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Mock Kabuki scene with Tea Party members
This week... Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev on America, the security state... the New York Times points to 2014 as the year of corrupt elections... Fareed Zakaria says both side don't do it... Dana Milbank gives a blow by blow account of Ted Cruz' latest attempt to scuttle the ship of state... Kathleen Parker merges poetry and fairy tales to make mud... and Edward Frenkel says it's math all the way down.

Frank Bruni on the difference between what Republicans in the House do, what they say, and what they want.

Over in the House, Republican leaders brought the lifting of the debt ceiling to a vote so that they and a smattering of their party colleagues could pass the measure with the help of nearly all of the Democrats. You might naïvely wonder how this wouldn’t estrange the leaders from their caucus. But you’d be failing to take into account that many members of that caucus wanted the measure to succeed, recognizing that this was in the nation’s interest, but wanted at the same time to vote no, so as not to draw attacks from party extremists. In Congress, this isn’t considered a contradiction. It’s not even considered undignified. It’s considered canny self-preservation. (You serve, above all, to get re-elected.) The phenomenon is common enough that in a recent story in The Times, my colleagues Ashley Parker and Jonathan Weisman assigned it a name: Vote No, Hope Yes.
That was just one act of of the play. Another act was carried out on the Senate side of the Hill.
In a given chamber of Congress, the majority party usually takes responsibility for raising the debt ceiling, while the minority is permitted to balk and rail theatrically about wanton government spending. In fact Barack Obama did such balking and railing when he was in the Democratic minority of the Senate. Now Democrats run the show there, and they were poised to provide the necessary support to get the ceiling lifted. But the inimitable and irrepressible Ted Cruz insisted on a 60-vote threshold to allow the measure to be taken up, and getting past this hurdle required at least five Republicans to side with Democrats.

If the Republicans in the Senate had really cared to doom the measure, this was their big chance. But their true and ardent desire was to appear adamantly opposed without being so, and thus to appease party loudmouths without actually letting those loudmouths get their way.

Republicans have now gone well beyond the point where they can be seen as helping the United States government to function in any way. Otherwise, they're in for an all too likely challenge from the Tea Party faithful, who are standing by to attack at the first hint of civility, cooperation, or just plain common sense. On the other hand, Republicans are all too familiar with what happens if they actually stick by their tea bags and force a government shut-down.

So they solution they've come up with is to pretend to be opposed, while helping the government keep running. This is not only one of the silliest situations any group of politicians have found themselves in, it also shows just how smart they really think their Tea Party supporters actually are. (Hint for Tea Party readers: the answer is "not very.")

Come on in.  Let's see what the rest of the pundits are thinking.

Fareed Zakaria is tired of the "both sides do it" narrative.

I have been described as a centrist. And I freely admit to believing that neither side of the political spectrum has a monopoly on wisdom or virtue. But sometimes, reality points firmly in one direction. Watching the machinations in Washington over the past two weeks, it is now impossible to talk about how both political parties are to blame for the country’s gridlock.

Consider what just happened on immigration, an issue ripe for resolution. ... The leadership of the Republican Party in Congress talked about a comprehensive reform package that would create a lengthy waiting time for citizenship — 13 years — and couple this with tougher enforcement. Most Democrats were willing to accept this compromise.

But it became clear to the GOP leadership that even this would be unacceptable for many tea party Republicans. So, on Jan. 30, party leaders circulated a new proposal that took away any prospect of a special path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, no matter how long they waited. Instead, these people would merely be given legal documents allowing them to work and pay taxes. This was a huge concession to tea party activists and seemed unlikely to go anywhere. Democrats had been firmly against the concept of permanent second-class status for illegal immigrants. A majority of the public opposes it as well.

But within a few days, President Obama took the opportunity of an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper to say he was “encouraged” by the proposal. ... Every Democrat I spoke with hated the idea, for moral and political reasons. Most were surprised by Obama’s concession. So what happened? A few days later, House Speaker John Boehner stood in front of the media and explained that even his new plan was a nonstarter and immigration reform was dead.

The other half of having to pretend you're opposed to things you want to pass? Having to pretend to support things you really want to fail. Republicans have zero interest in passing an actual immigration plan. They only want to blow enough smoke that it dents the ability of Democrats to use it as an issue.

