Thursday, October 31, 2013

Big Stinkers

If it seems like there's a lot going on in the news this week, it's not just your imagination. This is what it looks like when Congress actually sticks around DC to do some work.

This week alone, the Senate confirmed Presidential appointments to the FCC and the NLRB. Democrats in the Senate also introduced a bill that would end debt ceiling brinksmanship, based on an idea from Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Republicans and Democrats from both the House and Senate also met officially, in a conference committee on the farm bill for the first time in years on Wednesday. The bipartisan conference committee on the budget also met this week. And immigration reform is definitely not dead yet.

The House also held a hearing on the federal healthcare website and the rollout of Obamacare on Wednesday, with Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Let's just say that didn't exactly go the way tea party Republicans thought it would.

In short, Congress this week - for the most part - looks like an organization that mostly has its stuff together and seems to have a decent idea of where it's headed.

That's a disturbing contrast from the stink that began leaking out last weekend over the actions of the NSA and other intelligence agencies. From tapping the cell phone of Germany's Angela Merkel - and 34 other world leaders - to spying on the Papal Conclave at the Vatican, the list of the NSA's gaffes, mistakes, and serious failures is long and frightening.

Even after the explosion of information earlier this year, the skunkworks groups of our national security apparatus appear to have their heads shoved so far into their spycraft they have no idea of how badly they've stunk things up for the government they claim to serve.

Just this week alone, more leaks were released by Edward Snowden through journalist Barton Gellman at the Washington Post. Those documents show the NSA was also using the massive servers and technology of companies like Yahoo and Google - without their approval - to help bypsss legal restrictions that had already been imposed on the NSA.

As Eugene Robinson noted this week, the National Security Agency is indeed out of control. Even with the latest revelations, those heading up the NSA remain clueless, as they still seem to think lame excuses like "Everyone does it" are perfectly acceptable for one of America's top intelligence agencies.

We'll agree that most nations - and even the Vatican - have spies, and that there are good reasons for America to keep a watch on our allies. There are equally good reasons for our allies to keep quiet tabs on us -  for example, the Tea Party extremists who almost blew up the world's economy this month.

That said, there are ways to gather secret information that do not violate the spirit of our laws, let alone leave a trail of political stink and legal confusion like the NSA's bumbling has done.

With members of Congress suddenly intent on passing multiple pieces of legislation before the end of the year, it was great to see that energy driven in the right direction late Wednesday. That's when the USA Freedom Act, whch would significantly curtail the NSA's powers was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), the original author of the Patriot Act.

While we have yet to fully read through the proposed bill, we hope the 16 Senate co-sponsors and 70-plus sponsors in the House don't just let this one get buried in partisanship.

As Ryan Cooper of The Plum Line noted earlier this week, it's high time we focused some of our national legislative energies on right-sizing our American security state.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Clueless Disasters

Over the last couple of days, some of our media colleagues have been rightly focusing on the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, or the anniversary of the Great Depression. However, with less than a week to go, much of our staff still has our eyes planted firmly on the Virginia election being held next Tuesday.

As we noted yesterday, the Republican Party is currently being dragged down - rapidly -  by its extremist 'Tea Party' wing. There are plenty of opportunities right now for sane, rational Republicans to wrest control of their party back at the national level, with subjects like immigration, the budget, and even LGBT rights being argued in Congress right now.

That doesn't mean doing so would be easy. In fact, as the last Washington Post/SRBI poll before the Virginia election shows, the crumbling Frankenstein that is currently the GOP is far more likely to keep scaring voters away - in part, because those who control remain in denial of the facts.

This couldn't have been made any more obvious than in the chart highlighted by Greg Sargent yesterday afternoon. In multiple major categories - White college graduates, Non-white voters, Women, Independents, and even 'All Likely Voters' - the kinds of Virginians who will likely hit the polls by next Tuesday overwhelmingly dislike the Republican Party right now.

As Sargent also noted, in a state that experienced political observers see as "increasingly resembling the country as a whole," the Republican Party seems to already be among the walking dead.

It's not just those on the left saying these things about Republicans now.

Two of Sargent's colleagues at the Washington Post, from the other side of the ideological divide - Kathleen Parker and Jennifer Rubin - echo both what pundits like us and Greg Sargent have said, but also what the numbers are proving right now.

Parker says the Virginia race should be a strong wake-up call to her party's leaders. Even if the Republican candidate, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, has a bizarre obsession with sodomy, and his own small scandal involving ethics and gifts, that's not his greatest problem. It's the fact that Cuccinelli favored the government shutdown, half-heartedly tried to use Ted Cruz as a blatant political ploy, and has proudly aligned himself with the Tea Party extremists. The fact that Virginia voters - especially women - loathe the Republican Party right now, also is weighting heavily on the Virginia race.

As a contrast, Jennifer Rubin notes that current New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie looks to roll to an easy re-election win next Tuesday in his heavily Democratic-leaning state - the same day that Republicans on the Virginia ballot are likely to get clobbered.

The key, as Rubin makes clear, is that Gov. Christie has learned the art of appearing to compromise on issues like taxes, budgets, schools, and crime, while still bullying through the policies he believes in. Even Christie's appearance of compromise is more than most in the Republican Party are able to display right now, either at the national or state levels, thanks to their fear of Tea Party extremists.

Those controlling the GOP today must finally abandon their denial and realize that the political monster they've cobbled together is one most Americans no longer want roaming around. Until that shock occurs, and party leaders dump the rotting limb that is the Tea Party, the Republican Party will remain a clueless monstrosity blundering over the political landscape.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

GOP, Still Going Down

For all the screaming and hoopla going on this month over the federal healthcare website, the fact remains that the website is improving. That doesn't mean it's perfect yet, as the downtime the system experienced last Sunday proved once again. The numbers of Americans finding insurance plans for themselves using the system has continued to increase though. Further, when Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius testifies before Congress Wednesday, members of Congress will have a chance to discover why the rollout fell so short of public expectations.

