Monthly Archives: January 2010

S.O.T.U. (2:00 a.m. Edition)

A friend called me this afternoon and asked me if I intended to watch the SOTU, and I reflexively said “of course”.  The truth is, I wasn’t planning on it.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but perhaps the most important one is that I wanted to just chill out with the kids tonight.  We cooked a delicious dinner, then settled in with a movie.

That doesn’t mean I don’t care what was said, and what was proposed.  As is my habit, I got up in the middle of the night and read the full text of the speech, and these are the lines that resonated with me:

“To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.”

I couldn’t agree more.  But I have to add something that would probably not be a President’s place to say… that the deficit of trust extends beyond that between Govt and Citizen.  It exists between merchant and consumer as well, probably more so than ever before.  It exists between parent and teacher.  It exists between neighbors.  Some of this is a result of real, verifiable actions, but much of it is a result of a culture of fear and distrust that is perpetuated by those seeking to profit from it.  Until  we admit and address this problem, no meaningful change can occur.

“But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.”

My kids don’t know an America without deep division.  They are growing up in a world where everything is measured and proclaimed Red or Blue.  They were toddlers during the 2000 fiasco.  As small children, they ate dinner with the news on in the background.  They went with me to meetings and rallies, and they dealt with a houseful of strangers that stayed with us while we worked with MoveOn.  I’m sure that for most of their young lives, they just assumed this was normal, that every family devoured political news 24/7, and that every family lived and died with every soundbite offered from some pundit on the television.  I made a conscious decision to change that last year.  The first thing to go was television.  They haven’t missed it, not one bit.  (I struggled during football season, but some good friends Tivo-ed a few games and allowed me to come watch at my leisure.)  Anyway, a childhood spent listening and watching politics just didn’t seem fair to me, and I felt that it was taking too much of my time and attention away from them.  Bottom line:  Its been better for us at home.

“Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions”

“Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.”

Two things I’d like to emphasize:  We lack leadership everywhere, and people are starving for it.  I’m always surprised to read comments from people that assert our elected officials must represent their constituents by giving them what they want.  Thats the last thing they should do, if you ask me.  If that was the case, you could literally elect anyone to do this.  We need leaders who are not afraid to cast an unpopular vote and then go explain to their constituents why they did so.  That is leadership.

Poll numbers.  I hate them.  Most of the time, they are meaningless.  I’m not saying that they can’t be better, and some guys, (Nate Silver comes to mind) have really gotten good at reading the tea leaves.  But when elected officials rely on them to decide whats best, well, the old saying “look, there go my people, I must run ahead of them so I can lead them!”  is certainly applicable.

There were some great parts of this speech, and after reading it I was reminded why I was excited about Obama in the first place.  Even without the aid of seeing him deliver it, the speech was uplifting and, dare I say it….hopeful.

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Sappy

Can’t help it, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories…

Still, I’m glad cats aren’t the size of Volkswagons.

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Obsess Much?

Harold Ford Jr is kind of Liberal!  Discuss

Harold Ford Jr is kind of conservative! Discuss

Harold Ford Jr might support some kind of civil union!  Discuss

Harold Ford might not support any kind of civil union!  Discuss

Harold Ford’s dry cleaner is black!  Discuss

Harold Ford Jr seen talking to a white girl!  Discuss

Harold Ford Jr sneezed and missed the crook of his arm!  Discuss

Harold Ford Jr seen purchasing “I Love New York” T-shirt!  Discuss

Harold Ford Jr Tivo-ed a U.T. Basketball game!  Discuss

Harold Ford Jr an avowed heteresexual, but admits to having been “fristed” once!  Discuss

Harold Ford Jr can be shortened to HaFo!  Discuss

Harold Ford Jr not popular in Ohio 2nd.  Discuss

Meanwhile, is that Fred Thompson on my radio selling home security systems?

