Archive for category Opinion
Posted at 07:15 AM ET, 05/14/2013
Oops! Missed this!
By Tom Toles
Sometimes the professionals, the media, the victims and potential victims all miss a huge fact. Huge. Here’s one! It finally got noticed, and reported on, but still hasn’t really registered with anybody. Tens of thousands of people are dying because patients got diagnosed with a disease they didn’t have.http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/misdiagnosis-is-more-common-than-drug-errors-or-wrong-site-surgery/2013/05/03/5d71a374-9af4-11e2-a941-a19bce7af755_story.html
I’ve written about this subject once or twice before because I noticed when reading those “Medical Mystery” stories about hard to diagnose conditions, there is usually a key unaddressed question that is common to mystery stories: the dog that didn’t bark. These mysteries go on and on with untold suffering until one day a 113-year-old doctor happens to wander by and remembers seeing a case like that during The Great War. Bravo! Except why bravo? Why in this age of information are valuable medical facts quarantined in the skull of isolated doctors? WHERE ARE THE DATABASES? Woof woof! I’ll tell you where. Buried under the pride of a lot of big egos invested in the paradigm of Doctor as Hero. Computers? What an insult! This story does mention computers as a diagnostic tool, and just as quickly dismisses them because “their usefulness remains a matter of debate.” Huh? Where else in an information society does computer usefulness “remain a matter of debate”? If they’re not useful, it’s because we’re not trying very hard to use them is the answer to that.
The story goes on the sing the praises of “differential diagnosis,” where leading and secondary potential diagnoses are listed and ranked, based on symptoms and the array of possible known causes for those symptoms. Apparently just creating and studying such a list, instead of proclaiming one single diagnosis leads to better treatment, and big surprise there! And what might, just might a huge computerized, searchable symptom/disease database be able to instantaneously produce? And why is this not being aggressively pursued and developed and talked about? Now THERE’s your real medical mystery.
Esther Cepeda: A very lethal plaything
By Esther Cepeda, Published: May 8
. Esther J. Cepeda is syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. Her e-mail address is email@example.com
CHICAGO — Two summers ago, my husband and I took our sons to a shooting range for multiple days of firearms training with a certified instructor. Our logic was simple: In our low-income community with lots of gang activity, it was laughable to imagine that our boys wouldn’t someday find themselves in a situation where a pal had brought a gun to school or asked them to come see his parents’ gun.
Did we want them to clumsily handle a deadly weapon — seduced by the excitement of seeing a real, live gun for the first time — or did we want them, as experienced shooters, to be able to step away from the situation with full knowledge of the danger involved? We opted for the latter and I sleep better for it.
That said, I can easily imagine either of my boys, now 11 and 14, innocently picking up a pint-size, colorful rifle and squeezing the trigger under the assumption that such an item couldn’t possibly be anything other than a toy.
In fact, as we discussed the terrible incident in which a 5-year-old boy shot his 2-year-old sister in the chest with a .22-caliber firearm marketed under the name “My First Rifle,” it came out that in teacher-led discussions at school about the incident, my sons’ peers still could not understand that the gun in question was not actually a toy.
During our firearms training, the most important thing our instructor drilled into us was our whole reason for being there: to ensure that our kids learned that “guns are not toys.”
How, exactly, do you teach that to a 5-year-old wielding a small, brightly colored gun that looks exactly like a toy? It seems practically impossible.
In the case of the Kentucky 5-year-old, it would be very easy to be satisfied with thinking, as the local coroner told a reporter, that this incident was “just one of those crazy accidents.” But that’s just plain lazy.
You could blame the parents — according to news reports, the weapon was left loaded and sitting in a corner of their home. When the parents accepted this birthday present on behalf of their son, they appeared to not understand the respect it deserved.
Proper firearms training instills safety habits such as never keeping loaded weapons out in plain view, where the untrained might stumble upon them and harm themselves or others.
But in a country where even requiring a background check for the purchase of firearms sends some people into convulsions, it’s ridiculous to consider a day when certified training would be required for the purchase or ownership of guns. It’s easier to just call accidental firearm deaths — 851 in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — “crazy accidents.”
These “accidents” are preventable.
How in the world can it be that pellet-shooting replica guns — generally known as Airsoft or BB guns — are governed by federal regulations stating that they must be sold with clearly visible markings, but firearms merchants are not prohibited from selling real weapons that look like toys?
Do a Google image search. In addition to the rainbow, blue and fire engine red weapons from “My First Rifle,” you’ll find photos of real, hot pink Glocks, Louis Vuitton-inspired guns and blinged-out rifles. The Baltimore Police Department released a bulletin displaying pictures of real Rugers, AKs, KEL TECs and Colts that have been painted up in bright colors to look like toys.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal this past March, toy store owner and gun enthusiast Rhett Power lamented, “Let me get this straight: Children are not allowed to have toy guns that look like the real thing, but adults are allowed to have the real thing that looks like a toy? That has got to change. This isn’t about ‘gun control,’ it’s about something closer to simple decency.”
Obviously, criminals are going to customize their guns to evade law enforcement. But in terms of responsibility, is this that far removed from legitimately selling real firearms that look like toys to adults — or worse, are expressly designed for children’s little bodies?
Parents are within their rights to teach their children how to shoot and care for guns responsibly at any age they feel is appropriate. But not with toy-like weapons that violate the visual and tactile safety tenet that real guns are not playthings. Get these “first” weapons off the shelves.
