It Was a Dark and Stormy Century: And It Just Might Be Our Fault

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Dr. Mann and colleagues graph for the IPCC

Dr. Michael E. Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars is on our campus today. Dr. Mann is most well known for the graph you see in the upper left-hand corner. The graph, submitted to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), shows the temperature changes over the last thousand years. If you look closely (or if you click on the graph), you will see a sharp uptick in temperatures starting during and directly after the industrial revolution.

The graph is designed to provide a simple, easy to read measurement that demonstrates anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change based on 1,000 years worth of temperature and climate data using multiple measurement tools.

The graph and leaked emails from members of the IPCC research group thrust Dr. Mann into the political spotlight. Critics of climate change and global warming cherry-picked sentences from emails and willfully (or ignorantly) misconstrued conversations between scientists who had been working together for many years to cast doubt on both the data and Dr. Mann’s professionalism.

It was, in many ways, a picture perfect example of the politics of personal attack writ large on the cultural landscape. Notable climatologists Sean Hannity, Michelle Bachmann, Jim Inhofe, and Sara Palin attacked Dr. Mann’s data while other critics accused him of politicizing climate change. Dr. Mann was called before Congress and dressed down while Senators grandstanded on tv, collecting campaign contributions from Exxon, Haliburton, and Mobile in the backrooms. For his critics, Dr. Mann’s hockey stick became an example of his hockey shtick and they clearly imagined that destroying him personally would discredit his data. (A rhetorical device, I recognize, I employ in this paragraph as well.)

Certainly, there are legitimate questions to be asked about rising temperatures and all science requires peer review. The very nature of scientific inquiry demands that data be reproduceable. When data can be reproduced, we move toward scientific consensus.

And please note that we have scientific consensus on global climate change and global warming. No reputable scientific agency throughout the world denies humanity’s impact on the levels of CO2 and other measures of global warming. The ice caps are melting, super-storms are quickly becoming the norm, and long-term droughts have human fingerprints all over them. The question, at this point, isn’t really if humans have impacted climate change. Groups like 350.org and Dr. Mann aren’t leading some world-wide scientific conspiracy, cooking the data, and tricking people.

The question, instead, needs to be how we balance our needs for fuel, energy, and food within the ecological limits of our planet. Driving hybrids and eating granola can’t be the only answer but doing nothing isn’t really an option at this point.

But what is most fascinating, I think, about Dr. Mann’s story isn’t the coming global climate disaster but the intense and incredibly loud adverse reaction to the scientific data.

In some ways, the reaction to any data that disrupts our livelihood and threatens our way of life reflects an ages old distrust of science and experts. One need only look at popular culture’s presentation of mad scientists and recognize that we have a healthy distrust of people who play with chemicals and the other fundamental building blocks of life on earth. Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Jeckyll, Dr. Moreau, Dr. Strangeglove: when scientists go bad they can destroy the planet. My guess is we will eventually learn that the zombie strain terrorizing Rick and his crew on the Walking Dead is man-made.

The visceral reaction to the climate change data, I think, reflects some of this distrust. Truly disruptive ideas in the scientific arena have an ability to change the way we see humanity’s role in the universe. Imagine, if you will, living your entire life believing the earth is the center of the universe and our role is pre-ordained, defined by a higher power. When that belief is challenged by science and when the very underpinnings of our moral identity are called into question, we often fight back and reject the change.

In the 21st century, social media, the internet, and an ability to isolate ourselves the echo chamber of like-minded people has also turned too many of us into “experts” in our own minds. We reject scientific inquiry for observational data, forgetting that just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it might not be true. Too many of us forget that our life time, these 70-90 years we walk the planet, are but a small sample of time. Dr. Mann’s data covers over a thousand years. Your memories from 1950 barely register as a trend and just because last year was cold in Topeka, Kansas doesn’t disprove global warming.

But I also recognize that things aren’t so simple.

