Far too much media coverage of politics focuses on the horserace angle--who's ahead, who's behind, who's up or down. It relies on false equivalency: if Politician A says X, then the reporter goes to Politician B, who's sure to say Y. That's lazy journalism, and it doesn't actually inform the public about which position (if any) is actually true, or adheres to the facts as we know them. At TWiA, our mission is to discuss the politics through the prism of policy--to look, in other words, at the real-world implications of the things that politicians say and do, to make connections others might miss, and to explain it all in language a lay person can understand. Also to offer suggestions of how you can help somebody in need, to report on what's awesome, and to keep tabs on bears. If you like TWiA, share or repost or tell a friend, and be sure to leave comments, even if they're arguments. Maybe especially if they're arguments.
This was a busy news week, but we're delighted to report that there's no discussion of missing airplanes anywhere in what follows.
This Week in Principles
No human being's principles are ever entirely consistent. We all shift our stands from time to time, based on new information or changing loyalties or simply our mood on any given day. Lately, the Republican Party has been acting a lot like a person. The difference is, the party has some underlying bedrock positions--or so we thought. When the bedrock is taken away, the foundation crumbles, and it's hard to know where the party stands.
Last week, we discussed Senator Marco Rubio's (R/FL) terror that control of the internet would fall into the hands of the dreaded United Nations, which some conservatives cite the way other folks do the Boogeyman. Here's what he's talking about. The federal government is giving up its role in managing the Domain Name Service (DNS), and shifting that control into the hands of the private sector nonprofit, based in Southern California, that was already doing most of the work. There could be some issues ahead, but a hostile takeover by the UN or foreign dictators is not one of them. (According to this analysis, and this one, by giving up government control we've made it less likely that any other government can step in.) The internet shouldn't be controlled by any individual government, ours included. Republicans are supposed to be in favor of federal government activities being moved to the private sector. In this case, somehow, they're not.
Another core position--or so we believed--is that of states' rights. Recently, Congress cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) budget, though not nearly as much as congressional Republicans wanted to (because preventing hunger = slavery, or something). But eight governors (so far), including one Republican, have started shifting money around in their state budgets to keep working poor folks in their states from going hungry. Instead of applauding this appropriation at the state level of powers that once rested with the federal government, House Speaker John Boehner (R/OH) decried it as "fraud" and "cheating." There's talk among House Republicans of launching a full-scale investigation of this sinister effort to allow the poor to buy food. States' rights are fine, we're left to assume, as long as they don't include helping those who are hurting.
Back on December 28, 2013, unemployment benefits expired for millions of Americans suffering long-term unemployment. By definition, these were people who were laid off from existing jobs, not fired for cause, and who were actively seeking work. The Congressional Budget Office says that extending those benefits would create 200,000-300,000 jobs this year. Still, congressional Republicans have, so far, prevented any effort to extend benefits. Late last week, a bipartisan group of senators, five from each party, came up with a plan that would extend those benefits. The plan would sail through the Senate and earn the president's signature. But House Republicans blocked it, with Rep. Tom Price (R/GA) saying, “The extended unemployment benefits by the Administration were to be in place until unemployment came down. Unemployment is down.”
That's true--it's down from where it was in the depths of the Great Recession, but it's still far too high. Republicans generally agree with that sentiment, even emphasizing it over admitting the progress we've made. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R/WA) said in the official Republican Party response to the president's State of the Union address at the end of January, "Last month, more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one. Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the President’s policies are making people’s lives harder. Republicans have plans to close the gap… Plans that focus on jobs first without more spending, government bailouts, and red tape." In a press conference on March 13, House Speaker John Boehner (R/OH) said, "Well, as you’ve heard me say more than once, the issue is jobs. The American people – there aren’t enough jobs out there, we’re not expanding the economy, wages aren’t increasing, and it’s because of the president’s policies."
Ignore the fact that the president's policies have helped create millions of jobs in the past 5 years, and brought unemployment down considerably. The point is, congressional Republicans are now arguing that unemployment remains at disastrous highs, while at the same time saying that unemployment is plenty low enough. They must believe the latter, since they've obstructed every attempt to create jobs. Where do they stand?
