Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

Must-Reads of the Week: Diabolical Republicans, Strategic Patience, Weiner, China, New York City, -20 Questions, & Glenn Beck’s Obsession With Woodrow Wilson

Friday, April 16th, 2010

1. Diabolical Republicans. Noam Scheiber in The New Republic explains how the “diabolical” plan the Republicans have adopted to achieve their fiscal ends (discussed on this blog here) may backfire:

Ever since George W. Bush massively cut taxes back in 2001, squandering much of the $5.6 trillion, ten-year surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton, liberals have assumed that the fiscal game was rigged. Conservatives had been explicit about their starve-the-beast strategy—the practice of creating large deficits through tax cuts in order to force future spending cuts…

“Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn’t enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state,” Krugman wrote. “So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe.”

…I suspect…that Republicans believe precipitating a fiscal crisis will force Democrats to roll back entitlement spending (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), which would be both politically unpopular and the realization of the right’s dearest policy fantasy. It’s an altogether brilliant, if diabolical, plan. Except for one minor flaw: There’s a good chance it could vaporize the GOP.

2. Strategic Patience in the Face of Long-Term Problems. David S. Broder, eminence of the press establishment, apostle of bipartisanship at all costs, proponent of convention, seems to have finally come around to Obama with this trenchant observation:

We are beginning to learn that the Obama presidency will be an era of substantial but deferred accomplishments — perhaps always to be accompanied by a sense of continuing crisis. His vaunted “cool” allows him to wait without impatience and to endure without visible despair. It asks the same of his constituents.

The backdrop of the serious long-term issues facing America is precisely what made Obama’s election so important in the first place — as this blog repeatedly argued. David Rothkopf put the matter in a wide-angled perspective:

[T]he reason the health care reform bill is important is not because it was the first major such piece of social legislation in the U.S. in decades, but rather because it represents the first in what will become by necessity an on-going series of efforts to fix deep and serious defects in the American economy. In a decade or two, this legislation is like to be seen by Americans as the beginning of a lengthy, brutal and spasmodic process to cut deficits and restore America’s leadership prospects in the global economy.

3. Answering Sarah Palin. Anthony Weiner meanwhile has arisen as the Democrat’s answer to Sarah Palin and our sensationalized media moment. (Others might argue for Alan Grayson.)

4. Chinese Predictions. Gordon G. Chang, for World Affairs, explains his argument for why the Beijing consensus cannot last and its power will soon begin to wane.

5. New York’s Neighborhoods. Nate Silver, baseball statistician and political polling expert, turned his skills to rating New York’s neighborhoods. Really interesting for locals.

6. Negative 20 Questions. Jason Kottke describes a game that “resembles quantum physics.”

7. Glenn Beck’s Woodrow Wilson Obsession. David Frum puzzles on why Glenn Beck focuses so much on Woodrow Wilson as the beginning point of all things progressive and source of evils in the modern world. There are so many more logical choices, more progressive historical figures of greater note who are more closely aligned to contemporary progressivism. And then he answers his own question:

Here’s a president who took the United States into a very controversial war, ending in an unsatisfactory peace. In response to a domestic terrorist threat, culminating in a deadly attack in lower Manhattan, this president adopted draconian domestic security policies. Oh – and his administration concluded with an abrupt plunge into severe recession.

Any parallels come to mind?

What’s taking place on Glenn Beck’s show is a coy conservative self-conversation. Maybe it’s because I’m in China now, but it reminds me of the way Chinese intellectuals in the late 1970s would discuss the first Qin emperor, as a way of debating – and denouncing – Mao Zedong without explicitly mentioning a sensitive subject.

[Image by me.]

