December 27th, 2012
07:35 PM ET

Letters to the President #1438: 'Slow train coming?'

Reporter's Note: I write to the president every single day. And you think you have problems!

Dear Mr. President,

I'm not sure if I should be encouraged or confused by the latest news about the fiscal cliff. Until it is clear that we are headed toward a solution, I think I will stick with the second option.

Which is pretty frustrating, when you think about it.

Several weeks ago it looked as if you were all headed toward some sort of agreement. You were giving up some items on your wish list, the Republicans were giving up some of theirs, but then it seemed as if someone just threw the brakes on the train. Not enough to stop it entirely, but enough to slow it so dramatically that now it seems uncertain if it will even reach the station.

Can I mention once again how much damage it does to both parties when this sort of behavior dominates the depot? I know that the political operatives on each side are constantly trying to triangulate every advantage, and anytime they think the polls favor their side over the opposition in one of these clashes, they think that is good. But I think they overlook the relentless and lasting damage each side suffers in such a battle.

Years ago a trusted colleague told me something about workplaces. He said, "You have to remember that even when you win a fight at work, everyone involved loses a little...and if you fight enough, it won't matter if you are right or wrong, your career will suffer."

Anyway, I certainly hope some kind of deal is coming down the tracks.

Call if you have a moment. I'm around. Went for a nice run this morning with the older daughter, btw; a little over three miles in the cold wind...bracing!


December 26th, 2012
06:07 PM ET

Letters to the President #1437: 'A trip to the movies'

Reporter's Note: I write to the president. He may or may not read my letters.

Dear Mr. President,

Well, I trust you Christmas in Hawaii was nice enough. I know each family has its own holiday traditions, but I don't know if I could ever get into that whole beach thing at Christmastime.

It was a nice surprise to have a little snow here in D.C. Of course today it morphed into cold rain, but I didn't mind that either.

Went to see Les Miserables with the family. Not to be a critic, but I didn't really care for the musical when I saw it years ago and even though some of my Facebook friends were raving about this movie I found it to be pretty much the same. It was well-directed and acted, but the music is marginal at best and, all deference to Victor Hugo, the story is just not so wonderful. For my taste Hugo always relied too heavily on the extraordinary coincidence to drive his tales. You know, "Oh look, I'm lost in the sewers of Paris fighting for my life and I run into...yet again...the same cheating innkeeper I've already stumbled upon three times."

Plus, as movies go, I pretty much believe you'd better be churning out another Lawrence of Arabia if you're going to take it more than two hours. Just saying.

Enough on that. You have serious business ahead of you! I've been following the growing noise about the fiscal cliff once again. I'll try to write about that tomorrow. In the meantime, if you wish to call about it, I am around.


December 25th, 2012
10:49 AM ET

Letters to the President #1436: 'Christmas'

Reporter's Note: This is Christmas. I hope the president is not wasting time reading this letter.

Dear Mr. President,

I won’t take a lot of your time today, because heaven knows I’ve taken more than enough with all of my missives over the years. I just wanted to write a short note to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

I hope you have wonderful food and great joy gathering around the tree. I hope everyone gets gifts they enjoy, and even more so I hope they give gifts that fill them with the joy of giving. I hope the weather is good, and you have a few moments to rest, bask in your family’s love, and forget that you are President for a while. I hope you have a moment to pick up a book, or take a nap, or listen to a song without any distractions. I hope you feel close to your faith and remember the meaning of this holiday for all of us who are Christians.

That’s really all. What more is there to say? It is Christmas and that is enough.


December 24th, 2012
10:50 AM ET

Letters to the President #1435: 'Christmas Eve'

Reporter's Note:  I write to President Obama every day. Even on Christmas Eve.

Dear Mr. President,

It is a peculiarity of the news business that I have worked a great many Christmas Eves and Christmas Days. Not so much now, but certainly in my younger days. Actually, I worked the first ten Christmases of my TV career.

Oddly enough, in a strange way I came to enjoy it. I liked going around to cover news events which largely consisted of happy events; public caroling, big parties that were somehow newsworthy, parades, celebrations, church services. It was nice. At the same time, I enjoyed the solitude of leaving those events when I was done, sharing the camaraderie of the newsroom and all my colleagues who were in the same fix, and finally driving home in the evening amid all the glowing lights, knowing that people were tired, happy, and contented…enjoying each other’s company, and perhaps some leftovers.

