Here's the puzzle of America today: the plutocrats have never been richer, and their economic power continues to grow, but the populists, the wilder the better, are taking over. The rise of the political extremes is most evident, of course, in the domination of the Republican Party by the Tea Party and in the astonishing ability of this small group to shut down the American government. But the centrists are losing out in more genteel political battles on the left, too — that is the story of Bill de Blasio’s dark-horse surge to the mayoralty in New York, and of the Democratic president’s inability to push through his choice to run the Federal Reserve, Lawrence H. Summers.Putting the Tea Party destructionists on par with de Blasio's positive campaign and Summer's lack of support from... well, anyone, smacks of trying very hard to see the world in neat primary colors. The argument that the Tea Party has morphed from wholly plutocratic AstroTurf into a realio trulio populist movement also seems more than a bit suspect when the Tea Party's goals have been, and still are, those of the people funding the star-spangled bus. Even so, there are some things here I'd certainly like to believe.
The limits of plutocratic politics, at both ends of the ideological spectrum, are being tested. That’s a surprise. Political scientists like Larry M. Bartels and Martin Gilens have documented the frightening degree to which, in America, more money means a more effective political voice: Democratic and Republican politicians are more likely to agree with the views of their wealthier constituents and to listen to them than they are to those lower down the income scale. Money also drives political engagement: Citizens United, which removed some restrictions on political spending, strengthened these trends.In a sense, it's the Koch brothers vs. you, and there are encouraging signs that perhaps David really can put a dent in the forehead of Goliath. This is your "read it all" choice for this fall back morning.
Why are the plutocrats, with their great wealth and a political system more likely to listen to them anyway, losing some control to the populists? The answer lies in the particular nature of plutocratic political power in the 21st century and its limitations in a wired mass democracy.
You did remember to fall back, right? That means you set your clocks one hour... uh, one hour...
Anyway, come on in and see what the rest of punditry has to say.
Dana Milbank shows that, if nothing else, the Tea Party is a great force for chaos.
If Ken Cuccinelli II loses his bid to be the next governor of Virginia on Tuesday, as polls suggest he will, the date of the Republican defeat will be traced back to May 18.See, I have a bit of a problem calling any group populist when so many of their actions—from no vote primaries, to restrictive voter ID, to stomping the 17th amendment—are intended to disenfranchise the populace.
That was the day the commonwealth’s Republican Party took what had been a sure thing and instead allowed the tea party to give the Democrats an opening.
Supporters of Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, had scrapped the GOP gubernatorial primary, which probably would have resulted in the nomination of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a mainstream conservative who likely would have cruised to victory.
But Cuccinelli’s supporters forced the party to cut the electorate out of the process, replacing the primary with a convention. There, a smaller number of tea party activists handed the nomination to Cuccinelli, a man so conservative he had supported legislation that would have allowed the banning of the pill and other forms of birth control.
Kathleen Parker has some advice to her own party going into the next cycle of elections.
Ms. Know-It-All, the anonymous political advice columnist whose identity remains a popular Georgetown cocktail party guessing game, is known to live up to her title now and then. Herewith a correspondence worth sharing.Ah yes, a call to the GOP to be grown up and reasonable. I have another correspondence in mind: Dear Kathleen, there is a leak in the dike. Might you lend a finger?
Dear Ms. Know-It-All:
It appears the witch Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to run for president. It makes my skin crawl to think of her and that husband of hers back in our White House, not to mention that they are Marxists like Obama and want to turn us into Sweden, for God’s sake. It’s not too soon for Republicans to marshal our forces for a little shock and awe when the Hildebeast finally announces. How can we stop her?
Signed, A proud, God-fearing, right-wing wacko bird.
Thank you for what seems to be your sincere interest in participating in our country’s health and welfare. And thanks, too, for contacting me, because you need to hear what I have to say. You might want to sit down for this. If you’re on anti-anxiety medication, all the better. ...
To the larger point, you must stop witchifying this woman. She has one of the best résumés in the country, certainly compared to anyone who might challenge her. This doesn’t speak to her personality, which seems to aggravate a certain kind of male, or to her involvement with issues that have inspired legitimate criticism. But in hurling personal insults, you are hurting only yourself. The bully always looks worse than the bullied. In so doing, you not only seem juvenile but also look petty and bereft of substantive arguments. While you consider this assessment, imagine how much Hillary must welcome such school-yard taunts.
P.S. I'm trying not to feel rather happy about the fact that I did not even know there was a "Ms. Know-It-All." Not enough Georgetown cocktail parties, I suppose.
Ross Douthat compares casino gambling and marijuana legalization to the recent improvements in gay rights because, you know, sin.
Consider two issues: casino gambling and marijuana. We’re used to the idea that attitudes on a controversy like gay marriage have changed with unprecedented speed. But both casinos and pot have gone mainstream over the last generation at a similarly remarkable pace.Not surprisingly, Douthat quickly shifts to "cultural changes are evil" mode, pointing out the destructiveness of gambling in particular and waving a finger at liberals. Just as unsurprising, Douthat never owns up to the central role that Republicans have played not just in supporting casino gambling, but driving states to it by passing tax reductions whose revenues are supposedly offset by casino dollars.
In 1990, casino gambling was still concentrated in Nevada and Atlantic City. ... Today 23 states have commercial casinos, and the old model of casino-going as a what-happens-in-Vegas excursion has given way to casino-going as routine entertainment. ...
The marijuana revolution is arguably not so far advanced, since only two states, Washington and Colorado, are experimenting with outright legalization. ... public opinion on the issue has shifted about as fast as it has on gay marriage — from 32 percent support for legalization in 2002 to 58 percent in the latest Gallup poll.
