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So That Happened: Did Obama Forget That The GOP Runs Congress?

Jason Linkins   |   February 6, 2015    6:10 PM ET

So, that happened: This week, the early stages of the 2016 presidential election collided headlong with the phenomenon of vaccine denialism, with two candidates ending up in intensive care for foot-in-mouth disease. We'll talk about who took a hit and who managed to avoid this nonsense.

Listen to this week's "So, That Happened" below:

Are you a regular "So, That Happened" listener? Let us know! Tell us what you think of the show, what we're messing up and who we need to hear more from. Send us an electronic communication at sothathappened@huffingtonpost.com.

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Some highlights from this week:

"It's a world in which we need sanity. And this week, we didn't get it." -- Jason Linkins

Meanwhile, the Obama budget is out, and from the looks of it, it seems the president wants to swing for the fences on infrastructure, early childhood care and increased federal spending. But did he notice that Congress is controlled by the GOP? We'll discuss what compromises are possible.

"It's as though Democrats control both chambers of Congress. There is not an effort which he's made in previous budgets to meet them halfway, or more than halfway." -- Sabrina Siddiqui

Finally, this was a big week for Downton Abbey-inspired congressional interior decoration scandals. We'll explain how it came to pass that we could put all those words in that previous sentence.

"Washington elites decorate their environs with track lighting, chrome appliances and granite countertops -- a very modern, spare look with open floor plans, and [Aaron] Schock is going in the other direction." -- Arthur Delaney

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We're very happy to let you know that "So, That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving, a show that's as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go underreported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode: Subscribe to "So, That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We also encourage you to check out other HuffPost podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," the HuffPost Weird News podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print" and HuffPost Entertainment's podcast.

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience!

So, That Happened: Congress Delivered Its State Of Disarray

Jason Linkins   |   January 24, 2015    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: This week, President Barack Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress now completely controlled by his opposition. The Huffington Post's Sabrina Siddiqui was there, and she joins us to discuss the oration and the reaction.

Listen to this week's "So, That Happened" below:

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Some highlights from this week:

"It was honestly, by all accounts, Obama feeling as though he's been completely freed of the politics that have marred especially the last two years of his presidency." -- Sabrina Siddiqui

In Tuesday's speech, the most newsworthy moment came when the President emphasized the importance of what he called "middle-class economics." The quick, hot take was that by doing so, Obama was opening a new round of combat with Republicans. We'll discuss how a focus on the middle class will also present a challenge for Democrats -- and for our political culture in general.

"There's a more general call to claw back wealth accrued by the 1 percent and spread it around more fairly in a larger population that has not made it out from the Great Recession. This is something that may be the most difficult part of the whole State of the Union address to finesse." -- Jason Linkins

Finally, once the pageantry of the State of the Union had faded, Congress returned to its typical State of Disarray. We'll go over the loudest of the week's facepalms.

Exhibit A, courtesy of the House:

"Basically, the bill said rapes are only legitimate if they were reported to police." -- Arthur Delaney

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We're very happy to let you know that "So, That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving, a show that's as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go underreported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode: Subscribe to "So, That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We also encourage you to check out other HuffPost Podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," the HuffPost Weird News Podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print" and HuffPost Entertainment's Podcast.

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience!

So That Happened: Against All Logic, A 2012 Loser Is Reborn

Jason Linkins   |   January 17, 2015    7:30 AM ET

So that happened: This week, the 2016 presidential race was roiled by the announcement that former GOP nominee and 2012 loser Mitt Romney was, against all logic, getting his band back together to mount yet another run for the White House. This has baffled everyone, including The Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel, who joins us to form a chorus of confused noises.

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

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Jason Linkins wondered...

"If America needed him when the economy was bad, why do we need him when the economy is good?"

To which Amanda Terkel thought...

"I believe Mitt Romney does actually want to help the country. He actually values public service. But I don't go around the country and hear people saying, 'What we need now is Mitt Romney.'"

Some more highlights from this week:

Elsewhere, the past few weeks have seen the age-old battle between Wall Street and Main Street re-enjoined with American taxpayers facing the prospect of the Volcker Rule getting delayed. But the spines of the Democratic minority have suddenly stiffened. We talk about why with Zach Carter and Arthur Delaney.

"They don't want to be identified as the party of Wall Street at a time when a lot of people in the economy aren't doing so well." -- Zach Carter

Finally, President Barack Obama is pitching a plan to reform paid family leave for federal workers. We discuss the implications of the plan and its potential to spur similar reforms elsewhere.

