Personal Reflections on Politics and Priorities


The Statue of Freedom atop the U.S. Capitol building.

Let us speak of love and life and the beauty of this Universe.

What? Oh. Right. Sorry.

Look, to the one it seems really simple; to the other, we all have people in our lives who will, when they don’t like the obvious implication of an obvious fact, chuff and puff and stutter: “Wh-wha-what? What are you talking about? What does that even mean?” The thing about this behavior is that except for the fact of contention, these people in our lives know damn well what we’re talking about, and if there is any confusion about what it means, they’re certainly tipping their hand by going from zero to attack in zero-point-two-one-seven-three seconds. You know that common tease, “Struck a nerve, there”?

Sometimes it seems tragic: Perceived competitive pressures can seem so permeating in and of the perspectives subscribing to or advocating its processes and outcomes as to inhibit normal, healthy social function. More accessibly: Capitalism escalates mental health risk factors. Or, more generally: People who believe in or advocate the dog eat dog rat race can fall into it so deeply that their social faculties degrade into dysfunction.

And sometimes we think, “Huh? But you knew what this meant yesterday. And you even believed it last week!”

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Progress, Sure, but Whence Come We?


“Woo-hoo! I can go to the doctor now? I’m serious. I need to go.”

Jeff Fletcher

Good news isn’t always … happy? … reassuring? It is hard to explain, of course, but amid the vicious politics echoing throughout the Beltway, it is easy to forget minor details such as the notion that there really are human stakes in this fight. As Jason Linkins recently reminded:

[T]he promulgation of an “Obama’s Katrina” metaphor firmly underscores the basic lack of real stakes involved for all of the people having that conversation. Obama is going to live well and without concern for the rest of his life. The vast majority of the lawmakers involved in the ongoing debate over the matter will as well. So will most of the pundits currently batting this meme back and forth. They’ll all be fine. Really, super fine, actually. They’re going to have terrific, largely worry-free lives ….

…. There has to be a great story out there about what life is like for normal human Americans who aren’t affluent political celebrities or who don’t enjoy a luxurious sinecure in Beltway punditry. But the saddest part of all of this is that the Affordable Care Act’s woes have created only a brief interest in the woes of ordinary Americans, and just how terrifying it can be for one’s life to depend on the kindness of insurance providers in the individual market. Right now, if you can proffer a letter attesting to the fact that you’ve lost your health insurance, chances are you can finally get a reporter who had never previously evinced interest in the matter on the phone.

It wasn’t always this way. A July 2009 study conducted by Families USA found that between January 2008 and December 2010, in the teeth of the economic downturn, over 44,000 Americans were receiving notice that they’d be losing their health insurance every week. The same people breaking story after story about those losing their coverage now had better things to do back when it really mattered. As with almost any story that we could tell about the rampant, constant, tragic economic insecurity of the average American, it only seems to swell up as a Thing That Matters when such plight can play a role in the Beltway parlor game of who’s winning and who’s losing.

That’s what makes the whole “Obama’s Katrina” construction such a multi-layer insult to normal people. It makes the assumption that Bush actually suffered some real material loss in the hurricane that hit New Orleans. He didn’t. It further assumes that some similar hardship is coming to Obama’s doorstep. This is only true if we define “hardship” as “no hardship at all.” It glibly trivializes the real people who have suffered in both instances—those who suffered some sort of devastation in the Gulf region, or those who have been dealt a hard blow in the insurance market. Finally, it only underscores the wholly transient nature of the media’s concern for the welfare of ordinary people. If their suffering can’t be translated into a telenovela about the electoral troubles of affluent political celebrities, it doesn’t merit coverage.

And there are important stories out there, good and bad, in the PPACA transition. Stephanie McCrummen provided The Washington Post, this weekend, with just such a compelling story. And, to be certain, it is good news out of Kentucky, but at the same time it’s heartbreaking. Continue reading

Graham Cracked?


Lindsey Graham is looking out for the ladies.

The editorial comment, the punch line, is actually the important part. No, really:

If memory serves, Republicans went into the 2012 elections working on restricting contraception; cutting off Planned Parenthood; requiring medically-unnecessary ultrasounds; fighting equal-pay laws; and making some deeply unfortunate comments about rape. Graham and his allies apparently believe Republicans can go into the 2014 elections saying, “We learned a valuable lesson losing the last round of elections, so we’ve decided to do more of the same.”

Indeed, this will be all the more pronounced when GOP lawmakers have no other legislative accomplishments about which they can boast. I can hear the speeches now, “Sure, we failed to pass any meaningful bills, but don’t worry – when we weren’t shutting down the governing, we spent some time on culture-war legislation we knew in advance wouldn’t pass.”

(Benen)

Sure, it’s a bit sarcastic, and definitely bears a partisan tang, but that can all fall away in the sense that this really is a possibility as we look ahead to the 2014 midterm.

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Advice and Extortion


RandPaulEyes

He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.

United States Constitution, II.2

Sometimes it feels like fantasy: “These are dark times, there is no denying . . . .”

Never mind.

It would be wrong to call JeeYeon Park’s CNBC report—

Equities briefly pared their gains after Senator Rand Paul threatened to put Janet Yellen’s Fed chair nomination on hold this week, according to sources close to Paul.

Paul is insisting on a vote on his Fed transparency bill, and has informed Senate leadership of his intentions, according to the source.

Meanwhile, a Senate Democratic aide told CNBC that the ability of Paul to single-handedly block the nomination “should not be overstated” as Paul would need 40 other senators to join him to cut off a motion to end debate and bring the nomination to the floor. Although hearings have not yet been scheduled, the aide said the leadership at this point is confident the nomination will succeed.

