Political Animal


December 20, 2014 4:45 PM Odds & Ends

Speaking of Gitmo detainees, today the Obama administration announced it was releasing four more who are going back to Afghanistan.

In spite of all the pearl-clutching on both the right and the left about bank bailouts, the TARP program has officially ended - leaving taxpayers with a $15.3 billion profit.

It’s probably too soon to celebrate, but the good news is that - backed by U.S. airstrikes - the Kurds have recaptured a large swath of territory from ISIS.

Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that the civil rights laws providing workplace protection do, in fact, apply to transgender workers.

Having watched the bold moves President Obama has made over the last couple of months, a lot of people are trying to guess where the next one will come from. Some see a possible sign in the recent move initiating NLRB vs McDonalds.

Rand Corporation senior defense analyst Bruce Bennett screened the movie The Interview before all the commotion was created by North Korean hackers. His take is that the depiction of Kim Jong Un would have created a problem for him with the elite in his country.

Finally, when I first heard Paolo Nutini sing, my thought was “Boy, he’s an old soul” (as the saying goes). Paolo burst on the scene with a couple of cd’s and then pretty much disappeared for four years. My initial assessment of him was affirmed when earlier this year he released “Caustic Love.” Here’s an incredibly relevant track off that cd titled “Iron Sky.”

P.S. If you can’t place the origin of the speech in the middle of the song, here’s one ginormous hint.

December 20, 2014 3:44 PM Pope Francis, Catholics and the Republican Party

One of the most fascinating parts of the negotiations between the United States and Cuba was the role Pope Francis played in both initiating the process and hosting a meeting at the Vatican. That story has been pretty well reported.

Much less noticed is the fact that recently Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration place Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Holy See welcomed recent signs President Barack Obama appears to have accelerated efforts to close the controversial facility where some detainees have been held for more than a decade without charge and tortured.

He said the Vatican stood ready to “help find adequate humanitarian solutions through our international contacts” in order to help place detainees, adding that Parolin and Kerry had discussed the issue in depth.

This is why many are seeing a “bolder vision of Vatican diplomacy” with this Pope.

During the Reagan era, fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics put aside their traditional enmity over religious differences and banded together around the Republican Party’s cultural agenda. That’s when the Democratic Party lost a lot of traditional Catholics who had been strong supporters of President Kennedy (a good share of those white working class voters we’re hearing so much about lately).

As Pope Francis calls the Church back into service to the poor, warns against the danger of idolizing capitalism, and engages affirmatively with a diplomatic approach to foreign policy, the alliance of Catholic conservatives with the Republican Party will be strained. That’s something to keep an eye on.

December 20, 2014 1:47 PM Why Republicans Admire Putin

This week Jonathan Chait reminded us of the origins of the neoconservative movement in the Republican Party.

Three decades ago, right-wing French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel published a call to arms entitled “How Democracies Perish,” which quickly became a key text of the neoconservative movement and an ideological blueprint for the Reagan administration. Revel argued that the Soviet Union’s brutality and immunity from internal criticism gave it an inherent advantage over the democratic West — the United States and Europe were too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat the resolute men of the Iron Curtain.

“Unlike the Western leadership, which is tormented by remorse and a sense of guilt,” wrote Revel, “Soviet leaders’ consciences are perfectly clear, which allows them to use brute force with utter serenity both to preserve their power at home and to extend it abroad.”

This is what sparked a love-fest for Putin’s tactics from Republicans immediately following his invasion of Ukraine. “That’s what you call a leader” said Rudy Giuliani. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-MI), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said that Putin was playing chess while President Obama played marbles.

At the time, the Obama administration consistently suggested that Putin was engaging in 19th-20th century tactics in a 21st century world.

…Obama is one of the first to have a broad range of potentially biting nonmilitary responses to employ—a measure of how much Russia has been integrated into the world’s financial system since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

It is why American policymakers are so convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has miscalculated by dispatching troops to Crimea. And why you hear over and over again from the White House and State Department that Putin does not seem to understand the interconnectedness of the 21st-century world.
“What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President Putin to address problems, deploying military forces rather than negotiating,” says a senior administration official, speaking on background. “But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st-century world, an interdependent world.”

