My husband: a story of wandering, weddings, welding helmets and Washington

I talk a lot about my work life on this blog, whether it’s an anecdote about the life of a reporter in the Congress, or a fun snapshot of day to day operations in the capitol. One thing I don’t talk about enough, judging by your comments, is my personal life! I’ve gotten a lot of questions asking how I manage my home life with my career, which involves a lot of travel and hectic hours. It’s tricky indeed, so here’s a bit about my home life in the first place, and how I try to balance the two.

Obviously, the demands of reporting on the Congress pretty much demand that I live in the capitol during the week and sometimes during the weekends, which can be pretty hard on my family. Yes, family: I know it’s not a frequent topic here on my blog, but I think it’s probably time to introduce you to Juan, my husband. We’re both from Mexican roots, if you couldn’t tell from the blog address. I grew up in El Paso, while he lived in Mexico until he was 12 and then immigrated to Austin, which is where I met him. We moved around a lot in the first few years we were together, since we both did jobs which were easy to pick up anywhere, and we lived in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada in those first years, and we loved roaming on long road trips for weekends. Once we got married, we settled down in San Jose, which was our favorite place of them all.


My husband is a mechanic, and he has a shop in San Jose which is his pride and joy. He opened it the year we got married, and honestly, I’m really grateful for it as far as our marriage is concerned. I think in a lot of couples’ lives, the partner who stays in one place would get restless, and need to go and find another situation that’s a bit less lonely. But Manuel loves his shop, and it’s enough for him to work during the week and see me on weekends when I fly back. We try to squeeze a few phone calls in during the week, but as you can imagine, a busy garage isn’t exactly the best setting for a nice conversation.


Long distance can be hard, but we do see each other every week, so that definitely takes some of the loneliness out of the equation. I think we’ve also found that we’re both very independent people. We like having the freedom to really do our own things and be our own people, since we have such different careers. Then on the weekends, we come together and have a family again.


That’s not to say we don’t think of each other while we’re apart. We have a really great tradition of giving each other gifts at holidays that we’ll each use while we’re in our own work weeks, which is a really nice way of constantly being reminded of your significant other. I gave him a custom welding helmet with his family’s Mexican crest on it, and he gave me a really wonderful laptop bag that was made by a craftsman in his family’s village. We both treasure each other’s company, and maybe we avoid some of the overexposure that couples experience when they live with each other full-time.

I most certainly wouldn’t say our lifestyle is for everyone, but I find that splitting my time between my two homes makes me appreciate each more, and keeps my travel cravings sated every week. Going home to the shop clears my head, and being back in DC gives me a wonderful rush. It’s really my ideal way to be.

Visit this Facebook page for the best welding helmets today, especially if you’re like me with a husband, partner, or loved one who loves DIY welding! 😉

The problem with jobs

Every time a new administration takes office, no matter what the economic climate, the focus is on “jobs.” I’m putting in in quotations because in many ways, it’s a vague concept more than a practical reality, even though all the political ads feature men in hard hats getting to work in some ambiguous factory. There’s been a consistent expectation that every new President and Congress want to create jobs, but as a topic, it’s one of the most divisive in the world.


In the Republican mind, the solution is simple: scale back regulations and taxes to entice rich people and large corporations to expand industry and take on large building projects. They forget that without the incentive of taxes and regulation, there’s really no reason for the top 1% to do anything other than sit on their wallets.

Democrats have their own delusions, to be sure. Part of the reason the party is still so dumbfounded by the 2016 election results is the fact that aside from Bernie Sanders, none of them grasped that globalization, when controlled by corporate trade deals and manipulated tax loopholes, has very real and tangible consequences. Steel and welding jobs in America have declined steadily for years, wage growth is stagnant, and while employment rates are relatively high, they fail to account for underemployment.


In many ways Democrats did overlook the heartland, and they have done so for years. Does it have anything to do with the massive amounts of money they take from transnational corporations? It seems almost laughable to have to ask the question. President Obama flogged the TPP endlessly, and yet couldn’t speak cogently about any specific aspects of it, and nor could Congressional leaders. Why? Because the corporate lobbyists writing the deal didn’t allow members of the government to take copies of the drafts out of a secure location where it was being drafted. That’s right–a bunch of corporations prevented the government tasked with controlling them from seeing the fine print of a document that would become official government policy, and Democrats for the most part were completely fine with this. Sure, it was begun by Republicans, but Democrats have gone along with it for the past several decades. Republicans won because Democrats have pretended that nothing is actually wrong with the economy, when in reality, they could have taken a moral  stand against bad trade deals and used it as a way to get a majority with a frustrated, populist-minded public.


