguing that No Labels is just a shadow organization for progressives, on the left, the netroots were describing us as just the opposite—a shadow organization of Republicans. Huffington Post contributor Robert David Steele went the DINO-hunting "corporatist" route sometimes directed at No Labels allies, like centrist Democratic Senators Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh and Joe Manchin, describing how “No Labels ‘Non-Party’ Equals ‘Four More Years’ for Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, Grand Theft USA”. Daily Kos offered a series of similar takes.

Keith Olbermann named No Labels one of the "worst persons in the world" last night (a badge of honor he gave to me earlier this year). He called us “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” and “a bunch of fraudulent conservative Democrats pretending to be moderates and a bunch of fraudulent Republicans pretending to be independents.” Again, there’s the impulse to divide and deny the legitimacy of anyone who doesn’t conform to a hyper-partisan view of politics.

Likewise, Ed Schultz did a segment attacking No Labels as "fence riders.” When he brought Kiki McLean on, she explained No Labels’ belief that “if we start the day by calling each other liars, if we start the day by calling each other baby killers, murderers, racists, we don't get to the topic of substance.” Schultz called on liberal commentator Lionel Media to rebut, saying, “Right now this a rancorous [time], this is an uncivil world that we live in…if I went to John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi and said, now, listen, I want you two to find one we agree on that we can start. They'd say, ‘Nothing.’ OK. There we go.”

Or there we don’t go, as the case might be—demonization leads to distrust and gridlock. It’s a vision of democracy as an all-or-nothing ideological blood-sport between enemies instead of a constructive conversation between fellow citizens who recognize, as Thomas Jefferson once said, that “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” We can solve problems without surrendering our principles by identifying the common ground that exists and then building on it.

There is no partisan template to understand a movement that attracts both the bassist of Nirvana and the editor of the conservative Dartmouth Review. Liberals try to call us conservative and conservatives try to call us liberal, but the labels don’t fit. And that’s the point.

But in the all-or-nothing world of hyper-partisans even trying to transcend political labels is a traitorous act. That’s why Limbaugh tried to lump No Labels in with Michael Moore and Julian Assange in his opening monologue this Wednesday. Wearing his polarizing political entertainer hat, he questioned whether we were part of the PC police who want to remove mention of the word "Christmas" from the public square. Most offensive to me, he said, “The No Labels mind-set leads to not being willing to admit who the terrorists are.”

For what it's worth, Mr. Limbaugh, I witnessed the attacks of 9/11 from three blocks away and as a speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani I spent months writing eulogies for the firefighters and police officers who were murdered by the radical Islamist terrorists who took down the Towers. More recently, you quoted my story about the Park 51 Islamic Center Developers applying for $5 million in dedicated 9/11 funds for cultural redevelopment. Suggesting that a call for common ground between fellow American citizens is somehow equivalent to appeasement or amnesia when it comes to terrorists is unforgiveable.

One of the core purposes of No Labels is to remind Americans that our domestic political opponents are not our sworn enemies. Neither President Bush nor President Obama ever deserves to be compared to tyrants or terrorists—and if you only object to the president of your party being compared to Hitler, you’re part of the problem. I hope that No Labels can help rekindle some of the spirit of national unity we found and then quickly squandered after 9/11 —because we can’t wait for a terrorist attack or natural disaster to remember that there is more that unites us than divides us as Americans.

The bottom line is that less than one week since its launch, No Labels has spurred the start of a national conversation. And if both Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann have taken time to attack us, it's a sign that we're doing something right and fighting the good fight.

John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and a CNN contributor. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

Bill Clinton on Larry King Live (WATCH)

At Politico, Jennifer Epstein reports Bill Clinton's appearance on Larry King Live:

Former President Bill Clinton says that while he enjoyed answering reporters’ questions last week in the White House briefing room, he has no plans to return any time soon.
“It was sort of fun,” Clinton said Thursday night on CNN's "Larry King Live." “But I think once every ten years is quite enough.”

Watch the video and read more:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Teenage sex slaves for the super bowl?

I could barely stomach reading this action alert from the New Agenda in my inbox this morning. It reminds me yet again that the US is not an example for the rest of the world in the way it treats women and girls.

See for yourself:

To receive TNA’s email alerts, including action alerts, sign up here.

Imagine a 14 year-old girl forced to have sex for money.  Couldn’t happen here, right?  Think again! Sex trafficking of our girls – kidnapped, runaways – is a growing epidemic.
Where do perps find their prey?  For many, online.  One of the largest online enablers:  Village Voice Media.

Now we need your help!
Read more:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Put the Labels Aside. Do What’s Best for America (video)

We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who are united in the belief that we do not have to give up our labels, merely put them aside to do what’s best for America.

