a bird and a bottle

Still Not An Endoresment…

I know you’re all waiting with baited breath, but I still haven’t decided whom – if anyone – to “endorse” going into the Democratic primary. It’s still early. I might. But not yet.

That said, damn Obama’s rhetoric works for me.

Andrew Sullivan’s got the full text of Obama’s recent speech (which Sullivan somewhat derisively though perhaps somewhat accurately calls a sermon) at Hampton University. Obama used the story of the shooting of a pregnant woman (in white, natch) during which the bullet lodged in the arm of the woman’s fetus. The fetus survives but has scar as a reminder.

The story makes my skin crawl a little. But what he does with it is damn good. There’s this:

And so God is asking us today to remember that miracle of that baby. And He is asking us to take that bullet out once more.

If we have more black men in prison than are in our colleges and universities, then it’s time to take the bullet out. If we have millions of people going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma; it’s time to take the bullet out. If too many of our kids don’t have health insurance; it’s time to take the bullet out. If we keep sending our kids to dilapidated school buildings, if we keep fighting this war in Iraq, a war that never should have been authorized and waged, a war that’s costing us $275 million dollars a day and a war that is taking too many innocent lives — if we have all these challenges and nothing’s changing, then every minister in America needs to come together — form our own surgery teams — and take the bullets out.

And this:

If we want to stop the cycle of poverty, then we need to start with our families.

We need to start supporting parents with young children. There is a pioneering Nurse-Family Partnership program right now that offers home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income mothers and mothers-to-be. They learn how to care for themselves before the baby is born and what to do after. It’s common sense to reach out to a young mother. Teach her about changing the baby. Help her understand what all that crying means, and when to get vaccines and check-ups.

This program saves money. It raises healthy babies and creates better parents. It reduced childhood injuries and unintended pregnancies, increased father involvement and women’s employment, reduced use of welfare and food stamps, and increased children’s school readiness. And it produced more than $28,000 in net savings for every high-risk family enrolled in the program.

This works and I will expand the Nurse-Family Partnership to provide at-home nurse visits for up to 570,000 first-time mothers each year. We can do this. Our God is big enough for that.

So he hits my two pet issues in a single speech: first, the country’s unconscionable jailing of hundreds of thousands of mostly poor and mostly black men and women; and second, the empty rhetoric of the American “pro-life” movement and what an America that really supports families would look like. And he gets both issues right.

Sullivan calls Obama a compassionate conservative — made in the model that Bush supposedly was. I don’t buy that. It aggrandizes Bush and ties Obama to his sinking ship at the same time. It’s also patently false. Obama’s speech rings more of the Democratic Great Society era than of early 21st century compassionate conservatism.

At root, it doesn’t really matter how we label Obama’s speech. The bottom line is that he’s talking about important issues, connecting faith to progressivism, and doing what’s even more improbable — inspiring this cynical blogger.


Thoughts on Giuliani
May 10, 2007, 10:32 pm
Filed under: 2008, feminism/s & gender, news, reproductive justice, sexuality

First of all, sorry for the lack of posting the last couple days. After finishing my finals on Tuesday, I immediately headed out of town for a late birthday celebration with my mother, grandmother, and some of my mother’s friends. Posting will resume at its normal frequency after tomorrow.

Despite my absence, however, the political machinations continue. The big news today, of course, is that Rudy Giuliani is going to stop pussyfooting and pandering and just support abortion rights, as he always has — much to the chagrin of the Christian right.

As Le Mew noted, McCain and Romney have got to be happy at this development. In fact, McCain, in less-than-maverick fashion, seized on the moment to demonize Planned Parenthood. Because of the new primary schedule, which is even more front-loaded than it was before, Giuliani seems to think he’s got a shot at winning the GOP nomination by focusing on the early primary states that are more socially progressive even if they are red in places. I think, fat chance.

But I do find all of this interesting. What does it say that a GOP candidate is willing to come out so strongly in favor of abortion rights? Could this – perhaps – mean that the power of the Christian right is on the wane and that there may be some good to come out of primaries that take place 18 months before the general? Or does it just mean that Giuliani had to stop flip flopping at some point and this seemed like the most genuine way to do it?

