Dec 30 2013

Win, Lose or Draw – State of the Nation, 2013

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, Policy

This is part 1 in a series of 3 posts that will look at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR

#Winners

Inaction – If you’re one of those that thinks the government needs to do less, you probably liked the hell out of 2013. Congress took more vacation time than the average person gets in more than 10 years of working, and little if anything was done to address the sluggish economy, unemployment, or any of the other major problems facing the country. Since Congress writes the laws, most of this falls on their heads, but you’d be hard pressed to know that in the national press, which continuously placed the blame on an administration hamstrung by recalcitrant members of the House.

Outlook for 2014 – Good (which means bad for the rest of us)

Harry Reid – The strong, silent type…Reid shoved through the Senate what he could, and spearheaded an effort to cripple the crippling filibuster, which kept a record number of Obama appointees from ever coming up for a vote. He also held his own during a government shutdown that was largely blamed on those same recalcitrant House Members that were mentioned above.

Reid isn’t the most compelling character in a TV driven national conversation, but his behind the scenes skill at getting things done and keeping his party together earned him a win for 2013.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Paul Ryan – The 2012 GOP VP nominee stayed out of the spotlight for much of 2013, but surged in the waning weeks of the year to pass a Budget that accomplished most of what he wanted while giving up little in return. Bipartisanship may not be popular on the GOP side of the aisle, but any negotiation that gets you 70% of what you want is a win.

Outlook for 2014 – Not Bad

Misinformation – The media struggled against noise machines like Darrell Issa (R-CA) and others this year to get basic facts right about the stories that dominated the headlines. What’s more they struggled to even understand if those stories held any relevance. The Affordable Care Act, Benghazi, and the IRS scandal were the top three issues where the media largely parroted Issa and his acolytes despite information that would eventually discredit their assertions (Sources:Al Quaeda wasn’t involved in Benghazi Attack, IRS targeted progressive groups, Too, Documents reveal, Top 16 myths about the health care law).

The media politics of “He said/She said” continue, and the only winners are those who profit either politically or financially through stirring up misinformation and strengthening the paranoia machines.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) – This may seem an odd addition, since Fincher isn’t a member of the GOP House leadership…but he did get some headlines, and those headlines didn’t seem to hurt him much. The whole SNAP Flap over farm bill subsidies and food stamps helped put Fincher on the national map. That attention helped him raise over $2 million dollars for his campaign…and that’s just through the end of September. Fincher has benefitted from a constituency base that is isolated from media outlets that have the resources to draw the connection from his preferred policies to the impact on the area he represents. Also, having the most conservative swath of Shelby Co. in his district, which can easily provide him 41% of the votes he needs to win in any election doesn’t hurt.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Steve Cohen (D-TN) – Cohen also had a good year. He too got a good deal of national attention…some of it not always in the best ways…but far better than many of his contemporaries in the House. In addition to working for several progressive bills that will likely never see the light of day in the GOP led House, he used his time on the national TV circuit to push for more progressive legislation to deal with all kinds of problems that haven’t garnered the national attention that the should. This may not seem like a win, but in a year that saw the GOP led House do more of less, anyone doing more of more comes out a winner in my book.

What’s more, Cohen hasn’t drawn a serious challenger in his re-election bid as of yet (unless you count Ricky Wilkins as a serious challenger…and I don’t).

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Losers

Barack Obama – Coming off an election year that saw him win 51% of the popular vote, and 61% of the electoral college, you might think there would be a tailwind for the first year of his second term. That simply didn’t happen. Stymied by a GOP led House that seemed more interested in voting to repeal his signature healthcare law and investigate bogus scandals…the President might have made it through the year with at least a draw…if not a win in the wake of the GOP forced government shutdown. But the botched rollout of the healthcare.gov site erased any gains the President made and ultimately distracted the public from the foolishness that was, by far, the signature of the GOP led efforts to implicate him in something…anything.

