Conservative Morality In Action

Via Jared Bernstein, we learn about how the sequester has made us a stronger country:

At least two Indiana Head Start programs have resorted to a random drawing to determine which three-dozen preschool students will be removed from the education program for low-income families, a move officials said was necessary to limit the impact of mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts…

Columbus resident Alice Miller told WTHR-TV that her 4-year-old son, Sage, was one of the children cut from the program. She spoke about how the program has helped her son advance academically and socially…“He loves school,” Miller said. “I don’t know how I’m going to tell him he’s not going back.”

To this, Bernstein responds, “If that doesn’t break your heart, you might want to get to the emergency room to see if it’s still there.”  I part company with him somewhat on this.  This story doesn’t make me heartbroken: it makes me angry.  I am sad for the little boy who now cannot go to school, which he loves.  But I am outraged at those who think that this bears any relationship to justice.  Sage Miller can’t go to school because Republicans think it is more important to protect the carried-interest loophole.  The supposedly religious Christians who think we need to bring God into public policy might want to review the story of Nathan the Prophet after they finish demonizing gays and lesbians.

It also outrages me as a taxpayer.  We are injuring these children, and that will injure our country in the future.  You don’t have to be a bleeding heart, or Nathan the Prophet, to object to this.  You just have to be a patriot.


Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

36 thoughts on “Conservative Morality In Action”

  1. The linked page on Nathan has a strange interpretation and extremely selective quotation of 2 Samuel on the Temple. Basically David has a brainwave – let’s built a proper Temple for the Ark! God, through Nathan, tells s him to forget it – the people’s security and welfare comes first. His son Solomon will build the Temple; this bit is more likely to be an addition to the unhelpful story by the Temple party.

  2. Actually, given the research showing that the positive effects of Headstart vanish within a few years of entering regular education, I’m at a loss for why you’d be either sad OR angry.

    It appears to me that the foundational elements of liberal morality are,

    1. Cost/benefit analysis is mean, we should only conduct benefit analysis.

    2. It’s the intention that matters, so benefit analysis should be confined to whether benefits were intended.

    3. If you rob Peter to pay Paul, Peter is a vicious bastard for complaining that he’s been robbed.

  3. This post is somewhat bizarre given that a) the sequester was the President’s proposal, and b) Republicans supported granting agencies more discretion to cut spending without cutting essential programs (which would have given the relevant agencies the ability to avoid this sort of cuts) — but the President opposed it. It takes two to tango, and there were options on the table that would have allowed the President to avoid this, but in the partisan mind, it is always the other side’s fault.

    1. “..discretion to cut spending without cutting essential programs …” Just as austerian economists have the Confidence Fairy, conservative budgeters always have the Waste Fairy that makes cutting the budget painless.
      When I last looked, it’s the responsibility of Congress to adopt the budget and take the can for the consequences. Obama was right to refuse the anti-constitutional con of discretionary allocation of the sequester cuts.

      1. You’re right that the Senate has been delinquent in passing budgets, but there is nothing “anti-constitutional” about granting individual agencies this sort of discretion. We see equivalent discretion within appropriations all the time. Whether this was a good policy or not, it would have enabled the executive branch to prevent the sort of cuts complained about in this post.

        1. No, it wouldn’t. If there had been any chance the administration might have taken up the offer, it would have been hedged about with so many caveats that the cuts in social services would have been even worse. The “discretion” gambit was purely a political blame-shifting maneuver.

        2. I like that it’s all the fault of the (Democratic-controlled and GOP-hamstrung) Senate, not of the GOP House for sending it deliberately unadoptable propaganda budgets.

    2. Jon, this is willful blindness on your part. Republicans want to end the sequester by putting all the cuts in domestic programs. They refuse to end the sequester by cutting loopholes such as carried interest. The other “options on the table” involved severe cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, most of which would fall on low-income seniors and children.

      You can have your views, but please don’t try to obfuscate the issues. Conservatives have policies. Why not actually, you know, stand up for them instead of distorting the issues?

      1. They also supported a proposal that would have left the cuts in place but would have authorized the White House to shift funds within larger accounts to allow for greater prioritization, and the White House said no. Both sides played brinksmanship.

        1. Maybe Obama said no because “greater prioritization” would just have shifted the pain, and then the GOP would blame him wherever it fell.

          You’re doing a good job of supporting that idea.

