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 TWiA's Long Reach
For almost two years, TWiA has been regularly using the above description at the top of these weekly dispatches, alternating with one other (and occasionally none at all). This week, political website Politico announced that Time magazine reporter Michael Grunwald--one of the best Time has, or had--is moving to Politico "as a senior staff writer for POLITICO Magazine and editor-at-large for The Agenda, a new venture that will focus on the intersection of politics and policy, POLITICO Editor Susan Glasser announced on Tuesday" (emphasis ours).
We'll be interested in Mr. Grunwald's venture there because he's a skilled writer and reporter, even though he'll be covering turf we already cover here. And we're glad that Politico editor Susan Glasser has apparently been reading TWiA and likes it enough to swipe our verbiage.
This Week in Voodoo
Last week, we reported on Rep. Paul Ryan's (R/WI) plan to transform the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) from a responsible research organization into a crystal ball-wielding fortune teller trying to divine the future based only on imaginary numbers provided by people who want to see their legislation passed. Also last week, former President George H.W. Bush received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award bestowed upon him for the political bravery he showed in abandoning his "No new taxes" pledge, when it became obvious that a tax increase was necessary to improve a flagging economic situation. That act, and the deficit reduction that followed, paved the way for the Clinton-era budget surpluses (the last time the nation has enjoyed those, by the way). What do these two stories have in common? Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman explains--if Republicans take the Senate, we might have to kiss the CBO's realism goodbye, because the "voodoo economics Bush used to warn us against continue to hold sway over the conservative movement, defying all historical reality." A Republican Congress could force the CBO to adopt Ryan's misguided "dynamic scoring" technique, and objective truth would be a casualty.
Side Note 1: Since we here at TWiA constantly argue in favor of embracing and dealing with reality rather than making national policy based on pretending, we're dismayed to learn that 45% of Americans think the unemployment rate--currently under 6% for the first time in years--is considerably worse than it really is. Granted, there are still too many people out of work, so if that belief made those people support job-creating measures, that wouldn't be a bad thing. But if they're so uninformed, what are the chances that they know what policies really create jobs and which ones don't? These might be the same people who believe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a "job-killer," when in fact the opposite is true. (Reminder: Back in 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that under his policies, we'd get to 6% unemployment by the end of his first four-year term. Good thing we stuck with President Obama and his successful policies, so we could reach 5.9% after only two years.)
Side Note 2: How much have conservative austerity efforts hampered our recovery from recession? Answer: a lot, and maybe more than any of us knew, thanks to the fiscal multiplier we've been writing about here for the last few weeks (which is explained very clearly in this Washington Post piece).
"There might be a worse idea than cutting spending during a depression, but I doubt it.
"The fundamental economic question of the last five years has been a simple one: how much does stimulus work? The answer, according to a new paper by Daniel Riera-Crichton, Carlos Vegh, and Guillermo Vuletin, is much more than we previously thought. And that means austerity has also hurt more than we thought — so much so that it might even be self-defeating.
"That's right: cutting spending in a slump might actually make debt problems worse."
Whether you need a refresher course on fiscal mutipliers or are simply unsure about the value of government spending during an economic downturn, the piece is a must-read.
Side Note 3: For years--since 2009, in fact, when President Obama was elected--Republicans have claimed to be worried about the "exploding deficit." Before that, they didn't care too much about it, but after it became their #1 issue. Some of them are still talking about it on the campaign trail today. The reality is that for fiscal year 2014, it shrank again, to a point that, compared with the economy as a whole (the only real way to look at it is as a percentage of GDP, since just looking at raw numbers doesn't take into account population and economic growth), it's smaller than it's been since the 1980s. When he was elected, Obama promised to cut the deficit in half. He's done that and more, cutting it by $1 trillion, or almost 2/3. Too many Americans don't know that, however, and Republicans will still complain, because much of what they mean when they say the deficit is too big is that government is spending on people who aren't them.
Side Note 4: Germany offers an instructive case study in what happens when deficit fears overwhelm common sense and a country clings to austerity instead of spending. It's Europe's largest economy, and if it strangles itself the rest of Europe goes, too.
Side Note 5: Yet another study shows that simply giving poor people money turns out to be surprisingly good policy, not just for the poor but for the economy as a whole. They spend that money, and our old friend the multiplier effect takes over and increases its effect on the overall economy.
Side Note 6: In case you've ever wondered why rich people are better, happier, better looking, and more deserving than everybody else, Business Insider explains it all in one of the most obnoxious articles you'll ever read.
