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 Hostages
We're getting closer and closer to the debt ceiling again--we run up against it on Feb. 27--and up until almost the very last minute, House Republicans were still determined to hold the full faith and credit of the United States of America hostage, for a ransom payment they still couldn't agree on.
The final iteration was House Speaker John Boehner's (R/OH) plan to exchange raising the debt ceiling for a repeal of cuts to military retirement pay that were part of the Bipartisan Budget Act passed just weeks ago. Just so we're all straight on this, House Republicans are concerned that raising the debt ceiling increases the deficit (it doesn't), so their final plan was to increase government spending by $6 or $7 billion.
Of course, some House Republicans wouldn't go along with that plan, because it still raised the debt ceiling, and they are inexplicably unwilling to pay the bills they themselves ran up. Meanwhile, the Senate has already passed a bill, 94-0, that rolls back those military retirement cuts, and is unrelated to the debt ceiling. The House was scheduled to take a two-week break from their busy schedule of passing repeal-Affordable Care Act votes on Wednesday, so they had to act; otherwise, by the time they got back to work we'd be right up against the debt ceiling. Finally, when he couldn't muster the votes for his plan, Speaker Boehner announced that he would bring a clean bill to the floor, to just pass it as every Congress did before.
Unsurprisingly, as soon as he made that announcement, Senator Ted Cruz's (R/TX) friends in the Senate Conservatives Fund--you know, one of the groups that pushed the hardest to shut down the government--and the equally right-wing and ill-named Club For Growth, called for Boehner's ouster as Speaker. Which only goes to show how little these people understand about the functions of government. The shutdown was a terrible idea; defaulting on the debt would have been catastrophically worse. It's not often that we here at TWiA World Headquarters feel compelled to defend Speaker Boehner, but in this case, he was being a responsible adult, and Ted Cruz and the groups having temper tantrums were proving that they don't have the nation's best interests at heart.
Boehner managed to corral 28 members of his caucus to join all the Democrats except two in passing the clean extension, until March of 2015. That left it in the Senate's hands, and on Wednesday they brought it to the floor. Cruz filibustered the bill in the Senate, forcing a 60-vote threshhold for passage. But that vote passed 67-31, and the final bill passed 55-43. Catastrophe averted. With any luck, this experience will lead us back to the days when the nation's bills were paid without a fuss. Some members of Congress always cast protest votes, but both sides understood the necessity of living up to the oath of office they took to uphold the Constitution.
Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R/KY) took some flack from the right wing for pushing the legislation through, but the fact is they had to do it. And in doing it, they saved their party from considerable grief. The shutdown was bad for the country, but it was really bad for the popularity of the Republican Party. With the help of a disastrous Affordable Care Act rollout, they've managed to claw their way back to being only as unpopular as head lice, but causing a default, with the resulting interest rate hikes, stock market crash, and everything else that might have flowed from it, would have put them right back in the toilet. By avoiding default, they upset some of their right wing base, and McConnell perhaps jeopardized his seat since he has a strong candidate running on his right [in the state foolish enough to have elected Rand Paul (R/KY) to the Senate], but they saved the party from embarrassment and allowed it to keep its focus on trying to destroy the ACA. Running against the increasingly popular ACA might help them pick up a few seats in November, and it's surely a better strategy than being the party that tanked the recovery by defaulting on the debt.
Doing the right thing for the country also meant doing the right thing for their party. It's nice when things work out that way. One can only hope those on the right-wing fringe recognize their good fortune.
This Week in Austria
Believe it or not, there was a time when Republicans and Democrats all agreed that John Maynard Keynes was essentially right about economics. That was after government involvement had helped get us out of the Great Depression and through World War II.
According to E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post, "Postwar Keynesian approaches, including the Marshall Plan, let loose an economic juggernaut across the Western world. Secular and Christian parties of the moderate right and social democratic parties of the moderate left created free societies and regulated market economies that delivered the goods — literally as well as figuratively — to tens of millions."
