[Note: Today's column is seriously disjointed. If you're already sick of hearing what a wonderful guy Steve Jobs was, then I strongly advise you to just skip the first section and move right along to the awards, instead. At the end, our talking points are all straight from President Obama this week, from his press conference. Like I said, a disjointed column. Don't say you weren't warned.]
A corporate leader passed away this week, and millions mourned his passing and celebrated his life.
If you just stop and think about that sentence, it is pretty astounding, on its own. While crowds of people are decrying corporations on Wall Street right now, other crowds of people paused this week to remember a man who ran a corporation.
To put it another way: Steve Jobs is dead. Long live Steve Jobs.
Most news organizations have gotten this story wrong. Jobs wasn't really an engineer (that was mostly the other Steve at Apple -- Steve Wozniak). Instead, he was the best of his generation at what former president George H.W. Bush called "the vision thing." Jobs saw possibilities. He knew he could change the world with his ideas. He pushed the people who worked for him to achieve as close to perfection as they could humanly manage. And our entire world is different (and much better) as a direct result. That is why his passing is worth mourning, and his life worth celebrating at the same time. Comparisons to Thomas Edison are not too far off the mark.
I am writing these words on a Macintosh computer. You may be reading them on an iPhone, or an iPad. Even if you're not, you're still reading it in a world which Steve Jobs did more to make happen than any other single individual.
Jobs, as I said, was not really an inventor. But one day in his life changed the world more than even the guys who invented what Jobs saw that day. The day happened in 1979, when Jobs gave Xerox a deal on pre-IPO Apple stock (one hundred thousand shares for one million dollars) just to get a peek inside their advanced research center, in Palo Alto (known as PARC). What he saw there that day (when Xerox agreed to "open its kimono") and what he did about it, led directly to the world we enjoy today. Out of that one visit came the Lisa, the Macintosh, the LaserWriter, and AppleTalk. More important than the products themselves, though, were the concepts.
Apple had invented the (non-hobbyist) consumer market for personal computers, and the "Apple ][" had already changed the world. But Jobs wasn't satisfied with the world of DOS. It's a good thing he wasn't, otherwise we might still be typing commands and filenames on an 80-column screen to do our computing.
The Macintosh (and the higher-end Lisa) changed all of that. In a bedrock, philosophical manner. Computer nerds were actually talking about the philosophy behind the machines they were building -- a radical concept, back then (and even now). Part of this philosophy was ease of use. Apple bragged with the first Mac that you could get it out of the box, set it up, and within an hour print out a document you had created on a word processor -- even if you had never used a computer before in your life (which was, back then, quite common). On the technological side, what the Mac ushered in was what the geeks called a GUI (pronounced "gooey") -- a Graphical User Interface. The philosophy was simple: you only had to type a filename once (when you originally named it), and you never had to type in a command. That's it. Like all strokes of genius, it sounds pretty simple. But it changed the computing world (for the better), forever.
More than just setting the GUI standard came out of Jobs' PARC visit. The Macintosh also brought to the average consumer the first mouse, the first laser-driven printer, and the first widely-used local area network (to share the printer among a group). It was the first to offer a newer (better) floppy disc drive, made by Sony, which would eventually kill off the 5.25-inch floppy for the much sturdier (harder-cased) 3.5-inch floppy. If this doesn't sound like a big deal to you today, then you did not operate a computer in the 1980s.
The entire rest of the industry, which thought it had "caught up" with Apple, was now seen as the equivalent of bear skins and stone knives. This transformation -- and this game of catch-up -- continued up to the present day. Apple, under Steve Jobs, continually went about reinventing itself and the computing world. By making it better -- by dreaming of what the next "big thing" would be, and then providing it. Over and over again. Jobs was the visionary who made all of it happen.
So, yes, it does make sense to compare him to Thomas Edison. The world after Edison was a changed place from the world before Edison. Exactly the same thing can be said about Jobs -- and precious few others in the world today. Which is why he'll be missed so badly in the years ahead.
