File this under good news: Obama has granted freedom to dozens of nonviolent drug offenders. This is only a small step for good in our ridiculous drug war. Why dozens should be freed when untold numbers are being punished is a good question, but lets hope this is a beginning and not an end. Not only are the punishments for nonviolent drug offenses often absurd, but the aftermath is even more troubling. One time I was arrested for a DUI, which was thrown out of court it was so laughable. (I passed my breathalyzer and blood test. I was stupid enough to admit honestly to police that I had two drinks earlier in the night. Rule one when confronting police, as told to me by my lawyer, is never never be honest. You will never face stiffer penalties for not admitting to something, but you can very well face trouble for admitting to something.) I was still turned down for an education job that I applied for on the basis of that arrest, before I started making my living in the music business, despite doing nothing illegal. I can only imagine the trouble that nonviolent offenders of drug laws face when trying to find meaningful employment. There is a Morrissey quote that goes: “Life is hard enough when you belong here.” Life is hard enough in general even when you don’t have this kind of burden following you around, as most people not born with a silver spoon in their mouth can attest to. Even for those born with all advantages, life is no picnic. To live is partly to suffer. These people are our neighbors, our family, our brothers and sisters in the human race. We should not only not impose draconian sentences on people that have done nothing violent, but should give them a real chance at rebuilding their lives.
Another interesting article, this time a headline over at Huffpo. If you look at the widening wage gap between owners and workers, especially if you look at it over the course of history in the last hundred years, you will see that things have gotten completely out of whack. Don’t take my word for it, do the research. This looks to be a way that Obama is looking to help lessen the outrageous disparity that has arisen in this country between rich and poor.
Right now the U.S. is in danger of the Republican party nullifying our countries historical peace agreement with Iran. If they truly believe in what they are doing they are crazy, if they are just playing politics it might be even worse. If this is just to rob the Obama administration of a huge foreign affairs accomplishment then they are clearly not responsible enough to govern in any way. Too many leaders in that party are in thrall to the military industrial complex. This is an outrage and a disgrace. Many of my friends growing up were Republicans. My grandfather was a Republican. This modern day version, which the Republican leadership represents, have almost nothing in common with the Republicans of the past. What has it come to when the Iranian leadership sounds saner than many of our politicians?
I really enjoyed Obama’s response to the Republicans who decided to put their names on a letter to Iran. Conan O’Brien once compared Bill Clinton with The Road Runner, the way that Republicans would try to catch him and end up destroying themselves in the end. I actually think Obama merits this comparison much more than Clinton, as Clinton was self-destructive in many obvious ways. The Republicans are thrashing about climbing over each other to tarnish Obama, and their actions just make Obama look like the adult in the room. I mean, think about what the Republicans did: They reached out to the Ayatollah (The Ayatollah!) in an effort to weaken our Commander in Chief! That is not only unprecedented, but batshit insane! It is so insane that the remarks by the Ayatollah actually seem more reasonable than the Republicans. I would like to be mad at this action, but it is so self-defeating that it seems more like a strange gift. It is true that it is long enough before the next election that it may be forgotten by then. But if it is not, and dear god I hope it is not, it will certainly be a plague on their house.
This is news I have been waiting a long time to read. Obama has vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline. This is not only a great day for the environment, but a great day for our country as well. Our President has made the only sane decision concerning this bill.
For those of you that aren’t sure why this is such a good day for our our country, here is one of the many articles that points out why Keystone XL was a bad idea:
Was just reading the above article over at Huffington Post that features an excerpt from David Axlerod’s new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics. In the excerpt Axlerod claims that Obama supported gay marriage all along, even while he claimed that he favored the more politically popular civil unions during his first run for the presidency.
I’m sure this will make some heads on the right explode. I am also sure that even some of his supporters will claim this shows a lack of character. However, this is really not out of step with politics in general. Having been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals about Lincoln, even our greatest president engaged in this kind of thing. (Well, I was reading it until my Kindle exploded! I will finish it as soon as possible.) Lincoln was often told by the left wing of his party that he was not moving fast enough on slavery, even though he eventually was the president that put an end to slavery.
