Friday, January 17, 2014

Visions of dysfunction

In a longer than usual read of the Times front section this morning, three tales abruptly coalesced in my mind as markers of U.S. political dysfunction.

First up, we have Republicans blocking the U.S. from fulfilling a core international commitment - a major adjustment to a changing world -- and the administration failing to go to the mat for the country's credibility:
The Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a $1.1 trillion spending bill for the current fiscal year, leaving behind what might have been the Obama administration’s best chance to overhaul the International Monetary Fund and meet its obligations to the world’s other economic powers.

Administration officials concede that Congress’s decision not to make the changes will be an embarrassment to President Obama internationally, undermining future efforts to reach global economic accords. But congressional Republicans would not budge from their refusal to cede some control of the fund to China, India, Brazil and other emerging economic powers...

The structural changes to the fund have languished since Mr. Obama agreed to the “rebalancing” with great fanfare at the G-20 meeting in Seoul, South Korea, in 2010. Powers like China have chafed at their status as junior partners at the monetary fund, even as they become major international lenders.

In response, the world’s largest economies agreed to give up some of their authority at the fund — the international lender of last resort — to democratize the institution and head off efforts by China to create alternative funding sources.

“I have made no secret of the fact that I think it’s critical for us to finalize the ratification,” Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations. “We made a full-court press to get it done and got close, but didn’t get it done this past week. We are continuing to stand by our commitment, and we will get it done.”
Next: A country so in love with its alleged scriptural right to bear arms that it's had to institutionalize routines to terrorize its children:
For students across the country, lockdowns have become a fixture of the school day, the duck-and-cover drills for a generation growing up in the shadow of Columbine High School in Colorado and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Kindergartners learn to hide quietly behind bookshelves. Teachers warn high school students that the glow of their cellphones could make them targets. And parents get regular text messages from school officials alerting them to lockdowns.
Finally, in "good" news: a program that's at worst harmless gives rise to a sad presidential boast. In Clinton Global Initiative style, Obama convened 100 college presidents, each of whom made an allegedly concrete commitment to enroll more low-income minority students. Obama elevated necessity to a shining virtue:

Citing the attendees’ pledges both to seek out college applicants from low-income communities and to steer them through an unfamiliar world, Mr. Obama added, “That’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and we didn’t pass a bill to do it.”
 As long as Republicans control the House (if not the Senate too), that's the only kind of accomplishment we'll get.

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