Archive for February 2013

A Reminder: What the Hagel Farce Was Actually About – Outsourced to Peter Beinart

February 27, 2013

I don’t generally link to the Daily Beast (for many and various reasons) but led by Bruce Bartlett’s twitterizing, I got to Peter Beinart’s clear, succinct description of what was really at stake in the Hagel nonsense:

The right’s core problem with Hagel wasn’t his alleged anti-Semitism. From Jerry Falwell to Glenn Beck to Rupert Murdoch, conservatives have overlooked far more egregiously anti-Jewish statements when their purveyors subscribed to a hawkish foreign-policy line. The right’s core problem with Hagel was that he had challenged the Bush doctrine. Against a Republican foreign-policy class that generally minimizes the dangers of war with Iran, Hagel had insisted that the lesson of Iraq is that preventive wars are dangerous, uncontrollable things. “Once you start,” he warned in 2010, “you’d better be prepared to find 100,000 troops.”


The point isn’t that Hagel “favors” containment and deterrence. Like virtually everyone else, he’d much rather Iran not get a bomb. But by reminding Americans of the potential costs of preventive war, Hagel was implying that containment and deterrence might be preferable. He was suggesting that if the U.S. can’t stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons short of war, it should make the same tradeoff that Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy made when they allowed the Soviet Union and China to get the bomb. This horrifies hawks for two reasons. First, some of them, echoing Benjamin Netanyahu, claim Iran represents an existential threat to Israel. But were that their sole concern, they’d pay more attention to the near-consensus view among top Israeli security professionals that although Iran poses a threat, it does not pose an existential one, in large measure because Iran’s regime, while vile, is rational when it comes to preserving its own existence.

The second reason hawks find Hagel’s view so frightening is that it concedes the limits of American power. Although Bush said that after 9/11 the United States no longer could afford to rely on the deterrence and containment of hostile states, what he really meant was that the U.S. no longer needed to rely on deterrence and containment, because it was now strong enough to prevent nuclear proliferation via force. For many hawks, conceding that the U.S. can’t do that means conceding American decline.

Beinart goes on to point out the absurdity of the neo-con fear that acknowledging the fact of limits to power equals American decline.* That’s another way of saying (a) read the whole thing and (b) there is a very depressing realization (familiar to readers of this blog) that sinks in should yo do so:  Beinart has achieved here nothing more than a well-stated penetrating glimpse of the obvious.

Or to put it another way: if America is in fact in decline then the cause isn’t that some of our leaders have noticed that the capacity to blow up any building anywhere in the world is not the same thing as exercising power to an end beyond rubble.  Rather, it is that so many in our media and political elites can’t or won’t.

*The concept of imperial or superpower decline is tricky.  Are we in decline if we continue to grow in wealth and capability, but other nations do so with enough vigor to approach levels that in the unique circumstances of the post-World War II decades we could occupy on our own?  Britain, shorn of empire, is wealthier, more equal, more comfortable now that it has ever been for the great bulk of its citizens, for all that Cameron and Osborne are trying to undo some of that.  Are we impoverished if we advance into a world in which the Chinese middle class, still a small proportion of that country, may soon achieve economic status equal to our own?

As I say, tricky.  One more thing, though. Such caveats to the threnody of decline do not in themselves mean that we cannot in fact propel ourselves into an actual, unmistakable loss of power, influence and so much relative economic standing that the conditions of national autonomy and agency the US now possesses will erode.  Could happen; may be happening.  But not because Chuck Hagel thinks it makes sense to ask first what one gets out of sending 100,000 American troops to the far side of the world.

Image: Michael Sweerts, Soldiers Playing Dicec.1655.

GOP Hospitality, North Carolina Style

February 26, 2013

Following Elon’s post below, here’s one more from the Tarheel state…

Fresh on the heels of the President Obama’s executive order allowing temporary residency for those undocumented immigrant kids brought to the country as children, North Carolina’s Republican leaders have come up with this:

Gov. Pat McCrory says he signed off on the controversial “pink licenses” that will be issued to some young illegal immigrants who were granted protection from deportation for two years.

The new North Carolina governor said he thought it was important that the driver’s licenses for immigrants clearly distinguish “between legal presence versus legal status.”