There's actually a far more important mechanism falling short of public expectation or even legitimate function right now - namely the current Republican Party. Thankfully, we already know why that machinery of government isn't working: The Tea Party wing of the GOP, that's dragging the party down rapidly.

As John Judis of The New Republic wrote on Monday, and as all but the most delusional right-wing fanatics have already admitted, the Tea Party is going down. Whether they last until the 2016 election is anyone's guess, but as Judis notes, after the teapeople brought the government to a dead stop and nearly blew up the world's economy earlier this month GOP leaders aren't likely to let them do the same thing again this winter.

That hasn't stopped the teabaggers - and those who continue to pander to them - from bringing out the crazy. Sen. Lindsay Graham, a master of the political pander, dragged out one of the extremist's most tattered ideological toys when he promised to block all Senate nominations over more investigation into Benghazi. Conveniently, as Kevin Drum pointed out on Monday, 60 Minutes already did that for Sen Graham last weekend, and as any sane person would expect, found absolutely nothing new.

Still, if the Congressional Republicans want to accomplish anything they can use to campaign on next year, the next nineteen legislative days are the time to do it.

Greg Sargent pointed out the perfect opportunity yesterday, bolstered by the GOP's own 2012 post-election "autopsy", when he noted one of those opportunities for Republicans is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to bring up for a vote.

Another opportunity, which many are pessimistic about, is the looming immigration reform bill, another key component of that 2012 Republican "autopsy." Frankly, as Fernando Espuelas repeated on Monday, immigration reform is a ticking time bomb for the GOP - one that most teapeople would rather see explode than be defused.

The last hope for the Republican Party may actually be a budget deal - which, as Jonathan Berstein notes, like many opportunities before, is available for the Republican Party to take advantage of, if only they'd untie themselves from the fanatical extremists in their Tea Party wing.

CNN's poll last week should have been a wake up call to Republicans. 75% of Americans, including members of all political designations, think Republicans in Congress don't deserve to be re-elected. Americans right now believe most Republicans should be let go like the dead weight they are.

The opportunities for them to succeed are there.

They simply have to make a decision: Does the GOP still want to be a legitimate national political party? Or are they tied too tightly to the tea-stained stone that's dragging them to their political doom?

As their choice appears right now, most Republicans are still going down, laughing like fools all they way.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Clown Show Climate

While we're unsure of how long this respite will last, it appears that extremist right-wing stupidity on the national level experienced a bit of a lull this past weekend. Of course, there are always the exceptionally stupid and evil, and both Iowa's Rep. Steve King and Texas' Sen. Ted Cruz continued to  fill those roles.

Still, most Congressional Republicans now appear to have finally joined their Democratic colleagues for once, getting serious by turning their attention to the federal budget and immigration bills. On both fronts, developments so far look promising, with some Republicans now finally acknowledging that new tax revenues must be part of any budget deal. Elected Republicans have also begun to admit publicly that immigration reform must happen soon.

This positive turn of events at the national level allowed us to turn our eyes back to our state offices, where the level of political idiocy seems to be on the rise.

Surprisingly, the level of stupid in Florida politics seems to be at the lowest of our three locations right now - even if a bit of ridiculousness did happen surrounding the funeral of U.S. Rep. Bill Young last week. Virginia's level of political stupid has been ramped up recently thanks to the ugly gubernatorial race, where Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe solidly leads current Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Since Cuccinelli also oversees the state's voting laws, this race could get far more nutty before it's all over in a little more than week.

The climate of political stupid in our home state of Nebraska, however, reached new levels recently. That fact became evident to the whole world last week, as the clown show that will certainly be the 2014 elections spilled over into action commissioned this past spring by the Nebraska legislature.

We've published quite a lot about the importance of water to Nebraska over the years, and we wrote about that climate change study earlier this year, in reference to the Keystone pipeline and the effects on water use in Nebraska. We specifically noted Nebraska state Sen. Tom Carlson's surprising but brutally honest quote, that "We will die" if Nebraska's fragile access to an amazing surplus of clean, drinkable, useable water disappears.

The overwhelming majority of the world's climate science studies - 97% of them - concur with Sen. Carlson about water. They all agree that one of the key resources affected by climate change will be safe, clean, potable water. Drought, in fact, was a major cause of the ongoing war in Syria.

Apparently, none of that seems to matter to Nebraska Republican state Sen. Beau McCoy - a GOP candidate for governor in 2014, and a climate change denier. As Nancy Gaarder pointed out in the Omaha World Herald, McCoy slipped a provision into Nebraska's climate study bill making it impossible to do an intellectually honest investigation of the problems of climate change, which would include the role of how humans have affected the climate.

This is exactly why University of Nebraska-Lincoln scientists at last week's Climate Assessment and Response Committee meeting immediately refused to do the study. That the Nebraska legislature had also demanded the study be completed next year, and only budgeted $44,000 for the full study, just adds to the clownish nature of dogmatic right-wing extremists like state Sen. McCoy.

For now, it's clear that legitimate scientists aren't going to allow themselves to be seen as political pawns in Nebraska - meaning the climate change study will likely go undone. That also means another tool to properly judge the future water needs of Nebraskans will not exist, even as Keystone's backers attempt another effort to jam the pipeline through.

Without proper data and planning, Nebraskans may not have enough water to drink in about fifty years, let alone grow crops, as Nebraska state Senator Tom Carlson made clear earlier this year.

At least Nebraskans will have another example of clownishly stupid dogmatic politics to study, courtesy of Nebraska state Sen. McCoy.

Friday, October 25, 2013

No Need To Monkey Around

There are few experiences more frustrating than when some idiot purposely monkeys around and tries to sabotage something you care about at the same time you're trying to fix that item. We know that many of the people in both the White House and HHS empathize with that frustrating feeling right now, even as they continue rushing to fix the problems with the federal health insurance enrollment website, Healthcare.gov.

