mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“From ‘Lame Duck’ To ‘Fourth Quarter'”: One For The History Books, As President Obama Plays Through To The End Of The Game

It seems to me that the job of political scientists is to identify patterns in political history as a way to predict the future. One of those patterns that has been pretty generally accepted is that once a presidential campaign begins to replace a second-termer, the White House occupant goes into “lame duck” status. That is certainly what everyone was expecting from President Obama after the huge losses Democrats suffered in the 2014 midterms.

But as we all know by now, the President decided he’d start a new pattern…one that saw his remaining two years as a “fourth quarter” in which he vowed to play to the end. His success in being able to do that hinged on several factors.

1. A scandal-free presidency

During my lifetime, no two-term president has managed to escape the drag of either scandal or terribly flawed policies at the end of their second term. Johnson had Vietnam. Nixon had Watergate. Reagan had Iran/Contra. Clinton had impeachment. Bush had the war in Iraq and the Great Recession.

Recently David Brooks noted that the current administration is the exception to that pattern.

I have my disagreements, say, with President Obama, but President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him. He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free.

That means that not only does the President maintain the good will of most Americans, but he doesn’t have to devote an inordinate amount of time to defending himself or attempting to fix policy failures.

2. Previous work is bearing fruit

Last December President Obama sat down for an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. In response to questions about some of the bold moves he’d already taken since the 2014 midterms, the President said this:

But at the end of 2014, I could look back and say we are as well-positioned today as we have been in quite some time economically, that American leadership is more needed around the world than ever before — and that is liberating in the sense that a lot of the work that we’ve done is now beginning to bear fruit. And it gives me an opportunity then to start focusing on some of the other hard challenges that I didn’t always have the time or the capacity to get to earlier in my presidency.

The major things he is referring to are that the economy was recovering, healthcare reform was working and ground troops were out of both Iraq and Afghanistan. But in addition to all that, diplomacy had opened the doors in Cuba, brought Iran to the negotiating table and led to an agreement with China about climate change.

3. Pen and phone strategy

A lot of the assumption about President Obama’s pending lame duckness had to do with the intransigence of Congress that was only bolstered by the 2014 midterms. But in January of 2014, the President instructed his Cabinet to bring him ideas he could implement via executive order or through persuasion with business leaders and local/state governments. Thus began his “pen and phone” strategy that led to everything from DAPA to new rules for overtime pay to working with local governments to provide paid sick/family leave.

4. Big events

Political pundits are often guilty of assuming that whatever is happening today will be a permanent narrative. But national/international events have a way of changing the current dynamic. Nowhere has that been more evident than the handwringing over President Obama’s assumed irrelevance when House Democrats handed him a “humiliating” defeat on TPA a couple of weeks ago. We all know how that one turned out. Just as the House and Senate re-grouped to pass TPA, the events in Charleston, SC were unfolding and the Supreme Court was preparing to hand down rulings affirming Obamacare, marriage equality and disparate impact. As Michael Cohen wrote, we’ve recently been witness to ten days that turned America Into a better place. From an affirmation of his policies to his Amazing Grace eulogy, President Obama has been front and center on it all.

But big events can help or hurt a presidency. The lesson we should all learn from their recent trajectory is that things can change in a heartbeat. President Obama still has a year and a half to go. There are a few things we know are coming up, like whether or not he is able to work with Iran and P5+1 to reach a deal on nuclear weapons. This December we’ll learn whether or not the agreements the Obama administration has crafted with countries like China, India and now Brazil will lead to an international agreement on climate change at the UN Conference in Paris. Both of those would be historic achievements. And then, of course, there are the unknown events that could be on the horizon.

This may very well be the first time in the modern era that a sitting president has as much influence on a presidential campaign as any of the candidates who are running for office. The increasing size of the clown car on the Republican side means that it might be months before any one candidate is able to break through all the noise. That leaves the stage pretty wide open for a Democratic message. And Hillary Clinton has wisely chosen to run with President Obama and his record rather than against it. That means she’s looking pretty good right about now.

