Friday, January 30, 2009

Davos Man and "The System"

Daniel Gross writes from Davos that, just like Wall Street, at Davos, success is privatized, failure socialized.

The preferred strategy at Davos is to simply ignore failure. By and large, screw-ups don't make the agenda. It's just not that sort of place. If you screw up, you don't get invited, and you don't show up. This explains why I couldn't see a single economist or official associated with the Bush administration on the roster, and why there are very few American bankers at Davos this year. As John Thain's career at Merrill came to a close, he suffered the ultimate indignity: Bank of America told him it wouldn't be a good idea for him to come to Davos. The only thing worse than being attacked is being ignored. You don't matter anymore. You're not even worth mentioning. As World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab put it: Davos is not a place for "has-beens."
But I hear the skiing is excellent.

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Ferlinghetti vs. Bush

Michael Berubay takes time from his Super Bowl predictin' to extol the virtues of my favorite football dynasty.

Besides, can we take a moment to stop and reflect on how strange and wonderful it was to have an NFL powerhouse in San Francisco for fifteen years? You guys were the exception that broke every rule about America and football and football in America. When Dwight Clark leapt 35 feet in the air to make that decisive end-zone catch in the 1981 NFC championship game against Dallas, Good defeated Evil; bicycles defeated SUVs; Lawrence Ferlinghetti defeated George Bush; and Harvey Milk defeated J. R. Ewing. Take pride—yes, pride!—in your anomalous status, O Red-Sporting Five-Time Champions of the Left Coast. And join with me in acknowledging that the Cardinals are not the 49ers, and that in this Super Bowl we’re looking at a 24-13 Steelers win. Yes, that will leave the hardscrabble black-and-gold-wearing denizens of the Iron City with one more Super Bowl than the stylish beaujolais-and-prosecco-wearing partisans of the City by the Bay. But at least there will be no Cowboys involved!

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"Headless body found in topless bar"

Now, that was a great headline. In contrast with today's

Steep Slide in U.S. Economy, but Not as Dire as Forecast

I dunno, seems pretty dire:

The gross domestic product — a crucial measure of economic performance — shrank at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. The decline would have been much steeper — more than 5 percent — if shipments of goods had fallen as sharply as orders did.

“The difference between 3.8 and 5.1 percent is the inventory buildup,” Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at IHS Global Insight, said. “My only explanation is that companies could not cut production fast enough.”

With inventory accumulation gone, the economy will contract in first quarter at more than a 5 percent annual rate, Mr. Gault predicted.

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A thousand words

"...forests of azure"

Magic realism

Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that minstrel show politics is not a qualification for RNC chairman.

WASHINGTON — Chip Saltsman, the candidate for national Republican Party chairman who came under fire late last year for distributing a holiday CD with the parody song “Barack the Magic Negro,” dropped out of the contest Thursday on the eve of the vote.

Mr. Saltsman, a former Tennessee Republican chairman, sent an e-mail message to members of the Republican National Committee announcing his decision. The message made no mention of why he was leaving the race, but Republicans have said for days that he was struggling to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Mr. Saltsman was always viewed as something of a long shot, but his prospects dimmed after the disclosure that he had distributed the CD with the parody song.

Now, I don't think that last bit is 100% accurate. Yes, many of the party "leadership figures" -- if such a thing currently exists -- were aghast, but many of the rank & file expressed solidarity with the creep.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009


I wish they'd proposed this in 2000.

Rush Limbaugh also makes an appearance in today’s Journal. He has a clever idea to give Obama 54 percent of the $900 billion package — equating that amount to the new president’s electoral majority — while 46 percent, which was John McCain’s electoral tally, would go to a tax-cut plan that would halve the U.S. corporate tax rate and provide a capital-gains tax holiday for one year, after which the investment tax would drop to 10 percent.

Besides the sheer lunacy of this clever idea, it's unclear what he means by "electoral majority." Obama won 365 electoral college votes to McCain's 173. That's a 68% majority. It's math skills like that that make Larry Kudlow to be the go-to guy on ideas to fix the economy.

Ok, let's give the idiot the benefit of the doubt and assume that in his fever brain he meant the popular vote. The gap between the two candidates represented a landslide in modern politics. But beyond that, wasn't it on the very subject of the economic crisis -- and McCain's various reactions to it -- that Americans decidedly declared they had no confidence in McCain's leadership at all?

So Larry the Clown should shut the fuck up. But first, let's run down the various criticisms with the stimulus bill burped by Kudlow and the various other Bush economic stalwarts determined to oppose the legislation no matter how many kittens Obama promises them along the way:

  • It's too large.
  • It doesn't cut taxes for the wealthy or cooperations sufficiently.
  • It gives too much money to the states who have been profligate, apparently, in providing aid to the unemployed and the uninsured. And children. And mothers expecting children. Etcetera.
  • It cuts taxes for people who only pay payroll "pay no taxes."
  • Repairing crumbling infrastructure is both "pork" and will take too long.
  • What would Reagan do?
  • FDR caused the Great Depression
  • Do nothing.
  • Laffer Curve!!!!1!!

The fact that the cable media gives these shrieking harpies more air time than they do sensible people doesn't make Republican opposition any less chaotic, confused, contradictory, and oh yeah, cynical.

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They always get

Prosecutorial over-zealousness, much?

SAN FRANCISCO – Twenty federal agents raided the home of the mother-in-law of Barry Bonds' personal trainer on Wednesday.

Madeleine Gestas and her daughter Nicole Anderson, the trainer's wife, are the target of a tax investigation that the lawyer for Greg Anderson said is aimed at pressuring the trainer to testify at Bonds' upcoming trial.

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Aptly named

The Dean

The day after zero, zilch, nada, no House Republicans crossed the aisle to vote for the stimulus bill*, the Dean of Bi-partisan Beltway Consensus elected to write about...Rod Blagojevich's media strategy.

In trawling around the Internets with respect to this post, I came across this gem from Broder's oeuvre:

If ever a candidacy needed bolstering, it was this one. And based on what she showed against Biden, Palin might be able to deliver some help.

