National

Making sense of American politics in the age of Barack Obama

A couple of weeks ago the United States was on the edge of a crisis. Had Republicans and Democrats in Congress not come to agreement with President Obama, the United States would have run out of money and defaulted on its debts, potentially throwing the country and the world economy into a recession. This crisis would have been a result of the Congress failing give the president to raise the debt ceiling which would have authorized him to borrow money to pay America’s bills.

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Meanwhile…

A continuing resolution which re-opens the federal government was passed along with a debt ceiling increase that keeps everything hummin’ along until February. It’s good news, at least until the next manufactured crisis comes. We can’t be sure what kind of economic damaged was done in the 16 day shutdown until … well, until the workers in the government that tabulate this stuff get back to work.

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Federal transit funding uncertain; State, locals must step up

From street cars and rapid buses to expanding rural and exurban mobility, many Minnesota communities have ambitious plans for transit. In the past, federal funding has been a key tool to finance local transit needs and expansions.

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"Heads-in-Beds" mandate crushes our national soul

A little-known Congressional mandate requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to keep an average of 34,000 detainees per day in its custody. This quota has steadily risen since it was established in 2006 by conservative lawmakers who insisted that the agency wasn’t doing enough to deport unlawful immigrants.

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Ending the government shutdown in court

So what if Congress and the president cannot reach an agreement to end the partial government shut-down or worse, extend the debt limit? Is the country hopelessly stuck in the middle of a political dispute? Not necessarily. Ignored in the entire dispute is one obvious resolution –the Supreme Court. While some may argue that budget and finance matters are no place for the courts to venture, the partial governmental shutdown and the pending debt limit extension both represent controversies that have a legal or constitutional basis that can be addressed by the courts.

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Bumper crop

Recent figures show that 2013 is turning out to be a banner year for the tireless workers who turn the fertile soil of American public opinion, planting seeds of doubt and raising the hackles and ire that feed our public discourse.

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Week 2 of federal shutdown: Debate widens to include debt ceiling, one-sided deficit reduction

It’s week two of the federal government shutdown, and the consequences for people who use services such as Head Start and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have come into clearer view. (See last week’s post on the shutdown and our Facebook and Twitter feeds for more information on the shutdown.)

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Amtrak versus the shutdown

Amtrak, the National Passenger Railroad Corporation, could cease to be a “national” network if the federal government shutdown drags on. The company has said that it can ride out a short-term shutdown, on the order of “several weeks“, but it’s unclear what might happen beyond that point. The good news is that the company is in better financial health than they have been in a decade or more, somewhat extending the window of time they can operate without federal assistance. The bad news is that it would still be a extremely difficult task to find the $100 million or so per month they would need to keep running the company as it is today.

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Ready to panic?

What does it take for international markets to panic? With the debt ceiling due to be hit in a little more than a week, the short answer is that the “full faith and credit of the United States” is still worth quite a lot. We’re only starting to see the first signs of a panic as an auction of 1-month TBills sold at a net rate of 0.355%. If that doesn’t impress you, it’s worth noting that it was one third that a week ago.

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Food democracy: Rule of the people or corporations?

When it comes to faith in our democracy, this year has raised some eyebrows. In the case of food and agriculture policy, a disturbing fact emerges: Our democracy is increasingly a façade.

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