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"Birther" protesters carry anti-Obama signs, St. Cloud, MN, 2013
"Birther" protesters, St. Cloud, MN, 2013
Anyone who pays attention to the arguments made by conservatives (and Republicans, same thing nowadays) versus those made by liberals and Democrats knows that their respective ways of thinking and speaking is entirely different. Researchers have even found that conservative and liberal brains work very differently. But what the scientists haven’t mentioned is that you can usually identify whether someone is a liberal or a conservative by listening for one word.

The one-word difference between liberals and conservatives is:


Specifically, listen for whether someone uses the word “believe” in their political discussions, in place of evidence for their arguments. If they do, they are probably conservative. Here are some examples that we often hear today:

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.” – This one has the added flaw of using the word “is” when what the speaker really means is “should be” or “should remain.”

“I don’t believe in climate change”/”I don’t believe climate change is caused by human activity.”

“I believe President Obama is a Kenyan/Muslim.”

“I believe that the Bible is true.”

Or how about this infamous 1994 U.S. House committee hearing, where, under questioning from Democratic Congressman Ron Wyden, the heads of the seven Big Tobacco companies each stated a variation of: “I believe that nicotine is not addictive”?

What these conservatives’ use of “believe” have in common is the absence or ignoring of facts or evidence. Conservatives will stick to their beliefs even in the face of such evidence. As Berkeley linguistics professor and Democratic framing guru George Lakoff famously wrote about the conservative mindset in his book “Don’t Think of An Elephant!”: “When the facts don’t fit the frames, the frames are kept and the facts ignored.”

Liberals, in contrast, like to cite facts and evidence, sometimes to their detriment, as folks nowadays have very short attention spans. So, for example, liberals and Democrats often mention that “97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is caused in large part by human activity.” Likewise, President Barack Obama expressed only partially faux anger at his recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner appearance to say that:

The science is clear. Nine out of 10 of the hottest years ever came in the last decade …. Rising seas, more violent storms …. I mean, look at what’s happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it’s a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day, and instead of doing anything about it, we get elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate! It is crazy! What about our kids? What kind of stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible bull–….?
So how do liberals use “believe”? Liberals and Democrats tend to use “believe” in a very different way than conservatives. For example, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign theme, later published as a book, was “Change We Can Believe In.” But the “belief” that Obama called for was based on achieving measurable goals, such as fixing George W. Bush‘s broken economy, strengthening the middle class with a targeted tax cut, becoming energy independent, and making both early childhood and college education more accessible and affordable. More generally, liberals use the term “believe” when they say, “I can’t believe you just said that” to a conservative who spouts a fact-free talking point.

Photo by Fibonacci Blue, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally published at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2015 -- All rights reserved.]

Protester carrying
Protester at 2010 immigration reform rally
Yesterday, President Barack Obama participated in a town hall meeting on immigration, hosted by Jose Diaz-Barlart of Telemundo network and held before an audience at Florida International University in Miami. The Obama town hall meeting, broadcast on Telemundo and MSNBC, was striking for several reasons:

First, Diaz-Balart (who was shrill and seemed to be yelling much of the time) and some members of the audience displayed a shocking lack of knowledge about how the United States government works. They need to reread their U.S. Constitution, or at least watch Schoolhouse Rock. For example, Diaz-Balart seemed exasperated at the Obama administration that a federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked Obama’s recent executive action on immigration (which would suspend many deportations in order to keep families together) from taking place. Diaz-Balart asked Obama:

How long will it take?  Because a lot of people are asking.  They said, we were 24 hours away from registering for the expanded DACA and just months from DAPA.  This happens 12 hours before.  What’s going to happen now? How long is it going to take?  And, again, a lot of the questions are, was the President caught by surprise?  And why is it taking so long?  This is what we’re getting, Mr. President.
President Obama had to explain the separation of powers that is central to our Constitution:
What I’m saying is, is that of course we weren’t surprised.  I’ve got a bunch of lawyers, we saw the judge who was rendering the opinion.  The fact that we weren’t surprised doesn’t mean we can stop the judge from rendering an opinion.  It means that we then go forward in the appeal process. That’s how the legal system works.

And we have asked –- first and foremost, we have asked for a stay.  What a stay means, by the way, for the non-lawyers, is simply that whatever the judge thinks, it shouldn’t stop us from going ahead and implementing.  The first step is to go before that same judge and say, judge, what you said is wrong, rethink it.  He may not agree with that.

The next step is to go to a higher court, the Fifth Circuit. That will take a couple of months for us to file that and argue that before the Fifth Circuit.  We expect to win in the Fifth Circuit, and if we don’t, then we’ll take it up from there.

Likewise, after one audience member from Haiti spoke, Diaz-Balart asked:
On a bigger question that kind of [sic] Boris brings up, to extrapolate his case, is some people wonder, well, are you focusing mostly on the undocumented population?  And through executive orders, could you not also include those that are here, that are participating already?
Again, President Obama had to remind everyone that he is a President, not a King, and that the Constitution provides for the Legislative Branch to make the laws that govern the United States:
Here’s the thing.  I was always very clear about this, even when I made the first announcement about the executive actions.  The reason I’m confident about our legal position in what we did with DACA, which was already in place since 2012, what we’re now proposing in terms of expanding DACA, and also for the parents of those who qualified for DACA — the reason I’m confident is that we could take those steps under my powers of prosecutorial discretion.

If, in fact, we were completely just rewriting the immigration laws, then actually the other side would have a case, because we can’t violate statutes.  We can’t violate laws that are already in place.  What we can do is make choices to implement those laws.  That’s what we’ve done with DACA and that’s what we’ve proposed with the expansion of DACA and DAPA.

In order for us to do most of the work that Boris refers to in terms of expanding opportunities, for example, to say to any young person who has got an advanced degree in math and science and engineering, which we know we’re going to need, even as we try to get more and more young Americans to go into those fields –- in order for us to do that, we’re going to need a congressional law to be passed.  I don’t have all the authorities that are necessary in order to get some of those things done.

Second, some audience members, perhaps succumbing to their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address President Obama directly, starting asking detailed questions about their family’s immigration situation. Obviously, President Obama is not an employee of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is not in a position to answer every specific question that may require study of thick case files. Again, some folks need to read the Constitution. The President is the Chief Executive of the country, which means that he or she delegates almost all initial detailed work to public servants who specialize in such matters.

