Friday, November 30, 2012

Takers and Makers

Scrambling to explain their electoral defeat this month, some conservatives are trying to comfort themselves--and scare the rest of us--with the notion that this country has reached a tipping point where the beneficiaries of government largesse are starting to outnumber the productive members of society. Like Mitt Romney's famous "47%" remarks (except that Mitt found out it's actually more than 50%), this theory posits that the ever-expanding group of "takers" is going to vote for more and more government spending to subsidize their indolent lifestyle, while the "makers" find more and more of the fruits of their labors taken from them, to the point where they have no more incentive to work.

Another version of this argument appears in a Forbes article identifying states that are in a supposed "death spiral." which supposedly starts to occur when a state has more "takers" than "makers." If, for example, you have a software company in San Francisco employing 100 people, those 100 hard-working "makers" are, according to the article, supporting 139 "takers," and so the company will have an incentive to move its operation to Texas, where they will only have to support 82 "takers." Granting that taxes are lower in Texas than California, and that some companies will move to take advantage of lower taxes, there are still a lot of flaws in this analysis. For one thing, I'll bet software companies in San Francisco are paying better wages than companies in Texas. That might give the owners even more incentive to re-locate, but a lot of their employees (who are the makers in this analysis) might have preferred to remain in California, despite its proportionately larger dependent population.

In general, however, the idea that so-called makers are paying more and more to subsidize a growing number of takers is simply false. A New York Times study published today demonstrates that overall, the combined burden of federal, state and local taxes is actually LESS for ALL income groups than it was in the 1980's. How much less? For those making over $350,000 annually, average combined tax rates have fallen from 49% of their income in the 1980's to 42% today. For those making less than $25,000 in annual income, the combined tax rate has dropped from 20% to 19%. If almost everyone is paying less on average, obviously we are not being swallowed up by an army of takers.

I also have a problem with the way the Forbes piece defines makers and takers. According to their calculations, every government employee is classified as a taker, while every private sector worker is a maker. But government employees pay taxes like the rest of us. They also perform valuable services, like driving buses and teaching our kids to read, and some of them even make things. The private sector provides goods and services that are not so different in character from the benefits we obtain from the government. The private sector also includes a lot of people who are performing contracts for the government, whether they are building military jets or preparing environmental impact reports. Moreover, all of us are dependent on government at some points in our lives, and for some things throughout our lives. We all need schools and roads and police and fire services. If we didn't pay taxes to pay the people who take out our trash and clean our streets, we would have to pay for those services in some other way.

Even if we could could separate takers and makers, there is no magic ratio between the two groups beyond which the economy will fail. In the early part of the last century, most people were working on farms. We needed a lot of  makers to feed all of us takers. But now with something like 5% of the population working in agriculture, we only need one maker to feed 20 takers. Similar changes have taken place in manufacturing and construction, allowing us to produce more goods using fewer workers, and thus enabling us to support more "takers." Think of a family's economy as an analogy to a state or nation's economy. In some families, take Mitt Romney's for example, a single breadwinner is able to provide quite nicely for his wife and five boys. On the other hand, in my family, where we have two makers and two takers, we're probably going to have to take out some loans to put our kids through college. In other words, it doesn't seem to matter what percentage of the population is employed in some productive capacity. What matters is whether that workforce is productive enough to provide a decent living for all of us. Someday when we've managed to automate everything, we might all enjoy being takers while we let machines do all the making.

People who subscribe to the takers vs. makers dichotomy might recognize that it is a bit simplistic to claim we are in a death spiral as soon as the number of "takers" exceeds the number of "makers." Nevertheless, they would still argue that there must be some limit to how many unproductive people society can support. Thoughtful conservatives will also recognize the need to maintain roads and bridges and provide for the common defense. What they are really talking about, when they get alarmed about wasteful government spending, are transfer payments: the exploding costs of Medicare and Medicaid, the rising use of food stamps, and growing unfunded pension liabilities for public employees. If those are the problems they are concerned about, we should focus directly on those problems. Let's figure out how to reduce poverty and unemployment; let's get some actuaries to calculate how to afford our pension obligations; and let's make health care delivery more efficient. If we label the problems correctly, we might find they are actually manageable. What makes them seem unmanageable is the kind of rhetoric that labels all public employees as a drag on the economy, or that disparages everyone who needs a government-subsidized college grant or unemployment assistance at some point in their lives.

