Sunday, February 28, 2010

Nicholas Kristof has a good piece in the...

...Times today in which he challenges liberals and the non-religious (like me):

Some liberals are pushing to end the longtime practice...of channeling American aid through faith-based organizations. That change would be a catastrophe. In Haiti, more than half of food distributions go through religious groups like World Vision that have indispensable networks on the ground. We mustn’t make Haitians the casualties in our cultural wars.

A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.

The song (and dance) of the... Hint: it's not Fred and Ginger.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

After watching the Republicans... the health care summit on Thursday and listening to their arguments in regarding health care reform over the last year or so, I can pretty much sum up their approach as three-pronged:

(1) Tort reform (which most experts estimate would account for about a one percent saving in health care costs);

(2) Allow insurance companies to sell policies across state lines (which would result in a "race to the bottom"); or

(3) Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to essentially do away with Medicare altogether. (Just imagine your aging parents without access to health care. Scary.)

I have a suggestion for the Republicans. Just simplify your position to four words that could fit easily on a bumper sticker: Let Them Eat Cake.

It's also more honest.

If you read only one blog...

...(besides this one), it should be Ezra Klein's in the Washington Post. Andrew Sullivan's in the Atlantic and Jonathan Chait's in the New Republic are also good, but Klein's is the best I've found.

(Chris Cillizza's, also in the Washington Post, is good, but strictly for political junkies.)

The song of the...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Some vanity plates I have seen...

...recently are: GROWLR, BONE ISL, SPINKIE, I HEAR YA (my personal favorite), and UNDR WTR. I thought that last one was "underwriter" until I noticed a scuba diving bumper sticker.

Do you like split pea soup?

I do. Try Muir Glen; it's delicious.

Lieutenant Colonel Kermit Tyler...

...died at the age of 96 last month. Not only was he saddled with that unfortunate first name, but he secured an ignominious place in history by uttering four simple words:

It was a few minutes after 7 o’clock in the morning, Dec. 7, 1941. Lt. Kermit Tyler, an Army fighter pilot, was manning the aircraft tracking center at Fort Shafter in Hawaii, near the vast Pearl Harbor naval base, when he received a phone call from a nearby radar station. Two Army privates watching the screen reported picking up a large group of approaching planes.

Lt. Tyler's response?

“Don’t worry about it.”

I guess I lied... my last post. There actually was one thing from yesterday's summit that I hadn't heard before. And that was that for the first time in history, more Americans are getting their health insurance from the government than from the private sector. This would include Medicare, Medicaid, veterans hospitals, insurance provided to government workers, etc.

Not only are more and more people losing their coverage when losing their jobs, but more and more private companies are dropping insurance for their employees. If reform doesn't pass, look for this trend to accelerate.

And that's why I don't think health care reform will ever die, even if the current bill fails. The American health care system is just too dysfunctional to continue.

I watched pretty much all of the...

...afternoon portion of the health care summit yesterday (I actually had to work in the morning!), and nothing in particular leaped out at me. The question now is, what effect--if any--did it have on the media.

Over the next few days (and perhaps weeks, but no more), the nation's columnists, editorial page writers, and television commentators will weigh in. If the summit changed any of their minds we'll know very shortly. And if so, they could move public opinion just far enough to give the House Democrats cover to pass the Senate bill. Then it would be up to the Senate to pass the bill through reconciliation and present it to the president for his signature. Although reconciliation will be messy, the heavy lift here will be in passing the bill through the House. Yesterday, George Stephanopolous said that the bill did not have the votes in that chamber. We should know very shortly whether they can be found or not.

Again, keep your eye on

The UK has emerged from recession... a faster pace than previously estimated in the fourth quarter as services output jumped, providing a boost for Prime Minister Gordon Brown as he prepares for a general election within weeks.

Brown is seeking to persuade voters his Labour government has the best policies to cement the recovery. The Conservatives’ poll lead has narrowed to as little as six percentage points as ministers argue that David Cameron’s plan to cut spending this year risks plunging the economy into a “double-dip” recession.

While Brown has until June to hold the election, Labour Party documents point to a vote to coincide with local authority polls on May 6 -- less than two weeks after the statistics office publishes its preliminary estimate of first-quarter GDP.

Keep an eye on what happens in Britain this spring. It could provide clues to our own elections this fall. If Brown and Labor do better than expected, it could auger well for the Democrats.

The song of the...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The real audience for today's... care summit is the media. No layperson could possibly pay attention for six hours and/or process all of this information.

In the next few days, the media will act as a filter and mold public opinion. If it breaks in favor of reform, the bill will pass. If not, the congressional Democrats will cave.

I'll be watching for clues.

The Wall Street Journal reminds me a lot...

...of Fox News; it's little more than a propaganda sheet for the Republican Party. One thing it is not is "fair and balanced." A good example can be found (or not found) in this morning's edition. Ezra Klein writes that:

The Wall Street Journal has a splashy piece this evening on the White House's plan B for health-care reform: a fallback approach that would cover 15 million people, do less to reform the system and cut costs, and carry a lower price tag. Call it health-care lite.

There's only one problem with this. As my beloved 90-year-old mother used to say, "It's baloney sausage." Klein calls it:

A vestigial document that's being blown out of proportion by a conservative paper interested in an agenda-setting story.

So instead of reporting the news, the Journal is trying to shape the news in the Rupert Murdoch style we've all become accustomed to with Fox News.

Oh, and the reason I didn't link to that Journal article is that I can't find it now. I wonder if they pulled it after Klein's post.

And that's why I've switched my home page from the Journal to Bloomberg.

"Reconciliation" is just another word for...

..."majority rule." According to an article in the Times today:

Sixteen of the 22 “reconciliation bills” that have made it through Congress were passed in the Senate when Republicans had majorities. Among them were the signature tax cuts of President George W. Bush, the 1996 overhaul of the welfare system, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare Advantage insurance policies and the Cobra program allowing people who leave a job to pay to keep the health coverage their employer provided (the “R” and “A” in Cobra stand for “reconciliation act”).

“Is there something wrong with ‘majority rules’?” Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, once said of the reconciliation process when his party controlled the Senate. “I don’t think so.”

The "song" of the...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ezra Klein thinks he should be watching...

...Mitt Romney more closely. I say: don't bother. This guy reminds me of John Connally or Phil Gramm (who?)--sure thing front-runners for the Republican nomination who never got anywhere.

I don't care what anybody says; the "department store mannequin" (as Bill Maher calls him) is a non-starter. Romney ran in 2008 with all the money in the world and an open field and couldn't get to first base. You see, Mitt Romney has one glaring problem as a candidate: he can't get people to vote for him. Write him off.

Keep your eye on Newt Gingrich instead.

The song of the...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I got back from my trip to Minnesota...

...Sunday night and I can attest that six and a half hours up and back in a car is not easy on a bad back. But it was worth it; I had a really nice visit with my parents.

As usual, most of it revolved around food. My mother never skimped on meals and that hasn't changed; she even served cake and ice cream for dessert on Friday and Saturday nights.

Is it somebody's birthday around here or something?

Oh, and if you want to see two 90-year-olds move really fast, just offer to take them out for a corned beef sandwich. (They almost ran me over on the way to getting their hats and coats!) You would have thought I was taking two kids to see the circus...

Postings were light today because I was in full Paul Krugman mode. After reading an article about him in the latest New Yorker, I went to the library and picked up some of his books. I'm about a third of the way through The Conscience of a Liberal. It's really good.