Looking at these flexible principles, one has to wonder if the party's only true bedrock principles are opposition to anything proposed by Democrats, and a determination not to allow the poor to be helped in any way.
Side Note 1: Conservatives often claim love for and fealty to the Constitution. Late last year, when a conservative reality TV star from Louisiana said some offensive and ignorant things about LGBT people and African-Americans, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal leapt to his constituent's defense, arguing that for the company employing said TV star to punish him in any way was a violation of the man's First Amendment rights.
It's important to keep in mind how wrong Jindal was. What the First Amendment says is: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." For a TV company to suspend one of its entertainers is not remotely the same as Congress making a law. There is no involvment of the government in that situation. It's a private company dealing with a personnel issue. Supporting that should also be a bedrock conservative principle.
Three months later, Gov. Jindal is upset by a billboard put up by the progressive activist group MoveOn.org--a billboard meant to call attention to the 242,000 people Jindal is preventing from accessing Medicaid by refusing the federal government's very generous Medicaid expansion offer. Jindal's response to this public criticism is to sue the organization in federal court.
This is also not a First Amendment issue, since again, it's not about Congress making any laws. But a state government taking a private organization to court (federal court, no less) to inhibit that organization's free speech is much, much closer to being a First Amendment issue than A&E's brief suspension of a public embarrassment was.
Jindal's arguments against the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion are, by the way, nonsense, based on false premises about which he should know better. Either out of ideology, political ambition, or both, he's preventing the working poor in his state from fully participating in something that's their right as Americans (and which their tax dollars, along with the rest of ours, are paying for). He's consigning some to unnecessary illness and death because they can't access medical treatment. He's turning away federal dollars that would create tens of thousands of jobs in his state. There's no good reason to reject Medicaid expansion, and every reason to embrace it.
Side Note 2: If you've ever wondered why the Koch brothers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on political advertising attacking the Affordable Care Act (among other things), wonder no more. Sure, they're trying to keep anything from being done about climate change, because their billions come from throwing carbon into the atmosphere. But where does the ACA fit in? As the New York Times reports, "As the group emerges as a dominant force in the 2014 midterm elections, spending up to 10 times as much as any major outside Democratic group so far, officials of the organization say their effort is not confined to hammering away at President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. They are also trying to present the law as a case study in government ineptitude to change the way voters think about the role of government for years to come."
They want people to think government doesn't work. They want small government, because small government won't affect their ability to keep destroying the Earth until they're dead and it doesn't matter anymore. But if there's anybody out there who's not an energy billionaire who thinks the interests of Koch brothers mirror their own--or that the Koch brothers have ever thought for an instant about what's good for them, or good for the country--they're fooling themselves. They don't care about the principle of small government, they only care about increasing their own wealth.
This Week in Health Care
Speaking of the ACA, in the March 13 press conference cited above, Speaker Boehner made another assertion remarkable for its complete lack of any connection to the truth.
Reporter: “Mr. Speaker, you said a minute ago there are fewer people today with health insurance than when the law was passed. I want to make sure I understand. You’re saying that Obamacare has resulted in a net loss of insurance?”
Speaker Boehner: “I believe that to be the case. When you look at the 6 million Americans who have lost their policies and some — they claim 4.2 million people who have signed up — I don’t know how many have actually paid for it — that would indicate to me a net loss of people with health insurance. And I actually do believe that to be the case.”
"I actually do believe that to be the case." If that statement is true, if Boehner really believes the nonsense he's spouting here, then he either needs to beef up his policy staff or go back to third grade for some remedial arithmetic.
The Washington Post fact-checks Boehner's numbers here, and finds that he's off by a significant margin. First, most of those who have lost their policies aren't without insurance, they just changed policies. Even if some of them--maybe a million, to use the most generous estimate--are now uninsured, the most conservative estimates are that 13 or 14 million people who didn't have health insurance do now, thanks to various provisions of the ACA (this excellent piece breaks down the numbers more, in this area and others).
