Friday, April 25, 2014

All Good Things...

We have some news to share with you, our faithful and loyal readers.

For the past 6 years, The Daily Felltoon online service has been bringing you editorial cartoons, breaking news, and commentary each business day. For nationally-known cartoonist Paul Fell, writer and journalist Shawn Peirce, our current editor Amy Menge, and a handful of others over the years, this project has been a real labor of love. It has given us a national forum in which to share our views of current events, and has fostered positive and helpful discussions and comments from our many faithful subscribers.

Sadly, the time has come to pull the plug on The Daily Felltoon service. During the 6-year run of the Felltoon, we have provided online content at no charge to our subscribers. We have had lengthy discussions with other professionals in the media and have reluctantly decided that our staff can no longer invest the time and energy required to continue without showing some kind of a realistic profit. Unfortunately, in the media landscape today, those with the resources to support quality journalism rarely do so, while those who use and appreciate quality journalism often do not have the means to support it.

Our namesake, Editor-in-Chief and cartoonist Paul Fell, will still be creating his fantastic editorial cartoons for Artizans Syndicate. You will be able to see them daily at artizans.com, editorialcartoonists.com, or at Paul's website, paulfellcartoons.com. Paul will also continue to create his weekly cartoons for the Nebraska Press Association and the Oklahoma Gazette. He'll be soliciting freelance assignments in cartooning and humorous illustration as well.

Our webmaster, and primary writer, Shawn "Smith" Peirce is also moving on. Shawn's position as Assistant Executive Producer of the nationally syndicated Randi Rhodes talk radio show is coming to an end, as that show ends its ten year run on May 16th. Shawn is already looking to leave South Florida and seek greener career pastures in the Washington, D.C. area. As an experienced national radio producer, on-air talent, writer, journalist, webmaster, and graphic designer, we have no doubt he'll find someone in DC in need of his skills very soon.

Our editor Amy Menge's life has also grown notably more busy lately, with the wonderful recent addition of a second child to her family, as well as her professional language and document translation business. She also assists with her husband's cartoon and science fiction writing, including their primary project these days (other than their kids), the online comic book 'Snow By Night.'

We're proud of the work we've produced with The Daily Felltoon, and the discussions we've fostered nationally. Those discussions have been more important than many people may realize. Our subscribers include a surprisingly diverse and highly-placed group of people. Members of Congress and their staff, White House staff, members of several state legislatures and governor's offices have been reading our work every weekday for the past 6 years. Board members of local and national media organizations, as well as professional cartoonists, other artists, writers, musicians, and linguists have also been enjoying what we've proudly provided.

We will miss the opportunity to continue to share with you Paul's fantastic cartoons, our editorial commentary, and the best aggregation of news links and stories that the best in the media have to offer.  We each have other challenges ahead of us, though - and as the old axiom goes, 'All good things must come to an end.'

If you'd like to drop us a line of farewell, feel free to post a comment below, or send e-mails to webmaster@paulfellcartoons.com.

Thank you for your support and appreciation through the years.

We'll have one final edition a week from today, on May 2, 2014.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Terrifying Future That's Almost Here

As we look ahead to the fall elections, and the 2016 elections beyond, both the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions from this current excuse for a Supreme Court are weighing heavily on our minds. What's weighing even more heavily is that Americans soon may not have any serious access to honest media - and might only have propaganda from the new American oligarchs instead.

We wish we could say that our comments this day were hyperbole, that looking into the near future of political campaigns in America wasn't like staring into a magic mirror that only spouted lies and a fog of obfuscation.

We can't say that, though.

Just look at the news. Since the Supreme Court effectively removed any serious limits on political campaign financing earlier in the year, the hugely wealthy Koch Brothers and their ironically named political advocacy group "Americans For Prosperity" have spent more than $35 million, just on negative TV ads, trying to slur, slam, and denigrate just four Democratic candidates.

We're not exaggerating when we say that the Koch Brothers and those who stand with them will stoop to any level. The latest example of this was an AFP ad aimed at Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall from Colorado. That ad used a picture of President Obama and Senator Udall, taken from the dark days after the Aurora theatre massacre. The ad creators then photoshopped out the background and used the photo in a totally unrelated and negative context.

Surprisingly, the Koch-backed group was actually able to be shamed enough by the families of the Aurora victims that the Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity changed the ad - but not by much.

You might have heard about this disgusting display on the news or on the internet - though you may not have even that option in the near future.

Even as Comcast is desperately scrambling to sell off assets, so that the Federal regulatory agencies might allow the Comcast/Time Warner merger to slip through, the FCC is also proposing the gutting of Net Neutrality.

That would mean that Internet Service Providers would be allowed to charge higher rates for different kinds of traffic online - effectively legalizing internet highway robbery. The recent dispute between Netflix and Comcast is a perfect example of how a telecom corporation can virtually hold up whomever they want in a world without Net Neutrality, and suffer no consequences.

Under a system without Net Neutrality, if you want to watch a TV show or news program owned by Viacom - for example Comedy Central or the new series on Showtime,'Years of Living Dangerously' - and the only choice for high-speed internet you have is Comcast (who owns NBC), that internet service provider may have the right to slow your viewing access down to a crawl. Unless, of course, you pay whatever extra access fee they decide to charge.

If you thought the recent study that proved that America has become an oligarchy - a nation where only the richest will have any opportunities - was a joke, as we assured you when we first saw it, that fact is indeed very serious, very sad, and a very real indictment of the way our U.S. government is currently working (or not working).

While we can't eliminate the oligarchs today, if you'd like to do something to help keep Net Neutrality alive, we recommend you send your scathing comments to the FCC as soon as their public comment period opens on this issue.

Just don't be surprised if, in the near future, the only ads on your television, tablet, phone and computer are political propaganda filled with hate and lies - and that's the only programming you get on those devices that actually runs smoothly, as we've all come to expect online.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Overflowing With Wisdom

As the decision from the State Department came down last Friday to delay the official ruling on the Keystone pipeline, we had a chuckle or two among our staff - in part because the announcement happened just before Earth Day.

Even while the 'Cowboy and Indian Alliance' was marching around the National Mall yesterday on Earth Day to protest the Keystone pipeline, the potentially disastrous project remains in the same place it's been since February. That's when a Nebraska judge verified that the political runaround favored by TransCanada was unconstitutional, leaving the massive oil corporation with no legally approved route through the Cornhusker State for the Keystone XL project.

