Friday, December 23, 2011

"The arc of the moral universe is long..."

One of the most maddening aspects of the marriage equality "debate" is how patently ridiculous the arguments against allowing gays to enjoy equality under law really are. A majority of these arguments tend to be couched, either implicit or explicitly on religious grounds and/or a personal animus against gay people ("marriage is between a man and a woman", "it would erode our values", etc.). I'm not particularly interested in engaging these points mostly because they're nakedly bigoted.

I would like to then credit those that at least try and accept the humanity of gays and lesbians, and claim that gay marriage would 'dilute' or otherwise 'harm' the institution of "traditional" heterosexual marriage. Now, this argument is uniquely convoluted and false, which is why this open letter from Minnesota's LGBT community apologizing to the State Senate's former majority leader and recently outed adulterer all the more delicious. Specifically, this quote:
We apologize that our selfish requests to marry those we love has cheapened and degraded traditional marriage so much that we caused you to stray from your own holy union for something more cheap and tawdry.
This is one of the tiring but necessary aspects of being an advocate for the legal equality of minorities. The reluctance to grant equal legal rights is almost always based on cultural mores, but this can never be explicitly admitted. The hard work of "winning" the hearts and minds of everyday people, in short actually shifting the entire national political culture, is the accumulated contribution of snarky open letters like these.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How Far We've Come

Mike Konczal has some smart points on Polifact's "Lie of the Year" that I think everyone should read. The gist of Konczal's piece, and the general liberal critique of Polifact's claim, is that the factchecking organization is being breathtakingly obtuse in their defense of Paul Ryan's 'Path to Prosperity' Medicare overhaul, and is specifically obscuring some of the important details of Ryan's plan.

The basics of Ryan's plan is to shift Medicare from the broad entitlement plan it is into a voucher system. Medicare is currently a guarantee to cover a certain level of healthcare costs for a broad basket of products and procedures for American citizens 65 and older. Ryan's plan, on the other hand, coverts the program into a (poorly funded) voucher system—a coupon for healthcare. The caveat is that those 55-and older would be grandfathered into the current as-it-is entitlement-Medicare. Only those 55-and younger would face the uncertainty of a voucher; the value of which, I'd like to add, declines over time.

I bring this up because Konczal makes an important, if not interesting point:
Because I’m a senior-in-waiting, and [Ryan's] plan will affect me. Someday I’ll be elderly, and then I’ll have to deal with taking a worthless coupon to the notoriously ugly healthcare market if this plan passes. This is not semantics – it’s the basis of the inter-generational social contract.
Now the phrase "inter-generational social contract" has quite a bit of currency in political theory nowadays. But if you go all the way back to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1791 you'll find one of the first examples of the idea:
You will observe that from Magna Charta to the Declaration of Right, it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity; as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right. By this means our constitution preserves a unity in so great a diversity of its parts. We have an inheritable crown; an inheritable peerage; and a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties, from a long line of ancestors. (emphasis mine – JMG)
Burke's basic point is that the “natural rights” of man, whatever they may be, do not spring fully formed in an a priori way. Rather, the rights of man are an hereditary property of a nation, formed through the process and deliberation of the government, and enshrined by the current generation for the benefit of the next.

I bring up Burke because I find it interesting that Mike Konczal, in my estimation at least, qualifies quite well as a "liberal" or "progressive" (or whatever you please). Just a few days ago he wrote an (excellent) essay arguing for a dismantlement of the current subsidization of higher education through the tax code, and simply using the money to provide college for free. Moreover, Medicare (and Medicaid) are thoroughly "liberal" programs in that they were championed by a Democratic president and fulfill the broad liberal goal of a strong social safety net; a public guarantee to aid the poor and elderly who lack the resources to fully care for themselves.

So how did we get to this point where liberal commentators are writing successfully persuasive essays on the defense of liberal polices using quite possibly the oldest argument of modern conservatism? My guess is that today's liberals are more conservative than they'd prefer, and today's conservatives are more radical than they're willing to admit, and politics in general continues its constant cyclical movement towards nothing in particular other than a repetition of the same patterns we've been observing since the Greeks.

Market Structures

Markets need a variety of factors to work in concert in order to be a "free market" that we lionize so well in everyday political discourse (e.g. "market-based solutions"). In short, they need a "structure". Academic economists tend to use the word “competitive” as a short hand for the confluence of factors that are needed to keep a market economy running smoothly as our 101 textbooks promise. On the microeconomic level, a “competitive” market structure has enough consumers and producers so that no one market actor can influence the market overall, has reasonably few and minimal barriers to entry and exit to the market, and both consumers and producers have the voluntary choice whether or not to enter a transaction or contract.

There are more wrinkles that what I've outlined above, of course, but they're not particularly pertinent to the issues raised by the Altarum Institute Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care latest survey comparing how much effort we devote to shopping for doctors versus shopping for appliances or cars. As the Washington Post's Sarah Kiff explains “appliances and cars, it turns out, get a lot more attention.”

This is at the heart of why the healthcare market in the United States (or to my knowledge, anywhere for that matter) is specifically unsuited for purely “free market-based solutions”; consumers do not have the ability to make “rational” decisions.

First, a few qualifiers: I use quotes because I mean rational in the economic sense. I do not mean to imply that people cannot be rational when they consume healthcare, but that the inelasticities of demand for essential care, combined with lack of pricing transparency, makes forming a “rational” choice while shopping for healthcare “products” - like a heart surgeon or hearing aids - an unrealistic expectation for consumers. I also don't mean to say that there's no space at all for market forces in healthcare policy. Quite the opposite, markets are have an excellent track record on decreasing costs and increasing availability of elective treatments and techniques (e.g. Lasik , gastric bypass procedures, Viagra). But these market success are constrained to a specific basket of medical procedures and goods that we would consider elective. This gives consumers time to compare prices, quality and alternative treatments. Consumers don't have this luxury at the onset of a heart attack or the outbreak of an infectious disease.

As Kiff elaborates:
Shopping for a doctor is a lot harder than shopping for a dishwasher. There’s no price tag for what you’ll pay, or a Consumer Report to reference on quality.
Representatives and pundits who spend their air and ink extolling on the the virtues of markets often have little understanding of their composition. This does damage to both our country and policy discourse.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Abstract Policy Agendas Must Meet Institutional Realities

This is something I haven't hammered on in awhile, so I want to reinforce the point that abstract understandings of political goals and policy agenda's needs to be understood from the lens of institutional realities. The GOP's successful filibuster of CFBP head Richard Cordray is the latest example of such.

