Political Animal


December 21, 2014 4:08 PM See You Next Year!

I’m not going to do a traditional “Odds & Ends” today because I have a few things to say before I turn out the lights on this weekend’s blogging.

First of all, let me say that I have totally enjoyed my two weekends of blogging here at Political Animal this December. I am exceedingly grateful for this opportunity and look forward to many more in 2015. That’s my selfish reason for asking each and every one of you to click on this link right now and make a donation to the Washington Monthly. Regardless of what awaits us next year, I’d like to be here to talk about it.

Secondly, I’d like to share something with you that I’ve chosen to meditate on every year at this time. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, what kid oakland wrote 10 years ago about the man who’s birth we’re supposed to be celebrating is an important message for all of us.

Let me tell you something about the Jesus that I know.

He was a real man. Born in a poor region to working poor parents. He loved learning, he loved his mother and his father.
But he left them and spent his life with the poor, the outcast, the rejected, the defiled, the sick, the sinners, the bedraggled, the bereft, the self-hating, the lonely, the banished, the foul, the miserable, the desperate and finally, those sick with their own power.
He did this, not because of his ideology or his creed. He did this not because of his doctrine. He did this, quite simply, because he loved them. He preferred them.
Their company, their stories, their lives, their environs, their plight and their faith.
And they loved him. Because he touched them. He looked them in the eye and believed in them. Because, at the end of the day, when they looked to him they saw that his commitment to them was a commitment unsullied by qualifier or clause. It was a commitment to love them, even upon pain of death. And they saw in him, a love that promised to love them as they were, who they were…fully, without judgement or flinching glance, or hypocritical accommodation.
This man, Jesus, was surrounded by friends and disciples whom he mentored….not by carping or enforcing rules…but by example and teaching. By the force of his actions. By his resolute commitment to the least, the smallest, the most in need.

And finally, what better way to go out than with an inspirational message from John Lennon as seen on the faces of these beautiful children.

See you next year!

December 21, 2014 3:21 PM What does “breaking up the banks” mean?

After the recent drama about the 2015 spending bill in Congress, a lot of people are talking about the “disarray” amongst Democrats. I was particularly intrigued by what Greg Sargent wrote about that this week.

There is broad Democratic agreement that the party must come up with a more comprehensive response to stagnating wages and the failure of the recovery to achieve widespread, more equitable distribution. Dems mostly agree on a range of policy responses, such as a minimum wage hike, pay equity, expanded pre-K education, and big job-creating investments in infrastructure.

But there are clear divisions, too. Democrats like Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Bernie Sanders favor some form of breaking up big banks and back expanding Social Security; Sanders wants major reform to trade policies; and some Democrats oppose the big trade deals now being negotiated.

I’m going to leave Social Security and trade deals alone for today. That’s because I’d like to explore a bit about what various progressives mean when they talk about “breaking up the banks.”

First of all, it’s important to define what we mean by “banks.” The kind most of us are familiar with are commercial banks where we deposit our money into savings/checking accounts and occasionally take out a loan. But often when people talk about banks in this context, they’re talking about the much larger global financial investment firms (some of which house commercial banks) that are the heart of “too big to fail.”

Recently Sen. Bernie Sanders announced that he will introduce legislation in the next Congress to break up the banks. He doesn’t give any specifics there or in the agenda he announced recently for a potential presidential run. So I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The legislation Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced in July 2013 was basically a revival of what used to be known as Glass-Steagall - which would separate traditional commercial banking from financial investment firms. While this might be a reasonable step, it would neither break up nor further regulate the “too big to fail” investment firms that were at the heart of the Great Recession. In that sense, I think the public is a bit misled when it’s referred to as “breaking up the banks.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown wins the door prize for proposing legislation that would actually “break up the banks.”