"For all the talk about family values, having a kid in the United States often means you will suffer economic punishment if you want to raise your child." -- Arthur Delaney

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We're very happy to let you know that "So That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving and as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go under-reported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode by subscribing to "So That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We'd also encourage you to check out other HuffPost Podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," HuffPost Weird News Podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print" and HuffPost Entertainment's Podcast.

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

So That Happened: 2015 Offers No Respite From 2014's Misery

Jason Linkins   |   January 10, 2015    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: This week, radical militants from a pseudo-Islamic death cult murdered 12 members of the staff of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in their Paris office, ending any hope we had that 2015 would be a respite from 2014's garbage and misery.

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

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Some highlights from this week:

"There is a need for information that comes with showing what the cartoon was. By republishing these cartoons, you're not trying to provoke people. You're trying to inform people about what it was that tipped off this type of extremism." -- Sam Stein

Meanwhile, the new year has ushered in a new Congress ... which is bringing us the same old stories so far: a leadership fight for House Speaker John Boehner, a rift over budget policy and the perennial question, "Can our government govern?"

"Boehner's like the most unique individual in Congress. And I'll be honest with you. One day, years from now, when Barack Obama and John Boehner are out of politics, I expect them to spend a lot of time together sitting on a porch, reminiscing of times gone by." -- Jason Linkins

Finally, the 2016 presidential race is officially underway, and right off the bat we have one of those silly, unserious rows between two rivals. Is there any chance that we might actually raise the bar in this election? L-O-L

"They have nothing to do. They haven't been doing anything really. It's just a treading water situation for them." -- Arthur Delaney

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We're very happy to let you know that "So, That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving and as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go under-reported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode by subscribing to "So, That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We'd also encourage you to check out other HuffPost Podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," HuffPost Weird News Podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print" and HuffPost Entertainment's Podcast.

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

Obama's Cuba Plan Turned Some Folks Into Wind-Up-Toys Of Outrage

Jason Linkins   |   December 20, 2014    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: This week, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would make an effort to normalize relations with Cuba, ending a decades-long policy of distance that had been surprisingly effective in doing nothing in particular. We'll talk about the new plan, and the people who are hopping mad about it.

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

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Some highlights from this week:

"Those two, when they got the news, I don't know. It was like they became weird wind-up-toys of outrage." -- Jason Linkins

Meanwhile, a Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy has been canceled, because North Korea apparently now dictates what movies we watch in our spare time? How did something so simple get so out of hand?

"Films that relate to things in North Korea will not be made now and that is just outrageous. Something has got to give." -- Arthur Delaney

And finally, we're taking a look back at 2014 -- a great year for garbage monsters. What are our least-favorite things about the past year? Well, this is going to take a while.

"2014 has been f*cking terrible and at least in the world of public affairs, there have been almost no redeeming aspects to this terrible year." -- Zach Carter

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We're very happy to let you know that "So, That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving and as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go underreported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode by subscribing to "So, That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We'd also encourage you to check out other HuffPost Podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," HuffPost Weird News Podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print," and HuffPost Entertainment's Podcast.

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

Arthur Delaney   |   January 30, 2013    4:32 PM ET

Mark Zandi does not like the big budget slasher known as sequestration, but he figures the economy could stomach a helping of austerity if it had to.

"I think the economy could digest the sequestration," Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, told me. "It would suffer slower growth, but it wouldn't push the economy back into recession."

News that reduced government spending helped shrink the U.S. economy 0.1 percent at the end of last year has liberal economists warning that more cuts could cause another recession.

Zandi doesn't think so, and members of Congress listen to him. Faced with a choice to avert the cuts now scheduled for March, already lawmakers are saying "meh."

Arthur Delaney   |   January 29, 2013   10:58 AM ET

Every proposal to make unemployed people pee in cups in order to receive benefits, it seems, follows the same pattern: Businesses complain of job applicants flunking drug tests, and then lawmakers react with legislation.

Always absent: data reflecting a drug abuse problem among people receiving unemployment insurance.

Jeremy Hutchinson, a Republican state senator in Arkansas, said he introduced his drug testing bill because he'd heard stories from local business community. The president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce told me he'd heard the stories, too -- but didn't have anything to demonstrate the prevalence of the problem. "I just have a bale of anecdotes," he said.

Same goes for State Rep. Michael Madden of Wyoming, a Republican who also introduced a drug testing bill this year. "I haven't seen any data," he told me.

