Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gabby Giffords

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Immigration reform

Monday, January 28, 2013


OK, so I'll admit I've been watching that silly PBS soap opera about a bunch of people I really shouldn't care about. And just when I had had enough of all the ridiculous stories about whether they are going to be able to save the estate, and who ruined somebody's dinner jacket, lo and behold, we get some real drama as the show's creators decide to kill off Sybil in tragic and heart-rending fashion. Not Sybil! Everyone's favorite! Maybe the only warm, kind and genuine person in the bunch.

I don't think they're going to ruin the impact of this brilliant moment by saying something like, well that's what comes of marrying the chauffeur. Because it didn't come from marrying the chauffeur at all. It came from listening to the idiot aristocrat doctor instead of the sensible country doctor who had known her all her life. Everybody now knows these absurd and anachronistic lords and ladies have only themselves to blame for their unsustainable lifestyle and inevitable downfall.

I'm not sure the series can top that moment. Maybe it's time to stop following it. Now that the only good one is gone, all that's left to take pleasure in is watching the rest follow.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Filibuster reform

For those who would have liked to see the Senate enact more sweeping filibuster reform than the small steps they agreed to today (I for one would have), and for those inclined to blame the Senate leadership (Harry Reid) for taking such timid steps ( I would rather give them the benefit of the doubt), here's one possible way to think about this issue:

Let's say you're playing a game. It could be a team sport like baseball, or a card game, doesn't matter. If you're going to change the rules of the game, it is best to do that by agreement with the other side. Because if you just announce new rules that tend to favor your side, you are going to cause all kinds of resentment. And your opponent is going to get back at you somehow.

Politics is a kind of game, but not always a game of equals. Elections often give one side an advantage in numbers. And it's understandable for the side that has legitimately won superior numbers to think that they should win most of the time. That's the principle of majority rule. That's how democracy is supposed to work. My point would be that even in that situation it is dangerous for the majority to change the rules to give them even more of an advantage, without also considering the wishes of the minority, and without considering the possibility that they might find themselves in the minority again someday.

Change comes slowly and incrementally. The filibuster is not going away any time soon. If your party is in the minority, you're happy to have it. But if you abuse the privilege too much, as Republicans did in the last four years, the privilege must be cut back a bit. Hopefully that will reduce the abuse. But it's always better to have everyone agree on the rules changes rather than to impose them unilaterally. The so-called "nuclear option" of rules changes imposed by the majority party was best employed only as a threat to compel a bi-partisan agreement on rules changes. Whenever the Senate can agree to change anything by the kind of overwhelming bi-partisan vote they got today, that gives grounds for hope. Anything you can get done by agreement is always better than what you can get done by railroading the opposition, even if the result isn't quite what you wanted. And those who are angry and frustrated that we did not get stronger reforms should still ask themselves: are the rules today better than they were yesterday? If so, that means we are making progress toward your goal.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What difference does it make?

Isn't it amazing when a single quote can be used to prove completely opposite propositions? When a simple statement can serve to confirm whatever pre-conceived views you might already have had about the situation? When one video clip proves that people in the same country actually inhabit different universes? Today, Secretary Clinton lost her patience with some of the questions she was asked at a senate hearing on Benghazi. She said the following:
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans! Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.”
If you are a supporter of the administration, and Hillary supporter, here is proof positive of the ridiculousness of the questions being asked at the hearing. The fact is that we had incomplete information at the time of the attacks, and we still have incomplete information. And at the time, we had more pressing concerns than figuring out exactly what lay behind the attacks. But we will do whatever we can to find out and bring the attackers to justice.

 If you are are a critic, on the other hand, Secretary Clinton's statements are proof positive that the administration doesn't get it. Of course it makes all the difference in the world whether this was a spontaneous uprising, or a planned terrorist attack, and Secretary Clinton's confession that she didn't care at that time to sort out all of the causes probably implies that she had no problem handing out misleading information.

So if you watch Fox News, they are undoubtedly going to be crowing about how some of the tough GOP senators really nailed Secretary Clinton by getting her to admit that she doesn't care about the truth. And if you watch MSNBC, they are going to be crowing about how Secretary Clinton bravely stood up to the obtuse attacks of these clueless GOP senators, and put them in their place.

If you go on twitter, and see what people are doing with the new catch phrase of the moment, well, don't even bother, it's so disheartening.

And if you are seriously interested in the truth of what happened in Benghazi, and open-minded to all possibilities, you are just going to have to wait awhile, and you will undoubtedly find that the truth is somewhat elusive, but is more nuanced and complicated than anything that is being talked about right now. As for today's performance, it is fair to ask, with all due respect, what difference does it make? And by that I mean, did today's hearing shed any new light on the situation? Did we learn anything? Did anybody's mind change? Or did the hearing merely confirm what we already knew? What we already knew of course, depending on which world view we subscribe to, were completely inconsistent things. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Obama 2.0

My first reaction to President Obama's second inaugural address, while I was watching it this morning, was that it was a bit long. Compared to Lincoln's majestic second inaugural address (a comparison the president invited when he borrowed a few words from Lincoln's speech), maybe it was a bit wordier than necessary. On the other hand, Lincoln only had to address one overriding issue, while Obama has to deal with many. By that standard, President Obama did many things remarkably well. He linked gay rights to the women's rights and civil rights movements, simply by listing the alliterative place names: Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall. He rejected the doctrine of perpetual war, and reminded those who espouse it that we have often before in our history "turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends." He affirmed the need to confront climate change, and made clear that we cannot ignore science and facts. And he reminded those who think that rugged individualism is the only answer, that many challenges must be met by collective action.

