Where The Sun Don’t Shine

Transparency Obama

The Article: Where The Sun Don’t Shine by Paul D Thacker in Slate.

The Text: President Obama has failed to deliver on few promises as miserably as his vow to create a more transparent and open government. Shortly after being sworn into office, he sent a memo to federal agencies promising, “We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.”
At the time, I was a staffer on the Senate Finance Committee for Republican Charles Grassley and couldn’t help but laugh.

Before I worked on Capitol Hill, I was a reporter and broke a story about how Bush administration officials had silenced federal scientists who had tried to speak up about climate change after Hurricane Katrina. I based the article on documents and email messages I had uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act. Even though the Department of Commerce handed over the emails, I was disappointed to discover that portions of them had been illegally redacted to hide the involvement of specific political appointees.

After seeing years of heavy-handed secrecy and incessant White House claims of national security to hide the ball from Congress, I supported President Obama’s efforts to clean things up and restore some balance. But like most reporters, I am suspicious of these types of promises, especially from politicians. Regardless of who occupies the White House, I understand that power wants power. Scrutiny just gets in the way.

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The “Good” Racists

Forest Whitaker

The Article: The Good, Racist People by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The New York Times.

The Text: Last month the actor Forest Whitaker was stopped in a Manhattan delicatessen by an employee. Whitaker is one of the pre-eminent actors of his generation, with a diverse and celebrated catalog ranging from “The Great Debaters” to “The Crying Game” to “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.” By now it is likely that he has adjusted to random strangers who can’t get his turn as Idi Amin out of their heads. But the man who approached the Oscar winner at the deli last month was in no mood for autographs. The employee stopped Whitaker, accused him of shoplifting and then promptly frisked him. The act of self-deputization was futile. Whitaker had stolen nothing. On the contrary, he’d been robbed.

The deli where Whitaker was harassed happens to be in my neighborhood. Columbia University is up the street. Broadway, the main drag, is dotted with nice restaurants and classy bars that cater to beautiful people. I like my neighborhood. And I’ve patronized the deli with some regularity, often several times in a single day. I’ve sent my son in my stead. My wife would often trade small talk with whoever was working checkout. Last year when my beautiful niece visited, she loved the deli so much that I felt myself a sideshow. But it’s understandable. It’s a good deli.

Since the Whitaker affair, I’ve read and listened to interviews with the owner of the establishment. He is apologetic to a fault and is sincerely mortified. He says that it was a “sincere mistake” made by a “decent man” who was “just doing his job.” I believe him. And yet for weeks now I have walked up Broadway, glancing through its windows with a mood somewhere between Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover” and Al Green’s “For the Good Times.”

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The Gay Marriage Prop

Gay Marriage Prop

In May of last year, you would be hard-pressed to find a single soul in the country who wasn’t tweeting, texting or telephoning another regarding Obama’s so-called revolutionary (emphasis on “evolutionary”) stance on gay marriage. Earth shattering? Hardly, especially since a plurality of Americans at that time already supported the novel notion that homosexuals who pay the same taxes and abide by the same laws should also be afforded the same opportunities to marry whom they please.

And yet, it served its purpose. In the same month, as unmanned drones–another Obama endorsement–killed several “militants” in Yemen on legally indefensible and morally bankrupt grounds, most Americans were too busy replaying the hallowed Robin Roberts ABC interview on YouTube to notice, let alone care about our brave president’s markedly less courageous affairs abroad. Marriage equality, the 21st century response to the 1960’s civil rights movement, was finally upon us. Nearly four years into the worst collapse since the Great Depression, change, it seemed, had arrived. “Hope” was no longer tri-colored and two-dimensional, and the wave of social progress, inclusivity and tolerance had crested and its strength could not be stopped. And for your information, Ms. Palin, that hopey-changey stuff is working out great.

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Why Science Is Vital

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

The Article: To at Least One Earthling, Siberia Meteor Proved That Science Is Vital by Clyde Haberman in The New York Times.

The Text: Twice on a recent Friday, the cosmos intruded rudely on us earthlings. A meteor exploded over western Siberia, shattering windows, injuring hundreds and scaring pretty much everyone else. That same day, an asteroid passed within 18,000 miles of us, close enough to arch many an eyebrow among astronomers.

One earthling, at least, looked on the bright side.

“It allows me, when I talk about asteroids, to reference an actual event where people got hurt,” said Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan for going on two decades. Not that Dr. Tyson was glad that people had been injured. Far from it. All the same, he said over drinks in Lower Manhattan, this cosmic activity “gives punctuation to my sentence that the human race is at risk.”

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Chomsky On Corporations’ Opposition To The Common Good

Noam Chomsky

The Article: Corporations and the Richest Americans Viscerally Oppose Common Good by Noam Chomsky in AlterNet.

The Text: Whether public education contributes to the Common Good depends, of course, on what kind of education it is, to whom it is available, and what we take to be the Common Good. There’s no need to tarry on the fact that these are highly contested matters, have been throughout history, and continue to be so today.

One of the great achievements of American democracy has been the introduction of mass public education, from children to advanced research universities. And in some respects that leadership position has been maintained. Unfortunately, not all. Public education is under serious attack, one component of the attack on any rational and humane concept of the Common Good, sometimes in ways that are not only shocking, but also spell disaster for the species.

All of this falls within the general assault on the population in the past generation, the so-called “neoliberal era.” I’ll return to these matters, of great significance and import.

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