- Opinion: Guns are not toys (nbclatino.com)
- Minors should receive immigration court protections: Esther J. Cepeda (oregonlive.com)
- Mexico Barbie’s chihhuahua and Hispanics’ bad rap (600words.com)
- When identity theft steals a childhood: Esther J. Cepeda (oregonlive.com)
- Esther Cepeda: Stealing a childhood (mpnnow.com)
- Esther Cepeda: Accommodation nation (mpnnow.com)
- Michael Moss’ ‘Salt Sugar Fat’: read it to defend yourself against the food industry (600words.com)
- Kids vulnerable to identity theft (jsonline.com)
- Identity thieves target children, steal childhoods (600words.com)
- Esther Cepeda: The wise words of Uncle Ruslan (mpnnow.com)
By TIMOTHY EGAN
House of Un-Representatives
Timothy Eganon American politics and life, as seen from the West.
Not long ago, the congressman from northeast Texas, Louie Gohmert, was talking about how the trans-Alaska oil pipeline improved the sex lives of certain wild animals — in his mind, the big tube was an industrial-strength aphrodisiac. “When the caribou want to go on a date,” he told a House hearing, “they invite each other to head over to the pipeline.”
Gohmert, consistently on the short list for the most off-plumb member of Congress, has said so many crazy things that this assertion passed with little comment. Last year, he blamed a breakdown of Judeo-Christian values for the gun slaughter at a cinema in Colorado. Last week, he claimed the Muslim Brotherhood had deep influence in the Obama administration, and that the attorney general — the nation’s highest law enforcer — sympathized with terrorists.
You may wonder how he gets away with this. You may also wonder how Gohmert can run virtually unopposed in recent elections. The answer explains why we have an insular, aggressively ignorant House of Representatives that is not at all representative of the public will, let alone the makeup of the country.
Much has been said about how the great gerrymander of the people’s House — part of a brilliant, $30 million Republican action plan at the state level — has now produced a clot of retrograde politicians who are comically out of step with a majority of Americans. It’s not just that they oppose things like immigration reform and simple gun background checks for violent felons, while huge majorities support them.
Alex Wong/Getty ImagesLouie Gohmert at a Tea Party rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.
Or that, in the aggregate, Democrats got 1.4 million more votes for all House positions in 2012 but Republicans still won control with a cushion of 33 seats.
Or that they won despite having the lowest approval rating in modern polling, around 10 percent in some surveys. Richard Nixon during Watergate and B.P.’s initial handling of a catastrophic oil spill had higher approval ratings.
But just look at how different this Republican House is from the country they are supposed to represent. It’s almost like a parallel government, sitting in for some fantasy nation created in talk-radio land.
As a whole, Congress has never been more diverse, except the House majority. There are 41 black members of the House, but all of them are Democrats. There are 10 Asian-Americans, but all of them are Democrats. There are 34 Latinos, a record — and all but 7 are Democrats. There are 7 openly gay, lesbian or bisexual members, all of them Democrats.
Only 63 percent of the United States population is white. But in the House Republican majority, it’s 96 percent white. Women are 51 percent of the nation, but among the ruling members of the House, they make up just 8 percent. (It’s 30 percent on the Democratic side.)
It’s a stretch, by any means, to call the current House an example of representative democracy. Now let’s look at how the members govern:
To date, seven bills have been enacted. Let’s see, there was the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship act — “ensuring the stability of the helium market.” The Violence Against Women Act was renewed, but only after a majority of Republicans voted against it, a rare instance of letting the full House decide on something that the public favors. Just recently, they rushed through a change to help frequent air travelers — i.e., themselves — by fixing a small part of the blunt budget cuts that are the result of their inability to compromise. Meal assistance to the elderly, Head Start for kids and other programs will continue to fall under the knife of sequestration.
On the economy, the Republican majority has been consciously trying to derail a fragile recovery. Their first big salvo was the debt ceiling debacle, which resulted in the lowering of the credit rating for the United States. With sequestration — which President Obama foolishly agreed to, thinking Congress would never go this far — the government has put a wheel-lock on a car that keeps trying to get some traction.
Meanwhile, not a day passes without some member of this ruling majority saying something outrageous. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, for example, has endorsed the far-side-of-the-moon conspiracy theory that the government is buying up all the bullets to keep gun owners from stocking their home arms depots. As for Gohmert, earlier this year he nominated Allen West, a man who isn’t even a member of Congress (he lost in November) to be Speaker of the House. Harvey, the invisible rabbit, was not available.
Gohmert, like others in the House crazy caucus, has benefited from a gerrymandered district. He can do anything short of denouncing Jesus and get re-elected.
The Beltway chorus of the moment blames President Obama for his inability to move his proposals through a dunderheaded Congress. They wonder how Republicans would be treating a silken-tongued charmer like Bill Clinton if he were still in the White House. We already know: not a single Republican voted for Clinton’s tax-raising budget, the one that led to our last federal surplus. Plus, they impeached him; his presidency was saved only in the Senate.
Obama may be doomed to be a reactive president in his second term, with even the most common-sense proposals swatted down because, well — if he’s for it, Republicans will have to be against it. What could be a signature achievement, immigration reform, faces quicksand in the House. But a gerrymander is good for only a decade or so. Eventually, demography and destiny will catch up with a Congress that refuses to do the people’s bidding.
