Friday, November 30, 2012

I Will Survive

This one goes out to all of you who have figured out that you can survive...you know who you are.

McConnell's counter-offer: now who's laughing?

It was widely reported (by Mitch McConnell) that the Senate Minority Leader laughed when Treasury Secretary Geithner presented President Obama's proposal on how to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff."

Now Senator McConnell has proposed a counter-offer.
In an interview in his Capitol Hill office, Mr. McConnell (R., Ky.) said if the White House agrees to changes such as higher Medicare premiums for the wealthy, an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and a slowing of cost-of-living increases for programs like Social Security, Republicans would agree to include more tax revenue in the deal, though not from higher tax rates.
Here's how Steve Benen characterizes that:
...the Senate GOP leader envisions an agreement in which Republicans get the Medicare cuts they want, Republicans get the Social Security cuts they want, and Republicans get the tax rates they want. In exchange, McConnell would give Democrats Mitt Romney's revenue plan.
For my response, I think I'll just go with this:
Photobucket

It's NDAA time again

Doesn't it seem like just yesterday that the political left was going bonkers about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)? But I guess it was a year ago because it's time again for Congress to pass the bill that funds the Department of Defense for another year.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has reported out next year's NDAA and the Obama administration (pdf) has issued its list of objections to the bill along with the threat of a veto if its passed in its current form. Of note is the one that addresses the barriers the bill places on the administration's ability to close Guantanamo.
The Administration strongly objects to section 1031's restrictions on the use of funds to transfer detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries. When he signed past versions of this legislation, the President objected to the restrictions carried forward by section 1031, promised to work towards their repeal, and warned the Congress that the restrictions on transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries would in certain circumstances interfere with constitutional responsibilities committed to the Executive Branch. Since these restrictions have been on the books, they have limited the Executive's ability to manage military operations in an ongoing armed conflict, harmed the country's diplomatic relations with allies and counterterrorism partners, and provided no benefit whatsoever to our national security. The Administration continues to believe that restricting the transfer of detainees to the custody of foreign countries in the context of an ongoing armed conflict interferes with the Executive's ability to make important foreign policy and national security determinations, and would in certain circumstances violate constitutional separation of powers principles. The Administration also continues to oppose the prohibition on funding to construct, acquire or modify a detention facility in the United States to house any individual detained at Guantanamo, which shortsightedly constrains the options available to military and counterterrorism professionals to address evolving threats. The restrictions carried forward by section 1031 were misguided when they were enacted and should not be renewed.
This is just one of President Obama's objections to the bill. But perhaps its significance is demonstrated by the fact that it is listed first. It will be interesting to watch how far the administration is willing to go in fighting for this one and what allies they might develop to make the necessary changes. Its important to note that this issue hasn't reached the point where those efforts are directed at Republicans because there have been too many Democrats who still perpetuate the unfounded fears of moving forward on this one.

Another of the administration's objections to NDAA is the fact that the Senate Armed Services Committee had included a provision that restricted the ability of the military to purchase alternative fuels if the costs exceeded those of fossil fuels.

As regular readers here know, for a while now I've been suggesting that one of the most important untold stories these days is the fact that the Department of Defense is going green. As the world's largest consumer of energy, that is - as VP Biden would say - "a big f*cking deal." This provision in NDAA was an attempt to stop the progress.

This week, the Senate voted 62-37 to delete that provision in the NDAA.
The Navy and Air Force have pushed to use more biofuels to operate its aircraft and ships, with military leaders suggesting a greater reliance on alternative sources in the next decade to ease dependence on foreign oil.

The strong bipartisan vote reflected the growing business of alternative fuels in states such as Iowa and Kansas as well as the Dakotas as 11 Republicans joined 49 Democrats in backing the measure.
This is yet another example of why the efforts of DOD to go green are so important. Even Republicans in those states listed above are recognizing that the development of green technology is not only good for the environment and the military, its good for business.

I recognize that the issue of indefinite detention is an important one. But I also think the sole focus on that portion of the NDAA is indicative of some of the problems on the left. It reminds me of the similar obsession with the public option in health care reform that ignored all of the other important aspects of the legislation.

I continue to be mystified by the critiques leveled against the Obama administration on climate change and the lack of discussion about actual policies that address the problem. What has just happened with NDAA on that front is a perfect example.

What do you whiners think about Tim Geithner now?

From the moment President Obama nominated Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary, the whiners on the left have been screaming bloody murder. Any time you tried to engage them in talking about the President's proposals and/or accomplishments, they thought that all they had to do was throw out his name and that was proof that Obama was a "sell-out" to the plutocracy.

Well I have to wonder what those folks are thinking about Tim Geithner now. Apparently he was the one chosen by the President to take his budget proposal to the Republicans in Congress. Here's what we know about what was included:

  • End the Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000
  • Raise tax rates on dividends and capital gains
  • Reform the tax code to raise an additional $600 million in revenue
  • Reform the alternative minimum tax
  • Extend small business tax breaks
  • Return the estate tax to 2009 levels
  • Unspecified cuts to non-entitlement mandatory spending
  • $25 billion in additional stimulus spending over the next 6 years (basically funding the unpassed portions of the American Jobs Act)
  • Expand funding for unemployment insurance
  • Extend the payroll tax for one year
  • A government mortgage re-financing plan
  • An end to Congressional approval of debt ceiling increases
Most people are noting that this is a strong progressive move on the part of President Obama. I'd just like to add that the messenger for this strong progressive move is someone who has been mercilessly vilified as the most influential corporate tool in the White House. Wanna re-think that one?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are you guys enjoying this as much as I am?

From Politico:
A top Democratic official said talks have stalled on this question since Obama and congressional leaders had their friendly-looking post-election session at the White House.

"Republicans want the president to own the whole offer upfront, on both the entitlement and the revenue side, and that's not going to happen because the president is not going to negotiate with himself," the official said. "There's a standoff, and the staff hasn't gotten anywhere. Rob Nabors [the White House negotiator], has been saying: 'This is what we want on revenues on the down payment. What's you guys' ask on the entitlement side?' And they keep looking back at us and saying: 'We want you to come up with that and pitch us.' That's not going to happen."
Steve Benen comments:
Some of this is the result of a noticeable lack of Republicans with real policy chops. GOP officials have some relatively clear ideas about ending Medicare and replacing it with a voucher scheme, but since that's not going to happen, the party opens its file named "Our Other Medicare Ideas," and finds it empty. They want Obama to go first because, beyond knowing they want cuts, their own vague wish list is superficial and lacking even hints of depth.
Empty indeed! LOL

This is the party - if you will remember - that had one goal...to make Obama a one-term President. How'd that work out for them? Obstruction and hostage-taking have been their only tools. What I've been saying ever since the debt ceiling deal was negotiated is that those tools aren't going to work this time. That's because President Obama and the Democrats crafted this fiscal cliff in such a way that they can walk away from the deal - that's their leverage. And its on the Republicans to act proactively...or lose it all.

This one almost makes me feel sorry for those progressives who are so caught up in their "chicken little" narrative about the big bad Republicans that they can't see how our side is totally kicking ass this time.

OK, I said "almost."

;-)

Obama and Democrats on message...now its up to us

Even the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party is conceding that President Obama has won the messaging on the tax cut issues facing Congress.
How did the GOP lose the tax cut message? Two years ago, they won the mid-term elections in a landslide, sweeping races across the country. A few weeks ago, they lost a very close Presidential election. Yet today, they have been reduced to a befuddled muddle of mixed messages.

