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 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. Especially if they're arguments.
This Week in Un-American Activities
The word "treason" has a specific legal meaning, so we won't apply it here. But we have to say that Sen. Rand Paul (R/KY) came very close to it when he went to a foreign country, met with the head of state there, and used that meeting to criticize both US foreign policy and the elected president of the United States.
There was a time, not so long ago, when partisan politics ended at the water's edge. When a president was overseas, people back home didn't attack him; the goal was to make sure foreign leaders knew that, whatever our political differences, on the world stage the country was in agreement. And when other elected officials went overseas, they didn't try to institute their own private foreign policy, at odds with the nation's declared policies. (Lt. Col. Oliver North broke that one during the Reagan administration, when he provided arms to a declared terrorist state in order to raise money to buy yet more arms for South American terrorists, counter to a law passed by Congress and signed by the president outlawing that specific action. Since then, though, it's happened only rarely.)
But Rand Paul took it upon himself to meet with the president of Guatemala--one of the deadliest countries in the world, and one that's responsible for much of the recent, and dwindling, influx of children seeing asylum in the US. During that meeting, Paul tried to convince the Guatemalan president that US policy is flawed, and that the White House is solely responsible for that border crisis, as if the White House hadn't hardened the border to historic levels, and had created the conditions in Guatemala that made parents fear for their children's lives, and had signed the bill in 2008 that encouraged children from Central American countries to seek asylum here.
For the record, none of those things are true. Paul says during his chat with the Guatemalan president, "I told him, frankly, that I didn’t think the problem was in Guatemala City, but that the problem was in the White House in our country, and that the mess we’ve got at the border is frankly because of the White House’s policies.”
When Paul's freelance foreign policy came under criticism (and appropriately so), Paul's office's response was that he "did in Guatemala what he does every day in the United States--speak the truth. Career politicians and political parties don't get that, but the American people do. If the DNC and the White House don't see that their shredding of the Constitution and abdication of responsibility for securing our border is the problem, they are the only ones,"
The trouble with that defense is that Paul demonstrably did not speak the truth. We've reported on some of the many things Paul doesn't understand about this country and its laws, so perhaps we can grant that it's woeful ignorance at work here--maybe he really doesn't know that undocumented border crossings are at historic lows, or that President Bush was still in office in 2008 when he, not Obama, signed the legislation allowing sped-up refugee status for children from Central America. Paul is not, as we've seen, a man of sparkling intellect. So it's possible--not likely, but possible--that Paul was saying things that he believes to be true, even though objectively they are not true.
But even that is no excuse for his behavior. The Logan Act of 1948 reads as follows, in its entirety:
"Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
"This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects."
Rand Paul has no authority to conduct foreign policy on behalf of this country. He serves on the Senate's Foreign Relations committee, which entitles him to work on foreign policy legislation before it goes to the full Senate. If he wants to introduce legislation that would make his ideas into official US foreign policy, then fine. He's more than welcome to try. But that's a considerably different thing than going to a foreign head of state and trying to undo, on his own, our existing foreign policy.
Paul will probably not be prosecuted under the Logan Act. Obama-haters will probably celebrate his borderline treasonous acts. But Americans who love their country should recognize this clown for what he is--an unprincipled, intellectual featherweight who doesn't know, or care to follow, existing law or longstanding tradition. He's unworthy of the Senate, much less any higher office. If we weren't so concerned for the eyesight of Kentuckians, we'd suggest he go back to his previous career. As it is, we think he should just retire--preferably away from the country he appears to despise so much. Over the weekend, we saw a pickup truck with this statement painted on the rear window: "If you don't love this country, f--- you and get the f--- out." We think the sentiment's a little harsh--there's room to criticize one's country, after all, and to not love aspects of it even when one loves the whole. But for Rand Paul to try to establish his own foreign policy, and to undermine our president to a foreign head of state, is indicative of his contempt for America. He deserves America's contempt in return.
