The last few days remind me of the Clinton impeachment fight. In the late 1990s, a radicalized Republican Congress"”convinced that only it could prevent America from going the way of an ancient Rome"”faced off against a popular, recently reelected Democratic president. Back then, the GOP's crusade was against baby boom immorality, not just government spending (though it was against that too). Back then, as today, the GOP's insistence on ideological purity led it afoul of public opinion. And back then, as now, Republican leaders found themselves...
Ray LaHood is the 16th secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), which is ranked ninth out of 19 large agencies in the just-released 2012 " Best Places to Work in the Federal Government " rankings. DOT was also the most improved large agency, raising its score 4.1 points from 2011. LaHood spoke with Tom Fox, who is a guest writer of the Washington Post's Federal Coach blog and is the vice president for leadership and innovation at the Partnership for Public Service, which also publishes the rankings. Fox also heads up the Partnership's Center for Government Leadership.
When you became secretary in 2009, DOT was ranked last among large agencies in levels of employee satisfaction and commitment. What was your reaction and how did you feel when the agency received recognition for improving so dramatically in 2012?
When I [found out] that DOT was last, I was stunned. I made a commitment that day to do everything I could do to engage people and really change morale and opinions at the department. Four years later, we've accomplished a lot. We still have a lot more to do, obviously. But I am really proud of it. It's not a one-man show by any means. It's a result of an all-out team effort from a group of people that made a commitment to improve the way people think about the workplace at DOT. This was very focused and comprehensive.
What were some initiatives DOT undertook to turn around employee engagement?
You may not know this, but the majority of our employees are FAA employees. There was no secret around here about how disenchanted National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) workers were for not having a contract for five years. One of our first goals was to reach a contract, which we did within 100 days of my being sworn in. Reaching that goal, and satisfying that number of employees, set us on a course that people understood, that showed that we care about our employees. It felt like it was a very good giant first step.
Two things I think directly impact our employees -- we didn't have a health-care center at headquarters, and we have over 5,000 employees. One of our goals was pretty simple: Establish a health clinic, which we've done. One of our other goals was to establish a child-care facility. We've fallen short on that, but it's still one of our goals. People know we're addressing those. Also, at least once a month we've had a town hall meeting live-streamed to our workers around the country. We've used the meetings as a way to solicit ideas from employees about improvements in the workplace. They can stand up at a microphone and ask me anything they want to ask me about. I think people have appreciated the fact that they have access to the secretary.
We also have an awards ceremony once a year to honor employees for what they do -- just common, ordinary employees who come to work every day and do their job, but they make a difference. We recognize them, and people appreciate that..
How do you make sure workers are comfortable sharing their opinions?
The idea that you engage employees and not only listen but follow through is central to the idea of building a relationship. I've met with all the employees in every department. When I go around the country, I visit our highway offices, transit officials and air traffic control towers. I met 50 employees at a Cincinnati control tower recently. They said, "We've never had a secretary visit us before." When I go to town hall meetings, I don't talk too long. When I was in Cincinnati, I probably talked no more than five minutes. The rest of the time I spent answering questions. People are not bashful; they don't need to be lectured to. These meetings are really good opportunities to listen to concerns about things that need to be changed.
How do you intend to maintain your gains in employee satisfaction moving forward?
One of the things we've done is focus on engagement of our top people. For four years we've had retreats where we take a day and a half, go off campus and talk about how we're managing DOT. The retreats have built a real strong rapport among our top people here and that filters down to the employees. They know that people running these departments have the ear of the secretary and that that can make a difference too. We also hope to continue to use IdeaHub, which originated from some employees. You can suggest an idea, and a group of employees evaluate it. I think we've implemented over a hundred ideas that came directly from employees throughout the country about how to improve the workplace.
What would you tell your successor?
At the DOT, we have a crisis every day because of the nature of safety in all modes of transportation. Dealing with crises demands having qualified people who can give you good advice, and there's a great group of really dedicated people here. When it comes to transportation and safety, having a large corps of people who work hard, are professional and are in it for the right reasons has been very helpful.
Who are your leadership role models?
Bob Michel was the minority leader when I worked for him, and what he developed in his office was a real spirit of family. He hired good people and let them do their jobs. That's the leadership style I learned from Bob Michel, and it's held me in good stead.
I would also count the president. He doesn't try to micromanage agencies. He's given us latitude to carry out our safety agenda, and he told me how much he appreciates how much we've done here. I think the president's style about putting good people in place and letting them run agencies has held him in pretty good stead for four years.
This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.
WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden rallied Latino members of Congress on Thursday to push for immigration reform, calling Latinos "the center of the nation's future" and reminding them that their political power will only grow after the last presidential election.
"The way to make the mark ... is for the Hispanic community to step up and step out and let the world know, let the Republicans know, let others know that if you ignore the needs and concerns of the Hispanic community, you will not win," Biden said at a swearing-in event hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a nonpartisan group that runs programs encouraging Latino leadership.
A record 26 members were welcomed into the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which is separate from the institute, on Thursday. Not all Latino members of Congress joined the caucus, but their total, too, is a record: There are three senators and 33 House members of Latino descent in the 113th Congress.
Many of them are strong supporters of immigration reform, which also ranked high -- though not first -- on the list of priorities of Latino voters. President Barack Obama has promised swift action and will begin major work on the issue this month now that the "fiscal cliff" battle is out of the way. Members of Congress are already beginning to craft a deal and hope it can receive a vote by the end of the summer.
The president made something of a down payment on his promise of reform last summer when he announced that his administration would grant deferred action on deportation for some undocumented young people, often referred to as Dreamers.
Before the deferred action announcement, Biden told Thursday's crowd, he and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, had met with now-retired Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), who chaired the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to discuss what could be done for Dreamers.
Although deferred action was considered by many a risky political choice, Biden said he and Muñoz "absolutely believed that what we were about to do was not only the right thing to do, but that it would be embraced by the vast majority of the American people."
They found they were right, the vice president said. Obama won more than 70 percent of the Latino vote in his reelection bid.
Biden said the American people also recognize what Latinos, including those who are undocumented, can and will contribute to the country.
"It's no longer about what can be done for the Hispanic community," he said. "The question is what the Hispanic community is going to do to take this country to a totally new place."
Jeez, how I'd love to disagree with you, you old prude -- but I just can't. You nailed it.I really like the edgy humor of Kathy Griffin, but her annual CNN New Year's Eve show with Andersoon Cooper this past Monday night was simply embarrassing. And speaking as someone who's probably had way more than his fair share of maybe-too-good times in New Year's Eves past, I'm generally not one who's easily embarrassed.I mean, speaking also from personal experience, it's one thing for two good friends to...
