Breaking Barriers to Fulfill America’s Promise

AP photo credit

AP photo credit

What does it really mean when those who were never considered leaders become leaders? Or Pioneers? Millions of Americans were captivated by the movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson who signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and became the first African-American to play on a major league team. And while the story obviously focused on racism and his individual battle to break a major barrier, it also created a generation of new baseball fans.

Some 50 years after Robinson stepped on the field as a Brooklyn Dodger in a game against the Boston Braves while the entire country watched and gathered around radios to follow the game, inning-by-inning, and minute-by-minute. Many people were baseball fans and others were simply curious about what would happen when Robinson made his debut. Others became baseball fans because it was exciting to witness this moment in history.

There have been other sports moments like the rise of Billie Jean King in tennis and Tiger Woods in golf, both had similar cultural impacts on increasing interest in their respective sports. In politics, President Obama is the first African-American President and Nancy Pelosi was the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives. Now, Janet Yellen who was sworn in yesterday as the first woman to head the Federal Reserve breaks through another barrier. Hopefully, Yellen’s rise to the pinnacle of the finance world will have a history making affect on generations of women.

These breakthroughs serve as a reminder that barriers have to be broken if we are to fully realize the promise of an America that exclaims equality for all.

 

Immigration Reform is Not Dead

Vice President Biden came to Atlseiuanta yesterday to celebrate the Administration’s commitment to passing common sense immigration reform. Last week immigration advocates were exercising civil disobedience at the Capitol and  immigration reform is back in the headlines but it seems unlikely that activism will translate to a “great compromise” on immigration this year.

We really don’t need any new examples of the GOP leadership stalling or blocking responsible legislation. Speaker John A. Boehner speaker has said he would not bring Senate “Gang of Eight” bill to the House. The Gang of Eight (Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-IL, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY) have proposed sensible immigration reform that includes,

• A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States that would be contingent on certain border security and visa tracking improvements. The plan provides for permanent residence for undocumented immigrants only after legal immigrants waiting for a current priority date receive their permanent residence status and a different citizenship path for agricultural workers through an agricultural worker program.

• Business immigration system reforms, focusing on reducing current visa backlogs and fast tracking permanent residence for U.S. university immigrant graduates with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math also known as the STEM fields.

• An expanded and improved employment verification system that would confirm employee work authorization.

• Improved work visa options for low-skill workers including an agricultural worker program.

While there is not likely be any action this year, a recent poll shows that 70 percent of voters support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, 80 percent approve of implementing a better electronic worker verification system and 78 percent support passing DREAM Act legislation. These healthy numbers reflect broad based public support for Congressional action on immigration. If you agree contact your Congressman and Senator.

 

Civility in Civil Discourse is Not Too Much to Ask

cruzThe “Million Vet March on the Memorials,” rally this weekend in Washington, DC was more protest than March and more Obama hate speak than rally cry.  The protest focused on the national war memorials closures because of the government shutdown. Some well-known Tea Party speakers included former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz hijacked the occasion to politicize his Tea Party agenda by asking, “Let me ask a simple question. Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep veterans out of this memorial?”

Speaker Larry Klayman of the Freedom Watch conservative organization went even further.  He said,  “I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up,” said Klayman.

While we support the significance of free speech to balance the discussion of ideas in our democracy there are still times when we are shocked by who says what, when they say it and who stands with them when they speak.  Some protesters at the march carried “Impeach Obama” signs and casual observer could catch a glimpse of the Confederate flag in the foreground of the war memorials.

Haven’t we learned intense and heated debate is one thing, spewing hate and prejudice is another. The march was a tribute to our war veterans we should expect civil behavior from the gentleman Senator from the Lone Star State.

 

 

Oh the Places You’ll Go!!! In Honor of Senator Cruz

Yes some placDrSeusses are safe, definitely among the safest cities in the country – Austin and New York. Others are grounded in smart city planning and embrace innovation like Portland and Seattle. Some are forward looking and optimistic, Greenville, SC among the best. Some have learned from past mistakes and seized the new day to never ever repeat the mistakes of the past. Try Nuremberg for lessons in human rights.

