About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Resting on the ever-doubting arms

I have long struggled with my strong sense that both atheism AND religious belief are -- what? -- untenable?  Hubristic?  Existentially lazy?

But if I think that, then is there a 3rd thing, or a synthesis of some kind?  My instincts lead me to believe that that ambiguous middle ground is all there is, and that refusing to take this on board reflects a fundamental lack of seriousness about our mortality.  And our limits.

So what is that third thing, since it seems to saturate the way I live in the world?

And then I ran across this last night, while reading Magee's wonderful book. He nails my view precisely:
"Not being religious myself, yet believing that most of reality is likely to be permanently unknowable to human beings, I see a compelling need for the demystification of the unknowable. It seems to me that most people tend either to believe that all reality is in principle knowable or to believe that there is a religious dimension to things.
A third alternative—that we can know very little but have equally little ground for religious belief—receives scant consideration, and yet seems to me to be where the truth lies. Simple though it is, people have difficulty getting their minds round it. In practice I find that rationalistic humanists often think of me as someone with soft-centered crypto-religious longings while religious people tend to see me as making token acknowledgement of the transcendental while being actually still far too rationalistic.
What that means is that each sees me as a fellow-traveller of the other—when in fact I occupy a third position which neither of them seems to see the possibility of, and which repudiates both. What I want very much to see are two mass migrations, one out of the shallows of rationalistic humanism to an appreciation of the mystery of things, the other out of religious faith to a true appreciation of our ignorance."
—Brian Magee, Confessions of a Philosopher: A Personal Journey through Western Philosophy from Plato to Popper
I first read Magee's book a few years ago, and was just leafing through it last night. Lo and behold, the 2007 version of Mark underlined that passage above. In the crazy Venn diagram that graphically depicts my intellectual and spiritual wanderings, some things appear to consistently overlap -- beginning with the theological introspections sparked by my Bar-Mitzvah, continuing through my interest in existentialism in my 20s (which seems to be re-emerging), confronting religious calls for social justice while teaching at Jesuit institutions in my 30s, and my mid-40s efforts to grapple with mortality (my own, and my wife Shana's).

Is Hope really the thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson teaches us?  Or is it Doubt?  Or are doubt and hope two sides of the same coin?  Surely one cannot "perch in the soul" without the other.

Until just a few years ago, I signed all of my emails off with the following quote, which expresses an approach to the world which I still embrace:
"Skepticism, contrary to widespread error, makes everything possible again: ethics, morality, knowledge, faith, society, and criticism, but differently - a few sizes smaller, more tentative, more revisable and more capable of learning and thus more curious, more open to the unexpected." Ulrich Beck, Democracy Without Enemies (1998)
Of course, one argument that religious people bring up all the time in response to this is the possibility of morality. How can we make judgments about moral action, in the absence of the certainty that faith provides? I suppose the 'rationalistic humanists' of which Magee writes would offer a variation of the same objection.

This is of course a huge topic, and I have too much grading to do to go into it at too much length. So I will let UMass-Amherst philosopher Louise Antony do most of the work for me, here.

The key points in her inspiring thought-piece follow below. To me, they echo the same life-affirming acceptance of doubt, existential humility and human mortality that one finds in Albert Camus and Walt Whitman -- my two favorite thinkers [emphasis added]:
"I gather that many people believe that atheism implies nihilism — that rejecting God means rejecting morality. A person who denies God, they reason, must be, if not actively evil, at least indifferent to considerations of right and wrong. After all, doesn’t the dictionary list “wicked” as a synonym for “godless?” And isn’t it true, as Dostoevsky said, that “if God is dead, everything is permitted”? Well, actually — no, it’s not. (And for the record, Dostoevsky never said it was.) Atheism does not entail that anything goes...
We “moralistic atheists” do not see right and wrong as artifacts of a divine protection racket.  Rather, we find moral value to be immanent in the natural world, arising from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings and from the capacities of rational beings to recognize and to respond to those vulnerabilities and capacities in others..."
This of course echoes Whitman in "Song of Myself," albeit without the Buddhist-inflected wager on reincarnation about which the bard of Brooklyn chants:
“A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he. 
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven...
What do you think has become of the young and old men? And what do you think has become of the women and children? 
They are alive and well somewhere, The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceas'd the moment life appear'd. 
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, 
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.” 
Surely one doesn't have to live in the world long to notice that self-described 'religious' people have no monopoly on moral action.  Indeed, as a historian, I think the burden of proof is on the faithful here, not the doubters.  But Antony has more important points to make here.  She argues that even the faithful must accept that morality can and does stand apart from a divine being:
"It is only if morality is independent of God that we can make moral sense out of religious worship.  It is only if morality is independent of God that any person can have a moral basis for adhering to God’s commands. 
Let me explain why. First let’s take a cold hard look at the consequences of pinning morality to the existence of God. Consider the following moral judgments — judgments that seem to me to be obviously true:
• It is wrong to drive people from their homes or to kill them because you want their land.
• It is wrong to enslave people.
• It is wrong to torture prisoners of war.
• Anyone who witnesses genocide, or enslavement, or torture, is morally required to try to stop it.

To say that morality depends on the existence of God is to say that none of these specific moral judgments is true unless God exists. That seems to me to be a remarkable claim. If God turned out not to exist — then slavery would be O.K.? There’d be nothing wrong with torture? The pain of another human being would mean nothing?"
Of course, none of us actually knows whether God exists -- not the believer, and not the atheist either.  To me, this is why agnosticism (and the existential humility that follows from it) is the only serious moral stance for mortal beings to take in this world.

