When egalitarian liberals object to things like surrogate motherhood, I understand where they’re coming from even as I disagree. But what is one to make of something like Ramesh Ponnuru’s apparent egalitarian objections? Differential financial power is objectionable enough that it provides a grounds for banning certain kinds of consensual transactions, but it’s not sufficiently objectionable that we should actually do anything to try to eliminate or ameliorate it?
Following President-elect Obama’s morning press conference announcing his national security team, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews praised the diversity of Obama’s cabinet, comparing it to a Benetton ad. “Clearly it has the picture we’re looking for, the many faces of Benatton or whatever you want to call it,” Matthews said. Watch it:
Is Matthews right? You be the judge:
in 2004, Time’s Joe Klein praised President Bush’s “Benetton-Ad Presidency” for having “the most diverse Cabinet in American history.”
The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus reports on a U.S. Special Operations Command “proposal to develop and operate ‘influence websites’ that, when needed, would support combat commanders in the war on terrorism.”
The Web sites, in local languages, would “shape the global media landscape” using Internet technologies.[...]
The purpose is to present “news, sports, entertainment, economics, politics, cultural reports, business and similar items of interest to targeted readers” following “guidance provided by the appropriate combat commander,” according to the proposal. “Content will provide open and unbiased analyses of major events in the targeted regions and the ramifications of those events on the target audiences,” it adds.
Contractor surveys and focus groups of target audiences are to help determine “design styles, colors and web site features” and develop “a network of indigenous content stringers and staff editors and site managers.”
Links to other “appropriate” national, regional and internationally oriented Web sites “that support the established objectives of each respective combat command” will be attached only after approval by the Special Operations Command. The “foot print of the government” must be low, but there must be “open attribution,” as with other Pentagon sites, in the clickable “about us” link at the bottom of the home page.
The Pentagon ran into some problems with this in 2006, when it was revealed that, because of global access to internet communications, the U.S. public was “increasingly exposed to propaganda disseminated overseas in psychological operations” by the Defense Department.
I’m curious, is there an example of this sort of thing ever having worked? And how would you measure that? Is there some substantial number of formerly anti-American people who report having been converted by U.S.-friendly blogs, sports and entertainment news?
There could obviously be a very significant tension between “open and unbiased analyses of major events” and “the established objectives” of the U.S. government. It seems that, much more likely than changing changing peoples’ opinions with bells, whistles, and web design, the effect of this operation would simply be to discredit the sites it approvingly links to. I can imagine few things more devastating to a website’s credibility than an acknowledgment by the U.S. Special Operations Command that that website “supports the established objectives” of the U.S. Special Operations Command. The new proposal seems to be an excellent way to undermine the very people we’re trying to reach out to.
I think Greg Mankiw might want to think harder about this: “First, since most infrastructure is used locally, the proper level of spending is best determined by state and local governments rather than by the federal government.”
The country has always had a lot of infrastructure spending take place at purely the state and local level. After all, a lot of infrastructure is a purely state and local issue. Here in DC, a lot of our small city parks are actually under the control of the National Parks Service and it’s a big problem. There’s a small park between my neighborhood and Chinatown that the community wants to redo on a kind of “Chinatown” theme and there are all kinds of hold-ups because it seems doing this will actually require an act of congress. Consider yourself lucky that if you don’t live in DC your local park infrastructure decisions are made on a local level. That’s how it’s always been, and I don’t see anyone proposing that we do otherwise.
But at the same time, we’ve always done some infrastructure spending and planning on a national level. The authority to build roads is one of the congress’ enumerated powers, and if you think back to your US History days you’ll dimly recall something about Henry Clay’s “American System” which involved building canals and such. The issue back then and carrying forward to the present day is that a lot of infrastructure crosses state lines. People who live in New York use Newark Airport in New Jersey and they need ways to get there. And people in New Jersey use Philadelphia Airport in Pennsylvania. People live in Maryland and take MARC trains to work in DC. And of course people in every state consume goods made abroad, but few states contain a major container port. It would be crazy for the federal government to take sole responsibility for infrastructure in such a giant and diverse country, but at the same time there’s no way you can just leave this up to the state and local governments and hope they remember that the highways need to meet at the border.
Michael Stickings has a smart and informative take on the political situation in Canada.
It’s interesting to wonder what the long-term consequences of this will be for the Canadian political system. If you look at the past couple of elections, it’s clear that the divide between the center-left Liberals and the left-left NDP is a huge gift to the Tories. In principle, a coalition could lead to better future electoral performance for both parties via tactical voting and implicit or explicit decisions about which ridings to target. At the same time, though, the CPC considers to suffer from something of a taint of extremism since it’s the descendant of a party that was formed as a further-right alternative to Canada’s traditional center-right party. Governing in alliance with the NDP could cause the Liberals to lose their centrist sheen.
Ultimately, given the nature of Canada’s first-past-the-post voting, it would probably be better to have something more like a two-party system in which the most rightwing elements of the Liberal Party defect to a somewhat-more-moderate Conservative Party and then you saw a fusion of NDP and the remaining Liberals as a proper left-of-center party.
Bush admin. proffers the ‘Chuck and Larry’ defense to deprive gay federal employees of health benefits.
In September, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee considered legislation that would provide federal benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees. Howard Weizmann, the deputy director of the U.S. Office Of Personnel Management, objected to the bill because it “could lead to fraud and abuse in the programs we administer.” Weizmann claimed that the office was unaware of any interest from federal employees for such benefits. He even evoked a fictional movie plot of two heterosexual New York firefighters who pretend to be a gay couple to suggest such fraud would be a problem in real life:
First of all, to suggest that we are being far-fetched in the sense that these benefits are open to fraud or abuse. It’s not an unrealistic concern. I would suggest even Hollywood has discussed this in a movie with Adam Sandler. In which, I think, ‘Chuck and Larry’ get married, which the subject of the movie, was quite frankly, was insurance fraud, along the lines of what we’re discussing. This is not far fetched and it’s not disingenuous to suggest such.
Open Season for the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program began on November 10 and runs through December 8. The Human Rights Campaign is calling on activists to send a message to OPM, telling the agency that “ALL federal employees should be treated equally and have access to the same benefits to help protect our families.”
Hank Paulson speaking today:
We need to get to the place in this country where no institution is too big or too interconnected to fail. Because regulation alone — and I’m all for more effective, better regulation, more authorities — but regulation alone is never going to solve the problem. There’s no regulator that’s going to be so good that they’re able to deal with it and ferret out the problem. It takes a balance between the right regulatory system and authorities and market discipline.
This seems to me to be in the spirit of what I said last week:
[W]hat’s the deal with banks that are too big to fail?
If we can identify such banks, why not try to make a rule preventing banks from becoming that big? As a tradeoff, banks that rested in the small-enough-to-fail category could be allowed to operate with much, much laxer oversight and regulation since everyone would understand that if they fail they’re going to sink. Presumably, there are some efficiency gains associated with the economies of scale involved in big financial institutions. But there would also be efficiency gains associated with relaxing the regulations on financial institutions. And the only reasonable way to seriously relax those regulations would be to commit to a no-bailouts scenario. But to do that, we need to make sure the banks aren’t too big to fail. So why not focus the regulatory effort on that — on making sure that institutions don’t get so big that they need bailing out?
The difference is that Paulson is the Secretary of the Treasury and I’m just a blogger.
But Paulson’s actual policies seem to me to be pointing in the opposite direction. As we’re propping financial institutions up, we’re also encouraging them to consolidate. Beyond that, the tendency has been for the larger institutions to be the ones in the worst shape. By preventing them from failing, we’re preventing smaller but better-managed institutions from flourishing in their place. The logical endpoint of something like that would be for the entire financial sector to eventually be concentrated in the hands of four or five gigantic multi-purposes financial institutions all of which operate with implicit government guarantees and allegedly tight regulatory oversight that naturally becomes regulatory capture as soon as people stop paying attention.
A better path than the one we’re on would be to first stop spreading money around at random, and start using it to buy common stock, Sweden-style, effectively nationalizing the banks. Then we shutter institutions that are beyond repair and fix the rest. Then when we reprivatize banks, which should be done as quickly as possible, we break them up and sell them as smaller institutions. You then need regulators to, in the future, effectively cap the size of the banks so that no institution reaches a scale whereby we wouldn’t be comfortable allowing it to fail. Whatever efficiencies are lost by preventing really big banks, we can try to offset by giving them more latitude to conduct their business as they see fit.
Peter Beinart writes:
In liberal blogland, reports that Barack Obama will probably choose Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and retired general James Jones as National Security Adviser and retain Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense have prompted a chorus of groans. “I feel incredibly frustrated,” wrote Chris Bowers on OpenLeft.com “Progressives are being entirely left out.”
A word of advice: cheer up. It’s precisely because Obama intends to pursue a genuinely progressive foreign policy that he’s surrounding himself with people who can guard his right flank at home. When George W. Bush wanted to sell the Iraq war, he trotted out Colin Powell–because Powell was nobody’s idea of a hawk. Now Obama may be preparing to do the reverse. To give himself cover for a withdrawal from Iraq and a diplomatic push with Iran, he’s surrounding himself with people like Gates, Clinton and Jones, who can’t be lampooned as doves.
Now of course some might question Beinart’s credibility in telling foreign policy progressives what’s good for us. After all, it was just a few years ago that he was calling for a systematic purge of doves from the progressive coalition. Still, I think the scenario he’s envisioning is very plausible. I wouldn’t be at all shocked — thought I would certainly be pleased — if things turned out that way. At the same time, I wouldn’t be at all shocked — though I would certainly be disappointed — if this proved to be totally wrong. The exigencies of column-writing tend, it seems to me, to push people in the direction of unduly definitive statements on inherently murky situations. If Obama is looking for political cover under which to undertake a dramatically new foreign policy, then he would have to avoid signaling clearly that that’s what he wants to do. But he might just be acting cautious because he intends to implement a cautious strategy. I wrote about this for The National in the spirit of offering an argument about what should happen rather than what will happen:
Still, there is a clear pattern to these differences, one that becomes more dramatic when considered alongside the positions Clinton and Obama took back in 2002 on the merits of invading Iraq. Clinton is not only more hawkish than Obama – she’s also more politically risk-averse: disinclined to tackle entrenched interest groups or challenge conventional wisdom. Clinton represents a segment of the Democratic party that spent the years after September 11 fretting intensely over whether Democrats seemed sufficiently “tough” – worried about a replay of the 1970s, when Democratic anti-war sentiment scared off the public. [...]
What is unclear at this point is whether Clinton joining the Obama team means that Clinton has gained faith in Obama’s approach, or that Obama has lost faith in his own. The very fact of Obama’s election would seem to tilt things in his direction: there was a consistent trajectory to their disagreements, and Obama was on the right side – a judgment vindicated by his victories over both Clinton and McCain. It’s not merely that he won, but that winning demonstrates his supposedly “risky” positions were not so risky after all.
Obama not only won the presidency while bucking the demands of the hardliners in the Cuban-American community, he won the very state of Florida, whose pursuit allegedly demands obeisance to decades of an idiotic embargo. He took 77 per cent of the Jewish vote – more than John Kerry. He was attacked by his Republican opponent as weak, naive and dangerous – and he prevailed. To be sure, he had a powerful assist from the economy and John McCain’s inept approach to the financial crisis. But if voters really believed that Obama was insufficiently “tough” to secure their personal safety, surely that would have trumped other considerations.
In other words, the strategy ought to be full speed ahead. But will it be? I don’t know.
Back in September, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs considered the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2007, a bill that would provide Federal benefits to same sex domestic partners of Federal employees. Howard Weizmann, the deputy director of the U.S. Office Of Personnel Management (OPM) objected to the bill because it “could lead to fraud and abuse in the programs we administer.”
Proponents of the legislation, including Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the bill’s sponsor, and Susan Collins (R-MI), remained skeptical of Weizmann’s claim, arguing that a large number of private sector companies — including more than half of Fortune 500 companies — already offer domestic partnership benefits and successfully detect fraud through verification systems that should provide models for the federal government.
Weizmann, however, remained unconvinced. He claimed that the office was unaware of any interest from Federal employees for such benefits even and suggested that since fraud occurred in a fictional movie about two heterosexual New York firefighters who pretend to be a gay couple, it would be a problem in real life:
First of all, to suggest that we are being far fetched in the sense that these benefits are open to fraud or abuse. It’s not an unrealistic concern. I would suggest even Hollywood has discussed this in a movie with Adam Sandler. In which, I think, ‘Chuck and Larry’ get married, which the subject of the movie, was quite frankly, was insurance fraud, along the lines of what we’re discussing. This is not far fetched and it’s not disingenuous to suggest such.
In truth, the issue is not fraud but equality, since committed gay couples have to pay more for less coverage. “It’s a matter of equal pay for equal work,” Brendan Doyle, a member of Federal GLOBE — the association of LGBT federal employees — told the committee. “Doyle said his partner of 21 years must pay $600 a month more for health insurance coverage than a straight colleague who covers his family of four.”
Extending Federal benefits to gay employees would benefit more than 30,000 employees with same-sex partners, allow the Federal government to compete with private companies offering benefits, and increase costs by “only 0.4 percent of total health care expenditures, a tiny fraction that is consistent with the experience of thousands of private employers,” one study found.
Open Season for the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program began on November 10 and runs through December 8. As the Human Rights Campaign points out, “LGBT Americans deserve no less for their families than the basic benefits and protections afforded to different-sex spouses” and the OPM “can lead the way in calling for truly equal compensation for federal workers.”
Click here to “send a message to OPM Acting Director Michael Hager, telling him that ALL federal employees should be treated equally and have access to the same benefits to help protect our families.”
For Nearly A Year After Recession Started, Bush White House Insisted That ‘We’re Not In A Recession’
Earlier today, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) announced that “the U.S. has been in a recession since December 2007, making official what most Americans have already believed about the state of the economy.” The group, which the White House has previously pointed to as the determinative body for declaring a recession, said in a statement that the “decline in economic activity” after Dec. ’07 “was large enough to qualify as a recession.”
White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto commented on the news “without ever actually using the word ‘recession.’” Instead, Fratto released a statement saying the White House was focused on what they “can do for the economy right now.”
It’s not surprising that Fratto would avoid the word “recession.” Though economic analysts and experts were predicting in late 2007 and early 2008 that the U.S. economy was likely to face a recession, Fratto declared on Jan. 8, 2008, “I don’t know of anyone predicting a recession.” This wasn’t the only time that the Bush administration dismissed the idea of a recession during the same period that NBER now says a recession was underway:
- “We don’t believe we’re going to have a recession though.” [Vice President Dick Cheney, 1/30/08]
- “I think the experts will tell you we’re not in a recession.” [President Bush, 2/10/08]
- “The answer is, I don’t think we are in a recession right now.” [Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Edward Lazear, 2/11/08]
– “First of all, we’re not in a recession.” [President Bush, 4/22/08]
– “The data are pretty clear that we are not in a recession.” [Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Edward Lazear, 5/7/08]
- “I don’t think we are” in a recession. [Director of the National Economic Council Keith Hennesy, 6/3/08]
– “I think we have avoided a recession.” [White House Budget Director Jim Nussle, 7/31/08]
– “I don’t think anybody could tell you right now if we’re in a recession or not” [Dana Perino, 10/7/08]
Less than a month ago, Fratto said that it was “irrelevant” for the White House to admit that the U.S. is in a “recession.” The recession is official now, but Fratto appears to still think admitting it is “irrelevant.”
Bloomberg’s Timothy Homan and Steve Matthews note that NBER’s finding means that this recession is “already the longest since 1982.”