The 'No Labels' Movement: the rise of the radical center

As someone who left the Democratic Party in disgust and re-registered as non-affiliated after the 08 primary when the Left went all out to destroy Hillary Clinton on behalf of Barack Obama, I'm interested in the emerging No Labels political movement.

No Labels offers a potential home for those of us who occupy the radical center in American politics and are capable of appreciating the work of someone like Hillary Clinton who during her tenure as US senator from New York earned a reputation for working across the aisle to solve the nation's problems.

Like other sensible Americans, I've been dismayed to see political leaders like Indiana's Sen. Evan Bayh throw in the towel after a career in which he put his country first. One of his reasons for leaving the Senate was the hyper-partisanship he has witnessed.

No Labels was formally launched Monday, Dec. 13, 2010. NPR's Liz Halloran reported:

An organization whose founders aim to build a national movement to do the seemingly impossible — wring out the partisan in politics — held its organizing convention today in New York City with a lineup of high-profile supporters and a pledge to mobilize volunteers in every congressional district.

The "No Labels" gathering attracted more than 1,100, organizers said, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who on Sunday again denied he has plans to mount a third-party 2012 presidential run.
Halloran's report continues:

The aim, organizers say, is to create a national political force of Americans fed up with media-and-big-money-fueled hyper-partisanship that has infected the national political discourse, and to use that force to create "common ground" to solve pressing problems.
I can buy that.

Read more:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Summoning the messianic campaigner from 08 to save the nation from decline

The Washington Post's E. J. Dionne was a commentator I respected prior to the 2008 Democratic primary when he joined his JournoList colleagues in smearing Bill and Hillary Clinton in order to ensure Barack Obama’s nomination. Back then Dionne boasted:

 "One of the politicians who spoke before Obama at the{Wilmington} rally, Delaware state Treasurer Jack Markell, cited the New Testament letter to the Hebrews in which Saint Paul spoke of "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It was a revealing moment: While Clinton wages a campaign, Obama is preaching a revival."

In today’s op-ed, Dionne tries to summon the messianic campaigner from 08 to save the nation at a critical point in its history:

WASHINGTON -- American decline is the specter haunting our politics. This could be President Obama's undoing -- or it could provide him with the opportunity to revive his presidency.

But there’s been a noteworthy change in Dionne’s rhetoric since 08. Instead of his earlier grotesque distortions of the truth in his attempts to defame  Bill and Hillary Clinton and disparage the former president’s administration, Dionne writes:

George H. W. Bush followed, and he deserves great credit for his management of the Gulf War and the larger international transition after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton built on Bush's unpopular but necessary budget and restored the federal government's solvency while also serving as a careful steward of American influence and our image in the world. Charles Krauthammer, my columnist colleague, likes to refer to the 1990s as a "holiday from history," but the truth is that American power reached its zenith under Clinton. If that was a holiday, we need more vacations like it.

But still hoping for an old-timey “revival,” Dionne concludes:

For Obama, political renewal requires a bold and persistent campaign for national renewal. This would challenge his political opponents. But more importantly, it would challenge all of us.

Although Dionne is now expressing appreciation for the Clinton years, he apparently hasn’t figured out yet that the nation needs a statesman to lead it forward in these complex and perilous times, not a politician who has mastered the cadences and crowd-pleasing techniques of an evangelical preacher at a camp meeting.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Building community, yesterday, today, and tomorrow

We're in the midst of a blizzard here in St. Paul with an accumulated total of 20+ inches of new snow predicted with winds gusting up to 35 mph.

Inside, holiday warmth prevails as I work on several writing projects. I'm reposting below  a few words that  I hope will continue to be relevant at this special time of the year.

You all stay safe and warm!

Note:In Dec. 07 BlogCatalog members were invited to post about some act of kindness we’ve performed. The following is my response to that invitation.

Acts of kindness are easily integrated in the course of our daily lives while doing weekly errands or shopping for special occasions. Regardless of the season, no group of people are more appreciative of a kind word than store employees, and it’s become my practice over the years to thank sales clerks and cashiers at the checkout counter for good service. Sometimes, I even take the time to fill out a commendation card or ask to speak to a supervisor.

One morning as the cashier at my local supermarket checked out my groceries, she paused to examine a package of meat more closely. She’d seen signs of spoilage that I’d missed in my haste to finish my shopping. The fellow at the end of the counter who was bagging up my purchases immediately dashed to the back of the store and replaced the meat for me. These two young people were smiling happily nearby as I commended them to their supervisor.

Customers assisting customers is another opportunity for spreading goodwill. Last August, I was looking for a decorative candle for a birthday gift for my daughter-in-law when another customer approached me. She explained she was visiting here from India, and she wanted to buy her hostess a nice gift. She asked for my advice and together we found a candle that matched the d├ęcor of the home where she was staying.

