Friday, October 31, 2014

Best of Halloween 2014 (updated)

I'm seeing wonderful Halloween costumes on twitter. Here's some of the best (I'll keep adding if I find others).

The notorious RBG

Olive-a-Pope (notice the wine glass)

Calling out Krathammer's lies and hypocrisy

While the rest of media punditry is almost entirely focused on "optics," Charles Krauthammer makes a bold move by suggesting that the midterm elections are all about competence. But he has zero to say about the lack of competence being shown by Republicans. This is all about throwing bombs at President Obama.

Of course he mentions things like the "disaster of the Obamacare rollout" (yeah, fixed that one) and the non-scandal "scandal" at the VA. But this is what I found amazing.
Beyond mere incompetence is government intrusiveness and corruption, as in the overreach of national security surveillance and IRS targeting of politically disfavored advocacy groups.
We'll leave the whole thing about the IRS alone for now because I'm pretty gobsmacked that Krauthammer has the gall to complain about national security surveillance overreach. Not only did Bush, Jr. conduct surveillance on people in America - until 2006 he did it sans warrants. And Krauthammer defended him for doing so. Just another example of how "its only a problem when Obama does it (with warrants)."

But then here's the money quote:
Most voters don’t care about the details of Ukraine, the factions in Libya or the precise battle lines of the Islamic State. But they do have a palpable sense of American weakness.

This was brought home most profoundly by the videotaped beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff. It wasn’t just the savagery that affected so many Americans but the contempt shown by these savages for America — its power, its resolve. 
So I suppose that "most voters" (read: Krauthammer) had a "palpable sense of American weakness" when terrorists bombed a U.S. military base in Lebanon on President Reagan's watch and that 9/11 demonstrated al Qaeda's contempt for America's lack of power and resolve during George Bush's presidency.

No?

I can only see two reasons why Krauthammer thinks he can get away with this kind of idiocy:
  1. He thinks Americans are too dumb to remember recent history, or
  2. He thinks Americans will accept a whole different measure of accountability for the black President (i.e., anything bad that happens in the world is his fault).
Or perhaps its a good helping of both. Either way, lets call Krauthammer out for his lies and hypocrisy. Competence...my ass. This one is all propaganda.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

People get ready, there's a train a-comin'

Signs of how First Look Media will fail

As someone who has had to learn a lot about management the hard way, its going to be interesting to watch First Look Media implode. This article by a few of the players laying out the reasons for Matt Taibbi's departure is a fascinating tale from a management perspective.

The bottom line is that you cannot hire an entire staff of anti-authoritarians and have no rules in place to which they are held accountable. If you hire really talented people, those rules do not have to be onerous or restrictive. But one of the most important things I ever learned was that "the best way to discriminate against someone is to not tell them what the rules are."

There will be rules - whether they are overt or covert. Failing to make them overt is a recipe for disaster.

So color me surprised (NOT) that things came to a head between Taibbi and First Look management when...
...a Racket staffer complained to senior management that Taibbi had been verbally abusive and unprofessionally hostile, and that she felt the conduct may have been motivated, at least in part, by her gender.
To have hired this guy and not been clear about the rules related to respectful communication and boundaries protecting women from gender discrimination was a HUGE mistake from the beginning.

For people like Glenn Greenwald, it seems as if the only thing they value is the importance of being anti-authoritarian. Left unchecked, that will inevitably lead to adherence to covert white male patriarchal "rules."

What drives both left and right ideologues crazy about Obama

He's said these kinds of things many times in the past. In response, leftist ideologues respond with rage and those on the right studiously ignore it because it decimates their narrative. He did it again at the rally for Mary Burke in Milwakee, WI this week.
And let me say this: Republicans are patriots, they love their country just like we do. But they’ve got some bad ideas. That doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate them as Americans. I’ve got family members who have got bad ideas -- they’re still part of the family, but you don’t want to put them in charge, right?
This President has made a habit of trying to teach us that disagreement doesn't need to lead to demonization - something our politics has assumed for far too long. Its gotten so bad lately that all we ever do is lob insults at each other from our own epistemically enclosed media outlets.