Now, I do want to make it clear that as a journalist who covers policy for a living, I’m aware that to most economists, trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP have a “negligible” effect on the overall economy. But there is a striking difference between the results of studies done by industry insiders and by private scholars like Robert Reich, which conclude that the trade deals, written by massive corporations, are anything but beneficial to American consumers and workers.


So, when President Trump campaigns on a platform of restoring jobs that were lost in trade deals, we have to realize that job losses aren’t all from trade. There are certainly cases to be made that each trade deal cost some tens or even hundreds of thousands of job. However, the far greater impact, which has cost millions of jobs, is automation. That’s not something you can renegotiate, as it’s a simple market force.


The problem is that the focus is on industries which are gone or on the way out, instead of industries of the future. There simply aren’t as many jobs in coal or auto manufacturing as there were 50 years ago. That’s not because people in Mexico are making our cars: it’s because robots can do the work of several people in a shorter amount of time and at less cost.


The other major dynamic is that, as with so many things in politics, our leaders are concerned with symptoms and not underlying causes. Jobs are shipped overseas because companies can make their products more cheaply abroad, which gives them an edge in a consumerist market where buyers are really not concerned with much beyond getting the lowest price.

To get companies back, we promise cuts in regulations, both for the environment and for the workplace, in the name of getting prices down to a more competitive rate. But, those regulations are what keep our workers safe, what keeps our drinking water clean, and what sets us apart from developing countries.


No matter how much you try, you will not get prices on par with the developing world unless you roll back wage growth, safety and environmental regulations to match the countries where things are currently made more cheaply. I don’t think anyone, however cavalier, would want that.
No, the answer to the heart of the problem, I think, is that we have our work cut out for us to change public thinking around consumerism. We’re certainly going to keep buying things, that’s the hallmark of a capitalist society. The challenge is to get people to realize the benefits of paying more for American-made goods. They need to understand the benefits, whether it’s the fact that their neighbors are being given gainful employment, or the ethical understanding that the products they buy were made in a way that’s responsible to the environment and to the larger society. The answer will be to raise raise awareness without raising problems by cutting regulations. Now try to imagine that on a trucker cap. We have lots of work ahead of us.

Congress, Trump, and the new Republican dilemma

I’ve been reporting from Washington for nearly a decade now, even though I can scarcely believe it. In the first few years, as President Bush prepared to wind up his second term, I was used to one very specific dynamic, where he had lost one House, and had quite a bit of trouble passing anything major. Then, when Obama swept to power with a majority in the Senate, the shoe was entirely on the other foot.


Right now, there’s a fascinating dynamic to watch as the Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration try to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The political right has nearly absolute power, with control of both houses of congress and a very willing president. They all campaigned on repealing the healthcare law, and yet, here we are. It is the beginning of a new term, a new session, and contrary to all but the most optimistic expectations, Obamacare is now more popular than it’s ever been before. In the face of threats of repeal, consumers have finally started reading the explanations we in the press put out years ago, and it turns out that when confronted with the possibility of no health care, they rather like Obamacare.

I must say, I find it hard to have a proper discussion with anybody about Obamacare given the mess it turned out to be. Personally, I’m fully in favor of governmental healthcare, but what’s frustrating in our American system is that often, instead of a parliamentary system where one party can fully enact its agenda with slight compromises but no major concessions, we end up with a partisan squabble, and what comes  out is rarely cohesive. Each party has its own idea, they both end up in the legislation, and what comes out is a law that’s based on two very different ideas which in practical terms are mutually exclusive. Hence Obamacare. We have a system which essentially consists of government funding for a private system. Little wonder people don’t think it works well: and yet we ought to be thankful for how well it has worked.


Now the Republicans have to face the unpleasant reality that it’s much easier to be a party that merely obstructs the Administration on every single policy agenda (even a healthcare proposal that’s practical a photocopy of Romney’s program from Massachusetts) than to actually be responsible for proposing positive changes and following through on them. Now it is glaringly obvious that they haven’t offered a viable alternative for Obamacare in the six years they’ve campaigned for its demise. Personally, I find that rather appalling. As a reporter, it’s more puzzling than anything. One would think that if a person is so staunchly opposed to an idea, they must logically have a clear idea of what they’re for in the opposite direction. That is apparently not the case.

So, now the Republicans must face the looming reality that they are now the face of disfunction when the “terrific” system Mr. Trump proposed on the campaign trail turns out to be less terrific than they anticipate. The voters expect change, and the Republicans have campaigned on change, but with no clear picture of the end result.There’s a great write-up on the dynamic that I really enjoyed reading here:  It’s going to be a very interesting few months to say the least! We’ll see what happens.