So we’re 10 weeks in, and the GOP’s sequester strategy is coming into sharper focus. If a cut affects Americans residing at the higher end of the socioeconomic ladder, move heaven and earth to make it right. But if it affects folks who may have less means … crickets.
So while everyone knows about the heroic efforts of Republicans to rein in flight delays and restart White House tours, we hear a lot less about those who are losing the assistance they need to send their kids to school, eat a hot meal or just make it until they find their next job.
And one is left to wonder: How did a country like America ever get here? The answer is that it’s all part of the GOP’s long game against government.
It starts with a perverse kind of policy math that says if a government cut creates an inconvenience we should do something about it. But if a cut takes away something that’s critical to your survival today or the life trajectory of your kids, well, you’re out of luck.
And the way the sequester plays out – moving slowly across the land, knocking a handful of people out of Head Start here, reducing unemployment checks there – is the perfect way to effectuate a plan as brutal as the one Republicans conceive. Spreading out the impacts keeps the outcry at manageable levels, and ensures that there is no one critical mass of objectors – until it’s too late.
And in the mean time, the GOP gets what it’s long wanted: The slow withdrawal of government from the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. Government will continue to do many expensive things if the sequester plays out as intended: protect the country; administer justice; subsidize some industries and not others. But it will be out of the “help people go as far as their hard work and talent will take them” business. That just won’t be its role anymore.
We can certainly have a society that operates that way. There’s no rule against it. But what will America look like if the GOP gets it way?
On the one hand the amount of taxes some pay should go down. And those who are fortunate enough to be born into good life circumstances will have less competition to fear from those who are less well off – they simply will have less ways to get into a position to compete. Presumably that means wealth continues to collect at the upper ends of the socioeconomic structure, while more families fall to the bottom.
That’s not how the GOP would describe their approach, of course. But at some point we have to move past hysterical rhetoric about big government and get to the nuts and bolts of the policies they are attempting to effectuate under that banner. Now would be a good time to have that discussion.
It’s not only happening on the federal level. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has made headlines by calling on his state’s universities to find a way to provide a college education for $10,000. Now I suppose we could conclude that the governor really is concerned about people who can’t afford a more expensive education, though there’s little in his record to support that notion. More likely, this is his semester sequester. Rather than finding ways for less wealthy students to get the same quality education as their more well heeled counterparts, Perry’s putting the onus on the universities to dumb down their educational offerings for a less wealthy track.
All of this, of course, turns the way most of us think about government entirely on its head. When elected officials run for office, they do so by articulating a philosophy about how to address the problems we face – as a community, town, city or country. We vote for them when we conclude their prescriptions fit with the way we would like to see the problems we care about approached. Over the history of this country, that process – electing people who’s views align with our own – has resulted in the construction of a state that is more muscular in some areas, less so in others.
Another way of saying: Head Start didn’t just emerge like some kind of algae bloom on the national treasury. We, citizens, saw a problem, that disadvantaged kids weren’t getting a very good education. We asked our representatives to do something about it. Head Start was one of the solutions they came up with. If public polling is any indication, we like it. And if research is any guide, it works.
But the sequester means Republicans don’t have to debate the merits of Head Start. Instead, they keep the debate squarely in the frame that suits them best: that government is too big, it doesn’t work, we can slash away and no one will be the worse for it. But of course they will.
So where does this all end up? My guess is programs that people rely on sustain deep cuts, which becomes an argument to cut them even more: Look! Their performance is inexplicably worsening! And in some cases we get back to a place approximating where we were when the programs were first initiated. Over time, news reports and research bubbles up showing the deplorable circumstances under which some folks live, go to school, etc. Stirred by our conscience and the better angels of our nature we decide something has to be done. And we turn to government. Because that’s what its there for.
And at that moment, a cycle of absurd sequester stupidity will have finally run its course.
By: Anson Kaye, U. S. News and World Report, May 2, 2013
So far, the much-dreaded “sequester” – some $85 billion in federal spending cuts between March and September 30 – hasn’t been evident to most Americans.
The dire warnings that had issued from the White beforehand – threatening that Social Security checks would be delayed, airport security checks would be clogged, and other federal facilities closed – seem to have been overblown.
Sure, March’s employment report was a big disappointment. But it’s hard to see any direct connection between those poor job numbers and the sequester. The government has been shedding jobs for years. Most of the losses in March were from the Postal Service.
Take a closer look, though, and Americans are starting to feel the pain. They just don’t know it yet.
That’s because so much of what the government does affects the nation in local, decentralized ways. Federal funds find their way to community housing authorities, state unemployment offices, local school districts, private universities, and companies. So it’s hard for most Americans to know the sequester is responsible for the lost funding, lost jobs, or just plain inconvenience.
A tiny sampling: Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts is bracing for a cut of about $51 million in its $685 million of annual federal research grants and contracts. The public schools of Syracuse, New York, will lose over $1 million. The housing authority of Joliet, Illinois, will take a hit of nearly $900,000. Northrop Grumman Information Systems just issued layoff notices to 26 employees at its plant in Lawton, Oklahoma. Unemployment benefits are being cut in Pennsylvania and Utah.
The cuts — and thousands like them — are so particular and localized they don’t feel as if they’re the result of a change in national policy.
It’s just like what happened with the big federal stimulus of 2009 and 2010, but in reverse. Then, money flowed out to so many different places and institutions that most Americans weren’t aware of the stimulus program as a whole.
A second reason the sequester hasn’t been visible is a large share of the cuts are in programs directed at the poor – and America’s poor are often invisible.
For example, the Salt Lake Community Action Program recently closed a food pantry in Murray, Utah, serving more than 1,000 needy people every month. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium is closing a center that gives alcohol and drug treatment to Native Alaskans.
Some 1,700 poor families in and around Sacramento, California are likely to lose housing vouchers that pay part of their rents. More than 180 students are likely to be dropped from a Head Start program run by the Cincinnati-Hamilton County (Ohio) Community Action Agency.
Most Americans don’t know about these and other cuts because the poor live in different places than the middle class and wealthy. Poverty has become ever more concentrated geographically.
A third reason the sequester is invisible is many people whose jobs are affected by it are being “furloughed” rather than fired. “Furlough” is a euphemism for working shorter workweeks and taking pay cuts.
Two thousand civilian employees at the Army Research Lab in Maryland will be subject to one-day-per-week furloughs starting on April 22, for example, resulting in a 20 percent drop in pay. The Hancock Field Air National Guard Base is furloughing 280 workers. Many federal courts are now closed on Fridays.
Furloughs spread the pain. The hardship isn’t as evident as it would be if it came in the form of mass layoffs. But don’t fool yourself: A 20 percent pay cut is a huge burden for those who have to endure it.
Bear in mind, finally, the sequester is just starting. The sheer scale of it is guaranteed to make it far more apparent in coming months.
Some 140,000 low-income families will lose their housing vouchers, for example. Entire communities that depend mainly on defense-related industries or facilities will take major hits.
If you thought March’s job numbers were disappointing, just wait.
With the sequester, America has adopted austerity economics. Yet austerity economics is the wrong medicine at exactly the wrong time. Look what it’s done to Europe.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, April 8, 2013
Love it or hate it, there’s a certain genius to the sequester. No, it’s not the notion of including cuts aimed at offending folks on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Nor is it its purported ability to force a budget deal. No, the genius is in the seven months it will take to unfold.
Why? Because $85 billion in budget cuts should cause outrage from coast to coast. But spread it out over seven months, and you might just get away with it.
Take a look at what’s happening in Indiana. The Associated Press reports that Head Start programs in Columbus and Franklin Counties have “resorted to a random drawing” to figure out which three dozen kids to drop from their early childhood education program because of sequester budget cuts. Those will be the first children to lose what is anticipated to be about 1,000 slots statewide.
It’s one of the opening skirmishes in a slow rolling war of attrition that will eventually play out across the country. The 600 families who’ve already learned they’re losing rental assistance in King County Washington. The 418 who’ve lost their jobs at an Army Depot in Pennsylvania. The Kentucky hospital that fired 28 workers.
None of these examples, on their own, are enough to garner national headlines. At least at this early stage, it can be hard to get your head around the impact of a policy that costs thirty jobs here, kicks another hundred people out of a program there, dribs and drabs of misfortune that can easily get lost in the shuffle.
Eventually, of course, the depth of the sequester cuts will add up to major setbacks for countless Americans across the country. But by then, Republicans hope the waters will be sufficiently muddied, the connection between pain and the sequester sufficiently attenuated in the public’s mind, the cuts themselves sufficiently entrenched that mounting an effort to roll them back will fall to nothing. Genius.
Now, as it happens, there’s an entity well-positioned to foil the Republican plan: It’s the media. And a media committed to methodically reporting not only the day-to-day impact of the sequester on ordinary lives, but also the big picture of what the little examples are adding up to would do us all a real service.
Instead we get this: An examination by ThinkProgress found that the suspension of White House tours “were mentioned 33 times as often (Fox News had 163 segments, CNN had 59, and MSNBC had 42)” on cable news “as mentions of other sequester impacts hitting the poor. Any discussion of sequestration’s steep cuts to housing assistance, food stamps, and Head Start early education was virtually nonexistent on all 3 networks in the same time frame.” And as you’ve no doubt seen, it’s not just cable. White House tours have been everywhere, from the Washington Post editorial pages to the nether reaches of talk radio.
So when Michigan Republican Rep. Candice Miller urges the President to “stop trying to justify the unjustifiable,” or Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran says, “We can and must be smarter with our spending decisions and make cuts in ways that do not intentionally and unnecessarily inflict hardship and aggravation upon the American people,” or when South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune asserts that White House tours are “not the kind of duplicative and wasteful spending that we should be looking to target,” the media plays right along. This despite the fact that by any rational analysis, the cut that unjustifiably inflicts hardship on the American people is the one that denies underprivileged children an entrée to critical early education services.
Seriously. What must you think of the government if, after taking a full view of the sequester, you hone in on the suspension of White House tours as the element deserving of such disproportionate attention? That the other programs really aren’t very significant at all. For Republicans, that’s really the point. We might have expected the media to take a more critical view of the matter. No such luck.
Look, I like a good White House tour as much as the next person. And if you have a child who was looking forward to one, that can be a hard thing. But I think I may have a solution: tell them why they can’t go, and be ready with an alternative thing to do. There are lots of other fun and educational activities in Washington, after all.
Here’s a harder question: what do we say to the Indiana Head Start mother who told the AP that “[my son] loves school…I don’t know how I’m going to tell him he’s not going back.”
I’ve come to think of the sequester in the following (admittedly gruesome) way: it’s something like a snake eating a hamster. If it gobbles up fluffy all in one bite, you can see that hump moving all the way down the line as the snake digests his delectable treat. Hard to miss. But if snake eats fluffy one little bite at a time, the hamster’s still dead, and nobody notices. Unless someone calls the snake out.
Hey media: your move.
By: Anson Kaye, U. S. News and World Report, March 21, 2013
“The Ignorance Caucus”: Republicans Are Unable To Apply Critical Thinking And Evidence To Policy Questions
Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas.
To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
And such is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.
Want other examples of the ignorance caucus at work? Start with health care, an area in which Mr. Cantor tried not to sound anti-intellectual; he lavished praise on medical research just before attacking federal support for social science. (By the way, how much money are we talking about? Well, the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit.)
But Mr. Cantor’s support for medical research is curiously limited. He’s all for developing new treatments, but he and his colleagues have adamantly opposed “comparative effectiveness research,” which seeks to determine how well such treatments work.
What they fear, of course, is that the people running Medicare and other government programs might use the results of such research to determine what they’re willing to pay for. Instead, they want to turn Medicare into a voucher system and let individuals make decisions about treatment. But even if you think that’s a good idea (it isn’t), how are individuals supposed to make good medical choices if we ensure that they have no idea what health benefits, if any, to expect from their choices?
Still, the desire to perpetuate ignorance on matters medical is nothing compared with the desire to kill climate research, where Mr. Cantor’s colleagues — particularly, as it happens, in his home state of Virginia — have engaged in furious witch hunts against scientists who find evidence they don’t like. True, the state has finally agreed to study the growing risk of coastal flooding; Norfolk is among the American cities most vulnerable to climate change. But Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise.”
And there are many other examples, like the way House Republicans tried to suppress a Congressional Research Service report casting doubt on claims about the magical growth effects of tax cuts for the wealthy.
Do actions like this have important effects? Well, consider the agonized discussions of gun policy that followed the Newtown massacre. It would be helpful to these discussions if we had a good grasp of the facts about firearms and violence. But we don’t, because back in the 1990s conservative politicians, acting on behalf of the National Rifle Association, bullied federal agencies into ceasing just about all research into the issue. Willful ignorance matters.
O.K., at this point the conventions of punditry call for saying something to demonstrate my evenhandedness, something along the lines of “Democrats do it too.” But while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.
The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.
In her parting shot on leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton said of her Republican critics, “They just will not live in an evidence-based world.” She was referring specifically to the Benghazi controversy, but her point applies much more generally. And for all the talk of reforming and reinventing the G.O.P., the ignorance caucus retains a firm grip on the party’s heart and mind.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 10, 2013
Every week, it seems, New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s name inches higher on the list of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates.
As a result, unlike any public figure in recent memory, he is increasingly compelled to assure reporters and the general public that his weight does not impair his ability to lead.
Christie, by any measure, is obese. This has provided endless fodder for late-night talk show hosts — David Letterman has ridiculed him for years — and politicos who hope to use his weight against him.
Stereotypes masquerade as facts: Fat is undisciplined. Fat is lazy. Fat is bound for an early grave.
Fat makes for great TV, too, the theory goes, from sitcoms to cable news shows. So after Christie jokingly pulled out a doughnut on Letterman’s show earlier this week, former White House physician Connie Mariano diagnosed the governor from afar on CNN:
“I worry that he may have a heart attack,” she said. “He may have a stroke. It’s almost like a time bomb waiting to happen unless he addresses those issues before he runs for office.”
Mariano worked for three presidents and wrote memoirs about her time at the White House. Visit her website, however, and you’ll find a photo of her only with former President Bill Clinton and a quote from him extolling her book. Combine her on-air interview with her website and she comes off as unprofessional and partisan.
Christie’s response to Mariano was typically brusque: Unless she does what a doctor is supposed to do — examine the patient and record his family history — “she should shut up.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than one-third of Americans are obese. Still, fat jokes are a popular form of entertainment in this country. If you’re on Facebook, for example, you probably have seen the photos of morbidly obese customers at Walmart. The comment threads about the ample backsides of unsuspecting shoppers will make you lose faith in humanity, I swear.
Such cruelty can play out differently in politics, which brings us back to Christie. His approval ratings soared in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Even those who hated him had to concede that he was there for the people of his state — so much so that he hugged the president and then fired back at those who dared to criticize him for his gratitude.
The flood lines receded, and the fat jokes returned, but Christie’s political opponents — Republicans and Democrats alike — are ill-advised to make his size a campaign issue. When it comes to the governor’s struggles with weight, millions of Americans are on his side. Don’t think for a minute that Christie doesn’t know that, too.
“If you talked to anybody who has struggled with their weight, what they would tell you is, ‘Every week, every month, every year, there’s a plan,’” Christie said Tuesday at a news conference in New Jersey. “The idea that somehow I don’t care about this — of course I care about it, and I’m making the best effort I can.”
Sounding like millions of other Americans, 50-year-old Christie acknowledged that dieting has been a regular part of his life for decades.
“Sometimes I’m successful, and other times I’m not,” he said. “And sometimes periods of great success are followed by periods of great failure.”
But I’m not a Christie fan, because of his version of America. He has consistently attempted to demonize public-school teachers and called their union leaders “political thugs.” When a woman asked him, during an interview on a local television show, whether it was fair for him to cut funding to public schools when his children attend private school, he smacked her down.
“None of your business,” he said. “I don’t ask you where you send your kids to school. Don’t bother me where I send mine.”
Christie opposes marriage equality for gay Americans and vetoed a bill last year that would have allowed it.
He is also anti-choice. He’s just fine with turning over control of a woman’s body to the government. He’s got an attitude problem with women, too. Responding to a female heckler at a Mitt Romney rally last year, he said, “You know, something may go down tonight, but it ain’t gonna be jobs, sweetheart.”
Those are just some of the reasons Christie should never be president. There are plenty more.
Enough with the speculation about Christie’s health.
It’s the weight of his politics that could threaten the well-being of Americans.
By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, February 7, 2013