Critics have decried them as a modern-day scarlet letter. The new driver’s licenses will have a bright pink stripe and bold words “NO LAWFUL STATUS,” written in red capital letters across the front, according to mock-ups. (h/t Think Progress)

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure this must be how you let those from elsewhere feel welcome in your big tent.
I’ve can’t shake this image:  I’m seeing those old ship bridge telegraphs to the engine room.  You know — the ones with a lever that pulls the marker round one side of a circular dial that reads “Ahead Full; Ahead Half; Slow Astern: and so on.
Except in this case it’s a personality dial and the GOP’s is frozen in place all the way ’round at “Full Asshole.”
Seriously?  A pink stripe?  Might as well go full Hawthorne and require these young men and women to wear a vivid red U on their persons whenever they summon the temerity to use a public thoroughfare.
This is just mean, of course: a deliberate slap and perhaps worse, extended to some of our most vulnerable neighbors.  I wish it weren’t happening.
But there is one useful element to all this. Once again we all see, in this demographically evolving America, just where our friends on the right side of the aisle — and the wrong one of history — actually stand.
Images:  Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Boaz and Ruth, 1655.
Engine-order telegraph, 2001

Presented Without (Much) Comment: Did Benedict Resign Because of Naughty Times in the Vatican?

February 22, 2013

Don’t know what to make of this one, really, (any of you know how rigorous La Repubblica is in its journalism?), but here’s the Grauniad’s gloss on that paper’s report:

A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.

The pope’s spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called “Vatileaks” affair.


Last May Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with having stolen and leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.

According to La Repubblica, the dossier comprising “two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red” had been consigned to a safe in the papal apartments and would be delivered to the pope’s successor upon his election.

The newspaper said the cardinals described a number of factions, including one whose members were “united by sexual orientation”.

In an apparent quotation from the report, La Repubblica said some Vatican officials had been subject to “external influence” from laymen with whom they had links of a “worldly nature”. The paper said this was a clear reference to blackmail.

It quoted a source “very close to those who wrote [the cardinal’s report]” as saying: “Everything revolves around the non-observance of the sixth and seventh commandments.”  (h/t GOS)

Correlation is not cause, even if La Repubblica really has this story nailed, though I can certainly see how such a report might confirm someone in Benedict’s position in their conviction that it might be time to take a hike.

I’m not a Catholic myself, as I’m guessing most of you know, and I’ve never reported on the Vatican (though I’ve been a guest inside its walls on a couple of occasions).  So I can’t claim any insight into the politics behind St. Peter’s Square.  So here’s Charlie Pierce with a more informed take:

La Repubblica is not a scandal sheet, regardless of what you’re likely to be hearing from members of the Clan Of The Red Beanie over the next few days. The Italian press is famous for journalistic, ah, entrepreneurship*, but this newspaper notably has not been a big part of that culture…

What gives me a little pause is that the “secret gay cabal” theory is an old favorite among those curial powerbrokers for whom Machiavelli was something of a wimp. It also has been a regular trope of conservative Catholics seeking to defend the institutional Church’s inexcusable behavior in the face of the sexual abuse scandal, largely through the rancid technique of implying that being gay and being a pedophile are so closely allied that the former have a reason for covering up for the latter. (The linked piece from the Telegraph makes it clear that “the other side” that so exercised Dreher was not a “Lavender Mafia,” but the usual cast of institutional authoritarians up to and including John Paul II) It also is an old-line reactionary conspiracy theory beloved of, among other people, the late crackpot Malachi Martin.

…There’s a helluva lot more in the VatiLeaks documents than sins of the flesh. There’s a whole rat’s nest of bribery, nepotism, influence peddling and many other things not unfamiliar to those of us who have covered the state government here in the Commonwealth (God save it!)…

Go read the rest of what Pierce has to say; it’s all good.

One last note:  as we all know, the US Catholic Church (or rather its princes) have spent a lot of time in recent years injecting their claims of moral authority into civic debate.

That they have some reason for humility before the temptation to thus lecture the rest of us we all know.  With this, assuming it proves out, we now have one more reason to add to an already ample tally to point and laugh each time they once again condescend to lecture the civil body.

*I can attest to this “entrepeneurship” myself.  I was a cub reporter, a stringer for Time, in London when Calvi, the Vatican’s corrupt banker (early 80s edition) was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.  I did a little reporting on that story, though bigger wigs than I got most of the fun.  I did come across one delicious unpublished detail, though:  an Italian TV news team, too late to film the body in situ bought a blow-up sex toy in Soho, dressed it up in a dark suit, and filmed the resulting ringer.  Awesome.