Third, and perhaps most striking, was how forceful and animated President Obama was, and the degree to which he called out Republicans — sometimes by name — for holding up the immigration reform process. Obama first pointed out that:

One of the biggest challenges that we had on a lot of these issues was what’s called the filibuster in the Senate.  Even when we had a majority in the Senate, in order to get things passed, we had to get some Republican votes.  And if it were not for that filibuster process where — by the way, it’s not in the Constitution, but the habits in the Senate have gotten so bad where you’ve got to get 60 votes for everything.  As a consequence of that, things like immigration reform, that if I had just needed a simple majority of Democrats we could have gotten done, we could not get done in those circumstances.
Then, Diaz-Balart read a question from someone over social media: “Why did Democrats and the GOP play political Ping Pong with immigration when millions of American families suffer as a result?” Upon that, President Obama was adamant:
José, wait, wait, wait.  I appreciate the applause.  Let me just say, that’s just not true — the notion that Democrats and Republicans played political Ping Pong.  (Applause.)

Democrats have consistently stood on the side of comprehensive immigration reform.  (Applause.)  Democrats have provided strong majorities across the board for comprehensive immigration reform.  And you do a disservice when you suggest that, ah, nobody was focused on this, because then you don’t know who’s fighting for you and who’s fighting against you.

And the fact of the matter is that the Democratic Party consistently has, in its platforms, in its conventions, has taken a strong stand that we need to fix a broken immigration system.  And the blockage has been very specific on one side.

Now, to their credit, there are Republicans, a handful, who have agreed with us.  That’s how we got it passed through the Senate.  But let’s not be confused about why we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform right now.  It’s very simple:  The Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, refused to call the bill.  Had he called the bill, the overwhelming majority of Democrats and a handful of Republicans would have provided a majority in order to get that done.  (Applause.)

Kudos to President Obama from changing his rhetoric from “both sides do it” or “some in Congress are creating this problem” to calling out the Republicans in Congress, and specifically House Speaker John Boehner and members of his caucus, for holding up immigration reform. Hopefully, those in the audience learned a thing or two.

Photo by Sasha Kimel, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2015 -- All rights reserved]

Brian Williams dressed as one half of Milli Vanilli
Brian Williams as Willi Vanilli
Chris Cillizza wrote a short Washington Post piece last Friday entitled “Who had the worst week in Washington? NBC’s Brian Williams.” Cillizza’s op-ed described how NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was taken down by social media. In particular, Williams was placed on six months’ unpaid suspension, and may lose his job permanently, as a direct result of a Facebook comment by helicopter flight engineer Lance Reynolds, who disputed Williams’ oft-repeated story about being on a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire during the Iraq War. The social media takedown of Brian Williams was a keen observation by Cillizza, but social media are responsible for much than just Brian Williams’ job status. The Brian Williams debacle might be remembered as the moment where social media, and the Internet itself, overtook  television.

For example, the three traditional TV networks, NBC, ABC and CBS, garnered about 26.8 million nightly newscast viewers during the week of January 12-16, 2015. “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” the top rated TV network news program, draws about 9.6 million viewers during the week. In comparison, as recently as 1980, the year that CNN launched nationwide cable TV news, the network evening news broadcasts garnered 55 million viewers each night. And that was when the U.S. population was about 90 million less than it is now. While many TV news viewers have shifted from the traditional networks to cable, viewership of cable TV is dropping too. Of the cable TV news channels, only Fox News breaks 1 million viewers per night during prime time, and its ratings are down as well.

Instead, Facebook, with 1.39 billion users, including 890 million users daily, is now a more popular source for political news than CNN or Fox. Likewise, Twitter has 288 million users, with 63 percent using their smartphones as the primary method of access. The way Americans get their news and information has clearly changed.

Don’t forget the power of viral videos too. For example, John Oliver‘s Net Neutrality segment on his new HBO program “Last Week Tonight” is credited with jump-starting the so far successful effort to convince the Federal Communications Commission to protect a free and open Internet. Oliver’s Net Neutrality segment has been viewed nearly 8 million times on the show's Youtube channel. And just last Thursday, President Barack Obama, rather than making a stuffy televised speech from the Oval Office, aired a funny Buzzfeed video designed to convince young Americans to sign up for healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Obama’s video has over 3.8 million Facebook likes and over 500,000 shares from its main website alone. Additionally, podcasts are a hugely popular alternative to TV, with programs like NPR‘s “Fresh Air” (including the hit “Invisibilia”) garnering 69 million downloads per month and Apple iTunes podcast subscriptions surpassing 1 billion in 2013.

There’s something else at work here too. In the case of social media and viral videos, each one of us isn’t just a receiver of information. We can be broadcasters as well, by posting and/or sharing items of interest to us. That’s what Lance Reynolds did when he wrote that fateful Facebook comment that took down Brian Williams, and which was viewed and shared many times. Moreover, a lot of social media users applied their Photoshop skills to come up with one of the most devastating mockery campaigns in recent history aimed at Williams, including the hilariously brutal Twitter hashtag #BrianWilliamsMisremembers. In each of these cases, if you set up your Facebook or Twitter network the right way, it can be the greatest news service ever invented, containing not just story headlines, but links to news stories anywhere in the world, brought to you within minutes or even seconds of their occurrence. Of course, as is the case with television, all of these social media are used for mindless fun too, including Grumpy Cat and "Evolution of Dance." Nevertheless, with so much news and information at your fingertips, do we need Brian Williams and the nightly TV network news?

Image by H. Michael Karshis, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2015 -- All rights reserved]

Kim Williams in her United States Air Force uniform
Kim Williams during her U.S. Air Force days
Indie media mogul. How else to describe Kim Williams, who manages her own online network showcasing a growing roster of progressive and creative talent? Kim has had an amazing, sometimes bumpy, journey from the Reddest of states to the first Iraq War to her current position as curator of online goodness (disclosure: Messaging Matters, as well as the “Turn Up the Night with Kenny Pick” show for which the author is a co-host, are both featured at Kim’s Indie Media Weekly site). We recently caught up with Kim, and we were exhilarated by her accomplishments as well as her views. We think you will be too:

You have described your life as an example of overcoming abuse that occurred early on. How has this affected your attitudes and values today?
I was a childhood and teenage victim of some pretty heinous sexual, psychological, and physical abuse and torture perpetrated by my now-deceased step­father. My life has been defined in great part by the struggle to overcome the damage and scars that abuse left me with as an adult. In order to keep my sanity and grow as a person I needed to find a way to be at peace, as much as possible with what happened to me. The bottom line for me and what has saved me and given me back a life worth living is the lesson that ALL adversity is here to serve us if WE choose to let it teach us the lessons it has for us. The first lesson and the HARDEST for me was learning to forgive. It’s still a struggle at times, but years of mindful practice around that has truly helped me in so many other ways. The second most important lesson for me was no matter what horrible things happen, the only way to honor that which has been lost is to make positive change in its honor instead of continuing harm in an effort to find peace.

