Monday, February 28, 2011

Obama calls Republicans' bluff on health care reform

Today Obama spoke to the Governors about health care reform.

In remarks to the National Governors Association, Mr. Obama said he backed legislation that would enable states to request federal permission to withdraw from the law's mandates in 2014 rather than in 2017 as long as they could prove that they could find other ways to cover as many people as the original law would and at the same cost. The earlier date is when many of the act's central provisions take effect, including requirements that most individuals obtain health insurance and that employers of a certain size offer coverage to workers or pay a penalty.

This is obviously something they've been working on for awhile because today Secretary Sebelius also wrote about it on the White House Blog.

Steve Benen does a good job of summing up what's going on here.

So, how big a deal is this? It marks a fairly significant departure from the administration's status quo, but at its root, what we're seeing is the White House call Republicans' bluff. The GOP is convinced it can offer comparable coverage at comparable prices using Republican-friendly policies. Today, in effect, the president said, "Be my guest." Why? Because Obama knows it'll take more than tort reform and HSAs to make the system work, and he sees a political upside to watching GOP officials scramble to actually craft their own plans, rather than bash his.

This is always great positioning for a pragmatist like Obama. Once you've considered all of the options and put together the best plan you can come up with, those who oppose merely for ideological or political reasons need to be put in a position where they have to do more than obstruct and complain. Ask them to do better. Its especially effective when you're pretty confident that they can't.

UPDATE 3/1/11: Surprise, surprise, it seems the Republicans aren't interested.

Mr. Obama’s announcement did not appear to appease his Republican critics. The House majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, told reporters that the health law was “an impediment to job growth” and that Republicans remained committed to its repeal.

Seriously..."an impediment to job growth"...that's the best he's got? When their own budget would likely cause the loss of one million jobs? Who do these folks think they're kidding?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

El Farol

The first time I heard this song I was watching those waves in the picture up above crash on the shores at Cabo San Lucas. The power of music is such that everything but my physical body is transported back to that place every time I hear it.

I could use a trip like that right about now.

The people of Wisconsin are not backing down!

If Governor Walker thought the people of Wisconsin would soon tire of this fight, I suspect he got a rude awakening yesterday when up to 100,000 people braved the snow and 17 degree temperatures to continue the protest.

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Not only that...there were protests of support for Wisconsin workers all over the country yesterday.

As a lead-in to Saturday's news, there was an interesting development Friday night.

Police have just announced to the crowds inside the occupied State Capitol of Wisconsin: ‘We have been ordered by the legislature to kick you all out at 4:00 today. But we know what’s right from wrong. We will not be kicking anyone out, in fact, we will be sleeping here with you!’

And they had a few things to say to the crowd and to Governor Walker.



This is not a budget issue. Its a civil rights issue. And we will defend your rights. Mr. Walker, if you are listening to me, let me tell you something. We know pretty well now who you work for. Let me tell you who we work for. We work for all of these people. We are not here Mr. Walker to do your bidding. We're here to do their bidding. Let me tell you Mr. Walker, this is not your house, this is all our house.

Its the revenue, stupid!

From Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the IMF.

The United States faces some serious medium-term fiscal issues, but by any standard measure it does not face an immediate fiscal crisis. Overly indebted countries typically have a hard time financing themselves when the world becomes riskier — yet turmoil in the Middle East is pushing down the interest rates on United States government debt. We are still seen as a safe haven.

Nonetheless, leading commentators and politicians repeat the line “we’re broke” and argue that there is no alternative to immediate spending cuts at the national and state level.

Which view is correct? And what does this tell us about where our political system is heading?...

The most immediate problem is that our largest banks and closely related parts of the financial system blew themselves up in 2007-8. The ensuing recession and associated loss of tax revenue will end up increasing our government debt, as a percentage of gross domestic product, by around 40 percent. Very little of this debt increase was due to the fiscal stimulus; mostly it was caused by lower tax revenue, because of the slump in output and employment.

In other words, we have a revenue problem created by the loss of tax receipts due to the recession and unemployment...NOT A SPENDING PROBLEM.

As I've said before, the Republican House plan to cut $62 billion in federal spending is projected to reduce GDP growth by 1.5-2% and eliminate 1 million jobs. That is either stone-cold stupidity or careless political calculation given our current economic situation.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Huckabee and the "nanny state"

According to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R), America's poverty problem would be greatly reduced if single parents would simply tie the knot.



I'll leave it to others to call out the ways that Huckabee gets his facts wrong.

Instead I'd just like to point out that if the right wingers are going to go ballistic about Michelle Obama saying that we should eat our vegetables, what do you suppose they'll say about Huckabee telling us we should get married?

I'm waiting...

Obama's Long Game Revisited

For a while now, I've been talking about the fact that, in order to understand Obama, you have to be clear that he's not playing for short-term gain...he's playing a long game. Here's what he said about that himself.

So, my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there, what is helping people live out their lives; what is giving them more opportunity; what is growing the economy; what is making us more competitive. At any given juncture there are going to be times that my preferred option, what I am absolutely, positively sure is right, I can’t get done. And so then, my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way or that way because I am keeping my eye on the long-term and the long fight. Not my day-to-day news cycle, but where am I going over the long-term.

With our 24/7 news cycle and access to immediate information, those on the left and in the media tend to over-react to the times when Obama has to "tack a little bit this way or that" and freak out.

You'd think that after several years of watching this, folks would start to catch on, step back, and try to get a view of the big picture. I'm sorry to say that the daily hysteria we are so often subjected to indicates that is often not the case.

I am encouraged that more often than not these days, Rachel Maddow seems to be getting it. As an example, here's a video of her segment last night on Libya.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


As people on both the left and right were freaking out about "what should Obama do about Libya," the President was quietly making sure that Americans were safe and couldn't be used in a scheme to retaliate against US reaction to what is happening there.

