Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Favorites

As the clock ticks toward midnight, I thought I'd summarize some of my favorite political things from this last year.

First of all, I'll point out that - with an assist from Andrew Sullivan - this was the most popular post here at Smartypants in the last year. On a more serious note, the one that came in second is perhaps the one I'm most proud of.

Other than the election (which I'll say more about later), this has to be the moment that brought me the most joy.

I put some of my favorite photographs from the year in this video.

So many of those are fabulous. But my outright favorite has to be this one.

Finally...we did have an election. There were so many memorable moments in the lead-up to that fateful night. One of my favorites was "Please proceed, Governor." But if for no other reason than that the President seemed to enjoy it so much, this one rises to the top for me.

When it comes to "best post-election analysis," this one tops them all (if you don't have time to watch the whole thing, at least watch the first 2 minutes).

Goodbye 2012. Thanks for the memories.

A story with 3 possible endings

As I see it, we are now faced with three possible scenarios on the so-called "fiscal cliff."

The first is that we go off the cliff. That means lots of new federal revenues because EVERYONE's taxes will go up. In addition to income taxes, inheritance taxes would rise sharply. But on the other end, we'd lose the smaller tax cuts included in the Recovery Act: expansion of EITC, child tax credit, college tuition tax credit, wind tax credit. In addition, unemployment insurance would run out for millions of people and reimbursement rates for Medicare providers will drop sharply. Finally the sequestered cuts to both domestic and defense spending will go into effect.

Some liberals are suggesting that it would be better to simply go off the cliff. Most of them assume that after the new year, Democrats can simply propose a bill to provide tax cuts for income less than $250,000 and Republicans will pass it. You hear that kind of thing mostly from the very same poutragers who constantly berate President Obama for assuming the tea baggers can be reasoned with. So I'm sorry but I have to laugh at their assumption that all of the sudden those same baggers will be reasonable in the next Congress. I realize that most of them assume that the Republicans will have to vote FOR a tax cut. But that assumes that the opposition to President Obama has been ideological rather than strategic. What part of "the party of no" do these folks not comprehend? And what do these folks think will happen to unemployment insurance as well as all the other tax credits in that scenario? I'll tell you what will happen...nada.

The second scenario is the end-game President Obama has talked about. If the Senate can't come up with a deal, the Democrats will propose a bill that extends tax cuts on income under $250,000 as well as unemployment insurance - and essentially dare Republicans to oppose it.

That's not a bad deal. But just like going over the cliff, the other tax credits disappear and both scenarios leave the sequestered cuts to deal with after the first of the year.

Right now the 3rd scenario is still under construction between VP Biden and Sen. McConnell. As I understand that one - it would extend the tax cuts for incomes under $450,000. But it also increases taxes on capital gains/dividends for upper incomes as well as limiting their itemized deductions. There is some tinkering with estate taxes and a Medicare "doc fix" included as well. As important, however, it extends unemployment insurance and the tax credits from the Recovery Act (the latter for 5 years). On that one, I can't help but think about how it took folks like David Corn and Matt Yglesias almost two years to figure out what a great deal President Obama negotiated when he got those extended for 2 years in 2010 (some people never figured it out).

What seems to be holding up this third scenario is the question of what to do with the sequester cuts. President Obama talked about them in his remarks today.
And keep in mind that the threat of tax hikes going up is only one part of this so-called fiscal cliff that everybody is talking about. What we also have facing us, starting tomorrow, are automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect.

And keep in mind that some of these spending cuts that Congress has said will automatically go into effect have an impact on our Defense Department, but they also have an impact on things like Head Start. And so there are some programs scheduled to be cut that we’re using an ax instead of a scalpel. May not always be the smartest cuts. And so that is a piece of business that still has to be taken care of.

And I want to make clear that any agreement we have to deal with these automatic spending cuts that are being threatened for next month, those also have to be balanced, because, remember, my principle always has been let’s do things in a balanced, responsible way. And that means the revenues have to be part of the equation in turning off the sequester and eliminating these automatic spending cuts, as well as spending cuts.
Folks who are suggesting that Republicans got mad because Obama was so cheerful during his remarks are getting it wrong. They got mad because of this. The President just reiterated what he told Boehner during their negotiations...when it comes to resolving these tax cuts - he gets that for free. The "balance" comes into play when they start talking about spending cuts.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

WWOB (what would Obama do?)

As folks freak out over the looming deadline of the so-called "fiscal cliff," I keep thinking about what Michelle Obama said about how her husband handles these kinds of situations.
Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight.

If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.

We always have.
I need to soak that one up a little more thoroughly. I offer it to you as well.

Gregory: "What is it about you, Mr. President, that you think is so hard to say yes to?"

I don't expect journalists to have degrees in history. But I do think that the least we should be able to expect from someone like David Gregory is that, when interviewing the President of the United States, he isn't completely oblivious to the recorded facts about the Republican Party's strategy developed just 4 years ago.

And yet this morning on Meet the Press, David Gregory completely ignored those facts and asked, "What is it about you, Mr. President, that you think is so hard to say yes to?"

I'd like to recommend some reading material to Mr. Gregory. The Republican Party's strategy since the day of President Obama's inauguration has been well documented. But perhaps nowhere more thoroughly than by Michael Grunwald. Here's how Ohio Senator George Voinovich summarized it:
If Obama was for it, we had to be against it.
It really is that simple. Congressional Republicans knew that they had no hope of winning the war of ideas after conservative policies had been so demolished during the Bush years. And they knew that the biggest threat to their power was the post-partisan outstretched hand that President Obama was offering. And so their decision was to become the party of "no."

To ignore this as the Republican's strategy is not even an effective way of trying to stay balanced in your reporting. It is nothing more than the turning of a blind eye to something the Republicans themselves have acknowledged - and that actually was successful enough to give them big gains in the 2010 midterm elections.

What an insulting question that was to ask this morning. But even more than being an insult to President Obama, it was insulting to us as American citizens who've watched all this happen - and insulting to your own reputation as a journalist who should be better informed on the facts.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fiscal cliff becomes Republican cliff

The Republicans have a way of painting themselves into an impossible corner and President Obama has always been happy to let them do that. Of course he's always offering his outstretched hand - but it comes with a price...working WITH him instead of AGAINST him.

Let's remember that this so-called "fiscal cliff" was one of the Republicans' own making. For two years now, they have refused to deal with the Democrats about the fact that the Bush tax cuts expire on January 1st. President Obama made his intentions clear during the election - they should only be extended for incomes under $250,000. And he won.

In addition, for the first time in our history, the Republicans used the debt ceiling as hostage in an attempt to end Social Security and Medicare as we know them. That failed and we ended up with $1.2 trillion in spending cuts (half to domestic programs and half to defense) set to begin on January 1st.

Speaker Boehner attempted to negotiate a deal with President Obama on all this and eventually walked away from the table - learning that he had no control over the members of his own caucus. So he threw up his hands and said, "Its up to the Senate to do something."