That photo shows you in a U.S. Air Force uniform, where you served during George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War. What made you decide to join the armed forces?
The short answer is: I was bored with life in East Texas and I’m pretty sure joining the military at 27 was the start of my penchant for making drastic changes in my life. The Air Force Medical Corps was a great experience. I was very immature and the structure and discipline around military life and work was a very good thing for me. Our Hospital group from Carswell AFB was deployed to Zweibricken, Germany for Operation Desert Storm and we spent 6 months there working a third echelon hospital we set up in a 300 year old building. I left the Air Force in 1992, and not long after that the base was closed and Robert L. Thompson Regional Hospital was taken away from the 300,000 Greater Dallas/Fort Worth military retirees who relied upon it and turned into a hospital for Federal prisoners. That was an early clue that something wasn’t right with America for me, but it would be another few decades before I realized just how much was really wrong.

What did you do after serving in the Gulf War?
My training and skills as an ACLS certified Paramedic, as well as the skill set I had normally reserved for physicians in the civilian world, was not recognized in the state of Texas. I ended up taking a job as a Phlebotomist in a hospital in Bedford, a suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth. I was shocked to find out that civilian healthcare was, in my opinion, woefully substandard to the military system I had just left behind. I decided it was time to leave when the department was downsized in favor of a new patient care model called the Patient Care Associate. I was retained to train them how to draw blood and one of my first trainees had been making my breakfast in the hospital cafeteria the day before and had absolutely zero medical training. I moved to Houston and worked harvesting bone and tissue from cadavers after that. I got a job as a medical assistant with a large physician group where I eventually worked my way up in training and development. But the company I worked for was destroyed by a competitor and taken out of the market. I sold my beautiful home in the Heights, all the toys and took my profits and golden parachute and purchased 5 acres and a cabin on the Appalachian trail on the Tennessee/North Carolina border.

Do you recall a particular moment or time period when you had a political awakening and decided that it was important to be an active, informed member of the political process?
I had just spent a year on my mountain, on what I call my spiritual quest to find my soul and it led me inside, but it also gave me a reason to look up from my own self-involvement and start to question material reality. The clear defining moment when activism in one form or another became a daily way of life for me was the day I saw [Michael Moore‘s 2004 documentary] “Fahrenheit 9/11.” I had to drive to Nashville to see the movie, and by the time I got back to the mountain I had a plan to start a blog and start speaking out. Not long after that it started getting hits from the Penatagon, the CIA, CENTCOM, etc. I knew back then as many did that the Bush Administration was monitoring dissent and leaving their fingerprints around to give people pause. I admit it scared the shit out of me.

How did you then make the jump from a blog to podcasting, or Internet radio?
I wanted the ability to have live broadcasting by multiple, remote DJ’s, the option for me to break in live at any time, control of a massive auto DJ music library in between live broadcasts AND the ability to schedule pre­recorded shows a/k/a “podcasts” all in the same station stream. I learned about podcasting first and used Libsyn to distribute that, and then I discovered Blog Talk Radio. I hated the sound quality and I decided to learn about alternative ways I could do live Internet broadcasting and discovered the platform we use now, Live Web DJ. My main mission in all of this has always been to give a platform for those speaking truth to power. I have been able to do that with Indie Media Weekly. IMW is basically a collaboration of indie media folks from all kinds of backgrounds. I love diversity and that is something I think we are doing a good job of bringing to our audience. Our tag line is “Progressive Talk, News, Innovative Shows and Rock and Roll,” but even that just begins to scratch the surface of the great indie media talent we have to offer at IMW.

We have been very fortunate to have a loyal listener of the “Turn Up The Night with Kenny Pick” (TUTN) show step up and sponsor a large portion of the station expenses. I’m very excited about our Associate DJ program and the opportunity it affords people to join our station and do live Internet DJing with no prior experience and at very little cost to them. So, no prior experience, just a desire, a lot of effort and a collaboration with Kenny Pick that has made all the difference.

You’re now a big part of the home­-based Internet radio trend, with “Turn Up the Night” and other channels carried on Indie Media Weekly. Can this programming and distribution method effectively challenge the corporate media, which we know tend to be conservative?
I think Indie Internet media is the only thing that can challenge the corporate-owned mainstream media. Thus the attack on net neutrality. They know we are the only viable threat and it’s already starting to hurt their market share. I do wish more people realized what a vast world of indie media is available to them in the palm of their hand right now with the advent of the smartphone, with apps like Tunein radio and other streaming media player apps. Bandwidth is expensive, be it on a smartphone or in your home, and I get that. I hope we get some competition and prices come down for people in the future, but til then I think it’s an individual choice about what to spend money on. Indie Media is something I am willing to spend it on and I hope a lot of other people feel that way too.

In addition to IMW, you are also involved with some creative media projects that are not necessarily as directly political, including Indie Media Weekly Radio, Blue Sky Highway, Creative Nexus Café and New World Creative Union. Tell us a bit about those.
Actually, I’d have to say I think everything is political to some degree…lol. At least that is how I see the world. The Creative Nexus and its spinoffs are very much about speaking to the challenges of our modern world through poetry, music and art. I guess that is what politics really is to me, an attempt to shape the world in a particular way. I’m very excited about a new collaboration with Roger Allen Baut of The Creative Nexus to bring audio bios/music and/or spoken word pieces to the station. We are currently developing these and will be rolling them out to be interspersed in our regular playlist rotation over the next few weeks.

We have some outstanding pre­recorded shows too that people should check out at Indie Media Weekly Radio (IMWR). Another collaboration I am excited about is Michael Ash Sharbaugh‘s new show, "The Broken Doorway," which will be premiering Saturday, January 24. Michael is bringing new Indie music to IMWR from across all musical spectrums in his new show. I produce a weekly cannabis news show for Toke Signals Radio with Steve Elliott. I probably missed something, so I encourage readers to go to IMW and check out the schedule of shows and have a look around.

One exciting thing you touched on earlier is IMW’s Associate Live DJ program. Please tell us more about that.
This program is really a dream come true for me as it really gets to the heart of my mission with Indie Media. Getting people on the air who might not otherwise have the opportunity due to expense, technical expertise or whatever. The new Associate DJ shows that are just music are adding a fantastic new dimension to the station as well, with Paul’s Memory Bank and Midnight Sun with Adam Hebert. We have a page dedicated to all the details of the program and I hope to have more DJ’s signing up in 2015.

