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.
I'd like to say that we took last week off because of the holidays, but in fact we lost a finished post due to technical difficulties. So while this is the second week of the new year, it's the first TWiA, and it's a long one.
I'd also like to express my appreciation to reader Chris Sieler, who said these "make me think." In many ways--perhaps most--that's what these posts are about. The way I think is to write things down, which forces me to organize my thoughts, put them in the context of my beliefs and values, and do the research necessary to figure out what's really going on out there in the country. So writing these makes me think. If reading them makes you think, I couldn't ask for a better result.
This Week in Courage
On January 8, 2011, my friend and congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. Her recovery has been a long, painful, difficult road. I've only seen her once during these three years, but I'm glad for that one time. This week, Gabby reports, "This past year, I have achieved something big that I’ve not spoken of until now. Countless hours of physical therapy — and the talents of the medical community — have brought me new movement in my right arm. It’s fractional progress, and it took a long time, but my arm moves when I tell it to. Three years ago, I did not imagine my arm would move again. For so many days, it did not. I did exercise after exercise, day after day, until it did. I’m committed to my rehab and I’m committed to my country, and my resolution, standing with the vast majority of Americans who know we can and must be safer, is to cede no ground to those who would convince us the path is too steep, or we too weak."
Gabby marked the anniversary by skydiving. In every way, her courage and indomitable spirit continue to be an inspiration. (Thanks to TWiA special jumping-out-of-airplanes correspondent Marcy Rockwell for the tip.)
This Week in Best Wishes
We wish Senator Tom Coburn (R/OK) all the best in his battle against cancer, and hope he's able to serve out his full term. Even if he can't, he's distinguished himself as a public servant and an honorable man.
This Week in Why Politics is the Way It Is
If you click through only one link this week, make it this one, and find out why political discourse in this country is so badly broken. Then come back here and get the real skinny.
This Week in National Shame
Crow Indian scouts fought alongside Custer's army at Little Big Horn, and since them, members of the Crow trible have fought as American soldiers in every major conflict we've been involved in. The same is true of virtually every Indian tribe across the country.
But even though a policy revived by the Bush administration-era aimed at eliminating veteran homelessness has been carried forth by the Obama adminstration, with a stated goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, a conflict between that law, known as HUD-VASH (and which has been very effective in most places) and the 1996 Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) means that the voucher system through which HUD-VASH assists veterans with housing needs isn't applicable on reservations. Other roadblocks include cultural factors, such as the fact that many homeless veterans live with family members (three times as many reservation homes are overcrowded as non-reservation ones), and economic ones, including the fact that many reservation structures don't meet HUD standards so are ineligible for housing assistance.
According to a High Country News article (subscription required), "But red tape prevents many veterans in Indian Country from participating, even though in 2010, Native American vets were significantly more likely to be homeless than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts. While Native Americans enlist at a rate generally twice that of other races, they return home to above-average disability rates and the lowest incomes."
It'll take an act of Congress to rectify the conflict between the two existing laws. But Congress is notably dysfunctional, and shows no signs of improvement. Senator Maria Cantwell (D/WA) has introduced legislation in the Senate, and corresponding legislation in the House is sponsored by Derek Kilmer (D/WA) and Tom Cole (R/OK), but despite the bipartisan effort, both bills are stuck in committee.
If we can't take care of our veterans--all of them--what kind of country are we? Congress could pass a relatively easy fix, but Congress has to work. This is 2014. Maybe appropriate action will be taken, and that 2015 goal will be met. But if not, we all need to make an effort in November to elect people to Congress who want to serve the public good rather than those who want simply to obstruct the legislative business of our nation. Putting people in office whose only goal is to prove that government is broken by themselves breaking government is a recipe for failure, and one that is certain to cause real, continuing pain for real, suffering Americans. We need, instead, to elect people on both sides of the aisle who are committed to addressing America's problems.
Side Note 1: Here's an intriguing map that shows just where poverty exists in the US. It's worst in the Rocky Mountain west and the southeast. But it should be noted that in the west, it's most severe where the Indian reservations are. There are significant broken promises to the Native population in this country, and they've continually been left out when the overall economy grows. That's got to be addressed in any serious effort to roll back poverty.
