Saturday, January 31, 2015

Odds & Ends

Although it's not likely to go anywhere in this Republican Congress, it's important to point out that President Obama's budget for FY2016 eliminates the sequester cuts.

In the United States we've pretty much forgotten about Ebola. That means that most people will fail to notice that there have been fewer than 100 new confirmed cases reported in a week in the 3 most-affected countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

I usually try to ignore the idiotic things people say on right wing radio and Fox News. But this guy's response to a female caller with bipolar disorder seemed the very definition of sociopathic to me - i.e., "lacking in a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience." I think things are going to get very ugly as Republicans ramp up their efforts against the Social Security Disability Program.

German Lopez points out that the 3 deadliest drugs in America are all totally legal. Notice the big goose egg above marijuana in this chart.


Charles Pierce does an excellent job of separating out the "half right" and "half wrong" in Jim Webb's suggestions for what the Democratic Party needs to do.

Finally, years ago I went to hear Gladys Knight (sans Pips) at a small intimate theater. My friend who went with me had just signed her divorce papers that very day. And so there were no dry eyes when Gladys finished this song. It's yet another example of really hearing a song for the first time because of "Diva Soul."

How Do We Change Our Minds?

In his State of the Union Speech a week and a half ago, President Obama harkened back to the speech that launched his national career in politics - the one he gave at the 2004 Democratic Convention.
You know, just over a decade ago, I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn’t a liberal America or a conservative America; a black America or a white America -- but a United States of America...

Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn’t delivered on this vision. How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever. It’s held up as proof not just of my own flaws -- of which there are many -- but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, naïve... 
I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong. I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.
He's right, of course. Most people think that when he talks like that, he's being hopelessly naive.

But what if he has a method to his madness? That's what I wondered when I read this article by Maria Konnikova about the research around why facts are not sufficient to alter our most closely held beliefs. Overall the news is quite depressing (facts don't change our minds). But there was one ray of light.
Could recalling a time when you felt good about yourself make you more broad-minded about highly politicized issues, like the Iraq surge or global warming? As it turns out, it would. On all issues, attitudes became more accurate with self-affirmation, and remained just as inaccurate without.
What this research indicates is that perhaps before facts can have an impact, minds that are already made up need to be opened up. Other research in this area shows that simply wielding the facts can actually have a backfire effect - the lid shuts even tighter.

I suspect that one of the things affirmation accomplishes is that it triggers the activation of our mirror neurons and biological need for belonging - allowing us to release our grip on false beliefs as a method to sustain our identify. In other words, it's a game changer.

As President Obama said later in that SOTU speech, he has no illusions that we'll all come to agreement on the issues. He's simply doing what he can to promote an open discussion with open minds.

Heading Towards a GOP Train Wreck

Does anyone else see a train wreck coming for this Republican Congress?

One train is coming this way:
House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) will lead along with two other top committee chairs a Republican task force to come up with a plan in case the Supreme Court strikes a blow to Obamacare later this year...

They will be tasked with working up an alternative plan if the Supreme Court invalidates tax credits in the 30-plus states that use HealthCare.gov, as well as a more general Obamacare alternative if the law were to be repealed...
Coming in the opposite direction is this train:
There is internal dissent on whether Republicans ought to come up with an alternative. One congressional GOP health aide, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, said his party is as determined as ever to fight Obamacare, and will remain so as long as it exhibits failure. He said devising an alternative is fraught with the difficulty of crafting a new benefits structure that doesn't look like the Affordable Care Act.

"If you want to say the further and further this gets down the road, the harder and harder it gets to repeal, that's absolutely true," the aide said. "As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act. ... To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA. You have to have a participating mechanism, you have to have a mechanism to fund it, you have to have a mechanism to fix parts of the market."
Pushing on the accelerator of both trains is this:
Leaders in the GOP-controlled House and Senate see the court challenge as their best hope for tearing apart a law they have long opposed. If the court strikes down the subsidies, Democrats are expected to clamor for lawmakers to pass a measure correcting the language in the law to revive them. Congressional Republicans say there is no possibility they would allow that. 
“No, no, no, no,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R., Indiana).
Rep. McDermott came up with a different analogy.
GOP congressional leaders haven’t coalesced around a specific replacement for the law should the court strike down the subsidies. Democrats say that makes them vulnerable, and plan to paint the GOP as responsible for taking away benefits that millions already receive.

“What you’re going to see is the Republican party with all their clothes off,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D., Wash.) “They are standing out there naked as a jaybird and they are going to have to stand up and explain, ’Well, now we got rid of it - now what do we do?’”
It would all be humorous if it weren't so terribly tragic.

About Those Speech Rules

There's been a lot of talk lately between bloggers/pundits about "political correctness." I'm not going to delve into the back and forth of that conversation, but I'd like to share some of my own thoughts and experiences.

As a white person, much of my learning about what racism looks like in this country today came from hanging around small blogs written by people of color about eight years ago. They have mostly all gone inactive, but back then it was fascinating to simply listen to people talking in forums that had never been available prior to the internet.

One story a blogger named Donna told was a particular turning point for me. It starts off with her explaining that she was once part of a group for Native American women. They were open about who joined - as long as the reasons had integrity. One of the women who joined the group had Native American ancestors way back in her heritage and wanted to learn what she could about them. I'll let Donna pick up the story from there.
It was like any friend or neighbor who thinks you are interesting and you think she is interesting and you get along great. I don't know what got up her nose this one day, but we were sitting around discussing current problems on our reservations and things like unemployment came up. She gets a little huffy and chimes in, "Well why don't you just go get a job?" Now the others in the group just stopped talking to her, they knew they got slapped down, but I didn't. I tried to explain that it wasn't that easy and that alot of our reservations are out in the middle of nowhere and you need a car to go into town or maybe even get on a bus and completely leave your home. She didn't hear any of it. She said of course it's easy, you fill out applications and get a job! I tried one more time telling her that cars and gas cost money, that bus fare costs money, that clothes for an interview cost money, the extreme poverty means there is no money, and because of the distance to the nearest city you might be abandoning everything and everyone you know to go somewhere you know is hostile to you. And she dismissed it saying I was just making excuses. She really thought we were either too stupid to think of her simplistic answers ourselves, or too lazy to go and do it. I lost it and gave her hell over it, but her answer to that was that white people don't have to be our friends and listen to anything we say, and yet she did it all this time, and now I was being so rude and ungrateful when she was just trying to help...