Republicans and conservatives are great at playing politics, including staying on message, manipulating the media, gaming the system, raising corporate cash and using every trick in the book. How can progressives compete effectively, and how can media like IMW help?
I think liberals/progressives have such a hard time “staying on message” because we have so many messages. We live in a technicolor world and conservatives live in a black and white one… or rather a white and everything else that is not white one. But ultimately, I think the key to overcoming the conservative lie machine is to share the truth. Find sources you know you can trust and support and share them like your life depends on it because it really kind of does.

I grew up around conservatives in East Texas, home of the Gohmert Republican, and after 53 years of observing their ways, I have come to the conclusion they have Conservative Personality Disorder. A mental disease characterized by the complete inability for introspection and questioning of their own beliefs. Putting them in charge of our government is like giving your car keys to a drunk. Take action where you can. Find Indie Media you resonate with and support it with your heart, dollars and your time. I would like to recommend a great Facebook group where we do just that: Ready to Fight for Liberals and Justice. And join me every Friday on TUTN for my Indie Media Moment segment for more great suggestions.


Turning adversity, both personal and political, into positive change seems to be Kim’s credo. That’s a great role model for all of us

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2015 -- All rights reserved]

Two technicians installing solar panels on roof of Walmart store, Mountain View, California
Solar installation on Walmart store, Mountain View, CA
Did you notice a lot more solar panels in 2014, on homes, schools, shopping malls, street lights, road signs, public lands and elsewhere? If so, you weren’t imagining things. Solar energy installations are taking off in the United States and in other countries, to the point where 2015 is shaping up to be the Year of Solar Power. Take a look at some of the recent growth in solar energy:

In the U.S., the Obama administration has authorized, and in some cases granted loan guarantees to companies to construct, numerous solar power facilities on public lands. One such facility is the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the California desert not far from Las Vegas, Nevada. Ivanpah, which is visible to motorists on Interstate 15, is a public-private partnership which powers 140,000 homes on a continuous basis, and which has created some 1,000 construction jobs. As a result of projects like these, as well as renewable energy tax credits, the amount of electricity generated by utility-scale photovoltaic power plants in the U.S. more than doubled in 2014 over 2013.

Moreover, plenty of private business, home owners and others in the U.S. are installing solar energy systems. According to one study, home rooftop solar installations in the U.S. have grown from 30,000 in 2006 to 400,000 in 2013, and will continue to grow to an estimated 900,000 to 3.8 million homes by 2020. Additionally, solar photovoltaic system installations at U.S. K-12 schools have quintupled since 2008. Part of the reason for such growth is that, as Goldman Sachs reported last year, solar energy is rapidly approaching “grid parity” — the point at which it is as cheap or cheaper as a source of electricity — with fossil fuels. Indeed, such price parity between solar and conventional electric power (such as from coal-fired plants) has already been reached in at least 10 U.S. states.

That’s also one reason why other countries are plowing ahead with solar energy. China is going all-out with solar installations, leading the world with a 32 percent increase in solar investment in 2014. Of course, China has a more centralized, totalitarian government, which decreases or eliminates the chances of its solar efforts being derailed over politics. Moreover, part of China’s rapid deployment of solar power is the dire need to address its horrendous air pollution problem that has resulted from its fast-growing population and industrialization.

India, likewise, is planning to construct the world’s largest solar farm, on the water. One of the contractors building this $4 billion facility is U.S.-based SunEdison. Japan already uses this floating solar farm model, in order to save space and cut down on expensive land purchases. Other countries with a large amount of solar energy deployment include Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Australia, Belgium and the United Kingdom. Even Jamaica has converted the lights along one of its main highways to solar-powered lights, as a “cost-saving initiative.”

Now, there are some factors, such as cheap oil or fossil fuel-fed Republicans in the U.S. Congress, that could slow the growth of solar power. Part of the challenge in America is to overcome phony Republican objections and to tout solar power as an excellent source of energy, jobs, economic growth, technology exports, enhanced national security, and pollution and climate change reduction. Increasingly, however, the business case for solar power is becoming extremely compelling, which suggests that solar’s popularity will continue to grow regardless of shifts in the political winds.

Photo by Walmart, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2015 -- All rights reserved.]

David Duke
Republican icon David Duke
Republicans, who won big in last November’s elections, have already trotted out extreme positions, statements and behavior for the new year. If this trend of GOP extremism continues, it could be one of the biggest issues of 2015.

Some highlights of the Republicans' extreme new year are:

--Congressman Michael Grimm of New York resigning after pleading guilty to felony tax fraud. Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner stated that Grimm had made “the honorable decision” to resign, when anyone with a clue would have said Grimm had no choice.

--Reports that third-ranking House Republican, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, spoke before a white supremacist group, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), in 2002. EURO was founded (under a different name) by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and former Louisiana Republican state Representative David Duke. Scalise has since apologized for his EURO appearance, saying:

I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.
But why then did Scalise appear at the EURO event? Given that Internet searches were quite easy in 2002, and that it is part of the job of Scalise and his staffers to sort through Scalise’s invitations to speak, it’s not credible that Scalise spoke to EURO without knowing about their racist views. To make matters worse, some Republicans then defended Scalise. Speaker Boehner continued to back Scalise as Majority Whip. But Fox News host Greta Van Susteren disagreed, saying:
I think this was a huge missed opportunity for the Republican Party…. Associating with David Duke is grossly unwise…. It would have been smart to step aside…. The moral courage would be to step down, because it sends a very bad message to the American people.
--On New Year’s Day, Sarah Palin posted pictures on Facebook of her six year-old son Trig, who has Down Syndrome, standing on the family dog in order to reach the kitchen sink. Palin praised this behavior by writing:
May 2015 see every stumbling block turned into a stepping stone on the path forward.
The Palin photos sparked an outcry among many Americans, some of whom noted that Trig is not a toddler and weighs scores of pounds. One commenter wrote:
You want to run your state and the country, but you don’t have the sense to tell your children to stop stepping on your dog’s spine?
--After some NYPD officers turned their backs on New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio during the funerals of two slain cops, Newt Gingrich said:
Let me just remind you, the two people who have done the most to save African-American lives in New York City were [former Mayors] Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, their [stop and frisk] policing techniques, led by Chief Bratton who invented them, actually have saved thousands of lives by focusing on crime in a very intelligent way.
Before that, Giuliani said on “Meet the Press” that “so many white police officers [] have to been in black areas” due to the “high level of crime.” As Daily Kos blogger Jesse LaGreca indicated on Twitter last Sunday:
If the GOP can go 2 weeks without one of their major figureheads saying something fucking ridiculous about black people, that is progress.
--Republican Congressman Louis Gohmert said he would challenge John Boehner for House Speaker, continuing the Republican Party civil war that has been raging for years. Gohmert stated that:
There have been numerous examples of problematic Republican leadership, but we were hopeful our leaders got the voters’ message. However, after our Speaker forced through the CRomnibus by passing it with Democratic votes and without time to read it, it seemed clear that we needed new leadership.
Fellow Tea Party Republican Congressman Steve King and other Republican representatives also said that they would not vote for Boehner for Speaker. Today, Boehner won re-election as Speaker, but 25 Republicans voted against him.

