Tuesday, January 31, 2012

No commentary required 1/31/12

I was really busy today and didn't have much time to write anything. So to catch up - here's some things I found interesting.

If you haven't already read BooMan's article titled Sitting it Out Isn't an Option, go do so NOW.

I mean, even if the president wasn't the best, most effective, least ethically challenged president we've had in over half a century, he'd still be the only thing standing between us and an administration that would make Bush and Cheney look moderate. Did they not do enough damage in eight years to convince you that there's a difference between the two parties? Really? You need more proof?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is rolling!

In the first six months of its existence, the CFPB fielded 13,210 complaints from consumers via its phone line and online submission forms, as well as referrals from other regulators, the report said. Of those complaints, 9,307 were tied to credit cards, with another 2,326 pertaining to mortgages...

So far, a little over half of the complaints received have been settled between the company and the consumer "with relief." Another 30.6 percent have been settled without a mutually agreed upon remedy, while companies are still reviewing another 11.9 percent.

And health care reform isn't doing so bad either.

Yet surprising even to many advocates of health care reform, evidence is emerging that the ACA is already improving life for millions of average Americans. It is promoting long-overdue fundamental changes in our dysfunctional medical system. Moreover, because those reforms are starting to directly address heightened economic insecurities of average families - the personal financial conditions that will largely determine this year’s election outcomes - President Obama would be wise to more forcefully and more specifically explain how his health care bill is already helping millions of vulnerable families and the country as a whole.

The authors then go on to identify 5 ways ACA is already having an impact.

Chauncey DeVega also has a list...of the 10 most racist moments of the GOP primary (so far). Here's his introduction:

One cannot forget that the contemporary Republican Party was born with the Southern Strategy, winning over the former Jim Crow South to its side of the political aisle, and as a backlash against the civil rights movement. This is a formula for a politics of white grievance mongering and white victimology; a dreamworld where white conservatives are oppressed, their rights infringed upon by a tyrannical federal government and elite liberal media that are beholden to the interests of the “undeserving poor,” racial minorities, gays, and immigrants.

In keeping with this script in order to win over Red State America, the 2012 Republican presidential candidates have certainly not disappointed. Both overt racism and dog whistles are delectable temptations that the Republican presidential nominees cannot resist. With the election of the country’s first African-American president, and a United States that is less white and more diverse, the GOP is in peril. In uncertain times, you go with what you know. For the Republican Party, this means “dirty boxing,” digging deep into the old bucket of white racism, and using the politics of fear, hostility and anxiety to win over white voters by demagoguing Obama.

Perhaps that explains why this is a pretty good representation of the relationship between African Americans and the Republican Party.



Finally, just to ramp up the "awwww" factor - lets close with this.

I want one of these...


On the back:

Change Is
2009 - Present


1/29/2009
Equal Pay for Equal Work

3/30/2009
Saving the U.S. Auto Industry

5/22/2009
Credit Card Reform

10/28/2009
Hate Crimes Prevention Act

3/23/2010
Affordable Care Act

3/30/2010
Student Loan Reform

7/21/2010
Wall Street Reform

12/17/2010
Middle-Class Tax Cuts

12/22/2010
Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

7/29/2011
Raising Fuel Efficiency Standards

12/18/2011
Ending the War in Iraq

Available for $30 here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

99% Problems

Obama's populism - circa 2007

A meme has developed on the left that President Obama has only adopted a "populist" message in reaction to OWS. But take a look at a speech he gave (pdf) way back in 2007 to the Brookings Institution. Keep in mind, this was a full year before the economy crashed and more than 3 years before OWS.

The problem that we have is that social compact is starting to crumble, it's starting to erode. In our new economy there is no shortage of new wealth, but wages are not keeping pace; workers are more vulnerable to job loss and more worried about retirement. Those Americans fortunate enough to heave health care are paying more for it. Health care premiums have risen nearly 90 percent inthe last six years. Americans are facing deeper personal debt from filling up the gas tank to paying for college education. Everything seems to cost more, and this is not just happening by chance. It's not just something we can chalk up to temporary shocks; it's happening in part because of the choices we are making and the way we are making those choices. It's happening because we've gone too far from being a country where we're all in this together to a country where everyone is on their own.

Today I'm going to focus on one aspect of our economic policy where we need to make different choices, because nowhere is the shift in our priorities more evident than in our tax policies. Instead of working to find ways to relieve the burden on working people and the middle class, we've developed creative ways to remove the burden from the well-off. Instead of having all of us pay our fair share, we've got over $1 trillion worth of loopholes in the corporate tax codes. This isn't the invisible had of the market at work; it's the successful work of special interests.

For decades we've seen successful strategies to ride anti-tax sentiment in this country towards tax cuts that favor wealth, not work. And for decades we've seen the gaps in wealth in this country go idle, while the cost to working people are greater. We've got a shift in our tax values that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest Americans, corporate carve-outs that serve no national purpose, tax breaks that allow companies to stash their profits overseas, a government that's paralyzed when dealing with off-shore tax haven countries, an overload of tax code that's too complicated for ordinary folks to understand but just complicated enough to work with someone who knows how to work the system.

When big business doesn't like something in the tax code, they can hire a lobbyist to get it changed. But most working people can't afford a high-priced lobbyist. Instead of honoring that core American value, opportunity for all, we've had a system in Washington where our laws and regulations have carved out opportunities for the few.

Now, the numbers don't lie. At a time when income inequality is growing sharper, the Bush tax cuts gave the wealthiest one percent of Americans a tax cut that was twice as large as the middle class. At a time when Americans are working harder than ever, we are taxing income from work at nearly twice the levels that we're taxing gains for investors. If you talk about this in polite society, sooner or later you'll get accused of waging class warfare, and it's distasteful to point out that some CEOs made more in 10 minutes than a worker makes in 10 months. Or, as my friend Warren Buffet put it to me, if there's class warfare going on in America, then my class is winning.

Now, what Warren Buffet knows is what all Americans have to remember: to get through these uncertain times, we have to recognize that we all have a stake in one another's success When folks are hurting out there on Main Street, it's not good for Wall Street. When the changes in our economy are leaving too many people behind, the competitiveness of our country risks falling behind. When that dream of opportunity is denied to too many Americans, then ultimately that pain has a way of prickling us.

We welcome success stories here in America. We admire those who have climbed to the top of the ladder. We just need to be sure that the ladder doesn't get taken away from the rest of us. We want a system based on fairness, not special favors. To steer a course through the chains that's taking hold, we have to hold tight to that core principle that our economy must advance opportunity for all Americans.

I'd challenge anyone to find one hair's difference between what he said back in 2007 and his recent speech at Osawatomie, KS or his State of the Union address.

One of the things I admire most about Obama is that he obviously put a lot of thought into his principles long before he ran for president - which means he's been able to be remarkably consistent in what he stands for. While many of us get blown around by the winds of the 24/7 news cycle, President Obama has kept his eye on his North Star and stayed true to himself.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Are we as polarized as we've been led to believe?

Remember these powerful words from Obama back in 2004?



It turns out he was more right than many people think or want to admit.

...John Chambers of the University of Florida in Gainesville, working with Leaf Van Boven of the University of Colorado at Boulder and his student Jake Westfall, analysed results from the American National Election Studies, in which voters have been surveyed in each presidential election year.

The researchers looked at people's views on 10 divisive topics, including government provision of health insurance and spending on defence. They also looked at the same people's estimates of typical Democrats' and Republicans' views on the same issues. The actual degree of polarisation according to party affiliation was fairly modest, but people thought it was much wider – especially those who described themselves as "strong" Republicans or Democrats. These patterns have been consistent since 1970.

"Polarisation is not as great as we think it is," says Chambers. "And it hasn't changed."

We've learned over the last couple of years that our politicians are polarized and gridlocked. But that is a Republican political strategy and what this research tells us is that its NOT reflective of American voters.