Senate Republicans voted to raise taxes on most American households and added trillions to the deficit, proving they truly are the party of Reagan. Now it's up to the House to win one for the Gipper. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Tuesday, January 1st, 2013:
FREMDSHAMEN: VICARIOUS EMBARRASSMENT FOR OTHERS - A high-stakes, multi-layered game of chicken broke out in the Capitol today, as House Republicans grappled with how to handle a fiscal cliff bill sent their way by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, even while it's wildly unpopular within their conference. The damndest problem for the GOP was that last week, when John Boehner failed to get his people to back his Plan B, he said this: "Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff." He didn't add: "At which point, we will reject it in dramatic fashion, embarrassing ourselves and the country in the process, before caving and passing it." Republican leadership aides spent much of the day trying to think of ways to amend the bill that would be palatable to enough Republicans and also be able to pass the Senate. No such thing exists, of course, so they are finally going to take the advice Nancy Pelosi gave them weeks ago: Give your extreme members something to vote on for the hell of it, and then give a clean vote on the thing you want passed. If Pelosi can find a way to fund illegal wars, dammit, Boehner can figure out how to pass some tax cuts. House leadership aides are whipping their conference to determine whether they have the votes needed to amend and pass the bill. Once they've gone through that motion -- they don't have the votes, unless the amendment repeals Dodd-Frank or something -- they'll figure out a way to allow a clean vote on the Senate bill and then we can all absorb ourselves into the debt ceiling, sequester and CR fight. We call this governing. [HuffPost's fiscal cliff liveblog]
Charles Krauthammer: "A complete rout by the Democrats."
MACHO TALK FROM EARLIER - "I'll be shocked if this isn't sent back to the Senate," said Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), leaving the first of two meetings on Tuesday. "I don't think that's out of the realm of possibility," said a senior House GOP aide, confirmed by other high-level aides. They had no problem making life uncomfortable for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who they blame for getting them in this mess, said one GOP source close to the situation. "He jammed the House. He's gonna get re-jammed," he said of the possibility the House amends the bill and sends it back to the Senate. But if House Republicans think they can put the onus back on the Senate by amending the bill, they are wildly mistaken, a Democratic Senate aide involved in the talks said. "They are full of hot air. Not a chance we come back," he said. The Senate is adjourned until noon tomorrow. [HuffPost]
Scott Garrett on Fox News, taken majorly out of context, just for kicks: "Nothing ever good happens at 2:00 in the morning...I'll wait until I go into that room down the hallway and get whipped."
@mmcauliff: Q: Is there going to be a vote tonight? Paul Ryan: "I don't know the answer to that. You gotta ask the leader guys."
HOUSE GOP MULLS OPTIONS OVER CHINESE FOOD AND CIGARETTES - Republican lawmakers came out of their caucus meeting on Tuesday afternoon looking sad and not saying too much about their plans. The House is voting now on stuff unrelated to the fiscal cliff -- including a congressional pay freeze -- but might have more votes later. "The Speaker presented his members two options," a House leadership aide told HuffPost's Jen Bendery. "The first would be to make an amendment to the Senate bill that would add a package of spending cuts. The Whip will do a whip check on this spending cuts amendment after the meeting. If we can get the commitment of 218 votes on this amendment, we will bring it to the floor and send it to the Senate. The Speaker and the Leader both cautioned members about the risk in such a strategy. They told them there is no guarantee the Senate would act on it. If we cannot get the commitment of 218 votes tonight, we will bring up the Senate-passed measure for an up-or-down vote in the House."
The pay freeze will keep annual salaries for rank-and-file members at $174,000. So brave.
AMENDMENTS COULD BACKFIRE - Mike McAuliff: "Not only could Republican changes to the fiscal cliff deal create a measure that the Senate refuses to take up, it could create a bill that's actually tougher on the GOP. Why? As the measure stands now, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would push Democrats to hold their noses and back the bill, which is not enthusiastically supported. There could be around 150 Democratic votes in favor, meaning fewer than 70 Republicans would have to sign on. But if Republicans amend the deal with anything Dems like less, all bets are off, said one Democratic source. House Speaker John Boehner would then have to compel more of his caucus to back the deal, and he was unable to get that sort of support when he tried his Plan B proposal to set the tax-cut cut-off at $1 million -- more than double what passed the Senate early this morning. 'It would just kill this thing,' a Democrat said. 'It wouldn't pass.' House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) was asked if amending the bill is the equivalent of killing it. 'To me, that's the case," he said, according to Fox News' Chad Pergram.'" [HuffPost]
With no false modesty, we'll just come out and say it: Told ya so: [McLaughlin Group]
Howard Fineman on Joe Biden's meeting with the Democratic House caucus: 'At 2:06 p.m. Tuesday, Biden swept out of back door of a Democratic caucus meeting about the fiscal cliff deal without giving any concrete indication of what had gone on in an hour and a half of talking and answering questions. I asked him if he had the votes and he said, 'you're an old hand and you know that I never predict the vote.' I asked him what the most effective argument was that he had made and he said, 'you'll have to ask the members that.' He smiled the usual Biden sincerely frozen grimace and added, 'I'm a "foreign policy expert!" Why am I here doing this?' Then he disappeared up the escalator surrounded by a cloud of aides and security officers." [HuffPost]
WHAT NEXT IF DEAL COLLAPSES? More from Howard: "Some Democrats were already thinking out loud about what will follow the collapse of the Senate deal, which they now expect. If Republicans attempt to offer amendments -- as is expected -- Democrats will oppose a rule to allow that to happen procedurally. If the GOP then tries to pass an amended bill, 'they will have to do it with their own votes,' said Rep. James Clyburn, (D- S.C.), a member of the leadership. Either scenario would kill the deal. If the GOP doesn't offer an up or down vote on the Senate deal, well, that would kill the deal, too. And then what? "Well, I say that then we wait for the new Congress to come in on Thursday. We'll have better numbers, more members on our side," said Clyburn. "Then we offer a new bill that they will like even less. They didn't like the 450 (thousand dollar in household income) floor on the tax increase? Let's see how much they like it when we push it back down to 250 (thousand)!" [HuffPost]
BUDGET DEAL RAISES DEFICIT $3.6 TRILLION: CBO - And that doesn't even factor in the lost tourism dollars from all those canceled staffer vacations to Sugar Mountain. Mike McAuliff: "The fiscal cliff deal adds $3.6 trillion to the deficit, over the next 10 years, at least technically. That's because while most people assumed most of the Bush-era tax cuts would be extended, the Congressional Budget Office must look only at what the law says. The law called for letting all the cuts expire, which would have brought in more than $4 trillion. The fiscal cliff deal lets most of that revenue go, letting rates increase only for single filers above $400,000 and $450,000 for couples." [HuffPost]
See the report here
DAILY DELANEY DOWNER - More than 2 million unemployed people have been cut off from unemployment insurance, and are now forced to watch C-SPAN and read newsletters to find out when their benefits might start again. [Hang in there!]
