Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jeb Bush to Run as GOP's Version of Obama

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Obama and Clinton: Strategies For Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

GOP Gridlocked With GOP

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

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

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

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

An Open Letter to Chuck Todd

Dear Mr. Todd,

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

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

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

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

Offered for your consideration,


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

"Immigrants and Native Americans"

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

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

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

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

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

A Better Politics: The Video

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


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

President Obama Hasn't Moved On

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

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

A Note to Future Black Presidents

Dear Future Black Presidents,

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

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

1. You are not allowed to go on vacations.

2. You are not allowed to play golf.

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

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

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

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

Good luck with all that,


< snark off >

Everybody Matters

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

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

A Better Politics

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

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

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

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

If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments, but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.
Too many pundits (and Americans in general) assume there are only two options: agree or demonize your opponent. That's the kind of politics we've been living with for far too long. It's what President Obama calls our "empathy deficit." He is saying that we can disagree strongly with each other AND still address the heart of the matter.
I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny...

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

Back to Why He Ran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Hallmark of an Effective Leader

Ever since Michael Grunwald ignored all the wailing on both the left and right about the American Recovery Act, I've been a big fan of his. And before I get to his more recent contribution, let me take a detour to point out that six years ago today, we celebrated President Obama's first inauguration. Twenty-eight days later (on February 17, 2009), he signed the ARA. Think about that for a moment...28 days to pass and sign the biggest stimulus package in this country's history!

Anyway, back to Grunwald. Just yesterday I was reflecting on how our media fueled the fear and hysteria about Ebola last fall, but has done almost nothing to tell us why there has been such success in containing an epidemic. And then along comes Grunwald to remedy that. He did it by interviewing Ron Klain - the man President Obama appointed to be the "Ebola Czar."

If you remember what happened at the time, a lot of people critiqued and/or laughed at this appointment because Klain was not a medical expert. Here's what he had to say about that:
I think people maybe had a misperception of what was needed. We had great medical advisers; the president was getting great advice from Dr. Fauci, from Dr. Frieden, who runs the CDC, from a panoply of other medical experts. I think the White House was looking for someone to come in and do the very unglamorous, bureaucratic coordination it takes to produce a response of this size. I think folks here knew I had done that with the Recovery Act and saw this as a very similar kind of project. It was taking a 14-or-15-agency response, a lot of great people, and making it all work together, figuring out where the seams were, figuring out what policy decisions needed to get made...

The medical science of what it takes to treat and stop the Ebola epidemic really isn’t that complicated. You just have to figure out who has the disease, isolate them from other people and get them some pretty basic treatments.

We needed some policy work on domestic response, how to figure out which hospitals to get ready to deal with this, how to put the right procedures in place to screen people who come in to the country and identify them in case one of them got sick and get them to the right place. The other thing we’ve had to do is make sure the science was informing our policy decision and not letting misperceptions or anxiety shape the policy decisions. But the science was clear.
One of the hallmarks of an effective leader is the ability to accurately diagnose a problem and bring in the people who have the skills to solve it. That's exactly what President Obama did in appointing Klain. The fact that almost no one is talking about Ebola these days speaks volumes about the outcome.

State of the Union: Turning the Page

As we prepare for tonight's State of the Union speech, we already know most of the ideas/proposals President Obama will talk about. And so much of the pundit chatter has moved away from what he will say to why he will say it. This is always a fascinating inquiry to watch. That's because a lot of the responses tell us more about the pundit than they do about the President.

The conventional wisdom accepted by almost everyone is that what Obama will propose tonight is a break from what he's done in the past. The centerpiece for that assumption is that he will talk about an increase in taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for programs that assist the poor and middle class.

But is this really something new for President Obama? Let me give you three examples of where he's done it before:
  1. Obamacare takes revenue mostly from the wealthy to pay for assistance for the poor and middle class - in other words, it is redistributive.
  2. The reason Republicans walked away from a Grand Bargain with President Obama is that he insisted on additional federal revenue (mostly from ending tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthy) in order to agree to their spending cuts.
  3. In the so-called "fiscal cliff" deal of 2012, President Obama insisted on continuing the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and elimination of them for the wealthy.
So what the President will propose tonight aligns very well with his approach in the past.

For those who buy into the conventional wisdom however, their rationales for why are fascinating. The Republican response is - of course - predictable.
Republicans cast Mr. Obama’s slow-motion rollout of his State of the Union agenda in recent weeks as the desperate flailing of a lame-duck president who has not come to grips with the electorate’s decision in November or the fact that the opposition now controls the Senate as well as the House. In defying reality, they said, he simply wants to return to the tax-and-spending ways of the past.

“I see this as the president returning to the theme of class warfare,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois. “It may have been effective in 2012, but I don’t find it to be effective anymore. I think, frankly, he’s out of ideas if he is unwilling to work with Republicans, and I think he is unwilling to work with Republicans.”
But when it comes to the President's overall response to the 2014 midterms, I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with conservative pundit Byron York.
"The reason he is being aggressive is that he knows he can generate a response," says a well-connected Republican strategist. "When he does an executive order, what he is trying to do is generate a response so that the entire conversation is about what he did — so that he has defined the agenda."

Likewise, when Obama, facing a newly-empowered conservative Congress, uses his State of the Union speech to propose a tax plan the liberal columnist E.J. Dionne calls "genuinely redistributive," he is trying to dictate the terms of the debate with a powerful adversary. Of course Obama knows his plan is anathema to Republicans, but if they debate the president on his terms, he makes progress.
On the other side of the political spectrum, progressives are announcing for the 157th time (just kidding, I made that number up - but it has happened a lot in the last 6 years) that President Obama has FINALLY come to his senses. Tim Mak captures that one with a quote from David Greenberg.
And in previous State of the Union addresses, argued Greenberg, President Obama has laid out points of potential compromise — only to find the negotiating window shifting to the right when Republicans made stronger demands.

“Obama has made the mistake a lot over his initial years by opening with a compromise bid, and Republicans would counter with their maximum bid,” he said. “Obama may have finally figured out that it's better to open with your maximum bid.”
Spare me...please!

Here is how Jared Bernstein sees it:
For years, he [Obama] had to worry about getting growth back in place following the Great Recession, and getting major legislation—health reform, Dodd-Frank—through Congress. Those measures are in place and must be defended. The recovery, while not complete, is solidly underway.

But the inequalities of wealth, income, and even opportunity are as embedded as ever in our economy, and the goal now must be not merely to sustain the growth we have, but to craft the policy agenda that will give the middle class, and the aspiring middle class, the chance to claim their fair share of that growth.
Bingo gringo!!! Because that's exactly what the man himself said. Remember what he told Steve Inskeep a few weeks ago?
...I have spent six years now in this office. We have dealt with the worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression. We have dealt with international turmoil that we haven't seen in a lot of years.

And I said at the beginning of this year that 2014 would be a breakthrough year, and it was a bumpy path.

But at the end of 2014, I could look back and say we are as well-positioned today as we have been in quite some time economically, that American leadership is more needed around the world than ever before — and that is liberating in the sense that a lot of the work that we've done is now beginning to bear fruit. And it gives me an opportunity then to start focusing on some of the other hard challenges that I didn't always have the time or the capacity to get to earlier in my presidency...

But what is true is that I'm in a position now where, with the economy relatively strong, with us having lowered the deficit, with us having strong growth and job growth, for the first time us starting to see wages ticking up, with inflation low, with energy production high — now I have the ability to focus on some long-term projects, including making sure that everybody is benefiting from this growth and not just some.
And here's how he said it in his video discussion about the upcoming SOTU speech:
Over the last six years, we have been weighed down by the legacy of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. And because of the incredible grit and resilience of the American people, America is now in a position to really turn the page. Now that we have fought our way through the crisis, how do we make sure that everybody in this country, how do we make sure that they’re sharing in this growing economy? How do we make sure that they have the tools to succeed?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Wanna Blow Your Mind?

That is a portion of our neighbor galaxy Andromeda.

It is over 2 million light years away.

In just this portion of Andromeda, there are 100 million stars.

The universe contains over 100 billion galaxies like Andromeda.

