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Just another thought-filled Monday…

Happy Monday all!  Random thoughts from the weekend:

Politics:

  • It appears that President Obama may have gotten a 5-7 point bounce out of his convention.  According to several polls (great graphic here), Obama’s bounce has sustained, even despite a weaker than expected jobs report on Friday.  We won’t know the full bounce for a few more days, because most of these polls include some percentage of interviews conducted before key convention moments.  So, there is still the potential for a larger bounce, perhaps as many as 10 points.
  • For months we’ve been hearing that this election is a “base election.”  In other words, given that most people have already made up their mind, turnout will be the key to winning.  That’s why you saw the Democrats hit social issues so hard in Charlotte – they are trying to fire up their base and get key constituents out to the polls.  And therein lies the advantage for the President.   The New York Times calculated that, if everyone who is registered to vote shows up at the polls, Obama has a 90%+ chance of winning based on party registration etc…This blog has a great breakdown of how that figure was identified and what it all means.  If you are interested in party registration over time, check this out.
  • The debates are going to be more important this year, than I can ever remember them being.   Between now and election day, Romney and Obama will debate 3 times and Biden will square off against Ryan once.  In an election where both sides are willing to say anything (true or not) and the challengers have steadfastly refused to provide specifics about their economic plan, it will be super interesting to see how much the moderators or candidates push for information and call people on their lies.  Who can say the things that will motivate and excite their base, while not turning off the few undecideds or the ones who could still be swayed?  That, ultimately, will decide this election.

Sports:

Football is back and I could not be more excited!  All you need to know is that, at the Red Sox game on Saturday night (another loss), the fans started chanting “Go Pats” in the 7th Inning.  And I was among them!  After a great first weekend, here are my winners and losers:

Winners:

  • New York Jets

I don’t think you can understand how painful it was for me to type that.  Look, their top two QBs (Sanchez and Tebow) didn’t score a single TD in the preseason (see below).  And they were facing the Buffalo Bills, who sport a revamped, and very expensive defense) in Week 1.  Many, including me, were convinced it would be an embarrassing display by Ryan’s boys, but were we ever wrong.  How they managed to put up 48 points is beyond me.  This was more shocking than Brady Anderson’s random 50 homers in 1996.  Which reminds me, someone check the Jets’ offensive coordinator for steroids!

  • Peyton Manning

In the you’ve gotta see it to believe it category, I give you Peyton Manning.  After not playing in a game for 600+ days, Manning returned to the field and, against a pretty good defense, led his team to a comeback win.  Seeing him in Bronco orange was defintely strange, but the result was not.  He’s still got it, folks, and that’s a scary thought for the rest of the AFC.

  • Replacement Officials

Look, they weren’t perfect, but they survived and this ragtag bunch of retirees, teachers and insurance salesmen got some difficult calls right.  Although they did their best by giving Seattle an extra timeout at the end of the Seahawks-Cardinals game, they didn’t change the outcome of any game and that, my friends, is a win.  Of course, regardless of how long this strike lasts, they also made history by counting in their numbers the first woman to ever officiate a NFL game.  Congratulations to Shannon Eastin and I hope you blaze the trail for more gender equality in the sport.  Way to go!

Losers

  • Preseason footbal

It means nothing, as the Jets showed, and 4 games is way too many.  It looks like the NFL may, finally be making the change.  Week 1 showed just how meaningless those games really are.

  • Rookie QBs

It’s a tough jump from college to the pros, no question about it.  All the rookie QBs starting this weekend, with the exception of RGIII looked way over matched and out-of-place.  Weeden, Luck, Wilson and Tannehill all may be great NFL players but, on week 1, they looked very mortal.

  • New Orleans Saints

After quite the offseason, I thought the Saints would come out firing on all cylinders.  Us against the World would be their motto and, especially playing at home, they would steamroll over any opponent unlucky enough to be on the other side.  That didn’t happen.  They looked flat for the first half of the game and, to me, didn’t seem like there was any motivation or desire to beat the odds.  They tried to recover in the 2nd half, but it was too little too late.  Let’s see which team shows up next week.

A Scary Time in America

And you thought this election was going to be all about the economy.  Silly you!  In today’s of installment of “What the hell were they thinking?” I give you Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for the United States Senate in Missouri.   Akin won a tough primary battle for the right to face one of the most vulnerable incumbent senators, Claire McCaskill.  And the polls showed him doing quite well – up by 8-10 points in most.  But then Rep. Akin went on the Jaco Report and, at the risk of underselling it, things didn’t go too well.

