Friday, January 29, 2010

Must-See TV
I am home early today after snow convinced me not to stick around school this afternoon, (Accumulation on deck looks like about an inch and counting!) and was immediately mesmerized by what was on my teevee: President Obama taking questions from House Republicans at their retreat. I knew he accepted their invite; didn't know he would take Q and A, and especially didn't know it was going to be live on tv. At the risk of over-hyping, it was maybe some of the most compelling stuff I've seen in quite a while, maybe even - dare I think it - a bit substantive.

I can't help but think that if Presidents routinely held sessions like these, the country would be so much better for it - at least our politics, and maybe our policy as well. Of course, I assume that means that instead this will never happen again. Frankly, the President ran rings around them today, and on live tv, further making it unlikely question time will become an American tradition.

If you have time, you should do yourself a favor and watch. It's online now. At times, he reminded me of videos you see of President Kennedy volleying with critics.

[UPDATE: Here's the White House's video link of the event if you're having trouble with c-span.]

Thursday, January 28, 2010

SOTU Thoughts
What could be more useless than a blog post about the State of the Union speech some 16+ hours after it's over? I mean, it's already been tweeted, live-blogged, insta-polled, focus-grouped, spun and re-spun, analyzed, fact-checked (even the fact-checks have been fact-checked), and deconstructed. Not only has a consensus emerged as to its quality, but I think I smell a backlash already building over the consensus view. By later today, everything we thought we knew about the speech will already be wrong, and by tomorrow, everyone will have completely forgotten about the address altogether - as if it never happened. Such is our reaction cycle, I guess. So, with absolutely nothing possibly new to offer, I nonetheless give you my random thoughts and questions, which have been rummaging around in my head since last night without bothering to turn into an actual coherent idea. In no particular order:

*When Obama lectures Congress on civility, bipartisanship, and their civic duty, I still get the distinct impression that he really does believe all the stuff he's saying. This insistence makes him a great man, and a powerful candidate but probably left him undressed as an actual President during his first year. Will he continue to govern astride this noble - but perhaps fatally flawed - belief?

*I don't remember the Supreme Court ever taking a direct challenge from the podium before. I don't know if they were uncomfortable when a majority all around them rose up to condemn the 5 who brought us Citizens United but I imagine they were.

*I wonder which will be the first President to include something like a PowerPoint presentation with the SOTU? Just a matter of time, right? I generally hate the idea, and love the straight speech, but we *are* trying to actually get across some important thoughts. A helpful chart here and there might communicate more than some people are getting from complete sentences.

*Maybe watching some of Jobs' iPad announcement is what makes me think of that.

*I wish there could be follow-up reminders in the weeks and months following the speech. It seems like a whole year before anyone reminded Americans that the majority of our huge debt was incurred during the last administration, and the part we added this year was just an effort to clean up that catastrophe. He did a great job I though laying out the story, and explaining how he's going to recover the 1 trillion this year has added. But in a week, nobody will remember that. The White House needs to say where we are over and over and over.

*Loved his full-throated defense of the American Recovery Act.

*and his reminder of the stakes of health care reform. Not sure why everyone is down on his putting it in the middle of speech. With unemployment numbers so high and every right-wing and Perotesque indie freaking out over and hammering the deficit all the sudden, it's hard for the winnable middle to be convinced that health care reform is related, much less more important. We've been talking about it for months; I don't mind not giving it top billing.

*Why do the freakout faction liberals think that if he had just said directly: "the Senate should promise to pass the fixes and the House should pass the bill"?? Why would that make it more likely to happen? I thought he was plenty forceful on the issue. Just get it done. Pass the damn bill. Audience he cares about doesn't care about process.

*He had better deliver on the don't ask don't tell promise. This year. Whatever it takes. Notice he's willing to step in and take executive action on a budget deficit commission where the Senate failed. He should be no less willing to stand up for gays and lesbians. It's not even marriage, for heaven's sake.

*Best line of the night was reminding who's in a solid majority and admonishing Dems not to "run for the hills."

*Was left wishing he had really gone after the Senate for its hold rules, keeping appointments and the confirmation process from happening when one Senator objects. He mentioned it, and I thought he was going to pound them for what is essentially the most outrageous, offensive undemocratic procedural hurdle imaginable. Much worse even than the filibuster. But for some reason he didn't press. Why?? If the American people really understood that a single Senator can put a stop to Presidential appointments - like to head Transportation Safety, which still is leaderless - with absolutely no reason and essentially anonymously, they would be outraged. Why do we not exploit this? And name names?

*Something tangible needs to happen soon to build any momentum from positive response to speech. Maybe, oh I dunno this could be a pipedream, but maybe the Senate could get around to, you know, passing something. Anything.