- House of Un-Representatives (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Louie Gohmert, CPAC Superstar (nationalreview.com)
- Louie Gohmert: Boehner Has Concerns about the Tea Party, So I Have Concerns about Him (nationalreview.com)
- Gohmert accuses Obama regime of impeding Boston investigation (israelmatzav.blogspot.com)
- Tea Party Congressman Louie Gohmert (unclewilliejoe.wordpress.com)
- Rep. Louie Gohmert says administration is full of Muslim Brotherhood members (dailykos.com)
- REP. LOUIE GOHMERT: FBI’s willful blindness enabled Boston terror attack (rare.us)
- Louie’s Latest: Gohmert says radical Muslims are training to ‘act like Hispanics’ to get into the U.S. (chron.com)
- Egan on the House (snohomishobserver.com)
- Louie Gohmert treated like rock star at CPAC, of course (salon.com)
Obama goes wobbly
By Eugene Robinson, Published: May 2
President Obama had the opportunity this week to make an irresponsible Congress face the consequences of its own dumb actions. For reasons I cannot fathom, he took a pass.
Rather than use the veto pen that must be gathering dust in some Oval Office drawer,Obama signed legislation that cushions air travelers from the effects of the crude, cruel budget cuts known as the “sequester.” The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now allowed to shuffle funds around to avoid furloughing air-traffic controllers — thus avoiding flight delays.
At his news conference Tuesday, Obama said he agreed to sign the measure because the alternative was to “impose a whole bunch of delays on passengers.” That’s true — and it’s precisely why the president should have vetoed this quick-fix bill.
Remember how we got here. Republicans in the House refused to compromise on a far-reaching budget deal, insisting that there had to be deep spending cuts but no new revenue. Both sides agreed to across-the-board cuts that were designed to be unacceptable. This Damoclean sword was supposed to provide an incentive for reaching a comprehensive deal. But the gambit failed.
Obama said he would not go along with attempts by Congress to selectively ameliorate the effects of sequestration. After all, the whole point was to make both sides so uncomfortable that they would fall into one another’s arms in a desperate embrace of deal-making. The incentive disappears if either side is allowed to alleviate its sharpest pains.
A few weeks of long flight delays, frequent cancellations and crowded airports full of angry, frustrated voters might have concentrated the minds of even the most anti-government Republicans on Capitol Hill. But now, no worries.
Meanwhile, Congress is offering no emergency legislation to restore Head Start funds for preschoolers. Nor is an urgent remedy being designed for poor people who will have to go without their Section 8 housing subsidies. The president could have told Congress that he will agree to make travel more convenient for their jet-set constituents, all right — if and when they send him a companion bill restoring needed benefits for low-income citizens.
Obama noted Tuesday that even in terms of air travel, the FAA bill was “not a solution.” The money that will keep the controllers on the job was originally slated for airport improvements. If these projects are not undertaken, the president said, those who use our aging airports will suffer congestion and delays in the future.
But he signed the thing anyway. Sigh.
A veto would have allowed Republicans to claim that the president was gratuitously making the American people suffer so he could score political points. But the gratuitous harm was done long ago, when both sides agreed to this whole sequestration nonsense. It is truly absurd that our highest elected officials would agree to impose measures that they knew were not in the public interest. But that’s what they did, and all who had a hand in making this uncomfortable bed should be forced to lie in it.
By agreeing to keep the planes flying on time, Obama keeps public opinion on his side, which should be an asset. But I see no indication that the Republican Party really cares what the public thinks.
About 90 percent of Americans support near-universal background checks for gun purchases, according to polls, but that legislation — a modest reaction to the horror of Newtown — couldn’t even make it out of the Senate, thanks mostly to GOP opposition. Even prospects for immigration reform, which is clearly in the Republican Party’s interest, are uncertain in the House. At the moment, the typical Republican officeholder cares more about avoiding a primary challenge from the Looney Tunes right than doing what the public wants and needs.
Looking and sounding like the one reasonable man on a ship of fools is good for Obama’s political standing, I suppose. But he’s no longer running for anything. Somehow, he has to govern until January 2017. In his quest to find a way to work with a hostile Congress, he might consider trying something new.
The next time Congress tries to undo one of the sequestration cuts, Obama should just say no. Let the Republicans jump up and down and call him names. Tell them to sit down and negotiate a proper budget deal, even a grand bargain — or else live with the pain.
The president should find that forgotten veto pen. And he should use it.
- Eugene Robinson: Could 1 life have been saved at Newtown? (goerie.com)
- Eugene Robinson: Thatcher embodied feminism, like it or not (goerie.com)
- Matthews Goes After ABC’s Jonathan Karl For Asking ‘Jock Question’ About Obama’s Waning Political ‘Juice’ (mediaite.com)
- EUGENE ROBINSON: US inaction is better than intervention (tauntongazette.com)
- Eugene Robinson: Say ‘never again’ to gun violence (goerie.com)
- Okay, who tried to cloak the president with “a fog of ambiguity”? (bokertov.typepad.com)
- Obama dithering on Syria keeps press minions in knots (bizpacreview.com)
- Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson unsure how anyone can determine who is crazy and who isn’t (theblaze.com)
- The drone issue is real, it is urgent (lissakr11humane.com)
- Obama Goes Wobbly (truthdig.com)
The economic whodunit
By E.J. Dionne Jr.,
And since last week saw a cross-party celebration of the opening of George W. Bush’s presidential library, I’d add a second mystery: Why is it that conservative Republicans who freely cut taxes while backing two wars in the Bush years began preaching fire on deficits only after a Democrat entered the White House?