Click here and scroll down for the full interview.  The abortion comments begin around the 4 minute mark.

Yes, you heard that right.  According to a man who has been serving in the United States House, women’s bodies have some sort-of magical ability to determine if a rape is “legitimate” and, if it is, can prevent pregnancy.  Stupidity like that, if it wasn’t so scary, would be hilarious.   Oh yeah, Akin also sits on the House Science Committee.

It might be interesting to note that this is not a new issue that Akin just happened to bring up. The House passed a bill earlier this year with full Republican support and 16 Democrats which would have added language to the Federal Abortion Ban (which includes rape exemptions) to differentiate between “forcible” rape and other rape. The bill never made it to the Senate floor but, if it had passed, women who had been the victims of non-forcible rape (statutory rape, rapes that involve drugs, or verbal threats) would not be exempted from the ban. My guess is that Akin misspoke and meant to say forcible rape, not legitimate.  To quote President Obama on this “Rape is rape.”  Done.  Simple.  Right.

Either way, this is just another in a series of moves by factions of a Republican party that is so far out of touch with modern times, I shudder to think what they will come up with next.   Now, I will acknowledge that many prominent Republicans have tried to distance themselves from Akin but it just doesn’t ring true in most cases.  Mitt Romney, through a spokesperson, says that “Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape…”  Problem is, Congressman Ryan was a co-sponsor of the “forcible rape” bill and the RNC sub-committee tasked with the creation of a party platform approved this afternoon anti-choice language with NO exemptions (not health of the mother, not rape of any kind, nothing).    Romney will be the leader of a party that believes a crucial issue this year is ensuring that Government doesn’t help women who get raped have abortions.  This isn’t just Congressman Akin – this is a a GOP strategy.

Consider other instances, just in the past 12 months:

  • Rush Limbaugh calls Sandra Fluke a “slut” for testifying before Congress regarding contraception
  • Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum said, in regards to abortion in cases of rape that “women should make the best of a bad situation”
  • Kansas lawmaker, Pete DeGraaf, suggested that women should plan ahead for being raped by buying abortion-only policies in the same way that he keeps a spare tire in his car.
  • Legislatures across the country have introduced nearly 1,000 bills relating to female reproductive rights – nearly all of them designed to limit a woman’s ability to control her own medical decisions.  (SIDE NOTE: Don’t you find it remarkable that the same Congress so concerned with “Obamacare” taking healthcare decisions away from the individual is so ok with it when it comes to these issues?)

This isn’t about religious freedom.  This isn’t about one man making a gaffe.  This is about a group of people – mostly men – who have decided that the pre-1950s era limits on women’s freedoms were the way to go.  This is about a group of people who want to control a woman’s body.  It is terrifying to me that these people serve in our government and I shudder to think what the United States of America would look like if they were in charge.

I’ll close with the words of Eve Ensler, in her heartfelt and powerful letter to Congressman Akin on the Huffington Post today.

“You didn’t make some glib throw away remark. You made a very specific ignorant statement clearly indicating you have no awareness of what it means to be raped. And not a casual statement, but one made with the intention of legislating the experience of women who have been raped. Perhaps more terrifying: it was a window into the psyche of the GOP…Why don’t you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it? Spend your energy going after those perpetrators who so easily destroy women rather than parsing out manipulative language that minimizes their destruction.”

My thoughts on Senator Byrd

The United States Senate has lost another lion.  92 years old, Senator Byrd had served in the body he loved so dearly since 1953 – longer than any other member of Congress.  In those 53 years, he cast more than 18,000 votes (also a record) and, remarkably, had a 98% attendance record over the course of his career.  Byrd will be remembered as a staunch defender of the constitution – he was known for always carrying around a pocket-sized version in his suit – and his for mastery of Senate rules and talent at using them to his advantage.   In fact, in one of the most famous quotes about Senator Byrd, former House Speaker Jim Wright noted that “legislative graveyards are filled with the bones of those who underestimated him…”

One of the things I have always admired and will long-remember about Senator Byrd was his willingness to speak his mind – no matter who might disagree – and, just as importantly, his ability to listen, change his mind and admit when he was wrong.  Agree or disagree with his stance on an issue, you always knew where he stood and why.  He was an early advocate for cameras in the Senate and, it was due in large part to his tireless work on the issue, that they are there today. 