In Congress, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), heeding complaints from local businesses, pushed drug testing at the end of 2011. The director of a job training nonprofit in Reed's district told me at the time that the hundreds of businesses he'd worked during the previous three-to-five years had seen job applicants fail drug tests at a rate of 10 to 30 percent. He couldn't be more precise, though he considered it a bad enough problem that his organization ran TV ads warning people they could lose out on jobs if they had dirty urine.

Strangely, drug testing advocates never mention the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which consistently finds that people without jobs are more than twice as likely as people with jobs to have used drugs within a month of the survey. Though there is little to suggest the subset of the jobless population receiving benefits uses drugs at the same rate, and some evidence suggests otherwise: West Virginia and Indiana job trainees have tested positive for drugs at a rate of roughly 1 percent.

Last February, Congress gave states leeway to screen unemployment claimants for drugs, something federal regulations haven't allowed (though the prohibition hasn't stopped state lawmakers from pushing bills). The U.S. Labor Department will issue guidelines to states later this year, which will allow them to test claimants only in certain occupations.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees unemployment insurance, told me 2011 that freeing states to try testing would help clear up the picture.

"I think we do need to get more data," Camp said. "That's why I think letting the states make this decision isn't imposing a set of requirements on them. They'll be able to examine their own policies, and it's going to be different in every state."

Camp said he would hold a hearing on the issue last year, but the hearing never happened. The picture is as unclear as ever.

Follow Arthur Delaney on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ArthurDelaneyHP

Arthur Delaney   |   January 29, 2013    9:29 AM ET

The prepaid debit cards that most people use to receive unemployment insurance carry fewer fees than they did two years ago, but some states are likely breaking federal law by foisting the cards on workers, according to a new report by the National Consumer Law Center.

The majority of states have switched their unemployment system from paper checks to prepaid debit cards issued by banks, making for cheaper distribution for the state and saving money for people without bank accounts, since they would no longer have to pay check-cashing costs.

The catch is that consumers pay for the new system through bank fees. In 2011, more than half of the cards came with ATM fees, balance inquiry fees and inactivity fees, according to the law center's report that year. And a handful had overdraft fees as high as $20.

Now the overdrafts are gone and "other fees have come down considerably, saving workers millions of dollars a year," the NCLC's new report says. (HuffPost's Janell Ross reported on the junk-fee racket in 2011.)

Tuesday's report says states don't make it easy enough for unemployment claimants to bypass the cards and have their benefits deposited directly into their bank accounts. Of the 42 states using prepaid cards, 36 also offer direct deposit, but the rates at which consumers use direct deposit vary wildly depending on how easy the state makes it to do so.

Five states -- California, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland and Nevada -- apparently violate federal law by requiring beneficiaries to use the cards, according to the report. (Wyoming doesn't offer direct deposit, but most claimants there still receive paper checks.) California, Kansas and Maryland, however, do allow workers to set up automatic transfers from the cards to their bank accounts, but less than a quarter of recipients do so. The transfers can cause delays as long as four days.

Nevertheless, California joins Pennsylvania and New Jersey as the only states to receive a "two-thumbs up" rating in the report, which calculated that California's system earns Bank of America $1.8 million per year.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill passed by Congress in 2010 is to thank for the death of overdraft fees on the prepaid cards. "That law caps the interchange fees that merchants must pay when they accept debit cards, but exempts prepaid cards from that cap on certain conditions," the law center said. "The absence of overdraft fees is one of the conditions."

HuffPost readers: Unemployed? Back to work but making less money? Tell us about it -- email arthur@huffingtonpost.com. Please include your phone number if you're willing to be interviewed.

Arthur Delaney   |   January 22, 2013    3:50 PM ET

-- Oklahoma State Rep. Dustin Roberts (R-Durant) has filed legislation to drug test people who apply for unemployment insurance. It's all about confronting addiction, he said.

"We have to do what we can to discourage it as well as ensure we are not actually spending money support it" Roberts said, according to Ardmoreite.com.

Last year Congress gave states leeway to test unemployment claimants looking for work in fields that regularly require drug testing as a condition of employment. But the U.S. Labor Department won't issue guidance to states until later this year, and until then, federal regulations just say NO to drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. If a state plods ahead with a testing scheme that doesn't gel with federal regs, state businesses can lose out on federal tax credits. Unemployed Oklahomans probably won't be peeing into cups anytime soon.

-- Kansas Republicans want testing for people seeking either unemployment insurance or welfare, formally known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It's all about compassion, said incoming State Senate Vice President Jeff King (R-Independence).

