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Tom Rinaldo

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Member since: Mon Oct 20, 2003, 06:39 PM
Number of posts: 15,356

Journal Archives

Can we at least agree on this now?

Between election cycles, as activists our primary role is to advocate and fight for good progressive policies, not to cheer lead for "good" political leaders. Good leaders can make wrong decisions and still, for the most part, be good leaders. Good citizens don't assume that good leaders will always get it right on each and every issue. Ultimately our lives are on the line with every compromise. It makes no more sense for us to silently accept the leadership of a "good" politician than it does for us to silently accept the treatment plan suggested by a "good" physician. A solution that seemingly makes sense from a leader's perspective, let's say a "Chained-CPI" for example, won't always make sense from ours. Can we agree that "Question Authority" still makes sense, regardless of who is the authority?

If Catholics stopped being welcome in the Democratic Party, rightst fundies would soon go unchecked.

Talk about a potent wedge issue for dividing the Democratic coalition - it don't get more effective than encouraging "progressives" to launch wholesale attacks on a church with many millions of Democratic voters within its ranks. And I am not talking about being critical of some church dogma or about being angry over some church scandals. But some use that as a mere jumping off point for being critical of ordinary Catholics for remaining Catholic as long as this or that is wrong with the Catholic Church as an institution or reflective of some of those who serve it.

And though saying that it is fine for someone to remain Catholic as long as they don't give a cent to ANYTHING organized by or through the Catholic Church could theoretically be said to represent a reasonable and respectful position towards practicing Catholics, in the real world it will not exactly win many friends or influence many people who do not already share that viewpoint and associated priorities. Most people don't like being told to give up their religious beliefs or practices (including donating to their religion) and react poorly to those who make that an acid test of who can be considered to have and practice positive social values.

I know there is a great deal of honest anger with aspects of the Cathlic Church, but sustained friendly fire within the Democratic Coalition is a trolls equivalent of a secular heaven.

My time spent working with the Catholic Church

Back in the 1980's I had a job working with Catholic Charities in San Francisco. They called it Catholic Social Services back then. It had two divisions, one was Direct Services and the other was Community Organizing. Yes, Community Organizing. Catholic Charities hired Community Organizers back then in San Francisco. I was hired by that division (Direct Services had things like Group Homes and Senior Services). One of my fellow organizers worked full time supporting the Sanctuary movement. Back then there was a Class War going on in El Salvador, the rich against the poor - complete with Army death squads. Catholic Churches across the U.S. sheltered "illegal" refugees from El Salvador - providing sanctuary from deportation by our government. Our staff helped organize that movement.

Remember Archbishop Oscar Romero? If not read up on him - he was assassinated by the Junta while giving Mass. He spoke up for the Poor, he defended them; he faced down the soldiers and called out the Rich. But once he was very close to the powerful elite - he personally ministered to core of members of the Ruling Class. When Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador the government welcomed it, while many in the Church whose ministry was to the poor were upset due to the conservative reputation he had earned up till that point. Romero’s eyes were ultimately opened by some Catholic priests he met who had dedicated their life to the poor. When one of those radical priests who Romero was close to was assassinated, Romero started using the spotlight that his office gave him and the full power of the Church against the violence of the State, and for that he lost his life.

While working with Catholic Charities I met one of those Priests who Romero had become close to (whose name unfortunately I do not remember) He himself had once been detained by the El Salvador military and tortured. Ultimately that priest had to leave El Salvador due to continued VERY credible death threats against him. I had the honor of driving him to several speaking engagements organized by Catholic Social Services of San Francisco. He was a gentle and humble man with a spine of steel and complete dedication to a mission of serving those most in need that never wavered. If anyone can be called a true Man of God, he was one. I don’t know what became of him since I met him 30 years ago.

The man who was Archbishop of San Francisco when I worked at Catholic Social Services – which means that all of us there worked under him, was Archbishop John Quinn. He was present at the funeral of Oscar Romero in San Salvador when what is believed to have been government orchestrated violence erupted against the crowd of mourners leading to dozens of deaths. Archbishop John R. Quinn was president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference from 1977–1980. During that time the American Bishops supported a number of progressive social justice causes..