That frustration was also evident at Thursday's mostly pointless hearing in the House - or as Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey called it, a "monkey court." Multiple software contractors for the new federal health insurance system spent hours ducking responsibility, even while some Republican House members seemed to almost revel in the problems of the Obamacare website.

Even as reliable reports of repairs to the healthcare website pop up daily, more people continue to enroll, and the positive opinion of Obamacare continues to grow. That hasn't kept the right-wing media or extremist Republican politicians from acting like a bunch of crazed monkeys about the Obamacare website problems.

Unfortunately, as Ed Kilgore noted in Washington Monthly on Thursday, the insane right-wing reaction to the health insurance rollout has begun to spread like a disease. Now, some of our colleagues in the left-leaning media have even begun to get caught up in the metaphorical poo-throwing - which is actually the most dysfunctional thing anyone on the left could do.

To paraphrase Napoleon, "Never interfere with the opposition when they're in the process of destroying themselves."

That is, in fact, exactly what the GOP has been doing over the last few weeks. Greg Sargent pointed that out brilliantly on Thursday, in a chart based on polling from the Washington Post and ABC News. As Sargent noted, "unfavorable ratings [for Republicans] have jumped 19 points among seniors, to 65 percent; 17 points among independents, to 67 percent; and 10 points among women, to 63 percent. Those are all key constituencies in midterm elections."

You don't just have to take Greg's word for it, though.

Larry Sabato, a well-known political prognosticator changed his take on key races this week in both Virginia and North Carolina to significantly favor the Democratic candidates, based in large part on Republicans not only turning voters off, but actually driving them to the Democratic Party. Sabato's predictions mirror multiple polls in the Virginia governor's race which have Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe up solidly in most cases over his GOP rival, Virginia's current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

There are even growing signs that Republicans may lose control of the House in next year's elections, as their hopes to regain the Senate have almost been snuffed out.

Of course, that's the time historically when members of the left-leaning media being throwing crap at each other, while Democratic politicians begin doing really stupid things, as Maryland Democratic Attorney General Douglas Gansler did this week.

We simply don't have either the time or the inclination to slap all of our left-leaning media colleagues and every important Democratic politician we know, while at the same time giving our best impersonation of Cher saying "Snap out of it!" So we'll simply say our piece here, and hope both groups of people are paying attention:

Stop trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Stop it. Now.

There's no need for Democrats and those of us on the left to monkey around like the idiots in the GOP are doing. Leave that kind of stupid maneuver up to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Too Far? You're There, Nebraska.

If you're a sports fan of any kind, you've likely seen or heard the State Farm insurance company series of ads over the last couple of years, that capitalize on the "That Moment When" meme. For Nebraskans, we're definitely at one of those moments in history, as journalist Don Walton pointed out earlier this week - though frankly, many Nebraskans are still in denial about it.

What Walton noted in the Lincoln Journal-Star is a sad and disgusting fact if you're a Nebraskan who can think critically and prefers multiple worthwhile choices at the polls. Unfortunately, the question for 2014 isn't whether a Republican will replace current U.S. Senator Mike Johanns. The Nebraska Democratic Party doesn't even have a serious candidate for the 2014 U.S. Senate race. Further, even if such a candidate existed, and swept both Omaha and Lincoln, there are still enough low-information Republicans in the state overall that a Democratic candidate effectively has no chance to win statewide, at this time.

So 'That Moment' in Nebraska? It's happening right now. It's the beginning of the 2014 political circus - and Nebraska Republicans have a decision to make.

Will they choose a sane, old-fashioned, center-right, Republican to win the Senate seat - someone who actually understands the meaning of important words like "governing" and "compromise"?

Or will the second U.S. Senate seat from Nebraska go to some bat-crap crazy, neo- Confederate, Ted Cruz wannabe who's willing to do anything - ANYTHING - to get public attention and the spotlight, but couldn't govern his or her way out of a paper bag?

It may be early, but from the looks of the race so far, it appears Nebraskans seem more than willing to let extremist right-wing out-of-state political interests buy the seat and install their latest puppet, Ben Sasse. Sasse, a relative political neophyte, a Harvard and Yale graduate, and current president of Midland University picked up the endorsement of the tea-party backed Senate Conservatives Fund this week, over former Nebraska state treasurer and Navy hero, Shane Osborne. That doesn't mean Osborne would be a better candidate.

As Dave Weigel noted in Slate yesterday, both Osborne and Sasse already seem to be thinking of themselvess as Ted Cruz-like figures, though the money backers of the extreme right only seem to be treating Sasse like Cruz.

Don't think the 2014 U.S. Senate from Nebraska race will be a runaway for Sasse, though.

Not only will Karl Rove and the business wing of the GOP likely be attacking tea party extremists like Sasse. The 42-year old Fremont teabagger will also have to face three other GOP opponents, plus the newest entrant to the race, rancher Jim Jenkins.

Jenkins, a former Democratic voter in Nebraska who admits he voted for corporate shill Mitt Romney in 2012, is running as a "Non-Party" independent candidate. That just may entice some of those old-fashioned sensible moderate Nebraska Republicans who understand there is no realistic future in governing with the right-wing fanatics.

No matter who Nebraska Republicans choose to fill that seat, as Don Walton pointed out, the race for the next U.S. Senator from Nebraska effectively ends next May. So this is that moment - when most of those current Republican candidates begin acting like clowns, trying to show Nebraskans just how far to the extreme right they're willing to go to get their party's nomination.

How will Nebraskans know when these candidates have gone too far to the extreme right for common sense and good governing?

