Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hysteria Over Routine Bureaucratic Action
Let’s dial it down several notches and start with some facts.

The President’s recent administrative rule changes on immigration are neither an unusual use of presidential authority (Reagan and Bush both made identical changes on the same issue) nor do these actions make effective government action (on immigration or other issues) less likely in the president’s final two years.

So many talking heads get it backwards, arguing we should focus our anger at the president’s decision to address a long-festering problem.  But Gerson is correct to note that the president’s decision to adjust the rules promulgated by an executive branch agency, as every president does all the time, can be seen as sign that the president has ‘given up on politics.’ 

Who could blame him?

The other side has spent six years ensuring that no progress can be made taking the harder road of compromise.  The sound-bites have been played over and over, where Congressional leaders proudly announce that their strategy is to prevent the president from addressing any of the challenges we face as a nation.   Gerson argues the president is turning away from politics because he cannot handle the heat and does not want his own ideas to be challenged.  This is, again, backwards.

This president has consistently shown an enthusiastic willingness to compromise.  We know he has put on the table concessions that most in his own party do not support in order to get things done.  As Mann & Ornstein demonstrated in a bipartisan analysis that leaves those criticizing the president today looking like partisan hacks, there is no doubt where the source of the obstruction has come from.  It is simply not accurate to claim that ‘both sides are doing it.’  

In a context where one side consistently refuses to subject their own ideas to the scrutiny and challenge of doing politics, the executive would be irresponsible not to act.  The fact that the president has shown restraint in waiting six years is yet further evidence of his excessive willingness to do politics, to subject his ideas to challenge. 

But even when the president embraced Republican ideas in order to make politics work for Americans (individual mandate and carbon tax, for instance) the response has been, like the criticism of his administrative action today, to re-write history. Just like responding to the president accepting their own ideas with the charge that these ideas—their own ideas—are socialism, today the partisan obstructionist strategy is to blame the president for their own obstructionism.

The president’s action is actually rather unremarkable.  It is a testament to the power of the extreme right noise machine (and their dominance of the so-called ‘liberal’ media) that a routine bureaucratic action has come to be accepted by most talking heads as a revolutionary act by either a courageous or treacherous president, depending on your partisan position.

Since the track record of the past six years provides clear evidence that anyone would be foolish to expect comprehensive immigration reform to emerge from this Congress, after spending six years trying to partner with those more interested in demonstrating government itself is a bad idea, the president has finally taken action he could have taken years ago. 

He waited because he would prefer collaboration to create a comprehensive fix that can only be done through legislation.  It is not within his executive authority to implement a comprehensive fix, but he can adjust the rules to help hard working families and he did.

With no reasonable expectation that even embracing Republican ideas will lead to compromise, there is no rational way to conclude that the president’s action will make it harder to get things done, or that it increases polarization,  or will further stall stalled action on presidential nominees, or that it hurts the president’s allies. 

Will it further enrage the already irrationally hysterical far right?  Yes.  But being an alien socialist Muslim follower of a radical Christian preacher does that, so there is clearly nothing in the realm of the reality that this president can do to prevent their hysteria.

It was long past time to act.  The action was routine and inadequate only because Congress refuses to act.  The hysterical reaction is the best evidence that politics is broken, because it shows serial obstructionists within the government crying foul over the idea that governments can act effectively to address problems.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Courage to Be Christian 
The Pope's gentle humility and insistence that we can do better in our efforts to love our neighbors as ourselves sent shock waves through the Catholic community again (though what is deeply disturbing is that this message would send shock waves through the Catholic community).

Pope Francis has now taken a strong stand in favor of banning the death penalty and life imprisonment.  Further, he 'denounced what he called a "penal populism" that promises to solve society's problems by punishing crime instead of pursuing social justice.'

This puts Pope Francis and Michelle Alexander on the same a book we all need to read!

'Using techniques similar to those of racist regimes of the past, the pope said, unspecified forces today create "stereotypical figures that sum up the characteristics that society perceives as threatening."'

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Protect Family Values or False Equivalency?
For all our talk about the importance of family values, recent data demonstrating that middle class parents increasingly lack the resources needed to raise their children should be of primary concern to our elected officials and candidates…yet there is a stunning silence on these questions in this campaign.  Perhaps because our campaigns and elected officials are increasingly dominated by those who hate government?

Data from the Center for American Progress demonstrates that middle-class families are increasingly squeezed economically such that ‘parenthood’ has become unaffordable.  While too many of our elites like to dismiss the idea of it taking a village, they are advancing a political-culture that is undermining even their more limited view of ‘family values.’ 

Middle class parents are “caught between stagnating wages and the exploding cost of basics like housing, health care and children’s education.”   The cost of childcare has risen “nearly tenfold” since the 1960s.  “Most families today don’t have enough saved to meet basic needs for three months, let alone save for college or retirement….”

