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 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 :-)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Some dank cave of the American Id"

The other day I suggested that fear was at the root of much of the reaction we see to President Obama. Today Charles Pierce puts my writing skills to shame in response to the news that this President has had three times the number of threats on his life as past presidents.
...there has been a wildness in the air around this president ever since it became clear first, that he was going to be the nominee, and then, that he was going to be the president. It was as though the glowing enthusiasm and the occasionally embarrassingly messianic fervor of his supporters back in 2007 and 2008 summoned up a dark energy on the other side, a Nemesis out of some undying part of the national soul, out of some dank cave of the American Id.
We all have tried to find ways to deal with that "dark energy." I don't you about you, but this one speaks as much to me today as it did six years ago.

Let's not kick out the darkness...Make the LIGHT Brighter!!!

Some good news about the midterms

Over the last few days we've been inundated with bad news about the midterms when it comes to polls. Yesterday Nate Silver wondered if it was time for the Democrats to panic. I say a resounding "NO!" to that one. Instead, Democrats need to do what Derek Willis documents that they're doing.
With a strong possibility that Democrats could lose control of the Senate in the midterm elections, they are investing heavily in voter turnout efforts.

In states too close to call like Alaska, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina, Democrats are making much greater investments in the ground game than Republicans.
So while Republicans continue to spend their money on television ads and direct mail, Democrats are focusing on getting voters to the polls. The difference in expenditures on staff and voter contact operations is dramatic.
According to the Upshot’s tallies, Dem outside groups, parties and candidates are outspending their GOP counterparts in Alaska ($1.9 million to $224,800); Colorado ($4.4 million to $556,100); Iowa ($1.4 million to $105,000); Michigan ($1.4 million to $767,400); and North Carolina ($3.2 million to $835,000).
Greg Sargent points out the critical issue.
The crucial thing here to watch is whether Democrats have success in registering — or inducing early voting by — people who might otherwise not be inclined to vote. In a year when core Dem voter groups appear less inclined to vote than core GOP voters do, anything that can marginally shift the electorate in a Democratic direction could conceivably make a difference.
Basically, if the electorate in 2014 mirrors the electorate of 2010 (in other words, if the status quo is maintained), Democrats will likely lose. The only way to ensure that doesn't happen is if more women, young voters and people of color show up in November. And the way to do that is to invest heavily in the ground game.

President Obama demonstrated to the political world that an effective ground game can change the course of both presidential primaries and general elections. At least in the states discussed by Willis, we'll soon learn whether or not the same thing can be said for midterms.

You're not going to hear much hoopla about this in the media. But I'm extremely happy to learn that Democrats are doing EXACTLY what they need to do to.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bust a meme: President Obama's approval ratings

I can understand why Republicans want to spread a false meme that President Obama's approval numbers are tanking. Their whole goal in the midterms is to nationalize the election and ramp up the Obama derangement syndrome with their base.

But one has to wonder why some liberals are so intent on doing the same thing. Case in point: Elias Isquith at Salon. He sites polls taken recently in California and New York showing that the President's approval ratings have dropped in those blue states and then opines:
Put simply, my guess is that a growing number of liberals have decided that after nearly six years, and with no reason to believe a Democratic congress is on the horizon, Obama’s done nearly all he’ll ever do and the verdict is in. And although Obamacare seems to be a policy success, and Dodd-Frank is reportedly working better than many expected, many liberals have concluded that these balms are not enough to soothe the lingering pain of their unmet expectations.
Ahhh...the old "disappointed liberal" meme. Its interesting how that one tends to always come up right before an election. These folks are always sure that THIS TIME President Obama has finally crossed the rubicon and lost the support of his liberal "base." Isquith lays the blame this time on his decision to delay action on immigration and the fact that he's "acquiesced in the face of the U.S.war machine." Surely these polls are proof that the President has finally lost liberals.

But are they? I thought I'd take a look. The first thing I noticed is that both polls he referenced are state polls that also serve the function of polling local elections. As such, the results they report about the drop in presidential approval rating come at the same time that polling firms tend to switch from polling "registered voters" to "likely voters." Could this explain the results he's focusing on?