Andrew Hoffman argues “Climate change is an existential challenge to our contemporary world view.” Multiple polls show us that climate change is poised to replace health care as the essential battleground issue in the coming years because, I think, it challenges our relationship with the physical world. Religion and myth show us as passive recipients of weather and climate. Floods, droughts, hordes of locusts, and other phenomena are “natural” disasters, occurring mysteriously or as a way for God (or the gods) to remind us that they have the power to unleash such things and we don’t.

Except now Dr. Mann and his colleagues are arguing we do have that power, and I think it scares the bejeesus out of some people. But I think it also smells to some as yet another large, international organization trying to define and redefine what it means to be a human being. Well meaning skeptics of climate change sense a loss of power as that “self” is redefined and the power of God (or the gods) is diminished.

Simply put, climate change is both a moral issue and an issue of morality that brings science, religion, and politics into conflict.

Perhaps justly so. As we embark on this conversation, though, it might be nice if we could focus less on the messengers and pay far more attention to the message. Doing so, I think, might help us save the planet and emerge as better people in the meantime.

Hearing the Sun Shine–a poem

One of my favorite places in Texas is Caprock Canyon State Park. Palo Duro Canyon might be the Grand Canyon of of Texas, but sometimes regular canyons do just fine. Caprock, and I don’t mean this negatively, is manageable and navigable in a way that Palo Duro is not. Certainly, Palo Duro, like the Grant Canyon, is awe inspiring, but the size and depth create a kind of distance. At times, we see grandeur artistically and miss the ability to engage with the land physically.

Caprock, if you’ve never been, isn’t a small canyon, but you can put boots on the ground or bike on the trail and cover the area. When our kids where little and far less busy with friends, sports, and sleeping until noon every weekend, we camped out at Caprock in the fall on a pretty regular basis. Located out near Quitaque, about 15 miles west of Turkey (Home of Bob Wills), the sky is clear and in the fall the air is crisp.

I was thinking of Caprock this morning. We had a storm roll through last night. This morning is bright with a deep blue sky that goes on forever: we breath deeply and let the cool, crisp air cleanse our lungs on a day like today.

A few years ago, I started working on a little poem about watching the sun come over the canyon walls, but I’m always struck by how inadequate words are to describe or capture the emerging sunshine and light breezes that start the day as the world washes over us. Our relationship with nature is such a personal thing, I think, that trying to articulate it almost misses the point. But we try to capture those moment anyway, right? We take photos, invite our friends, walk down memory lane as we try to express the inexplicable.

What you see below is a poem within a poem because, I keep thinking, why write one bad poem when you can offer readers a 2 for 1 special.

Either way, I recommend you just skip the poem and drive out to Caprock and feel it yourselves.

Hearing the Sun Shine

Sitting on the rim of Caprock Canyon, writing a poem that is doomed to miss the moment.

–The sun opens the
blood red canyon walls–

It’s 6 am or thereabouts: Dawn for an early morning hiker with no watch. A cup of coffee in my gloved hands wards off the chill.

–and other colors emerge
from the shadows of dawn.–

My legs dangle 100 feet above the canyon floor, ants, the occasional spider, and unidentified insects crawl around me. I break the silence and propose a truce that seems agreeable between nature and man. “I’m here for me, not for thee.” I raise my cup in thanks and we go about ignoring each other.

–On a shelf opposite the sun, 
a rock becomes 
something alert, moving,
wary,
watchful:–

My family still sleeps in the tent and secretly, I’m happy they are not here in the shadows with the noises of early morning: hesitant chirps, cricks, and caws as the night slowly stretches itself out of darkness.

–my eyes at a natural 
disadvantage as the 
sun glares through
the air–

The wind moving through the canyon sounds like traffic on a busy street or the highway miles away and I shake the wrong images from my head.

–and I’m distracted by inappropriate
metaphors 
from outside the
canyon, 
hearing
jets and cars in the 

wind and seeing 
trash instead of trees.
I close my eyes.
Pause.
Open and breath.–

My coffee is gone and the sun is across the canyon. I shed the jacket, put the gloves in my pocket and stand, breathing deeply before the return hike.

–The canyon wall looks like 
Georgia O’Keeffe’s work
Deer and birds float across
the canvass and 
language fails to hold the 
moment. 
I stop 
trying to
write and
I can hear the
sun shining as
dawn slides into day. 