President Obama addressed this directly during his speech in Brussels on March 26th.

Throughout human history, societies have grappled with the question of how to organize themselves - the proper relationship between the individual and the state; and the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle—through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution—that a particular set of ideals began to emerge. The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding…

But those ideals have also been tested - and threatened - by an older, more traditional view of power. This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, and that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.

That speech - which was one of the most powerful of Obama’s presidency - was meant to unite the people of Europe (especially its young people) around this new form of 21st century power - even if it meant sacrifice from them. In this interconnected world, it is about the power of partnership as a tool to defeat the power of dominance.

Lately the Republicans have been a bit more hesitant to express their admiration of Vladimir Putin. Perhaps that’s because - when stacked up against 21st century tactics - the power dominance is a pretty poor alternative.

December 20, 2014 11:58 AM President Obama Plays the Long Game

The media is settling on a new narrative about President Obama. It’s always interesting watching one after another join in that process. For example, Timothy Egan calls it Obama Unbound.

Perhaps the best thing to happen to him [Obama] was the crushing blow his party took in the midterm elections. Come January, Republicans will have their largest House majority in 84 years — since Herbert Hoover was president. Granted, no politician wants to join Hoover and history in the same sentence. But Obama is not cowering or conceding. He’s been liberated by defeat, becoming the president that many of his supporters hoped he would be.

He promised to be transformative. Instead, especially in the last two years, he’s been listless, passive, a spectator to his own presidency. Rather than setting things in motion, he reacted to events. Even Ebola, the great scare that prompted so much media hysteria it was awarded Lie of the Year by PolitiFact, was somehow his fault. No more. Of late, the president who has nothing to lose has discovered that his best friend is the future.

Glenn Thrush calls it Operation Revenge.

“He needs to run, to compete - or more to the point, he needs someone to run against,” a former top Obama adviser told me.

He’s got that now, in a Republican-controlled Capitol Hill. Obama, a political counterpuncher who often needs a slap in the face to wake up, got a gut-shot in November. The Democrats’ staggering loss in the midterms - like his disastrous performance in the first presidential debate against Mitt Romney in 2012 - seems to have jolted him to the realization that he’ll have to act boldly to preserve what he’d assumed was a settled legacy.

The trouble with this kind of analysis is that it is ahistorical. Every one of the things these pundits name as an example of the President’s newfound persona - executive actions on immigration, new EPA rules, climate change agreement with China, Russian sanctions, normalization of our relationship with Cuba - has been in the works for at least the last 1-2 years (during the time he was supposedly a listless, passive spectator). Back in January of this year, he announced his intention to implement the “pen and phone strategy” we’re all witnessing unfold.

President Barack Obama offered a brief preview Tuesday of his State of the Union address, telling his Cabinet that he won’t wait for Congress to act on key agenda items in 2014.

“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” he said at his first Cabinet meeting of the year. Outlining the strategy, Obama said he plans to use his pen to sign executive actions and his phone to convene outside groups in support of his agenda if Congress proves unable or unwilling to act on his priorities.

It’s true that President Obama might have a new lightness in his step. But that could just as well be because he’s finally off for a much-needed vacation in Hawaii with his family. Anyone who has really watched this President operate knows that he plays the long game. Here’s how Michelle Obama described that back in 2011.

Here’s the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we’re all sweating it, when we’re worried that the bill won’t pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we’re playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn’t happen overnight.
If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.
We always have.
December 20, 2014 9:47 AM Latin America, Torture and the Cold War

I am tempted to use the word “serendipitous” to describe the fact that within a matter of days, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the investigation of the use of torture by the Bush/Cheney administration, Brazil’s National Truth Commission released its report on the activities of its brutal military dictatorship, and President Obama announced the normalization of our relationship with Cuba.