This has not worked out well as a strategy for Democrats. Then-Senator Barack Obama explained why way back in 2005.
A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.
Igniting a conversation based on empathy and respect for those we disagree with is a core value for President Obama. Those of us who have been paying attention from the beginning have always known that.
Throughout his career, Obama has refused to demonize his opponents. Instead, he has sought them out and listened to them. He has tried to understand how they think and why they see the world as they do. His mother encouraged this sense of empathy, and it’s a lesson Obama learned well...

Although Obama’s reform agenda echoes aspects of those advanced by many Democrats over the last century, he has admitted—and this is the decisive point in understanding his outlook—that his opponents hold principles rooted as deeply in American history as his own. “I am obligated to try to see the world through George Bush’s eyes, no matter how much I may disagree with him,” he wrote in Audacity. “That’s what empathy does—it calls us all to task, the conservative and the liberal … We are all shaken out of our complacency.” Obama rejects dogma, embraces uncertainty, and dismisses the fables that often pass for history among partisans on both sides who need heroes and villains, and who resist more-nuanced understandings of the past and the present.
The truth is, very few people "get" this about President Obama. Until they do, they'll never really understand him. His message has always been the same to his opponents, whether they are foreign or domestic.


When that offer is mocked and/or abused, the counter-puncher steps in.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How to handle a heckler

This is the kind of thing Americans should notice: Compare and contrast two different ways of dealing with a heckler.

First, here's Gov. Chris Christie - who prefers the "sit down and shut up" approach.


And now here's President Barack Obama's "That's what America is all about" approach.


Who sounds more like a tyrant?

Nuff said...

An Introvert as President (updated)

Joshua Green certainly stirred things up with his article about how "Obama is too cool for crisis management." I encourage you to read responses from both Matt Yglesias and Danny Vinik. But what Green did is simply magnify the story many in the media tell us about President Obama - that he is cool, aloof, cerebral, disengaged and remote.

What none of them seem to be aware of or acknowledge is that this President is actually an introvert in a world that values extroverts. If you have any doubts about that, listen to an introvert - Susan Cain - talk about her own experience and provide us with some history of how/why our attachment to extroversion came about.


Speaking as an introvert myself, I understand the judgements extroverts often make about us. I too thought there was something wrong with me as I recoiled from what felt like the mania of others. Until I was able to learn to value introversion, I thought of myself as lazy, disengaged and an observer rather than a participant. That's what it means to be an introvert in a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else.

But take a look at one of the definitions of introversion:
The act of directing one's interest inward or to things within the self.
That's not an act of selfishness (another critique often leveled at introverts), its about finding your own authenticity. And so I'm reminded of Jon Favreau's response to a question about whether or not President Obama is "remote."
I think that the remoteness thing comes from...he doesn't do artifice well. He doesn't do schtick well, right? It goes back to that authenticity thing. He knows who he is, he believes who he is and he's not going to put on some facade just because he's supposed to glad-handle someone. He would rather actually get to know that person...talk to them, have a real conversation - not recite talking points - and enjoy that person's company.
Introverts are fascinated by the lives and stories of other people. We simply have a low tolerance for the superficial. Because we value authenticity, we don't tend to excel at the games that are often played by both co-dependents and the powerful elite. Here's what Michael Lewis noticed about President Obama.
His desire to hear out junior people is a warm personality trait as much as a cool tactic, of a piece with his desire to play golf with White House cooks rather than with C.E.O.’s and basketball with people who treat him as just another player on the court; to stay home and read a book rather than go to a Washington cocktail party; and to seek out, in any crowd, not the beautiful people but the old people. The man has his stat­us needs, but they are unusual. And he has a tendency, an unthinking first step, to subvert established stat­us structures.
This is a good example of how stories of meaning are developed. If you view President Obama through the lens of assumptions about the superiority of extroversion, the story you tell will be about his deficiencies in leadership. But if - like Susan Cain does in the video above - you can find the value of introverts in today's world, you'll tell a whole different story...one of competence.

UPDATE: Hat tip to Delna for this:
John Heilemann is quoted as saying this:
I don't think he doesn't like people. I know he doesn't like people. He's not an extrovert; he's an introvert. I've known the guy since 1988. He's not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He's not a backslapper and he's not an arm-twister. He's a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities.
That's classic of what extroverts say about introverts - that they don't like people. When - as Favreau and Lewis pointed out above - what they don't like is game-playing, superficiality and artifice.

