Saturday, May 03, 2014

The President and the People

Saturday night saw President Obama in one of his roles that generally gets little criticism--the presidential stand-up at the White House Press Association dinner.

But many of the President's roles are off screen or not covered by the media, including perhaps the most important ones.  White House spiritual advisor Joshua DuBois wrote about one such role in his book, excerpted here.  He writes about President Obama meeting with parents of the children gunned down at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012:

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

And the funny thing is—President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Not a bad day for the good guys.  In what sportswriter Bill Plaschke called "the most spectacular slam dunk in professional basketball history," new NBA commissioner Adam Silver responded to the racist comments of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling by banning Sterling from any association with the NBA for life, fining him the maximum allowed $2.5 million, and urging the Board of Governors (other team owners) to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.  Silver seemed confident he had the votes to get that done as well.  These are the maximum possible penalties.

Who's going to be the first to call this the Day of Sterling/Silver?  Me I guess.
 Silver appointed an independent investigator to determine if the voice on the widely heard tape was Sterling, and that determination was affirmative.  Sterling admitted to the investigator that the voice was his.  Silver's decision was made easier, if not mandatory, by the turmoil in the league, sponsors leaving the Clippers in droves, and the certainty of a player boycott if maximum penalties weren't exercised.

This spectacular news overshadowed another couple of victories.  A federal judge struck down that state's Wisconsin voter ID law because it imposed an undue burden on poor voters.  The decision could well be a precedent for challenges to voter ID laws in other states.

Earlier the US Supreme Court "upheld a federal regulation requiring some states to limit pollution that contributes to unhealthy air in neighboring states, reversing a lower court ruling and handing a victory to President Barack Obama.

By a 6-2 vote, the court said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acted reasonably in requiring 28 states to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which can lead to soot and smog."

This decision reversed a lower court ruling, and apart from its positive effect alone in reducing pollution and scaling back greenhouse gases, it may support the EPA standards now in process for regulating emissions.

The decision has the most immediate effect on coal-fired power plants.  There are scientists and economists who believe that ending the burning of coal over time will be enough to forestall apocalyptic climate change.  Others don't go that far, but do agree that ending major coal use is essential to saving the planet.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Race In Your Face

Talk about chickens coming home to roost.  The sight of President Obama in the White House, acting as head of state, the prime representative of the United States, has driven some people--most of them rabid right Republicans--into a frenzy of madness, tripping over their projections and denial and letting out what perhaps even they are surprised is in their hearts and minds.

Most recently there was Cliven Bundy, a tax dodger hero of the right (except perhaps those who themselves own cattle ranches and don't get a free ride) who spouted off with such racist analysis that conservatives are repudiating the guy who was their hero 48 hours before.  Adam Serwer asks why, when what he's saying simply follows from the rabid right theology.  Their problem was nailed by, of course, a satirist: Andy Borowitz headlined: Republicans Blast Nevada Rancher For Failing To Use Commonly Accepted Code Words.

Now a huge firestorm over intensely and personally racist dialogue that no one seems to be denying is Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team.  The best commentary on this situation I've seen is from Amy Davidson here at the New Yorker.

Davidson points out how extreme Sterling's comments are, objecting to his girlfriend (that the guy is married and she is 50 years younger are normally the top details but not this time) posting a photo of herself with Magic Johnson, not only a personal acquaintance of Sterling but of course he's...Magic Johnson.

  "But it’s also worth talking about how we let racism hide in a tissue of supposed dispensations. A Magic Johnson gets a pass—usually—and the people at the parties where he shows up congratulate themselves with the idea that their discomfort around other black people had nothing to do with race at all. It is, supposedly, because of “culture” and attitude, education and status. This presumes that it’s left to black people to erase the racial aspect of their presence (or absence)—that is, to remake themselves so that they fit in certain rooms. That is an unfair obligation to start with. (If Magic Johnson isn’t a respectable person to be seen with, how about the President of the United States?) But the recordings expose the fraudulence of the whole transaction, the whole setup."

The Sterling situation is still gathering force, as the multiple ironies as well as big money involved begin to burn through American society.  Maybe making all of this conscious will turn out to be a good thing, a cleansing thing, but at the moment we're in the phase of facing the ugliness.  And it is important that we really face it.