Sunday, October 28, 2012

For President

The Scary Lawyer Guy Blog endorses Barack Obama for President. While his steady leadership over the past four years would be enough to commend voters to give Mr. Obama another term in office, the feckless and, at times, breathtakingly cynical campaign run by his opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, makes the decision that much easier. 

When the President ran for office in 2008, his was a campaign predicated on rebuking the failed foreign and economic policies of George W. Bush. The American people were able to see the President's cool headed rationalism even before he took office. As Wall Street was melting down seven short weeks before Election Day, Mr. Obama presented a calm, reasoned public face and wisely received counsel from people like Warren Buffett and Paul Volcker, offering reassurance to a jittery populace that a 47 year-old Senator with a mere 4 years of national service would be up to the task of running our country at a time of maximum peril. 

After riding into office on a huge surge of personal popularity and a victory unmatched by any Democratic candidate since LBJ in 1964, Obama's honeymoon was remarkably short-lived. Lock step Republican obstruction literally started the day he took office (readers are encouraged to track down Robert Draper's Do Not Ask What Good We Do for more detail) and his early attempts at bi-partisanship were snubbed, first, when he proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a/k/a "the stimulus") in an attempt to draw Republican support (in the end, no House Republicans and only 3 Senate Republicans voted for it), and then, modeled what became the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a/k/a "Obamacare"), on a proposal first introduced by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank. And even as Republicans were stirring astroturf protests at town hall meetings and at least 161 of their amendments were incorporated into the final bill (for more on this:, not a single member of their caucus crossed party lines to vote for the final bill. Even so, the ARRA and Obamacare stand as two signal legislative achievements. The former put a floor beneath the economy and then helped propel it to growth, while the latter has so many salutary benefits that just noting its expansion of covered health care to 30 million people does not do it justice. 

Had Republicans in Congress worked with the President instead of making a political calculation that they benefited more from obstructing him, critical investments in our infrastructure and protection of thousands of public sector jobs in areas like teaching, law enforcement and first response would have been made. Instead, by dangling economic calamity at every turn, Republicans boxed Obama into corners that resulted in yet more tax cuts in the form of extensions to Bush-era policy and reductions in federal spending that have hindered a more robust economic recovery. But even so, Obama has doggedly pursued economic policy that has borne fruit. His decision to move Chrysler and GM through quick, structured bankruptcy proceedings has paid off handsomely as both companies are now not only solvent, but hiring more new workers. Lesser noticed decisions including one to require higher average mile per gallon standards (so-called "CAFE standards") and investing billions in alternative energy will result in lower auto and carbon emissions over the next decade. 

Indeed, Obama's record of job creation since the stimulus went into effect is even more impressive when Republican obstructionism is taken into account. The country is well on its way to 3 straight years of private sector job growth, the stock market has rebounded smartly from its late-2008 bottom and corporations are flush with trillions in cash. In addition to these important achievements, the President's efforts around immigration reform and ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" are in some ways, more notable because they came with greater political risk. At other times, Obama has shied away from big challenges, the investigation of the Wall Street crash led by former California Treasurer Phil Angelides did little and it took well into the third year of Obama's term before a task force (headed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman) filed its first complaints stemming from the housing bust. Meanwhile, his attempts at aiding homeowners has been largely ineffectual and much of the Wall Street reform passed by Congress (Dodd/Frank) was watered down before passage and is being further eroded as lobbyist's work behind the scenes to dilute rules being promulgated by various agencies.

On foreign policy, the President has been beyond reproach. As he discussed in the third Presidential debate, tireless efforts to mend alliances and reach out through diplomacy has helped place crushing sanctions on Iran and quickly helped overthrow Qaddafi. In Iraq, the President ended our commitment to that war of choice and is on a path to close out our commitment in Afghanistan within two years. His signature achievement, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, showed Obama at his best- first, he recommitted resources to the hunt for the terrorist mastermind, then, when a lead looked promising, kept at his cabinet officials to collect intelligence; finally, when a decision needed to be made, he went for the riskier option, a commando raid, instead of the easier one, a bombing raid, both to confirm bin Laden's death and to minimize the risk of harm to innocent civilians. He has also gone after China for trade violations and signed free trade agreements to expand access for our goods and services. 

Against this impressive record of achievement, his opponent's campaign has been shamefully dishonest except when it has been laughably malleable. As a candidate during the GOP primary, Governor Romney was in lockstep with the right wing of the Republican party by supporting ideas like 'self-deportation" of "illegals," a Mississippi personhood amendment that would have given 14th Amendment protections to fertilized eggs, defunding Planned Parenthood, saber rattling against Iran and had a lone foreign policy excursion so gaffe laden he managed to offend every host country he visited. He then attempted to solidify that support by selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate, a man most famous for proposing a federal budget that would savage the social safety net, turn Medicare into a voucher program and kick millions off Medicaid, food stamps and other needed government support services. When his campaign looked dead in the water, he executed an exquisitely timed "pivot" to the middle in front of 70 million people, resuscitating "Moderate Mitt" to an electorate that does not follow politics as obsessively as those Inside the Beltway. Romney's toggle was deeply cynical and done either without concern for the positions he was jettisoning or no care for the impact. Either way, such mendacity is disqualifying for a person seeking to lead our nation.

Romney also showed himself to be unqualified when it comes to running our foreign policy. A purported hawk regarding Iran throughout the campaign, he framed his policy as far more dovish during the third and final Presidential debate and after criticizing the President for setting a timetable for our withdrawal from Afghanistan, embraced the very same policy at that debate.  Romney has talked a tough line regarding trade with China but lacks credibility on the subject. His own investment firm dealt with companies that outsourced jobs to China, he criticized the Obama Administration for lodging a complaint against China in the WTO regarding tire imports and the idea he could deem China a "currency manipulator" without retaliation from a nation that owns roughly $1 trillion of our debt is foolish. Most recently, he flatly lied by saying Chrysler was going to move jobs to China, when in fact the company has no such plans, but is hiring more workers in Ohio to ship Jeeps to China. This type of tissue-thin grasp of complicated matters of national importance was rightly called out when done by Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, but the lack of media reprobation has been surprising, particularly because Mr. Ryan's resume in this area is even thinner. 