Funny, but I'm old enough to remember when pundits and conservatives were actually scandalized by the fact that President Obama enjoyed dinner parties  with intellectuals where the conversation went deep into the night ;-) That's classic introversion.

What Heilmann gets right is that introverts don't tend to have a wide circle of friends. What they usually have is a small group of friends with whom the attachment goes deep.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Powerful Story of Hope

Diriye Osman shows us how its done with Letter to My 13 Year-Old Self. I'll just share an excerpt, but go read the whole thing...its short :-)
I want you to know that life will try to crack you like an egg, and your silence will eventually break. Someday you will spill some of those painful secrets and taste a modicum of much-needed freedom. You will lose a great deal as a result, but the gains will outweigh every loss. You will love and be loved by a beautiful man in a place where your mutual passion will be a marker not of shame but of pride. You will be awkward and alone and alien for a long time, but you will transform these qualities, which is to say yourself, into a work of art. You will wear your awkwardness, your aloneness and your alienness in your hair like gold thread. You will adorn your wonkiness on your wrist like a charm bracelet studded with stars...

Someday you will grow up and become the man you have always wanted to be.

All of these amazing things await you. Keep dreaming, keep drawing, keep listening to Aaliyah. You will be fine.
Reminds me of this:

Storytelling

For those of you familiar with the New Testament, have you ever wondered why Jesus almost always responded to difficult questions by telling a story (parable)?

The answer is that there is power in storytelling. Lately I've been noticing how many of the people I admire are talking about this. For today, I simply want to chronicle what they're saying.

First of all, take a moment to listen to Lynne Twist - author of The Soul of Money and founder of Pachamama Alliance - talk about the power of story.

The story we tell ourselves or the conversation we're living in is actually where we live...and we have absolute omnipotence over that. We may not have power over the circumstance we have, but we have absolute power over the story we tell about the circumstances or the conversation we have about our lives...That's not only where you and I can change the game, but can change our lives and the world we perceive we're living in. Its not pollyanna. Its not positive thinking. Its actually the access to power so that we can behave and act in a way that we stay competent, effective, powerful and know who we are.
A few months ago I shared this video of Jon Favreau - a very wise young man - who talked about the most important thing he learned from working with President Obama.

But I think the most important lesson that I learned from President Obama was about the power of storytelling to instill a sense of hope - and why that's so important right now.
And here is Marshall Ganz, senior lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School and designer of Camp Obama, talking about Why Stories Matter.
The way we talk about this is not just to go up to someone and say, “Be hopeful.” We don’t just talk about hope and other values in abstractions. We talk about them in the language of stories because stories are what enable us to communicate these values to one another.
If you prefer a video of the same content from Ganz, here it is.


Just yesterday, Al Giordano posted this on Facebook:
If you're frustrated with how the world is, forget about the world. Tell your story. Tell it boldly. And ignore whatever crisis the media is telling you to worry about. Your story, my story, is what rules the world. Not their version of it...
Finally, here is Christina Baldwin, author of Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Story, talking about the role story plays in our lives following the death of her son.
In my book, Storycatcher, I say, “Words are how we think, story is how we link.” Life story is developed by attaching a new experience to an old one, like putting two children in line together and saying, “Hold hands. Don’t let go. Help each other cross the street.” A previous experience, which we have already transformed through the narrative function of the mind into meaning, serves as a tutor to help us absorb a new experience and begin to integrate it.

But when the new experience is extreme in some way—we can’t link it. This is called shock. The world right now is full of shocks. And what observers call “news”...is individual, familial, and community survivors experiencing breakdowns in their capacity to integrate what just happened into what has happened before: shock on a massive scale.
Narrative is our life-line. The psyche goes into free-fall when our attachment to meaning is broken.
I am still in the process of absorbing what all this means - for me personally as well as a way of understanding what is going on in the world. So I'm not going to comment on it right now. Just know that this is what I am busy exploring and what you'll likely see reflected in my writing going forward.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Thomas Frank still thinks like a Republican

I suppose that it should come as no surprise that most of the people on the left who suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome (ODS) are former Republicans. No - I'm not buying into some tin-foil hat conspiracy theory that these folks are simply infiltrators. What's more likely is that they've been steeped in the ideology of dominance as the only form of power - or as Audre Lorde would suggest - they continue to cling to the idea that the master's tools can dismantle the master's house.

