Okay, well, let me say that I’m very glad to see Alex Gibney’s brilliant Taxi to the Dark Side win Best Documentary. I’ve recommended it twice before, but perhaps you didn’t trust me. Now you know: It won an Oscar. Go see it.
I don’t really have anything of interest to say about the Academy Awards, though I guess it’s somewhat unusual to see my favorite movie of the year — There Will Be Blood — so much as nominated, but consider this an oscars thread.
During his opening monologue as host of tonight’s Academy Awards, Jon Stewart noted that films about the Iraq war were noticeably absent from the nominees. He then poked at Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) suggestion that U.S. troops should stay in Iraq for 100 more years:
STEWART: Not all films did as well as Juno, obviously. The films that were made about the Iraq war — let’s face it — did not do as well. But I am telling you — if we stay the course and keep these movies in the theaters, we can turn this around.
I don’t care if it takes 100 years, withdrawing the Iraq movies would only embolden the audience. We cannot let the audience win.
Raul Castro pulls out surprise a win to secure election as dictator of Cuba.
“I’m the only one the special interests don’t give any money to,” said John McCain in what I guess was a lie designed to be so ridiculous that he’s supposed to get away with it. Or something. Anyway, Brave New Films has a nifty video on the fact that an awful lot of McCain’s best friends, campaign managers, major donors, etc. seem to work for the special interests full time:
Intriguing stuff, though of course lies don’t count as lies when they’re told by John McCain.
Lee Camp — a liberal comedian and activist — appeared on Fox News yesterday morning. At the end of the segment, Camp said, “What is Fox News? It’s just a parade of propaganda, isn’t it? It’s just a festival of ignorance.” Caught off guard, the Fox host offered a feeble defense of the network. Immediately after Camp’s comments, Fox promoted a segment about Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and his purported ability to woo beautiful women. Watch it:
Why has the United States government spent the last seven years thwarting domestic and international action on global warming while underfunding and mismanaging federal clean technology efforts? Well, if, hypothetically, you were the kind of person who liked to compile top 10 lists to answer questions, certainly Ralph Nader’s campaign during the 2000 election would be fairly high on that list.
Not just because he siphoned away crucial votes from Gore in a some key states — but perhaps more because he spent so much time in swing states saying there was no difference between Bush and Gore, breaking a major promise he had made, while forever destroying his reputation as a truth teller. You try running a tight race when a credible (at the time, anyway) third party is trashing you all the time, demotivating your base.
His 2004 run proves his 2000 run was the triumph over ego over principle. And his newly announced 2008 run conjures up two words: laughable and pathetic. I could go on, but why bother? Everything has passed Nader by, but most especially reality.
If there are any Ralph Nader supporters out there, now is your turn to speak up in defense of him.
Kevin Drum had an interesting post up yesterday about the problematic interaction between genetic testing of various sorts and the vagaries of the health insurance industry. It’s worth emphasizing that this issue is almost certainly going to grow more intense over time as our understanding of genetics increases. Basically, you’ll have a situation where unless we can substantially reduce private health insurance’s role in the financing and delivery of health care, everyone’s going to be going around deliberately ignorant of tons of medically useful information.
Meanwhile, I should add that though I understand the political rationale for trying to basically regulate insurance firms out of the discrimination business rather than simply killing the firms off, I wouldn’t be optimistic about success over the long run. Risk assessment and risk screening is the raison d’être of the insurance firm — it’s what the business, fundamentally, is all about. We ought to have faith that market capitalism will quickly enough find ways to de facto achieve whatever risk screening is de jure prohibited. It becomes essentially a question of savvy marketing and product design to make sure that your particular insurance package is mostly bought be a disproportionately young and healthy customers.
To offer some further thoughts on Iceland, I should say I don’t particularly disagree with Will Wilkinson and others who think that the economic success of countries like Iceland and Denmark should be chalked up in part to the relatively light hand of the regulatory state in those places. In many respects, generous spending on public services and deregulation go together like a horse and carriage — a lightly-regulated market economy generates the wealth that facilitates the social spending, and the availability of public services makes the vicissitudes of the marketplace much more tolerable.
When people are counting on their job to provide them with such a high proportion of what they need to get by in life (not in an objective subsistence sense, but in an intersubjective social sense) the risk of losing that becomes intolerable, and rises the demand to treat one’s relationship to other market actors as an entitlement. Thus, labor market rigidities, price controls, subsidies, etc. Alternatively, one could simply be entitled to a basket of publicly provided stuff (education for oneself and one’s kids, safe and well-maintained streets, adequate health care and transit, continuing education and job placement, etc., etc., etc.) but then let the ups-and-downs of economic life operate as they will.
The movement, started under Jimmy Carter then of course continued by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, to deregulate important aspects of the American economy was basically a good thing in my view. Indeed, as I’ve blogged before there are a lot of areas — especially at this point those under the purview of state and local governments — where we would do well to deregulate substantially further in terms of occupational licensing, land use, what’s involved in starting a new business, etc. Unfortunately, what we haven’t done is built the strong welfare state and generous public services to go along with it. Here I part ways with a lot of people (Will, for example) who appear to believe that it’s impossible to do in a large, diverse country what’s been done in several small, homogenous countries. More challenging politically? Of course. And that’s why we don’t have it today. But doable? Hopefully some day in my lifetime? I think so.
Photo by me, available under a Creative Commons license
Every so often Steve Sailer pops up in comments here to claim that neither I nor anyone else in the press has read Barack Obama’s first book Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance because obviously if more people read it, more people would share the Sailer interpretation of Obama (I’d say Mike Tomasky’s much closer to the mark). Well, I read it some time ago. Was encouraged to do so, in fact, by someone on staff with his campaign.
Like most writers who’ve read it, the main thing that comes across is that Obama’s a good writer — a politician capable of producing a pretty good book without an army of ghostwriters at his disposal. It’s a pretty impressive achievement and also probably helps give him some of his heir of authenticity. One knows that he know more writes his own lines at this point than does any other major presidential candidate, but he seems like someone who could.