Side Note 7: A quarter of Americans believe--incorrectly--that poor people are poor because they don't work hard enough. There could be various reasons for that belief, including the fact that most Americans vastly underestimate the huge pay gap between CEOs and average workers, so therefore don't understand that most of America's wealth is flowing toward the top, leaving very little for the rest of us. And a handful might just have been reading too much Ayn Rand and listening to too much Paul Ryan. We weep for those people.
Side Note 8: Any path to Republican control of the Senate likely includes a victory for Iowa Republican candidate Joni Ernst, who not only believes that states can nullify federal law--she must have missed hearing about something called the Civil War, which settled that issue rather concretely--but that local law enforcement personnel should be able to arrest federal officials attempting to implement the ACA. Would Iowans really elect to the United States Senate a candidate whose views are so far on the fringe and whose ignorance of basic constitutional law is so egregious? We'll find out. [Sadly, Ernst isn't the only Senate candidate who holds bizarre views reinforced by far-right lunatic websites. Rep. Tom Cotton (R/AR)--who as a current member of Congress should know better than to repeat outlandish, unsupported rumors--is spreading tales about a nonexistent alliance between ISIS and Mexican drug cartels. The facts that ISIS likes to murder non-Muslims and very few if any Mexican drug cartel leaders or soldiers are Muslims, and that there is absolutely no evidence backing his claim, seem not to deter Cotton.]
Also last week, we wrote about the disgraceful spectacle of Sen. Rand Paul (R/KY) stoking public paranoia about Ebola. Since then, Paul has been joined by a conservative chorus of Chicken Littles, all spreading exactly the wrong advice. This brain trust includes Sen. Ted Cruz (R/TX), the aforementioned Rep. Paul Ryan, and Governor Bobby Jindal (R/LA), along with various voices in the right-wing media. The Chicken Littles want flight bans between the US and West African countries, or 21-day quarantines of anybody wanting to travel between those places. Not only are those responses unnecessary and impractical, they would, in fact, worsen the situation.
According to the New Yorker: "No travel ban or quarantine will seal a country completely. Even if travel could be reduced by eighty per cent—itself a feat—models predict that new transmissions would be delayed only a few weeks. Worse, it would only drive an increase in the number of cases at the source. Health-care workers who have fallen ill would not be able to get out for treatment, and the international health personnel needed to quell the outbreak would no longer be able to go in. The local economy and health infrastructure would further collapse, causing a far wider spread of the disease. For months, Doctors Without Borders—almost the lone group providing treatment services—has been crying out for help. The international response was contemptible."
Part of that international response--that of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-- was slowed by the fact that the CDC's funding is $600 million lower than it was in 2010, thanks to the cuts to government spending that conservatives continually advocate for.
Side Note 1: Later in the week, Democrats started joining the Chicken Little chorus calling for a travel ban. They're wrong, too.
Side Note 2: Conservative talking heads are getting in the act, with the unsurprisingly crazy talk one has to expect from them.
Side Note 3: Ebola isn't the only threat conservative politicians are mistaken about. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R/CA) is claiming--against all available evidence--that "At least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the border in Texas.” He says the Border Patrol told him that. DHS, which runs the Border Patrol, says Rep. Hunter is either lying or hallucinating. And really, if ISIS fighters had been caught coming across the border, we probably would have heard about it from more reputable sources. Scaring Americans--ideally, scaring Americans into launching yet another war in the Middle East--is exactly what ISIS is trying to accomplish by beheading people, and folks like Reps Cotton and Hunter are just making their task easier.
Side Note 4: The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik explores the reasons so many Americans are so easily panicked by fears of terrorism. "On the very day of 9/11, one of the wisest men I’ve known said that the choice it would present for us would be between experiencing the attack as an imagery and experiencing it as an injury. If you allowed it to become imagery, running on perpetual loop in your mind (the planes exploding, the people leaping), you would never be past it. If you experienced it as an injury—a horrific one, but of specific dimensions and significance, a criminal atrocity rather than an intimation of apocalypse—you had a chance to go on. The wise man was himself ill with a fatal cancer as he spoke, so this distinction provided him a lifeline of sanity: if you saw your bad MRI as a death sentence, your life would stop before it ended; if you thought of it simply as a picture of a particular condition, your life went on. His model of conduct came from a character like Ed Harris’s flight director in 'Apollo 13.' Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing. What had happened to the American habit of pragmatic appraisal and a refusal to panic?" The piece includes a bonus Ra's Al Ghul reference, for the hardcore geeks among us.