--Fox News offered some antique-sounding advice for women who want to get a husband, including “always cater to her man’s needs,” stroke her man’s ego, “prepare his meals, draw him a bath, and massage his feet every now and then.” This advice, especially if targeted to younger women, seems a far cry from the outreach to women recommended in the “Autopsy Report” released by the Republican Party after it suffered 2012 election losses. Even the female Fox host in the segment balked at the advice.

--Finally, some Florida county clerks who object to same-sex marriage stopped performing marriage ceremonies for everyone, even straight couples. This policy comes at a time when a federal judge has ruled that Florida county clerks have the legal duty to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Florida beginning today, after the judge previously ruled that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. While it’s not clear whether all the clerks involved were Republican, Florida’s government is largely run by Republicans. Thus, the scorched-earth action by these clerks not to allow any marriage ceremonies will likely backfire by (a) making straight couples who want to get married angry at Florida government officials; and (b) aligning those straight couples with gay couples where previously there would have been no such alliance in many cases.

Note that all of the incidents outlined above happened before the new Congress, including a larger Republican majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate, is sworn in today. We may need to write a follow-up to this post, as Republican Senators such as James Inhofe (who stated that global warming is “the greatest hoax”) take over committees (in Inhofe’s case, the Environment and Public Works Committee) whose subject matter is anathema to them, and Republican Senator Rafael “Ted” Cruz threatens to block funding to the Department of Homeland Security in order to derail President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration.

After the GOP won the 2010 elections, Republicans overreached in thinking they had a mandate from American voters, and went down the path of extremism (including the “War on Women”) that led to their 2012 election losses. It remains to be seen whether the Republicans will overreach again in 2015 and 2016. Democrats would love to further a narrative against their opponents by painting the Republican Party as extreme. Thus far, the GOP seems to be handing the Democrats a paintbrush.

Photo by Chris Harris, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2015 -- All rights reserved.]

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama bring toys to support U.S. Marine Corps Toys For Tots program
Take note of December 2014 as the high-water mark for President Barack Obama, the Democrats in Congress, and the United States itself. Starting in January 2015, when Republicans take over the U.S. Senate, life in America could get much worse.

It’s important to recap and tout what we have achieved, to remember just how much things have improved since George W. Bush left office dumping the Great Recession upon us:

Economic growth
The U.S. Gross Domestic Product grew at 5 percent last quarter, the highest growth rate in over a decade. And such growth is no fluke, as the previous quarter grew at 4.6 percent. As a result, consumer confidence is at an eight-year high.

Job creation
Under President Obama, the U.S. has had the longest streak of private sector job growth in its history, creating 10.9 million private sector jobs over 57 consecutive months. Indeed, 2.65 million U.S. jobs were created thus far in 2014 alone, making this the best year for job creation since the 1990s.

The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8 percent after Bush handed Obama an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent and rising in January 2009.

The U.S. budget deficit is down to $483 billion for 2014 and is expected to fall even further in 2015. That is in comparison to the whopping $1.4 trillion deficit that George W. Bush handed to Barack Obama, after Bush had inherited a budget surplus (and additional projected budget surpluses) from Democratic President Bill Clinton.

President Obama pushed for passage of, and signed, the historic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which has resulted in an estimated 9 to 11 million more Americans having healthcare insurance by early 2015. Such healthcare insurance includes protections against being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, no more lifetime limits in healthcare benefits, free preventive care and screenings in many cases, and coverage of young Americans on their parents’ plans until age 26. Moreover, since passage of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. healthcare spending has moderated, and the U.S. budget deficit is expected to shrink as a result.

Gasoline prices
Gas prices at the pump have dropped to just $2.03 per gallon in recent days, with plenty of instances of under-$2 per gallon prices cited. While gasoline prices depend on many international and national factors, some of the credit goes to President Obama due to steps such as increased oil production in the U.S. and higher mileage requirements for motor vehicles.

Stock market
Since Bush left office amid a plummeting stock market, the markets have more than doubled, are setting record after record, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average even surpassed 18,000. Ironically, many Republicans and conservative groups have lots of extra money to run ads bashing President Obama precisely because they have made so much on their investments under Obama. These stock market increases have also helped middle class Americans on Main Street who have retirement investments in 401k plans, IRAs, pension funds, etc.

Foreign Policy
Osama bin Laden was killed at President Obama’s direction, after George W. Bush stated:

I don’t know where he is. Nor do I … I just don’t spend that much time on him.
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have ended. The ghastly, illegal and ineffective U.S. torture program, as outlined in the recent Senate Report, has also been ended under President Obama.

Unfortunately, beginning in 2015, Republicans may try to reverse many of these achievements, first and foremost tanking the U.S. economy, either deliberately so that they can run on what they would call a “failed” economy in 2016, or by pursuing the same shopworn policies that caused the Bush Recession in the first place. Remember that leading Republicans met on the night of President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, and plotted not to cooperate with Obama on anything. Republicans acted accordingly, refusing to help lift our economy out of the Bush recession with the 2009 Stimulus, refusing to help provide affordable healthcare to more Americans, and even refusing to close tax loopholes which reward U.S. companies for moving and sending jobs overseas. Instead of lifting a finger to help create jobs, the Republicans kowtowed to their base, voting over 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act and spending additional time voting to ban abortions. Thus, all of the achievements listed above can be attributed to the Democrats.

With Republicans in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, we can expect more of the conservative Bush ideology that caused the Great Recession and the Iraq War folly. We saw a preview of Bush part deux in the recent “CRomibus” bill, where Republicans insisted on provisions that put American taxpayers on the hook for more derivatives bailouts, cut multiemployer pensions for hardworking construction workers and truck drivers, cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and for nutrition for women, infants and children, etc.

There is another path, one of cooperation between Congressional Republicans and President Obama. Both sides can agree to do things that help America. For example, our roads and bridges are in dire need of repair. Fixing them would put people to work in good construction jobs, and  help big corporations and small businesses alike to ship and deliver their products safer and more efficiently. That’s a win-win for everyone. Likewise, increased promotion of clean renewable energy would create good jobs that can’t be exported, increase overall U.S. energy production, lessen our dependence on energy from nasty or unstable foreign countries, and reduce global warming (at least for those who believe in facts and science). With such win-win programs, both Republicans and Democrats would get credit for success.