The legislation would place sensible limits on the amount of debt that a single financial institution could take on relative to the entire productive economy. No bank could have non-deposit liabilities valued greater than two percent of U.S. GDP, and no investment bank could have non-deposit liabilities exceeding three percent of GDP. This would only affect the six largest megabanks, which would be given three years to comply by drawing up their own proposals to meet this goal.

After reading about Sen. Brown’s legislation, I understand why Paul Kane, the Washington Post’s Congressional reporter, tweeted this: “Wall Street despises Warren, but it fears Sherrod Brown, new top Dem on Banking committee.”

My question for Senator Brown would be to ask how his proposed legislation would affect wage stagnation and job creation. Anything that destabilizes financial institutions could seriously disrupt the positive trends we’re beginning to see there. Overall, when it comes to income inequality, I tend to support efforts to build up from the bottom rather than tear down at the top. But I’m open to being persuaded that both might be necessary.

In the end though, it doesn’t surprise me that the deep work on an issue like this is coming from someone who tends to be out of the limelight. Keep your eye on Sen. Sherrod Brown!

December 21, 2014 2:15 PM Flame Throwers and Fire Fighters

It’s obvious that the big story of the day is the murder of two NYC police officers yesterday. I’m always hesitant to comment on a story like this as its unfolding. Its better to wait for all the information, process it, and see what we can draw from it.

But as people are weighing in, there are those that are fanning the flames and those that are trying to tamp them down. For example, in the category of flame throwers.

Rudy Giuliani:

“We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani said during an appearance on Fox News on Sunday. “The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don’t lead to violence, a lot of them lead to violence, all of them lead to a conclusion. The police are bad, the police are racist. That is completely wrong.”

George Pataki:

Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder & #mayordeblasio.

NYPD Union Chief Patrick Lynch:

“There’s blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest that tried to tear down what NYPD officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated,” Lynch said, according to CBS New York. “That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor.”

And here is what a few of the fire fighters had to say.

President Obama:

I unconditionally condemn today’s murder of two police officers in New York City. Two brave men won’t be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification. The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day—and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day. Tonight, I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal—prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen.

Attorney General Eric Holder:

I condemn this afternoon’s senseless shooting of two New York City police officers in the strongest possible terms.

This was an unspeakable act of barbarism, and I was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of these two brave officers in the line of duty.
On behalf of all those who serve in the United States Department of Justice, I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the officers’ loved ones and colleagues. I will make available all of the resources of the Department to aid the NYPD in investigating this tragedy.
This cowardly attack underscores the dangers that are routinely faced by those who protect and serve their fellow citizens. As a nation we must not forget this as we discuss the events of the recent past. These courageous men and women routinely incur tremendous personal risks, and place their lives on the line each and every day, in order to preserve public safety. We are forever in their debt.
Our nation must always honor the valor — and the sacrifices — of all law enforcement officers with a steadfast commitment to keeping them safe. This means forging closer bonds between officers and the communities they serve, so that public safety is not a cause that is served by a courageous few, but a promise that’s fulfilled by police officials and citizens working side by side.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (and AG nominee) Loretta Lynch:

I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of this afternoon’s brutal and senseless attack on two NYPD Officers, and I join Attorney General Holder in expressing my deepest condolences to the families of these fallen heroes…

Today’s assailant struck at the heart of our city — the dedicated officers who pledge their lives to safeguard us all. Today, two have fallen, in a stark reminder of the challenges and risks that our law enforcement officers face every day, both in New York City and throughout our nation.
Let us take this time to grieve with their families, and join the NYPD and all New Yorkers in honoring them for their sacrifice.

Frankly, some of the rhetoric of the flame throwers scares me. I’m sure hoping the fire fighters prevail.

December 21, 2014 12:46 PM Learning From Fly-Over Country

For a couple of years now, I’ve been suggesting that we take our eyes off the coasts for just a minute and focus on two states in fly-over country - Minnesota and Wisconsin. We might learn a thing or two about the results of Democratic vs Republican governance. About a year ago, Lawrence Jacobs did just that.