A quick primer: The Dodd-Frank Act (which went into effect back in July 2010) calls for the creation of a Consumer Protection Financial Bureau (or CFPB), headed by a director who is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate (like all presidential apointiees). Elizabeth Warren acted as an interim director while the CFPB was being assembled, but was never nominated for the position. Robert Cordray's nomination for the position was just "defeated" by a vote of 53 wishing to begin debate on Corday's nomination, to 47 opposed. I place those quotes around defeated because, as Johnathan Cohn explains:
Remember, the Senate didn’t actually vote on Cordray’s nomination. The vote never took place because the Republican caucus, with one exception, are supporting a filibuster the nomination. Together, they do not represent a majority. On the contrary, 53 senators voted to proceed with the vote. Had the vote taken place, a majority likely would have voted to confirm him. But that’s the way the Senate works today: The majority doesn’t rule. The minority does.
To be honest, I can't think of a more perverted example of how our political goals need to be adjusted to institutional context. Democrats have not only translated the abstract policy idea of "regulating Wall Street" into a formal piece of law, but have successfully legislated this into federal law (a feat I think liberals give Democrats too little credit for). Unfortunately, here is where the institutional realities create constraints, as the Senate's Republican members have "[...] pledged to prevent any candidate from being confirmed unless significant structural changes are made to the bureau." Specifically:
Republicans want the director position replaced by a five-member commission and tighter oversight of the agency’s decisions by other regulatory bodies. They are also seeking to subject the agency to the congressional appropriations process; currently, it is funded through the Federal Reserve.
Now, I am open to debating legitimate points of the CFPB, but we are past the point. The law has been written, voted on, and is now in effect as a federal statue. The basic game Republicans are playing is a use of every procedural tactic available to extract maximal policy concessions, with out having to submit to the actual process of policy making. It's breathtakingly cynical, and counter-production to the broader goal of national health and prosperity; but it is the choice the 47 members of the Senate's Republican caucus have chosen.

The important point I want to make with this, is that these Senators have made this choice at the acquiesce, perhaps even behest of their constituents. It's unfortunate that the pigheadedness of a minority of Senators is reinforced by equally obtuse voters. I am sure there is all sorts of thing that Democrats in the House, Senate and yes, Oval Office would like to do; strength the oversight of the CFBP, extend unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut, perhaps even force major mortgage banks to accept some kind of forbearance on the millions of subprime mortgages that threw us into a financial crisis in the first place. But we need to understand that the abstract political goals that we hold must be tempered by the possibilities allowed by our political institutions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Know What You're Talking About

One of the things that irritates me, both as a writer and as a student of markets, is when very well regarded columnists make basic errors in logic or argument. By "basic", I mean something I would expect from the average college sophomore. My suspicion is that it is generally a symptom of a process where the writer starts with his conclusion, and just works his way around the facts so that he can get there, in whatever word count the editor is asking for. The latest example of this comes from the Washington Post's George Will, who's written an unsurprisingly sloppy and inaccurate column on the Affordable Care Act.

Now, Slate's Matthew Yglesias has a much better critique of the article overall, and I strongly suggest you read it. However, I would like to litigate a more narrow point of one of Will's claims; that California's regulatory regime is stifling the construction of more Carl's Jr. restaurants, whereas Texas (an implied paragon of the free-market) is booming with expansion. Specifically, Will writes that
CKE has, however, all but stopped building restaurants in [California] because approvals and permits for establishing them can take up to two years, compared to as little as six weeks in Texas, and the cost to build one is $100,000 more than in Texas, where CKE is planning to open 300 new restaurants this decade.
If one takes a quick look at CKE Restaurant's website however, it's pretty easy to find out that California is already home to 723 CKE establishments, 713 of which are Carl's Jr alone. Whereas Texas only has 53 CKE Restaurants overall (all of which are Carl's Jrs). I'm pretty sure market saturation is just a, if not more compelling explanation for the chain's expansion choices than Will's implication of onerous regulation.

Quote of the Day

From Larison:
"Remember that Palin’s popularity with conservatives was the function of identity politics [...]"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday Night Links

Tyler Cowen on income ineqality

The Atlantic Wire crew on the politics of global warming with in the Republican party.

Occupy DC comes to a head.

When Ideology Meets Nessessity cont.

Another entry by FrumFourm's "Galatea" has been published, this one taking the issue of healthcare head-on with the title "I Heart Romneycare". I previously commented on "Galatea's" inability to connect her political ideology with the nessessity of heathcare services.

You can read the new piece for yourself, but I am personally underwhelmed by the author's grasp of the issue. The essay is written as an open "letter" to Mitt Romney in a playful, somewhat humorously sexual tone. While it is clear the author was concerned more with entertainment that education in the piece, the policy tidbits are depressingly callow. First she explains:
"Honestly, in this election, Romneycare is [Mitt Romney's] tramp stamp."
While crude, this is a reasonable point. Polling on conservative voters has overwhelmingly shown that past endorsement of an individual mandate-based healthcare reform plan is essentially apostasy. (Although, Romney is not alone in past support of a mandate.) Next, she breaks the core of her argument into two pieces. First:
I mean, at a Constitutional level, Obamacare’s federally-enforced individual mandate destroys Congress’s limitations on regulating interstate commerce since it regulates economic inactivity. (emphasis mine - JMG)
And:
Furthermore, even if it were constitutional, AHCA is not a necessary and proper means for Congress to expand its police powers(which the Court has in the past expressly forbade them from doing)! (emphasis mine - JMG)
Both of these arguments are as well traveled as they are flawed. The first is easily the most popular conservative argument against an individual mandate in general, and the Affordable Care Act specifically. So, it is unfortunate popularity cannot replace coherence; "inactivity" in the health insurance market produces substantially different outcomes than "inactivity" in say, the mobile phone market, or unappealing vegetables market. Or, as DC Appeals Court Justice Laurence Silberman wrote in the Court's November 8th 2-1 ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the law:
It suffices for this case to recognize, as noted earlier, that the health insurance market is a rather unique one, both because virtually everyone will enter or affect it, and because the uninsured inflict a disproportionate harm on the rest of the market as a result of their later consumption of health care services.
The second point on the expansion of "police powers" genuinely confuses me. The law's Wikipedia article has no mention of "police power", nor does the Kaiser Family Foundation's summary. The law itself has the word "police" in it only twice; once one page 724, defining law enforcement terminology and again on page 852, with respect to intervention services. I suspect "Galatea" is referring to the obvious expansion in oversight required to properly enforce a mandate on health insurance purchase. If so, then she is genuinely confused about how the mandate works; it is enforced through a fine. Specifically, as Ezra Klein explained back in March last year:
The law specifically says that no criminal action or liens can be imposed on people who don't pay the fine. If this actually leads to a world in which large numbers of people don't buy insurance and tell the IRS to stuff it, you could see that change. But for now, the penalties are low and the enforcement is non-existent.
Lastly, "Galatea" "thanks" Romney, writing that her coverage under her mother's health insurance "was the best free health care I’ve ever received." Only, it is not free; it is paid for by her mother, her mother's employer and her mother's co-workers. One can only imagine her plight if she did not have the fortune of these people covering her health insurance costs. Perhaps she would no longer have the free time to write terribly misinformed articles.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

