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 Economics
Republicans like to pretend that they're financial grown-ups, that their economic policies are good for the majority of the people who vote for them. They can get away with these claims because a lot of voters don't really follow the news, or they watch Fox "News" and are therefore poorly informed, or they just vote the way they've always voted and the way their friends and neighbors vote. Conservative economists create convincing-sounding narratives that further persuade them.
But economics are a vague science where a lot of theories compete for space, and it's hard for even experts to sort out what's real. Fortunately, there's something else we can look at--performance. History. We can see, without theory or spin getting in the way, which economic policies work for average Americans and which ones don't.
And the history, the record, is clear. Conservative economic policies are helpful only for the richest among us. For the rest of us, more liberal policies are more effective. This isn't just TWiA's opinion; it's verifiable fact.
But don't take our word for it. Forbes Magazine is no bastion of liberalism, but they say, "Economically, President Obama’s administration has outperformed President Reagan’s in all commonly watched categories. Simultaneously the current administration has reduced the deficit, which skyrocketed under Reagan. Additionally, Obama has reduced federal employment, which grew under Reagan (especially when including military personnel,) and truly delivered a 'smaller government.' Additionally, the current administration has kept inflation low, even during extreme international upheaval, failure of foreign economies (Greece) and a dramatic slowdown in the European economy."
The CEO of Polaris Financial Partners adds, “What’s now clear is that the Obama administration policies have outperformed the Reagan administration policies for job creation and unemployment reduction. Even though Reagan had the benefit of a growing Boomer class to ignite economic growth, while Obama has been forced to deal with a retiring workforce developing special needs. During the eight years preceding Obama there was a net reduction in jobs in America. We now are rapidly moving toward higher, sustainable jobs growth.”
Columnist Leonard Pitts takes it a step further, asking an important question: "If Republican fiscal policies really are the key to prosperity, if the GOP formula of low taxes and little regulation really does unleash economic growth, then why has the country fared better under Democratic presidents than Republican ones and why are red states the poorest states in the country?"
He's right, of course. The blue states typically perform much better than the red states, economically speaking. There are, of course, qualifications, which Pitts addresses. But they don't change the facts on the ground. "As of 2010, according to the Census Bureau, Connecticut, which has not awarded its electoral votes to a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, had a per capita income of $56,000, best in the country, while Mississippi, which hasn’t gone Democrat since 1976, came in at under $32,000 — worst in the country. At the very least, stats like these should call into question GOP claims of superior economic policy."
It's not just economics, of course. Since many red state governors and legislatures refuse to embrace Medicaid expansion, their residents are overall suffering worse health outcomes (though their tax dollars are paying for other people's health care). And people in those states who buy private insurance are paying more for it than people in states that have embraced the Affordable Care Act. Red states tend to have higher infant mortality rates, more violent crime, worse schools, and higher unemployment than their blue counterparts. So what is their selling point for average Americans? Pretty much all they have left is dishonesty, mixed with a heavy dose of pitting Americans against each other--scaring folks with tales of immigrants or gays or union members or some other group coming along to take away our freedoms.
President Obama made a rare, prime time national address this week to talk about his plans for confronting and defeating ISIS (or ISIL, or the Islamic State).
Journalist Bobby Ghosh, an acknowledged expert on a part of the world most Americans know only through headlines and war news, says that the president's calculated approach--as opposed to the "bomb 'em and send in the troops" strategy of his political opponents--has paid important dividends, including allowing us to line up cooperation from important players in the region without whom any kind of victory would be impossible.
In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg reminds us that the president has already accomplished genuinely important goals: "Here are two things that are also true: Obama has become the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency; and his successful push to disarm the Assad regime of the bulk of its chemical-weapons stockpiles has removed from the Middle East, and beyond, the possibility of an unparalleled cataclysm." On the topic of those stockpiles, Goldberg reminds us of a chilling truth: "Just answer the following question: As the U.S. moves closer to open confrontation with ISIS inside Syria, is it a good thing that ISIS, and like-minded groups, and the regime itself, have no access to vast storehouses of chemical agents?"
Steve Benen at the MaddowBlog points out the dichotomy between polling and reality on the question of which party does a better job on national security (and on the economy, the truthful answer to which is above).
