Monday, November 29, 2010

The Impossible Task (continued)

Today's must read is literally a probing piece of work by Christopher Hitchens at Slate.

If our country keeps going the way we're going, we'll voluntarily give up all our liberty with no security to show for it, thus completing Franklin's quote quite neatly.

We're sitting ducks for those who know how to expose our weaknesses, and we demand to be made so. We're going to continue to breathlessly exhort the government do the impossible, and in our next breath we'll complain that when they do what we demand of them, it pisses us off. Our media and political castes will continue to focus on who is to blame for the last meltdown, and why we should demand more sacrifices of liberty for less temporary security.


Setec Astronomy

I think a lot of people take for grated the changes we've experienced in the information age. Even the little things are different now. Remember when you had to come up with a time and meeting place before you left the house? These days you can just call when you're almost there. How about when TV lacked the ability to continuously overlay sports scores on the game? I remember loathing having to wait until commercial break to check the score of a game I started watching late. Information is everywhere. One of the nasty side effects is that you can't keep secrets anymore. If more than one person knows it, sooner or later everyone will know it. Copying information is trivial. Information can't be stopped. I just hope our State Department learns this lesson sooner than later. They can go after the people responsible for the leaks and they should, but they're not going to stop this sort of thing from happening. Wikileaks is the future. We all need to adapt. James Bond has nothing on an insider with a thumb drive.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hate Week III

I don't care about the record, I'm still thankful to be a DAWG.

Today, I am thankful that I graduated from a storied Southern university whose three main rivals are Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. This is a gift that keeps giving year after year after year.

Because there might (arguably) be better rivalries elsewhere, perhaps those more important to national championships, or those containing more vitriol for rival fan bases.

But you couldn't manufacture a more divergent in-state fanbase comparison than Georgia vs. Tech.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Katrina Defense (continued)

Just when you think the Henry Glover case in New Orleans couldn't possibly be worse. Now, I haven't seen evidence to verify this scenario, but this could...hell.

I don't know what this would do. I don't even have words for this event at this point. That such a scenario is even open to consideration based on the current situation we know about tells you just how crazy the world can go at any time.

Go, read that link, and be thankful today for every good thing you have. How quickly it can all be taken away.

(HT: Jeffrey.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The War on Reality

Unsurprisingly, Christmas is "winning" the "War on Christmas" in America.


So a nation where roughly 80%+ of the population identifies as Christian was worried that...


No, wait. Gimmie a second.


I'm so glad all those poor, oppressed, Christian people in America are finally strong enough to exert their demographic influence by expecting private institutions to cater to and respect their beliefs.

Because, really, this utter culture war nonsense "War on Christmas" has been so overblown by right wing douchebags successful, I'd almost forgot there was some sort of holiday coming up. You know, after this week's holiday. I have literally been wondering where all the Christmas-themes have gone from Novembers and Decembers in our culture.

But thanks to Bill O'Reilly's book revenue and the American Union of Folks Unhappy Laws Tolerate Un-Religious Dissent (AUFULTURD), our beautiful nation (sniff) can get back to the business of ramming our religion down the throats of others celebratin' the birthin' of the baby Jesus by buying a bunch of crap on credit. SOoo-ie, PIG!


And no, there wasn't any way I could respond to that news in a reasonable, mature manner.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Great New Orleans Water Crisis of 2010

Pistolette sums up why this is so infuriating.


Making Groceries: Boulevard vs. Lakeview

Commentators over at Flagpole have been unexpectedly against opening up a neighborhood grocery in the Boulevard area. Those folks seem to think the proposal includes dropping a 40,000 square foot Kroger with 100 parking spaces out front, and they're panicked that it will increase traffic in their neighborhood when the idea is to increase walkability. There's apparently some confusion as to how such a grocery would help increase bicycle access to the city, but that's another topic for another time.

Hell, one commentator is terribly upset that I've commented on the issue because I no longer live in Athens.

Keep that in mind when you read about how important a grocery store on Harrison Avenue was to the Lakeview nieghborhood of New Orleans.

Of course, there is very little to compare Boulevard in Athens - a hip and historic in-town neighborhood, to Lakeview in New Orleans - a neighborhood coming back from the brink of catastrophe. Lakeview residents didn't have any grocery stores nearby, accessible even by car, for several years.

But options have opened up for Lakeview recently, with the Robert's market and the Rouse's at Mid-City. Though both required getting in the car and making an inconvenient drive. One point of note is that, it takes roughly the same time in a car to get from Boulevard to their surrounding full-service groceries (though they have many more options).

Again, the priority for New Orleans' neighborhoods is to have somewhere close by:

"The fresh produce is a big draw, but there are a lot of prepared foods that make it easy on people if they don't want to cook," she said. "And I think they're trying hard with that little cafe to make the store a neighborhood meeting place, where people can relax and visit with each other."

The "cafe" is Harrison Cove, a small restaurant with outdoor tables at the Memphis Street end of the store. It has a separate entry from the main store, in case a shopper just wants a sandwich and drinks instead of rotisserie chickens, bakery goods, wines and food staples.

But who wants a convenient grocery and cafe that they can walk to in their own neighborhood? Not a lot of the folks dropping comments at Flagpole, that's for sure. Luckily, the way Athens has trended (at least since I got to know the place in 1996) towards more walkable neighborhoods, more pedestrian and bike-friendliness, and more progressive urban ideas, it is obvious that the Flagpole commentariat is not representative of the whole.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Impossible Task

Because people want the illusion of safety, not actual safety.

Because people want convenience, but blame others when something goes wrong.

Because other people are terrorists, not me, and the security people should know that just by looking at me.

That's why the terrorists got their box cutters onto the planes on September 11, and did what they did. Our system, at that time, was accomodating to encourage travel.

That's why afterwards, many Americans wanted to create a government agency to provide perfect security on airplanes. Even as perfect security is impossible. Every lapse in security since then has been made into a political circus and a media emergency.

That's why we have a color coded system of terrorism warning.

That's why, during these 9 years, Americans have complained loudly about participating in providing security on airplanes. And that's why, after 9 years, many Americans are losing their minds about the TSA.

Because they were not able to carry out the impossible task we asked them to do without our cooperation. Do this, we tell them, without our help or patience while we complain about it when they succeed and when they don't.

The government cannot handle everything, neither can businesses, so our expectations need to be reasonable. Political leaders and the media, instead of promising the impossible, need to assist in tempering expectations with reality. And Americans need to realize that, while they have the right to travel, when they get into a vehicle of any kind that can be turned into a speeding implement of death, they have to abide by whatever rules and regulations they demanded the government set for travelers in the first place.

So, what's it going to be, America? Essential freedom or temporary security?


Friday, November 19, 2010

Republicans Heart Nuclear War

We should be making t-shirts.

That's one easy-to-dust-off message President Obama could use considering the GOTP's opposition to continuing START treaties begun under former President Ronald Reagan. Of course "the Republicans want the Russians to have plenty of nuclear weapons" argument is phrased in a needlessly inflammatory and partisan way, despite its veracity.

Which is why President Obama hasn't said word one about why the START treaty is important, despite his prioritizing it before the next Congress. Remember, folks, standard Democratic definitions of "bipartisanism" inlcudes "let your political rivals define the debate, say whatever they want about you, and refuse to vote with you for any reason, while you try to compromise with them." While telling it like it is might merge traditionally sound American foreign policy with traditionally sound American politics and make a lot of Republicans look like numbskulls during the process, the Democrats would rather sulk around as if the START treaty was something to be ashamed of.

Even toning the message down sounds something like this:

Russia still has a massive strategic nuclear arsenal with pretty much the exclusive goal of being able to devastate the United States and kill pretty much all of us. For 15 years we had pretty robust right to inspect their arsenal many times a year, make sure they only had as many as they were allowed under our treaties and actually get up on the delivery missiles themselves and look at the payloads? Now we don't. In fact, we haven't since December 5th of last year. At first that wasn't that big a deal. Not much can happen in a few weeks or few months. But now it's been almost a year. So all that trust but verify stuff Ronald Reagan was so into? Well, now we can't verify. And for as much as you're worried about some Muslim guy blowing up a plane and killing a few hundred people, these are weapons designed to kill hundreds of millions of people. Do you feel more secure knowing we're just taking everything on faith from the Russians? Or that our intelligence on their missile designs and practices is growing older by the day?

Maybe the GOTP is taking former President Bush's lead, looking into the eyes of the Russians, and determining our foreign policy based on faith alone. Hell, the more reasonable message you can derive from GOTP obstruction to the START treaty is fairly politically devestating.