On Sunday Morning Talk Shows

There is something disturbingly vulgar about the well-to-do men who sit around nationally broadcasted talk show coffee tables, sporting expensive suits and extolling on the virtues of Newt Gingrich's latest - that inner city schools should fire their "high-priced" union janitors and replace them with pre-adolescent students.

"[...] multiply that sense of agency by an entire generation."

Some weekend reading,a wonderful piece from the Atlantic:
What my mother could envision was a future in which I made my own choices. I don’t think either of us could have predicted what happens when you multiply that sense of agency by an entire generation.

A Donald Trump-moderated debate

I want to be honest. I am young by most standards. But, I've been a recreational politics watcher since the waning days of Clinton's second administration. I can recall a variety of moments when I was sure - so sure - that American politics had reached its nadir. And everytime something else came along to prove me wrong. It's like extreme sports; only instead of death-defying stunts, it seems American political thought is locked in a game of one-upmanship in intellectual immaturity (viz. "freedom fries," Birtherism).

With this in mind, I'm really excited to see what event tops the Donald Trump-moderated Republican debate, in terms of sheer humor value.

Update: While I am sure the future is bright for even more farcical political events and/or phenomena, I think the extra dimension of Newt Gingrich's attendance will make this debate a highlight to revel in with future generations.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Quote of the Day

America in a nutshell:
According to a Gallup survey released in October, 50 percent of Americans said they believed marijuana use should be made legal, the highest percentage to date. But there is significant resistance to legalization; 46 percent say marijuana use should remain illegal.

When Ideology Meets Nessessity

I have been trying to be consistent on the point that there is a big divorce between the political ideology people say they hold and the policy outcomes they prefer. I encounter this quite a bit when writers make passing comments about things they can or cannot do, with little acknowledgement on the political process that allowed whatever outcomes they're discussing. As an example of this, I would like to direct you to this essay on FrumForm.

It's the latest in a series of pieces written by a recently unemployed college graduate writing under the pen name of "Galatea". The author admits to having libertarian sympathies in one of the earlier entries, (which causes some cognitive dissonance when applying for unemployment benefits) but is otherwise silent on the policy implications of her current lack of employment. The latest entry strikes me as most sympathetic so far, if only in recognition of the mental toll long-term unemployment can have on a person. For example, Galatea writes:
I'm breaking out everywhere and getting a rash on my face.
However, the very next sentence, the author breezily recalls that
I'm still on my mother's health insurance, so technically I could see a dermatologist. (bold mine - JMG)
Immediately upon reading this, the glib retort "You can thank the Affordable Care Act for that" ricochets around my head. I don't want to be particularly flippant about this, but the inability for people to make the connections between the material welfare they get to enjoy (even when they're unemployed) and legislative work that went into securing these kinds of benefits is a source of never ending irritation to me.

Politics is more than just partisan gamesmanship. The more this point is obscured, the more disservice we do the democratic ideals that underpin the country as a whole.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Lionization of the Free Market: "But at some point, this game has to stop":

In an interview with Ezra Klein, the Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking Robert Jackson makes the above quote. He also expands on a basic argument that our financial and political structure is institutionally biased towards creditors (e.g. banks) rather than debtors. In short, that "our politics, our lawmaking institutions, are set up to disproportionately represent people who have money." (Bold mine - JMG)

What Jackson sees as a functional result is that:
when given the choice between forcing Greek citizens through the grinder of austerity or attempting a debt restructuring that can unleash unknowable consequences in the credit default swap market or the relations between large banks, to choose austerity. They don’t understand what kind of collateral damage will be done when you resort to restructuring rather than imposing more austerity.
Those that will suffer under their government's austerity (and people will suffer, that point is elided by far too much) are underrepresented in government relative to the people who would suffer under Greek debt restructuring.

The important point I mean to make with this, is that political structure and market structure are mutually re-enforcing institutions that are shaped-at least in part-by political choices. I say this point is important, because in the process of lionizing the free market that political representatives often engage in, we lose sight of the actual complexities of markets themselves.

The basis for the appeal the "free market" has as a political slogan is rooted in an oversimplification of the idea. The internal logic is that market outcomes are must be by definition just, since the patterns of the market are inherently non-coercive. This leads all kinds of silly post hoc rationalizations for unseemly conduct because; if patterns of a free market only produces just outcomes, then the outcomes of the free market can only be just. (For an example of the genre, read Michael Levin's defense of Ebeneezer Scrooge.)

What this kind of simplistic exhalation of the market ignores is the very real dynamics of how political and cultural institutions influence the market itself (and how the markets influence those institutions). The government of Greece is much more willing to push for austerity in part because those that would suffer more under austerity are underrepresented relative to those who would suffer more under debt restructuring. To seek to understand these dynamics is the accept the fact that economic outcomes does not always occur in a vacuum of political influence, that markets are shaped many factors, and that the justice of those factors is not always clear.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fox News on UC Davis



Apropos to this clip, I am genuinely curious about a few things:

1) How long can conservative commentators and news broadcasters openly articulate their contempt for non-ideologically aligned protesters, and provide tactic endorsements to the assault of American citizens before some type of backlash sets in.

2) Is there going to be a point in which the cognitive dissonance between ostensibly supporting "limited government" yet also openly praising police state-style tactics causes some kind of intellectual issue for conservative news mouthpieces?

