Politics

Getting Government out of Your Eggs 'n Salmonella.

As you've no doubt heard, a recent salmonella outbreak in eggs sickened more than 1,300 people and led to a recall of half a billion eggs. Why wasn't the government doing more to prevent this kind of thing? Well, here's a clue, in an article from 2007: The federal agency that's been front and center in warning the public about tainted spinach and contaminated peanut butter is conducting just half the food safety inspections it did three years ago. The cuts by the Food and Drug Administration come despite a barrage of high-profile food recalls. "We have a food safety crisis on the horizon," said Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. Between 2003 and 2006, FDA food safety inspections dropped 47 percent, according to a database analysis of federal records by The Associated Press. That's small-government conservatism in action. According to one recent study , 5,000 Americans die every year because of food-borne illnesses, and the total cost of...

More on Presidential Appointments.

Jonathan Bernstein responds to my post on reforming the presidential appointment process with a convincing case for the merits of the status quo: At it's best, the system will achieve input from national level interests (through the presidency), relevant local and narrow interests (through Congress), and expertise (through the bureaucracy). Moreover, at its best, the incentives within the system will push everyone to compete for control of policy, which should -- by forcing people to defend their positions, and choose which things are worth fighting for -- yield better policy in the long run. I should say that I broadly agree with Bernstein. To walk back a little from my previous stridency, it's a good thing that the president can staff the bureaucracy with people committed to his political ideals, and a good thing -- as far as democracy goes -- that the bureaucracy is permeable and (somewhat) responsive to electoral demands. As someone who mostly supports robust presidential action,...

The Little Picture: Taking Another Crack at Peace.

After months of diplomatic yeoman's work by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- and in particular Special Representative to the Middle East George J. Mitchell -- Washington appears to have successfully brokered a new round of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Scheduled to begin Sept. 1, and to involve face-to-face discussion between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas , the talks would be the first active steps taken in the Middle East peace process since relations collapsed in 2008. ( State Department Photo /Matty Stern)

There Are Too Many Political Appointees.

Yesterday, President Obama made four recess appointments to vacancies in the Department of Agriculture, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the State Department. There isn't anything "special" about these appointments, but they're worth noting, since they illustrate the ridiculousness of our system for staffing the executive branch. Put another way, why exactly is the president of the United States responsible for providing HHS with an assistant secretary for public affairs, or Agriculture with an undersecretary for food safety? Unlike agency heads and their immediate subordinates, these are fairly low-profile positions that fall largely outside the public's radar. Assuming there are able administrators within the respective agencies, there isn't any particular reason for why they are held by political appointees rather than career civil servants. To borrow an analogy, imagine if -- on her first day -- the president of a major university...

Hatred of Foreigners and Hatred of Government Are Not the Same Thing.

Politico has an interesting article titled "The New Battle: What It Means to Be an American," that manages to say barely a word about what it means to be an American, or what different people believe it means to be an American. But anyway, the point of the piece is that the right is losing interest in its old standby social issues like abortion and the threat of national gayification in favor of its new fears of socialism. Which is all well and good as a short-term strategy. But the thing about it is that it is necessarily short-term. Once the economy turns around, President Obama 's approval ratings will rise, and most of the country will no longer be concerned about most of the things Republicans are yelling about. And even Republicans themselves will stop being outraged by big government the moment the next Republican president takes office. The handy thing about social issues, on the other hand, is that they're eternal. That couple down the street with the washboard abs and...

Conservatives and Policy.

To weigh in on an ongoing debate over conservatives and domestic policy , this from Patrick Appel doesn't seem quite right: In my experience, liberal think tanks and intellectuals dominate most domestic issues while conservative think tanks and intellectuals dominate foreign policy. ... This was made clear during the health care debate; there were certainly conservative pundits arguing against "Obamacare" but conservative health care experts were seriously outgunned. You need to separate between the party infrastructure and actual conservative intellectuals. For instance, during the health-care debate, there were plenty of pundits arguing against "Obamacare," and conservative health-care experts thought they were crazy and wanted to talk seriously about the issues. They weren't outgunned by liberals, they were outgunned by their own compatriots! Unfortunately, ideas don't get traction without support from the pundits who spread them around (a new policy proposal will gather dust until...

Fresh Battles Over Overseas Donations in Israel.

Gershom Gorenberg says when the right's reaction is craziest, it may be evidence that something significant has happened. During a decade in Israel's Parliament, Michael Melchior made his name as an effective legislator. The rabbi and social democrat chaired the Knesset Education Committee, pushing the government to provide hot lunches for poor schoolchildren and to mainstream special-needs pupils. As an environmentalist, he was willing to partner with Omri Sharon -- son of the rightist former prime minister -- and Dov Khenin of the Communist Party. Melchior flunked flamboyance, though. He was nearly invisible to the general public. He owed his seat to an alliance between the Labor Party and his dovish religious party, Meimad. In the 2009 election, the alliance was dissolved, and Melchior's party failed to get the 2 percent of the national vote needed to win seats in the Knesset. KEEP READING. . .

The Objection to Alaska's Anti-Abortion Measure.

Voters in Alaska will consider a ballot measure next week that would require a teenage girls' parents to be notified two days before she gets an abortion, unless she goes to court or brings a notarized letter claiming abuse at home. It is, of course, designed to limit teenage girls' rights, and there's nothing new about this. What does seem new is the name of the group opposing the ballot measure: Alaskans Against Government Mandates. It's not a women's health rights group, it's a group that rightly points out this is a new government mandate that will impinge upon freedom. I've been waiting for some time for conservatives to address the core hypocrisy in their platform: the idea that government regulation is bad unless it involves regulating women's bodies. The group is only organized around this issue and obviously includes abortion-rights activities, but the messaging on the "about" page says this: We are a rapidly growing coalition of teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers,...