President Obama and Sen. Majority Leader Reid were more than happy to take him up on that. Here's how Reid set it up.
At President Obama’s request, I am readying a bill for a vote by Monday that will prevent a tax hike on middle-class families making up to $250,000, and that will include the additional, critical provisions outlined by President Obama. In the next twenty-four hours, I look forward to hearing any good-faith proposals Senator McConnell has for altering this bill.”
By passing the responsibility to the Senate, Boehner has handed things off to the chamber where Democrats control what comes to the floor. If McConnell doesn't come up with something Reid agrees with, what will be presented is the President's smaller package including an extension of the tax cuts only on incomes under $250,000 and things like an extension of unemployment insurance.

That's test one for McConnell. Test two is whether or not he will filibuster said bill. If he does, he not only takes the blame for falling off the cliff, he is basically ASKING for filibuster reform in the next Congress. If he doesn't, he inspires the ire of the tea bagger wing of his party.

If a bill gets through the Senate, the next test is for Boehner. Either he brings it to the floor to see if a bipartisan group of Representatives pass it - or he holds it up and becomes responsible for falling off the cliff. If he allows the bill to pass, he too will face the wrath of the tea baggers.

With all the world watching, the fiscal cliff has now become a Republican cliff. Either these two men accept President Obama's outstretched hand, or they're the one's going off the cliff into oblivion.

Stay tuned...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Krauthammer feeling the ruthless part of "conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy"

Last night on Faux News, Charles Krauthammer had this to say about President Obama's strategy in the negotiations about the so-called "fiscal cliff."
He’s been using this, and I must say with great skill–-and ruthless skill and success–to fracture and basically shatter the Republican opposition… His objective from the very beginning was to break the will of the Republicans in the House, and to create an internal civil war. And he’s done that.
Of course Krauthammer doesn't acknowledge that the President has given Republicans a either cooperate with him on solving this issue or create an internal civil war in their own party. And so - as BooMan points out - its the Republicans who have chosen to bury themselves in their own bullshit.

As regular readers here know, this is what I've been calling President Obama's conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy for a long time now. Of course he would be pleased if the Republicans accepted his outstretched hand and agreed to work together on an effective compromise. But what they get in return for their obstruction is increasing marginalization as they paint themselves into an ever more extremist corner.

Last night, Krauthammer was feeling the results of that effective strategy.

Thank you, Lisa Jackson

When I heard that Lisa Jackson was leaving her position as head of the EPA, I immediately thought of this picture. It was taken as she and Thad Allen - the National Incident Commander for the Gulf Oil spill - waited for President Obama to arrive to tour the damage in the Gulf and get a briefing.

The photo spoke volumes to me about the trust and support these two leaders had in each other as they faced such a daunting task during those difficult days. They were under siege - not just from the incredibly difficult job they had to do - but also as everyone on both the left and right panicked and looked for someone to blame. And yet obviously...they had each other to lean on.

If you'd like to read more about what Lisa Jackson accomplished in her 4 years at the EPA, take a look at this article from her home state of New Jersey.
Jackson, the first African-American to head that agency, announced Thursday that she will be stepping down from the EPA after the first of the year, paving the way for a successor to take over energy policy point person during President Obama's second term...

Jackson's departure won't generate the same flurry of political speculation that other high-profile changes, such as Hillary Clinton leaving the State Department, have created. Yet make no mistake, Jackson will be missed by all true friends of the environment, because of her stern independence, her unflinching efforts to combat carbon pollution and her determination to curb global warming.

One would think, given all the weather-related upheaval we've been through in the past two years, that global climate change might no longer be a matter of dispute. And yet it is, especially among some Republican lawmakers who have a difficult time accepting even basic scientific concepts. This, of course, put them on a collision course with Jackson...

Indeed, Jackson's record at the EPA will be remembered for the right reasons: helping to finalize a historic new rule doubling fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks by 2025 — based on Jackson's so-called "endangerment finding" regarding carbon dioxide and climate change — and fighting hard to establish new standards that force power plants to control mercury, arsenic and other airborne toxic pollutants. And, perhaps more than any predecessor, Jackson tried to make the impact of industrial pollution on low-income neighborhoods a priority.
So I want to say "thank you" to Ms. Jackson for a job well-done.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

How it all started

Kathy Najimy and Maureen Gaffney

I'd love to be a fly on Jon Favreau's wall

And no, its not JUST because of the delicious eye candy.

Its because unless Speaker Boehner pulls an unexpected stunt when the House reconvenes on Monday, December 31st, we're headed off the so-called "fiscal cliff" on Tuesday.

And then the Speaker has 3 weeks to get this mess cleaned up before President Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, January 22nd and his State of the Union Address the following Tuesday.

How do you think the President's head speechwriter is spending his time these days?  I'd suggest he's writing various iterations of these speeches depending on the outcome of what happens during those 3 weeks. Because remember what President Obama promised Speaker Boehner during these negotiations?
Mr. Obama repeatedly lost patience with the speaker as negotiations faltered. In an Oval Office meeting last week, he told Mr. Boehner that if the sides didn't reach agreement, he would use his inaugural address and his State of the Union speech to tell the country the Republicans were at fault.
Need I remind you that the President doesn't bluff?

Be Ever Wonderful

As a rule, I've avoided joining the chorus of people who always have advice for President Obama. That's not because I think he's perfect. It has more to do with the fact that I feel like I have so much to learn from him. So I have a hard time imagining myself being in the position of giving him advice.

But I'm going to break that tradition today in much the same way that Alice Walker did just after he was first elected President.

More than anything, I value a person who knows their heart and has the strength to share it with others. And so today my advice to the President is to "be ever wonderful...stay as you are."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"That's my honey giving me a hug"

De-ratifying the Reagan revolution

Another article that is getting a lot of attention is the one written by Joe Hagan about his experience on National Review's Post Election Cruise. Its a long read, but fascinating in its inside look at a movement in its death throes.

The thing that stood out to me is the racism.
Rasmussen blasted the assembled Republicans with one crushing statistic after another. The exit poll data, he said, “create a negative brand image of the Republican Party as a party that only cares about white people.”

The audience murmured unhappily.

“And that image is hurting among the youth,” he continued. “It is hurting across the culture. It is something that has to be addressed across the party. It has to be addressed. You can’t just wish it away.”...

Rasmussen offered some friendly advice about approaching minorities. “You show them that you really care, you talk to them as grown-ups on a range of issues, you get them involved,” he suggested, “and you accept the fact that it’s a long-term investment. And you accept that you can learn as much from them as you can teach them.”

This was harsh medicine to reluctant patients, and afterward some of them made their discomfort known. “That depressed me!” one woman said. To my right, a man snapped, “That’s bullshit!”
There are several other snippets that contain the same theme.