3) Lastly; how can any conservative of good conscience hear Bill O'Reilly say
“We don’t have the right to Monday morning quarterback the police,” he said. “Especially at a place like UC Davis, which is a fairly liberal campus.”
and remain silent on the atrocious implications of such a statement?

"A time-travelling Marco Rubio"

Daniel Larison has some good fun at Bill Kristol's expense:
I’m not sure why Kristol keeps making these bizarre pronouncements about the 2012 field. Is he trying to pioneer new ways to be spectacularly wrong about things?

I have to admit, Mr. Kristol has been an innovator in the field.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deficient Reduction; politics versus policy

I've recently been writing on the ways that undue attention is paid to the politics of an issue, as opposed to actual policy outcomes. My first two examples came from the conservative end of the spectrum; namely Newt Gingrich and Tea Partiers cum environmental activists. Today I wanted to continue the theme, but with a different example.

First, a primer: out of this summer's debt ceiling debate/hostage crisis, a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction was created as a compromise. The basic goal of the committee was to produce a plan the reduced the federal budget deficit by $1.5 trillion dollars over a ten-year period. If the committee failed to produce a bipartisan plan that could be scored by the Congressional Budget Office (a process that takes about 48 hours) before Thanksgiving, then automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion would go into effect. This is refereed to as “the trigger,” although technically it is a process called “sequestration.” At any rate, the automatic cuts where designed to do two things. First, the trigger itself is combination of defense and domestic spending cuts. This was supposed to give the Democrats and Republicans on the committee equal incentive to agree on a compromise. Second, in the event the committee suffered political deadlock, the deficit would still be reduced; albeit in a way that is somewhat draconian, yet also with political coverage for both parties.

So, a spoiler-alert for those who have more important things to do than follow politics all day: The JSC failed to produce a bi-partisan plan. Quite a bit a the political horse-race news coverage is devoted to the implications of it's failure.

With this, I wanted to highlight Matthew Yglesias' very smart piece on how the JSC's failure is a victory for those who prioritize deficient reduction, and why the emphasis on “bi-partisanship” over actual policy outcomes is absurd. Specifically, Yglesias writes that news “is being termed a “failure,” and by the standards of D.C.’s fetishization of bipartisanship, it is one. But in terms of deficit reduction, failure is actually better than success.” (emphasis mine – JMG)

This is a re-occurrence of the basic theme I have been trying to emphasize: a large and disproportionate segment of politics and political media is concerned with the political optics of an issue or event that it is with the actual outcomes of it. Read Yglesias' piece and you'll understand, from a pure deficit-hawk point of view, the failure of the JSC is the best possible outcome. Whether the outcome is coded as “partisan” or “bi-partisan” shouldn't matter.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Culture, Policy and Ideology

There are a number of factors that influence a person's political orientation. I would argue that in the day-to-day horse race coverage of political campaigns, we lose sight of the importance of cultural factors and how they shape people's ideological orientation; regardless and sometimes even in contrary to policy preferences. As a specific example of this, I would like to point to this Berkes and Harris piece published by Slate.com.

The article itself is about a regulatory loophole in that the EPA has given to cement kilns that run on hazardous waste. The basics are these plants are legally allowed “to emit greater amounts of some toxic chemicals into the air than the hazardous-waste incinerators specially designed to burn the very same chemicals—including industrial solvents, aluminum-plant waste, and other toxic leftovers from the production of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and oil.” The reasoning for this allowance is unclear in the article. The EPA spokesperson quoted in the article simply states that the regulations are “set with a margin of public health and safety.”

One such plant: Ash Grove Cement Co, is located in deep red Chanute, Kansas, is causing concern among some locals. One of these locals, Jeff Galemore and his five middle-aged siblings decided take action on their concerns and organize a “Chanute Environmental Rights Group.”

The Galemores describe themselves as conservative Republicans and they align with candidates and causes not considered sympathetic to tough environmental regulation. Jeff Galemore, who works with his dad in the family oil business, recently posted a sign on his front lawn announcing a meeting of a local Tea Party group. His sister, Selene Hummer, 51, owns a home-decorating store and proudly displays a “Sarah Palin 2012” bumper sticker on the rear window of her pickup.

We're not really tree-hugging liberals,” said Hummer. “But when your environment becomes damaged or you feel that you're being contaminated—I don't care what party you're in—this is your human life.” (Emphasis mine - JMG)

Now I am quite sympathetic to the Galemore's concern for their environmental safety, and I find it a failure of government when citizens are forced to question the safety of the air they breathe or the water they drink. That being said, the Galemore's inability to draw the line from their―and their neighbors―political choices to the policy outcomes that shape their community is a crucial failure of self-awareness. Participation in a representative government has both rewards and responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is to consider the possible outcomes of your choices in representatives; and that includes how much environment degradation is tolerated in the name of being “pro-business.”

This is where I think culturally factors come into play. The phrase “pro-business” is a catch-all for low-tax, low-regulation ideology that allows candidates to elide by policy specifics. This also allows voters to avoid confrontation with policy outcomes as well. What being pro- or anti-business means in terms of tax levels or regulatory regime is less important than picking a side.

To illustrate this point: the key action of the Galemore's environmental organization was to hire an independent expert, “a former inspector for the Texas Air Control Board and an adviser to the Sierra Club,” to make his own analysis of pollution levels in Chanute. At an event the Galemore's organized, the “park pavilion teeming with dozens of people, filling most of the folding chairs and lining the room’s perimeter.”

Most were not there to listen. Their T-shirts read “We are Chanute” and “Real Families, Kansas Jobs.” Some were Ash Grove employees and their families. Others were community supporters of the plant.

There was heckling when the Galemores or a few allies criticized Ash Grove and voiced concern for their health and the environment. (emphasis mine-JMG)

I think this furnishes my point. The conservative, pro-business politics of Chanute is culturally mediated. The Galemore's attempts to raise legitimate policy questions as to what being “pro-business” entails has earned them a scarlet letter.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Culturally-Identified Ideology is Unconcerned with Policy

Newt Gingrich, correctly, remarks that voters are probably uninterested in the alleged $1.6 million he was paid by the mortgage broker Freddie Mac; the very same Freddie Mac he excoriated as a key driver of 2008's financial collapse. I believe he is correct.