So if we're not as polarized as many of us think, then we have to ask ourselves where that perception comes from and who benefits from keeping it alive.

The researchers also related people's perceptions of polarisation to whether they said they voted or got involved in political campaigns. Even after controlling for strength of party affiliation and other factors, people who perceived the US public to be more polarised were more likely to be politically active.

This suggests that close electoral races are often decided by voters who are driven by false fears about others' views – and may mean that the party which most effectively stokes these fears among its supporters is likely to carry the day.

I'd suggest that there are several groups that benefit from "false fears about others' views."

First of all, as Bill Maher pointed out so well in the video I highlighted in my last post, the GOP continues to create a false view of Obama as a dangerous socialist out to raise your taxes and take away your guns. There is nothing resembling reality in this picture they paint. But it effectively stokes the fears of their base voters.

Secondly, the MSM feeds these false fears as a way to ramp up conflict and keep people watching their shows or reading their news/opinions. In other words, it gets them eyeballs and clicks - which translates into $. The same holds true for bloggers - on both the right and left.

The end result is that we have an awful lot of people intent on convincing us that not only are we polarized, but that our opponents are our enemies. This is not only bad for Democrats, its bad for our country because it keeps us from tackling the very real issues that confront us today.

As then-Senator Barack Obama said back in 2005:

I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

No commentary required

Bits and pieces I found interesting.

Bill Maher wants to know "Who the F**k is Saul Alinsky?"



Actually, he also does a great job of demonstrating how Republicans are running against an Obama creation rather than the man himself. Great stuff!

How long would it take Mitt Romney to earn what you make in a year? Slate has a calculator to help you figure that out.

In the category of "Romney isn't the only one who'll say anything to get nominated," we have Gingrich, who, before he wanted to execute pot smokers actually supported medical marijuana.

And finally, for those who think President Obama should get in touch with his inner "gangsta," look at what happens when he does ;-)

When pre-emptive poutrage proves you wrong...again

This is a cycle many of us have been noticing for a long time. Many times the poutrage engaged by President Obama's critics on the left is pre-emptive. In other words, they assume something is going to happen, gin up the Obama bashing, and then when it turns out not to be the case, either ignore it or take credit for the turnaround that happened only in their minds.

Case in point...Matt Taibbi's column on the foreclosure fraud settlement. First of all lets stipulate that no one has been more critical of Obama on the financial crisis than Taibbi. But I'll at least give him props for admitting he was wrong about the foreclosure settlement.

So there was big news yesterday on the foreclosure settlement front. We still have to wait and see what the final deal looks like, but there are reports out that the long-awaited settlement is a far, far better deal for the public than expected.

The immediate question that comes to mind is "its better than WHO expected, Matt?"

A couple of issues come into play here. First of all, as I pointed out back in November, the poutrage people were expressing about this deal was based on rumors they were hearing about what was in it. The fact of the matter is that a deal STILL hasn't been announced. But back then there was every reason to believe that anonymous leaks about what was included were coming from folks with an agenda. I'd suggest that those running with the leaks were simply getting played.

Secondly, Taibbi made the same mistake many others on the left did in thinking this one settlement was the be-all end-all of this administration's efforts to hold the banks accountable. That has NEVER been the case. As NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and others have been saying all along, this is a settlement dealing with one aspect of mortgage fraud...robo-signing during foreclosure.

If folks like Taibbi took just a moment to think about what is going on here - and what folks like him are actually saying - they might recognize why it was important to start with this one issue.

But my point was that, while a gross crime and one of the more obvious (and easily provable) parts of the criminal scheme common during the mortgage bubble years, robosigning is really an ancillary part of an even more enormous fraud that went on, and is still going on, in securitization/origination.

Aren't most of us aware by now that in a major probe such as this one its pretty standard practice to start with "the more obvious (and easily provable) parts of the criminal scheme" and then work your way up to the more complex?

But no, these poutragers want their perp walks...and then want them now! Damn the complicated legal process!

And so what is their conclusion when they see the case progressing in ways they had originally said they wanted it to? They frame it as a win for their heroes.

If these reports are true, it looks like New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and California AG Kamala Harris have scored an enormous victory...

The deficiency these poutragers demonstrate over and over is a total inability to see the long game this administration is so adept at playing.

After awhile, it does get a bit tiring pointing this out all the time. But we need to keep watch on how these frames develop - if only to ensure that we don't fall into the trap ourselves.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Power

I've never mentioned the picture up above, but it is from a place that I've visited often - Thunder Beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. This particular beach is right at the tip of the Baja Peninsula where the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez meet.

I don't know if I'm unique in this, but waves like that have always stirred something primordial in me...I feel it in my gut. I'm moved by their beauty, awed by their power, and even have nightmares at times about their potential for destruction.

And so a video like this one absolutely mesmerizes me.



Leo Soderman, captured something similar in still photography.



His comment about it expresses my thoughts/feelings perfectly.

It shows the power of the waves out there, and the power of the surfer shredding them. And they are in harmony, not one against the other, but both creating a flow and a motion.

Mother nature is a wonderful teacher. There are some lessons to be learned in all of that. I think I'll just leave it to each of us to ponder them ourselves.

President Barack Hussein Obama: a threat or an opportunity

Photobucket



The genius of pairing these two seminal moments from the last week - both of which involved President Obama interacting with white female politicians from Arizona - is not mine to claim. It belongs to Brittney Cooper at The Crunk Feminist Collective. Well done Brittney!!!

But I think these two moments perfectly capture the tension that is beneath much of our political discourse today - both the threat that some people seem to wallow in (Brewer) and the opportunity that is there for the taking (Giffords). Can our country weather what Tim Wise calls "the perfect storm of white anxiety" facing us today and embodied by our first African American President?



Now, while you think about that...go read Cooper's whole article. She'll break down what that challenge means and what Gov. Brewer demonstrated about the fault lines. Here's a taste:

White privilege conditions white people not to see white rage. However, it makes them hyper-aware of Black threat. Newt Gingrich is white rage personified. And for it, he gets loads of applause. So is Jan Brewer, but usually we think of white rage in masculine terms. Gender stereotypes condition us not to see white women as being capable of this kind of dangerous emotional output. We reserve our notions of female anger for Black women. Such hidden race-gender logics allow Brewer to assert that she “felt threatened,” even though she was trying to handle the situation “with grace.” Now look back at the picture: who is threatening whom?...

And I know that if a Black woman had wagged her finger at Bush II or even Bill Clinton, we would have seen her faced down, handcuffed, with Secret Service swarming. When your race and gender grant you opportunities to be treated with dignities that others don’t have or conversely, to heap indignities on those people, that is what we call privilege. Deal with it.

Schneiderman breaks it down on Maddow's show

For the last few days I've been following the story about President Obama's announcement in his SOTU on a new unit to tackle the mortgage issues that led to the 2008 economic collapse. You can read what I've come up with here and here.

But last night NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman went on Rachel Maddow's show and BROKE IT DOWN. If you want to really understand what's going on here, take a few minutes to listen. (Oh, and you've also got to love the props Rachel gives to Steve Benen at the beginning of the clip.)

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Harris-Perry warns us about celebrating Republican disarray

In their daily round-up of articles today, Real Clear Politics has retitled Sarah Palin's latest Facebook article "It's Now the GOP Establishment vs the Tea Party." In some ways that pretty well sums things up. As I've been saying all along, there is a battle at hand for the Republican Party. And rather than calming down, it seems to be heating up. Some folks are already writing Newt's obituary. But when Palin and Rush Limbaugh weigh in, you can bet the fires are still burning.

As I've written about before, its hard to avoid celebrating the shadenfreude of the moment. But this week, Melissa Harris-Perry sounded a warning about that.