Here is a clue that helps unravel this whodunit: Many of the same conservatives who now say we have to cut Social Security to deal with the deficit supported Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security — even though the transition would have added $1 trillion to the deficit. The one thing the two positions have in common is that Bush’s proposal also would have reduced guaranteed Social Security benefits.
In other words, deficits don’t really matter to many of the ideological conservatives shouting so loudly about them now. Their central goal is to hack away at government.
This goes to the larger argument about jobs and deficits. For a brief time after the Great Recession hit, governments around the world, including President Obama’s administration, agreed that the immediate priority was restoring growth. Through deficit spending and other measures, the 20 leading economies agreed to pump about $5 trillion into the global economy.
Obama and Democrats in Congress enacted a substantial stimulus. The package should have been bigger, but Obama — thinking he would have another shot later at boosting the economy — kept its size down to win enough votes to get it through Congress.
The second chance didn’t come because conservatives stoked anti-government deficit mania — and never mind that the deficit ballooned because of the downturn itself, and that the stimulus needed to reverse it and those fiscally improvident Bush-era decisions.
Then along came academic economists to bless the anti-deficit fever with the authority of spreadsheets. In a 2010 paper cited over and over by pro-austerity politicians, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff argued that when countries reached a debt level above 90 percent of their gross domestic product, they almost always fell into slow growth or contraction.
Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens compactly takes the story from there: “The implication was that deep retrenchment was the only route back to prosperity. Now, economists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst say the results reflected a data ‘coding error’ and some questionable aggregation. The assumption that high debt always equals low growth is not sustained by the evidence.”
While Reinhart and Rogoff acknowledged their error, they dismissed the controversy in a New York Times op-ed as an “academic kerfuffle” and insisted that their findings had often been “exaggerated or misrepresented” by, among others, politicians. (They also complained about the “hate-filled, even threatening, email messages” they received. I’d be happy to share my e-mail with them. Friends, if you have the good fortune to be engaged in public debates, you get a lot of angry missives these days.)
The two economists would have added to their credibility by showing a bit more humility about their data problem. But the damage was done. Europe and the United States moved prematurely to austerity. Tens of millions of people have suffered from joblessness or lower real incomes. Reinhart and Rogoff didn’t force these decisions, but they abetted them.
Now, through the “sequester” cuts, we are compounding the problem. It’s outrageous that Congress and the administration are moving quickly to reduce the inconvenience to travelers — people fortunate enough to be able to buy plane tickets — by easing cuts in air traffic control while leaving the rest of the sequester in place. What about the harm being done to the economy as a whole? What about the sequester’s injuries to those who face lower unemployment benefits, who need Meals on Wheels or who attend Head Start programs?
Instead, we should be using this period of low interest rates to invest in our infrastructure. This would help relieve unemployment while laying a foundation for long-term growth. But anti-government slogans trump smart-government policies. For reasons rooted in both ideology and the system’s bias against the less privileged, we hear nothing but “deficits, deficits, deficits” and “cuts, cuts, cuts.”
To paraphrase a French statesman from long ago, this is worse than a crime. This is a mistake. Its costs are being borne by good people who ask only for the chance to do productive work.
- The economic whodunit: E.J. Dionne Jr. (oregonlive.com)
- E.J. Dionne Jr: The economic whodunit (wickedlocal.com)
- E.J. Dionne Jr: The economic whodunit (metrowestdailynews.com)
- The Economic Whodunit (truthdig.com)
- E.J. Dionne: The end of majority rule? – The Washington Post (mbcalyn.com)
- Misdiagnosing A.D.H.D.; cheap clothes from Bangladesh: Opinion roundup (oregonlive.com)
- The economic whodunit (washingtonpost.com)
- E.J. DIONNE: Apologist for Criminals, Propagandist for Statism (directorblue.blogspot.com)
- Week In Politics: Jobs Numbers, President Obama’s Budget (npr.org)
- E.J. Dionne: Get facts before you judge (goerie.com)
Stay Cool. Call North Korea’s Bluff.
By ANDREI LANKOV
Published: April 9, 2013
SEOUL, South Korea
NORTH KOREA is a tiny dictatorship with a bankrupt economy, but its leaders are remarkably adept at manipulating global public opinion. In recent weeks, we have been exposed to yet another brilliant example of their skill.
Scores of foreign journalists have been dispatched to Seoul to report on the growing tensions between the two Koreas and the possibility of war. Upon arrival, though, it is difficult for them to find any South Koreans who are panic-stricken. In fact, most people in Seoul don’t care about the North’s belligerent statements: the farther one is from the Korean Peninsula, the more one will find people worried about the recent developments here.
The average South Korean’s calm indifference is understandable: he or she has been through similar “crises” many times. By now South Koreans understand Pyongyang’s logic and know North Korea is highly unlikely to make good on its gothic threats.
People who talk about an imminent possibility of war seldom pose this question: What would North Korea’s leadership get from unleashing a war that they are likely to lose in weeks, if not days? Even if they managed to strike Japan, the United States or South Korea with nuclear weapons — a big if, given that they do not have a reliable delivery system — they could not save themselves from ultimate defeat. On the contrary, the use of nuclear or other terror weapons would be certain to invite overwhelming retaliation, delivering North Korea’s decision makers to a fiery oblivion.
Suggestions that those leaders are irrational and their decisions unfathomable are remarkably shallow. North Korea is not a theocracy led by zealots who preach the rewards of the afterlife.
In fact, there are no good reasons to think that Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s young dictator, would want to commit suicide; he is known for his love of basketball, pizza and other pleasures of being alive. The same logic applies to his advisers, old survivors in the byzantine world of North Korean politics who love expensive cars and good brandy.