By the end, I think a lot of the political opposition was wondering what happened to the post-partisan Obama, the guy who called for a new politics, and who encouraged us to work together constructively instead of dividing ourselves by region or party or ethnic background. They might be wishing they still had the 2009 Obama to deal with, instead of a stronger, more confident, more partisan second term President Obama. What happened to the first term Obama was that the opposition rebuffed all of his efforts at inclusiveness and cooperation, and refused to engage in any kind of constructive dialogue.

The second term Obama is letting the opposition know that he means to go over their heads and enlist the American people's support for a progressive agenda. He can do that with some confidence that most people support goals such as immigration reform, preserving the social safety net, expanding opportunities for the middle class, and staying out of war. I think the president still believes in the politics of inclusiveness and consensus. That's part of what he meant by all those references to doing things together. But the opposition is going to have to buy in to that concept this term, instead of flatly rejecting everything the president suggests. If they want to be part of the solution, it's now up to them to ask to be included in a new bi-partisan approach to these problems.

Second Inaugural


Here's a random crowd reaction shot showing someone attempting to make sense of Richard Blanco's poem for the occasion:

Sore loser Mitt Romney decided not to attend, but I bet he will regret that decision after he finds out that Paul Ryan got to hang out with Jay-Z and Beyonce:



The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir!

Myrlie Evers!

Sunday, January 20, 2013


On the historic and momentous occasion of Barack Obama's second inauguration, what is everyone talking about? Michelle's new hairstyle of course.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Organizing for Action

During the 2012 campaign, I had a chance to observe quite closely, through the flood of emails I received every day from the Obama campaign, just how well-organized they were, and how well they thought out their strategy. The Obama campaign for the most part set the terms of the debate, and pounced on every mis-step of the opposition. Its seems the opposition still doesn't quite know what hit them. We are seeing the continuing enthusiasm of the 2012 campaign, and the opposition's disarray, play out now in the successful effort to avert the "fiscal cliff," in the administration's actions on gun violence, and in the upcoming budget battles.

These efforts are not going to be led solely from within the White House. Today, organizers from the Obama 2012 campaign announced their plan to maintain its energy, and its phenomenal organizational skills, in a new entity called Organizing for Action. It seems this is going to be Organizing for America, which grew out of the 2008 Obama for America campaign, in a 2.0 version. This new organization's chair, Jim Messina, announced last night:
It will be a supporter-driven organization, as we've always been, staying true to our core principles: "respect, empower, include." We'll work on the key battles of our generation, train the next generation of grassroots organizers and leaders, and organize around local issues in our own communities. We'll continue to support the President in creating jobs and growing the economy from the middle out, and in fighting for issues like immigration reform, climate change, balanced deficit reduction, and reducing gun violence.
We have a remarkable opportunity right now to change our country, and if we can take the enthusiasm and passion that people showed throughout the campaign and channel it into the work ahead of us, we will be unstoppable.
As the chair of Organizing for Action, I will be deeply involved in this new organization, but it will be supporters like you who will determine where it goes. I have no doubt we can take this grassroots movement to new and extraordinary heights.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Action on gun violence

White House Gun Proposals by

I note that there is already a lot of loose talk from Congressmen, sheriffs, and others who could not possibly have had the time yet to do a proper legal analysis of these actions and proposals. My suggestion to those people: study, think, and then talk when you can demonstrate that you know what you are talking about.

By the way, it has already been pointed out that President Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any president in modern history.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Negotiating with terrorists


No, this picture is not meant to represent President Obama. This is a portrait of the Republicans in Congress who are threatening to allow the United States to default on its debts if they don't get their way. If they are stupid enough to pull the trigger, they would harm millions of people (government contractors, federal employees, Social Security recipients, veterans, etc.) who will have to settle for IOUs instead of the checks due to them. They would cause international markets to lose confidence in this country. The government's borrowing costs would probably go up, making the deficit problem that these Republicans are supposedly so concerned about, even worse. And these hostage-takers in Congress would ultimately destroy themselves, because the consequences of their actions would not be popular.

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am all for bi-partisanship. I am for negotiation. I am for compromise. But there is no reason to negotiate with a group that is holding a gun to their own heads. And there is a lot to be gained by putting an end to decades of pointless debate over raising the debt ceiling.

Monday, January 14, 2013

News conference

Listen up, people: There is no magic coin. There is no plan b. There are no gimmicks, and no tricks. There is just this one simple concept:
"You don’t go out to dinner and . . . eat all you want and then leave without paying the check."