Here’s how Greg Grandin brought two of those events together back in 2007 when we were first learning about the extent to which torture had been used in the “global war on terrorism.”

In fact, it was in Latin America that the CIA and U.S. military intelligence agents, working closely with local allies, first helped put into place the unholy trinity of government-sponsored terrorism now on display in Iraq and elsewhere: death squads, disappearances and torture.

Countries all over South and Central America (as well as Africa) have held truth commissions to document the atrocities committed in their countries as they attempted to throw off the weight of colonialism and reach for independence. Throughout that process, we’ve been reminded of the role the United States played as a “silent partner” in those atrocities. Brazil is simply the latest.

The final report confirms that the U.S. played a direct role in encouraging state sponsored torture in Brazil. According to the 2,000 page document — and backed by extensive historiography -, over 300 members of the Brazilian military spent time at the School of the Americas, run out of Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, where they had “theoretical and practical lessons on torture, which would later be replicated in Brazil,” the report notes.

The school was one of the main tools used by the U.S. government to deter perceived communist threats in Latin America, and gave instruction to dictatorial militaries across the continent. A Pentagon manual released in 1996 details the curriculum, which encourages the use of torture, blackmail, and arresting the families of those being questioned.

This is not some ancient history. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was unable to hold back tears at the announcement of this report because she had been one of those people subjected to torture during her three year imprisonment by the military dictatorship (the one the U.S. had helped place in power by supporting a coup in 1964).

Initially these U.S. interventions in Latin America were blatantly justified by the interests of corporate America that were operating in these countries. But when the Cold War began, the threat of communism was used as the excuse.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that removing the last vestige of the Cold War in Cuba is welcome news to the leaders of South and Central America (many of whom were their freedom fighters in the 80’s and 90’s). President Rousseff called the deal with Cuba, “a moment which marks a change in civilization.” Former President of Columbia Andres Pastrana summed it up this way:

There will be radical and fundamental change. I think that to a large extent the anti-imperialist discourse that we have had in the region has ended. The Cold War is over.

Many Americans credit President Ronald Reagan with ending the Cold War. For others, it ended when the Berlin Wall crumbled during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. For the people of Latin America, it happened on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 with this announcement by President Barack Obama.

Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.

And I call on all my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the inter- American charter. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.
A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible, if we work together, not to maintain power, not to secure vested interests, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens…
Todos somos Americanos.
December 20, 2014 8:49 AM If Everyone Does a Little, No One Has to Do a Lot

As is true for many of you, I’ve been reading the Washington Monthly for years. But it wasn’t until they asked me to write here that I actually read their mission statement. Just in case any of you are like me, here it is.

The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 on the notion that a handful of plucky young writers and editors, armed with an honest desire to make government work and a willingness to ask uncomfortable questions, could tell the story of what really matters in Washington better than a roomful of Beltway insiders at a Georgetown dinner party. In our cluttered little downtown DC office, we’re still doing what we have done for over forty years, and what fewer and fewer publications do today: telling fascinating, deeply reported stories about the ideas and characters that animate America’s government.

We don’t chase news cycles, or obsess over the endless political horse race. We care about how the government can be improved, and why it hasn’t; who’s a fraud and who isn’t; which ideas ought to be banished from the nation’s capital and which ones deserve to be championed.
We’re not a subsidiary of some giant media company or a mouthpiece for ideologues. We’re an independent voice, listened to by insiders and willing to take on sacred cows—liberal and conservative.
Instead of cynically tearing down institutions and programs, we offer innovative solutions: how to get the best people to work for the government and how to get the best government for the people; how to get teachers who can teach and social workers who can make welfare reform work. We believe in the great American traditions of civic responsibility, caring for the down and out, and giving the average person a break.

I have to say that if I was ever required to write a mission statement for my own writing, it would look a lot like that…asking uncomfortable questions, taking on sacred cows, caring about how government can be improved, and offering innovative solutions.

