Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Very Special Thanksgiving

Before we close up the offices for a few days and enjoy our Thanksgiving holiday, we wanted to take a moment with you, our readers, for a personal message. Of course, as it often happens, there are stories - some very crazy - that threaten to derail our intentions.

For example, the crazy idea that corporations - entities that only exist on paper - can have religious beliefs is now going before the Supreme Court. As Greg Sargent pointed out on Tuesday, that battle before the Court will also be a fight over the rights of Americans to have access to contraception - an even nuttier idea. That isn't the only crazy bit of news today, though.

Late on Tuesday, the Obama administration - specifically through the Treasury Department and IRS - released long-demanded rules clarifying the nature of 501(C)(4) groups. The effect of the new guidelines may be to force organizations that are truly political in nature to change their designation, and disclose their donors - or it may shut off the unethical flow of money from some of those kinds of groups altogether.

There is also crazy gun news. Nearly a year after the horrible events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and in the wake of a public report on the school massacre, the notion that more guns in schools will make our kids safer looks to be staging a comeback - this time, as a proposal before the Nebraska Legislature's 2014 session.

The fact that Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah are also on the same day this year has also been a topic of discussion among our friends and colleagues. 'Thanksgivukkah', as many are calling it, even has it's own food recipes - a crazy idea for a holiday that won't happen again for another 70,000 years.

Still, amongst all the craziness of the holiday preparation - including the ugly storm striking half the nation - we realize Americans in general, and our staff in particular, have a lot to be thankful for.

For all the screaming and hollering the right-wing media has been pumping out for the last two months, the Healthcare.gov website now appears to be working about as well as the Obama administration had hoped - smooth and effective for most Americans. That nearly 70% of America still hasn't been negatively affected by the problems surrounding the website is a great reason for thanks, as are all the stories of success that are finally beginning to drown out the negativity.

One of those success stories is personal, to us. In part, because of the coverage of the ACA, our editor Amy and her family may not feel quite as pinched when they welcome their second child into the world in 2014.

We're also thankful the economy continues to improve, and that it's likely The Fed will soon have its first ever female chairperson. Along those lines - even though not all of our staff members are Catholic - we're even thankful that the current Pope has come out in favor of sane, positive economic policies, instead of the trickle-down, austerity based economic ideas that are proven failures over the last thirty years.

On a more personal note, we're thankful that you enjoy what we do for you here. We're glad you share Paul's cartoons daily, that you read our commentaries, and that you pass our news links along to your friends and family.

In short, on this long Thanksgiving weekend, we're thankful for a great number of things - for our friends and family members, our media colleagues, and especially you, our readers.

Travel safely, stay warm.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thankful For A Day Off

At this time of year, when we hear words like "smothered," "drizzled," or "stacked," we're usually thinking of gravy, sauces, and piles of ham or turkey. This year, for many Americans, those adjectives may also apply in several other ways.

For millions of Americans on the East Coast, including near our office in Washington, DC, "drizzled" and "stacked" may refer to the weather and the traffic patterns, including a nasty early winter storm that will make holiday travel a mess. For some of our Republican friends, no matter how much better the HealthCare.gov website is getting, and how much enrollment is increasing, they'll still be dreaming of smothering the program to death in its sleep.

For millions of other Americans - including some of our own family members who either work in retail stores or service retail & restaurant establishments, the words "smothered" and "stacked" refer to how they feel economically, and how they think of the bills they have back home. You can even add "chained" to that list, as so many Americans working low-level hourly jobs worry - now more than ever - that they could lose their jobs at any time.

According to a recent Washington Post-Miller Center poll, more than 60% of working Americans worry about losing their jobs right now, with nearly one-third saying they worry about it "a lot" these days.

That explains, in part, why so many Americans this Thanksgiving will be grudgingly putting on their work clothes and trudging off to work, while their families, friends and neighbors sit down next to empty chairs at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

In case you've missed it, a growing number of retailers this year have decided to cancel the Thanksgiving holidays of their workers, pushing the traditional Black Friday sales into a day that is supposed to be a national holiday for all Americans, not just the comfortable folks who can afford a day off.

Thankfully, not every corporate retail store or restaurant has decided to follow the Ebenezer Scrooge business model.

Stores including Costco, Nordstroms, R.E.I., and Apple have decided that  - wherever possible - they are closing their stores for the Thanksgiving holiday and giving their workers a chance to count their blessings.

Those retailers that are forcing their workers to come in on the holiday are also firing up worker's rights groups and unions. As Matthew Fleischer noted in the L.A. Times this month, "the slow creep of Black Friday into Thanksgiving is probably the single most effective public relations gift the labor movement could ask for in the fight for a living wage across America."

For those businesses that do decide to remain open, as Brad Tuttle noted in Time last week, the few shekels the corporations might be able to squeeze out of shoppers may not be worth opening on Thanksgiving next year. Indeed, technology retailer Radio Shack found that out the hard way in 2012, and decided it wasn't worth opening their doors on Thanksgiving this year.

We're pointing this out today not to shame those businesses into closing on Thanksgiving. They've already made their plans for this week long ago.

We'd merely ask that you, our readers, acknowledge that no matter what the job is, if someone is working on Thanksgiving, chances are pretty good they'd rather be at home with their families and friends.

Instead of going out to shop on Thursday, maybe you should stay at home, so that next year, another hard-working American might also be able to give thanks that they also don't have to the work the Thanksgiving holiday.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Peace - A Great Reason For Thanks

We'd originally planned today to discuss the 'War on Thanksgiving' - the effort by retailers all over America to not even wait until the day after Thanksgiving to open. Sadly, that effort is really just another front in the war on working Americans that international corporations have been waging for years. Another major reason to be thankful came up over the weekend, though, and we can't help but address it first this week.