Antony concludes, with what I find to be an affirming argument about the importance of human choices [emphasis added]:
"So what about atheism? What I think all this means is that the capacity to be moved by the moral dimension of things has nothing to do with one’s theological beliefs. The most reliable allies in any moral struggle will be those who respond to the ethically significant aspects of life, whether or not they conceive these things in religious terms. You do not lose morality by giving up God; neither do you necessarily find it by finding Him.
 I want to close by conceding that there are things one loses in giving up God, and they are not insignificant. Most importantly, you lose the guarantee of redemption. Suppose that you do something morally terrible, something for which you cannot make amends, something, perhaps, for which no human being could ever be expected to forgive you. I imagine that the promise made by many religions, that God will forgive you if you are truly sorry, is a thought that would that bring enormous comfort and relief. You cannot have that if you are an atheist. In consequence, you must live your life, and make your choices with the knowledge that every choice you make contributes, in one way or another, to the only value your life can have.  
Some people think that if atheism were true, human choices would be insignificant. I think just the opposite — they would become surpassingly important."
So how was that for a holiday post, eh?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Norah Jones covers Wilco's 'Jesus etc'

No politics here, at least not in any direct sense.  As many of you know, I am a huge Wilco fan.  And there is no more stirring Wilco song to hear live than 'Jesus etc,' off the remarkable Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album.

Norah Jones covered it at a benefit for the Bridge School back in 2008 -- powerfully.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Three-60: A few ideas about renewing opportunity

As many of you know, GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain has proposed a reform to our tax system: the '9-9-9' plan.  Go take a look at it.  The plan calls for a 9% income tax, 9% national sales tax and 9% corporate income tax.  Cain says it would create tax equality and stabilize federal finances.  

Think of this as a descendent of Steve Forbes' 'flat tax' proposal of a few years ago, with all of the same drawbacks -- it will starve the federal government of funds, it will heavily shift the tax burden in a regressive direction, it is based on a simplistic notion of 'fairness,' and it is based on a misdiagnosis of what ails the American opportunity structure.

I'm not going to pick apart Cain's idea here.  Much.  I'm sure he figured that if 9-9-9 can sell large 1 topping pizzas,  it must signal some kind of grand universal Pythagorian harmony.  The plutocrats who dominate his party will like it, because it drastically cuts their taxes.  The Club for Growth types will favor it, because it proposes to drown the federal government in 9 inches of bathtub water.  And the religious right will be ecstatic, since it turns Satan's numbers upside-down.  It is conveniently in sync with the only tool in the conservative tool box -- shrinking government.  

It is said that if your only tool is a hammer, pretty soon every problem will begin to resemble a nail.  But of course, not every problem is a nail.  In this particular case, the 'hammer' Cain is swinging so wildly bears substantial responsibility for the current mess, and will cripple our ability to provide some measure of security and opportunity for most of our citizens now and in the future.  American conservatism seems to have become a kind of political auto-immune disease, systematically stripping us of the power and resources to address common needs and threats.  Cain et all seem to be swinging their hammer in a fit of nihilistic pique, caring little for what gets smashed.  Its an odd place for conservatives to be, isn't it?

One can, of course, understand the appeal of simple answers to seemingly complex questions.  Our politics is filled with a full metal jacket of these magic bullets -- from 'drill baby drill,' to high stakes testing of public school kids (and now, implicitly, of their teachers).   The principle of 'Occam's Razor' is too often interpreted to mean that simpler explanations and solutions are generally better than complex ones.  But there is a difference between 'simple,' and 'simplistic,' and what Occam's Razor really provides us is a heuristic for assigning the burden of proof.  

A 'simple' solution is only preferable if its explanatory power and empirical validity is equal to or greater than a solution of greater complexity.  'Creationism' is a less complex explanation for the existence of human beings than evolution is, after all.  Believers in Creation don't have to follow or understand complex causal chains, or grapple with the inevitability of randomness, or contemplate a universe that lacks a telos (a purpose) or prime mover (or has one that isn't discoverable by us).  Or worry about how Noah found room on the Ark for all those dinosaurs, and did so without sinking.  

At a certain point, don't we have a moral responsibility to be intelligent?

Anyway, my purpose here isn't to explore logical fallacies, or dissect the phenomenological flaws of the conservative mind.  Nor is it to directly critique Cain's proposal, which I believe is too simplistic to be worthy of consideration.

Rather, I wish to make a downpayment on a more empirically sound version of Cain's 9-9-9.  This is very much a first run at this.  I'll come back with more links to research, and tweak a few things.  But what follows is coherent enough to provoke conversation.

Let's try Three-60.  

I've listed three ideas below.  In each case, we generate $60 billion in additional federal revenue per year, and then aim that money at vital public investments of similar cost that will make all of us wealthier in the end, in every sense.  As an added bonus, the regressive tax shifting of the past 3 decades will be somewhat reversed, and each of the 3 ideas would stimulate the economy and create jobs, immediately.
None of these ideas is rooted in wishful thinking; in each case, there is ample research to demonstrate the multiplier effects.  I will fill in more details on this research as this post grows and expands.  

I'm sure we can come up with a catchy slogan -- 'complete the circle,' etc etc.  

1.  The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy go, and we get new 21st century public schools (and 0.5 million jobs):

REVENUES:  Raise $60 billion a year, by eliminating the Bush tax cuts for those with incomes above $250,000, returning the top rate to 39.6%, as it was under Clinton.  This would raise approximately $60 billion a year, while affecting less than 2% of households.  Politically this is the easiest of the 3 tax reforms I propose here, because it simply requires Congress to do nothing.  I think they can do that, don't you?

INVESTMENTS:   Use the $60 billion above to address the backlog of repairs and deferred maintenance at the nation's 100,000 public schools...and create 0.5 million construction jobs in the process.  The 21st Century School Fund, the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have recently proposed the Fix America’s Schools Today (FAST) program, which is what I'm advocating here.  Hammered by the recession, local governments are unable to do this themselves; indeed, many of them have been laying off teachers and deferring maintenance, both of which are expensive to all of us in the long run.  Even if states and localities do attempt to pay for such things, they will mostly do so by increasing property and sales taxes, which land much more heavily on ordinary American families and small businesses than the federal ones I'm tweaking here.  Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced a variation on the FAST program back in September, for only $30 billion.  Let's double it, and consistently devote the revenues raised each year by my proposal above to a kind of educational infrastructure bank.  This shouldn't be a one-shot stimulus, but rather an ongoing effort to maintain and improve our entire public school infrastructure -- and expand it, as I argue in #2 below.  This will create jobs, improve public education, and relieve states and localities of financial burdens.  What's not to like?