BECAUSE YOUR HOLIDAY PLANS WERE RUINED - Bulldog puppy tries to psych out cat. There's a fiscal cliff metaphor in there somewhere but we're too sleep-deprived to articulate one.
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WASHINGTON -- A high-stakes, multi-layered game of chicken is underway in the Capitol, as House Republicans grapple with how to handle a fiscal cliff bill sent their way by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, even while it's wildly unpopular within their conference.
A vote that had been scheduled on the bill immediately to follow a conference-wide meeting was postponed indefinitely, reflecting the uncertainty surrounding the process. Republicans emerging from the meeting said that the most likely scenario is that the House will amend the bill to add spending cuts, then send it back to the Senate.
"I'll be shocked if this isn't sent back to the Senate,” said Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), leaving the meeting. "I don't think that's out of the realm of possibility," said a senior House GOP aide, confirmed by other high-level aides.
They'll have no difficulty making life uncomfortable for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who they blame for getting them in this mess, said one GOP source close to the situation. "He jammed the House. He's gonna get re-jammed," he said of the possibility the House amends the bill and sends it back to the Senate.
But if House Republicans think they can put the onus back on the Senate by amending the bill, they are wildly mistaken, a Democratic Senate aide involved in the talks said. "They are full of hot air. Not a chance we come back," he said.
Following the GOP meeting, Democratic and Republican leaders conferenced by phone to swap notes, trying to determine who has what votes. Democrats think they can get 140-150 members of their caucus, but are not sure that the GOP side can get enough votes to pass the Senate deal. Neither are the Republican leaders. Democrats don't want to be blamed for going over the cliff, but GOP Tea Partiers may see it as an act of courage to do so.
"It may go back with, as someone said, not a poison pill, just enough to give 'em a little heartburn and get it done," said Rep. Bob Turner (R-N.Y.)
The biggest complaint is the lack of spending cuts.
"We've got to provide responsible spending balance long-term," said Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) "This bill does not do that." Republicans who filed out of the House GOP meeting sounded cautionary notes about the fiscal cliff deal, suggesting it faces serious trouble.
House GOP sources said that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), a leader of the conservative wing and a potential threat to House Speaker John Boehner, is expected to vote against the Senate deal if it comes to the floor, breaking the leadership unity that existed around Boehner's "Plan B." And Republicans leaving the meeting said that Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Boehner's leading rival, spoke against the bill, BuzzFeed's John Stanton reported.
"Leadership is currently listening to the members so as to figure out the best path forward," Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said.
Cantor told CNN's Deirdre Walsh flatly, "I do not support the bill," and said no decisions have been made on how to proceed.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) told the National Review's Robert Costa that there are "real divisions" between Boehner and Cantor, and that Cantor was vociferous in his opposition, with the upcoming leadership elections hanging over the meeting. He said that conservatives were heartened to see Cantor take on Boehner in front of the entire conference.
Michael McAuliff, Jen Bendery, Howard Fineman, Sam Stein and Sabrina Siddiqui contributed
WASHINGTON -- The "fiscal cliff" is a massive failure of presidential leadership. The tedious and technical negotiations are but a subplot in a larger drama. Government can no longer fulfill all the promises it has made to various constituencies. Some promises will be reduced or disavowed. Which ones? Why? Only the president can pose these questions in a way that starts a national conversation over the choices to be made, but doing so requires the president to tell people things they don't want to hear. That's his job: to help Americans face unavoidable, if unpleasant,...
As the final scene of Thelma and Louise seems to be playing out these last few days, it might be a good time to recall the dramatic end of that movie.
It's true that some think the fiscal cliff is real while others say it's just a mirage. Some in the U.S. want to just "keep goin'" as Thelma urges. But most of us probably don't see much of a choice -- it seems more like we are trapped in a car with its gas pedal stuck in the full speed ahead mode and someone has disabled the brakes. For even at this 11th hour, almost no one in the Punch and Judy Show in Washington is able to home in on, much less intelligently discuss, the real problem.
As President Obama meets with congressional leaders at the White House in last-ditch efforts to reach a budget deal, however, one clarion voice, that of Representative Dennis Kucinich was heard on Democracy Now . Here are some of Kucinich's parting words of wisdom about the phoniness of the entire fiscal cliff debate, ignoring as it does the terrible elephant in the room, the war machine:
So, you know, this is -- we really have to decide who we are as a nation. We're spending more and more money for wars. We're spending more and more money for interventions abroad. We're spending more and more money for military buildups. And we seem to be prepared to spend less and less on domestic programs and on job creation. This whole idea of a debt-based economic system is linked to a war machine... We're increasingly dysfunctional as a nation because of our unwillingness to challenge the military-industrial complex, which Dwight Eisenhower warned about generations ago. And so, we really have to look at America's role in the world. We have a right to defend ourselves, but we have no right to aggress. And we're continuing to aggress. And that's coming at a cost to our domestic priorities here, this idea of guns and butter. We are now thoroughly mired in an economy that's based on guns. We are not providing for the practical needs of the American people. And this budget and this fiscal cliff does in no way get into that debate.
Also amidst the darkness comes a news flash of a way by which ordinary people can still make a difference: "DULUTH CITY COUNCIL JOINS SAINT PAUL AND MINNEAPOLIS PASSING THE MN ASAP RESOLUTION CALLING FOR PENTAGON SPENDING REDUCTIONS: the MN ASAP resolution connects the dots between federal military spending, cuts to city council budgets, and the debate about sequestration and the fiscal cliff."
As part of the Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project (MN ASAP), citizens in Minnesota have effectively begun pointing to U.S. war machine spending as the elephant in the room that needs to be noticed, then discussed and addressed. We have found that our city councilpersons and mayors, on the whole, seem more clear-headed, more approachable, less corrupted by the Military Industrial Complex and less defensive than the federal characters responsible for getting us into the costly wars and fiscal mess. As a result, on December 17, the Duluth City Council passed the resolution, calling on Congress for a reduction and redirection of Pentagon spending back to local communities.