A challenge to the status quo could be a good thing, of course. It is what animates both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement. And as a media observer, I find it exciting to watch the Republicans behaving so erratically. But I am more than a little concerned that no one seems to be steering the GOP ship anymore. Democratic loyalists may gleefully herald the Republican disarray, but they should be concerned that the populism of the right is coalescing around the race-baiting, divisive extremism of Newt Gingrich, which seems likely to prove more rabid than that of the existing elite. A new Southern Strategy, fueled by the multimillion-dollar weaponry of Citizens United, could be enough to make me yearn for the good ol’ days of the Republican establishment.

Harris-Perry's main concern is the addition of "the multimillion-dollar weaponry of Citizens United" to the mix. And she's certainly right about that - its the one new ingredient to this kind of battle that hasn't been there in the past. Would Gingrich still be alive as the "not-Romney" alternative were it not for the cash infusion from Sheldon Adelson? Perhaps not.

But as I've said all along, political pundits continue to miss the impact of people like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh (not to mention the legions of bloggers and local conservative talk radio) on Republican base voters. How can we miss this when in the not-too-distant past even Republican elected officials were demonstrating that they bow to the whims of Rush Limbaugh? Have we forgotten that a clash with this Republican power-broker has typically been followed with an apology from said official? And as crazy as it will forever be to those of us on the left, the truth for anti-establishment Republicans is that "when Sarah speaks, they listen."

In her article, Harris-Perry was looking for historical precedence for this situation in our political swings. As I have done on several occasions, I would point to an article written by Peter Beinart over a year ago. He compared what is going on now in the Republican Party to what happened to Democrats in 1968-1972.

...for the purposes of analogy, is what happened between 1968 and 1972, when a centrist, Hubert Humphrey, lost a close race, and Democrats responded by nominating McGovern, the most left-leaning candidate ever to seek the presidency.

The process works something like this. When parties lose power, activists ascribe the loss to the ideological impurity of their incumbent president. In so doing, they vent the frustrations they kept bottled up while their side was in power. Since defeat frees them from the messy business of governing, ideological purity suddenly becomes easier. And since defeat usually hits party moderates disproportionately hard, the opponents of purity usually hold less sway.

One needs only a simple reminder of the fierce split between establishment and anti-establishment forces that led a Democratic Mayor of Chicago to unleash brutal police forces against protesters outside the Democratic Convention while inside delegates were walking out of the nomination process. The establishment forces won that round with the nomination of Sen. Hubert Humphrey - leading to his loss to Richard Nixon. But that only energized the anti-establishment wing, who came back in 1972 to nominate George McGovern who lost in a landslide.

In that context, its interesting to consider what David Frum wrote a few months ago about the 4 possible outcomes of this presidential race for Republicans. Certainly a general election win for either the establishment (Mitt Romney) or the anti-establishment (Newt Gingrich) candidate would be a clear victory for one side or the other and cement their hold on the party. But either of those possibilities is looking more and more unlikely as the primary continues on.

The real possibilities are likely to come down to either a Gingrich or Romney nomination and their loss to President Obama in the general election. Interestingly enough, as Frum points out, the real disaster would be a Romney nomination and loss.

For non-tea party Republicans, this second outcome opens all kinds of ugly, ominous possibilities. If candidate Romney loses, tea party Republicans will claim that the GOP lost because it failed to nominate a "true conservative." That claim may fly in the face of political math (how would a more extreme candidate win more votes?), but it will pack a lot of emotional punch. Intense partisans are always ready to believe that the way to win is to be more intense and more partisan.

As I've said before, I don't have a dog in this fight and will be doing everything I can to defeat whoever it is the Republicans nominate. But it also strikes me that perhaps the best way to put an end to this extremist nativism of the anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party is for them to have their say and go down in a landslide defeat (as did McGovern in 72). Certainly there's always the risk of what will rise from the ashes of the Republican Party after that. But its beyond time to put an end to the nonsense they're spewing now. The prospect of having to listen to their ramped-up wailings for the next four years is just beyond me to imagine as an alternative.

Mayor Cory Booker on minority rights

People who read here regularly know that I'm a big fan of Newark Mayor Cory Booker. The video below is a wonderful demonstration of why.

On Wednesday, Booker held a press conference to talk about public safety achievements in the City over the past year. One reporter went off topic and asked him what he thought about Gov. Christie's proposal for a New Jersey referendum of gay marriage.

Booker gave a passioned and thoughtful statement about why minority rights should NEVER be subject to majority rule. Of course this applies to the subject of gay rights in general and gay marriage in particular. But with the racist/sexist attacks we've seen lately from some extremists on the right - its a powerful reminder for us on those issues as well.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Desperado

If someone asked me to name my favorite song of all time I'd have real trouble choosing. The one thing I'm certain of is that this one would be in contention.

Tonight, it strikes me as a powerful lament to some of our conservative brothers and sisters.


Eagles Desperado by avajra

Holder and Schneiderman provide more details on mortgage fraud task force

The new Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group that President Obama announced in his State of the Union speech held a press conference today prior to its first meeting. You can read Attorney General Eric Holder's remarks here.

One of the assumptions naysayers threw out initially without any facts was that the unit would not be adequately staffed or funded. AG Holder addressed that issue today:

I am pleased to report that this Working Group has considerable Department resources behind it as it builds on activities that have been underway through the broader Task Force. Currently, 15 attorneys, investigators, and analysts – here at Main Justice and throughout our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices – are supporting the investigative efforts that this Working Group will be focusing on going forward. And the FBI has assigned 10 agents and analysts to work with the group immediately. In the coming weeks, another 30 attorneys, investigators, and support staff from U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will join the Group’s work.

If you had any doubts that this group is serious, take a look at what NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said today.

The new federal task force led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent subpoenas to the 11 largest financial institutions in the past few days as part of its investigation into possible residential mortgage-backed securities fraud...

Schneiderman said in a press conference Friday that he will be joined by Delaware AG Beau Biden, Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley, Nevada AG Catherine Cortez Masto, California AG Kamala Harris and Illinois AG Lisa Madigan...

"We have jurisdiction to go after every aspect of the mortgage bubble and the crash of the financial market," Schneiderman said. "We have jurisdiction over every MBS issued over the last decade with Delaware and New York joining the group."

Holder said if there is evidence of it, civil and criminal charges will be brought.

But I'd like to highlight one other thing Holder said today:

Over the past three years, we have been aggressively investigating the causes of the financial crisis. And we have learned that much of the conduct that led to the crisis was – as the President has said – unethical, and, in many instances, extremely reckless. We also have learned that behavior that is unethical or reckless may not necessarily be criminal. When we find evidence of criminal wrongdoing, we bring criminal prosecutions. When we don’t, we endeavor to use other tools available to us – such as civil sanctions – to seek justice.

This reminds me of something else President Obama said in the SOTU speech about the roll Congress can play in preventing these kinds of abuses in the first place.

Some financial firms violate major anti-fraud laws because there’s no real penalty for being a repeat offender. That’s bad for consumers, and it’s bad for the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals who do the right thing. So pass legislation that makes the penalties for fraud count.

With the players at the table, the resources allocated, and the work begun, I have no doubt that this unit will do everything it can to hold financial institutions accountable where that is possible. But in the end, we also need our legislators to step up to the plate and demonstrate that they will do what's necessary as well.

I just LOVE it when Romney defends Obamacare!

Here's what Romney said in last night's debate:

[F]or the 8 percent of people who didn't have insurance, we said to them, if you can afford insurance, buy it yourself, any one of the plans out there, you can choose any plan. There's no government plan. And if you don't want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn't have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility. Either get the insurance or help pay for your care. And that was the conclusion that we reached.

Oops, I guess he was actually talking about Romneycare. Same thing.