2.  Reform the estate tax, and we get a world class system of universal and public early education.

REVENUES:  The United States now has the greatest concentration of wealth in the hands of  the rich in nearly a century. As billionaire Warren Buffett reminds us, “Without the estate tax, you in effect will have an aristocracy of wealth, which means you pass down the ability to command the resources of the nation based on heredity rather  than merit.”

The estate tax is a tax on the transfer of assets at death -- a tax on inherited wealth, in other words.  We could eliminate it for those with estates under $2 million ($4 million for a couple), and use graduated rates for estates above that size (let's say 45% on the taxable portion below $10 million, with an additional 10% tax on the amount above that).  This would raise between $40 billion and $60 billion a year.  It would affect no more than 1 of every 200 estates, and would have a variety of positive effects beyond the revenue it would raise (and beyond the useful things we might purchase with that money -- see below).

INVESTMENTS:  According to Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University, approximately $60 billion a year would pay for universal preschool for all 3-and-4-year-olds, with relatively small class sizes.  Spending on early childhood development and education is perhaps one of the best examples of positive public investment.  Indeed, I would argue, it is the single most important social policy of the 21st century -- a moral and economic imperative on a par with addressing global warming.  James Heckman, a Nobel laureate at the University of Chicago, has written extensively about the economic benefits of high-quality early education.  David Kirp usefully synthesized some of this research in his readable 2009 work, The Sandbox Investment.  

Extensive economic and cognitive research has demonstrated that investments in early childhood development (particularly before the age of five) have very high (and long-lived) returns at very low levels of risk.  An individual’s success in the labor market and quality of life is strongly influenced by their first years in childhood. The long-term benefits of early investment in child development, particularly in disadvantaged youth, include lower spending on remedial and special education, lower spending on health interventions, increased school completion and higher academic achievement, higher incomes (and therefore tax payments), lower spending on means-tested income assistance, and lower criminal justice costs.  The returns (the 'multiplier effects') are estimated to be between $13 and $17 per dollar spent on early education.

Aside from the obvious long-term benefits above, I can think of 2 other more immediate advantages of this.

First, it is stimulative.  Because many states presently lack a public early education infrastructure, expenditures over the first few years would be heavily weighted toward construction and the hiring of teachers...thus boosting employment.  Also, by providing free child care, universal public early education would relieve an enormous economic burden for young working families, thus increasing demand in the economy.  

Second, the American opportunity structure is fundamentally broken, and this proposal would move us toward a repair.  American children can go to public school from kindergarten through high school, at no cost to their parents.  While there are many ways in which public schooling has historically reproduced social and economic inequalities, rather than erasing them (race is the most obvious example), for much of the century after the end of the Civil War it served the dual purposes of social mobility and economic growth reasonably well, at least for white Americans.  

Over the past 30 years, however, it has become increasingly necessary for American parents to extend the education of their children both backwards and forwards in time -- for 2 or 3 years before kindergarten, and 4 (or more) years after high school.  While k-12 is free, the burden of paying for these additional years falls almost entirely on individual families.  Since early childhood education and college education are so incredibly important for (in the first case) cognitive and social development, and for human capital and earning capacity (in the second case), AND because their costs have increased far faster than incomes have, we have essentially privatized the link between education and opportunity in the US.  And because we have privatized it, we have mainlined inequality straight into the heart of our opportunity structure.  We can already see its effects, and there is nothing in place at present to check it.  I cannot stress this point enough, and one must take a long historical view to see it.  The fault lines of racial inequality have always permeated our educational system, even as we moved away from the formal apartheid set-up under which we lived for so long.   They are still there, embedded within our social geography (housing and school segregation), and we have done very little to reverse it since the Milliken decision in the mid-70s.  These racial inequalities have now been joined (and reinforced) by class inequalities.

My father and I originally proposed something like this back in our 2005 book, in part because the politics of it are just so elegant.  As Warren Buffett and Elizabeth Warren have both argued recently, the wealthy have attained their elevated status in part because of the social wealth and public investments of their fellow citizens.  A recognition of that inter-dependence fits nicely with the idea of 'paying it forward.'  The wealthy not only pass on the overwhelming majority of their privilege to their children -- they pass it on to all American children, and thus to the society which enabled them to live so well.  Hard to argue with, no?

3.  A new tax bracket for income over $2 million, and make college free for about 80% of full-time students.

REVENUES:  Raise $60 billion a year, by creating a new top tax bracket (let's say, 50%), which would be levied on income over $2 million.  This would also raise approximately $60 billion a year.

INVESTMENT:  Around 80% of full-time college students in the U.S. attend either four-year public universities, or two-year schools.  Approximately 2.5 million students are enrolled full-time at two-year colleges, paying around $18 billion in tuition, fees, room and board (minus financial aid).  4.7 million are enrolled at public four-year colleges, paying in the neighborhood of $47 billion each year.    

Thus, creating a new tax bracket for income above $2 million would enable four out of every five full-time college students to go to school for free, at present costs.  

I'm a little less excited about this one, because there are some complications.  Three leap to mind.  

For one, the cost of higher education has risen faster than inflation for decades now.  There is a danger that this proposal would effectively subsidize universities unnecessarily, and even create incentives for further price increases.  Or, to put it more mildly, it accepts the present cost structure, instead of seeking to change it.  Of course, massive federal participation would presumably create leverage for serious change, particularly if (as I propose here) the funding is aimed at students attending public universities, not private ones.  And if the money goes to students and their families -- not the universities themselves -- then perhaps they can put the power of choice and competition to work.  

Second, the federal subsidies I'm proposing here would presumably go to every student, including those who come from families that can afford to pay for school themselves.  One imagines that the subsidies could be scaled in some way to address this, or taxed back, perhaps.