Viewing the Governor in as favorable a light as possible, one is still left with grave concerns about his ability to lead. His single term in office was marked by a lone (but important) legislative achievement - state-wide health coverage - that he refuses to acknowledge as identical to Obamacare, while demonizing the latter for things it does not do (taking money from Medicare recipients) and failing to note what it does do (bend the cost curve down and expand coverage). His vetoes were overridden more than 700 times and he spent much of the last two years of his term (he didn't bother running for re-election and left office with an approval rating in the 30s) moving rightward in anticipation of his first run for national office.  His campaign telegraphed his sharp turn to the center months ago (the famed "Etch A Sketch" remark by senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom) and he was caught on tape lambasting nearly half of Americans as layabouts uninterested in anything but suckling at the government teat. He has stonewalled requests by the media and his opponents to release his tax returns, which would not be that disturbing except his own tax proposals disproportionately benefit people like him, who collect most of their income from dividends, interest and capital gains. 

Ultimately, Romney has shown himself to lack seriousness about the job of President. As a former adversary, Jon Huntsman, described him, he is a well lubricated weather vane, which may have served him well in securing his party's nomination, is not something our country can afford, particularly when the nation still faces so many challenges. In short, there is simply no way to know how Romney would govern and he has not earned the right through his prevarications to get that chance. His campaign has admitted it cares nothing for fact checking, rolls out ads such as one about the Obama Administration relaxing welfare standards, that are flat out lies, and has been less accessible to the media than any nominee of either party in recent memory. When one considers that at the end of his term of Governor some of his aides purchased their government computer hard drives and many records from his time as head of the 2002 Olympics are not accessible, this penchant for secrecy and obfuscation are also worrying. His first debate "Etch A Sketch" cemented the view that he will say (and do) anything to be elected, but voters must ask themselves what a person willing to shed any position and make any statement (no matter how false) to win an election, will do once in office. We should not have to find out. 
Far from the caricature of him espoused by his most ardent critics, Obama has governed far closer to George H.W. Bush than Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His signature legislative achievements were based on, respectively, a Heritage Foundation proposal (health care) and mainstream Republican orthodoxy (tax cuts). On foreign policy, Obama has doubled down on the Bush Administration's use of drone strikes and of course, directed the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden. In the meantime, he has projected American might forcefully where he thought it in our national interest and responsibly where he thought coalition building was warranted. He has expanded funding to the VA and addressed issues like PTSD and homelessness among our veterans while leading on civil rights issues of the day. As to a second Obama term, the President has highlighted the need to resolve, once and for all, the smorgasbord of tax policy, entitlement spending and domestic priorities that have been delayed for too long, pass immigration reform and complete our Afghanistan withdrawal. These are ambitious goals but the President has proven himself to be a dogged and tenacious leader, one who has more than earned another four years in the White House.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Bayonet To The Ribs

The third presidential debate was, in many ways, the mirror image of the first one- except the roles of the two candidates were reversed. A muscular, "on his brief" President of the United States delivered a verbal smack down on a timid, defensive Governor Mitt Romney, who looked for all who watched, like a man who wanted to be anywhere else in the world than on that stage talking about foreign policy with this President.

Obama came out hot and buried Romney early, not just with his conversational, well versed and articulate defense of his own policies, but dismissing Romney's ideas as merging the foreign policy of the 1980s with the social policy of the 1950s and the economic policy of the 1920s. Obama's narrative frame was clear - what little people could use to judge Romney on in regards to foreign policy showed his rival was not qualified to be Commander-in-Chief; from Iraq to Afghanistan, Iran to China, Obama relentlessly went after the Romney "record" even as Romney was dancing as fast as he could to wrap his arms around the President and *his* policies. The kill shot occurred early on, when the topic turned to a canned talking point about the size of our Navy being smaller than it was in 1916, Obama dropped this hammer on Romney:

But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works.You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.
The clear take away? Romney's unfit to be Commander-in-Chief. That line reinforced what was obvious from the first question - Romney was uncertain and tentative with his answers, fearful of making a dreaded "gaffe" that would expose his ignorance of the topics being presented. He stammered his way through a softball question on Libya, drifting into other areas of the Middle East, briefly highlighting the danger posed by Mali (of all places) and failed to respond to the question posed by moderator Bob Scheiffer directly. By the 30 minute mark, Obama's mastery was so apparent, Romney had no choice but to try and pivot the discussion to economic and domestic policy. For about 15 minutes, that righted his ship, but when Scheiffer re-asserted control and turned the conversation back to foreign policy, Obama effectively counter-punched when Romney went for another of his favorite talking points, that the President had gone on an "apology" tour to the Middle East and had dissed Israel.  To this, Obama responded:
And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors. I didn't attend fundraisers. I went to Yad Va'Shem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable. And then I went down to the border towns of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining dowm from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me there where missiles had come down near their children's bedrooms. And I was reminded of what that would mean if those were my kids. Which is why as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles.So that's how I've used my travels, when I travel to Israel and when I travel to the region. And the -- the central question at this point is going to be: Who is going to be credible to all parties involved? And they can look at my track record, whether it's Iran sanctions, whether it's dealing with counterterrorism, whether it's supporting democracy, whether it's supporting women's rights, whether it's supporting religious minorities.
From there out, the color in Romney's face and the wind in his sail flagged. What little he offered in terms of foreign policy prescriptions could be summed up as "I agree with the President …" on everything from a timeline for withdrawing from Afghanistan (another shake of the Etch-A-Sketch) to Syria to dealing with Iran, Romney clung to Obama's policies like a flagging boxer trying to get to the end of a round. And Obama, to his credit, kept pushing Romney off and battering him on his inconsistency, incoherence and past statements.  What Romney was left with was the comfort of his stump speech talking points and a "word salad" of nouns, verbs and adjectives in search of a mission. His objective may have been "do no harm" in an effort to escape unscathed from Boca Raton, but, like Obama's Denver performance, Romney's flaccid performance could not inspire confidence in any but his most ardent supporters.