However, as Byrd himself noted, there is a darker side to his history that, as he predicted, “will be in [his] obituary.”  Lest we forget, Senator Byrd was a member of the KKK and, practically single-handedly, held up the Civil Rights Bill with an infamous 14-hour filibuster in 1963.  While he did apologize years later saying “intolerance has no place in America,” his opposition to integration continued to manifest itself in his opposition to busing to integrate schools.

Finally, as a resident of Massachusetts, I have always been facinated by Byrd’s relationship with Senator Edward Kennedy.  The two men were incredible rivals – Byrd, in one of his crowning achievements ousted Kennedy as the Democrat’s second in command in 1971 with a late-night rally punctuated by Byrd sneaking back into Washington after making Kennedy believe he had given up on the race.  However, as time went on, they developed a very strong bond and few of us can forget the image of Byrd weeping openly upon learning of Kennedy’s brain cancer diagnosis or shouting, upon casting his “Aye” vote on healthcare reform “Mr. President, this is for my friend Ted Kennedy…”  In the final analysis, despite their many clashes these two giants of the Senate stood side-by-side in their opposition to the Iraq war and steadfast in their commitment to ensuring a better life for all of their fellow citizens. 

After Kennedy’s death, Byrd remarked that “Neither years of age nor years of political combat, nor his illness, diminished the idealism and energy of this talented, imaginative, and intelligent man…”  Those same words could be applied to the life and career of Senator Robert Byrd and, despite differences I have with him on issues of policy or methodology, I will forever admire this remarkable man – one of the most influential and great Senators we have ever seen.

As they do so well, CNN will, I’m sure, be updating this page throughout the day as notable political figures release statements on Senator Byrd’s passing.

Now what?

Congratulations to Scott Brown and his campaign team for a very impressive win last night.  They ran a fantastic campaign and, quite frankly, deserved to win.  A few take-aways and thoughts after a very disappointing evening in Massachusetts.

1. Healthcare is not dead – Despite what you may have heard/read today, the fight to fix our healthcare system is far from over.  I would expect that, in the next few days, the House will take up the Senate bill and will pass it with no changes, thus negating the need for another Senate vote.  Failing that, they will be forced to chop up the bill into smaller parts (something the American people seem to want anyway) and pass what they can.  This allows them to claim some level of victory and move on to other issues voters seem to care more about right now.  It would be a huge mistake on their part for them to try to force through a bill before Scott Brown is seated – it would send a terrible message to the country and would be political suicide. 

2. 41st vote – I don’t think there are words sufficient for me to describe my frustration over the perception out there that, because the Republicans now have 41 votes, the Democrats can’t do anything despite still holding 59 of 100 seats in the Senate.  As Ann Woolner notes, in her fabulous piece in Business Week, “These days political parties are so polarized, so short on ideological moderates and so bent on each other’s demise that compromise on hot-button issues is the rarity.”  With one party being hell-bent on destroying the President, no matter the cost to ordinary Americans, and using filibusters at every turn, 60 seats has become critical to accomplishing almost anything.   The Founding Fathers intended a simple majority to be needed to pass legislation and, as Woolner points out, “If the Founders wanted a supermajority for everything, they would have said so.”  The fact that it is a well-accepted conclusion that, because Brown won, the President’s agenda is dead, is a sad comment about the state of this country.

3. The President – Make no mistake about it.  This was a loss for President Obama and is another reminder that the American public is extremely anxious and impatient.  Obama has only been in office for a year – not nearly enough time to fix the problems he inherited – but people are hurting and they want and need real results.  In some ways this loss is a good thing for him.  It drives home the challenges the administration is facing and gives them 11 months to right the ship before the all-important mid-term elections.  They must find a way to make people feel better about the direction of the country and focus on important issues like job creation.  In a recent poll, 75% of Americans said that they like Obama personally.  That provides an exceptional opportunity for him to get out there and rebuild public confidence in his administration.

4. 2010 and beyond – In Massachusetts, the Democrats lost the mantle of the being the party of the people.  Scott Brown was engaging and convinced people he was an everyman who would look out for their interests.  On the other hand, Martha Coakley, until the end, came off as aloof and entitled.  There is a lesson here about how to run campaigns, even if you are the front-runner.  Going forward, Democrats have to get back to the populist message that made them so successful in 2006 and 2008 and remind voters of who got us into the mess we are in now.  All is not lost – far from it – but there are important lessons to be learned from Massachusetts (and VA and NJ) and how well those lessons are learned will affect what happens later this year.  It remains to be seen if MA, VA and NJ are accurate measurements of the mood of the country or it is simply an example of less than stellar candidates running poor campaigns.

