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The Deficit Hawks Have A Youth Wing

The group that is paying Millennials to care about the national debt:

Peterson bankrolls the “Campaign to Fix the Debt,” which calls for cuts to popular programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—an agenda Peterson has been pushing for a long time—in the name of eliminating deficits.

The Can Kicks Back is the project’s youth wing. Its mission is to convince Millennials that previous generations have kicked the deficit can down the road, and that the nation which young people are inheriting will be a bankrupt one. “Future investment has been cut to pay for present and past,” the group’s website reads, tracing the impending penury to a growth in entitlement spending.

It’s a pernicious tactic, according to Mary Bottari, deputy director of the Center for Media and Democracy.

“They’re trying to create a division between young people and the elderly,” she told Campus Progress.

The rest is at Campus Progress.

A Long Ninety Miles

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Looks like my former professor caught the bureaucratic end of Uncle Sam’s big stick. From Cuba Central:

Invited to speak at the conference months ago, Dr. Alzugaray applied for his visa and went through the ritualistic process of being interviewed once again by U.S. consular officials in Havana, to justify his reason to visit the United States. He had been a visiting scholar at several U.S. universities over many years, most recently last fall at City University of New York. After his multiple inquiries and a long delay, the U.S. Interests Section informed him yesterday morning to expect his visa at noon, giving him just enough time to catch his 4:00 p.m. flight to Miami. By 1:00 there was still no visa, and at 4:30 p.m. he learned there had been an unexplained delay, and the visa would not be available. He went for a walk with his granddaughter and at 5:30 p.m. returned home to learn the visa would be waiting for him at the Interests Section until it closed at 6:00 p.m. A kind consular official waited there until 6:30, and Dr. Alzugaray managed to get on an 8:00 p.m. plane to Miami and an early morning flight to California. Adding insult to this shameful – and at the least incompetent – exercise in disrespect, TSA officers detained the 69-year old professor for three hours when he arrived in Miami.

His colleague Rafael Hernández didn’t get a visa at all. He didn’t even get an official denial—the consulate just ignored his application.

Our government has used a variety of methods to punish Cuba since its revolution in 1959: sabotage, invasion, embargo, diplomatic isolation. But there’s also a lot that flies beneath the radar, and this bureaucratic cold shoulder is a good example. Alzugaray was visiting the United States to participate in a conference on Cuba-California relations at UC-Berkeley. He’s not exactly a national security threat.

The Cuba Central folks make a strong case against stifling academic exchange to score geopolitical points. I recommend you read it; I don’t have a lot to add.

Photo: The view north from Havana. 2010.

The P Word

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Over at the blog of my august employer, Taqua Thrasher calls on President Obama and candidate Romney to talk more about poverty:

By now you’ve heard the statistics: 1 in 6 Americans living at or near the poverty line, 45 to 50 million Americans using Food Stamps, 30 to 50 million Americans without healthcare (prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act), and on and on and on.

These numbers are a devastating indictment of the character, the will, and the policies of this nation. A deeper examination of them reveals that 25% of our children (1 in 4) live in poverty; that places us second in the world among developed nations.

We are issuing a challenge to the two men vying for the title President of the United States. […] Say the word ‘poverty’ in your nationally televised convention acceptance speech, and make eradicating it your top policy priority.

But why is “poverty” such political poison? Why do politicians talk as though it’s the middle class that truly has it rough?

A few weeks ago, a friend and I took an exploratory shot at an answer. Some threads we came up with:

  • We do not think highly of poor folks. There are strong currents of thought, both explicit and implicit, that blame impoverished Americans for their own suffering. Meanwhile, we associate middle class status with virtue, hard work, and self-reliance.
  • People living in poverty are less likely to vote; they don’t represent a valuable political constituency and it’s unproductive for politicians to address their concerns.
  • Even if they do vote, almost all poor people identify as “middle class.”
  • Poverty has no place in our national identity. We are supposed to be a beacon of prosperity shining out into the world, so a 25 percent child poverty rate causes us some pretty unpleasant cognitive dissonance. And cognitive dissonance does not make good politics.

There is probably more to the story, and I’m sure I’m not the first to raise this question. If you’ve seen others address it please send their work my way.

Photo: A squatter’s bed in a shuttered Detroit auto plant. 2008.

Call It in The Air

Is Barack a heads or a tails type of guy? We would find out if Socrates (via Gary Gutting) had his way:

GUTTING: I see what you mean. It’s going to be nasty, brutish, and long — not to say immensely expensive — but of course if we want a democracy, there’s no alternative.

SOCRATES: I disagree. You shouldn’t hold the election at all. You should flip a coin instead.

G: You don’t see any difference between Obama and Romney?

S: Oh, I do. I’m very impressed with Obama, no question. He’s intelligent, courageous, self-controlled and has a good sense of justice. Just the sort of person I had in mind for my philosopher-rulers. But none of that’s going to make a difference to the American voters. The election’s likely to be close, and in any case the outcome will turn on the October unemployment report, the price of gas, an Israeli attack on Iran, who has the most money for attack ads in the last two weeks or some other rationally irrelevant factor that you don’t yet have any hint about.

After that, the dialog drifts in a different direction, pondering the pitfalls of democracy in a poorly informed and politically apathetic society. I’ve heard The Case Against Democracy before; I think that first point is far more interesting. Even if we conclude that democracy is desirable, our elections are in effect contests that produce winners at random. If you don’t believe Socrates, google “weather voter turnout.” They say rain on election day is good for Republicans.

I disagree with Gutting’s Socrates that democracy is bad. The issue here is that our current system is democratically impotent. If the outcome of our presidential election can be altered by the October jobs numbers and price of gas, how democratic are we really?

And lastly: Gutting and Socrates made one glaring omission. All of this matters only because our nation is so deeply polarized. Most years the presidential election is, statistically speaking, a tie. What we need is a system that can produce a more decisive winner.

The Black Vote and Its Discontents

From Democracy Now, a former Florida GOP official by the name of Jim Greer claims that his party explicitly discussed keeping minorities away from the polls:

“I was upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting.” He continues: “They talked about not letting blacks vote … and minority outreach programs were not fit for the Republican Party.” His comments come amidst Florida’s standoff with the Justice Department and civil rights groups over a voter purge that critics say particularly targets people of color. In recent weeks, at least two top Republican state lawmakers — state Senator Glenn Grothmann in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai — have predicted that restrictive voter ID laws will help Republican candidate Mitt Romney win their states in November.

We know that the voter ID craze is illogical—fraud at the polls is almost nonexistent. Because of that, I’ve often wondered why Republicans are so intent on instituting laws that “protect” against this phantom threat. Is it a conspiracy to undermine civil rights? A lot of people have suggested as much, but that just seems so evil to me. I wonder: how much of it is just fed by the all too common ignorance of people with good intentions?

To answer such questions, we’d need to enter the mind of the elites at the highest echelons of political power. Since we can’t do that, glimpses like the one above become extremely important. We’ll never know exactly what our leaders are thinking and plotting, but if we manage to assemble enough of these wisps of insight, maybe we can piece together the picture.

In the case of voter ID laws, that picture is not looking too pretty.

Robin Hood in Reverse

No redistributive bandit justice in Paul Ryan’s new budget proposal. From the Economic Policy Institute:

Ryan’s plan would cut taxes by roughly $4.6 trillion, with most of the tax cuts benefiting those earning more than $200,000. His proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and food assistance would fall heavily on seniors, the disabled, and children. Ryan’s budget is doubly bad for children because his proposed cuts to public investments (mostly infrastructure and education) would leave our nation’s young people with crumbling roads and bridges—and would cause them to enter the labor market with fewer skills.

Further, Ryan’s budget does nothing to address the nation’s jobs crisis. Conversely, Ryan’s plan would slow job growth. The shock to aggregate demand from near-term spending cuts would result in roughly 1.3 million jobs lost in 2013 and 2.8 million jobs lost in 2014, or 4.1 million jobs through 2014.

Why Don’t Lobbyists Target Undecided Voters?

According to a poll by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, 71 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats believe that “campaign contributions buy results in Congress.” But a must-read piece by Ezra Klein suggests that’s not quite how American politics works.

Is Congress beholden to special interests? Very much so, Klein argues in a review of recently-published books by Lessig and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But few, if any, lobbyists are swapping cash for the favorable votes of undecided legislators. Instead, Washington is a “gift economy” in which lobbyists seek not to alter votes, but rather the legislative agenda—what bills are introduced and how those bills are crafted.

So instead of pursuing reps and Senators on the fence, lobbyists paradoxically focus on the members who already agree with them. Klein writes:

Lobbyists build up relationships with politicians they like and, in many cases, agree with. They give those politicians money and they invite them out for dinner, or to their corporate box to watch ball games. They argue for the client’s interests, but they don’t argue too hard, or cross any ethical boundaries. And, over time, the politician comes to see the lobbyist as a friend. After all, the lobbyist is doing all sorts of thing that, in a person’s normal life, would lead to friendship, or at least a warm business relationship: he’s supporting the politician’s work and spending lots of time having interesting conversations with him and showing up at his events. The lobbyists are smart and personable and interesting and connected. They have expertise he needs, and connections that can help him, and information about what other political actors are doing that gives him a leg up. It is a perfect mixture of ideological comradeship, financial perks, and personal affinity. But it is the sense of comradeship and affinity that makes the whole thing work.

Again, well worth your time to read.