I'll get back on the straight and narrow tomorrow. Hope you're all enjoying my song selections.

The song of the...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Health care reform is rallying...

...on after the White House released its plan today. I wonder if it will be above 50% by Thursday.

Proponents of health care reform...

...are calling this week's summit meeting the "Last, Best Shot." While I understand their sense of urgency, I disagree that this is reform's last chance. And that is because even if this effort fails, reform will continue to resurface unless America's broken health care system magically heals itself. And I wouldn't count on that happening any time soon.

I'm not a golfer or a fan of Tiger Woods,...

... but no sentient being could be unaware of his Big Public Apology last Friday, even those of us listening to music on satellite radio on the drive up to Minnesota. (Volume in the stock markets reportedly slowed down while traders watched the spectacle.) As I said, I'm indifferent to the whole thing, but what I don't understand is, why did Woods have to do this in the first place? Why not just reply to reporters' questions with a "No comment," and get on with his career? Does he really owe anyone besides his wife an apology? Certainly not me.

If there's one thing that should be clear...

...from the CPAC conference this past weekend, it's that the Republican Party is still hopelessly lost in the Wilderness. The keynote speaker was Glenn Beck (who may or may not be sane) and the winner of the presidential straw poll was Ron Paul, a 74-year-old Congressman from Texas who was an also-ran in 2008 and may not even be running in 2012.

For the Republican Party to be a credible force in American political life, they need to have ideas and leaders; right now they have neither.

If you ever find yourself in the Twin Cities,... really need to stop in at Cecil's Deli on Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul for one of their famous Reuben sandwiches and a chocolate egg cream. You won't be sorry.

And while you're in the Land of Sky-Blue Water, tool across the Mississippi to Edina and the Eden Avenue Grill. It's a good spot, although you need to be accompanied by an octogenarian to be seated. Don't worry; they're everywhere in Edina and any one of them will do. If you're really stuck, just stop at nearby Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church and you can take your pick among several suitable ones.

The song of the...

Friday, February 19, 2010

BOWG will be traveling up to the...

...Great North Woods this weekend to visit my 90-year-old parents. Postings will be lighter than usual, but the Song of the Day will still be featured (and I have some good ones planned).

Many of us who are in favor...

...of health care reform are frustrated that the bills before Congress don't have more support in public opinion polls. How can that be? When you ask people about its individual parts, they poll much better. The only answer is that the average American just doesn't understand what is in the bills. And that is due largely to a failure among President Obama and the Democrats to explain reform (and the Republicans' shameless demagoguing of the issue). But this interpretation is seen as hopelessly arrogant.

Eric Zorn, writing in the Chicago Tribune today, sheds some light on the problem:

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last month found that 58 percent of respondents either didn’t know or were unaware that the bills now in Congress would prohibit insurance companies from setting lifetime caps on coverage.

Fifty-seven percent didn’t know the bills would require insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of what they take in on health care; 56 percent didn’t know the bills would shrink the “doughnut hole” in Medicare drug benefits.

In all, nine of the 21 listed proposals scored higher than 50 percent in the “didn’t know” category. Other scores were surprisingly high: For example, 39 percent didn’t know the bills would prohibit insurance companies from charging higher premiums based on a person’s existing condition or medical history.

A Pew Research Center poll, also released last month, found six in 10 Americans didn’t know that people with existing medical conditions would have an easier time getting coverage under the proposals in Congress. Among self-identified opponents of the bill, seven in 10 didn’t know. And only 15 percent of all respondents knew that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that, if passed, the bills will decrease the federal deficit (by $100 billion) over the next 10 years.

It makes me wonder, what do people believe are in the bills?

A year ago today, Rick Santelli...

...went into his famous rant on CNBC, condemning the federal government's efforts to avert another Great Depression and calling for a modern-day tea party.

Yesterday, the Federal Reserve raised the discount rate, signaling that the crisis has passed.

The song of the...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Fed raised the discount rate... a quarter of a percentage point this afternoon. I, for one, am shocked. I thought Ben Bernanke was quite clear that rates would stay low for a long time. No matter. This is good news; the recovery must be for real.

First it was W., then it was...

...Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and now it's Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. What do they all have in common? They want to privatize Social Security. Didn't we settle that back in 2005?

Is privatizing Social Security really what the Republicans want to talk about this year? Is that really what the public wants? Do we want to get ourselves into another bailout situation, where we'll have to bail out an entire class of people after they lose their life savings in the stock market?

Have we learned nothing from the current economic crisis?

I just got in from my mid-day walk...

...and I noticed that one of my neighbors had his address written on his garbage can in big block letters, 1422 E. LAKE AVE. Another one of my neighbors, who has since moved, used to have his last name, CROWLEY, written on his.

And I just want to ask them, are you really afraid that someone might steal your garbage?

Chris Matthews had two former senators...

...on Hardball the other night, Democrat John Breaux from Louisiana and Republican William Cohen from Maine. They were discussing the retirement of Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana and how difficult it has become to serve as a centrist in the United States Senate. Matthews showed a clip of Bayh:

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: I don‘t feel that the Senate or Congress in general is working as well as it should. I think it‘s in desperate need of reform. I think you‘ve got a lot of good people trapped in a dysfunctional system right now. And with regard to the left-wing bloggers, you know, I believe in the 1st Amendment. They‘ve got a right to criticize me. Sometimes it gets a little personal. You know, you‘re only human, you don‘t like that. But you know, you‘ve got to accept that in our society, so I do.

MATTHEWS: Well, Senator Breaux, he took a shot at the left-wing bloggers, as he calls them. And the question is, is that part of the difficulty of being a U.S. senator, you get hit from your extremes, from the liberal side, the left, and the right, if you try to work a deal in the center?


MATTHEWS: Well, what do you say to the J.D. Hayworths on the right who are to there beating the heck out of John McCain and the Katrina Vanden Heuvels over on the left who are raising hell about the Democrats like you, Senator, or anybody that might go to the middle? I want to start with you, Mr. Cohen. What do you say to your extremes when they get all the noise on TV? They got nothing to lose. I guess that‘s one thing you can say, that you‘ve got nothing to lose!

COHEN: What‘s wrong is no one is willing to take tough decisions. It used to be, when Senator Breaux and I were in the Congress, that in the Senate, you could be a statesman for four years and then go run for reelection the last two (my emphasis). Now it‘s running every moment, raising money, out on the road. And what we‘re seeing is the polarization taking place and no decisions being made because they‘re too tough.

To which I say, Boo-hoo! You have to run for reelection for six years now. So--stop! Serve for six years in the best way you know how and then step down if you have to. Why is it more important for a guy like John McCain to get reelected to the Senate than it is for him to stand up to a thug like J. D. Hayworth? McCain is forever talking about honor and courage and blah, blah, blah. Why doesn't he show some himself and just vote his conscience?

The Republicans are always talking...

...about allowing health insurance companies the right to sell policies across state lines. I never knew if that was a good idea or not. Today, Ezra Klein explains what it would mean for the health care system and why the GOP is in favor of it. As I'm sure you can imagine, he thinks it would be a bad idea. In a nutshell,

The [Republicans] want insurers to be able to cluster in one state, follow that state's regulations and sell the product to everyone in the country. In practice, that means we will have a single national insurance standard. But that standard will be decided by South Dakota. Or, if South Dakota doesn't give the insurers the freedom they want, it'll be decided by Wyoming. Or whoever.