The GOP is treating the "fiscal cliff" negotiations as if they were an inside-baseball parlor game. They are letting the media dictate the terms of negotiation without any concern for how these talks play with the general public. While Obama dangles specific tax cuts in front of the public, the GOP wrings its hands about how the government can raise taxes without lifting rates for the highest-earning taxpayers.
If you want to take a look at the President's superior message, check out how they've laid it all out at the White House web site. And we all know that tomorrow, President Obama will begin the process of taking this show on the road to the American people.

Is that likely to get the Republicans in the House to vote for an extension of the middle class tax cuts before they expire on January 1st? To be honest...I doubt it. But its still worth a try and sets up what Bill King describes as likely to happen.
I talked to an old Capitol Hill hand this week who predicted the following: There will be no deal before Jan. 2, and all of the spending cuts and tax increases will, at least technically, go into effect. However, within a matter of days, or perhaps even hours, a preapproved package will be adopted by both sides that rolls back some of the spending cuts and many of the tax increases, but leaves the new higher rates on the wealthy intact. When this "package" is brought to the floor of the House, tax rates will have already gone up, and so a vote to approve the package will technically be a vote to reduce tax rates. Thus, a Republican who has signed Norquist's pledge can honestly say he or she never voted to increase taxes.

Of course, it is all complete sophistry. But hey, if it gets us past the fiscal cliff/slope, so be it.
The President and Congressional Democrats are united in their game plan on this one - and its showing results. The only question remaining is whether those of us in the trenches will play our part.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tips for the Holidays

I'm going to take a quick break from politics and talk a little bit today about the holidays. For most people we're in that time period where we're rushing around buying gifts for everyone on the holiday list. My first suggestion is that if you haven't already seen it, take 20 minutes to watch this video Annie Leonard put together a few years ago about "The Story of Stuff." It would also be interesting to watch it with the kids and see what they think.



Cass Sustein has some helpful tips as you shop. I'll let you go read them for yourself. But he ends with some pretty good advice.
For the holiday season, many of us focus too intensely on how other people will react to what we get them, when it may be the mere existence of the present, rather than exactly what it is, that most matters. Unless you are dealing with someone who really cares about what you get them, you should worry a lot less (and maybe spend less, too).

A few years ago, my sister declared a family moratorium on Christmas presents for anyone over 15 years old. We all celebrated...Instead of giving people more gadgets, ties or bowls, tell them that this year, you’re going to make a donation in their name to a charity of their choice. Can you think of a better way to show the spirit of the season?
On that last suggestion, I found a wonderful alternative a few years ago - TisBest Philanthropy. At that site you can buy a gift card for people on your list. But instead of spending it at a store/restaurant, they go to the site and chose a charity to donate it to from a list of over 300 charity partners. What a wonderful way to teach children about the role of philanthropy!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I'm breaking the taboo

On December 7th, the documentary film "Breaking the Taboo" will premier on youtube.



You can find out more about it at the Breaking the Taboo website.

I think the time is right for this kind of campaign. We know that it draws together groups that are otherwise as disparate as evangelical christians, communities of color and young libertarians. And with the passage of marijuana legalization in both Colorado and Washington in this last election, the general public seems to be warming up to the possibility.

The one thing I'd take issue with in the trailer is the idea that politicians who haven't supported an end to the war on drugs lack courage. The truth is that the politicians who are supporting this cause (you can find them at their web site) are those that have retired from running for office. The rest will sign on as soon as its clear that a majority of voters do.

So if you want to join me in breaking the taboo - pass this information on to your family, friends and co-workers. Get as many people as you can to tune in on Dec. 7th. I think we'll all be surprised how many people will join us.

Arguments that work - and don't work - in a discussion about drones

Arguments about the use of drones continue on the left. Most recently they have been spurred by an article in the New York Times about the Obama administration working on a policy for their use.

I have discussed before that I have misgivings about this issue. And its always hard for me to dive into the idea of creating "rules" for killing other human beings. But I also know its necessary if we're going to live in the world as it is - rather than as we want it to be. And so I take the news in that article as a positive step. It seems to me that its only those who are suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome (ODS) that would criticize the administration for doing what they've been asking for all along.

And so in an attempt to actually have some discussion about this difficult issue, it strikes me that there are some arguments about the use of drones that work. And some that don't. To clear the field, lets start with the latter.

Arguments that don't work:

First of all, it doesn't work to focus on the drones themselves. They are simply a tool. And yes, the fact that killing can be done remotely is troubling. But if that's the issue, we should have had this argument a long time ago when war went from hand-to-hand combat to dropping bombs on people from the sky.

I'm definitely NOT an expert in the weapons of war, but it strikes me that the development of drones might be unique in current history in that they are first innovation to actually limit the number of people killed/injured by their use. That feels like a rather macabre kind of thing to point out. But still...

Secondly, the fact that drones kill innocent civilians is not an effective argument. Modern warfare has become ever more deadly to civilians. For example, estimates are that 35 million civilians were killed during WWII - more than the 25 million military personnel killed. The truth is that - as I said above - drones are actually effective in limiting the number of innocent civilians killed, as compared to other weapons of war.

Finally, as I've said before, civil liberties arguments are ineffective. No one has ever claimed that legal due process rules govern the killing of enemies during a time of war.

The argument that does work

This one can be summed up with one question: Are we at war?

Going back to where this all started, the Bush administration's response to 9/11 was to declare a "war on terror." That was the framing that too many Americans bought into. Immediately, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force granting the President the discretion to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, groups, and individuals..." And we were off to the races.

One of the first things President Obama did when he came into office was to reframe it as a "war on al Qaeda." That narrowed the focus but also presented the administration with a challenge because it thwarted their efforts to use a legal framework for things like getting rid of Guantanamo and implementing civilian trials. Holding combatants indefinitely until hostilities cease and military tribunals are the tools of war.

When Eric Holder gave his speech on the legal grounds for "targeted killing," he did so on the basis of us being at war with al Qaeda and their affiliates. If we are going to argue against the use of drones - that is the central issue we must tackle. And we have two options for doing so:
  1. Argue against the idea of a "war on al Qaeda"
  2. Argue for rules governing a totally different kind of war than we have imagined in the past
It seems to me from the NYT article, that the Obama administration is engaging in the second option. It is instructive to know that there are those within the administration that don't agree on what the rules should be.
Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory.

Though publicly the administration presents a united front on the use of drones, behind the scenes there is longstanding tension. The Defense Department and the C.I.A. continue to press for greater latitude to carry out strikes; Justice Department and State Department officials, and the president’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, have argued for restraint, officials involved in the discussions say.
Later on in the article, they lay out the specifics of those fault lines.
But by many accounts, there has been a significant shift in the nature of the targets. In the early years, most strikes were aimed at ranking leaders of Al Qaeda thought to be plotting to attack the United States. That is the purpose Mr. Obama has emphasized, saying in a CNN interview in September that drones were used to prevent “an operational plot against the United States” and counter “terrorist networks that target the United States.”

But for at least two years in Pakistan, partly because of the C.I.A.’s success in decimating Al Qaeda’s top ranks, most strikes have been directed at militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who fight with the Taliban against American troops in Afghanistan.