The resolution initiative is getting real traction not only in Minnesota but around the country! The Saint Paul City Council unanimously passed a similar resolution, October 10th, 2012. And the Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a similar version of the MN ASAP resolution on December 7. (Just a few days before, Des Moines, Iowa joined a growing group of larger U.S. cities that have passed or are passing similar resolutions.)
We have to start somewhere and everyone can do this! For instance on December 13, I requested, for the second time, that the MN ASAP resolution be put on (my own) Apple Valley City Council's agenda warning that the wars are bankrupting America and that the "fiscal cliff" is unlikely to go away as long as the U.S. continues to spend more on the Pentagon, its wars abroad and its military occupations, than on programs of social uplift. I intend to keep knocking on my city's door until they wake up and open it and put this discussion on their official agenda.
Guns or butter is of course the real issue. It's unfortunate, all these decades after Eisenhower's warning about the pernicious, corrupting influence of the Military Industrial Complex, that we cannot count on those in Washington to heed the dangers. In fact, their plan seems to raise taxes on everyone to pay for more wars. More citizens and grassroots efforts like the successful actions of MN ASAP and the National Priorities Project are therefore necessary. People who care about their children and grandchildren's future need to replicate these type of presentations in cities and state legislatures all over the country if we are ever to end the unethical, illegal wars and get our priorities back in order.
And if we citizens choose to do nothing but go along? Note that the old movie mercifully spared its audience of watching crazy Thelma and Louise hit rock bottom. Rest assured, however, that in real life, Washington's collective euphoria and currently prevalent belief that war is the answer will undoubtedly come to a very sad crashing end.
ROCKAWAY BEACH, N.Y. -- The boardwalk where generations strolled along one of the world's great urban beaches is gone, twisted and then tossed into neighborhood streets by an unforgiving storm called Sandy.Off-season devotees of the Atlantic are bound together in homage to the waves even after the temperatures have dropped and bathing suits have given way to fleece. But now, the joy of a winter's day walk along the ocean between Beach 120th and 130th Streets quickly gives way to sorrow at the sight of collapsed roofs, mounds of rubble, front porches warped into unnatural shapes, and...
I knew immediately that he was my Internet troll. What are the chances, I thought as I walked towards my seat. What kind of pattern in the Matrix leads to this, to sharing an airplane seat with the man who wrote that "everything [I] hold dear needs to be destroyed, with as much emotional pain inflicted as possible"?
The sweet heady high of my spontaneous upgrade gave way to dry mouth and a hairball of nerves rising from my esophagus. My jaw clenched as I pictured the inevitable airborne confrontation: fists flying in first class, an emergency landing and the red burn of handcuffs as I'm frog-marched down a steamy Tampa tarmac.
As I sat down, I still wasn't 100 percent sure that he was Eric Golub. Passengers streamed by, and he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and made a call. "Hey Mark," he said, "I'm just calling to confirm for this weekend. This is Eric Golub."
Oh my god. This can't be happening.
My mind raced. Two hours of tension lay ahead. I sent out a couple of tweets, quick messages to let the outside world know what sort of surreal cosmic junction I had just entered. I reloaded my feed. No responses. I was all alone, just me and my troll.
After we took off, we talked like friendly strangers about why we were flying to the Republican Convention. I'm a reporter, I told him, and Golub said that he gives speeches to conservative groups. He had this Rodney Dangerfield schtick going on, and he wise-cracked about hard it can be to meet single women at a Rick Santorum rally. I realized that he had no clue who I was, and then he went to sleep.
I had never actually met Eric Golub personally. He is a neo-conservative blogger and comedian, and he was the warm-up act for an Idaho Republican Party fundraiser that I covered as my first story for Politics Daily. A few days after the story ran, I got a weird email from a friend. "Congratulations, Scumbag!" she wrote. She attached a link to a blog post called, "Michael Ames -- Lying Liberal Scumbag."
No one had ever called me a scumbag before, at least not in public, and I read eagerly. Golub had many grievances, few of which will be of interest to today's reader. He claims that I misquoted him. Needless to say, I stand by my reporting. He called me "the new face of what is contemptible with the liberal media."
As the engines slowed and the plane dropped into the cloud layer over northern Florida, he woke up, and we talked about politics. He was knowledgable and, to my surprise, calm. I crunched on my last tomato-juice-soaked ice cube and decided it was time to identify myself.
"I think we may have crossed paths before," I said. "I heard you speak once, at a Republican fundraiser in Idaho."
"You were there?"
"I was there. I was actually a reporter covering the event."
"Wait. What's your full name?"
Long pause. His face turned gray and he looked down at his seatbelt.
"Oh boy," my troll said. "I laced into you. So you saw that?"
"Well... I meant it."
Things got tense there for a minute. But I had already decided that this man was no enemy of mine. The mind-boggling improbability of being assigned to sit with him was so humbling, like we had both been put into some kind of existential kindergarten time out. Golub softened his edge, too. He told me that as his career grew, he received hate mail that made my crimes against him small by comparison. He promised to go back and re-consider what I had written and his reaction to it. He said that I was apparently "not a scumbag."
Before we landed, I asked him if he thought his angry rant might encourage other people to engage in similar tactics. I confessed to him that he had hit close to home -- some of my own relatives are hard-core right-wingers who dive gleefully into the political gutters. They don't call me a scumbag, but they do assume many things about people who they don't know. They enjoy AM radio and roll in the verbal muck of the genre. Democratic politicians are "vile" and "detestable" monsters intent on "destroying America." Obama voters are "losers," "parasites," and "bums" going nowhere in life.
My conservative relatives and friends are good people, of course. But our bonds have all been needlessly strained by politics. I have met dozens of other people with similar stories of damaged relationships, of ruined holiday dinners and in some cases, total estrangement. Such a waste, and all this for some cheap junk talk on the radio.
As we descended toward Tampa, Golub was reflective. He said, and I'll never forget this, that too many people these days "demonize those who they disagree with."
"Hmmm," I said, thinking about how many prospective employers had skipped over my resume after they googled my name and discovered that I was a lying scumbag.
Why do the haters hate, I asked him.
They engage in ideological bigotry, he said.
"Eric Golub," I wanted to say at that moment but didn't, "you too are a part of this. You may be a modest man and you not think of yourself as a public figure, but you are, we all are, and we have a responsibility to not be trolls."