But it was something Jonah Goldberg said that struck me as the most significant.
“Their conception of what the country is about, they really were sure the country would reject Barack Obama,” he continued. “I do think it hits them hard. The fear I have, why this election stung, I think, Obama has successfully ­de-ratified some of the Reagan revolution in a way that Clinton never could and didn’t even try to. That’s what freaks people out, that feeling in their gut, either Obama has changed the country, or the country has sufficiently changed that they don’t have a problem with Obama. That’s what eats at people.”
In my mind, the heart of the Reagan revolution was "government can't solve the problem; government IS the problem." What's eating at these people is that President Obama is changing that narrative. The majority of Americans chose to re-elect a President who has staked his claim on the idea that the government can't solve all of our problems - but it can play a substantial role in addressing many of the challenges that face us. That's what the whole "you didn't build that" freak-out was all about.

I've talked endlessly about President Obama's long game. And the President himself has often used the metaphor of the ship of state as an ocean-liner that changes course slowly. This is how it happens folks.

Oh...and its a Black man doing it.  

"I get that for free"

The Wall Street Journal article that provided a behind the scenes look at the "fiscal cliff" negotiations got an awful lot of attention. The money quote that seemed to be mentioned most frequently was this one:
At one point, according to notes taken by a participant, Mr. Boehner told the president, "I put $800 billion [in tax revenue] on the table. What do I get for that?"

"You get nothing," the president said. "I get that for free."
I suspect that most people focused on that because it completely negates their view of President Obama's negotiating style. But beyond that - it gives us a bit of a glimpse into how he's viewing this whole process.

Its important to remember the factors that define what people are calling the "fiscal cliff." One is that in December 2010 President Obama and the Democrats agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for 2 years (2011 -2012). They are now set to end on Jan. 1, 2013. If they are extended only for income less than $250,000, that brings in roughly $800 billion in revenue.

In the conversation quoted above, Speaker Boehner is trying to use agreement to that $800 billion as bargaining leverage. President Obama says "no deal." He sees that part as a given and its the other part of the "fiscal cliff" that the negotiations are all about - the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts (half to discretionary spending and half to defense) that were part of the sequestration that arose out of the debt ceiling deal.

President Obama's negotiating position is basically to suggest that - if Republicans want to do something other than cut defense by $600 billion - he's open to alternatives. In his latest offer, the President put an alternative plan to cut $1.2 trillion on the table. But in return, he wants an additional $400 billion in new revenue (added to the $800 billion he gets "for free") - making the deal $1 of taxes for every $1 of spending cuts.

One other note about that final proposal from President Obama. Of course the item that got the most attention in the offer was that it incorporated the use of chained CPI (an alternative way of measuring inflation that would be applied to government programs - ie, Social Security - and tax brackets). The CBO has estimated that implementing chained CPI would save $220 billion over 10 years. But in the President's proposal it is set to save only $122 billion. What that means is that the President was assuming about $98 billion (almost half) would be knocked off the savings in order to protect the most vulnerable (ie, wounded veterans, SSI recipients, and long-term SS recipients).

That's the deal that Speaker Boehner walked away from.

And so now, it looks like they'll get back to business tomorrow on a smaller deal that will primarily lock in that $800 billion in taxes - what President Obama gets "for free."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A reminder for the holidays

One of the things that I admire most about President Obama is that he has such unwavering faith in the American people.

As we focus on all that is wrong in the world and get so angry at the hatred/ignorance on display, I often find myself questioning the wisdom of that faith.

And then along comes a story like this.
The holidays have been rough for the Newtown Police Department, which is why officers from across Connecticut joining forces, so that not a single Newtown officer has to work on Christmas Day. The plan has been kept on the down low for the past few days, since the various police departments are making the effort not for the press but as a gesture of solidarity with their fellow officers. After whispers of the touching gesture from local law enforcement emerged on Twitter over the weekend, however, the Newtown Police Department confirmed the news in an interview with The Atlantic Wire on Monday. "They've been actually non-stop with their aid. It's pretty amazing," said Newtown police spokesperson Sergeant Steve Santucci said of his fellow Connecticut officers. "And tomorrow, they'll be at our assistance so that Newtown [officers] can be home with their families."

But wait there's more. One of the only perks about working on Christmas Day is overtime and holiday pay. Just as they're not doing it for the press, though, many of the officers filling in at Newtown aren't interested in the money, so they're reportedly donating their paychecks to Newtown and Sandy Hill Elementary School charities. At least, those ones that are even accepting payment are. Santucci said that he knew some of the officers were volunteering their time on Tuesday but wasn't able to say who was making donations or how much money would be raised, since the Christmas Day pay would be coming from officers' hometown departments.
I think we tend to hear more of these kinds of stories after a tragedy and/or during the holidays. But it speaks to the goodness in humanity that is at direct odds with the stories we are so often told.

And so I want to say "thank you" to these Connecticut police officers for reminding me that in the midst of all that is wrong in the world - selflessness and compassion are still alive and well too.

Monday, December 24, 2012

"Let me tell you something about the Jesus that I know"

This post by kid oakland is going to be a tradition here for Christmas. I can think of no better way to honor the birth we celebrate tomorrow.
Let me tell you something about the Jesus that I know.

He was a real man. Born in a poor region to working poor parents. He loved learning, he loved his mother and his father.

But he left them and spent his life with the poor, the outcast, the rejected, the defiled, the sick, the sinners, the bedraggled, the bereft, the self-hating, the lonely, the banished, the foul, the miserable, the desperate and finally, those sick with their own power.

He did this, not because of his ideology or his creed. He did this not because of his doctrine. He did this, quite simply, because he loved them. He preferred them.

Their company, their stories, their lives, their environs, their plight and their faith.

And they loved him. Because he touched them. He looked them in the eye and believed in them. Because, at the end of the day, when they looked to him they saw that his commitment to them was a commitment unsullied by qualifier or clause. It was a commitment to love them, even upon pain of death. And they saw in him, a love that promised to love them as they were, who they were...fully, without judgement or flinching glance, or hypocritical accomodation.

This man, Jesus, was surrounded by friends and disciples whom he mentored....not by carping or enforcing rules...but by example and teaching. By the force of his actions. By his resolute commitment to the least, the smallest, the most in need.

Demand a Plan

Don't let the "chicken littles" get you down

As a result of the negotiations over the so-called "fiscal cliff," the silence of the poutragers on the left during the presidential campaign has turned into howls of rage once again. Just as I was needing some perspective on all that, I ran across a diary that I wrote almost a year ago that reminded me...thus has it always been. It included this quote from Arthur Schlesinger from 1949.
The weakness of impotence is related to a fear of responsibility – a fear, that is, of making concrete decisions and being held to account for concrete consequences. Problems are much simpler when viewed from the office of a liberal weekly than when viewed in terms of what will actually happen when certain ideologically attractive steps are taken.

Too often the Doughface really does not want power or responsibility. For him the more subtle sensations of the perfect syllogism, the lost cause, the permanent minority, where lie can be safe from the exacting job of trying to work out wise policies in an imperfect world...

Having renounced power, the Doughface seeks compensation in emotion. The pretext for progressive rhetoric is, of course, the idea that man, the creature of reason and benevolence, has only to understand the truth in order to act upon it.