If you have to ask, you're already there.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

In-Flight Warning: Stay On Target

With as much media hype as the sputtering rollout of Healthcare.gov has received this past week, we understand how you might have gotten the impression large sections of the internet were somehow frozen and broken. However, not only is most of the internet working fine - you're reading this online right now - but the main portal for Obamacare is indeed functional, and getting better all the time.

We don't want to appear as though we're ignoring the problems. In fact, as Brian Beutler of Salon pointed out on Tuesday, it's actually a very good thing that we're drawing some attention to the failures of the website now, before it's too late to fix the problems.

Still, as both Lucia Graves and Jonathan Cohn pointed out, the rough start to the federal health insurance exchange doesn't really matter that much. The next few weeks - specifically, between now and Thanksgiving - are really going to be the ones that count. Then the system will either work or it won't.

So while the machines of Obamacare may cough and sputter now like some wheezing airplane, the two major subjects you should be keeping your eyes on right now are 'Jobs and The Economy,' and the Icarus-like collapse of the Republican Party.

We've been saying it regularly for years now, and both Greg Sargent and Ryan Cooper echoed that refrain perfectly this week, noting that virtually every fight Democrats and the left have this fall should be about jobs - especially in the budget battle now happening on Capitol Hill.

Tuesday's delayed release of the September jobs numbers made that clear to anyone who knows how to read the data. While the jobs numbers were in positive territory, and the unemployment rate dropped again, the numbers still weren't the kind of figures that anyone who truly wants the economy to sharply improve would like.

One of the key factors that became obvious with September's jobs numbers is that Obamacare is not ruining the economy the way Republicans thought it would. In short, Obamacare isn't turning full-time jobs into part-time jobs. In fact, most of the jobs growth this year has been from full-time jobs.

Which means both Republicans and their right-wing media parrots have been lying about the effects of Obamacare on the economy all along.

As a slew of awful polls has already pointed out this week, Americans no longer like or trust Republicans - and that includes the extremists in the GOP. As Steve Benen's crystal clear chart showed on Tuesday, there is no more distinct group Americans dislike and feel betrayed by right now than the Republican Party.

That, frankly, is not a good thing.

President Obama and Congressional Democrats are attempting to get the American economy back off the ground, and flying high once again. It doesn't help that our nation's entire right wing seems to be seriously broken and won't easily be repaired.

If Americans want to keep focused on what we, collectively, think is important - namely, more jobs and a rapidly improving economy - it might help if we all kept our attention zeroed in on the target of an improved economy, instead of constantly pointing at the latest healthcare website computer glitch.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fools, Zombies, & Republicans

While most of our staff no longer gets dressed up for Halloween, there are staff pets and at least one staff kid currently, and inevitably that means discussions over Halloween costumes. Frankly, no matter how good you think you or your kids' ensemble is this year, you're not going to defeat the Republican Party when it comes to hiding behind a mask.

The Republican Party has at least two highly visible examples of their costumed "heroes" today, both wearing the same zombie outfit from head to toe. We're well aware that Ohio's Gov. Kasich and New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie don't exactly look like one another, let alone have the same proportions. Yet both men have played the intolerant zombie role quite well for some time now, until their masks both slipped on Monday.

For Kasich, his mask has actually been slipping for some time, technically since about February. That's when Kasich - like a host of other Republican governors who initially refused the federal Medicaid expansion program that's part of the Affordable Care Act - changed his mind and decided he wanted the Federal funds. For Kasich, it's been a nine month process of putting on and taking off his masks, all with one driver behind it all - selfish greed.

Admittedly, in his case, Kasich's goal to make his own record look better may end up helping the poorest in his state - that is, as long as the Republicans wearing their evil zombie costumes in the Ohio House don't win their legal challenge to prevent poor people from getting health care.

In the case of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, his zombie mask of bigotry slipped to reveal something that's really not much of a secret these days - that his ambition to run for President in 2016 is stronger than any other emotion he's got.

That ambition could be seen clearly last Friday though, with the unanimous decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court that same sex marriage in that state was completely legal. In response to their decision, Christie finally dropped his legal opposition to the practice. Angry anti-gay right-wing extremists huffed and puffed and stomped their feet Monday - but that didn't change the fact that same-sex couples had already been getting married in New Jersey since midnight the night before.

Christie made sure to make one last grimace with his bigotry mask, however. He said to the media Monday that while he still heavily disagreed with the court there was no chance his appeal would succeed - so he was giving up, to save his state the money, energy and effort.

Pity Gov. Christie couldn't have remembered his concern for saving money when he scheduled the special election that was held this week.

What both Kasich and Christie exhibited in their performances as GOP zombies on Monday is the perfect example of the facade Ed Kilgore noted in Washington Monthly on Monday - namely, that extremist Republicans and the rest of the Republicans in office really don't have two different goals.

As Kilgore notes, their methods may seem different. The brainless, tea party-infused, zombie routine certainly makes them seem different from those Republicans who don't act crazy today. The truth is, both sets of modern, ambitious, Republicans only have one real goal: Pushing the nation to the right, at every opportunity possible.

Don't let the costume fool you.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bad Advice Is No Treat For Democrats

While the 'Obamacare problems' stories that some members of the media had been holding onto during the near-default crisis began flooding out over the weekend, we've been keeping our attention focused on a more important story in DC - namely, the budget conference committee, that lobbyists also have their eyes on.

We'll admit that Healthcare.gov has already had it's share of problems, and many of those should have been expected. That said, the President has already called in experts to triage and solve the problems as fast and as well as possible. Furthermore, in states like Oregon that haven't been trying to sabotage the system, the ACA is working as intended - getting people without health insurance to finally get some health care coverage.

As Max Ehrenfreund stated so succinctly over the weekend at Washington Monthly, if America had just listened to liberals, who've always favored a single-payer system, the current problems with the health care signup wouldn't exist anyway. Democrats gave up that option early on, however, based on bad advice from normally wise people.

Think of it like that one bad pumpkin in the patch, that always ends up splattered all over the road.