Side Note 2: The White House is rolling out what is basically a conservative idea (dating back at least to Jack Kemp's "Enterprise Zones.") The new ones are called "Promise Zones," and in the first five areas, the administration will put a special focus on fighting crime, keeping kids in school, providing mixed-income housing, and offering tax incentives to businesses that will locate and hire there. One of the first five Promise Zones is Oklahoma's Choctaw Nation. Will it work? We have to try it and find out. But at least this administration isn't ignoring the Native communities the way some others have.
This Week in Poverty
January 8 also marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's declaration of a "War on Poverty." Some people, like Senator Marco Rubio (R/FL) are trying to sell the idea that the war on poverty was a dismal failure and therefore the federal government should stop trying.
Senator Rubio is woefully mistaken.
When we as a nation made fighting poverty a priority, we had remarkable success. As Joseph Califano (who worked as Special Assistant to President Johnson from 1965 until the end of Johnson's term in office) wrote in 1999, "In fact, from 1963 when Lyndon Johnson took office until 1970 as the impact of his Great Society programs were felt, the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century. Since then, the poverty rate has hovered at about the 13 percent level and sits at 13.3 percent today, still a disgraceful level in the context of the greatest economic boom in our history. But if the Great Society had not achieved that dramatic reduction in poverty, and the nation had not maintained it, 24 million more Americans would today be living below the poverty level.
"This reduction in poverty did not just happen. It was the result of a focused, tenacious effort to revolutionize the role of the federal government with a series of interventions that enriched the lives of millions of Americans. In those tumultuous Great Society years, the President submitted, and Congress enacted, more than 100 major proposals in each of the 89th and 90th Congresses. In that era of do-it-now optimism, government was neither a bad man to be tarred and feathered nor a bag man to collect campaign contributions, but an instrument to help the most vulnerable in our society."
A drop from 22.2% to 12.6% is a 43% reduction in poverty, in six years. Because we were committed to the fight. Because we cared.
Then Richard Nixon took office, and the war effort slowed down (and even Johnson took his eye off that ball, becoming more involved in and obsessed with Vietnam. Nixon had Vietnam to contend with, too.). Nixon's interest in fighting poverty was minimal. Jimmy Carter's four years were marked by a recession, Iran, a gas shortage, and other issues, so little forward progress was made. Then Ronald Reagan came along, and although, as Califano wrote, Johnson's war was "founded on the most conservative principle: Put the power in the local community, not in Washington; give people at the grassroots the ability to stand tall on their own two feet," Reagan declared that the war had already been lost, made some frankly racialized dog-whistle statements about "young bucks" and "welfare queens," and shifted the conservative viewpoint (and to some extent, the national viewpoint). Washington stopped trying, Washington stopped fighting.
And yet, even though few if any of Johnson's war on poverty programs have been fully funded since, the results are still impressive. The New York Times this week reports, "Still, a broad range of researchers interviewed by The New York Times stressed the improvement in the lives of low-income Americans since Mr. Johnson started his crusade. Infant mortality has dropped, college completion rates have soared, millions of women have entered the work force, malnutrition has all but disappeared. After all, when Mr. Johnson announced his campaign, parts of Appalachia lacked electricity and indoor plumbing."
The "official" poverty rate now is 15% or 16%, depending upon how it's calculated (it's a deeply flawed metric), which is a considerable reduction from when Johnson began the effort. And we have programs in place, like Social Security and Medicare and the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps, that help keep the lives of poor Americans from being as miserable as they might otherwise be. The social safety net is frayed, but it's still largely in place, and without it we would have many, many more Americans living in poverty (economist Jared Bernstein estimates 29%), and poverty would be a much worse place to be.