So low and behold, I find out today that Thomas Frank, the current spokesperson for leftist ODS now that no one is paying any attention to Glenn Greenwald, is a former Republican. He validates my theory about all this in his recent column titled: We are such losers.

Frank's point in this article is to suggest various similarities between Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama (apparently they're losers as far as he's concerned). Along the way he demonstrates his white male privileged ignorance by suggesting that the demographic changes we see today will no more shift politics in favor of the Democrats than the wishful post-Watergate assumptions of the 70's. And he actually assumes that President Carter's symbolic gesture to turn down the White House thermostat and dawn sweaters was indicative of his embrace of austerity rather than about energy conservation. That's some major level ignorance!

But overall Frank's message about these two presidents eerily mimics the Republican obsession with the futility of intelligent policies over those steeped in ideology. Here's the money quote at the end.
The moral of this story is not directed at Democratic politicians; it is meant for us, the liberal rank and file. We still “yearn to believe,” as Perlstein says. There is something about the Carter / Obama personality that appeals to us in a deep, unspoken way, and that has led Democrats to fall for a whole string of passionless centrists: John Kerry, Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, Gary Hart and Bill Clinton. Each time, Democratic voters are enchanted by a kind of intellectual idealism that (we are told) is unmoored from ideology. We persuade ourselves that the answer to the savagery of the right—the way to trump the naked class aggression of the One Percent—is to say farewell to our own tradition and get past politics and ideology altogether. And so we focus on the person of the well-meaning, hyper-intelligent leader. We are so high-minded, we think. We are so scientific.

We are such losers.
Whenever you hear one of these idiots talking about "centrists," its helpful to replace it with "pragmatists." That becomes obvious when, at the end of the quote, Frank mocks the idea that Democrats "are so scientific." In other words, he thinks we're losers because we are wedded to pragmatic ideas that are grounded in science rather than a rigid adherence to ideology.

All dressed up in his liberal sheep's clothing, Thomas Frank sounds an awful lot like a Republican to me.

When a media pundit nails it!

Since I've focused a lot on how the media fails these days, I think its also important to point out when they get it right. Recently Justin Sink did just that with an article titled: The shiny object election.
The short-attention span generation has birthed the shiny-object election.

The theme of the 2014 midterms — to whatever extent one is discernable — has been an explosion of one crisis after another, each of which demands an enormous amount of media attention before fading for the next one.
The result is that - with an assist from the media - Republicans have managed to fear-monger every challenge that's come along...resulting in a mindset amongst the public that amounts to "this country is going to hell in a hand basket." Sink also correctly articulates the Obama administration's response to this shiny object syndrome:
“We should be focused on the problems because we have a government and leadership in this country that’s focused on solving them,” press secretary Josh Earnest said.

But Earnest did note that previous crises — like the flood of unaccompanied minors across the southern border that dominated attention earlier this summer — were examples of where the administration had worked hard to solve a problem, only to see attention divert elsewhere.

“The president and his administration at the direction of the president comes in and, through a lot of hard work, puts in place a solution. But by the time that solution is put in place, everybody has sort of moved on to something else,” Earnest said.
As we've seen recently, by the time this administration had solved the problems with healthcare.gov,  the freak-out about unaccompanied minors crossing the borders began. And before anyone noticed how that problem had been solved, we were on to ISIS!!!! But by the time President Obama had convinced Iraq to form a more inclusive government that cut off support for ISIS in that country and rallied our friends as well as foes to fight them, the great freak-out about Ebola had begun.

You simply have to think about how many stories in the media you've read/heard about how this administration solved those problems (almost none) to realize how shiny object syndrome works. All the attention is focused on the "crisis" and none on the solution.

Of course the Republicans love this shiny object syndrome because it puts all the focus on President Obama and none on their embrace of post-policy politics. But Sink is right...the Democrats have mostly reacted to the shiny object rather than being pro-active in talking about policy and solutions.
Strategists and experts say the result has been bad news for Democrats, who have had a tougher time underscoring their preferred campaign messages on their party’s support for women and the middle class.

Instead, each shiny object captivating a media that craves the hottest story has helped Republicans making the elections for the House and Senate all about President Obama...