Obama’s Health Care Reforms are morally decent technocratic improvements

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I hate to quote this much from anyone, but Jonathan Chait’s entire post is brilliant and you should read his entire piece. But for future reference, and so I can always find it, these three paragraphs are what I wish I had written:

The latest Republican gambit, put forward by John McCain (who has become a pure stalking horse for the party leadership) is to demand that no change to Medicare be permitted through budget reconciliation. This means that the very difficult task of getting a majority of both Houses to approve a Medicare cut would become the nearly-impossible task of getting a majority of the House plus a supermajority of the Senate to do the same. Of course, Republicans as well as Democrats have used reconciliation numerous times to wring savings out of Medicare. But this proposal is not just the usual staggering hypocrisy. The immediate purpose is to render Obama’s health care reform impossible. But the long term effect would be to render any Republican reform impossible. How do Republicans propose to fulfill their vision of government when any forty Senators can block a dime of Medicare cuts? Don’t they ever aspire to govern?

In the lonely center of this howling vortex stands the Obama administration, diligently pushing its morally decent technocratic improvements. For this, the salons of establishment thought have given the administration little but grief. Sunday’sWashington Post editorial offers a fair summary of the response from the center. The editorial does allow that Obama’s plan would be ever so slightly preferable to the status quo. The Post editorial page is disappointed that Obama agreed to delay a tax on high-cost health care plans, and to replace the lost short-term revenue with a tax on the rich: “We think that it is not asking too much,” demands the editorial, “given the dire fiscal straits, for Washington to show that it can swallow distasteful medicine while, and not after, it passes out the candy.” Centrist critics have habitually used terms like “candy” and “dessert” to describe the provision of medical care to those currently suffer physical or financial ruin by the lack thereof. It is one of the most morally decrepit metaphors I have ever come across.

As Harold Pollack notes, Obama has successfully fought, over the opposition of lobbyists and Congress, to include numerous delivery reforms, such as an Independent Medicare Advisory Commission, bundled payments, and numerous other cutting edge steps. Centrists give these reforms little or no credit — after all, because they are untried, they have no record and the Congressional Budget Office can’t calculate their potential savings. The CBO can credit things like the excise tax, but the centrists give that little weight as well — after all, Obama agreed to delay the tax in order to let labor contracts adjust. He replaced the lost revenue by extending the Medicare tax to capital income earned by the affluent. But tax revenue from the affluent somehow counts less, too. The Postdismissively calls this “the politically easier option of extending the Medicare tax to unearned income of the wealthy,” as if raising taxes on the most powerful and well-connected people in America, in an atmosphere where one party opposes any taxes on the rich with theological fervor, is the kind of solution that’s just sitting there for the taking.

Kashkari, 2009′s Ideas, Richard Milhouse Obama, Frum!, Chinese-American Trade Imbalance, Obama’s Nobel, and Charborg

Friday, December 11th, 2009

1. The Personal Toll TARP Exacted. Laura Blumenfeld profiled Neel Kashkari for the Washington Post – the Treasury employee and Hank Paulson confidante who presided over TARP and assisted with much of the government’s response to the bailout who is now “detoxing” from Washington by working with his hands in an isolated retreat. The piece focuses not on what happened and the enormous impact, but on the personal toll this crisis exacted on Kashkari and those around him: the heart attack by one of his top aides; the emotional breakdowns; the trouble in his marriage as he didn’t come home for days, sleeping on his office couch and showering in the Treasury’s locker room:

Thoughts tended toward the apocalyptic. During midnight negotiations with congressional leaders, Paulson doubled over with dry heaves. A government economist broke into Kashkari’s office sobbing, “Oh my God! The system’s collapsing!” Kashkari counseled her to focus on things they could control. (Minal: “So you offered her a bag of Doritos.”)

“We were terrified the banking system would fail, but the thing that scared us even more was, what would we do the day after? How would we take over 8,000 banks?”

The piece seems to ask us to feel pity for these men and women who toiled under difficult circumstances, but it seems inappropriate to feel pity for those who assume power because they also feel its heavy weight. But the piece acknowledges that Kashkari himself seeks to get back to Washington again, “Because there’s nowhere else you can have such a large impact — for better and for worse.” Lionize them for their heroic sacrifices if you will, but there is no place for pity. Those who choose to take on the burdens of power should not be pitied because it proves too weighty.

