Holiday food drives for ‘associates in need’? Tips on ‘digging out of holiday debt,’ like selling items on eBay? Far from raising wages, Walmart and McDonald’s have a reached a new low.
What are future historians going to call this age? Probably not the Era of Good Feelings, which is what we still call the Monroe-era embrace of small-r republicanism. (It was awfully brief.) The Gilded Age has been taken, although we’ve often heard that we’re living in a New Gilded Age.
A Walmart store in Canton, Ohio, has been getting some unwanted attention because an employee surreptitiously publicized a store food drive. (The Daily Beast)
Lately, I’m wondering if we’ve morphed even beyond that. We know the 1 percent have been partying in contemporary America as never before. And we know the workers at the bottom have been getting hammered. But this week we seem to have entered a phase when it’s OK for the corporations doing the hammering to drop any pretense that they’re supposed to be doing the opposite. It’s quite a moment.
A Walmart store in Canton, Ohio, has been getting some unwanted attention because an employee surreptitiously publicized a store food drive. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill holiday-season food drive. It is not intended for Canton’s destitute. It’s for the store’s own employees. Signs attached to storage containers in an employee-only area of the store, photographed by the employee, ask other employees to “donate food items here so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.” “Associates in need.” Wow.
Why couldn't they find a psych bed anywhere in southwestern Virginia for Gus Deeds?
It’s quite rare that a public tragedy allows us to connect dots this clearly, but the horrifying case of Gus Deeds stabbing his father, Virginia politician Creigh Deeds, is one such case. We begin with this sentence, from the Richmond Times-Dispatch account of the incident:
The son was evaluated Monday at Bath Community Hospital, Cropper said, but was released because no psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia.
Hmmm. And why would that be so? Just one of those things? The usual pre-Thanksgiving rush? Not really. As Think Progress notes, the likely culprit here is that Virginia cut funding for psychiatric beds by 15 percent between 2005 and 2010. Certainly, 2005 would mean the cuts started under Democratic governors—first Mark Warner, and then Tim Kaine. They continued under current GOP Governor Bob “Rolex” McDonnell, who then proposed even deeper cuts last year.
What’s going on in Virginia is going on nationally. Try this statistic on for a shocker. The per capita state psychiatric bed population in 2010 in the United States was identical to the figure for 1850. Yes, 1850, around when the very idea of caring for mentally ill people first started! Then and now, the number 14.1 beds per 100,000 population.
His apology for the disastrous Obamacare rollout was nice, but the public needs daily updates and vivid examples to break through the media-manufactured panic.
I try to limit myself to no more than four sports analogies a year, just to keep the clubby-male-pundit thing to a minimum. But this is unavoidably one of those times. Right now in the Obamacare Bowl, it’s like one of those points early in a football game where the other team has scored three quick touchdowns via some unusual circumstances, the old blocked punt and such. So boom, it’s 21-0. But it’s still the first quarter—say, 3:32 left in the first quarter. That’s where we are.
President Barack Obama speaks about his signature health care law, on Nov. 14, 2013, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
Politicians might panic. But winning football teams just buckle down, slowly take control, and—above all else—fight. And that’s what the White House needs to do starting right now; not to save its own political neck, but for the millions of people the Affordable Care Act will help and the other millions who have spent years in their various ways organizing for health-care reform.
The current situation is a crisis. But it isn’t a catastrophe. A catastrophe is more or less hopeless. Despite right-wing chortling, this isn’t even close to that yet. The website can be fixed. The cancellations are affecting only a few million people. A few million people is a lot of people, but there are 150 million other Americans with private-sector insurance. Besides which, there’s every reason to think that a lot of these few million are going to better off with new ACA-style plans, as Jonathan Cohn notes in this column. It’s entirely possible, for example, that people paying more now in premiums (which is the only measure these recent news stories have been taking into account) will pay less in the future if they or their families need care beyond the basics. At that point—around halftime in the Obamacare Bowl—they’ll look up and realize that this wasn’t so terrible after all, although the media won’t be around to cover it.
Most liberals have been denouncing the 39 House Democrats who voted for the Fred Upton Obamacare bill on Friday on the grounds that they voted for a bill that would clearly gut the law. That they did, not much use in denying that. But they're from districts where the law isn't exactly going down so well. And if the Democratic Party ever wants a House majority again, the only way it's going to get that is by electing more people from districts like these.