Many at the time saw Quinn as likely to rise further in the Church, on track to become a Cardinal. He was said to be well regarded at the Vatican. That did not happen. The Church in San Francisco back then, while never overtly breaking with Catholic theology, was notably compassionate toward Gays and Lesbians, and Quinn kept lines open with Gay Catholic leaders and organizations. In a few years he was replaced in San Francisco by a new Archbishop with more traditional conservative leanings. I believe it was said at the time that Archbishop Quinn was exhausted, and he was given time to pursue a personal prayerful retreat. I long since lost track of what became of him.

My work at Catholic Social Services started out as a needs assessment of un-served homeless populations in S.F., which started out as a temporary contract. It grew into full time work. We ultimately chose to focus on the homeless youth population in that City. Ultimately I helped develop new outreach, shelter, and counseling services for youth on the streets – targeted on teens 18 or below (but we fudged on the upper range some). We identified three distinct primary subsets of youth on the streets. They were gay and lesbian youth who either fled or were rejected by families that could not accept them, punk oriented kids who could not easily assimilate with the cultural expectations of their home communities and/or families and therefore also fled or were rejected by their families, and undocumented youth arriving in San Francisco from Mexico and Central America – mostly young male economic refugees.

The programs we developed hired gays, punks and Latinos. There was no overt or even covert religious agenda beyond the fact that the first shelter we opened used the basement of a Catholic Church for its location – not for any theological reason but simply because the parish council donated that space to us for free. We helped develop first a city wide and ultimately a state wide coalition to advocate on behalf of homeless youth which lobbied for essential funding and updated attitudes toward youth in need. Those coalitions included Gay and Lesbian organizations, other Churches in addition to the Catholic Church, youth advocates in general, and groups concerned with the needs of immigrants. Before we started operating our shelter we were warned that it couldn’t work – those groups could not work together, but they did. The youth in particular always found that they had more in common than the differences that divided them.

To say I that I was a lapsed Catholic at the time I worked for Catholic Charities way overstates any connection to Catholicism that I ever had. I had a Grandmother who wanted my company in Church on Sundays for a couple of years – my parents never went and they taught me no religion. I became confirmed as a Catholic rather late, as a teenager, only so the Church would let me have a role as an usher at my older Sister’s wedding inside a Catholic Church. That was all in the early to mid sixties and I had nothing to do with Catholicism after that until I worked for Catholic Charities in the 80's, and I haven’t since that time.

I can not begin to defend the Catholic Church on a wide range of issues, but I do know from personal experience that some wonderful people in this world are Catholics, and that the Church at times has worked for what I consider Good, as well as for what I consider Evil. Both for me come in and out of focus.

My loyalty to Obama vs the potential Chained CPI, what can or should he expect from us?

It honestly amazes me how long the debate has raged on DU about whether Obama is a genius or a sell out in his various negotiations with Republicans over a slew of potential budget deals. Almost nothing around here has changed it seems. I was upset over the fiscal cliff deal that pushed back sequestation for three months because of how much of the Bush tax cuts were made permanent as a key part of that deal. I also know that there were important things gained in that deal also - like extending unemployment benefits for another year while millions still can't find work.

At the moment it is looking like my biggest concern is proving to be true, that the only chance we had to get significantly more revenues out of Republicans in Congress was to let all of the temporary Bush tax cuts to flat out expire on January 1st, and then work out a deal with Republicans AFTER the public felt that bite, to restore some (but less) of the tax cuts. That automatic expiration was our best and possibly only leverage with the Tea Party crazies who now defacto control the House. Now I think the cost of any deal with Republicans will be deeper cuts in the safety net than we would have to face if we hadn't given up as much bankable revenues as we did during the last negotiations. But since no grand budget deal has yet been reached between the President and Republicans, I may still be proved wrong. BUT THAT IS NOT THE POINT. This is a discussion board for political activists. This is what I posted weeks ago. I think it still holds true now:


Granted, opinions on this board about President Obama’s ongoing role in fiscal talks range from calling him a masterful strategist to a piss poor negotiator. Common sense argues that the truth likely lies somewhere in between. But from our perspective of grassroots democratic activists, it really doesn’t matter. The President has his role to play, and we have ours. Even if Obama is a Ninth Dimension Grand Chess Master, the act of our observing how he plays the game changes the game itself. When we stand on the sidelines and cheer or jeer, we are simultaneously part of that game, no matter how small our individual roles. The position of pawns alters the field of battle.