If that’s what you are looking for in political analysis, I’m sure you are aware that the only way that kind of independence can be maintained is if we all do a little so that no one has to do a lot. In other words, your donation is needed in order to keep that mission alive. Please click on this link right now to make that happen.

December 20, 2014 7:50 AM Daylight Video

Let’s start the day off with a Paolo Nutini cover of a great one by the Lovin Spoonful.

Sweet daydreams everyone!

December 19, 2014 5:44 PM Day’s End and Weekend Watch

There’s something about the GOP/university administrator alliance opposing college ratings that really bugs me—it’s like they decided to stop hurling insults at each other just long enough to scratch each other’s backs. This is one subject on which I could take a lie detector test and come through with impeccable sincerity with an argument that making a donation to WaMo in whatever amount you can afford will have a tangible effect on a policy debate with real-live consequences. We won’t stop collecting and presenting data on what colleges actually do and don’t do, and won’t rest until it’s something parents and students simply expect.

Here are some remains of the day:

* At TNR, David Dayen has a troubling report on the Fed’s decision to delay Volcker Rule compliance requirement for two years.

* Dana Milbank bids a not-so-fond farewell to the 113th Congress. Sometimes the snarky folk are exactly right.

* In his last press conference of the year, Obama calls only on women—eight of them—for questions. Well played.

* At Ten Miles Square, Michael O’Hare examines some of the implications for alternative fuels of the current plunge in gasoline prices.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer points to Jeb Bush’s bad habit of pursuing education “reforms” that usually pay money to corporations for questionable “innovations.”

And in non-political news:

* Craig Ferguson’s final night of hosting the “Late, Late Show” is tonight. A nice appreciation from Hank Stuever.

That’s it for Friday. Nancy LeTourney will be in for weekend blogging tomorrow. Let’s close with Phil Ochs performing “When I’m Gone.” RIP, Phil.


December 19, 2014 5:12 PM Glastris on Obama’s Efforts to Create College Rating System

As we discussed earlier today, the Obama administration took a painful but necessary next step today towards a college rating system. Our Editor-in-Chief Paul Glastris was on WGBH today explaining it all. It’s worth a listen, particularly if you need a good clear jargon-free explanation of the issues involved.

December 19, 2014 4:31 PM This Year in Social Media Outrage

I don’t often recommend an article unless I’ve read it all. But I’m going to make an exception with Slate’s vast “The Year of Outrage” feature that tracks outbursts of anger on social media throughout every day of 2014, and then offers some acute observations about what it all means. There are essays on conservative outrage, liberal outrage, identity outrage, cultural outrage, and several other perspectives. It’s a lot to take in, so I’m drinking it slowly.

This is especially interesting and painful for a news-cycle blogger like me, because I caught the beginning or middle or end of some of these “outrage” incidents, sometimes mocking them, sometimes agreeing with them, sometimes just noting them in passing. But I didn’t usually look at their alpha- or omega-points very closely, and being wary of “twitter wars” in the social medium I use most, I gave a wide berth to “outrage.”

In any event, you could not ask for a better quick immersion in the heat and smoke associated with the rise and fall of “memes” on social media, and how they interesect with other media. And as Choire Sicha observes in one of the essays, it can all start so innocently:

You are speaking, first, into the echo chamber of your friends. But not everyone is in your silo. And so then some stranger is mad at you; then some friend is noticeably silent. You are blocked or you are yelled at. Spiraling conversations come from realms unexpected and unwanted. You are embarrassed, or you are angrier, defensive or passive-aggressive, or laughing at them all. It is a rush of emotion that stretches long but is only an instant. Then, with a slithery zip, the moment is sealed shut.

This happens again and again. We can ignore it, but cannot pretend it does not matter.

December 19, 2014 3:31 PM The White Evangelical Model For GOTV

A fascinating Monkey Cage post today directs me back to an important piece from my friend Sarah Posner the day after the elections that I somehow missed.

