Monday, November 24, 2014

4.5 Minutes of Silence for the Protection of All Children

Here is the statement from Michael Brown's parents:

God bless them and God bless the children.

Just SAY IT, Charles Blow

In many ways, Charles Blow nailed it it his column titled: Bigger Than Immigration.
Don’t let yourself get lost in the weeds. Don’t allow yourself to believe that opposition to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration is only about that issue, the president’s tactics, or his lack of obsequiousness to his detractors.

This hostility and animosity toward this president is, in fact, larger than this president. This is about systems of power and the power of symbols. Particularly, it is about preserving traditional power and destroying emerging symbols that threaten that power. This president is simply the embodiment of the threat, as far as his detractors are concerned, whether they are willing or able to articulate it as such.
But does anyone else get the feeling like he's trying to say something while walking on egg shells? His message is basically the same one I talked about in: Understanding the Threat of a Confederate Insurgency. But he hides behind words like "systems of power" and "power of symbols" and never gets around to saying anything about what those systems and symbols represent: racism.

Perhaps there's a method to his madness because everyone knows what kind of reaction the use of the "r" word gets these days. But lets be real...we all know exactly what he's talking about.

What Hillary Clinton Could Learn From Al Gore

Now that the 2014 midterms are over, it is - of course - off to the races for 2016. I find myself amused by a lot of the "advice" that Hillary Clinton is getting about how to position herself for another presidential run.

For example, Dylan Scott suggests that Sec. Clinton faces a dilemma between distancing herself from President Obama and appealing to what has become known as "the Obama coalition."
They are of course linked: If Obama is unpopular, a Clinton campaign will be tempted to present a sharp contrast. At the same time, the President will likely remain popular with the core Democratic base that she needs to harness. But the record tells us that, however the Obama presidency is faring like in its final months, it's going to influence his aspiring successor's White House ambitions.
Former Clinton staffers Douglas Schoen and Patrick Caddell make no bones about where they come down on that one. They weigh in with: Obama is Damaging Hillary's Chances.

I am reminded of the fact that Vice President Al Gore faced the same dilemma when he decided to run in 2000. President Bill Clinton had actually been impeached by the House of Representatives and it was unclear whether his involvement in a Gore campaign would help or hurt. As we all know now, Gore chose to "position" himself by staying mum on the issue.

What I think Hillary Clinton could learn from all of this is to avoid the whole idea of "positioning" yourself based on how the electorate might react. An awful lot of us cringed at the lack of authenticity in Al Gore's presidential campaign. That's why - whether they were true or not - stories about advice he got from Naomi Wolf about being a "beta male" rang true.  And when, in 2003, Gore let loose of all that and gave a barn-burner speech on how the Bush administration was trampling on civil liberties, we all wondered "Where was this guy in 2000?"

Of course running a presidential campaign requires positioning. But rather than catering to what someone thinks the electorate wants to hear, it has to be based on an answer to the question "Who is this candidate?" Looking back on how she ran in 2008, I'm not sure that Hillary Clinton has answered that question. That was highlighted by the fact that some people even thought that the tears she shed on the trail in New Hampshire were contrived.

If Hillary Clinton can find her core and speak to us from that place, she can toss out all the advice she's getting from folks about how to position herself vis a vis President Obama and his coalition. Whether or not she can do that...we'll see.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Odds & Ends

Here are some stories that caught my eye today.

One of the most frustrating things about Republicans over the last few years is their adoption of "post-policy" positioning." That's why Kimberly Strassel's op-ed is revealing. She's having some fun positing that if President Obama can claim the kinds of powers she identifies, why not the next Republican president too? And then she unleashes what the agenda would be. Holy cow!!!! Suffice it to say, "Social Security? What Social Security?"

All I can say is...please Bibi, don't do it!

The good news of the day is that the incoming Nevada House Speaker Ira Hansen has decided to step down after his racist/sexist remarks were made public.

While everyone is distracted, slowly but surely the Obama administration is transferring detainees out of Gitmo.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, their 2016 field of hopefuls is not as popular with the general public as they are with their base.

And finally, we can now replace all the other things we've been told to freak out about lately. The truly terrifying news of the day is that the earth is running out of chocolate.