That's all I got. What did you think?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Getting Tired...
...of the anti-Obama liberal freak-out faction that now seems to revel in drawing every worst-possible-conclusion to his every move. When Bill Clinton did stuff like this - except for welfare reform where he got nailed as well - we praised him as a masterful politician. He would have been hailed a genius for boxing the Republicans in with a word like "freeze" after he'd already raised spending considerably his first year, left room for health reform, a second stimulus, a jobs bill, and all the spending conservatives love (military, intelligence, homeland security). Now that Obama does it, not only does he not get the benefit of the doubt, the freak-out faction is acting like he cut school lunch programs or something.

Here's the truth: what's actually "frozen" in Obama's proposal is relatively very small, and leaves room for flexible increases and decreases for individual programs within the larger umbrella. It's also essentially what he's been saying all along he would send Congress: a massive spending increase in year one to right the ship after Bush decimated domestic programs, and then a significant slowdown in spending so the deficit doesn't go nuts for the following three years. This "freeze" will cut last year's budget spending projections by a miniscule 250 billion over 10 years.

Memo to freak-out faction: Calling it a "freeze" is the White House's political calculation designed to neutralize idiot Republicans/Independents. It's smart politics at a time we could use some. Job bill, second stimulus, health reform, not affected. Education budget will still increase under his proposal, some other peripheral programs will get cut to make room. Chill.
Education and Teachers
Roger Ebert's been attending the Sundance Film Festival, and watched 2 documentaries back-to-back dealing with education. One of them was beautifully uplifting, he says; the other was painfully depressing. One was about America, the other about Kenya. Can you guess which is the downer? Warning: don't read his entry if you are averse to being woefully depressed - or in the case of some of you, possibly offended - on a Monday.

Is there anything, really, to be done?

[UPDATE: Here's the Sundance ad for the film "Waiting for Superman", the film about American education, made by Davis Guggenheim, director of An Inconvenient Truth. What do you think of his admission about, oh, 2 1/2 mins in?]

Friday, January 22, 2010

Warning: Not Safe For Work
But only in a PG-13 kind of way.
I Don't Tweet
But I did just now:
Dear House, #hcr solution is simple. Pass Sen bill now, then refuse to pass anything ELSE the Sen sends until they fix it. #voila
Why are House Dems held up begging for assurances and promises from the Senate? Why would they agree to that at this point? They like their bill! It's basic negotiation/manipulation: Wait until there's something the Senate really wants, and then make your deal. Then we get a bill asap, and eventually the right incentive will come along to get 51 Senate Dems to pass some changes w/ reconciliation. Remember: reform won't go into effect for years. There's not much time to pass the bill, but there's plenty of time to fix it.
Call Your Democratic Congressperson
Pass the damn bill. Experts agree.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What More Can You Say?
I've never been so ashamed of and angry at congressional Democrats. For a group that's made such a living out of compromise and capitulation to be so unwilling now on health care reform to do the highly imperfect thing that nonetheless needs to be done is... shockingly tone deaf and incompetent. It's a weird mix of cowardice and sudden stubbornness.

When you put that together with all the chest-thumping delays we suffered - from the public option demanders and abortion complainers and budget hawks, to the triggers and opt-outs, the Liebermess and all the rest - and realize we were on the freaking goal line (both houses passed a bill for God's sake!), only to abandon the win because - to continue the analogy - our team can't agree on whether to run it in or pass it in... it's disgusting, really.

Politically it's just embarrassing, I guess, but the stakes are so high, that's too soft a word. How many people won't have insurance now, or will lose it, or go bankrupt because they're sick that may have been saved under this legislation, flawed as it may have been. And we are in this situation all because in the year 2009 Democrats couldn't come together on a deal quickly enough for Teddy to see it; and in the year 2010 - faced with that failure - the House simply decided (on the backs of the sick and the poor) that the bill we got 60 Senators to support just wasn't good enough for them?

Every House member who is a "no" right now should have to face a camera and say with a straight face that the status quo in health care is better than the Senate bill. Those are our 2 realistic choices so far as I can see. Jeebus... When do these numbnuts even think they will be in the majority again if they back down now?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Says it All
Read this letter from a Senate staffer posted by TPM.
Health Care Reform on progressive Democrats in the House now, who could pass the Senate version immediately and get it to the President. Apparently they are refusing to do that, and to protect what, exactly? Their utopian plan? The unions that will take a hit from the "cadillac tax"? What else is so worth going down in flames, losing the House in November, and leaving the American people with the status quo in health care?

