Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Ling and Lee are free: All it took was a former president

If you were wondering where Al Gore has been in the  diplomatic effort to free his two employees jailed in North Korea, Bill Clinton provided you the answer.

Gore wasn’t big enough.

It takes a former president with with enormous global charisma to do what was needed to produced  Laura Ling and Euna Lee. the two journalists with Gore’s Current TV found guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time in North Korea.

Jimmy Carter wasn’t big enough. Bush I and II? Are you kidding?

The North Koreans wanted Bill Clinton over for dinner.  And they got him.

Once I heard Clinton was heading to see Kim Jong Il, I knew it would be just a matter of days that the pawns in question  would be produced, safely in all  his high drama.

Now the question is what does the U.S. give up in exchange. Clinton is a start, but it’s just the beginning to a real transition to…..?

It’s unclear. Currently, there are no official diplomatic ties between the U.S. and North Korea. So Clinton going as an unofficial offical keeps the status quo both in check, but potentially in flux.  Obama and Clinton can maintain their hardline. But Kim Jong Il gets to show all his people that he still has standing, with or without nukes. He’s got Bill Clinton over for kimchee  and a photo op.

Americans are supposed to be puzzled as to what’s next.

But if you’re in North or South Korea, you’ve got to be in awe.

If you’re starving in North Korea, you have hope today.  U.S. recognition brings the possibility of change.  If you’re in Seoul, you have to worry.  If you’re in either country and you  doubted the power of his hairness in North Korea, you are simply starstruck. The guy who looks like he’s on his death bed still has some juice. He got Bubba to stop b,  and all the players got a little something.

Clinton got to ride into the sunset the hero. You think Clinton hesitated to be in that role, one-upping both his wife and the current president (both of whom were admittedly hamstrung).  Clinton’s stock rises.

It certainly was worth it to Kim Jong Il.

And Laura Ling and Euna Lee ?

They now come home safely, with the story of their lives.

Obama’s affirmative action for Muslims, Harvard Class Day, my day

Barack Obama couldn’t be Harvard Class Day speaker yesterday for obvious reasons. He was too busy preparing to reach out to his Muslim brothers and sisters.

Outreach to Muslims? This is affirmative action the U.S. can really use.

Policy-wise, Obama’s address  could have been a speech George W. Bush would have given. The end goal of Obama’s comments essentially is a two-state solution exactly what Bush was pushing in the end.

But what a difference the messenger makes.

Would you say that Bush had a credibility problem? He only helped perpetuate the white stereotype that Obama referred to in his speech. Of course, it’s no different from the way Bin Laden feeds the Muslim stereotypes Americans know and love.

They all get in the way of communication.

But with a new messenger before them, the Muslim audience saw a new global leader in whom they could see a bit of a  reflection of themselves. It was worth another look at the New America.

“I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” said Obama. “One based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

With Obama’s background in Indonesia, his parentage, his cultural connection comes a new kind of diplomatic tone that may prove to be a more productive path to a lasting peace.

It’s a personal touch, the kind that comes with a new messenger. Denigrate Obama’s Muslim outreach  as just a pretty speech. We are in a phase, amid war and terror, where one cannot make light of pretty speech.

Obama was plenty tough on both Israel and Hamas.  Masked in pretty speech, it may help all sides see and value their common interests.


So Obama was at a university in Cairo and not Cambridge. Not at Harvard. But Matt Lauer was.

On the “The Today” show, Lauer  talked about being the Harvard Class Day speaker: “Giving a speech to Harvard students and their parents and the faculty is just nerve-wracking and I admit it was intimidating.”

I can relate. I gave the student speech before the Class Day speaker in 1977 (George Plimpton that year). And it was intimidating. And exhilarating. It was a funny speech making fun of Harvard. So, of course, it got laughs. And one big one, I’ll never forget.

As I look back, I have given many speeches, but because of the setting the students, the parents, and  the faculty that Lauer talked about, it was special.

I look to replicate that feeling every time I step to a podium.

Context? Here’s what Sotomayor said in 2001; Was it racist?

Sometimes you need more than the soundbite. In the new racist war being waged by conservatives over the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, it seems that there’s an attempt  to stymie the new emerging  politics of diversity with the polarizing old politics of angry white men.

It’s so 1994.

Going back to the hate politics of a previous decade doesn’t get us anywhere we need to be.

So I admit to being a little puzzled by how conservatives like Rush Limbaugh continue to call Sotomayor a racist for comments made in Berkeley in 2001.