Besides which, the vote was academic. The Upton bill isn't getting a vote in the Senate, so it was academic. And even if somehow it were to get a vote it would certainly fail--I can see five or six Democrats who might join the 45 Republicans to back it, but not 15, as would be needed. If Upton had a real chance of becoming law, I'd bet a number of those 39 would have voted no.
But the bottom line here is this. If you're a liberal, you want as many Democrats as possible in the House, right? Ideally, 218 or more. Well, the safe Democratic districts number 175, according to Stuart Rothenberg (while there are 208 safe Republican seats). That's 43 short of a majority, so, to get to a majority, the Democrats are going to need a lot of people from swing districts. Would you rather have a Democrat from such a district vote against Upton and lose, giving the seat to a Republican?
Yes, I know, it's not axiomatic that a vote against Upton means a loss. Fight fight fight stand up for your vote etc. But the fact is that not a lot of these people have the fortitude and skill required to do that. It's a hard thing to do. It's not simply a matter of courage, it's a matter of skill, and a matter of a number of factors outside the pol's control. Saying "vote no and go out and defend it" is like saying to a running back "just go out and gain 150 yards." It's just not a thought that can be translated into real-world results very easily.
The GOP idea that Obamacare is flailing because he pushed through a ‘partisan’ bill beyond Kafkaesque—and Republicans only believe it because they assume everything is about politics.
Here’s one thing I absolutely cannot stand hearing: that President Obama is getting what he deserves now because he passed such a “partisan” health-care bill. The suggestion is truly beyond belief and, quite literally, totalitarian in spirit, in the way it flips the truth so perversely on its head, turning the perpetrated-upon into the perpetrator and the aggressor into the victim. As Obamacare flails, one hears the “partisan” line frequently these days on television and radio. More maddeningly still, the alleged liberals and fact-based reporters on various panels often permit it to go unchallenged. Let’s set the record straight.
Obama came into office trying to reach out to Republicans and their voters. Remember Pastor Rick Warren at the inaugural? Remember how the president met with pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights groups early on? (You may not, but he did.) He also tried to horse-trade with them on the stimulus. True, he would not compromise on a tax credit for low-wage workers that Republicans opposed. (Interesting to read this article in retrospect; Obama was trying to help here the later-famous 47 percent.) But he did offer movement on tax cuts, and the Senate did pass a Charles Grassley amendment about the alternative minimum tax. And, at the White House’s request, certain expenditures the White House thought would repel Republicans were stripped out in the hopes of winning GOP support. But that, of course, did not happen in any meaningful way.
In the late spring of 2009, Obama started talking health care. He sat down with Republicans over the summer. He invited a group of Republicans into his office and told them he’d put tort reform in the bill if it would get him Republican votes. They stared at him. Other administration officials met with Republicans a number of times to see if anything could be put in the bill to appease them. The answer was always no. Remember here that the Affordable Care Act is basically a Republican plan to begin with, as the individual mandate idea came from the Heritage Foundation. So you might have thought that some Republicans would be OK with that.
Critics are calling the botched health-care reform rollout Obama’s Katrina. The truth is he has one year to save his presidency. Will he be the Chamberlain or the Churchill?
Ron Brownstein pretty well nails it today:
For decades, Democratic strategists have viewed universal health care as their best opportunity to reverse the doubt among many voters, especially whites, that government programs can tangibly benefit their families. Now the catastrophic rollout of the health law threatens instead to reinforce those doubts. That outcome could threaten Democratic priorities for years.
He points to exit polls from Virginia last week, when 52 percent of white voters said they opposed the law. He then notes that the odds have just gone way up that the 2016 election will be a referendum on the health-care law and on the efficacy of government in general. Well, 2016 is a long way away--I mean, remember: Just three weeks ago, it was the Republicans, post-shutdown, who were in total disarray! But Brownstein might end up being right. Now you know why Bill Clinton said what he said.
Winston Churchill, Barack Obama and Neville Chamberlain. (Topical Press Agency/Getty; Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)
Well, here we are again—the Democrats are ‘in disarray,’ flailing on Obamacare. It’s a potent story line, but this time Obama must crack the whip, stop the panicking, and make it work.