Andrew Sullivan is another one who seems to "get it" one moment and then forget the next. When it comes to overall WH policy, he usually demonstrates some awareness of the long game. For example, here he is applying it to Obama's strategy with Israel.

My point is rather that he has a clear pattern of behavior that is acutely tuned to the longterm. He lets things take their course. Rather than tipping his hand early and decisively, he tends to hang back, aloof, distant, watching. Only when events have occurred that have proven the pointlessness of options he doesn't favor does he forthrightly present his own. And quite often, he almost seems intent on orchestrating such public failures of others' (and his own apparent) options - even at his own short-term cost.

But when it comes to an issue that is very personal for him, ie gay rights, Sullivan tends to loose perspective. Perhaps that's finally changing too because yesterday he had this to say about the announcement that Obama's DOJ will NOT defend DOMA in the courts.

Obama used to say: no sudden moves. But his legacy on gay rights is beginning to build into a historic one. Yes, I have complained loudly in the past... But he is coming through - more cunningly than most of us grasped.

Which is not the first time one can say that on many issues, where Obama's caution and incrementalism have begun to create a legacy that is deeply unsatisfying in the present but looks rather substantive from the rear-view mirror.

I keep hoping that eventually it won't take a "rear-view mirror" look at things to understand what Obama is doing. But I know that the habits of our instant gratification culture are hard to break.

Perhaps that's because seeing the long game requires trust at some level...something that progressives find themselves almost incapable of giving to a politician (with very good reason). But I've seen enough at this point. That doesn't mean I'll always agree with anything Obama does. What it does mean is that occasionally I catch myself when I get impatient and start to worry. At that moment I'm starting to find myself thinking "give it some time" and "lets see where he's going with this." Inevitably the picture becomes more clear and I save myself all that energy I would have wasted worrying and over-reacting.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Nobody Knows

Prison labor...yet another ridiculous budget reduction idea

From the New York Times:

Prison labor — making license plates, picking up litter — is nothing new, and nearly all states have such programs. But these days, officials are expanding the practice to combat cuts in federal financing and dwindling tax revenue, using prisoners to paint vehicles, clean courthouses, sweep campsites and perform many other services done before the recession by private contractors or government employees...

Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, introduced a bill last month to require all low-security prisoners to work 50 hours a week. Creating a national prison labor force has been a goal since he went to Congress in 1995, but it makes even more sense in this economy, he said.

OMG!!!

So lets ignore the fact that our prison population has increased by over 700% since the 1970's and simply capitalize on the growing opportunity for slave labor?????

Of course we wouldn't want to take the sane approach of saving $16.9 billion/year by cutting the number of incarcerated non-violent offenders in half.

Republicans pushing for a double-dip recession

I know that in lefty political circles, Goldman Sachs is practically the definition of evil. But there are perhaps times when it pays to listen to them.

This week they issued a report on what would happen if the House budget bill, cutting $62 billion in federal spending, was actually passed. Their prediction: GDP growth will be reduced by 1.5 to 2 percentage points later this year.

For some perspective on what that means, the Federal Reserve is predicting that under current budget assumptions, GDP growth in 2011 will be 3.4% to 3.9%, so we're talking cutting that in half. And that same report from the Feds predicted an unemployment rate of 8.8% to 9% under current policies. So if GDP is cut in half, unemployment will likely soar above 10%.

Its no wonder then, that Sen. Chuck Schumer has this to say about what the Republican budget proposal would do to the economy:

"House Republicans’ proposal is a recipe for a double-dip recession," Schumer said Wednesday in a statement. "Just as the economy is beginning to pick up a little steam, the Republican budget would snuff out any chance of recovery."

Its probably impossible to tell whether Republicans really believe that cutting 1 million jobs (what their budget proposal is projected to do) would actually help the economy or if they're simply willing to risk a double-dip recession on a gamble that a weak economy hurts Obama and the Democrats. I personally don't care whether they're wrong or willfully destructive...this economy can't handle their games.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Higher Ground

Wowza!

General Motors, which nearly collapsed from the weight of its debts two years ago before reorganizing in a government-sponsored bankruptcy, said on Thursday that it earned $4.7 billion in 2010, the most in more than a decade.

It was the first profitable year since 2004 for G.M., which became publicly traded in November, ending a string of years in which losses totaled about $90 billion...

As a result of its performance, G.M. said 45,000 union workers would receive profit-sharing checks averaging $4,300, the most ever.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fight Outta You

Reality in graphs

When you hear about those "greedy Wisconsin teachers" making, on average, about $50,000 a year, here's a little something to ponder...

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Americans tend to have a distorted picture of the reality of income distribution in this country.

A Harvard business prof and a behavioral economist recently asked more than 5,000 Americans how they thought wealth is distributed in the United States. Most thought that it’s more balanced than it actually is. Asked to choose their ideal distribution of wealth, 92% picked one that was even more equitable.

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And on the idea of "shared sacrifice," lets look at who's picking up the tab on taxes.

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Do you suppose those drops in millionaire's and corporate taxes have anything to do with our budget deficits?

Nah, its all the fault of those greedy teachers. < snark >

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"ONE world and under the same sky..."

My title are the words of a 21 year-old Egyptian named Muhammad Saladin Nusair in his blog post titled From Tahrir to Wisconsin. Muhammad is the young man in this picture.



Here's what he wrote about it yesterday:

Many people thought it’s something extraordinary or something that stands out. but I really want to say that me, and many other people, were raised this way. were taught that all human beings are brothers and sisters, were taught that we live in ONE world and under the same sky, so I don’t see what I did as something “abnormal” or “super cool”.

again, as I told many of you, we are all human beings. we shouldn’t let borders and differences separate us, we were made different to complete each other, to integrate and live together. If a human being doesn’t feel the pain of his fellow human beings then everything man created and established since the very beginning of his existence is in great danger.

