Political Animal


April 17, 2014 6:20 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

My mother-in-law is sending me a big batch of political fliers from Georgia, so I expect to have some more fodder for Crazy Cracker posts directly.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Seems Haley Edwards’ WaMo essay on HRC as a grandmother was prescient: Chelsea Clinton announces she is expecting.

* David Axelrod hired as advisor by British Labour Party, which presumably means he’ll be battling Jim Messina (earlier hired by the Tories) in the upcoming UK elections.

* Riding in the same clown car: Trump makes donation to Ted Cruz’s leadership PAC.

* At Ten Miles Square, Martin Longman offers his own comments on George Will’s democracy-is-for-liberals column.

* At College Guide, Robert Kelchen looks critically at “last dollar scholarships” which fill financial gaps after federal aid sources exhausted, but often don’t provide enough help for truly needy students.

And in non-political news:

* 25 dead, 276 missing: latest sad numbers from South Korean ferry disaster.

That’s it for Thursday. Our acid rock tribute ends with the most unavoidable tune of them all (unless you don’t buy John Lennon’s claim that “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” was innocent): Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” as performed on the Smothers Brothers show in 1967 (I actually remember watching this at the time. Sigh):


April 17, 2014 5:32 PM The Koch For President Boom!

Since I posted earlier today about poll numbers being relatively reliable indicators of upcoming political events, I’m glad a poll has come along to display how important it is to disregard “junk polls” and also look at polling averages to get a sense of actual public opinion in any given state.

The poll in question is of Iowa, and was sponsored by the Washington Free Beacon (or as it is often known among progressives, the Free Bacon). It was clearly designed to show Democrat Bruce Braley as being in deep trouble after the brouhaha over his “Iowa farmer” remarks to a Texas trial lawyer group, and perhaps reflected impatience that other Iowa polls showed little or no impact on the race.

If there is a principle of accurate polling this sucker does not violate, it doesn’t occur to me at the moment. The sample leans heavily to the starboard side; 46% of the respondents self-identify as conservatives (plus another 4% as libertarians). Even in 2010, the ultimate skewed-to-the-right year, exit polls showed only 39% of Iowans self-identifying as conservatives. The questions about Braley’s remarks are wildly leading (“Do you agree or disagree that Braley’s statement about Grassley shows that he has a higher regard for lawyers in Texas than farmers in Iowa?”). He is tested only against a generic Republican, which suggests that maybe the numbers for Braley against the named Republicans who have been campaigning like rats in heat for months now aren’t sufficiently bad.

But my favorite part of the poll doesn’t even involve Braley. Gaze in awe:

Charles Koch [coke] is a successful businessman who has created tens of thousands of jobs and donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charity in his lifetime. He has dedicated his life to preserving the principles of economic freedom in this country….
Harry Reid is the Democratic leader in the United States Senate. He has recently come under scrutiny for making improper payments to family members and has accused families suffering under Obamacare of lying about their plight….
If the next election for President were held tomorrow would you vote for Harry Reid on the Democratic ticket or Charles Koch on the Libertarian/Republican ticket?

Shockingly, the job-creating philanthropist Koch beats the voter-hating corrupt nepotist Reid by a 42/30 margin.

This poll smells like overcooked bacon.

April 17, 2014 4:45 PM Ukraine Back From the Brink?

It hardly represents anything like a settlement of grievances, but the agreement reached in Geneva today by representatives of the U.S., the E.U., Ukraine and Russia appears to have at least temporarily stopped a rapid slide towards armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The statement released by the parties describes it as a de-escalation of tensions:

All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism.
All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.
Amnesty will be granted to protesters and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.

In other words, the pro-Russian “protesters” who have been occupying government buildings in Eastern Ukraine will stand down; the Ukrainian government will not arrest them; and the Russians will keep their massed troops from crossing the border. The joint denunciation of “intolerance” and “anti-Semitism” is presumably intended to stop both sides from using claims of “fascism” to justify violence against each other.

The agreement doesn’t mention Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and doesn’t explicitly give Ukraine time to hold its planned May 25 presidential election, though that is almost certainly one benchmark for determining whether this is more than a brief breathing spell. The New York Times’ Michael Gordon notes other fundamental issues not resolved:

The deeper question was whether the statement issued on Thursday would open the door to a diplomatic resolution of the Ukraine crisis or remain a limited step that bypasses core issues like the degree of federalism in Ukraine, the presence of an intimidating Russian force near Ukraine’s border and Russia’s reluctance to recognize the legitimacy of Ukraine’s new government.

