Tina K. Russell

October 3, 2009

The President’s safety

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:33 pm

Thomas Friedman: “I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination… Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly.”

via A Dangerous Environment — Political Wire.

My concern about the guy with the assault rifle at the Presidential rally has always been this: Though we’ve all feared for Barack Obama’s safety, given raw memories of the assassinations of the sixties and his immense symbolic power, I’ve always taken comfort in that no President today would ever ride, say, uncovered in a parade going past an abandoned book depository. I’ve always thought that, with advances in Secret Service practice and Presidential custom, Obama is not in the kind of danger that JFK (or RFK or MLK for that matter, or Lincoln) was.

All that changes when members of Congress defend Americans’ “right” to bring loaded assault weapons to Presidential town halls, when the Secret Service is brought under the wing of the dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security and is subsequently cut back, and mainstream voices shout louder and louder that Obama is hijacking the country for filling his electoral mandate.

Mock the President, ridicule the President, do whatever you need to do; it’s an American tradition and a cornerstone of democracy. But we, as Americans, all have a right not to have to fear for his life. The JFK’s assassination was traumatic for the country, and no one, on any side of the current debates, wants it repeated. Most of the reason I’m so bothered by the political climate, and its both implicit and explicit threats of violence, is that I do not want to worry about whether or not the President is safe.

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July 31, 2009

Beck-ing the question

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:47 am

The White House doesn’t want to give Glenn Beck a bigger platform or extra oxygen — especially regarding his remark yesterday that the president has “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” — so they won’t comment, even off record. Beck, after all, is a radio DJ who somehow ended up getting a national platform to give his opinion on politics. What’s most amazing about this episode is that what Beck said isn’t a fireable or even a SUSPENDABLE offense by his bosses. There was a time when outrageous rants like this would actually cost the ranters their jobs. But not anymore; if anything, it’s now encouraged. And all of this could turn ACTUAL journalists into the next Howard Beales.

via First thoughts: Losing the message war? – First Read – msnbc.com.

I know that Glenn Beck is an idiot, but what he said really bothers me because I’ve seen it before. Barack Obama is someone who grew up in Hawaii, was raised by a while family, and read Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics as a kid. Yet, somehow he gets pigeonholed as hating whitey. It just doesn’t make sense.

I remember reading something a long time ago where a black woman who was a science-fiction fan called for more people of color in science fiction and fantasy works, and commenters screeched “Why can’t you identify with white people?” The truth is that she wouldn’t ever be a science-fiction fan if she couldn’t identify with white people, because she’d completely out of luck given the dearth of black protagonists in the genre. In fact, as should be obvious, she loved the strong characters and stories that made her a fan in the first place; all she wanted was to see her people represented there, too.

Too often, though, that nuance gets lost whenever race comes into the discussion, making it difficult simply to be proud of who you are. Someday, we’ll take it for granted that a proud black man isn’t automatically out to “get” whites or somesuch, and I wish it were today.

February 7, 2009

Partisanship

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:46 pm

David Brooks:

Op-Ed Columnist – The Gang System – NYTimes.com
Barack Obama is not initiating events (he’s had surprisingly little influence on the stimulus bills’ evolution). But circumstances now present him with a precedent-setting moment of decision. Does he embrace the Gang System and try to use it to create a new style of politics? Or does he remain an orthodox Democrat, deferring to the Old Bulls on legislation, enforcing party discipline and trying to pick off a Republican or two here and there to pass laws?

The liberals already are mobilizing against the Moderate Gangs. On Thursday, the liberal interest groups were intensively lobbying against the stimulus cuts. But there’s no way that Obama, who spent two years campaigning on postpartisan politics, can reject the single biggest manifestation of postpartisanship in the country today. If he does that, his credibility will be shot.

I really, really hate this idea, that it is somehow virtuous to compromise in every situation, at the exact midpoint of what each side is requesting. There’s no thought involved; you just declare yourself a moderate, step back, and feel righteous. It makes no allowance for the fact that, in a polarized political world, the center is itself subjective because it’s determined by the poles. It’s especially frustrating to those who support one side or the other, because the feeling is that you haven’t even looked at our ideas; you’ve just tarred us as “partisan,” dismissed us as “the liberals” or “the conservatives.”