But Democrats never waste an opportunity to lose to the GOTP on political matters. Especially when it requires capitulating on sound, bipartisan policy matters decided decades ago. As a matter of fact, the Democrats are so into losing elections to the GOTP, not only have they refused to sell the START treaty (that really sells itself), but they decided that Nancy Pelosi should still be in charge of the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Who knew that Karl Rove's strategy to build a permanent Republican majority included throwing 2006 to a bunch of Democrats who would volunteer for electoral meltdown?


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sarah Palin: The Straw Lady?

I've asked this before and I'm going to expound on it now: What exactly does Sarah Palin have to do with the Tea Party? One day Santelli is talking about dumping derivatives in a big Chicago Tea Party and a few months later Sarah Palin is out there anointing people as Tea Party Candidates. What does one have to do with the other? I buy this whole conservative resentment at all things Two-Party-related since economically Congress tends to be representing left and lefter ever since 2002 or so. But I never really bought that a running mate of John McCain would be the catalyst for turning that resentment into election results. But there's her face plastered all over the Tea Party movement. And the Tea Party did pretty well for itself. But then I noticed something: none of the candidates Palin heavily campaigned for actually won. Angle, O'Donnell, Fiorina, and it looks like even Miller lost. Her campaigning-for-others track record is worse than Obama's.

I get that she has done her darndest to co-opt the Tea Party and gain some momentum for herself. She's talking Presidential campaign and is even getting a bit belligerent as of late. But her victory lap looks more like a trail of tears in an otherwise popular movement. I'm still not sure exactly what the Tea Party is, but judging from the election results, it's not Sarah Palin. At best she's an embodiment of what's wrong with the Tea Party instead of what's right about it.

Making Groceries (Continued)

Oh, the places you'll go and the people you'll meet. I've lived in both Athens and New Orleans for a number of years, and it always amazes me how differently they'll deal with the same issues.

Like grocery stores.

New Orleans has a grocery store problem. First and foremost, there are large swaths of this city without any grocery stores whatsoever. You have to travel to get food. For many of our residents, that means taking the bus or calling up a friend or family member who has a car.

If you are lucky enough to live in neighborhoods that have access to groceries, you still have limited options. Some neighborhoods have small, neighborhood scale shops that do a lot of things. You can walk or bike to them if you live nearby, and while your selection may be smaller and your prices may be a little higher, you can still make groceries without going too far from home. Some neighborhoods have access to large, supermarket-style grocery stores - and most of these are planted firmly within walking distance of large populations.

Living in Mid-City, I have a choice of where to spend money on groceries. On the commute home? On my bike? Do I walk? Which store do I choose? I have options, and this makes my neighborhood a very desirable place to live.

Athens has a different problem in that they have plenty of large, full service grocery stores (about the same number NOLA has, at half the population) but few groceries that are both full service and neighborhood scale. When I lived in Athens, having multiple 24-hour supermarkets was a luxury I absolutely took for granted. But I had to drive to every one. Even when I lived on the East Side, and there were four major supermarkets to choose from, driving to the store was the primary means of getting it done. At the time I lived on campus, walking to the grocery store, or even taking the bus, required long trips through neighborhoods that were less safe for college students. When I lived off the Atlanta Highway, there was simply no effective way to walk or bike to get groceries. Because I spent so much time driving from place to place, I eventually just moved to the country in Oconee County, where at least I could walk around on the acerage.

In comparison, I prefer the New Orleans model despite the disadvantages. Things are set up here, we just need to add more stores. But walkability is one of those things that makes New Orleans special.

Checking out the comments thread to this post on how groceries are important to walkable neighborhoods, it becomes apparent that some folks aren't aware of what "walkability" means. The Boulevard neighborhood is "walkable" if you mean getting home from downtown, going out to eat, or walking your dog (all important things). Hell, if I ever move back to Athens, that's likely the neighborhood I move into for precisely those reasons. But if I'm driving to Epps Bridge or Alps every week to make groceries, it ain't a fully walkable neighborhood.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Failed Expectations

You remember that, back during the Health Care "debate" the House GOP invited President Obama round to their retreat up in Baltimore? I guess they expected something different to happen, because they're now saying the President ambushed them.

"“The Baltimore thing was unbelievable.” It was so bad, that they had to call a do-over in the Blair House, and have now moved their first post-election summit from November until after Thanksgiving.

I guess they have to stay behind closed doors to get their story straight. It sucks to look like a dumbass in front of cameras to a national audience.

And if they need the time to organize their caucus correctly, and said so, that'd be one thing. But it hasn't escaped notice that they're saying something completely different.

Last time, the President ambushed them by being invited to their meeting, showing up and making them look un-prepared. In other words the President had a plan, he tried, and was ready to answer questions. Because that's what you do when you show up to meetings with other folks.

Except for the GOTP. I guess they just expected the OMG TEH EBIL SOCIALIZMS! they'd been telling each other about for years, and thought the President wouldn't really be able to speak without a teleprompter.

I guess the GOTP theme for the next two years really is "ITSATRAP!"


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Political Calculations & Bowles - Simpson

While we may be preculded from discussing the specifics of the defict commission's proposals, I can still talk about how it will be recieved, politically.

And you don't need any advanced degree to see how this is going to play out, all you need is to have paid attention since 1994.

Here's the calculation: the politics of this proposal were determined by the Democrats' reaction to it. Even though folks in both the Democratic caucus and the GOTP disagreed with it initially, the GOTP will now begin to erase any previous statements of dismay and focus on the Dems' outright hostility to the thing.

Even as the GOTP will "disagree with specifics" in the proposal, they are "at least" considering the long term problem of government spending itself into insolvency and leveraging debt on the backs of America's next generations.

The Democrats, and all their pundits, and anyone who agrees with them on any issue, will be responsible for rejecting this attempt at bi-partisan solutions out of hand. No one will pay attention to the many GOTP and right-wing folks who's knee-jerk reaction to this was also to reject it out of hand, because the Democrats are now the "Party of No."

See? It isn't the GOTP that is being needlessly hyperbolic and partisan! The Democrats are obstructing American progress, just like they always do! Now that the Dems have rejected what will eventually be called a fine attempt at bipartisan solution-finding, the GOTP will be free to take the bits and peices of what will eventually be called an excellent piece of bipartisan legislation that reflect only their priorities and try to make those into law.

The olive branch was offered, it will be said, and the Democrats roundly rejected it in favor of "business as usual."

Please note that this entire scenario would be exactly opposite if the Democrats had come out immediately in favor of Bowles - Simpson. Then, this legislation would reflect the most egregious socialist reconstruction of United States debt structure in modern history. It would be a brutal and out-of-touch attack on the American Middle-Class. The American People (tm) would spend a great deal of time talking only to their Republican and Tea Party representatives expressing dismay at the proposal.

This would be especially true if President Obama had been in favor of the proposal.

What makes me really angry about this, as a Democratic voter, is that the GOTP is already moving to own this debate. Their plan was to own this debate, no matter which way their calculations took them. The Dems, on the other hand, offered up a few various opinions, heard that everyone disagreed with it, and thought that was it. They are now sitting in a chair, back turned, thinking everything is over, unaware of the approaching baseball bat behind them. It is like watching a horror movie sequel. Because this happens again and again.

They will be needlessly confused and split when the inevitable hit lands. The first look on their face, after searing pain, will be "we're still talking about this?" Once they figure out what is happening, and they scramble for a response, the GOTP and their media machines will have already set the terms for the debate, and again Democrats will end up defending themselves against some sort of deficit-death-panel narrative that makes no sense.

(Which is also why I don't think Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid should be in charge anymore. The Democrats haven't even gaveled out this session of Congress, and already the next group of GOTP lawmakers are being given a substantive political victory on a policy they half disagree with. If that doesn't encapulate the whole experience of being a Democratic voter in this day and age, I don't know what else does.)

Bonus Calculation: If the GOTP does get parts of this legislation passed, and the President actually signs it, it will happen only because Obama is "trying to fool The American People (tm)" and "biding his time" to spring his socialist trap after re-election. (OMG TEH SOCIALIZMS!)


Fruit of the Poison Tree (Updated)

The UGA - Auburn college football rivalry is one of the oldest and most storied in the sport. I've had a fine time in the past when I have tailgated with Auburn fans, and every two years, when this game is played in Athens, it is an event almost without parallel.