I got quiet. I didn't know what to say. I had to stop and ask myself, am I really equal? Am I even human? At that moment in time, I didn't know anymore. Now these kinds of things have happened to me at other times but this one was especially painful because I had been friends with this woman for 2+ years. I didn't see it coming.
The woman's questions sprang from her own ignorance and were therefore initially understandable. Donna didn't see what was coming though. As her responses were increasingly met with defensiveness and - ultimately - the statement about how this woman was doing them some kind of favor by listening, the white supremacy came through...painfully.

While there is no excuse for ignorance, it is a fact of life in our culture. All white people are occasionally going to say "politically incorrect" things. The true test is how we respond when someone calls us on it. We have the choice of either getting defensive or doing a little soul-searching. The latter doesn't mean we will eventually agree. What it does mean is that we take a moment to consider someone's view point that springs from things we haven't experienced.

Another blogger named Kai wrote a powerful post on this titled: The White Liberal Conundrum. Brace yourself. If you really absorb what he's saying, its likely to trigger that choice between defensiveness and soul-searching.
As I've often noted, many white liberals remain oblivious to the depth and breadth of anti-racist work, opting to hide behind the delusion that anyone who votes for Democrats and doesn't have a pointy hood in the closet is "a good guy" in the movement toward greater social justice...Some might be surprised to learn that when people of color talk about racism amongst ourselves, white liberals often receive a far harsher skewering than white conservatives or overt racists. Many of my POC friends would actually prefer to hang out with an Archie Bunker-type who spits flagrantly offensive opinions, rather than a colorblind liberal whose insidious paternalism, dehumanizing tokenism, and cognitive indoctrination ooze out between superficially progressive words. At least the former gives you something to work with, something above-board to engage and argue against; the latter tacitly insists on imposing and maintaining an illusion of non-racist moral purity which provides little to no room for genuine self-examination or racial dialogue.

Countless blogospheric discussions on racism amply demonstrate the manner in which many white liberals start acting victimized and angry if anyone attempts to burst their racism-free bubble, oftentimes inexplicably bringing up non-white friends, lovers, adopted children, relatives, ancestors; dismissing, belittling, or obtusely misreading substantive historically-informed analysis of white supremacism as either "divisive rhetoric" or "flaming"; downplaying racism as an interpersonal social stigma and bad PR, rather than an overarching system of power under which we all live and which has socialized us all; and threatening to walk away from discussion if persons of color do not comform to a narrow white-centered comfort zone. Such people aren't necessarily racists in the hate-crime sense of the word, but they are usually acting out social dynamics created by racism and replicating the racist social relationships they were conditioned since birth to replicate.
Both Donna and Kai wrote those posts after a discussion was sparked by Nezua's blog The Unapologetic Mexican. He was responding to this statement from Glenn Greenwald.
...part of the reason people intently run away from discussions of race...is because it is too easy to unwittingly run afoul of various unwritten speech rules, thereby triggering accusations of bigotry.
Nezua wrote:
In this analysis (or this part of his post at least) the problem is the various unwritten speech rules. But guess what? There really aren't any. There are just poor attitudes we keep about people who look different. Or who we've been taught to think of differently. And there is a "White" attitude of deciding for everyone else how they should live, be, self-identify, and do many other things. There are old slurs and old tropes that hurt people. These are the things that are flushed out when people speak: attitudes, thoughts, beliefs, manners of speaking that hint at lurking attitudes.

People avoid talking about race because they are scared of exposing their thoughts and views on race...They are not afraid of "unwritten speech rules." They are afraid that what they really think and feel will cause them to be ridiculed or ostracized in public, or that they may see a part of themselves they have to feel bad about. So they keep the potential to themselves.

But if we keep the focus on Speech Rules, we miss the opportunity to change ourselves.
That last sentence exemplifies why we tend to be more comfortable talking about speech rules and/or political correctness. In doing so, we avoid changing ourselves.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Quick Take

Charles Pierce has written a great response to this statement from Jim Webb.
"I think they could do better with white, working people and I think this last election showed that," Webb said, referencing the 2014 midterms where Republicans took control of the Senate and added more power in the House. "The Democratic Party could do very well to return to its Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Andrew Jackson roots where the focus of the party was making sure that all people who lack a voice in the corridors of power could have one through the elected represented...You are not going to have a situation again where you have 96% of the African American vote turning out for one presidential candidate. ... We need to get back to the principles of the Democratic Party that we are going to give everyone who needs access to the corridors of power that access regardless of any of your antecedents. I think that is a fair concept."
Go read Pierce's whole article and raise your political IQ a few points.

That bolded sentence really caught my eye though. What I take from it is: "We've done that whole black president thing. Time to strategize around white candidates again." Perhaps I'm reading it wrong. But I think its an unspoken racist assumption that's out there.

A Walk Down Memory Lane on Washington's Dysfunction

For some of us its pretty galling to hear Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggest that the way to end dysfunction in Washington is for President Obama to move to the "middle," or to have to listen to a Republican presidential candidate opine about the lack of "adult conversations" in D.C.

Here's a timeline that explains why we feel that way:

1993 - Bill Kristol writes a memo outlining a strategy for Republicans on President Clinton's health care reform proposal.
Faced with forceful objections in the past, the [Clinton] Administration has generally preferred to bargain and compromise with Congress so as to achieve any victory it can. But health care is not, in fact, just another Clinton domestic policy. And the conventional political strategies Republicans have used in the past are inadequate to the task of defeating the Clinton plan outright. That must be our goal...

Simple, green-eyeshades criticism of the plan...is fine so far as it goes. But in the current climate, such opposition only wins concessions, not surrender...

Any Republican urge to negotiate a "least bad" compromise with the Democrats, and thereby gain momentary public credit for helping the president "do something" about health care, should also be resisted.
2003 -  Governor Deval Patrick recalls Grover Norquist's comments on plans for a "permanent Republican majority."
At our 25th college reunion in 2003, Grover Norquist — the brain and able spokesman for the radical right — and I, along with other classmates who had been in public or political life, participated in a lively panel discussion about politics. During his presentation, Norquist explained why he believed that there would be a permanent Republican majority in America.