In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces. Some of those killed were wearing suicide vests, according to Yemeni news reports.
The degree to which the arguments of the Justice Department, the State Department and John O. Brennan are effective in combating the arguments of the Defense Department and the C.I.A. seems to me to be the key to the development of effective limits on ending this indefinite war. We can argue whether or not it should have been a war in the first place. But if we have concerns about the future of "targeted killing," I'd suggest that we now know where the real battle is being fought.

What's NOT on the table

As the poutragers gear up their hysteria over the negotiations on the so-called "fiscal cliff," it might help if  we listen to what the White House and Democrats are saying is not on the table for compromise. So here's a list:
  1. Obamacare
  2. Social Security
  3. Raising the age of Medicare eligibility
Funny how what we're left with is the same thing President Obama has been saying all along.

Yes, the President wants to reduce spending in Medicare/Medicaid. He's been saying that since day one. That's not an example of his "caving" to Republicans. Its an example of him making good on a promise.

Nuff said.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Bust a meme

I'm glad to see lefties like David Corn and Matt Yglesias finally coming around to bust the meme about President Obama "caving" on the tax cuts in 2010. I guess it takes some folks a while to catch on to the long game strategy. But better late than never, huh?

The next task for these guys will be to generalize that learning to some of the rest of the President's accomplishments. To aid in that process, I thought I'd repost something I wrote a year ago.

*****

It all started right away from the get-go. Our country had just elected Barack Obama at the moment we were careening towards a second Great Depression. Something had to be done...and fast. Twenty-eight days after the inauguration, President Obama signed the Recovery Act (yes, that's right folks...28 days!) It was the largest stimulus package every passed by a U.S. Congress.

And yet the wails of "Obama caved" coming from the left were already well underway. Nevermind that time was of the essence and Democrats (who had 57 Senators at the time) had to negotiate with the likes of Lieberman, Snowe, and Specter (who was still a Republican back then) in order to get something passed. The myth was born.

Almost 3 years later, the myth persists. That's why I thought I'd take a few minutes and bust it up a bit.

The second stage in the development of the "cave" myth came, as everyone knows, when the public option was dropped from inclusion in health care reform. At that point, the Democrats had 59 Senators + Lieberman (who never supported the PO). But there were also moments like the day Sen. Blanche Lincoln - one of those 59 - took to the floor of the Senate and said she would join with a Republican filibuster of the bill if it contained a public option. We don't need to go any further than those 2 (although there were other Senators in opposition) to demonstrate that it NEVER had 60 votes in the Senate. That is sufficient to explain why it was dropped...not some other myth that President Obama gave it away in a secret deal or that he and the Democrats caved to Republicans.

Of course in the midst of all the hollering about the public option, way too many people missed that health care reform actually included one...Medicaid expansion.

Among all the changes and ramifications for health care forthcoming as a result of passage (and now law) of the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), none may be as large and impactful as the expansion of Medicaid. In terms of impact I am referring to economic, political, social and systemic (present access and delivery of care to the targeted population)...

Best estimates place the increase in additional enrollees at 16 million to 18 million.

Next comes the deal that was struck on the extension of the Bush tax cuts in December 2010. To many on the left, President Obama once again caved to Republican demands. But the truth is that he took a stand on the idea that we should not - in the midst of a recession - end the tax cuts for the middle class. He was also insistent that Congress needed to extend unemployment insurance for those who continued to be out of work. But once again, a small group of Democrats would not support that position and actually voted against extending the tax cuts only to the middle class.

Given that reality, what President Obama did was compromise on extending all of the tax cuts for two years while getting the Republicans to sign on to a second stimulus.

Mr. Obama effectively traded tax cuts for the affluent, which Republicans were demanding, for a second stimulus bill that seemed improbable a few weeks ago. Mr. Obama yielded to Republicans on extending the high-end Bush tax cuts and on cutting the estate tax below its scheduled level. In exchange, Republicans agreed to extend unemployment benefits, cut payroll taxes and business taxes, and extend a grab bag of tax credits for college tuition and other items.

The third so-called "cave" is actually one of my favorites. Its about the deal that was struck when the Republicans threatened to shut the government down over the 2011 budget. By then Republicans had taken over the House and were looking to cut $100 billion from the budget in one year. As negotiations wore on, that number jumped around. But Speaker Boehner mistakenly kept his eye on the figure of the moment while President Obama and the Democrats went to work looking at the details. In the end, it was announced that the deal they reached contained $78 billion in spending cuts. What was amusing was to watch many on the left rise up in outrage over the "cave" while folks on the right woke up to the reality that the deal only cut $352 million from the deficit.

Finally we come to the debt ceiling deal. I've been talking about that one quite a bit lately - especially about how the Democrats outsmarted the Republicans. But I'll just add that while many on the left have been howling about the potential gutting of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - not a penny has been cut from any of those programs yet and it looks increasingly likely that all the focus next year is going to be on how much we can afford to cut from defense. I don't know about you - but I hardly call that a "cave." Instead I call it rather genius strategy.

I think that about catches us up to the current situation. I hope its clear by now why many of us reject this mythology about President Obama and the Democrats caving all the time. What they've done in each and every case is to deal with reality, minimize the damages, and get some pretty incredible "wins" along the way. And folks, that about sums up what good progressive politics is all about.

No Commentary Required 11/26/12

Here are some stories that caught my eye:

For a while now I've been saying that the Republican Party will miss the point if they simply blame Romney. Reader JT at TPM takes it from there.
The Republican Party has a problem, but it is not one candidate; it is not packaging or branding; it is not messaging that is sinking the GOP. It is the core beliefs of the vast majority of Republicans.

Their problem is their war on women; war on gays; war on minorities. It is their war on science and math and logic and education and reality. It is listening to nuckle heads like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter and Donald Trump. It is allowing entertainers to determine the direction and policy positions of a major political party. It is following the teaching of extremist religions leaders like the US Catholic Bishops.

But most of all, it is the GOP’s utter lack of respect for anyone who is not like them; supporting an idiot obscure congressman who shouts “You lie” at the President of the United States during the State of the Union Address. Not repudiating truly crazy people who cling to the thumbless notion that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. It is supporting an insane governor who waves her finger publicly in the face of the President because he rejects her lunatic positions. When the GOP allows or supports these actions, they are condoning disrespect for the majority of Americans who are not aging white men...

That is why the GOP is failing. Not because Romney ran an unsuccessful campaign.
*****

I'm beginning to think that in writing Barack Obama: The Story, perhaps David Maraniss actually began to understand the man that is our President. Take a look at how he answered this question in an interview with Franklin Foer:
FOER: But sometimes he seems sullen about having to go through a lot of the daily mechanics of politics, as if there’s something about Washington that’s eating at him.

MARANISS: I think it’s that he has to find his own way to feeling authentic. It’s very important to him to have that sense of authenticity. He’ll never have the need for people that someone like Clinton did, but that was a narcissistic need. Clinton would call up a friend to watch him do a crossword puzzle. And Barack Obama is a very different personality in that sense. He’s never going to schmooze with Congress as much as people want him to. That’s not him. But when he gets to a certain comfort level, and he feels good about the politics that he’s in at a particular point, then yes, he can enjoy himself. And I certainly noticed it in the last week of the campaign.
You want to see someone who is enjoying himself? Just remember this one.