This fun, evenly matched rivalry was what growing up in the South is all about. It was one of my favorite things about college football. Even with a history of questionable, and dare I say, dirty plays, that have been an undercurrent of the game in the past, it always seemed that was a part of playing Auburn.

Until last Saturday.

Maybe this is a result of excusing unacceptable behavior for too long, maybe it is just a panicked reaction to Alabama's success of the last 3 years, but this got out of control. I think the Auburn players, coaches, and fans have absolutely poisoned the well this year, and I'm not even talking about the big controversy. But from the dirty play and fighting to their coaches cheering it on to their fans excusing it after the fact, a corner was turned here.

This game is going to burn bright in Georgia's memories for a long, long time. Much longer than two timeouts.

Which is a shame, really. This was a better rivalry than that.

Update: Thanks to Ryan, who sent me an email link to this post, which pretty much has all the video and photo evidence you'll need to understand what I'm talking about.


Monday, November 15, 2010

The VRA & the Gerrymander

Lest we forget what role gerrymandering will play in Karl Rove's vision of a permanent Republican majority, they don't have to do much when the Democrats will do it for them.

During the 1990s, for instance, DoJ used its behind-the-scenes power to
push states to draw majority-minority districts. These efforts led to a dramatic
increase in the number of black and Latino legislators in Congress—and perhaps
to the election of more Republicans. Majority-minority districts tend to
concentrate Democratic votes, thus reducing the party's influence in other parts
of the state.

And let us never forget that concentrating votes on partisan lines, no matter how legal, effectively disenfranchises people who live on the wrong sides of the lines.


A Swing & a Miss

Thoughts on the Beyond the Ballot Conference by a Traditional, Just-Left-of-Center Southern Democratic Voter

First of all, the many thanks to the Bipartisan Policy Center for putting on a great conference. The panels were smart and to the point, the moderators asked probing questions, the panelists were all expert-level analysts in their field, and questions from the audience were (for the most part) outstanding inquiries that were handled, moderated and answered well by the folks on the stage. This was an incredibly educational experience, and one that was made accessible to more than policy wonks or political hobbyists; there was a lot of complex material covered in a short amount of time, but it was presented in a way that made sense.

I hope they will host this conference in New Orleans every year.

I was also glad to see that there are folks with clout in Washington seriously addressing the structural issues of our current government dysfunction, especially the problems with the way our nation currently gerrymanders political districts and how Washington’s schedules diminish the professional atmosphere of government. The tone of the whole conference was collegial, professional and civil, exactly the things that don’t seem present in our larger politics and media today.

That being said, I do have some serious critiques.

“Beyond the Ballot” was billed as “brining the Beltway to New Orleans,” and they absolutely delivered on that. While there were a few notable exceptions, this was an insider’s conference. Now, make no mistake, it was supposed to be that way, and that was the billing. But that’s an awful lot of ex-Clinton and ex-Bush aides in one room. Furthermore, the overwhelming demographics of this group (mostly middle-aged men of Caucasian or Jewish ethnicity) just goes to show how monolithic political thought still is from that standpoint.

Now, I get that politics these days are overwhelmingly partisan in needless or hyperbolic ways, and I get that such can wreck the functionality of our governing and information institutions. But I also wonder how much worry over “bipartisanism” is just a macro fear of changing demographics? With changing demographics come changing politics and methods of communication.

Civility and principled partisanship are not mutually exclusive. I’m very glad Paul Begala made this point. At some point, you have to wonder how much of the conference was talking about partisan politics and how much of the conference was talking about civility. Bipartisanship does not always mean compromise on “principles.” It damn sure doesn’t mean “let the Republican or conservative panelists say whatever they want while the Democratic or liberal panelists concede points.” There were several moments where this was infuriating, because in our current political atmosphere, “bipartisan” has somehow come to mean one side “compromising” while the other side refuses to do so.

Luckily, there were a few panelists who refused to concede the conversation.

One notable concession was leaving the following narrative unchallenged: “Polls show that independent voters are closer to the GOP on principles and issues.” I would posit that polls show independent voters closer to GOP on GOP marketing.

Because while they’re important, “the wrong direction for the country” and “the government doing too much” aren’t principles or issues. When the polls get more specific, like extending the Bush tax cuts or repealing and replacing the Health Care law, independents line up with stated GOP positions at only 51%. When plurality is questionable within the margin of error, that doesn’t a mandate make.

Now, the polls examined at the BTB conference did show massive swings in independent voter support – waves for Democrats in 2006 and 2008, Republicans in 2010. What was never examined (at least while I was in the room) were the marketing strategies and political narratives that got the independent vote (which was stable, and nearly even, from 1992 to 2006) swinging in the first place. A cratering economy can do that. What was examined was the erosion of trust in either party to handle the economy.

Which I found surprising, considering the demonstrable nosedive we were in at the beginning of the Obama administration has been replaced by a steady economic uptick since bottoming out in those first few months. That voters would blame Obama and the Democratic Congress for an bad economy when said economy is in better shape in every possible way than when they found it is a testimony to how important marketing, advertising and narrative are to our culture and political discourse. Of course, as it was noted, the voters in 2010 were very different, demographically, from voters in 2008.

One audience member did effectively ask why the voters voted for Obama before voting against him. He didn’t phrase it that way, but he got raucous applause anyway.

Critique of the current President was ample, and that was the only place I heard discussion of marketing and narrative. Polls indicate: Voters thought he spent too much time on health care and not enough time on jobs. Voters did not like the bailout, the stimulus, or the automaker bailout; even though all of them have appeared to work, without outright nationalization as feared, voters are punishing those they feel are responsible. Analysts indicate: The President didn’t adequately tie all of these programs to job creation. The President ran on health care, made health care the priority, and then left it to polarizing figures in the Congress to argue about it for months. Can’t argue with any of that.

The concession came when a Republican pollster stated “voters elected Obama to change Washington, not to change America.” Zing! And no one challenged that.

Look. America has changed. America is changing. Fundamentally. One very good point made during the conference is that the American people are dealing with fundamental failures in almost all of our cultural institutions: government, business, education, religion and even sports. The only national institution in which people have faith is the military, and that’s not a very stable place to be as a nation.

That’s what is creating so much fear and uncertainty. The President is an embodiment of that change, but is not the source of it. Government can recognize and respond to these changes, or it can stagnate. Unfortunately, our history indicates we will choose to stagnate for as long as possible before something terrible will force us to accept reality. (Please see also: 1850, Compromise of; US racial History, 1877 to 1965)

Even with all the fear and uncertainty and change, America is not changing in the way the right wing, Tea Party and the GOP claim it is. These points were never challenged. As a matter of fact, there was a great deal of deference to the Tea Party.

The idea that politicians and the media are the institutions demonizing the Tea Party is a cognitive disconnect so deeply held I start to lose faith that this nation can survive it (until I read some history where we have, in the past, because people stopped putting up with crap). Folks, let me make this clear: the Tea Party needs no help demonizing itself. They do so whenever they are in front of the camera, the microphone, or communicating in any other way.
I wish we had an actual movement in this nation expressing libertarian, foundational views of this republic; I’ve long held that I may not agree with Ron Paul or Paul Ryan on the issues, but they are legitimately held positions that represent a legitimate understanding of history and economics, and represent a competing vision for this country’s future. I think there are some individuals who consider themselves “Tea Partiers” who believe that they are doing something similar.

The Tea Party I have seen is not that, however. In their own words, it has morphed into a Christianist, xenophobic and intolerant movement that supports high spending, government violation of civil liberties, religious oppression, endless war (Iran is next!), subsidization of the uberwealthy and unilateral foreign policy. Once they have enunciated those positions, they turn around and posses the historical amnesia to dismiss hard-fought American social advancements, and ascribe tyrant status to President Obama and Democratic members of Congress for “controlling every aspect of our lives” in ways that the government has done for decades, if not centuries. These aren’t new arguments, by the way.

Remember what the Tea Party explicitly thinks and states about people like me.

So color me surprised that so much was said about the Tea Party at a bipartisan-topic conference without mentioning any of that. Instead, there was a deep level of respect demonstrated as if the Tea Party has exhibited some sort of monolithic, coherent policy positions that Washington Republicans and Democrats must now take into their political calculus. The Tea Party wants things, and they want to oppose everything about President Obama. How will they react in the next two years if they don’t get what they want from the GOP or if the GOP attempts to find common ground with the President (it is possible)?