Are Americans "Stupid" or Uninformed?

Republicans are making hay out of Jonathan Gruber's suggestion that those who crafted Obamacare thought the American public was stupid. While that was a politically incorrect (and stupid) thing to say, we've all seen enough "man on the street" interviews where too many people don't know which party controls Congress or who the current Vice President is to simply dismiss it as untrue.

But a more relevant question would be to ask whether or not the American public is "stupid" (inferring a lack of intelligence) or uninformed. That is the question sparked by this recent Gallup poll. They found that - while the violent crime rate has dropped dramatically since the early 1990's (from 80 incidents of violent crime/1000 people to 23/1000), 63% of Americans think that violent crime is increasing.

Back in the 1990's I attended a workshop on the effects of television on young people. The presenter asked the audience, "What is the purpose of television?" After a lot of responses that focused on entertainment, the presenter said that the purpose was to produce eyeballs...for advertisers. I would suggest that the same thing is now true of our news media. The perception of an increase in violent crime is likely a direct result of the old adage: "if it bleeds, it leads."

Media Matters recently produced a report showing that both cable and network news reporting on Ebola spiked in the days leading up to the 2014 midterms and then simply went to almost nothing afterwards. I don't buy the idea that this was some collusion between the media and Republicans. I suspect it had more to do with the way that fear of the disease spreading grabbed everyone's attention, and then a total elimination of coverage once it was clear that wasn't going to happen (at least not in this country). In other words, success at containing the spread of Ebola doesn't produce eyeballs.

Circling back to the subject of Obamacare, its interesting to note the effect all this has on the perceptions of the public.
Jon Krosnick, Wendy Gross, and colleagues at Stanford and Kaiser ran large surveys to measure public understanding of the ACA and how it was associated with approval of the law. They found that accurate knowledge about what’s in the bill varied with party identification: Democrats understood the most and liked the law the most, independents less, and Republicans understood still less and liked the law the least. However, attitudes were not just tribal. Within each party, the more accurate your knowledge of the law, the more you liked it.
These researchers found that in the unlikely event that the public had a perfect understanding of the law, approval of it would go from 32% to 70%. That's the price we pay for an uninformed public.

Its true that technology has allowed partisans and ideologues to chose media sources that confirm their beliefs. But those who simply want "the news" are pretty regularly fed a diet that inflames more than it informs. If you doubt that, take a look at one retired anchorman's reaction to the movie "Anchorman."

If we want this to change, we'll need everyone to think twice about what they do with their eyeballs.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

More good news

Regular readers here might want to take a look at the Political Animal blog at The Washington Monthly. You might recognize a new writer there.

Just saying...


"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs"

I'm going to give Colbert King the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had the best of intentions when he wrote The lessons of November 1963. But seriously...comparing our current situation to the moments after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated is WAY over the top and dangerously inflammatory.

Right now, President Obama and the Democrats are going about the business of governing in a terribly polarized political environment. On the other side of the isle is a party with no solutions that is having a massive freak-out. Some of their people are comparing temporary relief to 5 million undocumented immigrants to Japanese internment camps, suggesting the possibility of ethnic cleansing and warning of violence and anarchy. Instead of all the hype, these guys could simply do what President Obama has suggested over and over again...Pass A Bill (i.e., try governing themselves).

The very last thing we need right now is for people to start comparing all that to a presidential assassination and transfer of power. It invites us to join in the hysteria rather than provide an alternative. In other words, it inflames rather than enlightens.

A much better approach is the one that embodies exactly how President Obama tends to handle these kinds of things. It comes from the poet Rudyard Kipling.

If, A Father's Advice to His Son

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools...

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Response From POTUS :-)

Anyone remember that last summer I wrote a letter to President Barack Obama?

Well...hold on to your hats. Because he just wrote me back. OH MY!!!!!

If my letter kept him going for just one tiny moment in time, I am over-the-top THRILLED.

So yeah, this is me right about now.

"Let's love one another. I know we know how."

If you've ever had any doubts about the importance of immigration to this country, just imagine a United States without Carlos Santana :-)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Photo of the Day: Lunch Meeting

On this day when most of us should be reminded that we're immigrants to this land, President Obama had lunch with the one group for whom that isn't true...Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Youth. I don't know if they planned it this way, but I LOVE the juxtaposition of this as a prelude to his announcement about immigration tonight!