That inconvenient truth didn't seem to deter Politico's Ben White on Monday, as Emily Atkin noted over at Think Progress. White railed against the delay on CNBC, saying that the State Department just didn't seem to understand its role in the whole process. Many other pundits on both the right and left simply insisted the decision on Keystone was a purely political one.

What's been clear for a very long time to native Nebraskans like us who care about the future, is that folks like Ben White, TransCanada, and the "it's all about politics" crowd are the ones who don't seem to "get it" when it comes to Keystone. So let us help make this brutally clear: Nebraskans don't want the pipeline, for some very good reasons, and those reasons aren't going to change.

We've written and drawn more than a few times over the last few years about the Keystone pipeline, and the biggest reason for Nebraska to refuse this project that we always come back to is water.

The Keystone XL pipeline, if it is ever authorized in Nebraska, would go over part of the Ogallala Aquifer, the worlds largest underground source of clean water. That water has come to be more than just a symbol for Nebraska and the other states on the Great Plains. It's the source of water that allows America to feed itself and much of the rest of the world, even as drought has become somewhat normal again for the region.

If that source of water is ever contaminated, as a undetected leak of tar sands oil and related chemicals could easily do, it wouldn't just be a minor environmental event. It could mean that a large section of the midwest would no longer be able to grow food, or allow people to have access to drinking water. No water, no crops, no herds, no people, no business, no income, no food.

No kidding. All it would take is one wrong spill. Just one, and you could say good bye to our entire home state, permanently.

Sure - there are pundits who say that other elements of environmental responsibility, like the expected new emission rules, far outweigh the impact of Keystone.

We also understand how many Americans handle issues that don't happen right in their own backyard - badly. Four years after the Gulf oil disaster, and twenty-five years after the Valez oil spill in Alaska, most Americans have no idea that both disasters are still ongoing - including, in the case of the Gulf spill, BP's attempts to wriggle out of any serious legal penalties.

That, in a nutshell, is why Nebraskans continue to refuse Keystone, and why Americans who care about the environment still celebrate Earth Day every year: To remind Americans that these fights to keep our water, air, and environment clean are a daily struggle, one that we should all be paying attention to.

If we don't, we literally may lose our entire state. One spill is all it could take.

Knowing that, it shouldn't be difficult for anyone to understand why Nebraskans would prefer TransCanada to "get lost."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Breaking The Chains That Bind

As we watch events unfold around the world today, celebrating the forty-fifth anniversary of Earth Day, we have to admit that we understand the feeling so many environmentalists often express: That our politics and media in the United States are too often chained down, with no significant hope visible, and no positive change likely in the foreseeable future.

Right now, in America though - especially in the fields of politics and media - this is not one of those times.

The current media landscape, across the board, is really nearing a tipping point of serious change. Ken Vogel & Mackenzie Weigner of Politico, as well as our friend Rick Ungar of Forbes, both pointed out last Friday that those who privately subsidize right-wing media - from Rush Limbaugh all the way to Fox 'News' - are beginning to make one thing clear: The days of millions of dollars of money for next-to-no-return at the ballot box will likely soon be coming to an end.

That certainly won't mean an end to right-wing hate media. There has always been an audience, however small, for the kinds of divisive political hate media that fills the airwaves today. If the political left has one lesson in business for the political right that its learned over the past decade, it's that when talented, motivated people are given even small opportunities to capitalize on a small audience, they can still be successful - or at least pay the bills.

Of course, Americans all over the country would be able to pay their bills better if our country's "minimum wage" was really a living wage - and not a way to keep people chained to their current economic status. Raising the federal minimum wage to a living wage is a concept the majority of Americans support - and it would certainly break those chains. With right wing hate-media collapsing, maybe there's finally a chance for those of us who exist in the political center to finally push through legislation supporting what the true majority of Americans want.

Sadly, though, we have a feeling that such a movement may take longer than usual reaching into some corners of America. Oklahoma for example, where the Governor recently chained minimum wage workers to a below poverty pay level, effectively declaring with a sneer, an ideological war against the working poor.

In case you missed it, Republican Governor Mary Fallin signed a law last week banning any city in Oklahoma from passing its own higher-than-state-level minimum wage. The new law also banned any city from enacting its own laws about paid sick days or vacation requirements.

If the tea party nuts on the far right truly believed the anti-big government slogans their extremist right-wing media pushes them to chant, you might expect there to be rallies against this kind of state government overreach. After all - nearly 75% of Americans support a higher minimum wage.

That support doesn't just come from the political left and center either.

This past week, a group of local Christian pastors in Florida stood up against the kind of dismissive and disgusting hatred of the poor that's pushed so often in the right-wing hate media. This occurred after a Republican member of the U.S. house sneered in a dismissive way towards one of his own minimum wage earning constituents at a public town hall meeting.

Indeed, on issues from the minimum wage, to universal background checks, to getting money out of politics, the overwhelming majority of Americans from the progressive center left through the moderate center right agree.

That same majority of Americans also seem to be coming to a realization: That as long as we stay exclusively in our own ideological camps, and refuse to work together, the oligarchs - the richest Americans, who consider themselves above both the left and the right - will use our divisions to keep us all chained down like slaves.

If right-wing hate media truly does begin to fail, as it seems set to do, maybe the moderates on the right really could join together with progressives on the left to make a moderate amount of progress for us all.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Quieting The Critics

Over the last week, as our staff and friends relaxed at both Passover seders and Easter dinners, we found a lack of a certain event pleasantly surprising.

Around tables that held family and friends with a broad range of political opinions, between matzo bread and macaroons, or ham slices and deviled eggs, this year there were virtually no major arguments surrounding Obamacare. Even while Republican primary candidates were airing ridiculous ads on TV in the background talking about smacking down Obamacare, we didn't run into any arguments over the subject at our dinner tables, and neither did anyone else we know - the first time that's not happened at holiday events like that in quite some time.

That lack of discussion might be hard to believe, if you've seen the platform many in the Republican Party are already running on this year: That if voters will just send them to DC - or send them back to DC - Republicans will try to smother Obamacare to death, like an act of euthanasia.

What millions of Americans  - including at least one state Republican politician we know personally -  seemed to be saying this past week is that there's no way in hell they're going to let extremist Republicans take their affordable health care away from them now. Or as the often insightful Greg Sargent said last Friday, that the glorious Obamacare reckoning promised by the GOP is finally fading away, never having happened.

