Thursday, March 12, 2015

The making of a Southern liberal and how it happened.

The incident with racial chants at the University of Oklahoma and more violence in Ferguson flashed my memory back to my younger days growing up in eastern Oklahoma in Muskogee. The mid sized town of 35,000 was populated by African Americans, many refugees from the Tulsa 1920's and'30's  Ku Klux Klan, and Whites and Native Americans with Southern US roots.  I also was and am an alum  member of a sorority and still keep  up with my local chapter at Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois. I understand the group think and pressure for conformity such bands of sisters experience.  Most of my sorority sisters were from the north and I never heard such racism expressed as I heard now from  that OU fraternity.

  Back in the 50's what I do recall is that the university was rumored to have a quota of Jews (as was whispered to me by close Jewish friends)  and there were enough African American women admitted to give social opportunity for the African American football players.  My sorority had just begun admitting Catholics ( still no Jews, no Blacks).   My reaction was to be active in the Model United Nations that respected other countries'viewpoints...I was co-secretary general.  In 1960, I led  the Draft (Adlai) Stevenson group in the Mock Political Convention in 1960..  The North Shore parents of my sorority sisters( our sorority house  was the leader of the Stevenson group) were appalled, especially when we almost beat the Richard Nixon forces. Stevenson, a Democrat,  at that time was governor of Illinois.  In short, I was a not so laid back  rebel working within the system. I  have attended a few reunions and let me say both sorority membership and the entire campus is happily very diverse these days.

For those who puzzle at what shaped me coming from Oklahoma as I did in the 50's  there  were several factors:a)  Parents who were not from Oklahoma..Dad from the Fort Morgan, Colorado area a University of Colorado graduate  and a mother from Missouri and educated in Illinois, b) My parents  told me  the cleaning help  and my African American nanny were as well educated as they were  and deserved total respect and if I ever used the N word, my mouth would be washed out with soap; c) My own reading of the Bible...even as a Presbyterian, churches were strictly segregated and I dared ask why since I thought Christ taught otherwise. The answer from church elders: "'They' prefer to go to  their own church".   This was a Southern Baptist Bible belt town and even Presbyterians shared social attitudes. (The Presbyterian Church became one of the most tolerant and welcoming  of "others" much later). However, Presbyterians, Episcopals, Catholics,  and Jews were the "others" and I felt a kindship with them in being a member of "a minority".

 1950's Muskogee observed separate but equal education, separate drinking fountains and restrooms, back of the bus, and no integrated neighborhoods whatsoever. Blacks "who knew their place" were appreciated and those who did not were called with disdain  "uppity N...s".  I remember feeling sorry for "colored people" who had to conform with the segregation rules.  It did not seem fair.  I had a piano teacher who tried to convince me Black people..called Negroes or colored people when being  polite..were directly descended from monkeys and the two races should never mix.  I politely listened. I must have been 12 then and I never believed a word since I knew otherwise from my own experience.

 It was not until my senior year in 1956 that integration began to a limited extent .and we could   compete in debate meets and  to get to know our African American counterparts.  They were  impressive, too.  Keeping up with some of my high school classmates, I have found  many of them are still frozen in the times and attitudes of 1956. Others are not and evolved much like me..

There are two movies with which I personally relate.  To" Kill a Mockingbird " describes my neighborhood, attitudes, and characters I knew. The Harper Lee  book version is perhaps even better than the movie to get a feel of my life in the 50's.  "The Help" takes life from a different perspective and the main white young woman  character was particularly descriptive of feelings and situations I experienced  in the 1950's  and even later as a young adult.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Critics of Obama's foreign policy fill empty bags full of hot air or worse

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, March 2, Sen John McCain made statements regarding the President’s policy toward Russia and Ukraine.   He dismissed actions the administration had already taken as if nothing had been done but proclaimed loudly we should do more but not go to war. That is not unlike the attitude many of the President’s critics claiming administration foreign policy failures who distort, criticize, glibly dismiss both invasion and occupation, but only propose to do more of what we are doing already.  To quote Woody Allen as a restaurant critic: “The food here is terrible, and the portions are too small”

Other critics of the Administration’s foreign policy are either empty bags full of hot air devoid of alternatives, or they propose alternatives that put us in worse shape than we are now.