2. New Ideas. The New York Times briefly discusses the Year in Ideas. Some of the more interesting entries:

  • Guilty Robots which have been given “ethical architecture” for the American military that “choose weapons with less risk of collateral damage or may refuse to fight altogether” if the damage they have inflicted causes “noncombatant casualties or harm to civilian property.”
  • The Glow-in-the-Dark Dog (named Ruppy) that emits an eerie red glow under ultraviolet light because of deliberate genetic experiment.
  • Applying the Google Algorithm that generates the PageRank which first set Google apart from its competitors to nature, and specifically to predicting what species’ extinctions would cause the greatest chain reactions.
  • Zombie-Attack Science in which the principles of epidemiology are applied to zombies.

3. Obama’s Afghanistan Decision. Fareed Zakaria and Peter Beinart both tried to place Obama’s Afghanistan decision into perspective last week in important pieces. Both of them saw in Obama’s clear-eyed understanding of America’s power shades of the foreign policy brilliance that was Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Zakaria:

More than any president since Richard Nixon, he has focused on defining American interests carefully, providing the resources to achieve them, and keeping his eyes on the prize.

Beinart:

Nixon stopped treating all communists the same way. Just as Obama sees Iran as a potential partner because it shares a loathing of al-Qaeda, Nixon saw Communist China as a potential partner because it loathed the U.S.S.R. Nixon didn’t stop there. Even as he reached out to China, he also pursued détente with the Soviet Union. This double outreach — to both Moscow and Beijing — gave Nixon more leverage over each, since each communist superpower feared that the U.S. would favor the other, leaving it geopolitically isolated. On a smaller scale, that’s what Obama is trying to do with Iran and Syria today. By reaching out to both regimes simultaneously, he’s making each anxious that the U.S. will cut a deal with the other, leaving it out in the cold. It’s too soon to know whether Obama’s game of divide and conquer will work, but by narrowing the post-9/11 struggle, he’s gained the diplomatic flexibility to play the U.S.’s adversaries against each other rather than unifying them against us.

Perhaps this accounts for Henry Kissinger’s appreciation for Obama’s foreign policy even as neoconservative intellectuals such as Charles Krathammer deride Obama as “so naïve that I am not even sure he’s able to develop a [foreign policy] doctrine“:

“He reminds me of a chess grandmaster who has played his opening in six simultaneous games,” Kissinger said. “But he hasn’t completed a single game and I’d like to see him finish one.”

4. The Unheeded Wisdom of Frum. It seems that almost every week a blog post by David Frum makes this list. This week, he rages at how the Republican’s “No, no, no” policy is forcing the Democrats to adopt more liberal policies (which Frum believes are worse for the country, but in the case of health care, more popular among voters):

I hear a lot of talk about the importance of “principle.” But what’s the principle that obliges us to be stupid?

5. Fiscal Imbalances. Martin Wolf in the Financial Times identifies the imbalance between America’s deficit spending and China’s surplus policy as the root of our financial imbalances in a piece this week:

What would happen if the deficit countries did slash spending relative to incomes while their trading partners were determined to sustain their own excess of output over incomes and export the difference? Answer: a depression. What would happen if deficit countries sustained domestic demand with massive and open-ended fiscal deficits? Answer: a wave of fiscal crises.

While he says both sides have an interest in an orderly unwinding of this arrangement, both also have the ability to resist:

Unfortunately, as we have also long known, two classes of countries are immune to external pressure to change policies that affect global “imbalances”: one is the issuer of the world’s key currency; and the other consists of the surplus countries. Thus, the present stalemate might continue for some time.

Niall Ferguson and Morris Schularack offered a few suggestions in a New York Times op-ed several weeks ago as to how best unwind this. I had written about it some months ago as well, albeit with a pithier take.

6. War & Peace. Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech was an audacious defense of American power and ideals. If you read nothing else on this list, read this.

7. Song of the week: Pinback’s “Charborg.”

The NYT and WaPo bet their reputations on contrasting approaches to climate emails.

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

James Fallows:

Not to overdramatize, but: in a way the papers are betting their reputations with these articles. The Times, that climate change is simply a matter of science versus ignorance; the Post, that this is best treated as another “-Gate” style flap where it’s hard to get to the bottom of the story.

