The Politics of Laughter
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, comedian Patton Oswalt took to social media. In a post that would soon go viral, Oswalt was able to give some perspective to the hopelessness that this sort of mayhem has the potential to manifest. [The Atlantic]
Earlier this week Steven Colbert riffed on the ridiculous collaboration between country music star, Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J entitled “Accidental Racist.” Colbert is joined by Broadway actor Alan Cumming to perform their new song, “Oopsy Daisy Homophobe”… hilarity ensued. [Colbert Report]
The Politics of Sequestration
Around a month since the automatic budgetary cuts known as the “sequester” began taking effect, many are still waiting for the fall-out. When will the crushing blow we were warned about start to reveal itself? According to Stephanie Condon, it may not be for some time yet.[CBS]
Not all sectors of our society have been so fortunate as to avoid stinging rollbacks. One area particularly hurt by Washington gridlock, according to Howard Fineman, is front line medical research. In a piece for The Huffington Post, Fineman uses the successful mapping of the human genome as an example of investment in medical research which is still bearing economic fruit. One would be forgiven for wondering what medical breakthrough our current political gridlock is delaying. [HP]
So far there have been precious few opportunities to apply human faces to the “sequester” fiasco, barring the President or Speaker Boehner’s. However as of April 1, the sequestration began to touch Medicare. Lack of funding is reportedly forcing some cancer clinics to make tough decisions regarding how many Medicare recipients they can continue to treat. [WP]
This week President Obama announced that he would return 5% of his salary to the Treasury in solidarity with those who are being hurt by sequestration. This is the sort of political theater which would normally inspire a collective eye roll from the masses. Chris Cillizza questions, however, if this symbolic gesture could actually work. [WP]
The Politics of Love
This week the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans. On the docket are cases involving the controversial California gay marriage ban known as Proposition 8. The justices will also hear challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was signed into law by President Clinton.
Though many Senators and House members have come out in recent weeks to express their support for marriage equality, Kentucky’s own Rand Paul took a slightly different view of the problem while appearing on “Fox News Sunday.” The Senator suggested that same-sex couples might be satisfied if marriage were removed from the tax code all together, thus there would be no benefits for traditional marriage. Paul also stated that he feels marriage equality is a matter for states to decide rather than the federal government.
Alex Pareene takes a novel view of the anti-gay marriage argument in Salon. Pareene suggests that if those arguing against the legalization of gay marriage are to suggest that child rearing is the primary reason for marriage, the more effective response is to ban divorce.
The Politics of The Planet
President Obama is expected to unveil his new energy policy today which was first mentioned in The State of the Union last month. The so-called “Energy Security Trust” would use money accrued through royalties received from oil company leases on off shore drilling sites. This revenue, nearly $2 Billion a year, would be used to fund research on alternative forms of energy. Predictably the plan is already getting push-back from Speaker of the House John Boehner who was apparently for this plan before he was against it. A strikingly similar “trust fund” was proposed by the GOP in sec. 321 of their 2009 energy bill which Speaker Boehner introduced and sponsored. Mr. Boehner is not alone in his opposition, Christopher Helman of Forbes explains how the trust could be a back door to a carbon tax and why Congress should nip this policy in the proverbial bud.[Forbes]
In the shadow of the “Energy Security Trust” announcement, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times discusses the impact of budget cuts on the scientific community, particularly alternative energy research. Even before sequestration, the amount of the budget which was devoted to such research was negligible. According to a report cited by Revkin, less than 1% of the federal budget goes toward funding for scientific study.[NYT]
If global warming is caused by fossil fuels, it could be that the proliferation of alternative energy sources may not come soon enough to save the monarch butterfly. Extreme drought and heat on the North American continent has caused the pollinating insect to decline drastically in number. Climate change may only be part of the story, some are concerned that genetically modified crops could be partly to blame for the extreme downturn in population. Many seeds (including corn and soybean) are modified to tolerate herbicides allowing farmers to eradicate weeds which they deem a nuisance but which are essential to survival of the monarch.[NYT]
The Politics of Faith
The College of Cardinals have gathered in Rome and settled on a date to begin the process of electing a new Pope. The Conclave is set to begin on Tuesday, March 12 and continue until a successor for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is elected. Though most Cardinals claim that the process is immune to political lobbying, many outsiders consider this to be a disingenuous assertion. In an article for the Guardian, Sam Jones discusses the vast differences and similarities among the heavy favorites. [Guardian]
The Kentucky State Senate passed House Bill 279 yesterday evening. The bill dubbed “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act” has caused a major stir over the last week. Proponents suggest that the act will help ensure freedom from religious persecution in the state. Opponents fear that the bill is a veiled gutting of local civil rights ordinances in such cities as Louisville, Lexington, Covington and Vicco. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 29-6 has been sent to Governor Beshear for his signature or veto.[C-J]
In a surprising about-face former President Bill Clinton, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, has called on the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. Though President Clinton signed DOMA into law, he has now admitted that the law is Unconstitutional, acknowledging that the world was a much different place 17 years ago. Clinton’s turnabout will likely send shock waves through the gay rights movement as well as the ranks of those advocating for “traditional” marriage ahead of the Supreme Court taking the matter up on March 27.