What we need to do is stop dividing people up in ways that can only cause resentment. We also need to recognize that most everyone who can work is working in some form or other, and that all of us are dependent on the work of others and on the benefits that government provides for all of us. Practically everybody tries to contribute and everybody wants to be taken care of. That makes us all  both takers and makers.

(Illustration by Keith Negley for the New York Times)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Climate Change Predictions Proven Wrong!

Today some scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research released a report based on satellite measurements of sea level changes. The report showed that, even though global temperature changes have accorded with the latest predictions made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea level changes have NOT risen at the same rate as predicted by the IPCC.

Apparently, these satellite measurements show that sea-levels are actually rising at a rate of 3.2 mm a year, while the IPCC report had predicted a rise of 2 mm per year. Ha! Shows what those scientists know. I guess that means we can all put our heads back in the sand now and ignore all the scientific forecasts of rising sea levels. Wait, what's that sound of rushing water I hear? Burble, burble, glug, glug, glug.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hope for filibuster reform

What's the most important issue facing the U.S. Senate right now? For someone like me who is more interested in process than substance, the answer is easy. It's filibuster reform, and it's shaping up to be a bruising battle that will be fought right at the outset of the session beginning in January. Minority Leader McConnell agrees that this is the number one issue facing his members. He is quoted as saying that opposition to filibuster reform "may be the most important thing you ever do."

Why do we need filibuster reform? Precisely because Mitch McConnell has abused the filibuster more than any minority leader in Congress in U.S. history. By far. This chart should be enough to persuade anyone that we have a problem, and we have to do something about it.

(Chicago Tribune)

I'd like to ask Senator McConnell what would have happened if Republicans had won the 2012 presidential election, and also held majorities in both the House and Senate. Would Republicans sit quietly without protest if the Democratic Senate minority tried to prevent a vote on every single piece of important legislation the new Republican administration tried to pass, as Republicans have done for the past four years to the Obama administration? Of course not. If Republicans had obtained the majority, they probably would be planning some kind of filibuster reform themselves, just as Democrats are now proposing. The vicious cycle has to stop. At this point, the only way that is going to happen is by changing the rules.

The rules changes being proposed are not particularly radical. They will not by any means eliminate the ability of the minority to filibuster. Instead, they will require that any Senators who want to prevent a vote on a bill will actually have to take to the floor and debate the bill to death. No longer will the minority be allowed routinely to require the majority to get 60 votes on a cloture motion before there can be a vote on the actual bill, as is the case now. If the minority wants to prevent a vote on a bill, they will have to do what the public commonly thinks of as an old-fashioned filibuster. Stand up and make speeches against the bill, or at least muster the presence of some Senators on the floor. Let the public see who is preventing legislation from being passed. If it's a noble cause, and the public respects the feelings of the minority, more power to them. But if the public begins to understand just how routinely the minority has prevented action on Senate bills and appointments that have broad public support, the minority might just have to reduce their reliance on this device to the rare occurrence that it is supposed to be.

Life of Pi

Movies frequently play on the need to believe. Skeptical characters in movies are punished; believers are usually rewarded. In the movies, ghosts are real; animals and inanimate objects can talk. The audience suspends its disbelief and therefore knows as Dorothy does, that Oz in all its technicolor glory, was not just a dream. We learn, as the girl played by Natalie Wood learns in Miracle on 34th Street, that we should believe in Santa Claus.

So Life of Pi presents a perfect subject for a movie. Its elements of fantasy deserve to be brought to the screen in the hyper-realistic 3D style Ang Lee has chosen. While watching, we know, if we think for two minutes about the logistics of filming this story, that most of the time the tiger we are seeing on the screen is not real, and to the extent they used a real tiger, which I understand they did to some extent, the tiger can't really be on the same boat with the boy. But we believe the boy and tiger are on a lifeboat together just the same. That's the power of movies. Thinking about the artifice involved in making this film makes us ponder one of the themes of the book, which is whether what we are being told could actually have happened.