Gluttony Is A Sin (Unless The Food Is Good)

My wife and I took a break from the politics of destruction in our nation’s capitol last weekend and made a quick dash to New Orleans.

The madness of Bourbon Street, fortunately, transcends political party. And it usually makes more sense. Especially after a Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s.

If you’ve never been to New Orleans, you owe yourself a trip. If you are somewhere between the ages of 21 and 30, I highly recommend a Friday or Saturday when LSU plays an SEC rival. The French Quarter will be filled with partially developed frontal lobes and you will fit right in. There is a collective, Bacchanalian joy running up and down the street that is both infectious and exciting. Of course, I’m also fairly certain the seven deadly sins make a nightly appearance, although it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between sloth and just plain passed out. I’m not, I say in my most fatherly voice, advocating you participate in any of them, but they are definitely on display.

Those of us who have reached an age where we realize the night before isn’t worth the morning after can still enjoy ourselves. That Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s tastes just as sweet to us as it does to them. We just know the calories will last longer than the hangover.

But the real joy in New Orleans isn’t the music, scantily clad women and men, raucous parties, cheap t-shirts, or daiquiris for sale on every corner.

It’s the food.

I should note that New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina is a remarkable example of the collaboration between governmental aid and private entrepreneurial spirit. Low interest loans, tax abatements, and a willingness to take a chance on small business ownership can transform an area, even when it’s been washed out and devastated.

And thank goodness some of those small business owners can also cook.

We began our trip with lunch at Mothers, home of the World’s Best Baked Ham. They’ve certainly had a lot of practice. Mothers has been serving since 1938. Remarkably, after Katrina, the owners sought out employees displaced by the storm and brought them back to work. There’s something about that kind of consistently good employment that helps food stay tasty. My wife had the Ferdi Special, a roast beef po’boy with ham. It’s not for anyone with vegetarian tendencies. Unlike too many chain “food” stores today, Mothers lets the natural juices from the meat keep the sandwich moist. But not too moist. The bread stays firm and holds the meat. They are famous for their Ferdi, but don’t deny yourself the fried shrimp po’boy: pickles, shredded cabbage, a hint of mayo and fried shrimp with just a hint of cajun flavor. It was a veritable symphony as the flavors worked together.

That was lunch day one. How, we wondered, sitting at the table with our bellies full, would we ever eat again.

We managed.

But we got smarter when we ate lunch the next day because we shared the Redfish Amer at the Star Steak and Lobster House. For lunch. Talk about living high on the hog.

Or in this case swimming with the fish. The little steakhouse seats about 30. I recommend you get there about 11:30 because our waitress said the chef cooks up her sauces about that time.

And you want this Crawfish Cream Sauce when it first comes out of the pot. I suspect this stuff would go well on anything, but I recommend you pair it with that lightly fried Redfish, garlic potatoes and broccoli. I’m convinced, by the way, that you can tell the quality of a restaurant by how they cook their broccoli. Best broccoli ever–The Palm in San Antonio. Star comes in a close second. The key to good, fresh veggies is they have to be steamed or sauteed so they are starting to soften on the edges but remain crisp enough to retain their flavor. Never, I insist, steam vegetables for more than seven minutes and for heavens sake stop drowning them in garlic. Broccoli, done right, is a deep green color and crunches as your teeth come together.

And Star did it right. With a light flour coating, sauteed just enough to brown the crust, the fish held together on the fork in the way only redfish can.  But the real culinary delight was that Crawfish Cream Sauce. I’m a big fan of letting food speak for itself. I understand the desire of restaurants to create distinctive flavors, although too often that simply means they cover the dish in pepper. That’s okay if you are serving cheap cuts of meat. Fajitas are spicy mostly because the meat would be inedible if we didn’t do something to it. Catfish is the same way. That’s food you eat to fill up.

A crawfish cream sauce, though, should let us feel the crawfish and complement the flavor of the redfish. The salt, pepper, and other spices should lurk in the background and surround the fish on our tongue.

