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The Difference Between April and November Fools

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After Pope Benedict reiterated the Vatican's long-standing condemnation of the United States' 50-year-old embargo of Cuba, I noticed some chatter in social media that maybe the remarks could lead to a change in U.S. policy. After double-checking to make sure that pigs were not flying outside, I resigned myself to the fact that the longest embargo in U.S. history was just a sad fact of life in American politics.

The embargo is estimated to cost the U.S. economy between $1-4 billion each year; and not only has it failed to convince the Cuban government to abandon Communism but it has given the Castro regime a political scapegoat. No wonder former Reagan Secretary of State George Schultz calls continuation of the embargo "insane." Yet the policy continues, not because there is any grand expectation that next year is the year it finally works, but rather because both parties fear the wrath of Florida's Cuban community should they lift the embargo (even though younger Cuban-Americans oppose the blockade).

The Cuba embargo is one of several fixtures in American politics that requires a suspension of disbelief. Another example can be found in the "cutting taxes raises revenue" argument which, while asserted by both Democratic and Republican administrations over time, was elevated to Republican dogma during the Reagan administration.

David Stockman, the architect of the Reagan tax cuts explains that "the simplistic and reckless idea that the way to stimulate the economy is to cut taxes anytime, anywhere, for any reason... has become a religion, it has become a catechism. It's become a mindless incantation."

An incantation that has been flatly rejected by economists who served under Reagan and G.W. Bush. One such economist is Gregory Mankiw, the head of George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, who labeled those asserting that tax cuts pay for themselves as "charlatans and cranks."

True believers point to the economic recovery and growth in revenue under Reagan, but Stockman contends that the "morning in America" recovery under Reagan was a classic business cycle recovery and that revenues increased both because of the recovery and subsequent tax increases (including the largest tax increase in modern history).

Rejecting this fiction is not inconsistent with conservative principles -- it just means that if they are to be revenue neutral any such tax cuts have to be offset by spending cuts or other revenue. The problem is, however, that Republicans have painted themselves into a corner by signing Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge which limits their options to either offering potentially unpopular spending cuts or simply continuing the fiction that tax cuts pay for themselves.

A final unfortunate fixture in American politics is that there is a real debate as to whether climate change is occurring. A 20-year study commissioned by President George H.W. Bush, which included the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the Defense and State Departments, concluded that "the warming of the climate is unequivocal" and is primarily due to man-made causes. This is also the view of 32 National Academy of Sciences from nation's representing 75 percent of world-wide carbon emissions including China, U.S., Russia, India and Japan.

As Republican weatherman Paul Douglas explains "acknowledging climate change doesn't make you a liberal" since there can liberal and conservative approaches to solving the problem. Yet it has become dogma among Republicans to deny that even this is occurring. Climate Progress' Joe Romm aptly sums it up when he states that "the entire conservative movement, including pundits, think tanks, and politicians, now appears willing to stake the future of humanity on their willful ignorance."

Not only is this dangerous for our planet but its also dangerous for our competitiveness since a corollary to this mindset is a dismissal of alternative energy in favor of traditional fossil fuels. As a result, the United States, which once was far ahead of emerging China and India in Ernst & Young's Renewable Country Attractiveness Index, is now second to China and India is closing the gap.

April Fools' Day is a day for light-hearted hijinks and foolishness without real consequences. Embracing foolishness as public policy is a far different notion altogether. When the consequences mean a loss of billions of dollars or jeopardizes our fiscal health or even the future of our planet, we should not have to wait for pigs to fly before we eliminate these foolish notions from our body politic altogether.