It also perpetuates an irritating stalemate in American politics, where the party of good government and the party of small government compromise with a big government that doesn’t work. It’s everywhere in the government we have (and possibly deserve); it’s what you get with a longstanding mentality of “starve the beast.” If liberals aren’t willing to confront that head-on, then we aren’t worth our salt in politics. If conservatives were unwilling to defend their beliefs, I’m not sure why they would be in politics, either.

I’m also irritated whenever I hear the word “post-partisan.” I voted for Barack Obama largely because I saw shades of the Wellstone model of politics in him (after all, they both came from academia and mastered grassroots organizing). In the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s method (described in The Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda, not to be confused with Paul Krugman’s book of a similar name), you don’t give up your principles; you hold strongly to them, but you also reach across the aisle to find where your strong beliefs intersect with others’, even those of your supposed ideological archenemies. Wellstone hopped from coffee shop to coffee shop both to campaign and to get feedback on what his potential constituents wanted; what he found was that people who identified as strongly liberal, strongly conservative, or anywhere in between were still mainly concerned with the same issues, like good schools and healthcare. If you get beyond those labels, you can get a lot more done.

So, to hear that the only way Barack Obama can get past the partisan gridlock of Washington is to abandon his principles makes my blood boil. We’ve suffered through decades of conservatives absolutely convinced in the most radical solutions to every problem, and liberals struggling to compromise and giving themselves a raw deal. Barack Obama can and should do what he feels is right, what is in his best judgment, exercising the faith we placed in him through election.

The difference between this and the Bush era needs to be listening and careful consideration. Barack Obama needs to communicate with Republicans, get their input, and address their concerns just as he must do with Democrats. He must treat them equally as governing partners in a system of checks and balances, and as duly elected representatives of their constituencies. He must respect their experience and value their opinion.

Congressional roll calls are a childish way of measuring this, however. If not a single Republican voted for the stimulus in the House, perhaps they were exercising their right not to agree with the President in the end. That is their right, and it doesn’t mean the President is dismissing their concerns, nor does it mean the bill isn’t better for their input. It certainly doesn’t mean we should hold our political process hostage, watering down the bill until the numbers look more “post-partisan.” Sometimes that merely means devoid of strong ideas.

Our political process works through vigorous debate, and it’s for good reason that nothing mandates that everyone agree. In addition, in some situations, a compromise can be worse than either original proposal. Bipartisanship and cooperation are worthy goals. Post-partisanship, silencing the voices of all those who have strength in their convictions, is not.

December 16, 2008

Making the call on treatment — Plus! Your mission

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:26 pm

Daschle Will Lead Health Care Overhaul – NYTimes.com
At the heart of the health care system, Mr. Daschle wants to establish a Federal Health Board, an independent entity like the Federal Reserve. The board would make coverage decisions for federal health programs. It would, he says, “reduce or deny payment for new drugs and procedures that aren’t as effective as current ones.”

The board could have a “spillover effect” in the private sector, he said. Private insurers already follow many of Medicare’s coverage decisions. Mr. Daschle said Congress could go further and link tax breaks for private insurance to compliance with the board’s recommendations — a step that would give the government far more influence than it now has.

That sounds like a great idea! Obviously, the board will have to be super-independent, with legislation to ensure they aren’t being moved by free gifts or implicit career offers from HMOs or drug companies. Still, it’s an enormous problem, and one source of our stratospheric healthcare costs, that there doesn’t seem to be any check on the cost or utility of new drugs or devices. A popular drug may have a generic equivalent that doctors or patients stubbornly aren’t using. A hospital may have purchased an MRI machine and wants to recoup the costs by using it to investigate headaches (a breach of the enormous trust patients place in their doctors). A big new drug may be just like an old one, different enough only as to warrant a new patent. And, of course, there’s the rush for drug companies to create “blockbuster drugs” for non-clinical ailments that everybody has, like sometime anxiety or difficulty sleeping under stress, rather than treat actual ailments with actual medicine that would only reach a limited market (the sick).