Third, by advocating this idea, I don't want any readers to think that I believe that sending every American to college is the answer to the inequality and economic stagnation of the past 3 or 4 decades.  I don't.  Our economy doesn't generate enough living wage jobs; our public and private social safety net has become increasingly frayed, leaving a growing percentage of Americans vulnerable to economic insecurity; class inequalities are not only increasing, but are being reinforced and exacerbated by our educational and health care systems, as well as our tax system.  Sending more kids to college won't solve this.  Or, to put it differently, the problem with the American economy isn't its workers.

These caveats aside, I do think the benefits of doing this would be huge.  Let's list just a few:
*  Perhaps this is the most obvious benefit, but it would clearly increase the knowledge and critical thinking skills of millions of young adults, with all the likely social, political and economic gains this will bring
*  In a labor market which increasingly uses higher education as the gatekeeper -- the obstacle that must be leapt in order to gain access to economic security and the primary social goods we need to be truly free -- this proposal will help to reverse the stunning class inequalities of American higher education.
*  Most college students graduate today with between $20,000 and $30,000 worth of debt, not including credit card debt.  This has a series of cascading effects, shaping decisions about career choice, family formation, entrance into the housing market, the purchase of health care, etc.  Relatedly, many parents spend down their home equity and their retirement funds to send their children to college and keep them there.  If college is fully funded, this releases demand into the economy.  In 1979, Pell Grants covered 75% of the cost of a four-year public university education; today, they cover less than a third.  This proposal reverses the trend.
*  Free college would enable students willing and able to do so to pursue graduate and professional education, because they won't have to immediately get to work to pay off debt.  It will also enable many graduates to go into professions that are less profitable, but of great social value -- like teaching, for example.

Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Art of Almost (thanks Wilco), or the screaming chasm between ought and is...

Wish I could claim authorship on this one (thanks Paul Krugman), but I lack the imagination.  Pretty much sums up my position on our economic situation -- the problem is political, not intellectual or analytical:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Why won't they act in Washington?

I don't normally like to just directly cut and paste text from someone else's blog, but I'm going to do so this morning.

Ezra Klein (and Kevin Drum) have succinctly summed up my frustration with the present state of things in Washington, below.  It is one thing, as Klein indicates, for us to face a crisis that could not have been anticipated, and for which there is no reasonable remedy.

But that is not the case here.  The further decline in the American standard of living that we are about to face over the next decade (and which may occur in Europe too, for the same reasons) can only be attributed to political short-sightedness and economic illiteracy on the part of the GOP, and rank cowardice on the part of the Obama Administration.

At least Elizabeth Warren is running for the US Senate seat in Massachusetts.  I know Warren a little bit -- she blurbed my book a few years back -- and she will speak truth to power.

Read all of it, from Ezra Klein today:
"Over the last month, the Dow has lost more than 1,500 points. That's, well, a lot. And it's not because a hedge fund blew up or an earthquake cracked California off into the Pacific or because esoteric trading algorithms went haywire. The stock market has suffered big losses because of real fears about the real economy: concerns that growth is grinding to a halt and that the American political system isn't trustworthy and that the Europeans can't get their act together and that austerity is going to start too soon and that the unemployed are simply going to remain that way. Concerns that we're facing, in Morgan Stanley'selegant phrase, a "policy-induced slowdown."

So there is plenty for Congress to do, and plenty that has happened in recent months to shock them into action. But they are not acting. There is no evidence that slowing growth, stagnant joblessness, or market turmoil has moved anyone on the Hill into thinking the economy needs even a whisper of added support. If anything, positions are hardening. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sent his members a memo arguing they could help end policy uncertainty by “stopping the discussions of new stimulus spending.” This is what Morgan Stanley was worrying about when it worried that America might tip back into recession because of “an automatic tightening fiscal policy if, as our US team currently assumes, this year’s fiscal stimulus measures will expire.”

What should happen next is not that hard: Congress should pass legislation greatly increasing support for the economy now and reducing the deficit by about $4 trillion over the next 10 years ($3 trillion once you include the discretionary cuts in the debt deal). It's not rocket science, and it shouldn't be partisan. Ask ex-Reagan adviser Martin Feldstein, or ex-Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson -- or read Jackie Calmes asking them -- and you'll hear the same thing. This is just standard economic theory. But Republicans in Washington are not going to apply it.

If this isn't driving you to despair, you're not paying attention. Unfortunately for him, Kevin Drum is paying attention: "Watching the world slide slowly back into recession without a fight, even though we know perfectly well how to prevent it, is just depressing beyond words. Our descendents will view the grasping politicians and cowardly bankers responsible for this about as uncomprehendingly as we now view the world leaders who cavalierly allowed World War I to unfold even though they could have stopped it at any time."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Santows in Bologna (July 14th to August 7th, 2011)

Our main base during our 24 days in Italy was the city of Bologna, in the province of Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy.  As you can see below, Bologna is not far from Florence or Venice.  It is also close to Pisa, Verona, Modena, and the Chianti region of Tuscany.  We visited all of these places before leaving for London on August 7th!

While Shana and I have both been to Italy before (we honeymooned there), neither of us has ever been to Bologna.  My UMD colleague Matt Sneider has traveled there many times on research over the years, and always waxed rhapsodic about it.  As you will see below, it is a lovely old city, and it is nicely situated for further explorations of other parts of the country.  Indeed, as we later realized, because it is a hub for Ryan Air, cheap travel to North Africa and the rest of Europe is at your fingertips!  The day we were flying out, we realized that we could have been in Marrakesh in just under 2 hours (how cool is that?).  Next time...

We decided early on that renting an apartment would be better than staying at a hotel.  It is of course cheaper, but it would also enable us to better immerse ourselves in daily life.  Since Bologna is renowned for its terrific locally-sourced markets, having a kitchen would allow us to make good use of them.  Our first choice was to swap places with an academic -- they would stay at our house in Providence, while we stayed at their apartment in Bologna.  To that end, we joined a couple of academic sabbatical websites.  While we didn't do a home exchange, what we did do worked out perfectly:  we found a wonderful family to rent our house, and a terrific apartment to rent in Bologna.  Mortgage and rent roughly canceled one another out...

