Phillip Howard on why gridlock seems ever gridlockier
It’s time to stop taking Washington seriously. How likely is it that Congress will deal with unsustainable deficits, climate change, decrepit infrastructure, unaffordable health care, muddled immigration policy, obsolete laws, unmanageable civil service, rigged electoral districts . . . ? The list of failures of our democratic government is getting long. Responsible reform seems hopeless.But the size of the law itself can also be seen is just another symptom of polarization. Canada's Health Act, establishing a full national system of healthcare, is much (much) smaller than the Affordable Care Act. The same is true of similar bills in many countries. Why is that? Because most countries trust to the experts to define the details of how a bill is applied. In the US, rife with idiocy like talk of "death panels" and deliberate efforts to terrify people about what may be "hiding" in a bill, there's a tendency to try and cover every possibility in the initial legislation, leaving nothing to the interpretations of bureaucrats we've been taught to hate. The result is massive, inflexible legislation much of which contains many more contradictions and issues than would be generated by simpler bills.
But hopelessness, it turns out, has its own political arc. Most change comes not incrementally, but in large gulps after long periods of inertia, according to political scientists Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones. It may look like nothing will ever change, but the pressures keep building until, all at once, like the “stick-slip” phenomenon of earthquakes, the ground gives way and a new order evolves.
Revolutions occur this way. In the United States, most major changes in social policy have occurred in tectonic shifts after pressures built up for decades, such as in the 1960s (civil rights), in the progressive era (regulation) or during the Civil War (ending slavery). The New Deal (social safety nets) differed only in that pressures of the Great Depression were more immediate. ...
What’s the new philosophy of how democracy should work? A laundry list of specific reforms is unlikely to galvanize a public movement. All the reform periods in U.S. history had a clear goal with a moral high ground, such as ending laissez faire or segregation. The major overhaul needed today also requires a clear goal that citizens can understand and get behind.
What’s gone wrong with modern democracy? Polarized politics is one villain. The rise of political extremism is apparent.
But why is it happening?
I think we have it backward. Polarization is mainly a symptom, not the cause, of paralysis. Democracy has become powerless. Politicians who are impotent have no way to compete except by pointing fingers.
The main culprit, ironically, is law. Generations of lawmakers and regulators have written so much law, in such detail, that officials are barred from acting sensibly. Like sediment in the harbor, law has piled up until it is almost impossible — indeed, illegal — for officials to make choices needed for government to get where it needs to go.
But whatever order of events you blame, there's little doubt about the outcome.
Recently the White House issued a five-year report on the $800 billion stimulus plan from 2009. Part of the original goal, as President Obama announced then, was to “rebuild America’s infrastructure.” So how much of that huge stimulus went to this worthwhile goal? Buried in the fine print of the report is this fact — barely 3 percent went to transportation infrastructure.When you have one of two major parties devoted to the idea that government can't be allowed to operate effectively, it's hard to blame anything beyond the people who vote for them. Still, this is your read-it-all-then-think-up-a-solution assignment for the morning.
Why? The president of the United States lacks the power to approve the rebuilding of decrepit bridges and roads. In the New Deal, by contrast, Harry Hopkins had employed 2.6 million people two months after he was named head of the new Civilian Works Administration.
Then come in and see what else is up in punditry...
Scott Martelle suggests were's paying honor to the wrong thing.
What a society chooses to memorialize says a lot about what it values, which is worth contemplating this weekend as the nation recognizes the sacrifices of military men and women who died in service to their country.Martelle's final question: what if we had a day to celebrate peace?
The history of Memorial Day is important. America's first widespread celebration of the occasion — it was called Decoration Day — came three years after the end of the Civil War, when former Union Gen. John Logan sought to broaden earlier local efforts into a national campaign to decorate the graves of the war dead.
There were a lot of graves to decorate. At least 620,000 (mostly) men in uniform died of wounds and disease during the four-year Civil War. That accounts for nearly half of the nation's military deaths from all wars combined, a sacrifice of American blood that demanded acknowledgment, and reflection.
It was a horrendous war, claiming about 2.5% of the population, a rate that if extrapolated to current times would amount to more than 6 million war dead.
... we are conflicted. We yearn for peace while honoring the sacrifices made in war and memorializing those who risked or sacrificed their lives while serving their countries.
The New York Times joins the chorus of those calling for an end to locking up more people than live in many countries.
For more than a decade, researchers across multiple disciplines have been issuing reports on the widespread societal and economic damage caused by America’s now-40-year experiment in locking up vast numbers of its citizens. If there is any remaining disagreement about the destructiveness of this experiment, it mirrors the so-called debate over climate change.We've tipped the point of using punishment as a detriment to crime, and long since sailed right into the level where our "justice system" is actually the source of much crime.
In both cases, overwhelming evidence shows a crisis that threatens society as a whole. In both cases, those who study the problem have called for immediate correction.
Several recent reports provide some of the most comprehensive and compelling proof yet that the United States “has gone past the point where the numbers of people in prison can be justified by social benefits,” and that mass incarceration itself is “a source of injustice.”