So what's it going to be, Congress? Do we skip out on the check or not?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

No. 57

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How not to talk about guns

Piers Morgan's interview with radio host Alex Jones has gotten lots of attention, due to Jones's seemingly-unprovoked fiery outbursts and threatening manner. Morgan probably accomplished what he wanted to accomplish by having Jones on the show. He exposed the raving right wing conspiracy theories behind at least some Americans' attachment to guns, and probably scared a lot of people already sympathetic to gun control.

At the same time, however, Morgan probably didn't convince a lot of people who might be sympathetic to Jones's views, and he didn't even begin to engage in a constructive dialogue about responses to the problem of gun violence that we might get most people to agree on. Was that Morgan's fault? He seemed so calm and reasonable, while Jones came off as hostile and belligerent. What if anything, did Morgan do to set up that dynamic, and what could he have done differently, if he were genuinely interested in having a reasonable dialogue about gun control? The first thing was Morgan's choice of guest, obviously. There are lots of gun advocates Morgan could have asked on his show. Why did he choose this guy?

Even before the interview, Morgan starts off by stating his "position" on the issue. As noted in my earlier post on this topic, we won't get too far in any dialogue about gun control by arguing over positions. The only way to find common ground on this topic is to talk about our common interests in protecting the safety of children and other innocent people.

Morgan never really engages with Jones on any of the points Jones is trying to make. Instead, Morgan, acting like a sly cross-examining attorney, demands that Jones answer a series of factual questions, such as whether the gun homicide rate is lower in Great Britain than it is in the United States. Jones had already conceded that point, however, and became outraged at Morgan's attempts to limit the discussion to what he called little statistical "factoids" like that. Morgan never asked the right questions, which would start by getting his guest to agree that all of us are interested in reducing horrific incidents of gun violence, and then proceed to analyze various ways of accomplishing that result.

In addition to asking the wrong questions, Morgan did something else to inflame the situation. He asked Jones several times to calm down. This is a clever ploy, because it seems so reasonable, but was probably the worst thing he could have done if he really wanted to have a civil discussion. Morgan probably knows that very well, as he is an experienced interviewer. If you are genuinely trying to get a hysterical person to calm down, the last thing you do is ask them to calm down, because that is only challenging the basis for the person's anger. Instead, you need to recognize and respond to the person's anger.  You need to say something like, "you're really angry about this issue. I can see you feel very passionately about it." Had Morgan done that, Jones would have most likely responded by saying, "hell yes, I'm angry. I'm passionate." And that would have been the first step to getting him to talk in a more reasonable manner. But Piers Morgan had no interest in getting his subject to talk in a more reasonable manner. He did whatever he could to inflame him and expose him, saving the coup de grace of asking about 9/11 conspiracies for the end, just so he could portray anyone opposed to gun control as a nut.  That's probably just what Morgan wanted to accomplish. But what he failed to accomplish was to actually engage in a reasonable discussion about the issue of gun control And that was mostly Morgan's own fault.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Tonight we saw some things happen in Washington that we haven't seen in a long time. We saw the Speaker of the House bring to the floor a bill that the majority of his caucus does not support. We saw the Republican leadership fracture and the Democratic coalition hold together. We saw a bill to raise taxes pass by a huge margin with broad support from both parties. We saw 85 House Republicans vote to allow the top marginal tax rate to rise, something they previously said they would never do. (I realize they have an argument that because they took this vote the day after all tax rates automatically rose, they actually voted to lower taxes for the majority of Americans. Even so, by allowing restoration of the 39% bracket from the 1990's, they did something that they said they would never do.) And we saw Congress act together in a timely manner to prevent potential economic calamity.

A lot of people are worried about the terms of the compromise. A lot are worried that we put off some difficult decisions, and will have more difficult battles ahead. Personally, I am cheered whenever I see two groups locked in bitter conflict able to agree about anything. However small and halting that agreement, it can be used as a stepping stone to build larger agreements. And I will grant that a lot of what we witnessed in Congress was frustrating and ugly. Even so, I would call it hope and change.

New York Times photo


Two hours after the "deadline," the Senate passed a bill preventing automatic middle class tax hikes from taking effect, and forestalling other feared consequences of going over the fiscal cliff. I'm going to leave analysis of the terms of the deal to others. And I will not second guess the negotiators on either side. I happen to think that is extremely poor form.

People who were not in the negotiating room cannot fully appreciate all of the reasons why the deal turned out the way it did. Therefore, it's best to assume that both sides made the best deal they could. There is no point in comparing this deal to some other hypothetical deal that some second-guessers on either side think they could have achieved if only their superior negotiating skills had been brought to bear. The only question that should be asked is whether the deal made by the leaders we chose, is better than no deal at all. Considering that the bill passed by a margin of 89-8 in the Senate, the answer to that question would seem rather obvious, at least to about 90% of the members of the Senate. The only bills the Senate passes with that kind of margin are the kinds that declare our love of motherhood, the flag, or apple pie.

It makes you wonder why Congress has been fighting over this basic budget question so hard and for so long. Why was it so hard to patch together the kind of solution that was basically baked into the cake at the time of the budget impasse of 2011?