If you're wondering why I'm writing about this in such a personal fashion, it is because I once worked for Steve Jobs. I never met the man close enough to shake his hand or anything -- I was about the lowest rung on the corporate ladder that existed. But I worked for the Macintosh Division of Apple Computers less than one year after the Macintosh was unveiled to the world. You would laugh at how primitive things were back then -- the Mac had no hard drive, had only 512 kilobytes of RAM (what we called the "Fat Mac"). One of the projects I worked on was the Mac Plus which had an astounding one megabyte of RAM, which was far more advanced than anything that was currently on the market, but laughably small today (even for a pocket phone smaller than a deck of cards). So I freely admit I'm biased when it comes to Steve Jobs.
All I know is that working for Steve Jobs meant working on a product that you absolutely knew would change the world. You went to work every day knowing that you were on the cutting edge of the bright world of the future. The ideas were so radically different than what was being sold already that you just knew things would be different very soon. The rest of the world -- the rest of Silicon Valley, even -- was playing catch-up to what you were doing. It was a very heady experience, I have to admit -- even though the part I played in the process was very tiny indeed, approaching insignificance.
Apple is not the perfect corporation. Steve Jobs was far from perfect himself. No product Apple ever put out achieved perfection. But that's what they were striving for. And Jobs delivered the closest thing he could manage towards that perfection -- over and over and over again.
So I join millions of others mourning Steve Jobs passing. But Jobs will always be with us. In the way we view information, in the way we share information, in the way we listen to music, in the movies we see, in the phone in your pocket, in so many ways they are almost impossible to count. Which is why I end where I began.
Steve Jobs is dead. Long live Steve Jobs.
[Note: To anyone requiring proof I worked in the Macintosh Division -- I know the answers to the following questions: "What type of animal roamed the hallways and cubicles, and what was its name?" Do you?]
Getting back to politics, though...
This was a pretty impressive week for the Democrats in general. The Unions turned out for several Occupy Wall Street marches, to show solidarity, Harry Reid actually made a very bold move in the Senate, and President Obama gave a good press conference yesterday. While the unemployment rate didn't budge, the jobs news was a lot better than it was last month.
But while all of these may merit Honorable Mentions, the real winner of this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award is none other than Senator Chuck Schumer.
Schumer has been fighting for a "millionaires' tax" for quite some time now, and he won acceptance from the Democrats in the Senate for making it one of the cornerstones of the president's jobs bill. Rather than the number of various tax ideas which Obama presented as his "pay-fors" (the things which pay for the bill, in non-Washingtonian English), Schumer convinced Harry Reid and the Senate leadership that one very simple idea would be an easier sell, politically: tax the millionaires and billionaires.
It's a brilliant political move. Legislatively, no bill which raises taxes one thin dime is ever going to get a vote on the House floor. It just isn't. So you might as well make the fight as simple as possible for the public to understand. Taxing millionaires versus creating 1.9 million new jobs, and growing our economy two percent faster. That's a pretty easy equation for people to wrap their minds around. The money you make up to a million bucks each year? That will get taxed at the current rate. But everything over that will have a five percent surcharge levied on it. Pretty simple.
This basic idea is supported by an overwhelming majority of the public. And that, right there, is the definition of a "mainstream idea" in the political world. While tens of thousands of people are marching on the streets against the greed and corruption on Wall Street, well over one hundred million Americans agree with the concept of "tax millionaires a wee bit more."
It's an easy idea, and it is going to be the centerpiece of next year's campaign. Which side are you on -- the millionaires' side, or the side of the rest of us?
Republicans are trying to fight back with some version of "Waaaah! The Democrats are being divisive! I'm going to tell Mom!" Sorry, but that's what it sounds like from where I'm sitting. My guess is that the public is simply not going to buy that for one tiny little instant. Republicans calling "foul!" for Democrats playing politics is like Mike Tyson suing Holyfield because his ear didn't taste good when Tyson bit it off. It just doesn't pass the smell test, in other words, for anybody -- even from the far Right. Righties getting sanctimonious about "can't we all just get along" is just pathetically laughable. You'd have to have lived under a rock for a minimum of twenty years to even entertain the notion of believing Republicans' complaints about "dividing people up," or "setting them against each other."