This is exactly what happened in the credit card industry, which is regulated in accordance with conservative wishes. In 1980, Bill Janklow, the governor of South Dakota, made a deal with Citibank: If Citibank would move its credit card business to South Dakota, the governor would literally let Citibank write South Dakota's credit card regulations. You can read Janklow's recollections of the pact here.

Citibank wrote an absurdly pro-credit card law, the legislature passed it, and soon all the credit card companies were heading to South Dakota. And that's exactly what would happen with health-care insurance. The industry would put its money into buying the legislature of a small, conservative, economically depressed state. The deal would be simple: Let us write the regulations and we'll bring thousands of jobs and lots of tax dollars to you. Someone will take it. The result will be an uncommonly tiny legislature in an uncommonly small state that answers to an uncommonly conservative electorate that will decide what insurance will look like for the rest of the nation.

This is the future of...

...journalism, and it ain't all bad:

Dan Kennedy, who follows new-media journalism, says Connecticut is a particularly vibrant example of how entrepreneurial online journalists are filling a lot of the holes left by the decline of newspapers.


A longtime Connecticut journalist, Paul Bass, has become one of the most watched exemplars of scrappy, low-budget, high-impact local journalism — based on reporting, not attitude and opinion — through his New Haven Independent and Valley Independent Sentinel in the Naugatuck Valley.

“If your beat is the funeral parlor, you just think people are dying,” he said. “If you step outside, you see just as many people are being born. We’re returning to an era when we get news from more than one source again, human beings, rather than one monopoly newspaper sending out as few people as possible so it can make as much money as possible. It’s a new golden age.”

And bloggers will be at the forefront of it all.

Ever since Scott Brown was elected...

...senator last month, I've been asking myself the question, "What if health care reform doesn't pass?" Although Intrade has the odds of a bill passing at only 32% (as of this writing), President Obama could still pull a rabbit out of his hat at the health care summit next Thursday if he can successfully portray the Republicans as obstructionist. But the smart money is betting against it.

Nicholas Kristof, in the Times today, asks a similar question, "Do We Really Want the Status Quo on Health Care?":

The United States Public Interest Research Group calculated last year that without reform, insurance premiums for those with employer-provided health care would nearly double by 2016.

(That amount would be coming out of your paycheck--if your employer still offers insurance. Rising health insurance premiums was the main reason incomes were flat in the aughts.)

Also last month, the Urban Institute applied its computer model of health insurance costs to a scenario in which there is no reform, and this is what it found:

“Over the next decade in every state, the percent of the population that is uninsured will increase, employer-sponsored coverage will continue to erode, spending on public programs will balloon, and individual and family out-of-pocket costs could increase by more than 35 percent,” it said. It added that the number of uninsured Americans could reach as many as 65 million in another decade.

The Republicans are getting more and...

...more confident that they can regain majorities in both the House and the Senate this year. I can't help feeling that they may be celebrating just a little too early. There are still about nine months until the mid-term elections. A lot can happen in that time.

Just this morning, The Wall Street Journal (the print version of Fox News), had a story, "Factories Gear Up to Hire":

Manufacturers are seeing more signs that the U.S. economic recovery is on a solid footing, opening the way for new hiring as well as call-backs for factory workers laid off during the depths of the recession.

What? Jobs coming back? That's not supposed to be happening yet! This would be a nightmare for the GOP. Their whole "Party of No" strategy has been based on the expectation that the economy would not recover and jobs would not return in time for the mid-terms.

What else would Republicans run on in November? Foreign policy and national security have been taken off the table. Culture Wars? Settled. The only thing the Republicans have been successful at harping on is the deficit (which they helped to create) and jobs (without a better idea of how to create them). But now, if this story is true (and The Journal has always been a reliable fade) it could take the gun right out of Republicans' hands. Make no mistake, unemployment is expected to remain high for years, but if the rate can be seen as moving down between now and November, it could remove the most potent issue for the GOP going into the mid-terms.

Don't be too surprised if the Democrats retain control of both the House and the Senate.

The "song" of the...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Anthony Mancinelli still cuts hair... age 98.

He started cutting hair when Calvin Coolidge was in the White House. He was 12.

The people at the Guinness Book of World Records who concern themselves with such things have proclaimed Mr. Mancinelli, who turns 99 on March 2, the world’s oldest barber.


“He might be pushing 100,” [one customer] said, “but he still gives the best shaves around.”

Is that safe?

After dusting off Mr. Jaffe’s neck with a brush full of talcum powder, Mr. Mancinelli seated another man, and in a voice just loud enough to be heard over a Filippo Valli song playing on the radio, began telling him how old-school barbers like himself “were once like doctors.”

“I used to have a bottle of leeches on my counter, and I would put them on people’s skin to drain blood,” he said, not noticing that half a dozen men waiting for him and three other barbers were hanging on his every word. “In those days, while giving a haircut, I would put a leech over a black eye to bring down the swelling, or on the arm of someone who had high blood pressure because the thinking was their pressure might drop.”

Henry Paulson has a piece... the Times, "How to Watch the Banks," in which he says: is critical that we learn from the financial crisis and put in place reforms to avert a repeat of 2008 or something even worse.

Congress must pass financial regulatory reform. Delays are creating uncertainty, undermining the ability of financial institutions to increase lending to the businesses of all sizes that want to invest and fuel our recovery. Our overriding goal in restructuring our financial architecture should be that taxpayers never again have to save a failing financial institution.

He finishes up by saying:

...we must not lose our sense of urgency, or the political courage to make the necessary reforms to ensure our long-term prosperity.

After watching the health care debate over the last year, is there really any hope that Congress can pass meaningful financial regulatory reform? Already, Wall Street is encouraging Harold Ford to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand for the Democratic nomination for the U. S. Senate from New York.

If you think the health care industry is powerful, wait until you see the financial industry!

If you think Sarah Palin...

...could never be elected president, read this front page article in the Times today, "Tea Party Movement Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right." It's scary. All I can say is, the economy had better turn around soon.

Also, I'd love to ask all of these retired white people, do you realize that you are getting more from the federal government in Social Security and Medicare than you ever put in?

The song of the...

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Vatican has selected...

...its top ten pop and rock albums of all time. (I am not making this up.)

THE TOP TEN (In order of release)
1. Revolver by the Beatles
2. If I could Only Remember My Name by David Crosby
3. The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
4. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
5. The Nightfly by Donald Fagen
6. Thriller by Michael Jackson
7. Graceland by Paul Simon
8. Achtung Baby by U2
9. (What's the story) Morning Glory by Oasis
10. Supernatural by Carlos Santana

A week ago, the Pope condemned the abuse of children by members of the clergy.

Whatever happened to the Sermon on the Mount?

I just saw...

...TIC TOC, C TOM GO, and TEENIE (with a "God Bless America" bumper sticker).

Robert Robb... a columnist for The Arizona Republic. What do you suppose people call him, Bob Robb? How about Robby Robb? Rob Robb? Couldn't his parents have come up with anything better than Robert?

And is that name better, or worse, than Robert Bobb?

Senator Jon Kyl, Republican...

...of Arizona, on Sunday threw more cold water on the chances that his party would cooperate with a Feb. 25 healthcare reform summit at the White House, protesting that Democrats already seem poised to force a bill through Congress.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Kyl echoed a claim that congressional Republicans have made for the past week, that President Barack Obama and House and Senate Democrats intend the summit as a public display and not a genuine dialogue. He quoted a recent Wall Street Journal article that asserted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has “set the stage” for using reconciliation to pass the bill. That controversial legislative tactic could allow the bill to pass the Senate with 51 votes instead of 60 as usually required to break a filibuster.