Minnesota and Wisconsin share much more than bone-chilling winters: German and Northern European roots; farming; and, until recently, a populist progressive tradition stretching back a century to Wisconsin’s Fighting Bob La Follette and the birth of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

But in 2010 these cousin states diverged. By doing so they began a natural experiment that compares the agendas of modern progressivism and the new right…
A month after Mr. Walker’s inauguration in January 2011, he catapulted himself to the front ranks of national conservative leaders with attacks on the collective bargaining rights of Civil Service unions and sharp reductions in taxes and spending. Once Mr. Dayton teamed up with a Democratic Legislature in 2012, Minnesota adopted some of the most progressive policies in the country…
Which side of the experiment — the new right or modern progressivism — has been most effective in increasing jobs and improving business opportunities, not to mention living conditions?
Obviously, firm answers will require more time and more data, but the first round of evidence gives the edge to Minnesota’s model of increased services, higher costs (mostly for the affluent) and reduced payments to entrenched interests like the insurers who cover the Medicaid population.

Excuse me for a moment while I humble-brag a bit, because I happen to live in Minnesota. Recent news weights that scale in our favor even more than it was last year.

First of all, the State’s Department of Revenue announced that Minnesota’s budget SURPLUS has risen to $1 billion. At the same time, our unemployment rate in November was the lowest we’ve seen since 2001 - 3.7%.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s budget DEFICIT sits at $1.8 billion and their unemployment rate is 5.2%.

I think its time to score this one:

Democratic policies - 1
Republican policies - 0

December 21, 2014 10:19 AM What to Expect From the 114th Congress

Very shortly all eyes will be on the 114th Congress to see how they are going to respond to the bold moves from President Obama. Kevin Drum summed up their dilemma this way:

GOP leaders had plans for January, but now they may or may not be able to do much about them. Instead, they’re going to have to deal with enraged tea partiers insisting that they spend time trying to repeal Obama’s actions. They can’t, of course, but they have to show that they’re trying.

Its important to note why they can’t repeal Obama’s actions. That is first of all because this President has been careful to recognize where he has constitutional authority and where Congress must act. He hasn’t crossed that line.

But perhaps even more importantly, the 2015 budget bill strips Republicans of their ability to hold the government hostage as their leverage in trying to force change on any of these matters for at least the next nine months. After that, we’ll be in full 2016 campaign mode and its unlikely Republicans will want to initiate a government shutdown leading into the November presidential election.

The only alternative for Republicans at this point is to attach a repeal of any of these policies to something the Democrats want done, for example, comprehensive immigration reform. But the really interesting thing is…if they do that, we’re back to the process of actual governing via negotiation. Oh my!!!!

At his year-end press conference, President Obama once again affirmed his commitment to an actual governing process between the legislative and executive branches of government.

We’re going to have to invest in the things that secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans. And I’m being absolutely sincere when I say I want to work with this new Congress to get things done, to make those investments, to make sure the government is working better and smarter. We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement and we’ve got to be able to make that happen. And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.

But he also pointed out that he won’t be shy about employing his veto pen if Republican leadership tries to go it alone.

If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me. If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no. And I’m confident that I’ll be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions.

What this all boils down to is that President Obama has given Congressional Republicans two options: govern or make yourselves irrelevant. In other words, “Please proceed, Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner.”

December 21, 2014 8:24 AM Hidden Trauma

Some black academics criticized President Obama for engaging in “respectability politics” when he did things like launch the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. But when the President met with the young people involved in the Becoming a Man program in Chicago and during his visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation, he likely heard stories like the ones in this article by Sam P.K. Collins titled: The Hidden Trauma Plaguing American Kids.

