Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Reason #4,672 Why Congress Kinda Sucks

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Politics

Because they don’t have spirited, culturally awesome arguments like this one between British Prime Minister David Cameron and a member of parliament, where they pretty much just throw out old Smiths songs as a way of bickering about Cameron’s proposed budget cuts:

MP Kerry McCarthy: “As someone who claims to be an avid fan of The Smiths, the Prime Minister will no doubt be rather upset this week that both Morrissey and Johnny Marr have banned him from liking them. The Smiths are, of course, the archetypal students’ band. If he wins tomorrow night’s vote [on tuition fees], what songs does he think students will be listening to? ‘Miserable Lie,’ ‘I Don’t Owe You Anything’ or ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now?’”

Cameron: “I accept that if I turned up I probably wouldn’t get ‘This Charming Man,’ and if I went with the Foreign Secretary [William Hague] it would probably be ‘William It Was Really Nothing.’”

David Cameron and an MP rapping about the Smiths in public? As part of a policy exchange? Sign me up!

Of course, the British parliament has always been noticeably more, um, lively and exciting than their American counterparts. In short, the House of Commons is basically the political equivalent of a rap battle.

We don’t do that in the United States. In fact, we pretty much do the opposite — we let our elected representatives pontificate ad nauseum to a near-empty chamber until they quite literally put people to sleep. But that doesn’t mean there’s not an appetite for this kind of robust debate in American politics.

Indeed, think back to last February, when the country was (briefly) atwitter over President Obama’s decision to take on his opponents head-to-head in a question-and-answer session at the House Republicans’ retreat. It was like the Woodstock of actual, real-life debate in Washington. It was legitimately thrilling to actually see (for once) the best and brightest of both parties really going at it in a more casual, open setting.

However, that unique moment becomes significantly less thrilling when you then realize that the British prime minister does the same thing every single week in Prime Minister’s Questions (or PMQ, as it’s apparently abbreviated), which is where the aforementioned Cameron-McCarthy Smiths exchange took place.

You may be thinking this isn’t really a substantive critique. You’re right — it isn’t. Barack Obama and John Boehner clearly aren’t going to develop a bipartisan plan to magically eliminate the national debt by swapping Run-DMC references on a weekly basis (although I hear Boehner is a huge fan.) But I can’t help but feel that our policy and our politics could only benefit from having more spirited public debates on the issues — particularly debates where policymakers and leaders from both parties (including the president) have to stand up and answer their critics directly in a healthy exchange of ideas and opinions.

I refuse to believe that such a heightened level of debate and transparency could somehow be bad for this country. But then again, I do love myself some political theater and a good Smiths reference — so maybe my motives are selfish in that regard. I guess I just live in the wrong country to be consistently entertained by my public officials’ weirdly encyclopedic knowledge of mopey 1980s British pop music…

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Will Republicans Finally Have the Guts to Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in Politics

The studies are in and the verdict is clear — the American public supports it; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates favors it; even the majority of our troops are cool with it. So why is there any doubt about the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? And, more to the point, will congressional Republicans still try to prevent something that, by virtually every account, will strengthen our armed forces and increase national security?

On Tuesday, the Pentagon released the “Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That’s a long title, and it comes with a fittingly long report that basically says what has been obvious for years — DADT is outdated and needs to be ended.

More Pay Freeze: Bad Politics, Worse Policy

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Politics

I was a little worried about the post I wrote yesterday on President Obama’s pay freeze. After all, he announced the freeze a few days back — maybe it was all talked out by the time I got around to it? Turns out that wasn’t the case.

I consider The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein to be one of the best bloggers around — the way he takes complicated policy minutiae and consistently distills them into engaging, highly informative masterpieces is truly stunning. And the best thing about Ezra is that, while he is unapologetically liberal, he’s not a hack. He’s genuinely more interested in good policy than political ideology — and while he believes liberal solutions to problems are generally more effective, he’s open-minded and intellectually honest enough to consider ideas from all sides. In other words, he’s pretty much my hero (if you couldn’t already tell.)