You might imagine we were done in, but thank goodness there are three meals a day.

Anytime I check into a hotel, I ask for food recommendations. That’s a dicey game. I got sent to a restaurant in Atlanta once where they only served fruit flavored beers. I still have nightmares. If it can be turned into a syrup, it doesn’t belong with barley and hops.

Score one for the desk manager in New Orleans, though.

“You gotta head down to Coops,” he said pulling out the map. “It’s a little bit of a walk, but the Rabbit and Sausage Jambalaya can’t be beat.” He looked up smiling. “Best in town.”

Recommendations like that make you wonder if his brother owns the place. I should warn you that Coops isn’t for the faint of heart or those looking for a quiet, romantic getaway. The music is loud, the grill is sitting about 50 feet out the back door, and seating is limited.

And I don’t know if the jambalaya can be beat or not, but they have the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Seasoned, the menu says, to perfection with Coop’s bayou blend and that’s not a lie. The chicken isn’t southern fried with that thick batter. When I fry my chicken, I dip it in the flour, eggs/buttermilk, then flour again. That creates that thick, hearty fry that crunches and fills you up.

I’m guessing Coops is an eggs/milk and then flour kind of place. Do it once, do it right, then fry it up. The outer edges had that crunchy, crispness with just enough cajun seasoning to let you know it was there, but it wasn’t interested in blowing your sinus cavities wide open. The chicken stayed moist under the crust, cooked all the way through.

But the real treat here was the Chicken Tchoupitoulas my wife ordered. Boneless chicken breast sauteed in a cream sauce with shrimp and tasso. It came with green beans cooked with that same attention to detail as Star paid to the broccoli, but who really cared that night. The cream sauce was able to balance a little cajun swing with the moist, perfectly cooked chicken breast below. “We’ll share,” she said. Until she took a bite. Some people just get greedy when the eating is good.

Let’s just say there were no leftovers. The entire weekend.

Because it was New Orleans and gluttony is only a sin unless the food is good.

Writing Without A Net

My older son sent me the first draft of his essay discussing the hyper-protective cooperative principle in T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” the other day. If it’s been a while since you studied the hyper-protective cooperative principle (or if you’re like your friendly, neighborhood English professor and can’t always remember these terms at the drop of a hat), the basic concept behind HCPC is that the digressions, nonsense, or irrelevancies in a work of literature are, in fact, worth your attention.

To a certain extent, the HCPC argues that one of the markers of good writing is that everything matters. There is an implicit agreement that the author’s writing will be genuine and the reader’s hard work will be worth the effort.

Anton Chekhov, the 19th century Russian playwright and short story writer, argued, for instance, that if a gun appears on stage in Act 1, someone better get shot before the play ends. To not do so, he might say, would be disingenuous and unfair to your audience.

I’ve written before about Eliot’s poem. “The Waste Land,” and I say this without meaning to sound dramatic, is one of the world’s great poems. It is also a lot of damn work to understand, but the readers’ effort, according to the HCPC (and my son’s paper) is worth the effort. Eliot isn’t being difficult just because he wants to show off and prove he’s smarter than the rest of us.

My son begins his paper, though, not with a discussion about Eliot’s poem but with a reference to the woods near Burkittsville. For all you horror movie fans out there, you probably get the allusion to The Blair Witch Project. What, you ask, does a 1999 horror movie have to do with a 1922 poem? You would have to read the paper to find out, but if my son does his job right, the seemingly irrelevant reference should be vital to understanding his essay about HCPC and Eliot’s poem. It’s both an application and explanation of the concept.

What struck me as most interesting about my son’s paper, though, wasn’t the complexity of the task but the willingness to take a chance. He is, after all, merging a discussion of a contemporary horror film with a work of great literary import.

As someone who has read more than his fair share of student essays, my first thought when I read the paper was that the approach here was outside the norm. (Actually, my first thought was, “I’m going to steal that idea for next time I teach the poem.”) The easy and safe way to approach something like Eliot is via metaphor or irony but the truly simple approach is carefully avoiding anything that might be wrong.