The phrase that conservatives are in a tizzy about is bolded below.But you tell me if there’s an ounce of racism when you see how the phrase came up in her talk in Berkeley in 2001.

Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

“Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

“However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.

These judges aren’t robots. They’re human.  They have feelings and experiences that will inform their decisions. That’s why a diverse America needs a diverse high court,one that creates a certain empathy for all those seeking justice.  Empathy alone won’t return  a favorable decision.  But it will assure anyone who stands before the court that no perspectives were overlooked. That’s what a diverse bench promises, a sense of fairness and justice for all.

Embracing the race issue: Obama’s Sotomayor pick an inspiring Affirmative Action success story

American Filipinos, like most people of color, know the life of Sonia Sotomayor, the woman picked by President Obama to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. If empathy was one of the criteria, Sotomayor has no problem when it comes to Filipinos. Her story is practically our story.

With the Philippines connected to Puerto Rico as pawns in the Spanish American War, our heritage alone makes us natural allies. Sotomayor’s parents came from Puerto Rico to America looking for opportunity. They arrived in New York and grew up in public housing in the Bronx.

If you’re from San Francisco like I am,  read that as Geneva Towers, Hunter’s Point, or Potrero Hill. Like I said, we share a life, a pattern, and are fortunate to have had  opportunities to break it. As a young girl in Catholic school, Sotomayor was identified as a promising student. For many children of color, this would begin in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Elite secondary schools and universities began to plant seeds throughout the country, hoping to grow a new generational pool of talent for the nation.

As an American Filipino, I was one of those chosen. So were young Latinas like Sotomayor, who chose Princeton, then Yale Law School. She was on the fast track and succeeded every step.

Now, nearly two generations later, the real harvest occurs. No one can say there are few qualified minorities after such a lengthy period of social nurturing.

The degrees of success vary, of course. But the large middle- and upper-middle class in America is a direct result of those years of opportunity. As a testament to that, this week President Obama could choose a Latina woman who has been nominated in the past by both Democratic and Republican presidents for successively higher federal court positions. That alone speaks volumes about the success of a much-maligned social strategy to equality: affirmative action. It works.

When administered properly by identifying qualified and talented candidates, affirmative action remains a strategy that can help bring true diversity to America at every level of society.

At the base of affirmative action is merit. It’s allowing people who wouldn’t have a chance an opportunity to compete. That’s not racist compared to the all-white institutions and envirnonments affirmative action was intended to fix.

Of course, these days, you’ll never hear affirmative action mentioned. It’s not even euphemized like calling terror “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  If the phrase “affirmative action” was said at the Obama press conference this week, I didn’t hear it. It’s political death.

Instead you heard the president talk about Sotomayor’s American Dream. You heard about how she grew up in the projects and got to Yale Law School.

It was basically my admission essay to Harvard in 1972.  It’s a good story. It works. At the press conference, you also heard about baseball, and how as a federal judge in New York, it was Sotomayor’s decision in 1995 that sided with the players and ended the baseball strike. What a gal! American Dream and Baseball. Sounds like the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court!

The Obama administration has chosen to sell the judge in this feel-good fashion to avoid all the hot buttons of race.

But there’s nothing wrong with confronting the hot-buttons with Sotomayor.

There’s a reason she was nominated up the judge chain by both G.H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  She’s good and qualified, emphasis on that second point.

And she’s a woman and a Latina. The administration is finally showing that race really matters.

Straddling Colorblind

For all of President Obama’s underplaying of race in his political demeanor to the point of colorblindness, his Supreme Court pick says it all. To his credit, he still values the pigment and the numbers. In this era of diversity, we need to see the reflection of America in everything we hold dear. And that means making sure people of color show up.  Race politics is alive and well.

Naysayers may cry out that that leads to quotas, which are, of course, illegal. But no one is talking about quotas.  On the contrary, we should all hope that this appointment leads to more harvesting of the seeds of affirmative action, a proven remedy to racial injustice.

Sotomayor, self-described as an ordinary person blessed with extraordinary opportunities, is a living example of affirmative action done right. She shows what happens when gifted and talented people of promise from under-served communities  are given a chance. They excel. They succeed.

Sotomayor’s “American Dream” tale is attractive. But people shouldn’t  forget that her life is the blueprint model of how affirmative action–when it is administered correctly–is supposed to work. A little girl from the projects can be part of the highest court of the land. Sotomayor’s nomination should be a boost to all people of color that the dream of opportunity is still alive.

It’s a definite sign that President Obama, who has taken the elevator up, has not forgotten to send it back down.

I haven’t seen such a clear sign of hope for America in a long, long time.