Life of Pi asks us to choose between two stories. The main story is inherently implausible and utterly fantastic. It contains elements, like the floating island, that have never been seen before. (The movie even leaves out one of the most unbelievable sequences from the book, where Pi, temporarily blinded and in the middle of the ocean, bumps into another blinded shipwreck survivor on another lifeboat. What are the odds?)

The whole story about the tiger could easily have been made up. When Pi encounters a skeptical audience at the end, he decides to offer them a more realistic story, a story of human cruelty and tragedy that is inherently believable. It rings true because it is similar to many documented stories of survivors of disaster. But we don't want to believe that story. It's too depressing. Hearing the horrible second story only persuades us to believe the uplifting first story even more. Pi also persuades us that he could not have survived without the tiger, because the tiger gave his life a purpose. And so it goes, Pi says, with God. If the story of a boy and tiger doesn't prove the existence of God, as is claimed, Life of Pi proves at least the powerful human need to believe in miracles and salvation.

[Richard Parker, by the way, is the name of the actual cabin boy who was the victim of two shipwrecked sailors in the famous case of Dudley and Stephens, and also, even more amazingly, the name of a fictional shipwreck victim in a Poe story written before the events in the Dudley and Stephens case took place. (other Richard Parkers listed here) But you still want to believe that Richard Parker is a tiger, don't you?]

Animation World Network

Monday, November 26, 2012

More on the pledge

It occurs to me that all the signs of Congressional Republican reasonableness on the budget negotiations that I celebrated in my prior post might represent a clever strategy on the opposition's part. (In addition to Senator Chambliss, we now hear similar statements disavowing pledges never to raise taxes from the likes of Senators Graham, Coburn, and Corker, and from Senator-elect Flake.) Not that these statements don't still call for celebration--they do. Any weakening of the hold that the unelected tax czar Grover Norquist has over Congress deserves all the praise it can get.

But as Jed Lewison pointed out in a post on Daily Kos, Congressional Republicans don't even need to violate the Norquist pledge in order to increase revenues. Under current law, the Bush tax cuts expire all by themselves at the end of the year. If Congress does nothing, income tax rates will automatically go up for everyone. So why all the public demonstrations of a willingness to break the pledge? Could all these pledge-breakers be throwing Grover Norquist under the bus to achieve some larger purpose?

Because Democrats are willing to extend the Bush tax cuts for income under $250,000, what is actually on the table now is a Democratic proposal to LOWER tax rates for everyone. But Republicans are balking at agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts on those income levels unless Democrats also agree to extend the 35% tax rate on earned income above $250,000. That means that Republican expressions of reasonableness about revenues are to some extent a ruse. Those Republicans who publicly embrace the need to increase revenues have yet to express any willingness to restore higher income tax RATES for anyone. All they are talking about so far are limitations on deductions.

What's the difference, so long as we get some more money into the Treasury to help pay the bills? It's a big difference. The tax and budget talks going on now in Washington are merely the latest battle in an ideological struggle that goes back decades. It's an article of faith among Republicans that the most important thing we should try to achieve in the tax code is to keep rates as low as possible; and also to reduce the progressivity of the Code. Low rates, according to this theory, represent a reduction in government interference in peoples' economic decisions. And lessening progressivity represents a retreat from government attempts to re-distribute income. Republicans have at times been willing to allow the elimination of popular tax deductions, and also to allow payroll taxes to increase, in exchange for agreements to keep top marginal rates low, and thereby satisfy these ideological desires. Democrats, on the other hand, have generally favored more progressivity and higher top marginal rates, because they want to expand the social safety net and reduce economic inequality.

On the whole, Republicans have been winning the war over high tax rates, as over the years, rates and progressivity have been steadily ratcheted down, from a 90% top bracket during the Eisenhower years, to 70% in the 1970s, to 50% under Reagan, and 35% under George W. Bush. (It's no coincidence that over the same period, the disparity between rich and poor has reached levels not seen since the 1920's.) The Obama administration has been fighting hard to restore the 39% top rate that Bill Clinton achieved in the 1990's over fierce Republican opposition, opposition that has only increased during the last few years. (I might add that Republican opposition to the 39% top marginal tax rate has cost the Republicans a great deal politically--it was a factor in the 2012 election--since a solid majority of the public favors restoring the 39% top rate for high earners. Despite the heavy price they are paying, Republicans cling to the 35% top marginal income tax rate like nothing else.)