Does Boehner really believe what he's saying? It's hard to tell. He's third in line to the presidency, so one would like to think that he has at least some passing familiarity with reality. But if he knows the truth, then he's lying egregiously. He didn't "misspeak," which is the standard politician's excuse for saying something so incredibly untrue that people can't help but notice. He said it, and he repeated it under questioning. Either he's woefully uninformed, or he's lying through his teeth. There are no other possible explanations.
Side Note: Watch out for those skyrocketing ACA premiums! On second thought, watch out for stories reported without attribution, and which contradict people who were willing to go on the record.
This Week in Voting
The Attorneys General of Arizona and Kansas want to make it harder for people to vote (because Republicans have figured out that the fewer people who vote, the better their candidates do. High turnout = Democratic victories). Now a federal judge has sided with them, allowing them to demand that national elections materials include provisions specific to those two states (costing taxpayers across the nation money to fund the voter-restriction efforts of those states). This ruling will make voter registration drives more difficult, potentially requiring access to a photocopier during the registration process. (As always, when it comes to election law, we turn to Rick Hasen's excellent Election Law Blog for explication.)
Why put the electorate through this? According to this article: "Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, another conservative Republican, said election fraud is a serious problem but that 'a cover-up by the media' has prevented people from knowing the true extent of the problem."
Right. We here at TWiA have been informed by knowledgeable sources that Tom Horne is a serial killer who cooks and eats the organs of his victims. And he's an illegal immigrant from Guatemala. And he cheats at solitaire. Unfortunately, a cover-up by the media has prevented the news from getting out [although word has spread that our state's esteemed AG has a record that includes admitted securities fraud (which was widely reported before his election, and yet he's now the state's top law enforcement official) and probable violations of campaign finance laws].
If election fraud were a problem in Arizona, the Attorney General would have ways to circumvent the media and show the proof. The only fraud here is Tom Horne.
This Week in Defense
If anybody tells you that "President Obama is slashing the size of the Army to pre-WWII levels," they're wrong. Here's what you can tell 'em.
This Week in Predictable
Senator John McCain's (R/AZ) response to President Obama's announced sanctions against Russia, over the Crimea takeover, could have been scripted (and probably was) long before the sanctions were actually detailed. "The president should have said we are going to provide military assistance to Ukraine and that will be in defensive weaponry. But to not do that after this country has lost a large part of its territory due to Russian aggression … it makes me less optimistic about Putin exercising restraint in eastern Ukraine.”
The reaction was predictable, of course, because McCain's response to any problem anywhere in the world is to supply weapons to somebody. He doesn't always know who he wants to arm, but he wants somebody to get some guns. When considering his foreign policy positions, remember that McCain has long been a favorite of the NRA and other weapons advocacy and manufacturing interests. When a senator's pockets are lined by people who stand to profit from the sale of weaponry, and his first response to any foreign crisis is to buy and deliver some weapons, you have to wonder if there's some quid pro quo going on.
Side Note 1: President Obama's sanctions were, of course, pretty much the only thing he could do at the moment and still leave more punitive measures on the table, because he understands that sometimes pressure has to be ratcheted up gradually rather than applied all at once (which he's already started to do). More to the point, anyone who reads enough crime fiction will recognize the approach--hit some of the thugs in the wallet, in the hopes that if you damage them enough they'll turn on the other thugs. Putin and his cronies are nothing if not thugs.
Side Note 2: We understand McCain's reasoning, but we're not sure why consistently wrong pundit Bill Kristol is so eager to keep the drumbeats of war going. Haven't enough people suffered because of his bad judgment?
Side Note 3: Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul thinks criticism of the president misses the mark: "Vladimir Putin invaded and annexed Crimea. Instead of condemning him for this outrageous act, however, some think it is more important to blame President Obama for this tragedy. The analysis is flawed. The historical amnesia is frightening."
This Week in Gun Safety
Some pro-gun death legislators in Georgia are pushing a bill that would dangerously expand the abiity of people to carry firearms into churches, bars, airports, K-12 schools, and some government buildings. Perhaps more egregious still, it would create blanket immunity against gun-related charges for anyone who can use a "Stand Your Ground" defense. In other words, a convicted felon who murders somebody could, by claiming he felt threatened, avoid facing charges for illegally possessing a gun in addition to dodging the murder rap. Since Georgia enacted its SYG law, "justifiable homicides" have increased in that state by 83%. Think how high it could climb under the criminal-coddling provisions of the new law. Georgia's Senate passed the bill this week, so it's now in a conference committee to iron out some small differences between theirs and the House version before heading to the governor for his signature.
