U.S. domestic policy

2008 01 15
How policies fit together


Smart people keep writing that the leading Democratic candidates have similar domestic policies, and appear to differ mainly in their foreign policies. In particular, Hillary Clinton seems to be widely (and correctly, I think) viewed as more hawkish and militarily adventurous than Obama. But as I’ve said before, it just doesn’t make sense to say that candidates have similar domestic policies but that their foreign policies are different. If they have different foreign policies, and in particular, if Clinton’s foreign policy is significantly more costly (as I think I would be) than Obama’s, then they surely wouldn’t be able to accomplish the same things domestically. It’s one and the same president trying to get both agendas through, and with finite political and economic resources.

This is not to say that this is a zero sum game. While it seems obvious to me that continuing a costly and unpopular war would seriously damage a president’s ability to move on an ambitious domestic agenda, it’s also obvious that foreign policy successes (like getting out of Iraq), or non-failures, would generate more political capital that a president could use domestically.


Howls of outrage (10)

2007 10 31
Mukasey


Two quick points about Mukasey:

First, the Senate must vote against confirmation. A vote to confirm a liar who is clearly unwilling to enforce the country’s laws and international commitments guarantees more of the same rotten behaviour that got the U.S. in the trouble it’s in today. No deal the Democrats cut now and no private assurances that they’re given will change that.

Second, you just know that some Democrats will want to back down on this because they’re afraid of the way the issue will be framed: that they’re weak on national security. Let me just point out that there is nothing weaker than constantly fretting about the perception of weakness. Republicans will try to frame the issue this way no matter what, so the way to respond is not to capitulate again and again and again, but rather to loudly insist on reframing the issue. How about: “We’ll confirm the first candidate Bush nominates who is actually willing to enforce U.S. law.” How about: “Mukasey is clearly lying, and experience has taught us that we can’t have a proper working relationship with an A.G. who lies to Congress.” Let Bush nominate someone else. I’m sure that person might be worse than Mukasey. Reject that person too. Make clear that candidates for A.G. will be rejected – every fucking last one of them – until Bush proposes someone willing to enforce the laws of the country. That’s how you win a fight and reframe an issue.


Howls of outrage (2)

2007 08 04
Domestic and international policies


Here’s a point I’ve been meaning to make for a while now: When you’re looking at the platforms of candidates in the Democratic primaries, you can’t judge the domestic and international policies and priorities of the candidates independently of one another. If a candidate, such as, oh, just to take a random example, Hillary Clinton, favours Bush-li— excuse me, a more aggressive foreign policy posture that is likely to keep troops entangled in Iraq for a long time, that policy is bound to interfere in all sorts of ways with that candidate’s ability to achieve goals on domestic issues. Wars are costly, not just in the funds that need to be appropriated to them, but also in the political capital that they drain away from a politician when they’re unpopular or controversial.


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2007 07 18
Um, ew.


There are just so many gems in this NYT piece on abstinence-only education. But this takes the cake:

In northeastern Texas, advocates of abstinence education vow to fight for their mission because to them, it is not just a matter of sexuality or even public health. Getting a teenager to the other side of high school without viruses or babies is a bonus, but not the real goal. They see casual sex as toxic to future marriage, family and even, in an oblique way, opposition to abortion.

“You have to look at why sex was created,” Eric Love, the director of the East Texas Abstinence Program, which runs Virginity Rules, said one day, the sounds of Christian contemporary music humming faintly in his Longview office. “Sex was designed to bond two people together.”

To make the point, Mr. Love grabbed a tape dispenser and snapped off two fresh pieces. He slapped them to his filing cabinet and the floor; they trapped dirt, lint, a small metal bolt. “Now when it comes time for them to get married, the marriage pulls apart so easily,” he said, trying to unite the grimy strips. “Why? Because they gave the stickiness away.”

Tune in next week when Mr. Love uses a straightened paper clip to show that curing homosexuality is as easy as a trip to Office Max.


Howls of outrage (3)

2005 04 18
Bush Administration Unveils New Initiative


The Bush administration on Monday announced its plan to introduce a new initiative to deal with a problem that has plagued the worldÂ’s teens for time immemorial. The new initiative, called Porcelain-only Education, will be offered as an amendment to the military-operations supplemental appropriations bill which is now pending in Congress.

The interest in the initiative has been brewing inside conservative circles at least since President George W. Bush was governor of Texas. According to a senior administration official, “We thought now was a good time to put a new face on this Administration. We’ve had a tough go with the Social Security pitch, and the President wanted to make sure the American people knew we could still ‘get results’.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, but did confirm that Bush himself had emphasized “get results” by making quotation-marks with his fingers.

Referred to today by White House Spokesman Scott McClellan as Abstinence-Only’s “fairer sibling,” Porcelain-Only Education will stress the importance for teens of having clear and unblemished skin. “It is important for teens’ confidence, self-esteem, and most importantly their self-respect that they are comfortable in their skin,” said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. “Teen pregnancy is not the only concern this Administration has. Teen hideousness matters too.”

According to Spellings, Porcelain-Only Education will require that health instructors at the nation’s public middle- and high-schools stress the importance of clear skin. Teens will learn that having clear skin is the only “100 percent method for avoiding unsightly blemishes.” One proposed text book, provisionally entitled “The Liberating Force of Acne-Freedom,” includes several worksheets asking students to list the virtues of skin clarity and the “Vicious Vices” of letting oneself succumb to the “ugliness of the unctuous.” Another worksheet, “Pizza-Face or Personal Responsibility?” attempts to get teens out of the “pimple business” by reminding them that employers tend to prefer “the good ones.” Interviews with the creators of the text book have revealed that by “good ones” the book refers to “You know, people without skin problems.”

The proposal has already met with harsh criticism. Opponents point out that the proposed curriculum says nothing about the role that Mother Nature plays in determining the condition of teenagers’ skin. “Ninety percent of teens experience at least some acne. It’s a normal phenomenon during adolescence. Yet these text books foster the myth that teens are doing something wrong if they have imperfect skin,” says Jane P. Forster, who is in charge of the county’s school nurses.

Other opponents point out that there is no mention in the curriculum of prevention. While there are many medications and daily regimens that have been developed over the years to deal with acne, the text books conspicuously leave out any reference to them. When confronted with this allegation, Spellings was remarkably blunt. “Yes, of course we know what’s in the text books. The President believes very strongly in what he calls the Culture of Life, and that culture is inconsistent with the teaching of personal dependency. We had to make a decision: do we teach the virtues of Acne-freedom, or the destructive culture of dependency on the means for achieving that freedom. We believe that the choice is clear, even if that means our children’s skin won’t be.”


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 02 09
Two from Fafblog


Here is Giblets, calmly and rationally laying out of his case for Partial Gibletization:

Under Old Social Security, which Giblets has cleverly dubbed “Social Insecurity,” your payroll taxes pay for the retirement of old people, and when you are old other people’s payroll taxes pay for for you. This system is demographically flawed and will explode! But under Giblets’s new plan, “Partial Gibletization,” a portion of your payroll taxes go towards the funding of a kick-ass party for Giblets in a big mansion made of gold with a huge pool and a ton of hot naked chicks, which will stimulate the economy and encourage job growth! The rest of your taxes will go towards making a rocket ship that will launch old people into the sun.

Giblets is confident his plan will save Social Security forever and supply him with an endless supply of lithe nubile women, the two most important components of any massive entitlement program. But instead of engaging in constructive debate, all Democrats have done is oppose Giblets’s plan from the beginning! Well, Giblets doesn’t see anyone else coming up with ideas here. Or at least, any ideas that answer the country’s critical need for bouncing topless babes.

Giblets has been plenty reasonable. Giblets would be willing to compromise on many critical details of his plan, including the size of the mansion, the purity of the gold, the ratio of Cristal to Evian in the pool, the quantity of jewels and sweetmeats in which Giblets is to be robed throughout the proceedings, the size of the crystal champagne-spouting Giblets statue to be displayed, and the number of naked chicks to be made available to ranking Democrats. But Giblets’s bipartisan offerings are wasted upon them! Let there be total war!

And then there is this stirring defence of John McCain’s vote to confirm Gonzales.


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2005 02 08
Uniquely American


On Feb. 4, 2005, President Bush was in Omaha, Nebraska participating in “a conversation on strengthening social security,” during which there was an amazing exchange:

THE PRESIDENT: Good. Okay, Mary, tell us about yourself.

MS. MORNIN: Okay, I’m a divorced, single mother with three grown, adult children. I have one child, Robbie, who is mentally challenged, and I have two daughters.

THE PRESIDENT: Fantastic. First of all, you’ve got the hardest job in America, being a single mom.

MS. MORNIN: Thank you. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: You and I are baby boomers.

MS. MORNIN: Yes, and I am concerned about — that the system stays the same for me.

[Interlude of President airily trying to explain that SS will stay the same after he dismantles it.]

THE PRESIDENT: And so thank you for asking that. You don’t have to worry.

MS. MORNIN: That’s good, because I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute.

THE PRESIDENT: You work three jobs?

MS. MORNIN: Three jobs, yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)

MS. MORNIN: Not much. Not much.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, hopefully, this will help you get you sleep to know that when we talk about Social Security, nothing changes.

MS. MORNIN: Okay, thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: That’s great.

So working three jobs to support oneself and one’s “mentally challenged” son is a “fantastic,” “uniquely American” achievement? You know what else President Bush has called “uniquely American”? Let’s see, there’s Harley Davidsons, and, oh yeah, the threat posed by Saddam Hussein:

I say uniquely American issue because I truly believe that now that the war has changed, now that we’re a battlefield, this man poses a much graver threat than anybody could have possibly imagined. Other countries, of course, bear the same risk. But there’s no doubt his hatred is mainly directed at us. There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time.

The existence of working poor in this country is what we get when our president sees a defanged dictator as a uniquely American threat, and sees a woman working three jobs–who is, as she puts it, “unfortunately” near retirement–as a uniquely American achievment.


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2005 01 27
What about Poland makes Bush lie?


I have a t-shirt that says, in big red letters on the front: “Bush Lies”. Because I’m now living in Arlington, VA, those who notice it usually approve. But I wear it other places, too, and I am sometimes asked to defend the shirt’s thesis.

I mention this because one year ago today, on my birthday, Bush said one of the lies that makes my list. Here’s the list I typically give. Add your own in the comments section–that is, if you’re not sick and tired of talking about the moron.

1. “[B]y far the vast majority of my tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum.” (Said during 2000 campaign.) Not true, as demonstrated here, and here.

2. [This one might be my favorite, because it’s soooo brazen in the face of the truth:] Bush WH press conference, March 6, 2003:

He’s a master at deception. He has no intention of disarming — otherwise, we would have known. There’s a lot of talk about inspectors. It really would have taken a handful of inspectors to determine whether he was disarming — they could have showed up at a parking lot and he could have brought his weapons and destroyed them. That’s not what he chose to do.

Here’s what was really going on:

yesterday Iraq, reluctantly, agreed to the destruction of four of its outlawed al-Samoud 2 missiles. At a military base just outside Baghdad, bulldozers were brought in to crush the missiles under supervision of the UN.

A potential timetable to destroy the remaining 100-plus al-Samoud 2 missiles was also discussed with the UN. Around 50 of the missiles are with Iraqi forces scattered around the country and will have to be brought in to be destroyed…

And what chief weapons inspector Hans Blix called “a very significant piece of real disarmament”, the US called “propaganda wrapped in a lie inside a falsehood”, and the UK called “a cynical attempt to divide the Security Council.” I can’t wait to see how that one turns out.

3. Bush, to Polish journalist, May 29, 2003:

We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They’re illegal. They’re against the United Nations resolutions, and we’ve so far discovered two. And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.

Of course, they had no reason to think that was true, and good reason to think it was false. They certainly had no reason to state it as true. (Recall that Cheney was still claiming, in January of 2004, that those mobile labs were “conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did, in fact, have programs for weapons of mass destruction.”

4. Bush, in WH press conference with Polish President, January 27, 2004:

I was hoping the United Nations would enforce its resolutions, one of many. And then we went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution — 1441 — unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in.

5. Who knows if Bush himself knew about this, but I don’t really care. My fifth lie is the the lie the Bush Administration told Congress to get its Medicare prescription drug benefit passed. They said that it would cost $400 billion over 10 years, when in fact it was expected to cost $500 billion to $600 billion. But, not only did they lie about the cost, they threatened to fire the Medicare actuary who wanted to tell Congress about the true costs before they voted on it.

We might also add, in connection, the Administration’s production and distribution of “fake news broadcasts”. The GAO–our government’s official watchdog–has rebuked Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services and Office of National Drug Control Policy for disseminating “fake news” segments designed to convince voters of their policies. The Administration has also just come under fire for paying so-called ‘independent’ commentator Armstrong Williams $241,000 to defend No Child Left Behind in his syndicated columns and radio show. Bush now says that, “we didn’t know about this in the White House.” That’s curious, given Bush Press Secretary, Scott McClellan’s response to inquiries about the matter with: “There are also questions about whether or not this commentator should have been disclosing this information publicly.”

6. And now I’ll add his claim that Social Security faces a crisis and is “flat bust, bankrupt”. Of course, that’s not even close to true either.

Well, that’s good for now. Of course there are others. But I said my gift to myself today was an abiding sense of abiding self-satisfaction from having worked so hard on my dissertation. So I’m off.


Howls of outrage (6)

2005 01 24
It won’t stop with Social Security


Bill Gardner posits that the GOP may have it in next for Medicaid. I think that, or something along those lines, is correct. Consider two quotations from Sunday’s NYT that it will be useful to have on file.

First:

“Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state,” said Stephen Moore, the former president of Club for Growth, an antitax group. “If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state.”

Second:

In his new book, “Winning the Future,” Mr. Gingrich promotes the private accounts for Social Security and health care. But he cautions Republicans not to scare voters with any talk of reducing Social Security benefits.

“If you frame the private Social Security accounts as giving your children the right to choose, as opposed to cutting benefits or forcing anyone to do anything, I think it’s a total winner for us,” Mr. Gingrich said in an interview. “The accounts will create the first 100 percent capitalist society in history. Fifty years from now, relatively poor Americans for the first time will have their own personal savings; they’ll see the power of interest buildup over time and appreciate the importance of property.

Of course, Gingrich is wrong here, but not just about his ideology. Dismanteling social security won’t be even close to the end of the welfare state or the creation of “the first 100 percent capistalist society in history.” Achieving that grotesque end would require, among other things, removing the minimum wage, cancelling child labor laws, cancelling overtime protection, cancelling government regulation of workplace safety, ending Medicare, and, yes, ending Medicaid. After doing all that, people will certainly come to understand “the importance of property.” They will come to see–as they have at certain times in the past in various countries–the need for the government to check the inhumanity of unrestricted capitalism. They will see the need to assert the importance of human dignity and the security of that which is in fact important, rather than the bald security of one’s place as an economic atom at the mercy of repulsive market forces.

The Democrats won’t win unless they can show Americans that the policy elites–Dems and Republicans alike–have few qualms with entertaining the cancellations of those governmental checks on brute market forces. Republicans have gotten Americans to think first of that Platonic form, Freedom, and then to judge–wrongly–that (certain forms of) government involvement with the market constitutes unfreedom. Dems and progressives need to get Americans to move from Freedom, to the checks that make real freedom possible, such as (just, fair, “living”) minimum wage, child labor laws, social security, medicare, medicaid, etc…It’s revealing that Gingrich doesn’t think private accounts can be sold by telling Americans about benefit cuts, but that they can be sold by invoking ideas such as “freedom” and “control”. That is an open door for Dems: for who really believes that people will have more control of their lives in world in which they have far fewer resources in old age than they would with a simple, effective, effecient, government program? Just as they reject as worthless the speculation of how many angels can dance on a pinhead, workaday people must come to reject the allure of that form of “control” which allows one all the liberty in the world to move one’s paltry retirement savings from one mutual fund to another.–What good is that sort of control after Wall Street has taken its 20 percent management fee and your grandparents are left shaking their heads at how little they have to show fifty years of good citizenship?


Howls of outrage (2)

2005 01 18
Another reason for the Right’s push toward privatization


Several entries of the Social Security Bibliography give reasons for jibbing at the proposal to privatize social security. One of the best is that social security’s overhead is now a slim 1 percent of the system, whereas finance and management fees for private accounts could run as high as 20 percent of each account. That’s a lot of money heading into Wall Street instead of into the pockets of our aged parents and grandparents.

Perhaps because I’m still rather green and naive, I just stumbled upon another reason that the right is probably pushing for privatization. It comes from Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival (p. 120) (now online here):

Privatization has other benefits. If working people depend on the stock market for their pensions, health care, and other means of survival, they have a stake in undermining their own interests: opposing wage increases, health and safety regulations, and other measures that might cut into profits that flow to the benefactors on whom they must rely, in a manner reminiscent of feudalism.


Howls of outrage (6)

2005 01 18
Creating Ownership Societies, one exploitive technique at a time


Last weekend the WaPo ran a story on the United States’s churlish attitude toward aiding development abroad. Most of you already know that the US falls dead last among the world’s 22 wealthy nations in percentage of GDP consituting development aid in the world’s poorest regions. We send two-tenths of one percent of GDP abroad for foreign development, amounting to

approximately 15 cents per day per American, officials say, or less than $55 per person annually for aid to help the rest of the world.

I don’t have much here to add to criticisms of the US for this policy, though there are interesting debates within political philosophy over the nature and grounds of the proper level of sacrifice wealthy nations like the US ought to endure. I just wanted further to archive the following passage from the article, for it represents yet another manifestation of the malignant right-wing belief that free trade, unrestricted foreign investment, and pornographically expansive property rights are the due of plutocrats–this belief is here expressed through the laughable claim that libertarian politics is more important–developmentally–than development aid:

U.S. officials now say that the president never promised to fulfill the goal set in Monterrey [i.e., seven-tenths of one percent of GDP for development aid] anytime soon — or ever. The administration also now emphasizes trade and remittances by foreign workers in the United States back to their home countries as more important development aid. But those resources, say foreign policy analysts, often do not generate education, health care or infrastructure such as electricity, roads and irrigation for agriculture.

The line is likely to be, “Look, these brave souls have come to America, taken ‘jobs that Americans don’t want’, and sacrificed their standard of living here so that their families back home are not hungry. See, we’re empowering people to take their lives in their own hands. ‘Development aid’ is just another term for the stifling of progressive human energies and self-reliance.” It might occur to one that it’s an interesting ideology that identifies self-reliance with one’s necessary reliance on (to cite one prominent example) underhanded Wal-Mart executives for benefit-less, overtime-less employment.


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2005 01 13
Standing on Principle, or Ceremony?


Posted by in: U.S. domestic policy

Remember this little nugget:

“Five twenty-sevens – I think these ought to be outlawed,” [Bush] said. “I think they should have been outlawed a year ago. We have billionaires writing checks, large checks, to influence the outcome of the election.”

So, how’s that inaugural being paid for:

The nuclear energy industry’s contribution is part of a record-breaking outpouring of corporate cash for next week’s inaugural festivities. At least 88 companies and trade associations, along with 39 top executives — all with huge stakes in administration policies — have already donated $18 million toward a $40 million goal for the country’s 55th inaugural celebration.

Of course, no one took him seriously the first time. It’s just nice to have dissemblance meet reality, now and again.


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2005 01 09
Select Social Security Biblio


Below is a compendium of some fact-following and research I’ve done on the problems with Social Security and Bush’s proposed solutions.
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2004 06 15
I can’t shut up about the Chafetz review


First I reviewed a book review by Josh Chafetz. Then I couldn’t help getting another dig in. Before the men in white suits come to take me away, just let me make two more points. They are both tucked mercifully below the fold.
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2004 06 14
Chafetz on Frank


Josh Chafetz of Oxblog reviewed Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? in the New York Times Book Review this weekend. I haven’t read Frank’s book, so I’ll remain agnostic on it, but it’s still possible to make a remark or two about the review itself.
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Howls of outrage (2)