Dueling Op-Eds

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Last Friday saw two sets of dueling op-eds on the opinion pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

At the Post, Charles Krauthammer, professional pundit, accuses the Obama administration of aiding Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in giving “voice” to the “propaganda of the deed” that was September 11. Krauthammer accepts no justification offered and launches one after another attack on the very idea of trying KSM, and most of all, on the Obama administration for bringing him to trial. Reading Krauthammer, it is difficult to understand why Attorney General Holder made the decision he did. It seems unfathomable and downright un-American.

Elsewhere in the section, two former top Bush Justice Department officials – Jack Goldsmith and James Comey – make the case that Attorney General Holder’s decision was reasonable, though there may be reason to disagree with it. They go through some of the advantages of the Attorney General’s decision, and conclude:

The wisdom of that difficult judgment will be determined by future events. But Holder’s critics do not help their case by understating the criminal justice system’s capacities, overstating the military system’s virtues and bumper-stickering a reasonable decision.

Over at the New York Times, David Brooks and Paul Krugman have a more evenly balanced argument over Timothy Geithner.

Brooks’s conclusion was that Geither’s intervention was effective:

On the other hand, you would also have to say that Geithner, like many top members of the Obama economic team, is extremely context-sensitive. He’s less defined by any preset political doctrine than by the situation he happens to find himself in…In the administration’s first big test, that sort of pragmatism paid off.

Krugman though concludes Geither is part of the problem, and even if he got the short-term economics right, the political situation won’t allow for any significant course corrections because the initial steps were so against the popular mood:

Throughout the financial crisis key officials — most notably Timothy Geithner, who was president of the New York Fed in 2008 and is now Treasury secretary — have shied away from doing anything that might rattle Wall Street. And the bitter paradox is that this play-it-safe approach has ended up undermining prospects for economic recovery.

It’s interesting to see such jousting on the same op-ed page. As opposing sides make their case, one can often learn more than from reading mere news.

Health Care Reform and Its Unintended Consequences

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

I said I was going to make a point of noting solid criticisms of the Obama administration by mainstream conservatives and right wingers.

Mona Charen of the National Review wrote a solid piece that didn’t resort to blatant falsehoods as far as I could tell that made a solid case against health care reform. Her basic point is that she doesn’t trust the Democrats:

Every single page [of the health care bill] proclaims something that is dubious — that the Democrats know what they are doing.

Rather than talking about death panels, she points out that electronic recordkeeping has overwhelmed doctors with information they are not used to having to sort through – and thus has made hospitals less efficient. (She cites no study, but it is certainly plausible that this would be a short term effect.) Preventive care, she explains, while probably saving lives could end up costing more – as “more and more of us are tested for more and more diseases.”

Her big point is that this health care reform is “brought to you by the same people” who brought you Medicare and Medicaid – and that the costs of these programs were vastly underestimated. As she points out:

In 1965, Congress predicted that by 1990, Medicare would be costing $12 billion. The actual cost — $90 billion.

Long term forecasts of government spending – or really anything – are a fool’s game, and Charen is right to point this out. On a macroeconomic level, there are too many factors to take into account – and that’s not even counting “black swans” that change everything. In this case, the major factor causing the government health care costs to be so off was the explosion of health care inflation in the 1980s which has only gotten worse since. But it’s not clear that Medicare or Medicaid played any role in this – especially as their costs have been below that of private insurance.

Bill Clinton made a similar point to Charen’s yesterday in trying to make the case for why the health care reform should be passed:

There is no perfect bill because there are always unintended consequences…

Yet, Clinton maintained:

The worst thing to do is nothing.

As Steven Pearlstein writing for the Washington Post described the price of doing nothing (and was later echoed by Barack Obama):

Among the range of options for health-care reform, there’s one that is sure to raise your taxes, increase your out-of-pocket medical expenses, swell the federal deficit, leave more Americans without insurance and guarantee that wages will remain stagnant.

That’s the option of doing nothing…

This is the answer Democrats give to the sensible concerns of Charen and those like her: there inherent uncertainty in any attempt to change a macroeconomic trend, but given where we are headed if we do nothing, it’s worth trying.