That was late August. A month later, he wrote this article about our encounter for The Washington Times and called it "Yom Kippur with Michael Ames." It was an atonement. Golub said that he had "questioned what was in [my] heart," and "that was wrong." Thank you, sir.
As we head into a new year, I am thinking with respect and solidarity about the man who was once my Internet troll but has become something more like a spiritual test. I am thankful and will forever be awestruck that we sat next to each other on Delta Flight 564. The experience changed both of us for the better.
In 2013, we should all realize that the best and most innovative solutions come from collaborations between people who disagree. People with different ideas are not scumbags. Trolls are people, too. If my Internet troll and I can come together, can't we expect at least that much from the people we send to Washington to do the same?
AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- New Zealand is about as far from the Washington Beltway, physically and socially, as you can get and still be on planet Earth.
They don't care a whit for status here, and not that much for money or power. They love the outdoors and with good reason, for this is arguably the most beautiful place in the world. Kiwis say "no worries" instead of "you're welcome," and they would rather charge you less for something if they deem that fair.
Maybe I had to get this far away to see Washington for what it is these days: the world capital of small-minded, cowardly, selfish thinking.
I tried to avert my eyes from the pathetic political non-responses to the mass murder in Connecticut -- the reflexive knuckling under to the gun lobby -- and from the pantomime of fiscal statesmanship on display in Congress, especially by a Republican Party in thrall to the past.
But no matter how divertingly gorgeous the scenery here, I could not avoid seeing us the way others now see us: as a global leader that has become shockingly unable to handle its duties -- much less serve as a supposed beacon of civilization.
Now I'm headed back to Washington knowing what I had guessed when I left town: that the so-called fiscal cliff "talks" would still be going when I got home. I'm returning with useful, nagging questions ringing in my ears from Kiwis and visitors alike.
The Korean bond trader from Hong Kong wanted to know why America could not manage to pass a government budget -- ever.
The Maori tribal leader wanted to know how we could lecture smaller countries (such as New Zealand) on their fiscal probity when the United States was $16 trillion in arrears. "That's a lot of money, mate," he said.
The American expat who was a management consultant in Shanghai wanted me to explain how President Barack Obama could have won reelection handily and yet remain unable to break Washington gridlock.
A British couple couldn't believe that I could tolerate living in a country with at least as many guns as people (not to mention some 2 million prison inmates).
When I opened The New Zealand Herald, I saw that a leading columnist in the country was calling our president names, accusing him of weakness in the face of the powerful U.S. gun lobby. (He was right.)
But mostly everyone, Kiwi and tourist alike, in this lovely, sensible and family-oriented country wanted to extend condolences over the loss of the likes of Sandy Hook elementary student Emilie Parker, the epitome of innocence, to a madman's bullets. Sadly, a month after Obama's triumph at the polls, he was not the most familiar American face in newspapers and magazines across the South Pacific. For a long stretch of this month, Emilie was.
Behind the courteous sympathy was something else: a note of pity, a sense that poor America, it can't help being the land of psychopathic mayhem.
And on the fiscal cliff, they thought: Poor America, Obama's a good guy so why can't he run things? What kind of system elects a guy but doesn't let him lead?
I thanked everyone for the sentiments and analyses and questions. I was on vacation, so I resisted trying to answer any of them. But I confess that as an American I was embarrassed and even defensive.
Want to talk about societal brutality? What about China? They kidnap little boys by the tens of thousands. Their business ethics don't exist. As for the budget, what about Europe? What about Greece, Italy and Spain? Their balance sheets are worse than ours.
None of those rationalizations work, of course. We are supposed to know what we are doing. Great powers are feared or loved or emulated. Perhaps China is on the way to being one of those.
Great powers aren't supposed to be pitied. Right now, we are. It's not a good feeling. Time to go home.
One of my New Year's resolutions is to work harder to persuade ideological friends and foes alike that the way to reduce partisanship and maximize happiness in America is to embrace federalism "” the view that we should push as many decisions as possible to the lowest local level feasible.Federalism reduces partisanship by shrinking the importance of the federal government. It increases happiness by maximizing the number of people who get to live the way they want to live.Unfortunately, proponents of federalism tend to start the conversation with the really big issues:...
One of my New Year's resolutions is to work harder to persuade ideological friends and foes alike that the way to reduce partisanship and maximize happiness in America is to embrace federalism "” the view that we should push as many decisions as possible to the lowest local level feasible.Federalism reduces partisanship by shrinking the importance of the federal government. It increases happiness by maximizing the number of people who get to live the way they want to live.Unfortunately, proponents of federalism tend to start the conversation with the really big issues:...
Recently in this space I mentioned how Atom Egoyan’s movie version of The Sweet Hereafter was one of the finest films I’d ever seen, but that I had not been able to watch it again after I had children. The film deals with the death of children, and how one makes sense of that. For me, it is simply too nerve-wracking and painful to watch films about children in peril.It’s not just me. Christopher Bonanos, writing at New York‘s website, says having kids changed the way he watched movies. Excerpt:Steven Spielberg once said that, after he had children, he...
California's Democratic leaders are giddy about the future now that they have gained everything they wanted in the recent election – voter-approved tax increases and two-thirds supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, thus rendering Republicans little more than an annoying irrelevancy who can no longer block tax hikes. Will Democrats just ramp up the taxing-and-spending spree or will some semblance of a "moderate" Democratic caucus emerge to offer a limited check on those tendencies? Either way, it's hard to find good news for taxpayers or business...
PORTLAND, Maine -- Arriving in a limo, Donna Galluzzo and Lisa Gorney had all the trappings of a traditional wedding: Rings, flowers, wedding vows, an entourage and a friend to officiate.
With tears in their eyes, they were among the first gay couples to exchange wedding vows early Saturday morning after Maine's same-sex marriage law went into effect at midnight.
"We're paving the way for people to go after us. I think it's just amazing. It's freeing. It's what's right," an emotionally drained Gorney said after their ceremony in front of City Hall.
After waiting years and seeing marriage rights nearly awarded and then retracted, gay couples in Maine's largest city didn't have to wait a moment longer than necessary to wed, with licenses issued at the stroke of midnight as the law went into effect.
Steven Bridges and Michael Snell were the first in line, and they received cheers from more than 200 people waiting outside after they wed in the clerk's office.