Let’s start with Sarah’s November 5 piece at Religion Dispatches that contrasts the actual 2014 turnout among white evangelicals in southern states with the estimates made earlier by pollster Robert Jones, who predicted a Christian Right Waterloo thanks to declining numbers.

1. ARKANSAS. In his October 17 Atlantic piece, Jones wrote:
In Arkansas, where Republican and freshman Representative Tom Cotton is locked in a tight race with two-term Democratic Senator Mark Pryor, the white evangelical Protestant proportion of the population has dropped from 43 percent to 36 percent.
But preliminary exit polling shows that in Arkansas, 51% of of the electorate was made up of white evangelicals or born-again Christians; 25% of them went for Pryor (who is himself evangelical) while 73% voted for Cotton.
2. GEORGIA. Jones wrote:
In Georgia, where Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn is battling Republican candidate David Perdue for retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss’s seat, white evangelical Protestants made up 30 percent of the population in 2007 but that number is currently down to 24 percent.
Again, preliminary exit polling from Georgia shows that white evangelicals were an outsized share of the electorate, making up 39% of voters. Just 12% of them went for Nunn, 61% for Perdue.
3. KENTUCKY. Jones:
The proportion of white evangelicals in Kentucky has plunged 11 points, from 43 percent to 32 percent; here Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces the Democratic Alison Grimes, the secretary of state.
But according to last night’s preliminary exit polls, in Kentucky, 52% of electorate were white evangelical or born again Christians. Just 30% of them voted for Grimes, and 68% for McConnell.
4. LOUISIANA. Jones:
In Louisiana, where Republican Representative Bill Cassidy is up against three-term Democrat Mary Landrieu, white evangelicals have slipped from being 24 percent of the population to 19 percent.
In exit polling for Louisiana, where the Senate race is headed for a run-off, pollsters did not ask the “evangelical or not” question. Instead, they categorized all white Protestants into a “white Protestant/other Christian” category; that group comprised 32% of the electorate. Just 14% of them voted for Mary Landreiu, while 21% of them voted for Tea Party favorite Rob Maness and 59% for Republican Bill Cassidy.
Likewise, North Carolina has seen a dip in the white evangelical proportion of its population, from 37 percent to 30 percent; here incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan battles Republican Speaker of the North Carolina House Thom Tillis.
Looking, again, at the preliminary exit poll results for North Carolina, 40% of voters identified as white evangelical or born again; only 16% of them voted for Hagan, and 78% for Tillis, the Republican winner.

So whatever the population numbers, it seems white evangelicals continue to punch well above their weight when it comes to voting.

That’s where today’s Monkey Cage post from Lydia Bean comes in. After observing the grass-roots as well as the elite influences that reinforce Christian right voting behavior, she notes:

Campaigns only remind evangelicals what they have already learned from their religious community: that voting Republican is a natural extension of what it means to be a good Christian. This message is not just reinforced from the top-down during campaign season, by Christian Right interest groups and campaign ads. It is also reinforced from the bottom-up by trusted local leaders who are part of people’s everyday lives.
If we want to increase midterm voting among groups who stayed home, we need to ask who the local opinion leaders might be to reach low-propensity voters. What local settings could play the role of an evangelical small group or Bible study? Where do people learn that voting is expected of them, to be a good member of their network, in a context of personal accountability? And what is the organizational vehicle that will identify and develop these local leaders, who will engage a much larger set of low-propensity voters in year-round base-building? You’ve got to hand it to conservative evangelicals: they really have all of this down.

Instead of endlessly predicting the Christian Right’s imminent demise, progressives should go to school on what motivates conservative evangelicals to become and remain politically engaged. They aren’t just going to fade away.

December 19, 2014 2:51 PM Republicans To Play Blame Game on Obamacare Subsidies?