*****

I'm loving the fact that Senator Patty Murray is becoming the person to watch on the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations.
With a low-key style that contrasts with some of the Senate’s camera hogs, Murray may be the most powerful senator a whole lot of people have never heard of outside of the two Washingtons where she lives and works.

As chair of her party’s Senate campaign arm, the architect of surprising Democratic gains and the incoming chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, Murray now occupies a place of special influence in the Senate...

In a Congress of hot tempers and sharp tongues, Murray doesn’t favor over-the-top rhetoric. Once dismissed by a Washington state representative as just a “mom in tennis shoes,” she’s turned the moniker into a campaign symbol of determined strength.

Murray, colleagues agree, doesn’t issue idle threats.

“Everyone takes Senator Murray seriously because she does not bluster,” Reid said. “She simply says what she means and stands by it.”
*****

It looks like House Republicans are set to vote on an "Immigrants We Like" Reform Bill this week.
House Republicans still smarting from their poor showing among Hispanics in the presidential election are planning a vote next week on immigration legislation that would both expand visas for foreign science and technology students and make it easier for those with green cards to bring their immediate families to the U.S... 
The House proposal would allow family members to come to the U.S. one year after they apply for their green cards, but they wouldn't be able to work until they actually got the card.
*****

 A reminder...you can find "Everything you need to know about Obamacare" in the tab titled simply Obamacare at the top of this page. Spread the word.

*****

Finally, can I just say how much I love Morgan Freeman? I watched a lovely movie he starred in over the weekend titled The Magic Of Belle Isle (hint: when a movie features Morgan Freeman and is directed by Rob Reiner...you KNOW its going to be good). And now this:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Questions

I'm feeling a bit contemplative tonight. And so...
Sometimes

Sometimes
if you move carefully
through the forest

breathing
like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
and

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

questions
that can make
or unmake
a life,

questions
that have patiently
waited for you,

questions that have no right
to go away.

-- David Whyte
One of the most beautifully disturbing questions we can ask, is whether a given story we tell about our lives is actually true, and whether the opinions we go over every day have any foundation or are things we repeat to ourselves simply so that we will continue to play the game. It can be quite disorienting to find that a story we have relied on - is not only not true - it actually never was true. Not now not ever. There is another form of obsolescence that can fray at the cocoon we have spun about ourselves, that is, the story was true at one time, and for an extended period; the story was even true and good to us, but now it is no longer true and no longer of any benefit, in fact our continued retelling of it simply imprisons us. We are used to the prison however, we have indeed fitted cushions and armchairs and made it comfortable and we have locked the door from the inside.
I'm thinking a lot today about the stories we tell ourselves that are always too small to contain the truth.

I've observed that happening in a particularly brutal battle that is waging between some liberals these days on Twitter. Its all very reminiscent to me of similar battles I've fought on various blogs. The last thing any of us do in those situations is ask questions. We're too busy defending ourselves - and often with good reason.

The trouble with all of that is that getting defensive stops us from asking the questions...the beautifully disturbing questions that have no right to go away. Before you know it, we've made ourselves comfortable with the stories we tell ourselves - having locked the door from the inside.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Everything you need to know about Obamacare

Apparently one of the biggest challenges we're going to face next year is the lack of accurate information about Obamacare. As you probably know, many of the most important provisions kick in on January 1, 2014. But most people have only heard about the individual mandate portion of the reforms.
Enroll America held focus groups in Philadelphia in mid-November, working exclusively with those who probably would qualify for benefits. Looking to understand how much public education will be needed, the researchers came back with a simple answer: a lot. 
Participants’ hands shot up when researchers asked whether they had heard about a requirement to buy health insurance. But when asked about whether they had heard about any provisions that might make insurance more affordable, none of the 31 participants in the four groups answered yes.
Who knew that having the American public lied to for almost two years would leave them uninformed and confused? (< snark off >)

The truth is that there is tons of information out there to help people understand these reforms. And so I decided to compile some of where you can find it in order to help us spread the word. I'll be putting this post in a tab at the top of the page (titled simply: Obamacare) so that you can come back and find it when/if you need to.

First of all, bookmark the page for Enroll America. They are the non-profit group that is going to be working over the next year to get the word out.

One of the group's that has consistently put out quality information on the Affordable Care Act is the Kaiser Family Foundation. To get started on how much you do/don't know about the reforms, take their short quiz. They also have a pretty helpful video that gives a summary.



And they have a calculator to help people determine if they'll qualify for a subsidy.

Of course one of the best places to go for information is HHS's own Healthcare.gov. Two of the things I found most helpful there are the map that provides implementation progress by state and the tool to help people find their insurance options.

Healthcare and You also has lots of helpful information - including some details broken down by state.

Young Invincibles is specifically working on getting good information about health care reform out to young adults. And yes...there's an App for that!

The Washington Post can help you find out exactly how Obamacare will affect you.

That does it for now. But it should be enough to get you started. We have NO excuse for not knowing/sharing all the good stuff that is about to happen with the implementation of Obamacare. My plan is to link one of these resources per day on Facebook and Twitter. What's yours?

How do you run against a pragmatist?

By now most people except those on the right wing fringe recognize that President Obama can best be described as a pragmatist rather than an ideologue. As we've seen that play out over the last 4 years, we can also define the ingredients of that pragmatism. First of all, he identifies his North Star.
I've got one mandate. I've got a mandate to help middle class families and families that are trying hard to get in the middle class.
And secondly, he evaluates solutions based on two criteria:
  1.  What will work to solve a problem, and
  2. What can actually get done
What we've seen from the President over and over again is that he proposes solutions he thinks will work. But he always indicates that he's open to alternatives - any alternatives - as long as they will work to address the problem.

That leaves the Republicans with a dilemma...one they resolved for the first 4 years of his presidency by simply attempting to obstruct any solution to problems.

Now that President Obama has been re-elected, what we are witnessing is a Republican Party adrift...trying to figure out what they actually stand for that has a possibility of winning over voters. Their challenge is that in order to do so, they're still left with the problem of having to come up with an actual platform of ideas. And the reality is that the ideas they've depended on in the past fit into two categories: (1) on fiscal policies (ie, taxing/spending) we know that their ideas don't work, and (2) on social policies (ie, women's rights, LGBT rights, immigration) the majority of the country has rejected their ideas. 

And so the Republican Party is floundering. As various conservative columnists and politicians write and talk about the future of their party, they have 3 options to chose from: (1) they can simply continue to obstruct, (2) they can to try to fool the public about ideas we all know won't work, or (3) they can try to come up with ones that do. The minute they consider #3, President Obama will be ready to engage the conversation and they know that. 

And so, the question for Republicans these days really is: "How do you run against a pragmatist?" The only real answer to that question is that you can't. When/if they ever wake up to that reality is the day WE all win!  

Friday, November 23, 2012

What replaces normal? THE great task that awaits us.

The other day I posted some of David Simon's reaction to this recent election that he titled the death of normal.
Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests. And now, normal isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal.
But in addition to declaring "normal" dead, Simon pointed us in the direction of what its replacement will be.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions.
To me, Simon just described the essence of the challenge that awaits us. Its the next step for those of us who want to continue the process of "forming a more perfect union." President Obama  spoke to this same challenge back in 2008.
And on the eve of the bus boycotts in Montgomery, at a time when many were still doubtful about the possibilities of change, a time when those in the black community mistrusted themselves, and at times mistrusted each other, King inspired with words not of anger, but of an urgency that still speaks to us today:

“Unity is the great need of the hour” is what King said. Unity is how we shall overcome.