But the function of progressive rhetoric is another matter; it is, in Dwight MacDonald’s phrase, to accomplish “in fantasy what cannot be accomplished in reality.” Because politics is for the Doughface a means of accommodating himself to a world he does not like but does not really want to change, he can find ample gratification in words. They appease his twinges of guilt without committing him to very drastic action...

Progressive dreams are tinged with a brave purity, a rich sentiment and a noble defiance. But, like most dreams, they are notable for the distortion of facts by desire.
It is amazing how perfectly this description fits what we see/hear from so many on the left right now.

I think it was back during the 2008 election that Al Giordano started calling progressives who act this way "chicken littles" because the sky was perpetually falling for them and they never seemed to figure out what to do about that.
Only in America do a significant number of people equate expressions of outrage and indignation du jour as somehow being akin to the hard work of political activism or participation. And I hate to say it, but this delusion is worse, much worse, on the left side of the dial where reaction is the standard operating procedure in place of authentic action. I speak, therefore I act is the great American illusion of politics. Sorry, but no. Only when our speech effectively causes others to act does it rise to the level of poetry...
And so the chicken littles are in a constant state of outrage forecasting doom and gloom. As only Molly Ivins could do - she points out the comfort in that.
Things are not getting worse; things have always been this bad. Nothing is more consoling than the long perspective of history. It will perk you up no end to go back and read the works of progressives past. You will learn therein that things back then were also terrible, and what's more, they were always getting worse. This is most inspiriting.
So Happy Holidays everyone! Don't let the chicken littles get to you. Despite all their doom and gloom, they haven't been able to bring us all down yet!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Peel off the war paint"

There is something I've been thinking about the last few days that was perfectly captured in this diary at dkos. It purports to be a diary about winning/losing politically.
This is how "winners" behave! They plan and execute the demise of their opponent(s).
S/he then goes on to correctly state that this is currently the Republicans' approach. I agree. But I always find it interesting to watch liberals whine/complain about how Republicans are behaving only to turn around and suggest that Democrats should do the same damned thing.

When I hear things like this, I immediately wonder what the author means by the word "demise." I'm pretty sure that this is not a call for the literal death of all conservatives. And its pretty clear from the context that the author is referring to a negotiating position rather than speaking in the context of electoral defeat.

What comes to mind is an expectation that one political faction could be so heavy-handed in their approach that the other side would eventually cry "uncle" and simply walk away from their positions in shame. I would ask you to contemplate when, in the course of history, people have ever done that.

The most glaring example I can think of that demonstrates the failure of this kind of approach would be to look at the heavy hand of the government of Israel in dealing with the people of Palestine. Has the overwhelming dominance of Israel led to the demise of the position of the Palestinians? Have they been willing to cry "uncle" and let Israel have its way? NO! It has led to a 60 year stalemate of tit-for-tat.

To me, the whole idea of representative democracy is to avoid the use of war (either literally or figuratively) to resolve our differences. Unless you are willing to literally kill every opponent, approaching political differences by trying to execute the demise of your opponents is a recipe for stalemate. That's why this week at his press conference, President Obama said this:
And if you just pull back from the immediate political battles, if you kind of peel off the partisan war paint, then we should be able to get something done.
Winning is NOT about causing the demise of your opponents. Its about getting something done to address the issues we face. That should be our North Star. When we take our eyes off that prize, we lose.

A fiscal bump for autoworkers

With everyone focused on the looming "fiscal cliff," its easy to miss just how much our economy is actually improving. Nowhere is that more in evidence than the one sector where President Obama intervened most effectively...the auto industry.
Union workers at Detroit's two largest auto makers are on track for big profit-sharing payouts for this year.

Officials at the United Auto Workers union have told members employed at General Motors Co. to expect profit-sharing checks for as much as $7,000 early next year, according to two people briefed on the matter. Over at Ford Motor Co., which is more profitable than GM in North America, the 2012 payouts could top $8,000, based on a pay formula spelled out in the UAW contract...

Because of that success, about 50,000 GM hourly employees will likely receive payments ranging between $5,500 and $7,000, said the people familiar with the matter. Ford's approximate 44,000 hourly workers could get paid more than $8,000 a piece. The estimates are based on UAW contract terms that essentially have eligible workers receiving $1 extra for every $1 million in operating profit Ford or GM generates in North America.

The final amounts won't be known until both companies close out the fourth quarter and announce their financial results. Checks would go out in March.
Its important to remember that these bonuses were part of the what the UAW agreed to as part of the bail-out in exchange for lower starting pay as well as reductions in some health benefits and lower cost of living adjustments.

But this is about something more than a celebration for these autoworkers. Its about what can happen when we work together to solve problems. We know that's what President Obama, Congressional Democrats and the majority of the American people want. I also believe that there are some Congressional Republicans who know that is the only way to avoid the insanity that has taken hold lately. That's why its time for some profiles in courage.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A tune for the gun nutters

This one goes out to Mr. LaPierre and all his friends at the NRA who are so afraid of the monsters under their beds...PUT YOUR LIGHTS ON!!!!!

Behind the scenes on the negotiations

The Wall Street Journal says that they interviewed "dozens of aides and lawmakers" to craft a summary of how the negotiations over the so-called "fiscal cliff" between President Obama and Speaker Boehner broke down. The few snippets they provide are indeed fascinating. For example:
Mr. Obama repeatedly lost patience with the speaker as negotiations faltered. In an Oval Office meeting last week, he told Mr. Boehner that if the sides didn't reach agreement, he would use his inaugural address and his State of the Union speech to tell the country the Republicans were at fault.

At one point, according to notes taken by a participant, Mr. Boehner told the president, "I put $800 billion [in tax revenue] on the table. What do I get for that?"

"You get nothing," the president said. "I get that for free."
Does that sound like a President who is negotiating with himself? Anything but!

Its interesting to note how the President responded when Boehner started begging for the "grand bargain" he rejected during the debt ceiling negotiations.
On Dec. 13, Mr. Boehner went to the White House at the president's request, joking he was going to the woodshed.

The president told him he could choose one of two doors. The first represented a big deal. If Mr. Boehner chose it, the president said, the country and financial markets would cheer. Door No. 2 represented a spike in interest rates and a global recession.

Mr. Boehner said he wanted a deal along the lines of what the two men had negotiated in the summer of 2011 in a fight over raising the debt ceiling. "You missed your opportunity on that," the president told him.

That night, the speaker and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) decided to make the biggest concession so far.
As I've noted previously, those concessions included extending the tax cuts for income under $1 million and extending the debt limit for one to two years. Here's how they describe the discussions after that:
In that session, the president held firm for $1.2 trillion in additional tax revenue, a second step down from his original offer. Mr. Boehner asked for another $100 billion in spending cuts but couldn't get a commitment.

Finally, the speaker said, "Well, you and I can sit here and stare at each other," or he could leave and they would talk later.

Back in the Capitol, Mr. Boehner told Mr. Cantor the president wasn't moving. They agreed to call him. On the call, Mr. Boehner restated he needed $1 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue raised. He dropped a prior demand to increase the Medicare eligibility age.