Hmmph. Where was I? Oh, right, Schumer.
Schumer's triumph in getting his Millionaires' Tax (I'm just going to start capitalizing that, from now on) attached to Obama's American Jobs Act was a brilliant political move which will become the centerpiece of what Democrats are going to run on (and stand for) next year. Obama was wise to accept the idea, even though it wasn't what he initially proposed. Let's get right to the heart of the matter: jobs... or tax breaks for millionaires? That is now the choice.
And for that, Senator Chuck Schumer is this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Well done, Senator, on framing the debate in such a simple and effective way.
[Congratulate Senator Charles Schumer on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
We're not sure who should exactly win this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, so for now we're just going to hand it to Attorney General Eric Holder. The Department of Justice just announced it would be cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries in the state of California, sending letters threatening criminal penalties if the clubs didn't shut down in 45 days. The whole sordid story is a complete reversal of what was supposed to be the Obama administration's policy.
Neill Franklin, the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), said it best in the statement he released upon hearing this news:
This is much worse than reneging on a campaign pledge or being bad politics at a time when 80 percent of the public supports medical marijuana. This crackdown is going to endanger public safety. The fact is, people in California and the other states with medical marijuana laws are going to use their doctor-recommended marijuana whether the Department of Justice likes it or not. The only question is if we're going to force patients to buy their medicine from the violent black market or if we would rather them obtain labeled and tested product from a safe, state-regulated facility that pays taxes. The president should be focusing on creating more jobs, not threatening to close down businesses that are bringing commerce to their communities.
Attorney Bill Panzer of Oakland (from that article link, above) was even more blunt: "...basically the Obama administration war on medical cannabis is exactly the same as the Bush administration war on cannabis." A San Jose City Councilman chimed in with: "This is Obama freaking out about his re-election."
We're not yet ready to go that far, at least until we hear an explanation of this policy reversal from the White House itself. So, for now, the MDDOTW award will have to go to Eric Holder.
[Contact Attorney General Eric Holder on his Justice Department contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 184 (10/7/11)
We're going to turn the talking points portion of the program over to President Obama, in the form of excerpts from his recent press conference, but first we've got to give a whole bunch of credit where it is due.
Because, we've just got to say, the Occupy Wall Street slogan "We are the 99 percent" is truly brilliant and deserves recognition. Whomever came up with this slogan is a genius in the world of framing things politically.
It's simple. It's easy to understand, and needs no further explanation. It fits on a bumpersticker. It's memorable. It has every quality a good political slogan should have, in other words. We are the 99 percent.
As the movement branches out from Wall Street itself, it might even consider stealing a slogan from fans of the Grateful Dead, of equal simplicity -- "We are everywhere." Taken together, these two are a powerful statement. But even if the "We are everywhere" thing doesn't catch on, "We are the 99 percent" deserves the first-ever Best Political Slogan Of The Week award, which we just now created.
To the author of this slogan: Good job. Well done. I genuflect in your general direction.
With that out of the way, let's get on with this week's suggested talking points for Democrats far and wide. These all come from President Obama's presser yesterday (full text from the White House press site), and any of them can easily be used by any Democratic politician just by adding "As the president said recently..." at the beginning. So, with short introductions by us, here is the best of the Obama press conference:
This is not a game
Take the high road. This is not a game, this is serious stuff for millions of people. The more you hammer this theme home, the worse Republicans look.
Next week, the Senate will vote on the American Jobs Act. And I think by now I've made my views pretty well known. Some of you are even keeping a tally of how many times I've talked about the American Jobs Act. And the reason I keep going around the country talking about this jobs bill is because people really need help right now. Our economy really needs a jolt right now.
This is not a game; this is not the time for the usual political gridlock.
How can you be against this stuff?
This is an excellent way to frame the argument on the American Jobs Act: what, individually, do you have a problem with? Why? Please explain why you are against this... or that. This bill makes sense. How can you be against it?
