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E.J. Dionne at The Washington Post inquires—Is the GOP giving up tea?

The botched rollout of the health-care law has called forth some good news: Republicans are so confident they can ride anti-Obamacare sentiment to electoral victory that they’re growing ever-more impatient with the tea party’s fanaticism. Immigration reform may be the result. [...]

Obamacare’s troubles reinforced the flight from the brink. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is telling his rank-and-file that they can win the 2014 elections simply by avoiding the stupid mistakes their more-ferocious colleagues keep urging them to make. In this view, the health insurance issue will take care of everything, provided Republicans end their tea party fling.

In fact, it’s an illusion for the GOP to think that bashing Obamacare is an elixir, especially if Democrats embrace and defend the law. Now that its benefits are fully kicking in, Republicans should be asked persistently, “Who do you want to throw off health insurance?”

Douglas K. Smith at The New York Times writes A New Way to Rein in Fat Cats:
We should then enact laws to ensure that top-paid federal executives — and, critically, top-paid executives of companies that do business with the federal government — are never paid in excess of 20-to-1 (or perhaps even 27-to-1) compared with their lowest-paid workers.

Perhaps we could start with companies that bid on contracts (or receive no-bid contracts) above some threshold. Here are some recent top federal contractors and what Bloomberg News estimates as the ratio of top pay to the average worker’s: Oracle, 1,287-to-1; General Electric, 491-to-1; AT&T, 339-to-1; and Lockheed Martin, 315-to-1.

Common sense and tradition point to limits for those in government. It is our money, after all

Common sense, you may have noticed, is increasingly uncommon.

More pundit excerpts can be found below the fold.


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Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic writes—Farewell to Henry Waxman, a Liberal Hero:

For most lawmakers, a congressional legacy consists of a few minor achievements—or, maybe, one major piece of legislation. Waxman’s legacy is whole swaths of the modern welfare and regulatory state. The list of laws for which he deserves substantial credit is simply staggering—not only for its length, but also for its breadth. Waxman was behind the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, plus laws regulating lead, greenhouse gas emissions, and formaldehyde. That arguably makes him his generation’s most influential lawmaker on environmental issues.

He was also behind a series of Medicaid expansions, the Ryan White Care Act, the Orphan Drug Act, the Waxman-Hatch Generic Drug Act, and, of course, the Affordable Care Act. That almost certainly makes him the most influential living lawmaker on health care issues. Other major accomplishments include the Food Quality Protection Act and the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act—and, somewhere along the way, he found time to modernize the postal service.

What makes Waxman’s record particularly remarkable is how much of it he compiled when his party didn’t control the White House. “Note, for example, that the Medicaid expansions that got all pregnant women and all children covered occurred during the Reagan Administration," says Timothy Westmoreland, a longtime advisor on health care issues. "Note also the development of his close working relationship with C. Everett Koop, who arrived in Washington as an anti-abortion activist.”

How has Waxman done it? For one thing, Waxman recognizes that lawmaking requires patience and persistence—that you have to build the case for legislation, through investigations and stagecraft, even if that takes years or even decades.

Ana Marie Cox at The Guardian writes—The president should be talking about guns (and gun control) a lot more.:
I understand that Obama has vowed to do what he can to limit access to guns "with or without" Congress, but it's clear that his administration sees mass shootings as their best leverage to accomplish the more substantial changes that come with new federal regulation. It's equally clear that it isn't working. I have some suggestions for a shift in emphasis.

Perhaps the White House believes the deaths of children are the most sympathetic emotional wedge. Fine. If you look at the data, Obama should have been talking about gun control legislation in the Senate twice a day, as 215 children died in the 99 days the Senate was in session last year. As many have argued, Americans are becoming numb to gun violence. If it's the scale of a tragedy that might inspire Congress, the murder of, say, three or more, then he should have hammered at them about once every two and half hours, the entire year. Over 12,000 people, adults and children, died from gun violence in 2013 – about 30 a day.

Zoë Carpenter at The Nation writes that the State Department's Environmental Report Leaves the Door Open for Keystone XL:
While the EIS does not lay out a clear reason to reject the pipeline, neither does it deny the environmental implications of the project completely. The report affirmed a previous finding that oil produced from tar sands produces about 17 percent more greenhouse gas pollution when burned, compared to traditional crude. Jones said it would be “a bit of an oversimplification” to conclude from the report that KXL would have no impact on climate change. Jones also acknowledged that the report’s assumptions about oil markets are “uncertain and changeable.”