In a similar way, Ezra Klein - an expert in many subjects, and a writer our staff generally trusts - made an incredibly amateur mistake recently. Last Thursday, Klein published a piece in the Washington Post saying that Congressional Democrats should go into the current budget negotiations admitting they won't be able to get any more tax revenue from Republicans.

Like that bad pumpkin, Klein is wrong - and Congressional Democrats should be aware of it before they slip and agree to a disastrous budget.

If Congressional Democrats would follow Klein's advice this time, their first failing would be tactical. In fact, it would be the exact tactical mistake President Obama and his advisors made in the health care battle - setting their initial negotiation point at the metaphorical midpoint, effectively assuring any settlement will be more favorable to their opposition than to your supporters. Klein himself even pointed out this strategy was a failing one back in December of 2010.

Their second failing would be to blindly accept as a fact Klein's position that Congressional Democrats can't raise taxes - which was proven false at the beginning of 2013.

As David Fahrenthold pointed out in the Washington Post this weekend, four major national crises have been caused by Republicans since 2010, and in one of them - the fiscal cliff battle at the beginning of this year, Democrats were able to force Republicans to vote to raise taxes. What's more, the tax burden on the wealthiest went up the most during that battle.

The third reason Congressional Democrats should mostly ignore Klein's advice in this case is simple: leverage for the 2014 races. As Sam Seder noted to Chris Hayes recently, there is only so much power that any one advocacy group has to effect potential change. If liberal Democrats are fighting more centrist Democrats not to give away Democratic priorities like immigration reform, universal pre-K, and climate change measures, they'll be wasting energy and resources which could be better aimed at forcing Republicans to cave - as Democrats did when they stood united and won the default battle and with the fiscal cliff at the beginning of this year.

Anyone, of any political persuasion, who also understands the policy realities America is now facing knows that - regardless of any realistic budget cuts or threats from Republicans like Mitch McConnell - our nation is simply not collecting enough revenue to handle our responsibilities.

If the Congressional Democratic caucus wants to end up with a budget that accurately reflects what Americans want from their government, they'd be wise to look at advice like that Klein provided on taxes as more trick than treat.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Most Important Lesson

Even as many Americans begin their preparations for the weekend today, scores of politicians and many of our media colleagues are already ramping up for the next round of budget battles in DC.

It's ironic, really. After Wednesday's 'Come To Jesus' moment by moderate Republicans in Congress, many of our colleagues in political media are still excitedly talking about all the lessons the Republican Party has yet to learn from their devastating defeat dealt to them by President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Yet many of our more tightly wound colleagues seem to have missed one of the most important lessons in life themselves - a lesson that this week's displays by right-wing extremists should have taught moderate Republicans as well as members of the political media.

Indeed, many people we know outside the media business are getting ready for a weekend of relaxing autumn festivals, catching up on sports or television shows, or visiting with some old friends. In short, when people can, folks outside of our business are getting ready to have a day or two off.

Even on our own staff, discussion of a commentary piece by Ezra Klein from Thursday - one that gives a completely wrongheaded assessment about what the Democrats in Congress should do next - drove more chatter than it should for a beautiful autumn Friday.

While we might decide to address that issue on Monday, the fact is, even we forgot - for a moment - the lesson that the right-wing extremists should have taught everyone who's been paying attention.

Indeed, some of our conservative colleagues in the media reminded us of that lesson this week, specifically Robert Costa of National Review Online and CNBC, and Dave Weigel of Slate.

For years, Weigel has been one of our go-to sources for sane takes on what the insane right thinks. His snark is a turn-off to some people, though some of our staff finds that snark gives the perfect amount of bite to stories that otherwise might be a bit too heavy. If you're not already following Weigel on Twitter, we recommend heavily that you do so today.

Even as Weigel is a master of the snark, Costa's work throughout this debt ceiling debacle has provided steady, even-handed, snark-free news reporting. Costa's view of what has been going on inside the Capitol, on the right and the far right, has been fantastically valuable to anyone who cares about truly honest journalism. As Erik Wemple at the Washington Post also noted on Thursday, if Fox News followed Costa's lead, they'd be in fabulous shape. Of course, Fox isn't really in the business of news. They're in television - which is to say, entertainment, not news.

The lesson both Weigel and Costa teach in how they report is the same lesson the extremists in the GOP also taught, in the inverse, this week.

That lesson is simple. If you want to get ahead in life, on a daily basis, there's really no reason to run around screaming your head off, and throwing it around at people. That's going too far, and usually only leads to people running away from you.

In short, if you really want to get ahead in life, you also have to know when to stop.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ringing The Bell

After a long two weeks, America and the world breathed a deep sigh of relief when, last night, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives finally passed a bill to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling - until early in 2014 - and President Obama signed it into law.

Make no mistake - this fight went the full twelve rounds and more, though it was the American people who were feeling most of the punches. As Chris Cillizza noted in the Washington Post, politicians will say there weren't any true winners in this match, even though we all know that's not entirely true.

If anyone won anything in this fight, President Obama and Congressional Democrats - as well as the American people - have to be on that winners list. By standing together, they've now proven that the majority of the nation can stand up to the political bullies of the extremist right - and that the right wing will back down.

For what it's worth, the costs of this battle were significant. S&P figured up the cost to the U.S. economy in this round was $24 billion, nearly 0.6% of America's fourth quarter GDP, and the nation lost nearly 1 million jobs. That doesn't even take into account all the individuals and businesses who now have a serious ding on their credit, thanks to more than two weeks without paychecks or customers.

The most visible hit, however, was a political one, where the Republican Party frankly knocked their own block off - and the Tea Party effectively is now bleeding out on the floor.