* Not that I blame them.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

One size fits all

I'll second Kevin Drum's note: raising the gasoline tax will not be nearly as effective at lowering consumption as will raising fuel economy standards. I'm no economist, but that's just intuitive sense as it would take a huge -- and politically suicidal -- increase to alter drivers' behavior to the extent it would have much of an effect on our consumption. That's just ignurant on the Post's part.

But even worse is the Post's repetition of the auto industry lobby talking points: that allowing states such as California to set their own standards would be detrimental to the ailing industry in trying to meet them and would also result in multiple standards.

Bullshit. Never have increases in fuel standards had the kind of effects these lobbyists always predict. The auto engineers take the standards and design engines and cars that meet them. Every. Time. As for multiple standards, you really think they're going to build one set of cars for California and the other states that want higher standards -- that also happen to have the most cars on the road -- and another set for, say, Idaho?

It's increasingly clear, the Post should not write about anything related to economics.

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Do nothings

One doesn't have to be particularly politically astute, nor am I likely the first to come to the conclusion, but it's obvious that there is absolutely no upside for most GOP members of the House to support the stimulus bill. Congress hasn't been very popular with voters in recent years. Democrats now control Congress. People want Congress to do something about the economy. Congress is doing something. If Congress's popularity improves, Democrats' hold on Congress will grow stronger and Obama's popularity will rise or, at least, stay very high.

So it is no surprise that Republicans were everywhere yesterday, making very silly arguments opposing the stimulus bill.

By extension, there's no upside for Republicans if the various levers of the stimulus bills actually work and the economy improves while they are a minority. In fact, if the economy improves Democrats will be the solid majority party for a very long time to come, just as they were following the Great Depression. To wit:

Altogether, the economic recovery bill would speed $127 billion over the next two and a half years to individuals and states for health care alone, a fact that has Republicans fuming that the stimulus package is a back door to universal health coverage.

“It’s raining money,” said Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas.

Universal health care would pretty much seal the deal.

For Republicans, failure is not just an option, it's the only option.

And for all of President Obama's gracious trips to the Hill to meet with Republicans on their turf, he, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid understand this.



The stimulus bill does have its disappointing elements, particularly in its short change for mass transit, but this is very positive.

Congressional Democrats developed the package in close consultation with President Obama. Health care provisions of the bill taking shape in the Senate are broadly similar to those in the House bill, though they may prove less expensive. Obama aides and advisers said the president would insist on health insurance assistance for the unemployed as part of a final bill, which he wants to sign by mid-February.

The legislation would allow states to provide Medicaid to an entirely new group: those who are receiving unemployment insurance benefits, their spouses and children under 19.

Medicaid is normally for low-income people, and for decades it has been financed jointly by the federal government and the states, with the federal share averaging 57 percent of costs.

The economic stimulus bill prevents states from enforcing a means test, saying, “No income or resources test shall be applied with respect to any category of individuals” who become eligible for Medicaid because they are receiving unemployment benefits. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs for people enrolled under this option through December 2010.

Republicans said this proposal would take a big step toward federalizing Medicaid. For their part, Democrats said the changes took a major step toward their goal of coverage for all Americans.
For those of us wondering if we'll have a job in six months, this would come as an enormous relief and one less thing to keep us up at night.

David Leonhardt highlights the positives and the negatives of the package.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We are all Albanians now

Oh, Jessica, how I love you.

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Crack babies

During our never-ending War Against (some) Drugs (used by some people), mothers have gone to jail for using crack while pregnant.

Turns out that, like so many things about the Drug War, the laws have been based on ignorance and racial bias, because there is no greater danger to babies from their mothers smoking crack than smoking a cigarette.

BALTIMORE — One sister is 14; the other is 9. They are a vibrant pair: the older girl is high-spirited but responsible, a solid student and a devoted helper at home; her sister loves to read and watch cooking shows, and she recently scored well above average on citywide standardized tests.

There would be nothing remarkable about these two happy, normal girls if it were not for their mother’s history. Yvette H., now 38, admits that she used cocaine (along with heroin and alcohol) while she was pregnant with each girl. “A drug addict,” she now says ruefully, “isn’t really concerned about the baby she’s carrying.”

When the use of crack cocaine became a nationwide epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s, there were widespread fears that prenatal exposure to the drug would produce a generation of severely damaged children. Newspapers carried headlines like “Cocaine: A Vicious Assault on a Child,” “Crack’s Toll Among Babies: A Joyless View” and “Studies: Future Bleak for Crack Babies.”

But now researchers are systematically following children who were exposed to cocaine before birth, and their findings suggest that the encouraging stories of Ms. H.’s daughters are anything but unusual. So far, these scientists say, the long-term effects of such exposure on children’s brain development and behavior appear relatively small.

“Are there differences? Yes,” said Barry M. Lester, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University who directs the Maternal Lifestyle Study, a large federally financed study of children exposed to cocaine in the womb. “Are they reliable and persistent? Yes. Are they big? No.”

Cocaine is undoubtedly bad for the fetus. But experts say its effects are less severe than those of alcohol and are comparable to those of tobacco — two legal substances that are used much more often by pregnant women, despite health warnings.
Another Drug War myth exposed, but I doubt it will make much difference on our laws which are based on morality and hype.

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The Torre years

Money changes everything. There is no doubt that Torre agreed to have his name on the cover of Verducci's book because his years with the Yankees are still fresh (and, yes, the anger with the Yankees ownership, too) and because Torre's still the best known manager in baseball, making the payout for both "authors" as high as it could get.

I know this is no big deal if you don't live in the Yankee Universe, and I'm sure that we're reading all the good bits now and that the book itself won't be as vicious as some of the excerpts, particularly those about Alex "Can't Pitch" Rodriguez and Cashman, are. And yes, Verducci is now telling anyone who will listen that he wrote the book, not Torre. But sheesh, I wonder if Torre will wake up a year from now and wonder if it was worth it?

'Cause Buster Olney is right, this is Torre's book, whether he admits it or not.