Someone raised you very well Muhammad!!!!!!

Another word that expresses what Muhammad is saying is "solidarity." That's something firefighters in Wisconsin know something about too.



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Budgets are a statement of values

Anyone who has ever put together a budget - be it for a household, a business, or a unit of government - knows that they are statements about values. Even the basics like food, shelter and clothing come with value statements about how much we're willing to spend on them and how important the particulars are (ie, clothes from a second-hand store vs a shopping trip to Nordstroms).

Both Democrats and Republicans are showing their hands these days on what their priorities are when it comes to our federal budget. And nowhere is that more evident than in a small but telling bill sponsored by my Representative, Betty McCollum.

She thought we could save the $7 million the Army spends on sponsorship of NASCAR race teams. Given that the Navy and Marine Corp have dropped such ads because they were determined to be of little value, it seemed a reasonable proposal.

Not only did the majority of Republicans vote against this cost savings...she received threats of violence for even proposing it.

As Steve Bennen said in the article linked above:

As for the GOP, to hear House Republicans tell it, "we're broke," which means it's time to take a buzz-saw to the budget. In this very bill, the GOP voted to slash education, job training, environmental protections, food safety, community health centers, nuclear security, energy efficiency programs, scientific research, FEMA, Planned Parenthood, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control, among other things.

But when it came time to save taxpayers $7 million on a seemingly-pointless NASCAR ad, Republicans balked. In all, 30 GOP lawmakers broke ranks and voted with Democrats to save the money, but 209 Republicans voted to keep the NASCAR ad and kill McCollum's amendment.

In other words, we're broke, but leave NASCAR alone.

Its one thing to propose cutting $74 billion from the federal budget and, in the process, kill 1 million jobs. That's simply unconscionable in these times. But Republican values are also on display in how they're doing that...NASCAR ads are more important than food safety, nuclear security, and the EPA (just to name a few). That's what they're telling us.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rebellion

Matt is a 22 year-old student at the University of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protest from Matt Wisniewski on Vimeo.

Women of Strength and Courage

In the end, Reps. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) probably didn’t sway any votes by sharing their personal stories on the House floor on Thursday night. On Friday, 240 of 241 House Republicans voted to strip Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading provider of reproductive health care, of government funding.

Nevertheless, when Moore stood up to talk about being an 18-year-old with an unplanned pregnancy, and Speier described having a second-trimester abortion after a wanted pregnancy went wrong, the effect was electrifying. With their candor, the two congresswomen inspired women all over the country and pierced through the sanctimonious abstractions dominating the debate. At least half of women have an unintended pregnancy at some point in their lives, and nearly a third have an abortion. Yet even as politicians argue about these women’s lives and choices and futures, the women themselves remain faceless and voiceless. Moore and Speier changed that...

Several Republicans attacked Planned Parenthood as racist, a common antiabortion canard. “My wife and I have four adopted children, and they’re watching tonight,” said Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp, adding that his children “come from a group of children the history of Planned Parenthood has targeted: minorities.”

Hearing the Republicans pontificate, Moore said, “I was filled with rage. These same people who accuse Planned Parenthood of ‘targeting’ African-American children, they care about you only while you’re in the womb. The minute you crown, you’re on your own.”



Rep. Jackie Speier found Moore’s story powerful, but she had no intention of putting herself out there in the same way. Then, as the evening went on, she listened to New Jersey Republican Chris Smith as he read a long description of a second-trimester termination. The excerpt came from a book by Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee who, after being disciplined for her job performance, turned against the organization and became a heroine of the antiabortion movement, and it was deliberately grisly.



At the end of the debate on Thursday night, the two women embraced. “I just held on to her and gave her a big hug,” said Moore. “I’m so proud of her for just sharing, and giving her heart and soul. That’s what people need to see and hear. This is not just us droning on from talking points. These are people’s real lives.”

Thank you Gwen and Jackie. We're humbled and inspired by your strength and courage.

The People of Wisconsin Fight Back







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And they're getting a little help from some friends...

Happy Anniversary Recovery Act!


More here.

Last Thursday marked the two year anniversary of the passage of the Recovery Act. Michael Grunwald summarizes:

...the good news of the Recovery Act, which helped avoid a depression; reduced the unemployment rate by 2%; cut taxes for 95% of Americans; bailed out the states to prevent mass layoffs; funded more than 75,000 projects to upgrade roads, parks, sewers and just about everything else; and made unprecedented investments in renewable energy, health-information technology, broadband, the smart grid and much, much more — with no earmarks and virtually no fraud.

That summary begins to hint at why its so difficult to communicate how important the Recovery Act has been...its impact has been so far-reaching that its hard to put into a couple of sound bites.

Last fall, Grunwald wrote a fascinating article that focused on those unprecedented investments. Its a fascinating piece that digs a little deeper into this one area.

For starters, the Recovery Act is the most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world's largest venture-capital fund. It's pouring $90 billion into clean energy, including unprecedented investments in a smart grid; energy efficiency; electric cars; renewable power from the sun, wind and earth; cleaner coal; advanced biofuels; and factories to manufacture green stuff in the U.S. The act will also triple the number of smart electric meters in our homes, quadruple the number of hybrids in the federal auto fleet and finance far-out energy research through a new government incubator modeled after the Pentagon agency that fathered the Internet...