What's the Republican answer to the problem? According to conservative writer Josh Barro, there isn't one. "Of course, Republicans don't want the poor to live off government benefits; they want them to get jobs. Unfortunately, Republicans also oppose macroeconomic policies to promote full employment, such as deficit spending, infrastructure investment, and monetary stimulus." As Barro points out, the Republican economic prescription during hard times--cut taxes, spending, and regulation--is the same as it is during flush times. They only have the one idea, and it's a large part of what got us into the Great Recession in the first place.
There are still challenges, obviously. There are still too many poor Americans (meet some of them here). It's even harder for a child born into poverty today to climb a ladder into the middle class than it was 10 years ago, and for that child it was harder than it was 10 years before. Our schools are failing to prepare too many students for the world, particularly in math and science. The current recovery from the Great Recession is creating fewer middle-class jobs than existed before the recession, leaving more to settle for low-wage jobs. In the interests of economic justice and in the interests of creating a functional economy with ladders to help people better their lot, we need to do more. But to claim that the war failed, as Rubio does, is a blatant falsehood. When we cared, when we tried, it worked. There's no reason to think it wouldn't again. We just need to care, and to try.
Speaking of poverty, a new study shows that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour could lift almost 5 million working poor Americans out of poverty. This is in line with other studies, some claiming it would do the job for fully half of the country's working poor. And the spill-over effect on the economy would be significant--these are not people who would play the market with those extra dollars and cents, or park it in overseas accounts. They would spend it. That spending would mutliply its effect, create new jobs, and increase wages for others. The arguments that raising the minimum wage costs jobs, or that most minimum wage workers are kids just trying to earn some pocket money, have long-since been disproved. Minimum wage's purchasing power has been shrinking and shrinking, and it's time to do something about it.
And in contrast to Fox "News" regular Art Laffer, an "economist" who's a long-time supporter of trickle-down economics (and therefore living in a dream world with no connection to reality), the minimum wage is not the "black teenage unemployment act." 84% of people who earn minimum wage are over 20, 47% are over 30, and 57% are white. But what can you expect from a guy who's still defending an economic theory that has been disproved time and time again? Trickle-down didn't work during the Gilded Age (but it helped cause the Great Depression), and it didn't work the several times it was tried during the late 20th century (but it helped cause the Great Recession). It won't work the next time, either, so we should stop trying it.
Side Note 1: Between 2009 and 2011, almost a third of us--31.6%--slipped below the poverty line for at least two months. 3.5% of those people remained under it throughout that whole period. In so many cases, the poor aren't those "other people." They're our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones. They're human beings, and they should be treated with respect.
Side Note 2: Although this National Journal article came out last month, it's worth looking at carefully as we head toward 2014's midterm elections, to watch how candidates try to play toward various interest groups. One thing we'll see a lot of is right-wing politicians running on anti-Affordable Care Act, anti-government themes--while playing to the crowd that is most dependent on said government, even when they don't admit it. According to the article:
"To understand Kentucky's conflicted relationship with the federal government, 50 years after hosting President Johnson's launch of the 'War on Poverty,' is to meet Terry Rupe. The 63-year-old widower can't remember the last time he voted for a Democrat, and he's got nothing nice to say about President Obama. He's also never had health insurance, although he started working at age 9. Since his wife's death four years ago, he's been taking care of their 40-year-old, severely disabled daughter full time. She gets Medicaid and Medicare assistance.
"'I don't have any use for the federal government,' Rupe said, even though his household's $13,000 yearly income comes exclusively from Washington. 'It's a bunch of liars, crooks, and thieves, and they've never done anything for me. I'm not ungrateful, but I don't have much faith in this health care law. Do I think it's going to work? No. Do I think it's going to bankrupt the country? Yes.'
"Rupe sounds like he could be standing on a soapbox at a tea-party rally, but he happens to be sitting in a back room at the Family Health Centers' largest clinic in Louisville—signing up for Medicaid. Rupe, who is white, insists that illegal immigrants from Mexico and Africa get more government assistance than he does. (Illegal immigrants do not, in fact, qualify for Medicaid or coverage under the Affordable Care Act.)
"He's not alone in thinking this way. A majority of whites believe the health care law will make things worse for them and their families, according to a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll."