Whatever happens, this will be one for the history books as lame duckness is tossed aside and President Obama plays through to the end of the fourth quarter.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Lame Duck, President Obama | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“We Are All Charged With Pushing Forward”: President Obama Delivers A Speech For History

“This whole week,” said President Obama, “I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.”

That was the turning point of Friday’s eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, the Charleston, South Carolina minister who was, with eight of his congregants, murdered by a racist terrorist two weeks ago. It was the moment a memorable speech became a speech for history.

“According to the Christian tradition,” the president-turned-preacher explained, “grace is not earned, grace is not merited, it’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God.” Grace, in other words, is that which bridges the gap between creation and Creator, the staircase connecting the soil to the celestial.

And it is amazing. So the heart leapt when, moved by some ephemeral thing cameras could not see, Obama launched into a soulful, heartfelt and, yes, off-key rendition of one of the foundational hymns of the church. “Amazing grace,” he sang, 6,000 voices rising to meet him, “how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

“As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy,” the president said, “God has visited grace upon us, for He has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He’s given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.”

The president named a few of the things to which we’ve been blind, the issues upon which we have been lost. He spoke of gun violence, the hunger of children, the brazen hatred that inspired the alleged shooter, the soft bigotry that gets “Johnny” called back for an interview but leaves “Jamal” job hunting.

Though he didn’t mention it, it seemed not inconsequential that he said these things on the same day the Supreme Court affirmed the right of same-sex couples to marry. It seemed fitting that he returned that night to a White House bathed in colors of the rainbow. One could almost see history making a great, wide turn toward freedom.

And, too, one heard predictable howls of outrage. Sen. Ted Cruz called it one of the darkest days in American history, Rush Limbaugh predicted polygamy, some Southern states, as they did during the civil rights years, declined to be guided by the court’s ruling. But, it all carried a tinny, faraway sound, like a radio station from some distant town, drowned out by the thunder of rejoicing.

This is not to say those doorkeepers of yesterday are without power to interdict change. They are nothing if not stubborn and resilient. It is, however, to say that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. And, moreover, that the genius of the nation founded 239 years ago Saturday by a group of men we would now call sexist, racist and homophobic, was not its perfection as originally conceived, but the fact that it was built for change, built to become better, and continually expands itself to accommodate that long arc.

Are we not tasked with forming “a more perfect union”? It’s the ongoing work of America, work no one speech or court ruling can finish, but which we are all charged with pushing forward. Until one bright day, you look up and are surprised how far you’ve come.

That’s what happened Friday. And it might be the story of John Newton’s life. Newton, who wrote the hymn in which President Obama found solace, was a slave trader who changed by increments over the years until, by the end of his life, he was issuing grief-stricken apologies for his part in that evil business. If the first verse of his hymn is a paean to the redemptive power of grace, its third is a reminder that grace obligates us to push forward toward bright days not yet glimpsed:

“Through many dangers, toils and snares,” he wrote, “I have already come / Tis’ grace has brought me safe thus far / And grace will lead me home.”

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Hate Crimes, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Hostility Toward Immigrants In General”: Donald Trump Is On The Rise — And That’s Very Bad News For The GOP

Donald Trump is surging. In a field that has grown to 16 Republican presidential candidates (once Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich make their candidacies official), Trump is now in second place pretty much wherever you look. A new Quinnipiac poll of Iowa voters shows him tied for second with Ben Carson; they each have 10 percent to Walker’s 18. The latest CNN/WMUR poll in New Hampshire also puts Trump in second, with 11 percent, behind only Jeb Bush at 16 percent. And in the Huffington Post Pollster average of national polls, Trump comes in a mere 0.7 percent behind Bush.

While everyone has treated the Trump story as an amusing sideshow to the campaign (which it certainly is), there’s a genuine danger for the GOP in his presence that goes beyond the simple fact that he makes the party look silly (which he certainly does). More than any other candidate, Trump is telling Latinos that the Republican Party doesn’t like them.

Now let’s be clear: It isn’t as though Trump is going to be a serious contender for the nomination. But he could also go significantly higher than he is now. Just think about what happened in 2012, when one ridiculous candidate after another shot to the front of the Republican primary race. At one point, Rick Perry was in the lead with 32 percent support. Herman Cain once led with 26 percent. Newt Gingrich topped the field with 35 percent. Rick Santorum was No. 1 with 34 percent. The 2016 race may or may not be that volatile, but it will certainly have some ups and downs, as one candidate or another will stumble and another will rise. So it’s not inconceivable that at some point, for a moment anyway, Trump might actually be ahead in the polls.

