TWiA explores the intersection of policy and politics, and most importantly, how that intersection affects real people. It's dedicated to the proposition that good government is possible, it matters, and taxpayers deserve nothing less. Its starting point is that facts are facts, science is real, data are real, and we can and must learn from history. Below you'll find facts and opinions that derive from fact, informed by a close and careful study of these issues that began in 1968 and has never stopped. Note, when we discuss generic "Democrats" and "Republicans" or "conservatives" and "liberals," etc., we're talking about elected officials, unless otherwise noted. Also, bonus bear news and other awesomeness. We appreciate comments and arguments, so please chime in, and if you like it, spread the word.
This Week in Money
During this week of gift-giving, visiting, sharing meals and joy (and, for many people, volunteering at causes that help those less fortunate than themselves), we should keep those less fortunate folks in our minds and our hearts.
As of December 28, 1.3 million Americans lose the last lifeline they've got (the Washington Post has a good explainer here). These people are the long-term unemployed. They want to work. They have to keep looking for work, in order to keep getting benefits. But there are few jobs to be had for them. They don't live in the right areas, they don't have the right skills, and employers are less likely to hire people who have been unemployed for a long time. In November, 23,000 people applied for 600 jobs at two Walmarts in the Washington D.C. area. Walmart, you may recall, tops the list of the worst-paying companies in the country (and as a result, according to some studies, US taxpayers foot the bill for $900,000 in public assistance for those employed by Walmart, per Walmart store--about $4 billion nationwide). But people are desperate for jobs. Even those jobs.
So those 1.3 million people aren't folks who refuse to work. They're not sitting around enjoying the fruits of government largesse. Unemployment barely provides enough to live on. But for many, it's the only thing keeping them in the job market. [Senator Rand "Crybaby" Paul (R.KY) doesn't understand anything about the long-term unemployed, which goes along nicely with his lack of understanding of virtually every other issue a United States senator has to make decisions about.]
We've also recently cut $5 billion from the food stamp program (aka SNAP ) for the poor, and House Republicans want to cut $40 billion more over 10 years. Democrats countered with a $4 billion cut. 87% of households receiving SNAP benefits contain at least one child, one elderly person, and/or one disabled person. And 91% are below the poverty line of $23,550 for a family of four. Who are these people? Probably someone you know.
In this season when we're supposed to celebrate giving, shouldn't there be fewer Scrooges among those making public policy?
Side Note: How could an economics geek resist an article that includes this sentence: "There's an old Keynesian saying: It takes a lot of Harberger triangles to fill an Okun Gap."? Answer: Can't be done. Give it a read and see why Christmas creates its own macroeconomic boom.
This Week in Happiness
Are people happier living in a nation with a big, active government than with a smaller, more laissez faire one? According to this study, the answer is yes.
This Week in the Private Sector
Private businesses can do everything better than government, right?
Oh, wait. FedEx? UPS? Amazon? Walmart? Target? Maybe if more of us shopped local, none of these problems would have occurred. But public sector or private, people are human and mistakes will be made. Sometimes a little patience and cooperation is more useful than a partisan screaming fit.
This Week in Economic Growth
The Great Recession really hit most of us in the fall/winter of 2008. Since then--largely since President Obama's economic policies, like his stimulus package, along with some policies begun by outgoing President Bush but carried forward by Obama, like the auto industry bailout--the economy has been growing. Too slowly, in large part due to Republican congressional obstruction of jobs bills and other efforts, but also to foolish austerity efforts in the states that slashed public employment even as private employment was growing, and to the ongoing effects of the sequester.
As we reach the end of 2013, we can see that the growth trend is continuing, and even accelerating. The stock market keeps hitting new record highs. A big part of that performance was spurred by Federal Reserve policies--even as radicals like Ron and Rand Paul continue to call for the Fed to be abolished, according to this article, "The Federal Reserve, which has made employment creation a determinant factor of its monetary stimulus, on Dec. 18 said it will reduce the pace of bond buying amid faster-than-estimated economic growth. Three rounds of stimulus have sent the S&P 500 up 172 percent from a 12-year low in 2009." In the face of a dysfunctional Congress, the Fed has been an important and necessary economic lifeline. We're also seeing unemployment at a 5-year low, housing sales at their highest levels since 2008, and durable goods orders surging. Retailers are reporting their best Christmas season since the recession began. GDP growth in the third quarter of 2013 was revised upward, to "a healthy annual rate of 4.1%." These are all positive signs that the economy is headed in the right direction--and the austerity measures promoted by conservatives would only hinder economic progress.