        2. Again, Jon, this is just willful obtuseness on your part. As byomtov says both here and downthread, this was a calculated political move on the GOP’s part (one that didn’t even have the support of the House majority or Senate Republicans, fwiw): if Obama reduces the pain of the cuts, then that shows that they don’t hurt, if they do hurt, then the GOP blames him. This was so obvious that even the mainstream newspapers saw it. To blame Obama for the Republicans’ unwillingness to end the domestic sequester means living in a Bizarro world. It’s like saying that the Civil War was Lincoln’s fault for calling up troops after Fort Sumter: if he had just caved in, then there wouldn’t have been a war, and it takes two to tango. I suppose paraphrasing Upton Sinclair is appropos here: it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his standing in the Conservative Movement depends on him not understanding it.

  4. Jonathan,
    There are three conservative principles at stake here.
    #1. As you put it: “Sage Miller can’t go to school lbecause Republicans think it is more important to protect the carried-interest loophole.”
    #2. Nobody should go to school because it violates the sanctity of the family.
    #3. Nobody should get anything who can’t afford it on the free market, whatever that may be.

    You’re quite selective in your choice of research. AFAIK, the research has shown that the academic advantage of Head Start disappears relatively quickly (you’re right!), but the socialization advantages of head start persist into adulthood. So your principles #1 and #2 have no empirical basis. As far as your principle #3 is concerned, if you don’t like it here, why don’t you move to Russia? They lionize immigrants who complain about paying taxes in their home country.

    1. At least little Sage will be safe from the next AR-15- wielding maniac who Brett thinks is entitled to shoot up a school.

      What is there that’s too evil for Bellmore to support it? Still waiting.

  5. E.B., if we’re just talking socialization, aren’t there cheaper ways to provide it than Headstart, that don’t pretend to be providing educational aid?

    To be fair to Headstart, the problem isn’t with the program. The problem is that if you’ve got the sort of home environment which leads to needing a headstart, you’ve got the sort which won’t preserve the benefits of getting one. OTOH, if you’ve go the sort of home environment which would make a headstart beneficial long term, you’re not going to get into the program. Kind of like my son just got rejected for K-4 because he’s already reading and writing and doing arithmetic, and they need the slots for children with problems. Even though the socialization he could actually have used…

    In any event, Alder is quite correct. This is just the usual “maximize the pain!” approach you always see taken when funds to any agency are cut, and the administration was offered discretion as to where to make the cuts, and violently rejected it. Because they WANT the cuts to hurt, and hurt bad. Their ultimate nightmare scenario is that spending is cut, and nobody gets hurt. Because then they might not get their spending increases.

    1. “The problem is that if you’ve got the sort of home environment which leads to needing a headstart, you’ve got the sort which won’t preserve the benefits of getting one.”
      As Ebenezer has told you (and others, more than once I think), this is untrue. The Wikipedia article has the references.

    2. The educators I know are all very aware that socialization is critically important for children. So-called “soft-skills” such as emotional intelligence, flexibility, communication skills, time-management, self-motivation, problem-solving, etc., have a lot to do with the success one meets in life. In other words, “Everything I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten.” Or for many young children, Headstart.

      However, public school educators are also very aware that the continued existence of their schools rests on high-stakes, standardized test scores. It doesn’t matter so much if a kid has interpersonal-relation skills if he can score well on his reading and math tests. So yes, schools are going to concentrate their efforts on making sure as many of their students can pass the tests as possible.

      So I agree with Brett that the likely reason the public kindergarten wouldn’t accept his son for kindergarten a year early was that there was no payoff for the school. Their overall test scores wouldn’t be helped by admitting him, while they might be helped by trying to get another kid’s scores to go up.

      Similarly, my neighbor’s child, a delightful and bright girl in all respects, is getting pulled out of her kindergarten class for extra reading instruction: she doesn’t yet read (not being able to read at age 4 or age 6 is not a “problem,” anymore than an otherwise typically-developing six-month old not walking is a “problem”). She’s missing out on valuable socialization time to work on something she is clearly not developmentally ready to master, all for the sake of the school’s test scores.

      So call this all a combination of the school deform/privatization movement and the mind-set that we spend too much money on things like education a perfect storm — else, Brett’s son would be in kindergarten this very moment.

      1. I don’t even know what K-4 is, but if we weren’t a dumb country, we’d have universal preschool. Even just the socialization benefits would be worth it. Then Brett’s kid, and all of our kids, would get some extra fun and learning in their day. Instead, we have dumb arguments like this one. Unless you hate public education, it’s a no-brainer, it really is.

    3. In other words, if spending cuts don’t hurt, that proves that there is waste that can be cut. If they do hurt that proves Democrats are villains who make cuts that hurt instead of the painless ones that we all know exist.

  6. I’m puzzled about what the carried interest provision has to do with this, since IIRC it wasn’t on the table when the sequester was passed, and moreover, raises about 1% of the 2013 cost of the sequester. If we changed the way we treat carried interest, we would still have the sequester.