"During the Bush/Cheney era, Americans saw the catastrophic events of 9/11, the anthrax attacks, terrorist attacks against U.S. allies, terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an increase on terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts abroad. The Bush/Cheney administration struggled to capture those responsible for 9/11, and launched an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists.
"To this day, Republicans continue to believe the Bush/Cheney approach to national security was wise, responsible, and effective.
"In the Obama era, Americans have seen the bin Laden strike, serious attacks that have been prevented, the decimation of al Qaeda’s senior leadership, and the elimination Syria’s chemical weapons.”
We have a president who's reluctant--thankfully--to get us involved in yet another ground war in the Middle East. We also have a growing terrorist threat created in large measure by the previous war in Iraq. If there's a way to address that threat using primarily local resources and without becoming inextricably embroiled in yet another costly campaign that will only increase resentment against us, we need to take that path. We here at TWiA World Headquarters are glad the president is studying the map instead of simply charging ahead. But we hope there will be careful consideration of the real costs of war, and genuine discussion of whether this is the right war at the right time for the right reasons.
There are, of course, a lot of diverse opinions on the purpose and practicality of going to war against ISIS. Here are a few worth checking out:
David Corn, Mother Jones.
Army Maj. (Ret.) Mike Lyons, Defense One.
George E. Condon Jr., National Journal
Rosa Brooks, Foreign Policy (Brooks points out that if a couple of beheadings are enough to draw us into war, we should long ago have gone to war with Mexican drug cartels, who already operate inside the United States.)
David Ignatius, Washington Post
Side Note 1: Speaking of which, despite the absurd claims of intellectual giants like Governor Rick Perry (R/TX), Senator Rand Paul (R/KY), Senator John McCain (R/AZ), and Senate hopeful Scott Brown (R/NH, this week), there's no evidence whatsoever that ISIS fighters are sneaking across our southern border, or pose a threat to the US at all. 13 years after 9/11/01, Al Qaeda hasn't managed to slip any terrorists across our borders to commit an act of terror. And the southern border, at least, is more secure than it has ever been, with even the summer's flood of Central American children slowing to a trickle. So we could use a little less fearmongering, and a little more honest discussion.
Side Note 2: Since 9/11, jihadists (of the home-grown variety) have killed 21 people in the US, most of those in the single Fort Hood shooting incident. In that time span, right-wing extremists have killed 37 Americans. Who's the bigger threat to the homeland?
This Week in Shameful Partisan Warfare
And speaking of the confluence of the Middle East and the disinformation network popularly known as Fox "News," after seven congressional investigations disproved all the right-wing conspiracy theories about Benghazi, House Republicans are launching yet another one. One member of the panel, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R/GA), showed America where he really stands in a speech this week. "'I think our enemy stands on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,' Westmoreland said to loud applause. Later on, he called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid 'ruthless and senile,' to which the audience erupted with laughter."
So while ISIS is beheading American prisoners, a United States representative running for reelection declares that the president of the United States--not those brutal terrorists--is the enemy. In what was probably an unintentional display of sheer irony, he added, about his Democratic colleagues in Congress, "The electorate has just gotten so partisan that it’s hard for these guys to be bipartisan.”
Westmoreland calls the president our enemy, the Senate majority leader "ruthless and senile," and then says it's the Democrats who are too partisan? Given that, it's hard to take much comfort in his description of the newest nonsensical "investigation" of Benghazi. “This is not a partisan witch hunt. This is to find out the truth and just let us take the facts and let the facts lead us to the truth. So, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
No, Rep. Westmoreland. The truth is already known, and has been for quite some time. There is literally no reason for another investigation except as a partisan witch hunt. And since you've already told us you side with those who want to bring America down, you have no business being part of it, or part of the House of Representatives.
But count on Fox "News" to ramp up its Benghazi coverage again--they love that stuff.
This Week in "Free Speech"
Hoping to draw out debate on a few issues to keep Senate Democrats from forcing votes on more controversial ones, Senate Republicans this week voted to allow debate on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and return to Congress the capability to limit campaign spending. But then, later in the week, Senate Republicans blocked that measure from moving to an up-or-down vote. They never wanted the vote, they just wanted to stall. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R/KY) said, "I have to say it’s a little disconcerting to see the Democrat-led Senate focusing on things like reducing free speech protections for the American people. This is what they chose to make their top legislative priority this week. Taking an eraser to the First Amendment."