One person interrupted, as I recall, and said, “C’mon, Grover, surely one day a Democrat will win the White House.”

Norquist immediately replied: “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.”
2009 -  As Michael Grunwald reported, these two ideas coalesced into a Republican plan on how to respond to the election of President Barack Obama.
...the Republican plot to obstruct President Obama before he even took office, including secret meetings led by House GOP whip Eric Cantor (in December 2008) and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (in early January 2009) in which they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular President-elect during an economic emergency. “If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.”
2010 - Having implemented that plan in response to President Obama's proposal to reform health care, former speech-writer for President George W. Bush - David Frum - is ejected from the party for objecting to this strategy.
At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994...

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan...Too late now. They are all the law.
2011 - Former Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren explains the strategy.
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
As I've pointed out before, President Obama has engaged a lot of different strategies to deal with this obstruction that have each had various amounts of success at different times. But as we head into the next presidential election, we're likely to hear a lot about the public's concern that Washington doesn't work.

This will be the big challenge for the Democratic nominee in 2016. I only wish it was possible for them to take Paul Waldman's advice.
So imagine if a candidate in the general election, or a president in his inaugural speech, said, "This is my program. I realize that the folks in the other party don't like it. There may be a few places where we can compromise, and if so, that would be terrific. But I'm going to treat the voters like adults and tell them that I'm not expecting a whole lot of cooperation. I'm going to fight for what I promised to do when I ran, and if you don't like the results, you can turn me out in four years."

That would at least be honest, and nobody would be disappointed when the result is partisan fighting.
Of course he's right when he says that would be honest. The question is...are American voters ready for honesty?

The Dangers of Hysteria

This article by Molly Knefel in Rolling Stone stirred up a lot of thoughts for me. In it, she reports that there is a bipartisan effort in Congress to re-authorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
That law, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), was passed in 1974 and has been updated and strengthened several times throughout its 40 years. In addition to establishing federal oversight for the states, it also set up core requirements for how states treat their youthful offenders – things like keeping kids out of adult prisons and addressing entrenched racial disparities – as well as a grant program to facilitate and incentivize states to meet those requirements. Since 2002, however, Congress has failed to reauthorize the law, and advocates say it's long overdue for an update.
I'm pretty familiar with JJDPA because for almost 30 years I worked in community-based programs that were initiated back in the 1970's when it originally passed. In addition to the things Knefel referred to above, the "juvenile justice" part of the act prevented children/youth from being locked up for status offenses (things like running away, truancy, etc that are only offenses for those under 18 years of age) and the "delinquency prevention" part suggested (and in some cases funded) alternative community-based interventions.

I say all that to remind you that there was a time in this country when we were able to pass laws like that. A lot of the funding attached to these initiatives was lost during the Reagan years. But the reason JJDPA languished without reauthorization for so long probably has to do with the hysteria fabricated in the 1990's over the idea of a looming threat from juvenile superpredators.
In 1995, John DiIulio, a professor at Princeton who coined the term "superpredator," predicted that the number of juveniles in custody would increase three-fold in the coming years and that, by 2010, there would be "an estimated 270,000 more young predators on the streets than in 1990." Criminologist James Fox joined in the rhetoric, saying publicly, "Unless we act today, we're going to have a bloodbath when these kids grow up."

These predictions set off a panic, fueled by highly publicized heinous crimes committed by juvenile offenders, which led nearly every state to pass legislation between 1992 and 1999 that dramatically increased the treatment of juveniles as adults for purposes of sentencing and punishment.
Last year the NYT did a retrospective on what happened and how the whole idea of "suprepredators" turned out to be a myth.


But the result wasn't merely a reversal of everything JJDPA had tried to do. This myth fed into the escalating "war on drugs" and "get tough on crime" mentality of the 1990's that spurred things like "three strikes" laws in our criminal justice system, "zero tolerance" policies in our schools and "stand your ground" laws in our communities. Over the last 20 years, it meant that thousands of young lives (primarily black and brown ones) were interrupted at best and ended at worst.

Due to a lot of hard work by community members, efforts by the Obama administration and concern from Republicans that this trajectory is not financially sustainable, we're finally seeing some sanity re-introduced - like this bipartisan effort to reauthorize JJDPA.

Knowing the toll our detour into hysteria exacted, it's a bit hard for me to celebrate this turn of events. I'm still caught up in grieving our losses. But this is one of those "teachable moments." As a country, we've seen our tendency to buy into the hysteria of fear + anger take its toll on our sanity several times. The obvious ones that come to mind - in addition to this one - are the McCarthy red-scare and the invasion of Iraq in response to 9/11.

My hope would be that, as our media and political activists attempt to stir up the hysteria, we would learn to pause and ask some questions. We're currently hearing a lot of hysteria from the right about Muslims and terrorists. But if you think this is simply a tool of the right, take a look at how Clyde Haberman ends his report in the NYT article that I linked to above.
As for superpredators, not everyone has abandoned the notion. In the ‘90s, Mr. DiIulio called those youngsters “remorseless” and “impulsive,” describing them as unburdened by “pangs of conscience.”

Hmm, said Richard Eskow. Or words to that effect. Mr. Eskow, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, wrote for The Huffington Post two years ago that he knew a group of people who matched those very descriptions. They were, he said, the reckless bankers and Wall Street high rollers who almost brought the United States economy to its knees a few years ago.
Sometimes the hysteria is simply about political power games. But oftentimes, there are lives at stake.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Senator McConnell's Headaches

I suppose that Mitch McConnell actually wanted to be the Senate's Majority Leader. But as he's finding out pretty regularly lately - the job comes with a lot of headaches.

In the first days of this new Congress, it seemed obvious that McConnell's new strategy would be to paint President Obama as the obstructionist by sending him bills that he had already promised to veto. So far - that veto pen hasn't been called on. And its looking more and more like the extra ink the White House might have ordered to keep up won't be needed anytime soon. That's not because of Democratic obstruction. It's entirely due to the fact that Republicans can't get their act together on actual governing.

We've seen how Boehner and McConnell have been scrambling to get their members lined up to pass a DHS funding bill by the end of February (the deadline they self-imposed). But another HUGE headache is coming McConnell's way.