The Woody Allen type critics advocate just to send a few more ground troops to Iraq or beef up NATO support of countries near Russia. More troops of some sort (combat boots or advisors or special ops) are either not off the table per Secretary of State John Kerry before a December Senate committee or are already being done as part of our war against ISIS. NATO countries are being beefed up militarily and NATO operations centers are being set up from the Baltics to Romania. A Western propaganda campaign has been launched to counter Russian propaganda  beamed at residents’ of future territory they may want to control.

The issue is by how much to increase  the portions:  Mission creep in our war against ISIS is indeed a danger,  but the GOP Congress wants the decision of how much  creep to be the monkey on this and the next Administration’s  back by giving  them no limits.  Heaven forbid Congress should  take any blame for failures in the future if we ooze into another Iraq war.

Giving Ukrainians  heavier weapons can be easily matched  in an arms race with  the ante upped by Russia. Where that ends is a risk.  Do we want to go to war with Russia in the future over their direct control  of or  Anschluss with parts or all of the Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia?  There are some non-military alternatives already undertaken by the Administration of increasing the portions of economic sanctions against Russia or propping up the Ukraine economy so it does not collapse while weaning Europe from Russian petro energy. These are not short term strategies. It will take time until the Russian people have enough of economic hardships to offset their national pride in a restoration of their country’s past glory and territorial buffers against the West. 

Then there are the proponents of an empty bag approach that would leave us worse off than we are now. This includes rejecting a nuclear treaty with Iran. As Fareed Zakaria writing in the Washington Post March 5 noted the threats to Israel are not fiction. Reality though, is the failure to agree on a treaty either in the past or now has and will give the Iranians free rein to develop as many centrifuges as they want with no inspectors or time limits. He could have added that this risk is also of concern of our Arab allies.

The battlefield for 2016 has changed and the GOP is still fighting the last war

 The battlefield has changed for the 2016 general election and Republicans so far are fighting the last war of 2014  midterms .  Better they take a look at the history of 2012, too, and consider the demographic changes taking place in the last four years. Senate seats up for grabs and electoral states needed to win the White House will tilt more to blue and purple states than in 2014. Gridlock and buck passing are now the GOP's new brand.
The GOP will have a harder time in 2016 making jobs, growth and the economy a winning issue than in 2012 because the economy has improved and will improve even more by 2016.
The GOP will also have difficulty with a track record of the party of repeal without replace. Their strategy has been gridlock:  to obstruct, threaten government shut downs, and replace problem solving legislation with a bag empty of all but hot air.  With both Houses of Congress, the buck has stopped with them. They own the legislative agenda and strategy.
The GOP has no viable substitutes for Obamacare to help millions afford health insurance.  They refuse to provide any solution to undocumented immigrant status other than to keep them in the shadows and send them back no matter how inhumane it is to break up families or unfair to dreamers.   Their critique of the President’ s  foreign policy provides no alternatives other than more of the same he is already doing or to  risk mission creep leading to a  third Iraq war and interminable  occupation.
Mitt Romney’s disdain of the 47% in 2012 was a turnoff to swing voters that eventually determined the outcome. President Obama is daring the GOP to defeat “middle class economics” programs such as   child care tax credits, free community college, and job creating infrastructure projects.  A GOP vote against those antidotes to the middle class’  declining standard of living , or opposing  raising taxes on the very rich to pay for any programs directly benefitting the middle class,  will only make any  candidate look like a Romney in a different suit.
 The voting pool resembles 2012 on steroids with more young women and Hispanics in the Democratic party camp. Even in 2012 demographics were major factors defeating the GOP in races for both the White House and in some crucial senate seats.  Assuming Hillary Clinton runs,  expect the women’s vote to be even stronger for her because of her gender.
Regardless of how the Courts decide,  a GOP’s anti- immigrant vote  attempting to roll back the President’s executive orders  will do nothing but bring home to Hispanics the negative  consequences of a GOP victory in 2016.
  Polls show Hispanics already regard he GOP hostile toward their interests, but the key is turnout.  Hispanic turnout was below expectations in 2012 and 2014. One of the reasons for low turnout in the past was that Hispanics got tired of waiting for the President to take action on the status of immigrants and they had developed an attitude it was the President’s fault for not pushing harder. The President’s executive action and the GOP’s attempt to kill it has gone far to change that perception.
Sources:  Buzzfeed posted on Feb. 23, 2015, at 8:26 a.m.Adrian Carrasquillo, reporting

