Republicans and food stamps

Last week’s news, but I think Chait’s post makes this case as clearly and explicitly as possible:

Henry Olsen has an admirable screed in National Review assailing Republicans for their lack of interest in cutting agriculture subsidies even as they go to war on food stamps…

Here is the one chunk of social spending where Republicans are not only failing to issue hostage threats to secure the cuts they demand, they are also refusing to cut spending as much as Barack Obama asks. And the program they pick to defend is, on the substantive merits, the most unjustifiable program of any significant scale in the federal budget.

It is also one that accrues to disproportionately wealthy and overwhelmingly white recipients. (As opposed to Obamacare, whose beneficiaries are disproportionately poor and non-white.) Olsen, as he no doubt has to do to publish in National Review, presents the contrast as an unfortunate coincidence: …

It’s not baffling, nor is the notion that the Republican Party protects the class interests of the rich a “stereotype.” It’s an analysis that persuasively explains the facts.

Indeed, it’s the only analysis that persuasively explains the facts. I’d prefer to abolish agriculture subsidies completely while keeping in place (or boosting) food rations for the poor. A libertarian might want to abolish both programs, a socialist might want to keep both. I’d disagree but attribute the disagreement to philosophical differences. What possible basis can be found to justify preserving subsidies for affluent farmers while cutting them for the poor? What explanation offers itself other than the party’s commitment to waging class war?

Or the short version from Drum:

Observation 1: Farmers tend to be fairly well off. SNAP (food stamp) recipients tend to be poor.

Observation 2: Republicans want to keep federal subsidies in place for farmers, but they want to cut SNAP funding for the poor.

Question: What ideological principle can account for this? Let’s try a few:

  • Libertarianism? Nope. They’d want to cut both.
  • Generic small government conservatism? Nope. They’d also cut both.
  • Liberalism? Nope. Liberals would keep SNAP (or expand it) and cut farm subsidies (or leave them alone for narrow political reasons).
  • Pragmatic technocratism? Nope. Farm subsidies aren’t especially good for the economy and SNAP is reasonably well targeted at genuine need.
  • Class warfare? That would do it.

There’s nothing mystifying about this. Republicans want to cut taxes on the rich and cut spending on the poor. That’s been their basic domestic ideology for decades at least. And guess what? Agricultural subsidies are effectively a tax cut for farmers while SNAP reductions cut spending on the poor. As a bonus, farmers tend to vote for Republicans while poor people tend to vote for Democrats. What’s hard to understand?

And lastly, Timothy Egan:

What’s at work here is the poison of ideology. Underlying the food assistance fight is the idea that the poor are lazy, and deserve their fate — the Ayn Rand philosophy. You don’t see this same reasoning applied to those Red State agricultural-industrialists living high off farm subsidies, and that’s why Republicans have separated the two major recipient groups of federal food aid. Subsidized cotton growers cannot possibly be equated with someone trying to stretch macaroni into three meals.

Seriously, there is simply no other even half-logical or semi-coherent explanation for this set of facts.  It’s unfortunate that one party’s elites have this ideology (I would not suggest this is the preferred outcome of rank-and-file Republicans), but is certainly the reality.

Photo of the day

From the National Geographic Tumblr:

Off-duty work horses trot across a dry wash in the Sierra Baguales in Patagonia, Chile, February 1960.Photograph by Kip Ross, National Geographic

Off-duty work horses trot across a dry wash in the Sierra Baguales in Patagonia, Chile, February 1960.PHOTOGRAPH BY KIP ROSS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

My messy office

Well, I sure did love this NYT post that says a messy desk can actually be a good thing:

A second experiment, however, found that working in chaos has its advantages, too. In this one, college students were placed in a messy or a neat office and asked to dream up new uses for Ping-Pong balls. Those in messy spaces generated ideas that were significantly more creative, according to two independent judges, than those plugging away in offices where stacks of papers and other objects were neatly aligned.

The results were something of a surprise, says Kathleen D. Vohs, a behavioral scientist at the University of Minnesota and the leader of the study. Few previous studies found much virtue in disarray. The broken-windows theory, proposed decades ago, posits that even slight disorder and neglect can encourage nonchalance, poor discipline and nihilism. Chaos begets chaos.

But in the study by Dr. Vohs, disordered offices encouraged originality and a search for novelty. In the final portion of the study, adults were given the choice of adding a health “boost” to their lunchtime smoothie that was labeled either “new” or “classic.” The volunteers in the messy space were far more likely to choose the new one; those in the tidy office generally opted for the classic version.