Don't worry - like the workers themselves, who are effectively chained to their jobs, the 'War on Thanksgiving' isn't going anywhere, and we'll tackle that issue tomorrow.

The event that happened over the weekend, though, deserves notice here, both because of the unusual nature of the event, and the reasons for thanks it may give to people not just in America but around the world.

The event we're talking about is the agreement by Iran and six major world powers, including the United States, to freeze key parts of Iran's nuclear program, in exchange for the temporary release of economic sanctions on issues like food and medicine.

Work on the agreement apparently had been going on for months, behind the scenes, with Secretary of State John Kerry taking the lead. Already, as details began to be released over the weekend, business markets worldwide began reacting positively to the details.

The details, in short, include as much as $7 billion in economic sanctions relief over the next six months, including the six nations un-freezing $4.2 billion in Iranian oil assets. The agreement will also allow humanitarian relief, including food, medicine, and medical supplies to flow more freely into and out of Iran again - a major reason President Rouhani of Iran was elected by his people earlier this year.

In exchange for the temporary lifting of sanctions, Iran's nuclear programs are being heavily restricted, and put under outside watch and oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA.

As expected, the typical opponents to a peace agreement of this kind made their feelings known over the weekend. As Evan McMorris-Santoro of Buzzfeed reported, some Republicans ridiculously attacked the deal before details were even released Saturday night. Unsurprisingly, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - who depends on Iran as a boogieman for much of his political power - said the deal is a "historic mistake." Of course, neither the U.S. Congressional naysayers or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is correct.

As President Obama noted correctly Saturday night in his public comment on the accord, this deal is "an important first step" in both preventing Iran from making nuclear weapons and in U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations. It's only a first step, though. Some of the toughest diplomatic work lies ahead in the next six months.

That said, there are two critically important actions many people already seem to have overlooked in this story. Iran and the United States are talking publicly, diplomatically, for the first time in decades. Further, through diplomacy - not by sending military troops -  President Obama and his administration have lessened the potential for nuclear armed conflict coming from Iran.

We understand the skepticism that many have about this agreement, but we think now especially is a time when Americans should be looking at the positive, and not the negative. Neither U.S.-Irainan diplomatic relations or a lowering of potential nuclear clonflict are small accomplishments. Both will make for a more peaceful world.

If those aren't some very good reasons for thanks, we're not sure what is.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Actions And Consequences

As we head toward a weekend that we hope is filled with plenty of rest, we're pausing today to give a warning about unintended consequences, both in the past and the present.

Although right-wing media and politicians are crying the world's largest puddle of crocodile tears, as James Downie noted in the Washington Post yesterday, Republicans have only themselves to blame for Senator Reid and Senate Democrats using the so-called 'nuclear option' on Thursday.

The nuclear option is really just filibuster reform, a result of a long crusade by many, as Greg Sargent noted. It will have the benefit for all Americans of unclogging Congress a bit, as the minority party - currently the GOP - can no longer unilaterally obstruct virtually everything that comes before the Senate. Judicial appointments especially will likely zoom through now, as President Obama is finally going to be allowed to complete the constitutionally mandated part of his job in which he appoints new judges to the Federal bench.

As our staff discussed among themselves yesterday, and as everyone from Molly Ball to Ian Millheiser agreed, Republicans gave Democrats no choice but to blow up the old filibuster rules. Even while Republicans were stomping their feet and threatening heavy repercussions, as Paul Waldman made clear, the cries of vengeance coming from the right ring hollow, since Republicans would have likely done the same thing if they were in charge of the Senate - and they likely would have done it a long time ago.

To those who don't focus on politics regularly, the Democrat's filibuster reform may not seem like a huge deal at first. However, as Ezra Klein explained after the vote on Thursday, the unintended consequences of the change to Senate rules could affect a great many things.

A single action that caused massive unintended consequences is exactly what happened fifty years ago today, when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed on a sunlit street in Dallas, Texas.

As we look through the images, audio, and video of that day fifty years ago, we can't help but notice how the right-wing's hatred of President Kennedy in the 1960s looks a lot like the vitriol they direct at President Obama today.

When it comes to the violent removal of a President from office - something that many right-wing extremists in conservative media have been openly endorsing for years now - we like to believe, in their hearts, that those angry Americans truly do not wish a horrific chain of events like that ever comes to pass again, no matter what hate-filled bile comes out of their mouths.

Look at the hell that was released when President Kennedy was assassinated. Those on the conservative right, many of whom were racists then and still are now, did not expect the civil rights movement to come from the White House of Texas native Lyndon Johnson. The women's movement that followed also caused those conservatives angst they still have to this day. The election of Richard Nixon as President would also arguably never have happened without Kennedy's death.

Kennedy's death also caused massive unexpected changes on the left, the biggest being Vietnam. Kennedy's death also led to Nixon's presidency and Watergate. The ripple effects from those events caused massive changes that are still being felt today, in areas from our all-volunteer military, to the massive NSA spying issues, to Nixonian policies which strengthened corporations, and weakened unions - which in turn lead to the massive inequality gap we're slogging through today.

The 'nuclear option' that was used in the Senate this week didn't kill anyone. Like the assassination of President Kennedy, however, we may all be feeling the unintended consequences for many years to come.

Time will tell.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Knockout Idea For The Left

For all the wailing and crying many in the media have been doing lately about Obamacare, as we pointed out Tuesday, the truth is that the ACA is beginning to succeed. In many ways, that also means those on the political left are beginning to land punches not just politically, but on a policy level - a fact that terrifies many on the political right.

