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 Lazy
According to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R/OH), the long-term unemployed aren't working because of "this idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, I really don't have to work. I don't really want to do this. I think I'd rather just sit around. This is a very sick idea for our country."
John Boehner couldn't be more wrong. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman points out, "Only 26 percent of jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades. The total value of unemployment benefits is less than 0.25 percent of G.D.P., half what it was in 2003, when the unemployment rate was roughly the same as it is now. It’s not hyperbole to say that America has abandoned its out-of-work citizens."
The long-term unemployed aren't making a comfortable living sitting at home collecting welfare that doesn't exist. They're not working because they can't get jobs. Krugman tries to figure out where the idea that they're a bunch of lazy welfare bums comes from, and this is as close as he can get:
"My guess, however, is that it’s mainly about the closed information loop of the modern right. In a nation where the Republican base gets what it thinks are facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where the party’s elite gets what it imagines to be policy analysis from the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation, the right lives in its own intellectual universe, aware of neither the reality of unemployment nor what life is like for the jobless. You might think that personal experience — almost everyone has acquaintances or relatives who can’t find work — would still break through, but apparently not."
Rep. Paul Ryan (R/WI), meanwhile, has been struggling to change the image of the Republican Party when it comes to poverty, and comments like Boehner's don't help that effort. (Incidentally, Ryan has math issues of his own. Serious math issues, as Jonathan Chait descibes: "So, let us review. Obama enacted policies to increase revenue and slow health-care inflation, over the staunch and often hysterical opposition of Ryan, who insisted that budget forecasts showing that Obama’s proposals would reduce the deficit were wrong. The deficit has in fact fallen very fast. Ryan’s response is to deny that any of this has happened, to castigate Obama for failing to reduce the deficit, and to propose new measures that would increase it. And he wants everybody to ignore the budget forecasters because their numbers won’t bear out his claims." And Ryan is the right wing's idea of a numbers wonk.)
This Week in Inequality
Since the Reagan administration, the rich have taken a bigger and bigger chunk of every economic expansion the country has enjoyed. That's left a smaller and smaller piece for the other 90% of us, to the point that in this expansion, the 90% are for the first time in negative territory. Although our economy is growing at a rate not seen for 8 years, the rich are taking it all, and then some, which means our income is shrinking while theirs balloons.
On Sunday, more than 300,000 people marched in support of action against climate change. The UN is holding a major summit on the topic this week. The science is settled--what's needed now is the political will to do something. Hundreds of thousands of people in the streets can't hurt.
On Tuesday, President Obama spoke at the United Nations, describing necessary actions in no uncertain terms:
“Today, I am here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say we have begun to do something about it….but let me be honest, none of this is without controversy. In each of our countries, there will be interests that will be resistant to action. And in each country, there is a suspicion that if we act and other countries don’t, that we will be at an economic disadvantage. But we have to lead…
“Yes, this is hard. But there should be no question that the United States of America is stepping up to the plate. We recognize our role in creating this problem. We embrace our responsibility to combat it. We will do our part. And we will help developing nations do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation, developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.”
As Greg Sargent points out in the Washington Post, the president has already acted in many ways, to the extent that he can without Congress's cooperation. But if the nation elects a Republican Senate in November, even those efforts will likely be rolled back. It's hard to understand why politicians from that party are so opposed to doing what's necessary to try to protect the health of the world's ecosystems and populations and of our own economy, so threatened by the effects of climate change. Yet, they pretend it doesn't exist, pretend the science isn't real, and imagine that trying to solve the problem is more expensive than dealing with the consequences. Their shortsightenedness could prove very costly indeed.
This Week in ISIS
Senator Ted Cruz (R/TX) is supposed to be a smart guy. That's what we're told, anyway. But when it comes to ISIS, at least, he's all over the map. His policy recommendations range from the contradictory to the inane. He's most worried about ISIS coming into the US through Mexico, which is absurd--did Al Qaeda ever do that? Did the Fort Hood shooter or the Boston Marathon bombers--perpetrators of the worst Muslim terror attacks in the US since 9/11? Of course not. (And no, the object found very near TWiA World Headquarters was not an ISIS terrorist's prayer rug, but a soccer jersey. Calm down, Breitbart, you pathetic fool.)
But Cruz thinks we should waste resources countering a nonexistent threat, while at the same time taking a confused and unworkable approach in Iraq and Syria. He seems not to know that most of ISIS's victims are Muslims, not Christians, or else he just doesn't care. He asks the opinions of generals, then disagrees publicly with what they say and offers his own uninformed prescriptions instead.
Perhaps most discouraging for the long-range viability of American action against ISIS--and the general intellectual quality of Americans overall--despite Cruz's nonsensical flailing, "With his combination of military interventionism and diplomatic isolationism, Cruz probably better reflects the views of GOP voters than any of his potential 2016 rivals."
That's truly sad and scary.