The trouble is, we're now stuck with a Republican party that has foresworn Keynesian economics--the kind of economics that works--and embraced a very different approach, the Austrian one favored by people like former congressman and perennial presidential candidate Ron Paul (R/TX). In that world view, government involvement in the marketplace always leads to totalitarianism; therefore, government involvment is necessarily bad.
There is, of course, zero historical precedent to support that opinion, while world history since the 1940s backs up the Keynesian view. Nevertheless, with Republicans controlling one chamber of Congress and clinging to an unproven theory of economics that refuses to let them, for instance, invest in infrastructure or research or anything else, government is essentially gridlocked. It promises to remain so until the Republican party regains economic sanity. From the looks of things, that might take a while.
This Week in Plagiarism
Speaking of the Paul family, the trouble with trying to predict the future is that sometimes you get it wrong. We here at TWiA World Headquarters freely admit that we didn't expect Senator Rand Paul to ever file the lawsuit over NSA surveillance that he had promised. After all, instead of gathering petition names on his official Senate site, or some other website set up specifically for that purpose, he did it on his campaign website--allowing him to add all those names to the campaign mailing list he intends to use when he runs for president. And given the fact that he is a United State senator, if he has a problem with how things work in government, he has a much more natural platform from which to try to change it than starting an internet petition. (He has not, however, proven very adept at his job. Paul has been a US Senator since 2011. The author of this blog has never been elected to the Senate, yet has introduced the same number of bills that became law as Senator Paul has.)
But we were wrong. He did file the lawsuit (along with phony "grassroots" organization Freedomworks). He got 186,000 names for his campaign--we mean, for his petition--and he claims that those people actually represent millions. To serve as legal counsel, he hired scandal-tinged losing Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli.
But this is Rand Paul we're talking about, so problems immediately arose. Paul had hired a well-known constitutional lawyer named Bruce Fein, who served in Reagan's White House, to draft the lawsuit. But before actually filing it, he fired Fein and hired Cuccinelli, who isn't even a member of the bar in Washington DC, where the suit was filed.
More typically still, Paul and Cuccinelli used language from Fein's draft (for which Fein claims he still hasn't been fully compensated) after removing Fein's name from it. According to the Washington Post, Fein's wife and spokesperson says, "'I am aghast and shocked by Ken Cuccinelli’s behavior and his absolute knowledge that this entire complaint was the work product, intellectual property and legal genius of Bruce Fein. Ken Cuccinelli stole the suit,' she said, adding that Paul, who 'already has one plagiarism issue, now has a lawyer who just takes another lawyer’s work product.'”
At the end of the Post's piece is a note saying that Paul had planned a conference call with reporters for Wednesday afternoon. He canceled it.
Senator Paul obviously has a continuing problem understanding that the work of other people does not automatically belong to him. But then, the things he doesn't understand comprise a very, very long list.
Side Note: Rand Paul's creepy obsession with former President Bill Clinton's sex life is now so overt that even Karl Rove is calling on him to knock it off. Paul is trying to defuse the issue of the Republican "war on women" by focusing on the misbehavior of a single individual. But the war on women has to do with economic and health issues about which Paul will do nothing. He doesn't support the concept of a minimum wage, much less any legislation that ensures pay equity or creates jobs for the unemployed, and he wants to repeal the ACA, which among other things, makes it illegal for insurance companies to charge women higher premiums simply because they are women. He voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. How Clinton might have behaved has nothing to do with it, and Paul's transparent attempt to distract from the real issues is doomed to fail.
Paul keeps referring to Clinton as a "sexual predator," but during the same years that Clinton's "predation" was taking place, former presidential candidate Herman Cain had troubles of his own. Multiple allegations of sexual harassment by Mr. Cain were made back when he ran the National Restaurant Association during the 1990s. So naturally, when those claims were revived during the 2012 primary season, Paul thought his 20-year-old behavior was fair game, right?
