This week, President Obama signed an amendment to the STOCK Act that essentially guts the important anti-corruption legislation. The original intention of the STOCK Act was to ban legal insider trading by members of Congress. Because certain committees, such as the Senate Finance Committee, are privy to private financial data, many were using that information for their own personal investments, and shared what they knew with anyone close to them (who conceivably made investments accordingly).
There was a glimmer of hope when, last April, Congress decided it was time to regulate themselves. The original Stock Act banned Congressional employees from using and sharing private data for personal benefits. However, this didn’t last long.
The new amendment to the law, S. 76, keeps the portion of the act that prevents employees from obtaining and using private financial information, but will now allow elected officials to, once again, have access to the financial data. Essentially this means that anyone that is close to an elected official can also obtain this data once more.
This chart from the Brookings Institute's collaboration with the Public Religion Research Institute wonderfully demonstrates that American citizens don't trust their public officials to carry out vague policy proposals:
This survey updates last month’s PRRI/Brookings Religion, Values and Immigration survey, which is one of the largest public opinion surveys on immigration, with nearly 4,500 respondents.
Country music legend George Jones is dead:
Mr. Jones, who was nicknamed Possum for his close-set eyes and pointed nose, and later No-Show Jones for the concerts he missed during drinking and drug binges, was a legendary figure in country music. His singing, which was universally respected and just as widely imitated, found vulnerability and doubt behind the cheerful drive of honky-tonk. With a baritone voice that was as elastic as a steel-guitar string, he brought suspense to every syllable, merging bluesy slides with the tight, quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.
In his most memorable songs, all the pleasures of a down-home Saturday night couldn’t free him from private pain. His up-tempo songs had undercurrents of solitude, and the ballads that became his specialty were suffused with stoic desolation. “When you’re onstage or recording, you put yourself in those stories,” he once said.
The New York Times reports a pair of efforts to revive gun control in the Senate. This one is oddly ironic, no? (Emphasis mine)
Meanwhile, a separate gun measure, an anti-trafficking bill, is the subject of talks between Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and two Republican senators who voted no on the background check bill. The Republicans, Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, are discussing ways they might support the bill, which would criminalize the shipping or transfer of guns to someone who is barred from possessing a firearm.
While the bill on its own falls short of what the families of victims of mass shootings have been pushing Congress to enact — and is therefore less controversial — some Democrats believe it could be a good starting point to build a broader bipartisan compromise.
“I think trafficking can be the base of the bill, the rock on which everything else stands,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “I also think it’s complementary to background checks because, let’s be honest, criminals aren’t going to buy a gun and go through a background check. So if you really want to go after criminals, you have to have to do both.”
The House of Representatives will soon(ish) release its own immigration reform bills. At this point, the clear differences are that the House bill does not include a path to citizenship and that the House will use a piecemeal instead of comprehensive approach to the legislation. (Obviously, the Senate is doing the opposite for both). I'll keep you informed as we learn more.
The New York Times this morning investigates fraud in pay-outs to farmers who claimed racial discrimination. There's a lot to say about this story. More comment will follow here shortly, but here's a first thought to start the day:
Pay special attention to the way the program handled issues of cut-off dates:
Some 66,000 claims poured in after the 1999 deadline. Noting that the government had given “extensive” notice, Judge Friedman ruled the door closed to late filers. “That is simply how class actions work,” he wrote.
But it was not how politics worked. The next nine years brought a concerted effort to allow the late filers to seek awards.
"I am not a Marxist" is an old joke about what Karl Marx would say if he had lived to see the uses to which his ideas were put.
Inflations makes this number matter less (Getty Images)
This morning Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff argue in the New York Times that they were never "Austerians," despite the uses to which their work has been put.
The politically charged discussion, especially sharp in the past week or so, has falsely equated our finding of a negative association between debt and growth with an unambiguous call for austerity.
If you read nothing else today, let it be Brian Phillips' essay on following the Iditarod, Alaska's great dogsled race.
All of a sudden I felt … but I don’t want to overstate it; it wasn’t despair or anything, just melancholy, just an extreme forlornness.
It hit me that what I really felt — I realize how weird this is to write — was loneliness for history. Alaska has its own past: the murdering flaming wreck of the Russian colonies, the gold insanity, the deep-time traditions of the tribes. But it doesn’t saturate the landscape.