Moreover, there is almost nothing particularly unusual in the recent developments. In the last two decades, North Korea has on various occasions conducted highly provocative missile and nuclear tests and promised to turn Seoul into a sea of fire. Now it has declared its withdrawal from the 1953 armistice agreement that ended fighting in the Korean War but not the war itself. It has denounced American and South Korean military exercises as an act of war. And on Tuesday, North Korea told foreigners in the South to look for shelter or consider evacuating because the Korean Peninsula could soon be engulfed in nuclear war. This time, the tune is being played louder, but that is the only real change.
A closer look at North Korean history reveals what Pyongyang’s leaders really want their near-farcical belligerence to achieve — a reminder to the world that North Korea exists, and an impression abroad that its leaders are irrational and unpredictable. The scary impressions are important to North Korea because for the last two decades its policy has been, above all, a brilliant exercise in diplomatic blackmail. And blackmail usually works better when the practitioners are seen as irrational and unpredictable.
Put bluntly, North Korea’s government hopes to squeeze more aid from the outside world. Of late, it has become very dependent on Chinese aid, and it wants other sponsors as well.
The leaders in Pyongyang read their history books. In 1994, after a year of tension over North Korea’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, the United States agreed to provide North Korea with oil shipments and light water reactors in exchange for the North’s promise to halt its weapons program. Then, in 2002, a clandestine North Korean uranium enrichment program was unmasked, and for the next four years North Korea could not get much American aid. But after it conducted a nuclear test in October 2006, the United States promised significant concessions, in hopes that new negotiations could halt the North’s weapons program after all. They did not.
If history is any guide, in a few weeks’ time things will calm down. North Korea’s media will tell its people that the might of the People’s Army and the strategic genius of their new young leader made the terrified American imperialists cancel their plans to invade the North. Meanwhile, North Korea’s diplomats will approach their international counterparts and start probing for aid and political concessions.
In other words, it is business as usual on the Korean Peninsula. Perhaps, when the atmosphere cools down, an argument can be made for giving North Korea’s leaders some of the assistance they want, if they are willing to make concessions of their own.
But it does not make sense to credulously take their fake belligerence at face value and give them the attention they want now. It would be better if people in Washington and New York took a lesson from the people of Seoul.
- North Korea Urges Foreigners to Vacate South Korea (abcnews.go.com)
- North Korea urges foreigners to vacate South Korea, says nuclear war imminent (vancouversun.com)
- North Korea tells foreigners in South to consider evacuation (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- South Korea: ‘Indication’ North Korea prepping for nuke test (metronews.ca)
- North Korea tells foreigners to leave the South as a nuclear war is imminent (mirror.co.uk)
- North Korea Urges Foreigners To Vacate South Korea (huffingtonpost.com)
- South Korea says North Korea behind computer crash in March (technology.inquirer.net)
- South Korea says North Korea behind computer crash in March (foxnews.com)
- Seoul’s Nukes (carnegieendowment.org)
- North Korea urges foreigners to vacate South Korea (foxnews.com)
The end of majority rule?
The National Rifle Association is facing attacks from Gun Owners of America for being too soft on gun control. This is like a double cheeseburger coming under severe criticism for lacking enough cholesterol.
Universal background checks are supported by 91 percent of Americans. Yet there is enormous resistance in Congress to passing a strong bill to keep arms out of the wrong hands. What does “rule of the people” mean if a 9-to-1 issue is having so much trouble gaining traction?
Or consider the Morning Joe/Marist polllast week showing 64 percent of Americans saying that job creation should be the top priority for elected officials. Only 33 percent said their focus should be on reducing the deficit. In light of Friday’s disappointing jobs report, the public’s instinct is sound. Yet politicians in our nation’s capital are so obsessed with the deficit you’d imagine they still haven’t heard how many Americans are unemployed or underemployed.
These three non-randomly selected facts illustrate a deep structural tilt in our politics to the right. This distortion explains why election outcomes and the public’s preferences have so little impact on what is happening in Washington. At the moment, our democracy is not very democratic.
Start with the weirdness within the gun lobby. Once upon a time, the NRA supported background checks for gun buyers, and why not? Polls show that gun owners overwhelmingly support background checks, too.
But the political far right is, among other things, a big business. The NRA’s chief concern is not sane public policy. Its imperative is to maintain market share within a segment of our country that views the federal government as a conspiracy against its liberties and President Obama as an alien force imposed upon them by voters who aren’t part of “the real America.” Within this market niche, background checks are but a first step toward gun confiscation.
In a well-functioning democracy, the vast majority of politicians — conservative, moderate and liberal — would dismiss such views as just plain kooky. But here is the problem: A substantial portion of the Republican Party’s core electorate is now influenced both by hatred of Obama and by the views of the ultra-right. Strange conspiracy theories are admitted to the mainstream conversation through the GOP’s back door — and amplified by another fight for market share among talk radio hosts and Fox News commentators.
That’s because the Republican Party is no longer a broad and diverse alliance but a creature of the right. According to a March Washington Post/ABC News poll, 65 percent of Republicans called themselves conservative, just 27 percent were moderates and 7 percent were liberals. Democrats, by contrast, are far more middle of the road: 43 percent called themselves liberal, 38 percent moderate and 16 percent conservative. Among independents, moderates predominated at 46 percent.
Practical Democratic politicians thus need to worry about the political center. Practical Republican politicians, especially those in gerrymandered House districts where primaries are all that matter, will worry almost entirely about an increasingly radicalized right.