5. Remember who elected you – I would encourage Senator-elect Brown to remember that it was largely on the backs of independent voters that he sailed into office.  You can bet the people of Massachusetts will be watching very closely and, in 2012, will not think twice about casting him aside should he prove to be more focused on the President failing than on making the country better.

Capuano and Brown for Senate

After 3 months of campaigning, primary day has finally arrived. If you live in Massachusetts PLEASE PLEASE vote. I don’t care who you vote for, only that you vote. This is a critical first step in electing a US Senator who will be casting votes on issues that will affect all of us. If you want more information on any of the candidates, take a look at my Candidate Tuesdays, visit the campaign websites, do google searches – there is plenty out there. I’ve been teasing it for a while and now I am ready to reveal who I have decided to vote for. However, before I get to that, I have to say that this was one of the hardest electoral decisions I have ever had to make. I do not share the frustration that many feel with the caliber of candidate – I feel like we have 6 very strong candidates who all bring unique and important credentials to this race. However, we can only vote for one and this is what I have decided.

Democrats – Mike Capuano
With four strong candidates, my decision has come to down to four key characteristics – experience, accessibility, integrity and potential influence. All four candidates are impressive and I believe any would make a great senator. But I can only vote for one and Congressman Capuano is my choice.

Experience
Capuano is the only candidate on the Democratic side who has any legislative experience whatsoever. He understands how the process works and there won’t be much of a learning curve for him. With so many critical issues facing the Senate, a steep learning curve is not an option. He already knows many of the players and will be able to jump right into negotiations and committee responsibilities.

Accessibility
This was the great untold story of the true value of Senator Kennedy. Any constituent who called his office has a story of Senator Kennedy just getting things done. No request was too small and, no matter how big or famous he was, he never forgot his true responsibility to represent those who elected him. Anyone who is currently represented by Congressman Capuano will tell you that he has that same understanding and commitment to his community. That is such an important trait and Capuano has it.

Endorsements
Normally I don’t put much stock in who endorses who since it can be very political.. However, the list of people who are supporting Capuano is extraordinary. Especially when one considers that Former Governor Dukakis decided, for the first-time, to endorse a candidate in a state-wide primary. It is an impressive list and speaks to the feeling that people “in the know” have about him. To have a non-front runner accumulate such a list is impressive and says a lot to me.

Influence
In thinking about this category, I can’t help but, once again, think about Senator Kennedy. After his death we heard countless stories about Kennedy’s ability to work with anyone he needed to work with in order to get things done. Capuano has that same ability. When Nancy Pelosi tapped him to head up ethics reform in the house (a MAJOR priority for her) many reformists were skeptical of his ability to see the project through. However, after working with him and seeing the results he got they were singing a different tune. In fact, many of those groups are supporting his Senate bid now. Colleagues really respect him and I believe he will be able to have an immediate impact influencing the critical legislation in the Senate.

Republicans – Scott Brown
This really isn’t much of a race. While I admire the business experience of Jack E. Robinson, Scott Brown has all the tools to be a complete US Senator. If I was electing a business representative I would support Robinson. However, since a Senator deals with many different issues, Brown is a better choice.

Whoever you like, PLEASE vote!!!!! Reports say that only about 4% of registered voters in MA are planning to vote today which is terrible. This is a big election and I encourage you to make your voice heard!

Link for 12/3 – The debate has begun…

Stupak is to the house as _____ as to the Senate?  What are our clues?  Well, we need someone in the Senate who is a Democrat, but is solidly anti-choice.   There were several potential choices but, now, we have our answer.  Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting Ben Nelson of Nebraska.   According to several media reports, Nelson is introducing an ammendment based on the one that passed the house that would severely restrict the ability of women to get abortions. 

There has been much controversy around this and rightly so.  What we are really talking about is banning a safe and completely legal medical procedure?  And, we are settting up a system where all operations that men have are covered, but we aren’t covering an operation that women have.  I have a real problem with that.  Just because you may be opposed to the procedure doesn’t mean that we should make it nearly impossible for others to have it.  The Hyde Ammendment is bad enough in that it prohibits any Government money paying directly for abortions.  But to go further, as Republicans and some Conservative Democrats are doing, smacks of the kind-of big government micro-managing that these folks claim to be against.    Going further means that NO insurance company that receives any government subsidy would be allowed to cover this legal procedure.  Going further means that women would have to either pay for abortions out of pocket or buy supplemental insurance which, in all liklihood, would be extremely expensive.  Going further means that some women who keep their current insurance will lose services that are currently in their plan.  Going further is a terrible idea.

