Hiking Up (Prescription) Drug Mountain

We all remember when Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of Daraphim from twenty dollars a tablet to seven hundred and fifty dollars a tablet. Shkreli's defense was that the drug is used very rarely, and he had to charge a lot to make a profit. To editorialize, it almost seemed like Shkreli was excusing his actions because "only 300 people in the country have this disease," this disease being toxoplasmosis.

He's not wrong, toxoplasmosis is very uncommon. It's almost exclusively contracted by people with severely weakened immune systems, such as those suffering from end-stage AIDS, chemotherapy, and people who have recently received organ transplants.

Read More

Unto Others

"When Hurricane Sandy happened in our sophomore year, did you ever think it would become your job?"

A friend asked me that when I started my latest job which is, as you may have guessed, tying up the loose ends of Hurricane Sandy recovery. I've now worked in two different jobs doing some aspect of storm recovery, and almost across the board, it's incredibly complicated. So with the recent flooding in Louisiana, I thought this would be a good time to talk about disaster recovery, and what happens when it becomes political.

When you talk about flooding and disasters, FEMA is the first thing that springs to mind, and with good reason. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is often the first on the ground when a disaster hits, and that disaster can be anything from a hurricane, to flooding, to tornado, to a terrorist attack, to an Ebola scare, all natural disasters FEMA has been involved in in the last fifteen years.

Read More

Good Trouble

Welcome one and all to the brand-new, official, real life website of West Wing, Best Wing! Like the Italian sculptors of yore, I have found myself a patron who gave me the funds necessary to make this blog official.

For my inaugural post, I was going to write about abortion. On Monday, the Supreme Court will be handing down a decision on Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, and their decision on this could impact abortion laws across the country. But then I remembered that I've already written that postSeveral times. And I promise to write another one explaining the decision when it is released on Monday.

Read More

In Their Defense

Remember when this blog was just about complicated Congressional bills instead of my opinions about the election and sexism? After trying (and mostly failing) to write about polls and why they're flawed, I decided to tackle a far easier subject and discuss the most recent defense bill that just passed the House, but will probably be vetoed.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 allocates money to the Department of Defense, which in turn, funds the military. I'll spare you an exhaustive account of everything that's in the bill, because the bill is hundreds of pages long, and I don't have time to read it all. The bill appropriates 23 billion dollars in funding, to allow current military campaigns to continue through April of 2017, at which point, the new president will have to request supplemental funding.

Read More

PACking Heat


Campaign finance is a gigantic and complicated issue, and there's no way I can address it in one blog post, but I did want to explain some of the particulars of Super PACs, since they seem to be a hot-button topic with a lack of clear information readily available (or at least a lack of clear information that I could find easily).

PAC stands for Political Action Committee, and traditional PACs have been around since the 1940s. These PACs are usually run by companies, unions, or groups of people with a similar ideology. People contribute funds to the PAC, and the PAC is then able to donate that money to a wide variety of candidates. Individuals can contribute up to 5,000 dollars a year to a PAC, which is higher than the normal limit of 2,700 which individuals can give to a single candidate.The PAC can then give up to 5,000 dollars to an individual candidate, and up to 15,000 to a national party.

For example, I as an individual can give 2,700 dollars to support the re-election of my favorite Senator, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Then, I can give up to 5,000 more dollars to LPAC, a lesbian political action committee that supports the election of candidates who champion LGBTQ rights. They could then give up to 5,000 dollars to Tammy Baldwin's campaign, and up to 15,000 dollars to the Democratic Party.

The hero we deserve

The hero we deserve

How is a PAC different from a Super PAC? While an individual can make only a 5,000 dollar contribution to a PAC, the money someone can give to a Super PAC is unlimited, and largely unregulated. While Super PACs are require to report the identity of their donors, they can take money from something called a "dark money" non-profit, or a 501(c)(4), which is not required to report the identity of their donors, but can solicit unlimited contributions.

So let's say I form the Parity Super PAC, with the goal of electing a Senate that looks like America, and is at least half-female. Now, I can not only take unlimited contributions from a variety of rich and powerful women who agree with my goal, but I can also solicit funds from non-profits and other 501(c)(4) corporations who do not have to disclose the identity of their donors. This means that I could be taking in a lot of money from rich and powerful people all around the world, and keeping their identities a secret.

You just know that Prime Minister Trudeau would support my Parity PA

You just know that Prime Minister Trudeau would support my Parity PA

And now I can give unlimited money to Tammy Baldwin, and Tammy Duckworth and all the other amazing Tammy's running for the Senate right? Wrong, actually. A Super PAC, unlike a regular PAC or the national party committees, or an individual, cannot donate money directly to candidates or party committees.

In fact, legally, Super PACs can't coordinate with candidates at all. What can they do? Usually, Super PACs make ads for and against candidates. When you see a shady ad that isn't made by a candidate, it was probably created and funded by a Super PAC.