Anyway, I hope this board puts human interest at the forefront when it makes its selections. Another problem with our healthcare system is that profit, not utility, governs what is covered in a for-profit healthcare plan, and HMOs have an incentive to deny as much care as they can under existing prices. So, simply a new definition of what medicines and procedures warrant coverage would be refreshing. As it happens, the sick are presently the worst off in our healthcare system (besides, you know, being sick), as they tend to be “uninsurable” and most likely to be denied coverage due to technicalities.

What’s in it for me? Well, as I understand, most nations with universal healthcare cover treatment for transsexuality. As it happens, gender identity disorder is in the DSM IV and has been an established condition in medical literature for decades, and the international medical consensus is that it should be treated with therapy and, if the patient so chooses (and if it is right for the patient), physical transition with hormones and surgery. It’s time to bring the US up to international standards in this regard!

As soon as this board forms, your mission, my fellow transgender people and allies, is to press for this it to give the standard medical procedures for gender identity disorder its formal endorsement. It would be an enormous step toward making sure transsexuals live full, productive, happy lives, that we live for our potential, that we contribute our full extent to the economy, and that young trans children are not tempted to go into sex work solely to pay for their healthcare, or are forced to choose between their health and a college education. It would be a weight from our shoulders, a blessing in our lives, a decades-overdue gesture of recognition, and the start of transsexuality finally being something normal in society. It would mean the world to me.

Join us!

November 21, 2008

Bygones

Early Test for Obama on Domestic Spying Views – NYTimes.com
Some Democratic lawmakers have said they would like to conduct a more thorough investigation than was possible during Mr. Bush’s tenure, but other Democratic advisers say they see little gain from trying to investigate past abuses and that an investigation risks harming the bipartisan spirit of cooperation that Mr. Obama has promised.

“We cannot be facile and say bygones will be bygones, because they will not be bygones and will return to haunt us. True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness, which is costly. Forgiveness in turn depends on repentance, which has to be based on an acknowledgement of what was done wrong, and therefore on disclosure of the truth. You cannot forgive what you do not know.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as chair of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995

November 4, 2008

A historic night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:26 pm

Some thoughts:

First of all, it’s “a historic”! Not “an”! It’s “a” if you hear the “h”, “an” if you don’t. A historic. Thank you. (Sorry, it’s a mistake I’ve heard some people make today, and it’s been driving me batty.)

Second, I’m so happy that the man I supported through the primaries is now going to sit in the Oval Office. It’s a new spirit in America, one in which the philosophy of everyone-for-themselves has failed, and we must learn to work together.

Thanks, everyone! Now that this two-year, nonstop political campaign for the Presidency is over, I’ll need a good, long sleep. I’m amazed, though… it’s a cliché at this point, but yes, I’m impressed we have a black President. I always knew we had it in us as Americans—pundits just love to kick around the football of racism, when Americans really aren’t all that racist as individuals—but I didn’t know it would be so soon that we would have the confidence, the willingness, to send a black man into America’s harshest, most stressful battle and give him the backing he needed to emerge victorious.

I wonder what other awesome things we didn’t know we could do?

Yes we can.

October 25, 2008

Would you prefer wild abandon?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 4:21 pm

Letters – Reaction to the Obama Endorsement – NYTimes.com
To the Editor:

The New York Times endorses Senator Barack Obama for president. Shocking! Of course, the utter predictability and lack of suspense regarding your presidential choice has completely negated the value of your advocacy.

Paul Marasciullo
Laurel Hollow, N.Y., Oct. 24, 2008

?! This is the strangest thing I’ve read all day. Would you prefer the NYT to put some totally random endorsements in there to increase the “suspense”?

I read the New York Times editorials because I’m interested in their opinions, not for thrill-a-minute action, thank you very much.