And our Constitution combines with the way we draw congressional districts to overrepresent conservatives in both houses. The 100-member Senate is based on two senators per state regardless of size. This gives rural states far more power than population-based representation would. The filibuster makes matters worse. It’s theoretically possible for 41 senators representing less than 11 percent of the population to block pretty much anything.
In the House, those gerrymanders helped Republicans keep control even though more Americans voted for Democrats in the 2012 congressional races.
This representational skew affects coverage in the media. Most Americans may care more about jobs than deficits. But if a right-tilted power structure is talking about deficits all the time, members of the media feel obligated to cover the argument they hear in Washington, even if that means downplaying views held by a majority of the voters — and even if the economic data say we should be talking about growth, not austerity.
There’s also this: While background checks probably would pass the Senate with relative ease if there were no filibuster, the media cover a world in which 60 votes is the new 51. Thus do the battles for 60 percent of the Senate, not the views of 91 percent of Americans, dominate journalistic accounts.
There is no immediate solution to the obstruction of the democratic will. But we need to acknowledge that our system is giving extremists far more influence than the voters would. That’s why American democracy is deadlocked.
- E.J. Dionne Jr.: Have voters in America embraced the end of majority rule? (sacbee.com)
- The end of majority rule on gun control?: E.J. Dionne Jr. (oregonlive.com)
- Dionne: The end of majority rule? (wickedlocal.com)
- Dionne: The end of majority rule? (metrowestdailynews.com)
- E.J. Dionne: Sane gun laws are coming (goerie.com)
- E.J. Dionne: Should only rich influence politics? (goerie.com)
- Will the GOP submit to the NRA and block background checks?: E.J. Dionne Jr. (oregonlive.com)
- Week In Politics: Jobs Numbers, President Obama’s Budget (npr.org)
- The case for using (and reforming) the political contributions system: E.J. Dionne Jr. (oregonlive.com)
- “The End Of Majority Rule?”: Giving Extremists Far More Influence, Our Democracy At The Moment Is Not Very Democratic (mykeystrokes.com)
It’s going to be a long slog
By Ruth Marcus,
“We have to get right in our minds that the bully pulpit will always probably get better press than we will,” the House Budget Committee chairman and the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee told me Wednesday evening in an interview. “That cannot deter us. . . .The sequester will happen, and that will be occurring all along until the president is willing to do an agreement that deals with the entitlement problem and the debt crisis.”
To listen to Ryan is to understand that the country should brace for a months-long slog, from sequester to continuing resolution to, yes, another debt-ceiling showdown sometime this summer.
Really, I ask, the debt ceiling, again? I thought Republicans were determined to avoid replaying that losing hand. “Not this time,” Ryan said, before the words were even out of my mouth.
“The debt problem is getting worse,” he said. “We’re not leaving this session of Congress until we have a down payment on the problem.”
That stance might not be so worrisome — indeed, it might be welcome, because the debt problem is real and curbing entitlement spending essential — were it not for the insistence of Ryan and fellow Republicans that the down payment be composed entirely of spending cuts.
That’s no surprise, but one insight that emerges from talking to Ryan is the degree to which his zeal for tax reform drives the refusal to consider new revenue. The general Republican allergy to taxes and the party’s specific unwillingness to swallow another increase, on top of the rate rise agreed to as part of the fiscal-cliff deal, is part of what drives the current no-new-taxes attitude, but only part. There is some method to this anti-tax madness.
In making the cliff deal, White House officials had bet that dangling the lure of tax reform before Republicans would lead them to cough up hundreds of billions more in additional revenue.
In fact, as Ryan explains it, exactly the opposite may be true. The extra revenue provided by the cliff deal provided the cushion needed to accomplish tax reform — a higher base from which to start trimming loopholes and lowering rates.
At the same time, however, only so much pruning is politically palatable. So closing enough loopholes to produce additional revenue — on top of what is needed to pay for the rate-trimming — is difficult. “Been there, done that,” Ryan says of new tax revenue.
I disagree, vehemently, with Ryan’s assessment of the proper mix of tax revenue and spending cuts to deal with the debt. Much more than the $700 billion or so raised in the fiscal cliff deal is needed to get the debt under control without imposing damaging cuts.
But I think he makes two legitimate, interconnected points. First, where’s the president’s budget? “I’ve never seen such staggering disrespect for the budgeting process,” Ryan said.
The budget was due, by law, the first Monday in February; now, it probably won’t be out until sometime in March.
The White House says that the delay is due to fiscal-cliff wrangling and the cumbersome process of updating discretionary spending numbers once the deal was struck. But the document ought to have been out by now — not because failing to have the president’s budget delays action on Capitol Hill but because the public is owed an overview of the president’s blueprint for governing.
Second, and related, how precisely does the president propose to rein in entitlement spending? The White House points to its offer from the last negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner and says that remains on the table. It cites earlier budget proposals on Medicare and puts it all together in a blog post that confirmed its willingness to change the formula for calculating Social Security cost-of-living increases. But, really, a blog post? What about a plan that the president himself explains, and sells, to the country?
“He never gives the public an honest account of what he’s willing to do on entitlements,” Ryan said of the president. “Trimming a statistic,” he sniffed of the proposed Social Security tweak, “is not entitlement reform.”
Ryan didn’t expect to be reliving what he describes as budget “Groundhog Day.” At this point in a Mitt Romney administration, Ryan imagined, he would be maneuvering to pass the grand debt-reduction plan.