Image:  Diego Velasquez, Portrait of Cardinal Inquisitor Don Fernando Niño de Guevara, 1596-1601

Will No One Rid Me Of This Vexatious Solon?

February 21, 2013

I’m guessing that most of those who read this blog will already have heard about John McCain’s latest descent into former decency:

Constituents at a town hall hosted by Sen. John McCain Wednesday in Phoenix cheered after the Arizona Republican told the mother of an Aurora, Colo. shooting victim that an assault weapons ban could not get through Congress.

“My 24-year-old son, Alex, was murdered in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.,” Caren Teves said. “These assault rifles allow the shooter to fire many rounds without having to reload. These weapons to do not belong on our streets.”

“I can tell you right now you need some straight talk. That assault weapons ban will not pass the Congress of the United States,” McCain responded. The video, posted Thursday by Phoenix’s KTVK, showed the line drawing applause and cheers from the crowd.

YMMV, but from where I stand, it takes a special sort of person to tell the mother of a murdered child that they need “straight talk.”  And by “special” I mean…

…you know what I mean.

He’s got the self-righteous condescension act down, certainly.  I have no doubt that Ms. Teves has an abundance of experience of blunt reality, but John McCain still found it in him to set her straight. That’s impressive — albeit in a wholly unimpressive frame.

So far, we’re on familiar territory. John McCain is no maverick, never has been.



But for all that I didn’t catch the next level of wretchedness in this encounter until dinner time, when I told my son about it.  He listened, and then asked the question so obvious that I’m still wondering why it didn’t occur to me first:

Would McCain, my twelve year old wondered, would he have told a man that he needed some straight talk about his murdered son, and the implications of that death?

Who can say?  It’s a counterfactual, meant to stimulate thought, not to secure a certain answer.

But damn, that’s an instructive question.

The dismissive tone of McCain’s answer was obvious, of course.  But I didn’t at first quite hear the gender condescension.  If McCain’s questioner had been a 6′ 5″ guy with muscles and facial hair, would he have so blithly offered “straight talk?”

Maybe.  But I can’t convince myself that the president-of-the-Sunday-morning-shows would have let it fly quite so readily.

In any event, my takeaway from this (besides that I am, as usual,  proud of my son) is it sure took guts for John McCain to bully Caren Teves to make a few points at a town hall, didn’t it?  In that context, ISTM that the defining quality of all those few, unhappy few members of the GOP’s should-no-better faction  (and yes, I’m looking at you, Lindsay Graham, et al.)… is that core property of the sane-ish rump of the national party is cowardice.

It’s ugly as hell to watch, but I am comforted that these are the markers of an institution far down the oblivion express.  I share John’s weariness at having to whack the same damn moles day after day — but I am increasingly confident that it hurts them more than it hurts us.

And with that — it’s time to return to the last of the wine to wash down an excellent (and on-sale) rib-eye.

Image:  Alfred Bierstadt, Study of Wild Horses, before 1902


I Sing The Body Electric: Program Notes — this afternoon at 5 EST 2 PST

February 20, 2013

It is once more that time of the month:  I’ll be doing another of my interviews on Virtually Speaking Science, live from the Exploratorium’s hall in Second Life!

My guest this month is Cynthia Graber.  Cynthia is a double-threat science journalist, working in both print and radio; she’s currently at MIT, as it happens, as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow.

Most recently, Cynthia’s been blazing trail in what is rapidly becoming a new genre for nonfiction — what I’ve been calling in my head the non-fiction novella, stories that explode the seams of even length-happy magazines like The New Yorker or The Atlantic, but that do not require a full book’s level of engagement.  These e-book shorts appear now as Kindle Singles, TED books, Byliner projects and more. Perhaps the most discussed in the community I hang with has been the approach pioneered by The Atavist, which adds a fair amount of computing to the text in books sold both as e-texts and as apps.  The other eye-catcher in this domain recently has been the Matter project — a Kickstarter-funded start-up dedicated to original reported and investigative stories centered on science.

Cynthia wrote what became Matter’s second publication, Electric Shock: How Electricity Could Be The Key To Human RegenerationIt’s a story of a Tufts University researcher named Michael Levin, who believes he is on track to work out pathways through which humans could emulate the salamander and regenerate damaged or lost body parts0.


His approach is out of the mainstream for what begins as a kind of out-there body of research, as he focuses not on genetics or stem cell research, but on the electrical signalling functions of our biology.