But last year's budget agreement was engineered to make it almost inevitable that the 39% top tax bracket would be restored if Obama were re-elected. Both sides knew that at the time, and Republicans agreed to the deal because they were hoping to win the 2012 election. But now Democrats show no signs of weakening on this point. Really, why should they? They won the election. That means what we are seeing are the last ditch efforts of the Republican opposition to forestall the inevitable. In the course of this battle, all kinds of surprising things might happen, like the willingness of the Republican opposition to break pledges and put anything on the table. The last thing the opposition will give on will be the thing they hate the most, which is to allow top marginal tax rates to creep back up again. We will get right to the edge of the so-called fiscal cliff, and may tumble over it, before that will happen.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cheers to Senator Chambliss!

not this Grover
Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, announced on Wednesday that he is not afraid of Grover Norquist anymore. Knowing that Norquist is likely to support a primary challenge against any member of Congress who breaks the Norquist-sponsored pledge never to raise taxes, no matter what, Chambliss said "I don't worry about that because I care too much about my country. I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist." As Chambliss pointed out, "Norquist has no plan to pay this debt down."

Who is Grover Norquist, anyway? Who elected him to anything? Why should anyone be afraid of him? Grover Norquist deserves no more respect than a schoolyard bully. Once a few more members of Congress stand up to him, once more candidates recognize that the anti-tax pledge is more of a hindrance than a help, Norquist will have no more power anymore.

In other political news this week, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was vilified by many of his fellow Republicans for daring to praise President Obama's handling of Hurricane Sandy, has zoomed up in the polls to a 77% approval rating.  77%!

Mitch McConnell should take note. House Republicans should take note. Working constructively with the opposition, instead of in unrelenting opposition, could be good politics, in addition to being good for the country.

Monday, November 19, 2012


President Obama spent about six hours in Burma on his way to a summit meeting in Cambodia, enough time to visit with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and give a speech at the University of Yangon. Enough time to celebrate the progress that country has made away from a military dictatorship sealed off from the rest of the world, and to encourage further efforts toward freedom and democracy. 

Some say it's too soon for the president to visit Burma. I would say there is no fixed set of criteria for determining when a country is ready for the seal of approval that a presidential visit and restoration of relations represents. Was it too soon for Nixon to visit China in 1972? Forty years later, that country still has serious human rights problems and is a long way from democracy. Burma too has a long road ahead. But it doesn't seem premature to applaud the progress that the people of Burma have already made, and help bring their country into the light.


Watching the sordid deals that take place behind the scenes in Congress should be disheartening, but when Congress finally does act to do the right thing, the end result is nevertheless inspirational. The messy process of passing a bill through the House of Representatives provides the central drama in the new movie Lincoln.  In this case the bill in question is a rather important one; it became the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery. Against the advice of many in his cabinet, Lincoln wanted to get that bill through a lame duck session even before a more friendly Congress for his party would be seated, because he wanted emancipation irrevocably in place before the war came to an end, and the Confederate states would be re-admitted to the Union.  To accomplish that, Lincoln used every means at his disposal, including the promise of patronage jobs to opposition Congressmen who had just lost their seats in the election. James Spader provides entertaining comic relief as the leader of the team that uses any means necessary to secure the necessary votes for the Thirteenth Amendment.

In addition to the shady tactics used to obtain a few votes from the opposition party, the movie also illustrates the compromise Lincoln was forced to make to obtain the support of the conservative wing of his party, agreeing to entertain a peace delegation from the Confederacy, even though he knew that might jeopardize the whole project. One of the best scenes in the movie shows the president late at night in the War Department's telegraph office with two young telegraph operators. In the script, their conversation about the principles of Euclidean geometry leads Lincoln to decide to impede the progress of the Southern delegation, which turns out to be critical to passage of the amendment.  On the day of the vote, Lincoln is then shown resorting to a lawyer's trick of giving a literal answer to an imperfect question from the House, to mislead Congress about the status of these peace efforts.