As Sarah Kliff over at Vox.com made clear last week, there's no surprise why Obamacare has been succeeding as well as it has been. Even with the sabotage by Republicans and the horrendous website rollout last fall, being uninsured in America today is a horrible thing. As Kliff noted, the persistence of Americans who ran into trouble and yet kept going until they were enrolled was amazing - and the number of enrollees reflected the desperation they were obviously feeling.

The number of enrollees is actually far greater than the 8 million Americans that President Obama touted last week.

About 3 million people signed up for Medicaid through the ACA, with more than 3.1 million young adults getting covered under their parents' plans, thanks to the law. Charles Gaba, considered by many to be the Obamacare enrollment numbers guru, estimates another 2 to 5 million purchased their own insurance policies outside of the exchanges, thanks to the law. Add that to the 8 million-plus that have used the exchanges, and you're getting near 20 million Americans who have solid, full coverage health insurance now, who didn't have anything close to that kind of coverage just two years ago.

Still, Republicans campaigning at virtually every level continue to insist they're going to repeal and replace Obamacare, evan as Sargent also noted last Friday, that Americans no longer believe Republicans have a plan to replace Obamacare.

Given these facts, as Brian Beutler of The New Republic wrote last week, the Republican position on Obamacare going into the 2014 cycle just doesn't really make any logical sense.

Call us crazy but we've been saying for years that logic and the modern version of the GOP just don't go together. Let's just hope American voters remember the current Republican disconnect - and their own newfound appreciation for Obamacare - and act a bit more logically themselves when they head to the voting booths this fall.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mastering The Future

It's a Friday, and after a long and ugly week of news, there's nothing more that we'd enjoy than focusing exclusively on positive news items. Topics like the announcement by Chelsea Clinton that she her husband Marc Mezvinsky are expecting their first child, or the amazing success of Obamacare are indeed worthy of celebrating.

We still believe in leaving our readers on Friday with a bit of positivity, now more than ever - especially in the face of the kinds of amazingly stupid racism, ignorance, and hatred that were displayed around the world this week. At times like this, we believe it is more critical than ever not to spend our column inches and pixel space solely on lighter news fare.

After all, in the Ukraine right now, people who are Jewish, ethnically or by choice, are now being forced and threatened to register their "status" as a Jew with the government. Even with the newest deal between Ukraine and Russia, brokered by Secretary of State Kerry, many Ukrainians feel as though their government is being undermined from the inside, and threatened from the outside, by their neighbors in Russia.

This is also the same week three Americans were killed in Kansas City by a former member of the KKK, who mistakenly thought his victims were Jews.

In Nigeria, more than 70 people were killed in a terrorist bomb blast. In the Central African Republic, deadly violence is killing dozens daily. Off the coast of South Korea, more than two hundred people - many high school students on a once-in-lifetime trip - are dead, their bodies lost to the ocean, after a ferry capsized this week.

This is also the same week that Fox "News" and the right wing media were inciting violence in Nevada, against American citizens. The supposedly law-and-order right-wing media stood firmly in support of a freeloading cattle rancher who'd been using Federal lands to graze his cattle for 20 years, while refusing to pay the same tiny grazing fee all other ranchers in similar situations already pay. When the Federal government finally decided a million dollars in unpaid back fees was too much to ignore, they got a court order to take the rancher's cattle. When the Federal Bureau of Land Management acted to enforce the law, the right-wing media cheered as domestic anti-government types blocked public interstates, and aimed fully automatic weapons at Federal agents who were merely doing their jobs, enforcing the law.

Thankfully, the Federal agents in the BLM in Nevada take their job of protecting both the land and the Americans who use it very seriously - so the agents temporarily backed down once again, to prevent needless loss of lives.

We've warned for years about people who are "terminally stupid" - that terrible combination of selfishness, arrogance, and ignorance that all too often leaves either the terminally stupid person or someone around them unnecessarily dead. Unfortunately, terminally stupid people come in every shape, size, color, and any other description you can imagine. They don't take holidays, they don't give you a few days to recover, and they will never, ever completely go away, everywhere in the world.

There is good news, though - and while we believe it's crucial you know what's really going on in the world, we also think it's more important than ever that you remember to focus on the positive, even in the face of all the ugly racism, ignorance, and hatred in the world.

Chelsea Clinton's news is worth celebrating, as are the Obamacare enrollment numbers. The continued successful recovery of former Rep. Gabby Giffords - and her continued fight for smart gun safety reforms - are also worthy of celebration. U.S. economic numbers also continue to look up, and President Obama announced another $600 million jobs program this week too.

To top off that brief list of positive items, Passover was this week, Easter is this Sunday, and today is - literally - Good Friday.

As you can see, even with all the stupidity and evil, there are plenty of reasons to remain positive.

Be the master of your future. Stay positive.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Robots Versus Humans

As we were winding ourselves up to put together Thursday's edition, our staff noticed a curious yet telling difference in the way many candidates of both major parties are handling complex issues this election cycle.

As the outside funding and dark money groups wind up their candidates for 2014 - candidates that are overwhelmingly Republican - key facts on issues like Obamacare, unemployment insurance, birth control, and the minimum wage seem to have completely bypassed many of those running for office. We say this because of the ridiculous robotic rhetoric we're hearing bleated by candidates, like the comments by GOP Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas on the Affordable Care Act, or GOP Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida on making the minimum wage a living wage.

It doesn't seem to matter to these candidates that more Americans want to keep Obamacare and fix the few things that aren't perfect with it, or that Americans from all parties overwhelmingly support raising the minimum wage. They just keep repeating their talking points like little robots, as we're sure their dark money donors want them to do.

This robotic reaction phenomenon isn't only happening to less well-known politicians - or just on the local level.

On Wednesday, President Obama released a statement calling out House Republicans for doing absolutely nothing on the issue of immigration reform. A few hours later, the President called House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to wish him a happy Passover. During the call, the two apparently disagreed about the President's statement earlier in the day on immigration, though according to the White House, Obama's conversation with Cantor was "pleasant" overall.

For anyone who is honest about how today's Republican Party works, what happened next should be no surprise. Like the finely honed hate machine the right has become, Rep. Cantor's staff sent out a blistering press release of their own about the phone call. The Republican Majority Leader blasted the President on the issue of immigration reform, but then effectively guaranteed the issue won't see the House floor for the rest of this year.