“Higher-income families spend six times more than working-class families on child care and educational resources, such as high-quality day care, summer camps, computers and private schools, which are increasingly indispensable investments in long-term success. This spending inequity has tripled over the last four decades and is only accelerating, which is likely to widen the achievement gap, creating a vicious cycle.”

At the same time, our leaders continue to abandon public schools, the social safety net, successful programs like Head Start, childhood health care programs, and living wage jobs…widening the inequality and class divide in America to redistribute opportunity upward.

David Lauter, from the LA Times, reports on recent data from the Pew Research Center.  Perhaps this can help us figure out why the most pressing conflicts described above are taking a back seat in this election to empty posturing and distracting hyperbole.

Lauter begins with this conclusion:

“Die-hard liberals and down-the-line conservatives have segregated themselves into strikingly different news universes, relying on sources of information that often reinforce their views and discussing politics mostly with others of like minds, according to an in-depth new study.”

On the one hand, it is not news to learn that many of us listen to and talk with friends and family in our daily lives who largely share views remarkably similar to our own.  The Pew Research Center project demonstrates what Fiorina had shown earlier, that this polarizing tendency is more prominent among the very few of us who qualify as the most politically active Americans. 

The bulk of Americans remain much more moderate, but it is important to see that our most active and elite fellow citizens are increasingly polarized—meaning they see the other side not as fellow citizens with competing ideas, but as existential threats to America.  This matches our observation that Congress is paralyzed into inaction by polarization.

It is also not surprising to find that these ultra-partisans rely on different sources for their daily news.  Or that, for these ultra-partisans, the sources relied upon by their mortal enemies are deemed untrustworthy.  What is somewhat disturbing is that Lauter chose to frame this as ‘both sides are doing it,’ when the data tells a very different story. Lauter notes that,

“Nearly half of consistent conservatives (47%) named Fox News as their main source of information about government and politics…. [But] No single source dominates the audience on the left the way Fox dominates the right. CNN, MSNBC, NPR and the New York Times each were cited by 10% or more of consistent liberals as their chief sources of political and government news.”

As we would expect from the Mann and Ornstein analysis, this ‘both sides are doing it’ frame is both fundamentally misleading and a significant part of the problem Lauter is attempting to draw our attention to here.  Lauter goes on,

“Because of its ubiquity among conservatives, getting coverage on Fox has become crucial for Republican political candidates.  Among 36 news sources in the survey, including print, online and broadcast outlets, liberals rated 28 as more trusted than not, and conservatives trusted just eight, including Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk show host, and the online Drudge Report.”

So, the data suggests that conservatives have far fewer sources of news and that these prominently include sources that scholarly analysis repeatedly demonstrates are misinforming their viewers (Fox News, Limbaugh, and Drudge).  Liberals, on the other hand, have a much larger range of sources and nearly all of these fall into that ‘liberal’ category some call mainstream professional news organizations.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

LeBron on the Importance of Engaging in Conflict
“Winning a championship is a process and it’s not right now when you accomplish a championship, but it is right now where you create habits.” LeBron James

“You have to go through something in order to create a bond—for the worse. We have to lose a ball game we should have won. We have to get in an argument, just to test each other out. It has to happen. I know is it going to happen. A lot of guys don’t see it, but I see it. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to grow. You don’t define yourself during the good times. It’s the bad times.” LeBron James

Here we can hear LeBron speaking on a topic where he has lots of expertise: Winning and getting the most out of your talent to win as a team.

Like our coaches told us in high school, LeBron is embracing the paradox that to win we need to be intense without being tense, we need to see the big picture to focus on the immediate picture, we need to engage in conflict (rather than avoid it) because it through 'the fight' and through taking advantage of the minor, lower stakes conflicts that are inevitable that we learn the skills we need to win, to SEE what others do not see, and to build the relationships that make winning possible.

This is another reason it is important to SEE the ongoing struggle over the meaning of the law and to understand the dynamics of the conflict, including those parts of the dynamic that are not black and white but paradoxical, like we do not win championships now even though we do create the habits needed to win championships now.  It is and it is not, at the same time.  Insisting on it being one or the other might feel better, but is not a pathway to victory.  LeBron gets it spot on here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Counting on us not paying attention?
Those now loudly critical of Obama's choice of ebola czar are also those who have continually claimed the federal government has no place in health care.

Those now loudly critical of Obama's response to ISIS were delighted to invade Iraq when it had zero Islamic terrorism and was in-fact a strong force against Islamic terrorism to topple a government, waste billions of dollars of 'our money' and thousands of lives, and leave a nation so weak it is now the perfect incubator for the growth of ISIS.

Thursday, October 2, 2014