Obama on the other hand, shined. His mastery of the issues was apparent, his sarcasm was cutting, but appropriate, in light of the absurdity of some of the right wing talking points against him, and his sober, calm demeanor juxtaposed well with Romney's sweaty, staccato and unsteady mien. Obama further benefitted from Romney's attempt to bind himself to Obama's foreign policy, begging the question of why anyone would want to "change horses in mid stream" when the GOP's standard bearer tried to embrace the President's leadership. For those listening more carefully, Obama made a subtle (but important) point about his Presidency. He underscored why (and how) repairing the alliances left tattered under George W. Bush mattered - whether it was illustrating how re-engaging with Russia helped get those "crippling sanctions" passed against Iran or discussing how withdrawing troops from Iraq and getting buy in from other nations on Afghanistan allows us to re-focus our energy toward the Far East and China, Obama gave a muscular defense of diplomacy writ large and by inference, reminded voters that Republican foreign policy created much of the mess we find ourselves in today.  

But Obama's merciless and deadly effective rebuttals to Romney's limp talking points are what is likely to be best remembered from tonight's debate. Obama underscored the seriousness of foreign policy, the primacy it plays in a President's responsibilities and affirmed that the American people are well served by his leadership.  The same could not be said of Romney, whose diffidence toward the subject is troubling, but his lack of depth may be viewed as disqualifying to the thin slice of voters who are still persuadable. And unlike Denver, where Obama let Romney squirm off the hook and "Etch A Sketch" his prior embrace of more conservative policies, Obama was on top of Romney throughout the third debate, pummeling his challenger with his own prior statements to question how he would govern. 

In a broader sense, the third debate confirmed something journalists have talked about throughout the campaign, namely, that the more voters see Romney, the less they like him.  Romney's debate performances have gotten steadily worse as both Obama, and, to a lesser extent, the media, dissected his prevarications, inconsistencies and empty rhetoric. A telling moment came late in the debate, when Romney re-hashed his "I love teachers" line first uttered in Denver; but whereas that line sounded believable and moderate the first time around, it sounded panicked and forced at the end of Obama's 90 minute schooling of the ex-Governor. If there is some ineffable "Commander-in-"Chief" bar that the media speaks about, whatever hurdling Romney did in Denver (or at Hofstra for that matter), may have been undone. He meandered, he contradicted himself, he allowed himself to be pummeled by a barrage of opposition research on everything from his investments in Chinese oil companies that do business in Iran to his statements in 2008 about not moving "heaven and earth" to get Bin Laden. Obama's objective was to show Romney lacks the judgment to be Commander-in-Chief and Romney did little to disabuse people of that idea. While Obama's timidity in the candidates' first debate was harmful, he had two more opportunities to improve (and boy howdy, did he), but Romney has no do-overs. The last impression an audience of more than 50 million people will have of these two candidates was striking - a confident and aggressive President assuring the American people they can rest easy at night knowing he is in the Oval Office and a challenger who looked clueless and out of his depth. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Binder Full of Whoop Ass

Last night, a prep school bully got his ass handed to him. For 90 minutes, Mitt Romney stomped around the debate stage in a peevish rage, interrupting the moderator, bickering over the rules and bypassing voters' questions to wedge in his pre-programmed talking points. Standing across from this arrogant blowhard was a cool operator who had an opposition researcher's folder full of information to drop on Romney's head, which he did, deftly and for maximum effect.  You knew the second Presidential debate was going to be different than the first one when President Obama dropped two nuggets of information into the back and forth about energy (of all things) that showed he was "on his brief." First, he deconstructed Governor Romney's claims about government licenses and permits to drill on public lands, explaining that companies were essentially told to "fish or cut bait" on their leases instead of just holding them in perpetuity. The second had to do with coal plants, one of which, President Obama helpfully pointed out, Romney had stood in front of while Governor bragging at its closure. 

Overall, the President's "go to" maneuver all night was to separate his answers in two - responding affirmatively (and directly) to the question posed and then pivoting to why Romney was wrong. But Obama went one step further and withheld some of his strongest points until after Romney had started digging a hole. For example, when discussing equal pay for women, Obama waited for his rebuttal to Romney's response to mention that Romney did not support the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and then widened the lens to discuss how health care impacts women in the workplace, slipping two daggers into his answer, one about Romney's belief that employers should be able to determine if birth control is covered by their insurance plans and another about his interest in defunding Planned Parenthood. Romney was left to lamely claim he wants all women to have access to "contraception" (as he put it) - something his staffers are no doubt cleaning up in interviews with conservative media that won't be picked up for two days. 

But what I found most odious about Romney's performance was his dismissiveness toward the President, treating Mr. Obama, both as a person and as the representative of the institution, like an underling interrupting the CEO. Early in the debate, during that same conversation about energy, Obama tried to interject and respond to something Governor Romney said, to which Romney responded: "You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking." Now, say what you will about debate etiquette (Romney violated it on several occasions when he asked the President direct questions, a no no according to the agreed upon Memorandum of Understanding the two sides signed) but as Americans, we accord our President deference, not as a deity or monarch, but as the leader of our country. Romney's tone was inappropriate and affirmed what many of us believe - that he does not like being challenged and is comfortable being demeaning and condescending toward others. As Howard Fineman and others have said, the more people see of Mitt Romney, the less people like him. 

Romney's flailing on smaller issues, like claiming automatic weapons are illegal (they are not, the assault weapons ban that barred them expired in 2004) and his odd "binders full of women" comment might have been less mentioned but Romney's erratic performance finally caught up with him in what is likely to be the most talked about portion of the debate - when not just the President, but the moderator, "fact checked" him on when the President referred to the attack on our consulate in Benghazi as an "act of terror." Romney spouted the right wing talking point that it took 14 days for the attack to be so labeled and both the President's cool "check the transcript" and Candy Crowley's correction of Romney seemed to take the wind out of his sails. From that point on, Romney struggled, rambling and unfocused in his answers and falling back to canned talking points that had the feel of a boxer clinching to his opponent in an effort to make it to the end of the round.