Outlook for 2014 – Neutral

John Boehner – “Cryin’” John Boehner had a shitty year. Plain an simple. If “herding cats” is an overused metaphor for damn near everything, that’s still what Boehner was tasked with doing…and he largely failed. Unable to grab the reigns from the TEA Party elements in his party, he led the House to vote for a government shutdown that surged public opinion against him, and his GOP colleagues. Boehner looked weak, and acted weak…eschewing the “Hastert Rule” to eventually end that shutdown, and pass some of the few pieces of legislation that actually had a chance in the Democratically controlled Senate. On top of all of that, he gained a Primary Challenger, something that just about never happens to a sitting House Speaker. Every morning I wake up and thank God that I am not John Boehner…for these, and a multitude of other reasons.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Mitch McConnell – If John Boehner’s year was bad, Mitch McConnell’s year was somehow worse. The Senate Minority Leader managed to block a good deal of Obama nominees to various and sundry posts throughout the year…until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid effectively took away the filibuster for the approval of nominees…effectively hampering that effort. On top of that, McConnell is about as unpopular in his home state as a politician can be…and he drew a credible opponent in Alison Lundergan Grimes, the current Democratic Secretary of State of Kentucky.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Unemployed – The US unemployment rate may have dropped from 7.9% in Jan. of 2013 to a mere 7% in November of this year, but the unemployed still got the raw end of the deal. Congress failed to reauthorize long-term unemployment benefits, which means 1,300,000 people who have been looking for work for a long-assed time are more screwed than they were before.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Working Poor – Wages for all workers in the US eked up 2¢ for the year. At the end of the year, the average hourly wage in the US was $10.31/hr. That’s the average, so a whole bunch of folks are way below that number. Median household wages are still below their pre-recession level, which means that damn near everyone is still worse off than they were before the Bush Bubble Burst. But for the working poor…who were struggling in the first place, its just not looking good…and there are no immediate sings of improvement in the future.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Affordable Care Act – The Affordable Care Act may have been an early success in helping women, and children get or keep healthcare they needed, but the rollout of the healthcare.gov site was a disaster…and has been largely pegged to the failure of the law in general…even though that’s pure BS. The law has been scratched bare by scrutiny, some of it legitimate, much of it rhetorical flourish and the fumbling of the rollout of a key component only gives credence to those who proudly say that government can’t do anything right. Add to that the 23 states that aren’t expanding Medicaid and the 4,800,000 people that are being left behind and you’ve got a full on catastrophe. Its a damn shame, because despite its flaws, this law could help a lot of folks.

Outlook for 2014 – Neutral

TEA Party – The most recent iteration of secessionists finally got their civil war…though not where they expected…in their own party. Now I’ve always held that the TEA Party folks aren’t Republicans, but newfangled “know-nothings” that are more interested in maintaining the status quo than the public populist persona they initially used to their advantage. Nonetheless, the National GOP embraced them as a means to an end, and now they have to deal with them. There’s always been an element of these folks in government, but this is the first time in my lifetime they have grabbed this much power. Even conservative groups are running away…like the US Chamber of Commerce which has pledged $50 million dollars to defeat them. Popcorn popped. I can’t wait to see how this plays out in the primaries.

Outlook for 2014 – Not Good (Which is just fine by me)

The filibuster – Most people have no idea what the filibuster is. I’m not going to get in to all that. But it is a loser this year for reasons I mentioned above. Earlier this year the Senate voted to limit its use as a delay tactic in the Senate for most Presidential nominees. This has been called “the nuclear option” but in reality, its little more than a grenade tossed in the general direction of a nuclear blast fortified door. In any case…its a loser this year which is a huge change and could mean swifter justice, and a whole host of other efficiencies in government…which is something we all want, right? (maybe not)

Outlook for 2014 – Worse (which is good for people who want to see appointees make it through…)

Dist. 8 Constituents – While their Representative may have had a good year, the people of the 8th district of Tennessee had a bad one. Unemployment is 1.7% higher than the state level, and 2.8% higher than the national outlook. Nearly 25% of all the people in rural counties in the district (All but Shelby Co.) are on food stamps. Businesses have closed, population is dwindling, and there’s no help in sight. If only the people of the 8th district would draw the connection between the decline and their elected leaders. It was NEVER this bad when John Tanner was in office.

Outlook for 2014 – Awful

Draw

Congress – This may be the worst Congress ever. It may be that only 13% of Americans approve of how Congress is functioning. But like most dysfunctional relationships, this is one that probably won’t end without something really terrible happening. This article describes why Congress as a whole is unlikely to flip. At the height of the shutdown, 60% of Americans said fire every member of Congress…but that sentiment faded when the House GOP decided to relent for its own good. People still hate Congress and love their Congressmen…for the most part. So any real hopes of things suddenly “changing” when there are 538 cats to herd, is unlikely. Also, the notion that Democrats could surge in 2014 aren’t supported by history. The President’s party typically gets hammered in the last two years of a Presidential term. 2014 could be different, but it seems unlikely.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Apr 10 2013

The Oliver Twist Act

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Starving Children instead of advancing education

Starving Children instead of advancing education

Yesterday, the House Government Operations Committee recommended passage of HB0261 aka The Oliver Twist Act.

The bill, if passed and signed by the Governor, would reduce payments to families on certain government assistance if their child does not meet state educational standards.

Yes, there are provisions for intervention, including tutoring and parent-teacher conferences, but that doesn’t take away from the reality. The State Legislature is considering a bill that would financially punish certain families that are already experiencing hard times, for the educational challenges of their children.

No, this is not a joke.