"This is not meant to be punitive in any way," King said, according to the Wichita Eagle. "This is to identify people with substance abuse problems and get them the help and job skills they need to get out and be productive in the job market."

-- New Hampshire Republicans want welfare drug testing. State Rep. Donald LeBrun (R-Nashua) said it's all about compassion and fighting addiction.

"I'm not trying to take anything away from anyone who qualifies," LeBrun said, according to the Union Leader. "I'm trying to identify people who have problems and have them treated."

Similar proposals are cooking elsewhere. Most states have seen some form of welfare or unemployment testing proposals in the past few years. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a great background briefing on the welfare proposals; the National Association of State Workforce Agencies has a great one on unemployment insurance proposals.

HuffPost readers: Unemployed? Back to work but making less money? Tell us about it -- email arthur@huffingtonpost.com. Please include your phone number if you're willing to do an interview.

WATCH:

Arthur Delaney   |   January 18, 2013    2:27 PM ET

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives announced Friday they'll seek a temporary increase in the government's borrowing limit. In return, they want the House and Senate to pass a budget in three months or else lawmakers won't get paid.

"Members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement. "No budget, no pay."

In the recent past, members of Congress have frequently offered to cut their own pay -- just like a cheapskate reaches for his wallet at the end of dinner knowing someone else reached first and will pay the tab.

In the previous Congress, lawmakers introduced at least 27 bills to restrict their own pay, according to the Congressional Research Service. Several bills said lawmakers wouldn't get paid if the government shut down or defaulted on its debts. The Senate passed one such bill, and the House another, but neither almost became law.

Rank-and-file members earn $174,000 annually and receive gold-plated health care and a pension that kicks in after five years. The salary's been frozen since 2009, but it hasn't been cut since 1933.

The biggest perk of all is that members of Congress can cash out and earn bigger salaries as lobbyists pretty much whenever they feel like it. Click here for a story from last year with much more detail on all that.

WATCH:

Arthur Delaney   |   January 18, 2013    8:04 AM ET

Read More:

Drug Testing The Downtrodden Costs Money

  |   January 17, 2013    1:10 PM ET

Read More:

Arthur Delaney   |   January 17, 2013    7:38 AM ET

-- Way fewer people lost their jobs and applied for unemployment insurance last week. "In the week ending January 12, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 335,000, a decrease of 37,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 372,000," the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday morning. That's the lowest number since January 2008.

-- Because the story of a New York woman injured after a city sidewalk collapsed beneath her must somehow validate one's own personal politics, Rupert Murdoch had this to say on Twitter Wednesday: "How did fat lady who fell thru street get to 400 lbs? Welfare, stamps, etc? Then leave us all with 20yrs immense health bills."

Murdoch's New York Post reported that the woman is a social worker, and also that the adjacent building's owner had received many citations from the city, "including a 2011 complaint that the facade was coming loose."

Murdoch followed up: "Did not mean to be unsympathetic to 400 lb lady, but fact remains unhealthy eating by rich and poor driving up premiums for all."

-- The North Carolina legislature is mulling unemployment insurance cuts in order to pay back $2.6 billion it borrowed from the federal government. Lawmakers are eyeing fewer weeks of benefits and less money per week. How does a state wind up owing the feds billions for unemployment insurance? By cutting business taxes too much, contrary to the Labor Department's financing guidelines for state unemployment trust funds.

Arthur Delaney   |   January 16, 2013    4:30 PM ET

Drug testing the poor and unemployed has been a popular idea lately. Now that most state legislatures are back in session for the new year, we may be on the verge of an onslaught of new proposals.

Here's some of what's cooking right now:

-- In Arkansas, "Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson of Benton on Tuesday filed legislation that would require applicants for unemployment benefits to undergo a drug test," the Associated Press reported.

-- In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (R) has support in the legislature for his plan to drug test both unemployment claimants and people on welfare. Once the legislation starts moving, we'll see if State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) follows through on his promise to make Rick Perry pee in a cup, too.

-- In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has issued an executive order that calls for testing people enrolled in taxpayer-funded training programs. (People in training programs are not the same as people receiving unemployment insurance; workers qualify for the latter only if they lose their jobs through no fault of their own and had been on the job for some time.)

Similar schemes in two other states showed enrollees used drugs at a rate of less than 1 percent. Statistics, data, evidence documenting a widespread drug problem -- that stuff is usually not part of the recipe when these ideas get cooked up.

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