Cantor's robotic response to a very complex issue might seem confusing to those Americans who only catch 10-second soundbites on cable news, or quick Tweets and Facebook posts from their friends. However, as Greg Sargent pointed out yesterday afternoon at The Plum Line, there's an important piece of nuance in the actions of Rep. Cantor and his staff that tell those of us who truly care about the issue what really happened yesterday afternoon.

Sargent noted, "House Republican leaders are refusing to even offer, let alone vote on, their own proposals to do something about the 11 million, even though some rank and file Republicans, and some major GOP-aligned constituencies (the business community; agricultural and tech interests; evangelicals; the GOP consultant class) have been clamoring for reform for months or years. The Senate bill is utterly irrelevant to the basic question on the table: Is there any set of terms and conditions under which a sizable bloc of House Republicans can bring themselves to support some form of legalization?"

On that question, we can confidently answer in the same robotic style that so many bought-and-paid-for Republicans are already mimicking: No. Republicans can't do it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Of Canaries & Cattle

While every legitimate media and information source around the world is keeping at least one eye on the events happening in Eastern Ukraine, we've also been keeping a watch out for other terrorist events. This really doesn't surprise anyone in the media, who remember that mid-April includes quite a few anniversaries of terrorist acts, including the Virginia Tech and Columbine mass school shootings, and the Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon bombings.

Our vigilance this month, and that of others in the media, hasn't been an entirely empty one. We began to notice on Sunday an incredibly stupid fake terrorism tweet from a teenager to a U.S. airline, that finally reached major mainstream media outlets late Tuesday. There were also some suspicious bags left near the finish line of the Boston Marathon late Tuesday, that were detonated by Boston police without harm.

These kinds of incidents may seem minor at first, and may even be unrelated. After a major catastrophe, however, like the information about the Tsarnev brothers the Russian government 'forgot' to give U.S. officials, we're reminding you today that seemingly minor details can often end up becoming the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

With that thought in mind, we want to turn your attention to the hamburger you may have eaten recently, and the quiet giant rumbling through the grocery store that somehow you might have missed.

In case you don't keep as close an eye on your grocery receipts as we do, you may not have noticed that beef prices are now hitting record highs, and dairy and produce are also climbing. In fact, beef prices right now are at the highest level they've been since 1987 - and that price increase doesn't look to be stopping anytime soon. Even if you're a vegetarian, when the price of beef goes up, so do the costs of related items like pet foods and grains - meaning you'll feel the extra cost whether or not you eat that porterhouse.

Not surprisingly to us, the reason for the increased cost of beef right now is a nationwide cattle shortage, brought on by last year's massive drought in places like West Texas. The good news for the future is that the weather patterns for this year throughout much of the United States look less favorable for drought and more favorable for a healthy increase in the size of cattle herds.

The fact remains, however, that this temporary sharp increase in the price of beef may not be just a one-time blip on your grocery bill.

As David Sirota - journalist and professional acquaintance of one of our staff members - noted last year at Salon, studies confirm that humankind could reduce the pace of climate change, if we just ate less beef. Dietitians even recommend Americans eat less red meat overall. The larger issue though, as Sirota pointed out, is that the American consumer's voracious appetite for hamburgers only continues to increase the demand for more cattle. More cattle means more CO2 - which means more greenhouse gasses, and inevitably more volatile weather. Of course, more volatile weather means less cattle being available for our tables - and sooner rather than later, hamburgers costing as much as steaks.

So the next time you look at the unusual weather trends outside, and the high price of beef inside the restaurant or grocery store, remember - the costs for that quarter-pounder could be far higher in the long run.

Have a salad today. Save the hamburgers for the future.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Perception And Reality

With the blast of snow that's been rolling across much of the U.S. the last few days, it's easy to see how many Americans might think Mother Nature may have taken one too many sips of Nyquil in trying to fight off spring fever. The fact is, the calendar is correct and the current season in the U.S. is spring, which means it's time for events like prom and tax day - the latter of which is today.

Much like tax day, high school proms have rarely been drama-free, especially for the parents and grandparents of high-strung high schoolers. These days, prom isn't exactly a cheap event either, as Visa's annual prom spending survey has proven once again. This year's survey shows that the national spending average for prom is over $1000 on both the East and West Coasts - enough that you might just see a few parents panhandling for extra dollars for their kid's prom experience this year.

When you take a second look at the costs of prom around the nation this year, things may not be as bad they seem. The good news is that the national average amount parents and teens will spend has dropped 14%, the first time it has decreased in three years. That's a statistical fact that runs counter to both the claims of teenagers, and the claims of many fear mongers in the media today.

In a similar way, millions of Americans believe federal taxes in America are too high, as a Gallup poll confirmed on Monday. Much like the perception of prom costs, the facts about our American federal taxes don't exactly match with the opinions of most Americans - or the rhetoric they hear on cable "news" channels.

The CBO confirmed those facts this week noting that effective Federal tax rates - what Americans ACTUALLY pay, after all the deductions and credits are added up - are near historic lows. In fact, the historical trend for individual tax payers in America appears to be moving downward.

Further, the argument that those on the political right make - that poor people don't REALLY pay taxes - is in fact, antithetical to the facts. As Matthew Yglesias shows at Vox.com, when you look at the sources of Federal Tax Revenue, Payroll Tax and Personal Income tax - two of the biggest kinds of taxes the working poor in America pay - also happen to account for the overwhelming majority of federal revenue.

As Yglesias goes on to show, with help from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, only 14.4% of Americans pay neither income or payroll taxes. Most of those people - nearly 10% - are elderly, while most of the other 4.4% have annual incomes under $20,000.

As Paul Waldman noted at The American Prospect yesterday, there are even more reasons to cheer tax day today, including that U.S. federal tax rates are extremely low by international standards. There's also the fact that - compared to their income - Americans in every income bracket actually pay a share of taxes remarkably close to their income level. Which means that - at least on the federal level, Americans are not really overtaxed.

Meanwhile, amid all this good news about taxes, the CBO also recently noted that the federal deficit has continued to drop sharply - and the overall price of the health insurance expansion under the Affordable Care Act is actually going to cost $1.3 trillion dollars LESS than previously forecast. That mans Americans can put more of those tax dollars towards things our nation needs, like infrastructure investments, police, and fire personnel.

As Waldman also noted, those taxes pay for the things we all enjoy in society - including the salaries of the school teachers chaperoning prom, who will hopefully help that nearly $1000 become a short-term investment that returns good memories for a lifetime.