In TWiA's home state of Arizona, legislators are trying to pass five pro-gun death bills that would, among other things, make it easier to carry in some government buildings, and harder for cities or counties to pass gun safety laws stricter than those passed by the state. The reason these laws are needed, they say, is that gun rights are "under attack."
What's really under attack are the American people, who are injured and killed by gun violence at a far greater rate than citizens of any other industrialized nation. We've never seen a report of a gun right shot to death; we see Americans dying every day from guns. And yet, too many of our statehouses put gun rights ahead of human lives.
Why? Because there's money in it for the firearms industry. Here's an analysis of how the industry has managed to quash any meaningful government research into gun violence, and how it profits from continued gun violence (at the expense of the rest of us). The industry doesn't care how many lives are lost or what the financial cost to the country is, as long as they keep raking in their profits. And they're aided and abetted by heartless politicians like Georgia state reps Rick Jasperes and Alan Powell, and Arizona state reps Eddie Farnsworth and Justin Pierce--people who demonstrate, by their words and actions, that they literally would rather see you or me or one of their own family members shot to death than see the slightest restriction on their precious guns.
(Thanks to TWiA special firearms correspondent Marcy Rockwell for the Arizona tip.)
Side Note: An interfaith Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath was held over the weekend. Pray that it helps save lives.
This Week in Church
We rarely address religion in TWiA, because we're already talking about politics, and combining those two topics seems certain to get us consigned to the children's table at Thanksgiving dinner. But here's a fascinating piece about why the proclamations of the religious right are so often taken, at least by the media, as being representative of American religious people as a whole--and why that's not true. In large part, it seems to be because those on the right are a more homogenous unit with a similar set of views, so when they want something, Republicans try to deliver. Democrats aren't anti-religious, but their numbers include a much wider variety of faiths, so their faithful seldom speak with one voice. In a related post, Ed Kilgore notes that in a commencement address at Notre Dame, President Obama made the point that "doubt is essential, not inimical, to religious faith," a view that works against making the "God is on our side" argument that's such a staple on the right. The point is, one can be religious without being conservative, and conservative people of faith don't speak for all believers.
Side Note: Speaking of not speaking for all believers, some "creationists" are upset that Fox's new science show Cosmos doesn't include the creationist point of view. Host Neil DeGrasse Tyson points to the word "science" in "science show."
This Week in School
Extremists are attacking America's public school system (which has, we'd argue, produced the best results of any school system in the history of the world) and trying to insert the profit motive into the process of educating our children.
And African-American preschoolers are far more likely to be suspended from school than white preschoolers. And that unequal treatment doesn't end in preschool.
This Week in Data
Back in 2012, it's been reported, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn't bother preparing a concession speech, because the polling he was looking at convinced him that victory was in the bag. Or maybe it wasn't the polling, but the anecdotal "evidence," like that summarized by former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noon in an election-eve post in which she predicted a Romney win: "There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same."
Yeah, she was wrong. So was Governor Romney, and everybody else who was certain he would walk away with it.
We here at TWiA World Headquarters, however, correctly predicted the results in 49 of the 50 states (we admit that we gave Florida to Romney, based on the tightness of the polling there and the historical oddity of Florida elections). Still, we were off by a few electoral votes, but right overall, and far closer than the candidate and a lot of his supporters were.
Why? Because we paid attention to the data, particularly polling data aggregated by Nate Silver of the New York Times's FiveThirtyEight blog, and others like it. The data showed Romney losing, and badly. Had Romney been looking at the real data, he would not have been so stunned when the results came in and the big swing states fell, one by one, into the Obama camp. He still would have lost, but he would have known it was coming.
Since then, Silver has left the NYT and taken his FiveThirtyEight operation to ESPN, where he's been given lots more money and flexibility. Silver is one of America's premiere number crunchers. But he's not just interested in politics. He's interested in data in any number of forms, with any number of applications. His new site will cover politics, but also sports, science, economics, and "life." It went live on Monday of this week, and it will be a regular stop for us. It should be for you, too, if you want to keep up with what's really going on--behind the anecdotes, behind the opinions, in the world of real data and analysis. Here's the site, and here's Silver's description of what it's about.