The thing to watch for is which candidates feed the anti-government prejudice (and racial animosity), and which ones genuinely want to work toward solutions for the issues facing these people. In most cases, it's not hard to tell the difference.
This Week in Unemployment
There remain about 4 million people in this country who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer (the long-term unemployed). 1.3 million of them lost their unemployment benefits on December 8. The rest could lose theirs in the relatively near future, unless something's done to extend them. (Here are seven things everybody should know about long-term unemployment.)
A solid majority of Americans--55%--want to see those benefits extended. So do most Democrats in the Senate, and presumably some of the Republicans. This week, a vote was held--not on the extension itself, but to move the process forward so that a vote can be held, because that's how the Senate works. All Democrats present voted for it, as did six Republicans, for a 60-37 finish. But the measure didn't pass out of the Senate this week, and enough Republicans don't support the extension that passage of any measure through Congress is hardly a foregone conclusion (despite the fact that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that not extending benefits just for the 1.3 million would cost the country 200,000 jobs, while the extension would create 300,000 jobs).
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R/OH) doesn't see the long-term unemployed as suffering Americans, but as hostages. He pretends not to remember the various jobs bills, including the American Jobs Act, that he's killed in the House, or to recall that he and his party never thought it necessary to demand that unemployment extensions be "paid for" during the Bush administration, or to understand that extending benefits will create jobs while cutting them destroys jobs, or to know that his party's congressional obstruction is largely responsible for the slow pace of the recovery. But he has a long list of demands that he wants met, including the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, after which he'll consider renewing the benefits that expired last month.
The claim in his last line, that the House is "focused on growing the economy," is a bitter joke to anyone who knows what House Republicans have actually done to the economy--tried to shrink it at every opportunity. His wish-list here would do the same. And that's the intent--the recovery is starting to pick up steam, and that's the last thing the Republicans want going into the 2014 midterms. Since their only real goal is control of Congress, they have every interest in preventing a strong recovery.
Back in the Senate, one of those who objects most vocally to the extension is Senator Rand "Crybaby" Paul (R/KY), in whose bizarre, Ayn Randian vision of the world, those benefits are preventing the long-term unemployed from finding work. On Sunday's This Week, he said of unemployment insurance, "I do think, though, that the longer you have it, that it does provide some disincentive to work and that there are many studies that indicate this."
Recently, he tried to cite a specific study that he said proved his point. (He failed to correctly attribute it, but that's some improvement over recent days when, in written works and speechs, he just used material written by others with no attribution whatsoever.) In his op-ed, Paul wrote: "According to a study by Rand Ghayad and William Dickens for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, employers will choose a less-skilled worker who has been unemployed for two months over a worker with more skills who has been unemployed for two years." Because of this, he argues that extending unemployment benefits makes people less employable, so to do so is a "disservice" to the long-term unemployed.
Of Paul's interpretation, Rand Ghayad writes, "But Paul misreads my work to try to back up his argument. He says my paper, which shows that companies don't want to hire people who have been unemployed for more than 6 months, proves his point about long-term benefits (though he confuses it with another paper I authored with William Dickens). How does he figure this? Well, Paul thinks that "extending long-term benefits will only hurt the chances of the unemployed in the job market," because longer benefits will make them choose to stay unemployed longer—at which point firms won't hire them. But just because companies discriminate against the long-term unemployed doesn't mean long-term benefits are to blame. Paul might know that if he read beyond the first line of my paper's abstract."
What Paul doesn't seem to understand (a category that could fill volumes, by this point) is that the long-term unemployed are not, for the most part, sitting at home, living large on the government teat. They are people who were working, and who are now getting a fraction of their former pay, and who are required by law to be looking for work. Those benefits allow them (barely) to keep a roof over their heads and a little food on the table, to put gas in the car so they can make job interviews, and to pound the pavement or send out resumes. They aren't working because where they live, there aren't jobs for them.
