Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street Journal’

A Message from the WSJ

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Am I the only one who saw a message in this given the back-and-forth between the owners of the Times and Rupert Murdoch over the place of paying for website content in their business models?

On a related note, James Fallows in The Atlantic has an excellent article on how Google is trying to work with news corporations to find sources of revenue to make their online presence profitable.

Must-Reads of the Week: SWAT, Google’s News Plans, MTA Motto, Peanuts, Tea Party Feminism, Republican Pravda, Fiscal Hangover, New York’s Tyranny, Brooks on the Military, and Facebook Backlash

Friday, May 14th, 2010

1. SWAT antics. Radley Balko does some follow-up reporting on the now infamous video of the SWAT team raid in Missouri in which 2 dogs were shot:

[D]espite all the anger the raid has inspired, the only thing unusual thing here is that the raid was captured on video, and that the video was subsequently released to the press. Everything else was routine… Raids just like the one captured in the video happen 100-150 times every day in America.

2. Google’s News Plans. James Fallows discusses how Google is trying to save the news industry.

3. If you see something… Manny Fernandez in the New York Times discusses the impact and coinage of the ubiquitous phrase, “If you see something, say something.”

It has since become a global phenomenon — the homeland security equivalent of the “Just Do It” Nike advertisement — and has appeared in public transportation systems in Oregon, Texas, Florida, Australia and Canada, among others. Locally, the phrase captured, with six simple words and one comma, the security consciousness and dread of the times, the “I ♥ NY” of post-9/11 New York City. [my emphasis]

4. Artful Grief. Bill Waterson — creator of Calvin & Hobbes — reviewed a biography of Charles Schultz for the Wall Street Journal a few years ago — writing on the ‘Grief’ that Made Peanuts Good. It’s several years old but well worth reading.

5. Tea Party Feminism. Hanna Rosin of Slate evaluates the Tea Party as a feminist movement. And her reporting surprised me at least.

6. Republican Pravda. Jonathan Chait collects a few Weekly Standard covers to illustrate the changing right-wing portrayal of Obama over the past year. He identifies the passage of the health care bill as a turning point:

Now that Obama has won his biggest legislative priority and is closing in on at least one other important win, the tone is change. The hapless patsy has become the snarling bully. The lack of Republican support for Obama’s agenda, once a credit to Republican tough-mindedness, is now blamed upon Obama’s stubbornness. Here is a recent cover of Obama–the nefarious, but powerful, overseer…

7. Fiscal Hangover. Gillian Tett of the Financial Times explains the successful approach the Irish are taking to their fiscal crisis: treat it like a hangover.

8. The Tyranny of New York. Conor Friedersdof complains about the tyranny of New York — but I will excerpt his praise:

Even if New York is a peerless American city, an urban triumph that dwarfs every other in scale, density, and possibility; even if our idea of it is the romantic notion that Joan Didion described, “the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself;” even if you’ve reveled in the fact of the city, strutting down Fifth Avenue in a sharp suit or kissing a date with the skyline as backdrop while the yellow cab waits; even if you’ve drunk from the well of its creative springs, gazing at the Flatiron Building, or paging through the New York Review of Books on a Sunday morning, or living vicariously through Joseph Mitchel or E.B. White or Tom Wolfe or any of its countless chroniclers; even if you love New York as much as I do, revering it as the highest physical achievement of Western Civilization, surely you can admit that its singularly prominent role on the national scene is a tremendously unhealthy pathology.

Despite the rent, the cold, the competition, the bedbugs, the absurd requirements for securing even a closet-sized pre-war apartment on an inconvenient street; the distance from friends and family, the starkness of the sexual marketplace, the oppressive stench of sticky subway platforms in the dog days of August; despite the hour long commutes on the Monday morning F Train, when it isn’t quite 8 am, the week hardly underway, and already you feel as though, for the relief of sitting down, you’d just as soon give up, go back to Akron or Allentown or Columbus or Marin County or Long Beach — despite these things, and so many more, lawyers and novelists and artists and fashion designers and playwrights and journalists and bankers and aspiring publishers and models flock to New York City.