The dawn of the 24-7 news cycle about 15 or so years ago brought with it a few new ways for the media to talk about and cover politics. With all that air time to fill, politics, and certain big news events like your major murders, became part soap opera. Soap operas, to keep the ratings steady, need running themes. What used to be called “Democrats in disarray,” known today in our hurried-up age as #demsindisarray, proved to be a compelling and durable one.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaks to members of the media after a hearing. (Alex Wong/Getty)
It developed, in part, because that dawn of cable happened to be the era of Clinton “scandals,” real and (mostly) imagined. Remember Craig Livingstone? If you don’t, Google him. If you do, you’re chuckling already, I know, because for about four days there on cable TV in 1996, Livingstone was supposed to be the ruination of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Democrats in disarray!
Yes, Republicans have been in disarray, too, from time to time—the low points of the Iraq War, Katrina, and just last month during the government shutdown. But for a variety of reasons, the 24-7 news cycle era has found Dems in disarray to be a far more potent story line than Republicans in disarray. It’s alliterative, for starters. And it has been, I readily concede, legitimately true at times. Plus, Fox, for many years, drove the agenda that the other cable nets swallowed hook, line, and sinker. MSNBC has been a liberal pushback channel only for five years or so, or less than half the life span of the 24-7 cycle. (Remember when Tucker Carlson was an MSNBC host?) And Republicans have tended to have tougher game faces, march more in lockstep, and not concede those crucial rhetorical inches that Democrats so often feel compelled to grant.
I was on a panel yesterday at a conference of Economists for Peace and Security, and one of my panel mates was Ron Unz, the contrarian conservative who has had quite an interesting and varied career. His big passion these days is the minimum wage, which he has written about with some regularity. On yesterday’s panel, he spent some time on the substantive case, on which I don’t need to be sold. But he also made a very interesting political argument: that a really big increase might be more likely to pass than a more modest one, because it would potentially have a larger and more bipartisan constituency behind it.
On the surface it seems totally counterintuitive that a minimum wage increase to $12 an hour (Unz’s position) could possibly win more support than an increase to $9 an hour, which is what the White House proposes. And maybe it couldn’t. It would probably be such sticker shock to the overclass that they’d dig in their heels. And anyway all this is academic, alas, as long as Congress is filled with these pseudo-populist yahoos who wave Bibles at $25,000-a-year earners while they do the bidding of $25,000-a-day earners.
But Unz says this. An increase to $9 an hour will help only those at the very bottom of the wage scale, and those at the very bottom of the wage scale tend to be Democratic voters, because they’re more likely to be black or Latino (or maybe single white women). So naturally, only Democrats will support it.
Instead, he argues that a bigger increase will have a much greater likelihood of having a positive impact on wages up the scale. There are loads of jobs, jobs that can’t be outsourced—home health care, food services, sales, office and administrative support, non-construction laborers, and more—that he said yesterday could be positively impacted by as much as $5,000 a year, which for a $25,000-a-year job is a pretty hefty increase.
The Democratic candidate for attorney general in Virginia is poised to win by less than 1 percent, giving Democrats the run of the state for the first time in more than 40 years.
Now this is very interesting indeed: It suddenly looks as if the Democrat may win the attorney general election in Virginia. It seems they found a missing ballot box from Richmond on Monday afternoon, and Mark Herring vaulted to a 115-vote lead over Mark Obenshain, out of 2.2 million cast. The counting of the provisional ballots is supposed to end Tuesday, and then there will be a recount, if the tally is within 1 percent (it is) and if the loser requests it. But as of Monday afternoon, those following the proceedings closely said it seems highly unlikely that Obenshain can make up the difference, narrow as it is.
Is this a big deal? You bet it is. If Herring wins, the Democrats will have the run of Virginia. The governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and both senators will be Democrats. In Virginia! That hasn’t happened since 1969, which was a completely different political universe. One of those senators, Harry F. Byrd Jr., was a thoroughgoing segregationist. So that’s good news for the Democratic side.
And likewise it’s terrible news for the Tea Party. The Virginia GOP went ultra-hard right this year—instead of primaries, it held a nominating convention over-attended by ideologues who chose the medieval Ken Cuccinelli, about whom we know; the Bronze Age lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson, who made a series of outlandish and reactionary comments and got mopped up by double digits; and Obenshain. He of course underwent far less national observation and scrutiny than Cuccinelli did, and he drew far fewer cameras than the bombastic Jackson, but his views are essentially indistinguishable from the gubernatorial candidate’s—transvaginal probes, criminalization of any failure by a woman to report a miscarriage to the police, hating on gay people, the whole ball of fetid, intolerant wax.