The Politics of Sequestration
It is now March 1 and no deal to avert the $85 Billion across the board spending cuts has yet been passed by Congress. There were two last gasp efforts on the part of the Senate to pass a bill last night, however both the Republican and Democratic sponsored measures went down in defeat. Jonathan Weisman explains how both bills were essentially doomed from the start, perhaps even designed to fail. [NYT]
As the sequester draws nearer, lawmakers are further away, not only from striking a deal but from The Capitol itself. Many members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have already left town for the weekend and many have resigned themselves to leaving the sequester cuts in place for months to come. House Republicans are reportedly looking toward the next deadline (March 27) and drafting legislation which would avoid a government shutdown. Such legislation would likely keep the sequester cuts in place through September of this year. [WP]
This morning, the Congressional leadership arrived at The White House to meet with President Obama and try to cut through the gridlock before the cuts officially begin later tonight. The meeting is currently in a standoff, with both sides admitting that little progress has been made. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stated that if there is any deal to be reached, it will absolutely not include tax increases. [Politico]
The Politics of Sequestration
The drama continues to unfold as the nation nears March 1 and the across the board spending cuts which will follow. Perhaps one of the few people in Washington D.C. feeling some relief this week is Leon Panetta. The Defense Secretary’s replacement, embattled former Senator Chuck Hagel, was confirmed yesterday in a 58-41 vote. Hagel will assume the office of Defense Secretary just as the department begins to endure $46 Billion in budget cuts. Peter Grier of The Christian Science Monitor examines the political consequences of the drawn out confirmation for a Defense Secretary with an immediate budget fight on his hands. [CSM]
Not everyone on Capitol Hill is overly concerned about the sequester however. Tom Coburn (R-OK), accused the President of exaggerating the possible effects of the $85 Billion cuts while appearing on the Sunday morning talk show circuit.[CBS]
Meanwhile, the Speaker of The House provided us with one of the better sound-bites of the week if not the entire sequestration fiasco. John Boehner (R-OH) was venting some frustration with perceived inactivity on the part of the Senate to agree on a plan to avert the sequester. Mr. Boehner suggested that the House of Representatives, which has passed two sequester replacement measures, shouldn’t have to pass a third before the Senate gets “off their ass” and passes one.[Politico]
It seems as the pot starts to boil over in the Capitol, the public at large is beginning to feel the heat. According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll the citizenry is becoming more engaged and discouraged. Reportedly, 51% of respondents are less confident in the recovery of the economy as negotiations drag on without a solution in sight. Though the possible cuts seem to have hurt consumer confidence, 53% suggested that they favor similar or deeper cuts in the future. This sort of confusion among potential voters may explain at least some of the confusion and inaction in their representatives. [The Hill]
Wilbur has taken flight. Not only to both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO support some manner of comprehensive immigration reform, but they have found at least a modicum of common ground on the matter, releasing a statement of principles yesterday afternoon.
This is a good thing—if organizations as ideologically divergent as the Chamber and AFL-CIO can agree on significant reforms of the American immigration system, maybe Congress can do the same. Their statement rests on three basic principles: American workers should have the first opportunity to fill American jobs, businesses that cannot fill all positions with American workers should be able to hire foreign-born workers through a streamlined process, and we need an accurate and transparent system to identify and address labor shortages to enable hiring foreign workers when it is needed. To fulfill these requirements, the Chamber and AFL-CIO suggest creating federal agency that would track the status and needs of the American labor market.