Our apartment is right in the centro, near Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the medieval city.  Via Rizzoli, Via Ugo Bassi and Via dell'Indipendenza all meet at the Neptune Fountain, adjacent to the Piazza.  Via dell'Indipendenza leads right to the train station...and the rest of Europe, really.  Virtually all of the bus lines had stops on or near the Piazza, though the city is remarkably dense, and thus walkable.

In the map below, you will find the Piazza Maggiore roughly in the middle, just to the left of the two towers.  Our apartment is just south and west of the Piazza.

Even better, our apartment (with 3 bedrooms and a lovely little courtyard) is owned by an American photographer with two little kids, Elizabeth Garvey.  Elizabeth was a vital source of information, advice, and leads on babysitters!

Bologna sits at the foot of the Apennine mountains, in one of the richest regions in Italy.  It is also much less touristed (and thus somewhat less expensive) than Florence, Venice or Rome.

Do you like tortellini, lasagna, prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, and Bolognese sauce?

Then the Bologna region is your kind of place.

Do you like high-end shopping under shaded porticos?

Going home to rest between 1:00 and 4:00 pm, so you can eat, drink and chat late into the night?

Climbing ancient towers,  & finding extraordinary churches & public art in hidden piazzas?

Eating the best pasta, cured meat, and gelato in your life?

I thought so.

The first description one generally hears of Bologna is the following:

Bologna la Dotta:  the Learned -- it contains the oldest university in Europe
Bologna la Rossa:  the Red -- generally refers to the city's leftist politics, and its red-hued buildings
Bologna la Grossa:  the Fat -- because the city and region are obsessed with food

Is it any wonder that I was drawn to it?  Food, books, and leftist politics?  Sounds like heaven...and looks like it too, as all of Shana's photographs clearly convey below.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Santows in Venice, July 16 to 18, 2011

Bologna, of course, was to be our Italian home for just over 3 weeks.  But our first real destination after Paris was Venice -- for the Redentore festival.

The Redentore, like most Venetian celebrations, seems to combine the sacred and the profane (or, if you prefer, piety and party).  It honors the end of the plague of 1577, one of the city's worst.  In an age before clean water, contagion and public health were fully understood, cities were frequently devastated by plagues and outbreaks of disease.  This was true well into the 19th century, in the US and elsewhere.  Venice was particularly vulnerable, because it was an island, and it was so well connected to other places through trading ships.  The 1577 plague is believed to have been caused by flea-infested mice brought over on Venetian ships returning from Asia.  One popular story, perhaps true, is that the plague was brought to an end when hundreds of cats were brought in from Syria.  Many at the time (and since) think that constant public devotions by the survivors in Venice's many churches did the trick.

History aside, the Redentore is celebrated with a massive fireworks display, and a huge city-wide party, most of it taking place on a makeshift flotilla of boats loosely attached to one another.  What better way to celebrate the end of a plague than to drink and blow sh*t up?  How could we be in Italy, and miss that?

Shana, as always, captured the essence of Venice -- and our visit -- in photographs.  To see more pictures, go to

Our hotel, the Caneva, was a bed and breakfast near the Rialto and Piazza San Marco:

Maya, on our balcony over-looking a canal

A view from the lobby of our hotel

Venice, as I'm sure you know, is a remarkably unique city.  There are no streets, in the modern sense -- at least not any passable by cars.  Transportation is either on foot, or on boats.  It is also next to impossible to find your way around Venice without a map.  In my experience, most visitors just voluntarily lose themselves in the maze.  That's really the best way to see Venice, because there are constant surprises around every corner.   It is a heavily touristed city -- the permanent population is small, and getting smaller as the island sinks and the water rises -- but one can suddenly and inexplicably find yourself alone, if you wander far enough.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Santows in Paris, July 7th to July 14th

Thursday July 7th

Our Eurostar arrived at Gare du Nord in Paris in the evening, and we took a cab to the apartment. While Mark was once capable of reading French philosophy and literature in the original language, his ability to actually speak the language -- which was never great to begin with -- was immediately tested.  If only I could just wave a copy of Camus' The Rebel at people, and smile stupidly...and have all of my thoughts and desires instantly conveyed.  Well, most of them, anyway.

Our apartment is well equipped, though very cozy.  The bedroom (which we gave to the kids) is light and comfortable.  Shana and I will sleep on the sofa bed in the living room/kitchen portion.  This will enable us to have access to the TV and fridge while the kids are sleeping.  We could also sneak out for a glass of wine around the corner too.

A few views of our Montmartre apartment, and its immediate surroundings, courtesy of Shana:

The kids, playing with Snickers and Rayna -- our constant stuffed companions on the trip (the animals, not the children)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Santows in London

Day One:  London

We landed late last night (London time) after an uneventful flight.  We were greeted by rain (in London?  A tiger, in Africa?).

This morning...a private black taxi tour of Harry Potter's London!

Our tour guide and driver, a lovely chap named Dave, drove in from his home in Stratford-on-Avon just to show us around.  Among other things, we saw Sirius Black's house on Grimauld Place, the entrance to the Ministry of Magic, and of course Platform 9 3/4 (which is at King's Cross Station, a block or two from our hotel).

And just in case you think we Santows have an unhealthy obsession with all things Potter...there are already people camping out at Trafalgar Square for the red carpet premiere of the last Potter movie, which isn't until 4pm tomorrow!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Thoughts on Patriotism, from 2003, at the dawn of the Iraq war

A travel day for me, so I thought I'd give you the piece below, in honor of July 4th.  It is a talk I gave on March 26th, 2003 at St. Al's church at Gonzaga University, Spokane WA -- just as the invasion of Iraq was gearing up.  The occasion was a university-wide peace service.  I think most of it holds up pretty well, eh?

