Welcome back (after we took last week off, to digest) to our Friday roundup! We should have two weeks of news to cover, but nothing much of anything strange or startling happened Thanksgiving week, so we're going to concentrate on just this current week -- which still leaves a lot to cover, fear not.
A little-noted anniversary happened this week -- because it has been 80 years since Americans came to their senses and passed the Twenty-First Amendment, thus repealing the lunacy of Prohibition. So there's something to raise a glass to, over the weekend. So to speak.
Also worthy of a toast were the unemployment numbers released today for November. The official unemployment rate dropped to 7.0 percent (down from 7.3 percent), which is indeed something to celebrate, especially if you are one of the 203,000 people who got a new job last month.
The Obamacare website re-launch went impressively well this week, as the mainstream media shifted from "horror story mode" to actually exploring what people think about the larger question of Obamacare itself. Since this is a conversation that is long overdue, this is also something to celebrate.
John Boehner is apparently trying to get Republicans to be more "sensitive" towards women. Which perfectly sums up the bigger problem the GOP has (hint: it's not just your style, guys, it's the substance of your policies that needs work!).
As the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, Republicans are trying to do a little revisionist history over their stance towards apartheid and Mandela in the past. Without much success. Ted Cruz tried to say something nice about Mandela, and his fans reacted about as predictably as you'd expect. But the real prizewinner has to be (so far) none other than Rick Santorum, who likened Obamacare to apartheid. Um, yeah, Rick, because they're so similar in nature, right? Sigh.
In other amusing Republican news, Congress is taking most of December off, but they did find the time to hold some hearings on "the I-word." Yes, 'tis the season for House Republicans to go to sleep with visions of impeaching Obama dancing in their heads. Those of them brave enough to actually utter the word, that is. The whole Washington Post article describing this wackadoodle effort is priceless and well worth a read, most especially the line: "Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.), before his cocaine arrest and guilty plea, invoked the prospect of impeaching Obama over gun policy."
Not to be outdone, others in Congress held a hearing to delve into the question of aliens from another world. No, I'm not kidding. Unfortunately. This is what Congress spends its precious time on, so any time a politician uses any form of "we just don't have time to get a bill passed," please remind him or her what they do spend their time on.
And finally, to get into the holiday spirit, NORAD will not only track Santa this year, but Santa will be provided with a fighter escort. Slate has a great take on this, if you need a laugh.
President Obama gave a very impressive speech this week on inequality, although not many noticed. Jared Bernstein is one who did, and he's got a great write-up of Obama's speech over at Huffington Post, if you're interested. But one speech isn't enough, at this point, to hand out an award to Obama -- that would require some follow-up policies.
Nelson Mandela is being lauded far and wide, of course, but he is largely outside the scope of American politics at this point, so we'll let the rest of the media handle his eulogies. I did grow up watching anti-apartheid demonstrators (including, if memory serves, Amy Carter) getting arrested in front of the South African embassy and other symbolic places, but that was three decades ago so it doesn't really qualify for a weekly award here.
The Obamacare website got fixed this week, but this would have been impressive only if it had been running this smoothly on the first of October, so we just can't see handing an award out to anyone involved, sorry.
This week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week goes instead to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is fighting back on the subject of populism in the Democratic Party. There is a growing movement within the Democratic Party to campaign on (and fight for) populist principles, and it is being resisted by the "let's just suck up to Wall Street -- what could possibly go wrong with that?" wing of the party.
What set the fracas off was an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal (more on this, and the authors, in a bit), which was a full frontal attack on Warren and her plans to increase Social Security benefits. The article took the position: "Nothing would be more disastrous for Democrats." What would be better for Democrats, apparently, is just getting on board the effort to slash Social Security, according to the authors.
Elizabeth Warren didn't take it lying down. She responded by challenging the Third Way "think tank" responsible for the editorial, by asking the pointed question of who exactly is funding such thinking (the unsurprising answer: Wall Street!). Third Way then (bizarrely) accused Warren of boosting Social Security for people like the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, to which she replied: "Oh please. I'm out there working for Jamie Dimon the same way Dick Cheney is out there trying to save the environment." Warren was then bolstered by several people with ties to Third Way who joined her in denouncing the editorial article.
For strongly standing up for Social Security, for defending her position well, and for not backing down from a fight, Senator Warren is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate Senator Elizabeth Warren on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
We're not even entirely sure they're Democrats, but we are going to brush that aside and hand out Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to the authors of the Wall Street Journal article, Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler. Cowan is president of Third Way, and Kessler is senior vice president for policy.
Their article, "Economic Populism Is A Dead End For Democrats," exemplifies pretty much everything that is wrong with the whole "new way" Democrats, reaching back to the days of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council.
Folks like the Third Way group should have realized by now that sucking up to Wall Street has a pretty big price tag attached to it. Oh, sure, you can gain lots of campaign contributions to get elected, but once elected you are supposed to hew to the "what's good for Wall Street is good for the country, and the workers should be happy with whatever scraps we allow them" line of thinking. In this worldview, "populism" is the ugliest word imaginable.