The only other option is to give up.

This is exactly the sort of sensible criticism that – in my opinion – conservatives should be making. However, the answer should not be to do nothing, but to “tinker” instead of instituting massive top-down changes, and to adopt the measures that work after tinkering. For the most part, this is exactly the approach the current bills take – which is a testament to the fundamental insights of the conservative movement of the past few decades. To take into account this fundamental insight while promoting a liberal agenda is in fact the essence of Obama’s approach: It’s why 40% of the stimulus was tax cuts; it’s why the key health care reform is to create a market that allows individuals to make decisions based on information that is more transparent; it’s why the answer to global warming is a cap-and-trade program that decentralizes authority and whose main mechanism is a market. That this has been Obama’s approach is what has forced the right wing opposition to him to become so unhinged.

Must-Reads: Uighurs, Gay in Middle School, Vidal, Larison, the Public Option, and the End of Pax Americana

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

The Worst of the Worst? Del Quinton Wilber tells the story of two of the “worst of the worst,” the Uighur brothers Bahtiyar Mahnut and Arkin Mahmud. Neither brother was affiliated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda or had any reason to bear ill will towards the United States before their long detention. Bahtiyar, the younger brother, recently turned down an offer from the nation of Palau to leave Guantanamo to stay and look after his older brother, who was captured and turned over to the United States only because he went searching for his brother at their parents’ request. Arkin is the only one of the Uighurs not to be invited to Palau because he has developed serious mental health issues while in American custody.

How Things Change. Benoit Denizet-Lewis in the New York Times wrote on Sunday about a new reality that would have been unimaginable even a decade ago – of gay and lesbian middle schoolers coming out. It’s hard to describe how moving the piece was in how it so clearly suggested progress (reporting on the happy side of the news without focusing on the bad.) Slate’s Culture Gabfest followed up with an excellent discussion of the issues suggested by the piece – and even managed to link it to Fox’s new hit Glee. (Relating to the link to Slate’s Culture Gabfest, I must apologize for the lack of a direct one. The podcast doesn’t seem to be posted anywhere that accessible, but if you search for or subscribe to Slate’s iTunes podcast feed, it will be readily accessible.) Relating to Glee and gay youth, I would also recommend this interview of the creator of Glee by Terry Gross.

Gore Vidal. I’m not sure I agree with anything Gore Vidal said in his interview with Tim Teeman for the Times of London, but he proved interesting time and again, speaking of his long series of supportive letters to Timothy McVeigh, his disappointment with Obama, and his conviction that America is “rotting away at a funereal pace” and that a military dictatorship is coming. His opinions carry a unique weight given his proximity to so many centers of power in his time – from presidents to Hollywood to the media, and his series of perspectives on the matter, as historian, intellectual, novelist, activist.

A Hawk versus a Sane Person. Daniel Larison demonstrates once again thatThe American Conservative is one of the few magazines out there providing a coherent conservative worldview instead of mere anti-Obama bile with his post comparing Obama’s and Bush’s foreign policies:

What conservative critics ignore and what Andrew only touches on towards the end is that the Bush administration oversaw setback after failure after defeat for American influence and power. Iran has become a far more influential regional power thanks to the folly of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, democracy fetishists helped to strengthen the hold of Hamas in Gaza to the detriment of Palestinians and Israelis, and Russophobes helped to encourage Saakashvili’s recklessness with talk of NATO membershop and provoked Russian ire with the recognition of Kosovo that led to thede facto permanent partition of an American ally. Hawks have routinely unleashed forces they do not understand, cannot control and are unwilling to contain, and they still have the gall to shout “Appeasement!” when someone else tries to repair some small measure of the damage they have done. Compared to this partial list of Bush’s major failures, Obama has done reasonably well simply by not persisting in some of his predecessor’s errors, but it is far too early to speak of success or payoff and it is a mistake to measure Obama’s success in the way that his supporters wish to do. [my emphasis]

The secret to understanding where so many conservative and right wing publications have failed is their failure to acknowledge – as Jesse Walker of the libertarian Reason magazine does that “Obama is no radical.”