“What that means is they’ve devised the process by which they can jam the bill through that the president has supported in the past, without Republican ideas in it,” Kyl told CNN host Candy Crowley.

“Reconciliation is not the process for comprehensive bills like this. It’s for balancing the budget… I don’t know why we would be having a bipartisan summit down at the White House if they’ve already decided on this other process by which they’re going to jam the bill through.” (My emphasis.)

I love how Republicans use the phrase "jam the bill through" when they talk about passing a bill with 51 votes. I call it "majority rule," or "democracy," or (gasp!) "the American Way."

By the way, Jon Kyl has to be the shortest name ever for a United States senator.

Debra Medina is one of three...

...candidates for the Republican nomination for governor of Texas.

[Ms.] Medina...appeared on Glenn Beck’s radio show last week and fumbled a question about whether she agreed with conspiracy theorists who think the Bush administration was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard,” she said. “There’s some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all the evidence there.”


On the hustings last week, Ms. Medina took great pains to avoid being labeled out of touch, declaring to one audience after her remarks about Sept. 11 were broadcast, “I am not a flake.”


Gun enthusiasts love her opposition to all federal gun laws. She won many over when she lamented in a recent debate that current law did not allow her to take her pistol, which she keeps in a zippered case in her car, into the grocery store.

Where does this woman buy her groceries, Dodge City? What is she so afraid of, that creepy guy behind the meat counter? That pimply kid in produce?

I can honestly say I have never felt the need to bring a pistol into a grocery store.


“I am not a crazy person,” she said.

Sorry, lady, but no reasonable person would agree that you should be allowed to bring a gun into a grocery store. You are a crazy person.


Recent polls have shown that Ms. Medina’s support among likely primary voters is in the double digits, and some surveys have her close to edging out [Senator Kay Bailey] Hutchison for second place.

There is a growing belief among Republican strategists here that if Ms. Medina can control the damage from Thursday’s radio gaffe, she might force a runoff (emphasis mine).

It's Texas, remember?

Dick Francis, the jockey and author, died...

...on Sunday at the age of 89.

Dick Francis, whose notable but blighted career as a champion steeplechase jockey for the British royal family was eclipsed by a second, more brilliant career as a popular thriller writer, died on Sunday in the Cayman Islands, where he had a home. He was 89.

The author of more than 40 novels, most of them set in the world of thoroughbred horse racing, Mr. Francis made it a point of honor to satisfy fans with one book a year for most of his career.

One book a year for 40 years!

A year later, Mr. Francis teamed up with his son, Felix Francis, to write “Dead Heat.”

Felix Francis? Whose idea was that name?

His collarbone was broken 12 times, his nose five times, his skull once, his wrist once, and his ribs too many times to notice. He rode 12 races (winning two) with a broken arm.

Yet, in looking back at the decade that he rode horses for a living, he would call those years “the special ones. The first growth; the true vintage. The best years of my life.”

The health care summit next Thursday... all about molding public opinion. In fact, health care reform--like any issue--has always been about molding public opinion. And this is where President Obama and the Democrats took their eyes off the ball. While they were busy crafting legislation, their opponents were defining the issue in the public's mind. And they were good at it.

All throughout the campaign of 2008 and up until last summer, health care reform polled well. Only after its opponents began to demonize it did its numbers begin to slip. And after the town hall meetings in August, it became clear that reform would be an extremely heavy lift. Congressmen and senators just don't like to vote against the will of their constituents. As any self-respecting Chicago mobster would tell you, "It's bad for bizness."

So Thursday is the last chance for the proponents of reform. President Obama will try to make the Republicans look as if they have no ideas and are obstructionist. If successful, he may persuade the congressional Democrats to pass a bill. And that's why it would be political suicide for the GOP to boycott the meeting. Empty chairs do not make for good optics.

The Republicans, on the other hand, will try to portray their opponents as attempting to shove an unpopular bill down the throats of the American people. They will try to come off as bargaining in good faith while the Democrats are hopelessly out of touch with the public.

So who will win the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people? The bill is unpopular with the public right now, but so are the Republicans. Can Obama--once again--snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? If so, America may get a bill. If not, health care reform will be dead for another generation.

The song of the...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A good book about the financial crisis is...

...A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of '08 and the Descent into Depression, by Richard A. Posner. Posner is a judge, of all things, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. He's also been closely associated with the University of Chicago's philosophy of free-market capitalism. In this book, however, Posner turns critic and calls for more government regulation.

A Failure of Capitalism is especially good for the layperson, as it is written in easy-to-understand English.

The song of the...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Every now and then... article is written by a revisionist historian about how the war in Vietnam was actually winnable. It usually focuses on the failure of will among the politicians and Americans back home. I imagine historians will be debating this for generations.

The Times has an obit of General Frederick Weyand today (all emphasis mine):

Frederick C. Weyand, who served as the commander of American forces in Vietnam in the final year of the war, a duty he carried out despite having become convinced as early as 1967 that the war was a hopeless venture, died on Wednesday at his home in Honolulu. He was 93.

At a cocktail party in Saigon in 1967, General Weyand, speaking of [General William C. Westmoreland, the commander of American forces in Vietnam] had told Murray Fromson, a CBS news correspondent: “Westy just doesn’t get it. The war is unwinnable. We’ve reached a stalemate, and we should find a dignified way out.”

In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Fromson said: “He was very candid, and a very decent guy. A lot of the generals felt that way, but he was willing to sit down and talk about it.”

This was in 1967, a year before the Democratic convention in Chicago, two years before Woodstock, and three years before the shootings at Kent State, in which four students were killed.

Fred Morrison, creator of the...

...Frisbee, died at age 90.

Walter Fredrick Morrison, who at 17 sent the lid of a popcorn tin skimming through the air of a California backyard and as an adult remade the lid in plastic, in the process inventing the simple, elegant flying disc known today as the Frisbee, died Tuesday at his home in Monroe, Utah.

Wham-O changed the name to Frisbee in 1958, influenced by the Frisbie Pie Company in Connecticut, whose tins Yale students hurled for sport.

“I thought the name was a horror,” he told The Press Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., in 2007. “Terrible.” (Before perfecting the Pluto Platter in 1955, Mr. Morrison had called earlier incarnations of his disc the Flyin’ Cake Pan, the Whirlo-Way and the Flyin-Saucer.)

In 1948, he and a partner, Warren Franscioni, manufactured the Flyin-Saucer, the first plastic flying disc. It sold fitfully, and the two men parted company in 1950. The Pluto Platter was Mr. Morrison’s most refined disc. Flat and round, it had a raised central hub, with the names of the planets in raised plastic around the rim. The instructions, molded into the underside, were written by Lu Morrison and read like a Zen koan:

Play catch — Invent Games

To Fly, Flip Away Backhanded

Flat Flip Flies Straight

Tilted Flip Curves — Experiment!

The song of the...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Debra Medina is one of two...

...(count 'em, two) tea party candidates running for the Republican nomination for governor of Texas. The third candidate has the backing of former Vice President Dick Cheney. It's Texas, remember?

So who's Debra Medina and why should anyone care? According to Politico:

A pistol-packing nurse and home-schooler with close ties to Ron Paul is emerging as a wild card who is reordering the dynamics of the March 2 Texas Republican primary for governor.