October 24, 2008

Economics is applied common sense

Letters – Twists and Turns, Finish Line in Sight – NYTimes.com
Re “The Real Plumbers of Ohio,” by Paul Krugman (column, Oct. 20):

I know a real Joe the Plumber, and yes, his name is Joe. He’s married to my cousin and lives in Massachusetts. He even has a real plumbing license.

A few years ago, he was doing well, but with this growing recession, people have stopped calling him. The thing is, when people don’t have money, calling the plumber drops way down on their list of priorities.

Joe has four kids, and his second child is entering a local college. He thought he could afford her tuition, but with these bad times he’s not so sure anymore. Since his business has shrunk, he needs to cut back, too.

So my question to people who still feel that giving tax breaks to the wealthy will ultimately benefit the economy is this: I get the trickle-down effect, I get what you say by giving corporations power and freedom to really do business. But if we give the middle class a little bit more money, too — not the lines of credit and risky mortgages that have been handed out like Halloween candy and that have made us feel rich even though we’re not, but real money in the form of tax cuts and pay raises — doesn’t that allow us to hire people like my cousin Joe and keep his business going?

Doesn’t the trickle-down effect also have to trickle back up for capitalism to really work?

Susan Porretta
Westport, Conn., Oct. 20, 2008

The poor, the humble, the workers of modest means are what you might call a “growth industry.” In them is the biggest disparity between potential and actual output, which is the disparity that causes and maintains recessions. (Economic downturns are natural, but recessions are when they overstay their welcome, and depressions are when they’ve laid down roots.)

Money, like any commodity, has a diminishing marginal value. That is, the more money you give to someone, the less each dollar is worth. It’s obvious that $20 in the hands of a humble plumber means more than $20 in the hands of a CEO. Nevertheless, there’s a constant drumbeat that more money to the rich will help improve the living conditions of the poor. (I’ve always found that funny; if you’re admitting that money to the poor is the goal, why not bypass the middleman? I’m glad, of course, that Americans have recognized the folly of “trickle-down,” and its true meaning: diverting wealth to the rich will turn a torrent of hard-earned revenue into a trickle.)

Rich people, bless their hearts, hoard their money. They buy yachts and mansions. They invest in start-ups with catchy names and no business plan. That may benefit the manufacturers of yachts and mansions, and you never know, maybe the recently-graduated engineering student who helped design the yacht, or the construction worker who helped build the mansion, might make a little bit of solid cash. Poor people, however, spend that cash right quick. They pay rent on their house or apartment, helping the landowners, janitors, construction workers, material suppliers, and everyone else involved. They buy food, helping farmers, grocers, truckers, everyone.

Instead of buying one big mansion, giving good work to people who need it, they buy lots of more modest housing, giving the same work to far more people at a lower price. (Price of labor is price of labor; you don’t get paid more for working on a more expensive house, unless for some reason the construction company needs more specialized workers. Anything above that, management will pocket.) They’ll buy tons of food at the local farmers market rather than a serving of caviar from a far-off land for the same price. I don’t blame rich people for what they do with their money—if I had lots of money, I’d get started on my dream house right away—but it goes without saying that a little money means more to you if you’re poor. It also means more for the economy.

(There are some idealistic rich people—Bill Gates, George Soros, Mark Shuttleworth—who spend their personal fortunes making the world a better place. They’re wonderful, but we cannot become dependent on them, or expect every rich person to be like them. They’re only human.)

Money spent on the poor, of course, is even better when it’s a tax credit to supplement earned income, a (good, fair, transparent) loan to build their business, or help with going to school to learn new skills. These are investments that not only encourage good behavior, but come back many times over in the form of tax revenue that can then be spent on helping even more people. It’s true to a large extent what conservatives say about the numbing effect of welfare; it encourages dependency and lessens the incentive to work. That isn’t to say people on welfare are happy that way, though; it’s to say we need solutions that help poor people be able to do what they want most and do it better: to work, to take care of their families, and to achieve their dreams.