North Carolina cut off benefits for their long-term unemployed, and the results are instructive. A small proportion of them took the first job that came along, regardless of how low the wages were. We suppose that's what Paul thinks they all should do, but in some areas there aren't even low-wage jobs available. A much greater proportion of them simply stopped looking. They dropped out of the job market. That makes unemployment figures go down, which looks good--but it results in more people in desperate poverty, more people reliant for longer on other aspects of the safety net, more people going to ERs for medical care they can't pay for, more Americans living without hope for a better tomorrow.
As we pointed out above, when people who don't have much money get some money, they spend it. That has a spillover effect that creates other jobs. So we could let the 1.3 million (and eventually the 4 million) lose their benefits, and we would correspondingly lose jobs, making more people unemployed. Or we could extend those benefits, creating more jobs, which would in turn mean that more people would get paychecks that they'd spend, therefore creating yet more, etc.
Extending benefits is good for the long-term unemployed and their families and the economy as a whole. Rand Paul's preferred ideal is bad for them, and bad for the economy, and bad for America.
Rand Paul, in fact, is bad for America. He's being paid a taxpayer-funded salary to do a job he is unequivocally incapable of doing. On just about every issue that comes before him, he demonstrates a profound lack of understanding, a disinterest in facts, an intellectual laziness unworthy of a sitting United States senator. Just to be clear, we're not saying he's stupid, just that he is immature and purely ideological, refusing to let the real world impact his view of anything in any way. He's one of those who went to Congress with the sole intent of breaking it, and the fact that real Americans suffer as a result is, to him, justifiable collateral damage that helps "prove" his point. And yet, athough he can't do his current job, he's often mentioned as a possible candidate for president. If he is so bad at being a senator, what kind of disaster would he be in the White House? One shudders to think.
This Week in Data Mining
Speaking of Rand Paul, he's riding to the rescue of all Americans by promising to file a class action lawsuit to stop the NSA from gathering metadata on all of us. He hasn't filed the suit yet, and in substance it's little different from another lawsuit that's already underway.
So what does Paul want out of this (besides publicity)? Data.
He's trying to get 10 million Americans to sign on as part of the affected "class." Oddly enough, to do so, people have to go to Paul's campaign website, where, according to The Hill, "The solicitation, which asks for individuals’ names, email addresses and zip codes, also asks for a donation to help 'stop Big Brother from infringing on our Fourth Amendment freedoms.'” And of course, once one has signed up, one will be on his donation mailing list for life, if not longer.
Every politician asks for money, all the time. But it takes a special breed of politician to amass data for a political campaign in the name of an effort to prevent the amassing of data for national security. The name of that breed is shamelessly, flagrantly, cynically hypocritical. Rand Paul, it seems, is of that breed. Good to know.
Will Paul's "lawsuit" ever be filed? Highly unlikely. And why should it be? Isn't Paul a United States senator? Isn't the job of senators to write legislation to fix problems with how government works? Just what does he think his job entails?
Side Note 1: Joining Paul's "legal team" is former Virgina attorney general and losing gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. You know Paul's serious about fighting "big government" when he recruits a guy who fought for the principle that the state should always know exactly who is pregnant the moment said pregnancy occurs, the state must sanction the outcome of said pregnancy, and if the pregnant person should choose to exercise a certain perfectly legal option for any reason, that person should be forced by the state to undergo a medically unnecessary vaginal probe. A true champion of small government, is he.
Side Note 2: We here at TWiA World Headquarters have no doubt that left-leaning politicians and interest groups have promoted online petitions for the same purpose. We do contend, though, that a petition is a vastly different animal than a promised "class action lawsuit" that duplicates one already in the courts and that may never be filed, and that Paul's position as a United States senator gives him the ability to create legislation to address the issue--except that wouldn't come with a new donor list.
This Week in a Different Approach
America is often called the "richest country in the world." In some ways that's true, in other ways it's not. But what is true is that there are other rich countries in which the people enjoy better economic security, less unequal opportunity, and shared prosperity. This University of Arizona professor has some ideas for how we might achieve those things, too.
This Week in Unbridled, Unhinged Paranoia
The US Interior Department just canceled a program intended to recognize conservation efforts along America's rivers. Rivers, one shouldn't need to be reminded, act as the circulatory system for the country, providing water for crops and drinking and industry. Clean rivers have been a focus of conservation efforts since the early 1970s, when we had rivers so polluted they could be set on fire.