In the Senate version of the bill there is a provision which, like the one proposed by Representative Lois Capps in the House, essentially maintains the rules set forth by Hyde.  The difference is that Capps and Reid do not change the rules to make them more restricitve and make abortions significantly harder to get.  It is ironic that the only ones who would be changing the rules (Nelson and Stupak) claim they are doing what they are doing to in order to keep the rules from being changed.

Link for 11-2-09 – Healthcare bill

I am several days late on posting this, but the House healthcare bill has been unveiled and, in my humble opinion, it is a really good one!  If you don’t want to read the whole bill (and at a 1,990 pages I can’t blame you) the Education and Labor Committee has posted a really good summary

Some key things that I like:
1. You can keep your plan, but there will be increased competition from an entity focused on care over profits. With this increased competition we can have confidence that healthcare decisions will be made by doctors and not insurance companies.
2. People can not be dropped because they are sick, are using ‘too much’ medical care or have pre-existing conditions
3. There is a mandate to be covered and penalties if you aren’t
4. Simplification of documentation for providers and patients
5. It will, according to the CBO, REDUCE the deficit over the next 10 years
6. Preventative care and wellness will be covered by all plans and companies
7. Caps out-of-pocket expenses to prevent medically-induced bankrupcy

Very likely no amendments will be allowed when the bill comes to the full house for a vote. Doing this will prevent an amendment (being pushed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) ) which would prevent any government money from being spent on abortions. No way Pelosi allows this bill to be tainted with that and risk losing the liberal wing of the party.

Overall, this is a very good bill and I am looking forward to having it rapidly move through conference, being reconciled with the Senate bill and getting to Obama’s desk.

Link for 10/16/09 – A Daily Show day

For today’s link of the day, I have two videos from the fabulous Jon Stewart and the team at the Daily Show.

The first video is Mr. Stewart reflecting on the priorities of our 24 hour news networks, specifically CNN.  The great thing about the Daily Show is that, in their mocking, they bring up really important points and deliver their message in an entertaining manner.  Stewart is right that these news networks have a responsibility to call their guests out when they exaggerate or make things up.  If they were really good about doing that, then maybe people could have the confidence that what they are hearing is accurate and valid debates could be more prevalent.  We would all be better off as a result.  When you think about…oh….what’s that?  Ok, I’d like to tell you more, but I’m going to have to leave it there 🙂

The second video is more on the story regarding 30 republicans who voted against an Al Franken amendment that would prohibit the government from doing business with companies who have clauses in employment contracts making it impossible for rape victims to sue.  As is to be expected, Jon Stewart has an opinion on this.  I think I am more sad than anything else that this is where our senate is right now.  Despite what some of the opposing 30 would have you believe, the government has the right to choose who they do business with and the responsibility to set an example for workplace standards.  In fact, to quote Chief Justice Rehnquist “‘Congress may attach conditions on the receipt of federal funds and has repeatedly employed that power to further broad policy objectives.”  Setting as a condition of a receiving a contract that the corporation allows rape victims to have their day in court is not a political attack.  It is the logical and morally correct thing to do. 

I won’t go as far as those who are saying that a vote against this amendment is a vote in support of rapists, but I will say that, at best, the priorities of these 30 senators are horribly misplaced.   From some of these Senators I would have expected a vote like this (Chambliss, Vitter) but, from some, I am really surprised and saddened (Lindsay Graham, John McCain).  I applaud the other 68 Senators (including 10 republicans) who supported this amendment, want to hear why Senator Spector chose to sit this one out (I can forgive Senator Byrd since he is still battling major health issues), and hope at least some of the 30 who voted no will come to understand how wrong they are and re-think their priorities.  Failing that, I hope they lose their next election.

Link for 10/8/09 – Thank you Senator Franken

I would really like to understand the rationale for voting against an amendment that would punish government contractors for “restrict[ing] their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.” Really? Is that a political issue? Politicians always talk about holding themselves to a higher standard (which they usually say when they’ve done something wrong)…it seems to me we should government contractors (and all companies) to a minimum standard of decency. Am I wrong?

Come on Senators. Not everything is about politics. Sometimes something is so clearly the right thing to do, it is ok to join with the other party. You are setting a really bad example for our country and your fellow Americans by essentially saying that is more important to protect big business or play political games than to protect people from sexual crimes. That, to me, is shameful and I’m glad the Huffington Post (and other places) have published a list of those who voted against this measure.