Actually, not so much.
The piece linked above also features Paul complaining "There are people now who hesitate to tell a joke to a woman in the workplace, any kind of joke, because it could be interpreted incorrectly. I don’t. I’m very cautious.” In the interests of fairness and accuracy, we should note that Paul's idea of a joke includes tying a woman up and leaving her in a creek. Not joking about tying her up and leaving her in a creek--literally doing that to a woman. He's one funny jokester.
This Week in Unemployment
What do the long-term unemployed do when unemployment benefits run out? Whatever they can.
"Lillian Humphrey of Baltimore has resorted to selling baby toys that her 1-year-old great-grandson has outgrown, asking $10 or $15 on Craigslist. It is the only money she has coming in these days. But there is still plenty of money going out the door — for her mortgage, gas and electric bills and for her osteoporosis medication. Humphrey was laid off from a photography company a year ago. That job paid less than she had made for the previous 40 years working at an insurance company and at a warehousing business. Now, she is hoping to find a position that pays at least $10 an hour. But she has had no luck."
This Week in Blatantly Unconstitutional
Lawmakers in Arizona, the home state of TWiA World Headquarters, seem to have trouble understanding some of the most basic principles of the Constitution of the United States. A new bill in the state Senate would make it a crime for any federal agent to operate in the state without prior permission from the sheriff of whatever county that agent is in at the time. Putting aside the obvious fact that sometimes federal agents are in the state because county sheriffs are hopelessly corrupt, federal law enforcement agents have jurisdiction in every state, whether local sheriffs want them there or not. A bill passed by the Arizona legislature won't change federal law, and federal law trumps state law.
And an Arizona house bill would make it illegal for any "person in the state illegally" to use any public facility, including sidewalks, roads, parks, restrooms, public transportation, etc. That person's car could be seized if it were being driven on a public road. One hesitates to ask what might be seized if that person were using a public restroom. Children of the undocumented would be forbidden from attending school. And the accused individual would forfeit the right to present a defense. (Thanks to special TWiA legal correspondent Maryelizabeth Hart for the tip.)
Keep in mind that anyone in the state illegally is already breaking the law. Keep in mind, too, that the state is perpetually broke, because state legislators never found a tax they didn't want to cut. The costs of enforcing this law, of bringing the "criminals" to trial, and of incarcerating them (particularly in the for-profit private prisons the legislature is so fond of) would far, far outweigh the current approach, which is to deport those here illegally. This bill would ratchet up state spending by uncounted billions, without having the slightest positive impact on the state, economically or otherwise.
Neither of these bills are likely to pass, and if they did, they would probably face Gov. Jan Brewer's veto pen. If by some chance they became law, they would immediately be challenged on Constitutional grounds. Arizona taxpayers would be on the hook to defend the indefensible, perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court. Again, the costs would be vastly greater than any perceived benefits.
The Arizona state legislature needs some lessons in the US Constitution, or at least to watch a few episodes of Schoolhouse Rock.
This Week in Gun Safety
From South Carolina newspaper The State: "S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday that she backs a proposal that would make it legal for most South Carolinians to carry guns – concealed or in the open – without a permit or the training that the state currently requires."
Why does she think it's a good idea for untrained, unpermitted people to carry a gun at any time? "Criminals are dangerous."
Message to the governor: people carrying guns they don't know how to use are really dangerous.
This Week in Twitter
Senator Cory Booker (D/NJ) shows how to disarm critics on Twitter.
This Week in RIP
Friend of TWiA Leonard Knight, with whom we visited several times at his life-consuming folk art project/religious expression Salvation Mountain. Leonard was a remarkable man with a single, driving passion.
This Week in How You Can Help
Ordinarily this feature promotes some worthy charitable effort that benefits people. This week, because TWiA is bear-friendly, we have one that promotes bears. Check out Hauser Bears and help if you can.
This Week in Bears
You can help name the world's most adorable polar bear cub. What are you waiting for?