Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Obama Legacy

Sarah Larson's report in the New Yorker on President Obama's garage podcast interview has this key quote from it.  Obama said his job sometimes is  “to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that, in ten years, we’re in a very different place than we are now.” People might want fifty degrees, now, but that might sink the ship, he said.

He's been using that metaphor since 2008, though he extended it a bit here.  And it's why I'm not disappointed with Barack Obama as President.  Because he's right, and that's what he's been doing, as well as setting an agenda and providing a framework for the future with what he chooses to talk about and what he says.  And he's been pretty consistent in those areas, too.

Sometimes the change comes pretty quickly.  Though the Affordable Care Act isn't ever going to fix the US healthcare system entirely, it's made a crucial difference for many, many people, and has beat most projections for coverage and cost containment.  That's a strong precedent as well as a "people eat everyday" reform.

Another change is the suddenly burgeoning clean energy industry.  President Obama used the stimulus package in 2009 to seed that sector, and it is taking off.  Bill McKibben had an eye-opening article about solar power this week.

I'm not saying people can't criticize this or that, or that I agree with everything, especially in the murky NSA/CIA areas.  And I'm in a pretty constant state of dismay over the politics in Washington and the reversion of an entire political party to barbarism, while the other party has it seamy sides as well.  But I can't think of any area where what Obama says contravenes important facts as I know them.  Of course, I can be like WTF host Marc Maron who admitted that he's had periods where he's tried to run the country from his couch.  "A lot of people do," Obama replied.  But I try to maintain a little humility about what I know and what I don't know.

But here's something I know.  There were a lot of stories today (Thursday) about how Obama had such a great day and great week because Obamacare didn't get dismantled by the Supreme Court, and after much politics on the Hill, he got the essentials of his trade package going.  At least one story said that these were two of the three remaining mainstays of his "legacy."  The third is a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

That's wrong.  The achievement that will be just as important, and finally much more important that these, is a global deal on carbon and other efforts to address the causes of the climate crisis, and maybe even some framework for organizing responses to the effects.

That test will come finally in December.  Right now there is an unprecedented global momentum consciously being built, a maybe last ditch effort to get this done.  The encyclical by Pope Francis is a major part of that,  and the support for it from leaders of institutions both within the Catholic Church and representing other denominations is part of that effort.

As the year goes on, the do or die focus will intensify, hopefully so strongly that the media can't doze through it, their attention continually flickering away to the latest bright object.

President Obama already has the most significant legacy on the climate crisis of any President, but this is the big one.  As he is clearly aware, this is the most important issue for his youngest constituents, who will live on a planet that we hesitate to imagine.  That's the reality of legacy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

No, It's the Flag!

At least couple of writers--like one at New York Magazine, another at the New Yorker--have now noted that the Confederate flag frenzy has rather neatly shifted all attention from doing something that might actually matter the next time somebody gets a mass-murder impulse: gun control.

Which leads me to wonder: could the power behind this flag thing actually be the National Rifle Association?

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Subject is Racism

Jonathan Chiat at New York:

The mysteriousness of Dylann Roof’s motivations for allegedly murdering a room full of African-Americans, rated on a scale of 1 through 10, is zero. Roof has been described by people who knew him as obsessed with racial hatred, has been photographed with racist symbolism, told his victims he planned to murder them because of their race, and even let one live specifically so that she could let the world know the reason for his crime. It is entirely possible that some form of mental illness or adverse life event caused Roof to embrace violent racism, but there is zero doubt that racism directly motivated his actions.

The rest of this column is about how Republicans, including presidential candidates, have avoided saying that this the motivation for this mass murder was racism.  A companion column provides a sampling of what candidates did say. As Chiat points out, they didn't have to handle it this way.  Call it racism, say it has no place in American society, disassociate yourself from these views.  This used to be the minimum political standard.  Not any more.  The Republican party is very close to officially admitting it is a party for racists.  I suppose they gets some points for acknowledging the truth.

Trending today is the Confederate flag--move it from the South Carolina capitol, take it off the shelves of Walmart, etc.  In part this looks like a mix of guilty conscience, misdirection, a way to talk about this without talking about this, and an Internet-fed instant fad.  We'll see.

President Obama spoke some pointed words on racism in an unusual interview--a podcast recorded in a garage.  Here's a good story on it, here are some quotes, here's the link. Here's another story/summary in the New Yorker.

Update 6/23: The Confederate flag thing continues to spread.  There's an educational component about why that flag flies at all, addressed in this story, by Jelani Cobb, which also provides contemporary context:

Fifty-five per cent of the black population of the United States resides in the South. A hundred and five Southern counties have a population that is at least fifty per cent black. The idea of the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride presumes that there was some universally accessible virtue associated with the circumstances under which that flag came into existence. The more honest assessment would preface the word “Southern” with the adjective “white.”

As for the flurry of other announcements today, there seems to be a degree of "we feel guilty but we can't think of anything else to do" apparently motivating retailers, who get positive publicity from people most likely to buy their products, and yet, as the above linked story concludes:

"When I spoke to Anton Gunn, a former state legislator who ran Obama’s primary campaign in South Carolina, he asked, “If you take the flag down tomorrow, what is going to substantively change in the lives of black people and people affected by inequality in South Carolina?”

The situation in South Carolina has become a tragedy wrapped in an irony. The Confederate flag was erected as a pandering symbol to a segment of the white population who could expect little else from the government. Taking it down offers a kind of equality—an equality of emptiness—to black South Carolinians."

Which is to say that Republicans aren't going to address substantive changes, nor in most cases support and implement government programs that address the needs of blacks as well as others, like Medicaid and Obamacare.  But apart from that, I suppose this flag frenzy could be the symbolic beginning of a new round of addressing residual racism as reflected in institutions.  And probably it will be taken too far, so that eventually some kid who brings a Confederate flag to school for history class will get expelled.