Dec 30 2013

Win, Lose or Draw – State of the Nation, 2013

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, Policy

This is part 1 in a series of 3 posts that will look at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR


Inaction – If you’re one of those that thinks the government needs to do less, you probably liked the hell out of 2013. Congress took more vacation time than the average person gets in more than 10 years of working, and little if anything was done to address the sluggish economy, unemployment, or any of the other major problems facing the country. Since Congress writes the laws, most of this falls on their heads, but you’d be hard pressed to know that in the national press, which continuously placed the blame on an administration hamstrung by recalcitrant members of the House.

Outlook for 2014 – Good (which means bad for the rest of us)

Harry Reid – The strong, silent type…Reid shoved through the Senate what he could, and spearheaded an effort to cripple the crippling filibuster, which kept a record number of Obama appointees from ever coming up for a vote. He also held his own during a government shutdown that was largely blamed on those same recalcitrant House Members that were mentioned above.

Reid isn’t the most compelling character in a TV driven national conversation, but his behind the scenes skill at getting things done and keeping his party together earned him a win for 2013.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Paul Ryan – The 2012 GOP VP nominee stayed out of the spotlight for much of 2013, but surged in the waning weeks of the year to pass a Budget that accomplished most of what he wanted while giving up little in return. Bipartisanship may not be popular on the GOP side of the aisle, but any negotiation that gets you 70% of what you want is a win.

Outlook for 2014 – Not Bad

Misinformation – The media struggled against noise machines like Darrell Issa (R-CA) and others this year to get basic facts right about the stories that dominated the headlines. What’s more they struggled to even understand if those stories held any relevance. The Affordable Care Act, Benghazi, and the IRS scandal were the top three issues where the media largely parroted Issa and his acolytes despite information that would eventually discredit their assertions (Sources:Al Quaeda wasn’t involved in Benghazi Attack, IRS targeted progressive groups, Too, Documents reveal, Top 16 myths about the health care law).

The media politics of “He said/She said” continue, and the only winners are those who profit either politically or financially through stirring up misinformation and strengthening the paranoia machines.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) – This may seem an odd addition, since Fincher isn’t a member of the GOP House leadership…but he did get some headlines, and those headlines didn’t seem to hurt him much. The whole SNAP Flap over farm bill subsidies and food stamps helped put Fincher on the national map. That attention helped him raise over $2 million dollars for his campaign…and that’s just through the end of September. Fincher has benefitted from a constituency base that is isolated from media outlets that have the resources to draw the connection from his preferred policies to the impact on the area he represents. Also, having the most conservative swath of Shelby Co. in his district, which can easily provide him 41% of the votes he needs to win in any election doesn’t hurt.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Steve Cohen (D-TN) – Cohen also had a good year. He too got a good deal of national attention…some of it not always in the best ways…but far better than many of his contemporaries in the House. In addition to working for several progressive bills that will likely never see the light of day in the GOP led House, he used his time on the national TV circuit to push for more progressive legislation to deal with all kinds of problems that haven’t garnered the national attention that the should. This may not seem like a win, but in a year that saw the GOP led House do more of less, anyone doing more of more comes out a winner in my book.

What’s more, Cohen hasn’t drawn a serious challenger in his re-election bid as of yet (unless you count Ricky Wilkins as a serious challenger…and I don’t).

Outlook for 2014 – Good


Barack Obama – Coming off an election year that saw him win 51% of the popular vote, and 61% of the electoral college, you might think there would be a tailwind for the first year of his second term. That simply didn’t happen. Stymied by a GOP led House that seemed more interested in voting to repeal his signature healthcare law and investigate bogus scandals…the President might have made it through the year with at least a draw…if not a win in the wake of the GOP forced government shutdown. But the botched rollout of the site erased any gains the President made and ultimately distracted the public from the foolishness that was, by far, the signature of the GOP led efforts to implicate him in something…anything.