I was reading my son’s essay at the same time I was reading through the Pew Research Center’s Portrait of the Millennials titled “Confident. Connected. Open to Change.” While I’m not a big fan of generational behavioral trait surveys, they do often provide us with a broad, general understanding of age cohorts. Anyone with high school or college-age children should click over and take a look at the study.

Any large generational study will offer interesting contradictions. This generation is happily connected and more than willing to live in the fish bowl of Facebook and Instagram, but 70% also have tattoos hidden from the public and they understand privacy boundaries better than most generations. It’s a generation that is less religious but more socially engaged; they face awful economic and employment opportunities but remain almost blissfully optimistic; they’ve seen divorce rates stabilize yet they marry later than any generation; they’ve grown up in an incredibly permissive culture yet teen pregnancy and drug use are dropping.

And they are the most sheltered generation in history. Forget rubberized playgrounds, this is a generation of “Megan laws . . . [and] Code Adam — you know, some kid is lost at a Wal-Mart. Bam, all the doors shut, no one gets in or out until that one child is found. But we’re very used to this now — throughout our society and culture — this new protection.”

Most important, they do not chafe under the protection; they expect it. They feel special and entitled because we’ve made them, well, special and entitled. In some ways, they are open to change because we have done such a good job of sheltering them that they feel safe. If the change doesn’t work, they know we will be there to bail them out.

Yet, for all that safety, education, and optimism, we are also watching a generation that is almost counter-intuitively unwilling to take chances. Change happens: they don’t necessarily push change. They are, in the words of John Mayer, “waiting on the world to change.”

Academically, I see this in my classes. At the beginning of every semester, I now have to discuss academic rigor. The goal, I tell my students before an exam or assignment is not to avoid being wrong. The goal is to be correct without the fear of being wrong. Academically, we are held to high standards of proof and analysis.

Education and learning is about failure and leaving the shelter. You have to walk across the wire without a safety net. Instead, too often, I read papers or answers that are neither right or wrong. Like too much public commentary, the answers and essays I read play it safe, working very hard to avoid being wrong. Everything begins to read like a Wikipedia post: long on facts, every side represented (regardless of their intellectual merits), with virtually no actual commentary.

What’s the poem mean, we might ask? Well, the student writes, there are many ways of looking at Eliot’s poem.

That’s not an answer. That’s intellectual laziness. This is a student waiting, expecting in some respects, someone to tell them which of those ways is most important, best, and safe to follow.

Note here that I’m not necessarily being critical of either parents or our current generation of young adults. There’s nothing inherently wrong with providing shelter, safety, and raising a generation of confident people.

But we also need to find a better balance between security, self-esteem, and a willingness to write without a net.

My son’s paper doesn’t have the answers to understanding Eliot’s poem. He’s still, despite his willingness to step out on that intellectual limb, an 18 year old writer learning how to put an argument together, but as both his father and a fan of Eliot’s poem, I’m proud he’s willing to let go of that tree trunk and do the hard work necessary to say something worth reading.

Trapped in a Bubble of Intellectual Isolationism

I’m not entirely sure why this government shutdown bothers me so much more than 1995/96 when the two-year-olds last took over Washington. As I noted earlier this week, our current shutdown strikes me as far more dangerous in the long run. We are moving beyond political ideology and threatening to reshape the checks and balances that have helped America grow as a nation. Simply put, if the Republicans are successful, we will witness a presidency weakened for generations to come.

Such an idea might appeal to the Tea Party, anti-Obama voter today, but it won’t when a group of liberal party leaders shuts down the government over cuts to the SNAP program (or some other program conservatives like) in 5 years. Once we allow a government shutdown to become a viable bargaining tool, we will replay this cycle every time 26 House members decide things aren’t going their way.

That’s not governance. That’s blackmail.

I will readily admit that the video of Rep. Randy Neugebauer chastising the Park Ranger put me in a foul mood Thursday. My mood didn’t improve Friday morning when Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), a person who voted to shut down the government, told reporters she will keep her paycheck.

“I need my paycheck. That’s the bottom line,” she said.