This Week in School
School principals across the country (though slightly less so in urban schools) support common core, but have yet to fully implement it. According to a new survey, "Among all principals who responded, more than 80 percent said the common-core standards have the potential to provide students with deeper learning and more meaningful assessments of their knowledge and skills." Implementation is being delayed, in part, by budgetary concerns. Misguided austerity measures have cut about 250,000 people from public school jobs since the beginning of the recession, while enrollment at those schools has increased by 800,000. Had those 250,000 kept their jobs, many more jobs would have been created by the economic activity their paychecks generated. And it's hard to overstate the value of an educated populace. But to those who believe taxation is theft, the future of a whole generation of Americans is nothing more than an ideological game piece.
This Week in Gun Safety
This week brought us the usual collection of pointless firearm tragedies: a man who shot his own 14-year-old stepdaughter to death, a 10-year-old girl shot to death during target practice, a 14-year-old boy fatally shot in the face while being shown a gun that nobody "knew was loaded" (Hint: they're always loaded, even if they're not), a 2-month-old girl shot to death on Christmas Eve. They're too sad to link to, much less to discuss in detail, but here's a wrap-up of the 137 people killed in mass murders in 2013.
Instead, we'll direct your attention to a piece written by a Lt. Col. in the United States Army, who considers our gun situation to be a national defense matter--and with 100,000 of us shot every year, it's hard to argue with him. If 100,000 Americans were shot every year in any given war, we'd have to take action. But when it's our own people shooting each other, the pro-gun death forces just argue for more guns in more places. Hard to argue with, yes, but some people did anyway, and he shares those here.
This Week in Good News
Congratulations, Utah! and New Mexico! Also, too bad, Justice Scalia. America's worst Supreme Court justice (maybe ever) warned, in his dissent from SCOTUS's decision to scrap DOMA, that states would then follow suit and drop their own same-sex marriage bans. He thought that was a bad thing, of course; he has a long history of voting against the civil rights of Americans whenever they come before him. But to the same-sex couples in those states (and to anyone who believes that marriage is an institution that should be available to any consenting adults, regardless of gender), it's a good thing. And no doubt to Scalia's great chagrin, judges in Ohio and Utah this week cited Scalia's dissent in their own decisions to overturn those bans.
This Week in Arizona
We complain often enough about the adopted state of TWiA World Headquarters, so when the state's government does something right, we're obliged to mention it. That's the case here, as the Arizona Department of Transportation has decided to grant driver's licenses to the undocumented spouses, children, and parents of people serving in the US military. This action is in response to a US Department of Homeland Security decision that such people could be "paroled in place," meaning they can apply for a green card while in this country, rather than having to go back to their home country and possibly waiting 10 years to get back in.
ADOT hasn't gone far enough--the same privilege should be granted to DREAMers, immigrants who were brought illegally into the US as children, with no say in the matter, and who have really never known another home. But it's a start, and we applaud the decision.
This Week in the Two Nations
Esquire's politics blogger, Charles P. Pierce, writes a wise and thoughtful piece this week describing the America we have seemingly chosen, contrasted with what we might be. Pierce says, in part, "We are two nations but we do not have to be. We are two nations because we choose to be. We are two nations because we have separated work from wages, justice from the law, and public service from politics. We are two nations because we have made the government an "other," a thing to be dreaded, a creature to be feared, instead of being the highest creative act a citizen can perform. We are two nations because we choose to be."
Read the rest here.
This Week in Secret Muslims
Occasionally, crackpots (some of them, unfortunately, officials elected to the Congress of the United States, like Arizona's Trent Franks) claim that President Obama is a secret Muslim, apparently forgetting that one of their main talking points during the 2008 campaign was that he sat and listened to the sometimes radical preachings of Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the Trinity United Church of Christ. Although people who harbor such ideas are typically immune to actual evidence, maybe a new book will help convince them: The President's Devotional: The Daily Readings that Inspired President Barack Obama, by Joshua Dubois.
This Week in How You Can Help
One of the topics we keep touching on in TWiA is poverty. Poverty has many causes, and many effects, and it becomes a self-replicating cycle when people are blocked from rising above it. Often, it seems like an insurmountable problem. But there are things we can do to limit it, to reduce it, and maybe, ultimately, to eliminate it. Oxfam America is working on all those issues, and more. Before 2014 begins, can you toss a couple of bucks their way? They'll be put to good use.
This Week in Bears