Thursday, 31 January 2013

Nick Anderson Gets it Right Again…

This is just a very good editorial cartoon. Please, conspiracy-theorist right-wingers: listen to your own equivalent of the wife in this cartoon:


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Republicans Eat Their Elders

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In the above clip from The Rachel Maddow Show, their latest in a string of “John Boehner Is Bad At His Job” segments, Rachel Maddow gives an interesting little bit of history about Republicans and their leadership scrabbles. Given that MSNBC is absolutely a liberal media outlet, “John Boehner Is Bad At His Job” could sound like a simply partisan attack on the Republican Speaker. However, this is one of Maddow’s best series of segments, because Boehner makes it so easy to ‘prove’, given his numerous bumbling and apparent fecklessness.

Now, part of the Speaker’s problem comes from the intransigence he faced – first from the new Tea Party caucus members that swept into office in 2010, and later by the hyper-partisanship of the election cycle and media-fuelled, echo-chamber-percolated idiocy that seems to have informed certain vocal sectors of the Republican Party.

As Senator Chuck Schumer tells Rachel in the above clip, there is a group of “maybe 50-75… hard-right Republicans who really don’t believe government should be involved in things that have traditionally been” within its purview:

“They’re way out of the mainstream. Now, there have always been people over to the extremes in the House and the Senate This is the first time the Speaker has totally kowtowed to them. They dictate the policy.”

This faction has an effective “veto-power” over the Speaker and what the Republicans can do.

Rachel highlights an article in The WeekHouse Republicans’ long history of regicide”, by Joshua Spivak. This, I thought, was a great article, and certainly a nice bit of historical context. It delves into not only Boehner’s current problems, but also the House GOP’s “propensity, throughout the 20th century, for periodically getting rid of their leaders”.  Spivak outlines the important difference between the Speakership and other leadership roles in the US government (save the Presidency):

“Tossing out a speaker is in many ways a drastic measure because, unlike other congressional leaders, the Speaker of the House has demonstrable power over the institution. In one of the many ironies of American politics, the House of Representatives, which was intended to channel voters' opinions, has been a top-down, leadership driven branch of government, in contrast to the historical every-Senator-for-himself model on the other side of the Capitol. Due to this top-down structure, the speaker, unlike the majority leader of the Senate (frequently referred to derisively as the majority pleader), can bend the chamber to his or her will.”

I highly recommend the article. There’s a good amount of detail in there, and it’s pretty well written. The Week also has a nice run-down of opinions on whether or not John Boehner will be able to keep his job as Speaker, compiled by Peter Weber.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Bloomberg Businessweek on the “mooncalf monster-child”…

BloombergBusinessWeek-20130107The Fiscal Cliff “negotiations”, if that’s what one can call them, have been the most mind-numbing of political theatrics in a country known for circus-like political productions. They have been so dull, in fact, that this politics and news junkie switched off. From the outset, it’s been obvious that Congressional posturing has been turned up to 11 (on both sides of the aisle, but mostly, it has to be said, from the Republican side). The result has been less than impressive, and far less than a recently-victorious president should have been able to achieve.

It’s been a while since I last read Businessweek, but I thought they had some decent coverage of the new deal, which they say has been the start of a “years-long cycle of pettiness, delay, and zero-sum gamesmanship”.

“the fiscal cliff was the mooncalf monster-child of Congress itself. The automatic spending cuts (“sequester”) were invented by an act of Congress a mere 17 months ago after the 2011 debt ceiling showdown. To praise this new deal as an accomplishment is to praise an arsonist for extinguishing his own fire.”

Peter Coy’s article was particularly interesting, I thought. The author attempts to measure the ridicule most people seem to exhibit for Congressional “leaders”.

“You could argue it’s a crisis of leadership—that our elected representatives are examples of our worst, most partisan selves. That seems unlikely.”

Really? All evidence to the contrary, I would say that Coy is being over-generous here. There are, no doubt, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who are able, sensible and competent government representatives. However, given the rhetoric and actions of many members of the upper and lower chambers, it actually seems likely that representatives have been giving in to their “worst, partisan selves”. Take Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as an example, and the whiplash he gave Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) when he voted against his own bill on the filibuster, or any number of examples from President Obama’s first term which saw Republicans voting against their own proposals (past and present) when they discovered that the President and Democrats were willing to sign on.

“The deal that Congress produced… subtracts stimulus in the short term while worsening the long-term budget picture. George W. Bush’s tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 took a huge bite out of the government’s revenue, but at least they had expiration dates. In contrast, the tax cuts in the budget deal that passed in the Senate are permanent. Theoretically, they can be ended by a future Congress. Politically, though, it’s much harder to raise taxes than to allow cuts to expire.”