Powered by tea party support, Debra Medina’s rapid climb is raising the prospect that the three-way GOP primary that includes Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will be decided by an April runoff.

Medina, who has crafted her grass-roots campaign around a sweeping plan to repeal property taxes and an expansion of gun rights, gained significant attention and traction after her colorful appearances alongside Perry and Hutchison in two recent televised debates.


According to the Dallas Morning News:

Debra Medina's campaign for Texas governor tumbled, and spent Thursday trying to right itself, after the Republican iconoclast didn't immediately dismiss a fringe theory that the Bush administration played a role in the 9/11 attacks.

Medina was speaking on Glenn Beck's nationally broadcast radio program when the host asked her if she believed the American government had any involvement in the destruction of the World Trade Center.

"I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard," she replied. "There's some very good arguments and I think the American people have not seen all the evidence there, so I've not taken a position."


It turns out that Paul Ryan... a big fan of Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged. That explains a lot.

I used to be a fan of Ayn Rand and read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, as well as other fiction and non-fiction by Rand. I like novels and I like talking about philosophy. But I live in the real world.

Apparently Ryan does, too. When the economy was in crisis, he voted for the bank bailout and the auto bailout. That's reassuring.

I'm trying really hard to understand...

...Paul Ryan's health care reform plan. He wants to give senior citizens a $5,000 voucher to buy a private health insurance policy instead of Medicare. What I don't understand is, who are these mythical companies that are willing to write policies for seniors? You could give my 90-year-old parents a $50,000 voucher and I doubt they could find someone to write a policy (unless the insurer bet that they would die first). So the effect of his plan is to ultimately deny health care to all but the wealthiest seniors.

This would certainly help meet his goal of balancing the federal budget.

But wouldn't this be like me balancing my household budget by not buying any more of that pesky food at the grocery store?

Anyone can balance the budget by ending Medicare and Social Security. That's simple math. The difficulty is in balancing the budget while maintaining a reasonable safety net.

Michael Wish, a 30-year-old from...

...Medina, Ohio, says, "I think Congress and the Senate need to be completely revamped. The old way of doing things is no longer working."

I think he has an appropriate last name.

Senator Judd Gregg was on MSNBC...

...last night talking about how he was now willing to negotiate with President Obama and the Democrats over a health care bill. Huh? (I rubbed my eyes and turned up the volume.) Is this the same guy who:

...penned the equivalent of an obstruction manual -- a how-to for holding up health care reform -- and distributed the document to his Republican colleagues.

Yesterday morning on CNBC Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said he is now willing to work with Democrats on a bipartisan jobs bill. Say what?

And an article in the Times this morning says:

Key Democrats and Republicans in the Senate reached a rare bipartisan agreement on Thursday on steps to spur job creation.

What is going on here? Did I wake up in Bizarro World? Or is the public finally tiring of the Republican Party's strategy of obstructionism?

On the front page of the Times this morning, another article is titled, "Poll Finds Edge for Obama Over G. O. P. Among the Public." Aha!

At a time of deepening political disaffection and intensified distress about the economy, President Obama enjoys an edge over Republicans in the battle for public support, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

They credit Mr. Obama more than Republicans with making an effort at bipartisanship...

I see...

For all the erosion in support for Mr. Obama, Americans say he better understands their needs and problems and has made more of an effort to be bipartisan than Congressional Republicans, the poll found.

“It feels like an attempt to sabotage the majority and to regain control of power rather than working on a compromise,” John Smith, a Republican from Greenville, S.C., said of his party after participating in the poll.


Americans appear hungry for an end to partisan infighting in Washington, so much so that half of respondents said the Senate should change the filibuster rules that Republicans have used to block Mr. Obama’s agenda. Almost 60 percent said both Mr. Obama and Congressional Republicans should compromise in the interest of consensus.

But Mr. Obama is seen as making more of an effort to do that: 62 percent said Mr. Obama was trying to work with Congressional Republicans, while the same percentage said that Republicans were not trying to work with Mr. Obama.

“Obama is certainly trying,” said Bonnie Ewasiuk, 60, of Woodbridge, Va. “I’m a Republican so I don’t like to go against the party, but Obama has reached out and had meetings and I don’t think the Republicans are going to be responsive. All you see from them is negativity.”

You don't suppose the Republicans read the polls, do you?

(All emphasis mine.)

The song of the...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This post is not about Sarah Palin;...'s about Bill Clinton. In a piece about Sarah Palin in Time, Joe Klein says:

I have a theory about Bill Clinton: his philandering worked in his favor politically, especially with a demographic chunk that usually shies away from liberalism: American working guys. It made him more accessible. Here was a fellow who got it on with faded lounge singers and then celebrated with a Double Quarter Pounder and fries at the local McDonald's. If that ain't pickup-truck nirvana, what is?

I couldn't disagree with Klein more. In fact, I think that was exactly Clinton's problem with white males: he was an average-looking guy who cheated on his wife and got away with it--and every other guy in America was jealous.

If I have to play by the rules, so does Bubba--especially Bubba. What makes him so special? He's no better than me!

And that was one of the main reasons white males went along with the impeachment. No, Virginia, it wasn't about his lying under oath; it was about sex after all.

(It was really all about getting Bill Clinton, but that's the subject of another post.)

Representative Paul Ryan, Republican...

...from Wisconsin, is the latest flavor-of-the-month. He has:

...a radical plan to balance the federal budget by slashing the sacred cows of American entitlement spending: Social Security and Medicare.

Most developed countries have a generous safety net. Germany, for example, has had universal health care for over a hundred years. Why can't the United States do that?

"I'm a limited-government, free-enterprise guy, but TARP... represented a moment where we had no good options and we were about to fall into a deflationary spiral."

But isn't TARP prima facie evidence that government must step in from time to time to correct the failings of the free-market system? Wasn't TARP essentially a refutation of the laissez-faire approach that Ryan and so many other Republicans have? If TARP was truly necessary, as Ryan contends, than can't other government measures be justified to correct imperfections with the free-market system?

David Brooks is very high on my list...

...of People I Would Like to Have Dinner With. (Others that immediately come to mind are Ezra Klein and Andrew Sullivan.) Brooks was on Charlie Rose this week and had a number of interesting things to say, as usual. The interview was broken into two parts: Obama and the state of the country, politically; and Brooks's interest in the latest research involving the human brain. (All emphasis mine.)

In regard to the political climate in America, the tea party movement, and the failure to pass health care reform:

CHARLIE ROSE: How much of this has to do with a sense that Washington and power in America is elitist and does not either represent or listen to me?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it's likely.

The first thing to remember is we had this period of trust in government '32 to '64. That was the exceptional period in American history. It was because of Franklin Roosevelt and because World War II. People had trust. But for all the rest of American history, there has been this strong current of distrust.

It's magnified, I think, by a lot of things. It started with Watergate, Vietnam, and all of that. But then I do think we have become a class society to this degree that people in Washington -- including myself and maybe the viewers of this program -- are predominantly coastal, highly educated, and we live in a different world.

And it's not traditional sort of liberal academic elites. I don't think that's what it is. It is, in this country until 1964 college educated and non-college educated families were basically the same. The divorce rates were the same, volunteering was the same, voting patterns were the same.

That began to divide. And now you have this chasm in lifestyle. So people in the college educated class have half the divorce rates of people in the high school educated class, vote twice as often, volunteer twice as often, and most importantly have a much higher degree of social trust.