One way to check that is to take a look at Gallup's presidential approval polling. First, a disclaimer. A lot of people have pointed out problems with Gallup's polling and they make important critiques. But whenever a pollster consistently uses the same (however flawed) methodology while asking the same question, you can trust the trend lines, even if you don't trust the actual numbers.

With that said, President Obama's approval amongst liberal Democrats is currently at 85% and has hovered in the low 80's for over a year now. In other words, there has been NO drop as a result of his policies lately.

Overall, the President's approval rating has been remarkably steady except for surges upward at the time of his inauguration in 2009 and re-election in 2012. I'd propose that those are the only times during his tenure that the American people actually had an alternative to compare him to.

So whether its conservatives trying to twist the data to pretend like the country is turning against President Obama or liberals suggesting (once again) that he has lost "his base," they are both opinions in search of facts to back them up. Lets bust that meme, shall we?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Nancy confronts her naiveté

I've spent the morning reflecting on how naive I was 4-5 years ago. You see, back then when poutragers were busy railing about how President Obama dropped the public option from health care reform and his stimulus bill was too small and he had abandoned the effort to end DADT, I thought that the success of this President's pragmatic policies would lead them to take a second look at the assumptions they were making about him.

Now here we are years later and its clear that Obamacare is both reducing the number of people without health insurance while is slows the rise in costs. It turns out that the things President Obama fought for - like Medicaid expansion, the medical loss ratios and competition on the exchanges - have all been at least as important (if not more so) than the public option would have been.

Not only has Michael Grunwald educated us on the "hidden story of change" contained in the Recovery Act via his book The New New Deal, President Obama got a "second stimulus" in exchange for temporarily extending tax cuts for the wealthy. All told, he was successful in getting over $1 trillion to boost the economy.

On ending DADT...

Nuff said. 

My early expectations were never that these critics would agree with the President. I simply thought that these successes would entitle him to some respect that would be demonstrated by a willingness to give his ideas a second look before jumping into nefarious assumptions about him. Didn't happen.

I're all going to lecture me about how its way past time to have given up on this hope. And it didn't just fall in one fail swoop recently. But when you see things like Michael Moore saying that President Obama's only legacy will be that he is the first African American president and Tavis Smiley says that on every measure blacks are worse off than when Obama was elected, I can't help but scratch my head and wonder what reality these folks are living in. Its certainly not the same one I inhabit.

Frankly, I see very little difference between those statements from Moore/Smiley and the tea partier's ongoing belief that Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim socialist. Neither one bears any resemblance to the facts. 

The recovering therapist in me wants to delve into trying to understand this phenomena. But I'm not sure that's a good use of my time. Suffice it to say that the human mind is an incredible and complex thing - with an amazing capacity to cling to distortion in order to avoid the dissonance of reality.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

How money corrodes our public discourse

The argument we're used to hearing is that the tremendous amount of money in politics these days corrodes our politicians. There is obviously a lot of truth to that.

But lately I've been seeing how it also corrodes our public discourse. That happens when an argument is made that people disagree with and the response is to assume that the person making it doesn't really believe what they're saying but has simply been influenced by money. It happens ALL THE TIME. I'd invite you to begin to notice how often.

While I've been aware of this for awhile, I was motivated to write about it when immigration activists actually pulled it on none other than Delores Huerta because she suggested that they avoid criticizing President Obama for delaying action on immigration until the end of this year.
On the whole, Obama’s Latino defenders all have a financial stake in his regime. They are all recipients of largesse either from the administration directly or through his party or allied private foundations. They belong to the corrupt patronage system and have gladly accepted their proverbial role as house peons who run to save the master’s burning house faster than the master himself. The most immoral observation about their behavior is the lack of transparency about their personal moneyed interests and positions as they implicitly defend massive deportations of historic dimension.
That literally makes me sick. I don't personally know Ms. Huerta. But I know of her legacy with the Latino community. And when/if you decide to go after her with garbage like that - you better have something more than rage to back it up!!!