As Adam Serwer says:

All of this can be said about Obamacare. It doesn't "take over" the health care system, it regulates a health insurance market in which private companies compete. Individuals are compelled to buy insurance because, if they don't, taxpayers ends up paying for their health care once they get sick. Romney simply can't explain why Romneycare isn't socialism without also explaining why Obamacare isn't socialism. He can't defend Romneycare's individual mandate as an issue of personal responsibility without also doing the same with the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

The strange part wasn't that Romney offered this defense — after all, he's done it before. It's that when he offered it, the Republican audience actually applauded.

Perhaps someone ought to provide that Republican audience with a clue.

In other news on health care reform, I highly recommend an article in The Nation by Bernard Avishai titled A Spoonful of Sugar: On the Affordable Care Act.

It is hard to read Remedy and Reaction, Paul Starr’s remarkable chronicle of the hundred-year effort to legislate universal health insurance in the United States, without recalling Robert Gibbs’s tortured quip that Democrats who’ve denounced the Obama White House for having knuckled under to Republican principles or intimidation “ought to be drug-tested.” Nobody with a sense of history—that is, nobody who reads Starr’s book—could doubt how sensible and brave was the president’s effort to drive the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 through Congress. Nobody with a feel for the present moment should doubt how imminent is the threat to the act, how urgent it is for progressive Democrats to rally around Obama—and without all the condescending qualifications that “independents,” who flock away from allegedly weak or incompetent leaders, interpret as contempt.

Its a rather lengthy summary of Starr's book. But well worth the effort to get an overview on the historical significance of what President Obama accomplished.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

President Obama's latest move on mortgage fraud...emoprog heads explode (updated)

During his State of the Union speech, President Obama said this:

And tonight, I’m asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorney general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.

Just prior to the speech, Sam Stein published this exclusive about that unit that struck me as a bombshell.

During his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama will announce the creation of a special unit to investigate misconduct and illegalities that contributed to both the financial collapse and the mortgage crisis.

The office, part of a new Unit on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses, will be chaired by Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, according to a White House official.

The reason this is such a big deal is that there have once again been rumblings that the negotiations that have been underway for over a year now between 5 banks, 50 state attorney generals, and 5 federal departments might be about to finalize a deal. So lets remind ourselves what has been happening there.

First of all, those talks are about a civil case on a very specific aspect of the mortgage crisis: the bank's use of robo-signing as part of the foreclosure process. NY Attorney General Schneiderman became a prominent hero to the professional left when he criticized the talks to the point that he was kicked off the executive committee managing them by the leader Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. As I wrote in the article linked above, Schneiderman's concerns were very specific:

The principle conflict seemed to be over whether the settlement being negotiated with the banks would grant them immunity beyond the issue of foreclosure fraud. Schneiderman wanted to maintain NY's ability to prosecute the banks for things like the practice of assigning and bundling mortgages into securities.

Notice what Stein reported as the name of this initiative Schneiderman will co-chair: "Unit on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses." So what we have here is the possible conclusion of the settlement talks about robo-signing in the foreclosure process and the beginning of work on the investigation of the issues involved in mortgage origination fraud and any criminal activity involved in bundling them into securities. Given Schneiderman's passion and commitment to the later, it makes perfect sense for President Obama to ask him to co-chair that effort. It means the administration is serious about the matter.

At least that's the way you'd see this move if you weren't suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome (ODS). If you are, then your head explodes (warning: bagger of fire link) a little trying to figure out how to spin this one.

That upsets the entire balance of power with respect to the settlement. If Schneiderman joins, it undermines the group of “Justice Democrat” AGs who were working on how to deal with investigations in the absence of a settlement...

This is a classic Obama move, putting a threat or a rival inside the tent. It happened with Elizabeth Warren and David Petraeus and Jon Huntsman, and it’s happening again...

I’d really like to be wrong about this. But this just reads like a gambit, a fix, a charade.

AMAZING! So when President Obama does things you don't like, you criticize him. When he joins with one of your heroes to do what you've been wanting, he's corrupting your hero - who gets thrown under the bus as someone who would participate in a charade. Could there be a clearer example of ODS? I think not.

Update: From the LA Times:

Schneiderman said Wednesday that the new unit's efforts shouldn't affect the foreclosure settlement talks because those investigations deal with conduct that took place after the housing market collapsed.

"The multi-state talks all relate to post-crash conduct. These are abuses in the foreclosure process," he said. "Our working group is focusing on the conduct related to the pooling and creation of mortgage-backed securities...the conduct that created the crash, not the abuses that happened after the fact."

I don't think you can make it any more clear than that!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Traveling Team

After last night's State of the Union speech, today President Obama took it on the road with stops in Iowa and Arizona.

Looks like he's taking the traveling team with him.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, President Barack Obama’s political strategist David Plouffe and Obama’s chief speechwriter Jon Favreau

We asked the President what he thought about their performance.

Smartypants has a sad :-(

Lately I've developed a pattern. I get up in the morning, brush my teeth, make some coffee, and start perusing the internet for stories that catch my interest. Anything before 7:00 am (my local time) is usually unproductive because Steven Benen posts his first piece of the day at the Washington Monthly about that time. And NO ONE on the internet has a better nose for what's important to pragmatic progressives than Steve. As the day wears on, its also true that no one is as prolific as Steve - who usually posts over a dozen articles a day.

So I couldn't help but be sad yesterday when Steve announced he's leaving his gig with the Washington Monthly. And now we see his last headline there: And that's a wrap.

I tend not to talk too much about myself on the blog, but I hope readers will indulge me for a moment. I ran my own site from 2003 to 2008, and dreamed that I’d get picked up by a news outlet I enjoy and respect, so I could get paid to do what I love. The Washington Monthly gave me that opportunity three-and-a-half years ago, and for that, the editors, publishers, and the rest of the team here has my endless gratitude.

I meant what I said yesterday: I wasn’t prepared to leave this job unless something truly special came along, and fortunately for me, something did. The chance to work for Rachel Maddow and MSNBC is a dream gig that I couldn’t be more excited about.

I'll try my best to be happy for you - and you can bet that I'll follow you to your new gig. But right now I'm going to be sad for awhile. That's life I guess.

When he sets his mind to something...

President Obama continues to put a lie to those on the right who try to call him an "appeaser" and those on the left who call him "weak." He has a special kind of steely determination, courage and strength when he sets his mind to something. I'd suspect that - were they able to be honest - those who've gone head-to-head with him (and survived) would tell you that "you don't mess with this guy."

We see that again this morning with the Navy Seal Team rescue of hostages from Somali pirates. Remember, Somali rescue operations have a reputation for not going so well, ie "Blackhawk Down".

American commandos raced into Somalia on Wednesday morning and rescued two aid workers, including an American woman, after a shootout with Somali pirates who had been holding them captive for months.

The American soldiers swooped in by helicopter, killed nine pirates and captured several others, before spiriting away the hostages, who were not harmed, Western officials said.

It appeared that President Obama was fully aware of the raid as he was about to give his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, which would have been early Wednesday in Somalia.

According to NBC News, as the president stepped into the House chambers, he pointed to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta standing in the crowd and said, “Leon. Good job tonight. Good job tonight.” The president made no mention of the rescue in Somalia, but he did refer to the killing of Osama bin Laden in a similar operation conducted in May by Navy Seals.

In a statement Wednesday from the White House, the president said he authorized the operation on Monday. “Thanks to the extraordinary courage and capabilities of our Special Operations forces, yesterday Jessica Buchanan was rescued and she is on her way home. As commander in chief, I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission, and the dedicated professionals who supported their efforts.”

So once again, much like he knew about the bin Laden raid during his speech at the White House Correspondent's Dinner, he knew about this when he walked into the chamber last night to give his State of the Union speech. But he waited until the right time to make his announcement. I suspect this had to come first.