I don’t quite get Friedersdof’s complaint to be honest. What would be improved if there were more sitcoms taking place in Houston?

9. Military Flow Chart. David Brooks analyzes the military’s adaptation of counterinsurgency as a case study in the flow of ideas in entrenched organizations.

10. Facebook Backlash. Ryan Singel of Wired has one of many pieces in the past week fomenting the growing Facebook backlash:

Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination. It’s time the rest of the web ecosystem recognizes this and works to replace it with something open and distributed.

[Image by me.]

Chait v. Seib: “Seib, like Jeffrey Dahmer, is an imperfect human being.”

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Jonathan Chait guts Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal‘s opinion piece trying to be “even-handed” in assessing who is to blame for the current enormous deficits:

[O]ne party has made the probably massively, overwhelmingly worse. And the other party has only taken limited steps toward solving the problem the first party created. They’re both guilty!

One standard to judge the two parties guilt here would be whether they made the problem better or worse. But that would lead to an unacceptable partisan conclusion. So instead the question is changed to, Has either party reduced the deficit as much as would be ideal in a world without political constraints? Thus we can arrive at the comforting, non-partisan answer that both parties have fallen short.

Seib, like Jeffrey Dahmer, is an imperfect human being.

Zing!

Arizona’s Illegal Immigrant Problem Is Shrinking Even As The Hysteria Grows

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

John P. Judis at The New Republic pointed me to a relevant fact that hasn’t been covered much in looking at illegal immigration into Arizona — the number of unauthorized immigrants has been decreasing in the past 2 years and the rate of illegal immigration was at its lowest point in the past decade nationally. See for example this chart from the Office of Immigration Statistics (pdf) in the Department of the Homeland Security Department:

For the more visual, I charted the data to demonstrate the drop:

And of course, the national data as well:

As the Wall Street Journal explained:

The larger reality is that border crossings track the economy. The recent downturn has meant fewer illegal entries and more immigrants going home. Before the law, Arizona’s illegal population had fallen 18% in the past year.

If the undocumented immigrant population is falling — including in Arizona — how then do you account for the increasing hysteria? For all the talk of the thousands killed by illegal immigrants, virtually all of these are mere car accidents which are no different than the car accidents thousands of Americans get into every day. For all the talk of an “increasingly violent” border — and there is some justification for this given the struggle going on in Mexico as the military is waging war on the drug cartels with corruption, violence, and abuse apparently rampant on both sides  – the violence on the American side has been minimal.

The exploitative use of the rancher Robert Krentz’s murder — like the use of the young boy killed in a car accident, Dustin Inman — is a pure propaganda tactic meant to focus anger. Where is the Marcelo Lucero Society dedicated to the immigrant stabbed to death by a group of high school students who had decided to go, “beaner hopping”? Marcelo Lucero was killed a short drive from where I grew up on Long Island — and his case only came to my attention because the FBI was investigating the Suffolk County Police Department for ignoring hate crimes against Latinos and undocumented immigrants.

But why the surge in anger and hysteria now?

The flip side of the Wall Street Journal‘s point is that even as undocumented immigrants leave during economic hard times, the resentment of them grows. As John P. Judis explains:

During the Great Depression, immigration to the United States from Mexico virtually ceased, but states began arresting and deporting Mexicans, many of whom were in the country legally. The Mexican population of the United States fell by 41 percent during the 1930s. And the same kind of thing is happening again.

Keep these numbers in mind as we hear again and again over the coming months of the “invasion” and of how the problem is getting worse.