Outlook for 2014 – Neutral

John Boehner – “Cryin'” John Boehner had a shitty year. Plain an simple. If “herding cats” is an overused metaphor for damn near everything, that’s still what Boehner was tasked with doing…and he largely failed. Unable to grab the reigns from the TEA Party elements in his party, he led the House to vote for a government shutdown that surged public opinion against him, and his GOP colleagues. Boehner looked weak, and acted weak…eschewing the “Hastert Rule” to eventually end that shutdown, and pass some of the few pieces of legislation that actually had a chance in the Democratically controlled Senate. On top of all of that, he gained a Primary Challenger, something that just about never happens to a sitting House Speaker. Every morning I wake up and thank God that I am not John Boehner…for these, and a multitude of other reasons.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Mitch McConnell – If John Boehner’s year was bad, Mitch McConnell’s year was somehow worse. The Senate Minority Leader managed to block a good deal of Obama nominees to various and sundry posts throughout the year…until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid effectively took away the filibuster for the approval of nominees…effectively hampering that effort. On top of that, McConnell is about as unpopular in his home state as a politician can be…and he drew a credible opponent in Alison Lundergan Grimes, the current Democratic Secretary of State of Kentucky.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Unemployed – The US unemployment rate may have dropped from 7.9% in Jan. of 2013 to a mere 7% in November of this year, but the unemployed still got the raw end of the deal. Congress failed to reauthorize long-term unemployment benefits, which means 1,300,000 people who have been looking for work for a long-assed time are more screwed than they were before.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Working Poor – Wages for all workers in the US eked up 2¢ for the year. At the end of the year, the average hourly wage in the US was $10.31/hr. That’s the average, so a whole bunch of folks are way below that number. Median household wages are still below their pre-recession level, which means that damn near everyone is still worse off than they were before the Bush Bubble Burst. But for the working poor…who were struggling in the first place, its just not looking good…and there are no immediate sings of improvement in the future.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Affordable Care Act – The Affordable Care Act may have been an early success in helping women, and children get or keep healthcare they needed, but the rollout of the site was a disaster…and has been largely pegged to the failure of the law in general…even though that’s pure BS. The law has been scratched bare by scrutiny, some of it legitimate, much of it rhetorical flourish and the fumbling of the rollout of a key component only gives credence to those who proudly say that government can’t do anything right. Add to that the 23 states that aren’t expanding Medicaid and the 4,800,000 people that are being left behind and you’ve got a full on catastrophe. Its a damn shame, because despite its flaws, this law could help a lot of folks.

Outlook for 2014 – Neutral

TEA Party – The most recent iteration of secessionists finally got their civil war…though not where they expected…in their own party. Now I’ve always held that the TEA Party folks aren’t Republicans, but newfangled “know-nothings” that are more interested in maintaining the status quo than the public populist persona they initially used to their advantage. Nonetheless, the National GOP embraced them as a means to an end, and now they have to deal with them. There’s always been an element of these folks in government, but this is the first time in my lifetime they have grabbed this much power. Even conservative groups are running away…like the US Chamber of Commerce which has pledged $50 million dollars to defeat them. Popcorn popped. I can’t wait to see how this plays out in the primaries.

Outlook for 2014 – Not Good (Which is just fine by me)

The filibuster – Most people have no idea what the filibuster is. I’m not going to get in to all that. But it is a loser this year for reasons I mentioned above. Earlier this year the Senate voted to limit its use as a delay tactic in the Senate for most Presidential nominees. This has been called “the nuclear option” but in reality, its little more than a grenade tossed in the general direction of a nuclear blast fortified door. In any case…its a loser this year which is a huge change and could mean swifter justice, and a whole host of other efficiencies in government…which is something we all want, right? (maybe not)

Outlook for 2014 – Worse (which is good for people who want to see appointees make it through…)

Dist. 8 Constituents – While their Representative may have had a good year, the people of the 8th district of Tennessee had a bad one. Unemployment is 1.7% higher than the state level, and 2.8% higher than the national outlook. Nearly 25% of all the people in rural counties in the district (All but Shelby Co.) are on food stamps. Businesses have closed, population is dwindling, and there’s no help in sight. If only the people of the 8th district would draw the connection between the decline and their elected leaders. It was NEVER this bad when John Tanner was in office.

Outlook for 2014 – Awful


Congress – This may be the worst Congress ever. It may be that only 13% of Americans approve of how Congress is functioning. But like most dysfunctional relationships, this is one that probably won’t end without something really terrible happening. This article describes why Congress as a whole is unlikely to flip. At the height of the shutdown, 60% of Americans said fire every member of Congress…but that sentiment faded when the House GOP decided to relent for its own good. People still hate Congress and love their Congressmen…for the most part. So any real hopes of things suddenly “changing” when there are 538 cats to herd, is unlikely. Also, the notion that Democrats could surge in 2014 aren’t supported by history. The President’s party typically gets hammered in the last two years of a Presidential term. 2014 could be different, but it seems unlikely.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Jan 20 2011

The Propagandists

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics

So the media is all flipping out about my Congressman, Steve Cohen, calling propagandists, what they are… propagandists. In doing so he chose to use one of the most notorious propagandists of modern times, Joseph Goebbels.

Folks have said he called Republicans “Nazi’s”. That’s not what I heard. What I heard was a guy that’s tired of hearing a big lie repeated over and over again until it becomes conventional wisdom.

That is what the Big Lie is:

…a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Sound familiar?