I have no doubt that Rep. Ellmers needs her paycheck. I’ve written before that our Representatives and Senators are, sometimes, in a tough financial situations. Many have two homes and, honestly, living in Washington D.C. is expensive. I don’t blame her for needing her pay.

But my neighbor needs his paycheck also. He would, like Rep. Ellmers, love to be at work today.

I think, though, that what bothers me the most is we are witnessing something far different than in 1996. Beyond the cynical hypocrisy when politicians who vote to shut down national monuments one day rise in righteous indignation the next, we are watching a small group of politicians emboldened by a kind of intellectual isolationism.

I rise to speak for 300 million Americans, Sen. Ted Cruz told us, who oppose Obamacare.

Except 300 million people don’t oppose Obamacare. I’m guessing Sen. Cruz is fed information from source after source that leads him to believe America agrees with him. He daily allows Fox News, the Drudge Report, NRO, and other conservative media outlets to massage his ego and he rejects the possibility that he might, in fact, not be speaking for large swaths of the American public. He has become, like too many of us, trapped in the bubble of ideological social media.

Twitter, Facebook, and our web site favorites block those inconvenient truths we might not want to see and we become victims of the vacuum of voices telling us what we want to hear.

In fact, we can see from the Republican talking points that they miscalculated America’s dislike of the Affordable Care Act. Four days in and they have stopped insisting on an end to ACA and now want to delay the medical device tax. Or they want to negotiate the debt ceiling. Or they want to vote piecemeal on funding the government. Or they want an exit strategy that doesn’t make them look weak. Or they want gold stars and cups of chocolate milk.

Heck, I’m not even sure what they are holding out for anymore. On day one of the shutdown, they owned their choice. Rep. Michelle Bachmann told us they were “giddy,” and Republicans were standing tall, shoulder to shoulder for America. By day two, the shutdown was Sen. Harry Reid’s fault. By day three, Republican Senators were privately grumbling that Sen. Cruz didn’t have an exit strategy.

In so many ways, the Republicans are replaying the same mistakes they made when Karl Rove called into question Fox News pollsters who told him President Obama would win the White House, as if somehow those Fox pollsters were secret members of the mainstream press trying to brainwash their viewers. Rove, like Dick Morris (see http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2012/11/dick-morris-sees-a-romney-landslide-my-own-view-is-that-romney-is-going-to-win-with-325-electoral-votes-video/) simply couldn’t imagine a scenario where people didn’t agree with his world view.

But let’s note that the Republicans aren’t alone in this problem. They are just the easiest target right now.

What is most disturbing, though, is too many of our politicians simply reflect our own willingness to wallow in confirmation biases that cost us our ability to sympathize and empathize with those who disagree with us. We bury ourselves in data that proves our view of the world, increasing our certainty that what we see is what everyone sees.

Or what everyone should see.

The net impact, though, is we increasingly isolate our “self” or our group as something unique and under attack from the hordes of ill-informed Americans around us. We have moved beyond disagreement to anger at other people’s ignorance.

I’m sure Rep. Neugebauer is a decent man. My guess is Sen. Ted Cruz is highly intelligent and he cares deeply about America. Even Rep. John Boehner, my liberal, tree-hugging hippie friends, cares about America.

So does President Obama. And Sen. Reid. Even Rep. Nancy Pelosi, my right-wing, evangelical friends, cares about America.

Don’t misread me here: I’m not arguing for some sort of kumbaya, can’t we all get along, campfire solution to our current shutdown. You can bring politicians to the table, but you can’t make them talk.

I’m not asking my tea party, God-loving, gun-toting friends to suddenly support open borders, free health care, and marijuana in the public square any more than I would want my liberal, humanist, PETA-member friends to support oil pipelines, capital punishment, and low corporate tax rates.

I am asking them, though, to move beyond the sycophantic voices swirling around them.

Democrats simply must recognize large segments of the population are justifiably concerned about rising entitlement costs and the changing demographic makeup of America.

Republicans must recognize large segments of the population believe in social safety nets, have radically different views about cultural issues, and support things like gun control.