[This beautiful image of the Arizona-Mexico border fence by ThreadedThoughts licensed under Creative Commons.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Google/China, Liberal American Exceptionalism, The Failed War on Drugs, Defending the Individual Mandate, Counter Counter-Insurgency, Idiocrats, and Men Did It!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

1. Google v. China. I’ve refrained from posting on the Google v. China battle going on until now. So much of the praise for Google’s decision seemed overblown and I wasn’t sure what insight I had to offer, even as I read everything on the matter I could. But now, the wave of criticism of the company is pissing me off. I get the source of the criticism – that Google is so quickly criticizing other companies for staying in China after it left, and that Google’s partial exit may have made business as well as moral sense.  But motives are new pure – we’re human. Those who the critics accuse the company of merely using as a pretext for a business decision see the matter in other terms – according to Emily Parker of the Wall Street Journal, “Chinese twitterverse is alight with words like ‘justice’ and ‘courageous’ and ‘milestone’ “ and condolence flowers and cups being sent to Google’s offices in China.

What the Google/China conflict highlights though is the strategic incompatibility of a tech company like Google and an authoritarian state like China. One of James Fallows’ readers explains why Google and China could never get along:

Internet search and analytics companies today have more access to high quality, real-time information about people, places and events, and more ability to filter, aggregate, and analyze it than any government agency, anywhere ever.  Maybe the NSA can encrypt it better and process it faster but it lacks ability to collect the high value data – the stuff that satellites can’t see.  The things people think but don’t say.  The things people do but don’t say.  All documented in excruciating detail, each event tagged with location, precise time.  Every word you type, every click you make (how many sites do you visit have google ads, or analytics?), Google is watching you – and learning.  It’s their business to.  This fact has yet to sink in on the general public in the US, but it has not gone un-noticed by the Chinese government.

The Chinese government wants unfettered access to all of that information.  Google, defending its long-term brand equity, cannot give its data to the Chinese government.  Baidu, on the other hand, would and does…

The reader goes on to explain how China would slow down and otherwise disrupt Google services in China enough to ensure that Baidu would keep it’s dominant position. This, he explains is:

…just another example of the PRC’s brilliant take on authoritarian government: you don’t need total control, you just need effective control. [my emphasis]

Which is why it is so important that a country like China have constant access to search engine data. In a passage deleted at some point in the editing process from a New York Times story (which an internal Times search reveals to be this one), it was reported that:

One Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that China now speaks of Internet freedom in the context of one of its “core interests” — issues of sovereignty on which Beijing will brook no intervention. The most commonly cited core issues are Taiwan and Tibet. The addition of Internet freedom is an indication that the issue has taken on nationalistic overtones.

2. Liberal American Exceptionalism. Damon Linker of The New Republic responds to critics:

[T]he most distinctive and admirable of all [America's] qualities is our liberalism. Now let me be clear: unlike Lowry and Ponnuru, who identify American exceptionalism with the laissez-faire capitalism favored by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, I do not mean to equate the ideology that dominates one of our country’s political parties with the nation’s exemplary essence. On the contrary, the liberalism I have singled out is embraced by nearly every member of both of our political parties—and indeed by nearly every American citizen. Liberalism in this sense is a form of government—one in which political rule is mediated by a series of institutions that seek to limit the powers of the state and maximize individual freedom: constitutional government, an independent judiciary, multiparty elections, universal suffrage, a free press, civilian control of the military and police, a large middle class, a developed consumer economy, and rights to free assembly and worship. To be a liberal in this primary sense is to favor a political order with these institutions and to abide by the political rules they establish.

3. The War on Drugs Is Doomed. Mary Anastacia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal echoes me saying: The War on Drugs is Doomed. (My previous posts on this topic here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

4. Defending the Individual Mandate. Ezra Klein explains why the individual mandate is actually a really good deal for American citizens:

The irony of the mandate is that it’s been presented as a terribly onerous tax on decent, hardworking people who don’t want to purchase insurance. In reality, it’s the best deal in the bill: A cynical consumer would be smart to pay the modest penalty rather than pay thousands of dollars a year for insurance. In the current system, that’s a bad idea because insurers won’t let them buy insurance if they get sick later. In the reformed system, there’s no consequence for that behavior. You could pay the penalty for five years and then buy insurance the day you felt a lump.

Klein also had this near-perfect post on our unhinged debate on health care reform and added his take to the projections of Matt Yglesias, Ross Douthat, Tyler Cowen on how health care law will evolve in the aftermath of this legislation.