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In a phone call from the U.S. Capitol immediately after the State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama informs John Buchanan that his daughter Jessica was rescued by U.S. Special Operations Forces in Somalia, Jan. 24, 2012.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"This nation is great because we built it together"

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Those of us who've been sent here to serve can learn from the service of our troops. When you put on that uniform, it doesn't matter if you're black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight. When you're marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you're in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one Nation, leaving no one behind.

One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden. On it are each of their names. Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn't matter. Just like it didn't matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates-- a man who was George Bush's defense secretary; and Hillary Clinton, a woman who ran against me for president.

All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves. One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn't deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job-- the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs. More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other-- because you can't charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there's someone behind you, watching your back.

So it is with America. Each time I look at that flag, I'm reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those 13 stripes. No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other's backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we're joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

- Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 2012

And then there was this...

Newt and debate audiences

One of the themes that surfaced early on in the Republican debates was the role of the audience. Who can forget when they cheered Texas executions, or yelled "let him die" when moderators asked about the role of government in treating patients without health insurance, or booed a gay active duty soldier, or gave a standing ovation to racist dog whistles?

That's why I think the most astute commentary on Monday night's debate came from Jonathan Bernstein.

Several people have pointed out that the fantasy fueling Newt’s campaign — that the trick to winning the general election is to destroy President Obama in the fall debates — is nonsense, because general election debates don’t really work like that. But what Monday demonstrated..., is that Newt’s reputation as a brilliant debater is actually a fraud. What Newt has done well isn’t debating the other candidates; what he’s done well is attacking the moderators, and it works especially well when there’s a partisan Republican audience ready to cheer any shots at the liberal media. That’s not going to happen in general election debates. More broadly, he’s quite good at using language designed to appeal especially well to Rush Limbaugh listeners: Chicago-style politics, Saul Alinsky, teleprompters, and more. Terrific, again, for provoking a big reaction from a partisan audience of intense, highly-informed conservatives. Utterly useless in general election debates.

Monday, without a hooting and hollering crowd, and with a moderator who mostly didn’t choose to get in a fight, the disgraced former speaker showed once again what a poor job he does when he engages with other candidates.

Right on que, we have Newt Gingrich whining about skipping debates if audiences can't participate.

Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker, on Tuesday morning threatened not participate in any future debates with audiences that have been instructed to be silent. That was the case on Monday, when Brian Williams of NBC News asked the audience of about 500 people who assembled for a debate in Tampa to hold their applause until the commercial breaks.

In an interview with the morning show “Fox and Friends,” Mr. Gingrich said NBC’s rules amounted to stifling free speech. In what has become a standard line of attack for his anti-establishment campaign, Mr. Gingrich blamed the media for trying to silence a dissenting point of view.

I find this all rather hilarious. Does Gingrich really think that he's going to get juiced by the same kind of audience when it comes time to debate President Obama (should he get the nomination)? If that's what he's counting on, he's in for a very rude awakening and I personally am sort of hoping it happens.

And while I'm on the topic of audience reaction to Gingrich, I'd just like to point you to an amazing piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the "Food Stamp President" incident from the SC debate.

Racism is, at its root, a lie. The habit of lying does not end with the racism itself. It is a contagion that extends to the defense of the initial lie. The expectation of intellectual honesty, from a candidate who employs dishonesty, and from a slice of the electorate that stakes their political lives on that dishonesty is rather bizarre.

When a professor of history calls Barack Obama a "Food Stamp President," it isn't a mistake to be remedied through clarification; it is a statement of aggresion. And when a crowd of his admirers cheer him on, they are neither deluded, nor in need of forgiveness, nor absolution, nor acting against their interest. Racism is their interest. They are not your misguided friends. They are your fully intelligent adversaries, sporting the broad range of virtue and vice we see in humankind. If you are a praying person, you should pray for their electoral destruction in November. Surely they are praying for yours...

WOW...what he said!

We learned 2 things last night

First of all, Romney released his tax returns for 2010 and we learned that he made $21.7 million. I think a more helpful way of grasping a number that big is to say that he made just shy of $60,000 a day 7 days a week. And every penny came from capital gains, dividends and interest on investments. Not bad for a days "work," huh?

Let me remind you, its not that Mitt's net worth is almost $22 million. You'd have to multiply that number by a little over 10 to get there. Its that he pocketed almost $22 million in 2010 during a year when the rest of the country was still reeling from the great recession.

That folks, is how income inequality has been created in this country...if you have money, you can make money - LOTS OF IT!

But here's the second thing we learned: Under Gingrich's tax plan, Romney would pay no taxes...as in zero - nada.

Even Mitt seemed a little taken aback by that in the debate last night.

So the idea that Mitt pays a lower tax rate (14%) than someone making in a year (25% on $60,000) what he makes in a day is just not good enough for Newt. He thinks Mitt shouldn't be paying anything at all...amazing!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Polar Opposites

As I read David Frum's take-down of Newt Gingrich today, what struck me is that there couldn't be two people more polar opposite one another than President Obama and Newt Gingrich.

I had a little fun last night with the contrast in how these two men have approached marriage and family. But the truth is - they have opposite histories when it comes to how they've lived their private lives.

But here's what struck me about what Frum had to say.

To drive home the supposed values separation between the Kerry ticket and the nation, Gingrich urged the Bush ticket to focus attacks on a series of issues that highlighted that supposed 4:1 values divide, including:

"1. A work requirement for welfare: 87% of Americans say yes, 5% no. John Kerry and the Senate Democrats have blocked the bill for three years.

2. Government should help faith-based initiatives help the poor: 72% of Americans agree, 26% disagree; Kerry is with the 26%.

3. U.S. interests are more important than international organizations: 73-24; Kerry's positions favor the 24%.

4. Violent attackers of pregnant women who kill the baby should be prosecuted for killing the baby: 84% of Americans say yes, 9% no. Kerry voted no.

5. Children should be allowed to pray at school: 78% of Americans agree; Kerry is against it."

Looking back on that Gingrich platform from the perspective of eight years later, it's striking how utterly irrelevant those five highlighted points were to the largest problems of the time.

It does not address the inflating housing bubble and the lax financial regulations that would wreak such disaster in the years ahead.

It does not address stagnating incomes or rising health costs.

It does not address Iraq or Iran or the war in Afghanistan.

That's not to say Gingrich did not have strong views on those questions. He did, of course. It's just that, to Gingrich, such substantive issues were not the stuff of campaign politics. Campaign politics was about finding ways to define your opponent as alien, hostile and dangerous. The definition need not correspond to any actual real-world problem.
(Emphasis mine)

The polar opposite approach:

South Carolina takeaway of the day!

Over at Real Clear Politics, Sean Trende lists 3 takeaways from the South Carolina primary.

I must admit to a case of the giggles when I got to this one:

And remember, this is still in many ways the electorate that selected Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino and Linda McMahon as its standard-bearers -- in very blue states with relatively moderate GOP electorates, no less.

This vote was an utter repudiation of Romney, and it absolutely will be repeated in state after state if something doesn’t change the basic dynamic of the race.

Notice anything else those three candidates had in common Sean? THEY ALL LOST.

But the point he's making is something I haven't heard any other Republican say...that what happened in SC might not be limited to southern states. He's suggesting that Republicans in Delaware, New York and Connecticut might be just as crazy.

Oh lawd...how can that NOT be the takeaway of the day!

Republicans blowing what little they had

Conventional wisdom leading up to the 2012 election suggested 2 things:

1. Since an incumbent is running for re-election, this will likely be a referendum on President Obama rather than a choice between a Democrat and a Republican.

2. President Obama's re-election will hinge on how well the economy is doing.

Lately, the Republicans are doing everything they possibly can to prove that conventional wisdom wrong.

Their desire to make this election a fight has led them to assume that the best candidate is the one who demonstrates the most contrast with President Obama. We've seen several of the contenders make that point in debates. That's one of the many reasons they don't tend to trust Romney - they're fearful that he won't provide enough of a contrast with Obama.