When the primaries are over, repairing relations with Latinos will be one of the central challenges the Republican nominee faces. It’s one that both John McCain and Mitt Romney failed to accomplish — McCain lost among Latinos by a margin of 36 points, while Romney trailed by 44. And every time Trump opens his mouth, he makes that task more difficult.

Of course, Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or Marco Rubio don’t bear responsibility for the things Trump says. But Latinos are paying attention to what he’s saying, and it can’t help but taint his fellow Republicans. As you might recall, in his announcement speech, Trump basically called every Mexican immigrant in the United States a low-life. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” In response, Univision pulled out of broadcasting the Miss Universe pageant, which Trump co-owns, and NBC dropped him as well. In Mexico, people are making Trump piñatas.

Given the chance to clarify, Trump said in essence that there are perfectly fine people in Mexico, it’s just the ones who come to the United States who are so awful, and also that these dangerous criminals come from other countries, too. “I’m not just saying Mexicans, I’m talking about people that are from all over that are killers and rapists and they’re coming into this country,” he said. So it’s really all immigrants that he has a problem with. Good to have that cleared up.

That kind of rhetoric coming from a prominent Republican candidate (who will almost certainly be included in the upcoming debates, by the way) makes it all the more difficult for the party to strike the tricky balance it needs to on the issue of immigration. The nominee will have to make the case for the policies he and every other Republican favors — increased border security above all, and nothing more than the far-distant possibility of a path to some vaguely defined legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States — without communicating hostility toward immigrants in general, and through them to all Latinos (and to a lesser but still significant extent, to Asian Americans).

Even if all Republicans were acting welcoming and inclusive, it would be hard enough. Those voters are paying attention to the policy positions the candidates take, which means that any Republican, even one with Cuban parents (like Rubio) or one who speaks Spanish fluently and has a Mexican spouse (as Bush does), starts with two strikes against him. Trump may be a comical buffoon who stands almost no chance of getting the nomination, but by the time he’s done, the bile he spews could get his fellow Republicans dirty as well.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“Why The Confederate Flag Fell So Suddenly”: A Fully Engaged, Energized Activated Group Of Voters

Within just a few days of Dylann Roof’s racially motivated murder of 9 African-American worshippers and clergy in Charleston’s historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church, a sea change appeared to be under way with regards to the Confederate flag — this after decades of tense and slow-moving debate about whether the symbol deserves any kind of place in modern public life.

In short order, the governors of South Carolina and Alabama asked for the flag to be taken down from their respective Capitol grounds, other southern states showed a sudden willingness to reduce the visibility of the flag, and Amazon and Walmart stopped selling it. All this occurred against the backdrop of a loud chorus of online activists arguing that it was time to take the flag down once and for all — a few days after the shooting, the #takeitdown hashtag was tweeted 12,000 times in one day. Why all the sudden movement on an issue that had been a sore culture-war sticking point for decades? Yes, Roof’s massacre was horrific, but it obviously wasn’t the first racist violence to have occurred in a state where the Confederate flag flies.

“The pace of this change has been quite staggering,” said Dr. Jonathan Knuckley, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida who studies southern politics. The why ties into some basic, vital aspects of how Americans’ political opinions are formed and expressed. Foremost among them is the idea that most Americans simply aren’t all that informed about most policy issues, and when they do form opinions, they look around for highly visible cues to guide them toward the “right” opinion. (The notion that most Americans simply aren’t savvy when it comes to politics and policy may whiff of elitism, but it’s also one of the more durable findings in political science — in 2011, for example, about a third of Americans couldn’t name the vice-president.)

Dr. Timothy Ryan, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina, explained that until recently, this was true of the Confederate flag as well. “The typical citizen, if you asked them what they thought about the Confederate-flag issue in South Carolina two or three weeks ago, they would be making up their opinion on the fly in that moment,” he said. “Whereas now people have had some time to think about it, have had a push to think about it.”