The Obamacare website situation is bad—but it’s not a make-or-break moment for this presidency. It’s just another round of the media’s trumped-up crises.
It’s damn near end times for Barack Obama, to hear some tell it.
There’s a new Pew poll that has him at 41 percent approval, 53 disapproval, which Pew notes ominously is only five percentage points better than George W. Bush’s at this point in his term. (Hurricane Katrina had happened in August of Bush’s fifth year.) Conservative columnists are chuckling and clucking and tweeting to beat the band. Centrist journalist Mark Halperin, on MSNBC yesterday, declared that Obama had lost the media, which was now cheering against the success of the Affordable Care Act and just wants to see… well, people go without insurance, I guess. If everything—everything!—isn’t fixed by Nov. 30, we’re looking at a presidency that is going to collapse into utter disaster.
It’s obvious enough why conservatives would be saying this. They’ve wanted Obama to fail from the start, and they’ve certainly wanted the health-care bill to fail from the moment of its passage. Journalists like Halperin say these things not for ideological reasons, but temperamental ones: In this Halperinesque/Politico-esque world view, politics is less about people’s lives than it is about who is displaying mastery of the game and who is being mastered at any given moment (of course, seeing politics so insistently through that lens is a kind of ideology of its own, but we’ll let that pass). To that group of mainstream journalists, how Obama handles the current crisis will determine whether the administration will survive or whether he might as well just resign now.
‘60 Minutes’ is ‘reviewing’ its Benghazi report. But even if what the guy is saying is true, so what?
So now, CBS is reviewing that 60 Minutes report by Lara Logan on Benghazi, the one with security man Morgan Jones (real name Dylan Davies) telling the FBI one thing about the attacks and CBS another, needless to say handing the sexier (and possibly untrue) version to CBS.
If you haven’t been following this, you can catch up quickly by heading over to the site of Media Matters for America, which has been on this like white on rice since the report aired and is updating it daily. MMFA has done a terrific job.
But of course a big outfit like CBS can try to ignore Media Matters, as it did for days. It even ignored The Washington Post, which ran a story casting doubt on Jones/Davies’s claims a week ago. But then The New York Times started sniffing around, and you can’t ignore the Times.
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames on September 11, 2012. (Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters, via Landov )
No, Cuccinelli’s narrow defeat isn’t a blow to Obamacare—or a sure sign Virginia is going blue. And seriously? Christie’s smashing 22-point win doesn’t mean he’ll beat Hillary in 2016.
The conventional wisdom on New Jersey: Huge Chris Christie win sets him up to steamroll his way to the Republican nomination in 2016, proving that a more mainstream conservative can win in a blue state. The conventional wisdom on Virginia: Ken Cuccinelli’s stinging loss in a purple state in an off-off-year election against Terry McAuliffe, a flawed Democratic candidate, shows not only that he was too extreme but also that Virginia is inching its way into the Democratic column. As the Times put it in its headline, “McAuliffe Win Points to Virginia Changes.”
Well, God invented conventional wisdom so people like me could beat it down. In New Jersey, Christie doesn’t emerge from his victory nearly as strong as he appears to. And the Virginia outcome isn’t really very strong for Democrats, especially down the ballot. No, I’m not buying into the right-wing spin that Cuccinelli’s narrow margin of defeat really represents some kind of loss for Obamacare. It does not. What I’m saying is something different. But let’s start with Joisey.
Barbara Buono, Christie’s Democratic opponent, volunteered for a suicide mission when she agreed to run against him. Surfing on an ocean of media hagiography, Christie seemed unbeatable just when it was time for Democrats to declare themselves. Buono couldn’t raise money, couldn’t attract much media, couldn’t get anyone to believe she could make it close, let alone win.
I’ll have more to say later today and tomorrow on last night’s results. But let’s start the morning, now that that election is over, thinking about the next one. A year from today, we’ll wake up to find out who’s in control of the United States Senate—and to see what new faces will emerge there (and which old faces the new ones will be sending off to pasture).