According to the latest Pew Poll, Americans now dislike the extremist Tea Party wing of the Republican Party more than they ever have before. The same poll shows Republicans are so ashamed of their extremist wing, most of them are in denial the Tea Party is even part of the GOP. What's more, the nominal leader of the Tea Party insurgents, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, outright admitted Wednesday afternoon that his entire goal in this disaster was to raise money for any future political campaigns he might have.

As Ezra Klein joked on Wednesday, Cruz may as well have been a sleeper agent for the Democratic Party, as the damage he's done to the GOP is deeper than almost anything the Democratic Party could have accomplished.

Conservatives even began taking shots at their own closed loop media infrastructure, blaming it for only telling them what they wanted to hear. No surprise that the biggest blowhard in right-wing media, Rush Limbaugh now says the Republican Party is the most irrelevant party he can remember.

You built that, Mr. Limbaugh. Enjoy.

As much as we'd love to say this perpetual brawl is now over for good, we don't truly believe it is. Neither do other experienced journalists like Michael Tomasky or Sahil Kapur.

Still, when counting up the costs of this fight, it's important to note the cost/benefit ratio.

The extremist Republicans cost the nation nearly a million jobs - over $24 billion in the economy already - and have effectively destroyed their political chances for 2014 in the Senate, and quite possibly in the House.

Here's the benefit Republicans gained for themselves and the nation, politically speaking, after sixteen days of stupidity:


Hope it was worth the fight, Republicans.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why? Stupidity.

If you're like most well-informed Americans right now, including our staff, you're likely still concerned about the very real chance that Congress - led by the extremist right-wing Republicans - will push our nation into financial default in less than 48 hours.

At the time our staff is gathering content for Wednesday morning's edition, Senators Reid and McConnell have resumed their talks for a Senate deal, which could potentially get a vote at some point on Wednesday. The embarrassingly disastrous House Republican plan already went up in flames late Tuesday afternoon. The House plan was so bad, not only had all House Democrats agreed to vote against it, but even the right-wing Heritage Foundation was warning Republicans to vote against it - which is why Speaker Boehner had the bill pulled.

President Obama, in an interview Tuesday afternoon, still said he believes Congress will send him a bill that solves this problem before much more damage is done to our economy. That assurance didn't calm Wall Street credit ratings agency Fitch, who began warning late on Tuesday afternoon they may downgrade the nation's credit rating again if Congress doesn't pass a plan to fix both the debt ceiling and government shutdown, right away.

Obama's assurance also didn't calm the nerves of millions of Americans, who overwhelmingly - and correctly - blame Republicans for creating this horrible situation.

For all the anger and blame being thrown around, and debate about what the core reason is for America being in this jam there are a few key groups that seem to be escaping accountability right now: uninformed voters, moderate Republicans, and the Supreme Court.

Yes - stupid people are to blame for this mess. Some of them may even be reading these words right now.

Indeed, as a recent Pew Research poll found, 64 percent of Tea Party Republicans think blowing through the debt ceiling will have no major effect, even though EVERY trustworthy economic expert worldwide disagrees. Of course, these are the same idiots that elected people like Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, a man who continues to insist he's going to stop Obamacare. It doesn't matter to Yoho that the Affordable Care Act is already in place, helping millions - and according to the CBO, repealing the ACA would add billions to the deficit.

We also have to blame the media at large, to some degree, for those uninformed, brainless voters who chose morons like Rep. Yoho, specifically, the right-wing media. Year after year, legitimate studies keep proving that Fox "News" viewers are the least well-informed of all Americans. Even those people who don't watch cable news or listen to talk radio are better informed than your average right-wing fool. Yet, those idiots vote too - and as we mentioned, they vote for morons like Rep. Yoho.

Finally, the Supreme Court must also come in for some of the blame, in allowing the massive misinformation of Americans. While the Citizens United ruling is the most well-known recent mistake of this kind by the Court, the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling - the one that said that money was speech - is the original failure in this regard. As the Court has just begun to hear another case that might allow even more money to brainwash voters, this failing is even more key now.

No matter who in DC is to blame for this mess, the truth is that we've all had a hand in creating this disaster for many years.

We just hope that somehow, Congress can arrive at a solution at the last minute. America needs another massive financial crisis like we need another hole in our collective head.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Do It Yourselfishness

While almost everyone complains about their jobs, from time to time, there are also days like today when the work almost does itself.

On the debt ceiling and government shutdown front, the entire world is waiting for more details. From the information we have at our initial publishing time, it appears the potential Senate deal would re-open the government at current funding levels until January 15th, while extending the debt ceiling through February 15. The deal would also require Congress to have a Conference Committee meeting on the budget in December - the same kind of committee meeting House Republicans have avoided having with Senate Democrats over twenty times this year. Sadly, it doesn't appear that the option for removing the debt ceiling as a weapon will happen this round, though as Greg Sargent suggested, it may get some discussion in the next round of talks.

Effectively, the deal is now in the hands of Senators Reid and McConnell, who will likely pass the bill on Wednesday, forcing Speaker Boehner to pass the Senate bill in the House late Wednesday or Thursday. That will force Boehner to make the decision we noted on Monday: Choose to side with the world and be a hero? Or choose to side with the Tea Party and destroy most of the economies on Earth.

Only an idiot would make the wrong choice in a situation like that. That said, House Republicans and indeed the entire GOP have seemingly been on a suicide mission this past year.

Case in point, Representative Lee Terry of Omaha, a Republican who - when the shutdown began - effectively painted a target on his own back when he insisted to Omaha World-Herald reporter Joe Morton that he needed his paycheck to pay for his nice house. Meanwhile, federal employees in Omaha - all of whom are his constituents - have been without paychecks for over two weeks now.

As Steve Benen also noted Monday afternoon, Terry's self-inflicted trauma has lead to a series of events that read like the playbook nearly every Democratic challenger will be following around the nation this next year.