As a result of this push, these voters will use whatever available cues come to mind to generate an opinion — a news segment they saw, a recent conversation with a friend. And those who sit somewhere in the middle and who are giving serious thought to the Confederate-flag issue for the first time are awash in anti-flag sentiments, whether delivered via Twitter, on news reports of anti-flag protests, or on radio spots covering Walmart and Amazon’s decision. These days there are tons of cues to draw upon, and very few of them would nudge one to support the Confederate flag.

Perhaps the most potent of such cues is the now-infamous photograph of Roof posing in front of the Confederate flag. “It doesn’t take much to process,” said Knuckley. “It’s kind of one of those gut, visceral, I-don’t-even-have-to-think-about-this-issue [images].” This cue, and others like it, affects voters on both sides of the issue. “The other side of that coin — it becomes a lot more difficult to be for [the flag],” said Knuckey. “Just a month or so ago, someone could have made a perfectly, in their mind, rational argument. It’s the kind of issue now that’s difficult to be in favor of.”

That doesn’t mean that support for the flag is now going to drop to zero, Knuckey emphasized. Ryan agreed. “I bet you haven’t changed so many minds among the people who are really strong, meaningful supporters,” he said. But that’s not the point — the point is those folks on the middle, say, third of the Confederate-flag-opinion spectrum. Those who supported the flag, but just barely, are now seeing all sorts of highly visible cues indicating that the country is turning against them,while those who were just barely against it will have their preference intensified.

The end result? A shift in polling, perhaps (there haven’t yet been any surveys released that allow for apples-to-apples comparisons on the flag issue from before and after the church attack), but, just as important, a group of “antis” who are much more engaged and vocal than they were before the shooting — in part because they’re feeding off the sense that, nationwide, people are moving against the flag. Political scientists call this “preference intensity,” and it’s incredibly important: A minority of citizens who are stridently opposed to a new bill can, in the right setting, “beat” a majority of voters who are slightly for it but don’t care all that much.

To Knuckey, all this negative attention will likely affect not just voters being surveyed, but southern legislators themselves. Those legislators have always been aware that they represent a loud contingent of pro-flag folks, but now, in the wake of the A.M.E. shooting, they have to factor in the existence of a fully engaged, energized activated group of voters on the other side of the issue as well. So all the negative attention the flag has gotten “makes a vote to take it down easier now than it would have been a month ago,” he said.

In the long run, of course, the AME shooting will fade from the news. And David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which just released a poll showing the nation to be about evenly divided on the question of whether the flag is racist — it was the first time Suffolk had polled on this issue, and results therefore can’t give any sense of the trajectory of opinion on this issue — said that there’s a chance that opinion will bounce back in favor of the flag. That is, fewer cues could mean a reversion to old, less strongly held opinions.

In the meantime, though, what we’re witnessing isn’t just a shift in opinion, but policy change — albeit minor ones, in some cases — on the part of multiple state houses and huge retailers. Even if public opinion reverts back to where it was before the shooting, a new status quo is in place and it’ll be difficult, in those places that have responded to this sudden surge in anti-Confederate-flag sentiment, for the flag to once again be raised — or sold.

 

By: Jesse Singal, New York Magazine, July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015 Posted by | Businesses, Confederate Flag, Emanuel AME Church | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The ‘Depends’ Defense”: Republicans Will Hate Obama’s New Overtime Rule, But They Can’t Do Anything About It

Last night President Obama announced — in an article on the Huffington Post — that he will raise the threshold for overtime pay in American workplaces. The new regulations are substantively important for the millions of workers who will be affected, and they’re politically important as well. Republicans are going to squawk, saying that this change will cost jobs and is another example of Obama’s tyrannical rule. But they can’t stop it, and they’re going to lose the argument as well.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers have to provide overtime pay (usually time and a half) to employees who work more than 40 hours a week, but executives and managers are exempt from the requirement, as are those who make higher salaries. The trouble is that the rules don’t account for inflation, and so over time, what constituted a higher salary became absurdly low. The threshold has been raised only once since 1975, when it covered nearly half of U.S. workers; today it stands at less than $24,000, or lower than the poverty level for a family of four. (This document from the Economic Policy Institute offers some background on the regulation if you’re interested.) Here’s how Obama described the change he will be making:

We’ve got to keep making sure hard work is rewarded. Right now, too many Americans are working long days for less pay than they deserve. That’s partly because we’ve failed to update overtime regulations for years — and an exemption meant for highly paid, white collar employees now leaves out workers making as little as $23,660 a year — no matter how many hours they work.