The president told Mr. Boehner that he was willing to make some concessions on taxes and spending, but cautioned that they needed to retain Democratic votes for the bill to pass.

The speaker raised the prospect of moving a backup bill. White House officials said Mr. Boehner didn't reveal what Plan B comprised. Administration officials expected a few more days of back-and-forth, but the speaker thought the prospects were dim for a big deal.
We all know the story about the Republican fiasco that resulted.

I see nowhere that President Obama put chained CPI on the table - the subject that has gotten the most attention lately. Perhaps it is inferred in the suggestion that the President "was willing to make some concessions on taxes and spending." But that was qualified by the reality that he "needed to retain Democratic votes for the bill to pass." So it certainly doesn't sound like a sure thing. And if it was ever "on the table," it was in response to Republican concessions on:
  1. Raising taxes on the wealthy
  2. Extending the debt limit
  3. Dropping the demand to increase the Medicare eligibility age
  4. Extending unemployment benefits
  5. Additional stimulus spending
Its clear now that Boehner couldn't deliver on those concessions. But then, whatever the President put on the table in response is also mute moot - just like the 2011 grand bargain. 

That's a fascinating look at our Negotiator-in-Chief. And it defies all the stereotypes that have developed amongst the poutragers about him being willing to negotiate with himself. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mele Kalikimaka Mr. President!

Its been a tough week for all of us - no one more so than our President. As I've watched him battle the tears over the loss of our babies only to have to switch gears to take on the lunatic fringe in Congress, I've been spending some time thinking about how grateful I am that he is willing to represent us by taking this all on. I can't imagine another human being I'd rather have in the White House at this moment in history.

And so, with the press conference completed, he'll be heading off to Hawaii for a much-deserved break (I hope!) I have nothing more to give him as a token of my gratitude than to wish him "Mele Kalikimaka."

Oh, and one more thing...

I'd like to once again repeat something Alice Walker wrote to President Obama shortly after he was elected.
I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone...

Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

LaPierre wants you to be afraid of monsters

I thought about going through his speech to count every time he used words like "monster" or "predator." But seriously, I can't stomach it. Here's the crux of this man's totally depraved view of the world.
The truth is, that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons, that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school, he’s already identified at this very moment?
I could write thousands of words about how sick and depraved Mr. LaPierre's solutions to gun violence are. But they all stem from this view of humanity...we need to be afraid of and arm ourselves against the "monsters" among us. Without that - he has no case to make for his recommendations.

This has always been at the crux of the argument against gun control...that the world can be divided up between the "good guys" and the "bad guys." Its all black and white (literally sometimes) for them. And since the "bad guys" are irredeemable, our only recourse is to arm ourselves so that we can kill them.

Of course this flies in the face of evidence that says that a gun in the house is more likely to be used on yourself or someone you love. But it goes much deeper than that.

As I said the other day, there are consequences to any effort to label other human beings as "monsters." It gives folks like LaPierre the footing to tell us that they are expendable and we simply need to arm ourselves to be protected from them. It shuts down the doors of contemplating our society's responsibility for the deprivation that leads children to become capable of monstrous acts. And thereby opens the door to more children dying in the future. It also promotes the idea that we lead with fear - especially fear of each other.

It all reminds me again of what David Simon wrote about the "stand your ground laws" in response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
Despite becoming the most incarcerative society in the history of the planet, despite spending more and more of our national treasure on prisons and probation officers, drug courts and sentencing judges, despite the elimination of parole and the proliferation of mandatory sentencing, we are still ever more angry, ever more lethal, ever more afraid. Based on the scope and reach of our criminal justice system, Americans are now either the most evil people in modern history, or our view of ourselves, our neighbors and our national collective has been utterly corrupted by our own cowardice and rage.
And so - to Mr. LaPierre and anyone else who buys into his depraved world view - I want to say that I DO NOT see "monsters" amongst us and I WILL NOT buy into your craven exploitation of fear.

There is another way...

Its time for some profiles in courage

Yesterday Republicans in the House actually did pass a bill associated with the so-called "fiscal cliff." That bill restored all the cuts to the military that are scheduled to begin on January 1st and replaced them with cuts that would further harm the poor and middle class in this country (they left the $600 billion in domestic spending cuts already included in the sequester - on top of the $1 trillion the debt ceiling deal already cut - and added more).

Where things broke down in last night's fiasco is that Speaker Boehner couldn't get enough of them to vote for a bill that would have raised taxes on people making over $1 million.

So the message coming from the Republican Party today is that they are willing to hurt 99% of Americans - but are not willing to ask the 1% to pay any price. Think about that for a moment. This is about more than the specific policies...its about destruction.

From watching some of the coverage on TV last night as this occurred, I saw that there are actually some Republicans in the House who are disgusted with the lunatics in their Party who seem hell-bent on this kind of destruction. I'd suggest that its time for some soul-searching on their part. They need to ask whether they want to align themselves with a group of people who will go down in history as a lunatic fringe that tried to destroy the country.

If they don't want to go down with that ship, then its time for some Profiles in Courage.
Profiles in Courage is a 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of short biographies describing acts of bravery and integrity by eight United States Senators throughout the Senate's history. The book profiles senators who crossed party lines and/or defied the opinion of their constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions.
The introduction to the book contains this quote from Edmund Burke:
He well knows what snares are spread about his path, from personal animosity...and possibly from popular delusion. But he has put hazard to his ease, his security, his interest, his power, even his...popularity...He is traduced and abused for his supposed motives. He will remember that obloquy is a necessary ingredient in the composition of all true glory: he will remember...that calumny and abuse are essential parts of triumph. He may live long, he may do much. But here is the summit. He can never exceed what he does this day. 
I don't know if there are Republicans within the ranks today with that kind of courage. But if there are - here is their summit. They don't have to agree with every Democratic position. They simply have to stand up and call out the lunacy.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A few facts on the "fiscal cliff" negotiations (updated)