Lincoln also had to make sure that the radical Republicans did not prevent passage of the bill by pushing too hard for their ultimate objective of complete equality. Lincoln persuades Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones, that he must deny his own core beliefs and goals, in order to secure the interim goal of ending slavery.

Daniel Day-Lewis brings Lincoln to life. You can feel the weight on his shoulders of the terrible decisions Lincoln had to make, as well as see the indominable will Lincoln brought to bear to accomplish his object, and the flexibility, trickery and humor he needed to get it done.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


What a sad postcript to this election campaign, Mitt Romney's comments to donors that President Obama only won re-election because of "gifts" he bestowed on his constituents. If Romney tried to think of words that would help hustle himself off the public stage as quickly as possible, and make people glad he is no longer relevant, he probably couldn't have done much better than that.

I'll grant that it would have been fair for Romney to point out to his donors that he was at some disadvantage going  up against an incumbent president, who does have the advantage of being able to travel around the country and promise storm relief, or wind energy tax credits, or the deferral of deportations for children of undocumented immigrants. But Romney knew that going in. It's sour grapes to complain about the uphill battle that any challenger has against an incumbent.

If Romney was not complaining about having to run against an incumbent, then all he was doing was insulting the majority of Americans who voted for his opponent. The politics of resentment only takes you so far. It got Mitt Romney to about 47% of the popular vote.

The graceful thing to do would have been to admit to your supporters that not enough people were buying the message you were selling. Maybe raise the issue of how to modify that message so that it will resonate with more voters. That might contribute something positive to the public discussion. Maybe it would tell us what Romney really believes in, if anything. If Romney had done that, maybe other leaders of his party would be happy to listen to him instead of telling him to go hide under a rock, as they are doing now.  Mitt Romney should heed that advice, and go home and reflect on the meaning of this election a bit more. He should not talk to us again until he has something positive and helpful to say.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Opening bids

Politics doesn't take a moment's rest after an election. All the election does is affect the strength of each side's bargaining position. Now we are hearing the opening salvos in the upcoming budget wars. Republican Congressional leaders recognize they are entering that battle in a significantly weakened position, and are already hinting at the possibility of compromise. Still, they have not yet given any substantive ground at all on their previous commitments not to raise anybody's tax rates. President Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders are standing pat on their promise to raise the top bracket rate. They are almost daring the Republicans to drive us over the so-called "fiscal cliff."

My recommendation is not to pay too much attention to the initial posturing by either side. That's the same thing I tell people when I mediate disputes in litigation. Initial demands and offers should always be taken with a hefty dose of salt.  These positions are often deliberately designed to communicate just how tough a negotiation the other side can expect. Since parties do not expect the other side to jump at an opening offer, they almost always set them too high (or too low) to give the offering party room to negotiate. Sometimes parties want the other side to think they are crazy or unreasonable. That means it usually doesn't help to express outrage at anything said in the opening rounds of a negotiation. There is little reason even to take these opening statements seriously.

Karen Brzys
There are good reasons, supported by research, for parties to open negotiations with unreasonable demands. They serve the purpose of framing the other side's expectations, a concept known as "anchoring." These initial demands set the outside boundaries for a negotiated resolution, and serve each party's interests best by dragging those boundary markers as far as each side can plausibly drag them, leaving a lot of room in the middle for an agreement both sides might be able to live with.

It's the second round of offers where negotiations get more interesting. In that round, the Republicans will probably let the Democrats know what they might be willing to do to raise revenues. The Democrats might be willing to let the Republicans know what steps they might be willing to consider to reduce the growth of entitlement programs. The parties could be discussing a total overhaul of the tax code as a means of satisfying both the Republican demand to keep rates low, and the Democratic demand to raise revenue.

The crunch will not come until we are weeks or even days away from the December 31 deadline when the Bush tax cuts will expire and sequestration kicks in. The crunch might even come later than that, because the parties know that the world will not come to an end on December 31 if Congress fails to make a deal. So it won't be until at least mid-December when we should expect to find out where the parties really stand, and where the parameters of a possible agreement might lie. We could even reach a so-called "impasse" at that time, in which both sides refuse to budge from announced positions. In the meantime, people should understand that we have several rounds of bargaining to go, and that most of what politicians are saying now is not intended to be taken seriously.