The Dearth of Support for the Very Popular Public Option. Ezra Klein continues his excellent health care blogging with a post describing the problem of the distribution of support for the public option. Klein explains:

It’s not a coincidence that the chamber representing the American people will pass a bill including the public option while the chamber representing American acreage is likely to delete it. The public option has majority support. But a lot of that popularity comes because a lot of people live in liberal centers like California and New York. It actually doesn’t have a majority in Nebraska, where not very many people live, or, I’d guess, in North Dakota, where even fewer people live. In the American political system, it’s not enough to be popular among the voters. You also have to be popular among wide swaths of land. Didn’t you watch “Schoolhouse Rock”?

The political answer this suggests is to allow individual states (or states banding together) to create a public option within their borders – which not coincidentally is exactly where the debate is now headed.

Pax Americana. Michael Lind at Salon describes the end of Pax Americana. Lind gives short shrift however to defenders of American empire – never clearly articulating their point of view as he attempts to debunk it. For a rather effective defense of the alternate point of view, I would look to Niall Ferguson’s excellent Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire. (Ferguson is rather influential among conservative circles, and was one of McCain’s advisors in the 2008 election.)

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Former Bush Speechwriter Takes on the Internet: Its all about “bullying, conspiracy theories and racial prejudice”

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Michael Gerson was apparently irked by fellow Washington Post writer Ezra Klein’s response to his recent article on the rise of hate on the internet.

The dispute evolved like this: Gerson wrote a column about the vast amount of hate on the internet in which he compared the rise of the internet to the rise of talk radio in the 1920s and 30s, and described how the former led the Nazis to take power. Gerson did a vast amount of research for this column, but he managed to premise it on this unsourced wonder of a statement:

User-driven content on the Internet often consists of bullying, conspiracy theories and racial prejudice.

Like an old man at a bumpin’ club, Gerson seemed confused and disoriented by the online goings-on around him. Ezra Klein, the hip young blogger who grew up with the internet, responded a bit mockingly but without personal invective. Klein pointed out that on the internet, almost everything is “fringe” and the “hateful comments” that Gerson uses as his source are almost all anonymous comments to more mainstream articles. In other words, they are little more than scrawlings on the walls of bathroom stalls. Those with the real power to foment hate – Klein argued – in a manner more similar to the rise of the Nazis than these fringe commenters, are the pundits on talk radio and on cable news. They have a soapbox that can reach millions – rather than the audience of tens or maybe a hundred that any particular web comment has – and a number of these talking heads, especially those on right-wing talk radio, deliberately attempt to foment hate. As Klein says:

I don’t worry about jewhater429, the 97th entrant in a comment thread. I worry about Beck and Limbaugh and Savage.

Their comments are arguably as bad – if not as crude – as any scrawls on bathrooms walls.

But Gerson – who used his position as a former George W. Bush speechwriter to work his way into a gig with the Washington Post – was so irked by Klein’s response that he immediately resorted to ad hominem attacks, starting his response by attempting to undercut Klein’s objectivity, calling him a member of “Barack Obama’s unpaid policy staff.” Gerson then goes on to equate Ezra Klein – a progressive blogger who writes mainly about policy – with Rush Limbaugh, an entertainer and propagandist who specializes in being outrageous, and Arianna Huffington, a right-winger-turned-centrist-turned-populist-progressive who has a knack for riding the zeitgeist. Each of the three figures is very different – but what they all share in common is a willingness to take a side – to be a partisan. Gerson, in another life as a speechwriter, was willing to do this; but now from his perch writing for the Washington Post blog which calls itself “Post-Partisan,” he looks at those mere mortals who take sides with disdain – and suggests doing so is the equivalent of lying.