5. Counter-Counter-Insurgency. Marc Lynch describes a document he recently unearthed which he calls AQ-Iraq’s Counter Counter-insurgency plan. Lynch describes the document as “pragmatic and analytical rather than bombastic, surprisingly frank about what went wrong, and alarmingly creative about the Iraqi jihad’s way forward.”

6. Idiocrats Won’t Change. Brendan Nyhan counters a point I (along with many other supporters of the health care bill) have been making (here and here for example) – that once the bill passes, the misperceptions about it will be corrected by reality. I fear he may be right, but I believe it will change opinions on the margins soon and more so over time.

7. Theories of the Financial Crisis: Men Did It. Sheelah Kolhatkar looks at one theory of the financial crisis some experts have been pushing: testosterone and men.

Another study Dreber has in the works will look at the effects of the hormones in the birth-control pill on women, because women having their periods have been shown to act more like men in terms of risk-taking behavior. “When I present that in seminars, I say men are like women menstruating,” she says, laughing…

Positioning himself as a sort of endocrine whisperer of the financial system, Coates argues that if women made up 50 percent of the financial world, “I don’t think you’d see the volatile swings that we’re seeing.” Bubbles, he believes, may be “a male phenomenon.”

His colleague, neuroscientist Joe Herbert, agrees. “The banking crisis was caused by doing what no society ever allows, permitting young males to behave in an unregulated way,” he says. “Anyone who studied neurobiology would have predicted disaster.”

A very interesting thesis. And one that strikes me as broadly true. I previously explored other theories of what caused the financial crisis:

[Image by me.]

Hard to Believe: The Newest Allegation in the Edwards Scandal

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

I wrote about the John Edwards affair a few days ago.  The next phase of this scandal is the book by close Edwards aide Andrew Young who took the blame for the affair with Rielle Hunter and for impregnating her. He since had a falling out with Edwards, and written a tell-all (to pile two clichéd phrases together) – so his most sensationalist claims should be treated with skepticism. From the perspective of the “story” of this scandal though, it was hard to see how the Edwards affair could get more tawdry – how Young’s account what had come before. But as reported by Louise Radnofsky and Susan Davies in the Wall Street Journal, Young clearly has advanced the story even further!

Young describes his alleged discovery of a compromising videotape of Edwards and a naked, pregnant lover, identified by Young as Hunter. “It was like watching a traffic pileup occur in slow motion — it was repelling but also transfixing,” he writes.

I can see the tabloid headline now: Edwards Makes Preggo Porn With New Baby Mama While Wife Dying of Incurable Cancer.

It used to be said that only 2 things could entirely destroy a political career: being found with a live boy or a dead woman. Edwards has apparently added a 3rd category.

[Image by alexdecarvalho licensed under Creative Commons.]

Rooting for a Fiscal Catastrophe

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

The Wall Street Journal editorial board is following the exact playbook I predicted/described Republicans would take in dealing with the coming fiscal crisis.

During those times it had power since 1980, the Republican Party has blown out the deficit while in office by increasing spending for their constituencies (the elderly, big corporations, and the military) while cutting taxes for the wealthy a lot and a bit for everyone else. When out of office, the Republican Party has agitated for “fiscal responsibility” by which it apparently means protecting the status quo of spending while cutting taxes even more (and until the aughts, it also included reducing spending on groups that weren’t part of the Republican base.) This strategy was christened “starve the beast” – and it theoretically will culminate in the moment when government spending is so far above government revenue that no increase in taxes could make up for the difference. Thus a generation in the future (probably mine) will need to suffer through increased taxes with minimal government assistance, discrediting the idea of effective government itself.

Bill Clinton responded when he was handed this mess by fixing the fiscal situation he was handed: shelving his proposed spending, reforming welfare, cutting the budget, and keeping taxes as they were. (In fairness, George H. W. Bush also helped fix Reagan’s fiscal irresponsibility.) Obama proposes something different – to keep the economy growing, to “bend the curve” of health care spending, and with some of the fiscal pressure relieved, then to come to some “grand bargain” which will shore up our fiscal situation.