But as Churchill once said: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” So it’s a better day than many expected for the region.

April 17, 2014 4:11 PM Final Obamacare Open Enrollment Numbers Comparable to Romneycare

As you may recall, there was a grace period for additional signups after the March 31 deadline for open enrollment in the Obamacare exchanges, so the final numbers have just been announced. As Jonathan Cohn explains, there’s every reason to be cautiously optimistic about what the final enrollment “surge” meant for the size and composition of the pool:

President Obama just announced the final numbers for the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period.
Eight million people have signed up for private insurance plans through the new marketplaces. And among those that the federal government is managing directly, 28 percent of them are ages 18 to 34, according to senior administration officials.
This is good news—very, very good news.

The expected falloff in enrollees who don’t pay premiums probably means the final numbers will actually come in close to—and perhaps significantly above—CBO’s estimates from last fall. And the number of under-34 folk signing up looks remarkably close to that achieved in Massachusetts under the generally very successful Romneycare program:

[I]nsurance companies didn’t expect young people to sign up in proportion to their numbers in the population. They knew participation would be a bit lower and they set premiums accordingly. Only company officials know exactly what they were projecting—that’s proprietary information—but one good metric is the signup rate in Massachusetts, in 2007, when that state had open enrollment for its version of the same reforms. According to information provided by Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist and reform architect, 28.3 percent of Massachusetts enrollees were ages 19 to 34, a comparable age group.

None of these numbers, of course, will necessarily change public opinion on Obamacare overnight, and critics will continue to call the initiative a “disaster.” But there are most definitely signs that when objective reality sets in, which it will eventually, the picture will look very different from the caricatures we’ve been seeing up until now.

April 17, 2014 3:23 PM The Conspiracy To Bypass the Electoral College

When I wrote earlier today about the heads-we-win, tails-you-lose tendency of conservatives to alternate between claims of large natural popular majorities and anti-democratic schemes to “constitutionalize” policies so that popular majorities cannot disturb them, I was not aware that one of the most outlandish proponents of the “center-right nation” hypothesis was now warning against the nefarious Power of the People.

That would be Dick Morris. At Salon, Digby has great fun with this charlatan’s latest crusade:

It is widely acknowledged that Dick Morris is the worst pundit in America. It’s truly not up for debate. He’s so bad that even Roger Ailes was embarrassed by his hilariously wrong predictions in the 2012 election and let him go. (Karl Rove was said to be similarly fired but turned back up on the network almost immediately. Morris did not have his contract renewed.) But Morris is the quintessential “wingnut welfare” king, a man so entrenched in the right-wing infrastructure that it literally doesn’t matter how wrong he is about everything, he will continue to be gainfully employed as a pundit by someone….
Take his latest offering in upside-downism: He claims that in their latest nefarious vote fraud scheme, George Soros and his Democratic minions are preparing to steal elections from Republicans by having states adopt the national popular vote to determine electors in the Electoral College.
Yes, you read that right. Using the national popular vote to determine who wins the presidency would be stealing elections. Let that sink in for a minute.
He’s talking about the Center for Voting and Democracy’s proposal for an Interstate Compact to abide by the national popular vote, a proposal that has been adopted by 10 states, many of them run by Republicans who foolishly have failed to see why this is a plot to only elect Democrats.

I’ve written about said Compact here, but did not view it as a partisan issue:

You’d have to figure the only hard-core opposition to this idea would be from small battleground states like New Hampshire (4 EVs), Iowa (6 EVs) and Nevada (6 EVs), who would no longer demand much presidential general election attention. But these states obviously have other ways to exert influence, as three of the four “privileged” jurisdictions (guaranteed an early start) in the presidential nominating process. Maybe the rest of us should insist they not get a second bite of the apple every four years.

But no, says Morris, in a sloppy piece of argumentation even for him: a national popular-vote system would enable Democrats to win an advantage via “big-city machines” that would roll up huge margins the virtuous burghers of suburban, exurban, small-town and rural America could not overcome. You half-expect him to start fulminating against Boss Tweed.

In any event, Morris seems to think Republicans absolutely have to have a thumb on the scales via the distorting effect of the Electoral College. That’s perfectly in line with the sense you get from many Republicans that it’s only fair they get other thumbs on the scales through restrictions on voting or the Senate filibuster or limitless corporate campaign contributions—or ideally, from courts that rule progressive legislation as unconstitutional. As is often the case, Morris provides a caricature—but still a reflection—of arguments other conservatives are embarrassed to make.

