Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blood in the Water

Lore has it that if there is blood in the water, sharks will attack. If the Republicans are rewarded for shutting down the government over Obamacare, we'll get a similar result.

Budget policy is normally made by Congress passing budget bills which the President signs. These bills last a certain amount of time, usually ending by the beginning of the fiscal year, October 1. If the normal budget bills are not ready by then, Congress traditionally passes a 'continuing resolution' that keeps the government open with spending at the same rate as the previous year. These continuing resolutions usually last a few weeks or months giving Congress time to pass the normal budget bills. There have been continuing resolutions every year since the late 1990s.

This year the Republicans tried to kill Obamacare by refusing to pass a 'clean' continuing resolution (a 'clean' resolution has no other stuff attached, it just funds the government). At first they insisted on a continuing resolution that also eliminated all funding for Obamacare. When that didn't work, they insisted on a partial elimination. Meanwhile there's been a partial government shutdown since there is no funding bill for this fiscal year. This has caused lots of problems, so the Republicans are now trying to pass partial continuing resolutions for parts of the government they like.

Obviously, this is an incredibly stupid way to govern a country. If the Democrats give in and allow Republicans to stunt Obamacare this time, the whole process will repeat itself in a few weeks or months when another continuing resolution will be needed, or when the debt ceiling needs to rise to avoid the government welching on its debt. The Republicans will want more, of course. They'll sense the blood in the water.

There are only two possible good results from this mess:

  1. The Republicans are crushed, good governance wins, and a clean continuing resolution is passed. It would help if the Republicans then lost big in the 2014 election. That will put an end to government shutdowns for awhile
  2. Some concessions are made in exchange for taking this whole strategy off the table. For example: eliminate the concept of a debt ceiling and make continuing resolutions automatic. This would eliminate government shutdowns indefinitely. You can still cut government spending, just use the normal legislative process.
In either case, neither party could get its way by threatening to hurt America. To get their way they would have to win elections and pass budget bills. You know, good governance.

The short story: if you want good governance, don't put blood in the water. It makes the sharks attack.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Time to End the Drug War, People are Coming Around

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN medical expert, just made a 180 degree turn around and now supports medical marijuana. Click the link to see why. That got me thinking.

One of the monumental failures of government policy is America's War on Drugs. It has imprisoned vast numbers of Americans, made criminals of almost everyone, spent enormous amounts of money, and illegal drugs are readily available to anyone, anywhere in the US (including prisons) at quite reasonable prices. There is another, much better, way to control drug use. See How to Actually Win the War on Drugs for details.

The War on Drugs has a racist result described in a very interesting book called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. To understand the extremely well documented argument you need to know one fact: drug use among African Americans is about the same as among whites but arrest and conviction rates for drug crimes are much, much higher for African Americans. This is how blacks are, albeit imperfectly, kept down. Here's how it works:

  1. Drug enforcement is focused primarily on black communities, particularly young men, because 'everyone knows' that black men commit the most crimes.
  2. Since everyone does drugs at about the same rate, enforcement focus leads to much higher arrest rates for blacks, particularly young men.
  3. District attorneys have great discretion in how vigorously they prosecute, and black men get a lot more vigorous prosecution, in part because 'everyone knows' that black men commit a lot of crimes.
  4. The end result is a large fraction of young black men in prison, on parol, or with felony drug convictions which makes it hard, sometimes impossible, to get a job.
  5. Joblessness is correlated with violent crime rates. In fact, the higher violent crime rates of black men is entirely explained by the higher jobless figures.
  6. Since black men have a higher crime rate, drug enforcement is focussed on black communities ... see #1.
Note that the cost of imprisoning someone for a year is about the same as attending the University of California. Which will make a better citizen, and bigger tax payer, out of a high school kid smoking a bit of reefer?

NOTE: you can make a similar argument about brown people, but I left that out for simplicity.

One way to break this vicious cycle is to get rid of the drug war, which doesn't work anyway. Let's do it!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

I'm Afraid to Say, America the Torturers

Two reports have come out reminding us in excruciating well supported detail of what we already should have known:
  1. During the Bush administration torture by the U.S. government was widespread.
  2. This torture was approved and promoted at the highest levels of government.
  3. This torture was in direct contradiction to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits 'cruel and unusual punishment'.
  4. This torture generated little if any reliable intelligence.
These reports are Under the treaty, torture is a crime against humanity. If the home country of a torturer does not prosecute, any country may step in and bring charges. This happened some years ago when Great Brittian arrested ex-Chilean president Pinochet at the request of Spanish authorities for torture committed in the 1970s and 80s. Senior Bush administration officials would do well to stay in the U.S. to avoid a similar fate.

Of course, if America wakes up to the fact that our most basic laws were grievously violated by the highest officers in the land, and that these crimes severely damaged our standing in the world thus aiding our enemies immensely, we just might prosecute ourselves.