A 12 year-old school girl in Maine wrote the following essay last year for her 6th grade class:
“The American flag stands for the fact that cloth can be very important. It is against the law to let the flag touch the ground or to leave the flag flying when the weather is bad. The flag has to be treated with respect. You can tell just how important this cloth is because when you compare it to people, it gets much better treatment. Nobody cares if a homeless person touches the ground. A homeless person can lie all over the ground all night long without anyone picking him up, folding him neatly and sheltering him from the rain.

School children have to pledge loyalty to this piece of cloth every morning. No one has to pledge loyalty to justice and equality and human decency. No one has to promise that people will get a fair wage, or enough food to eat, or affordable medicine, or clean water, or air free of harmful chemicals. But we all have to promise to love a rectangle of red, white, and blue cloth.

Betsy Ross would be quite surprised to see how successful her creation has become. But Thomas Jefferson would be disappointed to see how little of the flag's real meaning remains.”

As an opponent of this war, and an American historian, I have spent a great deal of time recently agonizing over what patriotism demands of us. Like millions around this nation, my acts of protest before the war began have inspired accusations of disloyalty; even within the anti-war movement, many have said that all protests must stop once the first shots are fired – that patriotism demands that we support the troops, and unify behind our leaders and our soldiers. I do not agree. Or, at the very least, I do not share the same definition of patriotism, nor of ‘support.’ Indeed, it is my patriotism that drives me to speak louder now that the war has begun. The logic is simple. If it is right to oppose a wrong when it is being publicly contemplated, how much more important is it to do so when it is in the process of commission? “When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and the purity of its heart.”

It is not those who protest the war who need to justify themselves. The burden of proof is on the makers of war. As former President Jimmy Carter said recently, “war is sometimes a necessary evil. But it is ALWAYS an evil.” I’d like to share my thoughts on war, patriotism and support of the troops with you this morning. This will not simply be a plea for peace; it will also be a plea to stop THIS war. I can’t help that. I apologize if this talk will seem strident to you, but I believe it is important for those who support this war, and those who oppose it, and those who aren’t sure, to understand how much in common we share.

Why do I oppose this war? There are many reasons, but among the most important is my belief as an American in the rule of law over the rule of force. Under the new Bush Doctrine, a bold military strategy of preemptive attacks–including the possibility of a unilateral nuclear first strike– is intended to prevent any state or group of states from challenging our preeminent role in the world. The war in Iraq is the first application of this doctrine. Preemptive war, however, is unequivocally illegal. This prohibition was incorporated into the United Nations Charter after WWII as the basis for a new system of collective security in which no state retained the unilateral right to attack another–with two specified exceptions: self defense and Security Council authorization.

All of us should consider whether this radical new strategy is good for our country and the world, and whether it best represents what this nation stands for. What would happen in a world stripped of the very laws designed half a century ago to protect humanity from the carnage of unrestrained force? Can pure military might really defend us from evil and secure our freedom at the same time? The passage of the USA-Patriot Act should tell us no.

Before it is too late, we would do well to heed Sir Thomas More’s advice on the rule of law in the play “A Man for All Seasons.”
And when the last law was cut down and the devil turned around on you,
where would you hide, the laws all being flat? Do you really think
that you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?
Why do I believe that it is a patriotic act to protest against this war? There are two visions of America, I believe, with deep roots in our history. One precedes our founding fathers and finds its roots in the harshness of our puritan past. It is very suspicious of freedom, uncomfortable with diversity, unfriendly to reason, contemptuous of personal autonomy. It sees America exclusively as a religious nation. It views patriotism as akin to allegiance to God. It secretly adores coercion and conformity. Despite our Constitution, despite the legacy of the Enlightenment, it appeals to millions of Americans and threatens our freedom, in peace and wartime.

The other vision finds its roots in the spirit of our founding revolution, and in the words of the Declaration of Independence. It loves freedom, encourages diversity, embraces reason and affirms the dignity and rights of every individual. It sees America as a moral nation, neither completely religious nor completely secular. It defines patriotism neither as blind obedience to government, nor as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one's country and one's fellow citizens (all over the world), and as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy.

The admirable obligation human beings feel to their neighbors, their loved ones, and their fellow citizens, all too often becomes confused with blind obedience to government. Most of the evils in world history have come from obedience, not disobedience; from conformity, not from dissent. Unity, stability and order are not the only desirable conditions of social life, even in wartime. There is also justice, meaning the fair treatment of all human beings, the equal right of all people to life, liberty and prosperity. Absolute obedience to law may bring order temporarily, but it may not bring justice. And when it does not, patriotism may require us to disobey the law; and citizens may protest, may rebel, may cause disorder, as the American revolutionaries did in the eighteenth century, as antislavery people did in the nineteenth century, as Chinese students did in the last century, and as anti-war protesters are doing now.

It is this second vision which is my vision, my patriotism. It is the vision of a free society. We must be bold enough to proclaim it, and strong enough to defend it against all its enemies, even during wartime. When he spoke out against the Vietnam war, Martin Luther King explained his protest simply: “I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world.” If we do not speak out in protest, King continued, “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” With Dr. King, I claim, without pretense or apology, a place in the long and honorable tradition of those who demand that American ideals apply to all and oppose the efforts of those, from whatever quarter, who try to reserve them for privileged groups and ignoble causes. The most effective way to love our country, I submit, is to fight like hell to change it. Through most of U.S. history, this brand of patriotism was indispensable to the cause of social change. As the poet Langston Hughes wrote, "Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed. Let it be that great strong land of love where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme; that any man be crushed by one above."

Given this vision of patriotism, what does ‘support the troops’ mean to me?

First, 'supporting the troops' means preparing the nation as a whole to join with the soldiers in equally and justly sharing the burdens of a democratically declared war (though this is not, as of yet, a ‘declared’ war). This should include an ongoing public debate over the rightness, the wrongness, and the feasibility of this war. This means to me, among other things, following the precedent of WWII and initiating economic and fiscal policies that call on all of us to sacrifice, and that support the troops and their families. This would decidedly NOT include a series of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and punishing budget cuts in the programs which provide social and economic security for the American working and middle classes -- who provide most of the soldiers, and build most of our weapons.

