In the twelve hapless years of the present millennium, we have looked on as three great bubbles of consensus vanity have inflated and burst, each with consequences more dire than the last.
First there was the “New Economy,” a millennial fever dream predicated on the twin ideas of a people’s stock market and an eternal silicon prosperity; it collapsed eventually under the weight of its own fatuousness.
Second was the war in Iraq, an endeavor whose launch depended for its success on the turpitude of virtually every class of elite in Washington, particularly the tough-minded men of the media; an enterprise that destroyed the country it aimed to save and that helped to bankrupt our nation as well.
And then, Wall Street blew up the global economy. Empowered by bank deregulation and regulatory capture, Wall Street enlisted those tough-minded men of the media again to sell the world on the idea that financial innovations were making the global economy more stable by the minute. Central banks puffed an asset bubble like the world had never seen before, even if every journalist worth his byline was obliged to deny its existence until it was too late.
These episodes were costly and even disastrous, and after each one had run its course and duly exploded, I expected some sort of day of reckoning for their promoters. And, indeed, the last two disasters combined to force the Republican Party from its stranglehold on American government—for a time.
But what rankles now is our failure, after each of these disasters, to come to terms with how we were played. Each separate catastrophe should have been followed by a wave of apologies and resignations; taken together—and given that a good percentage of the pundit corps signed on to two or even three of these idiotic storylines—themy mandated mass firings in the newsrooms and op-ed pages of the nation. Quicker than you could say “Ahmed Chalabi,” an entire generation of newsroom fools should have lost their jobs.
But that’s not what happened. Plenty of journalists have been pushed out of late, but the ones responsible for deluding the public are not among them. Neocon extraordinaire Bill Kristol won a berth at the New York Times (before losing it again), Charles Krauthammer is still the thinking conservative’s favorite, George Will drones crankily on, Thomas Friedman remains our leading dispenser of nonsense neologisms, and Niall Ferguson wipes his feet on a welcome mat that will never wear out. The day Larry Kudlow apologizes for slagging bubble-doubters as part of a sinister left-wing trick is the day the world will start spinning in reverse. Standard & Poor’s first leads the parade of folly (triple-A’s for everyone!), then decides to downgrade U.S. government debt, and is taken seriously in both endeavors. And the prospect of Fox News or CNBC apologizing for their role in puffing war bubbles and financial bubbles is no better than a punch line: what they do is the opposite, launching new movements that stamp their crumbled fables “true” by popular demand. [++]
We think of lawmakers having one job: making laws. But there’s a second job most lawmakers have to do. And it’s a big job.
“I think most Americans would be shocked — not surprised, but shocked — if they knew how much time a United States senator spends raising money,” says Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. “And how much time we spend talking about raising money, and thinking about raising money, and planning to raise money.”
And this second job — the raising-money job — doesn’t happen in the nice congressional offices, with the rugs on the floor and landscape paintings on the wall. That would be against the rules.
So senators and congressmen go across the street to private rooms in nongovernmental buildings, where they make call after call, asking people for money.
In other words, most of our lawmakers are moonlighting as telemarketers.
The fundraising never stops, because everyone needs money to run for re-election. In the House, the candidate with more money wins in 9 out of 10 races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics. In the Senate, it’s 8 out of 10.
It’s not uncommon for congressmen to average three or four hours moonlighting as telemarketers. One lawmaker told me if it was the end of the quarter and he really needed to make his numbers, he’d be there all day long.
There’s not always time to do both jobs. And often, the fundraising wins out over the lawmaking.
So… set amount of money for every candidate (that polls high enough) and that’s all they get to spend on an election?
House Republicans have passed the Paul Ryan budget resolution, a sweeping plan that slashes long-term mandatory spending, goes under the discretionary spending targets set by the debt limit deal, cuts taxes for the rich and corporations, changes Medicare to a voucher program, eliminates Pell grants for hundreds of thousands of students, and generally authorizes just about every conservative wet dream you can name. And after all that, Ryan’s budget doesn’t even balance until 2040, because it’s nearly impossible to do so without anything on the revenue side.
The vote was relatively close, with the budget passing 228-191. Ten Republicans voted against the budget resolution, up from four last year. Here they are:
Walter Jones (NC), Jimmy Duncan (TN), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Chris Gibson (NY), Justin Amash (MI), Todd Platts (PA), Ed Whitfield (KY), David McKinley (WV), Denny Rehberg (MT), Joe Barton (TX).
Not too many of those votes are because the budget wasn’t conservative enough: that explains Huelskamp, Amash and maybe Barton. The others face tough re-election battles, or in the case of Rehberg are running for Senate in Montana. Walter Jones is just idiosyncratic. But I agree with Dave Weigel, 10 Republicans out of 238 isn’t that many, considering they’ve opened themselves up yet again to charges of ending Medicare as we know it (regardless of what Politifact says).
Georgians who lose their jobs next year could see fewer unemployment checks under a bill passed by the state Senate. Supporters say it will help re-pay $700 million Georgia borrowed from the federal government to cover unemployment reserves.
The bill would cut the amount of benefits jobless workers receive by as much as half. And it would mandate a one-week waiting period before workers start collecting benefits.
“For more than a decade, Georgia basically cut unemployment insurance taxes that employers were paying, even when times were good,” Richie said in an interview in December. “And in fact in the period from 2000 to 2003 virtually all employers paid no unemployment insurance tax.”
As a result, she says the state depleted more than half of a $2 billion reserve. The fund would have had more money if the state had then followed through with planned increases in the unemployment insurance taxes companies pay.
“It’s just important to understand we don’t have a spending problem in the state when it comes to unemployment insurance,” she said. “We have a revenue problem.”