Looking at the politics of the moment, I predicted that the Republican Party (of which the WSJ editorial board is a primary voice) would want no part of any solutions. They would respond to this challenge from Obama by passing off all the responsibility for the increases in taxes or cuts in spending onto the Democrats (despite the facts shown in the graph below) – and would strive to protect the status quo by defending the privileged position their constituencies have – all the while asserting that fiscal disaster is looming.

This is how the Wall Street Journal framed the issue:

Democrats are candid, at least in private, about the kind of the deal they have mind this time around. Democrats would agree to means-test entitlements, which means that middle and upper-middle class (i.e., GOP) voters would get less than they were promised…

In return, Republicans would agree to an increase in the top income tax rate to as high as 49% and in addition to a new energy tax, a stock transaction tax, or value-added tax. The Indians got a better deal for selling Manhattan.

New taxes will only reduce the pressure to cut future spending…

The Democrats will use a tax-and-spend commission to confront Republicans with the false choice between huge tax increases or fiscal disaster. Republicans should respond with their own choice: They’ll agree to a deficit commission only if it takes tax increases off the table and forces all of Washington to confront the hard spending trade-offs between guns and butter, old and young, the poor and middle class, and social welfare and corporate welfare. Otherwise, Democrats should be forced to defend and finance their own destructive fiscal choices. [my emphasis]

To rephrase what the Journal is saying, “We oppose any changes to the status quo that would hurt anyone who benefits now. Therefore, we want no part of any solutions to the coming fiscal crisis. But it’s the Democrats fault!” For the Journal, fiscal responsibility is cutting spending. Yet they oppose cutting spending on “middle and upper-middle class (i.e., GOP) voters.” And they also have previously opposed cutting spending on the elderly and the military.

For the Republicans, responsible governance – where spending and revenue are matched – is irresponsible.

Given this ideological position, it’s not surprising that what the WSJ is signaling that they wouldn’t mind spending cuts as long as the Democrats take responsibility for them and those who benefit from the status quo don’t have to give up their privileged position. The Republicans are determined to keep the status quo intact until it becomes unsustainable – and in the aftermath of that fiscal catastrophe, remake the nation by cutting back the role of government. In contrast, the Democrats are committed to making the status quo into a sustainable system, while aiding those who are least privileged.

That’s not even getting to the inaccuracies in the framing of the piece (i.e., the lies at the heart of it.) Ezra Klein posted an excellent graph in response to this op-ed pointing out that the “destructive fiscal choices” the WSJ is attributing to the Democrats can be entirely placed on the Republicans.

Beyond the ten year time window in the graph, the entitlement spending budget explodes because of rapidly growing medical costs and an aging population – but that is exactly the rationale for health care reform that “bends the curve” that Democrats have been pushing and the Journal and Republican Party have opposed.

[Image by kevindooley licensed under Creative Commons.]

NBC’s Dr. Nancy Defends Doctors in Breast Cancer Debate: “We are on the verge of becoming a scientifically illiterate country”

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

One of the main competitions in our politics, aside from the liberal versus right-wing, and the establishment versus anti-establishment, is the the competition between technocrats and idiocrats. While technocrats may be ascendant in Obama’s Washington, as policy wonks and experts attempt to solve intractable problems with technical solutions and brainpower and science, the idiocrats, who try to get their agenda through by fooling enough of the people enough of the time, still have a solid hold on the political discussion.

Idiocrats take advantage of that old adage, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” and make sure smoke obscures any issue in which they want to get their way. Rather than respond to their opponents on the merits, they simply describe their opponents and their agenda as the fulfillment of the idiocrat’s worst fears: “Nazi!” “Socialist!” “Communist!” Terrorist!” “America-hater!” “Death panels!” “Government-mandated abortion!” “Reparations!” “Secret Muslim!” “Radical!” For those who are not paying enough attention to the issue to sort through all the competing claims, this extremist rhetoric, while not convincing them, causes them to assume something bad is going on, even if it isn’t as bad as is being claimed.