So wasn’t I surprised when, at 2:06 p.m. MST today, the great Ezra Klein posted this excellent piece basically articulating the same argument I made yesterday — that the Obama administration is being played like a fiddle by the Republicans because they don’t know how (or just flat-out refuse) to negotiate in a way that’s politically advantageous. Of course, he did the argument far more justice than I did — and wrote it a thousand times better — but it’s still kind of fun to quasi-scoop your idol every once in a blue moon. Either way, Ezra’s post is definitely worth your time and then some.

After reading Ezra’s thoughts and sleeping on mine from yesterday, I remain absolutely convinced that the administration’s unilateral pay freeze is horrible politics — but, even worse than that, it’s also terrible policy.

If, as the White House has stated early and often, your chief economic goal is to get as much capital flowing into the market as possible and to get as many Americans as possible spending money at businesses that will then turn around and create jobs here at home, then this policy is a massive failure.

Federal workers are just like any other American — they work for a living, they collect their paycheck, and then they spend their paycheck consuming goods and services. They are, in a sense, living and breathing little economic stimulants, just like every American worker with some cash in his pocket. The only difference? They just happen to work for the government instead of McDonald’s or FedEx or some other privately owned business.

Does that mean their money isn’t good? Does that mean their consumption won’t put dollars in the coffers of American businesses that can then use the additional revenue to hire new workers? Of course not.

We need these people to have that discretionary income now more than ever. We need them infusing that money into the market via consumption. We need them providing revenue for the private sector that will help create permanent, well paying jobs. To be brief, now is not the time to be skimping on anybody’s Christmas bonus.

I understand the flipside of the argument, too. We’re massively in debt. The federal government is carrying an annual operating deficit of about $1.2 trillion. This is unacceptable, as it presents a huge problem for the long-term financial stability of the country.

Believe me, I get it. I’m as big a deficit hawk as anyone. We need to fix it — but a federal pay freeze isn’t going to do the job. This policy is going to save the government approximately $5 billion over the next few years, which is practically nothing in the face of a projected $1 trillion budget deficit. It’s a miniscule drop in the clichéd figurative bucket.

I would love nothing more than to see both parties get serious about deficit reduction by, you know, doing the stuff that will actually work — reforming Social Security and Medicare, eliminating excess defense spending, restructuring our tax system, etc. Freezing salaries for federal employees isn’t one of those effective options. It just makes life a little harder for a lot of middle-class families and restricts the stimulative flow of capital into the markets — all without seriously tackling our deficit problem. It’s nothing but a symbolic gesture, and a bad one at that.

That’s not something the economy, the administration, or the American people can afford right now.

The Obama Administration's Self-Inflicted Political Straitjacket

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Uncategorized

Yes, I’m alive. Welcome back to the blog. I hope everyone had a nice little break over the Thanksgiving holiday. I know I certainly did.

You know who didn’t have a nice little break over the Thanksgiving holiday? The White House.

It’s been a(nother) bad week for Barack Obama and friends, what with WikiLeaks dumping 250,000 top-secret State Department communiqués that reveal nothing particularly earth-shattering, but some damning backroom espionage by America’s top diplomats nonetheless. This, of course, beget a media firestorm questioning whether the leak has left the president “weak” in both the political and foreign policy realms just as his administration prepares to shift an eye toward reelection efforts.

Oh, and the president took a mean elbow the mouth in a friendly post-Thanksgiving basketball game, resulting in 12 stitches and some unflattering pictures of the commander-in-chief holding a wad of toilet paper to his bloody lip as he made his way out of the gym.

In the words of VH1, Barack Obama is having the best week ever!

And do you know what cures a bad week better than anything else? A poorly strategized, one-sided gesture of “bipartisanship” that undermines your economic agenda, that’s what!

Yesterday, in what seems like a desperate attempt to deflect some media attention away from the WikiLeaks scandal, the White House announced a two-year freeze on salaries for all civilian federal employees. You know, those lazy fat-cats that are living large on government benjamins — or, in other words, getting paid $40,000 a year to perform thankless jobs that are nevertheless essential to several important programs that millions of Americans rely upon every day.