One of the things that was mentioned was "letting the air out of the tire" or "relieving the pressure" - that pressure being voter anger at government, specifically Tea Party anger - and how the GOP would A) try to do that to reestablish a type of order or B) try to keep the voter anger going and leverage it against the President. Of course, both come with risks and rewards. On the one hand, doing what the Tea Party wants might lessen the number of primary challenges to GOP incumbents. On the other hand, you've got to keep the base involved.

Of course, we've seen which track was taken over the past several years. Even if they didn't want to talk about it at the conference, I think we already know which direction they'll take. And that direction does not lead to more bipartisan solutions.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Finally, This

I'm not writing a thing about sports this week. Not one thing. But all the other blogs are doing it, and there's a lot of good stuff to be found in the "sports links" on the blogroll to your right.

Quote of the week goes to PWD at Georgia Sports Blog, for this little gem:

there are five people that you never want to see in your front yard:

1. Jim Cantore
2. An IRS Agent
3. An FBI Agent
4. Greta Van Susteren
5. Chris Hansen

If you've followed college football at all this week, you probably know why he's posted that list.

Go Dawgs!


And This

In refrence to the last election, noting the "issues" candidates campaigned on and analysts told us were important to voters, and in deference to the things voters themselves said was important to them; further recognizing how reverent so many individuals were on Veterans Day - why weren't the two wars America is currently fighting a bigger election issue?

That's a hard question, and they only get harder.

HT B Rox, who has an additional suggestion.



Because sometimes you just have to write down a list of things you think. Cliff sits on his porch on Veterans Day.


The Ugly Reality

While the mass media focuses on our national telenovela in Washington by kicking off the 2012 Presidential campaigns, the Fiscal Commission Co-Chairs released a proposal to address our nation's government spending woes.

My initial reaction is to view this with suspicion. I don't like the sound of a lot of things in that document, but they do seem to make sense.

However, the extremes on the right and the left seem to hate it, and are furiously agitating their followers to hate it, for entirely contradictory reasons.

Which only adds to this report's credibility, in my eyes.

(HT: The Daily Dish, which is all over this story, and the reaction)


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Celebrating Torture

If President Obama were the monster partisan the Big Lie Right likes to make believe he is, George W. Bush would be on trial right now instead of signing autographs on a book tour. That's just the truth.

And if you think hyperbolic, partisan rhetoric is bad now, imagine what would be going on if this Presidential administration (already out to destroy America, your children and apple pie if the right-wing is to be believed) had put the former Presidential administration (just some good ole boys, never meanin' no harm...) under inquiry for torture. Wow. I'd likely be dead in a gutter somewhere, killed trying to stop all the rioting as our nation tore itself to shreds.

Instead, President Obama and his administration refused to hold anyone in the Bush Administration accountable for a regime of torturing prisoners and then destroying the evidence of that behavior. Thusly free of accountablilty, Bush gets to run a victory lap, and admit to our Western allies and the rest of the world that he signed the orders to waterboard prisoners, among other forms of violent information extraction.

Waterboarding is viewed, by most of the Western world, to be torture. At least, it is when our enemies do it. When we beat our enemies at war, we get to prosecute their officials who waterboarded and tortured those under their control, after all.

But we shouldn't let our exceptionalism get into our own heads.

Dahlia Lithwick explains it like this:

The persistent failure to hold anyone accountable at any level for years of state-sanctioned abuse speaks louder than their words. It has taken this issue from a legal question to a matter of personal taste. What we choose to define as torture is now just another policy disagreement, like extending the Bush tax cuts or picking a caterer. This is precisely the kind of sliding-scale ethical guesswork the rule of law should preclude.

Luckily, this is America, and the only reason we think torture is outrageous is when we idealize our own history. It only violates the "idea of America." We only see this as an abberation because, like the Tea Party, we too have a mixed up notion in our heads that what happens these days is "bad" compared to that which has gone before us.

Let me break it down for you: This nation has done worse. Far, far worse. If you think this is the worst this country has done, you need to get over it. Historically speaking, the Sioux and Apache might consider waterboarding a little tickle compared to what they went through. Sherman may not burn in hell for torching Atlanta and Columbia, but he sure will for passing out blankets infected with smallpox to children.

You think "rule of law" precludes "sliding scale ethical guesswork?" You think that's something of an aberration to some great, justice-seeking American nation? Try this: Andrew Jackson, great purveyor of white-man freedom, once told the Supreme Court where to go and what to do with their decisions before he seized all Cherokee lands and property and made them walk from Georgia to Oklahoma, with inadequate food and clothing. Women, children and elderly, no exceptions.

They called this little act of Constitutional dismemberment and ethnic cleansing the "Trail of Tears." In response, an angry nation put Jackson's face on the $20 bill, named no small number of cities after him, and he got a nice statue right there in the middle of New Orleans' French Quarter. He is affectionately known as "Old Hickory" and an "American Lion."

I'll bet I get called "America-hating" just for bringing up those facts.

And while the wounds unsalved with justice fester for far longer than they should, we continue the march forward at such a rapid pace that we are able, as a culture, to forget and scab over those wounds of the past. Same as it ever was. This is just another episode in our nation's long, sordid history of morally repugnant behavior in a world filled with great nations who continually engage in morally repugnant behavior.

At least our nation has a saving grace - a sizeable portion of our population expresses outrage over our moral excesses. Slowly, over time, we try to move away from the evil that is perpetrated in our names. Every once in a while, we bend the long arc of the universe towards justice by appealing to the better angels of our nature. But mostly that arc is flat, and you tend to find Americans bashing someone's head against it. The stakes are high, and this demonstrates how high.

And no, I'm not trying to excuse morally repugnant behavior. I'm trying to put it in perspective. If you want to cut down on such behavior, you have to own the debate and shape the culture before the orders get signed. If you don't want people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez or John Yoo in charge of foreign and legal policy, you're going to have to do better than Al Gore and John Kerry. Try to shame the American voting population to see things your way at your own risk - they aren't listening.

One of the only reasons we get away with this stuff is because we tend to be on the winning side of things, and that gives us a grand historical luxury that is a cornerstone to our culture. One of the other reasons is that we are a republic, and the people must take responsibility for the actions of their government. Sometimes, the crime is petty enough that the stone throwers will line up (like the Clinton impeachment). Other times, the culture wraps its shame in a false bravado, attempting to justify the unjustifiable, hoping the next generation will get it right where we got it wrong.

While the next generation probably ignores the whole thing, thinking such things could never really happen in America. History repeating, and all that.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back to the Drawing Board

Georgia Democrats, after being effectively wiped off the map in the Peach State, are learning how to be the opposition party.

Strange that it took them this long to figure it out.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Beyond the Ballot: After Lunch Liveblogging

430PM As the conference closed for the afternoon, an proclamation was made that the City of New Orleans had declared November 9 Bipartisan Day. The proclamation was signed by all city council representatives.

3:30PM Politics of Crisis

Kathleen Koch moderating: During times of crisis, partisan politics are the furthest thing from the mind. National crises are what governments are supposed to do.

Lanny Davis: Country has a good track record putting asite partisan nature to respond to crises; September 11, Oklahoma City, Katrina and the Flood. But the focus also tends to be on scandal.

Koch: But does this country always get it right.
Hilary Rosen: Remember Katrina different than Lanny does. Bush was classic leader after September 11, CEO in shirt sleeves. Democrats were unforgiving after Katrina.

Koch: Dan is that what you were trying to accomplish?
Dan Bartlett: Political environment in Washington didn't allow much flexibility in 2005, but there may have been too much politization of the response. See also the Financial Crisis, parties came together, reluctantly, did what they had to do, reluctantly, and both got punished for it.

Koch: What is the lesson to be taken from bipartisanship being punished?
Paul Begala: It is more complicated. Sometimes you have to hold onto your partisanship. Wish the GOP had kept FDR from interning Japanese Americans in WWII. TARP could have been better constructed, even if the taxpayers will get money in the end, Wall Street made the most money.

Joeseph Cao: Everyone wants to help people, but scoring political points happens. During Katrina, Democrats took punches at Bush for inability to act. During the Oil Spill, GOP took punches at the President to make him look bad. Drilling moratorium was enacted by President and Democrats to appeal to interests on the left.

Koch: What responsibility does the media have to provide atmosphere where working together can happen?
Rosen: Media were unusually involved in Katrnia coverage; Anderson Cooper in the Convention Center yelling at Mary Landrieu. Television news makes journalists part of the story.
Davis: Difference between "media" doing fact checking and "internet media" that don't have to fact check items and can print anything. Ideological bias in all media organizations, but distinction between fact-checking and verification of facts. Reporters who get things wrong can claim "it was all over the internet" to publish the story.
Bartlett: Media pushed to get story out quickly, sometimes keeps fact checking from being done. Deal with own emotions, journalist emotions, sprinkle on partisanship and it makes ability to deal with crisis more difficult.
Begala: Different roles between media and officials.