It's clear from the hearings on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the next Attorney General that she will ultimately be confirmed by the Senate. And while Senator Sessions has announced that he will not vote for her (which is not a big surprise), Senator Ted Cruz sounds like he's planning to up the ante by putting the heat on Senator McConnell.
Sen. Ted Cruz called attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch’s immigration views “dangerous” Wednesday and questioned whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., should even have the chamber consider her nomination.

“That is the decision the majority leader is going to have to make. I believe we should use every constitutional tool available to stop the president’s unconstitutional executive action. That’s what Republicans, Republican candidates all over the country said over and over again last year,” the Texas Republican said in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call as the daylong Judiciary Committee hearing on Lynch’s nomination neared conclusion.
Due to Senate procedural rules, it is possible for Cruz to hold up a vote on Lynch if that's what he choses to do. However, the above statement seems more designed to make McConnell look weak. It remains to be seen whether Cruz will take it the next step. Since ideologues don't tend to concerns themselves with the petty business of outcomes, I doubt it will concern Cruz that any delay on the Lynch confirmation simply means that Eric Holder holds the position longer.

What all of this means is that Majority Leader McConnell is learning a bit about what things have been like for Speaker Boehner these last four years. It will be interesting to watch whether or not he is more adept than Boehner at managing the lunatic wing of the Republican Party.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

This is what we love about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor


When people discuss President Obama's legacy, it is important to include the fact that he brought us Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. We've all be significantly impressed with her tenure so far - especially her insightful repudiation of Chief Justice Robert's opinion on the Voting Rights Act. 

But she was in Utah today and reminded us why we don't just respect her...we LOVE her!
During an informal question and answer session Wednesday at the University of Utah, Sotomayor didn't discuss any of the key issues before the Supreme Court the next session.

She instead focused on imparting the lessons she's learned during her life that began by growing up poor in a Bronx housing project through her 2009 appointment to the nation's highest court.

Sotomayor walked around while speaking, hugging and taking pictures with students whose questions were chosen. Sotomayor also went into the crowd to sit among giddy students.
Here's some of the reaction on twitter:








This woman is the full package: intelligence, strength, vulnerability and empathy. When I grow up, I want to be just like her :-)

Quick Take (updated)

You want to know why Speaker Boehner has decided to engage in a second attempt to sue President Obama - this time over his executive action on immigration?

It's simple: he's trying to call off the lunatic wing of his party in order to get a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security passed by February 27th. In other words, now that they're in control of Congress - the whole hostage-taking thing is backfiring on them. They can't afford to bypass the deadline they themselves initiated and allow a shutdown of the Department that is tasked with protecting us against all those scary terrorists who are out to get us. < snark off > It's also why Boehner is going to allow yet another vote on repealing Obamacare.

I'm thinking there is a betting pool available here to be exploited. How long do Boehner/McConnell drag this all out before they recognize that they have to go to Pelosi/Reid to bargain for votes from Democrats in order to keep DHS open? That's the only way they've been able to pass legislation in the past and it looks like that hasn't changed in this new Congress.

UPDATE: During the Loretta Lynch confirmation hearings it has been noted that the current federal budget allows for the deportation of approximately 400,000 undocumented people currently in the country. Sen. Lindsay Graham asked Lynch to determine how much money would be necessary to deport all 10-12 million. We could suggest that he take the amount currently allocated and multiply it by 30. If Republicans want to "deport-em-all," that's how much they need to increase the budget for DHS. Think they can actually sell that?

2016 Republican Presidential Brackets

Charlie Cook has done a pretty good job of breaking down the 2016 Republican presidential contest into four brackets. Its helpful because the field is so crowded right now that it's hard to sort out - especially if you only think in terms of establishment vs non-establishment. I'd place a couple of candidates differently, but otherwise (just for fun), here's how I see it playing out.

1. Establishment candidates - obviously this one is a battle of Jeb Bush vs Mitt Romney. Since voters in this category aren't going to be concerned about the whole "political dynasty" thing, my money would be on Bush.

2. Governor/Former Governor candidates - I suspect that the voters this group appeals to are those who are skeptical of the whole dynasty question, but aren't ready to go full-on tea party. Scott Walker wins this bracket.

3. Tea Party candidates - no questions here, Ted Cruz wins this one - hands down.

4. Social/Cultural/Religious candidates - this one is also pretty easy to call. Its Mike Huckabee's bracket.

One place I part with Cook is that he puts Rand Paul in the Tea Party group to compete with the likes of Ted Cruz. I know it messes up the symmetry of a bracket analogy, but I'd but Paul in a 5th bracket and make him the winner of the Libertarian candidates (of course, because he's the only one).

What my picks give us is a contest between Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul. With the amount of money Bush and Romney will be able to tap into - they will likely continue to compete as other candidates drop out. But the battle between the two of them could provide an opening for someone from the other brackets to break through. I suspect that's why Scott Walker got so much attention coming out of Rep. Steve King's clown show.

To be honest, this is all just fun and games right now. If history is any guide, we could forget about all this and simply assume that the nominee will be Jeb Bush. But I suspect that this contest is going to be a bit more unpredictable than that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sweet Little Old Lady? Nah!!!

I officially qualify as an "old lady." So today I'm announcing that this is my new goal in life.

Quick Take

Occasionally I have a thought that's too long for twitter but too short for a blog post. I might start putting them up here as "quick takes."

What struck me today is that, with things like Gov. Chris Christie's youtube channel, I'm not sure how Gov. Mike Pence is deviating that far from the current norm in creating his own news outlet. I'll bet Christie's short videos get WAY more eyeballs.

That's why I think the more important story is that Pence is going to be the next "red state" governor to expand Medicaid.

Some Progressives Are Confused By the Long Game

President Obama's "pen and phone" strategy (which he announced a year ago) has confused a lot of progressives. The title of this article by Markos Moulitsas pretty well sums it up: "Imagine that: Obama decides he'll fight for people, approvals soar." He's right that President Obama's approval rating has risen over the last couple of months and that the American people seem to like the fact that he is getting things done...despite Congress. Where the confusion shows is in assuming that the President has recently decided to "fight for people."