"It's historic. We've waited our entire lives for this," said Bridges, a retail manager, who's been in a relationship with the Snell, a massage therapist, for nine years. Bridges, 42, and Snell, 53, wore lavender and purple carnations on black T-shirts with the words "Love is love."
Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington state approved gay marriage in November, making them the first states to do so by popular vote. Gay marriage already was legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia, but those laws were either enacted by lawmakers or through court rulings.
In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage signed off on the certified election results on Nov. 29, so the new law was to go into effect 30 days from that date. The law already is in effect in Washington state; Maryland's takes effect on Tuesday, the first day of 2013.
Nobody knew exactly how many couples would be rushing to get their marriage licenses early Saturday in Maine. Falmouth joined Portland in opening at midnight. Other communities including Bangor, Brunswick and Augusta planned to hold special Saturday hours.
In Portland, the mood was festive with the crowd cheering and horns sounding at midnight as Bridges and Snell began filling out paperwork in the clerk's office in Portland City Hall. There were free carnation boutonnieres and cupcakes, and a jazz trio played.
Outside, the raucous group that gathered in front of the building cheered Bridges and Snell as if they were rock stars and broke into the Beatles' "All You Need is Love."
Fourteen couples received marriage licenses, and five of them married on the spot, a city spokeswoman said. Many of those who received their marriage license were middle-aged, and some said they never envisioned a day when gay couples could wed just like straight couples.
"I came out years ago and the only thing we wanted was to not get beaten up," said Steven Jones, 50, who married his partner, Jamous Lizotte, on his 35th birthday.
Not everyone was getting married right away.
Suzanne Blackburn and Joanie Kunian, of Portland, were among those in line to get their license at midnight, but they planned to have their marriage ceremony later. One of their grandchildren wanted them to get married on Valentine's Day.
"I don't think that we dared to dream too big until we had the governor's signature," Blackburn said. "That's why it's so important, because it feels real."
Bridges and Snell already considered themselves married because they'd held a commitment ceremony attended by friends and family six years ago. Nonetheless, they thought it was important to make it official under state law, as Snell's two daughters watched.
Katie and Carolyn Snell, the daughters, said the ceremony made formal what they knew all along to be true about the couple.
"It's just a piece of paper," said Katie Snell. "Their love has been there, their commitment has been there, all along. It's the last step to make it a true official marriage because everything else has been there from the start."
Forget the fiscal cliff. The real threat to the U.S. economy is not political stalemate in Washington but the Republican party itself.
From the time that President Obama first took office in 2009 through the elections in 2012, the GOP has been running on the platform of economic despair, and in fact, seems to have bet its entire future on it.
In the beginning it was easy, since the president had just inherited a massive financial crisis and a shattered economy that would take years to rebuild; all the Republicans had to do was stonewall any initiatives that would hasten a recovery, and wait. That gave them the edge they needed to rout the Democrats in the midterm elections. Following that, they adopted the strategy of blaming the financial stimulus package and Dodd-Frank for the continuing softness in the economy, which kept the pressure up on Obama and, more importantly, kept him on the defensive.
But now the landscape is different. Obama has four more years to do his thing, the disastrous Mitt Romney campaign has damaged the Republican party immeasurably, and the economy is visibly recovering, so the Republicans cannot just sit back and hope that everything will go wrong anymore. If the economy continues to grow, the president's second term will be a victory, period. That means the Republicans actually have to make sure it goes wrong -- or any hopes that they have of making meaningful gains in future elections will be dashed.
Which is why their new strategy is to actively derail the economy.
Think of it as the Republican long game -- if the U.S. falls back into a recession, the president's promises of a better future will be perceived as empty rhetoric and the Democrats will lose credibility, paving the way for Republican victories in 2014 and 2016. It may be pretty devious but it is also that simple.
To accomplish this goal, the Republicans seem to have settled on two angles of attack:
Cut Spending till it Hurts
Republican posturing on the fiscal cliff has revolved mostly around lower taxes for wealthy Americans, but what they really want is deep cuts in government spending (taxes are mainly a bargaining chip). The problem, of course, is that deep cuts in spending right at the cusp of economic recovery will likely send us back into a recession. From outright unemployment for federal workers to cuts in state and local government grants, spending cuts would stifle national growth almost overnight. The setbacks would impact nearly every sphere, including infrastructure, education, healthcare, financial reform, and consumer protection, leading to "domino effect" declines in consumer confidence, spending, commercial activity, employment, and ultimately the economy.
Granted we have a trillion-dollar deficit problem but deficit reduction also requires GDP growth and an increase in the tax base, which cannot happen in a declining economy; not to mention that any action that slows our momentum at this time would be counter-productive to the deficit in the long run since we will simply have to run up a bigger tab later.
The right approach would be to phase in spending cuts slowly and time them to succeed economic growth, not precede it. But that timeline would not suit the Republicans at all since it would take us further into Obama's term and enable him to take credit for a good economy. So, regardless of the fiscal cliff outcome, you can bet that the GOP will flog this horse well into next year and keep pushing for deeper and deeper cuts until they strike bone.
Nothing pours cold water on economic growth like uncertainty. When the rules of the game are defined clearly, even if they are unfavorable, all players can strategize accordingly and aim for success; but when businesses and consumers have no idea what is going to happen next, their plans just stall in the mire of nervousness. That is what happened during the debt ceiling debate of 2011 and in painful slow motion this year on the fiscal cliff. Despite dire warnings by economists of another recession if America goes over the cliff, and despite the financial soundness of letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the rich, the Republicans have done everything in their power to prevent a compromise from being reached. The net result has been an unnecessarily prolonged period of uncertainty and market tumult.
This is a clear-cut case of obstructionism with a purpose, and it will not stop with the fiscal cliff either. Christmas may be over but for the Republicans the first half of next year is an extended holiday season, with gifts ranging from another debt ceiling fight to further arguments on tax cuts and Wall Street reform all waiting to fall into their political laps. And they will exploit it all to create as much uncertainty about the future as they can, for that is the surest way to derail our economic progress and ensure that President Obama does not preside over a prosperous country for the next four years.
Compromise might help the Republican party regain its credibility with American voters but then Republicans have never been good at fighting from a positive place. They are much more comfortable playing offense, and that is why they will kill our economy if they can -- because it is their last, desperate, hope for survival.
So how will it stop?
It won't, unless the American public pulls their support of the party completely. Even if you agree with the Republicans ideologically, you should ask yourself whether a party that is willing to destroy your livelihood for political gain should be allowed to represent you at all... and then vote the opportunists out of office before they ruin the country!