I’ve been saying for a while now that Republicans could be in a jam if the U.S. Supreme Court announces a decision in June invalidating the insurance premium subsidies for people living in the 36 states utilizing federally establishment exchanges under Obamacare, if only because the immediate impulse of rank-and-file conservatives will be to dance and sing even as millions are in danger of losing affordable health care coverage.

Perhaps behind the scenes conservatives are beginning to plan an education campaign to explain to The Troops via Fox News or other “trusted” sources why they can’t just let the subsidies die. Last week I noted that Ramesh Ponnuru had begun talking about Republicans agreeing to fix the subsidy problem while pivoting (presumably as part of some national “deal”) rapidly to an Obamacare “replacement.” But he didn’t sound terribly confident about selling this strategy to the GOP. Since we’re unlikely to find out where SCOTUS is going until June, there is time for sober reflection on the consequences of taking away the subsidies among a constituency that’s a lot more likely to include a lot of Republican voters than the subjects of a Medicaid expansion. The question is whether it can be effectively and quickly communicated to people who have been told since 2010 that the Affordable Care Act is the work of the devil.

Now one of Ramesh’s reformicon colleagues from National Review, Yuval Levin, has (with his collaborator on one of hte Obamacare “replacement” proposals, James Capretta) written a careful message to conservatives via the Wall Street Journal suggesting they get ahead of the curve:

In essence, if the court rules today’s subsidies illegal, those state officials could face a choice between creating a state exchange (and so reinforcing ObamaCare) or seeing some residents lose coverage they now have. ObamaCare’s opponents in Congress should give them a third option: a viable alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
The first step is to introduce legislation that would allow any state to opt out of all of ObamaCare’s mandates, regulations, taxes and requirements, and instead opt into a far simpler and more flexible alternative system. In that system, state residents not offered health coverage by their employers could receive a federally funded, age-based credit for the purchase of any state-approved health-insurance product—including those bought outside of any exchange and regardless of whether they meet ObamaCare’s coverage requirements.
Anyone who remains continuously insured in this system would be shielded from higher premiums or exclusions from coverage based on an existing condition. This would give consumers a strong incentive to buy coverage without a mandate to do so. All other insurance regulation, however, would happen at the state level.
States that opt for this approach would also be permitted to transform their Medicaid programs into premium-support systems for lower-income households. These would function as add-ons to the credit and allow eligible residents to buy the same kind of coverage everyone else can purchase.
The credit could be large enough to allow anyone to purchase at least catastrophic coverage—enabling the uninsured to be covered and everyone to be protected from the most extreme health expenses. Alternatively, it could be used to supplement the purchase of more comprehensive coverage. In essence, the credit would extend to everyone else the same benefit that many people have long received in the employer system. It would do so without disrupting the employer system, the coverage most Americans have.

What they are describing is pretty much the Burr-Coburn-Hatch “PCARE” proposal offered early this year as a suggested Obamacare “replacement,” with some transitional rules that would let Obamacare subsidies stay in place through the end of 2015. And they think Obama would be forced to accept something like this “solution” since otherwise he, not Republicans, will look like the one standing in the way of restored insurance for the people afflicted by the Court.

It’s all pretty clever, but a comment from Ponnuru shows its central flaw:

My only quibble is with the headline, “Time to Start Prepping ObamaCare Reforms.” What they’re talking about is better described as preparing an exit ramp from Obamacare.

Reforms, “exit ramp,” whatever. Such terms are meant to obscure the fact that such plans would keep Obamacare in place until such time as a new system could be implemented—again, before “the base” can make it all moot by forcing GOP policymakers to celebrate the carnage instead of repairing it. And if I know that and you know that, so too would the president, and I think it’s very predictable that well before congressional Republicans could be united behind such a proposal Obama would let them know the only non-disruptive course of action is to restore the intended subsidy system and then talk about what’s next. Pretending they’ve come to the rescue of people in danger of losing their health insurance by eliminating all the provisions that make it good coverage at an affordable price isn’t likely to work. But nice try.