Things are getting a little confusing on the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations. And with all the screaming from the poutragers, it can be hard to understand what's going on. So I thought I'd summarize the latest actions in bullet points to see if it helps clarify.
  • The first thing to notice is that Speaker Boehner made some big concessions from the Republican position. First of all, he opened the door on the extension of tax cuts. His proposal would extend them for income less than $1 million (Obama wants them extended for income less than $250,000). But the really BIG concession was an extension of the debt ceiling for one or two years. That would give away the leverage Republicans were counting on in the coming months. BFD!
  • Because Boehner made these concessions, it was incumbent on Obama to do so as well. If he hadn't, he'd be putting himself and the Democrats in the position of being blamed when we went off the "cliff" by being intransigent. That's why he made the counter-offer of extending the tax cuts for income less than $400,000 and adopting the "chained CPI" method of measuring inflation. 
  • No one of the left truly embraces the chained CPI. But people as knowledgable as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Jared Bernstein suggest that the conditions the White House was demanding to include would mitigate its effects on vulnerable elderly who are dependent on Social Security. The Republicans were demanding 2 things be included on the spending cuts side of this negotiation - raising the Medicare eligibility age and chained CPI (which affects more than Social Security). Of the two, its clear that Obama agreed with many liberal economists that the latter was the least objectionable alternative. 
  • What is perhaps the most important point to notice here however, is that when Boehner and Obama got within striking distance of a deal, Boehner walked away. Ultimately - as President Obama noted yesterday in his press conference - he couldn't sell it to the Republican caucus in the House. As Michael Tomasky  explains, Boehner's angry 50 second press conference yesterday was no match for the President's appeal to common sense compromise. But Boehner's speakership is on the line on Jan. 3rd. And that's his biggest concern right now. 
  • Today Speaker Boehner will attempt to have the House pass his "Plan B" bill which would ONLY extend the tax cuts for income under $1 million (nothing on the defense or domestic cuts coming Jan. 1st). Its unclear whether or not he can garner his troops to even do that - what with organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth urging a "no" vote. The Senate certainly won't pass that one and President Obama has promised to veto it if they did. Brian Beutler does a good job of explaining Boehner's options when it fails: "To his right, there’ll be the fiscal cliff, and to his left there’ll be Obama’s outstretched hand." Since his caucus won't allow him to reach for that outstretched hand, I'd suggest that its "fiscal cliff - here we come." That folks, is what the beast in its death throes looks like. 
UPDATE: Steve Benen does a good job of describing the untenable position Boehner is in. And yesterday, I'm sorry to say that one of my favorite writers - p m carpenter - joined the poutrage club. But today, when its clear what's actually going on here, he resorts once again to calling President Obama "lucky." We've been there before. It wasn't true then, and its not true now. STOP IT!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Poutrage logic fail

For several years now the poutragers have harped on their idea that President Obama pre-compromises with Republicans. Their suggestion is that his initial proposals for things like the Recovery Act and health care reform were designed from the outset to appeal to conservatives - thus not leaving him  room to negotiate.

I happen to disagree with that assessment, but for the sake of argument - let's assume its true.

One of the reasons those same poutragers were so excited about the President's initial proposal in the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations is that he went in strong this time with a solid progressive proposal that frankly surprised some of them. A logical assumption would then be that he finally gave himself room to negotiate.

But one of the reasons I use the term "poutrager" to describe these folks is that there's not much logic when it comes to their reactions. Because since the President has actually been negotiating, they're back to their same-old same-old of screaming at him for doing so.

In the end, it gets more and more difficult to see how these folks are that much different than the tea partiers in their aversion to any compromise at any time. The only difference is that their numbers are not large enough and/or organized enough to get anyone else to listen to them. They scream at the President from the bubble of their own making and think that someone is actually paying attention.

This is one of the few times I can say that I completely agree with Michael Tomasky. Referring to what President Obama said at his press conference today, he writes:
Obama's words there were pitch-perfect--for those who want a deal, that is. That doesnt include most Republicans. But more interestingly, it also doesn't include most Washington liberals, at least as of today. But it does include most regular Americans. Obama is talking directly to them.

Taking a broad approach to gun violence

Today President Obama will announce the administration's plans for moving forward on the promise he made at the Newtown vigil.
In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens -- from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
Yesterday Press Secretary Jay Carney re-iterated that the work will not be limited to gun control legislation.
By the time the process concludes, White House officials suggested, the proposals will probably include ideas to address mental illness and the violence depicted in popular culture — a strategy aimed at focusing the proposal on more than limiting gun ownership.

“Gun laws are a part of this, but they are not the only part of this, as anyone who is truly an expert on these issues will tell you,” Carney told reporters. “There is no single legislation, no single bill that’s been written, that’s been enacted and expired that alone solves this problem. And that’s why you have to take a broader approach.”
Carney also reiterated that President Obama supports the assault weapons ban that Senator Feinstein will propose as well as closing the loophole related to gun-show sales. But the work that he will appoint VP Biden to oversee will include more than that.

Given what the President has said in the past, I also wouldn't be surprised if these efforts go beyond the prevention of mass shootings to incorporate the daily toll that gun violence takes around the country as well. That's because Heaven Sutton was just 7 years old at the time she was killed by gunfire too.
Heaven and her family moved to the neighborhood six months ago but the little girl wanted to move because she was scared of all the shootings and violence.

But Heaven was looking forward to escaping the neighborhood with a trip to Disney World next month and got her hair styled for the occasion when shots rang out Wednesday evening.

Police said two men walked up near the home and opened fire as Heaven stood outside selling candy and snacks with her family. Her mother, Ashake Banks, said she ran the candy store for neighborhood kids in front of the building where they lived with the goal of keeping them out of trouble.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Golden Comforters

As a dog owner and lover - this one helps.

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Some difficult questions

What are the ramifications of calling Adam Lanza a monster? At the outset - let me state that I see no problem calling what he did monstrous. It was. End of story. At the same time, I always cringe when we decide that we're comfortable calling another human being a monster.

If Adam Lanza is a monster - do we think he was born that way? Is humanity capable of giving birth to monster's who's destiny is simply a matter of fate? That's something that every fiber of my being responds to with a definitive "NO!"

You see...I've worked personally with children at every stage of their development who were headed for that label. And in EVERY SINGLE CASE, what I haven't seen are little one's who were born that way. What I've seen is little one's who might have genetic propensities for mental health/chemical dependency issues just like they might have genetic propensities for things like cancer or heart problems. But minus some serious deprivation as children, they were little ones who have a capacity for both good and evil - just like you and me.

What seems to be more unique to human beings than any other living creature is that we require the loving care of dependable adults in order for our capacity for good to overcome our capacity for evil. Many of us have been fortunate to get enough of that in one form or another to prevent us from doing something monstrous. And there are some of us who don't. While we may never hear the details of Adam Lanza's life - let me assure you, he was one of the latter.

I'm not saying that to suggest that we should feel sympathy for him - or that we shouldn't be enraged at his monstrous acts. What I AM saying is that calling another human being a monster is something I'm not willing to consider. Not because of any need to protect the Adam Lanza's of the world - but because I want to protect my view of what it means to be human.

The truth is, I'd suggest that we tend to call someone like him a monster because it helps provide us with an explanation of the unimaginable and it absolves us of responsibility - as a community - for our own failures to address the needs of someone like Adam Lanza.

I would also suggest that until we do those difficult things, we will continue to raise children who are capable of monstrous acts.

Yesterday I was remembering that one of the first young people I ever worked with professionally went on to commit suicide about 6 months after she left the treatment program where I met her. It was a devastating blow for someone so new to the field in which I had chosen to work. What I realized in my grief was that no one who knew her could absolve themselves of asking the question "what could I have done?" And no one in her life had the privilege of avoiding the question. It didn't mean I blamed myself  for her just meant I owned my responsibility to her - one I had failed.

Those - like the questions I'm asking here today - are extremely painful questions that we often try to avoid. I would suggest that we do so at our own peril.

