Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

Of Chickenhawks and Diplomats–War and Peace

File under “who do you trust?”

The usual suspects– Dick Cheney, Tom Cotton (author of the arguably treasonous letter to Iran sent earlier this year), Ted Cruz, Bibi Netanyahu and various Right-wing and media personalities– are attacking the nuclear agreement with Iran.

I have listened to their arguments, and they boil down to “get a better deal” (without any specifics about what “better” might look like) and “Any deal, no matter how good, legitimizes an evil regime, so we should never negotiate with Iran.”

When pressed to say what they would propose in lieu of the agreement, some opponents argue for the status quo, that is, continuing to enforce sanctions. In the real world, of course, this is not an option, since in order to work, sanctions require agreement and enforcement by the international community. That would be the same community with which we negotiated this agreement–the members of which have made clear they would react negatively to efforts to sabotage it.

What most opponents don’t say, but clearly mean, is– in the (in)famous words sung by John McCain– “bomb bomb bomb Iran.”

Because making war in the Middle East worked so well the last time.

If those opposed to this agreement are less than persuasive, what about those who have voiced support?

According to media reports, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft, Sandy Berger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, retired Admirals William Fallon and James Stavridis, and recent Senate Committee Chairmen Dick Lugar, Carl Levin, and Nancy Kassebaum, as well as Ambassadors Tom Pickering and Ryan Crocker have joined a bipartisan group of more than 50 retired military officials, U.S. foreign policy leaders, ambassadors, and leading national security experts in applauding the achievement reached after 18 months of complex negotiations.

Let’s see….Dick Cheney? or Dick Lugar?

I know who I trust.

Indiana’s Children

Sunday sermon.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the improving state economy touted by Gov. Mike Pence at campaign stops “has yet to trickle down to the 345,000 Hoosier children, or more than 1 in 5, living in poverty.”

In a recent editorial, the Anderson Herald Bulletin urged lawmakers to deal with the reality of Indiana’s working poor.

The Herald Bulletin has reported extensively this year on a group labeled Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) in a study released in 2014 by the Indiana Association of United Ways.

About 23 percent of Indiana’s population and about 28 percent of people living in Madison County belong to the ALICE group. While they earn too much income to qualify for most forms of welfare, they earn too little to afford necessities, pay monthly bills and save enough money to handle unexpected expenses such as illnesses and car repairs. Hoosiers who belong to this group find themselves in a spiral of debt toward poverty.

Many belonging to the ALICE group have children and find that paying for child care while they work is often a money-losing proposition. In Indiana, the Child Care Development Fund provides subsidies to help financially insecure families pay for child care.

It’s a great program, but it has a major flaw. A slight rise in income level can cause a family to lose eligibility, providing a disincentive to work hard and earn a raise. If CCDF subsidies were set up on a sliding scale, hard work would be rewarded.

Tweaking the CCDF program with a sliding scale is something we should do. And we should provide adequate resources for the Department of Children’s Services. But important as individual programs may be,  the inconvenient truth is that the welfare of Hoosier children is inextricably connected to the welfare of the families that are raising them.

When wage levels are too low to allow those families to provide decent housing, adequate nutrition and reliable child-care, children suffer. Recent research also suggests that the higher stress levels common to low-wage households take a particular toll on the children in those families, who arrive at school unready to learn,  and who have poorer health prospects and lower life expectancies.

A policy agenda focused upon keeping Indiana a low-wage state not only fails to create the promised jobs–it hurts children.

Politicians uniformly insist that they care about children, but aside from efforts to ensure that every conception ends in the birth of a child, I haven’t seen much evidence for that concern.

 

Rules for Thee but Not for Me….

The two-year-olds who currently dominate America’s political landscape may be riding different hobby-horses, but the common thread that runs through their various tantrums is an assault on the rule of law.

The essential difference between regimes based upon raw power and those based on the rule of law is that in the latter, the same rules apply to everyone. No one, we like to say, is “above the law.” In democratic rule-of-law regimes, partisans may contend bitterly over the wisdom or efficacy of any particular rule, but once it is enacted, like it or not, they abide by the law unless and until it is repealed or overruled.

Adherence to the rule of law is an essential condition of government legitimacy–a point that is seemingly lost on the various county clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or police officers who believe their commands are the law, to use just a couple of contemporary examples.

Closer to home,  Indiana Gov. Mike Pence says he will refuse to implement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. In a letter to President Obama, he wrote that he would not abide by the plan “if the final rule has not demonstrably and significantly improved.”

“Improved” evidently meaning “acceptable to Mike Pence.”

If Pence and others who object to the EPA’s rule truly believe it represents a wrongful exercise of the agency’s authority, they can litigate that issue. If they win, good for them. If they lose, they have to abide by the law.

In a country with the rule of law, none of us gets to decide for ourselves which laws we will obey.

Fixation on Size

Maybe it’s a man thing, this fixation on the size of the tool that is government.

I raise the issue because Jeb Bush recently made a speech in which he promised that he would reduce the size of the federal work force by 10 percent in four years. Much of that, he said, would be accomplished through attrition and a strict system of replacing every three departing federal workers with one new employee.

This is traditional political pandering, and it isn’t exclusive to the GOP. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Evan Bayh.) It’s a classic case of identifying the wrong problem. As any businessperson will confirm, a substantial part of good management involves “right sizing”–matching the size and skills of one’s workforce to the needs of the enterprise.

Announcing a rule that only one of every three departing federal workers will be replaced is simply stupid. The question citizens should be asking–not just at the federal level, but of those managing state and local units of government as well–is: is this task one that government should be doing? If not, we should stop doing it. (Granted, that’s easier said than done, but that should be our goal.) If the task is one of the many things We the People have determined is an important and/or proper function of government, then our focus should be on ensuring that it is done well. That means making an evidence-based determination of the resources–human and otherwise–that the job requires.

The American commitment to limited government has little or nothing to do with the size of government, and everything to do with intrusions by the state into matters that our system leaves to the private sector.

We can–and should–argue about the proper role of government. But once we agree that government needs to do something–protect the country, issue Social Security checks, monitor compliance with tax laws, print money, whatever–then our focus should shift to monitoring performance and making sure that government has what it needs in order to operate efficiently and competently.

As any woman can tell you, size is definitely not what matters.

 

La La La…I Can’t Hear You!

Remember when you were a kid on the playground having an argument, and felt you were losing? Remember sticking your fingers in your ears and going “la la la” as loudly as you could, in order not to hear what the other kid was saying?

Some of you who are reading this were probably  never that childish, and most of the rest of us have since grown up.

All except Congress.

A congressional ban on gun violence research backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been extended in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting that left 9 people dead.

As Public Radio International (PRI) reported recently, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee voted to reject an amendment last month that would have allowed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence.

The purported reason for the ban is that gun deaths are not “diseases.” Neither are cigarettes, but the CDC researches the health effects of tobacco. Guns certainly affect health; guns kill more Americans under 25 than cars. (More than 25% of teenagers ages 15 and older who die of injuries in the US are killed by gun-related injuries.)

The costs of gun violence are staggering: American taxpayers pay roughly $12.8 million every day to cover the costs of gun-related deaths and injuries. Total social costs have been estimated at 100 billion each year. That, of course, excludes the human losses.

The CDC used to conduct firearms safety research, but in 1996, the gun lobby persuaded Congress to restrict CDC funding of gun research; similar restrictions on other federal agencies followed.

 

Far from hiding its role, the NRA has publicly taken credit for preventing the research. In 2011, it issued a statement :”These junk science studies and others like them are designed to provide ammunition for the gun control lobby by advancing the false notion that legal gun ownership is a danger to the public health instead of an inalienable right.”

The CDC doesn’t do “junk science,” of course. And denying that guns pose a danger to public health is tantamount to an admission of insanity. But facts and evidence pose a special threat to the NRA extremists who no longer even reflect the position of most NRA members.

They can’t put their fingers in their ears, so–like the bullies on those long-ago playgrounds–they’re trying to deprive advocates of sensible gun control measures of data that they know would strengthen those advocates’ arguments.

It’s their version of “la la la–I can’t hear you.”