Do you trust the institutions of society? People in my class have a relatively high level of trust. People with high school degrees or some college -- which is the vast majority -- do not have that level of trust and they do not think those people get it.

So if you have this climate of opinion in the country and you get the whole country really concerned about economics and you talk to them for nine months about health care, they're going, whoa, what is that about?

And then if you -- if it at a moment of economic insecurity you add what you might call political insecurity with the whole raft of changes, they're going, whoa, what are you doing here?

DAVID BROOKS: People feel trustful and are willing to take a risk what the wind's at their backs, when they're feeling comfortable and security. It's basic attachment. There is a child psychology.

CHARLIE ROSE: When they're hurting they don't feel trust.

DAVID BROOKS: No, pull in. Why are you adding more insecurity in my life?

Brooks next tackles Paul Ryan's budget proposal and health care plan:

DAVID BROOKS: And everybody in Washington on both parties now bows down do that context with the exception of a guy named Paul Ryan, who's a Wisconsin Republican, who proposed a budget which would really be balanced. Whether it's a political seller is a crucial question because it basically cashes out Medicare, gives people a check which will not cover their health care costs, but that's reality.

I've looked at Ryan's health care plan and, as far as I can tell, it would balance the federal budget by essentially privatizing Medicare. That's all well and good, but it seems to me that the upshot would be that the elderly would eventually be priced out of health care. What private insurance company would write a policy for a 70-year-old? So the elderly--excepting the very rich--wouldn't have access to health care. Is that really how we want to balance the budget? Brooks doesn't think so. (Phew!)

CHARLIE ROSE: What mistakes can the Republicans make?

DAVID BROOKS: By seeing the public revulsion as a ratification of a libertarian economic philosophy. People are against Washington therefore they want a libertarian view of government. Well, we actually tried that. Gingrich tried that, Delay -- not so much Delay, but Gingrich tried that. And Paul Ryan, who's a very respectable and I think a very admirable member of Congress, what he is essentially proposing is very intellectually honest but is essentially voucher government. It's government would give you a voucher for health care.

CHARLIE ROSE: Give you a voucher? You buy your own health care. You make the choices.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And that's an intellectually coherent and honest position. I do not think that's where the country is. I do not think the country has lost a sense of common security and common cause. I don't think they're in that more libertarian spot. And so I think the Republican would make a mistake of over-interpreting the protest as an ideological shift, which I don't think it is.

CHARLIE ROSE: Turning the corner here -- science, the brain, which we're doing a series on, which we've completed. What is it that's drawn you this subject? For all of your -- from the wide spectrum of your interest, there have been three or four columns about the brain. What is it you're coming to, what is it you're discovering, and what's worth --

DAVID BROOKS: Nonetheless, they don't solve philosophical problems. They don't give you a new philosophy of life. But they do confirm or validate some old philosophies.

If you thought that emotion was not separate from reason, that we were all fundamentally emotional creatures, then this confirms that, the importance of emotion. And so few if you felt we were fundamentally social creatures, then this confirms that, because we get dopamine surges when we have social conferences.

If you thought we were utilitarian, purely rational individualists, then this disconfirms all that. So it confirms certain -- it settles certain philosophical arguments, or at least biases you in one direction. And I found that just tremendously useful.

Is Australian employment data...

...cause for optimism in the U. S.? According to Bloomberg:

...Australian employers added the most workers in more than three years in January, the fifth straight monthly increase, according to the statistics bureau in Sydney.

“People are more optimistic for the time being and a bit happier the way the world is panning out,” said Tim Schroeders, who helps manage $1.1 billion at Pengana Capital Ltd. in Melbourne. The employment data “exceeded expectations.”

The Australian dollar gained 1.5 percent to 88.84 U.S. cents and the yield on Australia’s benchmark 10-year note increased six basis points to 5.51 percent after the statistics bureau said the country added 52,700 workers in January, three times as many jobs as economists forecast.

There was “a big boost for the Aussie” from the labor force number, said Amber Rabinov, an economist in Melbourne at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. “The numbers put more emphasis behind the feeling that the unemployment rate has peaked and we’re now seeing it steadily head lower.”

The "song" of the...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bill Sammon, Fox News...

...Washington managing editor, says:

The mainstream media hates the Tea Party movement almost as much as it hates Sarah Palin, and the reason is simple. That's because both are a threat. Palin is a threat down the road, whether it be in 2012 or beyond. The Tea Party is a threat because it is galvanizing Republicans.

The mainstream media disputes this, of course, but I think Sammon has a point. And what's more, I hope he's right; I hope the mainstream media disapproves of the tea party movement and Sarah Palin. The former is a coalition of ignorant cranks, and the latter may not even be qualified to be governor of Alaska, much less president of the United States.

As the economy recovers, both should fade back into the woodwork.

There's a piece in the Chicago Tribune... with the title, "Why We're Tea Partyers," written by a couple named Rob and Joy Anderson.

...It is this kind of news, and this kind of expectation, that inspired us — 68- and 67-year-olds whose only previous civic involvement was fighting a local housing initiative 35 years ago — to go to our first tea party meeting in March 2009 near our home in Worcester County, Mass. We went out of senses of patriotism and duty to defend our Constitution.

But we also went out of anger. Anger that our three grandchildren would be faced with the impossible task of turning back government-controlled health care, unthinkable deficits and tax rates approaching 60 percent. We love them too much to leave them that kind of fight.

I'd love to ask this couple (and my 81-year-old neighbor) if they would be willing--for the Tea Party Cause--to give up their "government-controlled health care" (Medicare) and their Social Security benefits. It sure would go a long way to taming those "unthinkable deficits" and those "tax rates approaching 60 percent."

I'm sure the Andersons wouldn't have any trouble finding an insurance company to write them an affordable policy at their age. (You don't have any pre-existing conditions, do you?) And I'm also sure they must feel really guilty receiving more in Social Security benefits than they originally paid into the fund. If they didn't have those pesky Social Security checks to cash every month they could just have their three grandchildren support them directly without all that fuss of going through the federal government.

So how angry are you, Rob and Joy Anderson?

Clarence Page writes...

..."Be not Afraid of Palin" today:

Sarah Palin's conservative fans ask me why "the liberal media" are "so afraid" of the former governor of Alaska. I, for one, am unafraid. And I am delighted that the former Republican vice presidential candidate refuses to rule out running for the presidency. I am also relieved that, so far, she does not appear to have a ghost's chance of winning.

I wish I could be as sanguine as Mr. Page. It's early, but on Intrade, Sarah Palin is leading the pack for the GOP nomination in 2012. And the way the Republican primary rules are set up (winner takes all, unlike the Democrats), she could conceivably sprint to the nomination. Then, given another terrorist attack or double-dip recession (or worse), she could conceivably be elected president.

And that's why I, for one, am "so afraid."

The song of the...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

As I mentioned, I watched...

...Sarah Palin's speech to the Tea Party convention Saturday night. I've been trying to find the right words to describe her and the best I can come up with is angry, sarcastic, resentful, and mean (this last one from Joan Walsh in Salon).

From Marc Ambinder in the Atlantic:

"If the primaries were this year, I suspect she'd be nominated," a senior adviser to one of Sarah Palin's potential rivals confides.

And therein lies the problem for the GOP. Although Palin invoked Ronald Reagan's name at least three times (by my count), she didn't resemble him in the least. On the contrary, the Gipper was a sunny optimist who could win over Democrats and independents. I can't imagine anyone other than her most loyal supporters being attracted by this speech.