      1. Again, willful blindness on both of your parts. Everyone knows what the argument is. Republicans want to put all of the cuts on domestic programs in order to preserve low tax burdens for the wealthy. It’s in the Ryan budget. Democrats want to increase tax burdens on the wealthy to preserve domestic programs. Why the calculated obtuseness? To argue as Megan does that carried-interest wasn’t on the table in 2011 is simply irrelevant. That’s why it’s called a budget deal. Everything is negotiated with everything else. This is Politics 101.

    1. If we changed the way we treated carried interest, we would have a non-psychopathic republican party in congress. If we had a non-psychopathic republican party in congress, we wouldn’t have a sequester.

      I do have to admit to a little bit of confusion on seeing someone who claims to be a writer being unable to understand synecdoche. Oops, that’s not writing, it’s reading.

      1. Exactly.

        Here’s the point more clearly stated. The Republican Party has as a primary goal minimizing taxes on the wealthiest people in the country. Period. If you don’t see that you are not looking.

        For all Jonathan’s talk of “options on the table” they never ever ever involve a penny of extra tax on the Romney class. And so when Democrats don’t yield to GOP absolutism it’s their fault, per Messrs. Adler and Bellmore.

      2. Carried interest is a longstanding feature of partnership taxation that was created to equalize the gains between sweat equity and capital partners, not a special loophole for hedgies. Getting rid of it may or may not be a good idea (approximately 0% of the people who get really, really angry about carried interest seem to be familiar with even the basics of partnership taxation). But ending it would raise about 0.1% more money than the current tax code. This seems like an odd metric upon which to judge the Republican Party.

        1. Too bad it does nothing of the sort. And as it happens, I’m among the “approximately 0%” who do understand something about the basics of partnership taxation.

          Carried interest is hardly different from the commissions earned by all sorts of salespeople who regrettably lack the clout of Wall Street.

    2. This is a story about political capital, not economic capital, I think.

      Stalin famously asked: “How many legions does the pope have?”

      These days, the question would be: “How many lobbyists do the poor have?”

      We could pick the individual examples (Head Start and carried interest) apart at length, but they are just illustrations of our embarrassingly high inequality and low social mobility. Or, more precisely, of the political powers that perpetuate them.

      When it comes to equality of opportunity, too much of the opportunity is currently tied to existing socio-economic status; there’s limited opportunity to advance your lot in life based on skill and effort alone (for what it’s worth, I thought that your recent article about college degrees illustrated that pretty well).

      Opportunity in America is still largely a factor of education, especially tertiary education (because that’s what gives you the skill set to hold down a non-menial job), and we don’t have a good story to tell there. We have too many high school dropouts, we have unaffordable colleges, and we don’t have a solid VET system for those that do not attend college (still the majority of the population). In this context, I would be less concerned if Head Start programs had been axed to implement potentially more effective fixes to our education elsewhere, but that’s not what seems to be happening. What I’m seeing is a general short-sighted lack of interest to invest in our future. (Education is just one example, of course; American infrastructure is another thing that’s in woefully bad shape and that we keep neglecting.)

  7. What Sage has learned at much younger age than is healthy is that his world is full of arbitrary a$$holes of every shape, creed, color, and party who care not for that which has no direct effect on them or their loved ones. So he’s got that going for him.

  8. This story doesn’t make me heartbroken: it makes me angry.

    When receiving an opinion from a legal academic, I usually expect a rational, dispassionate, level-headed response. However, experience has taught me to hold Jonathan Zasloff to a far a lower standard. (How low? Think Mariana Trench)

    That Head Start is an ineffective program is a finding that is well-known in education policy circles. There’s even a name for it: The Head Start fade out. The truth is that it’s a breakfast/daycare program for children and an employment program for unqualified adults. There are no last IQ gains, student achievement gains, or attainment gains. But hey, who cares about results, right?

    But Zasloff thinks that the only way good can be done is if taxpayers’ money is set on fire.

    Lefty tears are so salty and delicious and the whining–the whining!–it sounds like a chorus of angels.

    1. A little hint – before unloading your right wing horsewaste, read the article AND the comments. I also suggest you don’t practice your ad hominem, monkey scat throwing act here. It’s embarrassing and sadly predictable.

  9. Obama did not fully explain the sequester did he? He did not mention why we would have to cut off college tuition programs for our soldiers returning from Iran with missing arms and legs did he? Did he say that we would STILL be spending millions each year to legalize gay marriage in other states and expand gay rights however? The money to spend on Lawmaker paychecks comes from the same department of treasury that will no longer fund college tuition for troops. Oh you think that lawmakers work for free writing new legislature for gay rights expansion programs? That money has to come from somewhere and it is called the department of treasury. We cant support the troops and gay marriage at the same time. Its now being called a sequester.

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