Why a world view matters

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.
                                                          Sun Tzu: The Art of War,  6th century Chinese Military classic
In passing the other week I heard President Barack Obama criticized for having a “World View”, as if that was proof that he was not American.  My jaw dropped. It is an asset to understand the mentality of multi cultures. This is no liability; it is an asset in our taking on our top foreign policy concerns, Al Qaeda and its barbaric child, ISIS.  So who knows its enemy best? Someone who only knows their local experiences, peer group opinions, and media that justifies their preconceived notions or someone who has multicultural hands on experience? The advantage goes to holders of a world view.
The more extreme opponents of Obama look at knowledge of the world very differently.  Because President Obama has knowledge of the Muslim culture and the religion, he is un American, does not love America, and must have been born in Kenya. Because he understands other cultures by having lived them, they automatically assume he agrees or sympathizes with them. Respect of other cultures and beliefs is not a concept easily comprehended. Or as Colin Powell called it “a dark vein of intolerance” recently. They suspect that he had an agenda that is soft on Islam because he is unwilling to re-enact the Iraq war and he even apologizes about US imperfections. Only a Christian true believer should lead this nation because this is a Christian nation (never mind there are Jews, Buddhists, atheists, and Muslims, and the First Amendment). This is a war of Christianity against Islam.  Some claim all Islam itself is a faulty religion.
 Why this birtherism and citing his different upbringing has erupted again now is likely about the Republican primaries and which candidate is the most conservative. Obama is not up for re-election, but it speaks to the depth of their continuing personalized antipathy toward him.
Yes, Obama has his roots in several cultures, he frequently says, “Only in American could he have had the chance to rise to the position he has today.”  That is love based upon experience and a knowledge of another culture.  It is a patriotism that speaks to what makes America exceptional.
 Recently the Obama world view was misinterpreted by some in the US to indicate Obama’s ignorance of the religious nature of ISIS by failing to connect the religion of Islam to violent extremism. It is not ignorance. It is a strategy in the propaganda war against ISIS and done apparently in coordination with our allies since they are now using the same terminology. The King of Jordan in a CNN interview February 27 said Pres. Obama was right in not coupling Islam with violent extremism. The King called ISIS’” outlaws/fringes of Islam” and to attach the term Islam to ISIS gives them legitimacy they seek.  For the interview, visit

Recommended reading:

Freedom of Press and Speech, differences between the US and Europe

The cartoon contest to insult the Prophet Mohammed sponsored by an anti-Muslim hate group was the target of an armed attack in Garland, Texas, yet to be called a terrorist attack, reminds me of a column I wrote after the charlie hebdo attack. It is a reposting of one I wrote earlier...and reprinted becow.  This may have been billed as a freedom of speech event, but it may be more like shouting fire in a crowded theater. It certainly is not in the tradition of America that has set as a standard for respect and tolerance.

Freedom of Press and Speech...differences between Europe and the US

The shootings in Denmark and the attacks in Paris against Charlie Hebdo had much in common.   Both targets were writers or publications that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and they were twinned with a deadly assault on a Jewish site.   Differences between Europe and the United States reacting to the shootings revealed different interpretations of freedom of speech and press.

We in the US cannot be smug; we have and will have home grown terrorist attacks by those disaffected, whether in Oklahoma City or Boston.  The US mainstream media would not, had not,  and did not publish cartoons offensive to Muslims.. We know we have the freedom to do it, but we also know we have the choice, respect, and responsibility not to do it. On the other hand, Europeans had no qualms about a press offending anyone. They had the freedom to do it and they felt a need to continue so they would not be cowed by fear.  The Je Suis Charlie demonstrations in Paris delivered that defiant message.

There was an instructive exchange on MSNBC Morning Joe February 16 between the hosts and an editor of the newspaper in Denmark who had published cartoons offensive to Muslims.   Both saluted the shared values of freedom of the press but differed about the approach. . The Americans talked about taking into account the feelings of those who were the object of the hate speech.  The Danish publisher said he was exercising his right of freedom of the press, would not be cowed by fear, and “we should get a ‘thicker skin’”.

Some governments in Europe suppress any display of expression of faith in the name of fairness including banning wearing headscarves, burkas, stars of David, or crosses in schools. Their minorities feel such laws, however, communicate they and their religions are not welcome. US freedom of expression and speech means that all may wear symbols of their religion.

Our tradition of tolerance and respect is actually a new phenomenon and it was born of a multi- cultural, multi- racial society with a 200 year history of intolerance and discrimination. With new generations a consensus of most of us believe that discrimination and hate speech are wrong.