The bill has garnered some national attention. MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry did a segment on her show this weekend about it, as did Martin Bashear on the same network. The Huffington Post sounded the alarm back in January.

The Daily Show covered the issue last night. Pretty dead on coverage.

More than just the wrong message

Stacey Campfield playing the role of Fagin

The author of the bill claims it would “break the cycle of poverty”. I’m not sure how reducing assistance to underemployed families accomplishes that, but even still, the potential financial penalties are not nearly as bad as the message the bill sends in a time when the state’s unemployment is in the upper reaches of 7% and wages haven’t recovered to pre-recession levels, especially for the working poor.

And that’s who receives this kind of assistance, people who work, but due to the number of hours available or other market driven pressures, don’t make enough to survive without assistance.

It says to these people, who are trying to get back up on their feet, here’s a stick, I’m not afraid to use it.

And it puts undue pressure of children, who are likely already under a great deal of pressure due to their family’s circumstances. It tells these children that if someone else deems their best isn’t good enough, that their family will suffer.

It doesn’t matter if there are interventions, or if the amount were considered negligible. It is a financial penalty, and one that would require school districts to report test results to another state agency, not to mention keeping up with who does and who doesn’t receive this kind of assistance.

Insult to injury

Tennessee has 1,091,100 people living in poverty. That’s nearly 17% of the population. 442,000 children, 24% of the child population in Tennessee lives in poverty.

Both numbers are well above the national average.

You have to ask yourself, with all this struggle and suffering, why on earth would anyone think another financial setback would help someone right their ship?

Thus far, no one has been able to answer this question. The reason, they can’t.

Sacrificial lambs

For all the talk of the Tennessee economic miracle that has been trumpeted by our Governor since last year, the reality for the over one million Tennesseans in poverty, and the 1.5 million people (23%) more who are one paycheck away from being completely destitute is anything but a miracle.

Their reality is one financial crisis away from being a nightmare.

Some miracle.

Missing Opportunities

Where are the opportunities to flourish, to thrive? Where is real investment in education, jobs, infrastructure? You know, the things that built the middle class and made our country great!

You won’t get it from these folks. All they see is saving you $3.65 on sales tax a year, while they give huge tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy, and corporate handouts to companies that aren’t really employing Tennesseans in the first place.

This is the same group of people who have done everything in their power to keep anything that might help regular working people from actually helping.

They turned down billions of dollars for working people to have access to healthcare, that didn’t send them in the poor house because they didn’t like the idea of having to 10¢ on the dollar…eventually.

To date, the state has collected over $127m MORE than they thought they would…and we’ve still got four months of this fiscal year ahead of us.

$127m more and they can’t see the benefit of keeping 54 hospitals that care for working people up and running at current capacity…which means not only keeping the jobs we have, but also adding thousands of more jobs.

$127m more and they think that creating a punitive system that punishes children and families is a good way to increase educational outcomes.

$127m more and they haven’t invested one red cent in the people who could actually benefit from it. They’ve arbitrarily cut spending across the board, damn the consequences, and in the process, seen a net increase in poverty statewide.

Why have they done this?

They’ve done this, not because they thought it was the best thing for the people, but because they felt it would score them political points. Because they think you aren’t paying attention.

Its sick, and disgusting. And this bill, to take money away from families that are already struggling…and working. This bill, if anything, is the most clear example of the way they think about working people, and how they operate…in the best interest of their ideology, rather than their constituents.

See also: The Greatest Poverty is Resentment
Suffer, Little Children
Dismantling the American Dream

Dec 22 2012

Schadenfreude: Fiscal Cliff Edition

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, Policy, shenanigans, snark

schadenfreude: pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

You’d cry too if you had to herd feral cats

So I know just about everyone is talking about the NRA’s crazy town response to the Newtown shootings. I think all that needs to be said about the speech delivered Friday is nicely summed up here.

Quite frankly, I’m shocked that anyone was shocked by that announcement. LaPierre has been spouting crazy for the NRA since 1991. Same song and dance, over and over again. It ain’t about gun ownership…its about gun sales. Manufacturers pay the bills at the NRA. Don’t forget it.

So aside from providing a distraction, the NRA event was irrelevant. Unfortunately for everyone, a distraction was needed, in the wake of the massive failure to herd feral cats, some called the display “a clown show”.

How We Got Here

It’s important to remember is how we got here, where it started and who is responsible.

November, 2010 – A wave of of GOP wins in Congressional races, led by 40 candidates claiming “Tea Party” affiliations, leads to the composition of the US House of Representatives flipping from 255 Democrats to 242 Republicans.

August 2, 2011 – In the wake of a contentious battle over the debt ceiling limit, the Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed with bipartisan support. The bill raised the debt ceiling and put in place a series of deep budget cuts and tax increases if the Congress could not reach an agreement.

66 Republicans voted against the deal, which would not have passed without Democratic support.

August 5, 2011 – In the wake of the vote on the Budget Control Act, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the US Credit rating stating concerns with the current state of political affairs in the Congress.

February 2012 – Fed Chairman Ben Bernake coins the term “fiscal cliff”.

July/August 2012 – On July 25th the US Senate passed a proposal that would have avoided the tax increase portion of the fiscal cliff. The proposal was rejected by the House on August 1st.

November 2012 – Elections result in more GOP moderates losing. Democrats gain 8 seats in House. Incoming makeup of the House: 201D – 234R. Incoming makeup of the Senate: 55D – 45R

December 2012 – Negotiations between Speaker Boehner and President Obama net a compromise. Said compromise not brought before the House. Boehner’s bill pulled for lack of support. The House did pass a bill dealing with spending cuts, however that bill has little chance of passage in the Senate and faces a Presidential veto.

This list is hardly exhaustive, but mentions most of the highlights. Had Republicans not tried to make political hay over increasing the debt ceiling, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

The Failure Option

Now I want to be very clear here: while I do get some pleasure from the outright #FAIL that was the Speaker’s effort to pass a watered down version of what he and the President were negotiating, I also understand that a failure to act by the end of the year will have some serious consequences for regular folks. Those consequences will be immediate for all of us, though many of them will have a limited impact.

If they fail to act, the payroll tax cut will disappear, the Bush era tax cuts will disappear, and some pretty stiff spending cuts that no one seems to want will be enacted.

What does this mean to you? Well based on the median household income you will see about $1000/yr less as a result of the payroll tax hike, about $1500 less as a result of the income tax hike, and a whole lot fewer services.

Interestingly, if the Obama proposal were to pass, a household making the median income would see a tax DECREASE of about $225/yr (payroll and income) rather than the increase of $2500 House Republicans seem to favor in the wake of their inaction. You can see how the fiscal cliff and the Obama proposals would impact your income here.

(Note: The tax calculator is provided by the anti-Keynsian, pro-business group The Tax Foundation. They bear responsibility for any inaccuracies.)

The Failure Option – Part II Electric Boogaloo

The financial impact of failure for household incomes is pretty dire. Considering that inflation adjusted incomes have been flat since 1967 for 80% of the population, losing $2500 for a median income represents a nearly 5% hit in real purchasing power. That’s not going to be good for an economy that is just really starting to emerge from weakness. Add to that increased instability from a potential market panic and Joe 6-pack is going to take a huge hit.

Investors know this. They make lots of money knowing this. And while we haven’t seen an increase in incomes to rival the increase in markets (1967 Dow was 825, 2012 Dow was 13190.84 as of the closing bell on Friday, a nearly 1600% increase), the panic that will ensue due to uncertainty if the fiscal cliff is not avoided will hurt average Americans more than investors, who will certainly lose wealth, but not much standing.

Investors have more ways to make money in the face of a market panic that regular folks don’t, including betting on failure. This kind of risky bet is usually only played by the wealthiest individuals and huge investment houses. It may seem counter-intuitive and to fly in the face of what we consider to be patriotic, but remember, in the church of the almighty dollar, anything goes that makes you rich.

Plenty of folks profited from the pain of the Great Depression and the more recent “Great Recession”. There will be winners if a huge market panic ensues come Jan. 2 as well.

Joe 6-pack won’t be one of them, so don’t even think about it.

I feel confident that a solution won’t be found before the end of the year. The House Republicans don’t seem to have the will to give any ground, and in their disarray they have given their Democratic counterparts some resolve to stand their ground. With 201 incoming votes, it will take just 17 Republicans to pass a Democratic measure…should it reach the floor. That seems like a possible scenario now that people are starting to point to conservative recalcitrance as the problem.

The Senate has already passed a bill, which was rejected by the Tea Party led House in August. The House could take the measure back up if they chose to. I can’t imagine that happening before the end of the year. I just don’t think the votes are there before the end of the year.

This means that a market panic is almost a certainty come Jan. 2. The next Congress convenes the next day. We’ll see what they do, but I’m putting my money on passing something like the Senate proposal and dealing with the spending side later…probably right before the next debt ceiling vote which will need to happen before February of 2013.

In the current climate, I just can’t see this leadership actually…you know…leading.

Apr 16 2009

Teabagging – The Music Video

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, snark

The OFFICIAL WORLD RELEASE!

vibincblog gives you, TEABAGGING the music video.

Lyrics, vocals, video direction, editing, audio mixing and effects all by yours truly. Enjoy.

This was my shot as a DIY 24 hour film. Haven’t done one in years. Started at 7am on 4/15/09 finished at 5am 4/16/09.

Remember, while this is a political song, it’s meant in a lighthearted way. Please take it for what it is…a parody.