And Romney may have made it out of Hofstra University having lost (and badly) on "points" had he not responded to the final question of the night in the way he did, where a knockout blow was struck.  A voter asked the candidates about the greatest misperception people might have about them. Unprompted, Romney brought up his infamous "47 percent" comments, echoing prior statements about how he cares about the entire country. Sitting at home, I was thinking Obama could spend 20 minutes talking about the "misperceptions" Republicans have pushed about him - from his birth certificate to his religion, to harangue and bemoan the ill treatment he has received (he mentioned it elliptically earlier in the debate when he said, in an aside, that he was "used to being interrupted"), but instead, he pummeled Romney for those 47 percent comments, rightly calling out the former Governor for characterizing people as "takers" who were uninterested in contributing to society.  His response is worth reading in context and full:

I believe Governor Romney is a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.
Folks on Social Security who've worked all their lives. Veterans who've sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country's dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don't make enough income.
And I want to fight for them. That's what I've been doing for the last four years. Because if they succeed, I believe the country succeeds. When my grandfather fought in World War II and he came back and he got a G.I. Bill and that allowed him to go to college, that wasn't a handout. That was something that advanced the entire country. And I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities. That's why I'm asking for your vote and that's why I'm asking for another four years.
That response, in miniature, was pitch perfect and was the last word of the debate. Romney knew he was bested, shook hands with voters for a few minutes and then alit from the stage. The bully had been vanquished.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Well, Allow Me To Retort

Sure, Lloyd Bentsen dropped Dan Quayle with his “you’re no Jack Kennedy” line, but in 2012, you need to both zing and educate – a kind of real time fact checking with wit that is both memorable and relatable to the American public. So here is some unsolicited advice to the President for some of the talking points he should expect to hear from Governor Romney on Tuesday night:


My tax plan will benefit everyone

Response: Mitt Romney’s tax plan is great for people like Mitt Romney – he gets rid of the estate tax, makes the Bush tax cuts permanent, then cuts taxes 20% on top of that and gets rid of taxation on the three ways the Governor makes money – dividends, carried interest and capital gains.

It’s simply not true that my plan cuts taxes by $5 trillion

Response: Mitt, just because two bloggers and a guy your campaign paid to produce a report say you aren’t cutting taxes by $5 trillion doesn’t mean it’s true.

Alternate Response: If a guy won’t show you his taxes, you probably shouldn’t trust him to show you the math on his tax cut after he gets elected.

We need a President who understands how to encourage job growth

Response: 5.2 million jobs have been created in the private sector in the last 2 and a half years, I think we’ve got that covered.

The economy is not growing fast enough

Response: Here’s what’s happening in the economy – the stock market is up almost 70% since I came into office, 401(K) balances have rebounded, states like Ohio and Michigan have lowered their unemployment rates substantially, we’ve had almost 3 continuous years of private sector job growth and we did all of this with no help from Congress, who blocked my jobs bill that would have added another 1 million people to the employment rolls. Don’t criticize the guy cleaning up his predecessor’s mess for not doing it fast enough.

My company helped nurture Staples and Sports Authority

Response: My Administration saved General Motors and Chrysler, both of which, I should note, you thought should go bankrupt.

I said I was wrong when in the way I characterized 47% of our country. I care about 100% of Americans

Response: I will take the Governor at his word, but in my experience, people are being most truthful when they think cameras are not around, not when they know they are there.


I’m going to repeal and replace Obamacare

Response: Yes, on Day One, according to your ads, which means on January 20, 2013 senior citizens will pay more for prescriptions and lose free preventative care check ups, kids under 26 will be denied the right to stay on their parents health plan, lifetime caps on coverage will be reinstated and people with pre-existing conditions will be denied coverage.

I want people to have access to health coverage

Response: Governor, you said the uninsured should just use the emergency room. 


Mr. President, you cut $716 billion from Medicare

Response: My plan reduces payments to insurers and hospitals and extends the life of the program. Your running mate took that same $716 billion and wants to give it to the wealthy by cutting their taxes.

As the President said, we’re not that far apart on Social Security reform

Response: We do not have the same vision for Social Security. Your running mate sponsored a bill to partially privative Social Security. It was too radical for George W. Bush.

I think Medicaid should be sent back to the states as block grants

Response: I want to expand coverage under Medicaid so more people, particularly the poor and elderly, have access to health insurance. Block granting Medicaid would result in millions losing coverage, which is not only cruel but will cost all of us more money in the long run.


We need sensible immigration reform

Response: You want people to self-deport. I signed an Executive Order to keep undocumented young people here and Republicans filibustered the DREAM ACT in Congress. The only thing stopping us from getting real reform are your friends in the Senate.


As Cong. Ryan said, we will support abortion exceptions for rape, incest & life of the mother

Response: You supported Mississippi’s personhood amendment, which would have banned all abortion and some forms of contraception and you told ABC you would hope to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Of course, this was after you said you were pro-choice back in 1994 and 2002. Meanwhile, you’ve said you would defund Planned Parenthood, which millions of women rely on for preventative care. Women simply cannot trust you on this issue.

Those are a few of my retorts, please post yours in the comment section.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Scary Lawyer Guy Blog Turns 1

I started this blog a year ago with the vaguest of ideas of what I wanted it to be. I knew, and had known for some time, that I wanted to “write,” but because my ex-wife did not support my interests and I assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that writing thoughtful posts would be time consuming, I never pursued writing in any meaningful way. Save for a few topics I knew I wanted to write about, such as
a 30 second solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue[1]; weight loss[2]; Howard Stern’s lawsuit against SiriusXM[3] and Mad Men Season 4[4], I had no idea what my blog would cover. As it has evolved, the blog has taken on a more political tone and also leans more toward “long reads,” but I hope for those who have enjoyed it along the way, it has been informative, thought provoking and even amusing.