The perfect example of that kind of success is, in fact, the ACA - also known as Obamacare.

Indeed, as Greg Sargent noted Wednesday, Democratic political groups are revamping the strategies they used in 2012 to go on offense, in order to showcase the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. They're also highlighting the choice Republicans have forced the nation into for 2014: Should America fix the ACA, like Democrats want? Or should America repeal Obamacare entirely, then attempt to replace it with the empty platitudes and non-existent alternative legislation Republicans keep promising they'll come up with...someday.

As always, the real test is in the data - and those results are clearly showing Democrats landing more and more punches.

As John Cassidy pointed out in the New Yorker this week, in states where they've actually tried to make Obamacare work, Americans love it. Kevin Drum also focused our attention on a national poll from CBS that shows Obamacare has only taken a modest hit in the polls amidst all the negativity from the right - meaning that Americans still fundamentally believe in Obamacare.

The data also shows that the ACA is already accomplishing one of its top goals: to stop the continual rapid growth of health costs. As a report from the Council of Economic Advisers released this week proves, the ACA has slowed the rate of health care inflation to the lowest level in fifty years, slowing health care spending growth to its lowest level ever recorded. Like a panel of boxing judges, USA Today, Steve Benen, and Sarah Kliff all looked at the data and concurred: the ACA is winning the health cost fight.

That's not the only success for Democrats, though as Thomas Edsall notes, success on Obamacare is incredibly important.

Another big win for Democrats is happening in the inequality ring, specifically with the minimum wage fight. From Massachusetts and New Jersey, to Washington state, and California, Americans continue to vote in favor of substantial minimum wage increases, turning "minimum wage" jobs into "living wage" jobs.

Those are just wins though, that even the score. Democrats are finally going on offense too, after years of playing defense.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is a perfect example of this, especially in her speech earlier this week, calling for an expansion of Social Security. In case you'd forgotten, not only did Warren spearhead the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but the CFPB is already getting results. In concert with the DOJ, the CFPB helped broker the massive $13B penalty fine Wall Street goliath JP Morgan has to pay, because of the bank's shenanigans that helped cause the Great Recession. As David Dayen points out, that settlement isn't as harsh as it should have been - but it is a good start.

Democrats are also pushing forward in the Senate, ready to nuke the filibuster, they're pushing forward on the military sexual assault bill, and as Greg Sargent also pointed out, Democrats are daring Republicans to take the nation hostage over the budget deal in 2014.

In other words, Democrats are landing punches on all fronts, while Republicans are up against the ropes. Which means Democrats should not be questioning their ability or their positions.

The only thing Democrats should be questioning at this point is how much progress they’re willing to help the American people get.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Facing The Consequences

As we noted on Tuesday, while much of the media has been hyperventilating about Healthcare.gov, Obamacare enrollment actually seems to be sort of working now, and it could still succeed, much to the dismay of many on the right. Even as the website improves daily, Congress - or at least Congressional Democrats - have been attempting to get a few other things done.

Republicans in the Senate, however, have been finding new excuses to do nothing. The one thing they have done sucessfully is to keep a lid on their Democratic colleagues and President Obama, specifically by obstructing the president's long list of judicial nominees from confirmation. Just this week, Republicans filibustered the third nomination by President Obama for what's often considered the second highest court in the nation, the D.C. Circuit Court.

As Greg Sargent and others reported Tuesday afternoon, that act of obstruction by Senate Republicans may finally blow up in their faces, as it appears that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may finally use the 'nuclear option.'

If this seems to you like a political version of Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown yet again, we can't honestly disagree. We've been here several times before in the last few years, most recently in mid-July. As Jonathan Chait noted yesterday, though, things are a bit different this time.

This time, instead of simply blocking President Obama's nominees because Republicans disagree with the job the nominee is slated to fill, as they did with Richard Cordray, Republicans in the Senate are attempting to block all nominees by President Obama to the courts. As Chait notes, Senate Republicans believe "Obama has no right to alter the existing ideological balance of the courts" - even though every other President has had that right.

Whether or not this dates back to 2005, as Chait argues, or dates back even further, the fact remains that Republicans in the Senate are now attempting to impose a set of rules on this President, that has never been applied to any other President in history. Effectively, as Dylan Matthews points out, this Republican obstructionism might block President Obama's entire non-health care policy agenda for his second term - an obstructionist outcome Senate Democrats finally appear ready to blow up.

As Jennifer Bendery of the Huffington Post noted Tuesday afternoon, Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein of California have finally stated they're ready to join with their Democratic colleagues to change the rules of the Senate. That means Harry Reid finally has fifty-one votes - enough to change the rules of the Senate so that judicial nominations become votes that pass with a simple majority.

Over at Washington Monthly, Jonathan Bernstein tried to figured out why Senate Republicans collectively might have made such a colossally bad political move with all of this obstructionism, when we think he hit on a key point: Senate Republicans, as a group, probably weren't thinking anything. Each person was thinking only of themselves, and how they'd look to their hard-core right-wing constituents, if they could keep a lid on all of President Obama's judicial nominations.

Now, it finally appears that strategy will blow up in their faces.

Republicans can't say they weren't warned. Obstructionism has consequences, as does selfishness.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Passes For News

As the Thanksgiving holiday rapidly approaches, we're giving thanks that our regular employers and clients won't be forcing us to work on the holiday this year, like so many retailers are doing to their employees. In fact, most of our staff members have been trying to keep up with the "Month of Thankfulness" theme happening on Facebook, in which people try to post something different each day they're thankful for.

One thing we know we're all thankful for is a small but measurable group of journalists and writers who - unlike much of the political media - haven't completely abandoned their professional ethics in favor of dumping dramatic dreck, gunk, and garbage.

