Imagine that. The President of the United States notices that the welfare regulations are preventing a lot of impoverished people from getting help during this prolonged recession and, using the discretion at his command, approves some administrative changes that would allow a lot more people to be eligible. This is upsetting a lot of asshats, like Orin Hatch and Mickey Kaus.

Now, there’s a reason you don’t read about Mickey Kaus on this blog: No one in the progressive world takes him seriously, not even a little bit. In fact, you can tell that a policy change is the right one in inverse proportion to Mickey Kaus’s hissy fit. And the fact that he thinks it’s political suicide to help desperate people survive is classic Third Way thinking. I would not wish on Mr. Kaus the same fate he so fervently desires for so many others. From Alex Pareene in Salon:

So, lifetime caps and strict work requirements and desperately cash-starved states and a prolonged unemployment crisis have basically all added up to TANF not actually providing any benefits to millions of people who need them. (This, again, is sort of by design!)

And apparently the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services has responded to this by expressing a willingness to grant states waivers for some work requirements, under certain conditions. Which led, of course, to the Heritage Foundation accusing Obama of “gutting welfare reform.” According to their reading of the HHS memo: “The new Obama dictate asserts that because the work requirements, established in section 407, are mentioned as an item that state governments must report about in section 402, all the work requirements can be waived.” But the work requirements were one of the most important parts of the reform law, and they are, supposedly, not supposed to be subject to waivers. Tyranny!

In the past, state bureaucrats have attempted to define activities such as hula dancing, attending Weight Watchers, and bed rest as “work.” These dodges were blocked by the federal work standards. Now that the Obama Administration has abolished those standards, we can expect “work” in the TANF program to mean anything but work.The new welfare dictate issued by the Obama Administration clearly guts the law. The Administration tramples on the actual legislation passed by Congress and seeks to impose its own policy choices — a pattern that has become all too common in this Administration.The result is the end of welfare reform.

(There are obviously no links or citations substantiating any of the claims in the first quoted paragraph.)

So I dunno, I guess the Obama administration is circumventing the law to … make it slightly easier for poor people to receive assistance, which on the whole I think I approve of.

Someone who doesn’t approve of this is Mickey Kaus, the famous Democratic warblogger currently at Tucker Carlson’s “The Daily Caller.” Kaus is one of those Democrats who, from the first paragraph, is on a never-ending crusade for border fences and the elimination of labor unions and so on. He loves welfare reform because it made dumb, lazy, poor people get off their lazy asses and go to work instead of collecting government checks to buy Cadillacs. Obama’s gutting of welfare reform makes him so mad!

He is worried that weakening, or being seen as weakening, the work requirements sends the “wrong signal,” and that the hordes of leeches and parasites that make up the American underclass will hear this signal and flock back on the gravy train. But most important, he can’t figure out why Obama would do this. Welfare reform works super well — the proof is that much fewer people receive welfare now! Why change a program that has worked so perfectly?Especially when there are much better options for helping people, like … doing some different thing.

[…] Finally, in point thirteen, Kaus says, “If this is a political move, I don’t understand it, because as we all know welfare is horribly unpopular, and promising to destroy welfare got both Reagan and Clinton elected.” But maybe — and I’m really just spitballing, here — it’s not a “political move” and it is actually a move designed to address the fact that welfare reform left the program uniquely unsuited to help people in the event of a massive, prolonged unemployment crisis. Or, hell, maybe HHS is correct when it says it’s just trying to let states come up with more effective job prep and placement programs! (Tyranny again!!) Or maybe Obama just did this to piss off the Heritage Foundation and steal the money of hard-working Real Americans to give to shiftless Welfare Queens. Anything is possible! Anything besides poverty-alleviating government programs operating without being vindictively stingy and punitive in the United States, anyway.