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Don’t Think Of An Elephant, Think Like An Elephant

Over the next few days, (hopefully not weeks) all of the political blogs and websites will be hashing out why the Democrats lost a Senate seat in a supposedly safe state.  Blame will be cast about with abandon, then predictably, the spinning will commence. There will be chaos for awhile, people will be sacked, reputations will be ruined.  I’m reminded of the scene in “Wall Street” when the boss, explaining his reasons for firing an under-performing broker says, “somebody has to take the blame, ain’t gonna be me.”  Maybe this is necessary, but I can guarantee one thing…if the ugliness and childishness I’ve witnessed within our State Party takes hold at the DNC, we will lose big next November.  However, our last Primary could have been a disaster, and though the process did in fact bitterly divide us, we managed to come together on Election Day and produce a landslide victory.  Quick…what did we  convince voters to support?

If your answer didn’t include the words Hope and Change, and only those words, you were wrong.

You know why I believe this?  Because the Right quickly began mocking it.  I saw a bumper sticker on a car last week that read “Hows that hopey changey thing workin out for ya?”  Take a glance at the Right leaning blogs and you will see that ridiculing the notion that hope and change are good things is a recurring theme.  Before long, you will see weak-kneed (Blue Dog) Democrats distancing themselves from the phrase as fast as possible.

I remember when Lakoff was all the rage among us Progressives.  In fact, I cautioned at the time that perhaps too much emphasis was placed on “framing” when considering ways to combat the Rove political machine.  I was concerned that Democrats would view framing as a magic formula, and that merely changing around a few words or coming up with a catchy slogan would somehow assure we could push back the ocean.  I argued that nuance was difficult but vital to our cause in the long run.

Boy, was I wrong.

Here,  Lakoff makes a compelling argument that the entire health-care message was bungled from the beginning.  Many of his assertions ring true, in particular that Axelrod, who oversaw messaging during the campaign, reverted back to “policy speak” once ensconced in the White House.  A 24 point plan is impressive, comprehensive, and quite probably necessary, but next to impossible to sell.  That policy speak has been the strategy for virtually every White House initiative, from the Stimulus to Cap and trade.  Lastly, and I think most importantly, that those in decision making positions as well as Liberal opinion makers have ignored or even dismissed the importance of the effectiveness of words on the human (American) brain:

There is a painful irony in all this and I am aware of it constantly. Highly educated progressives, who argue for the importance of science, have been ignoring or rejecting the science of the brain and mind. Why?

I’m certainly no scientist, in fact, I’m a salesman.  I’m a pretty good salesman.  In my old line of work, if you weren’t good or incredibly lucky, you starved.  It didn’t take me long to discard the cookie-cutter type of training I received and develop some tactics that were effective in the real world, which for me, was the parking lot.  Walking up to a total stranger on a car lot and then progressing to the point where they are signing documents putting them in significant debt for five years requires a certain, unteachable skill-set.  Language matters.  When I approached someone, I never asked if they needed help.  Why?  Because nine times out of ten, they will reflexively say no.  Its human nature.  People have their guard up when they arrive at your lot.  So, instead, I began to ask, “is anyone answering your questions?”  A “no” answer here creates a natural opening for you.  I never asked people if they had a trade.  Instead, I would casually inquire as to what they were currently driving.  This is called pre-qualifying, and you can teach the principle, but not the application thereof.

There is an episode of the West Wing that captures this idea perfectly.  An aide to the President is struggling with how to craft an argument against a Republican initiative to reduce the Earned Income Tax Credit.  He spends a great deal of time researching the policy arguments but finds it frustrating trying to garner support even among his West Wing peers.  Then, a media consultant tells him that his trouble isn’t his argument, its the phrasing, or, if you prefer, the framing.  Before long, he comes up with “the poor tax.”  Someone in the episode then declares, “I can sell that.”

