Friday, July 17, 2009


Open Thread

Busy days all around. What's going on in your respective worlds?

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A High-Tech Temper Tantrum

Meet two people who deserve one another. Sen. Barbara Boxer meet Harry Alford, Chairman of the National Black Republican Chamber of Commerce. Alford is testifying in front of Boxer's committee on the issue of climate change. He's brought with him a in-depth report on the economic impact of the cap-and-trade bill on small businesses.

Boxer then pulls out a couple of statements from the NAACP and 100 Black Men. With that set- up, watch the exchange.

Now, Barbara Boxer can't open her mouth without a condescending word coming out. Last month, she got her nose out of joint when a brigadier general called her "Ma'am," instead of "senator."

That said, I have little sympathy for Mr. Alford. He runs the National Black Chamber of Commerce. He doesn't run the "Podunk" Chamber of Commerce or the generic "national" Chamber of Commerce. Had he represented such a group, he would have been right to be offended that Boxer is just throwing up black organizations to refute his points. Is Boxer to be faulted for thinking that he's expressing a certain "black" view -- given that he runs a black group?

Realizing that he now has a "15 minutes of fame" moment, Alford then decides milk it for all it's worth:

He calls his treatment by Boer a "vile Jim Crow moment" and that it was out of "1945 Mississippi." How a successful black man in 2009 could compare having a U.S. senator use the comments of other black organizations to undermine a study he commissioned to "Jim Crow" and "1945 Mississippi" is beyond belief. Condescending? Yes? Rude and dismissive? Yep. Racist to the equivalence of separate water fountains and being randomly lynched!?!? Alford, please!

Even by the Clarence Thomas "high-tech lynching" standard, this one is pretty thin gruel (Thomas at least was having his name and reputation dragged through the mud in the confirmation hearings when he uttered that famous phrase.)

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Black-To-Black Responsibility

Giving credit where it's due: President Obama's address to the NAACP last night was the perfect book-end to last weekend's speech in Ghana.

Each was an exhortatory addresses that recognized the past wrongs, respectively, of colonialism (in Africa) and racism/discrimination (in America). But ultimately, the president declared that the power of improvement ultimately exists within Africa's -- and African-Americans -- own hands.

It goes without saying (but, of course, I have to say it anyway), but a white president couldn't have made thoe speeches -- or at least not in exactly the same words. Fairly or not, they would have been seen and likely received as patronizing and demeaning. Not so, coming from Obama (who also graciously noted the major commitment made by President Bush to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa):

It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father's life, it was partly tribalism and patronage in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is a daily fact of life for far too many.

Of course, we also know that is not the whole story. Here in Ghana, you show us a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or the need for charity. The people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections. And with improved governance and an emerging civil society, Ghana's economy has shown impressive rates of growth.

This progress may lack the drama of the 20th century's liberation struggles, but make no mistake: it will ultimately be more significant. For just as it is important to emerge from the control of another nation, it is even more important to build one's own.

Similarly, while seasoned with a fair bit of presidential-agenda boilerplate (hey, the man is a politician), much of the address to the NAACP wasn't that different from what Bill Cosby has been saying in recent years. But coming from the very important bully pulpit afforded the president of the United States, the words carried an unparalleled weight and impact:
We've got to say to our children, yes, if you're African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that somebody in a wealthy suburb does not have to face. But that's not a reason to get bad grades -- (applause) -- that's not a reason to cut class -- (applause) -- that's not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school. (Applause.) No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands -- you cannot forget that. That's what we have to teach all of our children. No excuses. (Applause.) No excuses.

You get that education, all those hardships will just make you stronger, better able to compete. Yes we can. (Applause.)

To parents -- to parents, we can't tell our kids to do well in school and then fail to support them when they get home. (Applause.) You can't just contract out parenting. For our kids to excel, we have to accept our responsibility to help them learn. That means putting away the Xbox -- (applause) -- putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour. (Applause.) It means attending those parent-teacher conferences and reading to our children and helping them with their homework. (Applause.)