Yes, we failed those 20 children in Newton because we failed to do things like enact better gun control. But we also failed them because we failed Adam Lanza. It doesn't have to be one or the other. I know people don't want to hear that at a time like this. But if we want to take the words of President Obama seriously, that too is part of the difficult change we need to contemplate.
It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
I guess what I'm saying is that at one point, Adam Lanza was one of our children too. When we ignore that reality, we are also ignoring our responsibility to the 20 children he went on to kill.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Noticing the depression

I don't work on Fridays, so this morning was the first time I went to work following the Newtown tragedy. It wasn't until I had to make the transition that I realized that I'm depressed. The symptoms are: a knot in the pit of my stomach, heaviness in my chest, I feel like crying all the time, and having a tough time focusing on other things.

The difference with this kind of depression is that I know WHY I feel that way. I don't know that I can do anything to make it go away. I just have to do my best to live through it and know that eventually it will diminish. I remember going through the same thing in the days after Columbine.

I'm choosing to write about this because I think there are probably lots of others that are feeling this way too. It helps to know that you're not alone.

There's also something about not noticing it as long as I'm wrapped up in reading about it all on the internet and watching it on TV. It wasn't until I stepped away from it all that I could feel what's going on with me.

I think feeling depressed after an event like this is healthy. Its not something that I want to run away from.  What I'm more worried about is actually going back to that place where I don't notice because I'm so wrapped up in the frenetic energy of reacting to every new detail.

So tonight I'm going to take a break from it all and just let myself feel how I feel. Join me if you'd like.

President Obama starts with the "why"

I noticed that last night after the President's remarks at the Newtown vigil, we once again heard people on the left complaining that he hadn't talked specifically about gun control. For example, Bill Maher tweeted his frustration that President Obama didn't say the word "gun" at all.

There are lots of reasons to cite for why that kind of specificity would have been inappropriate when speaking at a vigil for the victim's families. But even more importantly, it demonstrates ignorance about what real leadership means.

Over a year ago, I first watched this TED Talk by Simon Sinek titled "How Great Leaders Inspire Action." If you've got a few minutes, I highly recommend it to you.

Sinek talks about something he found to be true of all great leaders...they start with the "why." He illustrates this by sharing how most conventional conversations go.

People who assume they already have all the answers start with the "what" and then move to the "how." But what Sinek noticed about effective leaders is that they start with the "why." That's because they know that to truly inspire people to action, you have to align what you believe with what they believe.

What strikes me about this is that it also aligns with what all effective community organizers know. And so it doesn't surprise me that this is how President Obama tends to approach most issues. He almost always starts with a goal we can all embrace in other words - the "why." And then once we've all bought into that - he suggests that we can have a conversation about the very pragmatic steps of accomplishing the "what" and "how."

This is yet another reason why ideologues will never "get" him. Almost by definition, an ideologue is someone who is primarily focused on the "what."

But President Obama - like all great leaders - knows that's not how transformational change happens.
Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.
And so last night, what President Obama did was ask us to all come together on the most important "why" of all.
Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?

We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.

We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.

The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.

We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.

That’s what we can be sure of, and that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison, God has called them all home.

For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

They are all our children

All my life I've heard politicians speak in platitudes about the importance of children. And then they go along their merry way in their quest for their own power.

Tonight...our President made it real.
You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t -- that we can’t always be there for them.

They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.
Of course that means protecting them from gun violence. But its much more than that. What you have is a President of the United States saying that the well-being of our children "is our first job - if we don't get that right, we don't get anything right." I think he means it. I suspect we just got a closer look at his real North Star.

President Obama with the siblings of some of the victims in Newtown

President Obama in Newtown, CT

I'm just going to post this. It requires thoughtful reflection rather than commentary right now.

Fight Outta You

We're going to need you for the long haul. So don't let 'em take the fight outta you.

Signs of optimism

It feels uncomfortable to talk about optimism in the wake of 27 people murdered on Friday - 20 of whom were only 6 and 7 years old. But its also true that for every Adam Lanza in this world, there are several Victoria Soto's and Kaitlin Roig's. I think its critical that we remember that in days like these.

I know that as President Obama travels to Newtown today, that will be part of his message to us. As he has on occasions like this in the past, I'm confident that he will remind us that we should never give in to the despair. a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -– at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds...

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents...

They believed -- they believed, and I believe that we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved life here –- they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us.

And I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed...

I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us -– we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
The ray of optimism that is fighting for space in my heart these days comes from my belief that - like me - the majority of Americans will see that its finally time to make some changes when we failed our babies so desperately. Those who fight any reasonable restrictions on guns think that they can quietly wait this one out and assume we'll forget. They are going to face a rude awakening this time - we've reached a tipping point on this one.

This morning Senator Feinstein promised to introduce an assault weapons ban on the first day of the next Congress. I defy anyone to make an argument about why these kinds of weapons that recently gunned down 27 people in an elementary school within a matter of minutes are a necessary component of our freedom. That kind of thing won't fly anymore...not after this one. Our more precious right is to keep and bear our babies.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"The right to keep and bear children"

I shamelessly stole that title from a diary by crystal eyes because I think it should be our motto going forward.

Let's never lose sight of what this is about.

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Let's keep our "eyes on the prize."

And remember...the children are listening.

Yesterday was not a day for pragmatism

One of the reasons I had to take leave of my twitter timeline yesterday is that I recognized that following the shooting in Newtown, people needed to vent their emotions. At a time like that, I tend to get in touch with my grief. Many other people are more comfortable with their anger. But either way, it is definitely not the time to have pragmatic discussions about the specific challenges that await us in addressing the issues that led to this tragedy. In other words, its not time to think...its time to feel.

And so I wonder if we're ready for the pragmatism today. Let's give it a try.

For most of us, one of the critical issues that needs to be addressed is to enact sensible gun laws that will make these kinds of events less likely. The question that raises for me is "what gun laws?" Of course we need to work to get the assault rifle ban reinstated. According to every news account I've read, the shooter did have an assault rifle - but it was found in his car. He didn't use it in these shootings. And so we have to go beyond that.

We also know that a background check and/or license should be necessary to own a gun. But the guns used yesterday belonged to the shooter's mother and were purchased legally. I'm not sure that a background check and/or licensing process for her would have made a difference. And so we need to go beyond that.

The two guns that were used yesterday at the school were handguns - apparently with semi-automatic capacity. Apparently it was this feature that allowed him to get off what witnesses describe as over 100 shots. Since its probably not likely that we'd get a ban on handguns, perhaps the other step would be to outlaw those with semi-automatic capacity.

So I'd suggest that the three things we need to advocate for are:
  1. A ban on assault rifles
  2. A background check for every gun purchase
  3. A ban on semi-automatic handguns 
Those with more knowledge of guns might want to weigh in if I'm showing my ignorance here.