Rep. Terry inevitably gave a half-hearted apology about his selfish "gimme my check" comment. Still, as a member of 'The Party of Gimme', Terry's arrogance inevitably led to long time, popular Democratic Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen changing his mind, and deciding to challenge the Republican for the House in 2014.

The fact is, the kind of blind arrogance and sense of entitlement Rep. Terry displayed recently has become a hallmark of the modern Tea Party infused GOP. As writer David Firestone pointed out on Monday, they truly have become the 'The Party of Gimme' - one of the major reasons they never really had a chance in this current standoff with Congressional Democrats and President Obama.

When a group of legislators acts like babies and throws a tantrum, they're going to get spanked by their fellow legislators who choose to act like adults.

Similarly, when specific, backbench, do-nothing politicians paint a target on their own backs, they shouldn't be surprised at all when they end up in the political crosshairs of those obviously more qualified then they ever were.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Terminal Decision

Weekends are usually supposed to be restful. However, the last few days have been anything but.

The latest we've heard about the impending debt ceiling is that Republicans in Congress still can't seem to comprehend the meaning of the word "clean." The plan that was floated last Friday by House Republicans and Speaker Boehner had all kinds of right wing goodies attached. Naturally, the mucked up bill was rejected by President Obama, as all other similarly non-clean bills have been.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans embraced a different plan floated by GOP Senators Susan Collins and Mitch McConnell over the weekend. That plan would increase the debt limit until January and fund the government for six months. However, Senate Republicans also hung so many of their ideological tea bags from the bill that Sen. Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted - fairly -  that he be allowed to hang some Democratic priorities on it too. As the Washington Post confirmed, items like higher revenues to pay our government's bills and a higher overall debt ceiling are things Sen Reid and the Democrats wanted. Tea Party Republicans, of course, insisted that offer be rejected, since they're only going to be happy if Democrats get nothing in any negotiations. So with four days left until the world's markets implode, the 'World's Greatest Deliberative Body' is without a single legislative solution.

As Greg Sargent so aptly pointed out on Sunday, and as we've said multiple times over the past few years, Speaker Boehner has only one real choice this week: Allow the Tea Party to go flying over the edge of the political cliff, and save his political party, the nation, and quite possibly the world. Or, he can let the Tea Party drag the entire world into a massive economic depression the likes of which few alive have ever seen.

That last comment may seem hyperbolic, but according to IMF chief Christine Lagarde, it isn't. According to multiple world leaders and top economists from around the globe who met over the weekend for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s annual meetings in DC, characterizing what would happen if America defaulted on our nation's debt as simply a "massive economic depression" would likely be underselling a disaster.

To any sane person who's been paying attention to American politics over the past few years, that we're at this point isn't really that much of a surprise. When a small part of one of the two major American political parties forces a shutdown of the federal government, then protests the shutdown THEY created, while waving the flag of secessionists who were defeated by America 150 years ago — all while the extremists' actions are undertaken with a sincerity usually only reserved for the mentally ill - you know that a problem like that isn't going to be fixed easily.

The extremist Republicans even made the current debate a political suicide pact, sneaking in a House rules change on October 1 that now prevents any member of the House, other than Speaker Boehner, from offering a bill that would solve either the debt ceiling or the government shutdown.

For Speaker Boehner, no matter what happens, it's likely his position as Speaker is toast. However, like a set of conjoined twins who share a single vital organ, Speaker Boehner must now look at his party and decide which group continues to live politically, and who will die.

Either the sane, moderate Republican Party will prevail and the world's economies will remain whole, or Mr Boehner will allow the Tea Party extremists to leap off the edge of insanity and drag the rest of his political party - and the rest of the world - into the political and economic abyss.

For anyone sane, it really shouldn't be a question of which decision Mr. Boehner should now make.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tea Bags? What A Drag.

Like many people working in the national political media, we've had a long and frustrating week. Admittedly though, this past week hasn't been anywhere near as long for us as we know it's been for the millions of Americans sitting at home, thanks to the shutdown. Thankfully, the last twenty-four hours have seen a bit of good news.

As Greg Sargent reported Thursday afternoon, Democrats are sensing that Republicans will give in and accept reality soon, even if they're not being specific about the details yet. The fact remains, until the President signs any agreement with Congress, all anyone has right now is promises, with no specifics.

Getting the specifics right means choosing both the right words and the right numbers - though if you look at the recent poll numbers, we're not sure some Republicans in Congress even care about anything other than their blind desire to repeal Obamacare. The latest poll, from the Wall Street Journal & NBC, had numbers similar to other polls this week, showing that Republicans in general - and Tea Party Republicans in particular, like Sen. Ted Cruz - are in a disastrous free fall in popularity and support, thanks to their dogmatic devotion to their insane tea party ideology.

Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer is a perfect example of that kind of clueless obtuse thinking. She followed Sen. Cruz like a fool this week, signing a pledge promising that she wouldn't support funding the government unless she can defund Obamacare - a promise she simply can't deliver. Fischer's fellow Senator from Nebraska, Mike Johanns, acknowledged the pointless futility by Fischer and Cruz, and stated bluntly that it's time for the Republican Party to admit they've been beaten in the fight against the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Cruz and his tea partiers also appeared in Virginia this week, dragging down gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, at a fund raising event just weeks before the statewide election. With every new poll that comes out, Cuccinelli's extremist Republican credentials also seem to be dragging him down more, and lifting up Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe.

When Ezra Klein looked at the specific numbers in that NBC/WSJ poll, the highlights - or lowlights - of the poll showed that the tea baggers have become like lead weights around the feet of virtually every Republican. Current polls all say the GOP has the worst levels of support they've ever had. Nationally, Americans blame Republicans by an ever-widening margin for creating this shutdown and for risking the full faith and credit of the United States. In contrast, both the Democratic Party and President Obama are even more popular than they were even a few months ago.

Meanwhile, leading the race to the bottom, Sen. Ted Cruz's favorability has plunged, right along with the Tea Party and the GOP.

