If This Guy Is a Racist, He Isn't a Very Good One

I'm ashamed of myself.

Much as I've critiqued it, I fell into the easy trap of wailing about anti-black racism while ignoring racism from blacks.

I must have been taking a mental break when Rev. Joseph Lowery made his oh-so famous rhyme during his inaugural benediction; I didn't 'hear' it when he said it. But I've definitely read it repeatedly in the days since Obama's inauguration and, while, I did pause over "and when white will embrace right" (that schtick is one of our oldest) I wasn't bothered for more than a few seconds, certainly not enough to blog about it. That was wrong, especially on such a day. I didn't bother to reflect on the mean-spirited divisiveness of that line until one of the best undiscovered writers I know (his emails are better than most fancy pants columnists in the MSM) sent out a heartbroken email. Maybe Lowery just wanted to get a laugh. I do a lot of public speaking. I get that. But, had I used the joke, I'd have added (after my laughs, of course) something like, "now, we can drop that last line"—in the spirit of reconciliation and healing, if nothing else.

John Schwade is a prison psychologist (meaning he daily administers to the largely black huddled masses warehoused in our beastly prisons) as well as spouse to a black woman and father to a lovely and brilliant biracial daughter. As he sat weeping Tuesday, watching the beautiful reality unfold before his eyes on TV and contemplating what it meant for his daughter, Lowery came on and—how else to say it—pissed in his face, just because he's white.

I should have called Lowery out, but I couldn't be bothered standing up for justice, however miniscule the scale. Though it wasn't really miniscule, was it, on such a day?

So, I asked John to let me run his email to remind myself that Dr. King was talking to everyone, not just white folks.

Here's his plea for justice:

A Poverty Program That Works

A POVERTY PROGRAM THAT WORKS....Have you heard of the Harlem Children's Zone? I first read about it only a year or two ago, and it's a pretty fascinating anti-poverty project headed by a guy named Geoffrey Canada — one that might well be the template for Barack Obama's approach to inner-city poverty. In the current issue of MoJo, Paul Tough describes how it works:

Canada believes that many poor parents aren't doing enough to prepare their kids for school — not because they don't care, but because they simply don't know the importance of early childhood stimulation. So the Zone starts with Baby College, nine weeks of parenting classes that focus on discipline and brain development. It continues with language-intensive prekindergarten, which feeds into a rigorous K-12 charter school with an extended day and an extended year. That academic "conveyor belt," as Canada calls it, is supplemented by social programs: family counseling, a free health clinic, after-school tutoring, and a drop-in arts center for teenagers.

Canada's early childhood programs are in many ways a response to research showing that the vocabularies of poor children usually lag significantly behind those of middle-class children. At the Harlem Gems prekindergarten, I watched as the four-year-olds were bombarded with books, stories, and flash cards—including some in French. The parents were enlisted, too; one morning, I went with a few families on a field trip to a local supermarket organized by the Harlem Children's Zone. The point wasn't to learn about nutrition, but rather about language—how to fill an everyday shopping trip with the kind of nonstop chatter that has become second nature to most upper-middle-class parents, full of questions about numbers and colors and letters and names. That chatter, social scientists have shown, has a huge effect on vocabulary and reading ability. And as we walked through the aisles, those conversations were going on everywhere: Is the carrot bumpy or smooth? What color is that apple? How many should we buy?

So far, Canada's vision has yielded impressive results. Last year, the first conveyor-belt students reached the third grade and took their first statewide standardized tests. In reading, they scored above the New York City average, and in math they scored well above the state average.

Canada has gotten plenty of press already from the likes of Oprah and 60 Minutes, but our new president might be the biggest name convert of them all: Obama has proposed replicating the Harlem Children's Zone in 20 cities across the country, an investment that he thinks will cost a "few billion" dollars. For comparison, this is less than 1% of what it will take to bail out the gazillionaires of Wall Street. Read the whole piece for more.

Are We Broke Yet?