This Week in Climate
Most Americans live near the coasts. Most Americans could regret that choice. A new UN draft report rings warning bells about the effects of climate change--those that are with us now, like reduced grain production and an increase in severe weather events, and those yet to come. As a worst-case scenario, the report postulates that the planet could warm by 8 degrees, raising sea levels (over the course of centuries) by 23 feet. Many of the world's biggest cities would be swamped. People in coastal areas should view Waterworld as a survival text (okay, that might be a bit much). It really is time to stop denying and pretending and start acting. Unfortunately, Republican extremism is still blocking action.
This Week in the Federal Debt
Don't understand the national debt? Scared by the headlines? This 3-minute animation explains what you need to know, putting in into context and reassuring you that although it's something we need to address long-term, at the moment it's not a crisis.
Side Note: The debt and the deficit are two different things, which not every American understands (although TWiA readers are better informed than the general public, so you knew, didn't you?). And the deficit is shrinking, not rising, which most elected Republicans seem not to understand. The most recent CBO projection ticks up a little from its previous projection, mostly because of a shortfall in corporate tax revenues--all those moves corporations make to dodge taxes have a real effect on the American economy--but the deficit itself is still falling, still vastly reduced since President Obama took office. Running a higher deficit right now--borrowing at rates near 0%--would be a boon to the economy, because it would put capital into the economy, stimulating employment and production. Cutting back on borrowing and spending is slowing the recovery. This is Economics 101, but too many elected Republicans refuse to comprehend economics, and instead complain about the rate of government spending (way, way down) and the growing deficit (which doesn't exist outside of their fevered imaginations).
The bandwagon of "inversions," like Burger King appears to be in the midst of--American corporations acquiring foreign companies, then claiming those companies' homes as corporate headquarters, thereby paying taxes to those countries instead of to the US--is much in the news these days. Various proposals have been floated to address the problem, including cutting the corporate tax rate and closing loopholes. The truth is that most big corporations don't pay nearly the statutory 35% rate--GE, for instance, pays a corporate tax rate of 4%. Sweet deal for them, not so sweet for the American taxpayers and the American economy.
As Elizabeth Warren said in 2012, and then President Obama reiterated in a slightly less graceful manner that was immediately ripped from all context by the Romney campaign and the right-wing media, American corporations enjoy many benefits that we all pay for. Their facilities are served by roads and rail lines and air routes that are all taxpayer funded. Their employees were educated in American schools. Their interests are protected by American law enforcement and courts. Products they ship overseas go out of American ports. Our military keeps their overseas operations and shipping lanes safe and open. And so on. When they pay taxes in this country, they're paying back, in a small way, the vast investments our country have made in their success over the decades. Dodging American taxes should not be so easy--we have the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations to thank for that, and both parties are loathe to do anything substantial to change it (although the preeminent Democratic proposal on the table currently would provide a Band-aid, and the preeminent Republican one would make the problem far worse)--and it should not be acceptable.
This Week at the IRS
Okay, now the IRS scandal really will break wide open. A new trove of backed-up emails will prove that the IRS specifically targeted conservative groups for undue harassment, and--wait, what?
Oh. Never mind. Once again, the only scandal is how many taxpayer dollars conservative members of Congress [we're looking at you, Darrel Issa (R/CA)!] have wasted "investigating" a "scandal" that everybody knew within the first few weeks was not remotely a scandal at all.
This Week in the VA
Nobody's likely to say that there aren't problems in the VA medical system. But as with any situation that might hold a whiff of scandal for the current administration, this one might have been blown a bit ouf of proportion.
In related news, the White House has taken steps to improve accessibility to mental health care for veterans, and to help military people get lower mortgage rates when they buy houses.
And in even better news, the number of homeless vets has fallen 33% since 2010. This isn't a typographical or statistical error or a shift in the way data are collected, it's an example of big government looking at a problem and deciding to fix it.