Vulnerable Democrats are put in the unenviable position of either backing the president or lobbing criticism at their party’s leader.
I certainly understand that the Republicans are going to play whatever hand they have - that is to be expected. The real fault here lies in the media's obsession with ratings and link bait. Crisis fear-mongering apparently sells. Solutions don't.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Has President Obama been naive?

Liberal pundits are very fond of calling President Obama "naive." Even in his defense of Obama's successes, Paul Krugman says this:
Obama was indeed naive: He faced scorched-earth Republican opposition from Day One, and it took him years to start dealing with that opposition realistically.
Clearly Krugman doesn't understand this President's theory of change - which I have often called conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy.
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.
Just as with most people who are steeped in dominance as the only source of power, Krugman doesn't get that the audience for these efforts was never Republican politicians (who President Obama knew were wedded to a strategy of obstruction). It was always the American public - who he counted on to recognize the vacuity of the Republican position.

The question then becomes whether or not President Obama has been naive about the American public. This is a question I've often asked myself. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said years ago, he has shown "a shocking, almost certifiable faith in humanity." One has to wonder whether or not that faith is warranted.

But here's the catch: the American public has always relied on media to frame the story about what is happening in Washington DC. While major media outlets tended to frame Republican obstruction as "both sides do it," conservative and liberal media blamed Obama (the former for not capitulating to Republican demands and the latter for capitulating too much). In the end, almost no one focused on the fact that the Republicans had nothing...so it never showed. If President Obama has been naive, its been about the changing nature of our media and their role in giving cover to Republican strategies.

For me, any leader that stops believing in the power of the people is not a leader I can support. Call it naive if you will...but its also the very basis of our democracy.
We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.

- President Barack Obama, 2012 Democratic Convention

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Racism as a story of fear

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the power of story in our lives. I'll likely be writing more about all that soon. But today I'd like to focus on the idea that much of the racism we see these days is rooted in a story of fear.

By now a pattern has emerged in the stories we've heard about the shooting of unarmed black men/boys. Whether its George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn or Officer Darren Wilson - all have claimed that they fired shots in self-defense because they feared for their lives. If we give them the benefit of the doubt and accept that this was their motivation, the question remains whether or not that fear was justified by the actions of their victims.

That's what makes the shooting of Levar Jones by state trooper Sean Groubert an important piece in this puzzle, even though Jones survived. Groubert is also basing his defense on the idea that he feared for his life. But we have videotape evidence of the events provided by the officer's dash cam.

Here is the story Groubert tells his supervisor about what happened.
I pulled him over for a seat belt violation. Before I could even get out of my car he jumped out, stared at me, and as I jumped out of my car and identified myself, as I approached him, he jumped headfirst into his car. I started retracting back towards the rear of his vehicle, telling him, 'Look, get out of the car, let me see your hands.' He jumped out of the car. I saw something black in his hands. I ran to the other side of the car, yelling at him, and he kept coming towards me. Apparently it was his wallet.
And here's the video of what actually happened.



As Leonard Pitts writes, if we give Groubert every benefit of the doubt, we are left with a racism embedded in a story of fear.
But what he [Groubert] is, is a citizen of a country where the fear of black men is downright viral. That doesn’t mean he burns crosses on the weekend. It means he’s watched television, seen a movie, used a computer, read a newspaper or magazine. It means he is alive and aware in a nation where one is taught from birth that thug equals black, suspect equals black, danger equals black...

The Groubert video offers an unusually stark image of that fear in action. Viewing it, it seems clear the trooper is not reacting to anything Jones does. In a very real sense, he doesn’t even see him. No, he is reacting to a primal fear of what Jones is, to outsized expectations of what Jones might do, to terrors buried so deep in his breast, he probably doesn’t even know they’re there.
It is in this way that the stories we tell ourselves take precedence over the actual circumstances of our lives. Unless and until we recognize that fact of human existence and begin to examine the stories we tell ourselves (especially the ones that are based in fear), we'll never understand the ways we have embraced the "isms" we've been fed all our lives. As we've seen lately, our certainty that these stories we tell ourselves are a true reflection of reality is dangerous.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I STILL prefer a "no drama" presidency (updated)

I'm back!!! So first of all, let me say "thank you" to everyone for your support. Now...on to the news :-)

Nothing I've read recently captures the current political spin better than this article by Joshua Green titled: Obama Is Too Cool For Crisis Management. Apparently for Green, "crisis management" involves having a president who panders to the emotional needs of the Great American Freak-Out created by Republican fear-mongering and our media's obsession with link bait.