What Dr. King understood is that if just one person chose to walk instead of ride the bus, those walls of oppression would not be moved. But maybe if a few more walked, the foundation might start to shake. If a few more women were willing to do what Rosa Parks had done, maybe the cracks would start to show. If teenagers took freedom rides from North to South, maybe a few bricks would come loose. Maybe if white folks marched because they had come to understand that their freedom too was at stake in the impending battle, the wall would begin to sway. And if enough Americans were awakened to the injustice; if they joined together, North and South, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, then perhaps that wall would come tumbling down, and justice would flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.
But the very best thing I've ever read about the struggle that awaits us came from a speech Bernice Johnson Reagon gave at the West Coast Women's Festival way back in 1981. She had the prophetic vision to see what was coming. And she had the wisdom to break it down for us. Its not going to be pretty and its not going to be easy. But our lives depend on it. I'm going to quote a good bit of her speech here. But please take the few minutes it will require to read it...its just that important!
We’ve pretty much come to the end of a time when you can have a space that is “yours only”—just for the people you want to be there...To a large extent it’s because we have just finished with that kind of isolating. There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. It’s over. Give it up.

Now every once in awhile there is a need for people to try to clean out corners and bar the doors and check everybody who comes in the door, and check what they carry in and say, “Humph, inside this place the only thing we are going to deal with is X or Y or Z.” And so only the X’s or Y’s or Z’s get to come in. That place can then become a nurturing place or a very destructive place. Most of the time when people do that, they do it because of the heat of trying to live in this society where being an X or Y or Z is very difficult, to say the least. The people running the society call the shots as if they’re still living in one of those little villages, where they kill the ones they don’t like or put them in the forest to die...

When somebody else is running a society like that, and you are the one who would be put out to die, it gets too hard to stay out in that society all the time. And that’s when you find a place, and you try to bar the door and check all the people who come in. You come together to see what you can do about shouldering up all of your energies so that you and your kind can survive.

There is no chance that you can survive by staying inside the barred room. That will not be tolerated. The door of the room will just be painted red and then when those who call the shots get ready to clean house, they have easy access to you.

But that space while it lasts should be a nurturing space where you sift out what people are saying about you and decide who you really are. And you take the time to try to construct within yourself and within your community who you would be if you were running society. In fact, in that little barred room where you check everybody at the door, you act out community. You pretend that your room is a world...Of course the problem with the experiment is that there ain’t nobody in there but folk like you, which by implication means you wouldn’t know what to do if you were running it with all of the other people who are out there in the world. Now that’s nationalism. I mean it’s nurturing, but it is also nationalism. At a certain stage nationalism is crucial to a people if you are going to ever impact as a group in your own interest. Nationalism at another point becomes reactionary because it is totally inadequate for surviving in the world with many peoples.

Sometimes you get comfortable in your little barred room, and you decide you in fact are going to live there and carry out all of your stuff in there. And you gonna take care of everything that needs to be taken care of in the barred room. If you’re white and in the barred room and if everybody’s white, one of the first things you try to take care of is making sure that people don’t think that the barred room is a racist barred room. So you begin to talk about racism and the first thing you do is say, “Well, maybe we better open the door and let some Black folks in the barred room.” Then you think, “Well, how we gonna figure out whether they’re X’s or not?” Because nothing in the room but X’s. You go down the checklist. You been working a while to sort out who you are, right? So you go down the checklist and say, “If we can find Black folk like that we’ll let them in the room.” You don’t really want Black folks, you are just looking for yourself with a little color to it.

And there are those of us Black folk who are like that. So if you’re lucky you can open the door and get one or two. Right? And everything’s wonderful. But no matter what, there will be one or two of us who have not bothered to be like you and you know it. We come knocking on your door and say, “Well, you let them in, you let me in too.” And we will break your door down trying to get in. As far as we can see we are also X’s. Cause you didn’t say, “THIS BARRED ROOM IS FOR WHITE X’S ONLY.” You just said it was for X’s. So everybody who thinks they’re an X comes running to get into the room. And because you trying to take care of everything in this room, and you know you’re not racist, you get pressed to let us all in.

The first thing that happens is that the room don’t feel like the room anymore. And it ain’t home no more. It is not a womb no more. And you can’t feel comfortable no more. And what happens at that point has to do with trying to do too much in it. You don’t do no coalition building in a womb...Inside the womb you generally are very soft and unshelled. You have no covering. And you have no ability to handle what happens if you start to let folks in who are not like you.

Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort. Some people will come to a coalition and they rate the success of the coalition on whether or not they feel good when they get there. They’re not looking for a coalition; they’re looking for a home! They’re looking for a bottle with some milk in it and a nipple, which does not happen in a coalition. You don’t get a lot of food in a coalition. You don’t get fed a lot in a coalition. In a coalition you have to give, and it is different from your home. You can’t stay there all the time. You go to the coalition for a few hours and then you go back and take your bottle wherever it is, and then you go back and coalesce some more.

It is very important not to confuse them—home and coalition...

It must become necessary for all of us to feel that this is our world. And that we are here to stay and that anything that is here is ours to take and to use in our image. And watch that “ours’ make it as big as you can—it ain’t got nothing to do with that barred room. The “our” must include everybody you have to include in order for you to survive. You must be sure you understand that you ain’t gonna be able to have an “our” that don’t include Bernice Johnson Reagon, cause I don’t plan to go nowhere! That’s why we have to have coalitions. Cause I ain’t gonna let you live unless you let me live. Now there’s danger in that, but there’s also the possibility that we can both live—if you can stand it...

There is an offensive movement that started in this country in the 60’s that is continuing. The reason we are stumbling is that we are at the point where in order to take the next step we’ve got to do it with some folk we don’t care too much about. And we got to vomit over that for a little while. We must just keep going.
I think of this speech by Reagon every time I watch someone bar the door to another person because they're not "X" (read: normal). I wonder what it would look like if, instead, we just vomited a bit and kept going. As Reagon says, it means letting ourselves feel uncomfortable for awhile. It might also mean working through the conflict that putting "X" and "Y" together ultimately brings...knowing that conflict doesn't need to be fatal and that - even in its midst - we also share some important common ground.

Those are simply the beginnings of what I know and too often fail to practice. But I agree with Simon, and President Obama, and Reagon...figuring this all out is THE task that awaits us all.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Thanksgiving - To All You Beautiful People

More than anything else, what this last election meant to me is that the majority of American people put their hopes for themselves and each other over their fears. This is my way of saying thanks to everyone who made that happen.

It is also meant as a thank you to all the Beautiful People who occasionally share this little digital space with me. You're the best!!! I look forward to more digging, jumping and crying together in the days ahead.



(The song is written and performed by a local group called Trova. They don't appear to exist as group any longer. But you can find their 2 recorded albums at itunes)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On moral codes

It must be my day to take on the right wing since this morning I had a little go-round about Jonah Goldberg and now I have a few things to say about Erick Erickson's latest.

As I've talked about here before, I've had to make peace with my fundamentalist christian past and - as much as possible - with my family members who still hold those beliefs. I don't feel the need to change them or judge them. If they are unhappy (and believe me...they are), it is their job - just as it was mine - to find their own resolution.

