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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

by Joe Miller, The Century Foundation

So, apparently the IRS has illegally investigated the tax-exempt status of AP reporters who were calling Tea Party groups in Benghazi. Or something like that. It’s been a little hard to decipher my Twitter stream of late.

What’s much clearer is that Washington’s latest round of Much Ado About Nothing scandal-mongering has come at the perfect time to distract us from several important issues that were starting to gain some traction.

Here are five things we should be talking about right now, but aren’t.

1. Unemployment And The Budget.

Unemployment rate

Remember how not very long ago, everyone was running around predicting a budget doomsday, with mounting deficits signaling an imminent collapse of the economy? Debt hysteria brought us austerity measures, including massive budget cuts and the end of a pile of stimulus spending.

Only it turns out that the justification for austerity was based on an Excel error.

And yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office announced that the deficit for 2013 is $200 billion lower than its estimate in 2013, and that the 10-year cumulative number decreased by $618 billion.

Crickets.

So austerity is a mistake, and the deficit is improving anyway. Maybe it’s time to address the fact that the unemployment rate remains at 7.5%.

In February, the Congressional Progressive Caucus introduced a plan that addressed unemployment. That plan would replace sequestration with a number of short-term stimulus measures, all aimed at directly putting Americans back to work. Or we could go big, and embrace Century Foundation and Economic Policy Institute fellow Andrew Fieldhouse’s call for $2 trillion in new stimulus spending.

The media is busy reminding us that freedom of the press is the only thing guarding their ability to create fake scandals and lie about sources. A better use of time might involve reminding the Congress that 11.7 million Americans can’t find a job.

Graph: Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. The Worsening Crisis In Syria

Mideast Syria

AP Photo/SANA

Did you know there’s a civil war going on in Syria? Or that the number of Syrian refugees now exceeds the numbers in Darfur? Or that the Syrian government may well have used chemical weapons on its own people?

You’d be excused if you didn’t. Pundits who are busy obsessing over who wrote what email when about Bengahzi continue to ignore the Syrian crisis.

The conflict in Syria threatens to destabilize the entire region, and while there are some who say that may be a good thing, there is little question that we face a humanitarian disaster.

Century Foundation senior fellow Morton Abramowitz writes that President Obama’s upcoming meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an excellent opportunity to forge a Turkish-American plan for Syria. That’s provided we can stop talking about phone records long enough to focus.

3. Obamacare Implementation

The Affordable Care Act

White House photo

Remember Obamacare? Despite House Republicans’ 37th vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it remains the law of the land. In fact, many of its most important provisions are scheduled for implementation in 2014.

Just two weeks ago, progressives were beginning to give serious thought to how best to implement Obamacare. The implementation of new health insurance exchanges is a massive project that requires assembling a huge amount of data. And because many Republican governors have refused to implement any of its provisions, the federal government is left to do much of the heavy lifting.

Democrats were just beginning to talk about these difficulties, urging caution in implementation and educating Americans about what to expect. Those important conversations are now on hold while we obsess over fake scandals.

4. Guantánamo Bay

guantanamo infographic

There are currently 166 men imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay detention camp. They’ve been there for a decade now, and most of them have little hope of leaving. That fact is especially appalling given that only 6 of the 166 have actually faced formal charges. The rest remain in legal limbo; 86 have actually been cleared for release, but face little chance of leaving. A Century Foundation infographic from Abby Grimshaw and Thérèse Postel has all the gritty details.

As of Monday, 100 of the 166 detainees were on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention.

Twenty-nine are being force-fed in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.

In the wake of increased media coverage last month, President Obama promised (again) to close Guantánamo Bay. The very next day, however, Obama reiterated his support for the very policy that prevents most of the cleared detainees from leaving.

Public pressure forced the president to grapple with an issue he pledged to resolve right after he took office in 2009. With our attention distracted by IRS overreach, Obama is once again free to ignore Gitmo.

5. Gun Control

gun kid

Photo: Brittany Randolph via Flickr.com

Remember Newtown? Did you know that 4,096 Americans have been killed by guns since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Remember how even a very watered-down background-check bill and assault-weapon ban failed in the Senate?

The NRA certainly hasn’t forgotten.

But you can bet that they’re pretty pleased that everyone else seems to be so busy worrying about whether ABC glossed some emails properly that they’ve forgotten about children getting mowed down with assault weapons.

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