Call it physics, call it chess, call it politics or the democratic process; not only does the game effect us, we are the frigging game. We’re in the stands, we’re on the field, and we even own the team. My feelings about President Obama, love him or hate him (and I’ll say more about that below), are inconsequential compared to the “games” ultimate outcome. More than any other person in America, the President’s role in determining our future is crucial; such is the power of the office he holds. Like millions of other Americans, I worked hard to put Barack Obama back into that office. Like millions of other Americans I still celebrate his victory. But the election now is over and my role in the game has shifted.

Constitutionally Obama can call on and expect my loyalty as he would of any American citizen, politically though it’s a different matter. As a candidate I made it my duty to help carry Barack Obama over the finish line to victory in November. But the nature of my loyalty is fundamentally different in regards to him as an office holder; it shifts back onto the agenda that Obama represented as my candidate. It does so whether I like him or hate him as an individual, whether I deeply respect or disparage of his political skills. It does so without being personal, personally I wish Obama only well.

What the President needs from me now is simple. When I back him on an issue he needs to world to know, and I’m sure he feels the same way about us all. When he takes a stand, and I support that stand, he deserves and needs my vocal support. He should count on that wind at his back when he leads us where we asked him to head. However Obama no longer needs my help convincing people to make him President. He is President. Now it is about results. How, as activists, do we help achieve the best possible outcomes on issues? Not, I would argue, through loyalty to a man, but rather to a mission. And if that mission wavers, it is right to cry out an alarm. This does not harm Obama, nor does it hurt either his cause or our own, assuming that cause is one and the same.

Because we are in the game even as we observe it, our reactions can affect outcomes. If a squeaky wheel gets the grease than a silent wheel will rust in peace. And that’s how it’s been for liberals for too long. There’s a cliché in politics that pundits love to tell, all of us have heard it. When complaining from the Right equals complaining from the Left, that’s the true place for a compromise. What does our loyalty to Obama, the man, bring him, when our relative passivity only serves to weaken his negotiating hand – if his aim is the same as ours? And in an instance when it may not be, when Obama might welcome a deal that we reject, what interest does our loyalty then serve?

There is no harm in advocating for what we actually believe in, especially when the ball remains in play and the outcome is not yet certain. There is no harm in making an alternate case, when the case that is being made falls short in its dimensions. And there is no harm is seeking more, when less is not close to being enough. They are voices that should be hear regardless of the outcome.

I like Barack Obama, I like him a lot actually. In the realm of national politics I think he’s about as honest as they come. I find him sincere, and I find him compassionate. President Obama has many leadership qualities that I admire, and it often makes me proud to hear him speak on behalf of our nation. Our President is a very intelligent man. When the Left goes off key and begins to sound too strident for mainstream American ears, Obama knows how to play us off against the middle to his benefit. I can’t begrudge him that talent, it makes for effective politics. He knows both how and when to milk the stance: “I’m willing to disappoint some on my own side” to strengthen his overall standing. Obama can take care of himself

But there are times when the Left speaks loudly and eloquently in a language that most Americans understand and respond to immediately. It happens on the topic of income inequality regularly, and it does on defending the most vulnerable among us also. I don’t need to be insulting toward our President to make this observation; he is acclimated toward the status quo. Obama’s orientation is to accommodate powerful existing interests, to grant them choice seats at the table, while working to moderately improve the lives of average Americans.

Sometimes that method reaches the best achievable results, other times it undersells the chance for more significant and beneficial changes. I know this for certain though. The more the Left succeeds in shifting the political center in America away from the Right, the more good work this President will accomplish.