Power cut out around that time, so I wasn't able to take notes. However, as the panel wrapped up, Begala did get in several zingers (shocker): The PATRIOT ACT and the Iraq War are examples of bipartisan behavior where he wishes Democrats would have held onto their principles more robustly. He also mentioned that if you want to go to a place where there was no partisanship, North Korea doesn't have anyone arguing over politics.

320PM Technicals...

Politics of Crisis panel coming up. This is the one I really want to see. I hope I'll have enough power to keep posting. The lack of outlets in the room is a real drag for people updating on their computers, even if I don't see many doing that.

I've seen several Twitterers, but the internet focus of this gathering seems to be on broadcasting the information via the internet.

As far as the handout materials, they are very helpful. The Program is a full glossy booklet with the schedule and participants, sponsorship pages, and participant bios with pictures. That way, you always know who is talking and why they are participating in the panel.

The internet connection to Tulane has been fast and easily accesible, as you can expect.

The room is much more comfortable now, as the crowd has been cut roughly in half. Though the AC is making the room very cold in the absence of the standing room only crowd.

220PM The Democracy Project

Specific ways to make a meaningful difference. What are the structural architectures of democracy?

Walter Issacson, Moderator: Growing up in New Orleans, it was one large congressional district. Hale Boggs represented the district, and had to appeal to different constituencies. After he died, and his wife stepped down from the seat, the district was split up by specific constituencies.

Looking at redistricting and civility.

Redistricting: Steve Case. Watched Washington deteriorate into hyperpartisanship. While partisanship is to be expected, it is noticably worse over the past several decades. Not much conversation outside specific interests. Most redistricting is about preserving incumbency, does not create exchange of ideas healthy to democracy.

Dirk Kempthorne: Local government is closer to people, and is most accessible. You can find your local officials in their coffee shops.

Dan Glickman: Politics is tough, hard, important business. Sometimes it has a mean spirit, and that's nothing new. But it is worse now. There are no incentives in the system right now to get people to work together, there is no push for people to find common ground. Mutual respect builds trust. Social engagement may get people to like each other, and that will tone down rhetoric.

Case: Redistricting is one of the critical issues. In the past few decades, districts have been a very precise science for preservation of incumbency. Incentivises extremes, coupled with cable, radio and internet, people talk past each other. More competitive districts will lead to more responsive candidates, appealing to diverse constituencies. Must use internet to spread the word.

Kempthorpe: Districts have to represent communities, can't just be drawn specifically to maximize votes. Can you come together after the atmosphere created by an election like the last one. Lincoln - Douglass debates were intense and expressing competing views, but were civil. Engagement has to be done in a way that is healthy for democracy.

Glickman: Has faced redistricting twice. Self-preservation is a big deal, even in politics. Politicians get to pick their voters. It has to be done in a more fair way. Voting Rights Act has required by law that minority voters cannot be intentionally diminished. Divisiveness of last election was so vicious because so many people are so uncertain of future and distrustful.

Issacson: To what extent is Gerrymandering causing the increased divisiveness?

Glickman: It is a contributing factor, but a bigger problem is the amount of money involved.

Kempthorpe: It also has to do with structure, families. Elected officials now leave every weekend; families don't live in Washington. Was once 3 weeks on, one week off.

Case: Political structures like this may sound soft and squishy, but these are real structural factors.

Glickman: The frenetic money chase is required of elected officials; it takes people away from people's work, degrades working relationships with colleagues.

Questions: Citizens United, how does it affect?
Kempthorpe: Believes in PAC's as a force multiplier for your industry.
Glickman: Problem is that CU made it that you don't know where you're money's coming from.

Question: Public finance?
Glikcman: I hope it doesn't take a great scandal to change things. One positive thing is that several candidates who outspent opponents lost. Voters need to be more civic-literate.

Question: How do you get rid of political stigma of living in Washington and creating collegial structure?
Kempthorpe: Ask the spouses, not the long time politicians. That way you can be a father or mother, while doing the people's work.
Case: If you hired someone, and they only worked a few days a week while living somewhere else, how good a job do you think they'd do?

Question: How do we as constituents to be cleaner and more fair? How from Washington leadership, and how from grassroots?
Glickman: Individually, everyone wants to do what we're talking about, but what are the incentives in the system to do things right? If the system doesn't work, open for 3rd party candidates.
Kempthorpe: Look at the poll numbers for both parties. Look at the poll numbers for institutions. If you're a leader, you have to work on improving your organization's credibility.
Case: Getting people to engage in these issues, galvanize voters. Redistricting - Iowa, Florida and California are already working on it. Will require engagement, and realize these are long term goals.


Hunger and electricity issues have caused me to miss the "Journalism or Entertainment?" panel. Of course, does that question really need to be answered, or is it just asked rhetorically? Though I've begun to think that media being some sort of unbiased, antisensationalist industry is probably a construct in any case, historically. Did we ever, as a nation, have news that was not entertainment?


Beyond the Ballot: Liveblogging

1120Am Right into panel. What Does Election Mean for Partisanship?

The room is still standing room only, but there are more empty chairs at this time. Power may cut off before panel is over.

There are 5 news cameras set up in the middle of this room. If they do host this conference next year at Tulane, they're going to need a bigger room.

Moderator - Key insight of 2004 Bush reelection is that independent swing voters were small group. Country was quite polarized.

Matthew Dowd: There is a "big middle" but the lack of political choices by party force a choice, and choice affects vote down ticket. That's why GOP national wave in 2010 ended up with hundreds of new GOP state legislators.

Because someone says they are a Republican, it doesn't mean they want all lower taxes, socially conservative for "smaller" government. In 2004, Bush represented only a small demographic of the country that he governed.

Most elections are nationalized. People tend to vote straight ticket based on national perceptions. Explains major swings that affect country from top to bottom.

Moderator: Is the Tea Party an ideological force, or is it a group of people in the middle? Kate Zernike: Tea Partier core not of independents, most identify as Republicans. Started out libertarian, but as it swelled, individuals came to it out of frustration not politics.

Moderator: What is the Tea Party and how suseptible will they be to leaders who work with Obama?

Todd Harris: GOP looks at Tea Party like a Doberman Pinsher, glad to have them around, but kinda terrified of them. Marco Rubio was able to win talking about changing Social Security. Anger will only intensify if GOP doesn't let Tea Party pariticpate in substnative way, "get some of what they want." If anger continues, it will affect GOP primaries in 2012.

Moderator: Nancy Pelosi stays on as Minority Leader, good thing or bad thing?

Steve McMahon: Complicated thing. Most sucessful Speaker in a long time, got everything they needed passed. Demonized by GOP, numbers reflect that. Deserves to be the leader, but numbers may keep her from being leaders. She will get reelected because she is strong. Even though GOP says it will be great if she becomes Minority Leader, she is tremendously effective.

Moderator: GOP weighted to South, now Speaker is from Ohio.

Ayers: Speaker from Midwest is a good thing for GOP (last speaker was from Midwest), demonstrates national victory for GOP.

Moderator: Does Obama need to change things by communication and keep going with agenda, or sit tight and let GOP make first move.

Greenberg: President Obama will learn from this and make moves; has already signaled that he will focus on economy. Obama has to have a narrative that tells voters where agenda is going. Instinct was to overcome bipartisan nature of Washington.

Moderator: Is Obama too insular with group advising him?

Greenberg: Every President has a change after elections like this. Dowd: President is in different, more problematic spot than Clinton. Clinton didn't have terrible economy, was able to correct. Obama will not be rewarded for management change if economy doesn't get better. Obama's destiny is tied into economy, like Ronald Reagan, but can't change 70% top marginal tax rates to affect change.

Moderator: If economy had been in even slightly better shape, would context of election be different?

Ayers: Thirty-seat losses are explained by bad economy, wipeout requires more explanation. Harris: Election was about Big Things. Vote was about fundamentally changing direction of entire nation.
McMahon: Panelists talking about President as if stimulus, auto takeover, bailouts, economy and job losses were something he chose to do, as if he campaigned on those issues instead of being left those issues by the GOP. (applause) Choice was Health Care Reform, was part of the campaign.
Harris: Obama also didn't campaign on allowing signature issues to Pelosi and Reid.