Dana Milbank puts a price tag on Cruz's latest stunt.

Very few Americans know how close the country came to catastrophe this week.

The final tally shows that the Senate voted by a wide margin Wednesday, 67 to 31, to break Sen. Ted Cruz’s filibuster of an increase in the debt limit, thus avoiding a default on the United States’ full faith and credit.

But 15 minutes after the voting should have ended, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had apparently secured only two of the five Republican votes he needed to join all 55 members of the Democratic caucus to pass the measure. He raised three fingers in the air and worked his way among his members but was met with folded arms and shakes of the head. Looking queasy, he patted his thigh nervously and drummed his fingers. In the hubbub, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) knocked a full glass of water and coaster from McConnell’s desk to the floor.

Democrats, watching the spectacle, took the extraordinary step of ordering the Senate clerk not to read aloud the ongoing vote tally to avoid setting off a market panic; because the House had already left on a two-week recess, a failure of this vote would have left little chance of avoiding default on Feb. 27, when the Treasury was to run out of funds.

And what has Cruz's latest experiment in Tea Party roulette earned his party?
The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page dubbed Cruz “the Minority Maker” for making his GOP colleagues “walk the plank” on a “meaningless debt ceiling vote.”

But Cruz doesn’t care about all that. Leaving the chamber, he told reporters McConnell’s fate would be “ultimately a decision . . . for the voters in Kentucky.”

His actions suggest Cruz has put himself before his party and even the nation’s solvency. And in this sense his actions are typical of the 2016 GOP presidential field. Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul are mucking up the gears of government in ways that will earn them favorable attention in the primaries.

Ted Cruz would be amusing, if it wasn't for that thing where he was the greatest threat to the global economy and operation of the government since Phil Gramm.

Douthat is off whining about the perils of being a parent, while Dowd is shaking a finger at the French. So they've joined George Will this week in the "pointless space filler" category.

Doyle McManus thinks that only nearly causing a catastrophe demonstrates a new found maturity on the part of the Tea Party.

Ever since a wave of conservative insurgents arrived in Washington after the congressional election of 2010, Congress has careened from one tea party-inspired fiscal crisis to another, from the debt-ceiling showdown of 2011 to last year's 16-day government shutdown.

But last week, when the debt ceiling needed to be raised again, conservative Republicans decided not to fight. They still voted no, but they meekly stood aside to let the ceiling rise.

"You've got to know when to hold them and when to fold them," Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who once reigned as chair of the House Tea Party Caucus, explained to the Washington Post. "Now is not the time to fight."

Could it be that the tea party is growing up?

Yes, that was Doyle McManus citing Michelle Bachmann as the voice of wisdom. And no, 6AM is not too early to take a drink.

The New York Times editorial board sits down at the Super PAC trough.

If you need something out of Washington and want to give a satchel of cash to a political candidate, no need to give it directly to the candidate. Federal law limits those contributions to $2,600 anyway. The thing to do is to give the money to the candidate’s “super PAC,” where no limits apply, to pay for attack ads against the candidate’s opponent.

That’s the path chosen by John Childs, a private-equity investor, who gave $250,000 to Senator Mitch McConnell’s super PAC, Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. (Could it have anything to do with Mr. McConnell’s staunch opposition to a tax increase on hedge fund managers, favored by President Obama and Democrats?) Joseph Craft, a billionaire coal executive, gave $100,000, and Donald Trump gave $50,000 to the same group.

Naturally, Mr. McConnell’s Democratic opponent in the Kentucky Senate race, Alison Lundergan Grimes, set up her own super PAC, We Are Kentucky, to attract money from those on the left who would love to oust the Senate minority leader. The United Auto Workers gave it $100,000, as did the big plumbing and pipe-fitting union.

This election year will be the moment when individual candidate super PACs — a form of legalized bribery — become a truly toxic force in American politics. The giant ideological super PACs formed by political operatives like Karl Rove spent hundreds of millions in 2012, but didn’t produce the conservative revolution demanded by the big donors. So now the torrent of cash is heading toward smaller groups set up to promote a single candidate or, more often, to trash that candidate’s opponent.

