The terrorist attacks in Paris last week provoked a number of reactions in the United States. There was an outpouring to sympathy for the victims and the people who loved them, and sympathy for a city that many of us have visited. There was also an outpouring of hate towards ISIS, which claimed responsibility, as well as towards Syrian refugees and Islam in general, neither of which bears any responsibility.
I am not Charlie. I support free speech. I do not condone violence. But I am also not transgressive, alone in my near anonymous corner of the internet. I am not living in the public eye, pushing back against the boundaries set by those who would rather I be silent. I am not Charlie, or Edward or Chelsea.
Last night I had the pleasure, no really the pleasure, of attending the latest Washington Post Live event, Wonkblog: Is America a Good Investment. The event was held at the Conrad Hotel in New York City (well, Battery Park City) and was hosted by Ezra Klein. Neil Irwin was also there from the WonkBlog team (alas no Dylan Matthews) and Ezra moderated the discussion between Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Ruchir Sharma and Barry Ritholtz.
Earlier today President Obama made a surprise appearance at the daily press briefing to expand on his thoughts about the Trayvon Martin decision. It was an amazing 17-plus minutes during which the President of the United States told the nation that he’s been followed while shopping in department stores, that he’s heard the locks click on car doors when he’s crossed the street, that he’s gotten into an elevator and seen a woman nervously clutch her purse. This is what it means to be a black man in this country, even for someone who could eventually become president. And this is the problem that we need to deal with.
Yesterday, Josh Barro had an excellent summary of the thinking of the Republican Party:
So many of its members have a warped vision of what liberalism is. They think it’s something so mind-bendingly awful that they cannot fathom how voters could willingly choose it. It must be some mistake. And sooner or later, mistakes get fixed.
The only thing wrong with Josh’ summary is that he didn’t go far enough. The thinking he ascribes to the Republican Party can also be used for the Democratic Party, substituting conservatism for liberalism.
In the mid-Nineties, my wife and I did not yet have cellphones. It was still early days then but some people had them. Colleagues in certain positions received cellphones through work. We finally decided to get one because I had a thirty minute drive to work and since this was in Atlanta, the commute would sometimes extend to two hours. My wife thought it would be good to have a phone so I could call and tell her if I was going to be late. We were getting a cellphone only for emergencies.
So far today I have used my cellphone for e-mail, texts, Internet, Words with Friends, to check the weather, to check Twitter. I also use my cellphone to take pictures, check sports scores and play games. Sometimes I even make phone calls. What is my point? I had simple intentions when I got my first cellphone about what I would use it for and then I started using it for a few more things, then a few more things and here we are. I have decided that things which are more convenient on the cellphone are now necessities and I don’t like to go through days without using my phone. I have changed my lifestyle to accommodate what I can do on my phone.
Following 9/11, Congress passed the PATRIOT Act which, among other things, expanded the powers of the federal government. It was all theoretically for a good reason; to protect us from another terrorist attack, on our home soil. I remember there were liberals who complained about the loss of freedom that some of the provisions instituted but it was easy to dismiss those arguments at the time. Did I mention we’d been attacked?
Matt Yglesias has long advocated cash transfers to people instead of government programs designed to help those people. In a post today about the Medicaid expansion study in Oregon, Yglesias proposes a study in which some people get Medicaid benefits and some people get cash in the equivalent amount. The study is designed to test Yglesias’ idea about the benefit of just giving people cash. The only problem is that it would be hard to get the general public to support just giving people cash.
President Obama released his budget yesterday and one of the items in the budget that has been getting a (disproportionately) large amount of attention is his proposal to implement “Preschool for All” and to pay for it by raising the federal cigarette tax. Raising the cigarette tax is popular among (non-smoking) voters so it is a politically safer idea than raising the taxes on alcohol or sugary drinks. However, there are two problems with raising the cigarette tax. One, it’s regressive. Two, revenue from the tax will decline significantly in the future as the tax induces more people to quit smoking and eventually won’t cover the cost of the program. For me, these don’t seem like problems.
When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me that if you didn’t vote then you had no right to complain about the government. Even as a child this sounded silly. After all, my father complained about under-performing baseball players and my mother complained about how political church was and neither of them took initiative to do anything about it. As an adult the whole idea was even sillier. After all, how hard is it just to tell people you voted and thereby grant yourself the privilege of complaining. Not to mention that free speech includes complaining about your government.
The slow progress of the current Congress on immigration reform, assuming that this actually leads to reform, is heartening. There is still plenty of time for things to go sideways and maybe it’s a consequence of previous Congressional efforts on immigration reform or the general dysfunction of Congress that make me skeptical. Jennifer Rubin had a good piece in the Washington Post yesterday about the progress and the potential for failure. The part that I found most interesting was towards the end where Rubin writes about the “essence of America”.