My sense is that this may not change the outcome of the GOP primaries (i don’t think Rudy really had a shot anyway in the long run) but that it might make for some better debates. Though having three presidential candidates admit that they don’t believe in evolution was pretty amusing already….

The Solution to Prison Overcrowding? Why, That’s Easy. It’s implementation that’s hard.
May 7, 2007, 2:39 pm
Filed under: 2008, civil rights, criminal justice, law, news, politics

(image: prison crowding in a California state prison)

Prisons around the U.S. are full to bursting these days. California has most notoriously battled the problem of the prison bulge. But the problem is not limited to CA. With more people incarcerated than ever before in the U.S. — almost 3 million, about 491 people per 100,000 — more and more states are likely to face prison crowding crises in the coming years.

Today comes word (via Sentencing Law & Policy Blog) that Nevada’s prison system is buckling under ever more crowded conditions. From the Nevada Appeal:

The inmates at Nevada’s Warm Springs Correctional were still adjusting to their cramped quarters and new cellmates when Gov. Jim Gibbons toured their cell block.

After walking down a hallway between 12-by-12-foot cells now holding four prisoners each, he urged state lawmakers to vote for bigger prisons.

“It doesn’t take much more than that to force the system into a meltdown,” Gibbons warned of the crowded conditions, and lobbied for lawmakers to pass his $300 million budget request for prison expansion.

The causes of the near-meltdown of Nevada’s prison system — as well as those in Connecticut, Texas, Kansas, and Nevada — are clear, while the benefits remain doubtful at best:

The federal government was offering extra grant money to states that used such “truth in sentencing” laws, and by 1996 most states had one.

Sentences for violent offenders around the country nearly doubled, hitting an average of 88 months, according to one U.S. Department of Justice study.

Ten years later, the costs of tougher sentences continue to mount, while the benefits have remained elusive. State legislatures have a case of “spending fatigue” when it comes to prisons, says Michael Thompson, director of the Justice Center at the nonpartisan Council of State Governments in New York.

“Why aren’t we doing any better in terms of recidivism rates?” Thompson asked. “We’re spending that much more money, and the same number of people are going back to prison. We should be getting better outcomes.”

So what can we do? Well, getting rid of mandatory minimums is a good first step. Reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine sentences, a process that has already begun but that could be stalled by Congress, is another important move. Of course, fixing this problem long term requires longer term policy changes. We’ve got to stop treating addiction like a crime. We’ve got to lower recidivism rates by providing real job training and education to people who are incarcerated and by providing support and job assistance when they are released.

Basically, we’ve got to make it politically unpopular to be a “law and order” candidate in any traditional sense of the phrase.

May 3, 2007, 10:30 am
Filed under: 2008, activism, me, news & views, politics

I’ve stayed silent so far on the 2008 presidential election — specifically, on which democratic candidate I will support in the primary. I still haven’t decided.

But I do have to say…it would be an easy choice for Kucinich if I felt he could win (and if he could promise support for abortion rights, which Alon points out has not been his strength).

Exhibit A (via Blue Gal):

Exhibit B:

He and Mike Gravel are the only of the Democrats to even mention the bad policy that is the War on Drugs on their websites.

So here’s the question: support the guy who can’t win the general but is the most inspiring in the primary? Or support the candidate who really has a chance to get a Dem back in the White House after 8 years of Bush disasters?

Do Confirmation Hearings Matter?
April 26, 2007, 10:21 am
Filed under: 2008, civil rights, law, news & views, politics

One of the things I’ve found particularly striking in thinking about last week’s federal abortion ban decision was how stark the contrast has been between Chief Justice Roberts’s rhetoric during his confirmation hearings and his behavior on the bench.

During the confirmation hearings, Justice Roberts promised to respect precedent, to promote judicial restraint, and to build consensus. But a recent string of 5-4 opinions betrays this promise.

So what are we to do? For me, the abortion decision as well as the other close decisions have driven home the idea that confirmation hearings are, at this point, pretty worthless. The nominees don’t really reveal anything and the hypothetical “how would you have ruled” questions don’t push them to.