Second, 'supporting our troops' means seeing to it that they have jobs, and the means to re-adjust to civilian life upon their de-mobilization. Recently, the Republican majority on the House Budget Committee voted for $25 billion in cuts in the Department of Veterans Affairs budget, and a $204 million cut in the Impact Aid program that supports the education of soldiers' children. 163,000 veterans of the Gulf War continue to suffer from largely unaddressed illnesses from exposure to the fall out from destroyed chemical weapons, ammunition depots, oil fires, depleted uranium and experimental drugs. I question where the compassionate conservative support for our troops will be in a few years time, when they come back home, and seek employment, a union contract, a safe workplace, a living wage, and a labor market and system of higher education free from racial discrimination. History (as well as the President’s budget) tells us the support of our troops will fall somewhat short of this, unless we speak up for them. Supporting the troops doesn’t mean abject silence. It means seeing them as real human beings, with families, with fears, with rights, with opinions, and with moral consciences which will be stretched to the limit by the nature of modern war. And as human beings who will hopefully live long lives upon their return.

Last, and most important: supporting the troops means speaking up on their behalf, and demanding that our elected representatives do so as well. The men and women in our armed forces are duty-bound to follow the orders of our commander-in-chief. That is their job; it is their citizenship duty, and they should be honored and respected for fulfilling it, in an age when too many of us see democracy as a spectator sport. I salute them for their sacrifice on behalf of our nation. I thank them for their willingness to risk their lives. Even as I praise our servicemen and women, however, I regret that the President of the United States has ordered them to start a preemptive war fought without international support. A preemptive, unilateral war is unworthy of the honor and tradition of the U.S. military. Our armed forces should not be invading and occupying other countries. In a democracy, it is we the people that send them to war; it is we, the people, who choose when to bring them home. They die in our name, and they kill in our name. To attempt to cut off public discussion once the war starts – or even to question whether the public has any legitimate say at all – both undermines our essential values, and jeopardizes our soldiers far more than any protest ever could. We cannot shirk this responsibility, nor can we allow others to fulfill it for us. We must speak up for the soldiers, regardless of what we think about the war itself. Do you want to know how to support the troops in wartime? Do not be a cheerleader. Be a citizen. Speak up for them, in all their diversity. When we silence any of us, we silence them as well.

The idea of 'support our troops' is troubling for those who oppose this war, because it is being used by many to hammer dissenting voices into silence. Given my definition of support above, I intend to get louder, not quieter, once the war begins. It is my patriotic duty to do so.

I would like to conclude with the words of Mark Twain:

“Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country- hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Cynicism, government, and subsidiarity

I cross-posted my piece on "Penny-wise and (Rand) Paul Foolish" on RIFuture.org yesterday.  The article below is a response to a commenter, who raised 2 points:
1.  Given the functioning of our public school system in recent decades, isn't my call for universal public pre-k overly optimistic, if not misinformed
2.  Rather than giving the IRS more authority -- since government does very few things well anyway -- should we just simplify the tax code? 
First, your point and mine with regard to the IRS aren't incompatible.  I'm all for simplifying the federal tax code.  It would cut down on abuse, and make enforcement easier.  Unfortunately, pols from across the political spectrum share the responsibility for having made the code so immensely complicated.  

Suzanne Mettler has a really important article in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, in which she points out how tax expenditures and credits have essentially substituted for other forms of policy in recent decades.  My sense is that my fellow liberals are particularly guilty of this.  Unable to win the argument politically for a stronger and more expensive social safety net, or more authoritative regulations, tweaking the tax code seems to have become the apparently 'cost-free' way to make policy that liberals, moderates and many conservatives can agree on.  The problem, of course, is that writing the tax code with a dry erase marker means that someone else can re-write it...and when regs and codes get re-written, it is usually to the benefit of the privileged, outside of the light of public scrutiny.  The tax code is also an awkward and often inefficient tool for making social policy.
 If we simplify -- and lord knows there are lots of ways to do that -- we can return the tax code to its primary purpose, which is of course to raise revenue.  I don't think all purposeful taxes are bad, far from it (I like the estate tax, and a carbon tax, and many others), but simpler would be better...as long as the system retains its progressive nature.  Right now, in terms of actual taxes paid, the American tax system (federal income, payroll, state, property) has lost most of its progressivity.  This is in part responsible for the massive expansion of inequality in this country in recent decades.
Second, your cynicism about government (can we pull off public pre-k; govt spending is nearly always wasteful) was precisely what I was aiming at in my post.  I see the same sentiment from all sides of the political spectrum.  I think that kind of cynicism about government is factually inaccurate, politically dangerous, and -- to be frank -- intellectually lazy.  I don't want to get into public education too much here, but one gets a little tired of the constant laments about the poor quality of the system from liberals and conservatives alike.  The fact of the matter is that the system works well for the vast majority of American school kids.  Where it falls short is in the education of the poor, and students of color.  While obviously some of that is connected to flaws in how we've structured school governance and finance (particularly in cities), as much if not more of it stems from the fact that we have a lot of child poverty in this country, and that we geographically concentrate so much of that poverty, particularly among people of color.  The failures of our public schools are failures of political will, more than they are failures of government as such (in other words, the 'public' part of 'public schools' isn't the issue).
So much of our public discourse has shifted in this direction in recent decades.  One consequence, which I lament even if you don't, is the virtual elimination of liberalism from mainstream political reality.  Another, which we are discovering right now on the debt ceiling, the deficit, the Great Recession, global warming, etc, is that we have rendered ourselves incapable as a nation of grappling with the biggest issues we face.  Other than Obama's health care bill, I find it hard to name any large-scale issue that our federal government has fully addressed since the early 70s environmental legislation.  My point, in the end, was that people across the political spectrum should be able to agree on a basic point (one finds this consensus in other wealthy countries):  that government has certain basic responsibilities, and that progressive forms of taxation are the best way to pay for them. 
Personally, I'm one of those rare left-liberals who finds the Catholic notion of 'subsidiarity' convincing.  American conservatives often argue that subsidiarity is simply a call for smaller government, and more room for the marketplace.  I'm no theologian (I'm not even Catholic), but I think this is a misunderstanding.  It does insist that as many decisions as possible should be left to the local level, where citizens are more likely to be directly engaged.  But at its core is an ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, family and community.  That means larger and more interventionist government where its appropriate, with a preference for decentralization...but only if that best serves the ethical imperative. 
If American conservatives want to criticize poor government, fine -- I'm with them on that.  But when it slides into criticism of governance itself, they lose me. 

