Tag Archives: washington

Fear and Loathing in Washington D.C.

Washington DC Capitol - HDR

“President Obama will negotiate with the Syrian butcher Assad and erase his red line, will capitulate to Vladimir Putin, and he will negotiate with the happy face of the killer regime in Iran, President Rouhani, but not with Republicans over issues all presidents have always negotiated over.”

That quote – from American conservative radio host/shame-free liar and propagandist Hugh Hewitt – encapsulates how far the U.S. has to go to overcome the most embarrassing and pathetic government shutdown in the history of the country. Not every conservative in the United States is as crazy or deluded as Hewitt, but enough are to where an angry, xenophobic, racially charged minority, belonging to one faction in one house of government, has been able to manufacture a government shutdown threatening to destroy the US and global economy unless the party opposite capitulates to their bidding.

The truth is, no American president has ever “negotiated” repealing a duly enacted law [the Affordable Care Act] whilst being blackmailed with the destruction of his government, or indeed with the destruction of the global economy. But this line of baseless rhetoric has become the new mantra of the Republican Party and their apologists: repeat the lie until enough Americans have been coerced that they [Republicans] are not singularly to blame for the disastrous impasses the country continuously finds itself in (e.g. sequestration, shutdown, debt ceiling, etc.). This isn’t just a minority problem – it’s a party problem. The American Tea Party may be [entirely] comprised of callous fools and disgraceful opportunists, but we’re mostly here because “moderate” Republicans have consistently folded to these vandals rather than stand up to them.

It’s important not to forget that Republicans manufactured the U.S. government shutdown for one reason and one reason only: to stop poorer Americans from getting health insurance funded by cuts to Medicare and the taxing of the richest Americans. Let’s also keep in mind that Congress itself passed the healthcare law in 2010; the Supreme Court then affirmed its constitutionality through its landmark ruling earlier this year; and the majority of Americans want it – as proven when they re-elected the President who signed it.

In a few weeks (or sooner), the shutdown/default crisis will long be over and maybe even forgotten. The federal deficit will in all likelihood continue to fall, and growth will probably resume. But the long-term inadequacies of the U.S. political system will continue to be exploited by the Republican Party, creating a sort of dystopic future for American politics. The American people put pretty much all of the blame of the shutdown/default crisis on the shoulders of Republicans, but conservatives can still expect to hold enough seats in the House come the 2014 midterm elections (mainly because of the way district lines are drawn. Republicans were lucky enough to have had a huge win at the state level in 2010, which coincided with post-census redistricting or gerrymandering). Democrats may very well win the White House again in 2016 with Hillary Clinton or Papa Joey B, but the Congress will probably remain the same, meaning we’ll see more shutdowns/threats of defaults before it’s all said and done.

I’ve been able to gauge the puzzled, incredulous looks of my international friends at the LSE – many of whom come from democratic countries – when they hear that an extremist minority party caused the “most powerful” democracy in the world to close up shop. I tell them that American politics, as constructed by James Madison (“father” of the Constitution), was designed with stagnation, derision, and polarization in mind. But the country’s founders couldn’t foresee something as inane as the Tea Party (and warned against political party’s altogether); they couldn’t possibly expect the damning practice of gerrymandering districts or the influence of special interest groups both in elections and public policy.

Mostly, I’ve had to tell my foreign friends that what they’re currently seeing and reading about is not at all what American politics was meant to be. But they better start getting used to it, because it’s here to stay.

Photo: Nicolas Raymond


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Could The Shutdown/Debt Ceiling Cost Republicans The House?

Because the American people are a fickle bunch, the usual order of things is that the sitting President’s party loses seats in the House during the midterm election. Conventional wisdom would then lead one to accept the points expressed by The New Republic and Real Clear Politics in their estimation(s) that it’s unlikely Democrats will overturn the Republican majority in 12 months. The rule has exceptions, of course. Clinton’s Democrats actually picked up a few seats in 1998, following Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 21 day government shutdown.

It’s been reiterated quite exhaustingly that one of the main reasons Republicans have been able to keep the House despite losing the national popular vote to Democrats by 1.5% is that they enjoy the considerable majority of gerrymandered districts. In short, Democrats needed to win the House by a margin of more than 7% to become the majority party.