SANJAY SANGHOEE has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein as well as at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is the author of two financial thrillers, including "Merger" which Chicago Tribune called "Timely, Gripping, and Original". Please visit his Facebook page for more information.
WASHINGTON -- In a bid to head off the "nuclear option" for changing the Senate filibuster, a bipartisan group of senators Friday offered watered-down reforms they suggested would restore Washington to a place the fabled Mr. Smith of the 1939 movie would recognize.
"What we're proposing on a bipartisan basis is a way to end the major sources of gridlock around here," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), one of eight senators who crafted the proposal that would give the Senate two new ways to end filibusters.
The filibuster has been used nearly 400 times in the 112th Congress, which will go down as the least productive since the 1940s. The classic filibuster -- made famous in the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" starring Jimmy Stewart -- involves a lawmaker taking to the floor and doggedly making his point.
In the modern Senate, the invoking of cloture to stop such debating requires 60 votes. But it's been decades since the objecting senator has had to take floor.
The proposal by Levin and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), doesn't propose a new rule requiring a talking filibuster, but a document they distributed explaining their proposal said the leaders of the two parties would require it.
"If a senator wants to block legislation, he or she should go to the floor of the Senate, and be there for that objection," said McCain.
"You must talk," said Levin, adding that no new rule is needed because the talking requirement has never actually been dropped. It's only been waived by senators as a courtesy, McCain and Levin said.
The proposal would block filibusters on starting debates, on going to conference with the House, and on some presidential nominations. Two new methods would be allowed for the majority leader to stop filibusters of motions to begin debate of regular bills. One would let the leader call a vote on proceeding, with just four amendments allowed. The other involves the minority and majority leaders signing a motion to proceed with five other senators.
The proposals would only last two years.
Proponents for stronger reform were not impressed, and said the changes would do little or nothing to change obstruction in the chamber. And, they argued, the changes would not bring back the talking filibuster.
"It shifts the paralysis from the motion to proceed onto the early amendments," said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). "The heart of the current paralysis, the silent, secret filibuster, is not addressed by the Levin-McCain proposal."
Merkley pointed to historical filibuster battles to note that in order for the Senate to keep a filibustering lawmaker on the floor and talking, 51 other senators -- or a quorum of the Senate -- also has to be on hand.
"What this does is it allows bills to be killed with no evidence that it's happening in front of the American people or on the floor of the Senate," Merkley said.
"The talking filibuster goes right to the heart of that. It doesn't eliminate the 60-vote, but it makes sure that everybody knows who's obstructing, and that's where the accountability is," said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
McCain and Levin stressed that their proposals still needed to be agreed upon by the leaders. They would be enacted as a standing order, which requires a 60-vote threshold.
Their idea in pushing a milder reform is to head off not just the efforts of senators such as Merkley and Udall, but to avoid the so-called nuclear option, where the Senate can change rules with just 51 votes at the start of the session, instead of the usual 67 votes needed to change rules. Supporters of the 51-vote change call it the constitutional option, since it is allowed, if not used.
McCain and Levin, however, see it as breaking the rules, and fundamentally changing the Senate to be more like the House.
"A number of us are very deeply troubled by the idea that we would do something in violation of the rules that provide a two-thirds vote to change the rules," Levin said.
"Hopefully, this will prevent us from going over a Senate cliff as of Jan. 3," McCain said.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
This was a great election year, and every political writer in the country was one way or another in the fray. "South Carolina just may go Santorum," they'd say, or "From the turnout at the rallies it looks like Gingrich has a good chance." Columnists, bloggers"”they're all trying to understand what's happening pretty much in real time. In this space we've tended less toward specific predictions than to trying to sense what might be unfolding and what it means. But you can make mistakes there, too. So, a quick look at some of the things we...
Lori's story on "Shocking Family Secrets" wasn't so much a surprising secret as it was a horrible saga of torture and suffering. She was so happily married to a man named Mohammed that she moved to Iran with him. But there, he became controlling.
Mohammed beat her, and then she found out he was going to anti-American meetings. She was trapped, told by authorities that she would need her husband's permission if she wanted to go back to the U.S. In September 2001, her husband told her "something was going to happen in America." When she tried to call home, operators wouldn't put her through.
"I still have guilt and nightmares because I couldn’t get through to warn anybody," Lori said.
After 9/11, Mohammed told Lori that that he was part of a ring that had helped get terrorists into the United States. Finally, he coldly dismissed her, sending her to a prisoner camp. The women were even publicly raped. Eventually, Faresh told Lori that her brother had worked something out with the guard and they were being let go.
But it was. Once free of the prison, Lori was miraculously able to make her way back to America. She's since even written a book about her harrowing experience.
See more "Shocking Family Secrets" every Thursday at 10 p.m. EST on Discovery Fit & Health.
TV Replay scours the vast television landscape to find the most interesting, amusing, and, on a good day, amazing moments, and delivers them right to your browser.
Danny Hafley of Casey County, Ky. said this week that people are reading the mannequin in his front yard depicting President Barack Obama eating a watermelon completely wrong.
"The way I look at it, it's freedom of speech," Hafley told Lex 18 in a recent interview, going on to state that he had included the watermelon not in attempt to play to any racist stereotypes, but because the statue "might get hungry standing out here."
According to Hafley, the display is "popular" and a frequent draw for people passing by to stop and take pictures.
(Video above via Lex 18 reporter Adam Yosim)
Watermelon imagery has been utilized by anti-Obama efforts in the past, usually by those claiming there is no racist sentiment behind the choice.
In 2009, a mayor of Los Alamitos, Calif. resigned his post after sending an e-mail showing watermelons in front of the White House, alongside the text "No Easter egg hunt this year." He maintained that he wasn't aware of the racial stereotype that African Americans like watermelon.
And earlier this year, a resident of Santa Clara, Calif. included a watermelon in his anti-Obama display that also featured an empty chair -- a reference to Hollywood star Clint Eastwood's bizarre Republican National Convention speech -- a noose, and a sign telling the president to "go back to Kenya you idiot." The owner of that setup declined to comment at the time.
At their best, faith, religion and spiritual practice offer ways to open our eyes, and our hearts, and to live with hope even when we feel anguish and fear. The man-made tragedies of the past year -- from Aurora to Oak Creek to Newtown -- could persuade us that the human cause is futile and justice is an illusion. Fortunately, these events alone do not define us, or the year we contemplate as 2013 arrives.