Hey pundits, you might want to listen to Jorge Ramos

Here's my latest tweet:
It was inspired by this article from Michael Scherer about Ramos.

This morning as I was reading the usual prognosticators about President Obama's announcement tonight on immigration, I noticed how few of them are incorporating the reaction of Latinos and/or immigrant rights activists into their opinions. Case in point...NBC's First Read.

I have to wonder if (mostly white) pundits made the same mistake back in 1994 when California Republicans went all-in on Proposition 187.
...a 1994 ballot initiative to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit illegal aliens from using health care, public education, and other social services in the U.S. State of California.
Remember last week when I talked about how the West Coast states went from red to blue? In hindsight, a lot of people credit that change in California to backlash from the passage of that proposition.

One of the effects of white privilege is that we tend to view the world through the lens of our own experience. The impact of someone like Jorge Ramos and the people he touches tend to not be on our radar screens. But if you want to prognosticate about how this country will react to President Obama's action on immigration, you might want to check out what he and his 10 million viewers are thinking/saying (in comparison, Bill O'Reilly gets about 3 million viewers on Fox).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On tape: Republicans dodge the question

For the last couple of days I've been focusing on the big gaping hole in the Republican position on immigration - the one question that needs to be asked and answered: "what do you propose to do with the 11 million undocumented workers who are currently in the country?" Yesterday I pointed out how the post-policy punditry has avoided holding Republicans accountable - making a bipartisan solution impossible.

Imagine my surprise when the one pundit who came through on that one is none other than Mark Halperin (we'll just leave that one alone for now). If you want to know how badly Republicans are trying to avoid answering that question, just watch Rep. Tim Huelskamp squirm while Halperin pushes him on it.

Lay this one alongside the right wing hysteria on Gruber's comments about the Democrats "deceiving" the American public about health care reform. Who's doing the deceiving now?

No matter how hard they try to dodge the question, there are three issues that need to be addressed when it comes to immigration:
  1. Border security
  2. Reforming our current system of legal immigration
  3. Doing something about the 11 million (or whatever number) of undocumented workers currently here
Any policy that avoids answering ALL THREE of those questions is incomplete and does not address the problem. Until Republicans are prepared to do that, President Obama is left with having to do so on his own.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Learning to glide

This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke titled The Swan always puts me at ease with myself.

The labouring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.

And dying - to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day
is like his anxious letting himself fall
into the water, which receives him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draws back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more
indifferent, he condescends to glide.
I suspect that President Obama has learned to glide. And that's what allows him to - as Michelle describes - play the long game.
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.

President Obama has always favored Congressional action

To the chagrin of many LGBT activists back in 2010, President Obama demonstrated that he preferred Congressional action to Executive Orders on ending DADT. They simply assumed the former would never happen. But President Obama held out - and with majorities in both the House and Senate - he got it done.

That's exactly why he's given Speaker Boehner over a year to act on the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. He prefers Congressional action. But at some point, you simply have to recognize its not going to happen.

In both cases, there is a reason why the President prefers for Congress to act. That's because Executive Actions =/= Congressional Actions. This is a point I expect President Obama to make very clearly when he announces what he's going to do on immigration.

The latest right wing talking point we're hearing about is that - in the past - President Obama said that he could not legally do what he is planning to do now. The assumption behind that one is that Executive Actions = Congressional Actions. They do not!

What the President is likely to propose is significantly short of offering a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers in this country. It will offer SOME of them temporary relief.

Its especially important that those of us on the left are clear about that. The whole situation got rather muddied when some Latino activists decided to go after the President for not acting on deportations. They failed to articulate the reason he continued to press for Congressional action. And now that failure is coming back to haunt us in the form of right wing talking points that obscure the difference.

And so, when President Obama announces his plan - which will include the kinds of things both Presidents Bush and Reagan did - an awful lot of undocumented workers will be able to breath a little easier. BUT - that's only temporary. We will need to press on for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Post-Policy Punditry

Over a year ago, Steve Benen wrote about how the Republicans were practicing post-policy politics. Perhaps the best (and shortest) summary of how that works came from Sen. Lindsay Graham.
Anytime you challenge the president, Obama, it’s good politics.
In other words, Republicans don't need to bother saying what they are FOR. It works for them to simply be against anything President Obama wants to do.