Some of you were with me when we visited a bridge between Ohio and Kentucky that's been classified as "functionally obsolete." That's a fancy way of saying it's old and breaking down. We've heard about bridges in both states that are falling apart, and that's true all across the country.
In Maine, there is a bridge that is in such bad shape that pieces of it were literally falling off the other day. And, meanwhile, we've got millions of laid-off construction workers who could right now be busy rebuilding roads, rebuilding bridges, rebuilding schools. This jobs bill gives them a chance to get back to work rebuilding America. Why wouldn't we want that to happen? Why would you vote against that?
We can't afford to do both
This is a recurring theme in Obama speeches, and it is worth repeating. It's not class warfare. It's simple math. We can't do both right now, so please take your choice. This is where the brilliance of Schumer's idea comes into play. It is now a very stark and easy-to-comprehend choice. Which side are you on?
Now, what's true is we've also got to rein in our deficits and live within our means, which is why this jobs bill is fully paid for by asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. Some see this as class warfare. I see it as a simple choice: We can either keep taxes exactly as they are for millionaires and billionaires, with loopholes that lead them to have lower tax rates in some cases than plumbers and teachers, or we can put teachers and construction workers and veterans back on the job.
We can fight to protect tax cuts for folks who don't need them and weren't asking for them, or we can cut taxes for virtually every worker and small business in America. But we can't afford to do both. That's the choice that's going to be before the Senate.
There are too many people hurting in this country for us to do nothing and the economy is just too fragile for us to let politics get in the way of action.
We've got a responsibility to the people who sent us here. So I hope every senator thinks long and hard about what's at stake when they cast their vote next week.
The last two and a half years
Anyone with a memory that works longer than last week will understand this one. Obama has gone out of his way to work with Republicans. He has offered them a seat at the table. Every single time he offers a hand to them, they smack it down in one form or another. It's high time Obama started pointing this out in no uncertain terms. Republicans complaining about "my way or the highway" politics are laughable to anyone who examines the record of which side has been playing this game for the last two and a half years. Point it out.
Now, with respect to working with Congress, I think it's fair to say that I have gone out of my way in every instance, sometimes at my own political peril and to the frustration of Democrats, to work with Republicans to find common ground to move this country forward -- in every instance, whether it was during the lame duck session, when we were able to get an agreement on making sure that the payroll tax was cut in the first place, and making sure that unemployment insurance was extended, to my constant efforts during the debt ceiling to try to get what's been called a grand bargain, in which we had a balanced approach to actually bringing down our deficit and debt in a way that wouldn't hurt our recovery.
Each time, what we've seen is games-playing, a preference to try to score political points rather than actually get something done on the part of the other side. And that has been true not just over the last six months; that's been true over the last two and a half years.
Now, the bottom line is this: Our doors are open. And what I've done over the last several weeks is to take the case to the American people so that they understand what's at stake. It is now up to all the senators, and hopefully all the members of the House, to explain to their constituencies why they would be opposed to common-sense ideas that historically have been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past. Why would you be opposed to tax cuts for small businesses and tax cuts for American workers?
My understanding is that for the last decade, they've been saying we need to lower taxes for folks. Well, why wouldn't we want to do that through this jobs bill? We know that we've got roads and bridges and schools that need to be rebuilt. And historically, Republicans haven't been opposed to rebuilding roads and bridges. Why would you be opposed now?
How can you be against a consumer watchdog?
This one dovetails nicely with the people out on the streets right now. Nothing puts the party divide any clearer than the question of a consumer watchdog. Obama's right -- Republicans aren't fighting any particular nominee, they are fighting the entire concept of a consumer watchdog. Point this out! Democrats are for consumer rights, Republicans are for Wall Street. It's such an obvious parallel, but it needs to be repeated often.