Frank Bruni on the kiss heard round the sports world.
A kiss is nothing. On the sidewalks, in the park, I see one every few minutes, a real kiss, lip to lip. It barely registers. It’s as unremarkable as a car horn in traffic, as an umbrella in rain.Actually, I think the border is drawn between the people who smile when they see these kisses, and those who gasp.
And yet a kiss is everything. A kiss can stop the world.
The football player Michael Sam recently demonstrated as much. So did my experience last Sunday, in a Broadway theater, of all places.
Maybe marriage isn't the dividing line between equality and inequality, between getting full, reflexive acceptance from the world and getting a piecemeal, willed respect. Maybe that border is traced with kisses...
Ross Douthat reads a Tea-bituary.
The Tea Party is finished: smashed, at last, by the power and dollars of the Republican establishment, whose candidates — including Mitch McConnell, the most establishment Republican of all — easily turned back right-wing primary challengers last week.Saying Glenn Beck's Washington performance was "apolitical" may be more nuts than anything to come from the Tea Party. It's still a question as to whether the Tea Party won. Here's something that's not in doubt: the Republican Party lost.
No, the Tea Party has won: There simply isn't that much difference between an establishment Republican and a Tea Party Republican anymore, and if grass-roots challengers are losing more races it's because they've succeeded in yanking the party far enough to the right that there isn't any space for them to fill.
These are the two narratives that swirled around the G.O.P. after last Tuesday’s primaries, and both contain a measure of truth. But there’s a third way to look at the State of the Tea Party, circa 2014, which is that the movement’s political legacy still has a big To Be Determined sticker on it. ...
Thus Paul Ryan’s green-eyeshaded Medicare blueprints and Herman Cain’s fanciful 9-9-9 plan were both “Tea Party” phenomena. Likewise Glenn Beck’s conspiracy-scrawled blackboards and his teary, apolitical Washington Mall consciousness-raising. Likewise Ron Paul’s and Rick Santorum’s presidential campaigns, in which two ideologically dissimilar Republican politicians both claimed a “Tea Party” mantle.
Daniel Schulman says forget the Tea Party, the GOP has a savior. Make that two saviors.
Recently, no less a Republican Party icon than Karl Rove canonized Charles and David Koch: “Bless them for all they do,” he wrote in Time magazine.See, only the radical Kochs can save the GOP from the crazies of the Tea Party... which was created by the radical Kochs. So, praise Koch.
Rove’s blessing is the clearest sign yet that the brothers have been granted admission to the inner sanctum of Republican power. Yet for many years the Kochs were enemies of the GOP, whose political primacy they challenged through the libertarian movement. Writing in 1978 in a magazine he owned called Libertarian Review, Charles Koch called the GOP “the party of ‘business’ in the wors[t] sense” and blasted Republicans for advancing a doomed strategy that “has failed so miserably.”
... the Koch brothers, thanks to their sprawling political and fundraising network, are the toast of the GOP, while Democrats have taken up the cause of demonizing them, even placing them at the center of their midterm election strategy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recently suggested that Senate Republicans should “wear Koch insignias to denote their sponsorship.” The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, meanwhile, has rolled out a Web site proclaiming that the “GOP is addicted to Koch.” ... For a party undergoing an identity crisis, a Koch-style makeover may not be such a bad thing.
The New York Times editorial board winces over new pro-ignorance laws in Wyoming.
The year has already produced three alarming reports involving climate change. ...Hey, give Wyoming some credit! There's a good chance that it's not just climate change denialism. It's also evolution denialism.
Despite all this, many leading politicians continue to dispute the science and resist any effort to regulate and reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Among the prominent deniers are two Floridians — Senator Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott — whose state is greatly at risk from even modest and relatively short-term increases in sea levels.
Some of this is to be expected in a political season, when politicians will do almost anything to prey on the public’s fear of job losses. What is truly depressing is the news that Wyoming’s State Legislature has become the first in the nation to reject the new national science standards for schools, standards that include instruction on the human contribution to climate change.
Science Daily presents a Top Ten List you don't have to stay up late to read.
An appealing carnivorous mammal, a 12-meter-tall tree that has been hiding in plain sight and a sea anemone that lives under an Antarctic glacier are among the species identified by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry's (ESF) International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) as the top 10 species discovered last year.18,000 new species sounds like quite a haul, until you realize that there were likely a similar number of species that disappeared last year, many of them before we had ever identified them.
An international committee of taxonomists and related experts selected the top 10 from among the approximately 18,000 new species named during the previous year and released the list May 22 to coincide with the birthday, May 23, of Carolus Linnaeus, an 18th century Swedish botanist who is considered the father of modern taxonomy.
The list includes ... a miniscule skeleton shrimp from Santa Catalina Island in California, ... a clean room microbe that could be a hazard during space travel ... a teensy fringed fairyfly named Tinkerbell ... a gecko that fades into the background in its native Australia ... Crawling slowly into the final spot on the alphabetical list is Zospeum tholussum, a tiny, translucent Croatian snail from one of earth's deepest cave systems.