While conversations about PTSD often focus on soldiers returning from combat zones, research in recent years has shown the development of symptoms in children who live in violent environments…

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies symptoms of PTSD as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and loss of trust in people. For children of color still reeling from the effects of crime, poverty, limited health care, and poor schools in their low-income neighborhoods, the mental disorder can take a toll on the mind…
One in three young urban dwellers who experience mild to severe forms of PTSD say that people may doubt the severity of what they see, especially if they live in high-crime, high-poverty areas. But D.C.-based psychotherapist Lanada Williams argues that constant exposure to even the smallest incidences of violence — whether it’s physical, sexual, or verbal — can spur the development of mental ailments in children, especially in cases where school officials misinterpret cries for help as acts of delinquency.

Via the research Collins referred to, we are beginning to develop an understanding of the effects chronic (or complex) trauma has on child development and the behaviors that result. As he notes, failure to acknowledge it is part of the vicious cycle that feeds suspensions/expulsions from school and entry into the juvenile justice system.

“When children of color act up, we don’t try to get to the meat of what’s affecting that child. Instead, we adjudicate them and move them through the system,” Williams, also CEO of Alliance Family Solutions, a private counseling practice, told ThinkProgress.

Children of color (especially black boys) who suffer from chronic trauma are the ones who are also being robbed of their childhood innocence when they “act up.”

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research.

The end result is what the Children’s Defense Fund calls The Cradle to Prison Pipeline.

The reason this kind of trauma remains “hidden” is that - in a country that likes to proclaim that “children are our future” - the fact of the matter is that these children and their families too often live in the shadows (as Lisbeth Schorr described it).

Over the years, the Washington Monthly has been one of the few publications to shine a light into those shadows. For example, one of the most powerful articles I’ve ever read on the topic came from Benjamin Dueholm - who wrote about his personal experience as a foster parent.

If - like me - you care about that kind of reporting, please make a donation to the Washington Monthly. Your support allows us to expose what has otherwise been hidden and highlight solutions that will give these children a chance.

December 21, 2014 7:44 AM Daylight Poem

On this shortest day of the year, here’s a powerful poem by David Whyte celebrating darkness.

Happy Winter Solstice everyone!

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

December 20, 2014 4:45 PM Odds & Ends

Speaking of Gitmo detainees, today the Obama administration announced it was releasing four more who are going back to Afghanistan.

In spite of all the pearl-clutching on both the right and the left about bank bailouts, the TARP program has officially ended - leaving taxpayers with a $15.3 billion profit.

It’s probably too soon to celebrate, but the good news is that - backed by U.S. airstrikes - the Kurds have recaptured a large swath of territory from ISIS.

Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that the civil rights laws providing workplace protection do, in fact, apply to transgender workers.

Having watched the bold moves President Obama has made over the last couple of months, a lot of people are trying to guess where the next one will come from. Some see a possible sign in the recent move initiating NLRB vs McDonalds.

Rand Corporation senior defense analyst Bruce Bennett screened the movie The Interview before all the commotion was created by North Korean hackers. His take is that the depiction of Kim Jong Un would have created a problem for him with the elite in his country.

Finally, when I first heard Paolo Nutini sing, my thought was “Boy, he’s an old soul” (as the saying goes). Paolo burst on the scene with a couple of cd’s and then pretty much disappeared for four years. My initial assessment of him was affirmed when earlier this year he released “Caustic Love.” Here’s an incredibly relevant track off that cd titled “Iron Sky.”

P.S. If you can’t place the origin of the speech in the middle of the song, here’s one ginormous hint.

December 20, 2014 3:44 PM Pope Francis, Catholics and the Republican Party

One of the most fascinating parts of the negotiations between the United States and Cuba was the role Pope Francis played in both initiating the process and hosting a meeting at the Vatican. That story has been pretty well reported.

Much less noticed is the fact that recently Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration place Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Holy See welcomed recent signs President Barack Obama appears to have accelerated efforts to close the controversial facility where some detainees have been held for more than a decade without charge and tortured.

He said the Vatican stood ready to “help find adequate humanitarian solutions through our international contacts” in order to help place detainees, adding that Parolin and Kerry had discussed the issue in depth.