Green dismisses this President's "no drama" response as inadequate.
“He responds in a very rational way, trying to gather facts, rely on the best expert advice, and mobilize the necessary resources,” says David Axelrod, a former White House senior adviser...By all accounts, Obama treats a crisis as an intellectual inquiry and develops his response through an intensely rational process. As former CIA Director Leon Panetta said recently in a TV interview, “He approaches things like a law professor in presenting the logic of his position.”

Six years in, it’s clear that Obama’s presidency is largely about adhering to intellectual rigor—regardless of the public’s emotional needs.
OMG - what a failure!!!! President Obama has a nasty habit of "adhering to intellectual rigor" to actually solve problems "regardless of the public's emotional needs."  Nevermind that those "emotional needs" have been manufactured out of whole cloth. At least Green is able to poke a little fun at this when he quotes someone who reminded us that more people have been married to a Kardashian than have died from Ebola.

Green sees similarities between President Obama's latest response to Ebola and how he handled the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the chemical weapons attack in Syria, ISIS, and the rollout of healthcare.gov. So let's see...how did those things turn out?
...his record, even on issues where he’s drawn heavy criticism, is often much better than the initial impression would lead one to believe. He may tackle crises in a way that ignores the public mood, yet things generally turn out pretty well in the end. He and his economic team, though deeply unpopular, halted the financial panic and brought about a recovery that’s added jobs for 55 consecutive months. His signature health-care law addressed a slower-moving crisis; while similarly unpopular, it has delivered health insurance to more than 10 million people. Even Deepwater Horizon was nothing like the environmental cataclysm it threatened to become. “It really became a parable of how government can mobilize to solve a big problem,” Axelrod says. And he adds, “Bush didn’t get bin Laden—Obama did.”
While the public is led into panic mode, over and over again this President has a record of solving problems. Perhaps it would be nice to have a Daddy-In-Chief who takes responsibility for addressing the public's emotional needs. But I personally am MUCH more interested in competence.

With that said, I am reminded of the day President Obama identified as the worst of his presidency. It came on December 14, 2012 when 20 beautiful children and 6 adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It is moments like that when this President has shared our grief and done all he can to console us - both publicly and privately.


Whether it was manmade disasters like Sandy Hook and the shootings in Tucson/Aurora or natural disasters like the tornados in Joplin and Hurricane Sandy, this President has shown an amazing capacity to identify with and speak to the public's emotional needs. Perhaps - unlike Green - he is able to distinguish between the times those emotions are based in reality and when they are simply panic fueled by those who peddle in fear. 

UPDATE: Now go read Matt Yglesias' take down of the Joshua Green article: Journalists don't like Obama's chill temperament, but it's served him well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I'll be gone for the next week

I wanted to let regular readers here know that I won't be posting much over the next week because this morning my Dad passed away. I leave to go to Texas tomorrow for his memorial service.

Just last week I was down there helping take care of him - that's why posting was scarce at the time. I'll forever be grateful that I had the chance to spend some quality time with him.

Some of you may remember that my Mother passed away one year, one month and one day ago. In the end, it was the cancer that took my Dad. But I will always believe that it was missing the love of his life that allowed him to let go. He went more quickly that we thought. But he was ready and at peace.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gonna let my little light shine!

Human beings are by nature social animals. Because of that, much of our view of the world is influenced by the people with whom we come in contact. When our views are out of sync with the general zeitgeist, its time to assess whether that is because we have superior vision or we're interpreting events to fit a pre-determined outlook.

