Friday, April 16, 2010

There are things we can agree on, even across the spectrum

Andrew Sullivan echoes my point in yesterday's post (of course, I'm really echoing him and other reasonable people all along the political spectrum):
When they [Tea Partiers] propose cuts in Medicare, means-testing Social Security, a raising of the retirement age and a cut in defense spending, I'll take them seriously and wish them well.

Until then, I'll treat them with the condescending contempt they have thus far deserved.
In the sense that I support a single-payer healthcare system, I'm actually in favor of an expansion of Medicare, but if we're going to talk about balancing the budget, popular scapegoats like earmarks, farm subsidies, or food stamps aren't going to get us there. They're not even going to get us started. Let's have a real political discussion about what we want government to do (and realize that we're never all going to agree, and that elections are a valid way of helping to settle—and unsettle, and re-settle—those questions), and agree that whatever it is that government does, we have to be willing to pay for it.

And let's extend that principle to our states and communities. No more demanding that everything get cut as long as it only affects someone else. Fund the schools. Fund the police (and emergency services). Fund the library and the bus. Each of these things is worth paying for.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

There are only three meaningful places to cut federal spending

Last Friday, I tweeted a link to an Economist poll in which 92% of Americans said that it was important to balance the federal budget within the next few years, and 62% said that the budget should be balanced with spending cuts alone instead of raising taxes (5%) or some combination of tax increases and spending cuts (24%). The notable part of this poll was that when participants were asked what, exactly should be cut, the average response seemed to be "not much, except for foreign aid" (which accounts for less than 1% of federal spending).

As a follow-up, I'd link to point to an article in the NYT today reporting the results of a poll and follow-up interviews with people who identify themselves with the Tea Party movement:
When talking about the Tea Party movement, the largest number of respondents said that the movement’s goal should be reducing the size of government, more than cutting the budget deficit or lowering taxes.

And nearly three-quarters of those who favor smaller government said they would prefer it even if it meant spending on domestic programs would be cut.

But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”
In order to make inroads into the federal budget, the only places where substantial cuts could make an impact are in Defense, Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid, which together make up more than 59% of total spending. Of those three, only Defense is "discretionary," meaning that cuts could be made without requiring the passage of substantial new legislation.

I'm not against spending cuts. What I'm against is demanding that government shrink without a clear idea of where cuts should be made, and what the real impact of those cuts would be, especially when percentage of the federal budget (or percentage of the total deficit) is compared to impact on actual people's lives.

I think that the budget should (on the whole) be balanced. (Temporary but substantial deficits in times of recession would be the primary exception to this rule.) And I think that eliminating waste is a good thing. But when you're being told that government waste is the source of the problem, you're being lied to. The problem is the irresponsible tax cuts of the past 10 years, combined with fighting two wars on a different continent.

Many government programs help people, and they do so with a surprising level of efficiency. They help you. And that's worth paying for.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Lansing Lit Mags, and me.

I've already posted a link to a slides-only video version of my Lansing Lit Mags presentation at Ignite Lansing 3.0. This afternoon, LCC TV posted video of both the slides and me. I think I have a nerdy sort of charm.

What would I do differently if I were to do it again? I think, especially given the spirit of the event, I'd focus a bit more on the opportunities for small periodical publication offered through the internet, and talk about how Oats led into Robin Sloan's current work. It's a tough compromise to make, since I already had to cut so much. I barely had time to name drop Pablo Neruda and Margaret Atwood (I didn't get to mention the interview with Allen Ginsberg in issue #17, or Tom Bissell's first published story in volume 30 #2, etc., etc.).

And these are tough compromises, because there are a lot of cool things that people have done, and one of the big things I wanted to do was to show off some of the good ideas so that people could see the variety of forms that lit mags have taken and not come away with the idea that the lovely, glossy, rather staid versions that are out there right now are the only options. The costs of entry are nearly non-existent.

One story I didn't tell had to do with the transition of The Offbeat from a self-published 'zine to publication with the MSU Press. Before the final decision was made, Tim Carmody and I talked between ourselves about publishing a final compilation issue showing off the work that The Offbeat had printed over the previous three years and centering on an essay which would argue that if we had done it, with minimal support (basically free web space and an email address) from MSU, that anyone could and should do it. Rather than asking a new staff to pick up our publication, we would have created a gap and asked someone else to fill it with their own publication and their own ideas. I'm proud of The Offbeat, and happy that it has carried on. Because of Offbeat/1, I have an editor credit in the Library of Congress.

Still, part of me wonders what might have popped up had The Offbeat not hung around.