Side Note 5: Many Republican congressional candidates have started running on fear: trying to scare Americans into thinking that Democrats can't protect them, but Republicans can. How cutting taxes and spending and downsizing government will protect anybody, we aren't sure, and the candidates aren't explaining that part of their pitch.
This Week in Voting
Voter fraud is not remotely a problem in this country. But people who get their news from conservative media don't know that, so they think "laws that Republican-led state governments passed in recent years to more tightly regulate voting" are actually about preventing it. How much of an impact will these laws have on this year's midterm elections? It's hard to know for sure, but it could be significant. We'll just have to hope the effect of these attempts to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Americans result in those Americans making an extra effort to exercise their consitutional right.
On the bright side, this week the Supreme Court blocked implementation of Wisconsin's voter ID law, paving the way for next month's election to go forward without a bunch of complicated new rules fouling the works. And in Texas, a US District Court judged ruled against that state's plainly discriminatory law. The state plans an immediate appeal, but there's no certainty that said appeal will be heard by SCOTUS (although the Court did earlier weigh in on the side of voter restriction laws in North Carolina and Ohio).
Side Note: According to new research by the independent Government Accountability Office, a lot of minority voters, young voters, old voters, and poor voters might be cut out of the process this year. But if you're an astronaut stuck in space, you can still vote. Here's how they do it.
This Week in Tyranny
Over at The Weekly Sift, a regular read of TWiA these days, blogger and mathematician Doug Muder (who quotes this week from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, firmly establishing his sf geek credentials) expands upon a feature he's begun, "A Conservative-to-English Lexicon." As he explains, the project began when he realized that Tea Party Supporters spoke a language that sounded like English but in which seemingly common words have very different meanings, and that if their definitions are applied, ideas that sound idiotic to thinking people begin to make perfect sense. Muder writes:
"One example in particular required unpacking, because it was key to the Tea/Confederate identification: Many in the so-called Tea Party talk about their “Second Amendment rights”, by which they mean their right to the means to resist or even overthrow the government of the United States, if it should become “tyrannical”. By itself, this seems a reasonable — some might even say laudable — goal, one in line with their identification with the original Tea Party protest against the tyranny of George II.
"However, when I then looked into the current conservative usage of tyranny, I discovered that it has virtually nothing to do with George II, or even with the more recent Hitler/Stalin models that most Americans picture when they hear the word. Instead, tyranny refers to the implementation of any progressive policy at all — ObamaCare, immigration reform, cap and trade, taxation with representation, and many others — even when that policy is enacted via the constitutional process of our duly elected representatives passing legislation. Tyranny even includes any proposed gun control measures, no matter how slight, which completes a vicious cycle: We can’t have gun control, because we will need our guns to overthrow the tyranny of gun control.
"Fully translated, then, the Tea Party’s Second Amendment rhetoric amounts to: We need the means to resist or overthrow the government of the United States, in case liberals win too many elections and start implementing the agenda they were elected on."
What Muder fails to mention is that the first three examples he provides as "progressive policy" are all policies that originated with conservatives, until they became examples of President Obama's "tyranny."
(Thanks to TWiA special words and their meanings correspondent Marcy Rockwell for introducing us to The Daily Sift.)
This Week in Gun Safety
Speaking of gun control or the lack thereof, we now know that ISIS often uses American ammunition to shoot its enemies. Hawks like Sens John McCain (R/AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R/SC) fall back on the same solution to almost any international crisis--send somebody weapons. One of the many problems with that one-size-fits-all response is that weapons and ammunition are fungible. There's no guarantee that whoever gets them will keep them, particularly in a combat situation in which battles are lost and the losing side's weapons are acquired by the winners.
The same, of course, happens domestically. Any police officer will tell you that guns and ammunition are some of the things most commonly stolen during burglaries, and one of the first questions a cop will ask upon arriving on the scene is whether any guns or ammo were taken. People who own guns for "self defense" rarely actually use them for that purpose, but criminals are glad to find them when they break in.
Also on the topic of gun safety, this week USA Today ran a good piece on TWiA's friend and beloved former congressional representative, Gabrielle Giffords. It describes Gabby's slow and difficult progress, and discusses the important work she and husband Mark Kelly are doing with their organization Americans for Responsible Solutions. Even before her shooting, Mark and Gabby were both gun owners--he qualified as an expert marksman in the military, and still hunts; she's always owned and shot guns-- but they believe in sensible laws that would make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill from getting their hands on them. They just might be the NRA's worst nightmare--reasonable gun owners with political juice and vast fundraising abilities.