In retrospect, I don’t know why it didn’t make me sad, but it did not. Usually, I would make my way back to my apartment, open a few presents, make a few phone calls, and sometimes take in a movie. One year it was “Fanny and Alexander” by Bergman at the Prytania Theater in New Orleans. That was great.

But sometimes I also managed to slip away on Christmas Eve when work was done to drive to my parents’ home so that I could enjoy Christmas morning before rushing back to work that day.

One time in particular, I recall finishing my shift, helping put away my camera and close up my desk, and then taking off through the Alabama night to reach their home. Mile after mile I sped along, cruising quietly through the little towns where church services were already done for the evening and children were most certainly being herded off the bed. I passed remote, rural homes where lights twinkled in the distance. A friend had sent a mix tape to me that I was listening to on a Walkman (yes, this was quite some time back,) and it was the first time I heard the Pretenders do “2000 Miles.” Magnificent. I listened over and over as I drove on and on, and stars filled the sky. As Dickens would say “there was nothing of high mark in this” it was simply, in every way, a magical moment…one of the most peaceful I’ve ever known.

Anyway, it is on my mind amid the bustle of my final Christmas preparations, and I hope you are enjoying such a feeling of peace on this Christmas Eve.


December 23rd, 2012
03:04 AM ET

Letters to the President #1434: 'Yule love these tunes'

Reporter's Note: Each day of the year, I write to President Obama. I only write to Santa once a year. He also never replies.

Dear Mr. President,

Each year, if you recall, I send a Christmas playlist your way. As you know, I have a somewhat unrivaled collection of unusual, avant garde, and downright odd Christmas music which I love to plow through each year as the tinsel drifts through the room. I’ve sent some of my favorites your way before such as “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues, so this year I will try to cover new ground to help you expand your holiday audio selections.

So here goes…

1) “Homecoming/Jingle Bells” by Dave Brubeck. Bit of a sentimental favorite to mark his passing.
2) “Stuck at the Airport” by Money Mark. I know nothing about this song’s history, only that Money Mark was part of the whole Beastie Boys cadre. Frankly I didn’t like this song the first dozen or so times I heard it, and then it just got stuck in my head. Now I enjoy it. Go figure.
3) “All I Want for Christmas” by Timbuk 3. Weird. Sort of droning, minor chord stuff, but fun.
4) “Forget December” by Something Corporate. Same thing. Different group.
5) “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” by Gayla Peevey. Yes, it is ridiculous and purely a novelty song, but I laugh every time I hear it and since along loudly. Sometimes even in French because Niles Crane’s spirit lives on!
6) “Blues Christmas” by John Lee Hooker. Do I need to say more?
7) “Feliz Navidad” by Celine Dion. I like this version of this song not because it is any good, but because it makes me stone, out of my mind crazy. It’s like a musical mystery: What the heck if Celine Dion doing singing this tune? Did she lose a bet? She’s Canadian, right?
8) “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Pedro the Lion. Nice. Moody. Perfect antidote to Celine’s dopiness.
9) “Christmas for Cowboys” by Jars of Clay. This was written by a guy named Steve Weisberg and, as best I can tell, first recorded by his pal, the late John Denver. But I like the Jars of Clay version better.
10) “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” by Tom Waits. Seriously, this is wonderful. Funny, sad, poignant, touching, pathetic, painful, hopeless, and all the other things that Christmas is all about in our modern times. How can you not love a Christmas song that starts with the line, “Charlie, I’m pregnant…”

Anyway, I hope these tunes help keep your spirits up during all the shopping, wrapping, and egg nog mixing.


December 22nd, 2012
08:56 AM ET

Letters to the President #1433: 'As Christmas closes in'

Reporter's Note: Each day of the year, I write to President Obama. I have no idea if he appreciates it.

Dear Mr. President,

For all the events that have roiled the nation over the past few months, including your own re-election, I must say that I am more than happy to put aside my thoughts of the news and try to think about Christmas for the next few days. Well, perhaps it is a bit much to say I am “happy” about that. I am so far behind in my holiday preparations that I know the next few days will involve some pretty Herculean maneuvers that may well leave me gasping for a day at the office. Still, I love the Christmas season and I will do my best to make the time enjoyable.