The Recovery Act's clean-energy push is designed not only to reduce our old economy dependence on fossil fuels that broil the planet, blacken the Gulf and strengthen foreign petro-thugs but also to avoid replacing it with a new economy that is just as dependent on foreign countries for technology and manufacturing. Last year, exactly two U.S. factories made advanced batteries for electric vehicles. The stimulus will create 30 new ones, expanding U.S. production capacity from 1% of the global market to 20%, supporting half a million plug-ins and hybrids. The idea is as old as land-grant colleges: to use tax dollars as an engine of innovation. It rejects free-market purism but also the old industrial-policy approach of dumping cash into a few favored firms. Instead, the Recovery Act floods the zone, targeting a variety of energy problems and providing seed money for firms with a variety of potential solutions. The winners must attract private capital to match public dollars...and after competing for grants, they still must compete in the marketplace. "They won't all succeed," Rogers says. "But some will, and they'll change the world."

That's just a tidbit of what is in the article. I highly recommend reading the whole thing. The take-away is that the Recovery Act didn't just save us from the Great Depression (as important as that was). It also laid the groundwork for a sustainable future.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rosie's Lullaby

Isn't she lovely?

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Obama visiting Intel’s Science Talent Search in Hillsboro, Oregon

This one is personal

The Obama administration rescinded most of a federal regulation Friday designed to protect health workers who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on personal or religious grounds.

The Health and Human Services Department eliminated nearly the entire rule put into effect by the administration of President George W. Bush during his final days in office that was widely interpreted as allowing such workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services, such as providing the emergency contraceptive Plan B, treating gay men and lesbians and prescribing birth control to single women.

When I was 13 years old, I had some problems with a hormonal imbalance that meant my menstrual cycle was heavy and didn't stop once it started. This got so serious that I was hospitalized for blood transfusions and a D & C. Going forward, I was put on "the pill" to regulate my cycle.

I don't know if there were any alternatives to taking the pill that were available at the time. But when I heard about these Bush administration regulations, I wondered what would have happened to me if my doctor had refused to prescribe it or pharmacists had refused to fill the prescription. After all...I was a 13 year old taking birth control.

I'm grateful I never had to find out. And now I'm grateful that no other 13 year old has to get caught up in these ridiculous right wing attempts to control women's bodies and health. Thank you Obama administration!

Just a little dinner with a few friends...



From the White House:

The meeting is a part of our ongoing dialogue with the business community on how we can work together to win the future, strengthen our economy, support entrepreneurship, increasing our exports, and get the American people back to work. The President and the business leaders will discuss our shared goal of promoting American innovation, and discuss his commitment to new investments in research and development, education and clean energy."

Guest list:

John Doerr, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Carol Bartz, president and CEO, Yahoo!
John Chambers, CEO and chairman, Cisco Systems
Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter
Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO, Oracle
Reed Hastings, CEO, NetFlix
John Hennessy, president, Stanford University
Steve Jobs, chairman and CEO, Apple
Art Levinson, chairman and former CEO, Genentech
Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO, Google
Steve Westly, managing partner and founder, Westly Group
Mark Zuckerberg, founder, president and CEO, Facebook

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What do I do when I'm lost in the forest?


Stand still. The trees ahead
and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers.
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it you may come back again.
saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you.
You are surely lost. Stand still.
The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

- Northwest Native American Tradition translated by David Wagoner

Some Perspective

After watching the leadership and participation of the women of Egypt in the recent protests, I was particularly disheartened to hear the story of the attacks on CBS reporter Lara Logan. The story bothered me so much that I wanted to avoid hearing about it for fear its telling would be used to diminish this profound moment in history. But I knew better, that's not the right response. We can't hide from the reality of what so often happens to women and expect it to ever stop.

A better way of approaching this is to listen to the solidarity the women of Egypt are offering to Logan.

The reaction here to the attack on Logan has been consternation. "Lara Logan, I apologize sincerely with all my heart," reads an online petition being circulated Thursday. "To every girl, woman, mother harassed, I apologize sincerely with all my heart. To my mother nation Egypt, I apologize sincerely with all my heart. And I promise you all that I will try the very best that I can to bring an end to this, in the quest to have our sisters 'Walk Free.'"

"We are all Lara," says Engy Ghozlan, 26, a co-founder of HarassMap, a digital map that monitors incidents of sexual harassment against women here.

In case we in the US are tempted to get on our high horse about the plight of women in Egypt, take note of this.

“There are three types of women in the Army,” says Rebecca Havrilla, a former sergeant and explosive-ordnance-disposal technician. “Bitch, dyke, and whore.” During the four years that Havrilla was on active duty, she was called all three—by fellow soldiers, team leaders, even unit commanders. Once, during a sexual-assault prevention training, the 28-year-old South Carolina native claims, she watched a fellow soldier—male—strip naked and dance on top of a table as the rest of the team laughed. While deployed in Afghanistan, Havrilla spent four months working under a man she alleges bit her neck, pulled her into his bed, and grabbed her butt and waist—on a daily basis. When, on the last day of her deployment, she alleges she was raped by a soldier she considered a friend, it was, she says, “the icing on the cake.”

That's the lead paragraph in a story about a law suit that was filed against Sec. of Defense Gates and his predecessor Rumsfeld alleging that the "military's repeated failures to take action in rape cases created a culture where violence against women was tolerated."

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What counts?

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Gross National Product measures neither the health of our children, the quality of their education, nor the joy of their play. It measures neither the beauty of our poetry, nor the strength of our marriages. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It measures neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our wit nor our courage, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worth living. It can tell us everything about our country, except those things that make us proud to be a part of it.

- Robert F. Kennedy

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Priceless

Another great day in the White House.



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A deficit reduction plan that isn't on the table

According to CBO, a public option added to the exchanges as part of health care reform would reduce the federal budget by $68 billion from 2014-2020.