This Week in Gun Safety (Gender-specific Edition)
The active shooter incident on Fort Lee, VA, in which the shooter took her own life, marks the fourth such incident on a military base this year. Pro-gun death enthusiasts will no doubt claim this shows that everybody should go around armed on all military bases, just in case of another such incident. There are, in fact, hundreds of military bases in the country. Three are three too many, but statistically those bases are no more dangerous than any other given location. What this really points to is this: workplace shootings are fairly common, as mass shootings go (not that Fort Lee was a mass shooting--but it could have become one), and many of the people who work on military bases also own or have access to guns. It also renews the call for serious efforts to deal with the rampant suicide rates within the services. The most unique thing about this incident was the gender of the shooter; it's exceedingly rare for women to be involved in workplace shootings.
And which is more dangerous, a child near a gun left unattended under a couch, or a child wielding an Uzi at a shooting range? A new study finds that federal government statistics are likely vastly underreporting unintentional gun deaths of children (70% of which could be avoided with proper storage--unloaded and locked up--and handling of firearms in the home). In 30 states, there is no minimum age for rifle or shotgun ownership. In 21 states, including Arizona, there's no law restricting access to any gun to anyone of any age. If you want to hand your baby girl an AK-47 or buy her a 12 gauge for her first birthday, go right ahead. We're sure the NRA won't disagree.
Side Note: Not gender-specific, but usually when we talk about gun safety, we're talking about how many of our fellow Americans fall victim to it every year. A new study looks at the dollars and cents of gun violence, concluding that it costs er taxpayers about half a billion dollars a year just in medical expenses. The total costs mount much higher than that, though--up to $174 billion, according to this report.
This Week in Torture
Those of us who objected to the George W. Bush administration's willing use of torture did so not just because torture is an abhorrent practice that we believe runs counter to the idea of America and the principles that made us a great nation, but because we feared that the example we set--we, the most decent and righteous country on Earth, the one others look to for guidance--would result in a greater willingness for our enemies to use torture against our citizens. This week, we found out we were right. The terrorists of ISIS are barbaric, and we don't know exactly what they did to journalist James Foley before beheading him. But we do know they waterboarded him and others, using a technique identical to the one we used on prisoners from their region. Is there a cause/effect relationship here? We can't say. But we wish it was a question we didn't even have to ask.
This Week in Arizona
Last week we quoted a candidate for the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction here in TWiA's home state of Arizona, but we didn't name her, because her statement read like the mutterings of someone you'd move away from at the bus stop. Turns out, she won the Republican primary for that race, beating the incumbent, most likely because of racist and offensive anonymous posts he made at various sites online.
Her name is Diane Douglas, and her official campaign website is just as crazy. As her reason for running, she says it's to stop Common Core. According to her home page, "We now clearly understand that a major piece of President Obama’s plan to 'fundamentally change' America is by controlling the education of our children through the federally mandated Common Core Standards (renamed 'Arizona’s' College and Career Ready Standards). Common Core is to education what ObamaCare is to healthcare – top down, one size fits all federal government control."
Almost none of that is factually correct (we left the inner quotation marks where her website put them--around "Arizona's" instead of around the full name of the standards, because she and whoever made her website are just that brainless). Common Core was not federally mandated, nor is it federal government control of education. It's a program generated by state governors who thought that schoolchildren in Florida should know basically the same stuff as those in Oregon. We have a highly mobile society, and it behooves businesses (hence the Chamber of Commerce's enthusiastic support for Common Core) to be able to hire people who have at least a similar educational foundation, regardless of where they're located. It was adopted by most of the states. The Obama administration thought it was a good idea and offered financial incentives to encourage its adoption, but it did not create the program or write the standards or mandate that every state had to follow them. Common Core lays out the basics that every student should know, but leaves it to the states to develop the specific curriculum, choose texts, etc.
We aren't trying to become the education chief of a large state, and we know that. Why doesn't Diane Douglas? We don't know for sure, but there's a hint on the "Common Core AZ" page of her website, where she directs readers to Freedomworks for more information. Freedomworks is a far-right lobbying/propaganda organization, founded in part by David Koch of the infamous K-Bros, dedicated to such noble pursuits as privatizing Social Security, implementing a poor- and middle-class punishing flat tax, gutting public education funding by greatly expanding school voucher programs, and more. It's known for its aggressively right-wing spin on every issue, not for informing the public of basic truths.