 That awareness was not caused so much by fear of violence as it was a sense of fairness and doing what was right. We did not ask media or those who resented discrimination to get a thicker skin.  Instead individuals, media and political institutions, shouldered the responsibility not to publish or spout hate speech. Some laws and court decisions interpreting the Constitution support the action.

True, attitudes of some are still evolving. A fraternity’s racist chant in March resulted in the University of Oklahoma’s administration taking swift action, expelling the fraternity and the instigators. What happened in North Carolina recently when three Muslim-American students were shot dead was especially significant and encouraging because it came spontaneously from the hearts of fellow non-Muslim students. The world saw television reports of the thousands who demonstrated out of sympathy with the victims as they filled a sports stadium in solidarity. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Strange bedfellows award: 49 GOP Senators and Iranian hardliners, US and Iranian special forces, Turkey and ISIS

Strange bedfellows award:
The 49 Senators who signed the letter to Iran lecturing them about how temporary  agreements are on nuclear control  signed by the President.  They have become  fellow travelers with the hardliners in Iran who do not want an agreement either.

Tikrit:  The Iranian Revolutionary Guards special forces  guiding the Shia militias  just as the US is guiding the Iraqi forces in the attack on Tikrit.  The US is claiming no coordination with the Iranians...only with Baghdad (who is mostly Shia and close to Iran, in any case)

Syrian border: Turkey who is more concerned about  Kurd forces gaining support and strength  or Shia and Assad in Syria  than about ISIS than doing all it can to keep foreign fighters using Turkey as a transit  point to join ISIS, though Turkey is doing more lately to stop those transiting.  Turkey is now pointing the finger at the West , challenging them to do more to stop ISIS joiners from entering Turkey.  Both ISIS and Turkey would like to rid Syria of Assad.

What strange webs we weave in conduct  of foreign policy.

Friday, March 6, 2015

GOP's dumb political tricks likely to backfire in 2016

Are Republicans performing dumb political tricks when they try to destroy Pres. Obama’s major domestic initiatives of Obamacare and immigration reform with  threats of  shutting down the government?  Possibly.   Polls reflect and are warnings of backfires.  Continuing resolutions and compromise are temporary band aids but eventually the time clock runs out and a nasty taste is left in the voters’ mouths.
In the fall of 2013 much of the federal government was shut down over Obamacare.  The radical right of the GOP, the Tea Party wing, tried to defund implementation of the health care reform law and they tied it to the government funding legislation.   They hoped by including it in another piece of legislation critical to government functioning they would force the President to cave in.  To avoid getting the blame for being the party who pulled this stunt, they pointed a finger at the President saying it was his fault because he refused to compromise on Obamacare.
 The problem for the GOP is that the public was not fooled about who initiated the strategy and they were angered with the shutdown that inconvenienced and disgusted them. Per an ABC/Washington Post Poll October 22, 2013 “eight in 10 Americans say they disapprove of the shutdown. Two in three Republicans or independents who lean Republican share a negative view of the impasse. And even a majority of those who support the tea party movement disapprove.”
 The GOP right are fooling themselves if they point to victories in 2014 as a sign shutdowns do not matter. The can was kicked down the road then and it was no longer a front burner issue.  As the German saying goes: “Out of sight, out of mind”.  Neither will happen in 2015.
 In 2015 the issue is different; the strategy is the same. It is the Tea Party Congressional wing again, requiring the rest of Congress to vote to overturn the President’s executive actions on immigration by tying it to funding Homeland Security at a time when Americans are sweating in fear from ISIS.
Once again, the Tea Party shoots the GOP in its feet and only 30% of the public approve of the shutdown strategy. 53% blame the GOP per a CNN/ORC poll (2/17/2015).
 In this case, though, the potential electoral fallout is long lasting and serious.  In 2013 the GOP had only midterms to contest in mostly red states.  In 2016 general election   electoral votes are at stake and demographics and turnout are different. The Senate map favors Democrats since the election will hinge on blue and purple swing states with large Hispanic voting blocks.  The ones most impacted if their citizens can no longer get Obamacare health insurance because a possible Supreme Court decision  are low income white voters upon which  red state GOP support  depends. This will put state GOP Senate and state house candidates on the spot to offer a fix.  Count on Democrats to remind voters of their GOP opponents’ votes and positions in 2016.

A version of this column published