Sadly not all places understand lessons unlearned repeat generation after generation. Facing the lessons of the past is essential to building a community sustainable for the future. For instance, if Georgia and Atlanta don’t face the lessons of unsuccessful attempts to create great schools then chances are we won’t have great schools for most school-aged children. Or if we don’t understand Ivan Allen’s courage to stand up for civil rights legislation or Robert Woodruff’s courage to celebrate the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. rather than succumb to supporting the prevailing business opinion of the day, then we will fall further behind in developing as an emerging global city of excellence. If we allow missteps in ethics to be a sidebar conversation and honesty to be compromised in our public and private sector leadership we will not gain or maintain the public trust needed to tackle tough 21st century issues. Everyone suffers when we sweep evidence of wrongdoing, lying, cheating and dishonesty under the rug because weak ethical standards, low aspirations and acceptance of less than the best in word and deed undermine the fabric of our communities. People lose faith, lose hope and lose trust in their leadership.

The places we want to go require more than getting along because it is easier or because it is too unpleasant to disclose our weaknesses or to embarrass someone.

The Committee for Better Atlanta ranks candidates and as a footnote mentions candidates’ ethics isn’t considered. Really? Nothing else matters in my book. Ethical behavior and honesty are the first requirements to a healthy democracy.

 

 

A Test of Will Gone Wrong

policymicThe government shutdown is not about strength of will but unwillingness to execute the will of the people.

The complex issues of the US debt rating, the Constitutional budget process, state health care exchanges, the 1995 shutdown, political favorability polls, federal employee furloughs and how Americans will be impacted by the shutdown are being discussed ad nauseam on news shows. 

The budget impasse does not derail Obamacare; today if you are uninsured, the health care marketplace is open for enrollment; Like Social Security or Medicaid; Obamacare is not subject to annual funding by Congress. It is the law of the land, it was signed by the President in March 2010. As millions stand to gain healthcare coverage, millions more still need improvement in the federal minimum wage and extended unemployment benefits. Yet Republicans are fighting too the end it seems. According to some reports half of the Republican Caucus in Congress has been in office for less than three years. The Republican-controlled House has passed a spending bill that maintains spending levels but does not provide funding to implement the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The Democratic Senate insists that the program be fully funded and that Congress pass what they call a “clean” CR (continuing resolution).

Before coming to Texas I’d heard big hat no cattle which translates to she thinks she’s all that. Or my mother’s favorite “don’t get too big for your britches”. Watching the Tea Party, Senator Cruz and a few others reminds me of those age-old sayings. This impasse and shutdown reflects there is a need and a place for humility, authenticity, and respect for others…the American public is growing increasingly disappointed in public officials inability to get along well with others.

Maybe we should take a page from Senator Cruz’s reading library.

“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know.

And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Impromptu History

220px-Barack_Obama_Hope_posterBy Charles Cullen

A remarkable thing happened on Friday, July 19th 2013. Our President ambled into the press room, joked with reporters and then made a statement that, sadly, rose out of the heartbreaking aftermath of the theft of a young life.

I began to write an article addressing all the political ramifications of Obama’s speech; all the ways the media was getting the story wrong, how the other side would react. But, after two sentences, I stopped. I couldn’t do it. The speech was too personal, too beautiful and raw to soil with crass politics. I can, and will, do exactly that in a companion piece. But this moment in Obama’s Presidency was so unique that one has to acknowledge its strangeness, its humanness before beginning to theorize about what it will mean for anyone. To play politics now would be like watching the Moon landing and wondering if the first person to speak would be a Republican or a Democrat.

This may seem like hero worship, but I can assure you it is not. Only twice in my life have I felt stunned in this way while listening to a politician. The first was a rebroadcast of John Kerry’s demand that the Senate answer an impossible question: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” The second was when President Obama described watching his daughters with their friends and, smiling, reminded us “They’re better than we are.”

This speech will be remembered as historic for many reasons—one being that no President has ever done anything like it—but what struck me was the President’s manner; the unflinching familiarity of the most powerful person in the world. He seemed to speak both as the President of the United States and as a dinner guest.

There were apparently no teleprompters or notes. Just the President asking us to make sure we are “wringing as much bias out” of ourselves as we can, while describing his own encounters with racial fear. The entire thing reminded me of a far less eloquent conversation with a College classmate, who in 2000 assured me that racism in the U.S. had been cured. To settle the issue we made a bet. We would ask the next 10 people who walked by (we were seated) whether racism in the United Sates was still a problem. If even one said that it wasn’t I would concede the point. Happily, I won. The victory is more impressive when you consider that I did not attend what one might call a liberal college.

The second moment of my life that springs vividly to mind as I think about the President’s words is the reaction to a question posed in 1998 by my High School history professor. “Would we see an African American President during our lifetimes?” he asked us. I remember maybe two people saying it was possible, though very unlikely. The rest, including me, said no. Perhaps our children would see it, but not us.

