Video of the day

Really fun archival interview of Conan O’Brien by Terry Gross last week.  Conan mentioned the following as one of the funniest pieces of television in five years.  Personally, I think that suggests a fairly fallow five years.  That said, there are some pretty damn good moments in this.

Welfare, drug testing, and the laboratory of federalism

In one of the more interesting aspects of Pat McCrory’s governorship of NC, he vetoed a bill that require drug testing for welfare recipients.  And he did it because it is stupid policy– it is unnecessarily punitive, but far more importantly, it fails basic cost-benefit.  And how do we know this?  Because they’ve tried it in Florida, where it has not worked as advertised–a fact McCrory alluded to in his veto.  Here’s the latest on it from the NYT:

MIAMI — Ushered in amid promises that it would save taxpayers money and deter drug users, a Florida law requiring drug tests for people who seek welfare benefits resulted in no direct savings, snared few drug users and had no effect on the number of applications, according to recently released state data…

From July through October in Florida — the four months when testing took place before Judge Scriven’s order — 2.6 percent of the state’s cash assistance applicants failed the drug test, or 108 of 4,086, according to the figures from the state obtained by the group. The most common reason was marijuana use. An additional 40 people canceled the tests without taking them.

Because the Florida law requires that applicants who pass the test be reimbursed for the cost, an average of $30, the cost to the state was $118,140. This is more than would have been paid out in benefits to the people who failed the test, Mr. Newton said.

As a result, the testing cost the government an extra $45,780, he said.

And the testing did not have the effect some predicted. An internal document about Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, caseloads stated that the drug testing policy, at least from July through September, did not lead to fewer cases.

“We saw no dampening effect on the caseload,” the document said.

So, today was federalism in class and I talked about one of the great advantages– the laboratory of federalism.  States can learn from what works and what fails in other states.  I.e., nobody has tried to deregulate their electricity market in the way California disastrously did in the early 00’s or how many states looked to model their welfare reforms after Wisconsin’s much heralded approach.

Of course, the presumption is that states will be smart enough to learn from other states.  In this case, our governor was (to his credit and my surprise), but the state legislature, not so much– they overrode his veto today.  Of course, I still cannot quite figure out why the governor vetoed this legislation.  he signed plenty other legislation that did not stand up to rigorous policy analysis.  Why take a stand here where he was destined to be over-ridden?  Haven’t seen a good explanation.  That said, good on Pat McCrory and bad on the legislature.   And let’s hear it for the benefits of federalism– and least when politicians are smart enough to pay attention to what they should be learning from other states.

Asymmetry reminder

I haven’t talked about the partisan asymmetry in a while, but this recent post from Yglesias was a nice reminder.  It highlights this chart of Pew data:


Evan a majority of ordinary Republicans favoring cutting spending and increasing taxes to address the budget deficit.  Whereas, you could easily get a majority of Democratic politicians (especially President Obama)  to agree to various permutations of that today, you’ll get absolutely nowhere with Republican legislators.  What, maybe 3% of Republicans in Congress would agree to this.  The legislative gridlock in this country is not about “both parties” it is about Republican legislators and how far to the right they are of even your typical Republican.

Of course, a big part of this is that Republican primary elections are determined not by “typical” Republicans but by Tea Party activists and these legislators have to watch their right flank in a way Democrats just don’t have to on their left.  It’s also worth noting that while 56% of Republicans agreed to the sensible approach when talking to a telephone interviewer, they may feel quite differently if attuned to a Republican primary campaign where they keep hearing about how the incumbent “voted to raise your taxes!”  

Photo of the day

Okay, not the prettiest photo to look at, but kind of funny and a lot more interesting with the context via my favorite Finnish reader:

 It’s an authentic picture of our ex-president, Tarja Halonen, checking out the contents of a waste container. Seems like she found a cooking pot she likes. It’s no photo op, no publicity stunt or anything like that. Somebody from her neighbourhood just happened to be at the right time at the right place and documented the situation.

Part of being a Finn is that if one is truly a Finn one must have an inferiority complex when it comes to Swedes. Björn Borg is one reason for that. And Ingemar Stenmark. And Thomas Wassberg. And Abba. And Volvo. And their national hockey team. Also that they were our masters for about 700 years and back in the 1960′s and 1970′s about 300000 Finns moved to Sweden looking for work and ended up doing the jobs Swedes didn’t want to do. Like emptying waste containers.


Yeah, I’ve got nothing to say.  My dad asked me the other day and I couldn’t give him much more than a “on one hand…”  I just cannot get that exercised by this issue which the press is covering as if we’re on the brink of another Iraq War.  This is so different than Fall 2002, but you’d hardly know from all the breathless coverage of every little detail.

I totally get that the US Government should not “draw a red line” and then not enforce it, but I do have a problem with this red line.  Kill tens of thousands of your citizens via bomb, machine gun, etc., and it’s all good, but as soon as you use a chemical to kill 1500 it demands a reprisal.  Sure, I understand chemical weapons are different.  But really only because we say so.  Seems to me the point should be mass slaughter of innocent civilians, not how you do it.

Anyway, Chait is not a foreign policy expert, but I think his logic on this is pretty sound:

Obama’s goal in Syria is to enforce an international norm against the use of chemical weapons. Obviously he can’t save the Syrians who have already died at the hands of the regime. What he can do is raise the threat of punishment for future chemical strikes. That threat can stand even if Congress fails to approve action right now.

The rationale for military action, which I somewhat reservedly support, is to make dictators hesitate before using chemical weapons. It’s clear that even the crudest of strongmen do think about foreign reaction when weighing whether to deploy these arms. Chemical Ali told his colleagues before gassing the Kurds, “I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them!”

Second, using air strikes against state power is a task the United States military can carry out pretty effectively.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think there’s any way Obama takes an action that actually puts American soldiers at risk.

Anyway, now I’ve blogged something on the major political issue of this period.  I shall now return to blogging about things I actually know something about (mostly).

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