Finally, in the Guns in Public Restrooms department, a school teacher wounded herself while "accidentally" shooting a school toilet, and a police officer's gun was stolen after he left it on top of a paper towel dispenser in a mall restroom and walked away.
This Week in Equal Rights
By refusing to hear cases that would have upheld bans on marriage equality in five states, the Supreme Court handed marriage equality advocates a huge win this week. The non-ruling makes same-sex marriage the law of the land in more than half the country, and removes one of the biggest potential obstacles to making it universal. There are still challenges ahead--people can still legally be fired for being gay, for instance, and rates of suicide and homelessness among LGBT teens are higher than among straight teens. When Americans are granted the equal rights under the law promised by our Constitution, we are all better off.
Side Note: The aforementioned Sen. Ted Cruz described the court's decision not to take any action as "judicial activism," and called it "tragic and indefensible." He vows to introduce a constitutional amendment that would require that such decisions be left up to the states--creating, in effect, a permanent America where a couple could, for example, be married in Virginia but then not married if they crossed into West Virginia, married again in Pennsylvania, and not married in Ohio. We here at TWiA World Headquarters are not sure why Cruz wants to declare people who are legally married today occasionally not married, or to prevent people who want to get married from doing so, but we suspect it has to do with his 2016 presidential ambitions, and his desire to lock up the hate vote before anyone else does. Fifty years ago, he would have been one of those insisting that only the states could decide whether a black American and a white one could marry. History is passing Sen Cruz by, and while in many ways that's the definition of conservatism--in general, they want things not to change--we're glad that many conservatives don't feel the need to deny their fellow Americans the right to love who they love.
This Week in Demographics
America's demographics are changing rapidly. Are the demographics of our elected officials keeping pace? According to this new study, not so much:
- 71% of elected officials are men, 90% are white, and 65% are white men.
- White men are 31% of the U.S. population but hold 65% of all elected office.
- White men have 8 times as much political power as women of color.
Side Note: How much more likely are black men to be killed by police than white men? 21 times more likely.
This Week in Alinsky
Conservatives love to hate the late community organizer Saul Alinsky (except when, as in the case of the Tea Party's town hall summer, they're making liberal use of his organizing techniques). Even more, they love to tie President Obama and Hillary Clinton to Alinsky, as if doing so makes those people evil incarnate.
In fact, Alinsky was not evil incarnate, or even close to it. He was a leftist, but not a Marxist or a Communist. He broke with far-left 1960s activists like the Black Panthers and Students for a Democratic Society over their willingness to use violence. According to this long profile over at Vox,com, "In Reveille [Alinsky's first book, Reveille for Radicals] he is as contemptuous of 'top down' approaches to social planning as he is of laissez-faire economic policies. The Radical, he says, 'will bitterly oppose complete Federal control of education. He will fight for individual rights and against centralized power …The Radical is deeply interested in social planning but just as deeply suspicious of and antagonistic to any idea of plans which work from the top down. Democracy to him is working from the bottom up.'"
The piece offers an interesting, detailed look at Alinsky's work and his tenuous connections with Clinton and Obama. If nothing else, it should dispel once and for all the right wing's demonization of the man and his work.
It won't, but it should.
Side Note: For ideological fairness, we'll also link to a Vox.com profile of right-wing firebrand and convicted criminal Dinesh D'Souza, who's famous for, among other things, saying the 9/11 attacks against America were a justifiable response to liberals. Perhaps the best summarization of D'Souza's life and work is this one: "The last of those incidents prompted then-classmate and future Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to go up to D'Souza at a coffee shop and ask him 'how it felt to be such a dick.'"
This Week in Settling Down
Where's the best place in America to live? Depends on what you're looking for. In general, though, avoid the south. TWiA's native southwest doesn't fare much better. On the other hand, here in Arizona, TWiA's flooding worries aren't as pronounced as they soon will be in 30 major cities across the east coast, courtesy of climate change.
This Week in How You Can Help
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. That's an important cause, a battle too many people fight. But September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. That's also a very important cause, and childhood cancer research gets far less funding than breast cancer does. So by all means, support breast cancer research. But if you have a few extra bucks in your pocket, think about donating to Alex's Lemonade Stand, which does important work on pediatric cancer every day. Every dollar helps.
This Week in Bears
Autumn is officially here, but even with temperatures falling, you still shouldn't leave your children or your pets closed up inside your car. That goes for bears, too.
Some bears find their own ways to beat the post-summer heat.
Finally, most people know the story of Smokey Bear, a bear cub rescued from a forest fire by firefighters. It's good to know that firefighters are still rescuing bear cubs today.