He is who he is, but I hope he does shine a light on poverty - make the likes of Ryan squirm

Catholics have been a major force for social justice in the past, still are in some instances in some places. The thing I belatedly came to appreciate about the Catholic Church is that, compared to a lot of what passes for Christianity lately, it is not obsessed with sweeping the words of Jesus, as relayed in the Gospels, under the rug. Catholics openly acknowledge Christ's teachings on the poor and the least among us - that hasn't always gotten locked away so that fire and brimstone can rule the center stage.

I don’t see the Catholic Church becoming less oppressive toward gays, not going to happen under this Pope though perhaps he may oppose expressions of overt hatred toward the GLBT community - maybe. It will continue to be regressive on gender issues also, and will retain its currently defined "pro-life" theology etc.

But on poverty, there things could get interesting. We shall see how ardent if at all this new Pope Francis will be regarding economic inequalities and compassion toward the oppressed, and the need for Christians to take real action to lift up the least among us. If he focuses on that aspect of Catholicism , and if his message resonates, it could make Republicans in this country a little bit more uncomfortable in the ongoing budget priorities fights that our politics have fixated on.

This Middle Class Amnesia Won’t Last Much Longer

In these enduring economic hard times, class consciousness in a lagging indicator that most Americans are still loath to recognize. Wall Street C.E.O.s lend their support to campaigns for sweeping “entitlement reforms” for wage earners and the elderly, but pocket escalating bonuses and generous benefit packages for themselves. Repeatedly Americans are warned that if we don’t embrace prudent national austerity now, the United States of the future will become like Greece today. But for the chronically unemployed, underemployed, over worked and underpaid, there is no need to wait; the American Greece has already arrived. The “corrective course” that the elites plot for America’s future consigns many of us to a grimmer reality today. There is a fundamental disconnect in America that centers on class. We face different economic worlds. We don’t all live in the same America.

America’s self conscious socioeconomic landscape is still lit by the afterglow of the late 20th Century, when Americans swore allegiance to an elastic middle class, a one size fits all middle class big enough to hold virtually us all, Sure some were better off than others but everyone, or so it seemed at the time to most, could readily avail ourselves of a few material comforts and still look forward to the promise of a poverty free retirement. Back then the wealthy and poor bracketed the rest of us as “average Americans” by contrast, America was defined by its middle class, thereby blurring the harsh lines that separate privilege from exploitation.

Those stark divides never vanished; they just became hard to focus on. America was never a classless society. Even in the best of 20th century times a few of us were filthy rich while many of us were dirt poor, but the middle class grew to mythic proportions back then. Half of the poor identified themselves as “lower middle class” while half of the wealthy called themselves “upper middle class”. Those were the days when janitors morphed into sanitary supervisors with no one changing uniforms, or pay. Unions were still strong but growing weaker. Having already secured 40 hour work weeks, true living wages, safer working conditions, health benefits and retirement packages for tens of millions of American workers, what real use were they of anymore? The working class never shrank, but that identification slowly faded, absorbed into the amorphous American description of “the middle class’.

Dreams die slowly, and Americans are reluctant to let go of our dream of an expanding and ever more affluent middle class where almost all of us belong. Data that indicates otherwise is discreetly compartmentalized away from our aspirations, in special nerd and wonk files where they are unlikely to disturb our self image of ourselves. But there comes a time when walls start to crumble, when the state of denial becomes undeniable, and that time has arrived. Americans had long taken it as a matter of faith that each succeeding generation would live longer than its parents, receive a better education, find more gainful employment, and enjoy a less stressful retirement as our nation as a whole moved forward in shared prosperity. That dream is already succumbing; the one of the mythical all encompassing and ever benevolent middle class follows close at its heels.

These are epic sea changes that don’t happen over night. There first is a period of churning as some waves advance while others seemingly retreat. But the turning point in hind sight leaves a high tide mark on the shore, often seen best from a perspective gained by distance, or in the case of us humans, by pain. The day the future grew dimmer was that turning point for most Americans. The return of class consciousness is next.

The sequester is terrible, yes, but the timing may help us.

It may bcome the American public's lesson in understanding the danger that slashing budgets presents to the economic health of our nation. Because there are meat cleaver cuts about to happen, the damage they cause might be obvious to more people, including Republicans. Cuts will be out there in the open, to things like Air Traffic Control and the Military - instead of only those that cause stealth pain to those who have no real voice in Washington. Even the Republican Right will eventually want to revisit the sequester cuts, hoping to make the poor shoulder more of the impact in a final deal.

