Category Archives: Commander in Chief

The Message from Massachusetts: Go Balloon Boy!

Does anybody realize yet that the state of Mass just elected balloon boy to the U.S. Senate to replace the Senate’s most effective legislator of the 20th century?

Yep. Scott Brown is the shiny tricket de jour that distracts folks from having to seriously deal with the worst recession of our lives, 2 wars, and on and on.

Last evening I saw the first 10 minutes of Scott Brown’s acceptance speech, and it sounded part American Idol and part Sarah Palin Tea Party. After telling his supporters how “available” his daughters were (aren’t we fathers supposed to protect their daughters instead of auctioning them off?), he wanted everyone to know how much he wants to show the president his truck and that he wants to play basketball with the commander in chief. Pretty serious guy, I’d say.

And democratic strongholds, which voted Obama by double digits, also voted for this fellow. What’s up?  Well, I think on one level Mass voters are sorry to see Simon Cowell leaving Idol after this season, and they carried this frustration into the voting booth.

I think they also registered a protest vote. they voted for Obama to create change and so far he hasn’t, and they are saying they are very impatient. Now on the one hand change takes time. 8 years of Bush put america into a pretty deep hole.  One year of Obama is simply not long enough to reach the surface let alone change the trajectory of future politics. fair enough. But there is something more serious going on.

Massachusetts voters are pretty serious about their politics. In my opinion, the vote was a protest against the timidity of the Obama Administration, which is quite evident in terms of several different issues, but is most visible w/ health care.

Thus far, the President has shown poor leadership and he has shown an unwillingness to fight for the progressive core that was responsible for his nomination and election. Say what you will about whether they should have stayed home but stay home they did.

Here’s what we progressives see. A president who was more interested in enticing olympia snow, ben nelson or joe lieberman over to the dem. side than he was interested in creating what could have been landmark legislation, getting close to universal coverage.

Obama never fought for the public option, and he appeared to many of us, to have never fought on hcr at all. Obama said he would roll up his sleaves once the house and senate voted out bills. He has yet to do so visibly.

If Dems are going to hold on the the House and Senate and if Obama is going to be a 2 term president, he needs to show some fight (more than just being able to laugh off a good punch).

The president needs to set a progressive vision and offer up a discourse that can compete with the tea-bagging right.  He needs to show democrats he will not abandon them just to bring joe lieberman or olympia snowe aboard.

Again. It is time to show 1) some fight and 2) some fight for progressive issues and progressive versions of social issue.

Voting for scott brown balloon boy was a protest vote. Had nothing to do with scott brown or the Tea-baggers or martha coakley for that matter. but it was a wake up call!!!


Obama Must Break w/ past on Immigration Parole to Haitians!

The Obama Administration made two symbolic moves regarding Haitian immigrants since the Tuesday earthquake. It granted TPS to Haitians already in the U.S. It also gave former president’s Clinton and Bush highly visible roles in the Haitian relief efforts. Looking at immigration history during their administrations,  I get a queasy feeling that Obama is not going to extend immigration relief to Haitians fleeing the current catastrophe, which might well taint Obama beyond the initial generosity of his response to this crisis.

When DHS granted TPS status to Haitians who had been in the U.S. on or before January 12, it was the latest act in a long running drama about Haitian refugees in the U.S.

Like most immigration programs directed at Haitians, TPS is– in itself– insufficient to address the much larger need that Haitians have had since the earthquake for safe haven in the U.S.  So, don’t get excited by TPS, which the Administration was correct in awarding.  It doesn’t go far enough; it ignores the needs that tens of thousands of Haitians are going to have in the coming days, weeks, months, for safe haven.

During the Carter Administration, Haitians, along with Marielitos from Cuba were labeled “Cuban-Haitian entrants.”  Awarding such status was a discretionary act of the AG.  In 1986, Congress added an adjustment of status provision in IRCA, which allowed Haitian-Cuban entrants to become legal permanent residents, on path to citizenship.

But once Reagan entered office in 1981, he implemented a Haitian interdiction program. Rather than permit Haitians to stay, Reagan instructed the Coast Guard and INS to board Haitian vessels, interrogate the passengers and send them back to Haitian ports. This was the agreement Reagan made with Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Following the 1991 coup that overthrew Haiti’s first democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide, President Bush (41) worked w/ the UNHCR to have other countries (incl. Honduras, Belize…) take in the interdicted Haitians and provide temporary safe haven. The number of Haitians fleeing during overwhelmed resources, which led the US to take them to Gitmo for an asylum prescreening. Haitians with a credible fear of persecution were paroled in the US (about 10,490 Haitians).  By summer 1992, Bush compassion fatigue led him to reverse course, interdict Haitians at sea and once again return them to port. The Bush Administration established in -country refugee processing but never provided adequate resources nor a commitment to bring eligible Haitians to the U.S.