With that in mind, here are some of my takeaways from Year 1:

Good Writing Is Hard. Holy Christ, good writing is hard. For all the grief I give journalists on Twitter (and if you’re not following me, shame on you: @scarylawyerguy), I have gained a deep appreciation for people who write well.  It is not just the basic building blocks of grammar, usage and sentence structure that makes good writing hard, but weaving a coherent narrative thread and doing it without being too wordy. For a lawyer, that is not always easy. In our professional lives, we tend toward the overkill and hammer points home over and over. Creative writing requires different skills and honing them requires practice.

Is That A Red Pen In Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?  I’ve acted as my own editor, and while I usually catch typos and other little gremlins, I have come to appreciate the value of having someone edit my work who actually knows how to and make it better. In other words, I’m in desperate need of an editor. Ok, not desperate, and of course, I would not pay you anything, but seriously, I need someone who knows what they are doing to edit my work and make it better.  Money may not be your reward, but when I’m rich and famous, I will totally hire you[5].

Rich and Famous?  As Don Draper observed in his pitch to Dow Chemical, “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” When anyone asks me why I blog, I tell them I do it for me and because I have thoughts or ideas I want to put out into the world and whether I get anything back from the world is immaterial.  For the most part, that is true; however, I will admit, as anyone with enough ego to think that other people would be interested in what they have to say, that I do sometimes dream of being “discovered” and earning my living as a full-fledged, sitting-in-a-bathrobe- with-Cheetos-dust-staining-my-undershirt “blogger” (with the occasional guest spot on TV).  So if anyone reading this is affiliated with one of the myriad tentacles of media, publishing or television, hook a brother up. 

Content Is King. Not only is writing hard, producing it in volume is even harder. I realized early on that because my writing tends to go long, I needed to pace myself. That is why, by and large, you will see my monthly output is between 7 and 10 posts, but I’m churning out anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 words per week.  That’s a lot of writing for what is essentially a hobby. I did not appreciate how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole for an entire Saturday researching a subject or how time consuming the editing process can be. That said, any good blog relies on updating to keep people interested. Balancing the need to produce content and good content is a constant struggle.

There’s No Accounting For Taste.  That anyone is even interested in what I have to say is humbling, but I do, from time to time, drill down to see what is being read.  One of the frustrations of being a writer is that work I want more people to read does not always happen; and conversely, things that are, for lack of a better term, “fluffier,” do get read. People love Howard Stern and Mad Men, not so much Washington Nationals and book reviews. Lesson learned.

Click.  Speaking of graphics and page views, in addition to an editor, surely there is some 20-something who needs a few extra bucks (emphasis on a few) who can spruce up what looks like a blog circa Geocities 1999. Part of it is outside my control, for the right price (read: free), Google offers a user friendly, low tech product that does the bare minimum – provides a web presence and platform; however, that “right price” comes at the expense of a look and feel that is basic. Further, because I don’t always use the same font (or the same size), conversions from one word processing system to another end up making some text look odd (particularly footnotes), and the site navigation is assuredly 1.0. What ends up getting lost (I think?) is a reader’s ability to navigate the site easily, particularly by subject matter.

My other frustration has to do with my own ignorance of the Web, and how to promote the site to get traffic. While I am grateful to the folks at Crooks and Liars who have linked to a few of my posts, to the Mad Men message boards on places like Vulture and Basket of Kisses and to Stern Fan Network which drove a lot of my Howard-related readership, I want to learn how to get my readership up.  It can be disheartening when I see a post I spent hours on get 30 or 40 page views and not know whether that is due to its lack of quality (which is entirely possible) or my inability to break through in a crowded web-space where there are literally millions of blogs and billions of web pages. Suggestions are welcome.

You, my readers. I want to end on a note of thanks. While my blog is a labor of love and something that brings me enormous gratification, I cannot tell you how much it means to me that people actually read (and in some cases, comment on) what I have to say. Whether or not I become the next great American writer, that *you* have given that most valuable commodity – your time – is truly humbling. So thank you. I am eager to start Year 2.


[5]   Not an actual offer of employment.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Debate Prep

Political consultants far more expert than me have undoubtedly spent much of the last week providing President Obama with advice about how to improve his debate performance.  Be more assertive, have greater command of the facts, engage your opponent. In short, be the opposite of the guy who walked on stage in Denver with all the enthusiasm of a man about to have a colonoscopy.  While I did not have the benefit of a Harvard Law education like Messrs. Obama and Romney, I do know a thing or two about making a compelling argument, so let me make a few suggestions for our President:

Tax Cuts: Repeating that Governor Romney wants to cut taxes by $5 trillion over ten years does a disservice to the sheer weight of income redistribution that entails. Instead, separate that $5 trillion out into its component parts – (1) elimination of the estate tax (which, even under current law, affects less than 1% of estates), (2) permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts (forests have been cut down highlighting how those tax cuts have disproportionately aided the wealthy), (3) a further 20 percent reduction in current tax rates (yet more goodies for the rich!), (4) elimination of the Alternate Minimum Tax (initially created to ensure wealthy people paid their “fair share”) and (5) the elimination of taxation on interest, dividends and capital gains (the three main ways Romney himself generates income).

See a pattern? It’s not just that these tax cuts disproportionately favor the wealthy, it’s that coupling this massive redistribution of wealth with ideas included in the “Ryan Plan” that would do everything from block granting Medicaid (resulting in millions of poor people losing access to health care) to trimming Pell Grants (which would allow fewer students to attend college) should allow the President to frame the choice voters make between someone who wants the rich to pay their fair share so we can invest in our future (Obama) versus someone who wants to give even more to those who already have so much and hope the rest “trickles down” to the rest of us (Romney).