December 19, 2014 1:10 PM Lunch Buffet

Realizing it was lunch time for most readers, I stopped working on a post—the 8th of the day—about the plan conservative health wonks are pushing on Republicans in anticipation of a possible toxic Supreme Court ruling in June killing off federal insurance purchasing subsidies in 36 states. It was pretty heavy going, even though I’ve written constantly about Obamacare since well before its inception and was pretty familiar with health care policy long before that.

But it was a reminder to me that here at WaMo, even in our news-cycle blog, we actually care about public policy, and while we spend a lot of time yelling about or mocking Republicans, and sometimes Democrats, we try not to forget that politics is about what it ultimately produces, not just the thrill of the game or victory for “our team.” If you feel that way, too, please make a donation in whatever amount you can afford, and we’ll try to keep our own perspective. Thanks so much!

Here are some midday news/views snacks:

* Rep. Keith Ellison the rare high Democratic elected official calling for Elizabeth Warren to run for president.

* Chris Christie in some hot water for sitting in Jerry Jones’ box at Cowboys-Eagles game and high-fiving Jones every time the Eagles—who have a lot more fans in New Jersey than any Texas team—screwed up.

* IRS warns budget cuts could delay tax returns.

* Paul-Rubio war of words escalates as former calls latter “isolationist” for wanting to maintain “moat” between U.S. and Cuba. Good one, Rand.

* At the Atlantic, Adam Chandler explains Nebraska/Oklahoma lawsuits against Colorado for alleged collateral damage from legalized cannabis.

And in non-political news:

* Massive Christmas Eve storm predicted for East. Great.

As we break for lunch, here’s Phil Ochs with a song about apathy: “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends.”

December 19, 2014 12:23 PM Clueless

Just to close loop here, I wondered yesterday if Rand Paul’s initial reaction to Obama’s Cuba policy change would set him up to be savaged by other candidates (notably Marco Rubio) in the same way that the 2012 field hammered his old man for his heretical comments on Iran.

Here’s at least part of the answer (from Politico’s Lucy McCalmont):

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t mincing words when it comes to his Republican colleague Sen. Rand Paul’s support for the U.S.’s new Cuba policy.
“Like many people who have been opining, he has no idea what he’s talking about,” Rubio said Thursday on Fox News’ “The Kelly Report.”

Ouchy ouchy. None of the usual “my esteemed colleague and I have a difference of opinion” stuff: more like “The man is a Dumb Ass.” Wonder what’s next?

December 19, 2014 10:55 AM The Long Hard Fight for College Accountability

When the president announced in August of 2013 that he had instructed the Department of Education to move ahead with a rankings system for U.S. colleges that would measure bang-for-the-buck and meaningful access for people most in need—as opposed to the wealth and selectivity criteria mainly used in the most prominent private ranking system, that of U.S. News and World Report—-WaMo quite naturally led some cheers for reaching a milepost in a long battle. Here’s how WaPo’s Nick Anderson put it at the time:

President Obama said last week he wants to rate colleges on value and performance. The Washington Monthly, an independent magazine for policy wonks [and political animals!], released annual rankings Monday that attempt to do just that.
The Monthly, which for years has argued that conventional measures of college prestige are far less important than what colleges do for the country, is pleased that the president appears to be singing from its song sheet.
“It doesn’t happen every day that an administration does exactly what you want,” Paul Glastris, the Monthly’s editor in chief, said….
Glastris said that he doubts there is a significant ideological divide over what the nation wants in return for the billions of dollars taxpayers invest in higher education. But he predicted that colleges will fight back against measures to hold them accountable. The Monthly has pushed for results-oriented accountability through its rankings since 2005.
“Our argument — that higher education was increasingly expensive, biased in favor of the affluent and against the working class, largely unaccountable, and maybe much less rigorous than anyone was willing to say — I can’t say it fell on deaf ears, but it certainly wasn’t conventional wisdom.”
Now, echoes of the Monthly’s views can be heard coming from the White House.