These are not silly, ignorant, or uninformed concerns.

We must begin treating disagreements as opportunities to discuss, disagree, and debate not invitations to ignore, shout, and hate.

Our government was built on the former and is in danger of being destroyed by the latter.

Standing on the Precipice of Democracy

My neighbor lost his job this week. When I see him later today, I’ll let him know it’s okay.

He’s just part of what Fox News is calling a slimdown.

It’s like Weight Watchers for the Federal Government.

Unfortunately, while Rep. Randy Neugebauer and other Republican politicians are yelling at Park Rangers and committing acts “of civil disobedience against themselves” (as Tom Scocca writes), my neighbor and 799,999 other federal employees are sitting at home checking bank accounts and serving beans and rice.

Understand that I hold most politicians in some small measure of contempt. As I’ve note in past blogs, we have entered an era where politics too often collides with absurdity. We are, quite honestly, being governed by people elected by increasingly small groups of special interests and lobbyists. The candidate with the best marketer and the wittiest tweet is too often elected to Congress.

But let’s make no mistake: The government shutdown is a product of a Republican attack on the Constitution. Rarely have we seen such an open and dishonest display of indignation as we are witnessing this week from the men and women of the Republican party.

This shutdown isn’t because President Obama won’t negotiate or compromise. This shutdown isn’t because of the Affordable Care Act or about reigning in government spending.

This shutdown is because a group of Republican politicians are incapable of using legislative methods to overturn a law they dislike.

This shutdown is because a political party is incapable of winning a national election to overturn a law they dislike.

This shutdown is because a small group of politicians have decided their desire trumps the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States of America because of a law they dislike.

This shutdown argues that a small group of politicians is within their rights to bring America to a halt because of a law they dislike.

This shutdown is not a principled stand against oppression. This shutdown is an act of oppression.

The Affordable Care Act was passed by both houses of Congress, signed into law by the President, and has withstood challenges in front of a very conservative Supreme Court. The law was the center piece of the last election cycle, an election that witnessed a President re-elected.

The move to shutdown the government, in essence, argues that the rule of law doesn’t matter. Republicans are arguing that a small group of determined politicians can simply close down the government if they don’t like the results of the democratic process and then demand that Constitutionally passed laws be re-negotiated outside due process.

I thought the original tea party patriots fought against a small group of rulers telling Americans how to live their lives?

Regardless of our political inclinations, we cannot and we must not support politicians who argue that anarchy and chaos are more valuable than the democratic process. The Republican House passed a spending bill that was soundly rejected. It was their duty to propose legislation they felt best suited America.

But it is also their duty to abide by the legislative process. They lost. They did not make their case. They did not win the argument.

That’s democracy. Some days I get my way and some days you get your way. Every once in a while, we both win.

Everyone of the Republicans can take their stand by voting no against a clean spending bill. They can go tell their constituents they did everything within the law, but they felt duty bound by the Constitution to uphold the law. They can keep working to limit the government and shape policy within the legislative process.

They can run for election and re-election on any platform they want.

But they don’t get to take their toys and go home just because they lose.

There is, despite what Republicans keep saying, nothing to negotiate. Either we follow the law, or we don’t. This moment in time is not about President Obama or Rep. John Boehner. This fight is about the next President and the next Congress.

This fight is about the appropriate checks and balances of American democracy.

We are, as you can imagine, on the precipice. If the Republicans are successful in their willingness to play with the American people’s welfare, we clearly open the door for the next group of House members to shut down the government when they disagree with any law duly passed or not.

In the meantime, my neighbor is still out of work, wondering how long his savings will last.

Putting Words in the President’s Mouth

I am fairly certain President Obama does not need my help writing speeches, but what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t pretend to put words in other people’s mouths, right? In my dream world, I wish President Obama would address the nation with the following:

Good morning my fellow Americans.

It is with some measure of sadness that I announce the United States government has shutdown. While vital and important offices will remain open and our military personnel will be paid, a variety of other offices will close today: 20% of government employees are, technically speaking, out of work today. These are your friends and neighbors. Please consider inviting them to dinner tonight. Help ease their financial burden.