In case you'd missed it, the majority of sell-out whores of the journalism field have been gleefully piling on the right-wing propaganda wagon, claiming ridiculous baloney like "Obamacare is on Life Support" or saying it's "The Beginning of The End for Obama." Frankly, wading through their lies has been worse than opening the newspaper to find an accidental surprise from the dog.

Thankfully, there are those like Greg SargentJoan WalshJamelle Bouie, the Jonathans - Cohn, Chait, and Bernstein - and a few key others who've been paying attention to what's really been happening with the rollout of Obamacare.

Indeed, as we touched on Monday, as Joan Walsh nailed last Friday, and as Ezra Klein hit perfectly yesterday, Obamacare's flaws are not like Hurricane Katrina. Anyone who is being intellectually honest should stop comparing the two right now.

Of course, the right wing has been effectively hyperventilating about the idea that the messy rollout of Obamacare would be a disaster, as Jonathan Chait noted on Monday. Paul Waldman of The Prospect even warned the Obamacare panic could be entering an even stupider phase - though Kevin Drum at Mother Jones believes the Obamacare hysteria bubble is about to burst.

The truth is, as Jonathan Bernstein noted, that Democrats are not turning against the Affordable Care Act. Greg Sargent has also been spelling it out clearly at The Plum Line Blog for some time now, that the problems with Obamacare aren't the path to political salvation that many on the right wing are wishing for.

Of course, if our media colleagues on the sell-out side of aisle had done their research, as Johnathan Cohn did, it would become obvious that a massive amount of attention is being given to the problems of relatively few Americans trying to get health insurance under the new rules of the ACA. Those who have signed up, and aren't just regurgitating the talking points they've gotten from Fox, agree that signing up for insurance now wasn't super easy - but it was certainly more than worth any trouble they ran into.

What's more, as Jamelle Bouie points out, without all of the problems created by Republicans at both the state and Federal levels, Obamacare would be in MUCH better shape. Republicans can't honestly complain about the rollout of the ACA going poorly because they're the ones that are responsible for many of the complications they're complaining about.

For all the negative hyperbole, hype, and gunk dripping out of the news about Obamacare, the facts still remain: Since the right has no viable health insurance alternative, it's time they stop trying to pass off their oozing hatred of President Obama and his signature legislation as news.

We get it. They hate the black guy in the White House.

That's not news to anyone.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Reality Drought

As members of our staff travelled back from last weekend's grand opening of The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, their travels took them through the middle of a war zone - or at least what seemed like a war zone - in the heart of America's farmland.

In a time of year not usually known for dramatic weather, more than 70 tornados touched down in Illinois and Indiana on Sunday, killing at least six, turning upside down the lives of thousands, and delaying our staff a bit. This is just the latest weather disaster in a year that's seen one of the strongest tornados ever on record in Moore, Oklahoma, and one of the strongest hurricanes on record in Typhoon Haiyan. Like most recent years, 2013 is also likely to go down as one of the hottest years on record.

If you haven't heard much more than a day's worth of news on any of these climate change disasters, we're not surprised. Much of the media's chattering classes have been hyperventilating on their own hype, acting like a horde of Chicken Littles falsely claiming every problem President Obama runs into is his version of President Bush's Katrina failures. Still other large portions of our American media are busily airing the umpteenth homage and/or conspiracy theory about the death of President Kennedy, fifty years ago this week, while steadily ignoring the cause of all the weather-related death and destruction.

Much of America, sadly, tends to agree with what the vapid media executives shove in front of viewers, caring more about football and conspiratorial fantasies about their Presidents (both past and current), than they do about the reason for all the wild weather  - climate change.

Thankfully, not all of America is sitting on the couch, waiting for the Hooters halftime show.

In New York, they're already working on flood defenses for LaGuardia Airport when the inevitable next superstorm comes, even as they still wrestle with problems from Superstorm Sandy. In Arizona, regulators are fighting to keep solar power growing in order to reduce the use of traditional power plants. Even in coal country, the Tennessee Valley Authority is closing eight coal-fired power units due to competition from other less polluting forms of energy generation.

The Federal government is pushing forward too, as the EPA recently proposed major cuts in the amount of ethanol that American refineries must add to the fuel supply in 2014. As technology has changed, the promise of corn-based ethanol has evaporated. Thankfully, the Obama Administration is trying to follow the facts on this issue, and not simply continuing subsidies that don't work.

The private sector is getting into the act too. As Michael Specter pointed out recently in The New Yorker, and Rob Wile noted in Business Insider, the relatively new tech firm Climate Corporation is working hard to make the data surrounding climate change available to farmers to help better predict yields - a tool they've surprisingly never had before.

Thankfully, all of this changing regulation and forward thinking seems to have had some effect on climate change.

As a new study released in the journal Nature has confirmed, much to the chagrin of climate deniers like those in the Nebraska legislature, the recent "hiatus" in global warming looks to be attributed to a climate change treaty ratified during the Reagan years, the Montreal Protocol. That international law reduced the use of CFC's by 90 percent - and may have given the world a bit more time to tackle the ever-pressing problem of climate change.

That kind of information may not be as interesting as another JFK conspiracy theory, or the latest college or NFL game - but it's infinitely more important.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For

Sometimes we get to the end of a week, and our staff has to laugh about how everything played out that week, in positive yet unexpected ways. Of course, we're talking primarily about President Obama's "fix" to the Affordable Care Act, which he announced at a press conference on Thursday.

The way everyone in the media seems to refer to the latest tweak to Obamacare as a "fix" led us to think of an old phrase we've mentioned here previously, that many of our readers think of as Nebraska's unofficial motto. That motto is simple: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it IS broke, fix it - just once."