That’s right, public servants. Stop sticking your hand out, the gravy train stops here.

Oh, President Obama. Where to begin?

The pay freeze is, first and foremost, a disappointing political move. These kinds of one-sided gestures are exactly what killed the White House (and, by extension, the Democrats) on both the stimulus package and health care reform.

Let’s recap. In early 2009 when the administration was trying to pass a large-scale stimulus package in hopes of boosting the flailing economy, the president made it very clear that he wanted some Republican support for whatever measure ultimately passed through Congress. How did he do that? By putting forth a bill laden with Republican-favored tax cuts that his economic advisers cautioned would be less effective in stimulating economic growth than other methods. In fact, tax cuts comprised approximately one-third of the $789 billion stimulus package.

Now, it’s all well and good to compromise with Republicans. Indeed, it’s preferable to be agreeable and productive, both politically and policy-wise. But you don’t open negotiations by giving them what they want right off the bat. That’s not how it works. Such a strategy — or lack thereof — doesn’t require them to make concessions (i.e. give up some votes) in order to secure a more desirable policy outcome. It doesn’t give them a political stake in the negotiation process.

Imagine a world where the president comes to the Republicans and says, “We want to do this stimulus package. We’d like to put $789 billion into the economy — 45 percent through infrastructure spending, 45 percent through aid to state and local governments, and 10 percent through tax cuts.” What would the congressional Republicans do? They’d throw a fit. “That’s ridiculous, Mr. President,” they’d say. “Our members won’t vote for something with that much spending and that little tax relief.” And they would be right about that.

This is where negotiation begins.

Perhaps after haggling for awhile, the president could secure some modicum of Republican support in exchange for cutting the bill’s spending and increasing its tax relief efforts. Perhaps he could strike a deal where the package would be structured equally across the board — one-third to tax cuts, one-third to infrastructure spending, and one-third to state aid — but do so in such a way that gives the Republicans some kind of role in the process (and, therefore, some responsibility) and picks up a chunk of votes along the way.

Or he could do what he did — just throw them a bone up front and get nothing in return. What incentive do Republicans have to be cooperative if the White House is just going to give them what they want without demanding any kind of concessions? In that scenario, they are free to sit on the backbench and lob political grenades at the administration, vote against the bill, and still get their desired policy outcome — and that’s exactly what they did.

This is an absolutely crazy thing for the administration to do — but they keep doing it. First the stimulus, then health care reform, and now the pay freeze. The White House continues to give Republicans what they want without getting any substantial concessions in return. Even worse, they know what they’re doing. They know these kinds of tactics are a mistake — as the president has lamented in recent weeks — yet they continue to do it.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results each time, then the White House political team is in dire need of a nice facility with tight white coats and padded walls. I don’t care how badly the press is savaging the administration over the WikiLeaks documents — we’ve been down the road of foolish, one-way “bipartisanship” before, and it doesn’t end pretty for anyone with a ‘D’ next to their name.

When does the madness stop?

Wait, Americans Don't Hate the Government?

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Uncategorized

If you’ve been paying attention to American politics over the past two years, you’ve no doubt had the opportunity to watch the phenomenal rise of the Tea Party movement. Fashioned as a people-powered, grassroots movement (but not one without its fair share of financial backing from a handful of political elites), we’ve been told repeatedly that Tea Party activists represent how average Americans are feeling right now — and these average Americans are (allegedly) pissed.

Well, if we are to believe the most recent Associated Press-GfK poll (and we have no credible reason not to pay it at least some deference), then the Tea Party might not be so average after all.

According to the poll released yesterday, just three in 10 Americans identify themselves as Tea Party supporters. To be sure, that is a substantial number that politicians ignore at their own political peril. This isn’t just a couple of dude’s in someone’s basement — but it’s also hardly a majority. Actually, it’s not even close. If the Tea Party claims to represent mainstream American thought during these difficult times, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that number to be hovering (at the very least) somewhere around 50 percent, if not much higher?