Soon, however, it will be time to pay attention. Because what will determine the outcome of these budget negotiations will be the expressed feelings of the American people, and the strength and volume with which the advocates for the Democratic, the Republican, or some in-between positions express their points of view.

If you are afraid the president might give away too much in the negotiations, it's up to you to support the president and Congressional Democrats vociferously. We should have learned from this election that strong support is the best way to strengthen his hand.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Over the weekend I saw Skyfall, one of the best ever entries in the 50 year old James Bond series. (50!)  And I think I've seen all of them, so I know what I'm talking about.

This movie has as much relevance to our current political situation as most  anything you'll hear on cable news this week. Seriously, check out the new Q, played by Ben Whishaw, who represents the triumph of serious computer knowledge over the silly toys offered Bond by previous Qs. Notice the old-fashioned action-hero spy standing in the background waiting for the analytics to come in.

In politics, the old-fashioned operatives are also taking a back seat to the new breed of science geeks. The LA Times ran a tribute to the computer geniuses who provided sophisticated metrics for the Obama campaign. Here's Daniel Wagner, age 29 (about the same age as Ben Whishaw), the Q of the Obama campaign, leading a staff of more than 50 (50!) who crunched the numbers that helped the Obama team win. Apparently they have been working in secret throughout the campaign in a place they called the cave, and can only show themselves now that the election is over.

photo: John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune
These are the faces of the future. If this year's election represented anything, it represented the ultimate revenge of the nerds. Look how shocked the true right wing believers were when the election went exactly as predicted by the number-crunching whiz kids like Nate Silver, who correctly called 50 out of 50 state results. (50!) No more can politicos rely on their gut instincts and feelings. Politics might finally be a science now. And you can't argue with math.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Election lessons

I caught up with continuing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for an imaginary interview in the wake of Tuesday's devastating electoral results for his party.

Q: What's next now that your primary goal of denying President Obama a second term has been thwarted?

A: That goal was only a means to an end. What the American people did in this election was merely to choose a different means to that same end.

Q: What do you mean by that?

A: The results of the election clearly show that the American people want to rub President Obama's nose in the dirt. They "gave President Obama a second chance to fix the problems that even he admits he failed to solve during his first four years in office." (actual quote) Hopefully the president will heed the message of the electorate and adopt the positions of the Republican party on the most pressing issues facing our country.

Q: So you don't see these results as any kind of repudiation of the Republican platform, or suggesting any change of direction for your members in Congress?

A: What are you talking about? Clearly the American people still support the Republican program. They just chose President Obama to implement it. They want to teach the Democrats a lesson.

Q: Never mind. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing the country?

A: Obviously the major problem we are facing is that the very wealthy do not have enough money. We must act quickly to preserve their privileged position, and improve it if possible.

Q: So you don't think the president won a mandate to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthy?

A: Like I said, it seems clear to me that the voters decided to punish the president by forcing him to deal with Republicans in Congress. People could not possibly vote for President Obama because they agree with any of his ideas. The whole idea is absurd.

Q: What about the recent study by the Congressional Research Service finding that lowering tax rates for the wealthy actually has no effect on economic growth or job creation? 

A: Notice that Republicans in Congress made sure to take that report out of circulation, because we don't think people should be infected by economic analysis when they are making decisions regarding the economy.

Q: Well, what about the report of the Congressional Budget Office finding that of all the ways to deal with deficit reduction, probably the least harmful to the economy is to increase taxes for the wealthy?

A: If we are not going to allow our core values to be affected by election results, why would we reconsider our positions based on economic studies and analysis? Look, Governor Romney may have lost the election, but we can still be proud of the principles he stood for. One of his campaign's proudest statements was that they would not allow their positions to be dictated by fact-checkers.  The Republican Party will continue to stand proudly for our blind adherence to ideology notwithstanding popular opinion or truth. And if President Obama doesn't recognize the need to bend to our position, then he just doesn't understand the message of this election.

Q: So you don't interpret the election results as suggesting that Republicans need to compromise on a budget agreement?

A: I don't understand what you are talking about. The voters clearly told the Democrats they need to compromise. Why else would voters elect so many new Democrats to the Senate? They never told Republicans anything of the sort.  "I know some people out there think Tuesday’s results mean Republicans in Washington are now going to roll over and agree to Democrat demands that we hike tax rates before the end of the year. I’m here to tell them there is no truth to that notion whatsoever." (actual quote)

Q: Thank you for your time, Senator McConnell. Are there any other messages you'd like to send to the reality-based community?