It’s a wild subject, meticulously and carefully handled.  We’ll be talking about that — and about the perils of reporting on science when the line between the daring and the too-far-out-there isn’t always that easy to discern. That’ll cover most of the hour, but we will also save some time to talk about this brave new world of forms and genres emerging in the context of the new media ecosystem.  Should be fun; stop by if you have a chance.

Listen here.  The program will be available later as a podcast at that link to Blog Talk Radio and on iTunes — look for us under Virtually Speaking Science.

If you’re a virtual world type, you can join the live Second Life audience here.

Again timing:  5 p.m. today Eastern time; 10 p.m. in London; 2 p.m. in the land of my youth over there on the left coast.

Image: Hans Canon,  The Salamander, 1863.

David Brooks Is Always Wronger: White People’s SOTU edition

February 19, 2013

Blogger’s note:  What follows is north of 2,000 words on the malign influence and intellectual poverty that is David Brooks — about which you already know.  Worse yet, it’s a screed I began a week ago in response to Brooks’ nonsense of a column in advance of the State of the Union address, so it’s long since fishwrap.  But I came across it this afternoon, mostly done, and maybe some of you might enjoy it.

One more thing, though:  the most dangerous and frustrating thing about Brooks is that there is no end to him.  There’s another column today about what he sees as the limitations of the use of big data (a term he doesn’t seem to grasp securely) that is full of yet more BS; this is his MO:  pour out the crap fast enough, with a sufficiently breezy assertion of knowledge broad and deep, and it becomes very difficult for the pricing mechanism of  the marketplace of ideas to keep up.  Alas for the Republic.

Anyway — much, much more below, for the punishment-gluttons among you.


One of the pleasures of my blogging life lately has been the divine Ms. MM’s descent into irrelevance.  As Megan McArdle slides down the Daily Beast’s incline of fail, she poses less and less danger to the body politic — and, more to the gratification of my selfish self, I don’t feel the same compulsion I once did to point and laugh.  Much more time in the week and all that.

The same cannot be said of David Brooks, inexplicably still the housebroken conservative, the one The Liberal New York Times™ vaulted into unearned prominence after his breakthrough — and unreplicated — discovery of Applebee’s salad bars.  He has real influence both as an insider and as someone with enormous access to mass communications.  And yet he combines a fundamentally dishonest approach to his writing with a very useful tendency to intellectual laziness:  he knows the conclusions his research must yield, and hence reasons no further than he must to comfort himself — and the comfortable.

The real problem is that he’s damned good at it — much better than McArdle or any of the other aspiring prematurely old fogies on their best days; there’s a reason Brooks has such a death grip on his bully pulpit.  Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote recently how difficult he finds the form of the 800 word column — the genre in which Brooks makes his living:

Here is an exercise: Spend a week counting all the original ideas you have. Then try to write each one down, in all its nuance, in 800 words. Perhaps you’d be very successful at this. Now try to do it for four weeks. Then two months, then six, then a year, then five years.

Brooks is smooth; his articles always cohere (at least until you read them with care), and if I’d not be quite ready to use the words “original” or “nuance” in their company, there’s no doubt that purely as a matter of craft, Brooks is damned good at his medium.

Which makes the use to which he puts those skills all the more grotesque.

All of which is preamble to a bit of fisking necessitated by his genuinely nasty State of the Union column yesterday.  Let’s review:

Europeans who settled America gave their lives a slingshot shape. They pulled back so they could shoot forward. They volunteered to live in harsh conditions today so their descendants could live well for centuries. The pioneers who traveled West did the same thing. So has each generation of immigrants — sacrificing the present for the sake of the future.

Pop quiz:  who’s missing here?


No prizes for the obvious answer.  All those Africans brought and bought by Europeans to help them “shoot forward.”  Not to mention a host of others who don’t fit Brooks’ whiter shades of pale view of the making of the American dream.  But hang on to that thought — we’ll get back to the nub of Brooks’ issue here in a bit.

This slingshot manner of life led to one of those true national clichés: that America is the nation of futurity, that Americans organize their lives around romantic visions of what is to be.

This is just pitifully bad history.  Hell, even the Mayflower carried at least as many merchant adventurers as pious romantics.  Brooks gives as examples of the distinctive American will-do spirit Sam Adams talking of the nation’s potential, Webster and his dictionary, and a fictional character telling a fictional visitor of his plans to build a prosperous farm.  I don’t know how to break it to our David, but this is pitiful.  Consider the founding fathers’ contemporaries in the Scottish Enlightenment.  Adam Smith was as full of futurity as the whole damn Adams family, and …hell, you get the idea.