Gerson ignores the substance of Klein’s reason for seeing talk radio as a bigger fomenter of hate – and instead imagines an entirely different reason: “Because Limbaugh interferes more directly with Klein’s political agenda.” Klein didn’t actually say this – he made a different point about control of the media – but Gerson, being “post-partisan” explains that the only reason Klein could have for seeing Rush Limbaugh as a more significant fomenter of hatred than a bunch of anonymous commentors must be “an excess of ideology [which] can affect the optic nerve — leading to complete moral blindness.” It calls to mind that line from the New Testament about removing the splinter from one’s own eye first.

Gerson is smug in his conclusion, as he takes the tone of a wise elder:

Those, like Klein, who trivialize evil are actually making its advance more likely. Their cynicism and ideological manias are the allies of genuine bigotry, because they blur its distinctive shape and cover its distinctive smell.

Of course, Gerson’s column – by giving great weight to anonymous internet commentors – trivializes “evil” by equating it with awful comments. In fact, prejudice has always existed, and it is not synonymous with evil. If it was, then free speech would be mere folly. Gerson could have written a column about how the internet – in encouraging communities of the like-minded, creates dynamics of escalating moral outrage which lead to conspiracy theories and even hatred along with reformist political movements and communities of knitters. But instead, he looks on the internet like a nun at a high school dance, frowning with disapproval at the whole thing. In doing so, he himself is blinded seeing a fallen world where it is instead a fallen-redeemed one.

Postscript: Amusingly, Gerson also has this to say in defense of his column comparing the rise of the internet to the rise of Nazism, and in attacking Klein’s disagreement with his analogy:

Beck, Huffington and Klein seem comfortable with this same, lazy tactic — the reductio ad Hitlerum. They are full partners in the same calumny.

But wasn’t reductio ad Hilterum exactly what Gerson’s original column was about?

[Creator of image unknown.]

Must Reads of the Past Two Weeks! (Extended Edition): J Street, NPH, Liberalism, Topless, Colombian Hippos, Grassroots, 1990s Reunion, Insuring Illegals, and the Iranian Time Bomb

Friday, September 18th, 2009

J Street. James Traub of the New York Times profiles the new Jewish lobbying group J Street. For anyone who is interested in the Israeli-US relationship, a very interesting read that tries to profile one group trying to change the dynamic in Washington.

The Unique Figure of Neil Patrick Harris. Andrew Sullivan has an interesting take on Neil Patrick Harris, and speaking with Emily Nussbaum of New York magazine, Neil Patrick Harris also has an interesting take on Neil Patrick Harris. Takeaway line from Sullivan:

Everyone is a shade or two away from normal; and the pied beauty of humanity should not be carved into acceptable and unacceptable based on things that simply make us who we are.

Liberalism Defined and Defended. E. J. Dionne writing for Democracy magazine reviews Alan Wolfe’s book [registration required] (which was one of the inspiration for this post of mine on the 10 Principles of Liberalism). An excellent review of a book I now feel compelled to read:

Wolfe notes that “it is not sufficient for me merely to be left alone, I must also have the capacity to realize the goals that I choose for myself. If this requires an active role for government, then modern liberals are prepared to accept state intervention into the economy in order to give large numbers of people the sense of mastery that free market capitalism gives only to the few.” Exactly right.

Topless. Meghan Pleticha writes for Alternet about her experiment where she “legally exposed [her] breasts in public.”

There they were — in the sunlight, the eyes of God and New York Penal Law 245.01 — my boobs out, nipples blazing. The girls sitting on the blanket next to us giggled. Some passersby glanced over, smiles on a couple of the guys’ faces. My nipple ring glinted in the sun. Amazingly, I felt relatively calm. Warm. Neither lightning nor cops had struck me down. Furtively looking around, I noticed some guys attempting to be respectful. Maybe they were just thinking be cool or she’ll put her top back on, but gentlemen would glance over and grin, but rarely stare.

The Colombian Hippo Problem. Simon Romero of The New York Times describes how Colombia is dealing with yet another of the legacies of the larger than life Pablo Escobar, the drug kingpin who was gunned down sixteen years ago: an infestation of hippos who are thriving in Colombia’s ecosystem after escaping from Escobar’s private zoo.

The Right Wing Grassroots. Daniel Larison has a rather insightful piece on his blog regarding the relationship between the conservative elites and the right wing grassroots. I don’t endorse his entire analysis, but worth reading.