Remember when Ted Cruz put out 15 hours of footage on the Internet for everyone to see? And we were all like "why Ted, you look like an idiot, why would you put any of this on YouTube?" He had to put that footage on YouTube because legally, he can't email it to the Super PAC that would make positive ads about him. Mitch McConnell did the same thing, which gave us the delightful McConnelling game by the Daily Show, where people put new songs over video footage of Mitch McConnell. They have to give the Super PACs footage to work with, so that ads can be created on the Super PACs dime.

Ted Cruz: Not successful at acting like a human

Ted Cruz: Not successful at acting like a human

Because Super PACs can't coordinate with candidates, sometimes the PAC will end up hurting the candidate more than helping them, by presenting a different message than what the candidate hopes to present. And in my professional blogging opinion, this election cycle showed that no matter how much Super PAC money you have, you can still lose badly if you are not a good campaigner and a good fundraiser, independent of Super PAC funds. And if you don't believe me, look at Jeb Bush (tons of Super PAC money, terrible campaigner) or Scott Walker (tons of Super PAC money, couldn't raise enough campaign cash to continue to pay his staffers).

Are Super PACs a problem? Yes, because citizens deserve to know who is donating to what campaign, and there should be limits on how much people can donate. But is a well-funded Super PAC necessary to win an election? Absolutely not, and grassroots organizing of people can and has overcome money in politics. And reforms are possible to reign in Super PACs and fix campaign financing, so don't give up hope! But if you need to calm down after learning about Super PACs, you really should watch the McConnelling Daily Show segment. It's truly a work of art.

It's Democracy, No One is Happy

If you feel like the government has been on the brink of a shutdown since 2013, you're right! The government has not had a long-term spending and taxation bill since they averted the fiscal cliff, and tonight at midnight, the government is set to run out of money. Predictably, the House plans to pass a small funding bill (known as a stop-gap bill) that will keep the lights on until December 22nd.

But this time is different! Congress is nearing the end of negotiations on the biggest and broadest tax and spending bill since the fiscal cliff debacle of 2013

Read More

Actions Speak Louder Than Prayers

The actions following a mass shooting seem chillingly predictable now. Representatives and Senators take to Twitter to express their thoughts and prayers, President Obama holds a press conference saying that he can't keep holding press conferences after tragic events like this, the Democrats blame guns, the Republicans blame the mentally ill. A week later, the news media have moved on. Another mass shooting. Repeat.

Read More

No Room at the Inn

House and Senate Republicans want to send a message to Syrian refugees that there's "no room at the inn" this Christmas season, and they want to attach that message to a bill to keep the government running.

Congress needs to pass a funding bill by December 11th to avoid another government shutdown. With many representatives flying back to their districts over the weekend, it doesn't leave too many legislative days to negotiate, and pass a budget.

Read More

Balancing Act

There's a lot of moments from the Republican debate I could fact-check, dispute, and tear apart for my many blog readers (all 12 of you). But while there has be article after article about Marco Rubio's flip-flopping, Donald Trump's sexism, and the Christie/Paul debate, no one has written about the incredibly interesting and sexy issue of John Kasich and balancing the federal budget.

If you watched the debate, you may remember John Kasich, current governor of Ohio, touting numerous times that he balanced the federal budget. It's certainly correct that John Kasich was the Chairman of the Budget Committee in 1997, which was the last time we had a balanced Federal budget. It's true that this was the first time the United States had a balanced budget since 1970. It's true there was a Republican-controlled Congress at the time. And yes, it's true that Bill Clinton was the President the last time the Federal budget was balanced.

Read More

Wait For It

167 days. That’s how long new Attorney General Loretta Lynch waited to be confirmed. After sailing through a confirmation hearing, the extremely qualified lawyer waited longer than the past seven attorney generals combined to have her nomination be voted on by the Senate. Unsurprisingly, she sailed through the vote, with 56 Senators voting for her, and 43 voting against. Ten Republicans joined all the Democrats in confirming Attorney General Lynch at the nation’s first African-American female Attorney General. Only Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) did not vote.

Interestingly, Senator Cruz also abstained from a vote held yesterday on S.B. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. This bill, in contrast to the somewhat close vote to confirm Attorney General Lynch, passed with the other 99 Senators voting in favor of the bill. How did a bill that was previously contentious enough to create an unprecedented delay for a presidential nominee pass with the support of almost every Senator?

Read More

Hyde Your Amendments

There has been gridlock around the anti-human trafficking bill in the Senate, and I promise that is the last traffic-based pun I will make at the expense of human trafficking.

The debate about the anti-human trafficking bill came to a standstill today when the Senate failed to achieve the necessary 60-vote cloture to end debate on the bill, and put the bill up for the real vote. Unlike the cloture votes of years passed, this one was tanked by Democrats, not Republicans.

Read More

The Most Secure Shutdown

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated the blog, but it’s also been awhile since Congress was on the brink of a shutdown of necessary government services, so I guess we both just had other things on our plates. Now, after over a year since the last government shutdown, Congress is once again flirting with the possibility of ending funding to a government agency. This time, it’s the Department of Homeland Security, and the Republicans are in charge. What a difference a year makes!