Monday, April 14, 2014

By The Skin Of Our Teeth

As we watched the news this weekend, spending time with our families, college sportsthe beautiful cherry blossoms in our nation's capitol, and watching the Republicans launch their first super-committee to rake in the post-McCutcheon waves of campaign money that are certain to be rolling in, our staff members all kept coming back to the same thought: That most Americans today seem to have little idea of how tenuous our collective grasp is on the form of government we've lived under for slightly more than two centuries.

As Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying, Americans have a republic - a form of democracy - "if you can keep it." Thankfully, for most of the last two-hundred plus years, Americans have been able to keep it. As we and others have been warning for some time now, however, that form of government is in severe danger - especially after the U.S. Supreme Court's recent McCutcheon decision.

Last week, as all the living Presidents celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Obama also took the time to warn the nation that our right to vote is truly under attack - and he was not being hyperbolic.

From Hawaii to Maine, Alaska to Florida, the battles over campaign financing are running hot, and often not in the best interests of voters. Even in the heart of deep-red Nebraska, the effort of outside, so-called "dark money" groups to buy their way into deciding who you get to vote for has become extremely obvious.

While certain very wealthy candidates like Republican Pete Ricketts may try to claim ignorance of who is attacking his fellow Republican office-seekers, the fact remains right now the anonymous attack dogs of the wealthy are already trying to pick their pet politicians for 2014 and 2016.

Some Republicans keep trying to claim this money race is a bipartisan affair. However, as journalist Paul Blumenthal recently pointed out, there's simply nothing on the left that compares to the massive money machine on the right.

Still, as syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts noted recently, too many Americans are still politically asleep, their eyes glazed over, even as specific, wealthy individuals are trying to rig every part of the American political system  - either directly or through millions of dollars in propaganda. It's happening at every level and in all political parties, giving voters no real choices - even in their party's primary elections - other than those the oligarchs have already picked.

There should be no surprise that Fox "News" and the current American media/propaganda landscape have a great deal to do with this current collective ignorance of Americans. However, the failures of our media landscape aren't solely to blame. In many ways, America has become more like a third-world nation over the last thirty-five years, through choices Americans have made themselves.

As Sean McElwee pointed out in Rolling Stone this month, massive economic inequality, collapsing infrastructure, and a criminal "justice" system that imprisons more of its people than almost any other nation in the world are hallmarks of this collapse. We've also got a gun violence problem worse than in any developed nation, as made obvious once again by the murders of three people over the weekend in Kansas City, in what appears to have been an attempted hate crime.

Right now, in places like Afghanistan and India, they're struggling to achieve or continue democratic republics. In the Ukraine, they drove their own oligarchs out, and now they're fighting against Russia to keep their democratic republic. Meanwhile, in America, we just can't seem to be bothered to even show up at the polls, let alone show up well-informed and actually educated.

As long as we allow court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon to stand, when it comes to your choices at the ballot box, you'll get the choices the oligarchs have paid for. And what folks like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson are going to pay for is for pet politicians, who they have gripped firmly in the teeth of their political money.

Friday, April 11, 2014

True Surprises

When news surprises people - including those we know in the media - their reactions never cease to amuse us, though we're rarely amazed these days at the things that seem to catch everyone else off-guard.

For example, yesterday, late in the afternoon, Kathleen Sebelius resigned her position as Secretary of Health and Human Services. While some media organizations are pretending to be surprised, there isn't anyone we know in the national political media who is truly astonished at that outcome. Sure, the Affordable Care act exceeded its target enrollment goals with millions more Americans now having health insurance. But the disastrous initial rollout all but guaranteed Ms. Sebelius would end up resigning, once the program was back on its feet.

In another less-than-surprising move, CBS announced yesterday that Stephen Colbert would be taking over for David Letterman, once the elder-statesman of "Late Night" retires next year. However, there have been rumors that Colbert might be the replacement for Letterman for some time, especially among those of us in the national media. So, again, not too surprising.

We're also not surprised, after the Supreme Court's stupid decision in the McCutcheon case, that multibillionaires like the Koch Brothers are now trying to buy political influence all the way down to the most local level. Frankly, you might think those wealthy Koch boys would get tired of all the slobber, the way most Republican politicians suck up to them. Apparently, their very expensive suits must also be quite absorbent.

What has quietly surprised us over the last couple of weeks is that all that money - while still a huge, negative influence - hasn't quite worked out the way rich right-wing groups had planned.

In Wisconsin, the Koch Brothers and other wealthy right-wingers, through front groups with names like "Operation Prosperity" spent massive amounts of money on small, local elections - and they lost big-time. This kind of event isn't just local to Wisconsin, though, and it isn't only on the  local political level.

In Louisiana, Senator Mary Landrieu has had rich bullies like the Koch Brothers and others throwing many millions of dollars in negative propaganda at her all year. Yet, as even a Republican-leaning poll showed this week, Sen. Landrieu has a strong lead against all three of her Republican opponents.

Apparently, we Americans still don't like ultra-wealthy outsiders pouring out piles of their money to buy our local politicians. A growing number of Americans seem to be starting to wake up to the reality that the richest .01 percent of Americans are trying to buy the government away from the other 99.99 percent of us - and we're starting to get mad again.

That Americans still seem to have fight left in them, that we seem more willing to stand up for what's right than our modern entertainment options often lead us to believe about each other? That's a very positive surprise to us, one that mirrors the kind of social courage that President Johnson and the Democratic Party displayed when they passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the other equal rights actions of the 1960s.

To us, it's also a sign that Americans may indeed finally be ready to stand up and fight for the rights and freedoms that the extremists in the Republican Party today seem so hell-bent on trying to steal away.

As LBJ himself once said, and as President Obama repeated yesterday, in a celebration for the Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Library, "What the hell's the presidency for if not to fight for causes you believe in?"

Indeed, Mr. President.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

No Debate - On Gender Equality, The Right Is Wrong

While there are plenty of unsavory things about the internet these days - including the growing security issues online - it can also be a fantastic place for serious, substantive debate, among intelligent, thoughtful, and diverse groups of people.

For example, Paul Waldman, Ed Kilgore, and Jonathan Bernstein all had an excellent debate yesterday about whether - and how much - power right-wing "christian" voters have over Republican Party nominees. There has also been a very heated debate recently about race and politics in the age of Barack Obama, between Jonathan Chait and Ta-Nehisi Coates, with some great additions from writers like Jamelle Bouie. Our favorite round-up of that latter debate came Wednesday from writer Goldie Taylor on her Twitter feed.