Specifically, the optics of Gingrich earning such vast sums of money from a right-wing boogyman is more much damaging to his candidacy than the actual policy ramifications of it. Median voters, and I think the especially Republican primary voters, are much more concerned with cultural indicators than they are with policy outcomes. The fact that Mr. Gingrich admits as much is the real surprise.

I wanted to highlight this because it is one of those moments where Gingrich's mask slips. Per Wikipedia, Mr. Gingrich has "served as the 58th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999 and before that, as House Minority Whip. He represented Georgia's 6th congressional district as a Republican member from 1979 […]" After twenty years of holding a national-level public office, and even more as a public figure, I am sure Gingrich knows the fact that voters―especially Republican primary voters―are less concerned with policy ramifications of candidates than they are with the cultural and political signals the candidates transmit. This is how a thrice-divorced Gingrich is able to be taken seriously in a primary process of a party ostensibly dominated by "family values."

Update: From Dave Weigel, a reminder on just what kind of snakeoil Gingrich is selling:

It's true to say that Gingrich never "lobbied" for the bill. Lobbying is a distinctive career; you have to register to conduct it. Gingrich merely used his status as a conservative icon, with close ties to many House members and a well of respect with others, to advocate for policies.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

I'm Hoping to Soon End My Posting Hiatus

But for now, Ta-Neshi Coates, preaching to the choir:

If you don't like the current iteration of America, you need to remember that you are America. The failure to build a more progressive America isn't merely a testimony to dastardly evil, it's a testimony to the failure of progressives.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Obama's Debt Ceiling Presser Cont.

President Obama pleads:
So when Norah asked or somebody else asked why was I willing to go along with a deal that wasn’t optimal from my perspective, it was because even if I didn’t think the deal was perfect, at least it would show that this place is serious, that we’re willing to take on our responsibilities even when it’s tough, that we’re willing to step up even when the folks who helped get us elected may disagree. And at some point, I think if you want to be a leader, then you got to lead. (bold mine - JMG)

Quite right, if you ask me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Constitutional Weakness of the Presidency

Responses from a prior post:

A reader writes:

"constitutionally structured weakness of the presidency". Eh, Johnson and Nixon were no stronger constitutionally.

and another:

"constitutionally structured weakness of the presidency" and Obama's relative unwillingness to abuse his power? I don't actually know details here, I'm just speculating... or maybe congress was just more compliant with earlier presidents.

First, I'd like to qualify my comment a little bit. The presidency is constitutionally weak in the legislative context because the President has no formal influence on the legislative process. Article II of the Constitution is tellingly short, spending more time outlining qualifications and the process of selection than it does on the actual duties of the chief executive. Under the original conception of the Constitution, the Presidency was designed to execute the laws passed by Congress (hence, Executive Branch). As to what those laws should be or how the President could influence their creation, the document is silent.

So, the President cannot force legislative outcomes but he can influence them, through techniques like presidential persuasion and agenda setting. (The question of “what constitutes as part of the Presidents informal legislative influence” is a serious one, which many talented political scientists have spent years of research trying to answer.) There are numerous factors that have made the Oval Office more and more influential on how Congress acts. Examples off the top of my head include the President's foreign policy control leeching over to domestic policy, Congresses' increasing willingness to cede policy responsibility, and the advent of television. Now, all of these examples illustrate ways that the Presidency has changed since the Constitution, yet the formal powers themselves have changed very little.

So I'll repeat, while the President does posses numerous unofficial tools to influence the legislature, and numerous executives have taken advantage of them to help produce specific legislative outcomes. But, our Chief Executive does not posses a Green Lantern Ring to create policy by fiat. The structure of our government's institutions creates real and binding constraints about what individuals within government can and cannot do. Any analysis of President Obama's action, or inaction on preferred policies needs to understand that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Supply, meet Demand.

Ventura County authorities recently "eradicated the largest plantation of marijuana in the history of the county, pulling up more than 68,000 plants in Los Padres National Forest, north of the city of Ojai," according to an LA Times report. This is being touted as a major victory in the War on Drugs.

Conor Friedsodorf seems to understand supply and demand basics, where our the California law enforcement does not.
But let's imagine that it has the intended effect: that after this raid, it is harder to grow marijuana in the United States, that the overall supply of domestically grown pot is smaller, and that the price of the drug is higher.

If that is the best case scenario, is it really a victory?
Theoretically, if we raided every single marijuana plant, there would be no supply left to sell. But raiding every single plant strikes me as an unlikely proposition, as it would require near constant surveillance of every private backyard, closet and windowsill. Now the adjective can get particularly hyperbolic, but such a monitoring program strikes me as textbook Orwellian.

So, as long as there is a demand for marijuana, there's going to be a supply. That's how the free market works. This is something War on Drugs advocates either don't seem to understand, or simply choose to ignore.

Monday, July 18, 2011

From the Dept of Terrible Excuses: Liberal Malaise Edition

Dave Weigel reports from MoveOn's progressive grassroots reboot:
Diaz has asked the question plaguing liberals since February 2009, when the first impromptu, blog-organized protests against the stimulus plan broke out in Seattle and Tampa. What the hell happened to liberal protests? How could the same mall that filled front to back for Barack Obama's inauguration be conquered nine months later by Tea Party activists? Why were members of Congress shouted down at town halls when they talked about health care, when every liberal could Google polls that proved the public option was popular?

Liberals can come up with two answers. They can say that their movement sputtered because Obama didn't govern from the left, didn't nail Wall Street, and proved every Republican argument right by conceding it. Or they can blame themselves for electing Obama, buying the commemorative Shepard Fairey "Yes We Did" poster, and then sitting back and laughing as the Tea Party out-organized them. (emphasis mine - JG)

If you ever meet a progressive attempting to traffic argument number one, I would say you would be justified in smacking them.

Personally, I'd like to offer explanation number three: there are a variety of structural impediments to enacting progressive policies, including but not limited to; the unintuitive and politically unpopular aspects of Keynesian economics, the constitutionally structured weakness of the presidency and unprecedented deployment of the filibuster by senate Republicans.