—little noticed, as the markets noticed and reacted, causing other people to notice—

Sen. Rand Paul is getting a lot of attention this morning for his threat to hold up the nomination of Janet L. Yellen to head the Federal Reserve, but he may have very little leverage to stop her confirmation.

The Kentucky Republican is seeking a vote on his Federal Reserve transparency legislation as part of considering the Yellen nomination. The announcement came in a YouTube video posted Thursday by the Campaign for Liberty, a nonprofit affiliated with Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

Legislation to require an audit of the Federal Reserve has had bipartisan support in the past when pushed by both Pauls, but it has faced no shortage of opposition and roadblocks.

“Sen. Rand Paul will be demanding a vote on audit the Fed in the Senate when they consider the new Fed nominee,” John Tate, the chairman of Campaign for Liberty, said in the video.

However, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could decide to ignore Paul’s request by moving to limit debate on Yellen’s nomination by filing cloture. If Reid gets 60 votes, there’s no need to make a deal with Paul or anyone else. Yellen appears to already have enough support to overcome a filibuster, unless Republicans and some sympathetic Democrats decide to back his quest for a vote on the audit bill.

“Right now, the Senate is preparing to debate and confirm the new Obama nominee to chair the Federal Reserve,” Paul said. “I say vote no on a new Fed chairman without a vote on my audit the Fed bill. This will be the fight of our lives.”

—and now we have an issue.

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GOP: The Somethin’ Shall Somethin’ Ag’in


Believe it or not, a conservative associate of mine sent me this article, actually thinking … er … um … right. I have no idea what he was thinking.

On Thursday afternoon, as the government shutdown entered its third day, a Republican member of the House sat down with a group of reporters in an office building not far from the Capitol. He spoke on the condition that he be referred to only as a House lawmaker, but without betraying the agreement it’s fair to say his was a perspective well worth listening to. The congressman walked the group through a set of issues involved in the shutdown—the continuing resolution, House-Senate relations, the coming debt limit talks, and more—but what was perhaps most striking was his frank talk about how the GOP leadership got itself into its current predicament. What became clear after an hour of discussion was that the House Republican leadership’s position at the moment is the result of happenstance, blundering, and a continuing inability to understand the priorities of both GOP and Democratic colleagues.

The congressman began with an anecdote from the Civil War. “I would liken this a little bit to Gettysburg, where a Confederate unit went looking for shoes and stumbled into Union cavalry, and all of a sudden found itself embroiled in battle on a battlefield it didn’t intend to be on, and everybody just kept feeding troops into it,” the congressman said. “That’s basically what’s happening now in a political sense. This isn’t exactly the fight I think Republicans wanted to have, certainly that the leadership wanted to have, but it’s the fight that’s here.”

When the September 30 deadline for funding the government was still weeks away, the lawmaker explained, he never thought Republicans and Democrats would fail to reach agreement on a continuing resolution. “To be honest with you, I did not think we’d be in a government shutdown situation,” he said. “I’m surprised that we’re here.” The congressman frankly admitted that he never saw the intensity of the party base’s opposition to Obamacare that came to the fore in the August recess. “I think that probably the Cruz phenomenon had a lot to do with that,” he said, referring to the campaign by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz to raise support for an effort to defund Obamacare. “I think it disrupted everybody’s plans, both in the administration and certainly the House Republican leadership.”

As the congressman told the story, as August progressed—and Cruz, along with a few Senate colleagues, the Heritage Foundation, and others, ran a high-profile campaign to stir public opinion against Obamacare—the House GOP leadership was mostly unaware of what was going on. “They got surprised a little bit by the Obamacare thing,” the lawmaker said. “This was something that blew up in August. Nobody really saw it coming—probably should have a little bit, I’m not being critical of anybody in that regard, on either side of this—but it just happened.”

(York)

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Ah, Congress!


Watch the birdie.

Oh, right. And remember, turnabout is fair play, or something like that.

Right?

Of course, yes, this really is what it comes down to:

Ben Cardin calls the Senate to order, August 12, 2013.The Senate came back into session for a few seconds at noon Monday, but why?

The House and Senate had agreed to adjourn for the August recess, leaving no need for the once-every-three-day pro forma sessions that had become the norm in recent years. But Maryland Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin’s perfunctory Monday appearance to gavel the Senate into session had a benefit that the White House will no doubt appreciate. Since this year’s August break runs until Sept. 9, a span of longer than a month, a particularly obscure Senate rule was due to take effect.

Niels Lesniewski explains the details for Roll Call.

Republicans and Jobs (part 2)


The Republican employment platform is a curious set of contradictions. In July, the Economic Policy Institute noted:

Public and Private Sector Employment in the RecoveryTwo years after the official end of the Great Recession, the continued loss of public-sector jobs is an obstacle to reaching pre-recession employment levels. This decline in government employment is a historic anomaly; public-sector employment actually increased in the two years after official recoveries began in 10 of 11 post-World War II business cycles. The lone exception was in the early 1980s when the economy experienced a double-dip recession.

In total, the public sector has lost 430,000 jobs compared to the private sector’s net gain of 980,000 jobs since the Great Recession ended in June 2009 – an average of nearly 19,000 jobs each month over that time.

And Steve Benen explained:

Indeed, it’s important to remember that these job losses are, in the eyes of Republicans, a positive development. Under the GOP economic model, the public sector is supposed to lose jobs, and as part of the party’s austerity agenda, this is a problem that must get worse on purpose.

Earlier this year, for example, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked about his spending-cut plans and the fact that the cuts would force thousands of public-sector workers from their jobs. “So be it,” the Republican said.

In other words, deliberately making unemployment worse wasn’t seen as a problem. This is a feature of the GOP model, not a bug.

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