But he has gone beyond his own code of conduct with his book. In spring 2003, David Wells and a ghostwriter published a book, "Perfect I'm Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball," and Torre was furious, angry that Wells had aired some of the Yankees' dirty laundry in the pages. Wells tried to distance himself from some of the words in the book, saying they belonged to the writer, but the Yankees' manager would not accept that. After a meeting with the pitcher, Torre said this to reporters:

"We talked to him about a lot of things today. I just sensed he was bothered by it. Not by what we said, but by how it came out. How much of it is actually what he said and how much isn't exactly what he said, I don't know.

"But there's no question: It has his name on it, and he has to be accountable for it."

Torre, Cashman and George Steinbrenner held Wells accountable -- in the end, he was fined $100,000 by the organization.

Now it is Torre's responsibility to be fully accountable for the words in the book that has his name on it, and he must stand behind those words.

If he hides behind Verducci and the suggestion that the ugly anecdotes aren't his, the explanation will have echoes of "I didn't knowingly take steroids." If he embraces the words as his own, he also should acknowledge he has been, at the very least, extraordinarily hypocritical.
Something happened to Torre during his run with the Yankees. An indistinguished manager before he joined the team, he literally fell into a magical situation of solid veterans, talented youngsters, a storied franchise, and, oh yes, the best closer in the game's history. A master at handling the media and keeping the players blissfully free of the anxieties brought on by the frenzy of the NY sports media and the impetuous owner, he came to be beloved by most of his players and all of the fans.

But something happened. I think he came to believe the hype and resent the notion that he wasn't a great manager, just a lucky one. He deserved to win a manager of the year award, certainly in 2000 and, I think, 2001, when the great team of the 90s was rapidly aging, but which he guided to a World Serious win in 2000 and the bottom of the ninth and a dying quail in 2001. And he was dissed for not getting one. I think he got a little bitter, and that bitterness hurt his ability to manage. Some of it is actually illustrated by the released excerpts in the book, specifically, his sentimentality over Bernie Williams, his bad judgment in using Jeff Weaver over Mo Rivera late in a World Series game the Yankees should have won, both of which are spun in the book as placing a bad light on Brian Cashman. And he, like a lot of deranged Yankee (and Mets and Red Sox fans too), came to see Alex Rodriguez as the reason the team couldn't win, as evidenced by Torre's airing of the Yankees' dirty laundry by exposing A-Rod's emotional vulnerability in another piece by Verducci during the 2006 season.

Torre's star was diminishing before he was basically fired by the Yankees, but his reputation was restored afterwards. Now, not so much.

The Yankees were rightly excoriated when they failed to mention Torre's name during the closing ceremonies at the old Stadium. Now his name won't be mentioned at the new one, either. Which is a shame.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming of half-informed snark.

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"Hub fans bid kid adieu"

John Updike, 1932-2009.

Not surprisingly, my favorite.

Understand that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will; the right pitch must be perfectly met and luck must ride with the ball. Three innings before, we had seen a brave effort fail. The air was soggy; the season was exhausted. Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope, and this was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.

Fisher, after his unsettling wait, was wide with the first pitch. He put the second one over, and Williams swung mightily and missed. The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed, naked in its failure. Fisher threw the third time, Williams swung again, and there it was. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass; the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished.

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted "We want Ted" for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.

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A couple of words for GOP leadership

Two, in fact. I'll let you guess what they are.

President Barack Obama is coming to the Capitol this afternoon to curry favor with congressional Republicans. But it appears GOP leaders have already made up their minds to oppose his $825 billion stimulus plan.

House Republican Leader John A. Boehner and his No. 2, Whip Eric Cantor, told their rank-and-file members Tuesday morning during a closed-door meeting to oppose the bill when it comes to the floor Wednesday, according to an aide familiar with the discussion. Boehner told members that he's voting against the stimulus, and Cantor told the assembled Republicans that there wasn't any reason for them to support the measure, according to another person in the room. Cantor and his whip team are going to urge GOP members to oppose it.

But Steve Benen asks a really good question: If all the enticements and compromise Obama and Democrats in Congress have made in an effort at bipartisanship are met with nothing but hostility from GOP leadership, can we forge ahead with a better, less compromised bill? One, for instance, that helps states keep the ranks of the unemployed from misery and one that values the health of poor mothers and their children?


Liberty City

Dear President Obama,

Please make this stop

Prosecutors tried to prove that the original seven defendants, a group of laborers from the tough Liberty City neighborhood, provided “material support” to a terrorist organization, and planned to destroy buildings. But they relied mostly on the men’s words, citing their loyalty oath to Al Qaeda and aggressive comments made to two F.B.I. informants.

More concrete evidence did not emerge. Testimony showed that a search by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of what it called the group’s headquarters did not yield guns, explosives or blueprints for an attack. Besides a samurai sword, no weapons were found.

“There was really nothing that indicated that this was a real threat,” said Jeffrey Agron, a lawyer who served as the foreman at the first trial in 2007. “Another thing was the credibility of the confidential informants. The first informant, in the minds of most jurors, had no credibility, and with the second informant, a lot of the jurors felt he was trying to lead these guys on.”

The first trial ended in December 2007 with an acquittal for one of the seven, Lyglenson Lemorin, and a mistrial for the other six: Narseal Batiste, accused of being the ringleader; Patrick Abraham; Burson Augustine; Rotschild Augustine; Naudimar Herrera; and Stanley G. Phanor.

The second trial followed a similar path. Each side laid out many of the same arguments, and another jury deadlocked. On April 16, Judge Joan A. Lenard of Federal District Court ordered a mistrial for the second time. About a week later, prosecutors said they would try again.

Assistant United States Attorney Richard Gregorie, at a hearing where the decision was announced, said another trial was necessary to “safeguard the community.” Mr. Gregorie cited some of the violent comments allegedly made by Mr. Batiste, including a threat to “kill all the devils.”

Mr. Winick said that no new evidence was expected, and that this would probably be the last trial for a case that he, some former jurors and other legal scholars have seen as politically driven. The timing in particular has attracted scrutiny because the arrests came just a few months before the 2006 elections, and they were widely publicized by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who outlined the most sensational evidence at a news conference.