Side Note 3: The previous administration refused to budget for the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Will this one follow suit, or will the war against ISIS and Khorasan and whoever else is out there be paid for?
Side Note 4: Former VP and Iraq War architect Dick Cheney--who should never again be listened to by rational human beings because he is "Former VP and Iraq War architect," therefore one of the people most to blame for the costly fiasco that war became, and for its aftermath, which includes the creation of ISIS--was "stunned" and outraged by President Obama's UN speech on the necessity of action against ISIS. Predictably, the right wing of the country--who we guess doesn't fall under the "rational human beings" label, is sharing and spreading Cheney's nonsensical outrage. Washington Monthly's Ed Kilgore might have said it best: "Cheney’s assertion is perhaps the most willfully stupid thing I’ve heard in years." Maddowblog's Steve Benen describes why it's stupid, and how Cheney apparently missed its whole point.
This Week in Health Care
In yet another indication that the Affordable Care Act's "death spiral" was a fiction created by opponents of the law, instead of the predicted insurance companies bailing out of the system, they're clamoring to get in. A reported 25% more companies plan to offer insurance through the exchanges in 2015. They're looking at the new system and seeing one that works. Hospitals had $5.7 billion less in uncompensated costs this year, mostly in states that embraced the ACA's Medicaid expansion. And thanks to the ACA, the number of uninsured adults in the country has fallen by 26% in the program's first year. That should be good news to every American. Trouble is, people who get their "news" from outlets like Fox and the Heritage Foundation don't know about this good news--they only get stories cherry-picked and twisted to look like bad news. When one side of the political divide doesn't know what's really going on in the country, that's bad news for rational decision-making.
Side Note 1: Coke and Pepsi allow that maybe soda isnt great for your health.
This Week in Gun Safety
Guns kill Americans every day. A new study of more than a decade's worth of statistics shows that guns kill black Americans at more than twice the rate they do white Americans. In some areas, it's far worse than that.
As a possibly unnecessary reminder, the most extensive study ever performed shows that where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths, even though violent crime overall declined during the period studied. When people have firearms, they tend to use them. When people use guns, people die.
A new FBI study of active shooter incidents from 2000-2013 shows that trends we report on here with some reqularity have continued. After the expiration of the assault weapons ban in 2004, the number of incidents and the number of casualties both rose dramatically. There were an average of 6.4 incidents a year between 2000-2006, and 16.4 a year from 2007-2013. That's one every three weeks. It doesn't just seem like there have been more active shooters lately--there really have been. And none of the incidents studied here-zero--ended because an armed civilian intervened (there was one such intervention in 2014, but that's exceedingly rare, despite what the pro-gun death advocates at the NRA tell us). The Bureau's Active Shooter website is a good clearinghouse for information on the topic.
(Thanks to TWiA special law enforcement correspondent Marcy Rockwell for the tip.)
In other gun-related news, a man with a concealed carry permit shot a family's dog during a 5-year-old girl's birthday party, and pointed his gun at human beings who gathered around the dog. He declared he was in the right, because he had a concealed carry permit. The shooter had reportedly complained previously about the dog's barking.
And in an Ohio Walmart, two men threatened to shoot store employees because they weren't able to buy a gun there. In a shocking twist, one of the men was intoxicated. Or is the shocking twist that only one of the men was intoxicated?
This Week in What Went Wrong?
On Friday, after our deadline, Omar J. Gonzalez jumped the White House fence, and wasn't caught until he had entered a door of the White House near the First Family's residence. Secret Service agents and dogs didn't reach him before he reached the building. Gonzalez was carrying a knife: in his car authorities found 800 rounds of ammunition, a machete, and two hatchets. In July, he was stopped in Virginia and found to have 11 guns and a map showing the location of the White House in his car. In August, he was stopped at the White House fence with a hatchet in the waistband of his pants. Gonzalez is reportedly suffering from PTSD and possibly other mental issues.
Fence jumpers have become almost commonplace during this president's administration. He also is the president who is most hated, during modern times--and many of those who hate him are armed. It's a bad combination. The American president has been well protected since 1963, but as evidenced by the shooting of President Reagan, sometimes all that security isn't enough. We're glad Gonzales was caught, but not that he got so far.
This Week in Change
Attorney General Eric Holder is resigning. There haven't been many attorneys general in US history with so high a profile or so deep an impact. He's fought to protect voting rights, to end disenfranchisement of felons who have done their time, to reduce America's prison population, and more. Here are some of his major accomplishments, for good and ill.
Side Note: A little remembered facet of Holder's career is that he was the man tapped by President George W. Bush to run the DOJ while Bush's AG, singin' John Ashcroft, was being confirmed. During that time, the department had to deal with the fallout from the NYPD's shooting of the unarmed Amadou Diallo--41 times [which inspired the Bruce Springsteen classic "American Skin (41 Shots)"]. Don't say TWiA never learned you nothin'.