April 17, 2014 2:21 PM Lunch Buffet

Sorry, got a little tied up in trying to remember my Con Law classes from many long years ago in writing the last post. I don’t have a staff of research assistants like George Will undoubtedly has at his disposal.

Here are some lightly researched midday news/views treats:

* New York City considering $15 minimum wage for employees of national retail chains.

* Sean Trende outlines a remote scenario by which Democrats could actually gain Senate seats in November. Didn’t seem too likely in 2012, either, did it?

* Society of Actuaries estimates 2015 insurance premium hikes unlikely to hit the double-digit levels—nationally, at least—so many conservatives are predicting.

* Interesting Vogel/Winger report at Politico about big-money “sponsorship” arrangements between Tea Party groups and talk-radio gabbers.

* TNR’s Marc Tracy examines the sudden rock-star celebrity of economist Thomas Picketty.

And in sorta non-political news:

* Yahoo exec dropped after unsuccessful 15-month tenure earns $58 million severance package. Nice work if you can get it.

As we break for lunch, here’s the Byrds with a classic trippy song from 1967: “Eight Miles High.”

April 17, 2014 1:51 PM The Constitutional Excuse For Subverting Democracy

To anyone puzzled or confused about the preferred Tea Party self-identification buzzword “constitutional conservative,” George Will has done a fine job in his latest column spelling it all out, by way of touting a new book by Timothy Sandefur of the Pacific Legal Foundation. Progressives believe the Constitution provides a process that facilitates democracy. Conservatives understand that it’s a safeguard against the limitation of “natural” rights by democratic majorities.

This sounds reasonable if you accept the rather cartoonish idea that progressives do not acknowledge any limitations on popular majorities, or that the two sides mean roughly the same thing when they talk about individual rights. Here Will is not as forthcoming as he might have been, but his extensive discussion of the alleged incorporation of the Declaration of Independence into the Constitution—an invariable touchstone for Constitutional Conservatives—alludes to the common conservative belief that via the Declaration certain divinely granted or naturally endowed “rights”—particularly the untrammeled enjoyment of private property and the “right to life” of zygotes—trump the founding document itself.

You can think of it as a vastly more sweeping conservative version of the “penumbra” theory whereby Justice Douglas identified an implicit “right to privacy” in the Bill of Rights. And indeed, critics of Douglas’ opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut (itself a precedent for Roe v. Wade) have sometimes compared it to the “substantive due process” concept of the Lochner v. New York decision under which progressive social and economic legislation was routinely struck down as violating immutable private property rights until Lochner was overturned in 1937. It’s no accident that Will’s hero Sandefur is a latter-day defender of Lochner.

I’m no constitutional lawyer, and so won’t go into the argument over Lochner (or for that matter, Griswold) in detail, but it’s worth noting the practical effect this idea of supra-constitutional limitations on democratic majorities has on conservative political argumentation. When they aren’t describing America as a “center-right nation” or predicting perpetual Republican electoral landslides, or indulging in a “populist” appeals whereby “real Americans” are told they are being illegitimately outgunned by voter fraud or voter bribery, conservatives are prone to retreat into this impregnable fortress of constitutionalist theory which prohibits as a matter of fundamental law most progressive legislation. This redoubt makes it psychologically very easy to rationalize restrictions on voting, or mendacious campaign ads, or unlimited campaign spending by wealthy individuals, or abuse of the filibuster or other anti-democratic mechanisms. After all, conservatives are simply defending themselves against laws and policies that really ought to be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional—you know, like the Lochner-era courts routinely did with progressive legislation up through the early New Deal.

It’s at bottom just another heads-we-win-tails-you-lose proposition whereby American conservatives tend to support the constitutional arguments that in any given circumstance happen to support their policy goals.

April 17, 2014 12:52 PM Jack Kingston and The Welfare

Having discussed the Romney-Ryan campaign’s 2012 “Obama’s gutting welfare reform” ad a good bit lately, I should mention that the idea that welfare bums are loafing around when there are plenty of fine jobs available has hardly gone away since then. Here’s a new ad from Georgia Republican Senate candidate Jack Kingston:

The ad appears to assume that the work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program don’t exist any more. It also suggests, of course, that a major reason for high levels of unemployment (it’s currently at 7.0% in Georgia, above the national rate) is that a significant number of people are deliberately choosing a “hand-out,” ignoring all those “help wanted” signs the ad features. I don’t know of any serious economists anywhere on the political spectrum who actually believe that proposition. They may think food stamp benefits are too high or are being abused, but not that they provide some sort of comfortable hammock preferable to wages and EITC eligibility.