This is why many are seeing a “bolder vision of Vatican diplomacy” with this Pope.

During the Reagan era, fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics put aside their traditional enmity over religious differences and banded together around the Republican Party’s cultural agenda. That’s when the Democratic Party lost a lot of traditional Catholics who had been strong supporters of President Kennedy (a good share of those white working class voters we’re hearing so much about lately).

As Pope Francis calls the Church back into service to the poor, warns against the danger of idolizing capitalism, and engages affirmatively with a diplomatic approach to foreign policy, the alliance of Catholic conservatives with the Republican Party will be strained. That’s something to keep an eye on.

December 20, 2014 1:47 PM Why Republicans Admire Putin

This week Jonathan Chait reminded us of the origins of the neoconservative movement in the Republican Party.

Three decades ago, right-wing French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel published a call to arms entitled “How Democracies Perish,” which quickly became a key text of the neoconservative movement and an ideological blueprint for the Reagan administration. Revel argued that the Soviet Union’s brutality and immunity from internal criticism gave it an inherent advantage over the democratic West — the United States and Europe were too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat the resolute men of the Iron Curtain.

“Unlike the Western leadership, which is tormented by remorse and a sense of guilt,” wrote Revel, “Soviet leaders’ consciences are perfectly clear, which allows them to use brute force with utter serenity both to preserve their power at home and to extend it abroad.”

This is what sparked a love-fest for Putin’s tactics from Republicans immediately following his invasion of Ukraine. “That’s what you call a leader” said Rudy Giuliani. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-MI), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said that Putin was playing chess while President Obama played marbles.

At the time, the Obama administration consistently suggested that Putin was engaging in 19th-20th century tactics in a 21st century world.

…Obama is one of the first to have a broad range of potentially biting nonmilitary responses to employ—a measure of how much Russia has been integrated into the world’s financial system since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

It is why American policymakers are so convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has miscalculated by dispatching troops to Crimea. And why you hear over and over again from the White House and State Department that Putin does not seem to understand the interconnectedness of the 21st-century world.
“What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President Putin to address problems, deploying military forces rather than negotiating,” says a senior administration official, speaking on background. “But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st-century world, an interdependent world.”

President Obama addressed this directly during his speech in Brussels on March 26th.

Throughout human history, societies have grappled with the question of how to organize themselves - the proper relationship between the individual and the state; and the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle—through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution—that a particular set of ideals began to emerge. The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding…

But those ideals have also been tested - and threatened - by an older, more traditional view of power. This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, and that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.

That speech - which was one of the most powerful of Obama’s presidency - was meant to unite the people of Europe (especially its young people) around this new form of 21st century power - even if it meant sacrifice from them. In this interconnected world, it is about the power of partnership as a tool to defeat the power of dominance.

Lately the Republicans have been a bit more hesitant to express their admiration of Vladimir Putin. Perhaps that’s because - when stacked up against 21st century tactics - the power dominance is a pretty poor alternative.

December 20, 2014 11:58 AM President Obama Plays the Long Game

The media is settling on a new narrative about President Obama. It’s always interesting watching one after another join in that process. For example, Timothy Egan calls it Obama Unbound.

Perhaps the best thing to happen to him [Obama] was the crushing blow his party took in the midterm elections. Come January, Republicans will have their largest House majority in 84 years — since Herbert Hoover was president. Granted, no politician wants to join Hoover and history in the same sentence. But Obama is not cowering or conceding. He’s been liberated by defeat, becoming the president that many of his supporters hoped he would be.

He promised to be transformative. Instead, especially in the last two years, he’s been listless, passive, a spectator to his own presidency. Rather than setting things in motion, he reacted to events. Even Ebola, the great scare that prompted so much media hysteria it was awarded Lie of the Year by PolitiFact, was somehow his fault. No more. Of late, the president who has nothing to lose has discovered that his best friend is the future.

