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Monday, August 31, 2009

In Response to Orlando Patterson: Diversity in the age of Obama

Below is a letter to the New York Times book review in response to an essay by Orlando Patterson of Harvard on diversity in the "Age of Obama." I felt compelled to respond to his "race relations" analysis. Using Robert Park for his "theoretical" frame, Patterson employs a discredited assmilationist framework (See both the works James McKee and Stephen Steinberg)and in the process ignores American racism as an explanation as to why African Americans have not been a incorporated into the "master trend," as he calls it. Expressing what sounded like West Indian superiority, he largely blamed African American poverty and their "cultural traits" for their unequal status. I found the essay wanting and decided to respond. Fortunately, the Times saw fit to print it. RGN

August 30, 2009
Diversity vs. Discontents

To the Editor:

Orlando Patterson’s essay “Race and Diversity in the Age of Obama” (Aug. 16) was largely correct as an analysis of diversity at this stage of American history. But Patterson misses the mark in understanding ¬racial/ethnic assimilation. He sees blacks as an exception to the country’s “master trend” of “social incorporation,” citing as reasons blacks’ high rate of poverty and “cultural forces” — meaning the habits and lifestyles of blacks themselves. The problem is that he leaves out the elephant in the room: white nationalism.

Blacks have not assimilated because initially, and until recently in America’s history, citizenship was restricted to whites. Being white was the central requirement of the 1790 Immigration and Naturalization Act; it was not intended that people of color, blacks in particular, become citizens. America, as our founders saw it, was to be a white nation. The European immigrants — Jews, Italians, Catholic Irish — who Patterson writes were “viewed by native whites as belonging to different (and inferior) races,” became Americanized by learning the nation’s “racial culture.” And these white workers needed this knowledge to legitimize their privileged status as they became Americans on the backs of black workers.

The profound thing about Barack Obama’s election is that for the first time in American history, diversity won at the ballot box. It was the coalition of 43 percent of white voters, 95 percent of African-¬Americans, 67 percent of Latinos and 62 percent of Asians that put Obama over the top. Fifty-five percent of white voters chose John McCain.

Today, the “birthers” who question Obama’s citizenship and those who call him fascist, Communist — anything to make him and his policies sound anti-¬American — represent the version of white nationalism truly threatening diversity in the Age of Obama.

Mount Pleasant, Mich.
The writer is an emeritus professor in the department of sociology, anthropology and social work at Central Michigan University.

Patterson's Essay:

The response:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Teddy Passed the Torch

A Tribute to Teddy

America, in general, and Black America, in particular lost a true friend and advocate in the passing of Edward “Teddy” Moore Kennedy. He was the last of the Kennedy legacy. Jack, the older brother was elected president with strong support of the black community. During his campaign for the presidency, Senator Jack Kennedy called Coretta Scott King to console her relative to Martin’s being in jail. A presidential candidate expressing concern about “a Negro?” That was unprecedented. Every black minister across the nation told that story to their congregations on Sunday morning. Jack Kennedy was the first president to speak out forcefully about discrimination suffered by African Americans. He promoted a civil rights bill that had been encouraged by 250,000 people marching on Washington. He was assassinated. Malcolm was disciplined for a flip remark he made about assassination. Purportedly he was disciplined because President Jack Kennedy was loved by black America. (At least that was the reason given.)

Then came Bobby. Marian Wright Edleman, Charles Evers, and other activists in Mississippi introduced Bobby Kennedy to poverty. He had never known poverty. He was transformed from vengeful anti-labor, or at least anti-teamster, brute to a man of compassion who sought out justice for those who had been marginalized. By the time he got around to running for the presidency, he was passionate in his pursuit of justice and equality. It was Bobby Kennedy who informed the crowd in Indianapolis that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed by an assassin’s bullet. The news of King’s assassination led to violent eruptions in cities all across the nation but not Indianapolis. The sensitivity along with the importance of non-violence connected with the crowd. That speech by Bobby made it clear that he would be a stalwart on the issue of civil rights. With his nomination almost certain, he was assassinated. African Americans mourned.