Moulitsas includes a list of things Obama has announced recently. But as many of us have been pointing out, a lot of them (normalization with Cuba, executive orders on immigration, etc.) have been in the works for at least 1-2 years. It's true that free community college is a new proposal. But it was preceded by a proposal for universal pre-K in his 2013 SOTU. The President has consistently said that he would stand by the process of the State Department's study of the Keystone Pipeline and would veto any effort to preempt it. His working group on police reforms follows a record number of police brutality investigations initiated by the Civil Rights Division of DOJ during this administration.

But Moulitsas isn't the only one confused by what's happening. Simon Johnson is one of the people who objected to the nomination of Antonio Weiss as Undersecretary of Domestic Affairs at the Treasury Department. And so its ironic to read him insist that President Obama needs to swiftly nominate someone to that position now that Weiss has removed himself from consideration. But Johnson shows his own confusion with this:
In the continuing absence of an Undersecretary for Domestic Finance, the administration has recently displayed an inconsistent – or perhaps even incoherent – policy stance on financial sector issues. On the one hand, in mid-December, the White House agreed to rollback a significant part of Dodd-Frank – the so-called “swaps push-out,” which was shamefully attached at the behest of Citigroup to a must-pass government spending bill...

On the other hand, the President has recently issued veto threats to protect financial reform.
It's important to note that both Paul Krugman and Matt Taibbi affirmed that the "swaps push-out" (authored by then-Senator Blanche Lincoln) was not "a significant part of Dodd-Frank."  For example, Krugman actually called it a "sideshow."
Now, this isn’t the death of financial reform. In fact, I’d argue that regulating insured banks is something of a sideshow, since the 2008 crisis was brought on mainly by uninsured institutions like Lehman Brothers and A.I.G. The really important parts of reform involve consumer protection and the enhanced ability of regulators both to police the actions of “systemically important” financial institutions (which needn’t be conventional banks) and to take such institutions into receivership at times of crisis.
With that in mind, President Obama and a lot of Democrats signed on to the cromnibus bill that contained it's elimination in order to remove one of the most powerful hostages Republicans might have used in this Congressional session (a possible government shut-down) to seriously undermine the truly significant portions of Dodd-Frank. That was the long game at play.

Finally, here's William Rivers Pitt writing about his confusion in response to the State of the Union speech.
The President of the United States gave a speech on Tuesday night that would, in parts, have gone over like gangbusters at any Occupy rally in the country, and then he turned on a dime to brag about our massively impressive oil and gas production, i.e. fracking and maybe the Keystone XL pipeline, and then went on further to give an impassioned aria about climate change, at which point my brain crawled out of my ear and slithered into the bathroom, where it wept piteously into the cold porcelain truth of the base of the toilet.
I've already written about President Obama's long game on climate policy...something Pitt obviously doesn't see.

Way back in December 2010, the President addressed these kinds of critiques and laid out his strategy this way:
And so, my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there - what is helping the American people live out their lives...And at any given juncture there're gonna be times where my preferred option, what I'm absolutely positive 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 tack a little bit that way, because I'm 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?
People like Moulitsas, Johnson and Pitt confused the tacking with the North Star. As more and more people begin to recognize that President Obama's strategy is paying off, we should make no mistake about it...this is where he has been heading all along.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

President Obama pays homage to the peacemakers:

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bishop Oscar Romero

Nelson Mandela

Cesar Chavez

Mahatma Gandhi

Kudos to Secretary of State John Kerry

The immediacy of our 24/7 news cycle tends to view events in the isolation of the moment rather than reflect on how we got here or where we might be going. I'd like to buck that trend.

Recently we heard about the historic agreement the Obama administration reached with China on global climate change. And then today comes this:
President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Sunday that the two countries will work together to fight global climate change, laying out a set of goals that the two countries hope “will expand policy dialogues and technical work on clean energy and low greenhouse gas emissions technologies.”

While not a concrete emissions reductions agreement like the one Obama reached with China this past November, the deal includes efforts to cooperate on reducing emissions of fluorinated gases, invigorate India’s promotion of clean energy investment, and partner to reduce the debilitating air pollution that has plagued many of India’s cities.

The agreement also emphasized that the countries would “cooperate closely” for a “successful and ambitious” agreement at the Paris climate talks at the end of the year. During that conference, 196 nations are expected to meet and tentatively agree a course of action to respond to climate change. It is widely considered the last chance for a global agreement that could feasibly keep the rise in global average temperatures under 2°C.
I was reminded of something Coral Davenport wrote a year ago that demonstrates how we got here and where this is all going.
...while the public’s attention has been on his diplomacy in the Middle East, behind the scenes at the State Department Mr. Kerry has initiated a systematic, top-down push to create an agencywide focus on global warming.

His goal is to become the lead broker of a global climate treaty in 2015 that will commit the United States and other nations to historic reductions in fossil fuel pollution...

Shortly after Mr. Kerry was sworn in last February, he issued a directive that all meetings between senior American diplomats and top foreign officials include a discussion of climate change. He put top climate policy specialists on his State Department personal staff. And he is pursuing smaller climate deals in forums like the Group of 20, the countries that make up the world’s largest economies.

“He’s approaching this creatively,” said Heather Zichal, who recently stepped down as Mr. Obama’s top climate adviser and worked for Mr. Kerry from 2002 to 2008. “He’s thinking strategically about using other forums.”
That's the kind of behind-the-scenes effort that has gone into these two huge announcements with China and India. If all goes as planned, it is looking more and more possible that the nations of the world will reach a global climate treaty before the end of this year. Talk about a BFD!!!!

So let's give a big shout-out to SoS John Kerry for his vision and work with President Obama to recognize the long game on climate policy.

Dog Whistles from the Left (updated)

I've written before about how uncomfortable I am with the idea that Democrats need to figure out how to appeal to working class white voters. It's not that I object to building a bigger coalition. My concern is the often unspoken message that appealing to the unique concerns of people of color is the wrong message.

In an op-ed in the NYT today, Noam Scheiber makes that often unspoken argument overtly. He's writing about Mayor Bill DeBlasio's drop in the polls. But I don't want to get distracted with analyzing DeBlasio's performance. Instead, let's pay attention to the overall message.
From the get-go, Mr. de Blasio’s campaign fused two distinct strands of progressivism. The first was economic populism, not least his criticism that Michael R. Bloomberg had placed the interests of Wall Street and the wealthy above those of average New Yorkers.