The Clinton Administration continued interdiction and forced repatriation, and helped Haitians with a credible fear of persecution to leave for third countries– not the U.S..

In 1998, Congress enacted the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA), which enabled Haitians who had been paroled in the US or received asylum to adjust their status to become permanent residents.

Following enactment of IIRIRA in 1996, undocumented Haitians were subjected to expedited removal. Haitians with a ‘credible fear” of persecution would be detained until an immigration judge could examine their case (asylum and removal hearing)

In 2002 and 2003, The Bush (43) Administration issued a notice that declared Haitians– and others interdicted at sea — a risk to national security.  Since 9/11 it has been Administration police to not parole Haitians into the United States. The voiced concern has been that paroling some Haitians will encourage others to make the life-endangering voyage to get to the U.S., which the US government opposes.  Thus thousands of Haitians in fear for their life have been returned to Haiti.

Hence the past’s challenge to the present.

This policy is even more restrictive than already restrictive laws are against other groups of migrants and asylum seekers.

Now, several days after the Haitian earthquake, it is becoming apparent that the Obama Administration wants to play by the same rules as his predecessors Bush (41/43) and Clinton and Reagan.

In part, the symbolism of naming Clinton and W. to help raise money and concern for Haiti helps suggests approval of past policy. . Comments made by DHS Secry Napolitano when TPS was announced implies the Obama policy is not likely to change much from previous program.  The pattern of 3 decades of unfair immigration treatment of Haitians makes this concern of vital importance.

Perhaps more than at any time since 1981, the US government has a moral and international law obligation to end its embargo of Haitians, and to parole Haitians into the country. Whereas TPS was a good start, it looked into the rearview mirror at immigrants already here. Parole is forward looking.  As the Administration endeavors to rebuild its reputation in the international community; parole would dovetail nicely with USAID’s relief programs.

Obama and the Race/Violence Divide

In recent weeks Nancy Pelosi and former President Jimmy Carter made much needed meta-comments about the increasingly violent tenor of the current political discourse in this country.

Pelosi reflected upon the violent language not experienced in this country since the 1960s, and Carter observed the racist motivations behind a lot of the anti Obama attacks. Both Pelosi’s and Carter’s comments were dismissed by a good many in the mainstream press, to my chagrin.

It’s an important discussion to have, particularly since in my opinion both Carter and Pelosi are correct in their observations.  (see Politico)

But let me temper that a bit with the following context. All Obama agonists are not Racist and race is not the root of much of the anti Obama criticism. During the early Clinton years, the right made a similar effort to delegitimize his presidency. These were the days Rush Limbaugh started a count on the number of days left in the new president’s term, and Clinton agonists discredited his health reform efforts by jiggling shiny trinkets in front of the media about alleged mistresses and Whitewater land deals in Arkansas.  Taylor Branch’s new bio of Clinton, the Clinton Tapes reminds us of how the right came quite close to delegitimizing the Clinton presidency.   Clinton’s opponents may have been racist (some of them), but the germane point is that they hated the Clintonian commitment to relying on government to solve complex social problems.

Same thing Obama faces.

Race is being used as a tool to bring Obama down,  but it is not the source of (all) the animosity. I think the more comprehensive source is ideological.  The big divide between red states and blue states, and between people who believe government has a positive role to play and people who would rather rely on unaccountable market forces that  are structured to exclude millions of have nots in society.  To the extent that opponents of a strong federal government historically back to Antibellum days have also been racist is part of the story now playing out.

It’s an ideology  thing about the role government.  Difficult to see how the president’s commitment to post partisanship abides such a tectonic divide.  And race fuels the animosity. It makes for a less communicative divide, and potentially more violent future.

In the meantime, it is time to heed Pelosi’s and Carter’s comments.


Obama’s lastest on Tehran Protests Makes Sense

Barack Obama latest comments on Iran’s street protests make a lot of sense. Indeed he has taken a couple days, made sense of events and now that he is speaking out, his words seem to be charting the right course, on politics, and as rachel Maddow says, on basic strategery, and on understanding recent history.  Further, he has explained things today in several media interviews in a very accessible way :

Briefly, here’s why the president has not come out supporting the street protesters.  these are the points:

1) Obama does not want war with Iran.

2) Obama does not want to impose American beliefs upon Iranians.

3) Were the US government to publicly support the protesters, it would be the kiss of death to the protest movement. As Obama said, there is not better way to discredit the protesters than to give credence to the charge that they are dupes of the US government.

Here’s what I like about these comments. 1) They are smart and likewise treat the American people and iranian protesters as smart.  2) they recognize the history of US imperialism in Iran: 1953 coup, and elevation to power and support of the shah of iran; 3) they seek to avoid war and the hysteria that is beginning to accompany Republican cries for regime change in iran; 4) they are responsive to the implicit requests of Mousavi and Iranian human rights leaders.