What really scares such "centrists" is the fact that New York City just elected a mayor who ran on a populist platform. And, of course, the fact that Elizabeth Warren is in the Senate. Populism seems to be catching on in Democratic circles, which is why people like Cowan and Kessler are so desperately fighting it. For doing so this week, Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler deserve a MDDOTW each.
[Contact Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler via the Third Way contact page, to let them know what you think of their article.]
Volume 284 (12/6/13)
Kind of a mish-mash this week. We've had two solid months of "Obamacare website sucks!" in the news, and finally the mainstream media is emerging from their fog and wondering what else is going on.
Democrats should help them latch onto a few storylines, because there has been a slew of good news happening in the meantime. So here are this week's talking points, offered up (as always) for Democrats everywhere to use in the upcoming week, whether discussing politics around the water cooler or being interviewed on a Sunday morning political chatfest.
Flatly the wrong debate
We begin with a quote from Elizabeth Warren, from the Huffington Post article where she defends her position on Social Security. This is an argument many others have been making for a while now, but Warren certainly does have a way of putting things in easy enough terms for everyone to understand.
We could make modest adjustments and make the [Social Security] system financially stable for a century, and we could make somewhat larger adjustments and make the system pay more for seniors who rely on it. ... The conversation for too long has been about whether to cut Social Security benefits a little bit or a lot. And that is flatly the wrong debate to have in mind.
This one is easy. Just repeat that number as many times as you can.
"Under President Obama's leadership, the unemployment rate has come down from its high of 10.0 percent to its current 7.0 percent. That is quite an achievement, even if we still have a ways to go. I won't be fully satisfied until unemployment drops below 6.0 percent, but we're certainly a lot closer to achieving that goal than we have been in the past five years. Republicans keep trying to 'talk down' the economy and make everyone believe things are getting worse and worse, but hitting 7.0 percent unemployment shows that we are, in fact, moving in the right direction. I'd like Republicans to at least acknowledge the achievement of getting unemployment down to 7.0 percent, because that is the reality of the situation. And the trendline for lowering it even more is extremely good right now."
3.6 percent growth
Here's another number worth repeating.
"The United States economy beat even the optimistic expectations in the third quarter, and grew at a rate of 3.6 percent. As more and more Americans find work, they have money to spend on goods and services, and the economy improves. With increased demand will come even faster hiring by businesses, too. A growth rate of 3.6 percent is precisely what we need right now to complete the recovery from the Great Recession. We have heard a lot of good economic news this month, showing that the American economy is finally heading in the right direction and picking up speed. A few more quarters of 3.6 percent growth would be dandy, in fact."
And a few more numbers to point out.
"The good economic news doesn't end there, though. Housing saw an incredible 25 percent jump, and the stock market is hitting record high after record high. You know, for all those doom-and-gloom types who predicted that full implementation of Obamacare would somehow tank the economy, we actually seem to be doing pretty nicely right now. Jobs are up, growth is up, housing is up, the stock market is up. Guess those naysayers were wrong, huh?"
Obamacare is working
OK, technically it should be "the Obamacare site is working," but it's almost better if you leave one word out.
"After what can only be called a disastrous rollout, it looks like the White House has fixed the problems with the Obamacare website just in time for millions to sign up before the end of the year. In fact, 29,000 people signed up in the first two days after the fixes were rolled out, and over one million visited the site on a single day -- showing the demand is strong for Obamacare. The news that the Obamacare website is working is good news for consumers who will now be able to see a full list of their choices for health insurance. It took a while to get it right, but the Obamacare website is now working, and Obamacare itself has begun working as well. Soon we won't even have to differentiate it, we'll just be able to say 'Obamacare is working,' period."
As the Pope said...
President Obama's speech on economic mobility is worth reading, especially for those who want him to move in a more populist direction. Although he explicitly denies it within the speech, this could be a precursor to his State Of The Union address next month. And, by extension, a large part of the party platform Democrats may be using in next year's elections. So it is indeed worth reading in full. Here is just one passage from this speech.
And the result is an economy that's become profoundly unequal, and families that are more insecure. I'll just give you a few statistics. Since 1979, when I graduated from high school, our productivity is up by more than 90 percent, but the income of the typical family has increased by less than eight percent. Since 1979, our economy has more than doubled in size, but most of that growth has flowed to a fortunate few.
The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our income -- it now takes half. Whereas in the past, the average CEO made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker, today's CEO now makes 273 times more. And meanwhile, a family in the top one percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country.
So the basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed. In fact, this trend towards growing inequality is not unique to America's market economy. Across the developed world, inequality has increased. Some of you may have seen just last week, the Pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length. "How can it be," he wrote, "that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"
This one is just too good to pass up, of course. I mean, you just can't make this stuff up, folks.
"Congress must act very shortly or unemployment benefits will be cut for hundreds of thousands of people and the price of milk will double. Republicans don't seem to mind any of this, and indeed are actively trying to slash food stamps for the holidays. We've got a budget deal to work out which will require many compromises. Instead of doing this work to benefit the American people, what are Republicans in Congress spending the few days that they're working this month doing? Holding hearings on their pipe dream of impeaching the president, and looking into whether E.T. exists or not. These Republicans need a wake-up call. They need to 'phone home' themselves and start working on things that matter to the average citizen, like not doubling the price of milk overnight."
-- Chris Weigant