Posted on October 16, 2013 in Countdown
It’s All Fun and Games until the Economy Collapses
Washington’s nuclear-stakes game of “deal or no deal” might finally come to an end today, just hours before the Treasury Department says it the U.S. will run out of money to pay its bills. Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) just announced that they’ve agreed to a deal to reopen the government and raise the statutory debt ceiling, ending the ongoing government shutdown now in its third week and preventing an unprecedented and catastrophic default by the United States. The deal will fund the government through January 15, and the debt ceiling won’t need to be raised again until February 7. This is not ideal; it means we might have to play this useless game again in three months. But it lets furloughed federal employees go back to work, it reopens the national parks, and above all, it preserves the full faith and credit of the United States. This situation is incredibly fluid, and it’s still not clear whether Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will allow this bill to come to a vote in the House, or indeed, whether it would pass if he did. But at least as of now, with about eleven hours before the Treasury’s deadline, we might just have escaped yet again. Oh, and the Republicans got no changes to Obamacare, which was ostensibly their goal all along. Congress shut down the government, and took our economy hostage, apparently for nothing. Nice job, guys.
Division and Bigotry Emerging from Shutdown Goes Unchallenged
The most contentious political and social issues don’t always bring out the best in people. As a general rule, the longer any hot-button issue like the shutdown or the debt ceiling drags out, the more opportunity there is for extremist wings of each side come to the forefront. With the shutdown continuing into its third week that is exactly what is happening. This weekend at a rally billed the “Million Vet March on the Memorials,” an event attended by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sarah Palin, a Tea Party leader called on president Obama to get out of Washington and to “put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.” What was ostensibly meant to be a rally to protest the closing of the World War II memorial in light of the government shutdown devolved into a bigoted and downright racist mudslinging session. In addition to the Muslim-bashing that took place on the Mall, some protestors decided it would be a good idea to bring confederate flags along with them to the White House to protest the shutdown. For sure the frustration being voiced by these groups and individuals goes far beyond the immediate politics of the shutdown and speaks to a larger problem we’re seeing in the country. However, one has to assume that the majority of conservative protestors do not want to associate with bigoted rhetoric and symbols of division and hate, so we ask: where is the leadership? Why aren’t leaders on both sides of the aisle rebuking these unhelpful and potentially dangerous actions? There were some who passingly pushed back in public, but the vast majority failed to speak up and address an underlying question: This is the United States of America - so what if the president was Muslim? The only person to ask that question publicly was Colin Powell right before the President was first elected. But Gen. Powell can’t be the only one. Other prominent figures need to ask these questions and need to hold even members of their own party accountable for being present and not doing anything when this type of vitriol rears its ugly head. And to our friends in the media covering the bigotry, some unsolicited advice: make sure to ask Gen. Powell’s question. The answer will most certainly help expose the root of the problem.
Putin and Assad: The Peace Prize Laureates
The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons” on Friday. The OPCW, which gained prominence after international attention focused on the use of chemical weapons in Syria in August, is now front and center in the mission to make sure Syria complies with the Chemical Weapons Convention on a very tight timetable. The UN Security Council wants all units in Syria destroyed by November 1. Most of the work itself is being carried out by the Syrian army, under the supervision of the OPCW, which sent nineteen workers to Damascus in early October and expects around 100 workers to eventually be involved. As one news source claimed, for the OPCW, winning the Nobel Peace Prize appears to be the easy part. Meanwhile, Al Akhbar, a Syria-friendly Lebanese newspaper, reported that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad “jokingly” said he should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s hard to make this stuff up – now, Russia’s President Vladmir Putin has been nominated for the prize because of his involvement in brokering the deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. You’re not laughing yet? Well, neither is The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. Just last Tuesday, Stewart was left speechless after an incredible interview with European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought winner, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and education activist Malala Yousafzai, who has continued her activism despite having been shot in the head in an assassination attempt by the Taliban last year. Now that’s someone we can get behind.
“USA Freedom Act” Might Actually Bring Back Some Freedom
Usually when we hear about a law with a catchy name, we assume it’ll be bad. Think the “USA PATRIOT Act”; the “Protect America Act,” which expanded domestic surveillance; or the “Keep Terrorists Out of America Act,” which requires the law-free detention center at Guantanamo to stay open (we’re not making any of these names up). But we can’t help but be excited about this new proposal – the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet Collection, and Online Monitoring Act – or, more simply, the USA FREEDOM Act. It reins in the surveillance excesses practiced by the National Security Agency (NSA). The bill’s sponsors are an unlikely pair: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a staunch civil libertarian; and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), a strong conservative who helped author the original Patriot Act back in 2001. The bill ends the bulk data collection that the NSA was revealed to have been practicing this summer, and returns us to the common-sense principle that private information can only be disclosed in connection with a specific investigation into terrorism. The proposal also increases transparency – which everyone should agree is a good idea when we’re talking about the balance between liberty and security – and it closes a number of loopholes that have led to bulk data collection. The bill is still in draft form, and we’ll have more on it when we get more specific language, but for now, it looks like the USA Freedom Act just might bring some freedom to the USA.
Political Impasse and Unrest in Egypt, Tunisia, and the US Juxtaposed
Two polls, one from Gallup, and one conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) released late last week show that the government shutdown and looming debt ceiling crises are taking a large toll on the public’s view of the government. It’s not surprising that the public is peeved given the current political impasse we’re facing in Congress, but we were shocked (and grimly amused) to notice incredibly disturbing similarities between American attitudes and those we found among Egyptians and Tunisians earlier this year before their respective governments fell. Here are a couple of striking comparisons: in Both Egypt and Tunisia, the Ruling parties before their willful or forced removal from power had a 28% favorable rating. Today, Republicans, according the Gallup poll, also have a 28% approval rating. The NBC/WSJ poll gives them 24%. Ouch! In Tunisia when we polled, two-thirds of respondents said they thought their country was moving in the wrong direction. In the NBC/WSJ poll, nearly eight out of ten said they believed the country was seriously off track. Now, of course, we’re not suggesting that our government will collapse, and we’re certainly not calling for marches to demand that the Pentagon take over Congress. We recognize the distinctions between the US, Tunisia and Egypt – but with numbers this low, something has got to give.