There are significant differences in the ways gambling and pot have won America. The spread of casinos has been more of a top-down phenomenon, driven by states seeking revenue and an industry that’s free with campaign contributions. The permissive turn on marijuana has been a more (if you will) grass-roots affair — driven by activists and artists, influenced by empathy for the terminally ill, and hastened by public exhaustion with the drug war.
Nicholas Kristof tries to point out that behind the health care fight is... health care.
The biggest health care crisis in America right now is not the inexcusably messy rollout of Obamacare.The New York Times editorial board talks about those so-called Obamacare "losers."
No, far more serious is the kind of catastrophe facing people like Richard Streeter, 47, a truck driver and recreational vehicle repairman in Eugene, Ore. His problem isn’t Obamacare, but a tumor in his colon that may kill him because Obamacare didn’t come quite soon enough.
Streeter had health insurance for decades, but beginning in 2008 his employer no longer offered it as an option. ... Because he didn’t have health insurance, he put off going to the doctor. ... By September, Streeter couldn’t stand the pain any longer ...
Streeter made the 100-mile drive to Dr. Gibson’s office in McMinnville, Ore. — and received devastating news. Dr. Gibson had found advanced colon cancer.
“It was heartbreaking to see the pain on his face,” Dr. Gibson told me. “It got me very angry with people who insist that Obamacare is a train wreck, when the real train wreck is what people are experiencing every day because they can’t afford care.”
Dr. Gibson says that Streeter is the second patient he has had this year who put off getting medical attention because of lack of health insurance and now has advanced colon cancer.
So, to those Republicans protesting Obamacare: You’re right that there are appalling problems with the website, but they will be fixed. Likewise, you’re right that President Obama misled voters when he said that everyone could keep their insurance plan because that’s now manifestly not true (although they will be able to get new and better plans, sometimes for less money).
But how about showing empathy also for a far larger and more desperate group: The nearly 50 million Americans without insurance who play health care Russian roulette as a result. FamiliesUSA, a health care advocacy group that supports Obamacare, estimated last year that an American dies every 20 minutes for lack of insurance.
Congressional Republicans have stoked consumer fears and confusion with charges that the health care reform law is causing insurers to cancel existing policies and will force many people to pay substantially higher premiums next year for coverage they don’t want. That, they say, violates President Obama’s pledge that if you like the insurance you have, you can keep it. ...Since we're still dealing with our own run through the healthcare gauntlet, I have a deep appreciation for the cost of being uninsured. An example that arrived in my mailbox just yesterday is a charge for a single round of medical imaging: $10,900. Discount given the insurance company: $10,400. What the insurance company actually paid: $400. What we paid in the end: $100. What we would have had to pay had we not had insurance: $10,900. Immorality implicit in these numbers: priceless.
But insurers are not allowed to abandon enrollees. They must offer consumers options that do comply with the law, and they are scrambling to retain as many of their customers as possible with new policies that are almost certain to be more comprehensive than their old ones.
Indeed, in all the furor, people forget how terrible many of the soon-to-be-abandoned policies were. Some had deductibles as high as $10,000 or $25,000 and required large co-pays after that, and some didn’t cover hospital care.
Francis Clines reminds us that an awful anniversary is approaching.
“Every day in this first year is a very difficult journey,” said Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son Daniel was one of the 20 schoolchildren slain last December here in the Sandy Hook shooting massacre. “And with the anniversary of the tragedy coming up, it seems to be getting more difficult.”This national poking a finger into a still raw would might be slightly more forgivable were it accompanied by the slightest sign that we'd done something to prevent more such tragedies.
This is plainly so. The town was roiled anew by a newspaper article last month based on interviews with anonymous law enforcement workers offering fresh and painful details on the six-minute, 154-round onslaught from a troubled 20-year-old who murdered six adults as well with an assault rifle. A promised official state report on the shootings, which residents find puzzlingly overdue, will rake the emotional trauma again when it eventually comes out.
The town is discovering what all scenes of American mass gun tragedy ultimately learn: the suffering lingers long and even compounds within communities yearning for recovery. The local Newtown Bee newspaper put it this way: “On some days it seems like the great tragedy Newtown suffered on 12/14 has created its own ever-expanding universe, surging out from a big bang amplified by cameras and microphones to places unknown.”
Fred Pearce details how, despite climate change denier claims that increases in temperature can be blamed on the sun, we're actually in for a solar chill.
The sun's activity is in free fall, according to a leading space physicist. But don't expect a little ice age. "Solar activity is declining very fast at the moment," Mike Lockwood, professor of space environmental physics at Reading University, UK, told New Scientist. "We estimate faster than at any time in the last 9300 years."So perhaps the only thing saving us from even more drastic changes in temperature at the moment is a fortuitous decline in solar activity. Only... what happens when it ends?
Lockwood and his colleagues are reassessing the chances of this decline continuing over decades to become the first "grand solar minimum" for four centuries. During a grand minimum the normal 11-year solar cycle is suppressed and the sun has virtually no sunspots for several decades. This summer should have seen a peak in the number of sunspots, but it didn't happen.
Lockwood thinks there is now a 25 per cent chance of a repetition of the last grand minimum, the late 17th century Maunder Minimum, when there were no sunspots for 70 years. ... The Maunder Minimum coincided with the worst European winters of the little ice age, a period lasting centuries when several regions around the globe experienced unusual cooling. Tree ring studies suggest it cooled the northern hemisphere by up to 0.4 °C.
"Mike is probably right that there is a chance of the sun returning to a level of activity similar to the Maunder Minimum," says atmospheric physicist Joanna Haigh of Imperial College. But she adds: "Even under the most optimistic scenario [of minimal global warming and a deep solar minimum] the solar cooling would only just offset greenhouse gas warming. So no ice age."
It is more likely that it will simply reduce the warming a little, and set us up for greater warming if it receded.