One figure we’re likely to hear cited by proponents of the pipeline is 42,100. That’s the number of temporary jobs the pipeline is expected to generate, according to the report. However, the more significant number is fifty. According to the EIS, that’s how many people would still have a job once construction ends in a year or two.

Tim McDonnell at Mother Jones writes—Only Obama Can Block the Keystone Pipeline Now:
The report says the annual carbon emissions from producing, refining, and burning the oil the pipeline would move (830,000 barrels per day) would add up to 147-168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. (By contrast, the typical coal-fired power plant produces 3.5 million metric tons of CO2 annually.) That sounds like a lot, but the report comes with an important caveat:

Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.

In other words, according to the report, those emissions are likely to happen whether the president approves Keystone XL or not. That's an important distinction, given that President Obama has already said that in order to gain approval, the pipeline must not increase carbon emissions.

The Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times concludes Keystone XL, a sorry symbol of a continued reliance on fossil fuels:
The report is bad news for environmentalists, who had taken heart from President Obama's pledge last year to base his decision regarding Keystone XL on whether the pipeline would be a significant contributor to global warming. The report paves the way for his approval.

But approval would be premature at best. Running side by side with the State Department's largely rosy assessments have been continuing concerns by the Environmental Protection Agency that State is giving short shrift to some of the potential dangers — especially leaks that could foul groundwater or wilderness areas. TransCanada, the company proposing to build the pipeline, has a bad record when it comes to pipeline spills, and the EPA has raised concerns not just about possible effects on groundwater but also about emissions at the refining end of the journey, in the Gulf. The oil does little if anything for U.S. energy security; gasoline consumption has been declining in the United States, and much of this oil would be for export in any case.

Obama should place heavy emphasis on what EPA scientists are telling him; these are the nation's top experts on the environment. And even if the Canadian tar sands extraction would not be, by itself, a devastating new source of greenhouse gases, the Keystone XL would be a sorry symbol of the world's continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal [free link] seems to have forgotten the "spectacle of delusion" during the State of the Union addresses of the Bush years in a pathetic rant called Meanwhile, Back in America.... Not that her criticisms of the devolution of SOTU addresses were totally off the mark. Just that they are hardly exclusive to the current administration or a product of Democrats:
The State of the Union was a spectacle of delusion and self-congratulation in which a Congress nobody likes rose to cheer a president nobody really likes. It marked the continued degeneration of a great and useful tradition. Viewership was down, to the lowest level since 2000. This year's innovation was the Parade of Hacks. It used to be the networks only showed the president walking down the aisle after his presence was dramatically announced. Now every cabinet-level officeholder marches in, shaking hands and high-fiving with breathless congressmen. And why not? No matter how bland and banal they may look, they do have the power to destroy your life – to declare the house you just built as in violation of EPA wetland regulations, to pull your kid's school placement, to define your medical coverage out of existence. So by all means attention must be paid and faces seen.
Ruth Conniff at The Progressive writes—Republicans Are Advancing Their War on Public Education:
"Every hero needs an enemy, and someone made the decision that public educators are going to be the enemy," moderate Republican State Senator Dale Schultz of Wisconsin observed.

Shultz announced this week that he is stepping down, taking with him the last shred of sanity in Wisconsin's Republican Party.

Schultz, who describes himself as "center right," earned the enmity of his party's leaders—and an aggressive primary challenge—when he refused to support Gov. Scott Walker's attack on teachers. He didn't go along when Walker ended public employees' collective bargaining rights, or when state Republicans decided to subvert environmental regulations and local control on behalf of the Gogebic Taconite mining company.

Richard D. Wolff at Truthout writes—Political Corruption and Capitalism:
One structural way to reduce corruption would be to democratize enterprises, to reorganize them such that the workers collectively direct the enterprises. Such an economic democratization would render all aspects of the relationship between enterprise and government transparent to all enterprise employees and thereby to a larger public. Hiding and disguising corruption would be much more difficult. Compliance with regulations and laws prohibiting the corruption of officials would likely find at least some support among democratized enterprises' decision makers. Those enterprises would require open discussion and majority decision-making. Minorities could more easily acquire the knowledge needed to criticize and influence decisions and thus to prevent or reduce using enterprises' net revenues to corrupt government officials.  
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