But even more, what pisses me off about this opening gambit is that it takes prodigious amounts of willed blindness — the ability to persuade oneself that horse piss tastes like Petrus — to reduce American perspectives on time and deferred gratification to such nonsense. Ask the passenger pigeon about Americans’ gift for futurity.  How about the bison? (And yes — I do know that there was conscious policy that could be termed (in a ghastly way) future oriented in the destruction of a key economic pillar of Plains Indian life — but that’s at least part of the point.  Romantic visions don’t comport with the slaughter of buffalo in pursuit of the unraveling of inconvenient indigenous societies.)

There is something more than mere crayon history going on here though.  As with many, many Brooks columns, what you have here is the attempt to assert one pole of a dichotomy of virtue.  Our ancestors:  distinctive heroes…and what comes next?

You know what comes next:  present decay, the failure of moral fibre and the betrayal of history.

An aside:  Ta-Nehisi gets this right:  it’s hard to write a good 800 word column once — it really is an unforgiving form.   Doing it week after week for years or decades?  Brutal.

And you see it here.  I said above that Brooks is smooth, facile.  And so he is.  But it seems to me that he’s slipping, that his ear for the music of argument is betraying him.  He used to bury the false assumptions so much better, and the turn from his initial scene to the actual sting of his pieces used to come as much more of a stiletto thrust, and less of this kind of bludgeon:

This future-oriented mentality had practical effects. For decades, government invested heavily in long-range projects like railroads and canals.

Today, Americans have inverted this way of thinking. Instead of sacrificing the present for the sake of the future, Americans now sacrifice the future for the sake of the present.

Pop quiz:  who are these “Americans” who aren’t allowing the government to invest in long range projects.  It ain’t me.  I want high speed rail from Portland (or Brunswick!) to Miami.  It ain’t my wife — she thinks we ought to be pulling much weight on the alternative energy front.  It ain’t…you get it.  Last time I looked it was all those folks with R-folly after their names.  You look for those who vote against infrastructure; governors who turn down bridge projects (Christie); high speed rail (Walker, Scott); hell, Medicaid support (lots of them) and you see one common thread:  they’re Republicans, for whom the present in the form of tax cuts for the rich trumps the future made concrete in capital investment and support for that next generation of kids who will use such constructions.  Any analysis of why we can’t have nice things to come that doesn’t address this fact of our current politics is trying to hide from reality.  Or to put it more simply:  Brooks’ omission here reveals him as part of the problem, not the solution.

And next question: how is this sacrifice being arranged? Are we throwing virgins into volcanoes (instead of grandparents who ought to be sucking lava)?  Well, actually, that seems to be what Our David thinks:

Today, Americans have inverted this way of thinking. Instead of sacrificing the present for the sake of the future, Americans now sacrifice the future for the sake of the present.

Federal spending is the most obvious example. The federal government is a machine that takes money from future earners and spends it on health care for retirees. Entitlement spending hurts the young in two ways. It squeezes government investment programs that boost future growth.

A couple of preliminaries here:  for one, the federal government is an organization that takes money from present earners, mostly, and borrows some, to spend on lots of things. National defense, for one obvious example, which affects, of course, those of us who are defended at this moment, as well as (at least so the theory goes) those of us who will live into a future rendered safer by the investment in national security now.  Highways, national parks, port inspectors…you know the drill.  It’s always astonishing to me that the media lets propagandists like Brooks get away with defining government so far down, but you go to war with the feckless declining institutions you have, I guess.

Second:  the framing.  I said Brooks was clever, and he is, so you will find in his writing that whenever there is a choice about the descriptors, he picks the one that most comforts the comfortable at the expense of the rest of us.  To be fair, the case-in-point here has become a universal, but we need to push back.  Social Security and Medicare are not “entitlements” in the sense that they are things a spoiled child would demand.  They are social insurance programs, vessels you pay into when you don’t need the protections they provide so that those benefits will be there when you do.

Again, this is obvious, I’m sure, to anyone reading this.  But the language of Washington has so thoroughly turned a concept familiar to everyone who owns a car or a home (or private medical insurance) into language that carries the penumbra of an unearned goody, something that somehow rewards the wrong people, people not like us.  Much better to remind folks that we all pay throughout our working lives for critical needs we know will come later in life.  As I say, Brooks surely didn’t invent this framing, but he certainly uses it to convey an essentially false point.