And so I resent it all to hell when Erickson says stuff like this.
The secularists of this world, I believe, can embrace fully contradictory things like support for gay rights and the advance of Islam into the Western World, because those things come from this world, not from Christ. The left is perfectly capable of contradiction and hypocrisy because they believe in nothing so much as themselves and the things of this world. Therefore, to them, there can be no contradiction and no hypocrisy in their world unless it comes from those who fail to meet the standards set by the faith of so many Christians.

There is no difference between the believer and the atheist “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. It’s just that only the believer is held, in the secular world, to account because only the believer embraces the standards of the faith.
Essentially what he's saying is that - as a secularist - I don't have moral standards because I don't embrace his religion. In other words, his religion is the sole arbiter of morality. If we could get to the place where we both recognize that we each have a moral code that sometimes overlaps and sometimes doesn't, we could talk. But that's now how Erickson sees the world.
Even now in the 21st century after the birth of Christ, there is still true Good and there is still true Evil and there is still true Truth.
In that formulation, he embraces true Good and true Truth and what I believe is cast as true Evil.

What I also resent in all this is his rather narrow definition of morality. In Erickson's world view that word is reserved for those who are against abortion, marriage equality and any role for government in addressing the ravages of capitalism. There is never any mention of the things that are primary in my moral code: compassion, empathy, justice, equality, forgiveness, humility, generosity, kindness, gratitude.

Finally, if I did define myself as a christian, I would take great offense at Erickson's description of Jesus.
These secularists have made a concerted effort to turn the world hostile to that faith and belief and have allied themselves with weak theologians to turn young Christians into more worldly, secularly focused milquetoast weepers worshiping an effeminate Christ who only hugs kids and cries, but does not fight, does not take sides, and is accommodationist to the world and its amorality and increasing immorality because, dude, he hung out with prostitutes and cried about another dude dying. They want to define the Christ they prefer to believe in, rather than believe the Christ that is.
Excuse me for a minute while I put my feminist hat on. But since when does "effeminate" equate with not fighting and not taking sides? Puhleeze brother!!!!!

Then lets talk for a minute about the one time when Christ chose to fight. It was when he lost his temper over the greed of the money changers exploiting people who came to worship at the temple. When is the last time you heard any of these fundamentalist moralizers fighting the exploitation of people by the greedy money changers? Not so much. So who is it that is defining the Christ they prefer to believe in, rather than believe the Christ that is?

I truly am sick and tired of folks like Erickson being given the platform as the moral arbiters in our discourse. As a secular leftist, I have morals too. Folks like me tend to not put them front and center because we don't want to shove our moral code down the throats of others. But it is a grave mistake to take that silence for vacuity.  

Idiot conservative gives Obama "advice" (updated)

As if it weren't amusing enough to watch Republicans wrestle with what to do with their own failed policies these days, its darn right hilarious to see them step out of that morass to provide some "advice" for President Obama. But then the piece de resistance comes loaded with belly laughs when one of them tries to tell the President how he should show some leadership on the state of Black families. Yeah, Jonah Goldberg went there. I kid you not! When I saw the headline combined with the author, I immediately figured that I just had to read this one.

It didn't disappoint. Goldberg claims to have had an awakening about the state of Black families. And you'll never guess how he got there...really, you'll never guess.
The thought came to me when a friend pointed me to a column by the Washington Post's Courtland Milloy about how blacks are fleeing baseball at an alarming rate. Today only 8% of the baseball players are black. In 1959, black participation was more than twice as high at 17%. In 1975, the high-water mark, the rate was 27%.

The reasons for the decline are many and controversial, but one cited by Milloy is that baseball is a game taught by fathers, while basketball and football are more often taught by peers in pickup games.
Oh the humanity...black kids aren't playing baseball. And of course, that's because they don't have fathers around to teach them. Can you believe that shit?!

But all that is just Goldberg's way of trotting out the same-old same-old we hear about African Americans from conservatives all the time - Black people (read: Black men) don't adhere to our concept of "family values." Of course that has nothing to do with policies in this country - dating back to slavery - where we did everything we could think of to break up and threaten the survival of Black families. Oh no...let's not look at the history - which categorically tells us that white people have always seen a Black man with a family to love, support and defend as a threat.

It doesn't even seem to enter Goldberg's consciousness that simply by being who he is - an educated, powerful, family man - President Obama is doing the most important thing he can to alter the dynamic that has built up in this country for generations...showing us how its done.

You just don't see it Mr. Goldberg - do you? Well maybe this is one of those times when pictures are worth 1,000 words.















Got it? Now run and tell THAT!

UPDATE: There are all kinds of ways to challenge what Goldberg said. My pictorial point was simply one. Here's another: He says that the smaller number of African American men in baseball is somehow indicative of...something. So let's ask Mr. Goldberg to come up with an explanation for things like this:
The percentage of black college graduates majoring in engineering fields has increased from less than 2% to more than 12% in the past 30 years, a U.S. Department of Education report says.
Or does he simply want to imply that professional sports is the only way to gauge the success of African Americans?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What do the 3 states with the highest voter turnout rate have in common?

According to one report, turnout in this election was 57.5% of eligible voters. Pardon me while I wallow in some bragging rights because - once again - my home state of Minnesota was number one in that category with a whopping 76% turnout. Sure, we had some important constitutional amendments (marriage equality and voter ID) on the ballot this time that likely boosted things a bit. But the truth is, we've been number one in voter turnout in the last 8 elections.

Joining Minnesota at the top of the list over time are Maine and Wisconsin. So it would be helpful to ask what these 3 states have in common. Some of us might suggest that its the fortitude developed by the citizenry in general as a result of surviving life in the northern tundra ;-) But really, there is a more simple explanation.

These are the 3 states that first adopted same-day voter registration. In other words, we can register at the polls on the same day we go there to vote. Since then, 8 other states have joined us - and its paying off everywhere.
These states enjoy the highest turnout in the nation not by chance, but because Election Day Registration boosts turnout by 7 to 14 percentage points. In addition, studies show that minorities, poorer voters, and students benefit the most from being permitted to register on Election Day.
And so - of course - Republicans want to get rid of the practice. Last year in Maine, they tried to get rid of it legislatively. But voters got it put to a referendum and won convincingly.

Now Gov. Walker is talking about wanting to get rid of it in Wisconsin.
"States across the country that have same-day registration have real problems because the vast majority of their states have poll workers who are wonderful volunteers, who work 13 hour days and who in most cases are retirees,” Walker said. “It’s difficult for them to handle the volume of people who come at the last minute. It’d be much better if registration was done in advance of election day. It’d be easier for our clerks to handle that. All that needs to be done."
I'm not sure what "real problems" it is he is referring to. He seems to be indicating that these retired volunteer poll workers just can't handle the job. But we all know that's bullshit, don't we? What's really at stake here is the single most effective mechanism we've seen lately for increasing voter turnout.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No Commentary Required 11/19/12

Here are some of the stories that caught my eye today:

We've been hearing a lot about the fact that many Republican governors are not going to implement the health care exchanges included in Obamacare. Of course, what that means is that the federal government will do it for them.

If you're interested in seeing a breakdown of what states have decided on this one, Kaiser has a map along with all kinds of interesting information on the state of Obamacare implementation. Click on your state to see what's up.