According to the Associated Press, "The National Blueways System was created in May 2012 as part of President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The program was voluntary, didn’t include any new regulations, and a designation — bestowed on only two rivers, one of which was dropped last year because of local opposition — brought no additional funding or federal protections."
So we had a program that did nothing but honor the efforts Americans have made to clean up our rivers. Two rivers received National Blueway designation, but one of those, the White River, which flows through Arkansas and Missouri, had its designation revoked after Republican senators and representatives from those states complained. Now the whole program has been killed (though the Connecticut River will maintain--proudly--its National Blueway designation).
What didn't those Republican politicians like about it? Who knows? They claim "This designation occurred without a formal process — no public comment, lack of transparency from the federal government and without the broad support of Arkansans.” But since the designation carried no official weight, didn't cost the states a dime, didn't add any regulations or protections, it's hard to know precisely why they were so adamant that their river not be designated.
One can make an educated guess, though. It hasn't been that long since some Texans worried that making the Alamo a World Heritage site would lead to a UN takeover of it. There are those among us who are still worried that somebody (the UN? the Trilateral Commission? gremlins that exist only in Ron Paul's fevered mind?) is planning to build a superhighway from Mexico to Canada, cutting right through these here United States to do it. The right won't let the Senate ratify the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which doesn't change or affect a single law within the US, but estabish some controls on international arms trade of weapons that "will be used to break humanitarian law, foment genocide or war crimes, abet terrorism or organized crime or slaughter women and children." Some believe Common Core standards (which originated as "pretty much a Republican agenda" regarding education reform and were enthusiastically embraced by Republican governors) are an evil left-wing attempt to indoctrinate students with an "extreme leftist ideology," as Glenn Beck described it. Despite former Senator Bob Dole's heroic appearance on the Senate floor the day of the vote, Republicans blocked ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (a treaty negotiated by President George H.W. Bush), which again would not have changed or affected a single law within the US but would have encouraged other countries to adopt provisions similar to those in our Americans With Disabilities Act, because of misplaced concerns that the treaty threatened our sovereignty. There are still plenty on the right who think Barack Obama's mother, for unknown reasons, traveled from Hawaii to Kenya to give birth to her son--but, knowing in 1961 that by 2008, a mixed-race, black-identifying senator named Barack Hussein Obama would be a shoe-in for the presidency, managed to sneak birth announcements into the Honolulu newspapers.
The right wing has been largely overtaken by wild-eyed conspiracy theorists who don't have any use for facts--in fact, as with most conspiracy theorists, facts that disprove their theories only function, to them, as more evidence, because why would anyone state a fact that disproved a conspiracy theory if not to throw truth-seekers off the trail?
Maybe we're wrong, and that's not why Missouri and Arkansas Republicans objected to the recognition of good works in their states. But we wouldn't bet on it.
This Week in Climate Change
We know anti-intellectualism has been a right-wing hallmark since at least 1952, when Richard Nixon called Adlai Stevenson an "egghead," but really, do they have to embrace it so enthusiastically? Don't the millions of data points that 98% of climatologists use to buttress their certainty that the earth is warming count for anything? Can't science just be science?
This Week in Emerging Scandal
We haven't been talking about the Chris Christie/Fort Lee bridge scandal, because New Jersey is a bit removed from our regular stomping grounds. Also, we've been waiting to see how it plays out before expressing an opinion, because so far, facts have been hard to come by.
Not any more. Emails and text messages have been released showing that--Christie's protestations and mocking to the contrary--his office was directly involved in creating four days of traffic nightmares for Fort Lee, a NJ town whose Democratic mayor had refused to endorse Christie for reelection. According to the Bergen Record: “'Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,' Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: 'Got it.'”