That "fix" that President Obama announced on Thursday seems to fall into the category of things that need to be fixed once and fixed right - even though, as Jamelle Bouie noted Thursday afternoon, Obamacare wasn't really broken. Still, as the President contritely admitted Thursday afternoon, many critics of Obamacare were angry they couldn't keep their plans and both he and Congressional Democrats felt like they were about to be pummeled by the problems in the rollout of Obamacare.

Of course, as we noted yesterday, having a plan beats having no plan almost every time, even if that plan needs to be tweaked from time to time.

In short, the tweak or "fix" President Obama instituted isn't a legislative repair, but an administrative move, one that gives health insurance companies nationwide the flexibility to extend current insurance plans for one year. That extension applies especially to those insurance plans that don't currently meet the new higher minimum quality standards of the ACA.

The single "catch" to the President's fix is that insurance companies must now be the "bad guys," telling their customers - customers keeping their old, lower-quality plans - exactly what those plans are missing compared to what plans under the ACA will provide.

Obama's action also falls into the category of "administrative changes" to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act - so what the President did is fully legal, as Greg Sargent confirmed.

If you didn't know better, you might think President Obama's action to fix the Obamacare rollout would make insurers happy. After all, the insurance companies are getting exactly what they asked for - which, of course, is why they're so pissed off right now.

In fact, as Evan McMorris Santoro noted for Buzzfeed on Thursday, insurers almost immediately began ripping the White House's Obamacare fix. It turns out that, even though corporate insurance executives and insurance company executives were demanding an immediate fix, as Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic pointed out, you can't just 'restore' cancelled health insurance plans.

We are absolutely certain President Obama knew that even a seemingly minor change couldn't happen overnight. Brian Beutler of Salon seems to agree with us, noting that President Obama's fix wasn't really to settle the concerns of a minority of upset Americans. It was "a justified comeuppance" to ungrateful insurance companies that were trying to screw over their customers in a new way, yet blame President Obama and Democrats for their smarmy actions.

As President Obama proved on Thursday, when Democrats stop freaking out about Obamacare, take charge, and face down the bullies, things actually turn out much better than most of the screaming pundits usually think it will.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lessons About Insanity

Watching both the media and politicians when they've worked themselves into a pointless panicked tizzy is an act of frustration for us - one we've sadly experienced far too often during the last few years.

It's a situation similar to one we imagine New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie has been experiencing, in his not-so-conspicuous testing for a likely 2016 Presidential bid. Christie is a real conservative, no matter how hard some media hacks wish he were otherwise. Even if he's the kind of Republican many of the tea party faithful would label as a "traitor," he's really the only major, nationally-known, non-redstate success the GOP has right now.

Still, we've got little sympathy for Christie, who's also an unapologetic bully. He's made it clear he has no intention of engaging in some of the crazy positions these days that act as an entrance interview for Republican presidential aspirants. Yet that refusal to follow the crazies makes many in the extreme tea party right hate Christie almost as much as they hate President Obama - and it'll likely keep him out of the top spot on the national Republican ticket in 2016.

The one thing Democratic leaders could learn from Christie is to have a backbone, and maybe even play the bully themselves once in a while.

That much has become blindingly obvious this week as the Affordable Care Act's first enrollment numbers were released, even as the right wing banged the drum of their fake concern parade. From former President Clinton, to Washington Post writer Ezra Klein, and many in-between, Democrats have seemed more willing than ever to make stupid comments surrounding the ACA, playing right into the hands of the GOP.

To us, that kind of insane conduct is a perfect excuse to remind Democratic politicians and pundits of some key lessons about the ACA.

First, as Greg Sargent has said more times than even he probably cares to remember, "All that will really matter is whether [Obamacare] works over the long haul." To both politicians and pundits we say 'Screw the short-term thinking.' The 2014 elections aren't until almost a year from now. Most of what you do or say now isn't going to even be something voters and readers remember next year. All they'll care about is if they have insurance, and if it's better than what they had before. Focus on the successes - and ignore those who never wanted the program to work.

Secondly, a plan beats no plan, and a law sure as hell beats speculation. Republicans can complain all they want. But the key question MUST be asked of them every time they bitch and moan: Do you have a better idea? Other than Obamacare, which was originally an idea from the right-wing Heritage Foundation, right-wing pundits and politicians haven't put forward any real alternatives for YEARS now. Even the latest "conservative alternative" to the ACA in the Wall Street Journal isn't a real alternative. After all, it's not legislation in Congress yet, is it?

Finally, check who's doing the complaining. Have the whiners done anything to actually HELP Obamacare work better? Or have the whiners been causing problems every chance they get? Everyone knows Republicans have gummed up the rollout of Obamacare on purpose - yet NOW they want to say the whole ACA should be scrapped because it doesn't work properly? When it was their efforts that were a major part of the sabotage of the health care rollout?

No one is saying Healthcare.gov is going to work perfectly 100% of the time by the end of this month. But the health care system America is moving towards now is far better than the system we used to have.

Trying to go back to our old system now would be truly insane - something that not even the tea party crazies truly want.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Turkey Of An Idea

We've all had those moments when we get an idea that seems great when it first flashes through our cerebral cortex - and upon further inspection seems incredibly stupid. Around this time of year, the legendary Thanksgiving stunt of tv's "WKRP in Cincinatti" comes to mind, along with far too many stories we've heard over the years of people bringing live turkeys to their holiday gathering.