These answers were given by students at a high school so comically liberal that we are known worldwide (I promise this is true) as an Ultimate Frisbee powerhouse. It doesn’t change the fact that if you tried to tell me then that a man named Barack Hussein Obama would occupy the White House while I was still in my 20′s, I would have laughed in your face.

President Obama’s words remind us that there is still an unbelievable amount of work to do as we strive to achieve a “more perfect Union.” “Not a perfect Union,” he carefully put it “but a more perfect Union.”

It is my hope that Obama’s words will inspire us to do that work, to acknowledge our differences without hating them. The sentiment goes hand in hand with the hope that we will continue to push so that one day our daily lives reflect the sacred idea that “all men [and women] are created equal.”

I don’t think we’ll achieve that lofty goal during my lifetime, but fighting for a noble cause is always worth it. And, hey, I’ve been wrong before.

2014 Georgia Elections Are Worth the Attention

Twit-FacebookThere’s been some encouraging news for Georgia Democrats this week. On Monday, Better Georgia released polling data that shows Georgia Democrats being competitive in Georgia’s 2014 open United States Senate race. In addition, Roll Call ran a piece about the groundwork that right wing conservative groups are doing to drop money in those races. On its face, the last piece of news doesn’t seem positive, but we think it is.

Earlier this year when Senator Saxby Chambliss announced he wasn’t going to run for re-election next fall it kicked off frenzy inside and outside of Georgia about the Democrats chances to gain the seat. Nationally, party insiders are salivating at Georgia’s changing demographics and the outcome of the 2012 presidential election in Georgia. Without any money directed to winning Georgia,President Obama received 46% of the vote, which was the best showing by Obama in any non-targeted state.

On Monday, Better Georgia released a poll testing Points of Light CEO Michelle Nunn’s bio against several potential Republican candidates. In almost all cases, Nunn was within the margin of error against all potential competitors and was eight points up against former gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel.

Despite the rosy poll results, it takes a lot of money to run a competitive statewide campaign for major office. Some will say this total is upwards of $10 million for a Senate race. To that end, Roll Call’s piece on Monday untangled a web of super PAC money likely coming to Georgia next year. Republicans Newt Gingrich, the Koch brothers and Las Vegas mogul Sheldon Anderson appear to be setting up shop in Georgia.

The mere notion that Anderson and the Koch brothers are coming to Georgia will scare some people. But Democrats shouldn’t worry too much. Democrats have proven in the last two election cycles that we can match the money and strategies of the best of the third party groups. There will be no more swift boating of democratic candidates without response. If the big GOP super PACs enter Georgia next year, they will likely be met by democratic super PACs.

Next year should be interesting. Georgia Democrats are making a comeback and next year is just the start. Expect new ideas, new candidates, and the best of all competitive races.

It Can Happen Anywhere

paolabaileyblog

paolabaileyblog

The recent allegations of rape and other charges against four Morehouse students have prompted this blog to once again address the issue of violence and sexual assault. We did not mince words when the high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio were convicted and while we know these young men are innocent until proven guilty, it is an opportunity to remind readers of the violence that can happen on a college campus.  This post is not about guilt or innocence it is about the growing danger of sexual assault on college campuses that has forced the U.S. Department of Education to implement guidelines when assaults take place. The federal Violence Against Women Act, signed into law in March by President Obama, requires colleges and universities to adopt policies to address and prevent campus sexual violence

And here is why:

§  One in 5 college women are raped during their college years.

§  One in 12 college men admitted to committing acts that met the legal definition of rape.

§  81% of on-campus and 84% of off-campus sexual assaults are not reported to the police.

§  In a survey of students at 171 institutions of higher education, alcohol was involved in 74% of all sexual assaults.

Every student has the right and no doubt most parents have an expectation that their child will be safe on a college campus as a student. The two-fold issue with rape and assault on college campuses now involves reporting the rape/assault and the action taken by the university or college once it is reported, before a court has determined guilt or innocence.

Some recent incidents at colleges around the country have been horrific, from a Wesleyan University fraternity house that was known as the “rape factory”, a Amherst College student who wrote about her rape in the student newsletter to a poster that was hung in the bathrooms at Miami University in Ohio that was titled “Top Ten Ways to Get Away With Rape”.

Wherever it happens, rape and sexual assault is violence against another person and it is unacceptable.  A culture that protects it, denies it or ignores it—is also unacceptable. While there are a number of lessons we have to teach young people everyday, we have to begin the grueling task of teaching respect and dignity for human life.