It should, because as Congressman Cohen notes, the lie about the Healthcare Reform Bill being a “government takeover” of healthcare has been characterized as a falsehood again and again. Despite this fact, far too many Republican lawmakers, candidates and boosters have continued to repeat this lie for their personal and political gain with the help of a compliant media.

In effect, they have repeated the same lie enough times that it has infiltrated the American mind to the point that if you played word association with just about anyone and said “government takeover” they’d say “Obamacare”.

That is programming via propaganda.

But just because you invoke one of the world’s greatest propagandists, who also happens to be a Nazi, doesn’t mean you’re calling people a Nazi. It means you’re calling them propagandists.

It’s not as if Republicans didn’t know what they were doing. Frank Luntz “urged” it, and it was done. If only Democratic lawmakers would listen like this!

The point is, you don’t get a Pulitzer Prize winning media organization to call your rhetoric the Lie of the Year if what you’re saying ain’t a lie. And you can sit there and repeat your “winning phrase” all you want, you can vote to repeal, you can wave signs saying “Keep Government out of my Medicare” and it doesn’t make what you’re saying true.

“Government takeover” conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees. But the law Congress passed, parts of which have already gone into effect, relies largely on the free market.

Free market? I thought you guys all had a hard on for all that free market stuff. Guess not.

In the end, if I say you’re like Walt Disney, I’m saying I think you’re creative and good with the marketing, not the creator of world recognized brand or owner of a slew of theme parks.

If I say you’re like James Carville, I’m saying you remind me of Skeletor, not that you’re married to Mary Matalin (you should thank me for that).

And if I say you’re like Joseph Goebbels, then I’m saying you’re not only a damn good ideology based liar, but pretty damn persistent and consistent as well as pretty damn good at getting away with it, not that you’re a Nazi.

Though I guess you’d be proving my point if you did stretch and say I was calling you a Nazi, wouldn’t you?

Republicans should either take the comment recognizing your largely successful effort to defraud the American people as a compliment and move on, or if being a propagandist that uses their propaganda in the service of creating one of the worst public health nightmares in human history is not your intention…stop being a propagandist and start telling the truth.

Here’s the whole speech.

Aug 08 2009

Cohen Town Hall

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, Memphis, Policy

cth01I just got back from the Town Hall meeting held by Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District Rep. Steve Cohen. I have to tell you, the turnout was pretty impressive. I livetweeted the event under the hashtag #cohen, as did some others at the meeting. Right now twitter search isn’t working too well, probably because of the DOS attack earlier this week, but you can follow me or just read my tweets from the event.

Thankfully, the event didn’t have as much of the hostility that’s been reported at other events, though there were some very vocal dissenters. While they were a bit disruptive, and their outbursts occasionally made it difficult to hear, the meeting went down without any real incident.

I arrived about 20 min. before the event was scheduled to start. At that point, the line was making it’s way around the corner. As we stood, waiting to enter, the line continued to grow. I’m not good at estimating numbers, but I would guess about 400+ people were in attendance.

Luckily I was near the front half of the line and was able to pick a spot upon entering. There were a lot of Seniors in the line and both the Congressional staff, and many of the attendees on both sides of the healthcare issue were cool about making sure those people had seats.

The meeting began about 15 min late, due in large part to the over-capacity crowd. The venue was pretty crowded, as the pictures that follow will show. After the pledge, which was punctuated by a shouted “under God”, and some general instructions by employees at his local office, Cohen began introducing members of his staff to groans from the people there to protest healthcare reform. Cohen brought his DC staff down for a retreat to meet with the local staff, and said he felt it was important that people know who’s working for them in DC as well as here in Memphis. At one point the crowd started getting restless, but was shouted down by a man who stood up and said, “I’m want to hear my Congressman!”, which elicited both applause and groans.

cth10After the introductions, a line of about 8 Doctors formed to talk about healthcare reform. Many expressed concern about the “public option”. Cohen made no attempts to disagree with them or anything, but allowed them each to talk for a few minutes about both the problems and their concerns. This was not scripted or pre-planned. I really think, in the end, it was an effective strategy to keep the opposition off their game, and some good points were raised, though they were difficult to hear and impossible to record due to all the mumbling and grumbling that was a constant at the event.

There were some interesting moments in the Doctor comments section, though they were hard to make out due to the noise in the room, but as I tweeted Cohen held his own for the most part. The anti-reformers interrupted just about anyone who spoke, even people who supported their position. At one point Cohen asked people to “chill”, and later challenged a guy with a ”No Government Healthcare” sign, to which he answered, “I guess you’re against the VA, Medicare and Medicaid”, which brought down the house. Also, one of the doctors noted to the anti-reformers that “yelling lies over and over doesn’t make it true”, and another said, “anger and fear was trumping truth and facts”, which brought an expected response from the anti’s.

cth13Once questions started, it became even more difficult to hear. The questions came from cards, rather than calling on people in the audience, another effective strategy at keeping the meeting orderly. Most of the questions centered around Healthcare, but some touched on Cap and Trade and other issues.

