Tagged: president obama

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Racial Uplift or Racial Scolding: The Baggage of Symbolic Representation in President Obama’s Speeches to Black Americans

    I was invited to stay around another month but a personal loss and the press of grading papers overwhelmed me. With apologies to the organizers, this is my first and last post for this month.

President Obama’s commencement speech at Morehouse College on May 19th triggered a debate in some corners of the blogger sphere that included notables like PBS’ Gwen Ifill and white studies scholar Tim Wise about his tendency to scold black folks. In its heyday Morehouse College, a private all-male historically black institution in Atlanta,  educated many of the black male elite like Martin Luther King, Jr., filmmaker Spike Lee, former Bank of America Chairman Walter E. Massey, former United States Surgeon General David Satcher, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan, film star Samuel Jackson, and social activist Julian Bond. Today it continues its mission producing Rhodes, Fulbright, Marshall and Luce Scholars, and Watson and White House Fellows. Thus he was speaking to a group of future leaders who happened to be overwhelmingly black.

I was a bit surprised at the uproar, especially when several acquaintances thought the Morehouse speech more significant than his speech a few days later on his administration’s drone policy. I have been increasingly troubled by this administration’s extrajudicial killings by drones of American citizens abroad. Thus I decided to more closely examine the controversy. Read More

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Stanford Law Review Online: The Iraq War, the Next War, and the Future of the Fat Man

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Yale’s Stephen L. Carter entitled The Iraq War, the Next War, and the Future of the Fat Man. He provides a retrospective on the War in Iraq and discusses the ethical and legal implications of the War on Terror and “anticipatory self-defense” in the form of targeted killings going forward. He writes:

Iraq was war under the beta version of the Bush Doctrine. The newer model is represented by the slaying of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen deemed a terror threat. The Obama Administration has ratcheted the use of remote drone attacks to unprecedented levels—the Bush Doctrine honed to rapier sharpness. The interesting question about the new model is one of ethics more than legality. Let us assume the principal ethical argument pressed in favor of drone warfare—to wit, that the reduction in civilian casualties and destruction of property means that the drone attack comports better than most other methods with the principle of discrimination. If this is so, then we might conclude that a just cause alone is sufficient to justify the attacks. . . . But is what we are doing truly self-defense?

Read the full article, The Iraq War, the Next War, and the Future of the Fat Man by Stephen L. Carter, at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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Will America’s Civil War Ever End?

Seems I prematurely announced my departure as a guest blogger last week.  Concurring Opinions has kindly asked me to stay on for another month, so here is my first offering for May.

It recently occurred to me that there is a connection between the persistent belief of some Americans that President Obama is not a natural born citizen and continuing debates about the Civil War.  Both go to fundamental questions about national identity, citizenship and governance.  Almost a decade ago I wrote a quirky piece entitled Exploring White Resistance to Racial Reconciliation. The article was triggered by what I regarded as a shocking action by Congress, namely, the rejection of a 1997 proposal by a dozen Democrat and Republican congress members calling on Congress to issue an apology to the descendants of kidnapped West Africans for their enslavement.  In 2008, after it became apparent that then Senator Barack Obama would be the Democrat’s presidential nominee, Congress quietly issued an apology for slavery.  Ironically, President Obama is not descended from West Africans, or to my knowledge, slaves.

In my article I speculated that this proposal was rejected because most Americans remain woefully ignorant about the causes and conflicting political agendas surrounding the Civil War.  This ignorance has been reinforced, I theorized, by popular culture, particularly films like the pernicious Birth of a Nation or Gone with the Wind, that romanticize the “lost cause.”  I offered many proposals, including better education about the Civil War, its causes and effects.

Why, you may ask, am I blogging about “old” news?  Well, a study funded by the Pew Foundation and released last month found that most Americans still consider the Civil War relevant to “American politics and political life.”  As the 150th anniversary of the War approached, two major newspapers, The Washington Post and The New York Times, featured series or periodic articles about the War.  The Post also hosts a blog, A House Divided, “dedicated to news and issues of importance to Civil War enthusiasts across the country and around the world.”  Even my local paper, The Baltimore Sun, has a series about the War.  Maryland, although a slave-holding border state, saw many battles during the War.  Further, Maryland considers the April 17, 1861 Baltimore Riot, when Union troops passing through the City were attacked by local confederate sympathizers, to be one of the War’s first conflicts.  I celebrate these educational efforts mentioned above because most Americans still do not fully understand the reasons for this war and why it continues to bedevil the Nation.