We could simply sit here, smile, and tell you that we told you this would happen to the GOP a long time ago - because we did and it has come to pass. The fact is, though, if we could give up being right in order to get our fellow Americans back to work, right now, this instant... We'd take that deal in a heartbeat.

That Speaker Boehner and the rest of the extremist Republicans in Congress still haven't taken a deal to get Americans back to work, even after being hopelessly wrong about the Affordable Care Act, should tell you loads about them - none of it good.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Tea Party's Prize

With the louder than normal bluster by both real and wannabe Tea Party Republicans over the past few days, and the flurry of major Republican op-eds on Wednesday, we figured something else was really behind all the political rustling in the bushes.

Sure enough, yesterday afternoon, CNN's Dana Bash flushed out a report about the deal now floating around Capitol Hill, to potentially solve at least the debt ceiling fight. Not too long after that initial report, multiple other sources began confirming that multiple key Republicans in Congress now appear ready to send President Obama a clean debt ceiling bill, even as they may still keep the rest of the government closed.

Since tea party Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana whined a week ago today that House Republicans just HAD to get something out of this fight, even if they didn't know what it was, the question hasn't really been IF Republicans would claim a prize before they dealt with the reality of the debt ceiling. It's mostly been a question of when.

Still, like Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly pointed out, the Tea Party extremists have fully expected to get a prize of some kind out of this whole affair. After looking at both the economic and political costs of the Tea Party shutdown so far, it appears their prize isn't coming from either President Obama or Democrats in Congress.

Their prize appears to have come from Wall Street, at the expense of all Americans.

Indeed, thanks to the Tea Party extremists' shutdown, not only did this week include the largest weekly drop in U.S. economic confidence since the Great Recession began in 2008. The global economy has also begun to slow down, a fact that neither Wall Street investors or American debt holders let go unnoticed. What really shook the markets though was Fidelity Investments dumping nearly all their short-term U.S. government bonds on Wednesday.

Traditional Wall Street business interests also sent their hounds after Congress over the past few days, and one of the biggest outside political organizations, Koch Industries, made a rare move yesterday of distancing themselves from the Republican Party's ridiculous actions. Two other major conservative political groups, Heritage Action and Freedomworks also told Republicans to quit the hunt on Wednesday.

With the Republican Party's traditional business and political allies abandoning them, the poll numbers that came out this week could hardly be considered surprising. Congress is now at a five percent approval rating, literally lower than dog poop. This political snipe hunt has been especially bad for the Republican Party, with their favorability ratings at an all-time low for any political party - even lower than when the Republicans in Congress impeached President Clinton.

We'd like to think the kind of selfish, short-sighted, wholly irresponsible behavior displayed during this shutdown fight by Tea Party Republicans will carry over into brutal losses for the GOP in the 2014 elections. However, like Paul Waldman of The American Prospect, we're not entirely sure it will.

What we are fairly sure of is that whenever this deal becomes finalized over the next few hours or days, President Obama's signature health care insurance reform will still be standing, and neither he nor Congressional Democrats will have had hardly anything taken from them.

Meanwhile, our nation's economy - that was poised to become very bullish again - will have effectively been hunted down and shot by Tea Party Republicans.

Congratulations, nutjobs. Enjoy your reward.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Demanding To Know

While the extremist nutbags in the Republican Party continue to hold the nation hostage, the rest of the world seems to have gotten tired of their pointless jumping up and down, and seems to have moved on without them.

President Obama has announced he's officially nominating Janet Yellen to be the next head of the Fed later today, a job few would wish on even their worst enemy right now. Major League Baseball's post-season continues, too, with a particular Atlanta Braves fan catching some notoriety with his topical way to complain about the way his team's season ended. The push for immigration reform also continued on Tuesday, with a massive protest on Capitol Hill that saw several members of Congress get arrested. An embarrassing and infuriating ruling in a Nebraska Supreme Court case also hit the media yesterday, that we may dig into deeper, later this week.

It's not that Americans have stopped caring about either the Republican-caused government shutdown or the looming debt ceiling crisis. It's just that most sane Americans realize until Speaker Boehner decides act like a real leader, not much is going to change.

Sure, we could act like the Nebraska Supreme Court or even that cheeky Braves fan, and demand something outrageous - like to know why the price of gasoline is nearly 30¢ per gallon higher near our Lincoln, Nebraska offices than it is an hour away in Omaha. Of course, our demanding that information wouldn't be any more effective than the current Tea Party demands that President Obama kill the ACA, his signature legislation - and frankly, we don't need idiots like that to give us the good news about those gas prices anyway.

While earlier this year, gasoline in Eastern Nebraska was more expensive than almost anywhere else in the nation, the price of fuel both in Nebraska and nationwide is falling right now, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that the price of oil continues to fall, down to $103 per barrel on Monday. That price drop, in part, is being caused by the Republican government shutdown, which is temporarily slowing the demand for petroleum products.

Oil refiners have also had a relatively problem free year, and with Tropical Storm Karen fizzling out recently, oil production in the Gulf has also continued without weather-related issues. The Wall Street Journal says the U.S. is also on track to become the world's largest oil and natural gas producer this year. Oil market experts have even said that as long as market conditions remain stable, prices for a gallon of gas could easily drop below $3 in many areas of the country.

It's that last caveat that's still sticking in our brains, however - that as long as market conditions remain stable, low gas prices will remain.

If Republicans in Congress don't hurry up, stop the hostage taking, and do the jobs we've all sent them to Washington to do - namely, pay the nation's bills - that could destabilize most markets in a major way, including the oil and gas markets. As we said earlier, however, demanding those fools do their job isn't very effective, and it's not like any of us can see into the future, and determine when those tea partiers will grow up and act responsibly.

Maybe we'll go gas up the car and drive across some of their lawns, and see if that motivates them instead.