We beg to differ, Senator. The First Amendment doesn't say that the rich can have all the freedom of speech they want, silencing the voices of those who aren't rich. If you can find the spot in the First Amendment where it says "money is speech," we'll admit our mistake. But we've been looking for a while now, and we haven't seen it. By making money and speech equivalent, the Supreme Court declared the wealthy more deserving of having their voices heard than the rest of us. Believers in the despicable moral philosophy of Ayn Rand might believe that--the rich, according to that code, are smarter and worthier than the rest of us; therefore, we should shut up and let them run things for their own benefit. But that's not what the First Amendment we love says.
Nice to know, eight weeks out from election day, where McConnell stands, though. He doesn't want any obstacles in the way of his wealthy backers buying his way back into the big office, or the bigger one--Majority Leader--if he can get it. One can only hope that Kentucky voters understand that their senior senator thinks they should be seen but not heard.
This Week in Domestic Violence
The video of former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice knocking out his fiancee, who later became his wife, has been omnipresent this week, and the pitiful response by the Ravens and the NFL much noted. If it spurs a wider understanding of domestic violence, that's good. According to this article about the anti-gun violence group Moms Demand Action, "Every year more than a million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner, and when a gun is present, the likelihood of their being murdered goes up more than fivefold. Women regularly are shot to death even after obtaining court protection orders against their abusers, according to a New York Times investigation last year."
Moms Demand Action has been impressively effective. We hope that continues, and that they keep shining a spotlight on the issue of domestic violence along with their other activities.
This Week in Arizona
Once again, Maricopa County taxpayers are on the hook--this time, for $4.5 million dollars--for a court judgment against America's Most Corrupt Sheriff. The $4.5 mil is just to cover legal fees for the winning side--not Joe Arpaio's--and doesn't include the $1.9 million the county already spent in its unsuccessful attempt to defend the case.
One of the winning attorneys said that Arpaio was given multiple opportunities to settle the case, but he insisted on going to court, where he lost. Attorney Cecilia Wang said, "The sheriff and those who supported his illegal racial-profiling policies knew full well that Congress has provided that a police agency that violates people's Constitutional rights is responsible for paying the cost of bringing suit to enforce basic civil liberties. These fee awards are meant to ensure that agencies do not violate civil rights with impunity."
Meanwhile, a new book by former MCSO Executive Chief Brian Sands alleges that Arpaio made the department slow-walk an internal investigation into the office's mishandling of hundreds of child sex crimes, dropping those cases "with little or no investigation," because he didn't want the results of that investigation reported until after his 2012 reelection. Reporting by the Phoenix CBS station KPHO shows that the investigation was put on hold for the entirety of 2012.
Finally, in a follow-up to a national discussion that's been going on since the days and nights of turbulence in Ferguson, MO, the federal government has dropped the MCSO from its military surplus gear program because Arpaio's office keeps losing things. Like guns. And night vision goggles. And helicopters.
Night vision goggles, we get. How do you lose helicopters?
(Thanks for TWiA special whirlybird correspondent Marcy Rockwell for the tip.)
Side Note: Former Arizona attorney general and current candidate for secretary of state Terry Goddard explains why Arizona is becoming "the Cayman Islands of dark money."
This Week in How You Can Help
This week, of course, brought the 13th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. In the wake of that outrage and tragedy, Americans rallied, as we do, and new charities sprang up by the dozens, then the hundreds. Now only a handful are left. It wouldn't hurt to pick one and toss them a few bucks, if you can.
Also, Senator (and former Newark, NJ superhero mayor) Cory Booker (D/NJ) gave 81% of his 2013 income to charity. We're not suggesting that TWiA readers do the same--unless they can afford to, in which case we'll provide our Paypal address--but props to Sen. Booker.
This Week in Bears
Bears don't know the rules of golf, but they enjoy the game.
And bear cubs lick each other's ears:
(Special thanks to TWiA special putting green correspondent Missy Gunnels Katano for the tip and to special ursine holiday correspondent Marcy Rockwell for the trip.)