Moderator: Will GOP do anything, or will they sit and play for 2012.
McMahon: GOP is not going to try and get something done. Tea Party folks came with an agenda to say no, Boeher has been rewarded for saying no for two years. They aren't going to schedule votes to release the pressure on culture.
Ayers: Independents expect some kind of action to address problems facing this country. Republican voters are more adamant about sticking to core principles, but Independents closer to GOP core principles.
Morris: Are the leaderships (GOP, Obama) going to pay attention to small demographic, political sects on both sides, or are they going to listen to voters and get some things done. Independents want something done, but don't have megaphone to do so. Will be minor, loudest voices in GOP.

Moderator: Is there tension in Tea Party to get stuff done by cutting government?
Zeinike: Tea Party isn't party, it is state of mind. TP candidates want gridlock, some TP voters want government rollback, others want gridlock. Voters for Rand Paul want to change Washington. Tea Party not monolithic.
Greenberg: Polls show 2 to 1 that voters want government to work together, while GOP voters claim 2/3 that focus should be on principles. GOP and Dems will need to pass something to show country still governable, President still has opportunities.
Harris: Enough adults in Washington to get things done so Tea Party can vote the way they want.
Ayers: Tea Party movement is fundamentally economically middle class folks who feel fear and frustrated. Truly believe people in Washington are just not listening to them. They are not children, they are not blind to choices. Saying they don't want country to keep spending children's money.

Moderator: Would those voters (and politicians) welcome government shutdown.
Ayers: They want government to work effectively to address problems that affect them, aren't into symbolic behaviors like government shutdowns.
Harris: Rubio said during victory speech that election was GOP second chance. Not being put back into power because people love us.

Moderator: Is dismemberment of two party system a possibility, if voter anger continues?
Harris: Tea Party could marginalize GOP, voters could stop voting. GOP's best interest to get some things done.
Greenberg: Country could support a third party candidate, out of frustration. Lot of space for 3rd party movement.
Morris: Best thing for our system would be emergence of a new party, but more likely that parties will change. Parties change and adapt. Democratic Party and GOP are very different from even 60 years ago. Contingent on what happens in 2012. Voters have lost faith and trust in every major cultural and political institution all at the same time: government, business, churches, sports, etc.
Harris: Mistake to narrow third party to only Presidential election. If Meg Whitman had run as an independent, and didn't have to run as a Republican in California, she may have had better positives. Possibilities for independent runs for state and local offices.

Moderator: Is media an obstacle to acheiving results for American people and helping find solution, or is media only describing problems.
McMahon: Internet has changed everything, used to be four or five newspapers, 3 networks, reporting balanced. Viewership is way down. People are going to get news they agree with, people go to sites based on point of view. Nonbiased media has becoming less relevant.
Ayers: Rubio built a two-to-1 lead inside own party without running a single tv political ad.
Greenberg: Cable-driven, aligned media is an obstacle to bipartisan solutions. Major stories in print journalism affect issues.
Zienike: People are hungry for what is on own side. Try to create balanced material(conservatives think she's not objective, liberals think she's too objective), but people don't seem to be interested.
Harris: Total decimation of state press corps in state capitols is alarming. Candidates and stories are not getting vetted or written, and this is a disservice.

Power's about to flip. Be back after lunch.

1110AM Questions. Carville suspends "free speech," and demands questions come quickly, to chuckles from the audience. First question about Marxist Hegelian philosophy and is cut off.

Second question about minority vote. Marco Rubio will be a game changer with Latino community.

Third question: How are voters angry with Obama's agenda since he was elected for that agenda? Carville approves of question (to laughter and applause). Gillespe: voters were looking to change Washington, not change America. Voters angry that agenda isn't what they voted for in specifics. Greenberg: it is about attention on economy. Some is not real - young voters did not participate in this election. Polling is about who asnwers polls. Lot of energy for Tea Party and GOP.

Fourth question: why aren't there any African American Republicans, Democrats and Independents on the panel?

Fifth question: Four wolves and a lamb vote on what to have for lunch? (WUT?) Greenburg: Voter thought they were voting for change on economy and jobs; economic policies of President were not big enough, vision not big enough to explain what policies were about.

Carville's really on to keep the questions moving.

Sixth question: Are polls accurate when they don't interview very many people. Carville: this election had very accurate polls. Greenburg: real polls were accurate, shoddy polls were not. Ayers: if you do your poll well, you will get a lot of information.

11AM Wrapping the first Group. Ed Gillespe. Look at how independents line up with GOP. Issues about economy, jobs have to be created. The GOP has to tie everything they do back to jobs. "Finish the sentence," to explain how policies create jobs. That will help GOP keep independent voters.

Significant gap between elitist view of Tea Party and "heartland" view of Tea Party. Real staying power, Tea Party to remain engaged. Will be advantage to GOP. Maybe efforts to "demonize" Tea Party will stop, and media should recognize that Tea Party has real concerns.

(Of course, the Tea Party has done plenty to publicize their own demons HR)

1045AM Still First Group. Stan Greenberg.

Election was 1994 style wave. Big election, voters had a very big message for Democrats and President Obama. Voters very consious of what they were doing, wanted to take Congress away from Democrats. Unhappy voters, especially on economic matters, apparent Democratic inattention to the economy. Health Care diverted attention from economy, unhappy with lack of vision or message regarding why policies were being persued. Angry about partisan fights (and they blame the Democrats??? HR).

Back to having Reagan Democrats, lost blue collar workers, Democrats will have a long way back among industrial Midwest.

Have to be very careful about message. This was about Democrats. Standing of GOP was no higher than GOP in 2006 or 2008. Democrats crashed down to level of GOP. This isn't about liking the GOP.

Issues specific to election:

Seniors participated in this election, with a 7 point rise; young voters dropped out. You can't assume this electorate behavior will be repeated. Young voters will be back. Seniors worried that Health Care will affect Medicare.

"Conservative" ideology election; Democratic President (Clinton/Obama) first two years create backlash. Tea Party a big part of turnout and GOP surge. Historically, this can play out in many different ways.

Mandate: Many things that produced this landslide call election into question almost immediately. Electoral demographics will change in next election. Young voters, single mothers, senior turnout.

Deficits and austerity. Voters believed that Democrats spent too much and ran up debt, but that should not be interpreted as support for austerity budgeting. "More" or "less" government is close to an even split. 52% of voters wanted government to fight corporate interests. Support for spending on internal investments. Voters want to both address the deficit, and have a government that works.

Cooperation between the parties: message for all candidates is "work together and get things done." On virtually every question, GOP base wants GOP to fight for principles and to stop President Obama. That creates a platform for Democrats and restricts GOP freedom of movement.

Health Care: Only a small plurality wanted repeal and replace. Health care was not on specifics, it was on lack of focus on economy; process drove it. If GOP spends all their time on Health Care, they may lose favor with voters.

1030AM: First Group. Whit Ayers, Ed Gillespe, James Carville, Stan Greenberg. Bipartisan poll by Resurgent Republic and Democracy Corps. Several handouts from the pollsters were included in the entry packet. Releasing a combined poll. Full results here.

Whit Ayers:

Polling conducted on November 2, focused on 2010 voters, and those who voted in 2008 but not in 2010.

Wave last Tuesday was constituted by Independent voters. Swung 2006 and 2010. The chart is very explanatory, as 1998 - 2004 included similar independent voter trends. In 2006, the wave started, almost mirror of what happened in 2010.

Independents look far more like Republicans than Democrats on the issues. Direction of the country, 8 out of 10 independents think country is going the wrong direction; 9 out of 10 Republicans look that way. Most Democrats think country is going in right direction. Three-quarters of Democrats think government should be doing more, Independents and Republicans think the government is doing too much. President's approval looks similar.

2012 Presidential Election: 50 - 40, generic Republican vs. Obama. Independents prefer generic Republican by 2 to 1.

Tax Cuts: 51 - 40 percent of independents want to extend Bush tax cuts.

Health Care Law: 51 - 49, independents oppose. Nearly 60% want to repeal and change Health Care. Overwhelming majorities believe Health Care will increase premiums, taxes, cost of health care, the deficit, and hurt the quality of care. Independents reflect this view at the ballot.

Trust: Independents trust GOP more than Democrats more than 2-1. Taxes, government spending, deficit, and economy.

Democrats only trusted more than GOP on education.

Completely different climate, politically.

1020AM: Jason Grumet, President of Bipartisan Policy Center is giving a welcome and breif history of the Center. Purpose is to bring together a kind of dialouge that allows nation to address problems. Many thanks to James Carville and Mary Matalin, as they are introduced.