One of the best features of being able to observe and occasionally participate in these kinds of debates among media professionals is that sometimes one individual will catch a simple problem with the main debate on the topic of the day that the rest of the legitimate media seems to have missed.

This week, the topic of gender pay equity has been dominating much of the media, thanks to two major events: The Executive Actions President Obama signed earlier this week, and the Paycheck Fairness Act bill that Republicans filibustered to death in the Senate yesterday morning. Asking the question of why, in 2014, there's still such pay inequality is a valid and legitimate question to ask - even if the only answer sometimes is because misogynist men can still sometimes abuse the women who work for them.

Not surprisingly, the well-worn, fact-checked, government data-derived, yet still debated statement that the "average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns" was dragged into the debate on this topic by President Obama. Equally unsurprising were the responses from the often misogynist right-wingers that the 77 cents figure is inaccurate, that the pay gap isn't real, or that the White House has its own gender pay gap to worry about.

The facts on the gender pay gap could settle much of this debate, if all the participants simple were willing to accept them. The 77 cent gender pay gap figure is based on hard government data, the gender pay gap is sadly all too real, and the White House also has a pay gap (that they're working to shrink). It's also true that when critics in a debate are merely shills paid by multibillionaires like the Koch Brothers to advocate against their own obvious interests, it's hard to take that kind of person seriously.

The key element in the gender pay gap discussion that struck us over the last twenty-four hours, however, was a single comment by journalist Irin Carmon, in her latest great piece at MSNBC.com about who the real losers of the equal pay debate are. Carmon inserted a little snark and a slap of reality when she asked everyone fighting over a particular corner of the debate "…question for everyone arguing over 77 cents figure: What’s the precise amount of discrimination you’re OK with?"

That simple problem that Ms. Carmon pointed out is the key: Americans today shouldn't be ok with ANY amount of discrimination in pay, for gender, race, age, or physical limitations. If a person can perform whatever job they have at an equal or better level than others in the same position, then they should at least be paid the same basic amount - period.

That so many on the political right attempt to divert any debate on gender pay inequality away from that simple fact doesn't negate its truth. It also doesn't justify unequal treament, no matter what your boss says.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Running Out Of Excuses

College sports is a running theme for millions of Americans this week, and for some of our staff too. The week began with both the men's and women's NCAA basketball championships and several collegiate "Spring Game" scrimmages are set for this next weekend - including the annual Red-White game for the Nebraska Cornhusker football team.

For us, the experience of college sports is a bit different, as multiple members of our staff have had long associations with both college education and college sports. Our Editor-In-Chief, namesake, and cartoonist Paul Fell has been both college professor and college football player, while our writing staff  includes the former Executive Producer of the Husker Sports Radio Network. Paul's long-running HuskerNutz cartoon series has also long mocked and celebrated the peculiar nature of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's unusual fans.

In short, we have some significant collective experience in professional media, athletics, and education at the collegiate level.

That's why, to some degree, while we were disgusted and dismayed at the stories coming out of the NCAA men's basketball tournament this year - about the coach's $350-thousand-plus bonuses, while some students complain of going hungry. We've also been cheered by the recent efforts by Kain Coulter and the Northwestern University football team to unionize.

The realities of liberty seem to finally be running down the cartel of the NCAA.

One of our favorite reporters on politics and sports, Dave Zirin of The Nation, has been covering the death spiral of the NCAA closely. If Zirin's dissection of the UConn Huskies men's basketball team on Tuesday didn't convince you there are massive problems with college sports that the NCAA is not only ignoring but encouraging, your problems might be deeper than facts can help.

From UConn's abysmal 8% graduation rate for their student athletes, and UConn's budget deficits and tuition hikes facing their students, to the coach's and network's million and billion dollar paydays, to the NCAA regulations that keep student athletes from even being able to accept meals at times - Zirin is right when he calls top college athletics today 'The Real Hunger Games.'

As Zirin also noted earlier this year, the NCAA has no intention of letting the cash cow star athletes get away without a fight. It's certain the NCAA won't just be throwing legal fees at this issue. They'll also be using all the stereotypical political tricks, including appealing to the basest level "logic."

Indeed, as so many Americans already say, "The kids are getting a free education, right? So what do they have to complain about?"

For the student athletes who go to schools like UConn, 92% of them don't get an education that will help them the rest of their lives. They get lifelong injuries and often have to take on piles of debt (like most college students today). Maybe they get to take with them a few memories of time when they were special - before the next crop of momentary superstars arrived on campus.

It's long past time someone ran down the NCAA and the corrupt system they operate, and truly looked out for the best interests of the students.

If that someone happens to be Kain Coulter and the football team at Northwestern, along with the help of the unions, many of those who've been involved with college academics and athletics will be there to cheer them on - hopefully to a better future for all college students.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Keeping Democracy

Even before Jon Stewart and the team at The Daily Show pointed it out last night, our staff had been struck over the last few days by a stark contrast in world politics.

Even as the world's largest election in India was beginning, the vote for a new President to replace the outgoing Hamid Karzai was finishing this weekend in Afghanistan. While some journalists were less surprised than others, the election itself was generally without major acts of violence. There were a few reports of scattered violence after the election - including at least one incident that killed some election workers and destroyed some ballots. Even though Afghanistan's citizens were literally threatened by the Taliban with death if they showed up at the polls, their voter turnout rate looks to have exceeded 60%.

We had to ask each other: When was the last time Americans turned out for ANY election like that?

For the record, America hasn't exceeded 60% turnout in a presidential election since 1968 - and we haven't exceeded 40% turnout in a midterm election since 1970. That's an incredibly embarrassing record for a nation that's spent the greater part of the last four decades trying to "promote democracy" around the world - sometimes, at the point of a gun.

With all the technological tools and and experience in voting, logic would tell you that making voting easier, while more accurately reflecting the will of the people, should be easy for Americans. Indeed, at the beginning of 2014, after a six month review, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration released a 112-page report outlining actions that cities, states, and our nation could take to accomplish all of those goals.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans seem to have taken that report as a guide on how to prevent millions of Americans from having their voices heard. From Ohio, to North Carolina, to Wisconsin and elsewhere, for several years now, Republicans have been trying all kinds of unethical and sometimes outright illegal tactics to try and suppress the turnout of those voters unlikely to buy into their propaganda.

As Jamelle Bouie noted last week, it's clear these attempts at voter suppression have been driven by partisanship, an effort to cheat the system in places where Republicans can't compete honestly. Unfortunately, this isn't a new thing for America. As Bouie also pointed out, Americans on the left and right have been trying to rig the system in their favor for most of our history.