The Department of Homeland Security was created in the aftermath in the 9/11 attacks, and oversees border patrol, emergency responses, cybersecurity, and other industries that protect our nation from foreign threats. Their funding is running out, though Congress did pass a one week extension last Friday to fund the department for another week. But once this funding expires on March 6th, another bill will have to be passed to continue to keep our country safe.

Read More

Going Nuclear

The nuclear option has been deployed! We're all going to have to duck and cover!

If you're nervous about the frighteningly named "nuclear option" that you've been hearing so much about, you shouldn't be. The "nuclear option" is a dramatic name given to a rare procedural rules change the Democrats in the Senate implemented on Thursday. The measure prevents the minority from filibustering presidential nominees for cabinet positions and all judicial posts except ones on the Supreme Court.

Read More

The Shutdown is Over!

This post is several weeks too late, but if Congress taught me anything during the government shutdown, it’s that you can refuse to do something, and then blame others when it isn’t done. Which will be my strategy when my papers aren't turned in on time.

If you didn’t notice, the government shutdown ended several weeks ago after the House and the Senate finally passed a bill. The bill, created by the Senate, fund the government until January 7th, and raised the debt ceiling until February 7th. Obamacare was not defunded or delayed. The only provision that related to Obamacare is that now the government is required to make sure people are eligible for subsidized healthcare. For those of you keeping score, this means the Democrats were able to have what they asked for, while the Republicans did not end the shutdown with anything they wanted.

Read More

October Crisis Part 2: Our Debt

At last, like a light in the darkness, we are starting to hear whisperings of the possibility of debt limit negotiations.

Friday, GOP leaders met with President Obama to talk about raising the debt ceiling for six weeks This bill will include a short-term debt limit increase as well as a promise to go to conference, in exchange for a promise from Obama to discuss long-term deficit reduction solutions. Speaker Boehner (R-OH) also hopes the talks will include negotiations to end the government shutdown.

That’s right. There are no current plans to end the government shutdown, merely a promise to raise the debt ceiling for a short six weeks.

Read More

Ending the Shutdown

It’s very easy to look at the government shutdown and feel an overwhelming sense of anger and despair. I would know. I’ve been feeling that way for almost a week. It can seem like there is no end in sight, and that Congress will never reach a compromise and reopen the government.

But do not despair blog readers (all two of you)! This shutdown could end tomorrow if Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) would allow the House to vote on the clean continuing resolution that the Senate has passed.

But Bella, you say, that’s not possible. The House is controlled by Republicans!

Read More

Who's To Blame?

The government hasn’t even shutdown yet, and already many Republicans are blaming the Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).  

Now you can fault Senator Reid for some things. He doesn’t always stand up to the Republicans the way he should and he is more boring than the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But this shutdown cannot be blamed on him, or any Democrat.

Read More

Countdown to Shutdown

Hang onto your pants, because our country appears to be on the fast track to a shutdown.

Yesterday, the Senate passed their version of the appropriations bill, 54-44. The bill included funding for Obamacare, and was sent back to the House. Just today, the House stated that they planned to include provisions in the appropriations bill that would delay the implementation of Obamacare for a year and eliminate the medical devices tax that is a part of Obamacare. Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) made it clear that the Senate would not accept these amendments to the bill. The options now are for one side to cave, for both sides to work for a compromise, or for the government to shutdown.

Read More

Funding and Filibusters

Another Texan is monopolizing the Senate floor, but this time it isn’t a filibuster and I’m not inspired.

Starting on Tuesday afternoon, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) made a 21-hour speech against Obamacare, but it wasn’t a filibuster. It was long, he wasn’t allowed to sit or leave the floor, and he was passionate. So why is this not a filibuster?

Technically, Senator Cruz was not interfering with the Senate’s business. There was a vote at 1pm today to begin debate on the continuing resolution the House passed, and Ted Cruz had the floor until then. It would only be a filibuster if he had 41 Senators who would refuse to vote to proceed to debate. Majority Leader Reid had the 60 votes he needed to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to debate of the continuing resolution, so Ted Cruz’s speech was merely grandstanding.

Read More

Budget Plans and Debt Limits

Only hours after I published the post about the government shut down, the House passed its budget plan. This came as a surprise for two reasons, the first because I didn’t think the House would ever pass any sort of budget until the last minute, and the second because I honestly did not realize the House did anything on a Friday.

So what exactly did the House pass? It’s a bill that outlining how much the government will spend in the coming fiscal year, but it also includes a provision to defund Obamacare. The bill passed the House 230-189, along party lines. While the bill passed in the House, it is very unlikely that it will pass the Senate unchanged, as the Senate is controlled by Democrats. Most people think that the Senate will pass a similar version of the bill, but include spending for Obamacare, and send it back to the House.

Read More