The not-so-mighty Mississippi

When you see some of the crazy “issues” being raised in this presidential election instead of leadership on climate change, doesn’t it make you want to scream? Not only are we going to have massive crop failures as a result of this ongoing drought, we aren’t even able to ship the crops we have when shipping channels like the formerly-mighty Mississippi are drying up:

Companies operating along the Mississippi River are seeing a drastic cut in business as severe drought lowers water levels and makes shipping increasingly difficult.The drought, which now covers more than 1,000 counties across the US, has dropped water levels 50 feet below last year’s levels in some places. Last winter’s lack of snow, the absence of any major tropical storms from the Gulf of Mexico, sweltering temperatures, and the lack of rain this spring and summer are to blame for the shallow water.

The Mississippi is a major trade conduit through the central U.S. Barges, which are often cheaper to operate than trains or trucks, carry goods such as grain, corn, soybeans, steel, rubber, coffee, fertilizer, coal, and petroleum products in and out of the interior of the country.

As the water levels fall, barges have run aground near Vicksburg, Mississippi, where the water is already less than 5 feet deep, and shipping companies have been forced to curtail their business. The Wall Street Journal reports:

‘It’s causing headaches all up and down the river system right now,’ said Martin Hettel, senior manager of bulk sales for AEP River Operations, a St. Louis-based barge company.Mark Fletcher, owner of Ceres Barge Line of East St. Louis, Ill., said about 70% of his 220 barges aren’t being used now. First, the drought cut crops, reducing demand for shipping. Now, low water levels are making it more costly to ship.

‘It’s not good if you are in the barge business right now,’ he said. ‘In the last 60 days, you’ve watched a whole lot of money go out the window.’

Some river ports have been forced to close temporarily or shut down parts of their operations because of the low water levels. At the port of Rosedale in the Mississippi Delta, port director Robert Maxwell Jr. said water levels are about 50 feet below what they were last year, when flooding shut down the port. If the water falls any lower, there was a ‘high likelihood’ he would have to close, he said. One of the port’s public loading docks is inoperable, with equipment normally in the water now hanging the air. The Army Corps of Engineers is supposed to come this week to dredge, where heavy equipment is used to dig out sediment from waterways to make them passable for shipping.

Behind the scenes

As Digby points out, everything you see happening right now is about the Grand Bargain.

Someone sent me this today, and it involves the usual Third Way/neocon suspects:

Dear Friends,
Tomorrow at 2:00 PM at the National Press Club we will be launching The Campaign to Fix the Debt.  This unprecedented coalition will mobilize business, civic and thought leaders from both parties, and people across America, in support of a comprehensive debt deal.  The campaign will make clear the consequences of not enacting such a plan, and educate the country about the benefits of dealing with these challenges responsibly and thoughtfully.


The launch of The Campaign to Fix the Debt will include remarks by Co-Founder Erskine Bowles, as well as from our Co-Chairmen, Judd Gregg and Edward Rendell, among several other supporters and allies.  See below for a full list of participants in tomorrow’s event.


We hope you can join us at the event.  If not, we encourage you to go towww.fixthedebt.org to find out more about the campaign or tune into C-SPAN 3 to watch the launch live at 2:00 PM.


WHO:         Erskine Bowles, Co-Founder, The Campaign to Fix the Debt
Dave Cote, Chairman & CEO, Honeywell
Senator Judd Gregg, Co-Chair, The Campaign to Fix the Debt
Maya MacGuineas, President, The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
Senator Sam Nunn, Co-Chairman, The Concord Coalition; Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Nuclear Threat Initiative
Pete Peterson, Founder and Chairman, The Peter G. Peterson Foundation


Steven Rattner, Chairman, Willett Advisors
Governor Ed Rendell, Co-Chair, The Campaign to Fix the Debt
Alice Rivlin, Former Director, OMB; Founding Director, CBO
Paul Stebbins, Executive Chairman, World Fuel Services
Ambassador Bob Zoellick, former President of the World Bank
WHEN:       Tuesday, July 17th, 2:00 – 3:00 PM ET


WHERE:      Zenger Room, The National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, 13th
                    Floor, Washington, DC 20045

Drill, baby, drill

I got out my drill and installed two sets of shutter blinds in my kitchen today — which brought down the temperature by about ten degrees. And I felt so productive!

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