Evidence, Ideology and Partisanship

George Packer has written an excellent column in the New Yorker about the debt limit debate and I highly recommend to anyone interested in reading some good commentary on the general dysfunctional contours of our parties incentives. I must confess that I was nodding my head in agreement with Mr. Packer right up until the very end, when he wrote this:
More important, [President Obama] no longer uses his office’s most powerful tool, rhetorical suasion, to keep the country focussed on the continued need for government activism. His opponents’ approach to job creation is that of a cargo cult—just keep repeating “tax cuts”—even though the economic evidence of the past three decades refutes such magical thinking.
Now, on the substance of Mr. Packer's point we are very much in agreement: the endless drumbeat for tax cuts irrespective of the economic context is financially damaging to our country. Serious economists and serious people in general have a tendency to understand that fiscal policy is poorly devised if those drafting it blithely ignore circumstances such as the Federal government's receipts versus its outlays, and what the current drivers of our budget deficit really are.

That being said, commentators like Mr. Packer continue write and act under what Jamelle Boiue termed "The Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power." Basically, if President Obama simply used his Green Lantern ring, took more time to explain why tax rates should be higher relative to current rates, that serious budget cutting would be harmful to our still fragile recovery, more average Americans would understand and demand a more progressive economic agenda.

What Mr. Packer, and other commentators like him keep eliding by, is the issue of how ideology shapes a person's conception of empirical evidence. As an economics professor once told my Economic Development class, "There is no view without a viewpoint." Partisanship is a filter that people use to categorize and interpret facts; and for better or worse, how those facts fit within their (partisan) worldview. So when Mr. Packer makes the case that President Obama simply needs to "use his office’s most powerful tool, rhetorical suasion," he is failing to account for the fact that ideology is a huge driver not only in how facts are processed, but which facts are integrated into a person's opinion. Simply put, the people who believe in their Voodoo Economics have their own graphs and their own economists telling them what they want to hear. No amount of Presidential oratory is going to change their minds.

Now, I'm open to the argument that if Obama made a more forceful case for more deficit spending, we could see some movement on the margins tilting toward a more robust Keynesian fiscal policy. But we're not in a legislative situation where some play around the margins is going to make a significant impact on how the House of Representatives will vote. The structure of government institutions has a significant and meaningful effect on the legislative process. We cannot ignore these facts simply because they are inconvenient to our preferred policy outcomes.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Debt Limit Showdown and Party Incentives

National Journal has an interesting piece up today about how the House Republican leadership is trying to warm it's freshman members to the (hopefully) eventual debt limit increase. Specifically,
"[John] Boehner has been "aggressive," in one aide's words, in articulating the need to reach a deal."

I would argue this is a reasonably optimistic development for what has been a very worrisome episode in American democracy.

Party incentives drive policy enactments, for the most part. Up until now, it seemed like the House GOP's incentives were being solely driven by the Tea Party, the ostensible drivers of their 2010 Midterm electoral success. The interest group consistently engages in a kind of economic "earth-is-flastism" by denying that a credit national default would have adverse effects. For example, the Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin told CNN that the issue was simple to solve by litteraly using the phrase: "It's that simple." This type of oversimplification of a complex and urgent issue is worrisome to the extent of the damage that a default would have on our nascent economic recovery. This all makes sense as s
tructurally, economic issues are hard to explain; and except in the case of the shortest of slogans, even harder to use as a tool of political motivational.

So, no one should be surprised that these type of statements play well with the median, non-engaged constituent, especially in the populist context of the Tea Party demographic.

What is surprising, is the fact that the Republican party's indulgence in this kind of rhetoric as their preferred economic policy, rather than just political sloganeering. To legitimately engage the notion of not raising the debt ceiling is to court an actual default of the US government. It's one thing for base activists to push for economic nonsense that jeopardizes our country. It's quite another thing for professional politicians and major party leadership do the same thing.

That's why this National Journal piece is significant. It's showing us that the basic framework of our incentive system hasn't been placed so out of wack the the House GOP would pursue the political advantage of a government default. The Tea Party may try an exert more pressure to prevent a debt limit increase, but they're only one pressure group out of thousands. As others make the (correct) point that a debt default would be bad both substantiatively as well as politically, Boehner, Cantor, McCarty and others in the House majority leadership begin to pressure their caucus members to step away from the brink.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Overheard on NPR

"Patriotism has a social component. And that social dimension is social justice."

It's an interesting idea that I don't quite agree with. The main problem I'm seeing is that the bright lines of past social justice movements are more obvious in hindsight. In 2011, it's fairly boilerplate to say that of course African-Americans and women are citizens who should enjoy the basic rights of every American. But it's hard to take up new ideas of social solidarity and integrate them into the country's legal framework, because that requires a huge social change movement. Which is exactly what we saw during the Women's Suffrage and Civil Rights campaigns!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Obama's Debt Ceiling Presser

Now, I understand as a young, fairly liberal economics baccalaureate, I probably represent a fairly small sliver of the potential voting population. But what I just heard from President Obama at his press conference was exactly what needed to be said, and the President continues to be exactly the person I thought I voted for.

When I get my hands on the transcript, I'll go into this with some more detail.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Problems and Solutions

We don't have a Medicare or a Medicaid problem. We have a healthcare cost problem.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Overheard on NPR

"Liberal criticisms of Obama don't seem to understand the importance of structural power and institutional structure."

Yes yes! A thousand times yes!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Science!

In other news, Einstein continues to be right.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Fundamentals of Presidential Politics Ctd.

A quick follow-up from my post about Sarah Palin and the Rules of Presidential Politics. A new WaPo article by Dan Balz has the quote from Mrs. Palin herself:
“I don’t think I owe anything to the mainstream media,” she told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. “I think it would be a mistake for me to become some kind of conventional politician.” (Bold mine - JG)
I understand that Washington and 'politics as usual' are nice four-letter words to play up on stump speeches, but there's a big gap between campaigning and governing. A lot of 'conventional politics' (like contacting state party chairs, working fundraisers for local candidates and consolidating support through party networks) are necessary steps that candidates have to take, in order to help illustrate their facility for governance.

From where I'm sitting, it looks like Palin is gambling on remaining on the national scene (and maybe running for president) on name recognition alone. That's just not going to cut it on the national scale. Sarah Palin has great politically talent. Lots of college athletes have talent to. Only the ones that show discipline, train, practice and master fundamentals are able to advance to the next level. I would argue that Mrs. Palin's case is not that much different.

Quote of the Day

Buried in The Globe's new series on Mitt Romney is this great quote:
"I know this is going to get a lot of conversation,'' he said, "but the health of the people in Massachusetts is more important to me than the health of my political prospects." (Bold mine - JG)
I'm happy to read this. The more and more Mitt Romney backpedaled on his policy achievements, the worse and worse his critics used his Massachusetts healthcare reform as a cudgel against him. Now that Romney is pushing back, he actually able to tout his policy achievements and at the same time make his critics look small.

The upshot from all of this, is that Romney would now forced to openly break from the current Republican orthodoxy that any plan with an individual mandate is the 'Death of Freedom.' I certainly hope he continues to stop apologizing and start confronting the intellectual dishonesty of his fellow conservatives on healthcare policy.

The Fundamentals of Presidential Politics

Running for president is hard, particularly in America. You have to organize, ideally, more than half of a geographically large and culturally diverse country to vote for you. (If you're lucky enough to find yourself in a three-way race, a plurality will do.) Because of these facts, presidential politics requires quite a bit of organizing skills. Jonathan Bernstein has been writing quite awhile about these facts, and uses a short hand "The Rules" of presidential politics to describe them. Lately, Jonathan (and others) have been pointing out how Sarah Palin refuses to follow them.

This bit in the Politico really bolsters the point quite well, and really drives home the fact that politics goes much farther beyond simple opinion polls, national favorability ratings and 'profile'. Candidates have to actually work hard and sell their candidacy. Examples litter the article:
The lack of a heads-up has irked many GOP leaders in the states Palin plans to visit.

“I have had no contact. I question the value of the ‘theater’ by some candidates,” Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason told POLITICO. “We seldom hear from presidential candidates as they are all focused on the early primary states. They will need us some day and we will remember those who helped us with party building.”

Gleason pointed out that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently helped raise funds for the Allegheny County GOP. He also said former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has been active in the state.

Gleason’s comments were echoed by Republican strategist Karl Rove, who spoke to Palin’s “rather unconventional style” earlier Monday on Fox News

“I bet you a dime to a dollar her visits to those areas are not proceeded by courtesy phone calls to the local Republican Party chairman and request they generate volunteers,” Rove said. “She will announce her schedule and show up.” (Bold mine - JG)

Joshua Green wrote a fantastic piece about Palin and her political development in Alaska. In the piece, I got the sense that a lot of Palin's electoral support in her gubernatorial run was largely generated by a resentment against the Murkowski's, and that Palin's election was more an artifact of Frank Murkowski's unpopularity than her ability to organize voters.

Now, I am not saying that Palin cannot organize voters, but she does seem unable (or unwilling?) to network with party or non-party organisations with the goal of consolidating electoral support. Without that skill, she's never going to gain traction in national politics beyond the core base of supports that identify with her purely on cultural and socio-economic terms.

I'm curious if the way Palin was instantly thrust onto the national stage hindered her ability to develop the basic national organizing skills a presidential run required. Or maybe Palin has these skills, but lacks any interest to develop them further.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sigh...

Another chapter in the ongoing epic dysfunction of our confirmation process and the US Senate.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stay Classy, French Socialist Party

Wow!
"Why all the fuss? It's merely a bit of hanky-panky with the help," said Jean-Fran├žois Kahn, the crusading editor of the Left-wing Marianne weekly. Jack Lang, a law don famous for having been Fran├žois Mitterrand's high-profile, graffiti-loving, diversity-fostering Culture Minister, dismissed it all rather infelicitously as an "overblown" affair: "Really, nobody died in that hotel room."

How (Not) To Sell Your Candidacy

Ezra Klein critiques Tim Pawlenty for being uncompelling with the rationale for his presidential candidacy.

On one hand, I do see Klein's point. Candidates need to be salesmen, and that means they need to effectively market themselves to voters. Answers like:
"You know, I turned 50 last year, and I’m realizing I’m — if I’m not in the fourth quarter, I’m in the third quarter of the chronological clock."
are not particularly energizing, and Klein makes the appropriate point that Pawlenty is going to have to do better than “because I’m getting older” and “I didn’t want to start taking it easy yet.”

On the other hand! Over at The Atlantic, I'm throughly sympathetic to Conor Friedersdorf's point that Pawlenty's answer is refreshingly normal. Politicians are people too, and sometimes they don't have the best answer for everything.
In the same way that romantic comedies shape our expectations about relationships in unrealistic ways -- "I knew from the first time I saw him that we'd spend our lives together" -- the conventions of presidential elections cause us to imagine that there should be some compelling narrative version of what brought someone into the race.

I'd like to place the correct answer somewhere in between the two. Candidates should be honest about the intentions and motivations of their candidacy, but that the same time need to offer voters a vision or platform to get behind.

The best answer Pawlenty (or any candidate) could have given, would have been something along the lines of "I can't give you the exact moment I decided that I wanted to run for the presidency, but I can tell you that my decision was ultimately cemented by the vision and leadership I can offer the American people."

Good salesmanship doesn't always equal dishonesty, but bad salesmanship does make your honesty harder to swallow.

UPDATE: I think Daniel Larison gets to the underlying point of Klein's Pawlenty critique:
Pawlenty’s candidacy doesn’t have any obvious rationale. In fact, the former Minnesota governor has trouble coming up with a reason why he is running at all. He doesn’t unnerve any major constituency in the party in the way that Huntsman does and Daniels did, but he isn’t that closely identified with any of them. He inspires neither intense loyalty nor especially strong dislike. (Bold mine - JG)
It's not so much that Pawlenty's answer to Michael Crowley wasn't that compelling, but rather the rationale for Pawlenty's campaign as a whole is underwhelming. Klein's critique of Pawlenty's answer isn't valid on the answer itself, as it is on the overall motivations of his candidacy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"It is not God who kills the children..


Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It is us. Only us"



The tragic death of Iraq Veteran Jose Guerena was brutal, pointless and absurd.

First, the basics of who Mr. Guerena was; a 23-year-old former Marine with two tours of duty in Iraq, husband of seven years, father of two boys (six and four), currently working night shifts at an Asarco copper mine.

According to Ellen Tumposky's reporting, Guerena had returned from the mine, and was resting "when his wife, Vanessa, saw the armed SWAT team outside her youngest son's bedroom window."
Vanessa Guerena thought the gunman might be part of a home invasion -- especially because two members of her sister-in-law's family, Cynthia and Manny Orozco, were killed last year in their Tucson home, her lawyer, Chris Scileppi, said. She shouted for her husband in the next room, and he woke up and told his wife to hide in the closet with the child, Joel, 4.

The confrontation resulted with 5 SWAT officers firing, according to KGUN9's initial report, 71 rounds over the course of approximately 7 seconds.

This tragedy would be grimly hilarious if it weren't so cruel. The man was employed, paid and trained by the state to travel thousands of miles to fight against terrorists. He survives and returns to his family; only to be gunned down in his own home, with his wife and child present, by state authorities waging a separate terror campaign.

While this story would be galling enough on it's own, the Pima County Sheriffs office has treated this disaster with an appalling nonchalance. The sheriff himself is bristling at how reporters is characterizing the story, specifically "scold[ing] the media for 'questioning the legality' of the shooting."

Hannah Arendt wrote a report on Adolf Eichmann's trial for The New Yorker, and eventually adapted it into a book in 1963, titled Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The central thesis of the book, per Edward S. Herman
was that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, like Eichmann, a top administrator in the machinery of the Nazi death camps, may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats. (emphasis mine - JG)


While there can be no comparison between the monstrosities of Germany's Holocaust and America's War on Drugs, Arendt's framework provides an excellent tool to help us deconstruct how the two polices produce similar effects on official's charged with executing them. Why Pima county's sheriff; who's responsibility is to the citizens of his county and is charged with protecting and serving them - expresses more concern over the media's 'questioning' than the fact that his officers have violently killed a (currently) innocent father, husband and veteran - is best understood in light of the idea that they were just following their orders and training. And unlike the Holocaust, these orders and trainings ultimatly emanate from our choices as an electorate.

The War on Drugs, and specifically the violent raid tactics that in this instance resulted with the death of Jose Guerena, are products of very conscious decisions made by every politically active (that is, voting) American. As H.L. Mencken wrote, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." The politics of our Drug War is skewed so heavily for our representatives to support more violence, harsher sentences and greater brutality because we make it so. The violence and brutality of our Drug War continues because, like Eichmann, we choose not to fully engage the ramifications and consequences of our political choices. Instead we hide behind a notion that this kind of engagement isn't our responsibility. It may have been the Tuscon District Court that signed a warrant for Jose Guerena's address, and it may have been Pima County's SWAT team that served it. But government polices - polices that we all have a say in - that created this tragedy. We cheaply extol on the virtues of our democratic system and how our government serves the people. But the good must come with the bad, and the failures of our polices must be confronted by every citizen, we are all complicit; either through our support, our opposition or our negligence.

It wasn't God that killed Jose Guerna, or fate that fed him to the dogs. It is us. It is only us.

Friday, April 8, 2011

David Brooks is wrong wrong wrong

David Brooks is a terrible columnist. Every time I read one of his pieces, I see errors so glaring that even a junior poli sci undergrad would be able to spot them. His column today is an excellent example of this.

He starts one a premise that, now that Paul Ryan released a budget, the Democrats need to get serious about entitlement reform. Here's a gem of a paragraph:
The Democrats are on defense because they are unwilling to ask voters to confront the implications of their choices. Democrats seem to believe that most Americans want to preserve the 20th-century welfare state programs. But they are unwilling to ask voters to pay for them, and they are unwilling to describe the tax increases that would be required to cover their exploding future costs.

Has Mr. Brooks been asleep for the past two years? Does he forget the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act? Readers might recall the law. It was the one with taxes on high-cost insurance policies and major cuts to programs like Medicare Advantage to help pay for the bill. President Obama and Congressional Democrats got hammered over these cuts and taxes, specifically from the Republican legislators and candidates.

Shorter Brooks: President Obama and Congressional Democrats write, lobby and pass a healthcare reform bill that according to the CBO, will place our projected revenue to follow the pace of healthcare costs, and they are "unwilling to describe the tax increases that would be required to cover their exploding future costs."

Whereas Paul Ryan "has moved us off Unreality Island," with a plan that caps Medicare and Medicaid spending at inflation rate +1% and gets gets roughly two-thirds of it's cuts from programs for lower-income Americans.

If David Brooks bothered to care about how policy works and the reality of our problems, he could right very interesting and illuminating columns. But pieces like this are just partisan tropes that do nothing but add heat and no light to our policy dilemmas. It's a shame he abuses his platform to push this kind of junk analysis.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wishful Thinking

God bless Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and her amazing ability to say the most logically inconsistent things, often in between (sometimes even during) paragraphs. To whit: She went on MSNBC yesterday predicting that there would be no government shutdown. The headline initially comforted me. If a lawmaker like Bachmann is on board with preventing a shutdown, the odds of the Federal government's continued functioning must be pretty good, right?

But if you read way down in the third (!!) paragraph we have this quote:
"I cannot vote for the current compromise that we're looking at," she said. "I don't think it is sufficient because, primarily, it doesn't include the defunding of Obamacare."

Shorter Bachmann, "I'd vote to help prevent a government shutdown, so long as I get everything I want." It never ceases to amaze me how childish some of the biggest names in American government can be.

Further, I'd like to remind readers that Rep. Bachmann is out-fundraising Mitt Romney in her possible run for the presidency.

The Ab Belt Philosophy of Public Policy

Another example: Today the NYT reports on how GOP Reps are suddenly (surprise!) finding out that balancing the budget requires more than just eliminating foreign aid.

Again, I'm at a loss how these otherwise reasonably smart, competent* decision makers seem to get this idea that we're just one effortless, painless set of program cuts away solving all of our problems. This is not, and probably never will be the case. Charlie Brown, meet football.

*Yes, the intelligence and competency of our legislators is debatable.

Quote of the Day

From the excellent Ta-Nehisi Coates, on Cathleen Black's resignation
It'd be nice if we'd now stop hearing political appointees and MBA candidates crowing about their private sector successes, their nose for accountability and the perils broken government. Whatever. All I hear in that is the sneering of reformers who actually don't much like democracy. I don't want politicians who are "above politics," anymore then I want a plumber who's "above toilets."

Black's appointment strikes me as a decision endemic from the same line of (wishful) thinking that that made ab belts so marketable. Remember those? The basic pitch was that all you had to do was sit down on the couch, let 'er rip and BAM, washboard abs with zero effort.

It baffles me how decision makers keep coming up with solutions to major public policy issues (urban/suburban education inequality, over decline in public school quality, etc.) the rely on quick fixes.