The image above can't really do this justice because it was assembled into a mosaic image using 7,398 exposures taken over 411 individual pointings. It's a mammoth 1.5 billion pixel image (69, 536 x 22, 230) and requires about 4.3 GB disk space.

Trying to grasp all of that brings on the definition of "awe."

Lessons From the Media Coverage of Ebola

The fact that the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia is fading is the best news I've heard so far today. With fewer people suffering and dying, I'd suggest that this might be a good time for some reflection. This situation provides us with a pretty clear-eyed take on how our media fails so often precisely because a disease outbreak doesn't come with a ready-made villain.

Our reflection could start by noticing the different level of coverage about the problem being solved than there was while it was escalating. Even the article I linked to above says very little about what worked and is more focused on how the US-built treatment centers were too little too late.

But even worse than that, we all remember how in the month of October last year the media talked about almost nothing but the Ebola outbreak and ISIS. And that coverage only added fuel to the fire.
A new poll last week revealed disturbing trends about the increasingly dire media coverage of the Ebola story in the United States. Measuring the rising anxiety among news consumers, a Rutgers-Eagleton poll of New Jersey residents found that 69 percent are at least somewhat concerned about the deadly disease spreading in the U.S.

The truly strange finding was that people who said they were following the story most closely were the ones with the most inaccurate information about Ebola. The more information they consumed about the dangerous disease, the less they knew about it. How is that even possible?

Poll director David Redlawsk cast an eye of blame on the news media. "The tone of the coverage seems to be increasing fear while not improving understanding," Redlawsk told a reporter. "You just have to turn on the TV to see the hysteria of the "talking heads" media. It's really wall to wall. The crawls at the bottom of the screen are really about fear. And in all the fear and all the talking, there's not a lot of information."
All that fear immediately subsided the moment the media quit reporting on the story. And there has been almost no coverage of how our public health system worked to stop the spread of Ebola in this country.

In the end, what we got was about a month and a half of panic-enducing hysteria and then nothing. Please let me know if you've seen anyone in the media apologize for that miserable failure.

But it's not just Ebola. Micah Zenko suggest that this is how the media covers all foreign affairs.
Although a dwindling number of Americans truly care about what happens elsewhere in the world, those who still do might believe, as former government officials have described it, that "the world is aflame," "there are fires burning everywhere," "many places around the world that we have interests … are perilous," "the trend towards a more chaotic world is not going to change anytime soon," or "to put it mildly, the world is a mess."...

The extent to which these terrifying and uncontested characterizations reflect "fact" is increasingly irrelevant. Once it emerges as conventional wisdom among government officials and foreign-policy commentators, given the political utility in using such language, such dire warnings become accepted as "truth." The relatively sudden development of this normative hyperbolism should be concerning for anyone still interested in U.S. foreign policy and world affairs, more generally.
In discussing how good news is never reported, Zenko said this - which really nailed what we so often see happening in media stories.
Rare positive foreign-policy news stories are usually centered upon relatable experiences of one individual trying to do good amid the surrounding mayhem. These are human interest stories, such as the Christian woman and Muslim woman who come together for religious services under the same roof in Iraq in the midst of ISIS atrocities. Or the professor at an Israeli fashion university who carries on with a scheduled runway show because she feels that the students’ work deserves to be seen despite the ongoing conflict. This reinforces an unspoken narrative that the world is a fiery, chaotic mess and that only a few saintly individuals are capable of good — but never governments, organizations, or popular movements.
All of what Zenko said could be applied to domestic media coverage as well - including the bit about those human interest stories.

The result - of course - is cynicism... a persistent belief that the world is in chaos and the United States is on the wrong track.

But rather than get cynical about the cynicism, we can do as Al Giordano suggested (feel free to substitute "poutrage" with poutrage/panic):
I do believe fervently in constructing a counter-culture of noncooperation with the daily poutrage cycle, and so whatever the next big outrage that comes to surprise us today or tomorrow brings, the first task is to step back, examine what is driving this particular poutrage convention, and not say anything unless and until one has something real to add to it. That's how all truly meaningful change ever began: a few people stepping back from what everybody else was saying and thinking while they were driven by the dominant media of their eras, refusing to get swept up in it because there was something more worthwhile, outside of those limitations prescribed from above, yet to do...