Sunday, March 1, 2015

Elected, Perchance to Govern?

Mitch McConnell, moderate. I thought I'd never see that characterization, but after last week's embarrassing, incompetent, dangerous gambit the House Republicans played, he's looking like the only GOP adult in the room. John Boehner seems to have lost his caucus and is now dependent on the far right to dictate what gets done in the House, and what's getting done is virtually nothing. Kicking the Homeland Security funding argument to this week will do nothing except make Friday night another frantic opportunity for brinkmanship and Obama-bashing. In the end, Homeland Security will get funding and the president's immigration changes will stand. The real losers will be the people who work for the agency as they bite their nails and wait to see if they'll be getting paid for another week. If terrorists read American news sources, they are surely laughing at us.

Not content to make itself look bad on the domestic front, the Republicans doubled down and asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come and speak to a joint session of Congress, an honor he will deliver this week. Never mind that his visit, essentially a jab at the Obama administrations efforts to negotiate a nuclear treaty with Iran, will only put more on strain US-Israel relations, although there are reports that things might be getting less strained. Mr. Netanyahu, I'm sure, will have important things to say. The problem is that he might want to think twice before attaching himself to the clown car Congress that can't seem to find money to pay for homeland security, much less debate a serious issue like a possible Iranian nuclear weapon.

This is also the week that the Supreme Court will hear arguments in King v. Burwell, the case that challenges whether the federal government can give subsidies to people who buy health insurance on the federal exchange. The plaintiffs believe that only those who buy policies on state exchanges should get subsidies. Which of course begs the question, if the court rules for the plaintiffs, will they work feverishly to make sure that the states without exchanges set them up quickly so the law can work and millions of people can keep their health care?

Of course not.  This is most likely the final attempt to destroy a law that is working wonderfully and is fundamentally changing the health care landscape for the better. Also, the states that would suffer the most if the subsidies are struck down will be the poorest, reddest states in the country. You know, the ones whose citizens vote against their interests by electing governments that seek to limit the programs their people desperately need.

And the state that would suffer the most? Florida. Does Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio have a fall back plan if millions of Floridians lose their health insurance? No. Do both of them want to be president? Of course, but what a catastrophe either of them would be.

And finally, this week will see the rollout of the PARCC tests across the nation. School districts are hoping that their technology holds up and that students can navigate the many screen they'll need to use in order to answer the questions. Some families have decided that they don't want their students to participate, so they've opted out, or "refused" to take the tests as the officials like to characterize it, The testing will take almost three weeks and then return in late April or early May, taking more valuable time and resources from classrooms and actual learning. The tests will mean almost nothing to students, but for teachers, they will count for 10% of their yearly evaluation (in New Jersey, at least). I give these tests five years, and then the education establishment will move on to something newer.

March is certainly roaring in.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Round One:The Fight On the Right Gets Ugly

It's so early, we're at the beginning of the beginning of the 2016 presidential election yet the Republican Party is clearly intent on making sure that they nominate a candidate who is farther to the right than Mitt Romney claimed to be in 2012. That might make the right wing base very happy, but it could turn out to be a problem for more moderate voters and independents who've shown an inclination, though not a clear majority, to support candidates who want to keep the social safety net and the Affordable Care Act while making sure that the middle class can have access to economic security, college educations, reproductive rights and immigration reform.

Breathe.

Rudy Giuliani is, thankfully, not running for president this cycle, but his nostalgia for the good old days of questioning President Obama's patriotism, love of country and otherness is quite touching, if what we're touching is the backs of our throats with our fingers. Today, in fact, marks the fourth day in a row that Rudy has questioned Obama's American bona-fides. I understand that the Republican Party has cornered the market on who's a real American, a monopoly they've had since Senator Joe McCarthy infected the Senate with his unproven accusations in 1950, but these attacks do nothing but remind us that many on the right still see the president as an alien. As we celebrate George Washington's birthday today, I could see Rudy in 1789 questioning the great man's patriotism because, after all, GW wasn't born in the United States, but in the colonies.