Fast forward to today. If this WaPo/ABC news poll is any indication (and I’d like to think it is), the country soundly puts the blame of the shutdown and the upcoming debt ceiling disaster on the shoulders of the GOP.


But while public opinion of the GOP might be very low, commentators have rightly noted that President Obama garners considerable blame (deservedly or not) for the current Washington impasse. That may be true, but luckily for the President and his party, Obama is not running for re-election in the next 12 months. That point led Public Policy Polling to conduct a set of district-level polls meant for ascertaining Congressional preference — which has, in the past, tracked the national vote pretty closely. So, PPP set out to survey 24 congressional districts held by Republicans, and asked voters there to chose between their current Congressional representative and a Democrat. Here are their results, plotted against last year’s election result:

It’s important to note that we’re talking about surveys taken during a government shutdown explicitly engineered by Congressional Republicans, but the results show that Democrats swung 23 races (below the red line) while Republicans held one race (above the red line). If the results hold (and I don’t expect them to), Democrats will win the House. Comfortably.

I say I don’t expect this to last because, well, Americans have the tendency to forget about things like the shutdown when it comes time to vote. The midterm elections are still a long away off to where Republicans can successfully coerce their constituents to re-elect them to the House. I do expect Democrats to pick up some votes, which is not totally inconsequential since they’d be able to force the chamber to actually vote on resolutions that Boehner refuses to allow.

The survey doesn’t take into account how voters will feel about House Republicans if the Government hits the debt ceiling, but given the plausible disaster that would ensue if such a thing were allowed to happen, when compounded with the shutdown and the [still] terrible sequester, these results could hold true to the midterm, and possibly even increase.

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Your Terrifying Quote For The Day

Tea Party tax day protest 2010

“President Obama waived a ban on arming terrorists in order to allow weapons to go to the Syrian opposition. Your listeners, US taxpayers, are now paying to give arms to terrorists including Al Qaeda. … This happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history. … Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, Maranatha Come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand.”

Michele Bachmann

…an active member of Congress.


Photo: Fibonacci Blue

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Best Of The Week


I feel like in years to come, we’ll look back on events this week and wonder what we could have done, or argued, differently. I don’t know what will happen if we intervene in Syria. No one can know something like that. What I rely on instead is what little I know about regional history, past military interventions, sectarian violence and the great fallacy that is international law. But despite my furious objection to intervention, my heart breaks that so many innocent people have died — and will die. In a perfect world, we could act as guardian protectors for all those who cannot protect themselves. Provide justice from above. But this isn’t a comic book, and limited air strikes won’t make a bit of difference in the rate of death, turmoil and despair in that poor country. What will happen, I fear, is that we’ll be sucked into another war.

That means more death. More suffering. That’s what I’m opposing.

The most popular post of the week — unsurprisingly — was one of my many pieces on the subject: Syria Is Not Iraq. It’s Much Worse.

Other notable posts included Republicans Were Invited To Attend And Speak At MLK Ceremony. They Didn’t Show Up.; Did The Worst Chemical Weapons Attack In Decades Just Happen In Syria?; the hilariously contentious Starbucks Is Better Than Your Local Coffee Shop. Deal With It.; The Arguments For (And Against) Intervention In Syria; and finally, Boomers, Ye Be Warned: Millennials Are Not Anti-Politics.

More after the holiday.


(Photo: Chair. Joint Chiefs of Staff)

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What The Rest Of The World Thinks Of US

U.S Military Forces in Bosnia - Operation Joint Endeavor

Paul Waldman provides timely perspective on how the rest of the world feels about U.S. military action since 1963:

Some of these operations worked out very well, others didn’t. And just to be clear, this history doesn’t tell us whether bombing Syria is a good idea or a bad idea. But if you’re wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go. It doesn’t matter whether you think some or even all of those actions were completely justified and morally defensible. From here, we tend to look at each of these engagements in isolation, asking whether there are good reasons to go in and whether we can accomplish important goals for ourselves and others. But when when a new American military campaign begins, people in the rest of the world see it in this broader historical context.

If you take a longer look at the list he provides (and do some basic math), you’ll find that the United States has launched one significant overseas assault every three years since 1963 — or every 40 months. Kevin Drum laments how little of this resonates with the American people:

Too many Americans have a seriously blinkered view of our interventions overseas, viewing them as one-offs to be evaluated on their individual merits. But when these things happen once every three years, against a backdrop of almost continuous smaller-scale military action (drone attacks, the odd cruise missile here and there, sending “advisors” over to help an ally, etc.), the rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way. They don’t see a peaceful country that struggles mightily with its conscience and only occasionally makes a decision to drop a bunch of bombs. They see a country that views dropping bombs as its primary means of dealing with any country weaker than we are.