We’ve tried appealing to voter’s best interests.  We’ve tried mocking.  We’ve tried endless debunking.  Perhaps its time to place less emphasis on accuracy and more on digestibility.  We certainly don’t need to scuttle Hope and Change.  We need to decide if we are going to listen to those who hob-nob with the hoi polloi on a daily basis, and who just might tell us how best to reach them in November.  Our opponents have an entire infrastructure set up to do just this, and they have a huge head start, but I believe we can close that gap in short order.  At least I can hope.

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We Are Lucky

7.0

That is an incredibly strong quake.  I was in High School when the Sylmar quake (6.6 on the Richter scale) happened, it’s epicenter was in the San Gabriel mountains and I lived mere miles from it.  I also experienced the Coalingua quake, which was actually more powerful, but the epicenter for that one was out in the Mojave, so there was far less damage.  The 1971 quake demolished a relatively new hospital, and did extensive damage to a Veterans Hospital,  (most of the casualties occurred there) destroyed bridges and overpasses and killed 68 people.

I’ve had my share of experiences with natural disasters, including several earthquakes, a couple of tornadoes, a hurricane, and two flash-floods.  Every one of those experiences was humbling, but if I had to rank them, I’d have to say that tornadoes and earthquakes are the scariest.  With earthquakes, (at least for me) it isn’t the shaking ground, or the threat of things falling on top of your head or even the idea that the earth could open a fissure and swallow you whole that you remember…its the noise.  When the plates under the part of the planet you occupy decide to re-align, its pretty loud.  It seems to start as a distant, low rumbling, then intensifies until you can hardly hear yourself scream.  I can remember standing under a doorway many times throughout my life.  Its the same thing with tornadoes…the damn things really do sound like an oncoming train.

Of course, I am lucky enough to live in a country with decent (post-WWII) building codes, and, by comparison to much of the world, a pretty good infrastructure. Of course when a tornado strike a community here in Tennessee, the damage is significant, and the loss of life is heartbreaking, but our resources are plenty, and almost immediately there is medical attention available, as well as food, water, and police protection.  I remember how amazed I was after hurricane Opal slammed South Georgia.  In the past, I never considered hurricanes all that frightening…after all, its just wind and rain, right?  So, right in the middle of Opal, I decided to step outside to see it all firsthand.  I walked out the backdoor of our house, and headed for an area I though might provide a wind-break.  I had taken probably five steps when a 10ft by 4ft piece of metal roofing flew by me at around 3000 miles an hour.  I went back inside.

The Primary Wife was immediately summoned to the hospital’s Emergency Room (as were all nurses employed in the area) so I decided to drive around around town and survey the damage.  It is strange to see huge trees laying flat, ripped from the ground.  Many homes were damaged by the 90mph winds and falling trees.  Downed power lines were everywhere.  But, within days, those lines were back up, the trees cut up and hauled off, and normalcy returned.  Same thing right here in Tennessee after tornadoes swept through Goodlettsville and Gallatin.  In fact, our wealth allows us to get back on our collective feet after any major disaster.  Even with hurricane Katrina, and all the mismanagement she exposed,(and there is plenty of blame to go around) within a week, virtually every survivor had access to shelter and sustenance.

I fear it won’t be that way for Haiti.  It may take weeks just to rescue those still trapped in the rubble.   The dead will remain wherever they lie for quite some time.  The government itself is in shambles.  There will be probably be aftershocks for days afterward, and that could cause panic among those already traumatized.  There will be orphans with no one that might offer at least some comfort.  I’m fearful that riots might take even more lives.

It will require international assistance to provide potable water, food, and medical assistance.

Obviously, if you have the means, relief organizations will need money.  I don’t know which one to support yet, but the info available on the web should make it easier to identify those organizations that do the most with the least.  If you have a favorite, let me know in the comments section.

(photo credit: Newscom/UPI/Talking Points Memo)

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Why I Love TED

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Collapse Of Creativity?

Hat-Tip:  Beale

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