One of the things I most enjoy is a remarkably small and easy production.

Many years ago my mother found a simple recipe. I assume it was on the back of a Jello or Graham Cracker box, since it involves both. I mean Jello and Graham Crackers…not the boxes.

Anyway, it consists of basically mixing red and green Jello into applesauce to create different colors which are then alternated between cracker layers, coated all over with whipped cream, decorated with sprinkles…well, I guess you get the picture. It is ridiculously simple, but after the applesauce has softened the crackers a bit in the refrigerator, you cut through and these wonderful little layers of green and red appear as if by magic.

I’m sure it sounds like nothing, but I loved it when I was a little kid. And when I made it with my younger daughter some years back, it became a favorite part of her Christmas too. Now, every year at some point she and I will retreat to the kitchen to whip one of these concoctions up. It’s not delicious, but it is tasty enough. We don’t even have a name for it. It’s just “that thing we make,” and to be honest the “making” is what it’s all about.

I hope you have some traditions like that to enjoy with your daughters amid your busy schedule. If you need the recipe, with more specific instructions, give a shout and I’ll send it your way.


December 21st, 2012
05:18 PM ET

Letters to the President #1432: 'The gun lobby'

Reporter's Note: Each day throughout the year I send a letter off to the White House. So far the president has not responded, but perhaps this is the day…

Dear Mr. President,

I attended the NRA press conference this morning not far from the White House, and I thought about walking over to say hi, but ended up getting too busy…you know how it is. I don’t suppose, btw, that I should call it a press conference, since they refused to take any questions. That makes it more of a speech or statement, and as you know, in D.C. that makes a big difference.

Anyone can stand up and say what he or she thinks. It is a whole other matter to let people grill you afterward…to poke at your ideas, tear into your statements, and generally make a mess out of your carefully constructed presentation. I understand why no public figure relishes that process, especially on such a sensitive subject as guns and gun laws.

That said I tend to think that most leaders are better served when they do take questions. Yes, yes, I realize that we media types can be as unruly as a room full of wet cats. We can ask questions that are off the subject, we can become obsessed about minor issues while missing major ones, and we can engage in “gotcha” journalism which, for my money, really does precious little to help anyone, least of all our readers or viewers who just want clarity.

Still, I believe the most robust ideas and carefully considered plans can stand up to the scrutiny.

I’m not taking a swing at the NRA here, because these are things I would say about any group. It just came to mind because I was there this morning and they did not answer any questions no matter how hard we tried to ask them. They did say that they will be happy to answer questions through their press office next week. I’m not sure why. Seems like it would have been more convenient for everyone if we just asked them while we were all in the same room, but I guess if they wanted me to be in charge they would ask me to take over.

Anyway, I need to cut this short a bit since I have Christmas shopping to do. Yes, that’s right…not all of us have a staff to take care of that. Ha!

Call if you can.


December 20th, 2012
07:45 PM ET

Letters to the President #1431: 'Buyer's remorse'

Reporter's Note: Every single day that he has been in office, I have written a letter to President Obama. It is possible that this is illegal…but I don’t know.

Dear Mr. President,

I find myself torn a bit this afternoon. On one hand, I think that you and your Republican pals are closing in on a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, albeit by fits and starts. Then on the other hand, I think…maybe not.

I want to have faith that it is the former. However, I also have the distinct impression that both sides are suffering from a version of buyer’s remorse before the deal is even done.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s like buying a house. No doubt sometime in the past you have had to do that dance. You make an offer, the other side makes an offer, back and forth you go, concessions and demands are added and subtracted, and finally you reach an agreement. The problem comes if you get to the agreement too fast. Invariably that makes each side fear that maybe they gave up too much, too quickly.

And so it is with these negotiations, I fear.

Your Democrats, flush with their most recent election successes, are not much in the mood to give up anything. Many of them are eager to show just how tough they can play with the GOP. And who can blame them?

Republicans, however, are perhaps just as enthused about showing that they were not entirely defanged by this last round of voting. They don’t want to even appear weak in this deal.

So each time you and Boehner start closing in on an agreement, your parties both start getting twitchy, each side fearing that the headlines will come out and it will look like the loser in the negotiations. Truth be told, if they can calm down enough to approve a deal and stave off calamity, I suspect voters will give both sides credit. But as you know, D.C. spends an awful lot of time worrying about blame. And that appears to be at least part of what is at work now.