Of course, I guess there’s the potential that some average Americans are mistakenly disassociating the Tea Party from their anti-government message. Perhaps these folks don’t like some of the more vitriolic elements of the movement that have reared their ugly heads, but are still generally supportive of the Tea Party’s mission — a near-libertarian lack of government involvement in just about everything but national defense.

Indeed, perhaps this phenomenon is similar to what some Democrats (including myself) have argued about “Obamacare”: the new law may not be overwhelmingly popular as a whole, but people love the specific things it accomplishes. (To name a few: eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions, allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, closing the Medicare prescription drug “donut hole,” etc.) Maybe the same logic could be applied to the Tea Party’s anti-government crusade?

Unfortunately, that argument isn’t borne out by the numbers, either.

While a huge percentage of Tea Party supporters (86 percent) want less government “intrusion” on people and businesses, only 35 percent of other voters agree. That seems strange, considering how often Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, et al. have told me how much Americans hate the federal government “meddling” in things. Furthermore, while 84 percent of Tea Party sympathizers disapprove of the way President Obama is handling his job (a surprisingly lower number than I would have anticipated), only 35 percent of others surveyed concur. Again, this also seems strange since average Americans quite clearly hate Barack Obama and everything he does — or so the cable news networks tell me.

So maybe the Tea Party isn’t quite so mainstream after all?

Now, to be fair, this survey is no reason for liberals to be dancing in the streets. This is, after all, only one poll and, as such, should be taken with a grain of salt. And what’s more, even if the AP-GfK poll were a completely accurate representation of the electorate, Democrats still got their butts handed to them a few weeks back. Why? Because way more Tea Party people showed up at the polls — in fact, exit polls show more than four in 10 midterm voters supported the movement. Clearly, there’s a lesson here: it doesn’t matter if the vast majority of Americans (allegedly) don’t support the Tea Party agenda. If you don’t get them excited to vote, you get slaughtered.

And what of the Tea Party? If this poll were a completely accurate representation of the electorate (which, again, it’s probably not, but it surely still paints a somewhat cogent picture), are they really just a very conservative group of enthusiastic activists positioned far to the right of the views and appetites of mainstream Americans? Maybe. Only time will tell the long-term political resonance of the movement with the ordinary voter.

But one thing is for certain: for better or worse, the Tea Party will have a huge effect on the Republican Party — certainly in the upcoming congressional session and probably throughout the 2012 election cycle. Indeed, with 60 percent of Republicans identifying themselves as supporters, these anti-government activists are well positioned to play the kingmaker as the party prepares to pick its presidential nominee — a dynamic that bodes well for movement favorites like Sarah Palin and not-so-well for establishment types like Mitt Romney.

But do you know who the true winner is if the Tea Party remains the stubbornly dominant political force in the Republican Party heading into 2012? Who stands to benefit most from a deeply divisive, Palin-like candidate?

Barack Obama. Ironic?

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Podcast: The Bachelorette, Eclipse, Isaac Russell and More

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Film, Music, TV

It’s with great pleasure that Rhombus introduces its third podcast — the Rhombus Roundtable. Featuring a variety of opinions on politics, pop culture, and everything in between, the Roundtable will serve as a regular series of discussions on the world’s latest happenings — all with that distinctive Rhombus slant.

This week, the magazine’s editor Steve Pierce and resident armchair economist Daniel Anderson contemplate the reigning hot topics of the day — including the most recent (and totally unexpected!) Bachelorette trainwreck, Eclipse‘s total dominance at the box office, local favorite Isaac Russell’s new major-label EP, and the greatest (and worst) American presidents. Enjoy!

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The Future Is Nuclear

Written by Jon Schwarzmann on . Posted in Tech

It’s been a very long time since I could say I liked Bill Gates, let alone agreed with him. But in a recent Ted Talk (thanks PopSci), he lauded the efforts of President Obama in pushing for a broader use of nuclear power and even supported the idea. Now, when two people with whom I vehemently disagree most of the time start talking about turning to nuclear power (something I have been saying for years), it deserves a look into why they’re saying it now — especially since these two VIPs come from very “green,” “save the world” backgrounds.

Nuclear power is a very old, very underused, and very misunderstood form of energy.  For 60 years the world was gripped by fear of a “nuclear holocaust,” and the impression this left on the  general psyche of humanity has been far from positive. Also, thanks to Soviet negligence at Chernobyl and American pride at Three Mile Island, actual nuclear plants have been painted as evil, unstable and not worth the “risk” by those of the tree-hugging nature. I’ve always found this opposition to such cheap, enviro-friendly power completely ridiculous. I’m no nuclear physicist (yet), but having studied this alternative numerous times over the past 10 years and followed new technologies introduced to the field, I have to proclaim myself to be well-informed on the matter.

READING LIST: March 31st

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Uncategorized

Day two of the revamped Rhombus Reading List and we’re still here. We’re cooking with gas now.

1) POLITICS: An intriguing (if more than a bit wishful) article speculating on favorite Mormon homeboy Mitt Romney’s uncanny fitness to oversee the implementation of President Obama’s new health care reform laws — you know, if he ever realized that he’s not all that talented at playing a politician. That being said, Romney would be uniquely qualified to oversee “Obamacare,” seeing as he passed a nearly identical law in Massachussetts during his time as governor. (Gasp!) An interesting thought to say the least. (Newsweek)

2) POLITICS: Chalk up another one for favorite Mormon homeboy #2 Glenn Beck and his merry band of loons. Just take a listen to this gem. It would be a great SNL parody if the guy wasn’t absolutely dead serious. (Think Progress)

3) TV: Tina Fey’s impression of Tracy Morgan is pretty much hilarious. “You look like you should be married to one of the San Diego Padres!” (YouTube)

4) TV: This is always a good question to ask oneself, especially if you have any interest whatsoever in that national singing competition on Fox that everyone seems to watch. (NY Mag)

5) MUSIC: As all good humans should know, Brooklyn bar-band extraordinaires The Hold Steady have a new album coming out on May 4th. The group’s fifth studio effort, entitled Heaven Is Whenever, will be their first since 2004′s Almost Killed Me not to feature (now former) keyboardist Franz Nicolay. Frontman Craig Finn has been quoted as saying the new record is more introspective and “less anthemic” as a result — but you would never know it from the album’s first single, “Hurricane J.” Go ahead and sing along. You know you want to. (Pitchfork)

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The Saga of Jim Matheson

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Anybody who attended the Utah Democratic Party’s caucuses this week is well aware of the anger that currently exists towards Jim Matheson, Democratic representative for Utah’s 2nd congressional district. He is the only Democrat representing Utah in Washington D.C., which is precisely why he has evoked this anger.

The primary reason for the fury is that many Democrats feel betrayed by Matheson, arguing that he ignores his base and votes like a Republican on many key issues. Most recently, he voted no on President Obama’s monumental health care reform bill. It was a close vote and represented, for many, a core principle the Democratic Party has been working to accomplish for decades. Needless to say, it was a controversial vote being that the bill passed by a slim margin of 219 to 212.

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Why Democrats Should Use Reconciliation

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

At the health care summit last week, nearly every Republican senator and congressman made clear their disapproval of using a process known as reconciliation to pass health care reform. Reconciliation is a process that is used for budgetary reasons in order to circumvent a filibuster and achieve a straight up-or-down vote. It helps needed budgetary bills move through Congress in a timelier manner. It has become somewhat of a hot-button issue due to the possible repercussions. Democrats fear using reconciliation would divide the House and the Senate or, in other words, Republicans would continue to vote no on every last thing Obama proposes. So really, there would be no repercussions.

The health care bill does, in fact, account for a large portion of the economy and would have a significant impact on the budget. Republicans actually back me up on this. By the Republicans persistent efforts, they have declared over and over again that health care accounts for a large part of the economy. At the health care summit last week, Lamar Alexander defiantly said that health care makes up roughly 17 percent of the economy and that we should not change it all at once. With that line of thought, reconciliation actually should be used in this case, right?