A third time is not the charm.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

"It's a lot of work"

So Bill Kristol told Portfolio last year to explain his "ambivalence" about writing NY Times column. Apparently too much work as his columns have been predictable, dull, and nearly always wrong, requiring corrections on four different occasions.

The long strange trip ended with today's column.

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Blue Monday, Bobby Bare edition

Fiscal stimulus and the loyal oppostion

John Boehner, in another episode of "Are you smarter then a fence post?"


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Getting there from here

Atul Gawande, a cancer surgeon in Massachusetts, describes the practical history of nationalized medicine in the UK and France -- both the result of the terrible devastation of World War II (in the case of the UK, the anticipation of devastation) -- and how that history provides direction for a more rational health care system in the U.S.

Yet wherever the prospect of universal health insurance has been considered, it has been widely attacked as a Bolshevik fantasy—a coercive system to be imposed upon people by benighted socialist master planners. People fear the unintended consequences of drastic change, the blunt force of government. However terrible the system may seem, we all know that it could be worse—especially for those who already have dependable coverage and access to good doctors and hospitals.

Many would-be reformers hold that “true” reform must simply override those fears. They believe that a new system will be far better for most people, and that those who would hang on to the old do so out of either lack of imagination or narrow self-interest. On the left, then, single-payer enthusiasts argue that the only coherent solution is to end private health insurance and replace it with a national insurance program. And, on the right, the free marketeers argue that the only coherent solution is to end public insurance and employer-controlled health benefits so that we can all buy our own coverage and put market forces to work.

Neither side can stand the other. But both reserve special contempt for the pragmatists, who would build around the mess we have. The country has this one chance, the idealist maintains, to sweep away our inhumane, wasteful patchwork system and replace it with something new and more rational. So we should prepare for a bold overhaul, just as every other Western democracy has. True reform requires transformation at a stroke. But is this really the way it has occurred in other countries? The answer is no. And the reality of how health reform has come about elsewhere is both surprising and instructive.

No example is more striking than that of Great Britain, which has the most socialized health system in the industrialized world. Established on July 5, 1948, the National Health Service owns the vast majority of the country’s hospitals, blood banks, and ambulance operations, employs most specialist physicians as salaried government workers, and has made medical care available to every resident for free. The system is so thoroughly government-controlled that, across the Atlantic, we imagine it had to have been imposed by fiat, by the coercion of ideological planners bending the system to their will.

But look at the news report in the Times of London on July 6, 1948, headlined “FIRST DAY OF HEALTH SERVICE.” You might expect descriptions of bureaucratic shock troops walking into hospitals, insurance-company executives and doctors protesting in the streets, patients standing outside chemist shops worrying about whether they can get their prescriptions filled. Instead, there was only a four-paragraph notice between an item on the King and Queen’s return from a holiday in Scotland and one on currency problems in Germany.

The beginning of the new national health service “was taking place smoothly,” the report said. No major problems were noted by the 2,751 hospitals involved or by patients arriving to see their family doctors. Ninety per cent of the British Medical Association’s members signed up with the program voluntarily—and found that they had a larger and steadier income by doing so. The greatest difficulty, it turned out, was the unexpected pent-up demand for everything from basic dental care to pediatric visits for hundreds of thousands of people who had been going without.

The program proved successful and lasting, historians say, precisely because it was not the result of an ideologue’s master plan. Instead, the N.H.S. was a pragmatic outgrowth of circumstances peculiar to Britain immediately after the Second World War. The single most important moment that determined what Britain’s health-care system would look like was not any policymaker’s meeting in 1945 but the country’s declaration of war on Germany, on September 3, 1939.

As tensions between the two countries mounted, Britain’s ministers realized that they would have to prepare not only for land and sea combat but also for air attacks on cities on an unprecedented scale. And so, in the days before war was declared, the British government oversaw an immense evacuation; three and a half million people moved out of the cities and into the countryside. The government had to arrange transport and lodging for those in need, along with supervision, food, and schooling for hundreds of thousands of children whose parents had stayed behind to join in the war effort. It also had to insure that medical services were in place—both in the receiving regions, whose populations had exploded, and in the cities, where up to two million war-injured civilians and returning servicemen were anticipated.

As a matter of wartime necessity, the government began a national Emergency Medical Service to supplement the local services. Within a period of months, sometimes weeks, it built or expanded hundreds of hospitals. It conducted a survey of the existing hospitals and discovered that essential services were either missing or severely inadequate—laboratories, X-ray facilities, ambulances, care for fractures and burns and head injuries. The Ministry of Health was forced to upgrade and, ultimately, to operate these services itself.

The war compelled the government to provide free hospital treatment for civilian casualties, as well as for combatants. In London and other cities, the government asked local hospitals to transfer some of the sick to private hospitals in the outer suburbs in order to make room for victims of the war. As a result, the government wound up paying for a large fraction of the private hospitals’ costs. Likewise, doctors received government salaries for the portion of their time that was devoted to the new wartime medical service. When the Blitz came, in September, 1940, vast numbers of private hospitals and clinics were destroyed, further increasing the government’s share of medical costs. The private hospitals and doctors whose doors were still open had far fewer paying patients and were close to financial ruin.

Churchill’s government intended the program to be temporary. But the war destroyed the status quo for patients, doctors, and hospitals alike. Moreover, the new system proved better than the old. Despite the ravages of war, the health of the population had improved. The medical and social services had reduced infant and adult mortality rates. Even the dental care was better. By the end of 1944, when the wartime medical service began to demobilize, the country’s citizens did not want to see it go. The private hospitals didn’t, either; they had come to depend on those government payments.

By 1945, when the National Health Service was proposed, it had become evident that a national system of health coverage was not only necessary but also largely already in place—with nationally run hospitals, salaried doctors, and free care for everyone. So, while the ideal of universal coverage was spurred by those horror stories, the particular system that emerged in Britain was not the product of socialist ideology or a deliberate policy process in which all the theoretical options were weighed. It was, instead, an almost conservative creation: a program that built on a tested, practical means of providing adequate health care for everyone, while protecting the existing services that people depended upon every day. No other major country has adopted the British system—not because it didn’t work but because other countries came to universalize health care under entirely different circumstances.