But don’t expect Republicans to walk down this path of success. Based on their track record, the Republicans would rather try to score political points, even if it means that America falls from its current high-water mark.

Photo by DoD News Features, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2014 -- All rights reserved]

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks at event to raise minimum wage
CRomnibus opponent Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Conservatives and Liberals finally agree on one thing: they hate the $1.1 trillion continuing resolution of the omnibus federal spending bill (nicknamed “CRomnibus”) designed to fund the U.S. federal government through September 2015. However, conservatives and liberals oppose the bill for different reasons. Strolling through the Twitter hashtag #CRominbus, as well as reading and hearing statements from various quarters, is quite revealing.

The CRomnibus bill opened up rifts in the Democratic and Republican parties. President Barack Obama lobbied Democrats to pass the bill, but some Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Elizabeth Warren, harshly criticized the bill. Liberals such as Pelosi and Warren don’t like a bunch of the CRomnibus provisions, such as:

--Deregulating the 2010 Dodd-Frank protections on risky trading of derivatives, which is blamed at least in part for the 2008 financial crash that plunged the U.S. into the Bush Great Recession, and putting U.S. taxpayers back on the hook to bail out the banks if they make these bad decisions again;

--Increasing the limit on individual campaign contributions to political parties by tenfold, up to $ 300,000;

--Increasing the Pentagon budget to $ 554 billion, including hundreds of millions of dollars for military aircraft that the Pentagon didn’t even request;

--Cutting up to 50 percent from multiemployer pension plans which cover hard-working truck drivers, construction workers and others;

--Nullifying voter-approved marijuana legalization in the District of Columbia, which was in part an effort to reduce the racist effects of marijuana possession arrests;

--A $93 million cut to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (“WIC”); and

--Cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) budget.

On the Republican side, House Speaker John Boehner led the effort to pass the bill in the House (with the aforementioned Democratic votes) and send it to the Senate, but a number of conservatives in Congress, including Senators Rafael “Ted” Cruz and Mike Lee, as well as many conservative voters, are very upset with Boehner and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Conservatives say that Republicans who pushed for the CRomnibus sold out conservative principles because the bill:

--Fully funds (i.e., does not strip funding from) the Affordable Care Act;

--Fully funds (again, meaning does not de-fund) President Obama’s executive action on immigration (which Republicans call “amnesty”);

--Runs over 1,600 pages in length and contains lots of spending, making it the very essence of Big Government that conservatives say they oppose.

The sentiment of some conservatives was voiced by Twitter user @GOPNoWhiteGuilt, who wrote:

Shame on #BOEHNER for passing CRomnibus. #Dreamers are NOT welcomed in GOP!
This person wrote in another tweet:
Proud 2 be the TOP #Racist!
A third tweet by GOP No White Guilt reads:
We will NEVER Welcome Horrible #Hispanics into the #GOP.
Ultimately, however, the CRomnibus passed both Houses of Congress. 57 Democrats joined 162 Republicans to pass the bill in the House with 219 votes, just one more than the minimum 218 that was needed. One analysis revealed that House Democrats who voted for the bill had received twice as much money from the financial industry as House Democrats who voted against the bill. In the Senate, both parties experienced a roughly equal split. Democrats divided 31 to 24 in favor of the bill, and Republicans voted 21 to 18 in favor. The two Independents, both of whom caucus with the Democrats, also split their votes.

So we have an unusual situation: Conservatives and liberals agree on something, but for completely different reasons. It's obvious that many people across the political spectrum feel that their interests were not represented in this legislative process. For example, on Friday, James McDonald a/k/a @TURNEDTOS1 tweeted:

#CRomnibus deregulates WallStreet and funds #immigrationaction‘s cheap #illegal labor. A double win for the 1%.
This suggests that, if one or more political candidates emerge with a populist message that appeals to the remaining 99 percent of voters on both sides, they could be enormously successful.

Photo by Senate Democrats, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2014 -- All rights reserved]

Rally for Mike Brown in Minneapolis, MN
Two months ago, we heard from Democratic framing and messaging guru George Lakoff, who reminded us about his “Strict Father” model for conservatives. This Strict Father mindset, which idolizes authoritarian figures who criticize poor people and advocate the use of force, is playing out in conservative and Republican reactions to police violence against blacks, and the resulting protests currently taking place in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, Berkeley, California and elsewhere. In short, the conservative Strict Father mindset, which encompasses a “Scary Brown People” sub-theme, is a key reason why many conservatives side with cops and others who kill unarmed black men.

Here are some of those conservative and Republican reactions to the recent shootings by police against black men:

–Congressman Peter King of New York, regarding the Eric Garner shooting in New York City:

I feel strongly the police officer should not have been indicted…. You had a 350-lb. person who was resisting arrest, the police were trying to bring him down as quickly as possible. If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this…. If you can’t breathe, you can’t talk.
–Former New York City Mayor (and Republican Presidential candidate) Rudolph Giuliani, also on the police killing of Eric Garner:
I find it very disappointing that you’re not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here…. I’d like to see the attention paid to that, that you are paying to this, and the solutions to that…. It’s hardly a false equivalency…. It is the reason for the heavy police presence in the black community…. It’s because of the high level of crime …. What about the poor black child that is killed by another black child? What aren’t you protesting that? Why don’t you cut it down so so many white police officers don’t have to be in black areas?
Samuel Wurzelbacher a/k/a Joe the Plumber writing on his Facebook page in August, after the initial protests after Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson took place:
The best way to end the rioting and looting in Ferguson … Job Fair. They’ll scatter like cockroaches when the lights come on!
Wurzelbacher then followed up his original Facebook post with this one:
It’s interesting that one of the items NOT being looted in Ferguson is work boots?
Wurzelbacher failed to note that nearby St. Louis, a working/commuting destination for Ferguson residents, had just held a job fair two months earlier, at which thousands of residents showed up to find work, or that North St. Louis held another job fair in August after another shooting by police took place. Those facts would merely get in the way of the Republican narrative, where “looting” is often highlighted to distract from the initial events and conditions that caused people to protest in the first place.

