The problem with Congress

Love this post in Vox from an anonymous member of Congress that it so on-point with what’s wrong with the institution (you’d almost think it was a political scientist writing it– David Price?).  None of this, “we just need to talk more to the other side” silliness, but a great understanding of the fundamental problems.  Here’s my favorite parts:

2) Congress listens best to money

It is more lucrative to pander to big donors than to regular citizens. Campaigns are so expensive that the average member needs a million-dollar war chest every two years and spends 50 percent to 75 percent of their term in office raising money. Think about that. You’re paying us to do a job, and we’re spending that time you’re paying us asking rich people and corporations to give us money so we can run ads convincing you to keep paying us to do this job. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech and corporations are people, the mega-rich have been handed free loudspeakers. Their voices, even out-of-state voices, are drowning out the desperate whispers of ordinary Americans…

5) We don’t have a Congress but a parliament

Over the last several decades, party loyalty has increased to near-unanimity. If a member of Congress doesn’t vote with his or her party 99 percent of the time, he’s considered unreliable and excluded from party decision-making. Gone are the days when you were expected to vote your conscience and your district, the true job of a congressperson. Parliaments only work because they have a prime minister who can get things done. We have a parliament without any ability to take executive action. We should not be surprised we are gridlocked

8)The best people don’t run for Congress

Smart people figured this out years ago and decided to pursue careers other than running for Congress. The thought of living in a fishbowl with 30-second attack ads has made Congress repulsive to spouses and families. The idea of spending half your life begging rich people you don’t know for money turns off all reasonable, self-respecting people. That, plus lower pay than a first-year graduate of a top law school, means that Congress, like most federal agencies, is not attracting the best and the brightest in America.

Great, but oh-so-depressing analysis.  Makes me fear for the future.  There are two of his concerns that we can actually do something about– campaign finance and gerrymandering.  Now, if only both parties had the political will to do so.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of snow cascading down rocky slopes in Gran Paradiso, Italy

Snow Fall

Photograph by Stefano Unterthiner, National Geographic

Late winter snow cascades down the rocky slopes of Valsavarenche valley in Italy’s Gran Paradiso National Park. Ruinous avalanches are rare in Gran Paradiso, but in 2008 one destroyed several houses in two park villages.

Those pesky government regulations

Our new Senator, Thom Tillis, makes it clear just how inane and intellectually incoherent an extreme libertarian ideology and fear of “regulation” can be:

Tillis’s suggestion was that rules requiring restaurant workers to wash their hands before leaving the restroom are unnecessary.

“I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says we don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom. The market will take care of that. It’s one example,” he said.

First of all, gross. Second, mandated disclosure — posting a sign announcing to customers that employees are not washing their hands — is precisely the kind of imposition on the freedom of speech that conservatives and the business lobby have objected to in other contexts. Anyway, in practice, the existing rules really aren’t enforceable beyond requiring restaurants to post a sign in their bathrooms reminding their employees to clean up. It’s not clear whether the senator’s solution would actually do anything to advance the free market beyond replacing one sign with another.

Jon Stewart nails this all brilliantly (I cannot get WordPress to embed hulu and it’s really annoying me, but you should click the link– if there’s a big gap showing, it’s where the video should be).

This is just a great example of how facile such free market absolutism is.  Even if we had transparent information about what eating establishments were getting sick (we would need the government to collect that information) there’s actually huge economic costs– not to mention human suffering— costs by widespread foodborne illness.  The idea that we should just leave the marketplace to sort this all out is simply juvenile.  But here’s’ a United States Senator so convinced in his– free markets: good; regulations: bad– ideology that he cannot even see this.  Not to mention, he doesn’t actually trust the market because he still wants Starbucks to be required to post a sign.

Thanks God cooler/wiser heads have prevailed when it comes to public health.  I’d hate to live in Thom Tillis’ utopia– one thing I know about it, it’s full of nasty pathogens.

The NFL’s misguided moralism

I wrote very briefly before about the NFL’s way overly harsh punishment of Josh Gordon for marijuana use (it would be an understatement to say this is not exactly a performance-enhancing drug for a football player), and now they have suspended him a whole season for using… alcohol.  

CLEVELAND — Josh Gordon is officially suspended without pay for a minimum of one year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the Browns announced Tuesday. And the team couldn’t sound more fed up with the wide receiver.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Jan. 25 that Gordon had failed a league-issued substance abuse test, this time for alcohol. This is Gordon’s third NFL suspension. Also, the team suspended Gordon on the final week of the season for missing team activities. The NFL had issued a zero-drinking stipulation for Gordon as a result of his repeat offenses…

In a first-person letter published by a website called Medium, Gordon said he was not an alcoholic or a drug addict and took exception to television commentators broadly categorizing him as such. He also said that he had two beers and two drinks during a flight with teammates to Las Vegas on Jan. 2, and that he was summoned to be tested upon the plane’s landing.

One can argue that Gordon agreed to the NFL’s stipulation, but what business does the NFL have stipulating a grown man cannot consume a perfectly legal product?!  I’m no big fan of alcohol, but when used in moderation and with appropriate caution (i.e., driving, heavy machinery) it’s pretty harmless (and actually has some health benefits) so where the hell does the NFL get off saying no alcohol at all?  Did Mormons or Southern Baptists take over?  Again, the idea that an employer should be able to punish an adult for simply using a perfectly legal product that does not violate league substance abuse policies and using the product away from the place (and time) of employment is just absurd.

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