Just sayin...

Monday, February 14, 2011

The zen of deficit reduction

As we all know, today President Obama unveiled his 2012 budget, including over $1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. There is much gnashing of teeth about it all coming from both the left and the right.

There are miles to go before anything about this is settled. But for me, Ezra Klein provides some much needed perspective.

...if we decided to get serious about the deficit and let all of the Bush tax cuts expire in 2012 -- yes, including the cuts for the not-so-rich -- the reduction in the deficit would be vastly larger than anything envisioned in this budget. It's an odd turn of events, but for all that this budget, and the various Republican proposals, attempt to actually do for the deficit, the biggest single thing we could do would be to do, well, nothing: Let the Bush tax cuts expire and let the health-reform law and the associated Medicare cuts and excise tax get implemented as planned. Doing by not doing: That's the zen of deficit reduction. Somehow, I doubt Washington will find it very calming.

Minutemen Leader Found Guilty of Murder

Last month I wrote about Brisenia Flores, the other 9 year-old murder victim in Pima County, Arizona. Today we learn that Shawna Forde, one of the founding members of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corp (a border vigilante group), was found guilty of first degree murder in this case.

A Pima County jury convicted Shawna Forde today of two counts of first-degree murder in the May 30, 2009 deaths of Arivaca residents Raul Junior Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia.

The jury also convicted Forde of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of Flores' wife, Gina Gonzalez, as well as related aggravated assault and robbery counts.

Gonzlez started crying as soon as the first guilty verdict, the killing of her daughter, was read just before noon in a packed courtroom at Pima County Superior Court.

The jury deliberated for seven hours over two days. Jurors will now be asked if the death penalty ought to be considered.

Check out Presente.org, a group of Latino/Latina bloggers who raised the visibility of this case and give political voice to members of the Latino community.

Et tu Newsweek?

The title of the lead story on Newsweek today by Niall Ferguson is Egypt: How Obama Blew It. That title went against how I view events of the last few weeks, so I thought I'd read it to see if there was a challenge to my own thinking that would help me understand what just happened. In the end...not so much.

Ferguson starts out by pointing out some mixed messages from the administration that many have noted and suggests that, in the process, "The president has alienated everybody: not only Mubarak’s cronies in the military, but also the youthful crowds in the streets of Cairo." That mirrors some of the criticism we've been hearing, so I thought perhaps he would point out how this happened and its affects going forward.

But in the very next paragraph, he tips us off about where he's going with this:

Last week, while other commentators ran around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, hyperventilating about what they saw as an Arab 1989, I flew to Tel Aviv for the annual Herzliya security conference. The consensus among the assembled experts on the Middle East? A colossal failure of American foreign policy.

So the assembled experts at a security conference in Israel thought Obama's handling of Egypt was "a colossal failure?" Surprise, surprise.

Next we get Ferguson's opinion on which American diplomat he admires in terms of how to handle this kind of thing. Want to take a guess who that is? Well, here's the answer:

No one has ever done this better than Henry Kissinger. But the crucial thing about Kissinger as national-security adviser was not the speed with which he learned the dark arts of interdepartmental turf warfare. It was the skill with which he, in partnership with Richard Nixon, forged a grand strategy for the United States at a time of alarming geopolitical instability.

Excuse me, but wasn't it Kissinger's exclusive focus on "realism" in US foreign policy that led us to partnerships with dictators like Mubarak who had no time for issues such as human rights?

But then, finally Ferguson makes the move to expose how he views this moment in history. First of all, he quotes from Obama's speech in Cairo.

America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles—principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

And then he responds.

Those lines will come back to haunt Obama if, as cannot be ruled out, the ultimate beneficiary of his bungling in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains by far the best organized opposition force in the country—and wholly committed to the restoration of the caliphate and the strict application of Sharia.

So this is all about the Muslim Brotherhood's goal to establish a caliphate and Sharia.

Hmmmm...where have we heard that before?

You expect this kind of thing from Glenn Beck and Faux News. But in Newsweek?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Late for Your Life



No one knows where they belong
The search just goes on and on and on
For every day that ends up wrong
Another one's right
Call it chance or call it fate
Either one is cause to celebrate
Still the question begs why would you wait
And be late for your life

What about the children?

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended proposed Republican budget cuts to popular domestic programs Sunday as necessary to maintaining fiscal health.

"No matter how popular sounding these programs are, they jeopardize our children’s future," the House Budget Committee chairman said on "Fox News Sunday."

Steve Benen's response says it all.

So, let me get this straight. In order to help protect the interests of our children, we have to cut Head Start, student loans, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children.

By making these cuts, Paul Ryan believes he's helping make children's futures brighter. Presumably, the House Budget Committee chairman also intends to teach kids about fire safety by handing them matches and lighter fluid, and encouraging them to play.

Indeed, as far as Ryan is concerned, we just can't afford Head Start, student loans, Title I grants, and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, but we can afford tax breaks for people who don't need them, costing far more money.

This is Republican thinking in a nutshell.

Prevention of the unimaginable

Two-year old Emily was sexually assaulted and then killed in 2006 by her day-care provider's 13 year-old son. To try to put ourselves in the shoes of her parents, Lynne and Travis Johnson, is unimaginable. There just aren't words. But the two of them have taken the courageous stance of trying to do something about this so that no other parent ever has to experience the unimaginable.

For the last 5 years, they have worked with the Minnesota Legislature to pass what has become known as "Emily's Law." This year's version received a hearing last Thursday by the public safety committee. The issue the bill attempts to address is that the 13 year-old who committed the crime was tried in juvenile court and the Johnsons felt the sentence was too lenient. Current law in Minnesota is that, in order to be tried as an adult, the juvenile must be at least 14 years of age. One aspect of the bill would allow children as young as 10 to be tried as an adult for a "violent juvenile offense."