TAP’s Michael Tomasky suggests that the answer is harsher hearings, with real questions about ideology and beliefs. That’s what the President uses to decide whom to nominate, Tomasky reasons, so why shouldn’t the Senate consider these issues too. He writes:

So, next time, what should Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee do? They cannot ask the next Bush nominee, if there is one, how he or she would have decided on X. That’s a weak invitation to an easy side-step: I can’t say, didn’t read the briefs, et cetera.

What they need to do is ask such a nominee what he or she believes, using real-world examples. This fiction that judges have no beliefs and only interpret law this way or that way is transparent. Democrats need to say so and press hard for a nominee’s beliefs.

The Court is about to hear cases from Louisville and Seattle on school integration. A true conservative should support integration in this case, because in both localities the policy was set by legislatures (the direct representatives of the people) at the local (that is, non-federal) level. Democrats must ask a nominee, well, which are you more committed to? Local legislative decisions, or aversion to racial remedies of any sort

Such a move could be a double edged sword; it could be political suicide for the democrats but would help ensure that we’re not getting any rude surprises once people are appointed the Court. That said, Justice Stevens, now one of the most liberal justices on the Court (and god love him, the oldest), was appointed by a Republican as a conservative. So maybe surprises are just part of the game.

I’m curious — what do you all think?

Your Racist Asshole of the Week
April 1, 2007, 10:47 am
Filed under: 2008, bullshit, civil rights, is our children learning?, news, politics, tongues

Newt Gingrich.

In a week rife with stupid comments (Schlafly, Bush, Gonzales, MC Rove), this one takes the cake.

Speaking yesterday at a meeting of the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich shared his enlightened views on immigration, education, and the franchise:

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich yesterday described bilingual education as teaching “the language of living in a ghetto,” and he mocked requirements that ballots be printed in multiple languages.

“The government should quit mandating that various documents be printed in any one of 700 languages depending on who randomly shows up” to vote, Gingrich said.

There’s so much wrong with this statement, I barely know where to start. First, the term “ghetto” in and of itself is offensive. Second, Spanish is spoken by people across socio-economic lines; what he doesn’t want is his precious nativist government catering to poor Spanish-speaking, mostly undocumented, immigrants. Third, Gingrich doesn’t respect the right of all citizens to vote. Yes, as he notes later in his rant, there is an English proficiency test as part of the citizenship test, but it’s a farce. Plenty of people without working knowledge of English are citizens. Floating ideas like this indicates a desire to systematically disenfranchise non-English speaking citizens, many of whom vote Democrat.

What’s funniest to me about this comment (and there is something) is that Gingrich, who is considering a presidential run, just killed any chance he had at success. The GOP more and more needs the Latino vote to win. And I can’t imagine many people of Latino descent will be voting for him now.

ERA Now Here to Stay?


I just found out, via Shakespeare’s Sister , that yesterday House and Senate Democrats reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment.

The ERA, for those of you who are surprised that such a thing is not already part of our Constitution, is centered around this simple but beautiful concept: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Gets right to the point, doesn’t it. The ERA would require the strictest form of constitutional (equal protection) scrutiny for claims of sex discrimination (which now receive what’s called “intermediate” scrutiny). It’d make it clear that sex discrimination is not acceptable in our society. It would make that stance part of the Constitution. It’s a big deal. And not only symbolically. The ERA might have real implications for women’s lives.

The ERA has been on the table before (for a long long time). The ERA came thisclose to passing about 27 years ago, but ultimately failed to gather the support of enough of the states. By the ratification deadline in 1979, 35 states had ratified, out of the necessary 38. Though some have argued that the ERA continued to be before the states even after the 1979 deadline, it hasn’t been taken up in earnest since then.

And now it’s back!

“Elections have consequences, and isn’t it true those consequences are good right now?” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) asked a mostly female crowd yesterday at a news conference, as the audience cheered. “We are turning this country around, bit by bit, to put it in a more progressive direction.”

As Shakes notes, the usual suspects, Phyllis Schlafly chief among them, are already coming out of the woodwork to fight this.

After introducing the ERA yesterday, leaders in both houses vowed to bring it to a floor vote by the end of this session. It needs the support of 2/3 of the Senate to pass. Here’s hoping it leaps over that floor and onto state ballots in 2008.