“Mitt and I were going to bring to Congress a plan to fix this this year and we were going to launch a charm offensive with Senate Democrats to work with them to do it,” Ryan said.
So much for charm offensive. This is going to be trench warfare.
- It’s going to be a long slog on the federal fiscal crisis: Ruth Marcus (oregonlive.com)
- Ryan: We’ll See If Obama Uses the Sequester Flexibility We Plan to Give Him (cnsnews.com)
- The details Paul Ryan doesn’t want you to know (maddowblog.msnbc.com)
- How we got to the sequester’s doorstep: Ruth Marcus (oregonlive.com)
- “GOP Reversion To Form”: When Did “Tax Reform” Become A Tax Hike? (bell-book-candle.com)
- My Message to the White House & Senate Democrats Tomorrow: Do Your Job & Pass a Bill (speaker.gov)
- Charles Krauthammer – Republicans mustn’t wimp-out on Sequester (mypoliticalmusings.wordpress.com)
- ABC confronts Paul Ryan for praising sequester before using it to slam Obama (rawstory.com)
- How Republicans see the sequester (washingtonpost.com)
- What happened when I asked Paul Ryan why he hates taxes (washingtonpost.com)
Congressman, Florida’s 26th District
No to Sequestration: It’s Time to End ‘Government by Crisis’
Posted: 02/28/2013 5:47 pm
I came of age in a Republican household during the Reagan years. My dad, Joe Sr., was a small business owner who served as a committee man for the local party. My mom, Carmen, like most Cuban exiles of her generation, voted Republican down the ticket. When the family would gather around the dinner table and discuss current affairs, my brothers and I wouldn’t always agree with our parents’ politics, but we were taught from an early age to respect other people’s views and keep an open mind because nobody has all the right answers.
This is a valuable lesson that has stuck with me, but it is one that many of my colleagues in Washington either never learned or have perhaps forgotten. The refusal of some in the Tea Party controlled Congress to compromise, learn from members of the other party, listen to reason, and put ideology and partisan politics aside has resulted in a government that is too often dysfunctional, reckless and irresponsible. From the debt ceiling, to the fiscal cliff and now the sequester, what we have is a Congress that governs and responds only to self-inflicted crises.
The consequences of sequestration are dire for Florida. Here are a few of the many examples of what they look like:
· Parents in neighborhoods like Kendall and Perrine will experience dramatic cuts in funding for Head Start and Early Head Start resulting in 2,700 fewer children in Florida from having access to those programs.
· Students at schools like FIU, FKCC and MDC will see cuts in work-study programs that help them pay for college.
· Florida will lose approximately $54.5 million in funding for primary and secondary education.
· Local hospitals that we all depend on will experience a loss of $368 million from cuts, potentially limiting first responders’ capabilities to respond to heart attacks, strokes and other critical medical issues.
· Longer lines at Miami International Airport with as many as 31,000 civilian Department of Defense employees being furloughed throughout our state.
These aren’t just numbers on a page. The sequester will impact the lives of millions of real people, such as our neighbors, grandparents, teachers, friends, and loved ones. The cuts that will go into effect if Congress does nothing are avoidable. There is a solution and a better way, but it’s going to require hard work and a willingness to compromise — two things that unfortunately are anathema to some in Washington. Consider the following: Despite these looming disastrous cuts, Congress was only in session for six of the 31 calendar days in January (about one day a week). Imagine how your boss would react if you only showed up to work one day a week. You probably wouldn’t have that job for too long.
This is unacceptable to me and I know it is unacceptable to many of my colleagues from both parties. Just a few weeks ago, I joined a bipartisan coalition of over 20 members — Republicans and Democrats, alike — who are committed to avoiding the sequestration by working in a bipartisan manner and compromising. For Democrats, this means we are open to spending cuts so long as seniors can retire with dignity, receive the benefits they have paid for and have access to affordable, quality health care. For Republicans, this means they are willing to look at revenue increases so long as Democrats meet them half-way.
This framework is similar to how most people go about their lives. When you and your coworkers disagree, you don’t stop showing up to work and take your company to the brink of disaster. Rather, you simply gather around a table, discuss your differences and find solutions. Not everyone will get what they want, but progress isn’t held hostage at the expense of ideological purity. It’s ironic that many of the same politicians who decry government for not operating more like the private sector have adopted a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to governing that would leave them fired, bankrupt or both in corporate America.
I hope my colleagues find it within themselves to compromise and learn how the rest of America works when people disagree and yet want to move forward. My family’s dinner table is a great place to start.
- Frankel, Murphy say Congress should stay in session until budget deal reached (postonpolitics.com)
- What Obama Isn’t Telling You About Sequestration – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Sequestration Looms Large For Florida (miami.cbslocal.com)
- Sequestration: Top 4 States With Largest Losses (theepochtimes.com)
- Sequestration will leave Pentagon cash-strapped but operational (stripes.com)
- What Sequestration Really Tells Us About Our Government (evergreeninstitute.wordpress.com)
- White House, Republicans dig in ahead of budget talks – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Obamacare/Sequestration Double Whammy For GOP (youviewed.com)
- Will A Government Shutdown Threat Determine The Winner Of The Sequestration Fight? (tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com)
- WaPo/Pew sequestration poll question oddly missing an option (hotair.com)
Sequestration: John Boehner, not Barack Obama, has the power to lead us out of the budget mess. – Slate Magazine
It’s Time for You To Lead, John Boehner
Stop blaming the president: The House speaker is the only one who can fix the budget mess.