ARE WE BROKE YET?....Yesterday, Nouriel Roubini estimated that U.S. banking losses related to the financial meltdown will eventually come to about $1.8 trillion. Of this $1.1 trillion comes from loan writedowns and $700 billion comes from losses on securities. Since current total bank capitalization also amounts to about $1.8 trillion, this "leaves the U.S. banking system borderline insolvent if our loss estimates materialize."

Oddly enough, I almost find this comforting. First, since this is Roubini talking, this is probably a worst-case scenario. At least we're only borderline insolvent! Second, U.S. banks are still operationally profitable, which means that by the time all these losses are recognized the system will probably once again have a net capital position of half a trillion dollars or more. Third.....

Well, there is no third — a banking system can't survive on only a few hundred billion dollars in capitalization. This is pretty sucky news, and obviously it's suckier for some banks than for other. If Roubini is right it means the mother of all deleveragings still has a long ways to go, and if the Fed and the Treasury agree with his estimates, Citigroup and Bank of America might not have long to live.

Coat Checker's Delight

Oh, how I was hoping this would happen!

TNR.com has re-run an inaugural classic: My old DC pal Jon Chait's hilarious piece on coat-checking at one of the Clinton Inaugural Balls. He ended up in a near-riot, manhandled by the police.

Public Cool on Warming

PUBLIC COOL ON WARMING....Via Andrew Revkin, the latest Pew poll on priorities contains grim news for those of us who think we're rapidly destroying out planet: the public couldn't care less. Global warming, once again, ranks as the lowest priority from a list of 20, and the more general category of "protecting the environment" fell 15 percentage points from last year.

And as if that's not bad enough, Revkin also points to a new Rasmussen poll, which finds that 44% of U.S. voters don't believe humans are the cause of global warming, compared to only 41% who do. That's even worse than last year's results.

It's not surprising that public concern with the economy has risen recently, but over the past two years, as scientists and politicians have both been running around with their hair on fire, the public at large has become less concerned with global warming. Two years ago 38% thought it was an important domestic priority; today only 30% think so.

More later on the implications. But we really have some PR work to do here. Whatever it is we're doing now, it isn't working.

Army: Be All You Can Fudge

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A few days ago, the New York Times reported that, thanks to the worsening economy, military recruiters are having better luck luring new recruits with promises of benefits, bonuses, and job training. According to the Times, the Army exceeded its recruitment goals in October, November, and December of last year.

But before we declare the Army's recruiting crisis over, it's worth taking a closer look at the numbers. A study released today by the National Priorities Project (NPP) finds that the Department of Defense is indeed meeting its recruitment requirements, but only by quietly lowering both its recruitment goals and the requirements for joining the military.

The Army, caught in two intractable wars, has had difficulty filling its ranks in recent years, placing added stress on those already in uniform. The Pentagon plans to expand the Army by 65,000 over the next several years to alleviate the strain. In doing so, however, it's been forced to compromise on standards, which according to the NPP, will have adverse affects down the road as the overall quality of the US military declines.

The Pentagon judges a "high quality" recruit based on a combination of educational achievement and score on the military's mandatory Armed Forces Qualification Exam (AFQT). Both have been manipulated, claims the NPP, to show improvement where little or none has been made. Take education levels. Before the war in Iraq, new recruits typically had at least a high school diploma. This is no longer the case, and the percentage of those with high school educations has fallen four years in a row. The Pentagon claimed far more high school-educated recruits last October than it actually had, thanks to a gentle twisting of definition; the Army's numbers included all new recruiting "contracts." But as NPP points out, contracts often fall through, and a far better measure is the number of "accessions," or those who actually enlist.

william_lynn.png It looks like William J. Lynn III will be the first challenge to Obama's tough new restrictions on the revolving door culture in Washington.

As part of the executive orders President Obama issued Wednesday, all appointees in the Obama Administration will be forced to sign a pledge including the following language:

I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts....