*****

Yesterday I wrote about the role that geography plays in the polarization of our politics. Here's an interesting article about how that looks in Wyoming - the state where Romney got his second largest lead (after Utah).
...if diversity is the future of American politics, conservatives in places like Wyoming, the least populous state, where 86 percent of residents are white, fear they may be sliding into the past.

Republican explanations for Mitt Romney’s loss — that Democrats turned out the urban vote, that the United States is no longer its “traditional” self, or that Mr. Obama had showered “gifts” on women, minorities and young voters — resonated in some conservative political circles here in the state capital.

“It spooks me,” said James Yates, 46, a self-made businessman who owns 15 restaurants and employs about 1,000 people. “The young vote and certainly the minority vote went toward the perspective of ‘What can I get?’ Where the government runs everything, it’s completely not sustainable. They don’t see that.”
But...
A 2011 study by the Pew States Project found that Wyoming received more federal funds per resident than any other state, largely because of royalties from mining and drilling. That $3,757 per person went to health care, transportation, education and other government programs.
*****

Today President Obama delivered a speech at the University of Yangon, Myanmar. If you'd like more information on the significance of that location, 3ChicsPolitico is on it.

*****

Its been interesting watching the Republicans try to grapple with how to make themselves politically relevant after their resounding defeat a couple of weeks ago. Reading Matt Lewis' call for "compassionate conservatism" gives you some idea of just what an uphill task that's going to be. And no Matt...just putting "compassionate" in front of failed policies is not going to cut it.

*****

I don't know about you, but I find myself avoiding reading about the current escalation of the conflict between Israel and Gaza. Its almost impossible to find people who approach that discussion without a political and/or ideological perspective. I often find myself not knowing what to think and just wanting the facts - or at least a discussion between the various ideologies.

This weekend the best I found on that came from Up with Chris Hayes. I highly recommend watching the 4 segments on his video link that were devoted to the topic.

*****

Finally, those who know me in real life are aware of the fact that the article of clothing I dislike the most is close-toed shoes. I mourn the day every fall when its time to put away the sandals and pull out the socks and shoes. So perhaps you'll understand what it is I love about this picture :-)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

David Simon on "The Death of Normal"

I'll always want to listen when David Simon - creator of HBO's The Wire - speaks. But I especially appreciated his take on the meaning of this election.
...the country is changing. And this may be the last election in which anyone but a fool tries to play — on a national level, at least — the cards of racial exclusion, of immigrant fear, of the patronization of women and hegemony over their bodies, of self-righteous discrimination against homosexuals...

America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.

You want to lead in America? Find a way to be entirely utilitarian — to address the most problems on behalf of the most possible citizens. That works. That matters...

Hard times are still to come for all of us. Rear guard actions will be fought at every political crossroad. But make no mistake: Change is a motherfucker when you run from it. And right now, the conservative movement in America is fleeing from dramatic change that is certain and immutable. A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem...

Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests. And now, normal isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal. That word, too, means less with every moment. And those who continue to argue for such retrograde notions as a political reality will become less germane and more ridiculous with every passing year.
Now...go read the whole thing.

Its not just demography...its geography

I suspect that - other than on the right wing fringes - not enough has been made of the fact that Barack Obama is our first modern-day urban President. That part tends to get overshadowed by the fact that he is also our first African-American President. But it should surprise no one that the two tend to go together.

Much has also been made of the demographic polarization we've seen in the last two presidential elections. But just like the President we elected, that polarization is married to a geographic divide.

I've been trying to pay attention to the few people who are writing about that particular divide. Karen Cox did so in her discussion about the stereotypes we perpetuate about the South.
Voters in Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans, Birmingham, Ala., and even Jackson, Miss., gave Mr. Obama substantial majorities, not because they are out of step with the rest of the country but because they are part of the same urban-rural divide that drives voting everywhere...

Many people have labeled my home state of North Carolina a red state, but it’s much more complicated than that. In the very rural mountain county of Avery, for example, Mr. Romney won with a whopping 74.5 percent of the vote, yet in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, he lost to Mr. Obama by nearly 23 percentage points...

Similarly, in Fulton County, Georgia, whose county seat is Atlanta, Mr. Obama bested Mr. Romney with about 64 percent of the vote but lost in the state’s mostly rural counties. If Charlotte or Atlanta were the size of New York City, then perhaps we wouldn’t tag either North Carolina or Georgia as red states.

Even when you break down a clear blue state like New York, you can see this urban-rural dichotomy. In Brooklyn, Mr. Obama carried 81.4 percent of the vote; in the rural county of Hamilton, Mr. Romney won 62.2 percent. The same urban-rural divide can also be found in blue states like California and Washington. In other words, before our liberal allies in blue states point their fingers and scoff, they might want to take a look in their own rural backyards for evidence that their states actually have something in common with the supposedly backward ones in the South.
She's right. I see this divide in my own "blue" state of Minnesota. But it gets more complicated than that. There are actually 3 groups that need to be identified...urban, suburban and rural. As Lydia DePillis reminds us, the Republican "Southern Strategy" was actually a "Suburban Strategy."
Back in the 1960s, inner cities were on the decline, their white residents high-tailing it for the urban fringe. Democrats responded with a war on poverty. Richard Nixon, by contrast, saw an opening.

"[Republicans] recognized the same problems. They didn’t see them as something to be solved, but something to be exploited," explains Princeton University history professor Kevin Kruse. Kevin Phillips' seminal 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority outlined a "southern strategy" to wrest white people away from the Democrats—by demonizing the black inner cities. "If you look at who he's talking to, it's a 'suburban strategy,'" says Kruse.
We're still seeing this kind of thing in the more "dog whistle" type attempts to demonize poverty and in the overt rantings of people like Stanley Kurtz.

The good news here is that nothing in this country is ever static. The very dynamics that created these divides are changing as we speak. For example, DePillis points out that recent data shows that cities are growing faster than suburbs.  She also suggests that urban politics tends to change Republicans.
While Republicans have drifted far to the right in recent years, municipal governance is largely non-partisan in nature, and urban politicians who try to adopt the kind of ideological swagger they need to weather a Republican primary often aren't convincing...

"Municipal politics draws everybody to the center. You hang around long enough, you can’t stay on the edges," [Oklahoma City Mayor] Cornett says. "At the end of the day, people elect mayors to get things done."
There is also the fact that many Latino immigrants are settling in rural areas due to their ties to agriculture. That sets up real life situations like the one Cox describes in her article.
Every summer my brother, who is decidedly Republican, plants a garden in which he grows a variety of peppers — jalapeños, habaneros and poblanos. He is proud of his garden and shares his harvest with friends who own a Mexican restaurant near his home in Greensboro, N.C.

I doubt that his conversations with the people who work there center on whether they are in this country legally or illegally. So while he may remain a Republican, I believe he recognizes the contributions of Latinos to his community and knows that they do not threaten his success as a white man.
That's how change happens! If you don't believe me, read the story about how Craig Hickman - a black gay organic farmer - just got elected to serve in the Maine House of Representatives from a rural area.

Perhaps I'm more optimistic about the possibilities here because of our history in Minnesota. Back in 1944 our state Democratic Party merged with the Farmer-Labor Party to create what we now call the "DFL" (Democratic Farmer Labor Party). That coalition between urban and rural hasn't always held. But I did watch Paul Wellstone - one of the most progressive Senators in our lifetimes - revive it in this state by connecting the dots between urban issues, labor rights and small farmers. So I know it can be done.