This Week in Pseudo-scandal
President Obama "saluted" Marines while holding a coffee cup, an act that sent the right wing into paroxsysms of rage. Their fury was such that they forgot that President Bush "saluted" Marines while holding a dog. They forgot that the most recent general to also serve as president, Dwight Eisenhower, didn't salute after he stopped being a general, because saluting is a military practice, and at that point he was no longer military. They forgot that the custom of a president saluting the Marines who guard his aircraft only originated with President Reagan, whose military service was performed in Hollywood (and didn't involve liberating any concentration camps, as he repeatedly claimed--he never served outside the US).
So why all the fuss? Why are Republicans already raising money off the "scandal?" Because it's President Obama we're talking about. Other presidents have failed to salute, or saluted casually, and it's by no means a requirement anyway. But then, Obama gets grief for doing most of what other presidents do--appearing in the Oval Office without a suit, putting his feet on the desk, playing golf, etc. Democrats don't fly into fits of red-faced outrage when Republicans do it. But today's Republicans will grab at any opportunity to criticize this president, even when it means showing themselves as giant hypocrites.
This Week in Authentic Scandal
Rep. Tom Cotton (R/AR), who's running for a Senate seat this year against incumbent Mark Pryor (D/AR), is airing a TV ad that tells the complete opposite of the truth. Cotton voted against the most recent Farm Bill, upon which a lot of Arkansas farmers rely. All three of the other members of Congress from the state--all Republicans--voted in favor of it. But not Cotton.
Now that he's running in a statewide election, he's hard-pressed to explain why he tried to kill the bill, so he made up a lie. In the ad, Cotton says, “When President Obama hijacked the Farm Bill, and turned it into a food-stamp bill, with billions more in spending, I voted, ‘No.’”
That's not even remotely what happened. Food stamp funding has been in the Farm Bill since 1973. President Obama was born in 1961. We here at TWiA World Headquarters find it highly unlikely that 12-year-old Barack hijacked the Farm Bill. The bill didn't originate in the White House--in fact, it originated in the Republican-led House of Representatives, as all spending bills do; the Senate passed its own version, and the two bodies worked out a deal. The president was never involved. And the compromise Farm Bill that finally passed both chambers of Congress cut federal spending by $23 billion--hardly "billions more."
Every professional political fact-checker called him out on it. He knows he's lying. And he's doubling down on the lie. “We’ve gotten such great feedback from farmers, taxpayers, and supporters that we’re actually going to increase the size of the ad buy,” said David Ray, a spokesman for the Cotton campaign. Even knowing he's been caught in a lie, Cotton claims to be "proud" of the ad.
This is where we've come. With "news" sources that repeat blatant falsehoods because they support a particular political agenda, and two years after the single most dishonest major-party presidential candidate in our lifetime told lie after lie after lie and kept telling them, even when he was called out, because he knew people who get their information only from those biased sources would never know, we have a Senate candidate who's "proud" to be lying to the people whose votes he's seeking. And his party isn't telling him to knock it off, because they'd rather win than endorse honesty.
Is the Republican Party so far removed from reality and decency that they and their voters just don't care what's true and what's not? If Cotton wins his race, that's the message it will send.
Side Note 1: That Republican presidential candidate just might be back in 2016. If so, will he have decided that it was his constant, unabashed mendacity that cost him the race? Or will he decide that he just didn't lie enough? Only time will tell.
Side Note 2: Speaking of dishonest to the core, meet tea party group Americans for Prosperity, going out of their way to deceive North Carolina voters.
This Week in Republicans
Who is America's worst Republican? According to this piece, it's Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is on the re-election campaign committee of Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts (R) (who does not, in fact, reside in Kansas) and is using, abusing, and twisting the power of his office, trying to do everything he can to make sure Roberts wins. It's a sorry display.
But a new ad campaign and website reminds us that Republicans are people, too, and they have feelings. Our feeling? Of course they are. But if you need an ad campaign to get that across, chances are there's a problem with your brand--and that problem starts with policy, not marketing. This timeline from the Southern Poverty Law Center illustrates how many of the issues that mainstream conservatism has embraced over the past several years have their roots in racist, anti-government activism that, at its most extreme, leads to murder and terrorism. Most Americans, including Republicans, find those things abhorrent. But if Republicans really want us to remember that they're people with feelings, they should take their party and their movement back from those extremists. A party that has moved in 20 years from President George H.W. Bush signing the uncontroversial, nonbinding Agenda 21 sustainability document to officially branding that document a sinister plot to impose "socialist/communist redistribution of wealth" on the country is a party that has lurched too far toward the crazy.
This Week in Dumb Ideas
The US Forest Service is hurting for money. Firefighting costs are increasingly eating up huge chunks of their budget, in large part thanks to climate change. But making us pay $1500 to snap a few pictures on public lands--lands that, by definition, we all own jointly--is not the way to make up the shortfall. They're accepting public comments until November 3. Let them know what you think.
This Week in Bears
Max the dachshund survived a bear attack--twice.
Also, panda sneakers...