As we reflect on sorrows and loss, we can also count our joys and gains. The year 2012 saw Americans reject fear and choose optimism as they re-elected President Obama. His second term will mean four more years of higher concern for our fellow Americans and for the planet we share with 6.7 billion neighbors.
The past year also brought an avalanche of good news in the fight for equality, as marriage rights were extended to gays and lesbians in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington State. And while the Supreme Court's decision to hear two key cases on equality does not guarantee more progress, it does mean that the nation will continue to face the issue in a serious and deliberate way.
Remarkably, 2012's most important developments in religion had more to do with the actions of ordinary believers than anything said and done by their leaders. People of all faiths, for example, accepted Mitt Romney's Mormonism as a matter of religious conviction and regarded it as a non-issue during the election. No one had to preach about this response. People just did it. Americans also rejected attempts to sew religious conflict over the health care reform act. Turnout for a national religious rally against Obamacare was abysmal, and the male clergy who railed against the plan's treatment of contraception made themselves seem out of touch and irrelevant.
The year 2012 also brought many victories for ordinary souls who challenged authoritarian religious institutions in the courts. The most important of these cases ended with the criminal conviction of Catholic Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia. Imprisoned for covering-up crimes against children, Lynn's fate proved that victims of clergy sexual abuse can find justice. It also signaled to authorities who once lived above the law, that they no longer enjoy such extraordinary privilege.
The efforts of those who fight clergy abuse have contributed significantly to big changes in the way we all regard the issue of sexual abuse. Where once victims felt ashamed and rejected they now find acceptance and understanding "The climate is so much better for survivors than it was a decade ago when they felt isolated and like a freak," noted David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire in an interview with Reuters. "Almost everyone knows this happens to other people now. It's not nearly as stigmatizing."
A decades-long campaign of behalf of clergy child abuse victims has also changed the procedures and priorities of organizations that care for children. At schools, daycare centers, churches and other places, children are now taught to recognize maltreatment and report it. Thousands of institutions now have procedures for screening workers and ensuring that children are protected. When complaints do arise, they are now routinely referred to civil authorities.
Difficult as it may be to keep in mind, especially when killers attack schools, we have been making progress on behalf of our children. The last few years have seen declines in infant mortality, premature births and teen births. At the end of this year the Foundation for Child Development noted that overall child well-being, as measured by dozens of indexes, is up more than 5 percent since 2001. Coming amid rising poverty, these improvements seem to be the result of families and communities showing greater concern for children. Educational achievement is up. Violent crimes committed against children are down. We're doing something right.
Altogether, Americans seem to have applied their spiritual, social and political values in positive ways that can give us hope for the future. This was done, for the most part, without preachers, rabbis, priests or imams directing us or admonishing us.
In an address that was really one long prayer, Martin Luther King recalled the 19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker to note that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." At the end of one year and the dawn of another, we can summon the courage to say "Amen."
Ever hear someone utter fighting words, and instinctively know that the equivalent of a world war was about to break out?
Last week, after waiting several days after the Newtown shooting, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre held a "press conference" to critique the ramifications of the massacre where 27 deaths, including 20 children, resulted from bullets unleashed from a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle.
There, he advocated placing armed police officers or trained security volunteers in every school in America as the real "meaningful" solution to preventing future school massacres: "Only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
Those are fighting words, no doubt about it.
It used to be politicians and powerful lobbyists used to utter extreme statements like that to stake out the confines of an issue, and then work their way back toward the middle, compromising and working out their differences to achieve solutions for the common good.
Not these days.
When influential guys like LaPierre take a stand like wanting to make an armed fort out of every elementary school, there's no middle ground, there's no compromise, and there's no sane discussion of how to decrease violence in America.
It's a duel to the death, with semiautomatic rifles the choice weapon of carnage.
Further digging in, on Meet the Press, LaPierre argued that those on the other side of the gun control argument debase gun ownership and the basic 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms no matter what.
"I know there's a media machine that wants to blame guns every time something happens," LaPierre said.
To a certain extent, that's true. It's gun control extremists -- and also supercilious pundits in the mainstream media -- who also can't rationally discuss this issue, either.
An example: If you watched Morning Joe on MSNBC on Friday, you saw Joe Scarborough viciously attack Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp after he observed that gun control advocates like Morning Joe were pushing "a political agenda" in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
Feigning "personal insult," an agitated Scarborough went on the attack, accusing Huelskamp of impugning his integrity: "Do you dare come on my show and say I am using the slaughter of 20 little 6- and 7-year-old children; I'm using that for political purposes, Tim?"
Yep, again, there are fighting words again, which killed any credibility Morning Joe had established with a previous poignant statement earlier in the week where he announced his conversion to becoming a born-again gun control advocate.
"From this day forward, nothing can ever be the same again." Scarborough correctly argued right after the massacre.
Maybe it was drinking too much Morning Joe Starbucks coffee that morning or it's a displaced Florida good old boy sucking in too much Upper East Side Manhattan air, but sadly, like LaPierre at his press conference, Scarborough, too, showed it's really the same old rhetoric that's going to be defining this important conversation about limitations on semiautomatic weapons.
In a recent interview in The Jewish Daily Forward, the mother of one of the children who died at Sandy Hook, Veronique Pozner, defined a basic truth about the misuse of semiautomatic weapons in our society when she stated, "It takes nine months to create a human being... and it takes seconds for an AR-15 to take that away from the surface of this earth."
A horrible massacre of school children indeed demands a good conversation about semiautomatic weapons, and guns as well.
The truth is if you open any daily paper on any given day, there's always a story about someone being shot by another. There are just too many guns in the wrong hands. This gun violence needs to be rationally studied, discussed and addressed smartly strictly within criminal justice terms, not constitutional or political parameters.
It's time for our politicians and lobbyists in Washington, and the Morning Joes too, to take the next nine months to conceive new meaningful life in gun control dialogue, even sign a Grover Norquist-type pledge to display civility, a willingness to compromise principles for the greater good, to keep the discussion sane, meaningful, and productive when it comes to gun control.
While there are too many bullets flying the wrong way in America, it's true of fighting words too.
If you're looking for optimism as the world turns toward 2013, stay up late watching paid-for television explaining how to turn wrinkles into miracles. Past that, my own reservoir of uplift is a bit dry this year. A famous and successful American optimist, Ronald Reagan, put his finger closer to the problem when he suggested there was little limit to what people could accomplish if government would get out of the way. As Barack Obama flies from Hawaii's beaches to Washington's cliff, there may be four or five liberals who've come to agree with the Gipper. Indeed, a...