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post apparently had one of those kinds of ideas on Tuesday, when he wrote a piece focusing on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's tea party problem. Unfortunately for him, Cohen's own writing was full of both racism and stupidity. The column inevitably drew lots of media attention, for reasons Cohen hadn't intended - which is a shame when a much better column about Christie had already been published by Cohen's colleague, Ryan Cooper. Still, it's obvious that Cohen was attempting to get attention for his work, even if he wasn't happy it was the wrong kind.

In a similar way, some legislators at state levels are beginning to look at things they can do in their current offices to get voters looking towards the 2014 elections to give them a second look. We have to say, some of those ideas are real turkeys.

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker agreed with our position on Tuesday, warning Republicans once again that they should pick their battles heading into 2014. She might even have been talking specifically to Nebraska's Republican Secretary of State John Gale, who last month decided to put forward a series of unusually stupid voter ID "solutions" that neither clear-headed individuals, nor tea party extremists like Nebraska state Senator Charlie Jannsen were willing to accept.

In short, the biggest focus of Gale's ideas were that specific types of photo IDs would be required for voting in Nebraska - but he would only require about six percent of voters in the state to have that special ID. Other Nebraska voters would be able to continue to vote as they always have - which makes no sense if voter integrity is actually Gale's real goal. State Sen. Bill Avery, a member of the state's legislature that would have to pass any new voter ID laws, noted there have yet to be any credible cases of voter fraud presented to the Nebraska Secretary of State's office, and that Gale's current ideas have no place in Nebraska.

We completely agree with with that.

While 34 states currently require voters to show some form of voter ID, only 19 states have voter ID laws of the kind that are truly designed not to prevent non-existent fraud, but to prevent voters Republicans don't like from voting. In last week's voting in Texas - where voter ID laws have been found unconstitutional and are currently being challenged by the U.S. Justice Department - it's already become clear that such voting laws did make a dent in voter turnout.

What the battle in Texas has also clearly showed is that while the cost of defending such racist, classist, ignorant efforts continues to climb, the effectively non-existent problem of voter impersonation remains a right wing fantasy. Meaning that the idea of rolling out similar voter ID laws in other states continues to be a real turkey.

For a political party that seems ever more desperate to focus on subjects of substance, Republicans should really stay away from voter ID. We might even suggest they try to tackle something like raising the minimum wage or comprehensive immigration reform.

We just hope - for their sake - they get someone other than Richard Cohen to write about their next endeavors.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Yes, They're All Stupid.

With Veterans' Day behind us, half of Congress still not back to DC, and less than three weeks until the holiday season gets underway, many of our colleagues in the national political media seem to be desperately searching for a single major news narrative right now.

Some have decided to follow the complete abuse of journalistic integrity shown by Lara Logan and the producers at CBS' '60 Minutes.' Other members of the political media have focused on the ongoing GOP civil war - specifically, the contrasts between recently re-elected New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former half-term Alaska Governor and Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. Still other colleagues are concentrating on the latest bizzare ridiculousness from the right wing, like conservative economists comparing babies to Porsches, and the continuing apoplectic right-wing reaction to same sex marriage.

The simple refusal to face facts and reality from far too many people who should know better keeps reminding us of that late-night speculation game "Stupid or Evil?"

The fact is, whether it's some crazy right-wing nut insisting religious marriage is being destroyed by same-sex marriage - which is the exact opposite of what the facts say - or whether it's a long-trusted media organization blowing their credibility on trying to attract the wingnuts, we keep having to confirm that yes, humans really can be that stupid.

Take the team at CBS '60 minutes.'

Many in the media - including us - often think '60 Minutes' does a solid job of investigating tough issues. That said, Logan and the CBS team blew this story badly, in a desperate and ham-handed appeal to extremist conservatives. What's worse, CBS appears to be handling this situation badly, almost as bad as when they fired legendary journalist Dan Rather for exposing the uncomfortable fact that former President George W. Bush technically went AWOL while serving in the Texas Air National Guard. That kind of conduct at a venerable organization like CBS is just plain stupid.

Speaking of stupid, Sarah Palin has been trolling the media again, in advance of her new 'war on Christmas' book. This has set up a perfect comparison between Palin, the has-been/never-was icon of the extremist right and Gov. Chris Christie, the only major Republican winner in last week's elections.

Christie, while exposing the stupidity of the Sunday shows this past weekend, didn't exactly display brilliance himself, ducking a key immigration question, and simultaneously trashing political advisors to Mitt Romney that Christie himself used during his re-election campaign.

Don't think the stupid just belongs on the political right either. Noam Schieber, a talented writer at The New Republic, has revved up the idiotic speculation that there's a divide between Hillary Clinton Democrats and Elizabeth Warren Democrats. While we regularly link to Noam's work, the fact is, any idea there's a spilt on the left that even is a shadow reflection of the chasm dividing the right at this point in time is just plain silly.

The fact is, both America's political machines and our media machines are designed to handle only one thing well: The insane pace of a national election cycle, an action that only happens every four years. Truly important topics like how seventy-five percent of Americans are in favor of raising the minimum wage, or how Wall Street is finally concerned with inequality? Those don't get nearly the discussion they should.

If our politicians and political media are as bored as they seem, maybe those topics would be a good place for them to focus instead.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What Veterans Deserve

Even as our staff gets back to work today, from an unexpected break last week, many Americans will have Monday off in celebration of Veterans Day in the United States.

As we've done every year since we began publication, we're reminding you today to thank a veteran, though we frankly hope you thank those who have served and are serving every day, whenever you encounter them. After nearly a decade and a half in Afghanistan, and a nearly decade-long war in Iraq, there are more American military veterans than at any time in recent history - and more are coming home all the time.