Mary M.: Starts with a joke about James Carville's attire, he is decidedly casual, wearing what appears to be a purple, green and gold Perlis collared shirt. "Nothing wrong with being a proud, principled partisan." Partisanship is emotional because we love this country.

James C.: Wearing a Perlis shirt to support Louisiana seafood, "triple tested, safest in the world." (Applause) New Orleanians don't speak of quality of life, they speak of a way of life. "You're in a different place. We're proud of our otherness." Want guests to enjoy New Orleans' hospitality. Hopes this conference will continue in New Orleans.

Introduces first panel.

Standing room only at this point.

1015AM: Welcome and Opening Remarks

First of all, let me mention just how much paperwork and information I was given on my way in the door. Glossy programs, position papers, and printouts. One printout is a Washington Post article by Tom Daschle How to Govern in a Deeply Divided Congress.

Tulane Provost Michael Bernstein: Mentions degrading manners in politics, with "You Lie" and gubernatorial baseball bat concession speeches, refrencing the New York GOP candidate. Five years after Katrina, "in this town, its all about solutions."

Technical: If you're interested, you can follow the program by podcast online here.

10AM Packed house in the room at Tulane University. I see polisci professors, national media types and middle school kids, so someone's getting a good educational experience today.

I'll try to keep the updates coming (if anything interesting does happen), but there are a lack of available outlets in the room, so this may pause.

Coming up, welcome and keynote.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Lies > Truth

I was driving to work the other day when I heard Glenn Beck on the radio going on and on about how Obama's trip to India was going to coast $200 Million dollars a day. He was to travel with 3,000 people and 34 US Navy warships would be diverted to protect his entourage.

I'm sure some of y'all heard it, for it went all over the news for some time. This meme was picked up by Michelle Bachmann, a sitting member of congress, as well as Rush Limbaugh and a host of other right-wing talk radio folks and bloggers.

No one ever fact-checked this information. Because if they had done so, they would have found out that it isn't true.

The only thing they got remotely right was that the President was, in fact, visiting India. They are a huge trading partner and strategic ally. In the international status of realpolitik, we're going to need them to balance an economically and culturally rising China. But you won't hear any of that.

You can't unring a bell, and there will be millions of people all over this country that think President Obama just blew $2 Billion dollars worth of taxpayer money, and put the lives of Secret Service and military personell in harms way to go on vacation.

This is all land-of-make-believe stuff. It. Is. Not. Real. Repeating over and over again that it is real is nothing more than lying. But why should these individuals care? No one ever challenges their credibility, because doing so might lead to charges of "bias."

People can scream "Credibility Gap" all they want to about the right-wing, and it doesn't matter. Why?

Because the narrative being employed here has been so long-running, and is so deep and ingrained, that information about this President is not considered on a basis of credibility. The accuracy of information is judged solely on how such information affects the perception of the President.

Ergo: If the information makes the President look bad, the information is true. If the information makes the President look good, that information is untrue. The veracity, truth or factual nature of the information no longer matters. The only thing that matters is what the political goals the information will accomplish.

This is leading us to a bad, bad place.


Run It Like a Business

Low-income housing run like a business in a recession. An unfortunate and cautionary tale.


A Streetcar Named Atlanta

It may not change much. It may change everything. But at least Sweet Auburn didn't have to get rid of an elevated interstate highway first.

Because then this might never have happened.


The Katrina Defense

Figuring out who is culpable for what happened to Henry Glover will be a case that rips the New Orleans community apart for the next several weeks.


Sunday, November 07, 2010

Lincoln Elected President

The whole of the North outweighed a deeply divided South. This contest, though hard fought, was never in doubt since the Democratic Party split in twain this summer.

And disunion appears headed for defeat all over the South. South Carolina and their quest for disunion be damned, Richmond and New Orleans go for Bell.

Thank the Lord the election passed quietly in New Orleans, you know this city's penchant for rioting and carrying on, especially when political matters are at stake. Hopefully, such news will repudiate the boldest of Fire-Eaters:

The general tone of public sentiment is consistent with acquiescence with the result. Many say they worked hard and honestly to prevent the election of LINCOLN, but now, as he is to be President, they will see all his acts carried out, and at every hazard support the Constitution.

Embittered feelings have already greatly subsided, and not a solitary disunion sentiment has been heard from any one. The Breckinridge and Bell men and the Douglasites seem determined to abide by the decision of the people.

It isn't the best of outcomes, but considering the alternatives, I think we'll get off light this time.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Let the Big Gerrymander Eat

I'm very glad the Daily Dish has taken an interest in this issue. Hopefully the more interest is generated, the more examples of this nature will come to light.

And when that happens, we step closer to more reasonable solutions.

Because it is high time we started talking about them.


Presidential Election To Be Decided in New York City

It all comes down to this, folks. We know what side the New York Times is on, that's for sure.

The attitude of the Republican Party is eminently national and conservative, -- and its success will do more to suppress the sectional agitation of the Slavery question than any other result. It seeks no interference with Slavery, -- but aims only to check its increase. Its candidate is an eminently just, upright and conservative statesman, -- pledged by his opinions, his declarations and his life against any invasion of Southern rights and any denial of Southern justice. The whole country has confidence in his honor and his fidelity to the Constitution; -- and that confidence will not be misplaced or betrayed.

After weeks of hearing from Lincoln supporters, this should come as no surprise.

I wish to have it settled that the Constitution of the United States is the safeguard and bulwark of all our interests, North and South, and not the President, from whatever party he may be selected. When the Constitution is violated, then is the time to resist, or to secede, if the violator cannot be brought to justice according to law.

As they say, it will take 40,000-50,000 votes in New York City to keep Lincoln from becoming President. I don't see it happening. He has swept the whole of the North, and we will have to wait to see how those Fire-Eaters in South Carolina respond.


Friday, November 05, 2010

Drawing Them Out

MSNBC front-pages the political consequences of Gerrymandering.

What alarms me the most is the casual nature at which this report discusses the ramifications of Gerrymandering. That, and the quick dismissal of the 2004 SCOTUS case that says Gerrymandering to protect incumbency or by political geography is legal. While some folks might pretend that issue into dismissal, Down South, we all know what that means.

Of course, the way we do things right now, certainly has its defenders.

More on this Here, and here.


Merit Pay & Students

One of the silver bullets proposed to fix education (so the people actually running it don't have to) is "merit pay" for teachers. This "plan" assumes that teachers with the best results should get the most money. This makes some sense in the oversimplified world where free-market solutions are misunderstood.

Of course, this plan basically accepts that some teachers are unworthy of real paychecks, and that all classrooms and school administrations are considered equal. Of course, we don't live in Utopia, so those factors come into play.

Chris McCreigt at Beyond the Trestle asks some other interesting questions:

Indeed, how would the relationship between teacher and student be changed when the student realized that his/her performance translated into the teacher's income? ("Come on Timmy, Mrs. Adams wants to eat peanut butter AND jelly this week!!!") Does the teacher become the manager and the children become the employees? Can the students go on strike? Can the teacher fire a student?

This is one thing I can't stand about the education issue as it is dicussed in this country. It has fallen into the underwear gnome theory of "running things like a business."

Step 1: Run schools like a business.
Step 2: ?
Step 3: Higher test scores!

The problem with this, once you dismiss the concept that most businesses fail in their first 5 years, is that school is inherently different from business. Trying to fit the round peg of school management into the square peg of utopian versions of free-market scenarios will not work. Your teachers will encounter obstacles beyond their control. Some administrations are competent where others aren't. Some systems are better funded, structurally, than others. Students cannot be "fired," even if some schools will attempt to do so.

And unlike businesses, where consumers can choose to participate in a market, parents cannot choose to unhave their school aged children. Those kids still have to go to school, whether a "good" school nearby is available or affordable.

That's why it might be a good thing to have "market" and "school choice." (It sure sells well, in theory.) But those choices should be based on school focus, such as choosing a school that focuses on creative arts, science & math, college prep or vocational prep. I can dig that. However, there should not be a market or choice based on basic school competency. And make no mistake, that's what we're selling now.