There has been a debate going on in this country for the last decade about whether or not juveniles should be tried as adults. It is important to look at the research developing around this issue to determine whether or not it is an effective policy.

But the real dilemma seems to be - not what can we do after a horrific crime like this has been committed - but what can we do to prevent it from happening in the first place. We need to ask ourselves why a 13 year-old would sexually assault and then kill a 2 year-old. Were there no warning signs that this young man was in trouble? And if so, could something have been done to intervene with him prior to this horrific act?

In 2003, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) took up these issues in a series that looked at the prevalence and risk factors associated with what they called "child delinquency." One report titled Prevalence and Development of Child Delinquency found that child delinquents between the ages of 7 and 12 have a two- to threefold greater risk of becoming serious, violent, and chronic offenders. Another study titled Risk and Protective Factors of Child Delinquency provides information that helps us identify and develop effective intervention strategies for these children.

In the case of Emily's Law, the House public safety committee decided this week to not act on the bill, but members indicated a desire to do further study of the juvenile justice system for possible changes. I hope they review the kind of information on this provided by OJJDP and focus on preventing the unimaginable from ever happening to another Emily.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Power

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All power comes from the barrel of imagination.
Al Giordano, February 10, 2011

What just happened in Egypt?

I spent most of yesterday watching the events unfold in Egypt. And last night, I witnessed the unfolding of conspiracy theories about those events from both the left and right wing factions that practically made my head explode. This included watching Glenn Beck be interviewed by O'Reilly on his theory that the communists, socialists, and islamists are working together to rule the world via caliphate to reading theories on the left about an Obama/Gates orchestrated military coup. Yes, its all that crazy.

But it seems that if we take our pre-coneived assumptions about the world as fact, and then use them to try to understand geopolitical events - we have the ability to read just about anything into current events.

The truth is, I have my own theories. They're no more distant from my own pre-concieved assumptions. But at least I'll own the fact that I really don't know what happened. None of us do. And perhaps we never will. But in the event that actual information becomes available about the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to Mubarak's ouster, I thought I'd put mine to pen and we'll see how they pan out.

Much of the confusion about these events stems from what people see as a complete about-face from Mubarak and his spokesman Sulieman from Thursday night to Friday morning. What caused Mubarak to change his mind so quickly?

I think that the basis for all of that comes from the question of what/who would replace Mubarak after he stepped down. It rests on an assumption that sometime last week, the fact that he would step down became clear and the question of "what next" came to the fore. And many, including the Obama administration, were supporting a solution that would fit within the context of the current Egyptian constitution.

And article by two Egyptian civil rights activists in the Washington post last week titled What Mubarak must do before he resigns explains that dilemma.

Egypt's constitution stipulates that if the president resigns or his office becomes permanently "vacant," he must be replaced by the speaker of parliament or, in the absence of parliament, the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court. In the event of the president's temporary inability to exercise his prerogatives, the vice president is to take over as the interim head of state. In both cases a new president must be elected within 60 days. Significantly, the constitution prohibits the interim president from introducing constitutional amendments, dissolving parliament or dismissing the cabinet.


So constitutionally, there were two options:

1. Mubarak resigns and is replaced by the speaker of parliament (something no one wanted to consider)
2. Mubarak says he's unable to exercise his position and is replaced by the vice president (the option most were working towards)

But the second preferred option came with its own set of problems as are outlined in that last sentence...it would basically leave the current governance system in place with no means of amending it. Here's how the authors described what needed to be done.

Since neither Suleiman nor Surur [speaker of parliament] would be able to amend the constitution during the interim tenure, the next presidential election would be conducted under the notoriously restrictive election rules Mubarak introduced in 2007. That would effectively guarantee that no credible candidate would be able to run against the interim president.

So before Mubarak resigns he must sign a presidential decree delegating all of his authorities to his vice president until their current terms end in September... In addition, Mubarak must issue decrees lifting the "state of emergency" that has allowed him to suppress Egyptians' civil liberties since 1981 and ordering the release or trial of those held in administrative detention without charge - estimated to be in the thousands.

Also before Mubarak resigns, an independent commission of respected judges, constitutional law experts, civil society representatives and all political movements should draft language to amend the constitution to ensure that presidential elections are open to all credible candidates; that Egyptians abroad are allowed - for the first time - to vote; that any elected president is allowed to serve only two terms; and that the elections are supervised by judicial and civil monitors.


When we heard Obama and members of his administration talk about an orderly transition, I believe that this is what they were referring to.

I also believe that the statement by Mubarak Thursday night was meant to indicate movement in this direction. It was either inartfully said or purposely distorted. We might never know. But in any case, it was clearly viewed by the Egyptian people as not enough.

At that point, the only option was to completely scrap the Egyptian constitution and start from scratch. That's when the Egyptian military stepped in. Reports I heard yesterday are that at that point, military leaders went to Mubarak and told him to either step down or they would take off their uniforms and join the protesters.

The fact that they would do that probably has multiple strands at its source. We all watched when the military was deployed and wondered whether the Mubarak regime was about to use them to suppress the protesters. The fascinating thing we saw unfold was that they didn't. And it actually appeared as though they might be there to protect protesters against any further violence from Mubarak's security police and supporters.

Some people have suggested that perhaps this reaction by the military was a response to pressure from Obama and his administration - especially US military leaders like Gates and Mullen. There might be some truth to that. But it also behooves us to remember that the Egyptian people have a very different relationship with the military than we in the progressive West have had with ours. Al Giordano tells a story to demonstrate that reality.