Yet, you'd think if Republicans are really as proud of their bare-knuckle political tactics as the blowhards in right-wing media claim, they'd be proud of what they've accomplished. As Dave Weigel of Slate pointed out last week, that's actually the last thing Republicans want to do: Draw attention to how they're trying to rig the system in places like Wisconsin.

With all of the shenanigans by cowardly Republicans, you also might think we'd be mad at the GOP for how they're trying to twist the system - and you'd be partially right on that count.

However, we're also sick and tired of Democrats who won't stand up, get out, reach out, and fight to get every one of their voters to the polls. Sure - you can

Citizens of Afghanistan risked their lives to vote. Americans might have to arrange for a babysitter, or make special travel plans for voting day, or - God forbid - learn how to program the DVR.

Somehow, we don't exactly think of those actions as serious acts of courage.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Picking Out Hope On Climate Change

While there's some speculation this morning that officials may have finally found the black box flight data recorders from the missing Malaysian airliner, the fact remains that CNN has been getting hammered on their obsession with the missing plane lately, with good reason.

Last week, CNN - one of the world's largest media organizations, that nominally is supposed to be covering news - effectively ignored the latest report from the United Nation's International Panel on Climate Change in favor of almost continual baseless speculation about the missing plane.

The headlines from the IPCC's latest report are indeed dire, with news headlines like 'Climate Change: The Worst Is Yet To Come.' After looking at the report, we tend to agree with the panel's assessment, though: The facts underlying the information contained in the report are terrifying. Siberia is already experiencing mid-summer temperatures and forest fires, in early April. The arctic sea ice cover this winter was the fifth smallest on record - and we have ice core samples that go back thousands of years. If those facts contained in the IPCC's latest report sound scary, it's because they are.

Meanwhile, even as CNN mostly ignored the IPCC's report, at least they didn't lie about it like Fox did.

Still, ignoring the problem won't make it go away, any more than denying the existence of a polar bear standing next to you won't prevent him from having you for lunch. As more than one famous scientist has said, science and facts remain true whether you believe them or not.

In truth, CNN may simply have been a perfect real-time media example of what Ezra Klein pointed out brilliantly in his first major piece at his new venue Vox.com - that while more facts are often helpful for scientific purposes, more facts also often just make our politics and media more stupid.

In an applied sense, that discovery by Yale Law professor Dan Kahan and his team may also mean that some people are too stupid - or more appropriately, too identity-protective - to effectively handle the political responsibilities of taking political action on critical topics like climate change mitigation.

That tendency to remain frozen, due to inherent identity-protection mechanisms, can be seen in the example of the American people. Even when they're not facing voter suppression issues, as so many are this year, thanks to the Republican Party, Americans all-too-often still don't get out and vote. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's citizens - whose lives as well as their identities were quite literally threatened with death by the Taliban if they voted - came out to vote anyway, in record numbers this past weekend.

To us, that difference in voting actions further proves the point, that the courage to act is what's really needed on climate change right now - or as Jedediah Purdy called it recently in The Daily Beast, "the politics of the impossible."

The good news is, the impossible is already happening in a few places around the world.

For example, China's closing nearly two thousand coal mines this year and replacing them with solar, wind, and hydroelectric plants instead. Not to be outdone, India is boosting their solar output by thirty percent by next year. Both of these actions prove that the politically impossible is already becoming possible, in measurable degrees. What's even better is that the IPCC's report notes that the effects of climate change can still be reduced, so long as the world acts now.

That, in fact, appears to be the best bet for wise Americans right now who care about the very real future of life on Earth: Push and support those politicians favorable to fighting climate change to do everything they can to act, right now, over the wailing and crying of the ignorant deniers.

Later, when the polar bears are picking the remains of some climate change deniers out of their teeth, or the National Guard is rescuing climate change deniers from the latest costal flooding, we'll be more than happy to engage those climate deniers in a discussion about where and how to use our government resources.

We have a feeling they may be slightly less protective of their identities - and slightly more receptive of facts - at that point in time.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Journalism: Why We Do It

It's been a long week for our staff - and a new baby in our editor's house, the horrendous news of the McCutcheon decision by the Supreme Court, and the shooting at Ft. Hood didn't make it any shorter.

When you add in stories from this week about pure political stupidity  - like Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King's latest affront to immigrants willing to give their lives in the U.S. military, or the insanely stupid idea of "Cuban Twitter" attempted by the USAID organization - we sometimes wonder why we fight so hard to work in the media.

We draw cartoons, write, edit, publish, and produce at least five days a week, and someone on our staff is usually working 18 hours of every day. Even in our off time, we're often thinking of what we'll do next, reaching out to professional contacts, working for our next contract, or practicing and improving our skills.

So when we read about a talented media figure like David Letterman retiring in 2015, our initial reaction is usually, "Well done," often followed closely by, "Must be nice to retire." Retiring, however, is different than losing your job because some corporate executive idiot somewhere has absolutely no idea how to run a media business.

As we read yesterday afternoon, 167 more members of the media, are facing unemployment at the Newark New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper and their nationally-known news website, nj.com. As Paul has of lampooned in multiple cartoons over the years, editors who know how to write and do layout had better learn to draw and take photos too.

Thousands of employees of Barnes & Noble, the nation's only remaining large-scale bookseller, can also expect to receive similar news over the next few years. For people who love books, magazines, newspapers, and physical media of nearly every kind - most of our staff included - the fact that there is only one major bookseller left nationwide is almost too painful to contemplate.

If you want to know why we still do what we do, why we fight so hard to work in media, to do it right, our reasons are really quite simple.

Our reasons include a young lady who's a hell of seamstress, a young man who's a lawyer and also writes great fiction, and a young woman with an eye for interior design. We've got dogs, and kids, and fantastic neighbors and friends, some of whom do crazy things - like throw a grand Husker picnic in South Florida, at the cusp of spring, complete with Runzas and Valentino's pizza, and other tastes of home.

We also still keep working in this industry, after many years, because we know that, as members of the media, we make a difference for all those people we care about. The McCutcheon decision by the Supreme Court this week moved America dangerously far into the political territory of oligarchy. But folks like Clarence Thomas and the Koch Brothers still didn't get their wish this week that all regulations on campaign finance be removed.