The second was what some have called “identity group” liberalism, which appealed to black and Latino voters as blacks and Latinos, not on the basis of economic interests they shared with whites. The centerpiece of Mr. de Blasio’s identity-group agenda was his promise to win better treatment for minorities at the hands of the police.

The problem for Mr. de Blasio is that only the first approach has widespread appeal...

If you were to rank issues by their potential to unite whites and minority voters, the most promising would be populist economic issues like raising taxes on the rich. Somewhere in the middle would be an issue like health care, which has large economic benefits for both whites and nonwhites, even if opponents can portray it as a sop to the latter. At the very bottom would be issues with little economic content, but which different racial groups view in radically different ways.
What Scheiber is basically saying is that if you want to unite whites and minority voters, you have to focus on the issues that are a priority to whites. That's pretty much white supremacy in a nutshell. His big "tell" comes in what he leaves out of that last sentence. The reason racial groups view the issues he places at the bottom differently is because they affect racial groups differently. White people never had to be concerned about "stop-and-frisk" because it almost never happened to a white person. White mothers/fathers, wives, siblings don't spend much time worrying that their son, husband, brother will be harassed/beaten/killed because some police officer jumped to the conclusion that he was a "dangerous black/brown man." But that is exactly how police actions become a priority for voters of color. The fear of what can happen becomes a life-and-death issue for them - as we've seen lately.

White people were just as oblivious to the priorities of African Americans during the Jim Crow era. One of the reasons Dr. Martin Luther King was so revolutionary and successful is that he believed white people would reject the treatment of African Americans if they could see it...really see it. Here's how Ta-Nehisi Coates talked about that.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may have led African Americans out of segregation, and he may have cured incalculable numbers of white racists, but more than all that, he believed that the lion's share of the population of this country would not support the rights of thugs to pummel people who just wanted to cross a bridge. King believed in white people, and when I was a younger, more callow man, that belief made me suck my teeth. I saw it as weakness and cowardice, a lack of faith in his own. But it was the opposite. King's belief in white people was the ultimate show of strength: He was willing to give his life on a bet that they were no different from the people who lived next door.
For Scheiber, understanding and validating those priorities in today's America is a losing strategy for Democrats.
The real lesson is that Mr. de Blasio’s brand of liberalism isn’t a basis for Democratic dominance, as his boosters once enthused. Politically, economic populism trumps identity-group appeals.
I'll simply remind you that Scheiber himself described DeBlasio's brand of liberalism as a fusion of economic populism with things like a promise to end "stop-and-frisk." So it is that fusion politics championed by people like Rev. William Barber and the Moral Mondays Movement that Scheiber is rejecting - Democrats shouldn't embrace both. To rephrase what he said: "Politically, white people's priorities trump people of color's priorities." If it makes you uncomfortable to hear it said that way, you are tuned in to the dog whistle by which white supremacy is often communicated. Those messages are not the exclusive domain of people on the right.

UPDATE: On twitter Scheiber is responding to a critique of his op-ed (which I didn't make - but his response is still instructive) by saying that it was meant to be "descriptive, not normative." In a sense, he's right about that. What he did was describe how politics on the left looks these days from a white privileged perspective. I simply reject that perspective.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jeb Bush to Run as GOP's Version of Obama

While everyone is having fun poking at the lunatic wing of the Republican Party gathered in Iowa this weekend, I was struck by what Jeb Bush said at his first public address since throwing his hat into the ring for 2016. After reading about bits and pieces of his speech, I decided to watch the whole thing on cspan.

In the part I found most interesting, Bush said that there was a lack of leadership in Washington these days. Here is the solution he offered:
Two people can disagree and they can disagree vehemently. But if they see in each other an honest broker motivated by good intentions and sincere beliefs, they can find accommodation.
He also said he would offer the "adult conversations" that are lacking in our politics today.

That got me thinking immediately about what President Obama had just said three days before Bush gave this speech.
Understand, a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine. A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.
Of course these two men agree on almost nothing else (although Bush did talk bluntly about the need for immigration reform and investments in infrastructure). But it did strike me that - if they are both sincere in what they said - it would be fascinating to watch them actually engage in one of those "adult conversations." Too bad that is never going to happen. It would be one way to hold them accountable for these statements.

I have several thoughts about this as an overall message for a Jeb Bush campaign.
  1. The rumor has always been that when it comes to the Bush brothers, Jeb is the smart one. In the question-and-answer period following the speech, he talked about being an introvert - which means that he at least has the capacity for self-reflection. What I saw demonstrated in this speech is that he has the capacity to put together a thoughtful, smart campaign that would connect with a lot of voters in a general election.
  2. Jeb's challenge is going to be to get past the primaries and win the nomination. Not only will he have to deal with the Bush dynasty issues (which he does pretty well in this speech), but even uttering the word "accommodation" will be red meat to the lunatic caucus of his party. They have zero interest in having "adult conversations" with the opposition.
  3. While folks like me might appreciate the sentiments quoted above, it sounds hollow when his walk doesn't match his talk. Throughout the course of the speech and interview, Jeb took a few subtle swipes at President Obama and completely mischaracterized his approach to foreign policy. As I said in #1, Jeb is smart. Those were not simple misunderstandings. They were intentional. I didn't see much by way of "good intentions" displayed in this speech. 
  4. Finally, I'm old enough to remember when George W. Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative" and rejected an interventionist foreign policy. As we know now, that all turned out to be nothing but campaign rhetoric. That's another reason to be skeptical until Jeb demonstrates that he walks his talk.
I don't want any of this to suggest that I might be a supporter of Jeb Bush. I disagree almost totally with his policies. But - at least in rhetoric - he's making a big departure from the status quo of the GOP these days. 

Given that it has been Republicans who eschew discussion and compromise, if Jeb actually meant what he said, he'd be calling them to account - which is exactly what needs to happen for Washington to make the kinds of changes he is suggesting he supports. THAT would be real leadership!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Obama and Clinton: Strategies For Change

It is going to pain me to say this (a lot!), but I think Ron Fournier is actually right about something.
Friends and associates of the former secretary of State, including some who are preparing her for a likely presidential bid, say Clinton obviously will embrace Obama's progressive economic agenda. Middle-class tax cuts, judicial reform, paid sick leave, and free community-college tuition are the sort of policies that Clinton has previously supported—and would certainly push in the future.