Considering the rate at which we’ve launched bombs against foreign states the past 50 years, we’re actually ahead of schedule for the next round. It’s only been two years since Libya.

(Photo: U.S. military forces in Bosnia — operation Joint Endeavor, by Expert Infantry)

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The Founding Fathers Were Younger Than You Think

20130820-110451.jpg(Photo: Via Wikicommons)

When we think of the leaders of the American Revolution, how many of us actually consider the ages of the men and women involved in securing our liberty from Britain? In doing research for his book, author Todd Andrlik compiled as thorough a list as he could to show that in fact, many of the founding fathers were younger than 40, some even in their twenties. The average age of those who put their names to the Declaration of Independence was 44, and more than a dozen of those were 35 or younger.

    “We tend to see them as much older than they were,” said John Adams biographer David McCullough in a 2005 speech. “Because we’re seeing them in portraits by Gilbert Stuart and others when they were truly the Founding Fathers—when they were president or chief justice of the Supreme Court and their hair, if it hadn’t turned white, was powdered white. We see the awkward teeth. We see the elder statesmen. At the time of the revolution, they were all young. It was a young man’s–young woman’s cause.”

Check out the list after the jump: (asterisks mean that there is evidence the person’s age is not precise — only the birth year is known)
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Is Washington Really In A “Post-Policy Moment”?

Washington Monument (Washington DC)

Peter Suderman has an interesting theory about the state of affairs in government: Washington, he says, is in a “post-policy moment”. His core premise is that both parties have achieved their respective political — or ideological — goals: Democrats have been able to semi-successfully defend the entitlement state — passing a confusing but so-far-effective universal health care bill, while also overseeing the sea of change concerning gay marriage and other important social issues. Republicans have succeeded in keeping taxes relatively low, defense spending absurdly high, and state’s rights reinforced through the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act.

But here’s why I think Suderman is off the mark:

    “This is what really lies underneath the recent policy stagnation,” he writes, “not obstructionism, but exhausted party agendas with nowhere left to go.”

I can buy that both parties are semi-satisfied with their political agendas and therefore would rather not exert too much energy or intellectual thought in new policy ideas, but the argument that it’s all about exhausted party agendas and not obstructionism is going a step too far. It’s all about obstructionism. Ezra notes as much:

    What lies under the recent policy stagnation is clearly obstructionism — or, if you prefer, the gridlock of divided government. After all, 2009 and 2010 were only a few years ago, and they were the most rapid period of policy accomplishment in generations. Democrats didn’t run out of agenda. They ran out of votes.

And he goes on to explain the sorts of genuine policy measures both parties would pursue if they had the majority they needed — more simply, the votes they needed:

    For Democrats, the agenda is clear: Immigration reform would be the first big bill to move. The harder lift would be a cap-and-trade plan to deal with global warming, though given big enough majorities, one might pass. Universal pre-K would quickly end up on the president’s desk.
    …After that the size of the agenda falls quickly. A significant package of infrastructure investments would be signed into law, of course. A modest gun control package would emerge. Something along the lines of President Obama’s budget would replace sequestration.
    …if Republicans were actually in power I think the chance that they’d be willing to detail, pass, and implement the Ryan budget, as written, approaches zero. But they’d probably pass some softer version of it that would include a move toward premium support in Medicare and block grants to Medicaid and food stamps.

And that’s really the rut of the issue here: policies are moved and realized by votes. Without the votes, ideas are useless and often not even publicized. Washington progresses through ideas, but it runs on votes, and until one party controls the means of government — and I mean the Presidency, House and Senate — then obstructionism will rule the day.

We’re not in a post-policy moment. We’re in a no-policy moment.

(Photo: flickr user Shubert Ciencia)

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Does “The Center” Still Exist?

Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey - 3D Icons

Ezra Klein has an interesting piece about how our use of the phrase “the center” in politics should be halted until we can come up with an adequate definition about what exactly we mean by it:

Over at the New York Times, Jonathan Martin has a front-page story titled, “Some Democrats Look to Push Party Away From Center.” The examples he gives are Elizabeth Warren looking to lower the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans, Elizabeth Warren trying to restore Glass-Steagall’s separation between investment and commercial banking, and opposition from “the left” looking to tamp down Obama’s efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of a budget deal.

Martin’s article doesn’t define “the center.” But it’s not the center of public opinion. It’s more a reference to an amorphous Washington consensus. Insofar as that concept ever made sense, the idea was that it’s the legislative center, the zone of compromise where things can actually get done. But even that concept has begun to break down in recent years, as that Washington center — what you might call the “Simpson-Bowles center” — no longer holds any weight in Congress.

When you’re judging policy, “good” and “bad” are descriptions that make sense. So are “popular” and “unpopular,” and “likely to pass” and “no chance.” But “the center”? It’s time to retire that one, or at least come up with a more rigorous definition of what we mean when we use it.

As Ezra himself notes, there was a time in which one could legitimately claim to be centrist — a position more or less defined as allying oneself with policy ideas that would appeal to both sides of the political spectrum. Is that lost now? Probably. The radicalization of the GOP began when Gingrich and his loons took over in 94′, and it doesn’t look like fading away any time soon. How can one be centrist when one party has gone so far right that what was once the center is now closer to what used to be the right? Is centrism outdated then?

I’m not so sure. It may not play right now as a practical political alignment, but the GOP has no choice but to moderate itself in the future (right?), and when that happens, the center will be re-established.

At least, that’s what your lowly blogger here is hoping. You can probably tell from the headline that I lean center-left, and while the tone of this blog probably has seemed more left than center, I’m hopeful that with time and a more moderate right, we can strike a balance between the two.

For now though, Republicans are making far too easy to excoriate them.

(photo by DonkeyHotey)

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The Best Of The Week On Left And Center

Gay Marriages at SF City HallA couple is wed in San Francisco soon after the state approved marriage licenses (by Pargon)

The most popular posts of the week as chosen by our readers were Texas Republican Thinks Rape Kits “Clean Out” Pregnant Victims Of Rape And Incest, our report that Snowden Took the NSA Job In Order To Gather Evidence, the full breakdown of the Voting Rights Act: Everything You Need To Know, Cato’s important piece about Why The Farm Bill Mattered, and finally, Saying Goodbye To The Washington “Scandals”.

Other popular posts were Fareed Zakaria’s The Threat Comes From Within, Here Are The States Already Prepping Discriminatory Voter ID Laws, and The Case For Class Based Affirmative Action.

Here are some posts you may have missed, but we think are important: whether or not it’s Time To Stop Worrying About American Foreign Policy?, DOMA Struck Down: Reactions And Analysis, #StandWithWendy: The Fight Is Not Over, and finally, our thoughts regarding a revelation about the NSA leaker, Snowden: “(Leakers) Should Be Shot In The Balls”.

Thanks for stopping by,


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Saying Goodbye To The Washington “Scandals”

White House

Jonathan Chait noticed something yesterday: no one is talking about White House scandals anymore. Not even the Republicans. The reason for that is simple enough: the scandals never existed in the first place. DC and by extension, the media, were desperate for something to make up for the post-election lull that followed Obama’s second inauguration, and so we pretended for a while that Benghazi was something more than a military debacle gone awry; the IRS situation a tale of bureaucratic incompetence and negligence; and the NSA surveillance programs a matter of policy, not legality. Well, you can’t pretend forever:

What about the rest of the scandals? Well, there aren’t any, and there never were. Benghazi is a case of a bunch of confused agencies caught up in a fast-moving story trying to coordinate talking points. The ever-shifting third leg of the Obama scandal trifecta — Obama’s prosecution of leaks, or use of the National Security Agency — is not a scandal at all. It’s a policy controversy. One can argue that Obama’s policy stance is wrong, or dangerous, or a threat to democracy. But when the president is carrying out duly passed laws and acting at every stage with judicial approval, then the issue is the laws themselves, not misconduct.

At least when it comes to the NSA leaks, there’s something there with some teeth. Not in a scandal sense, mind you, but when it comes to government policy, it’s as juicy as it gets. Remarkably though, President Obama’s time in office has been pretty much entirely scandal free. Nothing he’s done — as far as we know — has crossed over the line of legality, technically speaking. You can and should disagree with his burgeoning use of drones, the ongoing disgrace of Gitmo, continued secret surveillance programs adopted from the previous administration, and the ongoing debate between action/inaction in Syria, but those are matters of policy.