It has always been the pending "Grand Bargain" that I feared the most, because that one will be for keeps, virtually impossible to reverse once those budget cuts are set in motion. If that mega deal had made it across the table before anyone had time to feel the pain, it might have delivered the middle class, working class, and poor to a bleak place, potentially for decades. Now though the news is all about how bad the sequester cuts will be to our economic health - how it could push us back into recession etc. Let that register with the public now and maybe we can actually come close to getting it right when it really counts, in the later deal or deals.

The Ultimate Wedge Issues: Rebellion and Civil War

The fringe has been creeping out from under the rocks for decades now and have reached the edge of the playing field, in open view of anyone not caught intentionally looking the other way. Call them minute men or oath keepers or patriots, call them nullification advocates or backers of state sovereignty or potential secessionists; these are people on the verge of hard core treason, preparing for possible actual war against the United States of America.

The drive to enact sane gun safety measures has flushed more of them out into the bright light of day. They feel strongly compelled now to mobilize to protect their military arsenals, but with their increased activity comes greater public scrutiny. They didn’t choose this exact timing, mass shootings called the question in the public mind, and their positions stand exposed.

When will Democrats and sane Republicans respond directly to the threat that these “forces” pose to our nation? Supposedly there are establishment Republicans concerned that extreme right messaging is making it too difficult for Republicans to again become the ruling national party. Well it does not get any more extreme than threatening violence against the United States Government, or the break up of the Union. There is no framing starker than that to illustrate how far from the mainstream the Republican Party has been drifting.

Every Republican of any State or National significance needs to be forced to comment on the militant anti-government movement growing within their ranks. Do they forcefully condemn this increasing talk of treason and rebellion, or do they sympathize with and condone the behavior of those who describe the constitutionally constituted and legally elected by popular will government of the United States of America as the enemy? That question no longer is too outrageous to ask, which is how the status quo in American politics to date has treated it. The links between those who are preparing for battle with the United States government and the right wing of the Republican Party are now too numerous and obvious to continue to ignore.

If the tables were reversed you know what would happen. In fact it already has happened. It was called the Red Scare. I would never advocate Democrats resorting to that type of witch hunt; there is no place in our politics today for “are you now or have you ever been” nonsense. But it is both fair and timely to ask leaders of the Republican Party one simple but important question. Do you stand with the United States of America or with its current domestic enemies? No doubt most would try to dismiss that question as unworthy of serious comment, but nothing could be more serious.

There once was a time when leading conservatives like William F. Buckley had the courage and integrity to openly and completely disassociate from the John Birch Society. The reason why Republicans today refuse to similarly unambiguously condemn today’s rebellious right wing fringe is obvious; they don’t want to risk alienating some Republican base voters and contributors. Nothing should be easier for a Republican legislator than to condemn those who contemplate violence against fellow law abiding Americans. But that is a stand many would rather not be forced into making.

The growing talk of what should rightfully be called treason should legitimately be a wedge issue inside today’s Republican Party, but not unless they start getting called on it. Until that happens expect Republicans to keep turning a seemingly deaf ear to continued dog whistle appeals for support from America’s most organized and fastest growing domestic enemies, emanating from those who have sworn to preserve and protect our Union. Partisan self interest does not sink lower than this.

The Republican Party offers Zero leadership for America today except from the Extreme Right

That point was driven home for me again watching Marco Rubio give the official Republican response to the Presidents State of the Union address. Outside the ranks of the virulent Right, Republican leaders don't strongly believe in anything anymore, just in protecting their own jobs and the interests of wealthy special interests. No doubt there are a few exceptions out there but when you really have to hunt to find one you know that proves the rule.