Glenn Thrush calls it Operation Revenge.

“He needs to run, to compete - or more to the point, he needs someone to run against,” a former top Obama adviser told me.

He’s got that now, in a Republican-controlled Capitol Hill. Obama, a political counterpuncher who often needs a slap in the face to wake up, got a gut-shot in November. The Democrats’ staggering loss in the midterms - like his disastrous performance in the first presidential debate against Mitt Romney in 2012 - seems to have jolted him to the realization that he’ll have to act boldly to preserve what he’d assumed was a settled legacy.

The trouble with this kind of analysis is that it is ahistorical. Every one of the things these pundits name as an example of the President’s newfound persona - executive actions on immigration, new EPA rules, climate change agreement with China, Russian sanctions, normalization of our relationship with Cuba - has been in the works for at least the last 1-2 years (during the time he was supposedly a listless, passive spectator). Back in January of this year, he announced his intention to implement the “pen and phone strategy” we’re all witnessing unfold.

President Barack Obama offered a brief preview Tuesday of his State of the Union address, telling his Cabinet that he won’t wait for Congress to act on key agenda items in 2014.

“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” he said at his first Cabinet meeting of the year. Outlining the strategy, Obama said he plans to use his pen to sign executive actions and his phone to convene outside groups in support of his agenda if Congress proves unable or unwilling to act on his priorities.

It’s true that President Obama might have a new lightness in his step. But that could just as well be because he’s finally off for a much-needed vacation in Hawaii with his family. Anyone who has really watched this President operate knows that he plays the long game. Here’s how Michelle Obama described that back in 2011.

Here’s the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we’re all sweating it, when we’re worried that the bill won’t pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we’re playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn’t happen overnight.
If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.
We always have.
December 20, 2014 9:47 AM Latin America, Torture and the Cold War

I am tempted to use the word “serendipitous” to describe the fact that within a matter of days, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the investigation of the use of torture by the Bush/Cheney administration, Brazil’s National Truth Commission released its report on the activities of its brutal military dictatorship, and President Obama announced the normalization of our relationship with Cuba.

Here’s how Greg Grandin brought two of those events together back in 2007 when we were first learning about the extent to which torture had been used in the “global war on terrorism.”

In fact, it was in Latin America that the CIA and U.S. military intelligence agents, working closely with local allies, first helped put into place the unholy trinity of government-sponsored terrorism now on display in Iraq and elsewhere: death squads, disappearances and torture.

Countries all over South and Central America (as well as Africa) have held truth commissions to document the atrocities committed in their countries as they attempted to throw off the weight of colonialism and reach for independence. Throughout that process, we’ve been reminded of the role the United States played as a “silent partner” in those atrocities. Brazil is simply the latest.

The final report confirms that the U.S. played a direct role in encouraging state sponsored torture in Brazil. According to the 2,000 page document — and backed by extensive historiography -, over 300 members of the Brazilian military spent time at the School of the Americas, run out of Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, where they had “theoretical and practical lessons on torture, which would later be replicated in Brazil,” the report notes.

The school was one of the main tools used by the U.S. government to deter perceived communist threats in Latin America, and gave instruction to dictatorial militaries across the continent. A Pentagon manual released in 1996 details the curriculum, which encourages the use of torture, blackmail, and arresting the families of those being questioned.

This is not some ancient history. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was unable to hold back tears at the announcement of this report because she had been one of those people subjected to torture during her three year imprisonment by the military dictatorship (the one the U.S. had helped place in power by supporting a coup in 1964).

Initially these U.S. interventions in Latin America were blatantly justified by the interests of corporate America that were operating in these countries. But when the Cold War began, the threat of communism was used as the excuse.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that removing the last vestige of the Cold War in Cuba is welcome news to the leaders of South and Central America (many of whom were their freedom fighters in the 80’s and 90’s). President Rousseff called the deal with Cuba, “a moment which marks a change in civilization.” Former President of Columbia Andres Pastrana summed it up this way:

There will be radical and fundamental change. I think that to a large extent the anti-imperialist discourse that we have had in the region has ended. The Cold War is over.