Beyond that: How’s work? I remain pretty busy with the year closing out and dreadfully behind on my holiday preparations, but hopefully I’ll pull it all together in the final days. Speaking of which, if the Mayans are right about tomorrow, I guess this will be my last letter. Ha!


December 19th, 2012
06:42 PM ET

Letters to the President #1430: 'Rich like you? Who?'

Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama all the time and he never responds.

Dear Mr. President,

I was pleased to see you take my advice during your news conference today and not overpromise what new gun laws might or might not mean to public safety, at least in an absolute sense. On the other hand, when the discussion turned to the fiscal cliff, you said something that has been on my mind ever since.

You made reference to the idea that wealthier people ought to pay more taxes, and you said something along the lines of “rich people like me.” You seem to like the phrase, since I've heard it several times.

Mr. President, to be very frank, there are only a few people who are rich like you. Presidents and former presidents fall into an utterly unique category. As much as you may want to suggest that you understand life as it is lived by normal people, you left that life behind four years ago, and you will never be subject to its rules again.

I’m not saying that former presidents are automatically wealthy in a Bill Gates sense. I’m saying they have no reason to ever even think about money. In our modern times, any former president can make one speech and pocket more money than most Americans can make in a year; or they can write a book, or start a non-profit, or any number of things that will more than take care of their financial needs for the remainder of their lives. On top of which, any number of fans will readily provide them with free transportation, lodging, food, and other amenities at the drop of a hat. If you were out of office and wanted a new iPad, for example, all you’d need to do is mention it, and I’m quite certain one would appear gratis. Heck, I would not be surprised if a “friend” showed up on your doorstep with one within hours.

So, for my money, there is something disingenuous in you suggesting that any change in the tax code will have anything to do with your finances. You will never, ever, under any circumstances fear for the rent again. The idea of not having something you want in life is forever gone. That’s not your fault, it’s not bribery, and there is nothing wrong in it. But that is the unique situation of former presidents. Even billionaires can, conceivably, go broke. But not you. In this day and time, we do not allow our former presidents to struggle financially. We just don’t.

None of this invalidates your economic theories or your ideas about taxes. But I think it would be good if you stopped suggesting that you personally have a dog in this fight. It’s not true. The only rich people like you, especially after you leave office, will be named Clinton, Bush, and Carter.

I trust all is well. Good luck with your negotiations.


December 18th, 2012
10:21 PM ET

Letters to the President #1429: 'Overpromising'

Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama every day.

Dear Mr. President,

The debate over gun control following the Connecticut shootings seems to be growing hotter by the day. While I am often impressed by the passion that people bring to causes, especially when propelled by dramatic and terrible events, I have been hearing a phrase lately which always concerns me. Lawmakers, community leaders, and citizens alike keep saying something along the lines of, “We need to make a change, so that a tragedy like this never happens again.”

Understand that I wish, pray, and hope with all my soul that indeed we never see anything like a repeat of this horrible event. But my experience, my knowledge of history, and human nature tells me…sadly…we will, no matter what steps we take to prevent it.

Hear me out. I am not saying that people should not try to make the situation better. A cornerstone of our Democracy is certainly that people ought to engage the legislative process to try to effect change. And real change is possible. I am sure that certain changes to the right laws in the right ways could indeed reduce the likelihood of a similar event happening. And if that were accomplished, who could fault the people who brought such a change to pass? But notice that I said “reduce” not “eliminate.”

That is an important distinction.

I find it distressing that advocates for causes, whether left, right or middle, often oversell. They promise what is unlikely to be delivered, and when that proves out, it promotes the cynicism that makes people feel as if nothing ever really can be done about our problems. By promising too much, they undercut their own arguments; making them look like the fantasies of pie-in-the-sky idealists.

What I wish people would say, no matter what position they espouse, is: “We need to take this step so that we will be moving in the right direction; so that we might make our world a bit safer, a bit better, a bit more as most of us would have it. It will still not be perfect. We will still face awful calamities from time to time. But if we can act together now for our common good, even in a small way, perhaps we will become better at doing such things…and over time our small gains will truly produce the big changes we crave, and these horrid events will grow less and less frequent.”

Hope all is well. Call if you can.


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