A year ago this week, Egyptian journalist and blogger Noha Atef, then 25, was in Mexico explaining the situation in her country to 70 journalists from 40 countries at the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism. She told of her five-year struggle exposing the repressive state police of her country and the tortures they have inflicted. She shared deeply personal history of how her family had been targeted and harassed by those police, and of her father’s death in the midst of those tensions. If there was a dry eye in the house, I did not see it.

A couple of North American participants in that gathering raised what they thought was the “most important issue” for Egyptians: “What about the Army? It helped the CIA imprison and torture people after 9/11.”... Noha, as I’ve learned is her nature, responded soft-spokenly to the question about the Egyptian Army. She said, “In Egypt the police are our repressors, but the Army is of the people and is the people’s friend.” That was in February of 2010, and her statement left a number of our participants from the Western Hemisphere – where Armed Forces have historically been the worst repressors against popular movements – scratching their heads, unable to comprehend such a statement.


This is where we in the West need to be careful to view events through Egyptian eyes rather than our own.

I am sure that the road ahead will be difficult as the people of Egypt continue to work through this revolution. As we all know, it is often easier to tear down what is wrong than it is to build the alternative. The later is where the Egyptian people are now and the choices aren't always the greatest. They seem to have taken the best option available in the interim to work towards their vision of democracy. From what I've seen, they've demonstrated amazing staying power and I hope they can keep that up in the days ahead. I know I'll be rooting for them!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The moral force of non-violence



Egyptians have inspired us, and they've done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence.

For in Egypt, it was the moral force of non-violence -- not terrorism, not mindless killing -- but non-violence, moral force that bent the arch of history toward justice once more.

And while the sights and sound that we heard were entirely Egyptian, we can't help but hear the echoes of history, echoes from Germans tearing down a wall, Indonesian students taking to the streets, Gandhi leading his people down the path of justice.

As Martin Luther King said in celebrating the birth of a new nation in Ghana while trying to perfect his own, "There's something in the soul that cries out for freedom."

Those were the cries that came from Tahrir Square. And the entire world has taken note...

The word "Tahrir" means liberation. It is a word that speaks to that something in our souls that cries out for freedom. And forever more it will remind us of the Egyptian people, of what they did, of the things that they stood for and how they changed their country and in doing so changed the world.

February 11th

This morning as I was digesting the information about Mubarak stepping down in Egypt and watching the jubilation of the citizens of that country, I started imaging the possibility of a free and open election - complete with scenes of long lines of people reveling in the culmination of a movement that finally gave them a voice. At that point, my mind wandered to similar scenes from South Africa in 1994. Remember watching this?

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Imagine my surprise in being reminded that February 11th was also the date that changed things in South Africa. It came in 1990...

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And now the same date sees the same kind of victory for the people of Egypt.

Sane Republican Watch

For some reason I am fascinated with Republicans that step outside the truly insane proposals and rhetoric we so often hear and - regardless of whether I agree with them or not - want to have a reasoned discussion. So I'd like to highlight a couple of examples.

First, there's this from Rep. Richard Hanna on the Republican approach to health care reform.

They've complained for two years about this health care bill. They've offered alternatives, but they're not alternatives that are in many ways viable. Well, now they have to put up the goods. They have to say 'here's what we're presenting, here's why it will work.'...

Let's see what they do. I say give them a chance. Let the Republican Party put up or shut up.


And then there's Rep. Sean Duffy on the same topic.

I don't believe that we should ... just do a straight-up repeal. My position during the campaign and today is, let's reform the reform or repeal and replace. And so, I wasn't gonna vote for it. But I went and spoke to the leadership, and I got a commitment that we were going to bring forward our ideas on this replacement bill.


I suggest that you not hold your breath on that one Sean. As we saw this week, some moderate Democrats tried to start a conversation about alternatives to the individual mandate. What was the response of Republican leadership? Just say no.

With a strategy in place and pressure from the more unhinged elements of the Republican Party, it seems clear that they'll "stay the course" of tearing down rather than risk any attempt to build.

But as Steve Benen suggests when it comes to the leadership's recent capitulation to the more radical elements on deficit reduction, they might not have learned enough from recent history.

...Boehner had a credible plan going into this Congress -- don't overreach the way Gingrich did. That plan has now been scrapped because Boehner's caucus won't let him pursue it, positioning him as one of the weakest House Speakers in a generation.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Water is Wide

The women of Egypt

The New York Times has this quote from 28 year-old Mariam Soleman:

I am not socialist, I am not a liberal, I am not an Islamist. I am an Egyptian woman, a regular woman rejecting injustice and corruption in my country.


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Many are giving credit to 26 year-old Asmaa Mahfouz for inspiring the protests with this video.



From the NYT:

This was certainly not the first time a young activist used the Internet — later virtually shut down by the government — as a tool to organize and mobilize, but it departed from the convenient, familiar anonymity of online activism.

More than that, it was a woman who dared put a face to the message, unfazed by the possibility of arrest for her defiance. “Do not be afraid,” she said.

When Ms. Mahfouz posted this bold video, she said she worried about the reaction that it might generate in a society that expected women to behave in a more subdued and reserved manner.

“I felt that doing this video may be too big a step for me, but then I thought: For how much longer will I continue to be afraid and hesitant? I had to do something,” Ms. Mahfouz said.


So much of the talk in this country about the potential outcome of this movement focuses on our fear of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and/or radical extremists. I'd like to see any of those folks try to silence women like Asmaa Mahfouz, Mariam Soleman and the others who have shown so much courage.

From Egypt - a modern revolution

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight

Is Social Security privatization unconstitutional?

From Jonathan Cohn comes one of those things that you read and wonder, "Why didn't I think of that?"

The idea was to take Social Security, a mandatory public pension program, and turn it into a system of mandatory personal investment accounts...