Even as mixed reports of readiness to leave Afghanistan filter into the American media, U.S. troops are busily dismantling our military infrastructure there in anticiptaion of the coming withdrawal. Negotiations on exactly how strong the remaining U.S. presence will be in Afghanistan after 2014 are still ongoing, even at this late date, and while a complete withdrawal of troops has been hinted at, it's unlikely.

Still, President Obama's promise to end the active war in Afghanistan begun under George W. Bush over a decade ago looks like it will happen in 2014. That means that maybe, by the time Veterans Day rolls around next year, there will be no major war zones where large numbers of American service members are stationed.

That alone is a fantastic reason to be thankful, and why maybe you should hug your favorite veteran.

There are more than few other positive signs to look at, though.

Sure, there are the simple reasons, like free goods and services around the nation for veterans and active duty service members. There's also the fact that as President Obama and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki had promised, the massive backlog of veterans' disability claims has decreased sharply, by one-third of the total, just since March. Even during the government shutdown, the backlog of cases needing attention was reduced.

Further, as of Friday, the Affordable Care Act requires all insurers and U.S. health systems - including the V.A. system - to cover care for mental health issues and addiction in the same way physical health issues are covered. This means that both veterans and their families will have affordable access to mental health care, something millions of veterans have been in desperate need of.

Of course, there's also the reality that every U.S. military veteran faces at time or another, even the one on our own small staff: That things could be worse. They certainly were worse in the Philippines over the weekend, as one of the worst storms in recorded history killed over 10,000 people in that island nation, and left millions of others homeless or in the dark. President Obama, of course, is already sending U.S. military aid to the Philippines, and many international aid agencies - often staffed by veterans - are also already working to help the millions affected by the disaster.

As many veterans can attest, the sight of members of the U.S. military coming to help in disaster-stricken regions like the Philippines has often, throughout history, given reasons for thanks from those who haven't had much hope.

While we hope that you show your appreciation to a veteran today, we also hope that all of these other news items - ending the war in Afghanistan, the decrease in veterans' claims, increased mental health care, our military helping in the Philippines - reminds you that our vets do far more than just shoot guns or fly drones.

They deserve the thanks of every grateful American - maybe even a hug or two.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Release The Hounds

We apologize in advance today, for ourselves and our industry as a whole, for multiple reasons.

First, today is election day in locations across the country. The major races for governor in Virginia and New Jersey, and for Mayor of New York City likely won't be that competitive, if the exit polls match the polling that's already been done. If you hate the runaway watchdog role that most media outlets use during our nearly perpetual election seasons in America, we apologize for those colleagues of ours who will slip back into this abrasive style of journalism - and continue it for the next three years.

We also apologize for those members of the media who are are still stuck on the same story, namely of Republicans crying wolf over Obamacare. Yes, Republicans - especially those in the extremist wing of their party - are still going to try to continue to sabotage the Affordable Care Act at every turn. No, Obamacare isn't going away.

Finally, we also apologize for those members of the media who are still chasing the Edward Snowden/NSA spying story like some kind of rabid dog. As yet another document release by Snowden this past weekend showed, the U.S. is far from the only friendly nation spying on it's allies. European nations do it too, as does Brazil, who made an international stink in September about the NSA spying on Brazillians. Yet Monday, the Brazilian government admitted they'd also spied on several diplomatic targets, including the U.S.

The biggest reason we're apologizing on behalf of our industry, however, happens to be the pack mentality and sheer stupidity that will likely soon take over much of the political media space, in the wake of the 2013 campaigns and today's elections.

As we already noted, the major elections today will likely be won by Terry McCauliffe in Virginia, by Chris Christie in New Jersey, and by Bill DeBlasio in New York City. While much of the political media will be desperate to snarl and yelp and make the Virginia Attorney General's race more than it is, the likelihood is that most of the major offices up for grabs today in Virginia will go to Democratic candidates. Which means even if the Republican wins today in the Virginia Attorney General's race, he likely won't be able to do much with his new position, politically.

Where we think many more of our colleagues should be looking is at races like the 2014 Florida Governor's race, or the 2014 Second District U.S. House race in Nebraska.

In Florida, former Governor Charlie Crist is also a former Republican, though he's since changed his registration to Independent, then Democratic. He announced the start of his 2014 campaign on Monday, taking hard swipes at the extremists in the GOP. That announcement by Crist, while not unexpected, will force any Republican candidate for the Florida governor's seat into a difficult position. They will have to explain both why extremist Republicans drove moderates like Crist out, and why moderates who can make compromises aren't as good as extremists who refuse compromise.

In Nebraska, the race for the seat currently held by GOP Rep. Lee Terry may also be a harbinger for other races across the nation. Rep Terry just picked up yet another challenger from the extremist tea party wing of the Republican Party, Omaha businessman Dan Frei. Terry may end up with multiple Republican challengers once again, though it's the Democratic challenger for the seat, well-liked progressive Democratic Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen who could prove Terry's biggest challenge — especially since the House GOP has passed no real legislation Terry can trumpet as a success.

Whatever your feelings about election-focused political coverage, just know that today's elections not only signal the beginning of the 2014 races - they also signal the start of the 2016 presidential campaigns.

As we said, on behalf of our industry, we apologize for the next three years.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pigs & Priorities

While the Democratic-led Senate remains in session this week in Washington, it should surprise no one that the Republican-led House is effectively on vacation once again. In theory, House members are "working from their districts," though these days that often means hiding from angry constituents while dashing from one fundraiser to the next for their umpteenth re-election campaign. The entire time, of course, these members of Congress are collecting their annual salary of $174,000, along with all of their benefits.

When you contrast that kind of Congressional largess with the effects of the food stamp cuts now reverberating around the country, our members of Congress - especially those in the House of Representatives - look like selfish, overgrown pigs, metaphorically speaking. Frankly, far too many of them look that way in real life, too.