And by the way, it means we need to be there for our neighbor's sons and daughters. (Applause.) We need to go back to the time, back to the day when we parents saw somebody, saw some kid fooling around and -- it wasn't your child, but they'll whup you anyway. (Laughter and applause.) Or at least they'll tell your parents -- the parents will. You know. (Laughter.) That's the meaning of community. That's how we can reclaim the strength and the determination and the hopefulness that helped us come so far; helped us make a way out of no way.
This isn't the first time Obama has employed the rhetorical "tough love" with respect to issues within the black community. Indeed, his 2008 Fathers Day speech -- the one that got Jesse Jackson in emasculation mode -- was one of the most intellectually honest of last years' campaign. It was the one that made Obama appealing to a conservative like myself. While major parts of the president's legislative agenda are profoudly troubling, I'm glad he's not shying away from using his unique position as an historic figure to make truthful statements to the all sides of the black diaspora.

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On The Right Side of Shakedown Street

Two weeks ago, The Washington Post was caught "inviting" lobbyists to cozy off-the-record "salons" with various Obama administration VIPs -- for prices ranging from $25K-$250K.

Now, Politico discovers that conservative interest groups have plunged into the pay-to-play waters:
The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.

For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: “Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU’s board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)”

The conservative group’s remarkable demand — black-and-white proof of the longtime Washington practice known as “pay for play” — was contained in a private letter to FedEx , which was provided to POLITICO.
FedEx currently has one U.S. union contract for its entire express business. Under a change passed by the House and awaiting action in the Senate, FedEx — like UPS — would have to negotiate union contracts for individual locations, which FedEx claims would make it much more difficult to promise worldwide regularity for deliveries.

The American Conservative Union, which calls itself “the nation's oldest and largest grass-roots conservative lobbying organization,” took UPS’s side on Wednesday as part of a conservative consortium that accused FedEx of “misleading the public and legislators.” ACU's logo is at the top of the letter, along with those of six other conservative groups.

Just two weeks earlier, ACU had offered its endorsement to FedEx, saying in a letter to the company: “We stand with FedEx in opposition to this legislation.”

But there was a catch — an expensive one. ACU asked FedEx to pay as much as $3.4 million for e-mail and other services for “an aggressive grass-roots campaign to stop the legislation in the Senate.”

“For the activist contact portion of the plan, we will contact over 150,000 people per state multiple times at a cost of $1.39 per name or $2,147,550 to implement the entire program,” the letter says. “If we incorporate the targeted, senator-personalized radio effort into the plan, you can figure an additional $125,000 on average, per state” for an estimated 10 states. The total would be $3,397,550.”
Lane, the FedEx official, said the offer was refused. "The proposal didn’t fit with our strategy of taking a straightforward approach to discussing the issue,” he said.

After the rebuff, American Conservative Union changed sides. ACU Chairman David A. Keene was one of eight conservative leaders who signed a letter to FedEx Chairman Frederick W. Smith, a champion of capitalism who in the past has been a favorite of conservatives.

The letter accuses FedEx of “falsely and disingenuously” labeling the rules change a “bailout” for UPS, since FedEx would become subject to the same arduous union structure.

The letter is also signed by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who is also on ACU’s board. FedEx is pushing its case with a website called
Good conservative help is hard to come by these days -- so, obviously, when it absolutely, positively, has to be there overnight, it's gonna cost you. And, if you can't pay up, well, you'll find out what brown can do to you. It's quite obvious that in these corporate battles, there is ultimately little difference for some conservatives between "principle" and "interest."

If one party shows enough $$$ "interest", the principle will be found.

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Heading Into The E.R.

If President Obama's health care reform plan were a patient, it would be in the emergency room, its condition downgraded to critical. The prognosis may not quite be terminal, but long-term survival looks iffy.

Six months into a new administration and DC reality has sneaked in rather quickly -- and on three fronts.

1) House conservative Democrats began voicing their concerns as a group last week on the direction of health care. This week, one key Democrat lawmaker went from expressing reservations to out and out rebellion. And considering that Obama narrowly won Indiana last year, Rep. Baron Hill's opposition is particularly troubling: It endangers not merely the policy itself -- but the president's electoral chances in a key swing state.

2) A splash of cold-water from the director of the Congressional Budget Office won't help. Douglas Elmendorf blew a hole through the president's main reason for the health care overhaul -- that it will save money. Au contraire, says Mr. Elmendorf: "The coverage proposals in this legislation would expand federal spending on health care to a significant degree and in our analysis so far we don't see other provisions in this legislation reducing federal health spending by a corresponding degree."