And that point is the main event of this passage:  he argues here that securing old age is a theft by the aged from their children and grand children, that it inverts the American drive to the future.


Leave aside the moral cretinism implied here — that we may imagine cutting off grandpa once he can’t tote that barge anymore.  The claim is wrong in at least two major ways.  I think Brooks knows this.  He should — if he doesn’t then he’s simply intellectually incapable of doing his job, and I don’t think that’s so. Those two errors are, first, that the social insurance programs on which the aging depend were in fact paid into by the aged when they were younger.  That’s an obvious statement, I know, but it seems to escape our “exemplary (other-people’s) pain” caucus.  The federal government has taken money from my paychecks for three decades or so.  In a little over a decade more, I’ll begin drawing on pension and health care programs into which I — not my son, yet — have paid into all that while.  And so it goes, for each of us.

Yes, it’s true:  there is an ongoing balancing act between current revenue and outgoings; yes, the government does tax younger folk (not so very much younger, what with rising ages to retirement and all that) while paying out the sums due octogenerians who have contributed lo-these-many-years.  But the framing of social insurance as theft by the present from the future neglects the reality of the past, and the long history of today’s present paying their obligations against later necessity.

The second form of error is that spending on the elderly today should be seen as simply a constraint on the future.  To see the historically – ignorant folly here, assume what I hope remains the counterfactual:  we substantially reduce our commitment to health care for seniors.  To begin, recall the way such care used to be delivered, before the idea of universal access to medical care for at least those who made it more or less advanced age.  Who took care of grandpa and grandma when the grew creaky?  Sons and (especially) daughters and daughters-in-law.  Who paid?  Same again.  Now imagine that in the current medical and demographic framework we undercut public and socially-shared responsibility of the care of the aged.  What happens?

At least two things:  an enormous ramp up in the constraints faced by families in their middle age, at the peak of their productivity, presumably, and at a time when they might be most able to contribute to Brooks’ dream of endless innovation and capital formation.  Every unpaid family nursing hour is one that comes out of the hide of Brooks’ “future.”  Not to mention the transfer of wealth from individual families to the medical-industrial complex, as families striving to care for the aged in the context of a medical industry vastly more expensive than anything that depression-era clans confronted.  Social insurance is as forward looking an investment as anyone can imagine — as Brooks could long since have gleaned from the pages of his own newspaper.  See e.g. David Leonhardt’s 2009 (sic!)  piece analyzing the value of health care reform on innovation. (Leonhardt there addresses a different question than old-age care; but the argument he advances applies to the latter situation as well.)

Finally — and this is really the subject for a stand alone post (to come in a bit, I hope) — this whole piece turns on an assumption not in evidence (one of Brooks’ standard rhetorical misdeeds, btw).  That would be the one contained in this suggestion for the President:

He’d means test Medicare and use the money to revive state universities and pay down debt.

The assumption here is that the only way to confront the cost of Medicare is to take that number and its future trend as givens; if that is so, then the argument is just about who pays — all of us together, through our government, or winners and losers chosen among those who can influence the process of change the best.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately — Brooks and Friedman, and now apparently a regurgitation of Bowles-Simpson all make this same claim, and they’re all determined to be wrong.  Ed Kilgore called out this issue today.  Basically, it can be summed up as “It’s the policy, stupid.”

That is, as Ed writes,

I’d add there is obviously another path: maintaining our commitment to the elderly but finding ways to reduce the cost, especially through health care cost containment measures that don’t simply shift costs and risks to the old folks themselves.

Exactly so — as in fact the ACA attempts in a number of ways, in ways that it and other factors are already producing good effects.

Again, I say.  If David Brooks read his own damn paper, he might grasp some of this.

There’s lots more absurd in this colum — see, e.g. some painful nonesense about “culture” (a word he should be forbidden to use, IMHO) and yet more stunningly bad history, this time about the ’50s — but given how far I’ve already dived into TL;DR territory on a bit of Brooksian effluent that poured out over a week ago, I guess I should stop.

Images:  J. W. M. Turner, Slavers throwing overboard the Dead and Dying — Typhoon coming on (“The Slave Ship”) 1840.

Hendrick ter Brugghen, The Liberation of Peter, 1624

Serious People…

February 17, 2013

It’s getting sad, really, watching Senator Graham twist and turn as he tries to find some way of avoiding being Lugared next election.