This could be a train wreck in the making.

I used to be an Ayn Rand...

...sympathizer. Like most phases, however, I worked through it. (I found out that the real world is a bit more complicated than Rand would have you believe.) But some people never do.

Cathy Young, a contributing editor at Reason, the libertarian publication, has an article on Rand today. I figured it would be an admiring piece, but I was wrong. It's actually quite good. One of the parts that struck a chord with me was:

In pure form, Rand's philosophy would work very well if human beings were never helpless and dependent on others through no fault of their own. Unsurprisingly, many people become infatuated with her philosophy as teenagers only to leave it behind when concerns of family, children, and aging make that fantasy seem more and more implausible.

I've often wondered if having children would have softened Rand's outlook on the world.

Pope Benedict XVI...

...on Monday condemned the abuse of children by members of the clergy. Speaking to Pontifical Council for the Family members, the pope said that while the church has defended children’s dignity and rights throughout the centuries, in some cases, members of the clergy had violated those rights. The church, he said, “hasn’t and won’t ever stop deploring and condemning” such behavior.

Is it really necessary for the pope to say that? Shouldn't that just be understood?

As usual, Ezra Klein...

...of the Washington Post, hits the nail right on the head when describing the rationale behind the Republican Party's strategy of obstructionism: don't gain an advantage if you give the other side a major accomplishment and then tell the American people they really did a good job reaching out to you and your colleagues. That's the equivalent of saying to your employer, "Don't give me a promotion, and in fact, think hard about whether you might want to lay me off next year."

...As I've said before, it is very near to impossible to build out an ideological model explaining why Republicans who voted for the deficit-financed Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit would vote against the deficit-neutral health-care reform bill. But it's very easy to build out a model explaining why Republicans would vote for a bill that would help them if it passed and against a bill that would hurt them if it failed...Good-faith disagreement is not the explanation that best fits the data.

...If we're going to give the minority party a reason to want the majority party to fail at governing the country, we can't also give them the power to make the majority party fail at governing the country.

The song of the...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Watching Sarah Palin's speech... the Tea Party convention was truly scary. This woman has a following? But as scary as she is to someone like me, imagine how scary she must be to the Republicans?

I still think Palin's chances of winning the GOP nomination in 2012 are about fifty/fifty, but the chance of her winning the general election is practically nil. In fact, it would be a bloodbath for her and the rest of the Republicans, on the order of Barry Goldwater.

The GOP establishment knows this, and they have to be sweating.

When I first saw the video...

...of Sarah Palin "cheating" on a question at the Tea Party convention, I dismissed it as a bit of a cheap shot. I'll admit that it looks like she was glancing at something written on the palm of her hand, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

Now, check out this blog post by Andrew Sullivan.

It seems that blogging is for...

...boring old white guys. Nicholas Carr says:

Did you see that new Pew study that came out yesterday? It put a big fatexclamation point on what a lot of us have come to realize recently: blogging is now the uncoolest thing you can do on the Internet. It's even uncooler than editing Wikipedia articles or having a Second Life avatar. In 2006, 28% of teens were blogging. Now, just three years later, the percentage has tumbled to 14%. Among twentysomethings, the percentage who write blogs has fallen from 24% to 15%. Writing comments on blogs is also down sharply among the young. It's only geezers - those over 30 - who are doing more blogging than they used to.

After watching those two old rockers...

...huff and puff their way through the halftime show last night I don't feel so bad anymore about some of the stuff I put in my "Song of the Day" feature.

Sarah Palin is back...

...and gave an interview to Chris Wallace of (Surprise!) Fox News. Forget the content for just a moment.

“It would be absurd to not consider what it is that I can potentially do to help our country.”

“I won’t close the door that perhaps could be open for me in the future.”

Who constructs a sentence like that?

The song of the...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Jack Block, a prominent psychologist...

...of personality who in 1968 began studying a group of California preschoolers and for decades kept watch as they moved from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood, died on Jan. 13 at his home in El Cerrito, Calif. He was 85.

One of Professor Block’s studies drew particular notice in the news media. Published in The Journal of Research in Personality in 2006, it found that subjects who at 3 years old had seemed thin-skinned, rigid, inhibited and vulnerable tended at 23 to be political conservatives. On the other hand, 3-year-olds characterized as self-reliant, energetic, somewhat dominating and resilient were inclined to become liberals.

Pundits’ responses to the study ranged from enthusiastic approval to caustic dismissal, depending on the politics of the critic.

I wonder what Professor Block would say about a 23-year-old conservative who grew up to be a 51-year-old progressive.

My two vanity license plates...

...of the day are GRP OF 4 and DOMER 71. (There's also a DOMER 56 in my neighborhood. Could there possibly be one graduation year that's not taken? I doubt it.)

Geoffrey Burbidge, an English physicist...

...who became a towering figure in astronomy, died at age 84. This guy was veddy, veddy Briddish:

Geoffrey Ronald Burbidge...

Geoffrey, not Jeffrey.

...was born in 1925 in Chipping Norton in England,

Chipping Norton? Is that the name of a town? Sounds like something you eat. the Cotswolds hills halfway between Oxford and Stratford-on-Avon.

In Merrie Olde England!

...His father, Leslie, was a builder. His mother, Evelyn, was a milliner.

Or was his father named Evelyn and his mother, Leslie? No matter.

...He was an only child and the first of his family to progress beyond grammar school.

The first in his family to progress beyond grammar school gets a PhD in theoretical physics?

There will always be an England!

Happy Birthday...

...Joe Tracy!

Joe, the song of the day... for you.

It seems that financial reform...

...has hit a bump in the road:

Two months of Senate negotiations over legislation to rewrite financial regulations — a top priority of the Obama administration — fell apart on Friday amid wrangling over a proposal to create a consumer financial protection agency that would oversee credit cards, mortgages and other products.

The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, said that Democrats would forge ahead with their own proposal, in the absence of Republican support. That could result in a bitter partisan fight resembling the struggle over health care — an outcome that Mr. Dodd has said for months he would try to avoid.

After watching the health care debacle for the last year, is there any reason to be optimistic that the Senate can pass a financial reform bill?

In case you've been living in a closet...

...for the last decade (or two), the term "TMI" stands for "Too Much Information." Several good examples can be found in Maureen Dowd's column today in the Times. Harold Ford, Jr. is running for the Senate from New York. He tells Ms. Dowd:

“I have severe athlete’s foot — feet. I get a foot scrub out of respect for my wife because getting into bed with what I have when I take my socks off isn’t respectful to anybody.”


He said he and his brothers were not spoiled growing up. “My grandmother beat the [expletive] out of us with an electric cord,” he said.


"I’m a heterosexual. I don’t know what anyone can say to me to make me sexually be with a man.”

Stop! If we promise to vote for you, will you shut up?

Fox News is now...

...the most trusted source for news in America. Meanwhile, the term "mainstream media" has become a pejorative one.

What's happened to this country?

This is one of my favorite Super Bowl...


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Let's talk about...

...vanity license plates for just a minute. Whatever time and trouble (and expense) it takes to get one, you have to wonder if they're really worth it.

Just yesterday I saw one that said MS WINK. MS WINK? Today I saw OH TOMMY. In my neighborhood, we have ON TYME and UND FTBL (We get it--you're a Domer!). Once when I was in upstate New York I saw HO HO HO MC. How much do you have to love Christmas to get that one?