And so we see both Romney and Gingrich adopting language that embraces the choice. Gingrich is talking about this election being the most important of our lifetimes and Romney is suggesting that this is an election about "the soul of America."

Meanwhile, in order to develop that idea of a choice, they've had to paint themselves into an ever more extremist corner to make the contrast. What they will be left with at the end of this primary process is either a candidate with a reputation for flip-flopping who will have a very difficult time moderating that stance for the general election, or a candidate who doesn't give a damn about moderation. Either way, their extremism will take center stage and negate the idea of a referendum on President Obama.

Secondly, how much are we hearing about the economy and jobs these days as a focus of this election? Almost nada.

Part of that is because the Republican candidates are so busy beating up on each other about past financial and sexual misconduct that the issue Americans care the most about has fallen by the wayside. Even when they do allude to it, its usually cloaked in the framework of dog whistles about poor people's entitlement and state's rights.

The truth is that these two pieces of conventional wisdom were about the only thing the Republicans had going for them coming into this 2012 election. The drawn-out primary process they seem to be heading into means they lose both. Couldn't happen to a nastier party :-)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Real Family Values

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Let's Stay Together in 2012

For those of you, like me, who can't get enough of this.



Thanks Chipsticks!

Schadenfreude revisited

Yesterday I suggested that I'd limit myself to one day of schadenfreude. But honestly, with the Republicans these days, what's a girl supposed to do? Seriously, I just can't help myself ;-)

So once again, I'll leap in and enjoy Jennifer Rubin's angst. Today she wrote a plea to the Republican leaders who are either sitting this one out or haven't had the nerve to endorse anyone.

It seems, gentlemen, it’s time to get off your . . . er . . . time to get off the bench and into the game. It is time to make the case for winning conservatism — a conservatism attractive to centrist voters that can be translated into a reform agenda. If conservatism becomes a movement of anti-media bashing and hyperbolic rhetoric, it will cease to be a force in American politics. And if it is led by an egomaniac whose personal advancement takes precedence over any principle, the GOP will be (correctly) mocked.

So how about it? One of you can run yourself. Or you can instead collectively get behind a not-Gingrich candidate. But really, if you are to have a Republican Party to lead one day in the future, you can’t very well do nothing.

Too late Jennifer. You shoulda thought of that when your party started stoking the fires of "anti-media bashing and hyperbolic rhetoric" 3-4 years ago. In the meantime, you forgot about actually developing a "reform agenda" and this is all you've got now...hyperbolic Obama hatred. You all made this bed and its a little late to be crying because you have to sleep in it.

So pardon me while I enjoy the fact that you're all getting your just deserts.

Republicans want a fight! (updated)

I'd suggest that anyone pontificating as if they know what's going to happen in this Republican presidential primary is full of hot air. That's especially true of those that mindlessly compare this race to what has happened in past primaries. This is something new that we haven't seen before. And while that newness is partially about things like the Super Pacs of Citizens United vs the grassroots of new media, its even bigger than that.

To understand, I went traveling around conservative sites this morning - that's where you get the real story of how this is playing. No one nailed it better than Erick Erickson at Red State.

Newt Gingrich’s rise has a lot to do with Newt Gingrich’s debate performance. But it has just as much to do with a party base in revolt against its thought and party leaders in Washington, DC. The base is revolting because they swept the GOP back into relevance in Washington just under two years ago and they have been thanked with contempt ever since.

Adding insult to injury, the party and thought leaders now try to foist on the base a milquetoast moderate from Massachusetts. Newt Gingrich can thank Mitt Romney and more for the second look he is getting...

People are mad as hell they are about to be stuck with another boring, moderate, uninspiring choice that has at best a 50/50 shot at losing to the worst president since Carter. They are flocking to Newt not because they think he’s a great guy, but because right now, he’s the only one fighting for conservatism and GOP voters are looking for a vessel to channel their anger with Obama and their complete disappointment with the GOP establishment which is now embodied perfectly by Romney....

Newt has taken the worst the media, Romney and the left can dish out, and he’s still standing and fighting with passion and eloquence. Sure, he’d probably be an erratic President, but right now Republican voters don’t care about his Presidency. They care about the fight with the left both Mitt Romney, and the Washington Republican leaders like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell don’t seem inclined to engage in.

This should help us understand that when we use the word "electability," Republican base voters mean something totally different than many of us assume. As Erickson said, they don't care about the Presidency and actual governing...they want a fight - the nastier the better.

Injecting a big dose of testosterone into the presidential debate, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich said Tuesday he wants to "knock out" President Obama in the general election in response to a question about whether he wants to bloody his nose...

Gingrich responded, "I don't want to argue with you about the analogy. I don't want to bloody his nose, I want to knock him out."

The audience applauded.

You have to remember, these Republicans are the ones who fanned the flames of Obama as the Kenyan socialist antichrist who is out to destroy America with his death panels and government intrusion into every nook and crany of your life. Republican base voters bought all that garbage and now you want to offer them the "milquetoast moderate from Massachusetts?" I think not!

Update: The perfect example of the "milquetoast moderate from Massachusetts" is Romney's statement that he will release his tax returns this Tuesday.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Sunday that he will release his 2010 tax returns and 2011 estimates on Tuesday, acknowledging it was a mistake for his campaign not to have done so earlier.

First he said "no," then he said "maybe," then he said "later," and now he says "yes."

While most of us would say the later is the right thing to do, this kind of thing is EXACTLY what pisses off the Republican base. What did Gingrich do when pressed about his marital infidelities? He basically said STFU and blamed the leftist media. Republicans in SC flocked to his campaign because of it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Schadenfreude Rox!

Today I'm thinking about how awful I felt watching the results of the 2010 midterm elections. But it got worse. In the ensuing days we had to watch Republicans think they had captured the high ground with American voters and lecture all of us about it.

Yeah, those were ugly days.

So today I'm going to take a moment - as South Carolinians go to the polls - and revel in a little schadenfreude.

A malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others.

I know its not "nice" to be malicious. But surely it won't hurt for just a day ;-)

After all, check out some of this news:

From the wingers at Powerline:

It is painful to contemplate the extent of the GOP wipeout that would follow a Gingrich nomination. Would Newt carry a state? Wyoming, maybe? South Carolina? The Republican Party could kiss its hopes of retaking the Senate goodbye, and likely would lose control over the House...

For once, they're probably right. As BooMan says, "People hate Newt."

Trouble is...the one thing the Republican base hates worse than Newt is Mitt, as Matt Bai found out when he talked to tea partier Karen Martin in Greenville, SC.

Then our conversation turned to Mitt Romney, and Martin’s sunny countenance darkened. “I don’t know a single Tea Party person,” she said, slowly drawing out her words, “who does not despise Mitt Romney to the very core of their being.” I searched her face for levity or compassion, but found neither.

As a matter of fact, its gotten so bad down there in SC that Mitt has had to bus in Mormon supporters from the DC area.

So I'll say my penance tomorrow. Today I'm going to enjoy the schadenfreude of watching the Republicans self-destruct for a while.

POTUS and Father

Over the last few decades, women have been struggling with balancing the various roles in our lives as a result of the options presented to us. Can we be good mothers as well as successful professionals is how it often plays out.

But while we've been sorting that out - there's also been increasing awareness about the important role fathers play in the lives of their children. I know that when I was growing up, just as women were only expected to be housewives and mothers, men were only expected to "bring home the bacon." The second part of that equation is changing as well. The men I admire most are those who are stepping up to the plate on that one.

That's the backdrop I was thinking about as I read the very interesting interview Fareed Zakaria had with President Obama on foreign policy.