When it comes to national politics, one of the shifts I think we're seeing in this time of transformation is a recalibration away from suburban politics back to focusing on the issues that affect our urban and rural areas. Keep an eye on that one as a frame for understanding President Obama over the next 4 years.

It's not just McCain - someone on the left is feeding the frenzy about Susan Rice

We can all laugh at what a fool Sen. McCain is making of himself with his attacks on Susan Rice. But it looks to me like there are some on the left who would like to feed the flames.

It started with Dana Milbank's column about her. And now today, Maureen Dowd takes a pretty ugly slap as well.

While Republicans are in the process of self-destructing, we don't need this kind of shit on our side. Whoever is doing it and whatever their motives - folks like this should be quietly shown the door.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Desperately Seeking Scandal

This week Paul Waldman hit the sweet spot when he pointed out the motivation behind the non-story on Benghazi...scandal envy.
So what's going on here? I can sum it up in two words: scandal envy. Republicans are indescribably frustrated by the fact that Barack Obama, whom they regard as both illegitimate and corrupt, went through an entire term without a major scandal. They tried with "Fast and Furious," but that turned out to be small potatoes. They tried with Solyndra, but that didn't produce the criminality they hoped for either. Obama even managed to dole out three-quarters of a trillion dollars in stimulus money without any graft or double-dealing to be found. Nixon had Watergate, Reagan had Iran-Contra, Clinton had Lewinsky, and Barack Obama has gotten off scott-free. This is making them absolutely livid, and they're going to keep trying to gin up a scandal, even if there's no there there. Benghazi may not be an actual scandal, but it's all they have handy.
Kevin Drum took it from there.
Yep. They're just convinced that Obama runs a gang of Chicago thugs who are lying and cheating behind the scenes at every opportunity. It's a foundational story on the tea-party right. Unfortunately, the reality is that whatever else you think of Obama, he's one of the straightest arrows we've had in the White House since....forever. He runs a tight ship organizationally, and on a personal level he's so intolerant of personal peccadilloes that he sometimes seems almost inhuman. It would be astonishing if he could actually avoid a serious scandal for an entire eight-year term, but if anyone can do it, it's probably Obama.
It all reminded me of an article Jonathan Alter wrote a year ago titled "Scandal in the Age of Obama." He outlines several theories about why attempts by Republicans to stir up a scandal have failed. Alter has a little fun with "The Family-Man Theory."
Of course the most entertaining and explosive scandals involve sex, which reporters and pundits will ride all day and night. But you’ve got to give them something to work with... Barack Obama and an intern? Highly unlikely. The first lady would kill him, cover it up, look fabulous at the state funeral—and no one would be any the wiser.
But perhaps more pertinent to things like the Benghazi non-story is his "Pattern-of-Behavior Theory."
A critical variable in aggressive press coverage is whether a story is consistent with what we think we already know about a politician. If it is, the story is more likely to resonate.
The fact that President Obama took the risk to go after bin Laden and has been so aggressive in his "war on al Qaeda" makes in laughable to think that he would use a terrorist incident to blatantly manipulate a story. That's one of the reasons this one will never develop.

I have no doubt that when the Benghazi story fades, the Republicans will continue their quest. But when it comes to this President, they've got their work cut out for them.
With Obama, the perceived pattern of behavior that he carried with him into office was mostly positive. Being seen as a professorial type who stands above the fray hasn’t always endeared him to the public, but it hasn’t exactly set the stage for scandal either.

Musical bookends for Obama's trip to Myanmar

Today President Obama begins a foreign trip that will include a stop in Myanmar. He will be the first American President to ever visit that country.

As is her wont, last night Rachel Maddow dug up a detail about the U.S. State Department's efforts in that country. Apparently back in 2009, they sent musical ambassadors to Myamnar - the first time an American group had ever toured the country. And after President Obama's trip - a second musical ambassador is on deck to go as well.

I will admit that I'm an out-of-it old lady when it comes to todays music. But the two performers who are working with the State Department on this are one's that happen to be favorites of mine. And so the whole story caught my attention. Here's why.

The group that toured Myanmar back in 2009 was Ozomatli. I wish there was a better video of this song. But just close your eyes and enjoy.



Following President Obama's visit, Jason Mraz is scheduled to tour there.



My heart bursts with pride that these are the kind of people representing us as this country struggles with moving forward.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Photo of the Day: It's Mutual

Another angle on the hug seen round the world. 
More about the photo at Slate.

Pelosi nailed it!

When I saw this tweet posted at The Maddow Blog this morning, my first thought was that Speaker Pelosi nailed it.

Since I hadn't seen the show that inspired the tweet, I decided to watch the video to check it out. It was worth every minute!


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Role Reversal

Years ago I watched a Mayoral race unfold in my town. On the liberal side we had a progressive champion who served as a state congressman. I loved his policies. But he exuded the stereotype of the absent-minded professor. I remember serving on a citizen's committee with him. He would always arrive late, shirt and tie disheveled, hair uncombed, with an armful of folders full of papers that were haphazardly arranged. I would look at him and wonder if he could manage his way out of a paper bag.

The conservative candidate was anathema to me in terms of policies. Personally, he was a slimeball. But he was an excellent manager and knew how to get shit done. And of course, he knew how to smile pretty at the cameras and tell people what they wanted to hear. So of course, he won. I'm not giving out any names here, but its the very same guy who went on to be a Senator and was defeated after one term by the great Al Franken ;-)

That particular race embodies how the divide between liberals and conservatives played out for much of the time I've been following politics. Its why the Republicans got labelled the "Daddy" party and Democrats the "Mommy" party. Liberals were the "feelers" and conservatives were the "thinkers." Liberals were the empathic ones and conservatives the managers.

I say all that to suggest that some of those themes still linger in our consciousness and color perceptions that no longer reflect the reality of our politics these days. It will perhaps seem inconsequential to some, but to me, this was one of the most telling moments of the Romney campaign.



After my ears recovered from the pain, I remember thinking...what kind of campaign can't even manage the singing of "America the Beautiful?" Of course there were more obvious examples - like ORCA. But demonstration of good management is most often exemplified by doing the little things right (ie, mic-checks).

Anyway, I don't need to tell anyone how terribly-managed the Romney campaign was or what poor planning was done by the Karl Rove's of the right. And yet I think a lot of people still voted for Romney because of this belief that the word "conservative" equals good management skills.

Perhaps this is also why some people continue to think that President Obama is cold, detatched, and professorial - even when he is demonstrably not. The Maureen Dowd's of the world seem to pine after the days when liberals exuded emotion rather than fixed problems. And some on the left still think the only effective strategy is an angry fist in the air.

As someone who lives on-the-ground with the implementation of social policy via our government institutions, I can tell you that NOTHING makes me more angry than badly managed government programs. And it is very often liberals - with their lofty ideas about what they want to do for the "poor and oppressed" - who are the worst offenders.

That's one of the biggest reasons why I support our pragmatic progressive President. As I've said before, the most significant way we can advance a liberal agenda is through the implementation of good government. We've just seen President Obama run a well-managed campaign. But we don't hear as much about the quiet revolution he's also undertaken to make every arena of our federal government more effective.

I welcome this embrace of thoughtful pragmatism into the liberal ranks. And I'll take it over a fist in the air any day.