Now that the euphoria of the election and inauguration are over, we will soon be reminded of the messy realities that come with having three branches of government. As much as the nation is pinning its desperate hopes on Obama, the new president's success or failure at advancing new policies and changing the way government works depends first and foremost on Congress.

The burning questions of the moment have to do with money--how much to spend, and when, and for what. The president will present his stimulus package to Congess, but it is just a recommendation: All spending measures must originate in the House through the Ways and Means Committee. While they receive none of the attention given to cabinet members, the leaders of this powerful committee are no less important than the secretary of the Treasury, or the other members of the administration who must go to it pleading for funds.

Right now Ways and Means is chaired by New York's Charles Rangel, still a formidable figure despite a growing collection of ethics scandals. In the front tier are Pete Stark of California, Sander Levin of Michigan, Jim McDermott of Washington, and John Lewis of Georgia. It's a solidly liberal lineup (most are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) that is likely to support big public works and jobs programs as well as improvements to the social safety net for the poor and the unemployed, the disabled and the elderly.

On the other side is the group of conservative Democrats in the House that calls itself the Blue Dogs. Their numbers and influence have increased in the last two elections, and they have already made it clear that in exchange for gritting their teeth and accepting a big stimulus package funded through Keynesian deficit spending, they'll be looking for concessions over the long term in other areas, including old-age entitlements. With 51 members, the Blue Dogs could monkey-wrench some of Obama's plans if they choose to vote with Republicans.

We learned just how far an uncooperative Congress can go to undermine a president back in 1994, when Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution emerged from the back benches and dedicated itself to opposing (and eventually impeaching) Bill Clinton. But it's been such a long time since we've had a strong, popular Democratic president along with a solid Democratic majority in Congress, it's hard to envision what it might be like.

Those of us old enough to remember them might harken back to the LBJ years. On the day of Obama's inauguration, Saul Friedman, the longtime reporter for major dailies and now a columnist, recalled that time, and the vital part played by a strong, committed Congress.

The murder of John F. Kennedy had given Johnson great power and new stature when I arrived in Washington in 1965 to cover the Congress for the Knight Newspapers and the Detroit Free Press....They were an odd couple; Johnson the southerner who grew up with segregation and Humphrey, the northern liberal who had driven Strom Thurmond out of the Democratic Party on the issue of race. But together, they gave the country activist, liberal government the like of which had not been seen since the New Deal.

On Wednesday night, MSNBC's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue featured the recent Mother Jones piece on changes at the White House website. In the segment, I discussed President Barack Obama's first-day moves to make his administration more transparent and accountable, and I identified the money quote of the day, which was contained in a memo the president issued: "In the face of doubt, openness prevails."

Because I've written about such matters, MSNBC's David Shuster awarded me the highly coveted "Muckraker of the Day" award. Or is it more like a designation? No cash comes with it, but I was honored to be chosen on such a historic day.

You can follow my postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

mojo-razzie.jpgHow awesome are the Golden Raspberry Awards? They're like the conscience of Hollywood, with a healthy dose of alliterative, sarcastic wit thrown in. The Razzies have been awarded every year since 1980, and this year's nominations are out now, complete with a press release that compares the "plethora of putrid motion pictures" coming from Hollywood to the "disastrous" economic downturn. It helps to imagine the voice of Snagglepuss reading it. The Love Guru was the most-honored film this year, with seven total nominations; other "Worst Picture" nods include Disaster Movie, The Happening, The Hottie and the Nottie, Meet the Spartans and In the Name of the King. Uwe Boll, referred to as "Germany's answer to Ed Wood," will receive a special Worst Career Achievement award. Much deserved.

These Razzies are to be given out at a ceremony February 21 (the day before the Oscars, naturally), and you know, some people have actually turned up to accept their awards in the past: Tom Green, Tom Selleck, Halle Berry and Bill Cosby have all made appearances. If they had a blog version, or a mash-up Razzies, I would totally go. The full list of nominees is after the jump.