Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Better politics

 "So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America's hopes. I've served in Congress with many of you. I know many of you well. There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle. And many of you have told me that this isn't what you signed up for - arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision. Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns.

 Imagine if we did something different. Understand - a better politics isn't one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.

 A better politics is one where we appeal to each other's basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than "gotcha" moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people's daily lives.

 A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America. If we're going to have arguments, let's have arguments - but let's make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.

 We still may not agree on a woman's right to choose, but surely we can agree it's a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.

 Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is taken from her child, and that it's possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

 We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it's being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.

 We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can't walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won't rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift. Surely we can agree it's a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America's criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.

 That's a better politics. That's how we start rebuilding trust. That's how we move this country forward. That's what the American people want. That's what they deserve."


(transcript here)

Sunday, January 18, 2015


The new movie Selma depicts the events that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. There has been some controversy about the historical accuracy of parts of this movie, but I don't have much patience with those kinds of criticisms. Selma is not a documentary, even though it is based on historical events and does use some documentary footage in one part. Therefore, filmmakers are entitled to whatever artistic license they feel they need for the sake of heightening the drama. The point of the movie, which it succeeds at brilliantly, is demonstrating the power of a social movement to create change. In the process, the movie also puts Martin Luther King, Jr. front and center so that we can understand and feel the leader's personal struggle to balance the desire for change, the safety of his followers, his family's needs, and his sense of the most successful strategy for achieving the movement's goals. The movie shows is that the state's violent resistance to the legitimate demands of citizens for voting rights only ended up helping the protesters achieve their goals.

Martin Luther King was not averse to negotiated resolution of conflict. But despite his strategy of non-violence, he did not exactly renounce more aggressive and adversarial methods either. In fact, the strategy of non-violent resistance was deliberately confrontational, and designed to provoke a violent reaction. That is why it worked. This is shown in the movie when King meets with two SNCC organizers and asks whether Sheriff Jim Clark in Selma was more like Commissioner Bull Connor, whose men had been caught on film brutally attacking protesters in Birmingham the year before, or like  Police Chief Laurie Pritchett, who had effectively defused protests in Albany, Georgia, by adopting a restrained policy toward the protesters. John Lewis responds that Clark was more like Connor, and that helped King decide that Selma was the right place to organize protests.

In the end, it was not the court case, or the peaceful protests, or the legislative process in Washington, that caused voting rights to move to the forefront of the nation's priorities in 1965. It was the first attempted march, the one that barely made it across the Edmund Pettus bridge before being met with horrific police violence, that shocked the nation into responding. It was violence that prodded the legal and political system into putting the laws in place that ultimately bring a measure of justice needed to reduce that violence. And it is the tension between the deliberate use or provocation of violence to achieve a movement's goals, and the desire to use the law to create a more just and peaceful solution, that creates much of the thought-provoking drama shown in the movie Selma.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cedar Falls

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Free community college, part 2

Before people start getting too excited about the reported $60 billion price tag for President Obama's proposal for two years of free community college, let's see if we can make that number more meaningful. Sixty billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. Usually when critics want to complain about some government expenditure or another, they start describing the size of the stacks of hundred dollar bills it would take to add up to that amount. I for one don't find those kinds of comparisons very helpful, however, because they don't translate the overall expenditure into each person's share. So let's keep in mind that since there are more than 300 million of us, each of us is only being asked to cough up a small percentage. Let's remember also that the $60 billion is over ten years, so the actual cost is only an average of $6 billion per year. That is about $18 per year for every man, woman and child in the United States.

If that still sounds like a lot (maybe you have a big family), let's try a few other comparisons. Americans reportedly spend nearly $60 billion per year (that's ten times the cost of the community college program) on our pets. Do we care at least one-tenth as much about having an educated work force as we do about our pets?

Americans spend over $2 billion per year on Halloween candy. I'm not saying this is not a worthwhile investment. Dentists especially obtain a huge multiplier effect from this expenditure. I'm just pointing out that for one holiday every year we all run out and purchase the equivalent of approximately one third of the cost of providing free community college to everyone who wants to go for two years.

We spend about $11 billion per year on bottled water. Imagine if we could give that up; we could pay for almost four years of free community college for everyone who wants to go, and we wouldn't be any the poorer.

Almost $100 billion on beer, $7 billion on ATM fees, $11 billion on coffee, $34 billion gambling. The list goes on and on.

When I start seeing a lot of complaining about these kinds of expenditures, then I will start to take seriously the complaints that we can't afford to provide free community college for people willing to work for it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Free community college

Thursday, January 8, 2015