Here he is on how to avoid the damage of the sequester:

“Here’s my belief: let’s take Obamacare and put it on the table,” he said. “If you want to look at ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, let’s look at Obamacare. Let’s don’t destroy the military and just cut blindly across the board.”

Here’s the Congressional Budget Office on what the budget would look like without the health care reform measure that is the signature accomplishment of President Obama’s first term:

Assuming that H.R. 6079 is enacted near the beginning of fiscal year 2013, CBO and JCT estimate that, on balance, the direct spending and revenue effects of enacting that legislation would cause a net increase in federal budget deficits of $109 billion over the 2013–2022 period. Specifically, we estimate that H.R. 6079 would reduce direct spending by $890 billion and reduce revenues by $1 trillion between 2013 and 2022, thus adding $109 billion to federal budget deficits over that period.

So forget the fact that there is exactly zero chance that the President or his party would acquiesce in this latest ham-fisted South Carolinian attempt at the nullification of duly passed federal law. Pass over in silence the fact that this kind of nonsense is exactly what is needed to continue to paint the GOP as the party of rigidity, incapable of anything other than fighting the last war…


…and ignore all of the reasons that the utterance of this crap may play great on Fox News — and that such theater is exactly what (some) Republicans themselves have noticed constrains the party’s ability to speak past its dwindling core.

Instead, do what is sadly laughable in our politics today:  pay attention to the actual policy.

If you do, you’ll notice that a sitting, senior senator just proposed deficit reduction by increasing the deficit.*

That this fact doesn’t earn immediate ridicule from the mainstream media — and not just us DFH bloggers — is a pretty precise measure of how deep is the sh*t in which our polity now wallows.  To be sure, this is hardly the most risible, or most corrosive of Graham’s recent performances; nor that of the GOP at large.  But the sheer bald obviousness of the big lie here gets my goat. Does he think we’re that stupid?

Don’t answer that.

*I do know that Graham’s statement could suggest something other than the repeal examined in the CBO analysis cited above.  But every GOP proposal on health care that I can recall that calls for something other than a total reversal of Obamacare makes the fiscal picture worse.  So unless and an until Sen. Graham advances a specific plan, I’ll default to the existing corpus of Republican “ideas” on the matter.

Image: Matthais Robinson, Charge of the Light Brigade, 1864.

Don’t Make Nancy Mad. Just Don’t

February 14, 2013

I rather think John Boehner may still be feeling a sharp, shooting pain radiating from his groin.  Consider this shot, delivered last night:

“I don’t understand that because he’s a gentleman, the speaker is,” Pelosi said in an interview with CNN published Wednesday. “But that remark [on the President’s “weakness”]  was — I mean, it was almost as if he was projecting onto the president his lack of being able to pass any bill that created jobs since he became speaker.”

CNN’s Chris Cuomo clarified: “You think the speaker is projecting onto the president his own failure?”

“Exactly,” Pelosi said. “Because he hasn’t been able to deal with his own party. There isn’t anything that he passed that we haven’t’ delivered the votes for him that has been job-creating.”

If I may be so bold, oh Once-and-Future Speaker Pelosi?  Will you be my (strictly political) Valentine?

PS:  thinking of Nancy Pelosi’s lien on certain smallish bits of John Boehner’s anatomy reminds me of the old jr. high school joke:

Q:  What do you have when you’ve got two small green balls in your hand?

A;:  Kermit’s undivided attention.


I’m sorry.

One more thing:  I don’t know why, but this picture gives me a strong Pelosi vibe.  Don’t mess:


Image:  Hyacinth Rigaud, Portrait de Marguerite-Henriette de Labriffe (comtesse de Selles), 1712


Kindermord, GOP Style*

February 13, 2013

What is it with the folks over at the GOP command bunker?

The State of the Union response gig is a fool’s errand.  Nobody really cares about it; the media resents having to halt whatever self-amuse may be hair-ifying their palms; and the atmospherics of the actual speech are going to suck. No matter how much they may try (and they usually don’t very much)** you can’t win a visual comparison with a presidential address before a joint session of Congress.

Going up on the teevee after the President on such occasions is a necessary evil for the out-party, something that somebody has to do.  There’s a ton of pressure, and the near-certainty of losing the comparison with the act you’re attempting to follow

So:  do you put the rookie talent you’re trying to nurture into a role where merely avoiding embarrassment is a triumph?  Or do you choose someone who’s been to the dance before?