For example, even as the health care plan Obama has proposed is largely based on previous Republican proposals, and seems to take into account conservative critiques of big government while still making progress towards liberal goals, idiocrats have condemned it in the harshest terms possible, raising every possible fear – from government kidnapping your children and indoctrinating them into socialism, to rationing by death panels, to runaway spending bankrupting the country, to abortion mandates, to the destruction of the employer-based health care system, to the destruction of Medicare. It makes little difference that it is hard to imagine a plan that both rations care brutally and leads to runaway spending, or that everyone acknowledges our current system is on an unsustainable course, or that the measures included in the bills under consideration represent the most significant attempt at cost control in a generation.

Last week, as part of a continuing effort to generate smoke to obscure real issues, the Wall Street Journal editorial board started a deliberate lie to undermine the health care reforms in Congress by claiming (without evidence and contrary to news reports as well as the the recommendation itself) that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – a independent, technocratic organization of doctors started by Ronald Reagan – had changed its recommendations regarding breast cancer prevention as part of Obama’s push to reduce the health care costs. This explosive claim became the focus of the public debate, instead of the recommendations of the report itself and their rationale.

On Sunday, Meet the Press had a typically “even-handed” debate between their own Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder of an organization dedicated to fighting breast cancer. The whole 12 minute segment is worth watching (transcript), as you can see Brinker acknowledging that the task force might be right on the science, but at the same time suggesting that we shouldn’t show any weakness in our war against cancer by suggesting mammograms might not always be a good thing. She made a few valid points, giving certain circumstances in which mammograms would be better than alternatives, but she couldn’t and didn’t dispute the task force’s medical conclusions.

But the piece is truly worth watching for “Dr. Nancy” took on the idiocrats who were muddying the issue and defended the scientific conclusions of the doctors:

DR. SNYDERMAN: [O]ver 1900 women screened over a 10-year period of annual mammograms, one life is saved and there are a thousand false positives, which means ongoing, unnecessary tests.  Now remember, the scientists who did these numbers, their role is, as scientists, to take the anecdotes and the passion and the emotion out of it.  And I recognize that’s hard as part of the message.  But they’re to look at the public health issues of how we screen. And we’ve always known that mammography for women in their 40s has been fraught with problems.  It is not as precise for older women [She meant younger here].  On that Nancy and I have great agreement.  So what their consensus was is that there are a lot of unnecessary screenings for that one life.  Now, if you’re that one life, it’s 100 percent.  I get that.  But their charge as an independent body was to look at the cumulative research as scientists.

Later, as Ambassador Brinker tried to simultaneously politicize the issue while claiming not to be, Dr. Nancy interjected with a righteous defense of science:

The key line that got me:

I would argue that we are on the verge of becoming a scientifically illiterate country if we don’t at times separate [science and politics]…

In a large measure, the promise of Obama, the hope he held out, was to break the hold that idiocrats have over our political debate. Thus far, this is a battle he does not seem to be winning.

That’s What You Get For Trusting a WSJ Editorial

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal had an editorial that got passed around as if it were a news story, insisting that the decision of a board of doctors and scientists to recommend that biannual breast cancer screening only for those between the ages of 50 and 75 “is a sign of cost control to come.” The editorial cited this fact:

But the panel—which includes no oncologists and radiologists, who best know the medical literature—did decide to re-analyze the data with health-care spending as a core concern.

Yet this isn’t what news articles are reporting:

Panel members said politics and questions of cost were never part of their discussions of the risks and benefits of mammograms — in fact they are prohibited from considering costs when they make guidelines.

Or this:

In reaching its recommendations, the task force of doctors and scientists determined that early and frequent mammograms often lead to false-positive readings and unnecessary biopsies, without substantially improving the odds of survival for women under 50.