For the U.S., Gawande also looks at the telephone system. One created a century ago and with which, by continually applying patches to what you'd think would be an antiquated system, we now have cell phones, internet access, global connectivity, etc. The phone system can't be shut down every few months for a "reboot." Nor can health care, he argues. Instead, our current system should be patched as well.

Again, Gawande practices in Massachusetts, the first state to offer universal coverage. The plan did not require a state takeover of hospitals or the abandonment of private insurance. Quite the contrary. Despite the flaws in that state-wide system, he and the vast majority of people in Massachusetts, wouldn't go back.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Suck. On.. This.

To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I would never join a club that would have me as a member.

Or Fred Hiatt.


Slide master

The picture quality is poor and it's way too short, but a rare chance to see Duane's slide guitar playing style.


Income inequality

Floyd Norris looks at the effect of the financial collapse of the 1930s, its effect on Wall Street salaries, and the similarities with what's happening now (Merrill Lynch excluded). This may not be good news for New York City and Fairfield County realtors, but it may result in better regulatory expertise.

It is one thing when the best-paid people seem to be the smartest and the most accomplished. Those who make much less may not like it, but the differential seems understandable. It is another thing when those people are shown to have committed huge blunders that would have driven their companies out of business, and them into the unemployment line, but for government bailouts.

So it is now with Wall Street. In both Europe and the United States, antipathy toward the bailout is rising amid complaints that the money has not helped the economy by encouraging loans, but has kept the bankers in Champagne and caviar.

Are financial workers overpaid? And if so, will it continue?

The answers, according to a new study by two economists, are yes, they are overpaid, and no, it will not last.

“Wages in finance were excessively high around 1930 and from the mid 1990s until 2006,” wrote Thomas Philippon of New York University and Ariell Reshef of the University of Virginia, in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper released this week, “Wages and Human Capital in the U.S. Financial Industry, 1909-2006.”

They forecast that up to half the wage differential observed in recent years “can be expected to disappear.”

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Impeach Paterson


Pay discrimination legislation passes the Senate, with all Democrats voting for the bill along with Specter and all foud female Republican senators. The vote was 61-36.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Police work

Hard to say if it's a direct result of the change in U.S. leadership, but this is certainly an example of improved tactics.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani police acting on a tip from U.S. intelligence agents arrested an al-Qaida suspect believed linked to the 2005 London transit bombings, two Pakistani security officials said Thursday.

Zabi ul Taifi, a Saudi national, was among seven al-Qaida suspects caught in a raid near the main northwest city of Peshawar, they told The Associated Press. They said the raid was witnessed by U.S. intelligence officials sitting in a nearby car.

They said an unmanned spy plane and three helicopters hovered over the area during the raid on a house on the outskirts of the city, which has long been a hub of militant activity.

The arrests appear to be a fresh blow to al-Qaida in Pakistan, which is already under fire from stepped up U.S. missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistani regions bordering Afghanistan.

They also suggested that Islamabad and Washington are cooperating behind the scenes in targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants holed up close to the Afghan border, despite tensions over the missile strikes, which Pakistan has routinely protested.

Cooperation with the Pakistani police, and finally treating these suspects like accused criminals and not super-scary 10-foot tall al Qaeda monsters is a welcome change. And keeping the Pakistani intelligence forces out of the picture, as seems to be the case here, may bring welcome results.


Honeymoon? What honeymoon?

Shorter Joe Klein: Closing Guantanamo, curtailing the military commissions, rescinding Bush's war on four-legged creatures, toughest lobbying rules ever, ordering greater transparency in the Executive Branch -- where's the plan?

I know Obama has done much of this over the past few weeks, but he's President now and he needs to reaffirm his principles and tell the American people what is going to happen next. True, a lot of this is packaging. But it would help Gibbs' life and reputation immensely if the next time he appears before the press he could say, "Here is what we're doing..." rather than "We're studying that."

Less than 48 hours.

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Lefty outrage

It's been two days, where is it?

It's been two days, each one bringing a new air of transparency, respect for the law, and morality to our national government.

WASHINGTON — Saying that “our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground” to combat terrorism, President Obama signed executive orders Thursday effectively ending the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret interrogation program, directing the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp within a year and setting up a sweeping, high-level review of the best way to hold and question terrorist suspects in the future.

“We intend to win this fight,” Mr. Obama said, “We are going to win it on our own terms.”

As he signed three orders, 16 retired generals and admirals who have fought for months for a ban on coercive interrogations stood behind him and applauded. The group, organized to lobby the Obama transition team by the group Human Rights First, did not include any career C.I.A. officers or retirees, participants said.

One of Mr. Obama’s orders requires the C.I.A. to use only the 19 interrogation methods outlined in the Army Field Manual, ending President Bush’s policy of permitting the agency to use some secret methods that went beyond those allowed to the military.

“We believe we can abide by a rule that says we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need,” Mr. Obama said.

This paragraph is, however, extremely weird.

But the orders leave unresolved complex questions surrounding the closing of the Guantánamo prison, including whether, where and how many of the detainees are to be prosecuted. They could also allow Mr. Obama to reinstate the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation operations in the future, by presidential order, as some have argued would be appropriate if Osama bin Laden or another top-level leader of Al Qaeda were captured.

Emphasis mine. First, who are those "some" who've argued this, and let's hear what their argument is? What could be better in our battle against extremists, terrorists, and those "who hate us for our freedoms," as the previous president used to say, then for the world to see bin Laden in the docket of an American court room?

The new administration late Tuesday night ordered an immediate halt to the military commission proceedings for prosecuting detainees at Guantánamo and filed a request in Federal District Court in Washington to stay habeas corpus proceedings there. Government lawyers described both delays as necessary for the administration to make a broad assessment of detention policy.

The cases immediately affected include those of five detainees charged as the coordinators of the 2001 attacks, including the case against Mr. Mohammed, the self-described mastermind.

The decision to stop the commissions was described by the military prosecutors as a pause in the war-crimes system “to permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process generally and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically.”