I have been undergoing just such an assessment of my own views lately as I feel completely out of sync with the general perception that the country is going to hell in a hand basket. While the media and Republicans continue their total freak-out about Ebola and ISIS and many Democrats feel the need to distance themselves from President Obama's "toxic" record, here's what I'm noticing:
  • The unemployment rate has finally dipped below 6% and is within .04% of 5.5% - the rate which many economists consider full employment,
  • We are in the midst of the longest period of private sector job growth in this country's history,
  • The number of people who are uninsured is dropping - while the rise of health care costs has slowed,
  • The federal deficit is less than half of what it was in 2009,
  • Crime is down at the same time that the number of people in prison is decreasing,
  • Over half of the U.S. population now lives in a state with marriage equality,
  • Due to effective worldwide sanctions, Iran is still at the negotiating table on their development of nuclear weapons and Putin has quieted Russia's incursions into Ukraine, and
  • Afghanistan has just completed its first transfer of power via elections in the country's history.
Then today I read this on a topic that is near and dear to my heart.
More U.S. high school students are staying in school, according to newly released data from the Census Bureau, as the national dropout rate reached a record low last year. Just 7% of the nation’s 18-to-24 year olds had dropped out of high school, continuing a steady decline in the nation’s dropout rate since 2000, when 12% of youth were dropouts.

The decline in the national dropout rate has been driven, in part, by substantially fewer Hispanic and black youth dropping out of school (the non-Hispanic white dropout rate has not fallen as sharply). Although Hispanics still have the highest dropout rate among all major racial and ethnic groups, it reached a record-low of 14% in 2013, compared with 32% of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds who were dropouts in 2000...

The dropout rate for black youth also was at a record low in 2013 (8%) and has fallen by nearly half since 2000 (15%).
As I continue to absorb this kind of news I find myself shaking my head and wondering WTF is wrong with us that we're not noticing these positive developments. I get that there's still a lot of work to do, but on almost every data point, we're making significant progress.

It seems clear to me that this country is engaging in one pretty massive freak-out. I'll let you pick your target about who/what is to blame for that. But some dank cave of the American id has certainly been tapped in to lately. All I know is that I'll just keep letting my little light shine.

If we ever needed to vote!

I don't know about you, but I sure wouldn't mind if this video went viral right about now.



Make it so :-)

Republicans take a stand against freedom

As a baby boomer, I've had a lot of conversations with my peers about the whole concept of "retirement." Many of us are questioning when to retire and what exactly retirement means. The freedom to answer those questions in a way that works best for each of us as individuals is a blessing that many who came before us weren't afforded (and too many still don't experience).

One of the ways this whole conversation has been altered is with the introduction of Obamacare. For people who are too young to be eligible for Medicare, many of us HAD to work in order to be able to afford health insurance. Both the elimination of denials for pre-existing conditions and the affordability of comprehensive coverage on the exchanges have opened up options that were not available previously.

In his debate last night with Allison Lundergan Grimes, Senator Mitch McConnell said that was a bad thing. He lied about misrepresented a CBO report saying that Obamacare would cost the country 2.5 million jobs when in actuality it said that the law will empower 2.5 million Americans to leave the workforce if they want to.

We're also hearing conservatives decry this freedom when they talk about the economy and our recovery from the Great Recession. I'll grant them this...it gets harder every day to criticize President Obama on this front. To keep up the rhetoric, they have pretty slim pickin's to choose from.

What we're seeing is that one of the only remaining refuges for complaint comes from the recent drop in the labor force participation rate. Over the last few years that number has gone from 66% to 63%. Republicans would have you believe that is totally the fault of President Obama's weak recovery. But economists will tell you that 2% of that 3-point drop is the result of the retirement of aging baby-boomers.

All of this leads me to suggest that perhaps its time for baby-boomers to ask Republicans why they have a problem with our freedom to chose when/how to retire.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is GOP obstruction coming back to bite them in the ass?

Back in 2011, retired Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren wrote this:
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.
It worked. According to Gallup, Congressional approval - 14% in September - is at an historic low. The media is constantly telling us about the low approval ratings for President Obama. We don't hear as much about this side of the story. Its true that the public isn't enamored with the Democrats, but the "pox on both your houses" has Speaker John Boehner's approval rating at 28% (only 46% amongst Republicans).

I would suggest that this is why, as we head into the final stretch before the 2014 midterms, Republican candidates in the deeply red states of Kansas and South Dakota are facing substantial challenges from Independent candidates. If these these candidates do well, I'd predict lots more of this kind of thing in 2016. We could be witnessing the early stages of a new party that would attract Southern Blue Dogs as well as more moderate Republicans. There have already been suggestions that if these Independents win, they might caucus separately from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate next year.