Why is it that even the New York Times insists on treating the UAW, an organization that reflects the interests of almost 400,000 members, in the same breath as the funds given by a single billionaire? Oh, I remember: because balance insists that we always mention political donations by unions any time we have a story on how money is corrupting politics. Sure, okay. Carry on.
This election year will be the moment when individual candidate super PACs — a form of legalized bribery — become a truly toxic force in American politics. The giant ideological super PACs formed by political operatives like Karl Rove spent hundreds of millions in 2012, but didn’t produce the conservative revolution demanded by the big donors. So now the torrent of cash is heading toward smaller groups set up to promote a single candidate or, more often, to trash that candidate’s opponent.
Yep, I agree with that. I just don't agree that a group of auto workers giving a quarter each is equivalent to an investment banker plunking down a quarter of a million.

Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev warn that the money you spend on security, is money lost to better pursuits.

Another dubious first for America: We now employ as many private security guards as high school teachers — over one million of them, or nearly double their number in 1980.

And that’s just a small fraction of what we call “guard labor.” In addition to private security guards, that means police officers, members of the armed forces, prison and court officials, civilian employees of the military, and those producing weapons: a total of 5.2 million workers in 2011. That is a far larger number than we have of teachers at all levels.

What is happening in America today is both unprecedented in our history, and virtually unique among Western democratic nations. The share of our labor force devoted to guard labor has risen fivefold since 1890 — a year when, in case you were wondering, the homicide rate was much higher than today.

Why do we do such a bad job at informing people how much more secure we are today? Why do people think their children face a greater threat walking to school than they did as children? Why do so many feel they are in constant peril? I blame a 24/7 news media that makes us aware of any violent crime, anywhere in the nation... and those idiots who call my cell phone ten times a day trying to sell me a security system.

Kathleen Parker complains about fuzzy rhetoric around Obamacare, but opens with this gem.

In fairy tales, as in Washington, things are true that can’t possibly be — and what is not true can be defended by tilting the facts a certain way and catching the light just so.

Objective truth, it seems, has gone the way of trolls, goblins and gremlins, by which one should not infer that Truth has taken up residence in the U.S. Congress.

Cognitive dissonance is a rational response to recent news that Obamacare will reduce the workforce, which is hardly helpful to the economy, and insure less than half of the uninsured — from 55 million down to 31 million.

Having begun with all the clarity of a charcoal briquette, the rest of Parker's piece descends into the Bog of Eternal Stench Conservatism, a place from which you can never get a clear, rational argument.

Edward Frenkel brings us back again to a very real question.

If Pythagoras had not lived, or if his work had been destroyed, someone else eventually would have discovered the same Pythagorean theorem. Moreover, this theorem means the same thing to everyone today as it meant 2,500 years ago, and will mean the same thing to everyone a thousand years from now — no matter what advances occur in technology or what new evidence emerges. Mathematical knowledge is unlike any other knowledge. Its truths are objective, necessary and timeless. ...

Many mathematicians, when pressed, admit to being Platonists. The great logician Kurt Gödel argued that mathematical concepts and ideas “form an objective reality of their own, which we cannot create or change, but only perceive and describe.” But if this is true, how do humans manage to access this hidden reality?

We don’t know. But one fanciful possibility is that we live in a computer simulation based on the laws of mathematics — not in what we commonly take to be the real world. According to this theory, some highly advanced computer programmer of the future has devised this simulation, and we are unknowingly part of it. Thus when we discover a mathematical truth, we are simply discovering aspects of the code that the programmer used.

This may strike you as very unlikely. But the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has argued that we are more likely to be in such a simulation than not. If such simulations are possible in theory, he reasons, then eventually humans will create them — presumably many of them. If this is so, in time there will be many more simulated worlds than nonsimulated ones. Statistically speaking, therefore, we are more likely to be living in a simulated world than the real one.

And so I bring this morning to a simulated conclusion and go off in search of simulated coffee (decaf, so as not to raise my simulated blood pressure).  However, if you think I'm making fun of the idea, I'm not. Bostrum's logic is nearly as unassailable as that of Pythagoras.

Which doesn't mean I'm going to hold back one bit in fighting for my simulated rights against those simulated idiots.

Originally posted to Devil's Tower on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 10:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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