Indeed, these types of Strict Father statements fit squarely within Republican Party positions and personalities. Think of who Republicans nominate as Presidential candidates: Barry Goldwater. Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan. Gerald Ford (the incumbent President and GOP nominee in 1976). George H.W. Bush. Robert Dole. John McCain. Willard Mitt Romney. Since 1964, all of the Republican Presidential candidates except for maybe George W. Bush were older white men who fit this Strict Father model. All were at least 55 years old (W. Bush was 54 and arguably fit the model as well), and some were much older than that. Nixon in 1968 ran on a “Law and Order” platform that was largely a reaction to the civil rights protests of the preceding years, as well as the “Southern Strategy,” a racist appeal to Southern whites. Two years earlier, Ronald Reagan previewed those strategies in his successful run for California Governor, promising to get tough on “beatniks, radicals and filthy speech advocates” who were protesting at locations such as the University of California at Berkeley that is in the news again today.

Notice also how McCain has tried to fill Ronald Reagan’s shoes as the current Strict Father Republican role model. For example, in 2010, facing a U.S. Senate primary challenge from the right by former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, McCain aired a television ad where, walking with an Arizona sheriff along the U.S.-Mexican border and talking about “drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder” caused by “illegals,” McCain tells the sheriff that America needs to “complete the danged fence.” As if McCain’s white identity politics weren’t clear enough, the white sheriff then tells McCain, “Senator, you’re one of us.” McCain won his primary and won re-election to the Senate. Other well-known Republicans such as Chris Christie, who many say is interested in running for the Republican Presidential nomination and who is often called a “bully,” fit the Strict Father model as well.

Pundits, and even some Republicans, have been saying for a while that the Republican Party faces a “demographic death spiral” due to the growing population of voting-age Latino Americans who are offended by the Republican Party’s hostile policies toward Latinos and Hispanics. It may be that this Republican death spiral will occur in the 2016 elections. For now, however, conservative/Republican Strict Father politics, including overt racist appeals and support for police officers who kill unarmed black men, has worked pretty well, and there are few signs that the Strict Father model is going away any time soon.

Photo by Fibonacci Blue, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2014 -- All rights reserved]

Angry Internet posting cat
Elizabeth Lauten‘s resignation and a case pending with the U.S. Supreme Court regarding Facebook posts give us a good reminder about what’s stupid, if not outright illegal, to post on the Internet.

Elizabeth Lauten was the Communications Director for Republican Congressman Stephen Fincher of Tennessee. Last Wednesday, Lauten apparently saw the television and/or photographic coverage of President Barack Obama “pardoning” the national turkey for Thanksgiving, an annual, lighthearted White House tradition since President George H.W. Bush “pardoned” a turkey at Thanksgiving time 1989. Some journalists noted, in a humorous way, that President Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, looked a bit bored during some parts of the ceremony (but not all parts, as the photos and video in the links above show). But Lauten, apparently getting her Christmas Scrooge on a bit early, wrote a rather cheap and bitter Facebook post:

Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.
The backlash against Elizabeth Lauten for her Facebook post was immediate. For example, at the Twitter hasthtag #ElizabethLauten, some accused Lauten of  being a “cyber bully.” The Smoking Gun website reported that Lauten had been arrested at age 17 for shoplifting. Some commenters noted that President George W. Bush‘s daughters, Jenna and Barbara, displayed a true lack of class, of the criminal kind, during Bush's time in the White House. Others noted simply that teenage girls appearing bored or even a bit rebellious now and then isn’t exactly new or newsworthy. On Monday, Lauten resigned from her Congressional staff position, after writing on her Facebook page:
I wanted to take a moment and apologize for a post I made on Facebook earlier today judging Sasha and Malia Obama at the annual White House turkey pardoning ceremony:

When I first posted on Facebook I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were. Please know that these judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart. Furthermore, I'd like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words, and I pledge to learn and grow (and I assure you I have) from this experience.

At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case about how far someone can go in their Facebook writings without breaking the law. In Elonis v. United States, a Pennsylvania man is challenging his criminal conviction for making threats against his estranged wife and law enforcement officials. Among the Facebook  postings by the husband, Anthony Elonis, were statements such as:
There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.
Elonis also posted:
I’ve got enough explosives to take care of the state police and the sheriff’s department. Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined. And hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class.
Other posts by Elonis along similar lines can be read here. Although Elonis says that he was just writing fictitious rap lyrics with no specific intent to injure anyone, Elonis was originally arrested and convicted because the First Amendment does not protect all speech. For example, in addition to certain types of threats, obscenity, slander, some false advertising claims, and lying on government applications and forms to obtain benefits are not protected by the Constitution.

The Supreme Court will determine whether the Facebook posts by Anthony Elonis crossed this line into unprotected speech. But regardless of whether his postings on Facebook were illegal, it’s clear that posting them, just like Elizabeth Lauten posting her cheap (thought not illegal) shots against President Obama’s daughters, was stupid. It seems that some Americans need a reminder that posting publicly on social media like Facebook and Twitter is like broadcasting, with the additional attribute of being available for easy access forever.

Indeed, Internet posts can have a much wider reach than traditional radio or television broadcasting, which used to end with the listeners or viewers who caught the broadcast live or on a tape delay. Now, the recipients of Internet broadcasts are themselves broadcasters, who can relay the messages in seconds, to a new set of recipients who can do the same thing, and so on. That’s what meant by something going viral on the Internet.

Given that viruses are generally thought of as dangerous, this holiday season might be a good time to vaccinate yourself and think twice — or at least “Save Draft” where possible — before broadcasting that Facebook or Twitter post in an emotionally heated moment.

Photo provided by Noah Sussman, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2014 -- All rights reserved]

Woman holding pro-immigration reform sign and American flag at 2010 rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Rally for Immigration Reform, Ann Arbor, MI, 2010
Americans might be calling President Barack Obama the Comeback Kid. After historic mid-term election losses for his Democratic Party just over two weeks ago, President Obama, with a 15-minute announcement last night, has now maneuvered himself into the position of (a) going on offense by taking action on immigration reform; (b) igniting the hopes and the hearts of millions of Latino Americans, who comprise one of the fasting growing voting blocs in the U.S.; and (c) making the Republicans look both lazy and mean at the same time.

President Obama had warned Congressional Republicans well in advance that he would take executive action on immigration reform if the Republicans could not get their act together, and Obama made good on his promise last night. Specifically, Obama announced that, in addition to increased border security and provisions regarding visas for high-skilled workers, his administration would use its enforcement discretion to delay deportation of illegal immigrants (Obama referred to them by the more liberal term “undocumented immigrants”) who (a) have been in the U.S. at least five years, (b) have children who are American citizens or legal residents, (c) come forward and disclose their illegal status; (d) pay their required taxes.