A: We are not going to let silly notions like reality stand in the way of our commitment to principle.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Status quo

We can already hear people wondering why the country just spent SO much money, and SO much time, on an election that ended up changing very little in the composition of the government. I would agree to some extent on the too much money part. In the end, most of the millions each side spent on campaign commercials probably just canceled out the other side's advertising. I would also probably agree that the campaign season is too long, and we should think about ways to shorten it.

I don't agree at all that the election changed nothing, however. Sometimes the most revolutionary events in history represent a preservation of the status quo. Our own revolution could be thought of in that way, as an attempt to preserve the colonies' ability to govern themselves. The Civil War was also revolutionary, even though all it did was preserve the existing Union. Or as Lincoln put it, that war served the purpose of determining whether government of the people, by the people, and for the people, could long endure.

I'm not going to equate the re-election of Barack Obama to the American Revolution or the Civil War, but still, there are some similarities between this historic event and say, the re-election of Lincoln in 1864, a contest whose outcome was also considerably in doubt at times, and which (merely) determined whether the nation would continue on the path the president set. The election of 1864 decided, at a rather inconvenient time in the midst of war, that we should keep following Lincoln's course, and that election therefore sealed our fate. It seems doubtful we would even have a country today had we not done that.

In this election, we might not have been testing our survival as a nation, but we certainly were determining whether we want to preserve and strengthen social guarantees like health insurance for all, as well as other New Deal and Great Society programs that assist the poor and the elderly. We were certainly deciding whether we want to preserve and strengthen financial regulation that will make our economic system more fair. And we were certainly deciding whether we want to do something to reduce inequality, and enforce civil rights for women, minorities and gays.

I have less confidence in predicting this, but in the end, the most important effect of this election could even mean the difference between choosing war or peace. The Obama administration has put us on a path to reducing violence and conflict in the world, while the opposition seemed poised to increase military spending and assert a more belligerent posture. Hopefully, we have chosen to reduce conflict.

It was well worth spending a lot of time and money (maybe not as much as we spent, but a lot was still justified) making the decision to maintain our present course. Anyone who says it was all for nothing is expressing a kind of sour grapes; an attempt to deny the revolutionary effects of a powerful status quo outcome.

Election day

The polling place in Las Vegas where I spent about 13 hours watching people vote. Very inspiring.

And the party afterward, where hundreds of raucous Obama supporters watched the president celebrate his election to a second term.

Special thanks to the firemen who put out the Cajon Pass fire, thus clearing the path for myself and others to get to Vegas and assure the president's victory. I ran into a bunch of them on the way here:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Last minute instructions

           How to find your polling place and other information on voting. Go to

                How to make sure everyone you know has voted. Go to

How to do something. Go to: 

How to call targeted voters from anywhere. Go to


Back where it all began:

For those saying this is President Obama's last rally, this is not the president's last rally. Midterm elections are coming up in only two years, and we can expect to see the president out on the campaign trail again in 2014. Didn't we learn from 2010 how important those are?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Keep hope alive.

Bruce Springsteen makes the case for re-electing the president.

Fired up, part 2

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fired up

New Hampshire




President Obama at FEMA

Stephanie Cutter wants you to vote.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

This isn't a game.

"You don't scare hard-working Americans just to scare up some votes. . . . That's not leadership."


According to Alan B. Krueger, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, 
Today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that private sector businesses added 184,000 jobs last month, the biggest monthly gain in eight months. Total non-farm payroll employment rose by 171,000 jobs in October. Revisions to the previous two months added another 84,000 jobs. The economy has now added private sector jobs for 32 straight months, and a total of 5.4 million jobs have been added during that period, taking account of the preliminary benchmark revision.
 For those who like graphs, the trend looks like this:

(more information here)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reasons not to vote?


Back on the campaign trail, President Obama makes the case that he is still the candidate of change, and the champion of ordinary working people. In case anyone was worrying about whether the well-off need a champion in the White House, the president explains that they always have a seat at the table.