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Archive for the ‘Domestic Policy’ Category

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.

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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.

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

Read it here.

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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.

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Last summer when I was in Washington, D.C., I learned about the resurgent HIV/AIDS epidemic in our nation’s capital, something that most Americans have heard nothing about. It’s an outrage and a tragedy, and the fact that HIV is both preventable and treatable makes our inaction morally indefensible — and this is going on at the seat of our national government.

But the problem is widespread across the American South, and shouldn’t be forgotten. When I lived in New Orleans, I worked for the New Orleans AIDS Task Force (NO/AIDS) in their prevention department, and saw first-hand the impact that HIV has on individuals, families, and communities. I also saw how a hostile Louisiana state government actually cost people their lives, through discriminatory policies, bizarre Hester Prynne-style laws, and unexplainable shunning of federal funds.

So I’m glad to see that Human Rights Watch has released an excellent report detailing the state of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in neighboring Mississippi. This truly is a human rights issue, right here at home.

This 59-page report documents the harmful impact of Mississippi’s policies on state residents, including people living with HIV and those at high risk of contracting it. Mississippi refuses to provide complete, accurate information about HIV prevention to students and threatens criminal penalties for failing to disclose one’s HIV status to sexual partners. At the same time, Mississippi provides little or no funding for HIV prevention, housing, transportation, or prescription drug programs for people living with HIV, and the state fails to take full advantage of federal subsidies to bolster these programs. In Mississippi, half of people testing positive for the virus are not receiving treatment, a rate comparable to that in Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

Take a look at the whole thing, and please watch this video below. Thanks to Human Rights Watch for bringing attention to an issue that’s been neglected for a generation.

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The good folks at Blue Jersey drew my attention to this story earlier this week, which details the steps New Jersey is taking to implement its medical marijuana law which was passed last year. The Christie administration is slow-walking implementation of the law, and the state has proposed several regulations which at first glance might seem pretty tame:

Parents’ and caregivers’ frustration came through as they told Health Department officials that they object to a proposed limit on potency of the medical cannabis, a requirement that physicians go through more training before recommending the drug, and a $200 fee for patients to register for the program. The fee would cover two years; patients on state or federal assistance could register for $20.

Now, you might think, these pot-heads sure are complaining a lot about nothing! But the key here is that these patients are already obtaining marijuana illegally on the black market. The goal of the regulations, therefore, should be to first displace and then ultimately replace this black market for the sickest New Jerseyans. That’s why the legislature passed the law — so that HIV and cancer patients wouldn’t be branded criminals for taking their medicine.

But these regulations throw up roadblocks that would incentivize people to keep buying illegally. Does your pot dealer need a $200 license to carry your bag of weed? Is she limited to growing three strains of pot? Another proposed regulation bans home-delivery of marijuana through licensed alternative-care centers. That sounds nice, until you realize that a lot of marijuana dealers will gladly offer home-delivery. And they won’t be limiting the “potency” of their product.

It would be one thing if marijuana was truly dangerous or there was a high risk of overdose. But there isn’t. Do we really need to mandate that physicians get extra training to prescribe a drug that’s safer than virtually all prescription pain medication? I’m not sure if these regulations are well-intentioned or not; regardless, they will effectively neuter the law, despite their ring of common sense. Until they’re changed, I’d have to reluctantly agree with patient Sandra Failoa: “I would rather wait until [new] regulations are created rather than see a program with these problems.” Replacing the black market with a more expensive, more annoying market won’t get us very far.

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A couple weeks back, Greg Sargent had a great post where he essentially argued that the term “fiscal hawk” does not actually mean what progressives think it means (or want it to mean) — namely, someone who wants to aggressively tackle the deficit. Rather, since the media regularly confers the term on people like Paul Ryan, someone who voted for debt-financed Medicare expansion and tax cuts without offsets, the term “fiscal hawk” actually means “someone who is fully committed to reducing the deficit through tax cuts, entitlement reform and frequent expressions of general hostility towards government.” And I think the upshot of Greg’s post is that progressives need to realize that the media has internalized this definition to such a degree that it might no longer be worth fighting a losing battle with a mere dictionary in hand.

Well, I think we might be reaching that point with “fiscal conservative.” From an article about NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s new budget:

Gov. Chris Christie’s budget will include about $200 million in business tax cuts, with more proposed for the next four years, according to sources familiar with the proposal to be laid out later today…

The tax cuts would fulfill a Christie pledge to make New Jersey more business friendly and help solidify his image as a fiscal conservative. It’s unclear whether the cuts will include income taxes, which he has said would come only after the economy improved.

I thought there was a consensus that “fiscally conservative” meant “fiscally responsible,” not “supports corporate tax cuts.”  The accepted definition, by the way, is a huge triumph for the conservative movement, as conservatism has been anything but responsible when it comes to the federal budget. But there are few more annoying tics of cosmopolitan elites than the tendency to reflexively describe their politics as “socially liberal, fiscally conservative.” What they mean by this is, “I’m not like those crazy religious people, but I don’t know anything about fiscal or budget policy and want to show I’m not (Heaven forbid) a knee-jerk liberal, so I’ll attach the word conservative to fiscal and go on my merry way.”

But maybe that is changing. The article quoted above is evidence that at least some in the media are actually using a more accurate definition of the term — as in, being “fiscally conservative” means you support the fiscal policies promoted by conservatives when in power, which, as the article correctly notes, is tax cuts for corporations and wealthy people.

This is actually good news, as a change here will actually add clarity and vastly improve the debate. Unlike the “fiscal hawk” situation (who doesn’t like being a hawk?), what’s left is for progressives not to change the definition of fiscal conservatism but to convince people who aren’t orthodox Republicans that they are not, in fact, fiscally conservative. Much like the generation-long conservative crusade to demagague progressive judicial rulings as dreaded “judicial activism” run amok, it turns out that they were so successful that “judicial activism” lost even the thinnest thread of its original meaning. Even neutral observers began to notice that Scalia and Thomas were striking down plenty of Congressional statutes they disagreed with, which is the actual definition of judicial activism. But just like last year when Ted Olson admitted on Fox News that “judicial activism” really means “a ruling you don’t like” and Chris Wallace chuckled along, maybe progressives should realize that in this case, too, there’s a golden opportunity to come full circle.

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