And it is not the rationale given by the report itself:

The harms resulting from screening for breast cancer include psychological harms, unnecessary imaging tests and biopsies in women without cancer, and inconvenience due to false-positive screening results. Furthermore, one must also consider the harms associated with treatment of cancer that would not become clinically apparent during a woman’s lifetime (overdiagnosis), as well as the harms of unnecessary earlier treatment of breast cancer that would have become clinically apparent but would not have shortened a woman’s life. Radiation exposure (from radiologic tests), although a minor concern, is also a consideration.

Adequate evidence suggests that the overall harms associated with mammography are moderate for every age group considered, although the main components of the harms shift over time. Although false-positive test results, overdiagnosis, and unnecessary earlier treatment are problems for all age groups, false-positive results are more common for women aged 40 to 49 years, whereas overdiagnosis is a greater concern for women in the older age groups.

There is adequate evidence that teaching BSE is associated with harms that are at least small. There is inadequate evidence concerning harms of CBE.

That hasn’t stopped this from becoming a right wing talking point nor from causing concerns among independents uncertain about whom to believe – the statements of the board itself, claiming they focused on science, or the speculating opinions of right wingers, playing into people’s worst fears.

I have some advice for those people on the fence: Read the damn report if you don’t trust the media. Don’t put your blind faith in the often discredited Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Health Care Graphs, Cold War Deer, Evaluating Hillary, An Armey of Tea Baggers, and Rubio

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Kaiser Permanente. Ezra Klein interviewed Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson this week – and got two fascinating posts out of it so far (with the second part of the interview still to come.) The most interesting post for me was the one that included a number of graphs, including this one.  Ezra bills these charts as “An insurance industry CEO explains why American health care costs so much” – which comes down to this fact: in other countries, government set medical fees.

The Cold War Lives On. Cecilie Rohwedder of the Wall Street Journal tells the fascinating story of how several herds of deer still seem to be stuck in the Cold War.

Evaluating Hillary. Joe Klein has a balanced and insightful evaluation of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. It is a bit early – as he acknowledges. But while the piece is worthwhile, he gives too little credit for the positive progress made by Hillary and the Obama administration in checking the deterioration of U.S. interests around the world, especially with regards to public diplomacy.

Armey of Tea Baggers. Michael Sokolove for the New York Times Magazine has a nice profile of Dick Armey, in the news of late for his Freedom Works organization and the tea parties they’ve been organizing. The difference between Armey the public speaker and Armey the man comes out in the story, as Armey the man seems like a bit of an ass, but a reasonable fellow; while Armey the public speaker is a demagogue, for example stating:

Nearly every important office in Washington, D.C., today is occupied by someone with an aggressive dislike for our heritage, our freedom, our history and our Constitution.

The trick of the organizing Armey is attempting is that he extols the virtues of the individual while trying to unite these individuals into a collective “we” who will fight to protect “our heritage, our freedom, our history.” He is speaking the language of a member of a beleaguered minority – while claiming majority support. Political pressure in the right way should relatively easily disturb the balance he is now able to so effortlessly achieve.

Marco Rubio. NPR profiles the man who – if I were betting – is the future of the Republican Party, after it escapes the Sarah Palin death spiral: Marco Rubio. (Listen to the audio of the story if you can.) He’s very conservative – and makes many political mistakes in positioning himself against common sense, which by all rights should come back to haunt him when he is chosen as a Vice Presidential nominee – for example, coming out against the fact that government spending can stimulate the economy. This betrays a basic disregard for macroeconomics, at least when put as unsubtly as Rubio does. But he keeps well within the mainstream of Republican positions on these issues, so as unhinged as those positions may be, he will be insulated from charges of kooky-ness.

But he’s Hispanic; his wife is a former cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins; he’s a darling of the far right, but seems smart enough to tack to the center in a general election campaign – and the fact that he’s already accepted by the far right means he will be able to get away with it; he speaks convincingly of America as a nation of “go-getters;” he seems to have a natural charisma and charm, and is at ease with those who disagree with him; and finally, he’s ambitious as hell and has enough self-regard to believe he can beat the extremely popular Governor Charlie Crist for his Senate seat.