New post up at Blue Jersey regarding a different approach to budgeting in difficult circumstances. Yes, revenues can be on the table!

Read it here.


Ezra Klein has a provocative post up this morning where he argues that while Democrats may emerge from budget negotiations with a more stable political position, the policy outcome is going to stink:

But if you just keep your eye on the policy, Republicans are moving towards a win far beyond anything the House leadership had initially imagined. Getting there required learning they had less control over their conservative wing that they’d hoped, but it also taught them that their inability to control their conservative wing gave them credibility in negotiations with Democrats and can lead to pretty remarkable policy wins, as no one doubts that House Republicans really will shut down the government or allow for a default.

One way to read this is that Democrats have a basically impossible task; since they care about a functioning government, they will never be able to out-crazy the GOP hard-liners who have seemingly convinced themselves that a government shutdown or even U.S. default would somehow spur positive reforms, or at the very least force Americans to take their medicine for their profligate spending demands. How to negotiate with these types?

Another way to read it is that the Democrats, particularly President Obama, are just really horrible negotiators. Krugman advances this line here, piling on the President for his inapt and harmful “belt-tightening” metaphor and general abandonment of Keynesian rhetoric. I think he’s onto something and that in general, progressives didn’t push back hard enough on this type of thing coming from the White House.

But it’s important to note that these extremely suspect negotiating tactics have infected the entire party, both on the federal and state levels. Here, for example, is Sen. Chuck Schumer who tweeted this gem way back on February 15th, linking to a Facebook post titled “We All Agree On Need to Cut Spending, Now Let’s Have a Debate On What Exactly To Cut.” Remember — this is the progressive representative in budget negotiations. Can you imagine, say, in the context of entitlement reform, Rep. Paul Ryan blaring out a Facebook post “We All Agree On Need to Raise Revenues, Now Let’s Have a Debate On How Exactly To Raise Them”? I think you’ll see the fundamental asymmetry there.

The most frustrating thing is that the Democrats actually have the economics on their side. It’s simply untrue, as Schumer alleges, that “we all agree on need to cut spending.” In fact, most center-to-left economists — while they disagree on the relative severity of our medium-term fiscal problems — believe that immediate spending cuts are the exact opposite solution to promoting growth. This isn’t a crank view, it’s mainstream economics, and Schumer has basically written them out of the conversation completely.

This is a problem on the state level as well, as Sen. Schumer’s fellow New Yorker Gov. Cuomo has presented an all-cuts budget to close a $10 billion deficit. Like his hard-line conservative neighbors PA Gov. Corbett and NJ Gov. Christie, Cuomo ruled out any and all revenue solutions to the budget crisis. The Times had an excellent editorial on what this means about Cuomo’s priorities:

Governor Cuomo has vowed to make the tough decisions and not to be swayed by special-interest pleadings. But he is refusing to impose any new taxes or even continue a current surcharge on New York’s wealthiest and least vulnerable citizens.

That makes no fiscal sense. So we have to assume that for Mr. Cuomo, some special interests are more special than others. Just extending the surcharge on New York’s highest earners through 2012 would add an estimated $1.2 billion in revenue to the upcoming budget and $4 billion the following fiscal year.

Without that surcharge and other targeted tax increases, Mr. Cuomo’s proposed cuts in education and other vital services will inevitably be deeper and more painful than necessary, harming both individuals and the foundation for the state’s future economic growth.

What’s awful about this (in addition to the pain imposed by the cuts) is that it’s being done in the name of pragmatic, hard-nosed budgeting — a “new day for New York.” But it’s the opposite of pragmatism to flatly rule out tackling one side of the ledger from the start. It also happens to define modern conservative ideology. No wonder progressives seem to be losing in budget negotiations.

This type of rhetoric gives the impression that Gov. Christie and other rising-star Republicans are right: that there’s no other way to fix our budget problems. But Gov. Brown in California is offering a much more balanced solution, with both revenue and spending on the table — which is as is should be. You won’t see him getting the type of east coast/beltway media attention, though, that is afforded to Gov. Cuomo’s stalwart defense of the wealthiest New Yorkers.

New York is a huge progressive state with a disproportionate impact on the media narrative and elite thinking. It often serves as the bulwark for the left side of the national conversation. To have the Democratic governor of the state demand that revenues be off the table in any budget negotiation, and to have the senior Democratic Senator imply that anyone who doesn’t believe in immediate federal spending cuts doesn’t even deserve a seat at the table, is a ticket to a Tea Party budget in all levels of government. Schumer and Cuomo would probably argue that their rhetoric is politically necessary, and is a bow to “reality” after the 2010 elections. But their negotiating tactics are so bad that one has to wonder if they actually believe these things on the merits — and that would truly be scary.

UPDATE: Sen. Schumer just tweeted: “Tks w/ @SpeakerBoehner were going well- serious budget cuts discussed until Tea Party forced him 2 move goalposts TP is only obstacle 2 deal”

He does realize, then, that since he is saying this publicly, if there is any movement towards more cuts, the Tea Party will rightfully take credit, have their “negotiating” strategy vindicated, and repeat it in every subsequent negotiation? Essentially Sen. Schumer is implicitly saying that the Tea Party has a veto over the budget — they are the “only obstacle.” In the name of making the Tea Party seem extreme and the Democrats “reasonable” by comparison (which I don’t think anyone cares about), he is simply telling the public that they have a willingness to stick to their guns. Not really the best way to marginalize them.

With Friends Like These…

New post at Blue Jersey re: Gov. Rendell’s praise of Gov. Christie.

Read it here.

You’ll notice by reading the list at the top of the blog that foreign policy isn’t one of the areas I’m very comfortable discussing. My knee-jerk reaction is to be extremely skeptical of the type of military intervention we’ve embarked upon, but here at the (appropriately named) Woodrow Wilson School, there are plenty of interventionists advancing a seemingly unlimited number of rationales and justifications for military involvement. What strikes me, though, is that while proponents of intervention most often couch their support in moral terms about the plight of Libyans, the question of United States involvement is often debated only in practical terms about what we are (and are not) capable of and what this means — again, practically speaking — about our relationship with our allies and international institutions. But where’s the debate about the massive constitutional issues regarding lack of public debate, lack of legislative authorization, and wisdom and morality of preemptive war in a general sense?

Our former Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter in the New York Times, before the Security Council vote, was accusing President Obama of “fiddling while Libya burns.” But notice the issues she addresses: whether the war is “in our interests,” whether it will be “counterproductive,” and ultimately whether it will “work.” But I suppose I view these as second-order questions to my most pressing concern — is it a good idea to have Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton take it upon themselves to preemptively attack another country in the name of the American people without their explicit consent?

I was reminded of Wilson’s classic essay on the study of public administration, where he makes the following claim:

This is the reason why administrative tasks have nowadays to be so studiously and systematically adjusted to carefully tested standards of policy, the reason why we are having now what we never had before, a science of administration. The weightier debates of constitutional principle are even yet by no means concluded; but they are no longer of more immediate practical moment than questions of administration. It is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one.

I think Slaughter and others in the academic/policy world have essentially adopted this view wholesale. There’s simply not enough time to “fiddle” with the “weightier debates of constitutional principle”; rather, we must make sure we are carefully but quickly implementing policy to the best of our ability and focus narrowly on practical concerns. Slaughter even concludes her piece by conceding that “any use of force must be carefully and fully debated,” but she argues that “that debate has now been had. It’s been raging for a week.” To which I would respond, I must have missed that debate, and furthermore, I think the question of whether the U.S. should be engaging in preemptive war against countries which are no threat to us has been with us since our founding, not early March.

It’s important for practitioners and students of public policy to focus on the here-and-now, of course. Princeton does have history and philosophy departments full of people engaging in larger questions. But I worry that we’ve taken this worship of public administration a bit too far, losing sight of the fundamental role of the American state in our quest to maximize its performance.

With the devastation in Japan and conflict in the Middle East, we can’t overlook the local stories that are equally important. Tragedy struck overnight in my hometown of Chatham, NJ where I’m staying for spring break, and this is the top story of the day.

CHATHAM — Officials and townspeople in the borough are saddened to learn that their first sculpture, Attic Trophy, was vandalized Monday evening in Memorial Park, to the west of the Library of the Chathams, said Mayor Nelson Vaughan on Wednesday.

The sculpture, which is on loan from the Sculpture Foundation, was pushed over on its side and, as a consequence, the sculpture’s ankle was fractured. The sculpture depicts a young girl playing with a hula hoop and was originally made possible by a grant from Investor’s Savings Bank and a donation of transportation services by Westy Storage Centers.

Hopefully the perpetrators will be quickly identified and apprehended. I just love the pictures of the “crime” scene.

The clarifying truth is that this actually IS the worst thing that’s happened in Chatham this week.  With very low poverty and unemployment and virtually no crime, we’re free to mourn the loss of “Attic Trophy,” and flush enough to offer a ridiculous $1,000 reward for information about her “fractured ankle.” So in that sense, I’m extremely lucky.

When I was in New Orleans last week, a friend was kind enough to host me at his house one block off of Freret St. south of the universities. When I lived in the city a few years ago, this stretch of Freret St. was pretty much a dead-zone, off all of the main arteries with plenty of (relatively) affordable housing but few transit options and no amenities. So I when I arrived for Mardi Gras, I figured that I’d have to travel quite a bit just to get the basics.

But the area has turned into a testament to what can happen when people — officeholders, businesspeople, community advocates, and planners — come together to revitalize a neighborhood. In 2007, a need was clearly identified. Over the next several years, the local City Councilmember pushed through zoning changes, including a loosening of parking requirements. The business community collaborated with residents to identify what was actually in demand in the area, and coupled a vision of an hoity “arts entertainment” district with the basics like grocery stores, a friendly coffee shop, and an upscale cocktail bar.

New Orleans, LA – January 10, 2011 – District “B” Councilmember Stacy Head and Kellie Grengs of The New Freret (The Freret Business + Property Owners Association) have taken note of recent difficulties that businesses have experienced while locating in, or developing on, certain commercial corridors. Their response: “Choose Freret!”

The Freret commercial corridor between Jefferson Avenue and Napoleon Avenue is experiencing a rebirth. The surrounding neighborhood embraces additional commercial development and, in fact, invites modern architecture, increased density, and the loosening of parking requirements. Zoning laws were recently created to encourage arts, music and culture, including restaurants, galleries and live music, through the Freret Street Arts and Cultural Overlay District, which was passed unanimously by the New Orleans City Council.

Check out the website of the new district, which is pretty snazzy. A neighborhood that was essentially an auto-dependent food desert now has a high walkability score. Even NORTA’s infamous “mass transit” has significantly improved, with a bus line going right through the heart of the district and better signage and information that I witnessed first-hand. Yes, it’s just one data point in one city, but this is one of the most notoriously slow, cumbersome, and contentious city-business relationships anywhere. I’m sure there’s opposition and I’m sure I’ve missed some of the project’s negative effects, but as a visitor I was wowed.

The New Freret gives me optimism for New Orleans and other urban revitalization projects around the country.

UPDATE: Apparently the neighborhood association has a Facebook page, and they’ve published this post as evidence of their successes. Sweet! I will accept free food and drinks as kickbacks.

It’s usually a good rule of thumb that if one of your favorite artists has a flop album, it’s unlikely that the work is of significantly less quality than all of their other (successful) albums. Anything can lead to a flop: bad timing, bad press, bad marketing, or a combination of all three.

It’s in this spirit that I offer Christina Aguilera’s “Bionic.” The commercial failure of this album was the precursor to Christina’s Super Bowl flub, divorce, weight gain, alcoholism rumors, and mug shot, so can you can hear where it all began.

I’m sorry, but I just love this trashy, poorly-conceived, ill-timed, derivative, dated masterpiece. From the over-the-top cover art to the egotistical lyrics (the album’s closing track is titled “Vanity”), this album brought out of all Christina’s worst tendencies, including self-indulgent vocal arrangements and an uncanny knack for making a potentially catchy song complex and difficult for the listener. But I think the album is actually better than her previous effort Back to Basics, which suffered from all of the exact same problems, except it was also a 1940’s-style concept album which basically just added an additional level of un-fun.

You owe it to Xtina to give this one another listen — or more likely, a first listen. My favorite tracks are “Glam,” a sparse but masterfully sung Gaga ripoff, “Woohoo,” the raunchy Nicki Minaj collaboration that has Britney’s seal of approval and served as the album’s 2nd single, and “You Lost Me,” the album’s BoB (Big ol’ Ballad) and 3rd single.

Check out a live performance of “You Lost Me” on Letterman below. The last phrase when Christina waits a split-second after the final beat to do the ornament on “me” — well, she’s still miles better than almost everyone else out there, flop or not. In a time when the pop market is completely saturated with moderately talented females, Xtina still stands above.