The truth is, when House members do finally get their overfed behinds back to Washington to eke out a bit of work, no one should be talking about cutting safety net programs, cutting federal retiree benefits, attacking workers, or permanently cutting the budget. The discussion should be about investment - both in American infrastructure and growth, as well as in American workers.

In short, it's time America's fat corporations and overfed rich started paying far more than they have during the last 30 years, thanks to Republican-led austerity charades. At least, that's how a growing number of relatively conservative billionaire businesspeople see it - and they'd be the ones paying more.

While Warren Buffett has long said America's wealthiest should pay more, many have foolishly written him off on that point. Last week billionaire investor Bill Gross of PIMCO made it clear he agrees with Buffet, in an essay he wrote for his company's website. Gross specifically said, "If you’re in the privileged 1%, you should be paddling right alongside [working class Americans] and willing to support higher taxes…The era of taxing 'capital' at lower rates than 'labor' should end."

That point hit home over the weekend in an article from the Financial Times that pointed out U.S. public investment has now fallen to its lowest level since the end of World War II. The economists and sources cited in that report - including Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former head of the CBO under President George W. Bush - made clear what the data they see is saying. America is now in massive danger of long-term economic damage without heavy investment in areas like high-speed internet, improved and repaired waste-water treatment systems, 'green' and next-generation power generation, and repair of bridges and roads. That investment must come through increased revenue.

Even that bastion of anti-worker sentiment Wal-Mart has now admitted: America has gone too far in cutting and gutting. As Lydia Depillis of the Washington Post's Wonkblog noted this weekend, Wal-Mart is pressuring its American suppliers to bring manufacturing for Wal-Mart customers back home. With rising labor costs overseas, America's gas and oil boom, and the current risk of global supply chains, even if American companies have to pay more to American workers, the cost of production in the US is now barely more expensive than it is in China.

It should be noted the faction of the GOP that has driven many of the anti-worker policies that have affected American politics since the Reagan era has adopted the "Tea Party" name. Behind their many masks over the last 30-plus years lies the same arrogant, ignorant, "me first, screw you" pigs they've always been. Except, of course, now they're in Congress.

The fat that Americans should really be cutting in the next few elections should be those political hogs who continue to favor budget cuts to programs for the working poor over investment in our nation.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Finding Satisfaction

With Halloween and the World Series over, Thanksgiving just four weeks away, and Daylight Savings Time rolling to its end for this year, the minds of our staff members seem to be as unsettled as the leaves outside our office doors. Call it an early holiday distraction.

After all, while we're already discussing some of our favorite holiday foods, we're also torn today even  thinking about food. In case you missed it, America's food stamp program is $5 billion shorter today, thanks to the obstruction of unhappy extremists in the GOP. For a program that only costs the average American 10¢ a day, yet multiples the power of a single dollar in our economy by $1.70 - all while preventing millions of elderly, disabled, children, and nearly a million desperately poor veterans from starving - there's no logic to why Republicans continue to fight to keep food out the mouths of their fellow Americans.

Still, the extremists in the Republican Party are continuing to fight for even more cuts in the Farm & Food Bill. Thankfully, there are some like Sen. Mike Johanns who believe a deal may yet be possible. We applaud Sen. Johanns' optimism, and hope that he's right, that an honest compromise can be reached on the farm bill, as well as many of the other bills finally being officially debated in Congress.

Of course, it would help Sen. Johanns and all of the members of U.S. Senate if their counterparts in the Republican-led House would actually stay in DC and do the work that is their responsibility, as members in both chambers did earlier this week. Don't look for the House to get back to that work level any time soon, though, as they're on vacation - excuse us, "working from their districts" - for the next two weeks.

For all the progress that may have been made in Washington this week, the fact is, extremist Republicans still seem perpetually angry and dissatisfied. This week's hearing on the Affordable Care Act, with Sec. Sebelius was a perfect example of that perpetual lack of satisfaction from those on the political right.

While both the President and Sec. Sebelius took responsibility for their shortcomings in the rollout of Obamacare last month, Republicans in Congress once again refused to take any responsibility for their obstructionism that helped to cause the disasterous rollout of the ACA in the past few weeks. While private companies like Google, Oracle, and Red Hat have stepped up to help make Healthcare.gov work, Republicans have continued to work to create more obstacles for the new health insurance system.

As is often the case, Greg Sargent asked the pertinent question on Thursday: What will Republicans say - and do - if Obamacare works? If the site can be mostly repaired by the end of this month, as most knowledgable experts seem to think, and the popularity of the Affordable Care Act continues to grow, will that mollify the extremists in the GOP?

The answer, of course, is no.

For a group that constantly preaches about personal responsibility, Republican's primary representatives in Congress are either sabotaging the country they claim to love, or ducking out on their responsibilities. Don't expect that to change next year, as those same GOP leaders in the House just filed to reduce the number of workdays they are required to serve in 2014.

If you're like our staff members, you might get angry when you hear about the obstructionist, ridiculous actions like those Republicans are taking. There are literally dozens of reasons to get angry, to get frustrated, or to get fed up with the stupid things extremist Republicans do daily - and we feel all of those emotions regularly.

The good news today? There's one very good reason not to get angry.

No matter what anyone else does or says, the GOP extremists will never be satisfied. They have chosen to be filled with anger, hatred, jealousy, misogyny, and a thousand other negative traits - and they have no intention of being happy. So stop worrying about what will make them happy - and start working towards eliminating the extremists from office in 2014.

The next opportunity to remove and replace the uncompromising extremists - with either Democrats or sane, moderate Republicans - is just twelve months away.

Begin your countdown clocks toward a more functional government now.