Secret Plans: In a debate performance roundly criticized as aloof, disinterested and weak, one part of Obama’s message from Denver that was effective was his rhetoric about why it was that if Romney’s policies are so great for the middle class, they are being hidden.  I would like to see Obama amplify this point and pivot it to the policy shifts Romney has made on everything from immigration reform (claimed he would veto DREAM ACT, now says he won’t deport (self, or otherwise) some “illegals”) to abortion (expressed support for Mississippi’s personhood amendment, now claims he has no interest in abortion legislation) and education (has said classrooms are not overcrowded and new teachers are not needed, now “loves” teachers and won’t do anything to harm education.) In so doing, Obama would be underscoring Romney’s inclination toward secrecy and obfuscation and underscore the important point that voters can’t trust what Romney says because he has taken so many different positions on the same issues in the past.

Consequences: Obama missed opportunities in the first debate to tease out the consequences of a Romney Presidency. For example, when Romney talked about his plan to “reform” Medicare he claimed his plan would not impact current seniors. Obama failed to note that by repealing Obamacare (something Romney said he would do) current seniors would be affected because the prescription drug donut hole would not be closed, resulting in the elderly continuing to pay more for their medication. Obama also only mentioned in passing that by restoring the so-called $716 billion in “cuts” to Medicare, Romney would be lining the pockets of hospitals and insurance companies and the “cuts” made in Obamacare did not come out of benefits given to people enrolled in the program. Obama also missed easy opportunities to appeal to moderates (particularly suburban women) because he failed to note the importance of appointing Supreme Court justices who will not overturn Roe or that the ACA requires health insurers to provide coverage for birth control.

Further, Obama did not hit Romney for selecting as his Vice President a man who SPONSORED THE BILL to privatize Social Security. Instead, and oddly, Obama claimed he and Romney were not that far apart on Social Security “reform.” Lastly, and as President Clinton eloquently discussed in Charlotte, the impact of Medicaid cuts would be devastating to the elderly poor and minors who receive assistance from this program. Wrapping the reductions and changes to these core social safety net programs into Romney’s radical tax policy agenda would underscore the consequences of electing him.

Rebuttal: Lloyd Bentsen’s famous “you’re no Jack Kennedy” line was the essence of effective rebuttal. Whoever did debate prep for Senator Bentsen knew Quayle would mention the fact that his experience was on par with Kennedy’s when the latter ran for President and they teed up that line for Bentsen, who delivered it to devastating effect. Obama missed easy retorts that would have shut Romney down – for example, when Romney discussed his bi-partisan mien as Governor, Obama could have noted that the Legislature overrode more than 700 Romney vetoes or that Romney did not run for re-election in part because of his unpopularity (Romney’s approval ratings hovered in the 30s).  Another example is standard Romney stump speech fare about not wanting to borrow money from China to finance <fill in the blank.>  Romney dropped that line into the first debate, where a better prepared President could have pushed back by saying Romney wants to borrow from China to give more tax breaks to rich people. Effective debating is as much about knowing your own positions as your opponent’s, and on that score, Obama failed. He has to do better the second time around.

By the same token, Obama needs to be better prepared to rebut claims Romney will make against him, whether it is on questions of the economy, the passage of the Affordable Care Act, funding that was provided through the Recovery Act and other key parts of the Romney critique (all of which make up the basic parts of his stump speeches and campaign ads). This is where the vaunted “zinger” may be strategically used but more substantively, allows the President a clear shot at debunking the falsehoods that permeate Romney’s campaign. Obama can point to huge gains in the stock market, that filings for unemployment are at pre-recession levels, and foreclosures are at 5 year lows. When it comes to the economy, people don’t like politicians talking it down – we are an optimistic people by nature and Obama needs to put Romney in the position of either sounding dour and negative or twisting himself to sound positive (while not giving the President credit, and therefore sounding petty).

The Obama Record: While Obama talks at a superficial level about things like the auto bailout, killing Bin Laden and passing health care reform, he needs to do a better job of connecting those achievements to a broader narrative. It was not just bailing out GM and Chrysler that helped the economy, it also helped parts suppliers, dealerships and businesses unconnected to the auto industry like restaurants and retail shops because jobs saved and created resulted in economic growth – as an example, Ohio’s unemployment rate is below the national average; Michigan’s has dropped more than 5% since Obama came into office. By connecting his decision to outcomes in the real world, Obama can turn the abstract into the actual.

Similarly, one of the most powerful testimonials to Obamacare was a speech given at the Democratic National Convention by Stacy Lihn, whose daughter Zoe suffers from a defective heart and requires long-term (and expensive) treatment. Little Zoe will receive as much care as she needs now because insurance companies can no longer cap lifetime expenses. The same is true of changes that now allow young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, sent millions in reimbursement to policy holders because their providers are not spending the minimum amount of premiums toward coverage and rules that will stop insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions beginning in 2014.  Not only do these changes make a difference in the aggregate, but they speak to the President’s commitment to the ideal of health coverage as a right and not a privilege.

But Obama must take it one step further and push back against Romney’s desire to repeal Obamacare and pin him down on what will replace it.  The lip service Romney has paid to saving the “good” parts is insufficient, Obama has to press him to be specific, to explain to seniors why Romney wants them to pay more for their prescriptions and to the Lihn family, who will have to worry that little Zoe will not get the medical treatment she needs.  Romney also needs to be called to account for his comment that people without insurance can still access medical treatment through the emergency room, which is only the least efficient and most expensive method of delivering health care.

And if the discussion turns toward working together and being bi-partisan, Obama needs to point out that more than 150 Republican-sponsored amendments to what became “Obamacare” ended up in the bill, but he still did not receive any support from them or that 40 percent of the stimulus bill he passed a few weeks after his Inauguration was made up tax cuts, a decision made in part to satisfy Republicans, who still voted against the bill en masse.  With regard to Simpson-Bowles, the President needs to mention that Paul Ryan was on the committee and voted against its proposal and that Romney cannot both support the principles of Simpson-Bowles (which called for a 2.5:1 ration of spending cuts to tax increases) and have raised his hand at a debate earlier this year claiming he would reject a budget deal that had a 10:1 ratio. Finally, when Romney inevitably talks down the economy, Obama should point out that Romney wanted Detroit to “go bankrupt,” that Romney never supported aiding underwater homeowners and that people who have studied Romney’s plans for the economy think it will shrink the job market, not expand it.