The Democrats' response to Elmendorf's analysis contained an interesting irony:

[Connecticut Sen. Christopher] Dodd complained that CBO refuses to assume that government savings will occur from an increased focus on wellness and preventive health care.

“The only thing CBO does is tell you how much taxpayer money has to be invested to achieve those results,” Dodd said.

“We believe we have crafted legislation that does bend that curve, bring health care costs down and make it affordable for all Americans,” he said. “I appreciate their work, but frankly we’re on the right track, we have a solid bill and one that’s affordable.”

Dodd's words almost semm like the mirror image of Republican complaints on CBO's analysis of the impact of tax cuts. The GOP argued for decades that the CBO should adopt a so-called "dynamic scoring" model that would allow for the impact of tax cuts in stimulating economic growth. By doing that, Republicans argue, the CBO could see how much revenue would be brought in -- and thus the tax cuts wouldn't have such a negative impact on the deficit.

Democrats now argue that the CBO isn't taking into account the possibility that "wellness" growth will bring in as-yet-unrecognized savings which will keep annual deficits from rising.


3) A dissing of the president from one of solons of the Senate: The key committee chairman that all health-care observers are keeping an eye on is the head of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus. A Montana centrist who's been known to vote with Republicans in the past -- much to the distress of activists on the left -- Baucus is essential in getting through the funding component of health care. Well, it's not so good for the effort when he mouths off that, the president, "is not helping us" structure workable legislation. Baucus apologized later. Nice thing about those quotes, senator: The dis gets the headlines. The apology? Nada!

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Thursday, July 16, 2009


21st Century Advancement

The National Association For the Advancement of Colored People wraps up its 100th anniversary celebration meeting in New York this evening with a very special guest: The 44th president of the United States.

And, as you may have heard, that man -- one Barack Obama -- happens to be black, or "colored" as was the word in vogue a century ago.

But if Obama's appearance -- and achievement -- can be rightly seen as the most prominent triumph of the civil rights organization's lengthy history, the group's archaic name stands as a perfect example of its need to reform and re-energize itself for the 21st century. "Colored people" isn't merely a quaint phrase of a day long past; in certain cases, it's an insult. The fact that language has now caused everything to come almost full-circle to encompass the phrase "people of color" means little. If anything "NAAPC" could actually stand for the National Association For the The Politically Correct.

Which, come to think of it, might be more accurate. Which is precisely the problem.

This is not to say that there aren't certain definite social problems that impact the African American community at a greater extent than the rest of society. That's manifestly true. But the NAACP must realize that Obama's rise -- while representing a great opportunity to show there really are no obstacles a black person can't overcome -- also presents a challenge.

Fairly or not, Obama's election may have alleviated whatever remained of "white guilt" within the broader public. Another way of saying this is that America believes that Obama represents the nation at last having gotten "beyond race." For African Americans, racism still exists, but it isn't seen as a debilitating obstacle for the broader society. And, compared to history, it's not.

If that's the case, the NAACP needs to be more than just another generic liberal organization campaigning for "national health care" as its chairman is now suggesting. The organization needs to think outside of the proverbial box. If it wants to advocate for health reform, fine. But it must also be prepared to pick fights with teachers unions that often block meaningful reform in many urban environments. That blocked reform -- charter schools or vouchers, for example -- proportionally harms black and other minority students more than white kids.

A black man has become president. That's wonderful and cause for the NAACP to celebrate. But advancing the African American cause in the 21st century requires a whole new way of thought.

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Monday, July 13, 2009


Guns And Purse Straps Kill People

Football player Steve McNair -- killed by his younger girlfriend while he slept -- is, according to the Daily News' Mike Lupica, another victim of America's "gun" culture.

By this logic, boxer Arturo Gatti -- allegedly killed by his younger wife as he slept -- is, apparently a victim of Brazil's "purse strap" culture.

Rather than going for the easy, ahem, "target" of guns, the biggest lesson from the circumstances of these two incidents might be to tell male athletes not to cavort with women a whole lot younger.

Or at least not fall asleep on them.

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