Joseph Bottum writes at the Weekly Standard on eccentrics, focusing on Allan Calhammer, inventor of the popular board game "Diplomacy":
The most interesting part of eccentricity may be just how wasteful it usually is. Real eccentricity, I mean, the genuine, whole-life thing, not the mere attempt to cultivate a rebel charm or indulge a little quirkiness. Authentic eccentricity—the oddball in full—devotes itself to wasting time: the pouring of more into containers than those containers should actually hold. Intelligence is the key, often enough, but also charisma, interest, talent. Any human excellence, from a genius for Sanskrit to a gift for tiddlywinks, can be pursued far off to the side of what culture places at the center of human concern.
As, for instance, “On Strengthening the Hand of Austria-Hungary,” the essay Allan B. Calhamer published in 1960, undeterred by the fact that the empire had come to an end in 1918. And he’s surely right: The threat to garrison Tyrolia early in 1901 would have aided Austria-Hungary’s diplomatic efforts with Italy.
Matthew Parris of the Spectator and the London Times takes us inside the mind of a small investor in precious metals, i.e, himself. He lost money of course, but he has not lost faith.
The immediate panic that followed 2008 has passed. People are no longer switching on the news every morning to find out whether the global economy (and with it their world) has ended. Nor do they expect other people to believe this, sparking a hysteria that could make the fortunes of those with bullion. They think that, on balance, next year will be rather like this year; as will the one after that. No great urgency attaches to personal financial decisions.
But in the back of our minds lurks the possibility that, sooner or later and quite possibly later rather than sooner, paper currencies will lose a lot of their value: not perhaps overnight, but steadily, as governments keep interest rates (and returns on savings) low, and print more money to shrink their debts and get growth started; and inflation eats into savings. So (unconsciously) we are now looking at the middle-to-long-term benefits of owning bullion, and taking out a modest insurance policy on the possibility that our more conventional savings may be whittled away by politicians.
No apocalypse, then — or probably not. Just a gradual, bearable, steady impoverishment in a world where savings linked to the value of paper money languish. A long-stop based on mild, long-term, chronic and half-conscious pessimism: a plan-B pension that the politicians can’t touch.
When you first see a K-9 unit dog, your first reaction may resemble pity, as you think about the cage that the beautiful dog most likely suffers in. When it comes to the TSA’s K-9 division, think again. To their handlers, these dogs are more than just a work partner, they are family – literally.
In order to foster a trusting and loving relationship, the TSA and other law enforcement agencies require that handlers take care of their bomb sniffing dogs 24/7, which means taking them home, feeding them, playing with them, and and having them interact with the rest of your loved ones. Just like humans, a healthy and loving relationship at home often leads to better work while on the job.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas seems to have decided that being the leader of the most conservative faction within the Republican congressional caucus is a much better job than merely being an up-and-comer within the caucus as a whole.
Aides to Cruz, a junior senator, are working actively to undermine the work of the House Majority Leader to provide insurance for sick Americans during a six month gap in the implementation of Obamacare.
Cruz has emerged as an influential voice in Washington for the conservative movement, and has claimed the mantle of the Senate's conservative provocateur-in-chief vacated by former Sen. Jim DeMint last fall. In the emails, Cruz Chief of Staff Chip Roy and legislative assistant Alec Aramanda not only slammed the bill but accused Cantor of hypocrisy and questioned his and his supporters fealty to full repeal of Obamacare.
Cantor and his supporters wanted to "create a message in support of funding parts of Obamacare … build upon the misguided notion that pre-existing conditions should be taken care of by government (and thus undermining the very purpose of getting insurance) and create a 'win' that only wonks on list-serves [sic] in DC get excited about," Roy wrote in one email.
Ron Paul's new "Institute for Peace and Prosperity," reports Jamie Kirchick, features such luminaries as the suspected writer of the less than wholesome Ron Paul newsletters, an author who declared that a broad swath of the conservative movement holds a higher allegiance to Israel than the United States, and a scholar who wishes the South had won the Civil War. Read it now.
The Unites States government openly stated today that it believes Syria's government used chemical weapons against its own people:
The White House informed Congress about the chemical weapons use in letters to Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., on Thursday. These announcements are the first U.S. indication of confidence in claims of Syria's chemical weapons use.
"The intelligence community has been assessing information for some time on this issue," [Secretary of Defense Chuck] Hagel said. "The decision to make this conclusion was reached in the last 24 hours."
The Defense secretary, speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, also said the U.S. government believes "any use of chemical weapons in Syria very likely originated" with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.