And what we've seen over the last year is not only did the financial sector -- with the Republican Party in Congress -- fight us every inch of the way, but now you've got these same folks suggesting that we should roll back all those reforms and go back to the way it was before the crisis. Today, my understanding is we're going to have a hearing on Richard Cordray, who is my nominee to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He would be America's chief consumer watchdog when it comes to financial products. This is a guy who is well regarded in his home state of Ohio, has been the treasurer of Ohio, the attorney general of Ohio. Republicans and Democrats in Ohio all say that he is a serious person who looks out for consumers. He has a good reputation. And Republicans have threatened not to confirm him not because of anything he's done, but because they want to roll back the whole notion of having a consumer watchdog.
You've got Republican presidential candidates whose main economic policy proposals is, we'll get rid of the financial reforms that are designed to prevent the abuses that got us into this mess in the first place. That does not make sense to the American people. They are frustrated by it. And they will continue to be frustrated by it until they get a sense that everybody is playing by the same set of rules, and that you're rewarded for responsibility and doing the right thing as opposed to gaining the system.
So I'm going to be fighting every inch of the way here in Washington to make sure that we have a consumer watchdog that is preventing abusive practices by the financial sector.
Frame the entire argument around values. Following the rules. Doing the right thing. The American Dream. This is Politics 101, folks.
What I think is that the American people understand that not everybody has been following the rules; that Wall Street is an example of that; that folks who are working hard every single day, getting up, going to the job, loyal to their companies, that that used to be the essence of the American Dream. That's how you got ahead -- the old-fashioned way. And these days, a lot of folks who are doing the right thing aren't rewarded, and a lot of folks who aren't doing the right thing are rewarded.
And that's going to express itself politically in 2012 and beyond until people feel like once again we're getting back to some old-fashioned American values in which, if you're a banker, then you are making your money by making prudent loans to businesses and individuals to build plants and equipment and hire workers that are creating goods and products that are building the economy and benefitting everybody.
Show me your plan, and score it
President Obama has a plan -- the American Jobs Act. It's on the table, and is already being tweaked by Democrats in the Senate. It has been examined by independent economists, and they've scored it in terms of money and jobs. So where is the Republican plan? There isn't one. Challenge them every chance you get on this issue: Where is your plan? Have you scored it? How many jobs will it create? Obama's plan is pegged at 1.9 million new jobs -- can you do better? Let's see it, then! Show me the plan.
So what I've tried to do is say, here are the best ideas I've heard. Not just from partisans, but from independent economists. These are the ideas most likely to create jobs now and strengthen the economy right now. And that's what the American people are looking for. And the response from Republicans has been: No. Although they haven't given a good reason why they're opposed to putting construction workers back on the job, or teachers back in the classroom.
If you ask them, well, okay, if you're not for that, what are you for? Trade has already been done; patent reform has been done. What else? The answer we're getting right now is, well, we're going to roll back all these Obama regulations. So their big economic plan to put people back to work right now is to roll back financial protections and allow banks to charge hidden fees on credit cards again or weaken consumer watchdogs, or alternatively they've said we'll roll back regulations that make sure we've got clean air and clean water, eliminate the EPA. Does anybody really think that that is going to create jobs right now and meet the challenges of a global economy that are -- that is weakening with all these forces coming into play?
I mean, here is a good question, here's a little homework assignment for folks: Go ask the Republicans what their jobs plan is if they're opposed to the American Jobs Act, and have it scored, have it assessed by the same independent economists that have assessed our jobs plan. These independent economists say that we could grow the economy as much as 2 percent, and as many as 1.9 million workers would be back on the job. I think it would be interesting to have them do a similar assessment -- same people. Some of these folks, by the way, traditionally have worked for Republicans, not just Democrats. Have those economists evaluate what, over the next two years, the Republican jobs plan would do. I'll be interested in the answer. I think everybody here -- I see some smirks in the audience because you know that it's not going to be real robust.
And so, Bill, the question, then, is, will Congress do something? If Congress does something, then I can't run against a do-nothing Congress. If Congress does nothing, then it's not a matter of me running against them; I think the American people will run them out of town, because they are frustrated, and they know we need to do something big and something bold.
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