Another hint comes from her bio page, on which she demonstrates her disdain for both education and the practice of writing in the English language. Her bio begins, "I began studying the American education system and the federal government’s ever increasing intrusion into our local control since the early 1990s. I did it on my own, for my own edification rather than through a college of 'education' in order to add letters after my name."
There were plenty of other races in Arizona's primary, some of them more important overall than this one (we're delighted to report that the state's Attorney General, admitted felon Tom Horne, lost his bid for reelection despite the endorsement of America's Most Corrupt Sheriff), but none that so easily illustrate the dangers of voting for ideology over intelligence (and the sad irony of picking a willfully ignorant person to oversee a state's educational efforts).
Side Note: Public education isn't just in danger from expanded school voucher programs, but from charter schools, which operate without many of the restrictions and oversight of public schools, and can therefore get away with ripping off taxpaying Americans while shortchanging students. Not every charter school is guilty of these abuses, but too many are. Before we take money from public classrooms we should make sure charter schools--if they're allowed at all--are using the funding they receive in ways that benefit students, not administrators and their cronies. And Ms. Douglas should understand--if she's capabale--that Arizona charters aren't exempt from these practices.
This Week in Louisiana
Speaking of Common Core, how serious is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) about his suit against the Obama administration over it? Answer: Not at all. His suit claims the administration overreached its authority and tried to force states to accept Common Core by offering financial incentives to do so. Which doesn't explain why his own administration applied to the federal government to claim those same incentives. If it's overreach now, it was overreach then--unless, of course, Jindal's problem is not Common Core itself, but the fact that the far-right voters he wants behind him in 2016 have decided they hate the program. Jindal's pandering, not acting out of principle, and it's an ugly sight.
This Week in Georgia
And speaking of the willfully ignorant, far-right pastor and tea party darling Jody Hice will probably be elected to Congress this year, given the deep red district he's running in. Hice claims to be a "Constitutional conservative" and says "I have one plan: the Constitution. If we were following this document we wouldn’t have the problems that we’re facing today."
Setting aside the fact that the Founding Fathers couldn't have known what kinds of problems we would face today and therefore didn't address many of them, and the fact that Constitution-loving tea party types frequently misunderstand the Constitution, seemingly forgetting that it established the strong federal government they so object to, Mr. Hice's understanding of American history seems to be a bit rocky. He just loves, for instance, to post quotations from the Founding Fathers that seem to support his far-right views. Trouble is, they're often bogus, and he doesn't seem to know the difference.
Perhaps the most telling is one Hice attributes to Patrick Henry: "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.” Patrick Henry never said that. He did make similar statements, though--when speaking against the adoption of the Constitution, out of fears that it gave the federal government too much power. He might have been an original tea party member, except that at least he was speaking before the Constitution was made law, not misinterpreting it hundreds of years later under the pretext of loving it. It might behoove other "Constitutional conservatives" to read the document every once in a while.
This Week in Pennsylvania
Pennsylania's Republican governor, Tom Corbett, struggling badly in his reelection effort (the latest polling finds him 25 points behind his Democratic opponent, which would be a crushing defeat for a sitting governor) has agreed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Think that's a coincidence? This shows how much the issue has turned around--Republicans thought they could hammer Democrats with Obamacare, but instead Democrats are doing the hammering, and Republican governors who have embraced it are polling better than those who haven't.
This Week in Just Not Getting It
One of deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy's sons has pulled his five children from their various schools, because they're not allowed to carry knives there. It sounds like the son is bent on making sure his kids are just as ignorant as the old man is.
This Week in How You Can Help
Pilots N Paws is an organization of volunteer pilots, flying their own airplanes, who transport rescue and injured animals to wherever they need to go to find a home or be treated for medical issues (see the second bear story, below). Although the pilots donate their time and their skills, there are still plenty of expenses. Help out if you can.
This Week in Bears
Badly burned in Washington state's largest wildfire in history, this bear cub turns to humans for help, and gets it.