More broadly, Kingston is weaving a narrative that unites him (you know, the guy who drove that battered station wagon around coastal Georgia to build a business many years ago, not the powerful appropriator able to raise millions from lobbyists to pay for his saturation ad campaign) and Republican primary voters as virtuous workers angry at those people, often just referred to as The Welfare.

Anyone who believes there is no racial subtext to this ad has either never been to Georgia or is loafing around a crack pipe.

April 17, 2014 12:15 PM Racism Is a Matter of Legitimate Debate, Not a Slur

I suppose I should feel flattered that the imperious Wall Street Journal writer James Taranto devoted the bulk of his column yesterday to various drive-by criticisms of my TPMCare piece last week on racism in politics. He seems exercised by my use of arguments that cannot simply be dismissed as thinly disguised efforts to boost minority turnout, though there’s a disembodied aspect to his attempted takedown, since he does not mention the Jonathan Chait essay that supplied the context for my response (nor, oddly, does he supply a link to either one).

In any event, most of Taranto’s take boils down to “so’s your old man.” He accuses me of “especially crude racial stereotyping” for referring to the GOP’s “bleached constituencies” (I was referring to districts, not “voters” as Taranto assumes). “Bleaching” is a technical term for the common practice in redistricting of seeking to remove minority voters to increase the odds of Republican victory; it is a counterpart to “packing,” which refers to the consolidation of minority voters in the minimum number of seats to reduce Democratic voter efficiency. If “bleaching” is a “crude racial steretoype,” then it’s one that appears in most of the academic literature on redistricting, not to mention court decisions.

Taranto spends much more time seeking to rebut my suggestion that the Romney/Ryan campaign’s gratuitous 2012 ad accusing the Obama administration of “gutting” welfare reform work requirements had a racial subtext. I only offered one authority for my characterization of the ad as blatantly false, he says: a Politi-fact assessment. Well, it was the same judgment offered by CNN’s fact-checkers; by GOP welfare reform architect Ron Haskins; and since Obama was being accused of undoing Bill Clinton’s work, it is probably relevant that the 42d president blasted the ad as false, too. I actually can’t think of anyone other than Heritage Foundation warhorse Robert Rector, author of the “gutting” myth, who offered much of a defense of its accuracy.

Speaking of Clinton, Taranto wonders if I think he was a racist for making welfare reform a campaign issue in 1996. That’s an odd question, since the effect of Clinton’s signing of welfare reform legislation that year was to make it a non-issue in that election. But it misses the point: I don’t think supporting welfare reform is an “objectively racist” tactic, particularly in the context Clinton offered it, based on “making work pay” incentives and other “work supports.” And context is everything in judging the racial content of political appeals. The unmistakable underlying theme of much of the GOP’s 2012 critique of Obama is that he was an unreconstructed “race man” seeking to undermine the bipartisan fiscal, economic and social reforms of his predecessors in order to tend to the needs of his government-dependent voting coalition, much of it composed of minority voters. Anyone surveying how the GOP campaign treated not only welfare reform but Obamacare—as a redistribution of resources into “a massive government program that’s not for you”—would have to be willfully blind to suggest there was no racial subtext.

And that’s the big point Taranto misses in my column. I go out of my way to disavow any claim that any particular Republican, or Republicans generally, are motivated by racial animus. That is not, I argue, even germane to the question of whether this or that strategy or message or policy has a disparate racial effect, politically or substantively. Nor do I claim that all GOP strategies, messages or policies are “objectively racist.” I simply suggest that’s a matter for legitimate argumentation, not a deadly racial slur that ought to be ruled out a priori as poisonous or libelous, or as eliminating any motive for conservatives to take “actual” racism seriously (which was the thrust of Chait’s essay).