The traffic tie-up appears to have been deliberate revenge. It threatened the lives of citizens by making emergency vehicles unable to get around (and possibly cost one woman her life--at any rate, emergency responses were negatively affected. One woman died, and police response to a report of a missing four-year-old girl was delayed), caused students to sit on buses in gridlock on their first day of school, cost the city in productivity because commuters couldn't get where they were going. In NJ, Christie has a reputation as a bully with a Tony Soprano-like penchant for getting even with those who cross him, and who'll use the power of his elected office to do so. This news is not going to help, and the higher into his office it goes, the more we see how dishonest his every utterance on the subject has been.
The event took place in September 2013. People started complaining right away. The Port Authority wanted to know who was screwing with traffic onto the world's busiest bridge. On December 12, Christie called New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and tried to get him to get his Port Authority appointees to back off from their investigation. Christie blamed a "traffic survey" that didn't actually exist. Then two of his Port Authority appointees, the guys who pulled the trigger on the traffic tie-up, resigned their positions. When the emails and texts went public, Christie released a short, written statement claiming that he had been kept in the dark about the whole thing. So, three questions: If he was really in the dark, why was he so adamant about the "traffic survey" (to which he continued to allude during his press conference this week about the scandal)? And before he was governor, Christie was a prosecutor. In the months that this has been unfolding, was he truly incapable of asking questions and finding out what at least one of his deputy chiefs of staff had been up to? Finally, would a deputy chief of staff even imagine pulling a stunt like this, if it wasn't how things were done in the administration? Christie is badly stung by this scandal, and his presidential ambitions have never looked so dim.
This Week in Health
During the extended health care debate of 2009 (which, every time Republicans complain that the ACA was passed in the dead of night, with no input from Republicans, they're denying ever happened even though it clearly did), elected Republicans were fond of claming that "America has the best health care in the world," so why would we need to change anything?
Answer: we don't.
Not by a wide margin, as these charts show. Look at the one with 102 colored bubbles on it. Those bubbles represent potential years of life lost to various causes in the US compared to other developed countries. Of those 102 bubbles, ten show Americans losing fewer years of life to those causes than the other countries. The rest are even (also very few), and (the vast majority) more.
This Week in Guns
Speaking of rejecting truth, back in October prominent gun journalist Dick Metcalf wrote a piece for Guns & Ammo, a magazine to which he was a longtime contributor whose back-page column was widely read. The piece was called "Let's Talk Limits," and in it, Metcalf stated the obvious: "The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.”
He's right, as one would expect from a man who's taught history at Yale and Cornell.
But rather than accept that simple, undeniable fact, the NRA and the pro-gun death community went berserk. As a result, Metcalf has been fired from the magazine. His popular television show about firearms is off the air. He's received death threats. He's been ostracized by the very community that once embraced him. He describes himself as a "Second Amendment fundamentalist," owns his own shooting range, is never far from a gun. But that's not enough. One can't admit that every constitutional right has limits, although they do. To this crowd, the Second Amendment, alone among those rights specified in the Bill of Rights, is absolute. Any person can own any gun at any time, and carry it anywhere.
This is, of course, an absurd belief. But if you're part of that crowd and you dare to question it, you're not part of the crowd for long.
This Week in How You Can Help
This time, something you can do without spending a nickel. GreaterGood.com collects money from advertisers and distributes it based on clicks in a variety of categories. You can click in whichever categories you're interested in (they offer Hunger, Breast Cancer, Animals, Veterans, Autism, Diabetes, Literacy, and Rainforest). Each click generates a micropayment to a nonprofit charity working in that field, and taken together they generate millions of dollars in donations. To do more, you can shop at Greater Good for various projects, or make additional donations. But you don't have to do either of those things--all you have to do is click, and you've donated to the cause of your choice. If you make it your home page, you'll always be reminded when you log onto the net.
This Week in Bears
The polar vortex that hit much of the country this week made Chicago too cold for polar bears.
Speaking of polar bears, this video of a 2-month-old polar bear trying to take his first steps is officially the most adorable thing in 2014, to date (and yes, it's in Canada, but Canada falls within the purview of TWiA when we want it to. (Thanks to TWiA special bear cuteness correspondent Maryelizabeth Hart for the tip.)