As they were talking about the President's relationship with foreign leaders, Zakaria brought up this idea that people think he's cool and aloof, not just in terms of diplomatic relationships, but with Congressional leaders as well. Here's how President Obama responded:

You know, the truth is, actually, when it comes to Congress, the issue is not personal relationships. My suspicion is that this whole critique has to do with the fact that I don’t go to a lot of Washington parties. And as a consequence, the Washington press corps maybe just doesn’t feel like I’m in the mix enough with them, and they figure, well, if I’m not spending time with them, I must be cold and aloof.

The fact is, I’ve got a 13-year-old and 10-year-old daughter, and so, no, Michelle and I don’t do the social scene, because as busy as we are, we have a limited amount of time, and we want to be good parents at a time that’s vitally important for our kids.

What we have here is a man - who happens to be President of the United States - actually living out the rhetoric about "family values." He knows the importance of a father's role in the life of his daughters and has made a commitment to that as a priority. In other words, he's working on finding the right balance in his own life (as is Michelle) between his responsibilities to us and to Malia and Sasha. Of all the things I admire about our President, this one ranks right up there at the top.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What Obama tapped in to last night

I suspect that I'm not the only one who went on a trip down memory lane about Al Green today after President Obama's performance last night.

As I did so, I wondered if some of the young ones have any idea of the soul he tapped into for us old fogies.

If not, here's a taste of that...and a reminder for the rest of us.





Finally, watch Rev. Al take a BeeGees bubble-gum song and transform it with soul.

The Republican id surges (updated)

Just when I was finally getting ready to join the inevitable Romney bandwagon, the Republican id resurfaces with a come-back.



Certainly the attacks on Romney's vulture capitalism are having an effect. But responding to the opening of last night's debate, Steve Benen nails the real reason this is happening.

Over the course of just three minutes, we learned exactly why Gingrich is a competitive presidential candidate: he understands the Republican id perfectly.

The right really does believe they’re victims.

But its even more than that. They don't just believe they're victims, they want blood...as Steve M. illustrates.

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...it's basically the way Republican voters feel right now (and pretty much all the time), which is why Newt Gingrich is doing so well, and Mitt Romney isn't.

Karl Rove is pulling out all the stops to go after Gingrich in SC, just like he did when he went after McCain in 2000. But this time, after Republicans spent so much energy pandering to their extremists over the last couple of years, I question whether or not he has the juice to take down a surging Republican id.

Popcorn anyone?

Update: Observe the hidden hand of Rove at work.

In what appears to be a last ditch attempt to halt Newt Gingrich's late momentum in South Carolina, a fake CNN Breaking News alert was emailed to state Republican activists early Thursday morning claiming that the former House Speaker pressured his ex-wife to have an abortion.

CNN did not send out the email alert...

The email alert was sent from fake account made to look like a CNN breaking news email address: "BreakingNews@mail.cnn.com."

"A source close to Marianne Gingrich tells CNN that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich forced her to abort a pregnancy conceived during the affair that preceeded her marriage to Gingrich," the fake email reads.

So what we have for Republicans is a sociopath on one side and this kind of sickness on the other.

Is your stomach turning too?

And they wonder why more African Americans aren't involved in OWS?

From everything I've seen on blogs and twitter...last night was HUGE!



Not only did President Obama make the heart of every woman with even a touch of soul swoon, he did so while being the very first president to ever visit Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater at a fundraiser hosted by Spike Lee (perhaps as legendary as an actual person gets these days).

Enter OWS.



Protesters broadcast their anger with signs and jeers, including Bob Nash, who came to protest from Cold Spring Harbor with a sign criticizing Obama for his relationship with Wall Street.

“Wall Street has been bailed out and the American people have been sold out because of Obama,” he said.

Others sang, “Obama is a Nazi.”

I have two words for you folks...disgusting bullshit! I won't dignify your actions with anything further.

But if you need any more evidence that this so-called "movement" has descended into the dustbin of irrelevance with their partners in the tea party - there you have it.

A seat in the circle: President Obama and First Nations People



I am writing this with one goal in mind: to entice anyone who stops by here to go read a diary written by Aji at Daily Kos about what having a Democratic administration has meant for Native Americans.

We've all heard a lot of back-and-forth about whether or not President Obama has done enough for African Americans or Latinos in this country. But when it comes to our invisible Native brothers and sisters, the topic almost never even comes up. Here's how Aji introduces it in reference to my title and the picture above.

[Yes, I know the usual metaphor is "a seat at the table." I also know that what you do, in fact, see in the above photo is a table. But in our traditions, we tend to sit in circles for a meeting of any import, whether political or ceremonial, and whether or not a table is present - and under most administrations, even the circle has been effectively denied us.]

The photo you see was taken by White House photographer Pete Souza on December 15, 2010. It's the introductory image from this report: Achieving a Brighter Future for Tribal Nations: 2011 White House Tribal Nations Conference Progress Report. Both photo and report are, frankly, firsts, but especially so for a modern presidential administration. So, for that matter, is the locution "tribal nations" in the title - recognizing, in a very small but nonetheless significant way, that we are indeed sovereign entities.

She then provides just a bit of fairly recent history about a couple of Republican politicians and ends her introduction this way.

But none of them has actually made an effort to go into country with open minds, open ears, and closed mouths, to find out what our tribal nations need and want. None of them has given a damn. For a lot of them, we were completely invisible - images on the screen of an old Western, at most. And even when we weren't, we were still, after all these years, an "Indian problem" to be "dealt with" and exploited, not sovereign equals deserving of notice, much less respect. And recent Republican administrations, when they've deigned to notice us at all, have uniformly taken the "to be dealt with and exploited" approach.

And then came 2008 and Barack Black Eagle, and for the first time, some of us wondered whether a tiny sliver of hope might not exist for our nations, as well.

Considering how past administrations have treated us, even that tiny sliver is very welcome. And three years into this administration, I find that my hope was not misplaced.

The rest of the diary is spent outlining the need and impact of 5 initiatives by this administration that demonstrate why her hope was not misplaced.

1. The ACA and the IHCIAR (Indian Health Care Improvement Act Reauthorization)
2. LET'S MOVE! in Indian Country
3. The Tribal Law and Order Act
4. "Scars Upon Sacred Land"
5. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Please go read about how important these milestones have been to people who are so often overlooked by the rest of us.

THANK YOU to President Obama for not only doing all of this - but for giving our First Nation brothers and sisters a seat in the circle!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Its the sociopathy, stupid

It seems like someone (I'm looking at you Karl Rove) wants to get all the dirt about Gingich's "creative" ideas about marriage into the conversation. And wife #2 seems to be more than happy to provide an assist (who can blame her?)

But the question becomes whether or not the voters of South Carolina care, given that Newt is doing such a good job of feeding them the red meat they crave. TPM reporter Evan McMorris-Santoro is on the ground in Beaufort, SC reporting that...not so much.

Voters here in coastal South Carolina don’t seem too bothered with the salacious “bombshell” stories Marianne Gingrich is expected to tell on Nightline on Thursday night. They may not all vote for Newt Gingrich, but they all agree that voters here won’t be moved by stories of a 68 year-old former House Speaker’s sex life.

Here's what one woman - who identified herself as an "evangelical" - told him.

“I’m a Christian and I believe that that’s not my job, to judge someone on their past behavior,” Deeni Everly told me. She said she’s been following his career from the beginning (“when I was a teenager”) and doesn’t think it’s her place to question his personal behavior.

“He’s asked for forgiveness, he’s received forgiveness from God so he’s received my forgiveness,” she said.

Given how many of these same voters are more than willing to applaud the red meat of racism Gingrich has been throwing at them, when I read this I couldn't help but think about this scene from one of my favorite movies - The Big Chill.



So Newt wanted an "open marriage." That's not really news to folks who have been paying attention. Back in August 2010, Marianne Gingrich was interviewed by Esquire and told basically the same story.

He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused.

He'd just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he'd given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values.

The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, "How do you give that speech and do what you're doing?"

"It doesn't matter what I do," he answered. "People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live."