Chait says it’s “insane” to deny that it’s possible to support conservative policy prescriptions without racist motives. I agree. But it’s equally insane to look at the landscape of American politics and fail to see the intimate connections between past and present racial appeals, and particularly the contemporary reliance of Republicans on stimulating grievances against minorities, “losers,” the “47%,” the “lucky duckies,” and various other euphemisms for people who differ from white middle- and upper-class voters in ways that cannot be ascribed to differences in philosophy or economics. In an earlier essay on Chait’s piece, I argued that antipathy towards “losers,” based on the natural but morally corrosive desire to treat one’s own more fortunate position as attributable to virtue and hard work, was probably the more fundamental touchstone of the conservative protest against equality than anything specifically to do with race. If we are not allowed to discuss these things because we are supposed to assume politics is all about pie charts and noble aspirations for our country, political discourse will indeed be remote from what we see and hear every day.

April 17, 2014 10:43 AM Looking At All the Evidence In Predicting Elections

In looking at specific upcoming election contests, it’s logical to consider all sorts of contextualizing factors: party registration, prior election results and trends, turnout patterns, primary challenges, fundraising, economic conditions and presidential approval ratings. This last factor (generally thought to incorporate the one just before it), along with a limited history of “six-year” problems for parties holding the White House for two terms, is central to the widespread belief that Democrats won’t be able to hold onto many or even any of the red-state Senate seats up this year in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.

But the indicators that are often ignored in all the electoral fundamentalism are actual polls comparing the actual candidates—not their parties or their presidents. Today FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enton takes a stab at assessing the predictive value of early Senate polls as contrasted with presidential approval ratings.

More than six months from the midterm elections, current polling and past precedent are competing for our trust. I analyzed which measure is more indicative come November, and it turns out that polls are a more robust metric even though their numbers are still sparse and there’s still so much time remaining before the election.

This is very good news for Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, who has been written off regularly by prognosticators but stubbornly leads in a lot of the polling. As we get closer to Election Day, the significance of current polling increases—but so, too (arguably) do the presidential approval rating numbers and turnout indicators. The bottom line is that in normal circumstances all the evidence should begin to converge late in an election cycle. But when it doesn’t, your best bet, where it’s available in quantity and quality, is current candidate polling rather than this or that “theory” about how things are destined to transpire.

April 17, 2014 10:08 AM Surprise: Fighting Health Coverage Works!

The most-discussed if least unexpected news of the morning is additional evidence that states which cooperated with the Affordable Care Act by setting up their own purchasing exchanges and taking advantage of the optional Medicaid expansion are reducing the ranks of the uninsured much more rapidly than states which didn’t cooperate—more than three times as rapidly, according to data from Gallup.

You could certainly say this particular result of Obamacare was unintentional. In the House-passed legislation, the federal government would have run all the health insurance purchasing exchanges. And more obviously, the Medicaid expansion was not designed to be optional. The state-run exchanges have mostly (though not always) turned out to be more effective than those operated by the feds against the will of the “host” state. It’s not entirely clear how much damage state obstruction and propaganda have wrought in discouraging Obamacare enrollment. But the rejection of the Medicaid expansion in states with the highest uninsured rates has been a very big deal. Remember the role of sabotage next time you read that the Affordable Care Act isn’t working as planned.

April 17, 2014 8:48 AM Daylight Video

I don’t think one day was enough to do justice to the “acid rock” legacy. So here’s Jimi Hendrix again, with “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.”

April 16, 2014 6:20 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

My Wednesday morning energy surge subsided, or maybe it was just sucked out of me by reading a day’s worth of dog-bites-man stories. By the time some interesting stuff (see below) appeared late in the day, it was just more than I could quickly absorb.

Here are the remains of the day:

* The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto spends a lot of space sniping at my TPMCafe column on racism from last week. I guess if he can wait a week to take me on, I can wait a day or two to respond.

* Pew’s latest “State of the News Media” report tries to grapple with the new effusion of online news enterprises against the background of continuing declines in traditional news-gathering and ad revenue. More about that tomorrow, too.

* Susana Martinez basically confirms every negative thing said about her in Andy Kroll’s Mojo profile of the New Mexico governor via her shrill overreaction to a relatively mild piece.

* At Ten Miles Square, Jonathan Bernstein runs through all the reasons Obamacare’s basic structure guarantees it bad publicity and poor polling numbers.

* At College Guide, Clare McCann notes new CBO numbers indicating the Pell Grant program is—temporarily at least—still some distance from insolvency.

And in non-political news:

* Pope Francis offers a couple of kids in the crowd at St. Peter’s Square a ride in the Popemobile.

That’s it for Wednesday. Let’s close with one more piece of hallucinogenic music. It’s a long one, but great fun: Procol Harum’s “In Held Twas I.”