One of the most factious long-standing debates is over the causes of the War, namely, whether it was fought over slavery or states’ rights.  According to the Pew study, 48% of Americans surveyed think that states’ rights was the main cause of the War, while 34% said slavery was the cause. Documents linked in The Times, and essays by noted historians, acknowledge that states’ rights was an issue, but that the continuation of slavery was a primary triggering cause.   Even the State of Georgia, a former confederate state, finally conceded that slavery was the cause of the War.  Nevertheless, some Americans continue to reject the historical evidence.  For example, Baltimore Sun readers, in response to a columnist’s assertion that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, challenged and vigorously debated each other.  Commentators offer various, mostly benign, explanations for the reluctance to acknowledge slavery’s role in triggering the Civil War.

Still you might say, this too is “old” news that has nothing to do with President Obama, but I urge you to read on. Read More

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The Middle Path of Reform

A contrarian approach is perhaps endemic to the reformer.   If A is the problem, then it is natural to assert anti-A as the solution.  In the realm of education, if we have been losing ground as a nation, and if the skills gaps among racial groups have not been closing, then the obvious choice of legal reform efforts, beginning in the 1980’s and 1990’s, has been to blame the highly regulated system of public educational bureaucracies.  If such educational systems were A, then the solution, for the reformer, must be the anti-A of choice, competition, and accountability to loosen the stasis of ineffective systems.  Thus was born the state assessment movements of the 1990’s which culminated in the federal choice and accountability No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation of 2002, the charter school movement which began in the 1990’2, and the rise to preeminence of accountability educational leaders such as Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein of New York who began reforms in 2002, and Michelle Rhee of Washington, D.C., who was appointed Schools Chancellor in 2007.

However, in 2010, Rhee and Klein are no longer Schools Chancellors, significant reforms and flexibility to NCLB are being advocated by President Obama, and the charter school and choice movements are struggling to determine how to replicate the results of highly successful charter models more broadly.  Although successes exist, there are a myriad of frustrated reformers originally arrayed with weapons of Harvard Business Review terminology, data-driven instruction, and high expectations who have been slain on the battle field by entrenched interests, the lack of human capital for extremely difficult work, and psycho-social and academic barriers, especially in the urban context, which are rooted in depth beyond what human beings can face with any level of comfort.

The United States is undoubtedly moving into another epoch in educational reform.  The question is:  Will we continue to manifest bipolar disorder and revert back to A, or will a dialectic of A and anti-A yield a uniquely informed synthesis?   One could argue that it is precisely such synthesis underlying President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (NCLB is the current version of this legislation), as well as his competitive grant program Race to the Top under the American Recovery Reinvestment Act.  In his educational approach, Obama seeks to unleash local ingenuity through competition, walk the federalism tight rope by encouraging, but not requiring, states to adopt common national assessment standards, and maintain accountability for school performance, but with more funding for school improvement.

But the middle path of synthesis is not compromise.  It is a third way (or a fourth way, etc.), and thus its thoughtful substance threatens deeply the worlds of A and anti-A.  Recent political history, of course, has overtly challenged visions of complexity.  As the current political landscape collides with the next wave of educational reform that is upon us, we can only hope that synthesis is possible.  If one is a supporter of the Obama vision–and I am–then one must believe that the tortoise must outlast the hair.  One must have the integrity and resilience to maintain faith when the fears of the world have necessitated a reversion to anti-A.  One must have the courage to live in uncertainty and seek complex solutions to the almost unbearably complex challenges we face.

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“Deal” Reached on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

President Obama has experienced conflict with some LGBT rights advocates who contend that he has moved sluggishly on the issue of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  DADT requires the discharge of known “homosexuals” from the military.

During his presidential campaign, Obama promised to repeal the ban, and since his election, social movement organizations have pushed him on this issue.  In order to appease liberal advocates of LGBT rights, President Obama first promised that he would start looking into the issue of lifting the ban last year. Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced a formal “study” of the impact of lifting the ban.  The results of the study are due in December.

Representative Patrick Murphy and Senator Lieberman, however, introduced bills to repeal DADT. These bills conflict with the Obama’s “measured” approach.  Yesterday, several media outlets reported that Obama reached a compromise with Murphy, Lieberman and LGBT rights organizations.  Under the deal, Murphy and Lieberman would amend their bills to provide that DADT would remain the law until such time that the Defense Department completes its review, determines that a repeal of DADT will not impact military readiness or recruitment, and promulgates regulations on the issue. 

Read More

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The New Line-Item Veto Proposal: Constitutional But Weak?

Yesterday, President Obama sent Congress a proposal to enact the Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010.  The bill would authorize the president to request that Congress rescind items of newly enacted budget authority. Congress would then accept or reject the proposed rescission in a vote by both houses.

Because the bill would not give the president the authority to make actual changes to legislation, it does not seem to present any constitutional problems. This fact, however, might also make the measure a weak weapon against spending. The same Congress that passed the funding measure would then have to decide whether it approves the original legislation or it agrees with the president that the rescission should take place. Although I can imagine certain circumstances where a president could prevail, in most circumstances, I could easily see Congress simply affirming the original funding.