The only person who has the ability to move Washington beyond this endless debate
Washington is once again at an impasse over fiscal matters, and once again the overwhelming majority of the intransigence comes from the Republican Party, which continues to rigidly reject any deal that includes any meaningful increases in tax revenue.
Nonetheless, the conventions of deficit scoldery mandate that the mere existence of disagreement shows that both sides must be to blame. Thus the editorial board concludes that “Republicans are wrong to resist further revenue hikes” but still wonders “why is Mr. Obama not leading the way to a solution?” David Brooks complains that Obama “has become a participant” in “stale debates” and should instead unilaterally “fundamentally shift the terms” of politics. Ron Fournier at says Obama is “ultimately responsible for the success or failure” of negotiations, no matter what his opponents say.
This is pernicious nonsense. The president of the United States has many powers at his disposal, but the ability to pull a Jedi mind trick and force congressional opponents to agree to deals they don’t favor isn’t among them. It’s that the ideas Obama has put on the table aren’t perfect, but at least he has put ideas out there and shown some flexibility. The person who has to act now is the one person who actually can change the dynamic: House Speaker John Boehner.
It is Boehner, not Obama, who must lead and find a way to a solution. It is Boehner, not Obama, who has the ability to move Washington beyond the endless stale debate, and it is Boehner, not Obama, who is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of policymaking in the 113 Congress.
Ryan Lizza, profiling Majority Leader Eric Cantor in , definitively nails down what many inferred at the time: Boehner and Obama were at one point close to a big deal, and then Boehner pulled the plug for fear of a rebellion on his right:
In June of 2011, the President and the Speaker began working toward a Grand Bargain of major tax increases and spending cuts to address the government’s long-term budget deficits. Until late June, Boehner had managed to keep these talks secret from Cantor. On July 21st, Boehner paused in his discussions with Obama to talk to Cantor and outline the proposed deal. As Obama waited by the phone for a response from the Speaker, Cantor struck. Cantor told me that it was a “fair assessment” that he talked Boehner out of accepting Obama’s deal. He said he told Boehner that it would be better, instead, to take the issues of taxes and spending to the voters and “have it out” with the Democrats in the election. Why give Obama an enormous political victory, and potentially help him win reëlection, when they might be able to negotiate a more favorable deal with a new Republican President? Boehner told Obama there was no deal. Instead of a Grand Bargain, Cantor and the House Republicans made a grand bet.
Whatever the merits of that strategy at the time, the gamble clearly hasn’t paid off. It’s time for Boehner to admit as much, come back to the table, and act like a statesman by offering a bold proposal that will split his caucus and risk his speakership. Boehner needs to acknowledge that Obama has repeatedly been offering the kind of large spending cuts that Republicans say they want, and learn to take yes for an answer. Tax revenue is the price Obama has consistently demanded in exchange for spending cuts, and Boehner could be statesman of the decade by agreeing to take the deal.
He doesn’t need to embrace new revenue, mind you. He doesn’t need to say he’s eager to raise taxes or even that he favors it. He just needs to say that he’s willing to give ground in order to get what he wants.
This would give Boehner the chance to push Democrats off some of their gimmicky thinking on taxes. The White House’s view that in an era of high inequality the rich should pay more is perfectly reasonable, but Obama’s politically motivated insistence that the rich be the exclusive payers of higher taxes is paralyzing. A sensible, economically efficient, loophole-closing tax reform such as the one proposed by Diane Rogers Lim for the Hamilton Project would raise more money from rich taxpayers than middle class ones but at least some Americans all across the income spectrum would pay somewhat more.
A big concession on taxes would also give Boehner the high ground in the debate over spending. For much too long, GOP intransigence has papered over divides in the Democratic coalition. Democrats—correctly—like to tout the role of federal spending on R&D, infrastructure, and education as important to economic growth. But the lion’s share of nonmilitary spending doesn’t go to investments in the future, it goes to subsidies for the elderly. Obama has often stated a desire to curb this spending in the context of a balanced deal, but that position has always been controversial within his party. It’s never truly been clear how many Democrats Obama could bring along with him for a deal, and we’ve never had to find out because there’s been no Republican partner.
is a comfortable common denominator view for Democratic leaders, uniting the liberal and moderate wings of the party. And it’s a potent electoral combination that clearly polls better than the all-cuts alternative. Boehner is absolutely correct to say that the long-run fiscal gap is mostly a question of excessive projected entitlement spending and not tax shortfalls. But if Boehner really wants to reduce that spending, he must show some leadership and bring at least a fraction of his caucus to the table, ready to compromise.
- Sequestration: Boehner says Senate need to get ‘off their ass’ (suntimes.com)
- The sequestration show: Obama holds shipyard rally; Boehner talks tough (bizjournals.com)
- John Boehner: Sequester Requires Senate To Get ‘Off Their Ass’ (VIDEO … (huffingtonpost.com)
- Sequestration Debate: Obama Campaigns, Republicans Don’t Act (theepochtimes.com)
- White House, Republicans dig in ahead of budget talks – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Boehner blasts Senate Democrats for inaction (firstread.nbcnews.com)
- Sequestration cuts: Obama cites Navy threat, immigrants freed as cuts loom – Chicago Tribune (chicagotribune.com)
- John Boehner’s Wall Street Journal Op-ed Failed (teaparty911.com)
- Boehner starts to lose his cool (maddowblog.msnbc.com)
- Obama highlights the defense hit in budget cuts battle – Reuters (reuters.com)