April 16, 2014 5:49 PM Give ‘Em What They Want

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball did a piece over the weekend assessing the relative performances of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz at a big Tea Party event in New Hampshire, and her perspective is worth noting:

Paul began on a thundering note, invoking Thomas Paine and calling on listeners to “stand like men and women of courage and fight for your freedom.” He barely mentioned healthcare reform, focusing instead on his pitch to broaden the appeal of the GOP by changing the way it is perceived.
“If you want to grow the movement, we cannot be the party of fat cats, rich people, and Wall Street,” he said. Paul went on to argue against indefinite detention, to mock Justice Department terrorist profiling, and to argue for more lenient sentences for marijuana dealing—nontraditional conservative subjects that seemed to perplex the audience.
Cruz, on the other hand, told the crowd only what he knew it wanted to hear. His speech, unlike Paul’s, was infused with personality, beginning with cute stories about his young daughters. Of his defiant five-year-old, Caroline, who likes to play a game she calls “attack the Daddy,” he mused that she must be taking her cues from Senate Republican leadership.

Ball compared their approaches in NH with the subjects they each chose for their big moments on the Senate floor, with Paul focusing on use of drones—not a big priority even for the conservatives who actually oppose it—and Cruz, of course, demanding a “defunding” of Obamacare.

Which flavor of “constitutional conservatism” did the Tea Folk of the Granite State prefer? It was no contest:

In interviews with a dozen audience members, I could find only one who preferred Paul to Cruz.

People prefer being told they are not just right, but damned right, and if Republicans spent all their time explaining why Tea Folk are damned right, then they’d win more elections, right?

April 16, 2014 4:58 PM The Obama-Biden Job Training Initiative

I was probably one of the few general-purpose gabbers in the country who got excited during the 2014 State of the Union Address when the president announced he’d asked Joe Biden to head up a major effort to overhaul federal job training programs. Conservatives sometimes pay lip service to such programs, but really believe employers themselves—and the harsh realities of market forces—are the only source for effective job training. And many liberals are suspicious of training programs as a poor substitute for more direct interventions to create or retain the jobs for which workers are already equipped.

Whatever you think of their importance, though, it’s hard to deny that existing federal training programs represent a hodgepodge of poorly coordinated and inadequately funded efforts operating in their own little bureaucratic ghetto. So I looked forward to a fresh look at them, and perhaps even a rare bipartisan initiative.

Well, I should have known better. The administration has now announced the fruits of Biden’s labor today, and as one might have expected, they are limiting themselves to what they can do within existing resources without congressional approval:

Striving to show action on jobs, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are trumpeting $600 million in new competitive grants to spur creation of targeted training and apprenticeship programs that could help people land well-paying jobs.
Obama and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker arrived Wednesday afternoon in Pennsylvania, where Biden and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., were waiting to greet them. Obama and Biden were to make the grants announcement at the Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center in the western Pennsylvania borough of Oakdale….
The programs that Obama and his Pennsylvania-born vice president are announcing do not need approval from Congress because they will be paid for with money that lawmakers have already authorized for spending….
The larger of the two grant programs will put nearly $500 million toward a job training competition run by the Labor Department that is designed to encourage community colleges, employers and industry to work together to create training programs that are geared toward the jobs employers need to fill. Applications will be available starting Wednesday.
The training is part of an existing competitive grant program for community colleges that prepare dislocated workers and others for jobs….
The Labor Department is also making an additional $100 million available for grants to reward partnerships that expand apprenticeship programs.

Now there’s nothing wrong with either of these initiatives. Community colleges are indeed an important and underfunded source of vocational training, and some of them have found innovative ways to partner with employers, trainers, unions, and other entities crucial to the job market. And I’ve long thought apprenticeships—a big part of the job preparation scheme in other countries, notably Germany—were an under-utilized avenue for skills training.

But this isn’t quite the top-to-bottom overhaul, supported by national-scale funding, I originally hoped for (not that House Republicans would have easily gone along in any event).

I suppose it is safe to say that appropriately scaled jobs initiatives rather than symbolic gestures is an endemic problem for this administration. Again, Obama is not the main problem here, but it would be nice to hear more recognition from the president and the vice president that this country is in a profound economic and moral crisis over the growing disconnect between the economic rewards distributed to capital as opposed to labor. Even if it is difficult for any one administration, especially one dealing with a hostile U.S. House of Representative, to take major steps to deal with this crisis, it needs to be explained every single day as the context for what can be done.

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