One old face not looking so hot right now is Mitch McConnell’s. He’s being challenged first by a tea-party primary opponent, Matt Bevin. They’re already slugging it out, for a primary that will happen next May 20. McConnell is way ahead at this point, but Bevin has money (a bell manufacturer, of all odd things; I’d like to be at the Courier-Journal writing the headlines if he wins). But McConnell’s more serious opponent is the Democratic front-runner, Alison Lundergan Grimes. I’ve written about her before. Grimes has mostly been leading McConnell in polls. They’re often within the margin of error, but still, they show she’s a strong contender, they ensure that she’ll be able to raise plenty of money, and so on.
I got my hands on a brief “state of the race” memo written by Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst, and it makes some points worth keeping in mind. For example:
*In 2008, while John McCain was beating Barack Obama in Kentucky by 16 points, McConnell held on to win by just five over Bruce Lunsford. That means about 100,000 voters pulled for McCain and then bothered to switch over and back Lunsford. Never a good thing. And since this is not a presidential year, there will be no one at the top of the ticket to get large numbers of Republicans out to the polls. McConnell will be the top of the ticket.
Local elections were taking place all over America on Tuesday night. From anti-coal measures to minimum wage hikes it was a great night for liberals.
The voters of Virginia and New Jersey weren’t the only ones holding some tea leaves in their hands last night. All across the country in obscure races you may never have heard about, voters were sending other messages, and a lot of them were surprisingly liberal.
(Left) 16-year veteran skycap Fred Harris prepares multiple baggage tags for a traveler at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash. (Right) Russ Childers, left, of Seattle, sits among other protesters as they demonstrate against trains carrying coal for export moving through Washington state. (Elaine Thompson/AP; Ted S. Warren/AP)
Let’s start in the small Seattle suburb called SeaTac, where voters approved a minimum wage hike to a whopping $15 an hour for most workers at Seattle’s main airport. Washington state already has the country’s highest minimum wage, at $9.19 an hour, but fifteen bucks is a different order of magnitude: It’s more than twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The vote comes as unions and others are trying to whip up support for a big national minimum wage hike. Hard to say how much momentum derives from a few thousand votes in small town, but at the very least the eye-popping figure opens the door to a national conversation that many on the left have been dying to have ever since Barack Obama mentioned a minimum-wage increase in the 2012 State of the Union address (which I don't think he's mentioned at all since).
Also out in Washington, 70 or so miles north in Bellingham, a county council election, of all things, turned into a national referendum on big coal vs. environmentalists. It looks like the green team is winning. Whatcom County is considering the construction of a big coal-export facility, which would be the largest on the West Coast. The county council is nonpartisan, and members have some duties that prevent them from taking outright positions on issues, but there were two factions competing here, and it became clear that one faction backed the plant and the other opposed. Coal and energy companies spent $200,000 on the race, while green groups spent around $500,000. From early returns it looked as if the greens would win.
Voters in a corner of Colorado will vote Tuesday on whether to secede from the state. The movement will fail, but the underlying discord in American politics is only going to grow.
You can have your Chris Christies and Bill de Blasios and Terry McAuliffes. Oh, those are all interesting races, and they all tell us something or other about the current mood. But Tuesday night, I’m going to be watching Colorado. Individual pols come and go, but what seems to be happening out in the Rocky Mountain West is the start of a new and lamentable trend that I think may be with us for a long time in American politics.
The Daily Beast
Eleven of Colorado’s 64 counties want to secede from the state, and there is a referendum on the ballot to that effect. It will, in all likelihood, pass. Only the voters in those 11 counties are voting on the question. Ten are contiguous, in the northeast corner of the state. In their dream world, they say sayonara to Denver and become “North Colorado.” The eleventh county is across the way, in the northwest corner. Since the U.S. Constitution mandates that states be contiguous, Moffat County would just sign up with Wyoming.
These things have popped up before. I covered one 20 years ago, when Staten Islanders voted two-to-one to break off from New York City. The voters always approve these things. Of course, Staten Island is still a borough of New York City, which tells us that although they always pass, they always amount to nothing. This one will amount to nothing too, in the short term. Congress has to approve a new state, and that isn’t going to happen.
From 'principled fiscal conservative protest' to 'Obama derangement syndrome:' John Avlon talks to CNN's Carol Costello on the fifth anniversary of the Tea Party.
How LBJ passed the ’64 Civil Rights Act—by lying, schmoozing, charming, and threatening—is dramatized in the new Broadway play, starring Bryan Cranston.