Perhaps people can look past the sex and affairs. That's their business. But the problem is with what he said there at the end. We can't tolerate a sociopath in the White House.

THIS is what I love about Michelle Obama



The article in More is about the First Lady's mentoring program where she matches up 20 local high school girls from the "middle" (neither honor roll nor high-risk kids) with senior leaders in President Obama's administration. This is how she introduces herself to those 20 girls.

“They call me FLOTUS, for first lady of the United States,” she explains, noting that the president’s internal White House acronym is POTUS. “And there are many times when FLOTUS and POTUS feel like characters.” There have even been times, she says, when she’s craned her own neck to see which celebrity might be causing all the excitement. “And it’s me. Oh, man, it’s FLOTUS. FLOTUS is here. No one told me FLOTUS was coming.”...

“But sometimes,” Obama tells her class of mentees, “I just want to be Michelle. So you guys have to start slowly seeing me as Michelle, all right?”

Here is what she hopes the girls get out of the program.

Confidence, and the idea of "paying it forward" is what Mrs. Obama wants girls, and her two "prime mentees" -- Malia, 13, and Sasha, 10, to walk away with. At the end of the day, "they will feel good about themselves. They will know that they've breathed in some of the most rarefied air, and it felt normal to them. They know that if you can do this, then there isn't anything you can't do... There isn't any room you can't walk into," she says.
(Emphasis mine)

This has been a theme for Michelle Obama since the day she stepped foot in the White House. It reminds me of what she said to a group of girls from England's Elizabeth Garrett Anderson secondary school on a trip she arranged for them to Oxford University.

I'm not the only one who's excited to see you all here today. Students and faculty at this university were eager to visit with you all, as well.

And there's a reason for that. It's because all of us – and it's important for you to know that – all of us believe that you belong here; that this is a place for you, as well. We passionately believe that you have the talent within you, you have the drive, you have the experience to succeed here at Oxford and at universities just like it across the country and across the world...

...all of us who brought you here today don't just think that universities have a lot to offer you. We believe that you all have a lot to offer these universities – your talent, your passion, your unique life experiences. And we very much want you to believe that's true, as well.

And I want you to know that you have everything you need to succeed at a place like this.



This is how its done folks! Michelle's mentoring program will not solve all of the challenges facing teenage girls in this country. But she's grabbed 20 of them within her reach and is finding a way to have a personal impact on their lives.

That's what I love about Michelle Obama!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where Obama is to the left of his progressive critics

Various pundits and bloggers are constantly trying to define where President Obama fits on our outdated political spectrum. Most village pundits place him in a center/left category, while extremists on the left tend to call him an Eisenhower Republican and those on the right say he's a socialist.

I personally don't waste my time with any of these labels because first and foremost I believe President Obama is a pragmatist. He's adapted himself to the make-up of the Congress he has to deal with and seems to approach every situation with two basic questions: (1) What will work, and (2) What can actually get done.

But when we look at specific policies, there are a few areas where he's actually out-flanked most of his critics on the left. Its been interesting to watch that happen and go completely unnoticed. Usually that's because his critics made an early judgement of who he is (Oh-No's, he nominated Geithner!) and then literally failed to see anything that contradicted their assumptions.

One of the most obvious places this happened was with health care reform. For many progressives, THE ONLY thing they focused on was the public option. And when that wasn't included in the final bill, it simply confirmed their pre-concieved notions about the President.

Of course that meant that the largest expansion of Medicaid in our country's history - to cover an estimated 30 million people - went almost completely unnoticed. But even more importantly, no one paid attention to the medical loss ratios (MLR) that were included, and just recently went into effect. As I've talked about before, MLR's require health insurance companies to spend 80-85% of their premium dollars on direct medical services for their customers. As Rick Unger has written about on a couple of occasions, that is the "bomb" buried in Obamacare that will likely lead to a single payer system.

So while progressive critics were screaming about the public option, President Obama was passing the largest expansion of publicly funded health insurance in decades and setting up a bomb in health care reform that could lead to a single payer system. In other words, what he actually got done was to the left of what his critics on the left were advocating for.

And then there's the issue of civil liberties. I notice that in the last few days both Glenn Greenwald and Chris Hedges have written about this topic and continue to refer to the "endless war" as if it were inevitable. Apparently they can't conceive of a way to end the global war on terror started by Bush/Cheney. I wonder why that is so hard for them to imagine?

As I've talked about here recently, I'm not the only one who is seeing this administration move towards ending that so-called "endless war." David Ignatius said this:

It was easy to miss the impact of Obama’s words: He was declaring that the era that began on Sept. 11, 2001, is over. Al-Qaeda’s top leader is dead, and most of its cadres are on the run; secret peace talks are under way with the Taliban. And across the Arab world, the United States is talking with Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations that a few years ago might have been on terror lists. It’s a process that’s similar to the way Britain ended its long war with Irish terrorists, by engaging in negotiations with the IRA’s “political” wing.

Once again, while President Obama's critics on the left are distracted with their misplaced focus, they're completely missing the story about an end to the endless war and the fact that President Obama has outflanked them on the left.

Of course there are other issues that have gotten almost zero attention - like the administration being on track to fulfill Obama's promise of securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. That's the kind of thing progressives used to care about a lot. But it doesn't fit the image too many of the loudest critics have developed about President Obama. So its not worthy of attention.

Let me be clear. I'm not suggesting that we place this administration on the far left of the continuum. What I'm actually trying to say is that those kinds of labels don't fit. And people who made up their minds early about which one to affix to President Obama are missing an awful lot of what he's getting done.

Here's your choice

It looks like the primary results we'll see in South Carolina this week will confirm that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for president this year. Assuming that is true, we'll have a stark choice for American voters between the competing visions he and President Obama have for our country.

In case you haven't noticed, Romney is developing a theme for his candidacy that describes this election as a battle for the "soul of America." So lets look at what he means by that.

Romney asserts that President Obama wants to “fundamentally transform America,” turning the country “into a European-style entitlement society.” In fact, Romney and his Republican presidential rivals have a far more radical transformation in mind. They envision a dramatically shrunken federal government and a dangerously unraveled social safety net...

Consider Romney’s answer to a question at the last debate about the safety net in an age of austerity:

“Well, what we don’t need is to have a federal government saying we’re going to solve all the problems of poverty across the entire country, because what it means to be poor in Massachusetts is different than Montana and Mississippi and other places in the country,” Romney said.

“And that’s why these programs, all these federal programs that are bundled to help people and make sure we have a safety net, need to be brought together and sent back to the states. And let states that are closest to the needs of their own people craft the programs that are able to deal with the needs of those folks.”

Romney went on to tick off specific programs: food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid, emergency heating assistance.

“What unfortunately happens is, with all the multiplicity of federal programs, you have massive overhead with government bureaucrats in Washington administering all these programs. Very little of the money that’s actually needed by those that really need help, those that can’t care for themselves, actually reaches them,” Romney added.

First of all, on the issue of administrative overhead, Romney is just plain wrong (as is so often his wont). Here are the facts in graph form from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Photobucket

Secondly, anyone paying the least bit of attention over the last 50 years or so hears the dog whistles present in talk about "sending programs back to the states." What it means is killing those programs - especially in an era where most states can't even financially meet their current obligations.

And what would that mean for Americans who are struggling today? Interestingly enough, its the Wall Street Journal that recently reported that almost half of U.S. households receive federal government benefits...48.6%. That includes entitlements, but the highest percentage (34.4%) include means tested programs like Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance.

Yes, in these days when the numbers of people living in poverty are soaring and the middle class is struggling simply to stay afloat, Mitt Romney is all about tossing them completely overboard. And that doesn't even get to the part where he wants to raise their taxes while giving he and his 1% buddies a tax break.

So that's what Romney thinks is the soul of America. Just ponder that for a moment.

I'll simply end with a small clip about President Obama's vision - which is in sharp contrast.