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Tom Rinaldo

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Member since: Mon Oct 20, 2003, 06:39 PM
Number of posts: 15,751

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So, protest from "his base" can strengthen Obama's hand, eh?

The media has Sister Souljah Psychosis. We are no longer in the 1990's. It is no longer "news" when a Democratic politician rattles liberals. It doesn't stand out as "a refreshing show of independence" to anyone who really matters anymore, like, um, voters for example. It comes across as "more of the same".

The Republicans have religion about respecting the priorities of "their base". They are not going to be seduced by a President who instinctively tilts toward them every time that they defy him, they just bank his concessions and move on from there. "Standing up to Obama" is how Congressional Republicans get elected to their gerrymandered seats.

Can Obama score a few points with some actual voters by defying the fervently held position of his own core supporters? Sure, it's a big country, but really, how many votes? How many moderates are there left out there still supporting Republicans, who Obama can swing Democratic with this type of stance? Contrast that to how many voters are voting Democratic precisely because they believe it is essential to protect, preserve, and even expand the economic safety net in the face of chronic unemployment and stagnant if not shrinking incomes for the vast majority of Americans?

Here is the essential point that mainstream commentators fail to grasp, often willfully. The Democratic base is more in tune with the American public than the Republican base is, which is why Democrats just won the national election, even with an economy that has everyone still anxious. Insecurity about our economic future is why the majority of Americans support Democrats, because the Democratic Party is the architect of our nations economic safety net and it was seen as the Party most likely to defend it.

When Bill Clinton first "stood up" to the base of his own political party America was still just emerging from it's infatuation with Ronald Reagan. Republicans had dominated Presidential politics for three election cycles prior to Bill Clinton. It could be said that Bill Clinton was courting the votes of "Reagan Democrats" by "standing up" to liberals. Can anyone say, with a straight face at least, that the fortunes of the Democratic Party are at risk due to the mass defection of "Romney Democrats" who somehow must be returned to the fold? Now consider the opposite. Would the fortunes of the Democratic party be at risk if the once sharp distinction that separated Democrats from Republicans in the public mind, when it came to defending the economic safety net, increasingly became blurred?

This fight is about much more than the relative value of this or that bargaining chip in budget negotiations with current Republicans in Congress. President Obama, even under his best case scenario as advanced by establishment minded pundits, conceivably could win a small battle for his administration - forcing Republicans to give an inch, but lose the war for Democrats - and for people who have counted on the Democratic Party to protect their economic interests on issues that can literally mean life and death.

Someone didn't get the lesson in 2010

Someone was riding high in 2008, surfing a popular wave of support into the White House on promises that included repealing the Bush Tax Cuts and delivering health care reform that contained a robust Public Option. Volunteers worked overtime to move both heaven and earth during that 2008 electoral campaign. Democrats gained large majorities in both houses. By early 2010 enthusiasm had drained from large sectors of the Democratic activist base. The Bush tax cuts remained in place and the Public Option vanished. Many progressive activists were demoralized. Democrats across the board got killed in the 2010 mid term elections.

All of the above is simple factual truth. Is it fair what happened, was it inevitable, did our President have other options? All of that can be argued, and has been argued, and no doubt will continue to be argued. But those are the facts regardless of who deserves to be blamed for what happened in 2010.

Someone was also riding high in 2012, surfing another wave of support into the White House on promises that included repealing the Bush tax cuts on earnings over $250,000 a year, and a pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare. Democratic activists fully engaged in the fight to return our sitting Democratic President, putting aside any prior disappointments for the most part. The Democratic turn out was extraordinary, and Democrats gained seats in both Houses of Congress. Not long after the election, the top 2% of Americans managed to permanently keep their Bush tax cuts on earnings below $400,000 (or $450,000 for couples) instead of the $250,000 cut off that our President had campaigned and won on.

The amount of revenues lost to the federal treasury over the next decade because of that upward tax cut revision is over three times greater than the amount of savings the treasury would pocket over that period through cutting Social Security benefits by shifting to the Chained CPI. The man who now proposes doing just that is the same man we elected in both 2008 and 2012, our Democratic President. Look around this Democratic Board at what's going on here. Anything look familiar? How well do you figure our party is positioned now to mobilize for the next mid term elections?

Economic War or Peace? A Political Decision.

Peace is precious, war is terrible. But the vast majority of us, Democrats included, accept that despite all of our best efforts, sometimes there is a time when a people must stand and fight. That of course is how this nation was founded, through a war in which thousands of lives were lost to the resulting violence. They say there is a stalemate in Washington.True enough, so how will it be broken? War or Peace?

No I am not proposing violence now, but I do see us in a political war. The Republicans and those they serve have closed off all other options, we are left to either retreat or stand and fight, knowing full well that lives are lost in any real fight, and this is definitely a real fight. When do you refuse to pay ransom to a kidnapper? When must pirates be fought rather than bought off?

The Republicans continually hold our economy hostage and demand concessions not to harm it. Yes they are fully capable of cutting off one of that hostages fingers if their demands are not met. One day they hold unemployment benefits hostage, the next day medicare reimbursement payments. They choose their hostages well, knowing that real suffering will be faced by many if their demands are not met, and we of course deplore real suffering, and so we continue to negotiate. And so they continue to hold hostages.

At what point do we declare war or do we ever? At what point do we say we must suffer casualties in a fight now in order to abolish a tyranny that has seen this nation's wealth systematically plundered over the last three decades, transferred from the yearly incomes of the vast majority of American citizens into the coffers of the one percent in order to feed their gluttony habits? Now even that isn't good enough. Now they demand that we shrink the bare minimum economic safety net that tens of millions of Americans are barely clinging on to. Lost for all time moving forward under the terms that they propose, and that our President is seemingly agreeing to.

Fighting back now might well cause significantly more real pain in the short term as we engage in this economic war, than if we retreated once again. That is always the strongest argument for appeasement, but is appeasement really in our long term interests?

How many lives must be sacrificed to a widening circle of poverty? When does "retirement" become the same, for all practical purposes, as being a dead man walking? How many of us even get to decide anymore when we become too old for gainful employment? Which "trim" breaks the Camel's back? People are evicted when they offer to pay most of the rent.

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.
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