More than 200 detainees’ habeas corpus cases have been filed in federal court, and lawyers said they expected that all of the cases would be stayed.

Mr. Obama had suggested in the campaign that, in place of military commissions, he would prefer prosecutions in federal courts or, perhaps, in the existing military justice system, which provides legal guarantees similar to those of American civilian courts.

It feels like we can breathe again. The fact that President Obama has focused so intently on this issue in his first two days in office is extremely encouraging.

Further encouraging is the fact that Obama seems serious about his campaign pledges.

And, while not unexpected, this is great news, too.

The Obama Administration has frozen the Department of Interior effort to take gray wolves off the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions.

In a memorandum issued Tuesday to federal department heads, Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, wrote that no proposed or final regulations should be sent to the Federal Register for publication until they have been reviewed and approved by new agency heads appointed by the president.

Emanuel added that all regulations sent to the Federal Register, but not yet published, also should be withdrawn for review and approval.

Last week, the Department of Interior, which oversees endangered species, had said it expected to delist gray wolves after publishing a new rule in the Federal Register this week. That rule hadn’t been published as of Wednesday, which means it falls under Emanuel’s memo


Inaugural address Thursday

Barack Hussein Obama, January 20, 2009

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you've bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

I thank President Bush for his service to our nation -- (applause) -- as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents.

So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many -- and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met. (Applause.)

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. (Applause.)

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops, and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip, and plowed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions, greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. (Applause.)

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift. And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage. What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good. (Applause.)

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers -- (applause) -- our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man -- a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake. (Applause.)

And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more. (Applause.)

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken -- you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you. (Applause.)

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. (Applause.)

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. (Applause.)

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the role that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who at this very hour patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are the guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service -- a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

And yet at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all. For as much as government can do, and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath. (Applause.)

So let us mark this day with remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At the moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words to be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America: In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When life gives you lemons...

Glenn Reynolds finds something to cheer him up:

HMM: J-prof uses satellite images to calculate that 800,000 attended inauguration ceremony. Plus, Michael Silence offers a cautionary note on crowd estimates. Anyway, if the turnout’s disappointing, I blame Adrian Fenty!

UPDATE: Good news and bad news on the TV front. It was the most-watched televised inaugural since 1981 — but it got beat out by American Idol.

Posted at 2:23 pm by Glenn Reynolds
Of course, Nielsen ratings are for households. The ratings don't include the likely millions who watched in large groups at work, in schools and theaters, in the middle of the street, in bars, etc., nor the vast numbers who had it streaming on their laptops, or the millions who watched around the world who probably never had much of a connection to the ol' Gipper, but never mind.

Fortunately, there is something for Glenn to console himself with:

NBC's "The Biggest Loser" was on the rise (3.9/9 in 18-49, 10.2 million viewers overall), spiking sharply in its second hour after "Idol" went off the air.

As for those crowd estimates...

This is, in other words, no time for moderation. And on the Mall today, you could believe it. The press was seated directly before the podium -- I had a second-row seat to history, you might say -- and behind us stretched the long lawn. And all we could do was gape. It was a sea of people. Millions of people. A mass of moving, yelling, dancing, joyous humanity, filling every patch of green and surrounding the Washington Monument. The image richly recalled the iconic photographs of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington. And the assembled politicians knew it. Up on the podium, you could see senators snapping pictures on their digital cameras, pointing at the crowd, shaking their heads in disbelief. They weren't pretending to be blase about the scene. This was different. This was dramatic. It was a screaming, laughing, cheering rejoinder to those who would constrain the scale of Obama's ambitions, or question his political assets.

It's going to be open mocking season on wingnuttarians for a long time to come.


Jerry's Kids

Are they still counting votes in Minn?

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Closing Gitmo

There are still many questions that the Obama administration will have to answer -- specifically, what will replace the egregious military commissions -- but this is a very, very good start.

WASHINGTON – The new Obama administration circulated a draft executive order Wednesday that calls for closing the controversial detention center at Guantanamo Bay within a year and halting any war crimes trials in the meantime.

Closing the facility in Cuba "would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice," read the draft prepared for the new president's signature.

While some of the detainees currently held at Guantanamo would be released, others would be transferred elsewhere and later put on trial under terms to be determined.

It was not known when Obama intended to issue the order. He has been a longtime critic of the Bush administration's decision to maintain the detention facility, which was opened after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Because of images like this one, it is very important that the order gets beyond "draft" quickly.

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Employer Free Choice Act and "democracy"

Of all the legislation that's likely to make its way through Congress in the next few months, one of the most contentious is going to EFCA and, in particular, the "card check provision." That's where employees can unionize based on a simple majority of cards that are filled out calling for a union, rather than conducting a secret ballot vote. That provision is the easiest one to bash the entire act with as journalists rarely are able to get past the idea that it's undemocratic, so Republicans committed to further weakening unions have jumped on that with particular glee. And it's gotten nearly all the attention about the bill.

In a provocative piece, T.A. Frank suggests the provision be dropped as it's not significant in the grand scheme of things.


Stop whining, at least it's not the '80s

David Leonhardt crunches the labor numbers and finds that the recession of 1982 was actually worse than what we're experiencing now.


The first big blow to the economy was the 1979 revolution in Iran, which sent oil prices skyrocketing. The bigger blow was a series of sharp interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve, meant to snap inflation. Home sales plummeted. At their worst, they were 30 percent lower than they are even now (again, adjusted for population size). The industrial Midwest was hardest hit, and the term “Rust Belt” became ubiquitous. Many families fled south and west, helping to create the modern Sun Belt.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate rose above 10 percent in 1982, compared with 7.2 percent last month. But that rate has a couple of basic flaws, as I’ve discussed in previous columns. It counts people who have been forced to work part time, even though they want to work full time, as fully employed. It also considers people who have given up looking for work — so-called discouraged workers — to be no different from retirees or stay-at-home parents. They simply aren’t counted.