Apart from the incongruity of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce calling for another organ of the federal government, there are some flaws with this plan. To be sure, the underlying goals of these principles, to protect both American- and foreign-born workers and optimize the labor market for them and their employers, are laudable. As, of course, is these organizations’ willingness to cross ideological boundaries and work together. From an economic and regulatory perspective, however, there are some problems.
In their statement, the Chamber and AFL-CIO call for a guest worker program, designed to respond to the needs of the labor market. In theory, this is a great idea—when they can, American business will hire American-born workers, and when they cannot, they will be able to hire foreign-born workers with a minimum of bureaucratic involvement. Therein lies the catch: the fact is, it is nearly impossible for a federal, top-down program to ascertain, let alone keep up with, the visa needs of a complicated labor market.
This sort of program has been tried before, most notably with the Bracero Program. A sort of predecessor to contemporary H-2A visas, the Bracero Program was a joint effort with the Mexican government between the 1940’s and 1960’s that brought agricultural and railroad workers into the United States to work for a set period of time before heading back to their homes (although a number stayed and received green cards). Even then, when the population of the United States was around half of its current level, federal regulations couldn’t keep up with demand levels in the labor market, and illegal immigration continued. Illegal immigration, as it turns out, almost perfectly meets labor market demands, and is really a complement to legal immigration under the current system. (This idea has been gaining currency and is not a new one.)
So, what of it? Just because a guest worker program as has been proposed is too cumbersome for a long-term solution does not mean we should abandon the notion altogether—allowing illegal immigration to continue as it does only contributes to degraded working conditions of both American- and foreign-born workers. This country can find a solution, and I will start exploring some of the specifics and (humbly) proposing some of my own ideas in the coming weeks.
The Politics of Sequestration
Americans are bracing themselves for the impact of impending government spending cuts, also known as the sequester. The $85 Billion cuts are set to begin on March 1, barring congressional action to avert them. According to Linda Feldman in an article for The Christian Science Monitor, the old saying about fearing what you don’t understand is rather poignant. The article cites a poll which found that only 36 percent of voters actually know what the sequester is, another 38 percent said they knew but then picked the wrong answer. Though disappointing, this lack of clarity is understandable. Since this whole fiasco began we have seen a concerted effort on the part of power players in Washington to shift blame. Perhaps one of the more well-known if not effective strategies has been the roll-out of the phonetically awkward phrase “Obamaquester.” Feldman attempts to explain the origins of the sequester plan (The 2011 Budget Control Act) as well as determine which side of the aisle is to blame, spoiler alert… both sides. [CSM]
The “Average Joes” out there aren’t alone in their confusion. Conservative political commentator Byron York questions whether or not the GOP leadership can formulate a coherent stance on the sequester. York is admittedly perplexed by the Speaker of the House’s insistence that the sequester represents a threat to our national security but still seems to, at least tacitly, support them. [WE]
Though uniformed personnel are not subject to unpaid leave, the Defense Department officially notified 800,000 civilian employees of likely furloughs beginning March 1. The Pentagon is facing $46 Billion in budget cuts resulting from the sequester. With no solution in sight, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was compelled by law to warn Congress of possible furloughs. [WP]
The Politics of Food
In the last week one of the biggest stories in the business world, and likely at John Kerry’s house, has been the acquisition of the H.J. Heinz brand by Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital. The deal has prompted further speculation regarding industry consolidation. [WSJ]
The Heinz deal has spurred increased interest of a decidedly different kind for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI is now investigating the possibility of illegal trading resulting from the $23 Billion dollar deal. [NYT]
Another global brand has been drawn into the horse meat scandal which has been unfolding in Europe over the last month. Nestlé is the latest well-known purveyor to find itself playing damage control after two of its products, labeled as beef based, were found to contain horse meat.[NYT]
According to an article by Tom Philpott, corn fields are taking over grassland at a staggering rate, nearly 2 Million acres in 5 years. The expansion of “King Corn’s” domain has caused some, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture to question whether our nation’s corn and soybean dominated agricultural economy can long endure rising temperatures. In the article is a link to the Department of Agriculture report. [MJ]