Friday, April 28, 2006

Paul Krugman has a column today in the New York Times about FEMA and the suggested new National Preparedness and Response Agency. It’s subscriber only, so I'll summarize so I can make my comment. Krugman points out that the new N.P.R.A. would have the same responsibilities as FEMA, except according to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, “senior N.P.R.A. officials would be selected from the ranks of professionals with experience in crisis management.” Krugman suggests they must be renaming the organization because, “it’s impossible to select qualified people to run FEMA; if you try, the Crony Fairy will spirit them away and replace them with Michael Brown. But she might not know her way to N.P.R.A.” After various descriptions of the history of FEMA and cronyism under Bush, he closes with, “The United States will regain effective government if and when it gets a president who cares more about serving the nation than about rewarding his friends and scoring political points. That's at least a thousand days away. Meanwhile, don't count on FEMA, or on any other government agency, to do its job.”

Okay, so I quote better than I summarize. My point is that cronyism is not just Bush’s personal idiosyncrasy. Admittedly, he was a lousy student with an inferiority complex and a desire to show the world that intelligence and recognizable qualifications don't matter, so he appoints people that he likes, without qualifications, just to thumb his nose at the world in doing it. But when Grover Norquist says he wants to get government down to the size that he can drown it in the bathtub, that indicates a fundamental lack of respect for the role government plays in society. If you believe government agencies are unnecessary, and you are simply waiting for the deficit to force politically unpopular cuts in programs, then it doesn’t matter who heads the agency. You may as well reward the people who helped you while you wait for the agency to starve. That is a problem with Republican ideology, which won't go away in 1000 days with Bush.

In the political world, where simplified ideology reigns, it is profoundly difficult to get the party to follow two goals: downsize government, and implement good governance. It’s like asking them to perform surgery with a hatchet. Good governance requires recognizing that the right regulations are essential, and you can't do that if your belief in (as opposed to knowledge of) economics is limited to the cold war ideological battle between the extremes of libertarianism and communism.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Speaking of bumper stickers, I sent this envelope out with our annual letter a few weeks ago. (Click on it for a better view.) This was my own small cry for solidarity in a bizarre, through-the-looking-glass world.
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I credited everyone on the back, although I didn't know the attribution for the bumper sticker quote.
Last week I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." It was like a secret handshake. Maybe not so secret, what with the multitude of other liberal bumper stickers surrounding it. But a definite wave, to me, saying, "Chin up, there are better days ahead."

Monday, April 24, 2006

So here it begins.

I've been reading Garrison Keillor's "Homegrown Democrat," a book about the values underlying his participation in the Democratic Party, in lieu of writing my article about the way the Republicans' misunderstanding of economics distorts their values. It's a delightful book (Keillor's), although, like all political writing these days, only of interest to the already converted. But when he starts singing the praises of unions my knee-jerk reaction is to turn off my brain, singing, "La la la I can't hear you I hate unions."

I saw a bumper sticker last week that is a great antidote to that knee-jerk reaction: "The Labor Movement: The folks who brought you the weekend." It's a good reminder that collective problems require collective solutions. And that economic efficiency does not mean the same thing as social justice. Or did no one else study the second theorem of welfare economics in college?