Ever since the Republicans embraced the obstruction Lofgren describes above and fanned the flames of tea party lunacy in their own ranks, many of us have wondered how all this would end. We still don't know for sure. But the Senate races in Kansas and South Dakota will tell us a lot - along with how the GOP reacts to the outcome.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A question for Glenn Greenwald

I just watched Glenn Greenwald's TED Talks video on Why Privacy Matters. In it, he spent quite a bit of time explaining that the goal of the "surveillance state" is to control the population by generating an assumption that we are being watched.

If that were the case, one has to wonder why NSA took such elaborate measures to keep their programs secret. Shouldn't they have celebrated Snowden's revelations instead? After all, how can we be controlled if we don't know we're being watched?

If I was in the mold of a Glenn Beck conspiracy theorist, I might assume that Greenwald/Snowden are really agents of the surveillance state who's job was to get the word out.

Just saying...

;-)

A hit and a miss from Senator Elizabeth Warren

I'd seriously like to support Senator Elizabeth Warren. Perhaps it would help if she didn't do things like agree to be interviewed by Thomas Frank. This is the guy who - even when he knows he's is going to be interviewing its creator - gets confused about the name of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) because all his mind seems capable of comprehending is the "betrayal" of Obama/Holder for not prosecuting enough banks. So you know right away where this interview is going to go.

Initially, Senator Warren makes a very important point when it comes to things like the CFPB.
...the consumer agency is structural change. So basically, the premise behind it was that there were plenty of federal laws out there, but no agency would step up and enforce them...

And so the idea behind the consumer agency was to say: structural change. We need an agency that has one and only one goal, and that is to look out for American families. To level the playing field, to make sure that people are not getting tricked and trapped on these financial instruments. And so it was a big shift, and it’s a shift worth thinking about.
But then when Frank presses her about the lack of Wall Street prosecutions, she says something that is remarkably ignorant.
They [the Obama administration] protected Wall Street. Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. Not young people who were struggling to get an education. And it happened over and over and over.
I honestly believe that Senator Warren is a smart person. So I have no idea why she would say something like that. Did she not notice that President Obama implemented other structural changes to financial institutions via Dodd/Frank that most of Wall Street hates? Even naysayers like Paul Krugman have had to acknowledge that it has been more effective than they originally thought.

Did Senator Warren not notice the structural changes to student loans that President Obama got passed back in 2010? Or the fact that he endorsed her bill that includes further reforms?

And how about the structural changes Obamacare has made to the number one reason Americans file for bankruptcy - medical bills?

The one thing the Obama administration didn't do was pillory banks and financial institutions during a time when the country was careening towards a second great depression. That should result in one big "Duh!" from anyone with a modicum of intelligence.

I'm growing increasingly weary of this notion that in order to be one of the "kewl kids," one must ignorantly criticize President Obama. Senator Warren would get my unqualified support if she would abandon that nonsense.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What happened to the great Republican wave?

For months pundits have been declaring that the 2014 midterms would bring on a great Republican wave. The ingredients that would lead to that outcome included things that were baked into this particular election (several Senate Democrats up for re-election in red states combined with traditionally low turnout for Democrats in midterms) as well as some assumptions about:
  1. President Obama's approval numbers tanking
  2. Obamacare being a disaster for Democrats
  3. Scandal-mania (Benghazi, IRS, etc)
The most obvious place to observe this great wave was going to be in Senate races where it was assumed that Republicans would gain a significant majority based in part on them ousting Democratic incumbents in places like New Hampshire and North Carolina.

We should all be noticing by now that - regardless of the outcome of the Senate majority - it is increasingly unlikely that we'll see a Republican wave. In terms of Senate races, Republicans will probably win in deeply red states like Georgia, Louisiana and Arkansas. But they won't be picking up seats in NH or NC. And they just might lose in Kansas. The real contests at this point are in swing states like Colorado and Iowa. No wave in sight. 

Of course we're not seeing many pundits declare the death of the Republican wave. After the election, everyone will scramble to explain how the results favor their side or validate their predictions. But I find at least a hint of recognition about this change from Stu Rothenberg - who just a month ago predicted that Republicans would gain 7 Senate seats. Yesterday he hedged his bets by writing: What if I'm wrong about GOP flipping at least 7 seats? That's as good of a mea culpa as you're going to get from guys like Rothenberg.

And so, when it comes to the great Republican wave of 2014...time to wave goodbye :-)