The fact of the matter is, these activists and Ms. Huerta disagree about how to respond to President Obama's delay. But rather than discuss those differing arguments, these folks decided to simply trash her and claim she has personal moneyed interests that drive her opinion.

We see this happen all the time. The other place its popping up a lot lately is from the people who are mad at AG Eric Holder for not prosecuting Wall Street. Rather than researching reasons for his decisions, they simply claim that it was all about Wall Street money and patronage. All you need to know, these folks claim, is that he worked for big corporations at one time. There...that's proof. It reminds me of the kind of arguments the tea partiers make (i.e., he palled around with terrorists). As an alternative, they might actually address the reasons an expert in the field - Jed Lakoff - outlined. Of course that would take time and thought. You might also have to challenge some of your own assumptions about Holder. Its much easier to claim that he was simply bought off.

It could be that then-Mayor Cory Booker made his inept remarks about investment firms during the 2012 election cycle because he was bought off by them. Or it could be that he was very aware of the fact that thousands of working and middle class employees of his city depend on them for their pension and retirement funds.

It could be that Sen. Mary Landrieu has been bought off by the oil companies that operate in Louisiana. Or it could be that she is aware that thousands of her constituents depend on their work for those companies to put food on their table and a roof over their heads.

When we simply jump to the former argument in each of those cases, we fail to get to the issues that underly the latter. In other words, when we make one group of people (bankers, oil companies) the "enemy" that needs to be destroyed, we fail to see the interconnectedness that will lead to unintended consequences. And those most often fall on "the least of these" that we, as liberals, claim to care about.

The truth is that - whether we like it or not - money plays a powerful role in all of our lives and the decisions we make. I'll just take a moment here to recommend that you read one of the best books I've ever come across about that subject: The Soul of Money by  Lynne Twist. While we need to keep working to limit the influence of money in our politics, we shouldn't give it more power than it actually has. Because that robs us of the kind of conversations in which we need to engage.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The choice: fear or hope?

Imagine with me for a moment that the United States elects a new president seven years after 9/11 while we are engaged in 2 wars in the Middle East that the voters want to end. All this is happening while the mastermind of the worst terror attack on our country continues to plot against us.

Now, imagine that president ending those wars and approving a high-risk plan to take out the mastermind - and its successful.

Further, imagine that this president assembles a coalition of 40 countries to go after a new threat that arises from Middle Eastern terrorists.

And yet, 55% of the country disapproves of his handling of foreign policy while some actually buy into the idea that he's is a secret Muslim sympathizer (warning: wingnut link).

OK, so you don't have to imagine it at all. That's the true story of President Barack Obama.

What blows my mind is how - in an age when data and information are universally available in a way we've never known before - so many people buy into mythologies and propaganda that have zero grounding in facts. Why are they so quick to believe the lies and distortions?

This all goes WAY beyond a basic disagreement about policies. If that were all this was about we might be able to discuss how Presidents Bush and Obama agreed about how to end the Iraq War and that is one of the primary reasons Obama kept Gates on as his Secretary of Defense. But that kind of rational analysis is not possible in this environment, is it?

We see the same dynamic on the economy. Despite the fact that even Forbes Magazine says that Barack Obama is the best economic president of the modern era, 55% disapprove of his handling of the economy while some Republicans continue to insist he's a socialist out to destroy our country.

There are probably complex reasons for this dissonance. But I'd suggest that its mostly based on fear...fear of a changing world and a changing country that is currently being run by a black man (i.e., he's not really one of us).

And so, President Obama was right the other day when he said that we're at a crossroads between fear and hope. The challenges that face the globe will continue and the changing demographics of America will not be altered. Those are simply the facts we have to deal with. It is on each of us to decide whether we respond out of fear or join the President in saying...
For America, the choice is clear. We choose hope over fear. We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort. We reject fatalism or cynicism when it comes to human affairs; we choose to work for the world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Eric Holder: A nation of cowards

In honor of Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement today, I'd like to invite you to listen to the speech he gave to staff at the Department of Justice during Black History Month 2009. No U.S. Attorney General has ever spoken more boldly or acted more aggressively on behalf of civil rights for all Americans.