Years ago, the Labor Department responded to criticism about these issues by creating several broader measures of joblessness. Unfortunately, they don’t exist prior to 1994. But the department was doing similar work in earlier years, which allows the economists who work there to make estimates about how to compare the various survey categories over time. I took these estimates — and they are estimates, not official statistics — and created a measure of unemployment that goes back to 1970.

Including discouraged workers, the measure shows that the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent last month. Another 5.2 percent of the labor force was involuntarily working part time. These two groups bring the combined rate to 12.8 percent.

Even this is an understatement, because the Labor Department’s definition of discouraged workers is a little narrow. To be counted, somebody must have looked for a job in the last year. And there appear to be several hundred thousand people — mostly men — who stopped looking for work more than a year ago but would gladly take a good-paying job if one came along. They would lift the rate above 13 percent.

As bad as the number is, it is still not that close to its 1982 peak of 16.3 percent (or anywhere near its Depression levels, which were probably above 30 percent). The early ’80s really were that bad.

So why are public opinion polls showing Americans to be even gloomier about the economy today than they were back then? I think there are two main reasons.

First, the economic expansion that just ended wasn’t as good as the 1970s expansions. The ’70s get a bad rap, and deservedly so in many ways. But median family income still rose 2 percent during the decade, after adjusting for inflation. Over the past decade, it has fallen.

Second, people seem to understand that the worst is yet to come — that the economy has not yet worked off its excesses.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Columbia -- the lost years

Hmmm, I was just speculating about Obama's days at Columbia College in the City of New York, where we both arrived in 1981 (he with a lei around his neck, me with the Grateful Dead shirt and cowboy boots). Sure enough, the World Wingnut Daily Wall Street Journal speculates too!

I'm kidding about the lei.

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Will Roberts recuse himself?

Some event in Washington

Ah, The Corner.

4. I thought Obama did the minimum about Bush — the barest minimum: “I thank him for his service,” or something. He could have done a lot more: not with more words, but with better, truer, more gracious words. Bush has certainly done a lot. For one thing, he is passing on to his successor the means with which to fight the War on Terror.

Obama should, of course, have vowed to "stay the course."

But then, Obama did call out Bush with "truer" words, and Jay Nordlinger doesn't like it a bit.

7. Obama talked about “restoring science to its rightful place.” I thought that was a cheap, stupid shot. The opinion-makers will love it, of course.

8. He suggested — more like said — that Bush had jettisoned American ideals in order to pursue security. That is a slander, pure and simple. Slandering your predecessor is not a good way to start a presidency.

But in between there is this little walk down memory lane.

5. Obama said something like, “It’s time to quit putting off the unpleasant decisions.” Geez: Making unpleasant decisions, in both the domestic and foreign spheres, was Bush’s specialty. In fact, he sacrificed a good deal of political popularity because of it.

Funny, that's not how I'll remember his administration.

To understand this link between today's financial crisis and Bush's wider national security decisions, we need to go back to 9/11 itself. From the very outset, the president described the "war on terror" as a vast undertaking of paramount importance. But he simultaneously urged Americans to carry on as if there were no war. "Get down to Disney World in Florida," he urged just over two weeks after 9/11. "Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed." Bush certainly wanted citizens to support his war -- he just wasn't going to require them actually to do anything. The support he sought was not active but passive. It entailed not popular engagement but popular deference. Bush simply wanted citizens (and Congress) to go along without asking too many questions.

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New ownership

Oratorical hipness

Quite the news analysis this morning from the Post.

Obama is an orator, a rare thing in a time when educated people, a lot of them Obama supporters, have been taught to distrust old-fashioned eloquence. They want text they can deconstruct, the verbal equivalent of spreadsheets; they say they want candidates who talk about "the issues."

That's not what they got from Obama. As the presidential race shaped up, Sen. John McCain saw what was happening. He warned Americans against being "deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change." Sen. Hillary Clinton, too: In the process of losing the nomination to Obama, she warned of "talk versus action."

As it happens, Obama can deliver deconstructible text, but in Denver, when he did it, accepting the Democratic nomination with a speech stacked with programs, policies, issues and specifics, he mildly disappointed those who hoped to be enthralled yet again. They didn't want to move into a rational, deliberate future; they wanted to stay with the ancient mojo of one human being talking to a crowd of other human beings.

Um, who's "they?"

The author of this Pulitzer pleasing palaver goes on to cite Greek rules of rhetoric, but the basic tenet seems to be that Obama is the next boy king and his words "comfort food."

Trust me, the honeymoon will be short-lived.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Poor Lindsay

One of the things that the press and Republicans seem to forget is the same thing that McCain's speechwriters so memorably put in Sarah Patin's sneering little pie hole: Barack Obama was a Community Organizer. A good one, apparently (though he takes little credit for it in The Faith of Our Fathers). As a community organizer he had a habit of finding common ground with people of different agendas and aims than his, in order to get their support on things they can agree on. The New York Times and Lindsay Graham seem shocked by this.

And then Lindsay, perhaps worried that he's losing his BFF, says this,

Mr. Emanuel said he did not remember any discussion of Iraq. “Barack has been clear that he is going to stick to his responsible reduction in forces, and he hasn’t changed from that,” he said.

But Mr. Graham, who accompanied Mr. McCain to the meeting, said Mr. Obama took a notably different tone toward Iraq than he had during the campaign, emphasizing the common ground in their views.

“He said that he understands that we had differences but he wanted to let us know that he also understands that we have got to be responsible in how we leave Iraq,” Mr. Graham recalled. “What the Obama-Biden administration has talked about is not losing the gains we have achieved. ”

He added, “Obama does not want to be the guy who lost Iraq when it is close to being won.”

I'm betting on Rahm's memory for this one.

It's smart politics for Obama to reach out to a handful of Republicans with whom he can find common ground on a host of issues, like immigration reform, medical records reform, and climate change, and if McCain can help provide cover for efforts to cut defense spending, all the better. But I doubt they will find agreement on Iraq as long as huckleberries like Graham think we can still "win" in Iraq when they don't know how to define "winning."

UPDATE: Forgotten link restored.

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"Bless us with tears...anger...discomfort

What HBO decided viewers didn't need to see, Bishop Robinson's prayer.