Clinton is not worried about being associated with Obama's policies, associates say. Her challenge is to convince voters that, unlike Obama, she can deliver on her promises...

The Clinton team is discussing how to draw a contrast between Obama's leadership skills and hers—without overtly insulting the president.
The assumption behind this kind of strategy is that Clinton will lose if she simply runs on a "third Obama term." I'll leave that one aside for now because Fournier has tapped into the argument she'll likely make.

Way back during the 2008 primary (when the contest was still between Obama, Clinton and Edwards), Mark Schmitt wrote a masterful piece on their different "theories of change." While the GOP strategy of total obstruction was not in view at the time, he did define the status quo as Republican intractability. And then he examined the candidates' approach to overcoming the stalemate that would produce. Here's how he summed it up:
Hillary Clinton's stump speech is built around the speechwriter's rule of three, applied to theories of change: one candidate believes you achieve change by "demanding" it [Edwards], another thinks you "hope for it" [Obama], while she alone knows that you have to "work for it" [Clinton].

That's accurate as a rendering of the candidates' language: Her message of experience and hard work, Obama's language of hope and common purpose, Edwards' insistence that those with power will never give it up willingly.
Schmitt goes on to suggest that simply relying on "hard work" might not be enough.
Any of the three "theories of change" has to be tested not just as a description of the current political situation, but as a tactic for breaking it. Even the non-naive Edwards believes that the structure of power can be broken -- by a large, engaged social movement. Clinton's theory in a sense takes the status quo for granted more than the others, but it's appropriate in certain situations: I imagine her negotiating the fine points of a health care bill, having mastered every lesson from 1993 and every detail, and getting Senators McConnell and Grassley in the room, and them walking out having agreed to something they barely understand. Superior knowledge and diligence can be a tool of power...And while hard work and mastery of details is also indispensable in a president, work alone does not overcome unyielding political opposition. As Karl Rove would say, it's not a "gamechanger."
That description of how Clinton might have handled health care reform negotiations totally reminds me of the deal President Obama made during the attempt to avert a government shutdown over the FY 2011 budget. Initially conservatives went into celebration mode and liberals were incensed that "Obama caved." Eventually Republicans figured out they'd been taken.
So the budget deal is supposed to deliver $38 billion in spending cuts, including $20 billion in cuts to domestic discretionary spending...Based on news accounts, quite a lot of that $20 billion could be phony: $6.2 billion in unspent money for the Census; $2.5 billion of highway funds that couldn’t be spent; $3.5 billion of unused spending authority in a children’s health-care program. Is it possible that Republicans have gone from $61 billion in domestic discretionary savings all the way down to $8 billion?
As for the Edwards theory that the status quo can be broken "by a large, engaged social movement"... President Obama has been there, done that too.


Schmitt outlines what it is that President Obama added to the mix. Something I've called "conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy."
...perhaps we are being too literal in believing that "hope" and bipartisanship are things that Obama naively believes are present and possible, when in fact they are a tactic, a method of subverting and breaking the unified conservative power structure. Claiming the mantle of bipartisanship and national unity, and defining the problem to be solved... puts one in a position of strength, and Republicans would defect from that position at their own risk...

What I find fascinating about his language about unity and cross-partisanship is that it is not premised on finding Republicans who agree with him, but on taking in good faith the language and positions of actual conservatism -- people who don't agree with him....

The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear...One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.
President Obama has engaged all three theories - hard work, building a social movement, and conciliatory rhetoric - in an attempt to break through Republican obstructionism. For a while, he also tried to build a "common sense caucus." Now he's added his "pen and phone" strategy. In other words, when it comes to change, the President has employed an "all of the above" strategy. None of these things have been unquestionably successful - but they've all had their moments. And in the end, he's managed to accomplish quite a lot.

If Ron Fournier is right and Hillary Clinton wants to show that she can "deliver" in a way that President Obama has not, she's going to have to dig a lot deeper in search of something new. Otherwise it's just empty rhetoric that would come back to haunt her once she's in office.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

GOP Gridlocked With GOP

I predict we'll be seeing a lot of this over the next two years:

GOP gridlocked over DHS funding.
Top Republicans are exploring ways of escaping their political jam on immigration, with steps that could avoid a funding cutoff for the Department of Homeland Security while letting conservatives vent their anger at President Barack Obama.
Abortion bill dropped amid concerns of female GOP lawmakers.
House Republican leaders abruptly dropped plans late Wednesday to vote on an anti-abortion bill amid a revolt by female GOP lawmakers concerned that the legislation's restrictive language would once again spoil the party's chances of broadening its appeal to women and younger voters.
For the past four years, the GOP strategy of obstruction allowed them to abandon policy proposals and simply be the party of "no." In order to end the hostage-taking situations Republicans created, Speaker Boehner was never able to put together a coalition in his own party to end the crisis. He always had to reach out to Democrats in order to do so.

Now, with control of Congress, we are going to see those divisions and gridlock writ large on almost anything they try to do.

If I'm right, President Obama won't have to order that extra ink for his veto pen - once again saving taxpayers the added expense ;-)

An Open Letter to Chuck Todd

Dear Mr. Todd,

After 6 years of watching President Obama from the vantage point of the White House Press room, you decided that he was "The Stranger."

In contrast to your conclusions, I'd like to offer a couple of examples of people who have watched/experienced him from a different perspective.

First of all, Joshua Dubois described how the President interacted with family members of those who had been killed at Sandy Hook School in Newtown. In other words, at the most profound moment of loss they're likely to experience in their lives.
Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss.
On the other end of the spectrum, here's how Ava DuVernay described her experience with Barack and Michelle Obama at the screening of Selma at the White House last week.
President Obama’s introduction of SELMA in the presidential screening room, the quality time he and the First Lady took with us before and after, the stories he shared with my editor and cinematographer, the praise she gave our dear cast, the handshake he gave my father, the hug she gave my mother, the laughter, the smiles, the extra time they gave us all long, long, long beyond when we were scheduled to go, the warmth, the respect, it was just beyond exquisite.
Now...perhaps the experience of families who have lost a loved one or those who have created a profound movie about one of the most important eras in this country's history don't strike you as important to the political assessment of a president. From your perspective, how he interacts with the press and movers/shakers of the DC establishment is probably much more significant. If so, that raises the question...A Stranger to Whom?