It's also important that 80% of Americans agree that Americans should get rid of as much money from politics as possible. That's a statistic reported by the New York Times, and collected from multiple independent media polls. That's also the kind of journalism that reminds both us and oligarchs like the Koch Brothers that Americans overwhelmingly side with us, not them.

As long as people like us help people like you fight for what's right, those people who wish to be the new American oligarchs may keep trying to pile on the work, and make the rest of America their indentured slaves - but they'll never fully reach their goal. Which means people like that seamstress, that lawyer, that interior designer, and our other neighbors and friends can enjoy life - and those kids can have a future.

Getting a chance to make that much of a positive contribution to the world everyday, just by showing up for work? And getting to generate a few laughs along the way? Yeah… We'll be back to work on Monday.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Puppetry And Invincibility

While we heard about the latest shootings in Fort Hood, Texas, and our hearts are with the families and survivors, we're not going to focus on it much today. There are too few hard facts, too many rumors, and not enough details for any media organization to make serious and substantive statements right now about that story.

Instead, we're focusing on a different danger, one where the facts are already clear and well-known, though the outcome may be just as final in the end.

Of course, we're talking about yesterday's unethical and ignorant majority ruling in the McCutcheon case by the right-wing activists on the U.S. Supreme Court. As many journalists, scholars, and commentators who understand the ruling have confirmed, the ruling effectively expands Citizens United, allowing virtually any person or group with enough money to buy any election they want.

As John Nichols of The Nation noted Wednesday, while the ruling does leave some few campaign finance laws in place, it effectively has legalized plutocracy in America - or, as Ian Milheiser of Think Progress put it, it legalized money laundering through politics.

However you think of it, what it means for American politics is simple. Individuals in this country now effectively have no voice unless they're billionaires, while politicians are no more than puppets, who will be forced to dance on the strings of whoever has the most money.

It should be noted that, with this decision, the Roberts Court now loses what little legitimacy it had left as a bastion of justice and judicial integrity. Justice Breyer, in a vehement dissent read aloud from the bench, even pointedly addressed this problem of "political integrity" in a system where the only political speech that's even heard comes from those who can effectively scream the loudest.

The Court's problem of integrity on this issue dates back to the 1976 Buckley vs. Valejo decision, when the Court began the journey towards Citizens United and McCutcheon, in both cases where the Roberts Court claims money is speech. Money is, of course, not speech - political or any other kind. The IRS acknowledged as much again just last month. Money is property, property that can be traded for tools to amplify the speech of anyone who can afford it - but money itself is not speech.

This is one of the rare items where some on the far right agree with us. Often cited by organizations like the Cato Institute, or right-wing bloggers, the idea that money is speech actually goes against not just logic and facts, but also property rights issues that many ideological conservatives consider foundational. Not surprisingly to us, RNC Chairman Reince Preibus isn't one of those people. Of course, anyone of clear conscience already knows what those like Mr. Priebus are, regardless of what price he finally negotiates with his donors.

Unfortunately, the culture that enables the kind of success that only favors those who already have money, without rewarding the work of anyone willing to do it has already been identified - correctly - by people like Robert Reich. Reich says that America is slouching towards oligarchy; frankly, after the McCutcheon ruling, we tend to think America is moving toward oligarchy at a breakneck pace. Reich also says that political action is the only way to stop this new gilded age from getting worse.

Sadly, he's wrong. It is, however, the only bloodless way to do so.

That's a point of fact that has been repeated throughout history in every major culture in the world. The difference between now and every other point in history is that now, everyone has access to the internet. As former CIA Director Clapper admitted this week, with the right tools, the internet can allow anyone access to even the most private information - which means the exact time and location of the people and things that are most important to those wannabe oligarchs are now as instantly available to a savvy potential political candidate, as they are to any angry, determined individual with time on their hands, and nothing left to lose.

As events from Fort Hood to 9/11 have shown America and the world, when all kinds of weapons, from guns to simple box cutters, are applied at precisely the right place and time, by people who feel they have nothing left to lose, no one is invincible.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Stop Clowning Around, Dems!

There are perks to being right about important topics, and we got to experience one of those perks yesterday watching President Obama's 'victory lap' speech in the White House Rose Garden, lauding the success of the first four years of the ACA. The President not only praised those who have supported the ACA so far, but also echoed what we and others have said recently: That it's time for Republicans to get over the fact they lost this one.

To our surprise, some conservative pundits like Ramesh Ponnuru finally seem to be taking the President's suggestion to heart that they lost the war over Obamacare, and now they need to move on.

But a lot of our colleagues in the media seem to be having some difficulty with that. The three major cable news channels all seem like clowns, each stuck doing their own schtick - the missing airplane story on CNN, Chris Christie-palooza on MSNBC, and whatever the latest right-wing, anti-Obama hate messaging is on Fox.

We can't help but look at this situation and be reminded of one of our staff favorite fictional political characters, President Jed Bartlet, as he'd reach a conclusion or solve some problem. As soon as the problem was solved, Bartlet seemed to ask, "What's next?"

For Democrats, the answer should be simple right now: Get back to work - and be proud of what you've done.

Logic will tell you that Democrats really shouldn't have such a difficult time running for office this fall. From Republicans like Florida's Governor Rick Scott, who is fundraising with the founder of a series of abusive teen boot camps, to Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker, a politically owned tool of the Koch Brothers, it's not as though the modern Republican Party has any honest or serious leadership.

If that fact wasn't obvious before, the ridiculous budget proposal from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, that was revealed yesterday, should have reminded Americans how unserious Republicans are today. One member of our staff literally thought Ryan's latest revamped plan was a joke, since yesterday was April Fools Day.

As Greg Sargent noted on Tuesday, Republicans only have one plan to run on this fall - namely, that they think Obamacare sucks. As the facts continue to show, however, a growing number of Americans don't agree with them. A majority of Americans support the ACA now - which is why Democrats must run on the success of the program, even as they try take care of Obamacare's loose ends.

In places like Kentucky, that means that candidates like Alison Lundergan Grimes - who is challenging Senator Mitch McConnell for his seat - can't do what Alex Sink did in Florida. Sink lost, in part, because she didn't loudly, proudly, and effectively stand up for what she supported. For Democrats, that means supporting the Affordable Care Act - not avoiding the topic as Grimes seems to be doing.

From Froma Harrup to Bob Shrum, the smart Democratic pundits and campaign advisors are all saying the same thing to Democrats this year: Embrace Obamacare!

It remains to be seen, however, whether candidates will listen to wise council, or to the clowns on cable "news."