Many Americans credit President Ronald Reagan with ending the Cold War. For others, it ended when the Berlin Wall crumbled during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. For the people of Latin America, it happened on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 with this announcement by President Barack Obama.

Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.

And I call on all my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the inter- American charter. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.
A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible, if we work together, not to maintain power, not to secure vested interests, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens…
Todos somos Americanos.
December 20, 2014 8:49 AM If Everyone Does a Little, No One Has to Do a Lot

As is true for many of you, I’ve been reading the Washington Monthly for years. But it wasn’t until they asked me to write here that I actually read their mission statement. Just in case any of you are like me, here it is.

The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 on the notion that a handful of plucky young writers and editors, armed with an honest desire to make government work and a willingness to ask uncomfortable questions, could tell the story of what really matters in Washington better than a roomful of Beltway insiders at a Georgetown dinner party. In our cluttered little downtown DC office, we’re still doing what we have done for over forty years, and what fewer and fewer publications do today: telling fascinating, deeply reported stories about the ideas and characters that animate America’s government.

We don’t chase news cycles, or obsess over the endless political horse race. We care about how the government can be improved, and why it hasn’t; who’s a fraud and who isn’t; which ideas ought to be banished from the nation’s capital and which ones deserve to be championed.
We’re not a subsidiary of some giant media company or a mouthpiece for ideologues. We’re an independent voice, listened to by insiders and willing to take on sacred cows—liberal and conservative.
Instead of cynically tearing down institutions and programs, we offer innovative solutions: how to get the best people to work for the government and how to get the best government for the people; how to get teachers who can teach and social workers who can make welfare reform work. We believe in the great American traditions of civic responsibility, caring for the down and out, and giving the average person a break.

I have to say that if I was ever required to write a mission statement for my own writing, it would look a lot like that…asking uncomfortable questions, taking on sacred cows, caring about how government can be improved, and offering innovative solutions.

If that’s what you are looking for in political analysis, I’m sure you are aware that the only way that kind of independence can be maintained is if we all do a little so that no one has to do a lot. In other words, your donation is needed in order to keep that mission alive. Please click on this link right now to make that happen.

December 20, 2014 7:50 AM Daylight Video

Let’s start the day off with a Paolo Nutini cover of a great one by the Lovin Spoonful.

Sweet daydreams everyone!

December 19, 2014 5:44 PM Day’s End and Weekend Watch

There’s something about the GOP/university administrator alliance opposing college ratings that really bugs me—it’s like they decided to stop hurling insults at each other just long enough to scratch each other’s backs. This is one subject on which I could take a lie detector test and come through with impeccable sincerity with an argument that making a donation to WaMo in whatever amount you can afford will have a tangible effect on a policy debate with real-live consequences. We won’t stop collecting and presenting data on what colleges actually do and don’t do, and won’t rest until it’s something parents and students simply expect.

Here are some remains of the day:

* At TNR, David Dayen has a troubling report on the Fed’s decision to delay Volcker Rule compliance requirement for two years.

* Dana Milbank bids a not-so-fond farewell to the 113th Congress. Sometimes the snarky folk are exactly right.

* In his last press conference of the year, Obama calls only on women—eight of them—for questions. Well played.

* At Ten Miles Square, Michael O’Hare examines some of the implications for alternative fuels of the current plunge in gasoline prices.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer points to Jeb Bush’s bad habit of pursuing education “reforms” that usually pay money to corporations for questionable “innovations.”

And in non-political news:

* Craig Ferguson’s final night of hosting the “Late, Late Show” is tonight. A nice appreciation from Hank Stuever.

That’s it for Friday. Nancy LeTourney will be in for weekend blogging tomorrow. Let’s close with Phil Ochs performing “When I’m Gone.” RIP, Phil.


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