This Week in Honor
In a moving White House ceremony this week, 24 American Soldiers received the Medal of Honor. Only three of the recipients were alive. Each Soldier exhibited uncommon courage, the kind of valor under fire that most of us could never match. In that way, they are the best of us, and we honor their service and sacrifice.
The living recipients are: Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, Vietnam War; Master Sgt. Jose Rodela, Vietnam War; and Spc. Santiago Erevia, Vietnam War. The rest are: Staff Sgt. Salvador J. Lara, WWII; Pvt. Pedro Cano, WWII; Sgt. Alfred B. Nietzel, WWII; 1st Lt. Donald K. Schwab, WWII; Pfc. William F. Leonard, WWII; Staff Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza, WWII; Pvt. Joe Gandara, WWII; Sgt. Jesus Duran, Vietnam War; Staff Sgt. Felix Conde-Falcon, Vietnam War; Spc. Leonard Alvarado, Vietnam War; Sgt. Candelario Garcia, Vietnam War; Spc. Ardie Copas, Vietnam War; Cpl. Victor H. Espinoza, Korea; Sgt. Juan E. Negron, Korea; Pvt. Miguel Armando “Nando” Vera, Korea; Pfc. Demensio Rivera, Korea; Sgt. Jack Weinstein, Korea; Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz, Korea; Sgt. Eduardo Corral Gomez, Korea; Cpl Joe R. Baldonado, Korea; Master Sgt. Michael C. Pena, Korea. Read their stories here.
Side Note: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R/CA) points out that it's high time we started awarding Medals of Honor to living veterans of the Iraq War. It was a dumb, unnecessary war, but that doesn't mean the Soldiers we sent to fight it didn't perform with courage and honor. Hunter is right, and he offers some suggestions of deserving recipients.
This Week in Transparency
The Obama administration has not to date demonstrated much willingness to become the transparent administration the president promised upon taking office in 2009. According to this comprehensive reporting, government transparency is getting worse instead of better. It's not a good record.
That said, improvement might at last be on the way. The House unanimously passed a bill that would change Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) rules and set up an online portal to expedite FOIA requests. Once any document had been released multiple times, it would have to be posted for anyone to see. The Senate is considering it, and we expect it to pass easily. It's a step in the right direction. Maybe it will even become law soon enough to affect this administration as well as those to come.
This Week in Let It Go, Already
A Phoenix TV anchor mistakenly claimed she was made to submit questions in advance of a brief interview with the president. The right-wing media jumped all over the news. Since then, she has changed/clarified/corrected/retracted her story multiple times. Naturally, the right wing media has noted her corrections and dropped the non-story, right?
Yeah, not so much. Maybe they thought Fox "News" had to submit all its questions in advance, too, and just hadn't bothered to mention it.
This Week in Paranoia
People who refuse to vaccinate their children are, for ridiculous, unscientific reasons, putting us all at risk. (Those people aren't alone--according to this research, half of all Americans believe in medical conspiracy theories.)
Senator Ted Cruz's (R/TX) father doesn't understand how droughts happen.
Speaking of which, this Republican candidate for Senate in North Carolina is afraid of just about everything. He's also known for comparing food stamps to slavery, proving that he doesn't understand slavery, and he's one of the few senatorial candidates that Sen. Rand Paul (R/KY) has already endorsed, proving that Rand Paul doesn't understand sanity.
This Week in How You Can Help
Alzheimer's is a terrible disease that takes far too many of us, and takes us away from our loved ones even before it destroys the body. We here at TWiA World Headquarters have a deeply personal hatred for it. The folks at the Cure Alzheimer's Fund feel the same way. They're a very highly rated charity, and they take no government money, but subsist entirely on private donations. If you can throw a few bucks their way, they'd appreciate it.
This Week in Bears
Always wanted to be a bear? Your chance might be on the way.
Meet Meatball-210. Bears are coming out of hibernation around the country. Treat them with respect.