And speaking of ad nausem, or at least, just the nauseum part, I've already written about Governor Chris Christie's sudden epiphany on the Common Core Curriculum and education in general. Christie will release his budget for the next fiscal year this week and he's going to have to make some clear choices. One is whether to call for tax increases in order to fund the soon-to-be-bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund and to make a full state payment to the New Jersey Pension system. Both are starving for money, but raising taxes will not make the far right and the Koch Brothers happy, yet letting the fund go under would be an unmitigated disaster for the state. And if Christie is going to run on the pension and benefits reform bill, yet not abide by its provisions, then he'll have a problem with moderate voters. Perhaps he'll just tell us all to shut up and claim that he's just being Chris Christie so at least we know what we're getting. My view is that this is exactly the problem.

Finally, the latest dreamboat candidate, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, has clearly gone all-in to the right on abortion by chucking his previous let's leave “the final decision to a woman and her doctor,” to now championing personhood amendments. He's also refused to reject Rudy Giuliani's attacks on the president and hasn't yet made a decision on immigration or marriage equality. The Supreme Court will relieve him of having to use brain power on the latter issue, but his answers and non-answers are disturbing. And this from a guy whose most potent decision, in my mind, was to leave college in the spring semester of his senior year. And he never went back.

Jeb Bush has kept to the narrow middle trail for now, and for good reason, but he'll pop up with some right wing chum soon enough. The party is demanding that from its candidates. And the maw must be stuffed.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Christie Tells It Like It Isn't

It's getting a bit too easy finding contradictions and hypocritical statements in what Governor Chris Christie is saying these days. That must mean he's running for president.

On his signature issue, pension and benefit reform, the governor went back on his promise to make a full payment for 2014, and his administration even argued in court that the 2011 reform bill is unconstitutional. These are both odd turns, but they are simply a matter of doing business under a man who shamelessly switches policy positions, excoriates those who disagree with him, and simply does what is politically expedient with no central philosophy or plan to guide him.

And through all of this hypocrisy, Christie has the nerve to say that he "tells it like it is." As a keen observer of national and state politics, I can say with 100% confidence that people who rely on that phrase do not tell it anything near what it is and are, in fact, blowhards who like to hear themselves talk.

The latest example of Christie's flip-flop road show occurred this week on the issue of the Common Core educational standards. Two years ago, the governor was all for the national standards and agreed with President Obama that the country would be better off with benchmarks on which all states could be evaluated. He even said that this issue should not be politicized.

Clearly, things have changed. Last week in Iowa, he said,

"I have grave concerns about the way this has been done, especially the way the Obama administration has tried to implement it through tying federal funding to these things. And that changes the entire nature of it, from what was initially supposed to be voluntary type system and states could decide on their own to now having federal money tied to it in ways that really, really give me grave concerns.
 
"So we're in the midst of re-examination of it in New Jersey....It is something I'm very concerned about, because in the end education needs to be a local issue."

Yes, he even used the word "grave" twice. This is a man who is definitely running for president.

The problem is that he is mistrusted among the conservatives who will decide two of the first three Republican popularity tests, Iowa and South Carolina, and is mistrusted in New Hampshire, the third test, because he has no record to run on. In fact, he's running fourth among the early names being bandied about for the GOP nod, which wouldn't be terrible, except that two of the four ahead of him, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, are competing for the same voters as Christie is. He's going to have to muscle past those two, and they don't have the scandals and YouTube rantings that he does. I would never count Christie out, but pandering to the right is not the road that "tell it like it is" Chris wants to navigate.

This also comes on the heels of a poll in New Jersey that shows the governor's popularity and approval ratings at their four year lows. That's not the political environment in which you'd like to start a national run, but that's what the man has done since being reelected rather emphatically in November 2013. For a politician who says he knows how to safeguard public money, he sure has spent and wasted a great deal of political capital.

If Christie really wanted to reverse himself, I'd rather it be that he decides next week to build the third rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Or by fully funding public education. Those would definitely show that he knows how to tell it like it is. I'm not holding my breath, though.

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