Conservatives presumably thought privatization was constitutional; otherwise, they would not have worked so feverishly to enact it. But if the principle holds for old-age insurance, it ought to hold for medical insurance, too. In other words, if it’s ok for the government to make you pay for regulated private investments, then it should be ok for the government to make you pay for regulated private health insurance. Yet, as far as I can tell, the folks who spent all of those years promoting Social Security as an all-American, free market innovation are the same ones that now insist the Affordable Care Act is an unprecedented threat to liberty.

This is the kind of thing that gives me hope for Egypt

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Christians protecting Muslims while they pray during protests in Egypt

About a month ago (and before the protests), we saw the reverse...Muslims protecting Christians and their slogan of “We either live together, or we die together.”

They give true meaning to...

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Republicans: What's your alternative for Hillary St. Pierre?

Hillary's story:

With a court decision on Monday declaring the health care law unconstitutional and Republicans intent on repealing at least parts of it, thousands of Americans with major illnesses are facing the renewed prospect of losing their health insurance coverage.

The legislation put an end to lifetime limits on coverage for the first time, erasing the financial burdens, including personal bankruptcy, that had affected many ailing Americans.

For example, Hillary St. Pierre, a 28-year-old former registered nurse who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma, had expected to reach her insurance plan’s $2 million limit this year. Under the new law, the cap was eliminated when the policy she gets through her husband’s employer was renewed this year.

Ms. St. Pierre, who has already come close once before to losing her coverage because she had reached the plan’s maximum, says she does not know what she will do if the cap is reinstated. “I will be forced to stop treatment or to alter my treatment,” Ms. St. Pierre, who lives in Charlestown, N.H., with her husband and son, said in an e-mail. “I will find a way to continue and survive, but who is going to pay?”


Ezra Klein makes a great point.

In a world where the two parties' top priority on health care was providing answers for the uninsured and cost control, an argument over the best way to do health-care reform would be a very healthy thing. But that's not what we've got. We've got the Democratic Party, whose top priority is to try and solve our health-care problems and who've shown their commitment to that by moving steadily rightward over the last century in a bid to pick up Republican support for some sort of solution, and the Republican Party, whose top priority is that we shouldn't do whatever the Democrats are proposing and have proven their commitment to that by abandoning previously favored policy proposals as soon as the Democrats demonstrated any interest in adopting them.

And that's the fundamental problem here: It's easy to compromise when both sides are committed to solving a problem, because the appeal of solving the the problem is enough to persuade both sides to make concessions. That's why Democrats gave up on single payer, on an employer mandate, on a public option. But it's impossible to compromise when one side is uninterested in solving the problem, as they lack the incentive to make any concessions.


The Democrats tried to have that conversation a year ago. The Republicans decided to say "no" to people like Hillary. But even if they wanted to have discussions about alternatives now, I imagine that would be possible. Is that what they're attempting to do? No. They simply want to repeal the legislation that keeps Hillary's treatment going. There are several pretty crude ways to respond to this kind of tactic. I'll choose the one with the least offensive language...put up or shut up.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Healer

StartUP America

One of the mistakes liberals make too often is to criticize businesses in one lump sum. We all know the problems related to the power of corporate America. And the risks of "too big to fail" are still being felt all over this country. But we need to recognize that when jobs are the number one issue - the vast majority of those come from businesses. So if we want jobs created, we need to find a way to encourage them to be developed.

For all their blustering about the "free enterprise system" and the value of competitiveness, the truth is that corporate America and their supporters in the Republican party try to do whatever is necessary to reduce competitiveness. One example of this will suffice...merger and acquisition have been the main hallmarks of a so-called "successful" strategy in corporate America. For example, does anyone else live in a major city where one airline is hubbed? Every move that company makes is to limit competition.

Its often the small companies who are best at innovations that threaten these developing monopolies. And that is why Obama - in both word and deed - is doing everything he can to support small business and innovation. Here's what he said in his State of the Union address:

Our future prosperity in part depends on whether or not we are creating an environment in which folks can test new ideas, bring new products to market, and generate new businesses.


And yesterday he followed those words up with the kickoff of StartUP America.

“Startup America” is President Obama’s campaign to celebrate, inspire, and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation. The Startup America Partnership is a coordinated public/private effort that brings together an alliance of the country’s most innovative entrepreneurs, corporations, universities, foundations, and other leaders, who work in concert with a wide-range of federal agencies to dramatically increase the prevalence and success of American entrepreneurs.

This mission to promote entrepreneurship is a core component of President Obama’s National Innovation Strategy for achieving sustainable growth and quality jobs. Not only do startups bring a wealth of transformative innovation to market, they also have generated all net job creation over the past three decades. Entrepreneurs who are intent on growing their businesses create the lion’s share of these new jobs in every part of the country and in every industry. Moreover, it is entrepreneurs in clean energy, medicine, advanced manufacturing, information technology, and other fields who will build the new industries of the 21st century and solve some of our toughest global challenges.


This initiative will be led by Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, CEO of Revolution LLC and chairman of the Case Foundation. The two founding partners include the Case Foundation and the Kauffman Foundation.

Here are the initiatives goals:

- Ensure access to capital for high-growth startups throughout the country;

- Expand entrepreneurship education and mentorship programs that empower more Americans not just to get jobs, but to create jobs;

- Strengthen commercialization of the $147 billion in annual, federally-funded research and development, which can generate innovative startups and entirely new industries; and

- Identify and remove unnecessary barriers to high-growth startups, both within government and large corporations.


Those tired old corporations whose main goal is to protect the status quo and their territory will have a choice to make...get on board or move aside. Koch brothers...I'm looking at you.

And Republicans, we're still waiting to hear you propose anything related to job creation.