It's absolutely shocking to hear that the Barney Franks, Anthony Wieners and Jerrold Nadlers of the world are now the immovable objects blocking the sensible reforms we need: a mandate, subsidies for those who can't afford it, and new rules for insurance companies to protect the insured from exploitation, abandonment and bankruptcy.

They could do it right now. Tomorrow. No Senate vote required.

It's both political and governing malpractice that this wasn't done already, thanks to all the internal hand-wringing and posturing over compromises we all knew were coming. This all should have been done before Ted Kennedy even died, let alone before his replacement was elected.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Probably Won't Matter But...
It looks like a recount can be ordered by a petition of 1,000 Massachusetts voters if the spread is 1/2 of one percent or less today between Brown and Coakley.
These procedures may be used only if the margin of victory is not more than one-half percent of the votes cast for an office or question.

...The petition must first be submitted for certification of signatures to the registrars of voters in the signers' city or town, and then filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth...on the day as stated in the following table. {me: the table says 15th day after the election}

The petition must be signed by one-fourth the number of voters required to sign a state primary nomination paper for a candidate in this district, but 1,000 for the entire state.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Outrageous [UPDATED]
ABC report uncovers coded biblical messages on weaponry purchased by US Military.

[UPDATE: Military says what's the big deal? We're not changing anything.]

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Unsolicited Twitter Advice
Follow Roger Ebert.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm Going to be Pissed
...if Democrats lose in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy, as is looking more and more possible. It would leave Democrats with 2 very unsavory options in health care reform: 1) Delay seating Republican Scott Brown (which, lets face it is what Republicans would do in the same position) until the compromise bill can pass the Senate. Along with facing a political firestorm, this strategy may not even work, should someone (Lieberman) decide it's such a bad move that he would refuse to support health reform under the circumstances; or 2) the House would have to pass a bill identical to what the Senate has already passed, so it doesn't have to go back and face a GOP filibuster, rendering all the recent compromises moot. That would still be well worth passing, but we'd miss the chance to slightly improve it that we will have otherwise.

Less importantly, it will leave us Democrats electorally depressed not just after November as I already anticipate, but all year long. Ugh.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Heard This Before
Congressional negotiators and the White House have made significant headway on resolving two of the biggest differences between the House and Senate health care bills in recent days, and it looks like they're just about ready to wrap things up.
Can we get Lieberman to sign something please before we start talking about having it all done? Just sayin.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My iPod is many years old. It's black and white, click wheel with no video, it's so old. The battery has been perfect. Zero problems. I love it.

I was dismayed then when a couple weeks ago it just wouldn't boot up - gave a bad looking error message instead. Hopeful I could simply restore the software to factory settings and re-load the music, I hooked it up to the computer, but that didn't work out. It kept re-starting and stalling in a loop, telling me I needed to "restore the corrupt iPod" (I know!) but then wouldn't proceed - informing me that the "corrupt iPod" was "busy" and so couldn't be restored. Busy doing what, I thought? Just being corrupt?

For the last week or so I've tried to find a way to revive it, to bypass this loop, dreading the new iPod purchase that seemed imminent. I tried messing with iTunes settings, charging and letting die the iPod battery, whatever I could think of.

Finally, I Googled the exact error message (error 1416, as it turns out) I was getting from iTunes to see if anyone else had solved this mystery, and I landed on this Apple forum page, a discussion centering around the following advice:
I thought this was a joke, but after fiddling with it for days, i tried it, and it worked! I didn't drop it, I just held it in one hand and banged it against the palm of my other hand. I was getting error 1416 btw, with a 60GB photo ipod.
Then this:
I had the exact problem, and Idid as someone suggested, BANGED IT AGAINST MY HAND, and amazingly all my music was back, and the error message was gone.
And 3 or 4 others saying basically the same thing. So, tonight I banged the back of my corrupt, busy iPod against the palm of my hand as hard as I could, one time. Now it works beautifully.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Take 2
Stevie T suggest another post for this convo, so trying again. Post below is too long and has too many thoughts - still welcome those comments and questions though. Here, purely out of curiosity, and I promise my last Beatles post for a long while, I invite you to tell either 1) your favorite original Beatles track; or 2) your opinion about the *best* original Beatles track (should you believe in that distinction). Any explanation is of course welcome but not required for participation. Both lovers and haters of Beatles are invited.

You can do it.

If you can at least narrow down to a handful of choices, you will be ridiculed (wuss!) but your answer accepted.

(Note: I offered students the option of choosing the suite (medley) of songs on the 2nd side of Abbey Road - from "You Never Give Me Your Money" through "The End" - as a single track for purpose of the project. So, it is fair game, and would be one of my finalists for both #1 and #2)