The central pillar of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” in 2000 was that people who are already trying hard should get help from the government so that they may achieve their goals. It’s a sentiment I strongly believe in, and it’s a shame Bush abandoned it the very second he was appointed President. Barack Obama, meanwhile, is the quintessential compassionate pragmatist, willing to do whatever it takes, whether the idea comes from the left or the right, to help those who are struggling and those of modest means and big ambitions. After all, these are all conservative as well as liberal values: you work hard, you serve the country, and you don’t let hardship get you down. Investing in the poor is something everyone can get behind, and not just in election season.

October 10, 2008

Hypocrisy on women’s health

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:53 pm

Nicholas Kristof:

Op-Ed Columnist – Can This Be Pro-Life? – NYTimes.com
The Bush administration this month is quietly cutting off birth control supplies to some of the world’s poorest women in Africa.

Thus the paradox of a “pro-life” administration adopting a policy whose result will be tens of thousands of additional abortions each year — along with more women dying in childbirth.

The saga also spotlights a clear difference between Barack Obama and John McCain. Senator Obama supports U.N.-led efforts to promote family planning; Senator McCain stands with President Bush in opposing certain crucial efforts to help women reduce unwanted pregnancies in Africa and Asia.

Retrograde decisions on reproductive health are reached in conference rooms in Washington, but I’ve seen how they play out in African villages. A young woman lies in a hut, bleeding to death or swollen by infection, as untrained midwives offer her water or herbs. Her husband and children wait anxiously outside the hut, their faces frozen and perspiring as her groans weaken.

When she dies, her body is bundled in an old blanket and buried in a shallow hole, with brush piled on top to keep wild animals away. Her children sob and shriek and in the ensuing months they often endure neglect and are far more likely to die of hunger or disease.

In some parts of Africa, a woman now has a 1-in-10 risk of dying in childbirth. The idea that U.S. policy may increase that toll is infuriating.

September 26, 2008

Taking debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:06 pm

I just saw the debate at a local pizza place. I think I’ll watch the others at home; I don’t necessarily need to be surrounded by enthusiastic Obama acolyte, speaking as an enthusiastic Obama acolyte. (I already really like him!) But, I should admit that I did participate in some of the cheering and jeering… I don’t want to reflect too much until I’ve had some time to sleep and think about it, but I will say that I liked a lot of the jabs that Obama got in and I can’t shake the impression that McCain’s ship is steadily sinking.

Don’t trust what I say, of course, since I dearly want Obama to win. I was just concerned, given that McCain has a history as a good debater, while Obama’s debate skills have been honed at the knee of the formidable but much different Hillary Clinton, and hasn’t had much other practice. I thought McCain might surprise us, pull a rabbit out of a hat, some kind of fanged Monty Python rabbit that would go right for Obama’s jugular. I was happy that Obama held his ground and got some excellent punches in. I try not to read the pundits in the impressionable post-debate period (the afterglow!), but I can’t help it if my beloved brother scans the reactions around the Internet on his iPhone and reads samples of them aloud. For instance, he says someone at CNN opined that McCain, behind in the polls, needed a big win, making any kind of tie or muddling performance a loss for him, and that sounds quite right. So, whatever you think of Obama’s performance—though I think, on first reflection, that it was stellar—it’s pretty clear that, with the debates as the last chance to change the public’s perception of you before the election, the whole thing cemented the image of Obama as president and McCain as cranky old man. (How many times did he have to gnaw on Obama’s leg over pragmatic diplomacy after he already explained himself? Aaagh…)

Okay, that’s enough! (Though, props to Jim Lehrer, or Lehruh, as he says it, for changing the way debates are done. By squeezing the candidates’ nipples and forcing them to address each other, he began to turn the screws on the way debates are done. We saw plenty of fluff and scripted lines, but we also saw some pleasant cracks of sunlight into the usual dark, sterile debate environment with the new format. If they keep going with this, we may have some real debates in the future rather than the usual trading of stump speeches.) I posted this because, over pizza, root beer, and politics, I drew these sketches on my tablet compy, using GIMP, during the debate. Forgive me if my leanings crept into my caricatures; I only think that Barack Obama is the last chance for America to regain its strength at home and respect abroad.

A sketch of John McCain that I made during the debateA sketch of Barack Obama that I made during the debate
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