Like the Opening of a 1990s Political Joke. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post sketches a 1990s reunion of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, President Bill Clinton, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. An interesting quote by Trent Lott:

I thought it might be a good time for us to show that a president, a speaker, the leaders, can find a way to come together. If three good ol’ boys from the South like the ones you’ve heard today can find a way to get it done. I know the outstanding leaders that we have in the Congress . . . can get it done.

Insuring Illegal Immigrants. Ezra Klein makes the case persuasively:

Illegal immigrants are clustered in service sector and food sector jobs. They clean buildings, prepare boneless chicken breasts, wash dishes, pick food, and generally do jobs that are much more conducive to spreading germs than, say, blogging is. I don’t know exactly why Rep. Joe Wilson and Lou Dobbs and all the others in their cohort want to make it more expensive to hire American workers and make it more likely that Americans get sick, but that’s why I’m not a political strategist, I guess.

The Iranian Time BombGeorge Friedman of Stratfor sees a world of trouble arising from the Iranians’ pursuit of nuclear weapons – as he analyzes how almost every interested party seems to misunderstand the interests and willingness to act of every other interesting part, which he believes could result in catastrophic consequences à la the opening of World War I.

[Image by Eamonn.McAleer licensed under Creative Commons.]

The Federal Reserve, Henry Gates, Popular Policies, Health Care, Krugman on Cap and Trade, and High Times

Friday, July 24th, 2009

1. Down with the Fed! William Greider suggests we “dismantle the temple” that is the Federal Reserve in a piece this week. Greider is not only one of my favorite authors and one of the best writers on economics, he is also one of the foremost experts on the Federal Reserve. They key problem for Greider is that the Federal Reserve is an essentially anti-democratic institution:

The Federal Reserve is the black hole of our democracy – the crucial contradiction that keeps the people and their representatives from having any voice in these most important public policies.

Ezra Klein gives the piece a symapthetic audience, but then explains his reservations:

[F]or a period of time, Ben Bernanke ran our economy under a monetarist’s version of martial law. And the really problematic thing is that it probably worked. It may be all that saved us. You could argue that in the absence of the Federal Reserve, Congress would have been a whole lot more aggressive and responsible because Bernanke wouldn’t have been there to backstop them. But would you really want to bet the U.S. economy on it?

2. Sanity on the Henry Gates Controversy. Jacob Sullum in Reason‘s Hit ‘n’ Run blog gives what I think to be the essential take-away from the Gates fiasco:

[E]ven if we accept the facts as presented by Crowley, it’s clear he abused his authority, whether or not the color of Gates’ skin had anything to do with it.

Let’s say Gates did initially refuse to show his ID (an unsurprising response from an innocent man confronted by police in his own home). Let’s say he immediately accused Crowley of racism, raised his voice, and behaved in a “tumultuous” fashion. Let’s say he overreacted. So what? By Crowley’s own account, he arrested Gates for dissing him.

3. The Appearance of Bipartisanship Creates Popularity. Matt Yglesias has an interesting piece exploring the difference between how the media treats the relationship between public opinon, Congress, and policy issues and how that relationship actually works.

4. Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery. Ezra Klein points out that one passage from Obama’s speech Wednesday night seemed to be taking arguments directly from articles by Steven Pearlstein and David Leonhardt this week that got a lot of traction in the blogosphere. Both columns are worth reading even independent of their apparent influence on the Obama administration’s tactics.

5. Krugman on Cap and Trade Speculation. Paul Krugman takes on doubters encouraged by Matt Taibbi’s piece describing cap-and-trade as a giant scheme:

The solution to climate change must rely to an important extent on market mechanisms — it’s too complex an issue to deal with using command-and-control. That means accepting that some people will make money out of trading — and that yes, sometimes trading will go bad. So? We’ve got a planet at stake; it’s crazy to cut off our future to spite Goldman Sachs’s face.

6. A Laid-back Beat. Lastly, I came across this song in an episode of the British series Skins this week:

[Photo by me.]