Lightning Round: A Post About the Dearth and Quality of Republican Leadership.

Jonathan Zasloff considers the possibility that Republicans might, just might, do a little soul searching in the event they fail to take over one or both houses of Congress: "But if the GOP does take back either or both Houses of Congress, the Movement will see it as vindication. If it fails, perhaps someone on the other side of the political spectrum will realize that it is time to change course." The question is, who? I don't see a great deal of heterogeneity in the Republican leadership, nor do I see how some irrelevant "reasonable Republican" is going to convince them to abandon their wingnut base. Speaking of the Great Saviour of the GOP, the gang at Politico can barely contain themselves as they pore over the magnificence that is Mississippi's Haley Barbour . His fundraising prowess, you see, is derived from, and reinforces, his all-but-certain 2012 presidential run. The authors do admit in passing that he does face some obstacles in what is otherwise a lock on being sworn in as...

The Little Picture: Leaving Iraq. (Sort of.)

With the departure of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, all United States combat troops have now left Iraq. However, with 50,000 U.S. troops still in the country for training purposes, American liberals remain suspicious of whether this milestone is worth celebrating -- or whether the final departure date for all U.S. troops in December of 2011 should be taken seriously. Meanwhile, there's an impending uptick in private security forces to fret over. (Flickr/ The U.S. Army )

Mike Allen's Mind-Mis-Meld.

A few folks e-mailed me about this item from Mike Allen's win-the-morning Playbook : --ADMINISTRATION MINDMELD: The virtue of action on Social Security is that it demonstrates the ability to begin to affect the long-run deficits. Social Security isn't the biggest contributor to the problem -- that's still health-care costs. But ti could help a little bit, buy time, and strengthens the odds of a political consensus behind other spending cuts or tax increases. Most importantly, it would establish more CREDIBILITY with the MARKETS. The mood of the world at the moment (slightly excessive, from the administration's point of view) is that if you don't do anything with spending cuts, it doesn't get you credibility. Sure makes it seem like the administration wants to cut Social Security, doesn't it? By chance, I was at the same deep-background briefing where Allen had his "mindmeld," and I have to say, I don't think he's got it right. After reviewing my notes and a recording of the...

Obama Is a Muslim, Says One-Fifth of America.

In today's surprising news, a growing number of Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. According to the results of a new national survey by the Pew Research Center, 18 percent of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009: Unsurprisingly, this misperception is far more common among his political opponents; 34 percent of conservative Republicans say that Obama is a Muslim, as do 30 percent of those who disapprove of his performance. That said, the numbers aren't much better among supporters. Only 46 percent of Democrats accurately say that he is a Christian, down from 55 percent from last year. Obviously, this begs the question: What has happened since last year that led many Americans to the transparently false belief that Obama is a Muslim? Matt Yglesias chalks it up to the "general dynamic of recession-induced suspicion," but I think there's more to it than that; last year, in a joint paper , University of Michigan political scientist (...

Will Congress Do Anything About Unemployment?

The latest data on unemployment is an ugly surprise: There were 500,000 unemployment claims in mid-August, the highest since November, well exceeding the predictions of economic forecasters. Today, The Wall Street Journal reports that 61.8 percent of all job cuts at the end of last year took place in small businesses. If you're wondering what the government can do about this problem, how about a plan to cut taxes on small businesses and make it easier for them to get credit to invest in their operations and expand and hire more workers? It sounds pretty good, which is why Democrats have proposed it in the Senate, hoping that the tax cuts and small-biz focus would persuade Republicans to join them. Instead, Republicans have repeatedly blocked action on the long-stalled bill, ostensibly because the Democrats won't let them vote on non-germane amendments, like capping the federal budget. In reality, Operation Sand In The Gears of Progress continues apace, with Republicans hoping to reap...

Auto Industry Rebounding, Believe It or Not.

(Flickr/ aldenjewell ) Back in 2008, when Chrysler and GM were facing bankruptcy, conservatives started a campaign against a government bailout. In order to convince people it was a bad idea, they went around telling everyone that autoworkers were lazy and overpaid, trying to make the workers into the villain of the story; the key piece of evidence was the fabricated claim that these workers were paid an average of $72 an hour. It was a lie (the real figure was about $28, or a decidedly middle-class wage), but it did the job; in short order, opposition to the auto bailouts became conservative dogma, and most of the public ended up opposing the bailouts. While there are a lot of things to criticize about the various economic initiatives the government took in 2008 and 2009, this one seems to have worked out pretty well : General Motors took the first formal steps on Wednesday to once again sell shares publicly, highlighting a remarkable turnaround for the corporate giant a year after...

No President Bush, You're Not Our Only Hope.

( George W. Bush Presidential Center ) Unlike a lot of people, it seems , I'm not so sure that George W. Bush is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Cordoba House controversy. That is, while I can appreciate President Bush's care in drawing sharp distinctions between al-Qaeda and the greater Muslim community, it's ultimately the case that under the Bush administration, entire swaths of the Constitution ceased to apply to Muslims, or at least those accused of terrorism. Bush may have been uncomfortable with demagoguing all Muslims, but he wasn't particularly averse to torturing some of them. If anything, the current GOP campaign against Islam reflects that basic reality; to borrow from my colleague Adam Serwer , "the idea that all American Muslims are not entitled to First Amendment rights is the rational conclusion to the logic that denies Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights to Muslims accused of terrorism." Adam worries that we'll continue down this slippery slope, and so do I; by and large, the...

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