Welcome back to our weekly roundup of what's news and what's newsy in the US of A. The below is a blend of facts and opinion, and you should be able to tell which is which. One reminder--when we mention "Republicans" or "Democrats," we're talking about elected ones, unless we specify otherwise.
This Week in Syria
This week, everyone's been talking about Syria, even though no one knows what to do there or what the results of any given action, or inaction, might be. That includes me--just as clueless as the rest of them.
Syria is a complicated issue, and quite literally, anyone who says he or she knows all the answers is lying to your face. My only actual recommendation there is that I am generally opposed to war when there's any other way, but not opposed to war when it's the right thing. We were, before WWII, a very noninterventionist, isolationist country. Roosevelt saw the dual threats of Hitler in Europe and Imperial Japan in the Pacific, and he knew that the US had the strength to do something and the moral responsibility to use that strength. He was right.
In this case, President Obama may well be right. He built his senate career, in large measure, on the effort to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He's not opposed to military action, but he knows he was elected to lead the country out of the morass of Middle Eastern wars, not to start new ones. He knows that what he wants to do is politically unpopular. He also seems to think it's a moral necessity.
All I can add to that is that I think we need to consider what message it sends, to Assad and other butchers of his ilk, if after he uses chemical weapons and the world responds with outraged rhetoric, but there is no actual response, no cost to him or his regime for that crime.
This Week in Hypocrisy
Since Obama's election in 2008, elected Republicans have almost perfected the art of running away from themselves. Before that election, every Republican candidate for president had a proposed stimulus package, because economics teaches us that when you have a recession or depression, government spending is key to limiting the damage and turning things around. After Obama took office, though, stimulus suddenly became a terrible thing, and the party nearly unanimously voted against it.
In other areas, the same pattern holds true. The Affordable Care Act was a synthesis of several policies favored by the right and promoted by them for years--decades, in some cases. Universal health care built around an individual mandate, with subsidies, was the Republican mantra. Until Obama adopted it. They pushed a cap-and-trade system of carbon control, until Obama agreed with them. They were in favor of the DREAM Act, until he was. They were largely interested in immigration reform, and some still are--but they have suggested that Obama not weigh in on the topic, because they know so many of their colleagues will turn against any proposal he's for.
We haven't seen this before in national politics. People elected saying one thing reverse themselves utterly, simply because of their animosity to the man the nation's voters chose to serve as president. Many of them want to impeach him, for unspecified reasons that mostly seem to have to do with the fact that they don't like him. It's a shameful display.
And now, we're seeing the same thing happen on the Syria question. Since 9/11, Republicans have been the party most anxious to use military force in the Middle East. On the specific topic of Syria, Republicans have been agitating for a military response. During the 2012 VP debate, candidate Paul Ryan said he and Mitt Romney agreed with the administration's stated positions, including the "red line" of chemical weapons. They've accused this White House of being "anti-Israel," but now that Israel supports military action in Syria, their tune has changed. Nor is it just elected officials--right-wing pundits like Peggy Noonan are equally self-contradictory on the topic.
If Republicans have a consistent, principled position on the use of force in general and Syria in particular, it would be good to hear it. But Republicans turning against a course of action they supported only recently, just because the president has come around to their way of thinking, is an awful thing to behold. People will live and die based on the actions taken regarding Syria. To abdicate their principles because they hate the man behind the big desk is a disgusting diplay.
This Week in Health Care
It's not just in foreign policy that Republican elected officials are apparently unconcerned about who lives and who dies. In domestic policy, they're doing their best to block the ACA from taking effect next month. Here, American lives are on the line--people actually do die because they can't access health care, either because they can't afford insurance or they can't get it because of preexisting conditions. And when they don't die, they cause health care for the rest of us to become more expensive, to eat up bigger and bigger percentages of our GDP.
One tactic is to target the states with the highest numbers of uninsured people and try to obstruct the ability of "navigators"--people charged with helping potential customers with figuring out the complicated new system--to actually help anyone. One place that obstruction effort is taking place is here in the home state of TWiA World Headquarters, Arizona. We do have a lot of uninsured folks here--making it hard or impossible for them to become insured is a ruthless way to do politics, and it should be beneath the dignity of any elected official. Voters should remember who left our fellow Americans to die needlessly.
Possible 2016 presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R/FL) has a different trick. He's blasting the government for spending money trying to make people aware of a government program that could help them.
Other Congressional Republicans are refusing to do the first duty of any member of Congress--helping their constituents negotiate government bureaucracy.
The means of sabotage are too many to go into them all here. The Washington Post ran an op-ed calling on elected Republicans to stop trying to harm Americans and work to fix the law--as every large piece of legislation ever passed by Congress has needed fixing. So far, Republicans refuse. There's no indication that they care who's going to die and who's going to go bankrupt as a result of their efforts. This course of action would, without question, kill innocent Americans. It's hard to see how they can morally justify that, or how anyone could vote for them, knowing that.
And why do they hate the law (which mirrors their own proposals over the years)? No good reason. It'll save lives, save families' finances, and help the country's economy. But it's Barack Obama's law, and apparently that's enough.
As the piece in the Post says, "Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court found most of its provisions to be constitutional. Republicans, having opposed the bill and supported the legal challenge to it, are entitled to be unhappy about the outcome, though in our view they are wrong on the merits. They are not entitled to obstruct and flout the laws of the United States. On the contrary, they have an obligation to cooperate in good faith with wholly legitimate laws duly passed and reviewed by all three branches of government."
They make a very good point.
This Week in the Economy
Speaking of obstruction, and stimulus, we've once again had a week with mixed economic news. The auto industry had a good week. The jobless rate came down a little more, but apparently that's more because people have given up looking for work, rather than because enough jobs were created.
The next few months look similarly grim. We have various fiscal crises that don't have to happen, but which Congressional Republicans want to make happen for reasons only they can understand. We have who-knows-what in Syria. We still have the effects of the sequester, increasing like a snowball rolling downhill.
Here, thanks to the skilled chartmakers at Maddowblog, are some visual aids showing where we were and where we are. The first one shows unemployment stats--note where the stimulus took effect in early 2009.
And here are jobs lost and gained, overall and in the private sector. The slowdown in public sector hiring has been dragging us down, because the stimulus was too small and not followed by further stimulative efforts, thanks largely to Congressional Republican opposition, and a conservative base that either doesn't understand economics or does but doesn't care what works.
Meanwhile, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman laments what five years of policy failure (on the part of Democrats and Republicans) has done to our economy and our citizenry.
This Week in RIP
Science fiction writer Ann Crispin passed away on September 6. Back in 2001, I edited Ann on a Star Trek comic book she wrote, which as far as I know is the only comic she ever wrote. This year, Ann won the Scribe Grandmaster Award, the Faust, for her work in the tie-in field, and I was proud to be the one to make that announcement at the San Diego Comic-Con, and to present her (in absentia, since she wasn't able to make it) with that honor. She was a fine writer, a wonderful human being, and a tireless advocate for authors. She'll be missed.
This Week in Bears
Once again, we're devoting this section to pandas, because there's a new baby girl at the National Zoo. Check her out.