And yes, that worked pretty well for them in the 2014 midterms. But the reason it did is because it was coupled with a post-policy media. BooMan put it pretty well when he called it "an election about nothing."
I've actually been watching almost no politically related television for the simple reason that almost none of it has anything to do with the upcoming elections, let alone actual issues that might be taken up by the next Congress. The media has been keeping the country almost in an election blackout, with coverage mostly related to conflict in the Middle East and the Ebola virus.
But that kind of media coverage isn't limited to elections. As things heat up about President Obama's upcoming announcement about immigration, Ed Kilgore is one of the few people who is pointing out that there's a big gaping hole where the Republican position should be.
If you’re going to harshly criticize Obama for taking a more definitive position on prosecutorial guildelines, you need to identify some alternative strategy. Is it more police dogs and box cars? Is it random prosecution, hoping the fear of arbitrary state power makes life difficult enough for the undocumented that they “self-deport?” “Wait!” won’t cut it any more.
As I wrote yesterday, this is the question that Republicans should have to answer.

Instead, we get idiots like Ron Fournier and Chuck Todd writhing about how "both sides are to blame" because of the lack of bipartisanship. Here's Fournier:
This is an era of titanic challenges and tiny politics. On issue after issue, the Republican and Democratic parties preen and pose but ultimately duck their responsibilities to solve the transcendent problems of our times.

On immigration, we need durable new rules that give 11 million illegal immigrants some form of legalization without punishing those who followed the old rules, and that acknowledge the steep social costs of porous borders. In other words, true reform would be bipartisan, addressing credible concerns of conservatives and liberals alike.

Instead, we're about to get temporary half-measures issued by fiat from Obama.
And here's Todd cribbing off of Fournier.
But as we’ve noted before, what separates our current era of politics from past ones is the unwillingness to give the opposition ANY kind of “win.” Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill didn’t agree on much and fought over plenty, but they compromised enough on the low-hanging fruit for Americans to have faith in the political system. Ditto George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy when it came to education reform. Yet what’s different today is that there’s no compromise on the low-hanging fruit. And EVERYTHING now turns into a huge political battle, even on subjects that weren’t controversial decades ago...
 I have to give it to Paul Krugman, he nailed the idiocy of this kind of punditry.
Well, I’ve know for years that many political pundits don’t think that understanding policy is part of their job. But this is still extreme. And I’m sorry to go after an individual here — but for God’s sake, don’t you have to know something about the actual content of a policy you critique?
The truth is, Fournier and Todd don't really need to bother their pretty little heads with policy. A simple short-term memory on how we got here would suffice. Just last year a "gang of eight" Senators (4 D's and 4 R's) got together to hammer out the differences the two parties have about immigration reform: Republicans wanted more border security and Democrats wanted a pathway to citizenship for those who are undocumented. Bipartisanship reigned when they compromised and included both in a bill that passed the Senate 68-32.

Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans in the House have refused to act on that bi-partisan compromise. But they have also refused to act on anything related to immigration reform. We really don't know what their position is at this point. They talk a lot about border security but never mention what their plan is on how to deal with the 11 million undocumented workers already in this country. As Kilgore points out, the federal budget has never included enough funding to "deport 'em all" - leaving it up to the executive branch to prioritize. Which is exactly what President Obama plans to do.

As Matt Yglesias pointed out - it is the post-policy punditry of folks like Todd and Fournier that provides cover for obstructionist Republicans and makes the bipartisanship they pretend to pine for impossible.
The opposition party would like the president to not be associated with bipartisan initiatives. And the opposition party has it in their power to make sure that the president is not associated with bipartisan initiatives.

If you don't understand that, you'll never understand today's politics. Worse, you'll be consistently making bipartisanship less likely.
That might be one of the best summaries you'll see of why the politics of DC isn't working these days. Republicans aren't likely to change their approach as long as its "working" for them. But our post-policy punditry could get the ball rolling by recognizing that bipartisanship requires that both sides actually put their positions on the table.