We have reached this impasse because too many Republican’s in the House of Representatives have chosen not to negotiate in good faith with their colleagues across the aisle.

We are, quite frankly, in the midst of a direct attack on the fundamental tenets of democracy.

Our country is at risk. When a United States Senator stands for 21 hours and compares the Affordable Care Act to the spread of nazism in Europe, something is amiss.

In 2012, you might remember, America held an election. I was blessed and honored that 61 million Americans voted to endorse my presidency, including the Affordable Care Act.

In the years of my presidency, Republican members of Congress have had ample opportunity to discuss various parts of this signature piece of legislation. During those years, we could have discussed implementation, negotiated individual pieces, and tested various of the mandates for bugs. Most pointedly, we could have discussed those pieces of the legislation that mirror past Republican health-care ideas and we could have worked to establish the free-market exchanges as viable, consumer and business friendly alternatives to our current system. I fully realize that many Americans did not vote for me. I would have happily worked with their Representatives to tweak the ACA.

Instead, my Congressional opponents have diligently worked to defund, obfuscate, and engage in illogical, irrational, and down-right lies regarding our attempts at ensuring all Americans have access to basic health care. If they had worked that hard on the people’s business, we might have the greatest health care system in the world.

I fully understand those Americans who have reservations about large government agencies and I respect those people who are philosophically opposed to centralized government entities. It is important that we have a dialogue about the roles and responsibilities of the government. Our founders would want nothing less.

But our founders would also demand that we recognize elections matter. For 6 years, we have watched Republicans ignore the democratic process and threaten the very fabric of our country.

They have not, my fellow Americans, negotiated in good faith. They have, instead, chosen the path of insanity–they perform the same task 40 times and expect a different result. They are not standing on principle. They are stomping on democracy.

We are now faced with the fruits of those labors.

Those few men and women in Congress who so strongly oppose working within the democratic process will tell you that I refuse to negotiate and that I am being unreasonable.

They clearly don’t have faith in your ability to understand meaning of “negotiate” and “compromise.”

For negotiation and compromise to work, as you all know, both sides must put forth something they value. The men and women then gather around the table and exchange ideas. They argue, they disagree, they consider what’s best both for themselves, the people they represent, and for the country at large.

For instance, I am more than willing to meet with the Iranian leadership. We have imposed sanctions on their country. They have, in the past, engaged in behavior we find disturbing and dangerous. As we negotiate, we might reduce sanctions as they change behavior.

I was more than willing to listen to business leaders tell me we needed to delay the business mandate while we worked on the logistics of implementation. We gladly compromised as we seek a workable solution.

That’s negotiating.

In our current domestic situation, the Republicans would like me to choose between ending affordable insurance for the 46 million uninsured Americans or shutting down the government.

That’s not a choice. For them or for me. I value keeping the government open and insuring Americans. Republican’s value ending the Affordable Care Act. We are forced to conclude, then, they do not value keeping the government open. What, I ask then, are they willing to give up in this negotiation? Their idea of compromise, it appears, is that I do exactly what they want.

The Affordable Care Act was passed during a democratic vote, following the Constitutional rules and regulations that form the bedrock of our nation. Time and time again (in fact 40 times) Republicans have followed that same process and failed to rescind or change that vote.

Like a toddler denied a candy bar, Republicans are demanding I give them everything they want or they will hold their breath, scream, and throw a fit. It’s a temper-tantrum approach to government.

The federal government is being held hostage because one political party has been hijacked by political ideologues and extremists.

Make no mistake: the United States government is shut down today because Republicans have chosen to take us down this path. They have chosen party platforms and political aspirations over the American people.

In the coming days, we will work tirelessly to manage the fallout from this political stunt. We will maintain those necessary and relevant government agencies and limit, as much as we can, the damage a government shutdown can cause.

The United States government will pay its bills and fulfill its responsibilities.

Those are things, my fellow Americans, that are non-negotiable. Those are the hallmarks of democracy.

Good night and God Bless America.

Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

FiveThirtyEight

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Dish

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)