(consider it ample evidence of what Obma thinks, that the State Department has asked Twitter not to go off line today so as to give street protesters a much relied upon tool for communication.)

But common sense never stopped the republican opposition to exploit extremely delicate international affairs for short term sound bites and political gain.  Thanks to Republicans: (“bomb, bomb, bomb iran” Mccain, Pence, Rorbacher, Lieberman, a chorus is building to overtly support the protesters, threaten the iranian government with regime change,” and impose America’s will on the Iranian people. 

Makes me extremely glad I voted last November.

Obama responds to street violence in Tehran

Keith Olberman tonite started with President Obama speaking about the street violence in Tehran, which he finds deeply disturbing. He cites Iran’s lack of tolerance for political dissent as running against the currents of international law.

But Obama’s words only went so far. the prevailing wisdom is that Obama cannot speak too stridently about the stolen election because Mousavi would then be perceived as a stool pigeon of the U.S. government.  Obama said US does not want to make decisions for Iranians.

Here’s a supplementary take. President Obama risks being branded a hypocrite due our our own stolen 2000 election, which we did nothing about.  Was the 2000 election stolen? Yes. ask Greg Palast. Better yet, ask Justice Souter.

That’s right, the suggestion here is that Obama’s words are limited by America’s  own diminished moral authority, a plague that  spreads into several other Bush era wrongs that have yet to be remedied. 

Obama moral voice here is constrained because  we did nothing when our “Ahmadinejad” became president for 8 years. It serves notice that the president’s voice and actions  might well be constrained on several other fronts as well, unless we act.

Obama Silence on Tehran Protests

News reports of President Obama boarding his plane for Chicago this morning without saying word about the election protests in tehran say more about his mo than it does necessarily about policy. 

In a spring news conference ABC reporter jake tapper (I think) asked Obama why he hadn’t responded immediately to some crisis of the day to which the president responded, (paraphrase here) “I want to know what I am talking about before I open my mouth” 

It seems the Obama m.o. is at play here regarding the Iranian elections.  I don’t begrudge the president for wanting to speak with deliberation. But at the moment the world is experiencing a citizen revolution, the scale of which has not been seen since Tianamon Square 20 years ago.  Obam’s moral leadership as a world leader is also something that a US leader has not had in several decades.

It might be useful were the President to find a way to reconcile deliberation with responsiveness.

At some point during the next day or 2, the Iranian government is likely to move in even fuller force against the protests. Once they are quashed, and Ahmadinejad solidifies control again, it will be too late for Obama to do anything but “congratulate the winner.”  At that point, Obama’s words or his silence will amount to policy, and we all lose.

check out link of people power on streets of Tehran, which demands a response:

Tehran protests

What Obama’s Inaugural told me about His Immigration Policy

With all his rhetorical might, Barack Obama in his Inaugural Address endeavored to pull the country back into the realm of the rule of law.  Although this sisyphusian task will require a great deal more work than rhetoric, this is where it starts and already perhaps this indicates a reverse of course. It certainly feels good to see the new president playing to his strength and using his force of his words to serve notice on the planet that the false choice between security and liberty is over and the constitution has returned.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.  Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.  And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born:  know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

 Similarly, Obama also served notice that

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, not does it entitle us to do as we please.  Instead they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Such is his attack on the sovereignist approach to power that is derisive of the rule of law. Obama reminds us that such power is doomed because it is discordant with the “justness of our cause, the force of our example.” Obama here is referring to the integrity of our institutions in their treatment of individuals when integrity is measured against the American character which is recognizes is rooted in the immigrant and slave experience.

Obama also reclaimed the immigrant basis for its own identity, appealing to the small town in Congo where his father was born.  The ideal for Obama is to be found in the immigrant experience.

His use of the immigrant experience in this speech is anathama to the immigrant control system that has been developed over the past eight years.   Put simply, Obama entered office with a strong commitment to end the injustices experienced under the Bush Administration.

It seems clear that an Obama Administration will use much different tropes when framing the immigrant.  than the ones the country has been forced to endure under Bush.  The question I have is whether this is enough of a commitment to actually reverse course, given the inordinant amount of government resources already exhausted on immigration control.  Keep in mind his address bore no refere3nce to immigration reform; it spoke of cleaning up other messes in concrete terms but his references to immigration were vague and abstract.  America’s greatness lies in its immigrant past; its character built on the backs of immigrants and slaves.  But will his appreciation of immigration translater into concrete policies that reverse the Bush abuses of power?   It remains to be seen if the President’s attack on sovereign approaches to power will translate into concrete efforts to extend constitutional law into the immigration field.