All schools should be held to standards of excellence and rigor by the governments (read populations) that make decisions for them. And I've got a way to structure a working merit pay system: pay teachers based on education and experience and time-on-the-job, like we do in most fields, and train your administrators in human resources management. That way, the folks in charge can manage their human resources, identify good teachers for promotion, identify moderate teachers for development and identify consistently underperforming teachers for dismissal.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

When Gerrymanders Attack

Unlike ACORN, the New Black Panther Party and mythical voting patterns of illegal immigrants, Gerrymandering is a real threat to electoral legitimacy in this nation. It depresses participation in the political process, protects incumbents and incentivizes political extremes. Just looking at the districts, as drawn, exposes incredible absurdity to the situation.

Yet, it is a situation downplayed by the political and media castes. You have to wonder why that is.

If you are interested in "taking back your country" or making any improvements to State or National political systems, you're going to need to educate yourself on this continuing problem.

Slate has an old slideshow on some of the more ridiculous districts out there, and the Daily Dish is taking note and displaying the evidence.

Thought most of the Dish information comes from readers writing in.

Now, before you get all up in my grill about how most of those terrible districts are represented by Democrats, consider this:

In Georgia, Republicans are complaining about Congressional District 2, because it is a competitive district, and the GOP candidate just barely lost. District 2 was created by the GOP legislature after they threw out the terrible districts drawn by the previous Democratic legislature. If you look at a a map of Georgia Congressional districts (PDF) you can see that District 2 was drawn specifically to concentrate black (ie: Democratic) voters and increase the access to suburban and exurban Atlanta (ie: white, Republican) voters to as many districts as possible.

Those of you not from Georgia may be questioning how that is the case, as district 2 is a big and contiguous bloc, with few -manderish traits apparent. Look towards the northwest and southeast parts of this district, and you start to see the proof in the pudding. Columbus, Georgia, the state's 3rd largest city, is locaded in Muscogee County (northwest). Valdosta, Georgia, a medium sized city with a large minority population, is located in Lowndes County (southeast). District 2 cleaves both counties in half.

Guess what neighborhoods ended up where. I'll not even get into how district 2 cuts down the Dougherty County line, dividing the city of Albany and this area's western neighborhoods away from the area's eastern suburbs (in district 8, that goes all the way up to suburban Atlanta, represented by a Republican).

So, before anyone gets into how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 isn't still relevant today, you don't have to look far to see why we still have to have it on the books. Because these Republicans, who designed district 2 to be the Democratic minority seat, are now complaining about district 2 being won by a Democratic minority vote.


Kill the Gerrymander

One unsung issue in this campaign season is the coming redistricting of state legislative and US Congressional seats. Many states complete redistricting after each 10-year census, as states gain or lose Congressional seats based on population trends. You know who gets to design the districts? Your state legislators!

Now, we've always had a problem with Gerrymandering down South, as establishment politicians traditionally attempted to dilute minority voting blocs. The idea was basically divide and conquer. One reason this nation enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to stop this sort of thing from happening.

While noble in purpose, the end result was simply Gerrymandering with more complex equations. Instead of dividing minority voting strength, these districts compacted minority voting strength, while taking party affiliation into consideration. This leads to populous districts concentrated along urban and minority voting patterns surrounded by suburban and exurban/rural districts.

(If I may be so bold as to exhibit the local examples of Louisiana Congressional District 2 and Louisiana Congressional District 1. Zoom in on the Mississippi River for the howler.)

This also leads to fewer legislative or congressional seats that are actually competitive. In many such districts, your primary election basically determines your office holder, and basically disenfranchises political opposition. This leads to our current situation where extreme views and incumbency are incentivized at the expense of pragmatic candidates. Our issues also become more polarizing, and our investment in the political process wanes - the political class and the media caste make their livings off this situation while the rest of us pay for it.

But two things happened Tuesday night that give me a big silver lining to hold onto. In Florida, voters overwhelmingly supported Amendments 5 & 6, which will take the redistricting process for state legislative seats AND US Congressional seats out of the hands of the legislature.

The new amendments require that both legislative and congressional districts be compact, equal in population and make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries. The amendments prohibit drawing districts to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.

Also, California voters continued their two year redistricting reform by voting for Prop 20 and rejecting Prop 27.

Proposition 20 would double-down on the still-forming citizens' panel, allowing it to draw maps for Congress too. Proposition 27 would scrap it entirely.

Of course, there are plenty of opponents and interests gathered against both Florida and California's proposals, and a lot of them are establishment Democrats who directly benefit from the current way of doing things. But make no mistake, sensible design of districts has a better chance of benefiting all Americans in the long run.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010


For the rest of the week, we're going to hear and read about how the Obama Administration "responds" to the GOTP shutdown of the US House of Representatives. Politico is examining some possible scenarios, but none of them touch on what the President, as leader of the Executive Branch, can do RTFN.

The Executive Branch is a co-equal branch of government. This involves many mechanisms that keep this country moving, that the people complain about being too ineffective but really take for granted, and that the GOTP want to cut but won't say so.

This is why the President needs an implementation team to go over every responsibility of the Executive Branch and make them all run like clockwork.

His legislative team can spend the next two years coming up with whatever items they like, and it won't matter. This Republican Congress will throw them all away regardless of need or policy, because of their "OMG OBAMA TEH SOCIALIZMS" problem.

But get administration folks out of Washington to steamline and increase effectiveness of executive offices and programs, and voters might start seeing the value in having a government around. Build credibility, build trust, and tell people about what you're doing and why.

In my mind, it works something like this:

"Hello, I'm a from of the US Department of Education. The President wants me to take a first-hand look at your lowest performing schools, so we can see what we can do to turn them around. Test scores never tell the whole story."

That's where good policy will meet good politics, as promised in 2008.


Changing Nothing

I listened to Garland Robinette on the radio last night. He noted that it took 40 years for the Democrats to lose the US House in 1994. Then it took 12 years for the GOP to lose the House in 2006. This time, it took 4 years for the Dems to lose it.

If the GOP didn't get the message the voters were sending (and I don't think they have any more of a clue than the Pelosicrats), this could turn out to be a short term gain.

Which is pretty much the way it is supposed to work, if it needs to. That's one very underrated thing this nation's founders got right. The House is designed that way for a reason.

That being said, Cliff's election day post is giving me a lot to think about. He doesn't think this election is going to change anything, and he's right in a lot of ways. These are the same GOP folks talking about the same solutions that didn't work the last time they were in office. They got rid of a bunch of Democrats too beholden to big business and interest groups to actually change the things that needed changing.

Our nation is faced with fundamental decisions coming up in the short term, and while the Democrats might have given lip service to some of those decisions, they were defeated by a bunch of Republican candidates, Tea Party folks, and right-wing media who wrung electoral victory from the most hyperbolic and destructive narratives I've experienced in my lifetime.

Playing revolution wins when the decisions you have to make are boring and complicated. (Though I'd get really wonky and argue that the GOTP was more playing pre-emptive counterrevolution, but that's for another time.)

But those decisions will not be made from Washington, D.C. That is the point of this election. People don't trust elected officials from either political party to do what needs to be done. If the change comes from Washington, it will always be viewed with suspicion unless it works immediately, and anything that actually does get done can be demagouged to death by the opposing party.

That's the other part of Cliff's post:

I get much more excited about local elections than the national stuff because I feel like those folks have more of an effect on my day to day life. You can have one crazy mayor with a lot of power and cripple a city for decades. The federal government doesn’t really work like that.

Local elections have more of an effect on your day to day life. You also have much more personal influence at the local level, and your voice and participation is more valuable. If you want to "take your country back" from whoever you fear in Washington, there is a very good place to start.

And I think, with the state of the country, your participation will be appreciated.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Ready for 2012?

Because that campaign starts at about 10pm Eastern tonight, when all the returns come back and we find out how bad today really was for the Democrats.

Of course, winning big will teach the GOP the exact wrong thing: now they'll have a mandate to actively NOT govern the country. The biggest temper tantrum, when thrown in a vaccum, wins. Narrative > Facts. Their base will never hold them responsible for behaving badly.

Democrats will likely cower, and try their best to follow the GOP off the cliff to the right. Of course, no position taken by the Democrats, no matter how centrist or right-of-center, will be anything less than Marxist sharia law. This will continue to confuse Democrats as they can't get over the fact that the GOP exists in a state of permanent campaigning.

That being said, the Democrats are going to need to start permanent campaigns, abandon their losing reactions and start writing their own narratives if they want to have any chance of existing past 2012. There will have to be savage explanations and real challenges to these faux conservative marketing strategies.

Democrats are going to have to be angrier but smarter and more explanatory. Nothing can be taken for granted, and if clowns like David Vitter get to sleaze their way into reelection, the gloves have to come off.

It looks like at least one person with a website is ready for the transition.