If you’re the GOP, you burn Bobby Jindal four years ago, and now you toss Marco Rubio into a steaming pile of that which emerges from the south end of a north-facing horse.

Seriously — this makes no sense.  In both cases two men that the Republican party at least seems to think are potential major national players were tossed into a structurally difficult task at the very beginning of their big-league political careers.

Both did worse than I think their handlers may have expected, but where was the sense in taking the risk at all?  It’s years yet –at least a couple, before the public presidential race kicks in.  There’s no conceivable benefit to the individuals or the party that could flow from a speech in these circumstances that will matter in any deep way either to the actual political process in the here and now, nor to presidential politics coming down the pike. Doesn’t it make more sense to send up there somebody who has been up and down the course a couple of times and can be trusted to come home with as few bogies as possible?

I know, I know.  In both the Jindal and Rubio examples there is a party motive: the attempt to portray the Republican gerontocracy as something other than old and pale.  But, to continue to mix metaphors, this is a case of eating your seed corn.  Jindal is still a figure of fun; Rubio took a real blow last night, IMHO.  It just seems like crappy long-term political management to me.  Which, of course, is just fine, coming from that side of the aisle.  Long may such fecklessness wave!

*Grim origin-event for this title.

**That said, you can do better or worse, and last night’s GOP set was truly horrendous.  My wife, a two-time Emmy award winning designer (bragsplaining, I know), wondered if the folks in the Republican brain trust have even heard of the concept of  production values.  Bad camera line, crappy camera-subject geometry, and cliched, busy visual design.  I know how hard it is to make a single-camera shot against a backdrop sing.  But it is a mere matter of professional skill to do it not-awfully.  Rubio, for all his own sins, was ill-served by those who should have taken much more care.

Image: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Bougivalbetw. c. 1882 adn 1883.

“A Tradition Of Service”

February 7, 2013

That would be the motto for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. And it contains your full USDA recommended level of irony for the day.

Via BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin, we learn that the murder (so far) of three people by an ex-cop, which sparked a remarkable outbreak of shooting of folks accused of DWDBT (Driving While Driving A Blue Truck) is not the only news to come out of LA law enforcement this week. Get your heads around this:

Seven Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have been notified that the department intends to fire them for belonging to a secret law enforcement clique that allegedly celebrated shootings and branded its members with matching tattoos, officials said.

The Times reported last year about the existence of the clique, dubbed the Jump Out Boys, and the discovery of a pamphlet that described the group’s creed, which required aggressive policing and awarded tattoo modifications for police shootings.

Investigators did not find that the seven had actually, you know, killed anyone with their arquebuses whilst on night patrol…


…but I can’t say anyone who might be on the receiving end of “aggressive policing” would feel much comfort on that:

One member, who spoke to The Times and requested anonymity, said the group promoted only hard work and bravery. He dismissed concerns about the group’s tattoo, noting that deputies throughout the department get matching tattoos. He said there was nothing sinister about their creed or conduct. The deputy, who was notified of the department’s intent to terminate him, read The Times several passages from the pamphlet, which he said supported proactive policing.

“We are alpha dogs who think and act like the wolf, but never become the wolf,” one passage stated, comparing criminals to wolves. Another passage stated, “We are not afraid to get our hands dirty without any disgrace, dishonor or hesitation… sometimes (members) need to do the things they don’t want to in order to get where they want to be.”

…”We do not glorify shootings,” he continued. “What we do is commend and honor the shootings. I have to remember them because it can happen any time, any day. I don’t want to forget them because I’m glad I’m alive.”

The only good news out of this is that the Sherrif’s department does seem serious enough to actually fire these guys. I suppose you could file that impulse under “damage control,” but hell, I’ll take it.

I’ll add one more thing: being a cop is a terrifically hard job. It’s made harder by the unbelievable availability of firearms for any bad guy (or gal) to wield — which is why so many in law enforcement favor gun control.

But that job becomes harder, IMHO, not easier, the more you militarize the civilian act of policing. Such militarization doesn’t merely include weaponization, tactics and all that; it’s a culture too. And cultures can go very bad.

So I’m not calling down snark and thunder on everyone who does law enforcement. I am saying that as in so much else humans undertake, being a good cop, or department is a matter of eternal vigilance and all that.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, known as the ‘Night Watch’, 1642