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition,” Dr. Vohs and her co-authors conclude in the study, “which can produce fresh insights.”

By these standards, I should be a model of creative and outside-the-box thinking.  Here’s the proof:

IMG_0968 (600x800)

Guns and mental illness

I’ve seen a couple of articles about how it’s amazing that we let the latest mass shooting so quickly disappear from the national radar with hardly a blip.  Kill kids and we at least talk about it.  Kill people who’s kids’ lives are ruined because their mom or dad was senselessly gunned down, and we go about our life.  Ugh.  Of course, I haven’t even written about this one yet myself.  In part, I think, that it is so predictably depressing.  Our political system is basically entirely unwilling to grapple with the insane combination of poor mental health care and easy access to guns.  Well, at least some intrepid bloggers and journalists will.

First, Michael Tomasky:

So now we’re being treated to the charming spectacle of Republicans, or a few of them anyway, purporting to care about mental-health treatment in the wake of the Washington Navy Yard shooting. How touching. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they care about mental health. They’re just coming up with something to say in the wake of the tragedy that sounds to the willfully credulous like action and that won’t offend the National Rifle Association. Meanwhile, they have devastated mental-health funding since you-know-who became president. And more important than that, they voted against, and are now preparing to vote en bloc to defund or delay, the law that will do more to address mental health and give society at least a chance that future Aaron Alexises will get treatment that could prevent them going on shooting sprees since … well, pretty much since ever…

Alexis was fairly typical of the type of person who stands precious little chance of getting any mental-health treatment in this country. For starters, he was male, young, and black. That’s an unlucky combination of things to be in the United States for millions of people. But hitting that trifecta and being mentally ill on top of it constitutes the holding of a very unfortunate ovarian-lottery ticket. Single mothers, children, and the elderly all qualify for more forms of assistance than men do. Increasingly, there is a place where men like this wind up where they finally might get a little bit of treatment. It’s called jail. Our prisons are full of mentally ill substance abusers who committed crimes.

There are two things society can do about future Aaron Alexises. One, it can do nothing to improve mental-health approaches and let people fester, but even then it can at least take tougher steps to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns. Two, it can try to be a little more proactive about this whole category of illness, which affects nearly 60 million Americans (yep, one in five). On both counts, there is one party in Washington that’s eager to act, and one that is perfectly happy to let crazy people buy guns and perfectly content that we have more and more mentally ill people walking around with no treatment. Any guesses?

Harsh words?  Yes.  Absolutely true?  Sadly so.  I really, really wish this wasn’t such a partisan issue (mostly, because there’d be a lot less senseless tragedy and suffering), but alas it is.  Because one political party is far more concerned about the suffering that happens when you really, really want an AR-15, but the stupid government just won’t let you buy it.

And Emily Bazelon in Slate:

We can’t have all the freedom we insist on in this country. We can’t have near total access to guns and no way to track people with mental illness—along with a system for treatment so riddled with holes that’s barely a system at all. The combination—our approach to guns crossed with our approach to mental illness—is deadly. And however unlikely it is that the senseless Washington Navy Yard massacre will actually change anything, I have to howl one more time…

There is a much broader, deeper question at the root of this tragedy: Why are we so attached to the right to own a gun that we allow people with criminal histories and mental illness to carry them, while doing nowhere near enough to make sure they get the care they need?

By now, what’s most depressing is how familiar it feels. After the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn.; and Aurora, Colo.; and Tucson, Ariz.; and Virginia Tech—all by young men with untreated mental illness—we had the same national debate. I want to make sure to say, as I always do, that mentally ill people very rarely unleash terrible violence. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (Disclosure: It’s named in memory of my grandfather)objects to focusing on people with psychiatric illness in the wake of shootings, because “mental illness by itself is not statistically related to violence.” Untreated mental illness, however, is a risk factor. Mother Jones did a service in 2012 by analyzing 62 mass shootings, 25 of them in the past seven years. The central finding:

Nearly 80 percent of the perpetrators in these 62 cases obtained their weapons legally. Acute paranoia, delusions, and depression were rampant among them, with at least 36 of the killers committing suicide on or near the scene. (Seven others died in police shootouts they had little hope of surviving, regarded by some experts as “suicide by cop.”) And according to additional research we completed recently, at least 38 of them displayed signs of possible mental health problems prior to the killings.

Add Alexis and make that 39 out of 63—close to two-thirds. So what do we do?

The answer to that question is not an easy one.  But it damn sure isn’t the status quo.

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