The idea is that leaders have to take the temperature of the populace on issues. A good leader will be out front of the public on issues, “leading” them to do the right thing, but they can’t be too out front of the general population. If they are too out front they risk a backlash and giving the opposition a chance to make political inroads. So they have to have enough courage to move the ball down the field, but enough smarts to do it in a way where they don’t risk creating a situation where they don’t have enough political capital to get things done.
On top of this political leaders, especially at a national level, have a many other issues that they also need to treat in this same manner. It’s a complex puzzle that is not an enviable task. This is not to say that the general public should not express outrage if they believe a politician is acting against their interests. It is expressly this growing political “heat” that will eventually give a leader enough cover to make it politically expedient to act. Those that try to change the national dialogue through protests and other forms of peaceful serve a very important role in democracy, one that has often been ridiculously belittled in the mainstream media, but it is not the same role that a leader elected by popular vote has.
This is not to say that one can not criticize Obama on his decisions. It is fair to say that Obama was not far enough in front of the general population. If someone wants to make the argument that he lacked the courage to act in a timely manner, I don’t know if I would agree given all of the other issues at stake when he took the presidency, but it is again a fair criticism. However, I think history shows that a political leader who has a different opinion in private and in public is not out of the ordinary, and might even be smart politics when trying to accomplish a larger goal. Although it is too early to tell, and I am more willing to hear arguments against this belief, I think the gains that gay couples have made during Obama’s presidency will leave Obama looking favorably on this issue in the history books. Change, important change, and I do believe that gay marriage is an important issue as everyone deserves the chance to find love and happiness, is not always pretty. To change the way people think takes real people doing real work. It requires those that are willing to stand up for justice on the front lines and, yes sometimes, it also requires political leaders that are willing to bend political will in using the often unseemly machinations of politics.
I was reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals last night and there is a scene right after Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation. Even though it was obviously a controversial measure at the time, a lot of the people in Washington had a joyous celebration that evening. I remember feeling really happy recently when the news came on and it said that we were establishing a diplomatic relationship with Cuba. A little door, once closed, now opened a sliver, with the possibility that there might just be a little more understanding between two countries. I remember feeling happy when Obama was elected for the first time, or when Obama himself put an end to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Not because I was under any illusions that racism or bigotry had been destroyed, or that it was game over for injustice, or that white straight people like me should pat ourselves on the back. It was because, whatever you think of the outcome of Obama’s Presidency, the world had become slightly more tolerant and inclusive, even if reality was and remains more complicated. These were still pluses for civilization.
I keep being amazed by this new Pope. Instead of spending most of the time focusing on petty internal religious doctrine, like his predecessors often did, he seems to be trying to make the world a more equal, tolerant, and just place. Although I’m not Catholic and will never join a church of any kind, I find what he is doing to be appealing.
There is a quote that is supposedly by Lincoln himself, where he says, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” Now in all honesty, I can’t figure out if Lincoln actually said that, or if it is one of those quotes that has just been attributed to him over time. Especially with the internet these days it is hard to tell. But no matter, anyway you cut it it is a great quote. (Lincoln was known to be a skeptic for much of his life, even if his views did change slightly towards the end of his life. That still does not mean that he said the above quote.)
I don’t understand why more people don’t get that actually doing right by other people can actually make you feel good as well. It can actually lead to the happiness that is so often missing in our lives. Who do you think feels better at the end of the day: The person that helps a gay couple get married, or someone that spent all their political time and energy getting the tax rate down 1%?
Now there is a funny line. I’m not talking about feeling self-satisfaction for the kind of thing people should be doing anyway. Like just because you decided to not be a racist, doesn’t mean you should get some reward. I mean more the kind of pride and happiness one feels from doing a good job. Like you can either go into a job and schlep your way through it, not hurting anyone, but not really helping anyone. Or you can do the best that you can do and take some kind of pride in your work. You don’t feel pride because you showed up one day and worked harder than normal. I’m talking about a pride that comes from continuous effort to do the right thing, no matter what the circumstances.
You would think that more people would get addicted to kindness, would take pride in seeing the world become a better place, would feel happy about progress even if they themselves didn’t play any roll in it. Yet, I am never surprised when I see some kind of barbarous cruelty on TV. Meanwhile when I saw the news about Cuba, I was not only happy, but I was flat out surprised. Why are we so often incapable of seeing the good that is possible, that is just around the corner, within reach?