Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hey, look at that

Now that the earmark bans are in place, it's evident to everyone that earmarks affect spending levels.
When House Republicans were searching for cuts to offer Senate Democrats as part of a temporary spending plan to avert a government shutdown, they were able to reach into accounts set aside for earmarks and find nearly $2.8 billion that would have previously gone to water projects, transit programs and construction programs. No earmarks, no need for that money, and the threat of an imminent shutdown was eased.

Lawmakers said the absence of earmarks also allowed for a more freewheeling debate on the House floor during consideration of the Republican plan to slash $61 billion from this year’s budget since Democrats and Republicans were not caught up in protecting the special provisions they had worked so hard to tuck into the spending bill.

“This is a completely new experience, and a good one,” said Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who had lost scores of attempts on the House floor to strip earmarks from spending bills.

While spending on earmarks is a tiny portion of the budget, critics like Mr. Flake and Mr. Boehner said they played an insidious role in pushing up federal spending through what is known in legislative terms as logrolling.

Top members of the Appropriations Committee might, for instance, grant a lawmaker’s request for a few million dollars for an important project back home. That lawmaker would then be obligated to support the entire multibillion-dollar bill despite possible reservations. Woe to the person who gets an earmark and then opposes the bill; chances for a future earmark would be somewhere between zero and none.

“You get millions for an earmark and end up voting for billions of dollars that you may oppose,” said Steve Ellis, a vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group.

(For previous discussion, see here.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

On Liberty

Matt Yglesias:
[quoting] The Georgia dissidents rallied behind the revealing slogan “Liberty and Property without restrictions”—which explicitly linked the liberty of white men to their right to hold blacks as property. Until they could own slaves, the white Georgians considered themselves unfree. [/quoting] It’s a very interesting quirk of rhetoric. Freedom-talk tends, in practice, to have very little to do with any respectable notion of freedom.

Provides an occasion for two of my favorite quotes.

Samuel Johnson, on Americans: "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

Orlando Patterson, on the general phenomenon:
The basic argument of this work is that freedom was generated from the experience of slavery. People came to value freedom, to construct it as a powerful shared vision of life, as a result of their experience of, and response to, slavery or its recombinant form, serfdom, in their roles as masters, slaves, and nonslaves.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Clever or pretentious?

My admiration for this idea, a riff on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue by Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes (and see the contributions of art museums to the idea here) was almost-- but not quite-- entirely undone by this: "Green confesses that he hasn't seen the Sports Illustrated version: 'The newsstand near me carries Cooks Illustrated, The Nation, Bookforum, The Chronicle of Philanthropy and The New York Review of Books. It seems not to carry Sports Illustrated.'"

You're already tweaking SI and propagating great works of art. Do you really need to further prove your high-culture bona fides with this kind of "I don't even own a television" tedium?

In addition to being absurdly and unnecessarily pretentious (look at that list! Surely you local newsagent carries something else; the only purpose of that list is culture-status grabbing), I just don't believe it. The kind of bookstore newsstands that carry The Chronicle of Philanthropy (not many!) carry pretty nearly everything. They might sell out of the swimsuit issue; they don't not carry it. And the places that can support such highbrow newsstands (big cities and some college towns) also support more than one newsstand. In that kind of place, one's eyes are eventually sullied by passing over the cover of a magazine that is less highbrow than one's own tastes. One grits one's teeth and endures; one need not fib about the experience.
Freedom of associations/ freedom in associations watch

Arizona is considering requiring universities to allow concealed-carry permit holders to wear their guns on campus, and Texas seems to be close to doing so.

One view: This fails to recognize the autonomy of universities as self-governing institutions. Merits aside, it is rightly a matter for universities to decide. Universities are much more likely than state legislatures to correctly understand the dynamics of classroom life, dormitory life, Greek systems and drinking, and much more that should go into making a decision about permitting firearms on campus. Public universities should be free (as private universities are) to decide that for themselves.

Another view: students and professors do not leave their freedom at the campus gates. The First Amendment directly applies to public universities: their self-government does not extend to passing hate-speech regulations, or discriminating against religious student newspapers, or judging candidates for employment based on their political views, or establishing a religion. In the many American states where the voters and/or legislatures have decided that individual freedom encompasses wide latitude to carry firearms in public places, the public universities don't have any authority to trump that judgment. Public universities, unlike private universities, must respect the freedom of their members as individuals. Their associational freedom to make their own internal rules is a lesser matter, and even somewhat suspect, since they are state agencies.