This week, I’ll head to Wisconsin to discuss my plan to extend overtime protections to nearly 5 million workers in 2016, covering all salaried workers making up to about $50,400 next year. That’s good for workers who want fair pay, and it’s good for business owners who are already paying their employees what they deserve — since those who are doing right by their employees are undercut by competitors who aren’t.

That’s how America should do business. In this country, a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. That’s at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America.

We should note that Obama could have gone higher than $50,400. Earlier this year, some Democrats on Capitol Hill worried that the administration was going to propose a lower overtime threshold, something like $42,000 a year. A group of liberal senators urged Obama to set the threshold at $54,000. They also argued that it should be pegged to increase with inflation going forward, an absolutely critical provision that would give the measure lasting effect. So Obama didn’t raise the threshold as far as they wanted, but he is accounting for future inflation, by pegging the overtime threshold to the 40th percentile of incomes.

As much as Republicans will object, they can’t expect that their next president will undo this action. There are some regulations that we can expect to change whenever the White House changes hands. For instance, the Mexico City Policy, also known as the “global gag rule,” prohibits the funding of any organization anywhere in the world that even discusses abortion with a woman; when a Republican president takes office, he institutes it, and when a Democratic president takes office, he revokes it. But rules such as this one almost certainly won’t fall into that category. Try to imagine a President Rubio or Walker announcing that he was taking overtime pay away from millions of lower-middle-class U.S. workers. It won’t happen. They may argue against the rule when it is proposed, but once it’s in place, undoing it becomes politically impossible.

The more immediate political impact of this rule change lies in its place among a constellation of proposals Democrats will be offering on things such as the minimum wage and paid sick leave, proposals that are aimed at arresting the growing cruelty of the American workplace. As I’ve argued before, one way to think about the contrast between what Republicans and Democrats offer on the economy is that Republicans say they’ll get you as far as your employer’s door, while Democrats want to walk inside with you. Republicans argue that their preferred policies, mostly tax cuts and light regulation on businesses, will accelerate growth so that new jobs will be created. But once you’ve got the job, you’re on your own. The Democratic argument is that government has to come inside the workplace, to make sure people are being treated fairly. So they want to increase pay, provide family and sick leave, allow workers to bargain collectively, make sure no one is discriminated against and generally establish a structure that guarantees that people are treated well and can maintain some measure of dignity.

The Republican counter, of course, is that all those things increase costs to employers and therefore cost jobs. But their argument presumes that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the American workplace, which most of us know just isn’t true. Yes, many employers already treat their employers well. But millions of others don’t and would treat their workers even worse if they could get away with it.

As for this measure, we know exactly what employers will say: This will cost us money, which means fewer jobs. We know that’s what they will say, because that’s what they say about every marginal improvement in working conditions, benefits or pay. And in the short term, they’re right: It will cost them some money.

But let’s turn it around. What if employers said, “We could save money by removing the employee bathrooms and just telling our workers to wear Depends to the job. And that would mean we’d be able to hire more people.” Would we respond, “Well, if it would save you money and produce a few more jobs, then that sounds great”? Of course not. The short-term cost to employers of a regulation is certainly something to consider, but it’s not the only thing to consider.

The change to overtime regulations isn’t some kind of dramatic transformation. Like increasing the minimum wage, it’s nothing more than taking an existing rule and updating it for inflation. But it’s built on the assumption that the government should come into the workplace and make sure that what happens there is fair. Republicans don’t believe that’s government’s job. But it isn’t going to be easy for them to make that case to a population that feels increasingly insecure at work. And even if they could win the argument, they won’t be able to change the policy.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 30, 2015

July 2, 2015 Posted by | Fair Labor Standards Act, Middle Class, Salaried Workers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: