Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31, 2011
“Compassionate conservatism” always seemed more of a slogan than a reality and, to the extent that conservative political doctrine ever included compassion, it has been expunged.
Reacting to recent natural disasters, the Majority Leader in the House, Rep. Eric Cantor, said “Nobody should underestimate the tragedy here. Our hearts reach out to these families.” Although his heart reached out, his hand stayed firmly in his pocket. He declared that any funding for relief must be offset by spending cuts. Never mind that aid is needed; play fiscal games.
The GOP doctrine of offsetting cuts is, like all of its budget principles, less about controlling deficits than ideology. Therefore it came as no surprise that the offset to a $1 billion appropriation for relief would be a cut of $1.5 billion to an Energy Department program for the production of fuel-efficient vehicles. If an offset were required, a better choice would be to end tax subsidies to oil companies. However, elimination is opposed by House and Senate Republicans.
Ideology, followed blindly, leads to illogical conclusions. Although it granted $1 billion to FEMA for current disaster relief — after claiming its ransom — the Appropriations Committee cut $1.07 billion from other funding for disaster aid and firefighter assistance and training. Accurate and timely forecasting can lessen the suffering from natural disasters, but the House also has proposed to reduce funding for weather satellites.

Friday, May 6, 2011

May 6, 2011
  In a recent column, David Brooks commented on a visit to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He listened to a conference which included a representative of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and he was, for the most part, favorably impressed. That a federal department might have a clue would not come as a surprise to all, but Brooks is a conservative, so the concession is significant.
  He described a program designed to provide housing for veterans which uses vouchers to provide for the housing, and observed, "Democrats seem to feel comfortable using vouchers to address housing problems but not education and health care problems." When I first read that, I thought that he might have a point, but he doesn’t, really. Vouchers are merely a method of payment. The arguments have arisen over whether proposed vouchers will provide adequate funding, and whether they serve some purpose other than payment, such as privatization. Health care — the GOP proposal for Medicare, to be specific — raises the first issue, education the second.
  One question in the housing program is, apparently, whether effort should be focused on providing housing first, before addressing psychiatric, drug or alcohol problems. The current program assumes that putting a roof over people’s heads is the first priority, and that it aids in dealing with the other issues. Brooks questioned whether that was the best approach, although conceding, with perhaps a touch of sarcasm, that it "produces good homelessness data."
The big question I had was this: How large is the gap between the neatness of data on a bar chart and the messy reality on the street?
. . . I was struck by the vast difference between the way a government sees the world — numerically and organizationally — and the gritty and unpredictable way the world sometimes looks to, say, a crime reporter or a homeless veteran himself.
If that had been offered by someone who works in the field, or by a recipient or applicant for aid, it might have force, but what does Brooks know of life on the street? I’ve just finished reading his book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, describing a social class he called bourgeois bohemians, hence "Bobos." (Those are rather quaint terms, obviously selected primarily for neologistic utility). Bobos are, in his view, the new elite; they are far removed from the streets, and so presumably is Mr. Brooks, who often referred to himself as a member of the class: " we Bobos;" "we in the educated elite;" "we . . . busy meritocrats." To make that entirely clear, and to establish the virtue of the class, he told us: "I'm a member of this class . . . . Wherever we educated elites settle, we make life more interesting, diverse, and edifying." Some time ago, I accused Mr. Brooks of being smug; little did I know how smug.
  He concluded his column with this: "Amid the hot-rhetoric government wars, it was important to see the talent and commitment of real-life government workers running a successful program — and to see the limitations inherent in government planning." It is encouraging to see that a self-appointed member of the elite can find merit in a government program, but what he described are not limitations in government planning. Undoubtedly there are limitations on what any program can accomplish, but that is a rather different matter.
May 6, 2011

President Obama has decided not to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s body. Given the accounts of his death, that seems wise, as gory pictures could create resentment. Some Americans will be skeptical that bin Laden is dead, but some would be in any case, as the birther nonsense demonstrates.
  It would have been better to have brought bin Laden back alive, but that doesn’t appear to have been the mission. Is assassination legal? Few seem to care. Even if justified here, are we on a path from which there is no exit? Very possibly; apparently not even assassination of American citizens is ruled out.40
  Some insist on giving Bush the credit. That is odd, given that Bush conspicuously failed to find bin Laden, but no odder than much of the pro-Bush, anti-Obama line.
  The public appearances of the presidents make a stark contrast. Obama’s announcement of bin Laden’s death was a calm statement, not flight-deck theatrics. When he visited ground zero this week, there was no speech, no bull-horn posing.
  We should be leaving Afghanistan. It will be interesting to see whether the present euphoria leads that way or whether we simply will be encouraged in our delusion that we can do anything we set our minds to.
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