I am beginning to think that’s one reason why so many so called establishment or "mainstream" Republicans keep losing primaries to candidates attacking them from the right. Sure many Republican primary voters prefer far right positions but that has been true in the Republican Party for 50 years or more. What has changed most is the personal character and deeply held convictions displayed by elected Centrist to Center Right Republicans - it has been sorely and obviously lacking in recent years. They all are mostly content to just mouth conservative mantra - all rattled off by rote with the thoughtfulness and incisiveness of yesterdays talking points. Where vision is lacking a Party perishes

I'm not saying that all of the far right Tea Party types that Republican voters have been favoring of late have the courage of their own convictions, or that they even have deeply held convictions in many cases. Some just pander to the mob to get elected, saying whatever will stoke the fury of fervent true believers to harness their support to advance their own careers. Hell, Rubio chose that path himself to defeat Charlie Crist in a Republican primary for the Senate Seat he ultimately won. But some of them actually believe in their extremist views, and the rest at least know how to act the role with sufficient passion to be plausibly convincing to voters hungry for actual leadership.

President Obama offered a vision for America in his State of the Union address, the Republican Party offered opposition to that vision and little if anything else. There are indeed firebrands in the Republican Party willing to take America in a direction diametrically opposed to the vision that the President laid out, but the majority of Americans have absolutely no interest in going where that fringe wants to lead us. And so the Republican Party is forced to fudge it, since almost no leading figures within it are willing to directly refute the positions the extremist right advocates for. Platitudes rarely inspire, and this nation seldom chooses to follow those with a strong propensity for fudging.

It was another bad night for the Republican Party.

It's Time to Treat Senate Republicans Like Adversaries in a Trade War

When filibuster abuse reaches the point where the Republican Minority attempts to legislate through obstruction - seeking to hobble or kill federal agencies like the ATF or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by refusing to allow up and down confirmation votes on directors of those agencies - it is time to borrow some tactics from those international trade wars we sometimes find ourselves in. When some nation out there tries to prevent America from exporting products into their domestic market by enacting illegal (by treaty) artificial trade barriers on it, the point comes when we do more than just complain about it. A point comes where we move on from debating the technical legalities and simply retaliate instead. What do American tires have to do with the price of tea in China? Not much actually, but in a trade war EVERYTHING is linked. WHAMO look! Suddenly there's a big new tariff on green tea, or French wine if France becomes the offending nation.

It's tit for tat, it's spiteful, but it works and real negotiations begin in earnest. Not having looked into it personally I don't know what moves Obama can threaten Republican Senators with over their efforts to weaken or kill federal agencies they don't like, but I would be shocked if there weren't dramatic moves Obama can make on his own in retaliation. The trick is in de-linkage. The actions he should threaten to make don't need to be directly related to the functions of those agencies - no more than wine imports are related to hog exports. They become linked because he links them using the same logic as a trade war.

I know that it is routine for Republican Senators to have a say in appointments of federal prosecutors in their States for example. Why should Obama cooperate with them? Does a Republican Senator want federal funds released for some project in his state that seems reasonable on the face of it? It shouldn't be reasonable any longer - not during the jurisdictional equivalent of a trade war. Does a Red State Governor with filibustering Senators want some waiver from a federal regulation; bring it up after there is a Senate confirmation vote, not before. There probably are thousands of ways in which the executive branch of the federal government cooperates with State officials every week, all of them should be fair game for a “work stoppage” if Republicans keep blocking up or down votes on key Obama appointments simply because they don’t like the mission of the agency to which they are being appointed.

Sure Republicans will cry bloody murder if Obama actually retaliated in this way. Yes they would threaten to escalate and retaliate in turn. Let them, they will lose. A clear line must be drawn. It is one thing to be obstructionists against pending new legislation; it is a different matter to willfully obstruct the functioning of a federal agency that was legally constituted through an act passed by Congress. When Republicans claim, as they will, that President Obama is abusing his executive powers he will have a simple answer, Republicans have abused their minority status in the Senate. More importantly any impasse that might subsequently develop, he can say, is totally unnecessary. All Republicans would need to do to resolve it is allow for an up or down vote on Presidential appointments, or at the very least defend their objections to a specific nominee on grounds pertaining to that person’s specific qualifications – not to the office to which they are being nominated.

This is just another instance of Republicans being bullies to get their way when they can’t win fair and square, and bullies should never be appeased. Expose them for what they are; they won’t be able to face the spot light it will shine on them.
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