Liar, Liar:  Calling someone a liar is a strong word, particularly when you are debating that person in front of 70 million people, but Romney must be called what he is. Moreover, what the primary debates showed is that Romney does not like to be challenged and rattles easily. A well briefed and prepared President who cites clear inaccuracies and misstatements should call his opponent out for what he is and make the argument (because lord know the media won’t) that a person who will say anything to be elected President will do anything once elected.  It is simply not a risk that we can take and Obama should have the brass to say so.

I AM The President.  Obama’s body language during the first debate was awful. He frequently looked down, avoided eye contact and spoke slowly and with hesitation. The second debate is a town hall, the President can be warm and engaging and has a light up the room smile – he needs to show that side but also OWN the role of President both conversationally and attitudinally – that he is a man of conviction, who has made difficult decisions that were in the best interest of the country and that those decisions have borne fruit; on the other hand, that the guy standing across from him with the plastered on smile/smirk and shifty positions cannot be trusted because he represents some combination of a third Bush term and every right wing nut job’s wet dream of an automaton bill signer who will roll back protections for seniors, the poor and infirm, depriving them of a modicum of dignity while leaving the middle class behind so that the rich can grow even richer. In other words, Obama must show, through the words he speaks and the deeds he has done that he is (and will be) a President for the 100%, not just the 1%.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Department of Corrections

I owe Mitt Romney a huge apology. For months, I've spilled a lot of ink writing about what a flawed candidate he is. There was the gaffe-tastic trip to Europe in July (, the "Romney Shambles" primary season, where he could not handily defeat the weakest field in modern Republican political history ( and a general election campaign that was teetering on the edge of making John McCain look competent in comparison (

But that was then and this is now, and, buoyed by a debate performance that is being hailed as the greatest since Cicero was patrolling the cobbled streets of Rome, the former Massachusetts Governor has pulled himself up from the abyss of electoral doom and back into the race for President.  So why is Mitt getting a big mea culpa from me? Simple. It turns out those obnoxious bonuses he paid to his strategists back in August were worth it. You see, the Governor and his team telegraphed his shameless shift to the center last week in Denver months ago during Eric Fehrnstrom's famous "Etch-A-Sketch" interview on CNN. As it turns out, either by design or necessity, the Mitt Romney who went on stage last week gambled that low information voters who do not watch or follow politics obsessively would simply accept that if words came out of his mouth that were both untrue and contradicted his past statements, but sounded moderate and reasonable, it would not matter.

And you know, what? It looks like he was right. The Romney "surge" appears to have validated P.T. Barnum's observation that no one ever went poor underestimating the intelligence of the American people.  With journalists largely abdicating their role as fact checkers and style mattering far more than substance, Romney dropped a litany of falsehoods, flip flops and distortions on upwards of 70 million people and because the President did not call out these untruths and contradictions, they passed through unchallenged. The Romney team rolled the dice that even though their candidate's own words (see, e.g., "47 percent") were doing a more effective job of framing him as an out of touch plutocrat than any Obama ad could ever hope to, that once their man went on stage, well briefed and prepared, people would give him a second look.

So the Romney folks are either (1) evil geniuses, who waited until the moment both of maximum peril (polls were trending strongly in the President's favor pre-debate) and maximum opportunity (I mentioned those 70 million people, right?) and hoped their man would hit it out of the park and that Obama would either not be prepared or willing enough to go after Romney as he went from claims of being a "severe conservative" to one who embraced, at least rhetorically, greater regulation of Wall Street, "saving" Medicare and hiring more teachers (even though his stump speeches and policy statements support the exact opposite of all three) or (2) pulled an inside straight. 

Either way, they earned their keep because a lot of professional pundits (not to mention the armchair variety like me) were already looking ahead to a second Obama term. Furthermore, because the fact checking on many of Romney's claims was slow to get off the ground, the narrative of his victory was setting in stone before anyone went back to look at whether what he said was consistent with prior positions. But Romney's team knew that the truthfulness mattered far less than the optics and therefore, even when fact checking exposed the dizzying array of lies, distortions and policy pirouettes, it hardly mattered because those same reporters were, in the next breath, acknowledging Romney's superior performance viz a viz President Obama. 

But the piece de resistance to Romney's shift to the center is the sheer contempt it shows for that vaunted right wing base that his electoral fortunes are built on. You see, none of this calculated move to appeal to moderates works if the right wing abandons Romney; however, because conservatives have such antipathy for Obama, they are willing to watch Romney sing hosannas about Medicare and Social Security if it means he gets elected President. Once in office, tax cuts can be rammed through Congress thanks to reconciliation and Democrats' natural inclination toward compromise can be leveraged for further gain. If it was not so galling and bald faced in its mendacity, you would have to admire (forgive me) Romney's audacity. 

So, Governor Romney, I apologize for doubting your ability to say and/or do anything to be elected President. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Chuck Todd Has A Sad

During a panel discussion on the October 7th 2012 edition of Meet The Press, Chuck Todd said the following during a conversation about the release of the September jobs numbers, which showed unemployment dropping to 7.8% and became grist for the conservative mill that somehow the numbers had been rigged to make the President look better:

Stop for a minute. This is really making me crazy. The Federal Reserve gets questioned for politics these days. We have corroded—what we’re doing, we are corroding trust in our government in our way. And one-time responsible people are doing to control it. And the idea that Donald Trump, Jack Welch, rich people with crazy conspiracies, can get traction on this is a bad trend.

This is what passes for media self-critique these days, but Chuck Todd's temper tantrum rang particularly hollow.  Chuck Todd is not some passive observer of politics, some random blogger (like me) sitting in his home yelling at the "TV People" (as Chuck's former employer at the National Journal's Hotline used to sarcastically call chat-show pundits), he is the freaking White House Correspondent for NBC, he hosts an hour-long television program five days a week and appears on numerous other NBC "platforms" all-the-time. "Crazy conspiracies" get traction because people like Chuck Todd give them oxygen by reporting on them. Why Chuck Todd decided to draw this particular line in the sand was a bit of a head scratcher considering everything from "birtherism" to "death panels," "palling around with terrorists" to "Reverend Wright" all gained currency through their coverage in the mainstream media since President Obama hit the national stage in 2007-8. 