Obama used brilliant framing in his immigration announcement, taking a page from the Republicans and portraying his action as pro-family. Obama asked the rhetorical question:

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?
And for once, other Democrats echoed President Obama’s positive message. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came out yesterday, flanked by fellow Democratic Senators, and stated:
It’s important to remember what this issue is all about. It’s not about Democrats versus Republicans, or the Republicans versus the President. It’s about families all across America, who worry every day about being torn apart. It’s about saying to good, law-abiding people, ‘you will not have to spend another holiday season worrying if this will be your last together.’ … This is a decision to tell innocent children they will not be pulled away from their parents’ arms.
Obama also covered all his bases. He stressed his tough enforcement of illegal immigration, which includes a record pace of deportations. Obama then added:
… we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.
Moreover, Obama’s immigration announcement targeted Republicans, in particular the House of Representatives run by Speaker John Boehner and the Republican majority. Obama said that the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill well over a year ago, but that Boehner and the Republicans had done nothing to vote on the Senate bill, or their own version, in the House. Obama said he would welcome Congressional action on immigration reform (“I have one answer: Pass a bill”), but, with House Republicans failing to act and most everyone across the political spectrum recognizing that “our immigration system is broken,” he had to act now.

Furthermore, President Obama pointed out that he has historical precedent on his side:

The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century.
Indeed, Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush took similar executive actions on immigration during their terms in office. In this respect, President Obama was also fighting for the office of the Presidency against a power grab by Republicans in Congress who said that Obama could not do what his Republican predecessors had done without objection.

Even the Republican majority U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 appeared to uphold a President’s discretion over deportation (which they termed “removal”):

A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials. Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.
Obama also used the Reaganesque tactic of making immigration reform personal. Last night, Obama told the story of:
… a young woman named Astrid Silva. Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old…. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mother cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school for fear the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant – so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree. Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?
As a final move in co-opting language and tactics from the Republicans, President Obama even cited the Bible:
Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.
So now Republicans are left in the position of explaining why (a) they still can’t pass an immigration reform bill that would supercede President Obama’s executive action; (b) they want to rip families apart; (c) their version of “outreach” to Latino voters is to be mean and heartless; and (d) they want to spend more time fighting political and legal battles President Obama on immigration instead of addressing the illegal immigration problem.

President Obama’s tactical move against the Republicans on immigration, coming just days after being written off by many as a “lame duck,” seems so complete that it raises the question, why couldn’t he do this before the elections?

Photo by Sasha Kimel, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2014 -- All rights reserved]

Hillary Clinton, 67, at Tom Harkin Steak Fry, September 2014
The post-election analysis of the Democratic Party's massive 2014 losses has covered numerous factors, including Republican dark money, a lack of a unified Democratic message, and historic trends for the sixth year of a two-term incumbent president. Some pundits say "just wait until 2016" when the Democrats will make a stunning comeback, winning the White House and retaking the U.S. Senate majority. However, few of these analysts mention a potential time bomb that could spoil the Democrats' 2016 election chances. That time bomb is age.

Consider the current Democratic Party stars. Elizabeth Warren (age 65) comes to mind first, even though she has stated repeatedly that she does not plan to run for President. Next comes Hillary Clinton (age 67). Bernie Sanders (age 73) is also hitting the talk show circuit, saying he is a possible presidential candidate (although Bernie technically is an independent, he caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, and might want to take advantage of the Democratic Party machine if he runs for president). Joe Biden (age 71) is Vice President, and naturally might want to run for President, as Vice President George H.W. Bush did successfully in 1988 after serving under Ronald Reagan for two terms. But voters in 2016 could decide that all these Democratic Party stars are too old to be President!

The other Democratic presidential possibles on the list by and large are not terribly young either. Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is 59.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is 56. Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is 51. Former Navy Secretary and Virginia Senator Jim Webb is 68. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is 62. New York Senator Kirsten Gilibrand (age 47) is the only potential Democratic presidential candidate on this list who is under 50. And these candidates will all be two years older when the 2016 Elections roll around. Perhaps in the future, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and his twin brother, Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro, both age 40, will be considered presidential prospects, but that seems unlikely for 2016, where the first Democratic primary debates are just six months away.

Now consider the Republican presidential and vice presidential bench. Rand Paul (age 51) is a current GOP frontrunner. Ted Cruz (age 43) seems to be in the running, and Tea Partiers love him. Others on the Republican list include Louisiana Governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal (age 43), Chris Christie (age 52), Marco Rubio (age 43), Rick Santorum (age 56), Mike Huckabee (age 59), Paul Ryan (age 44),  Rob Portman (age 58) and Scott Walker (age 47). Jeb Bush (age 61) is one of the few potential Republican candidates over 60, along with Rick Perry (age 64) and John Kasich (age 62). It's hard to take seriously the talk that the oldest of the bunch, Willard Mitt Romney (age 67), would run for president again. Finally, one rising star of the Republican Party has a familiar name and time on his side. That's George P. Bush (age 38), who just landed his first statewide job as Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office.

Fox News viewers and conservative Republican voters may skew older, but there are plenty of older people in America, and they vote in larger numbers, more often for Republicans. Therefore, Democrats need to energize a lot of younger voters. Is running older candidates the best way to do that?

Indeed, the Presidency now may be a younger person's office. Modern communications makes being a Democratic President basically a 24-hour a day job (Republicans seem to be able to work less in office, whether it is George W. Bush taking an astonishing 349 days of vacation or Ronald Reagan being, well, detached). Check out the before and after pictures of presidents such as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama to see the physical toll that being a hands-on president takes. The past three Presidents, i.e., those in the Internet age, were elected at age 46 (Clinton), 54 (W. Bush) and 47 (Obama), respectively. Remember "Lizard Man" and "Green Screen" John McCain in contrast? Thus, it is not a great sign that President Obama, who will be finishing eight years as President on January 2017 and thus by definition will be a political has-been, will still be, at age 55, one of the youngest leaders of the Democratic Party.

It would take more research to find out whether the Democratic candidates holding or running for down-ticket offices (state legislatures, school boards, etc.) are any younger than, or at least around the same age as, their Republican counterparts. It was very exciting to see an 18 year-old college student, Saira Blair, become the youngest elected official in America when she won a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates. However, Blair is a conservative Republican. Are Democrats attracting young people like this to run for office?

It may be that the current Democratic Party stars will attract enthusiastic younger voters and do very well in 2016. For example, Elizabeth Warren talks a lot about affordable student loans. For the future, we know that excitement about the top of the ticket often brings voters out to vote for such down-ticket offices. Therefore, the Democrats need some new blood at all levels of the Party, from the President on down to state and local candidates (who might later advance to national candidates), in order to excite younger voters who will be crucial to future election victories.

Photo by Karen Murphy, used under Creative Commons license.

[Originally posted at Messaging Matters. Copyright 2014 -- All rights reserved]

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