This was the Kennedy legacy that was bestowed onto Teddy. His career in the Senate has been one of struggle for economic justice for the American citizenry. At the top of that list was health care for all, beginning with seniors. To a person labor leaders found a friend and advocate for their issues in Senator Kennedy, not the least of which was “Teddy’s” struggle to raise the minimum wage.

On the issue of civil rights, Kennedy was the lead voice. He consistently played a key role on all of the civil rights legislation. No other Senator comes close in terms of being either a fierce fighter for the cause or in terms of longevity. Liberal Senators came and went but Teddy was there for nearly a half century. In addition to his role on domestic civil rights issues, he sponsored the 1965 immigration bill that struck down “being white” as the primary criterion for immigration into the U.S. His work in this regard when it comes to people of color has changed the face of America.

He saved us from Robert Bork. And he tried his best to save us from Clarence Thomas.

Even though Senator Kennedy has been a “Lion” when it comes to civil rights, he made a clear but not always apparent line between the principle of compromise and the compromise of principle. There was a battle the “Lion” did not take on. The disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida in 2000 was nothing less than fraud at the expense of black voters. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) challenged the certification of that election based upon the irregularities. They needed ONE Senator to side with them to open up an investigation. Not one Senator gave its support to the CBC, including Senator Kennedy. We must assume that for him that was the principle of compromise at work. To have supported the challenge would have destroyed his career. The "white nation" would have exploded. He would have been vilified, left, right and center. This would not have been in character for someone whose reputation was that he could work both sides of the aisle.

This incident does not take away from his life-long service and advocacy for just causes. He has no peer. There will be a major void. It is hard to imagine who will speak for progressive causes inside the Senate. It will be impossible to replace his collaborative bonds that have developed over decades of service. As far as the Senate is concerned, he cannot be replaced. His service to progressive causes and for the nation was bigger than the Senate and legislation.

In fact, Teddy passed on the legacy that began with Jack, on to Bobby and himself, to Barack Obama and a new generation. By endorsing Barack Obama for the presidency, he remained true to the Kennedy civil rights and economic justice legacies. He used the Kennedy legacy for change, not the status quo or centrist politics. In addition to raising the bar when it comes to civil rights, he took the legacy to a whole new level, being the key player in making history one more time by adding the first African American president to his long list of accomplishments. Obama’s candidacy was up against the Democratic party establishment that had lots of money and was willing to pull out all stops to win. Even so, the most important name in the party for the last half century has been Kennedy. The endorsement rally was unbelievable. Given the honor that this family’s name has in the Democratic party, Obama’s “inheritance,” or having that torch passed to him, may have been Teddy and the Kennedys’ grandest act. Thanks to Teddy for fighting the good fight. He will be missed. RGN

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fidel on the Right Wing and Obama

Fidel Castro says racist right-wingers fight Obama
Tue Aug 25, 2009 2:06am EDT

HAVANA (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is trying to make positive changes in the United States, but is being fought at every turn by right-wingers who hate him because he is black, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on Tuesday.

In an unusually conciliatory column in the state-run media, Castro said Obama had inherited many problems from his predecessor, George W. Bush, and was trying to resolve them. But the "powerful extreme right won't be happy with anything that diminishes their prerogatives in the slightest way."

Obama does not want to change the U.S. political and economic system, but "in spite of that, the extreme right hates him for being African-American and fights what the president does to improve the deteriorated image of that country," Castro wrote.

"I don't have the slightest doubt that the racist right will do everything possible to wear him down, blocking his program to get him out of the game one way or another, at the least political cost," he said.

Castro, who writes regular commentaries for Cuba's state-run media, has criticized Obama, complimented him occasionally and said that he is watching him closely to see if he means what he says about changing U.S. policy toward Cuba.

His latest column comes during a visit to Cuba by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson that has stirred speculation that he may try to push U.S.-Cuba relations forward.

Richardson has been a diplomatic trouble-shooter in nations with which the United States has poor relations. In 1996 he negotiated with Castro for the release of three Cuban political prisoners.

Obama has said he wants to end 50 years of hostilities between the United States and Cuba and has eased the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against the communist-led island.

But he has said the embargo will be lifted only if Cuba shows progress on political prisoners and human rights. Cuban President Raul Castro has said he is happy to discuss these issues but will make no unilateral concessions.

Obama has been criticized by anti-embargo groups for moving too slowly on Cuban policy.

Castro, 83, ran Cuba for 49 years after taking power in a 1959 revolution, but stepped down last year so Raul Castro, his younger brother, could succeed him.

He has not been seen in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006, but still plays a behind-the-scenes role in government and maintains a high profile through his writings.

He appeared on Cuban television on Sunday for the first time in 14 months meeting with Venezuelan students.

He seemed in good health as he smiled and talked with the students in an appearance some experts believe was aimed at shoring up support for his brother and the government at a time when Cuba is in deep economic crisis.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks; editing by Chris Wilson)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Media Maters, MSNBC and the Counter-Narrative

Media Matters carries out this most important role as counter narrative to the right wing Republican’s shaping of the world. On the tube, MSNBC is waging that battle.

For 30 years, right wing conservatives, white nationalists actually, have dominated on how America is to be defined. They lost the election, resoundingly. Being the dominant force for so long on what passes for ideas and policies, the “Reagan Revolution” is refusing to go peacefully. Conservatism is well institutionalized when it comes to knowledge production. The dominant “think tanks” are the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute and CATO, the list goes on.

On top of that there is Fox News with its 24 hour disparaging of what it means to be liberal or honest for that matter. Being anti-Obama is central to their mission. Fox Noise, when it comes to race, never misses an opportunity to distort the facts.

In the face of such institutionalized white nationalism, Media Matters is to be commended for waging the struggle. Media Matters is exposing the liars on the right. Likewise, MSNBC with Ed Schultz, Keith Obermann and Rachael Maddow, present a world view that serves the common good. Even in comedy, John Stewart has really rattled the cages when it comes to incompetence, lying, and corruption. Hooray to all of for doing the battle that needs to be fought when it comes to raising the bar when it comes to public discourse. RGN

Media Matters: Press should take finger off button in "nuclear option" health care coverage

Media conservatives aren't content to merely misinform regarding the content of progressive health insurance reform legislation. They want to misinform about the legislative process used to pass that legislation, too. Just think of it: Death panels passed using a nuclear option. What American could support that?

In recent days, talk of Senate Democrats using the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform legislation has grown. According to Senate rules, bills advanced through the process can't be filibustered, and so the 60-vote threshold that must be met to defeat a filibuster would not apply. Republicans used reconciliation in exactly this way during the Bush years to pass tax cuts in 2001, 2003, and 2005. Senate Republicans also used the reconciliation process to pass a bill permitting oil drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (The final version of that bill signed by Bush did not contain the provision on drilling.) So long as the legislation in question impacts the budget, doing so is within regular Senate order.

For the full story:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Public Option Spells Success or Failure for the Obama presidency!!!

If you listen to the tube, the Public Option in the health care struggle is doomed. This cannot be allowed to happen!! The loss of the Public Option will mean the Obama administration will be a failed administration, likely a one-term presidency. Universal health care was the center piece of his campaign. Forty-seven million Americans, many of whom are employed, have no health care. More than seven in 10 home foreclosures are the result of medical expenses. This is a working class issue. Health care is a high priority for the black community and everyday Americans. It is common knowledge that the present model is unsustainable. Reform is a must. The only way to reform it is with the public option. Failure on this issue portends future failures and therefore, a failed administration.

Given Obama’s stunning successes to this point, it is hard to envision a failure. He won over the American people. At one point his approval ratings were nearly 70%. The public thought well of his selections for his Cabinet and major advisors. They trusted him with the economy. On the world stage he triumphed, whether it was Europe, Latin America, Egypt or Ghana, he restored much of America’s prestige.