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Blue Monday -- MLK edition

Mavis Staples.

The shocking but now familiar images, seen today with new eyes.

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Apples and oranges, or, Media Analysis

I personally don't really care what the Inauguration costs and figure, anyway, that it's not a bad sort of stimulus. But what irks me are press comparisons of Obama's Inauguration versus Bush's, that are willfully misleading.



"The worst of the worst," according to Dick Cheney.

The tale Mr. Bismullah’s lawyers assembled was one of complex tribal loyalties and evident confusion by his American captors. Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, a Karzai ally and member of the Afghan Senate, described in a sworn statement that he had known Mr. Bismullah and his family for years. When they fought the Taliban, he said, “Haji Bismullah was with us.”

After the fall of the Taliban, Mr. Bismullah became an official of the pro-American regional government in Helmand Province, where tribal loyalties had brought assassinations and other brutal infighting, according to sworn statements. His job as chief of transportation was coveted by a rival clan, whose members had held the position under the Taliban. Mr. Akhundzada said the rival clan members had demanded the job, and when they did not get it, they told American forces that Mr. Bismullah was in league with the Taliban.

Though the accusation worked, the rival clan’s candidate was not appointed transportation chief. It was then that Mr. Bismullah’s car was seen being driven by one of his accusers, who, according to Karzai officials, were themselves tied to the Taliban.

At Guantánamo, Mr. Bismullah insisted he was innocent. He told military officials to contact his brother to vouch for him. The officials concluded that the brother was “not reasonably available” as a witness. At the time the brother, Haji Mohammad Wali, was the chief spokesman for a pro-American provisional governor who regularly gave news conferences, legal filings say.
The "fog or war" should have cleared years ago.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

New York, New York

The Times has a series of "postcards" from the various places Obama has lived and which, presumably, have shaped his world view. Of course, the one that has the greatest meaning for me is Keven Baker's reverie on New York in 1981 when Baker, Barack Obama, and I all arrived in the city to attend a university on the Upper West Side.

The city was, as Baker describes, a gray, foreboding place. It is true that one of the first things we were told in freshman orientation was, should you accidentally take the wrong subway line and find yourself on E. 116th St., never, ever walk through Morningside Park -- day or night -- to get to the West Side.

I can relate to most of what Baker writes, especially the opportunity for cheap food, the artistic vibrancy of the time, and the movies -- so many movie theaters showing classic films (before most people thought of film noir as "classic") and European art films.

We feasted on $4 platters of Indian food in restaurants on Sixth Street where you could bring your own wine. We went everywhere by subway, riding in gray, graffiti-covered cars where half the doors didn’t open and a single, sluggish fan shoved the air about on summer nights. We took a cab sometimes, when there were five of us and we could get a Checker, one person riding on the jump seat, staring out at the long avenues of the city.

We lived dangerously, I suppose. Everyone’s apartment was broken into. We were told that if we got out of the subway at East 116th Street to never, ever try to walk through Morningside Park back to Columbia. Women would go out to lunch and come back to the office to find their wallets somehow missing from the pocketbooks they had held tightly between their knees throughout the meal.

Late one night, leaving a party on the Lower East Side, we saw a hulking, derelict figure emerge from under a stairwell, ready to do mayhem. When he saw how many we were he frowned and retreated beneath the stairs without saying a word, waiting for the next victim.

It was a gray city, a weary one, an older one. There were, in those days, pornographic theaters in good neighborhoods; Bowery-style wino bars with sawdust on the floor on Upper Broadway; prostitutes along West End Avenue slipping into cars with New Jersey license plates. It was a city, too, that seemed to open up into an infinite series of magic boxes, of novelty shops and diners, delicatessens and corner bakeries, used record stores and bookstores.

Yeah, the record stores and bookstores. Everywhere -- from tiny ones to sprawling ones. Usually with some legendary guy who, depending on the store, knew every record or book in the place. Nearly all of those are gone now, as is the intermingling at the time of rich, poor, and middle class in neighborhoods side by side. And the city felt simultaneously brutally tough and desperately fragile, still reeling from the economic collapse of the '70s, but still determined to make it on its own -- and slightly crazed Ed Koch's -- terms.

One thing I cannot relate to in Baker's memories is dancing "all night at Danceteria." The New Wave and Disco mecca wasn't my cup o' tea...or, more appropriately, my gold spoon of coke. Which reminds me: Baker's memories are pretty complet except for one thing -- the city was awash in cocaine and whatever the multiple middle-men used to cut it prior to sale. It was everywhere, from crack cocaine north of 125th to the lines and lines of it on the coffee tables of the improbably affluent East Campus dorm -- which, just to close the circle -- is a high-rise overlooking desolate, empty, Morningside Park. A big "fuck you" to the residents of East Harlem. Funny he doesn't mention the coke thing. Maybe, like Obama, he came to the city determined not to fall into that particular drain of madness, to be physically and mentally pure (I wasn't quite to strong, at least until a few years later when I stopped after one too many nights of intense, hours long conversation with a complete and utter moron). Nevertheless, its hard to ignore that characteristic of the city and the effects it had on so many people then, people and relationships destroyed.

Anyway, I share Baker's hope that his memories of 1980s NYC will have some effect on Obama's outlook on the needs of our cities, and a reminder of how resilient you had to be to survive back then. Maybe now, too.


The Change express

Obama and his team seem to always be riding perilously close to the edge of over-reach and sentimentality. Yesterday's train trip, from Philly to Washington DC, evoking Lincoln's in 1860 1861, was surely the latest example.

But as he and Michelle waded into the crowds that had assembled and waited for hours in Baltimore, with temperatures hovering in the teens, the look of comfortable pleasure on the soon to be First Couple's faces, and the look of tearful, unalloyed joy on the faces of those who had a chance in a lifetime to touch the Obamas and to get a closeup digital photo, was about as moving as anything I'd ever seen relating to presidential politics.

Ironically, Lincoln had to pass through Baltimore through cover of darkness in 1860 1861. Maryland was a slave state and Baltimore sided with the Confederacy.

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