Friday, July 01, 2011

Wisdom on inequality from the belly of the beast

This, from Bloomberg today:

Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin told the New America Foundation that economic inequality, caused by stagnating incomes for most Americans and rapid growth in wealth for the richest 1 percent, is hindering the U.S. economic recovery. She described income inequality as "destabilizing," because it "undermines the ability of the economy to grow sustainably and efficiently." “Finding ways to help more Americans safely grow their incomes and net worth in real terms arguably diminishes the destructive influence of income inequality by giving everyone a more secure footing in the economy and the same kind of flexibility and choice available to the more affluent,” Raskin said.

Raskin is hardly the first mainstream economist to see a connection between inequality and today's economic stagnation (Raghuram Rajan got there first) but she is the first one in a policy-making position that I've seen. Wage stagnation, income inequality and economic insecurity have of course dominated the lives of most American families for decades now, long before the Great Recession.  Indeed, one could argue (as Rajan and Robert Reich have) that the inequality may have played a major role in causing the economic downturn.  There is little doubt, however, that it continues to hamper our ability to get out of it.

Unfortunately, the best responses to the effects of inequality and income stagnation on economic demand -- Keynesian fiscal policy, a strengthened safety net, a revived labor movement, and so forth -- are unavailable in the present political environment.  The Fed can do little on its own, though one hopes that Raskin's clarion call is heard over on Capitol Hill...and in the White House, as the days tick down toward debt ceiling day.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Penny-wise, (Rand) Paul foolish -- or, why government often matters

It appears, at times, that American conservatives seem to even deny the possibility that government spending or regulation might actually save money -- either save the government money (a secondary consideration) or save the country money (presumably, the primary goal).  As I noted yesterday, there is now ample empirical evidence that environmental regulation (along with Medicaid) has decreased infant mortality; for decades now, scholars have argued that the 1944 G.I. Bill more than paid for itself as well.  Spending large sums of public money on high quality universal pre-school would reduce all sorts of other economic and social costs, both for the government and for the nation as a whole.  There are, of course, far too many other examples to recount here.

It should be said that cost-benefit analysis should not be the only rubric for measuring whether a government program, tax or regulation is worthwhile.  Take the estate tax, for example:  as Andrew Carnegie and Theodore Roosevelt argued early in the 20th century, the goal was in large part to break up concentrated wealth.  "The man of great wealth owes a particular obligation to the State because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government," Roosevelt told Congress in 1906.  "The prime object should be to put a constantly increasing burden on the inheritance of those swollen fortunes which it is certainly of no benefit to this country to perpetuate."  The revenue it generated was a side benefit.  It is important for liberals to continue to stress that in most cases, most of the time, government works.  Post-New Deal liberalism was founded on 2 core ideas, both of which made sense to many Americans who came of age in the 30s, 40s and 50s:

1)  that disaster (economic, natural, medical) can strike any of us at any time, so we should be willing to share or pool risks; and
 2) that we can and should collectively build and maintain common institutions and goods through the instrument of government.  Like American liberalism more generally, these two assumptions are as conservative as they are liberal -- this explains much of their appeal, in fact.

While one can translate those two core ideas into a purely economic calculus, I think this misunderstands them.  More to the point, it ignores the fact that there are other justifications for government action that are valid as well:  justice, for example.  Public or common goods must be created, protected and enhanced, since private action is unlikely to do so.  And this must be done even if we cannot sufficiently calculate or determine a monetary benefit.  There is a danger, a slippery slope for liberals (and the country) in arguing that only a 'return on investment' constitutes a valid rationale for state action.  For one, if a healthy return cannot be demonstrated, it feeds public resentment of taxation (see my taxaphobia post of a few days ago).

One result has been a surprisingly bi-partisan denigration (and de-funding) of the IRS over the past decade or so.  Little money has been or can be saved by trimming the IRS budget.  Indeed, one can convincingly argue that a big chunk of the present deficit could be erased simply by beefing up IRS capacity, so it can go after individuals and corporations that aren't paying their fair share.   The Government Accounting Office (GAO) recently estimated that approximately $330 billion in federal taxes had never been paid as of the end of fiscal year 2010.  A good chunk of the tax evaders are individuals with "substantial personal assets" including multi-million-dollar homes and luxury cars, the GAO reported.   For every dollar the IRS spends on audits, liens, and property seizures, the government brings in more than $10.  If we spend less on IRS enforcement, as Republicans demand (and to which Democrats too often acquiesce), it costs us.  Obviously it costs our government revenue, but there is another cost, too:  it slowly undermines public faith in the rule of law.  Surely this is an odd position for conservatives to take.  A society that cannot tax itself, and that undermines popular belief in the effectiveness of government, will generate a politics that slowly devours itself -- like an autoimmune disease.  We have certainly reached this point now, haven't we?

The common assumption that any dollar spent by government is inherently wasteful simply flies in the face of evidence, historical and contemporary.

In keeping with this theme, Steven Benen of Washington Monthly usefully points us toward an exchange between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) earlier this week, during a subcommittee hearing on funding the existing Older Americans Act.  Sanders made the point that spending $2 billion to prevent hunger among the elderly should be considered an investment, because it would ultimately save money (for the feds, and overall) on health care and nursing home costs.

Paul was incredulous that any federal program or regulation could be considered an investment.  "It's curious that only in Washington can you spend $2 billion and claim that you're saving money.  The idea or notion that spending money in Washington is somehow saving money really flies past most of the taxpayers."

The brief exchange is worth watching: