Test your knowledge of what did—and didn’t—happen this year. Michael Tomasky provides the questions and answers.
I just know you’re sitting around avoiding even the small amount of work you told yourself you were going to do between Christmas and New Year’s, and so it is in the spirit of helping you ignore it that I present the Tomasky 2012 Year-End Quiz. I try to make these not mere trivia quizzes, but knowledge quizzes, which is something different in my mind and requires digging a little deeper, making a little more mental effort. But I’m also mindful that you’re just sitting around the house in your pajamas and aren’t very into mental effort, so most of these are in fact fairly easy. Let’s go.
Left to right, top to bottom: Submerged cars in Manhattan caused by flooding from Hurricane Sandy; George Zimmerman sits on the stand during his bond hearing in Sanford, Fla.; Dick Clark in 1987; Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Christos Pathiakis/Getty; Pool photo by Gary Green; AP; Evan Vucci/AP)
1. Match the ridiculous quote to the ridiculous Republican candidate, and then say where and/or in what context the candidate said it:
“To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”
With their refusal to vote for Boehner’s Plan B, Republicans have definitively shown that they’d rather sabotage democracy than govern. How can they be stopped?
Really, what is to be done about this Republican Party? What force can change it—can stop Republicans from being ideological saboteurs and convert at least a workable minority of them into people interested in governing rather than sabotage? With the failed Plan B vote, we have reached the undeniable crisis point. Actually we’ve been at a crisis point for years, but this is really the all-upper-case Undeniable Crisis Point. They are a direct threat to the economy, which could slip back into recession next year if the government doesn’t, well, govern. They are an ongoing, at this point almost mundane, threat to democracy, subverting and preventing progress the American people clearly desire across a number of fronts. They have to be stopped, and the only people who can really stop them are corporate titans and Wall Streeters, who surely now are finally beginning to see that America’s problem is not Barack Obama and his alleged “socialism,” but a political party that has become psychologically incapable of operating within the American political system.
On MSNBC’s “The Cycle,” global business editor Daniel Gross says that “House Republicans have to actually vote for something.+
We all know that the GOP has become much more extreme in the last few years, and, taking the longer historical view, the last 20 or 25 years. But when that gets said, it usually elides an important point—the important point. It’s usually meant to refer to the party’s policy positions. And the move to the hard right is obviously true along those lines.
But politics, and certainly political parties, aren’t only about policy positions. There’s also the question of what I’ll call process, which means simply how a party practices politics on a day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year basis. This isn’t a question of the positions per se, but how the party attempts to advance and defend them.
I didn't get to see LaPierre's press conference, but I just read the transcript of his remarks. I wouldn't necessarily oppose having a well-trained armed guard in every school. But the idea that he thinks this can just stop there is preposterous, not to say revolting, actually.
LaPierre calls for an armed guard in every school.
First of all, an armed guard in every school doesn't guarantee anything. Schools are big buildings; often they are campuses, not just buildings. What if the guard happens to be in the gym when a gun nut shoots his way into the shop? In fact, exactly this happened at Columbine High, which had an armed guard. He was out monitoring the Smoker's Corner, which every high school has, while the shooters did their work inside.
Second of all, this is one heck of a lot of money he's talking about. And, assuming one for each of roughly 100,000 public schools in the country, quite a few more members of the public employee unions (don't think Scott Walker and Rick Snyder didn't notice this angle!). LaPierre makes a blithe and idiotic reference to getting the money out of the foreign aid budget, but the foreign aid budget is tiny and badly strained as it is.
Let's get something straight from the start. Plan B wasn't going to lead to any deal anyway. Suppose it had gotten 218 votes last night, instead of being the epic failure that it was. Okay. That would have left Republicans at $1,000,000 on tax rates, with Obama at $400,000. That's still an extremely wide gulf, and if the GOP had to fight that hard to get to 218 on $1 million, what on earth would make anyone think there'd be votes in the GOP caucus for a compromise-on-the-compromise figure like $500,000 or $600,000? No chance.
And that's just tax rates. Plan B also included draconian, not to say outright cruel, cuts to the safety net--ending the child tax credit (Merry Christmas, kids?), permitting the lapsing of certain tax credits that alleviate the tax burden of the working poor. Finally, Plan B lifted the sequester, the across-the-board mandated spending cuts, on the Pentagon only (Merry Christmas, Lockheed Martin!).
In other words, Plan B was a fully baked conservative cake--penalties for poor people, goodies for defense contractors. Then over top of it Boehner tried to apply this icing of a tax increase on two-tenths of one percent of the population, so that the gullible and ever-hopeful establishment press would write that Republicans raised some taxes and see, there's hope.
But even if they'd passed it, the chasm between Obama and the Republicans would still have been vast, and Boehner's unyielding caucus would have signaled that they weren't budging one inch further. I shook my head ruefully yesterday as I listened to some of the credulous reporting on NPR about how Americans should keep hope alive (host Robert Siegel sounded, in fairness, like he knew better).
Impeach who? Actually, I feel a little badly for Lamb even having to see that headline, if she does, but I used it to make a point.
Lamb is the best-known (because her name has already been in the press a bit) State Department employee relieved of her duties in the wake of the department's internal report on the Benghazi Sept. 11 attacks. Three employees were sacked, and apparently, says NPR, a fourth one, Eric Boswell, has also quit. The report was quite critical of the consulate's overreliance on local security and especially of a failure at Foggy Bottom to respond in a reasonable way to the repeated requests from Benghazi for more security.
And there you have it. Mistakes were made. The department studied the situation and assessed it. Four people have lost their jobs. That sounds like accountability to me. There's your "Watergate," wingnuts. This whole political hubbub has been a travesty and an outrage.
What's especially sickening is the way these totally irresponsible political hostage-takers like McCain and the rest of them, and all those Soviet apparatchiks on Fox, get the larger political world to buy into their appalling and evidence-free smear tactics. When I think of the amount of time I spent precisely piecing together the timeline of Obama's statements on this, and I'm not even a player, just an observer. And for what? To rebut a bunch of knowingly told lies by knowing liars who don't give a flying you know what about reality and care only about political power. It's disgusting. They're still going to gun for Hillary, of course. How about this time we make accusers put forward at least one scintilla of actual evidence that Hillary personally did something wrong here instead of just "raising questions" Jack Welch style? Sickening.
Boehner is scrambling to get 218 votes, reports The Hill:
The House Republican whip operation was on full display during two sets of votes on Wednesday evening, with Boehner spotted in lengthy conversations with several members.
Eleven House Republicans have told The Hill they were either leaning against or definitely opposing the Boehner bill, and many others said they had not decided. With most Democrats expected to vote against it, the Speaker can afford to lose just 24 votes from his own side.
A senior GOP lawmaker close to the leadership told The Hill that Boehner would likely hold a vote on the measure regardless of whether he believes it will pass or fail, to show President Obama that Republicans won’t vote for an option without significant spending cuts.
With his speakership on the line, John Boehner has given up trying to do what’s best for the country. Michael Tomasky on the consequences of one man’s quest to keep his job.
On Thursday, John Boehner will lead the House Republicans, or enough of them anyway, toward passage of his Plan B bill that will keep tax rates at current levels on all dollars earned up to $1 million. This means that House Republicans, or enough of them anyway, will be supporting a tax increase, no matter what they want to call it—an amusing grace note to which we’ll return. But the main point is that with this vote, Boehner, unless he’s doing something very different behind the scenes, is effectively ending fiscal cliff negotiations. His terse and unyielding remarks to the press Wednesday contrasted very poorly indeed with Obama’s plea for a soupçon of post-Newtown perspective and reason, and his gambit isn’t going to play well if we do go over the cliff. But it may save his job, which I suspect was really the point.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio addresses reporters on the fiscal cliff negotiations on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
It hasn’t been mentioned much in all the fiscal cliff talk, but remember, not long after whatever fiscal votes the House takes, there will come a far more important one as far as Boehner is concerned: the vote for speaker of the 113th Congress. That will happen on Jan. 3. It’s hardly a secret that his restive caucus tilts well to his right, and it’s also widely known that a lot of them would in their hearts prefer to hear Eric Cantor’s voice on the other end of the phone, or possibly Kevin McCarthy’s, when they phone the speaker’s office. Cantor’s Cassius-like designs on the office have been likewise well noted.
At the beginning of the week, Boehner was talking like a fellow who wanted to cut a deal. His offer from last Friday put real revenue on the table for the first time and kicked any debt-limit fights down the road for one year. Obama responded with a concession on Social Security. They were dancing, at least. The establishment press, and the establishment for and to whom they speak, were all getting very excited.
Two things stood out here. First of all, his language about his gun task force was pretty strong and convincing. When I heard "task force" this morning, I thought hoo boy, March or April. However:
The Biden-led task force will produce “concrete proposals” by January that Obama said he “intend[s] to push without delay” and will include in his State of the Union Address. Biden joined Obama at the announcement but did not speak.
“There’s already a growing consensus for us to build from,” Obama said. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of American support laws requires background checks before all gun purchases.” The new Congress, he said, should vote on all these measures and prioritize confirming a new leader for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
A set of recommendations by the end of January means something to vote on in February, at least in my book. That's pretty fast. Of course the NRA will have collected itself by then, but for gummint work, that's pretty fast, and he sounded pretty resolute.
Here's something you should know about. The Washington Post has an editorial today that comes down heavy on Chuck Hagel in a really big way. This is one of those shot-across-the-bow editorials, but of an especially intense and prickly sort. We basically have the Washington Post saying here to Obama, do not follow through with this nomination, we'll do all we can to help defeat him. Like this:
Mr. Hagel’s stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.
Fringe? Youch. That word terrifies politicians and is no doubt meant to do just that in this case. The Post's cahier against Hagel covers the Pentagon budget and Iran's nuclear capability (surprised they left Israel out).
Normally, of course, senators will vote nearly automatically to confirm a former senator, one with whom many of them served no less, to a cabinet post. This editorial changes that calculus instantly. The Post is all but saying to senators, "Not this time." That would certainly be some sight, wouldn't it? Republicans blocking a former Republican senator and decorated war veteran!
I almost perversely wish today that Robert Bork had made it to the Supreme Court ack in 1988 and lasted on it until this morning, when he drew his final breath, because that would have given Barack Obama a chance he very well might not get in the next four years, which is to replace a conservative with a liberal and shift the court's balance. Anthony Kennedy, who replaced Bork when the latter's nomination was withdrawn, is still going strong.
Bork, of course, will be lionized by the right-wing media today as the victim of most intense liberal witchhunt of the century, and that is how the conservative side will always remember him. Liberals will and should remember him very differently, as the most extreme nominee ever placed before the bench. The man supported the poll tax used by Southern states to prevent black people from voting: "It was a very small tax, it was not discriminatory, and I doubt it had much impact on the welfare of the nation one way or the other." There's a lot more, but that's pretty emblematic.
So no, I don't really wish he'd been on the Court all these years. At least we got the Lawrence decision out of Kennedy. Bork would have pushed the Court hard to the right faster than it arrived there without him.
Let's also not leave the Saturday Night Massacre out of any review of Bork's career. One of the most shocking moves ever made by any president, that firing of special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox, later declared illegal by a federal judge. For those who don't know: Nixon's attorney general, Eliot Richardson, refused to carry out Nixon's order to fire Cox, as did his deputy Bill Ruckelshaus. Bork, the solicitor general at the time, was hustled over to the White House and sworn in as acting attorney general, and he promptly carried out the illegal firing.
Appointing a task force on guns seems a little mealy-mouthed to me. Obama is putting Joe Biden in charge, and this is the kind of thing that a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee just might be able to do with aplomb, but still...Strike while the iron is hot, sez I.
Obama's style is to be deliberative, gather evidence. It's a lot better than shooting from the hip on general principle. But sometimes there's a public mood out just waiting to be caught and exploited before it dissipates and before the opponents can confuse and redirect it.
Right now, there is an opportunity to make a very simple and straightforward statement: We need far, far tougher regulations on the kinds of guns that exist only to kill large numbers of human beings very quickly, and the ammunition that goes in them. We're not talking hunting rifles here at all, or single-action handguns. We mean military-style weapons that you'd never take out into the wilderness to hunt a deer. For those weapons and their ammunition--extensive and rigorous background checks, strict rules about how they're kept in the home, certifications and recertifications; whatever.
That's a bright line and something that's easy for everyone to understand--and something that I'd wager roughly 80 percent of Americans would support doing right now. He might still have his task force to decide what the exact regulations should be, but I think he should announce the goal. Get public opinion on his side for a specific action while the support is strongest.
This, from the Guardian, really and truly makes me puke:
Jane Goodall, one of the world's greatest conservationists, has made an impassioned plea for a worldwide ban on the sale of ivory to prevent the extinction of the African elephant.
Her call follows the seizure in Malaysia last week of 24 tonnes of illegal ivory and a report by conservationists warning that the illegal ivory trade now threatens governments as rebel groups use the sale of tusks to fund their wars...
...China's growing presence in Africa has been blamed for an unprecedented surge in poaching. The discovery last week by Malaysian customs of 1,500 tusks hidden in secret chambers in 10 containers supposedly carrying wooden floor tiles was the largest illegal ivory haul ever, roughly equivalent to all the illegal ivory seized last year.
You've read by now that Obama is offering to Boehner a deal that includes indexing Social Security benefits to the so-called chained consumer price index as opposed to the regular CPI. Without getting into how each measures inflation, which is beside the point for our purposes, the long and short of it is that indexing benefits to the chained CPI will reduce benefits as people get older, a cut on the order of 3 percent a year for people in their mid-80s.
That's not insignificant for a lot of people, so liberal groups are up in arms. Most elected Dems haven't taken a position yet. Dick Durbin said today it would be "a hard ask" for many Democratic senators. MoveOn.org came out against any such deal. Paul Krugman is skeptical though not against.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an important group to many Democratic legislators, is supportive in theory though not yet specifically supporting this deal. Here's a little paper from last February from CBPP about circumstances under which a chained CPI might be acceptable. The authors list four conditions, one of which is providing a benefit "bump" to older Soc Sec recipients so that their benefits aren't reduced so much.
I was 11 when I first saw Daniel Inouye, then a member of the Senate Watergate committee. My family, bunch of liberals that we were, took to him immediately, I remember. I couldn’t today tell you a single thing he did on that committee, but he seemed noble and reasonable; like you imagine (when you’re a kid, anyway) a senator should be. He was terrific as chairman of the select Iran-contra committee as well.
He was the last of the senators surviving from the great era, that brief period in its history when the Senate actually worked well. It was full, then, of genuinely committed public servants, men (and a few women) who disagreed on a lot of things but did have the good of the country in mind, because they were raised in Depression and war and most of them saw the United States grow from a largely agrarian nation into the world’s greatest power and they knew in their bones that a certain civic responsibility and faith was demanded of them.
They also didn’t have to spend every spare second raising money, which is a very big deal indeed. But the importance of those galvanizing events, Depression and war, can’t be overstated. Read here, from The Atlantic, how Inouye lost that arm. He was charging a German machine-gun position and had a grenade in his right hand when his right arm was hit by a German grenade, leaving the arm hanging by a thread:
I saw a fellow pointing it at me and I felt the blast and I recall going for my grenade, prying it out of my right hand and throwing it with my left. My arm was dangling by a couple shreds, so when I lifted it up, it was hanging like that. Just shredded. So I knew it was gone. First I was looking all over for the grenade, I thought it fell. And then I looked at my hand and I said, 'Oh, my Lord. It's there.' I had pulled the pin, and my hand was back ready to toss it, so I knew it was armed. The fingers somehow froze over the grenade, so I had to pry it out.
How can we curb gun violence? Some claim the Constitution ties our hands. But Michael Tomasky says the right to bear arms can and should be regulated by the states.
So maybe at long last we are at the tipping point in the gun conversation. Maybe, finally, something will be done. But what? Reinstating the assault-weapons ban would be fine symbolically and even to some extent substantively. But there have to be steps taken beyond that. Some people talk, for example, of clamping down on sales of types of ammo. I’m all for it. But let’s think bigger. Let’s put some teeth into the Second Amendment, and specifically, into that lovely phrase about the “well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” Let’s make every gun owner be a member of his or her state’s militia.
Mary Kay Zuravleff, participates in a protest organized by CREDO, outside of the National Rifle Association's office on First St., SE. The event was organized to criticize NRA policies in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. (Tom Williams, CQ Roll Call / Getty Images)
Here’s the idea, starting with the historical precedent that suggests what could be done in this instance. In the early 1980s, America was up in arms about drunk driving. You remember, if you’re old enough. Candy Lightner and all that. After much debate and hand wringing about what to do, the focus was narrowed down to younger motorists, who tended, sure enough, to be the more irresponsible drivers.
So Congress—it wasn’t completely paralyzed in those days—actually did something. It passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which told states where the legal drinking age varied: you must raise the drinking age in your state to 21 by such-and-such a date. And if you don’t, the federal government is going to dock you 10 percent of your highway money.
Don't have an hour to watch President Obama pontificate on the future of national security? No worries! Watch the key moments from his speech in less than 250 seconds.
What’s so bad about the IRS investigating nonprofit applications?