Deal Should Lead

A lot has been made over the last week about Governor Nathan Deal’s refusal to comment on the proposed integrated prom for Wilcox County High School. Students at the school tried, wilcox high school promand successfully, raised money to hold the first integrated prom in school history. The Governor’s spokesperson called Better Georgia’s request for comment on the effort a “silly publicity stunt”.  Finally, on Wednesday, after pressure from national media sources, the governor spoke on the issue. This is what he said:

“None of us condone things that would send the wrong message about where we are with regard to race relations. But by the same token, I think that people understand that some of these are just local issues and private issues, and not something that the state government needs to have its finger involved in.”

Translation: I am not a leader.

Of course the governor should encourage others to do what’s right without an exception for local politics.  That’s like a parent at home watching their child treat another child badly and responding by saying “that’s a child issue”.  Yes we elect politicians to manage government and set public policy, but we also expect them to use their bully pulpit to lead. Governor Deal failed in this instance.

But who is surprised? Certainly not us. This is the same person who called seniors without birth certificates “Ghetto Grandmothers”.  This is the same person who boasted about voting against the Voting Rights Act.  This is also the same person who when asked if President Obama was born in America said “I have no idea where he was born”.

The Governor’s belief on race relations is something only he knows.  In our opinion, each of the examples above says more about his willingness to lead in a diverse state in complex times.  Each statement was made when the Governor was either running, or about to run for Governor in 2010.  He was clearly trying to deliver a positive message to Republican Party primary voters instead of saying what, hopefully, he believes in his heart.

Now three years later, the same thing is happening with the Wilcox County prom. The Governor is obviously concerned about his primary election next year and getting challenged for being too moderate. It’s hard to believe a high school prom became a political football in the first place, but since it did, Deal should lead.

The Nimzo-Indian Defence

chessChess nerds will recognize the “Nimzo-Indian Defence” as an effective, if rudimentary, opening when playing as black. For those not fortunate enough to be chess nerds, here’s a brief description of the opening by Tony Kosten. Kosten writes “When Nimzowitsch introduced his defence in the 1920′s, his idea was that Black would fight for control of the centre […] with pieces other than pawns. His concept, the Nimzo-Indian Defence rapidly became one of Black’s most popular defences and established a reputation for offering a wide range of strategically rich possibilities.”

After participating in a nationwide Organizing for Action call with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Chief Economist and Cabinet member Austan Goolsbee, I am more certain than ever that there were sophisticated political undertones to President Obama’s State of the Union address; suggesting that he is playing political chess, while the republicans wait for him at the checkers board. Particularly relevant seems his decision to single out Georgia and Oklahoma as beacons of hope when it comes to effective, productive, early education.

A big part of the Nimzo-Indian defence is forcing your will upon your opponent by offering choices that seem impossible to pass up. And this is essentially what Obama is doing by focusing on red states and forcing Republican leaders to either stand against the education reforms they themselves had a part in creating (and doing so simply because the President says he likes them) or going along with the President and his desire to see every child enrolled in high quality early education.

The focus of this Organizing for Action call was supposed to be jobs, but time and time again both Goolsbee and Emmanuel returned to the issue of early and available education, making it a point to single out red states for praise. Things like this don’t happen by accident, and my ears perked up when Mayor Emmanuel pivoted a jobs question into a discussion of the interesting early education programs in (you guessed it) Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Emmanuel argued for the necessity of a “race to the top,” reiterated the President’s call for “full-day pre-K,” and expanded on the President’s plan by suggesting the idea of teaching “parent’s how to be parents” as a part of the administration’s overall education initiative.

Emmanuel accused the Republican Congress of governing “from the outside in.” Suggesting that they are not only out of touch, but would do well to govern from the inside…by accepting the President’s plans for early education. Goolsbee echoed many of Emmanuel’s sentiments regarding education while also getting a dig in at the Republicans for our current, ridiculous sequester boondoggle. He also promised that “courageous votes” would be taken–over, of course, Republican objection–on “gun control,” and “immigration.”

Anyone who’s ever lost a game of Chess knows how the Republicans must be feeling in private. For all their posturing and ridiculous filibustering, they don’t really know what they’re doing. Heads in hands they find themselves in the shocked stasis of defeat—a splintered, weak, directionless party wondering helplessly where it all went wrong.

This blog post was written by Blogging While Blue contributer Charles Cullen and was originally featured on ProgressivePopulist.blogspot.com