While it would be nice if Todd's screed reflected some tipping point at which journalists would stop feeding the fire of conservative idiocy over supposedly skewed polls or tweaked unemployment numbers, the most recent issue of TIME exemplifies the "both sides do it" trope that journalists are more comfortable using. In a cover story entitled "Blue Truth, Red Truth" the magazine spends pages discussing how candidates bend the truth.  Ironically, the first example they cite, a statement in an ad by President Obama that Mitt Romney "backed a bill outlawing 'all abortion even in cases of rape and incest'" is called untrue, because, according to the magazine, Romney has, since "becoming" pro-life in 2005, supported allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother; of course, had the fact checkers at TIME spent 30 seconds on Google, or 60 seconds watching The Rachel Maddow Show, they would know that Governor Romney appeared on Huckabee earlier this year and, when asked if he supported Mississippi's "personhood" amendment, which would grant rights to the unborn, Romney responded with one word "absolutely." By supporting personhood, you are, by definition, supporting a ban on all abortion. QED. So, if you're scoring at home, bastion of mainstream media TIME publishes an article about prevarications in politics and cites something as a lie that is actually true. And journalists wonder why faith in them is at historic lows.

Once upon a time, Mark Twain is credited as saying a lie is halfway around the world before the truth puts its shoes on, but that is no longer the case. In an information age where lies can literally be debunked within moments of coming out of a candidate's mouth, the reluctance of reporters like Todd to call lies for what they are is vexing. One explanation may be journalists' reflexive discomfort with the term, but at least to those of us "outside the Beltway" the answer is simpler. You see, calling a candidate a liar may impede that journalist's access to the candidate once in office, which, by extension, harms the media outlet that journalist works for. Therefore, it is not in that reporter's meta-self interest to be too pushy. The symbiotic relationship between politician and journalist is long-standing; however, the former is now able to push his/her narrative directly through the Web while the latter is not as beholden to access because of the tentacled nature of media conglomerates that own space in print, on TV and the Internet. Intuitively, that should make the connection weaker; but instead of making journalists more zealous in their fact checking, the decentralization of "messaging" has simply shifted the job to a combination of supposedly-neutral sites like PolitiFact and, wait for it, anonymous bloggers out in the Internet sifting through the mountains of YouTube videos, event transcripts and legislative records to suss out lies, leaving journalists to comment on the news instead of reporting on it. 

If Chuck Todd and others of his ilk are worried about the erosion of trust people have in government and the media, events like the White House Correspondent's Dinner, where the Kabuki theater of politics is validated by hours of jokes about weapons of mass destruction (while soldiers were literally dying in Iraq) to the sight of David Gregory and Karl Rove "rapping" on stage, should be discontinued. If people thought journalism focused on serious issues instead of triviality, looked more like a profession that was skeptical of power instead of intoxicated by it, perhaps trust in the media would rise. Instead, what the "inside the Beltway" crowd looks like is nothing as much as a cast of characters out of professional wrestling - each serving their own purpose but working off the same script. When Republicans telegraph the charade of it all, as former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card did when, in discussing the "marketing" of the Iraq War, noted that you don't start a messaging campaign over the summer, red flags should have gone up instead of what we got, which was fealty to Administration talking points and bogus claims of smoking guns turned to mushroom clouds. George W. Bush's "fuzzy math" about tax cuts went largely unchallenged because Al Gore sighed at a debate and Ronald Reagan pumped apocryphal stories of "welfare queens" without shame.

And so it goes. If Chuck Todd wants to do his job better, no one is stopping him from doing it. He has a platform, a rather large one at that, to speak truth to power. Guests on his show should be challenged on the bogus information they spout and he should focus on issues that matter, utilizing objective information to call lies out for what they are, instead of leaning on the "one side said this, the other side said that" crutch while liberally sprinkling his reporting with nothing but horse race analysis of poll data. The sad thing is that Chuck Todd is probably one of the better informed reporters out there, but to see him both squander the access he so famously brags about in voice over as his car cruises I-395 into D.C. and to the White House and then have a hissy fit on national television when the chickens come home to roost broke my irony machine.  Now, if you will excuse me, I have to Tweet this out and/or get blocked on Twitter by reporters who don't like "you people" calling them out for being lapdogs instead of journalistic bulldogs.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Some Guy Who Looked Like Mitt Romney Won A Debate Tonight

If you don't think debate preparation matters, you didn't watch tonight's debate between the President and Governor Romney. In short, and as much as it pains me to say it, Romney wiped the floor with the President. It was not just that Romney was more energetic and had better control of his "facts," but his preparation was obvious - he was prepared for the President's talking points on subjects like taxes and Medicare and had effective rebuttals. What was more impressive (or shameful, depending on your point of view) was how moderate and reasonable Romney came across as compared to his performances in the Republican primaries, where he was supporting things like self-deportation and "personhood" amendments. This Mitt Romney embraced his record as Massachusetts Governor, sounded a bi-partisan tone and could have been mistaken for what used to be called a Rockefeller Republican.  

Obama on the other hand sounded tired and leaned heavily on bullet points that came right out of his stump speech.  He missed clear opportunities to push back on Romney's statements, never mentioned the "47 percent" comments that have dogged Romney's campaign and actually went out of his way to point out places where the two candidates agreed on things.  Perhaps it is the difference between balancing the responsibilities of the job and preparing for something as high stakes as a Presidential debate, but Obama did not have second level facts at his disposal. When chances arose to rebut the Governor's statements, the President passed and allowed a lot of misstatements and flip flops go unanswered. I do not know if that is because he was not briefed on these subjects sufficiently or just did not have his "fastball" tonight, but the President should be prepared for 24 hours of media spin that this race is far from over.