Many of us dread shopping during this time of year when stores are crowded, and people are impatiently standing in long lines. But I’ve found that even under those circumstances goodwill is contagious. Recently, I was back in the supermarket picking up a few last minute items for a cookie baking session. As I walked up and down the aisles, I was soon receiving and giving help to others: “Oh, the baking soda is on your right - right below the baking powder.”

“Have you seen cookie cutters anywhere?”

“Next aisle – over there by the pans and cookie sheets.”

Instead of a bunch of cranky people that day, we were good-naturedly teasing one another, smiling, and laughing as we came to one another’s aid; I left the store feeling as if a group of strangers for half an hour or so had become an ad hoc community.

And community, after all, is what it’s all about – as members of the BlogCatalog virtual community, in our neighborhoods, at church, at our local shopping center, and yes, even as we participate in the political process already heating up in the 2008 campaign.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Obama recognizes Clinton Administration's achievements

Politico's Carol Lee provides the context for the Obama-Clinton session in the White House briefing room today, and she shares Obama's remarks upon leaving the former president in charge:

“I thought, given the fact that he {President Clinton} presided over as good an economy as we've seen in our lifetimes, that it might useful for him to share some of his thoughts,” Obama said before turning the podium over to Clinton. “I'm going to let him speak very briefly, and then I've actually got to go over and do some – just one more Christmas party. So he may decide he wants to take some questions, but I wanted to make sure that you guys heard from him directly.”

Read more:

Almost feeling Obama's pain

Here's David Corn on Obama's tax-cut deal:

It was tough times for progressives before President Obama announced his tax-cut "compromise" with the GOP this week. The Democrats were routed in the midterm elections, tea party zombies were in ascent, and the inspiring change-candidate of 2008 wasn't looking too triumphant. Then came the deal, and many on the left became apoplectic, accusing Obama of caving to the obstructionist Republicans. After all, he had indeed yielded on an article of faith for the left: George W. Bush's tax cut bonuses for the well-to-do had to go. Perhaps even worse, Obama had reached this hard-to-swallow accommodation without forcing the just-say-no GOPers into a showdown. (Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich denounced the deal as an "abomination.") But after talking to several top administration officials, I've become a tad more sympathetic regarding Obama's decision to negotiate this pact.
Read more:

Krugman: Obama's second-best policy

Paul Krugman provides a thoughtful and balanced analysis of Obama's recent tax-cut deal with Mitch McConnell:
I’ve spent the past couple of days trying to make my peace with the Obama-McConnell tax-cut deal. President Obama did, after all, extract more concessions than most of us expected.
Read more:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What Obama and Palin have in common

Scanning my posts from 2007-2008 that reveal my outrage, first at the misogyny and sexism targeting Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary and later on in the GE when "progressive" Kos and Huffpost types drew on their endless reservoir of bigotry in their attacks on Sarah Palin,  I feel in sync this morning with Noemie Emery's conclusions in the Washington Examiner, Obama, Palin met fame before they could grow:

Two years ago, two superstars lit up a dazzled political universe -- young, stunning, lissome, and bursting with talent -- and were propelled ahead of their time into prominence, after a minimal time on the national scene. Two years later, it seems as if this has done them no favors: President Obama is widely seen as "overwhelmed" by his office, and Sarah Palin is meeting resistance establishing her credentials as a possible candidate against rivals with rather more seasoning.  
And you know what? I felt compassion for both Obama and Palin, but that doesn't contribute much to the sorry state of the nation at this point in time.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In Minnesota, it's Gov. Mark Dayton

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Wed., Dec. 8, that Republican Tom Emmer has conceded the governor's race to Mark Dayton:

Gov.-elect Mark Dayton praised Republican Tom Emmer for his “gracious” decision to concede the governor’s race, and said his first priority now will be to improve the economy and add jobs.
Dayton's victory is welcome news to most Minnesotans where his family has long been a leading example of the nation's most successful entrepreneurs with its history of ownership of Dayton Dept. Stores and the Target Company, a major US retailer. Mark Dayton combines hands on experience in the family business with high moral standards and a compassionate attitude toward his fellow citizens who continue to suffer in the ongoing recession.

Saying good-by to Elizabeth Edwards

Many of us first became acquainted with  Elizabeth Edwards in 2004 when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry selected her husband John as his running mate. Over time, we would learn of the death of John and Elizabeth's son, her bout with cancer, and finally John's infidelity.

Considering all of the above, Elizabeth's announcement on her Facebook page cannot help but touch our hearts:

 “I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces -- my family, my friends and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered.  We know that.” 
 Elizabeth died yesterday on Pearl Harbor Day. May her suffering be over and may her children and loved ones find faith, strength, and courage in her example.