After two delays, today the Department of Education is releasing a preliminary “outline” of the college rating system to come. Robert Kelchen of Seton Hall University, who has been intimately involved in preparing the WaMo rankings, offered this evaluation at College Guide:

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a document containing draft metrics for the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS) today (link via Inside Higher Ed), with a request for comments from stakeholders and the general public by February. Although the release of the metrics was delayed several months (and we were initially expecting ratings this fall instead of just some potential metrics), the potential metrics and the explanations provided by ED provide insights about what the ratings will look like if (and when) they are finalized.
It appears that PIRS is very much in its infancy at this point, given the broadness of the suggested metrics and the difficulty in getting data on some of them in the next year or two. Putting college ratings together is methodologically quite easy to do, but politically very difficult. The delay in the timeline and the call for additional feedback by February highlight the political difficulty of PIRS. Given the GOP takeover of Congress, I think it’s safe to say that even if a full set of ratings comes out next week, the likelihood of ratings being tied to aid by 2018 (as the President has proposed) is basically nil….. But even getting draft ratings ready for the start of the 2015-16 academic year will be very difficult. ED has a lot of work to do before then.

On a separate front, Kelchen examined the tough politics of college rankings at Politico Magazine yesterday.

[I]t’s important to remember why the ratings were proposed in the first place. Since 1983, inflation-adjusted tuition and fees have increased by 153 percent at private nonprofit four-year colleges, 164 percent at community colleges and a whopping 231 percent at public four-year colleges. The federal government’s $170 billion in annual spending on grants, loans, work-study funds and tax credits has helped to alleviate the impact of these increases for students and their families, but federal funding has still not been able to keep up with ever-rising college costs and reduced per-student funding by most states.
It was in this climate that Obama announced his plan to create college ratings, aiming to have a final version written by fall of 2015.

As both Glastris and Kelchen anticipated, the pushback has only gotten more intense as the Department of Education has made its slow progress. Also at Politico yesterday, Stephanie Simon and Allie Grasgreen noted that the higher ed establishment has been joined by much of the congressional Republican Party in opposing the new metrics outline even before it was announced:

Congressional Republicans, outraged, are already going on the attack.
“They’re getting involved in something they have no business getting involved with,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), a former college administrator. “Absolutely, it’s overreach.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) plans to lead an effort to cut off funding for the ratings initiative. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has said he’ll do the same in the Senate. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is among many prominent voices denouncing the concept as profoundly flawed. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he sees rating colleges as “a financial and moral obligation,” meant to help families make wise choices and to ensure taxpayers’ $150 billion annual investment in student aid isn’t squandered.
But GOP critics frame the rating plan — expected Friday — as yet another example of arrogance and imperialism from the White House. They argue that it’s not just presumptuous, but logistically impossible for the Education Department to assess the quality of so many institutions, ranging from Harvard to Honolulu Community College.
And they have some powerful allies in their corner, including several higher education trade associations and numerous college presidents, some of whom have been quietly lobbying their representatives for months — not that it took a lot of lobbying to rouse opposition to the ratings. Republicans on the Hill were already up in arms over the administration’s proposed crackdown on for-profit career-training colleges, calling it an unwarranted intrusion into the free market.

So GOPers, who have long been carrying water for the for-profit schools, are now linking arms with the collegiate status quo they normally attack for poisoning the minds of young Americans, and are describing a common-sense effort to stop fraud on students and taxpayers as “imperial,” and akin to Obama’s tyrannical efforts in immigration and Cuba policy.

So as we await these battles in Washington, and hope that at least the Obama initiative produces some new data on college affordability, access to low-income students, graduation rates and post-graduation outcomes, it’s more important than ever that WaMo continue to publish its rankings, so similar in spirit to what the administration is trying to accomplish, outside the congressional battleground. It could help convince those who aren’t “stakeholders” in the current system, or inveterate Obama-haters, that every parent, student and citizens should be able to expect the recipients of their dollars to come clean on what they are actually providing, and at what cost. Please help us keep up the fight.

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