Over time, the anti folks started checking out of the meeting. Many left 30+ min early because they weren’t getting the play they wanted. Of course, the hardcore folks stayed at it, shouting all kinds of things that I can’t even remember at this point. I wish I could remember because it was some of the stupidest crap I’ve ever heard in my life, and I listen to right wing talk radio from time to time to get a laugh or get motivated against their messaging.

In the back of the room, where I was standing, the hyperbole was thick, and there was a lot of passing around right-wing chain emails and such. From that vantage point, I can say that there were more signs in support of reform, or the public option specifically than there were from the anti-reform folks, though theirs were more, shall I say, creative…if that’s what you want to call it.

cth21Cohen did his best to dispel the myths about killing grandma and the “Palin Death Panel”. I don’t think he convinced anyone on the other side, though by the end they were not feeling victorious.

After the meeting most of them just took their signs and grumbled their way out of the hall. Most of the supporters went up to say hi to the Congressman.

I wish I had been able to take better notes, though the livetweet from the phone made my juggling act pretty difficult. All in all it was a successful meeting, despite the attempts to disrupt.

Thanks to all the residents of the 9th District who gave up part of their Saturday to participate, and even those from Arkansas and the surrounding districts, whose intentions may not have been as constructive. It takes all kinds, and I hope that, perhaps some of the misgivings about healthcare reform were quieted…though I doubt it.

Aug 06 2009

Memphis Town Hall Meeting

Posted by Steve Ross in Memphis

There are several Town Hall Meetings going on in the area as the week comes to a close.

Tonight is a meeting with Marsha Blackburn TN-07.

Date:Thursday, August 6, 2009
Time:7:00pm – 8:00pm
Location:Macaroni Grill
Street:6705 Poplar Ave
City/Town:Memphis, TN

Tomorrow, Mayor Myron Lowery will host a town hall meeting at City Hall


Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) will host a Town Hall Saturday, August 8 from 10 a.m. to Noon at BRIDGES, 477 North Fifth Street, Memphis, TN 38105

Jul 03 2009

Not a Deal Maker

In his ”Exit Interview” Mayor Herenton says he’s “not a deal maker”. Of course, he also said a lot of other things, and you can read them here.

I wonder if Mayor Herenton understands the office he is seeking? Surely the Mayor knows that as 1 of 435 in the US House, he will have to seek alliances, and that means making deals, if he is to get any amendments or legislation he sponsors to make it to the President’s desk. Should the Mayor become a Congressman, he will have to make deals. That he is not practiced in this art, is a huge strike against him.

I haven’t written about Herenton’s primary challenge, or any of the on goings here in Memphis pertaining to the Mayor, because I don’t believe any of it until Council Chairman Lowery assumes the Mayor’s office on an interim basis. Once that happens, I’ll start believin’. Still, the Mayor’s antics today, including the possibility of running in the Special Election if he doesn’t like the field cast some serious doubts on how serious he really is about anything.

What this is starting to look like now, is a man who more than anything else, just wants to be in the public eye, stirring the pot, for his personal enjoyment. By resigning, or at least threatening to, he took himself out of power to seek a new office. He’s losing the bully pulpit he alone has as City Mayor. Now he’s starting to realize this, and he’s making moves to maintain his relevance at it’s current level. It must be a very lonely place for the Mayor.

I don’t think anyone believes that after Herenton leaves the Mayor’s office that he’ll be irrelevant. Quite the contrary, Herenton will have time to carefully craft his verbal grenades to lob into the race for Congress. He will have lost the bully pulpit, but he will not have lost the thing that elevated him to the Mayor’s office in the first place, his tenacity.

What will be interesting is how much media play he’s given after his departure from City Hall in comparison to his current media value, and the media play Cohen receives. Broadcast and Print media have had a pass on covering the Mayor while he held that position because as mayor everything he said was potentially newsworthy. Once he is no longer Mayor, everything he says is a part of a political campaign, which still holds some newsworthiness, but also creates the potential for the appearance of favoritism one way or the other should the media not cover them both equally.

In the end, Herenton may not be a deal maker in his political life, but he’s definitely made a deal with the media. Herenton has made a conscious decision to put publicity over policy, his personality over effective management and governance. Memphis deserves better, but we, as a city, have to step up and stop this madness. If we don’t, we can expect nothing more than more of the same, which has been devastating to the city in the long run.