The song of the...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Remember that meeting President Obama...

...had last Friday with the House Republicans? It went over very well with the public. So well, in fact, that:

The White House has suggested that it would like Obama to address the Senate GOP Conference, with TV cameras present.

Good idea, you say? It seems that the Republicans see it a little differently:

"They don't want anything to do with it," said a GOP insider. "They want the whole thing to just go away."

Health care reform, as we all...

...know, is on life support. Although the Democrats could pass a bill tomorrow if they wanted, I wouldn't bet on it happening any time soon. They're just too worried about their own re-election prospects. So I've been wondering, what happens to health care in America if Congress does nothing? And in this morning's Wall Street Journal (yes, The Journal), David Wessel gives us some hints. (All emphasis mine.)

Barring a political miracle, we're going to learn the cost of doing nothing—nothing significant to restrain health-care cost increases, nothing to prod the health-care system to produce more benefit for each dollar it takes, nothing to expand health-insurance coverage.

This, too, will be ugly and unpopular.

"Failure to enact health reform will result in increasing numbers of people without health insurance because fewer employers will offer it and many employees will not be able to pay the cost of plans that are available," predicts Stephen Zuckerman, a health economist at Washington's Urban Institute think tank.

"For people not offered employer coverage, many will not be able to get coverage due to pre-existing conditions that insurers won't cover or because premiums simply won't be affordable. Even people with coverage will find costs becoming a greater financial burden," he said.

And all of us—employers, workers and taxpayers—will spend ever more on health care.

The numbers are so large they're hard to grasp. The U.S. health-care tab in 2009 was $2.5 trillion, equal to 17.3% of the nation's gross domestic product, the sum of all its output, much bigger than 2008's 16.2% because the recession depressed GDP. The economy will grow again, of course, but health-care costs will rise even faster. In a new forecast, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services predict that without some big change, health care will amount to 19.3% of GDP by 2019.

Last spring, the Urban Institute ran the do-nothing outcome through its computers, and offered three scenarios. In the best case, the number of uninsured rises to 57 million, or 20.1% of the population, from 49.1 million, or 18.4%, in 2009, most of them middle-income adults. More employers drop coverage as it grows more costly. The fraction of Americans on the government's Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program, now at 16.5%, would rise sharply to between 16.5% and 18.3%—and that's without the much-derided "public option."

All this will swell an already large budget deficit. The "fiscal course that we're on, out in 2020 and 2030 and 2040, is unsustainable and it needs to be addressed," White House budget director Peter Orszag said this week. "If we don't address rising health-care costs, there's nothing else that we're going to be able to do that will alter that basic fact," he said.

This year, Medicare and Medicaid will cost nearly $725 billion, about 50% more than Congress appropriates for all domestic agencies from the National Park Service to K-12 school aid. In 2014, the cost is projected at $950 billion. Gulp!

If nothing changes, employers who still offer health insurance will pay more for it, and will pay lower wages as a result.

In the Urban Institute's best case, employer premiums per worker will rise 64% over the next decade. In the worst case? They more than double. Gulp!

Bill Dudley, Hall of Fame...

...running back, died Thursday at the age of 88. His obit in the Times describes him as: of college and professional football’s most dynamic running backs in the 1940s and early 1950s despite a small frame and a lack of speed.

Small, but slow. Funny, that's how people used to describe me.

Known as Bullet Bill, he was hardly speedy. In a sprint contest before an all-star game, he ranked 15th among 16 running backs. But in the game, he ran back a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.

Dudley also served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1966 to 1974.

Ted Morrison, a fellow delegate, once said of Dudley: “He was direct, unvarnished. Diplomacy was not what he was paid to do.”

Hmmm. Small, slow, and hard to get along with. Remind you of anyone?

Hans Trefousse, historian...

...and author, died recently at the age of 88. Among other things, Trefousse served in Army intelligence during World War II and interrogated German prisoners of war.

In addition to his fluency in German, he had a means of persuading them to reveal vital information.

“We used to tell the prisoners that we had two internment camps, one in Florida and the other in Siberia,” Professor Trefousse told the Brooklyn College alumni magazine last year. “I would hang a sign around the neck of a prisoner that said ‘Russia’ and send him out into the yard. He would ask a guard what the sign meant. Nine times out of 10 the prisoner came right back in and told us everything we wanted to know.”

I wonder if Dick Cheney ever thought of that.

For the record, the ADP...

...employment report called for a loss of 22,000 jobs in the month of January. The Labor Department reported a loss this morning of 20,000. Not bad.

The song of the...

For those of you who don't follow...

...Illinois politics, Scott Lee Cohen, a political newcomer, won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor on Tuesday.

Cohen, a pawnbroker and owner of a cleaning supplies company,


...shocked the political establishment by beating four state lawmakers to nab the Democratic nomination with 26 percent of the vote. Illinois voters choose the nominees for governor and lieutenant governor separately -- so although [Illinois Governor Pat] Quinn and Cohen didn't campaign together, they now make up the Democratic ticket.

Lieutenant governor? Who cares?

There was little media coverage or public scrutiny of the candidates for a job that carries little political power but is just a heartbeat — or an impeachment — away from being the state's chief executive. Even his opponents never made a large issue of it.

The current governor, Pat Quinn, assumed the office after the impeachment of his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich. All right, so what?

[Quinn] is now trying to dump a running mate who has been accused of abusing women, failing to pay child support and spending lavishly on extramarital affairs.


The [Chicago] Tribune reported Wednesday that police and court records from an October 2005 incident show that Cohen's then-girlfriend alleged he put a knife to her throat and pushed her head against a wall. Public records show that the woman, his 24-year-old girlfriend at the time, pleaded guilty to prostitution that same month.

Cohen said Thursday he didn't know the woman was a prostitute and met her when he got a "straight massage" at the Eden Spa.

How was he supposed to know she was a prostitute?

But a Glenview police report indicates his ex-girlfriend freely told an undercover officer posing as a massage customer that women there performed sex acts for money. The April 2005 report detailed a sexual act that Cohen's ex-girlfriend performed for $150, then told the undercover officer that the spa operator "is well-aware of what the girls are doing."

Glenview? Did I read that right?

Cohen said on Thursday he has no intention of leaving the race.

In fact, he has his own take on the situation:

"My honesty and integrity in putting it out there is the best thing that could happen to the party," Cohen told the Tribune.

I couldn't agree more.

His ex-wife, Debra York-Cohen, appeared with him Thursday as part of a media blitz aimed at repairing his image. York-Cohen said she stood by allegations she made during the couple's divorce, but that Cohen's bad behavior took place when he was using steroids.

Steroids? Who said anything about steroids?

"Although I may have taken steroids and or performance enhancing drugs in the past I have not utilized any of these drugs in the last two weeks."

Oh well, as long as you haven't taken any drugs in the last two weeks...

But new disclosures showed that even as Cohen was spending more than $2 million of his own money to run TV and radio ads for his campaign, his ex-wife in December was accusing him in court of being $54,000 behind in child support payments. Cohen and his ex-wife declined to discuss the ongoing case.

"Everybody makes mistakes, and that's what happened to me," Cohen said. "It has no bearing on me leading the people of Illinois."

Makes sense to me.

Cohen maintained that his candidacy is "a strength for the party."

Of course it is.

"I'm the guy that's going to help the governor to come up with these creative ways to bring in revenue," he said.

Creative ways?

This should be interesting...