But then for many of us, the need to address this issue does not begin and end with what happened in Newtown yesterday. We know that as a black man who calls Chicago home - its also not enough for President Obama. His most comprehensive statement about all this since he's been President came in an address to the Urban League shortly after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Take a look at what he said that day by listening to his remarks from 24:00 to 32:00 in this video.

One of the things you'll hear the President talk about is a comprehensive strategy for violence prevention and the initiatives his administration is taking - without the need for congressional approval. He's talking about things like the collaboration between the Departments of Education and Justice to form the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, which has led to things like this.

But of course he didn't let us as individuals off the hook either. As I wrote about at the time, he told us that we each have a role to play as well.
So I’m going to continue to work with members of both parties, and with religious groups and with civic organizations, to arrive at a consensus around violence reduction -- not just of gun violence, but violence at every level, on every step, looking at everything we can do to reduce violence and keep our children safe -– from improving mental health services for troubled youth -- to instituting more effective community policing strategies. We should leave no stone unturned, and recognize that we have no greater mission as a country than keeping our young people safe.

And as we do so, as we convene these conversations, let’s be clear: Even as we debate government’s role, we have to understand that when a child opens fire on another child, there’s a hole in that child’s heart that government alone can't fill. It’s up to us, as parents and as neighbors and as teachers and as mentors, to make sure our young people don’t have that void inside them.

It’s up to us to spend more time with them, to pay more attention to them, to show them more love so that they learn to love themselves -- so that they learn to love one another, so that they grow up knowing what it is to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes and to view the world through somebody else’s eyes. It’s up to us to provide the path toward a life worth living; toward a future that holds greater possibility than taking offense because somebody stepped on your sneakers.

That’s the difference that we can make in our children’s lives and in the lives of our communities. That’s the legacy we must leave for the next generation.
So there you have it - my homage to the pragmatism of actually getting something done for those who are interested in moving forward.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What makes this one different

I'd finally stopped crying when I saw this picture from Newtown. Then the tears started rolling again.

Perhaps you'll think I'm heard-hearted, but one of the things I've wondered throughout the day is why the fact that so many of the victims of this shooting were such small children matters so much (my heart knew the answer to that but my head didn't). After all, isn't all life sacred? Isn't the senseless gunning down of any human being a tragedy?

Of course the answer to those questions is "yes!"

But when I saw this picture I was reminded that most of those killed today were our babies. They are still at that stage in life where it is our job to protect them. When it comes to the 20 who died today...we failed them terribly.

That's what makes this one different. All of the mass shootings we've endured since Columbine have been horrific. This one just goes to a whole other level.

Just what we needed to hear right now

After I heard about the shooting today in Connecticut, I was watching the news and hanging out on Twitter. Emotionally I was feeling angry about lots of things... yet another senseless act of violence, how the media tends to handle things like this, the NRA, folks that were saying stupid stuff on twitter, etc.

Just before the President spoke, I turned it all off and almost immediately started crying...thinking about an entire class of kindergartners being gunned down. It really is unimaginable.

I realized then that all the energy I was putting into being angry was an attempt to avoid facing the unimaginable. Its just too painful to think about.

President Obama knows that we have to face the pain. And we all wept with him. The lives of those sweet children we lost deserve no less.

The long view: a movement in its death throes

It can be dispiriting watching things like what happened in Michigan this week, or Ambassador Rice's withdrawal of her nomination as Secretary of State, or the intransigence of the talks about the so-called "fiscal cliff.

But let me remind you once again of something First Lady Michelle Obama said a while ago.
Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight.

If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.

We always have.
If you adopt that view of a long game, I'd once again suggest that what we're witnessing is a movement in its death throes.

As I was reading around the internet this morning, I noted that many left-leaning pundits are wrestling with what's going on here. A lot of it centers on trying to understand the issue I wrote about yesterday: why aren't the Republicans proposing a specific plan? For example, here's Steve Benen's take on that.

But we start to get a picture of what's happening as folks like Jonathan Chait take on the Republican contention projection that President Obama is being "mean."
The psychology on display here is familiar to anybody who has seen a petulant teenager, who assumes that any restriction that causes them to feel anger must have been intended to produce that emotion. Republicans are feeling humiliated and divided, so Obama’s goal must have been to humiliate and divide them.
In an earlier column, Chait does a marvelous job of breaking down a recent column by Charles Krautthammer that begins with this:
Let’s understand President Obama’s strategy in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. It has nothing to do with economics or real fiscal reform. This is entirely about politics. It’s Phase 2 of the 2012 campaign. The election returned him to office. The fiscal cliff negotiations are designed to break the Republican opposition and grant him political supremacy, something he thinks he earned with his landslide 2.8-point victory margin on Election Day.
To Republicans, this is a power play - not a negotiation. They know they've lost power and are feeling - as Chait said - humiliated and divided. And so rather than try to govern responsibly, they're acting like a beast in its death throes...grabbing at any target they can find.

As I was thinking about all this, I ran across a column by Paul Krugman that pretty much says everything I was planning to write. So I'll just let him to it for me.
No, what we’re having is a political crisis, born of the fact that one of our two great political parties has reached the end of a 30-year road. The modern Republican Party’s grand, radical agenda lies in ruins — but the party doesn’t know how to deal with that failure, and it retains enough power to do immense damage as it strikes out in frustration...

Since the 1970s, the Republican Party has fallen increasingly under the influence of radical ideologues, whose goal is nothing less than the elimination of the welfare state — that is, the whole legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. From the beginning, however, these ideologues have had a big problem: The programs they want to kill are very popular. Americans may nod their heads when you attack big government in the abstract, but they strongly support Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid...

Arguably more important in conservative thinking, however, was the notion that the G.O.P. could exploit other sources of strength — white resentment, working-class dislike of social change, tough talk on national security — to build overwhelming political dominance, at which point the dismantling of the welfare state could proceed freely...

O.K., you see the problem: Democrats didn’t go along with the program, and refused to give up. Worse, from the Republican point of view, all of their party’s sources of strength have turned into weaknesses. Democratic dominance among Hispanics has overshadowed Republican dominance among southern whites; women’s rights have trumped the politics of abortion and antigay sentiment; and guess who finally did get Osama bin Laden.

And look at where we are now in terms of the welfare state: far from killing it, Republicans now have to watch as Mr. Obama implements the biggest expansion of social insurance since the creation of Medicare.

So Republicans have suffered more than an election defeat, they’ve seen the collapse of a decades-long project. And with their grandiose goals now out of reach, they literally have no idea what they want — hence their inability to make specific demands.

It’s a dangerous situation. The G.O.P. is lost and rudderless, bitter and angry, but it still controls the House and, therefore, retains the ability to do a lot of harm, as it lashes out in the death throes of the conservative dream.
As we watch these attempts to lash out in frustration, its important to keep this bigger picture in mind. Many of us keep checking the horizon for some sane voices to emerge on the right to end the spectacle and limit the damage its likely to inflict in the process. That might be a pipe dream based on what we're seeing since the election. So we best gird ourselves to deal with what's coming and keep our eye on the long view of what is actually happening here.

The root of the problem is a theology that enables sexual abuse

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