In the election, he won going away! Thinking people in America trusted him. His race notwithstanding, they trusted him. He was charismatic. He was intelligent. He was competent. He was also Cool. A majority of the American people, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and a plurality of whites put him over the top. That 70% approval rating was no doubt made up of some of that white majority that did not vote for him. Obviously, now that his approval ratings are in the mid-50s, it is safe to assume that it is some of that white majority that is slipping away.

Much of that slippage is a direct result of a campaign of misinformation by lobbying fronts for the health care industry. As stated on the Huffington Post this is a battle between the Obama party and the Fox party. The Fox party must be defeated. It is the Fox party that drummed up the Tea-baggers, the “birthers” and the” deathers.” By appealing to their whiteness, Fox has “awakened a sleeping giant.” Giants who "want their country back." Giants who do not want "this country turning into a socialist Russia." They want the "Constitution followed."

This is the struggle. It is a struggle that Obama must win. The compromise all along has been the public option as opposed to the preferable single payer. It is the Fox party that is the party of “No” when it comes to health care. The lobbyists and their right wing recruits have joined Fox to derail reform. It is the Fox party that fans the flames of racism. Even though he is not alone, Glenn Beck of Fox News is the major stoker of white nationalist sentiments. His characterizations of President Obama as a Hitler, a fascist, and a racist, among other things, show up on signs at town hall meetings.

That being said, the administration cannot lose on this. The administration must prove that when the stakes are down, the more progressive side of the aisle must win one for the people, for the citizenry not the corporations. Congressman Keith Ellison D-MN and former Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean make a compelling case that any reform and does not include a public option is no reform at all. The Obama party must beat back the lies of the Fox party. They lie about how the people of England feel about the National Health Service. The Obama administration and Democratic party must be” the change we have been waiting for,” a change that was a rejection to caving in to America’s right wing.

The Public Option must be saved. Write/call your senators and representatives. Demand keeping the public option. Write op-ed pieces. Attend town hall meetings. Save the public option. Obama must win the public option. The success of his presidency depends on it. As Thom Hartman says: “Tag, you are it!!!” RGN

Monday, August 17, 2009

Say it Isn't so: the Public Option is Dead???

The consensus is that health reform that does not contain the public option is not reform. The public option is essential to everyone being covered that is not simply a boon to the insurance industry. We must insist on the public option. RGN

August 17, 2009
‘Public Option’ in Health Plan May Be Dropped

PHOENIX — The White House, facing increasing skepticism over President Obama’s call for a public insurance plan to compete with the private sector, signaled Sunday that it was willing to compromise and would consider a proposal for a nonprofit health cooperative being developed in the Senate.

The “public option,” a new government insurance program akin to Medicare, has been a central component of Mr. Obama’s agenda for overhauling the health care system, but it has also emerged as a flashpoint for anger and opposition. Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, said the public option was “not the essential element” for reform and raised the idea of the co-op during an interview on CNN.

Mr. Obama himself sought to play down the significance of the public option at a town-hall-style meeting on Saturday in Grand Junction, Colo., when a university student challenged him on how private insurers could compete with the government.
After strongly defending the public plan, the president suggested that he, too, viewed it as only a small piece of a broader initiative intended to control costs, expand coverage, protect consumers and make the delivery of health care more efficient.

“The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of health care reform,” the president said. “This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.”

For Mr. Obama, giving up on the public plan would have risks and rewards. The reward is that he could punch a hole in Republican arguments that he wants a “government takeover” of health care and possibly win some Republican votes. The risk is that he could alienate liberal Democrats, whose support he will also need to pass a bill.

On Sunday, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, affirmed his support for the public option. “I believe the inclusion of a strong public plan option in health reform legislation is a must,” Mr. Rockefeller said in a statement. “It is the only proven way to guarantee that all consumers have affordable, meaningful and accountable options available in the health insurance marketplace.”

White House officials say the president has not abandoned the idea of a pure government plan, a central feature of the legislation moving through the House. But Ms. Sebelius’s comments did seem to open the door, and at least one Democrat close to the White House said the administration was well aware that, with moderate Senate Democrats opposed to the idea of a public plan, Mr. Obama might have to give up on the notion to get a bill through.

“The president is going to continue to try to persuade everyone of the great value of having a true public plan,” said this Democrat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid discussing strategy publicly. ”But at the end of the day, I believe he recognizes that there are other, arguably less effective, ways to achieve greater coverage, more choice, better quality and lower cost in our system.”

In an interview on Sunday, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, said the president remained convinced that a public plan was “the best way to go.” But Mr. Axelrod said the nuances of how to develop a nonprofit competitor to private industry had never been “carved in stone.”

On Capitol Hill, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to produce a bill that features a nonprofit co-op. The author of the idea, Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, predicted Sunday that Mr. Obama would have no choice but to drop the public option.

“The fact of the matter is, there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option,” Mr. Conrad said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There never have been. So to continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort.”

The co-op, modeled after rural electric and agricultural cooperatives in Mr. Conrad’s home state, would offer insurance through a nonprofit, nongovernmental consumer entity run by its members. Mr. Axelrod said one downside of a co-op, from Mr. Obama’s point of view, was that it might be unable to “scale up in such a way that would create a robust” competitor to private insurers.

And whether a co-operative would actually bring Republicans on board with Mr. Obama is unclear. Senator Richard C. Shelby, the Alabama Republican who appeared alongside Mr. Conrad on “Fox News Sunday,” called the co-op idea “a step in the right direction,” adding: “I don’t know if it will do everything people want, but we ought to look at it. I think it’s a far cry from the original proposals.”

As Mr. Obama envisions it, the public option would be a government-backed plan available to consumers through a health exchange where people could buy insurance, public or private, that best fits their needs. While a public plan might require some government financing to start up, the idea is for it to be financially self-sustaining and require no subsidies, Mr. Axelrod said.

Republicans argue that a public plan would invariably drive private insurers out of business and prompt employers to drop private coverage, pushing people who are already insured onto a plan run by the government. Mr. Obama counters that a public option would keep insurers “honest” by forcing them to compete in the marketplace, although he has said all along he would be open to other ideas.

In her interview Sunday on CNN, Ms. Sebelius was asked if it was time to come up with an alternative to the public option. She replied that the president’s main concern was to promote competition with the private sector.

“What’s important is choice and competition,” she said. “And I’m convinced at the end of the day, the plan will have both of those.”

Here in Phoenix, where Mr. Obama is to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday, conservative groups including Americans for Prosperity are planning to protest the health plan. The same groups have turned up around the country at Congressional town-hall-style meetings, which have sometimes turned into shouting matches as opponents denounce him for promoting “socialized medicine.”

Mr. Obama is pushing back. As the nation heads into the last two weeks of August, a time when the White House believes many Americans will tune out of the health care debate to take their vacations, he has been waging an intense public relations offensive to convince Americans that the health care system should be overhauled.
(He, too, is planning a vacation, to Martha’s Vineyard the last week of August.)

In the past week alone, Mr. Obama has held three town-hall-style meetings — in addition to the session on Saturday in Grand Junction, he traveled to Portsmouth, N.H., and Belgrade, Mont. — and devoted his weekly radio and Internet address to health care. On Sunday, he published an opinion article in The New York Times arguing, as he has in recent days, that overhauling the system would result in protections for consumers.

“This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance,” Mr. Obama wrote. “I don’t believe anyone should be in charge of your health care decisions but you and your doctor — not government bureaucrats, not insurance companies.”

Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Danger of Fanning the Flames of Racism

I had a big argument with a close friend at dinner a couple of weeks ago. His position was that there was a "Coming Race War in America" as predicted by Carl Rowan some years ago. My argument was that white nationalism had been defeated last November and that new majority was now extant in America. While white nationalism may have been defeated at the ballot box, it was not defeated among the white majority. A majority of white men and women in that election voted for John McCain. What is happening is that the white nationalists are not taking that defeat lying down. They are now expressing the that they do not accept the results of that election in the form of being "birthers" and disrupters of town hall meetings. Their problem is that we have an African American president. The fans of racism and white nationalism are being fanned by right wing ideologues. Pitts exposes Glenn Beck as one of the worst when it comes to fanning these flames. Obviously, I owe my friend an apology. RGN

Posted on Wed, Aug. 05, 2009
Fanning racial embers

`You are such a racist nigger.'' -- reader e-mail

To answer your questions: yes, the e-mail is quoted in its entirety. Yes, it's authentic; I received it a year or so ago. And, no, it is not unique in its sentiment, its coarseness or its deafness to irony. That note has always struck me as a stark benchmark of our slide into racial incoherence.

Here's another: Last week on Fox & Friends, Glenn Beck, the Fox News host, declared President Obama a ``racist'' with ``a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.'' Bare seconds later, Beck turned around and said, ``I'm not saying he doesn't like white people. . . ''

Maybe we should blame his confusion on the stress of being discriminated against. Nobody knows the trouble he's seen.

But seriously. Beck is just the latest conservative caught trying to manipulate race in a naked appeal to the resentments of the white underclass. It's a breathtakingly cynical campaign that has gathered steam in recent years. From branding Sonia Sotomayor ``racist'' on ground so flimsy as to be nonexistent, to claiming racial solidarity led Colin Powell to endorse Barack Obama, to an absurd Patrick Buchanan epistle (`'A Brief For Whitey'') that has gained wide traction online to the racially tinged ugliness that infected the McCain-Palin campaign toward the end, the extreme right has worked with fervor to convince white Americans of a thesis also, not coincidentally, advanced by David Duke: that they are victims of black and brown oppression.

Playing with fire

If you didn't know better, you might be confused as to who brought whom over here on slave ships.

Plainly, this newfound concern about ``racism'' represents an attempt by conservatives to claim and neutralize the language of racial complaint, to do to it what they did to words like ``liberal'' and ``feminist'' -- i.e., to render it unusable.

But they are playing with fire in a dynamite warehouse.

What wound in all American life is more raw than race? What is more likely than race to suddenly flare into conflagration? Our most ruinous war was about race. Our greatest social revolution was about race. We have seen a hundred riots and rebellions fueled by race. Race is a major component of our most vexing issues: healthcare, education, the environment, crime. It is our most profound and oldest regret, a tender spot on the American psyche.

Which is why it's often difficult even for thoughtful people to have thoughtful discussions about it. One is at pains to tread carefully, to probe the issues, seek enlightenment and, yes, to dissent -- without blowing up the dynamite warehouse. Then, in walks Glenn Beck carrying a torch.

Rousing the rabble

Because where race is concerned, the aim of unthoughtful people is not to probe issues, to seek enlightenment or even to dissent. It is to rouse the rabble, validate their fears. This gets politicians elected. It gets TV hosts ratings. And if in the process the warehouse is blown to smithereens, so be it.

Does it need to be argued that Beck's slur against the president is stupid? Is it necessary to say that you must present pretty strong evidence to prove a man whose mother was white carries a ``deep-seated hatred for white people'' -- and that Beck doesn't even try, much less succeed? I hope not. I hope Beck's idiocy is self-evident.

Because what matters here is not the insult to Obama, but the insult to our collective intelligence -- and our collective hopes. One of which is that we will all someday evolve the courage, the compassion and the intercultural trust, to face the hard truths of race head on, and thereby validate that self-evident truth upon which the country was founded.

But that will never happen as long as men like Beck find it profitable to toy with fire in a warehouse full of dynamite. God forbid it takes an explosion for them to get what should be obvious:

There are some things you just don't play with.