DC needs a good feeding frenzy every so often to satiate the hawks, and who can really argue that there wasn’t a feeling of desperation and overreaching behind (mostly) Republican efforts to paint Obama as the second-coming of Nixon?

(Photo by flickr user Sean Hayford O’Leary)

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Oh Good, The IRS Targeted Liberal Groups Too

Just when we thought we were out … They pull us back in. I’m not sure how it took this long to locate, but Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released on Monday a copy of the spreadsheet used by IRS screeners in Cincinnati (nicknamed BOLO) to highlight the keywords analysts should “be on the lookout for.” The usual suspects of course were tea party groups, but now we have another righteously miffed group included in the mix: liberals. IRS analysts were told to look out for keywords like “blue” or “progressives“:


So, there’s that. Hopefully this non-story doesn’t become the center of attention again. It’s clear that the entire situation reeks of incompetence and negligence. Still, expect some of the more vocal members of the left to make a little noise about this new revelation.

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Mitch McConnell Hates That The IRS “Scandal” Is Over

GLI Fly-in 6

In a somewhat belligerent, almost paranoid speech given today to the American Enterprise Institute, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) lashed out against the Obama administration for failing to disprove that the president’s administration was directly involved in the IRS targeting of conservative groups. Huh?:

“Now we have an administration that’s desperately trying to prove that nobody at the top was involved in any of this stuff, even as they hope that the media loses interest in this scandal and moves on.”

The media has pretty much lost all interest. But note what McConnell is trying to pull off here: before, when the scandal was at its peak, the burden of proof was on the Republicans to attach the White House to the IRS employees in Cincinnati. They couldn’t do it. So now, given that there is no evidence whatsoever incriminating the president’s administration, McConnell is desperately trying to frame the question a different way: Obama hasn’t proven he wasn’t involved.

Thankfully, as Jonathan Chait notes, McConnell’s speech marks the point when the IRS scandal has mercifully entered its “post-fact” phase:

McConnell’s speech today is a kind of covered retreat, signaling the IRS scandal’s turn into a vague trope that conservatives use with other members of the tribe, the way liberals liked to say “Halliburton” during the Bush years, to signal some dark beliefs they don’t need to back up.

Now the IRS can happily go back to being boring again.

(Photo by flickr user Greater Louisville Medical

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Congress Is Less Popular Than Traffic Jams, Nickelback, And Lice

On the bright side, Congress managed to beat out the Kardashians and North Korea:

Ouch. Gallup’s latest polling of Americans’ confidence of Congress found that only 10 percent of Americans has any in our legislature:


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The Best Of The Week On Left And Center

The most popular posts this week were The Youth Of Today Basically Can’t Read Anymore, Cato’s really awesome New Atheism’s Problem Is Our Problem Too, What Happens To Women Who Can’t Get An Abortion, and finally, my rant against the President’s plan to arm Syrian Rebels, titled Obama Caves On Syria, Betrays Us All.

Other popular posts from the week were Mnemosyne’s cogent argument about Why Authoritarian Leaders Can Have All The Fun But Not Get Away With It, my takedown of the now famous NSA leaker Edward Snowden: Neither Hero Nor Whistle-Blower, and Cato’s explanation about how The U.S Federal Government Is Making You Fat.

Other noteworthy posts that were lost in the haze of a crazy week were Drugs and Prostitutes: State Department Style, a new revelation out of Hong Kong that led me to ask Is Edward Snowden Handing Materials Over To China?, and finally, the newly posted Lord of the Rings analogy of the Iranian presidential election, Why It Doesn’t Matter Who Wins The Iranian Election.

Thanks for stopping by,


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Edward Snowden: Neither Hero Nor Whistle-Blower

By now, anyone with even a remote interest in current affairs is well aware of the story of Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old Booz Allen Hamilton employee and ex-CIA analyst behind Glenn Greenwald’s series of leaks about NSA surveillance programs, both foreign and domestic. Some laud him as a hero, others as the greatest whistle-blower of the age.

Jeffrey Toobin echoes my own feelings when he calls Snowden nothing more than a grandiose narcissist, and proceeds to put his actions into context:
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