Daily Affirmations

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THE PLANK APRIL 20, 2009

Daily Affirmations

Sometimes I feel my commentary tends to run toward the negative. (No, really!) So I'm going to try to make an effort to occassionally recognize when somebody writes something I think makes sense. Let's give it a shot:

1. Tom Brokaw has an op-ed today arguing that small towns have an antiquated, duplicative system of governance:

It’s estimated that New York State has about 10,500 local government entities, from townships to counties to special districts. A year ago a bipartisan state commission said that New Yorkers could save more than a billion dollars a year by consolidating and sharing local government responsibilities like public security, health, roads and education. ...

In my native Great Plains, North and South Dakota have a combined population of just under 1.5 million people, and in each state the rural areas are being depopulated at a rapid rate. Yet between them the two Dakotas support 17 colleges and universities. They are a carry-over from the early 20th century when travel was more difficult and farm families wanted their children close by during harvest season.

Iowa proudly maintains its grid of 99 counties, each with its own distinctive courthouse, many on the National Register of Historic Places — and some as little as 40 miles away from one another. Each one houses a full complement of clerks, auditors, sheriff’s deputies, jailers and commissioners.

Good point, Tom Brokaw!

2. Jacob Weisberg points out that the Obama administration's exclusion of lobbyists misses too many crucial distinctions:

An example of the kind of lobbying Obama ought to decry came to light last week when the New York Times revealed that Tony Podesta and Jamie Gorelick, two Democratic fixers, had signed on to help save Sallie Mae from extinction. Sallie Mae is a government-sponsored enterprise that insures college loans made by private banks. Like Fannie and Freddie, her inbred cousins in the housing business, Sallie embodies the principle of privatizing gains and socializing losses. ...

As an illustration of the good kind of lobbying, consider Tom Malinowski, who worked as a speechwriter at the State Department and National Security Council during the Clinton administration. Since leaving government, Malinowski—who declined to comment for this story—has been Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, where he has spoken up for political prisoners abroad and against the Bush administration's policies on torture and detention. As reported on Foreign Policy's blog "The Cable," Malinowski was a top candidate to head the State Department's Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Bureau and remains a possible candidate for various other foreign policy posts. But because he was registered as a lobbyist, he can't be hired without a waiver. After drawing fire for granting one to Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, who worked for the defense contractor Raytheon, officials have been reluctant to grant any more of these.

As a matter of law, however, it is probably impossible to distinguish between what these two men do. Both are exercising the same First Amendment right to petition the government. Both have a legal obligation to register under disclosure laws. The rule that bars the one Obama doesn't want to hire prevents him from hiring the one he does. In addition to denying the president the service of any number of desirable nominees, the rules are undermining disclosure laws, because if registration is a bar to government employment, both kinds of lobbyists will avoid registering. Allowing a few arbitrary exceptions to this kind of bad policy only makes the unfairness worse.

Good point, Jacob Weisberg!

3. Unnamed administration officials, quoted in today's New York Times, are finally saying what I've been saying, which is that Congressional Democrats balking at their budget are hypocritical cowards:

The unwillingness to embrace some of the major White House tax and revenue proposals has frustrated administration officials. They note that lawmakers, many of them supporters of the president’s ambitious agenda, clamor to hold down the deficit while balking at the proposals to finance his program.

Good point, anonymous administration officials!

--Jonathan Chait

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