Offered for your consideration,

Nancy

P.S. If you weren't aware of the events I described above, this might be why (more from Dubois):
And the funny thing is — President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.

"Immigrants and Native Americans"

I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we’re a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen -- man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino, Asian, immigrant, Native American, gay, straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability. Everybody matters.

President Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 20, 2015
I used that quote yesterday when I talked about President Obama's message that "Everybody Matters." But there's something else I'd like to mention today.

A few years ago I began to notice how often Native Americans are included when people list the racial/ethnic groups in this country. Let me simply report that it is a rare phenomenon. I can't even imagine what it's like to have to deal with the genocide/oppression Native Americans have suffered over the last few centuries. But to watch as - over and over again - your very existence goes unacknowledged is truly beyond the pale.

President Obama not only acknowledged the existence of Native Americans, he is the first one I've seen who took it to a whole new level. Let's break down the pairings he introduced.
  • man and woman
  • young and old
  • black and white, Latino, Asian
  • immigrant, Native American
  • gay, straight
  • Americans with mental illness or physical disability
Rather that listing black and white, Latino, Asian and Native American - which is what most people do when they are being inclusive - he introduced the pairing of immigrant and Native American. In other words, we're all either an immigrant (by choice or slavery) to this country or Native American.

Some might simply write this off as political correctness. But I think it represents the deep respect President Obama has demonstrated for both the gifts and challenges of this land's First Nations People.

A Better Politics: The Video

I just want to park this here as the part of President Obama's 2015 State of the Union speech that inspired this: A Better Politics.

Imagine...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

President Obama Hasn't Moved On

I have to admit that I chuckled a bit when President Obama said this last night in his State of the Union speech.
As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties, and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks. So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I have not. As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse. And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.
That bolded sentence was a pretty subtle swipe at a news media that tends to hype whatever the current hysteria is about and then move on. After promising a fireworks show and suggesting he'd saved the best for last, the Snowden/Greenwald revelations seem to have fizzled out with more pop than bang. And the MSM gave up on the story long ago.

But President Obama didn't simply move on. As he said, we'll find out more about what he's done/doing next month.

A Note to Future Black Presidents

Dear Future Black Presidents,

First of all...congratulations! You are following in some mighty impressive footsteps.

But I wanted to write to you in order to let you know that there are some unwritten rules that apply to you. This might be a bit confusing because they haven't applied to the white guys who preceded you. So I just wanted to give you a heads up. Here ya go...

1. You are not allowed to go on vacations.


2. You are not allowed to play golf.


3. You must always wear your suit coat when working in the Oval Office.


4. You must never, under any circumstances, wear a tan suit.


5. When giving a State of the Union speech, do not use the words "I," "me," or "mine."


Remember...just because President Reagan used those words about 55 times in a 35 minute speech (by my rough count), the rules change for you. Obeying them demonstrates your respect for white supremacy those who came before you.

Good luck with all that,

Nancy

< snark off >

Everybody Matters

I want our actions to tell every child in every neighborhood, your life matters, and we are  committed to improving your life chances - as committed as we are to working on behalf of our own kids. I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we’re a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen -- man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino, Asian, immigrant, Native American, gay, straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability. Everybody matters. I want them to grow up in a country that shows the world what we still know to be true: that we are still more than a collection of red states and blue states; that we are the United States of America.

President Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 20, 2015
Talk...meet walk.










A Better Politics

After President Obama's speech ended last night, I spent a few minutes listening to TV pundits react. The basic line was: "The President talked about a better politics. But he didn't offer any conciliation to Republican ideas."

I had to turn the TV off after just a couple of minutes because I was so frustrated that none of them seemed to even remotely grasp what the President said. The assumption was that the only way to achieve a better politics was for him to agree with Republicans.

Here's some of what the President actually said:
So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America’s hopes...

Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different. Understand, a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine. A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives...

If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments, but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.
Too many pundits (and Americans in general) assume there are only two options: agree or demonize your opponent. That's the kind of politics we've been living with for far too long. It's what President Obama calls our "empathy deficit." He is saying that we can disagree strongly with each other AND still address the heart of the matter.
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...

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others - all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face - war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.
This is truly President Obama's unique contribution to our politics today. Unless/until we can begin to grasp what he's saying...the poison will continue to infect our system.

Back to Why He Ran

The White House referred to last night's State of the Union speech as "Turning the Page." And no, I didn't know that was going to happen when I posted this yesterday morning. But even as I wrote that, I didn't realize the import of that title. Here's how President Obama described it in the introduction to his remarks.
Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before. More of our people are insured than ever before. And we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe. We are humbled and grateful for your service.

America, for all that we have endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.
But it wasn't until he got to the end of the speech that I realized why the President has a spring in his step lately and more determination that ever to push his own agenda. No, its not simply because he doesn't have to face another election. And no, its not simply because he wants to set the agenda for the 2016 election. And no, its not because he's finally learned how to be combative with Republicans.

Listening to the President last night I got more of a sense of how burdened he's been by the near-collapse of our economy and the seemingly endless wars in which we were engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. For almost six years he has had to focus almost exclusively on fixing the messes he was handed by previous administrations. As he has said a lot lately, 2014 was finally a "break-through year" on all those fronts. And now he is free to get back to the issues that motivated him to run in the first place.

I can hear it now: "But, but, but...income inequality!!!!" My response would be to say that addressing that issue is EXACTLY why Barack Obama ran for president. It's not a new challenge that exists because of the Great Recession. It has been building for the last 30-40 years (or more). President Obama's assessment of our situation is that the fundamentals of our economy are now strong enough that we can begin to tackle the structural issues that create inequality.

It was when President Obama recalled his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention that I recognized the transformation that has happened in him over the last few months. He's finally able to let go of an incredibly difficult crisis that was not of his making and get on with the work he felt passionate enough about that he was able to take on the risk of running for president against all odds...and won...twice :-)

He's only got two years left to go. But I predict that over that time we'll see the president Barack Obama dreamed of being. So hang on for a VERY interesting fourth quarter!