I’m currently reading Managed by Markets: How Finance Reshaped America about which I’ll offer substantive comments later. One thing I will note is that the book contains several different references to “Norwegian villagers” losing money in the great Panic of 2007–2008. The reference is to the Terra Securities Scandal in which several town pension funds, including Narvik, in Norway lost money in speculative hedge fund investments. The rhetorical force of the term “villagers” seems to me to be a bit curious in this context. Narvik is a small town (population 18,000) and fairly isolated, but we never refer to anyone in the United States as a “villager” no matter where they live. Senator Susan Collins, for example, is from Caribou, Maine which is an even smaller town (population 8,000) and I’d say just about as isolated.
The reason is that “villager” carries with it a certain connotation of primitivism. But Norway’s per capita GDP is higher than the United States’ — either a bit higher if you use PPP or much higher if you use current exchange rates. They perennial rank at the very top of the UN’s Human Development Index. They have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates. Narvik itself contains a college with 1,200 students.
In the course of a somewhat wrongheaded post on Honduras, David Fontana writing for TNR wanders into some hugely wrongheaded thinking about the American right’s constitutional vision:
There is an irony here. In the recent past, American political conservatives have (with some exceptions, such as in the area of gun rights) defended the prerogatives of democratic majorities in the face of supposed constitutional limitations (think of their opposition to Roe at the federal level or decisions legalizing gay marriage at the state level). By contrast, it has been political liberals (again, with some exceptions) who have defended the importance of anti-majoritarian devices like judicial review. In other words, in the inherent tension between liberalism and democracy that characterizes any free society, Republicans have erred more on the side of pure democracy, while Democrats have erred more on the side of liberalism and rights.
I think you have to be incredibly naive to take that point of view seriously. It’s true that conservatives have taken a dim view of liberal justices’ efforts to use judicial review to advance the rights of gays, pregnant women, atheists, and criminal defendants. But the legal right has been eager to use judicial review to countermand democratic legislation that they deem insufficiently solicitous of the interests of white people, gun owners, and businesses. The main critique of Sonia Sotomayor is that she declined to step in with some “activist” judging on behalf of Frank Ricci.
There’s an interesting theoretical debate about the role judicial review should play in a constitutional system. But the practical debate in the United States is just about on behalf of whom should it be used.
Drake Bennett profiles four up-and-coming right-of-center thinkers: Luigi Zingales, Bradford Wilcox, Reihan Salam, and Megan McArdle. I’ve never heard of Wilcox, but his ideas (family is good!) don’t sound very interesting. Of the other three, I would say that only Reihan is really thinking about an engaged, practical political program.
Not that there’s nothing wrong with being impractical, of course, but I think the most noticeable “ideas gap” on the right is precisely a lack of practical solutions. Given how few Republican Party elected officials there are right now, taking potshots at Obama and poking holes in his agenda is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But I think it’s still the case that for years now there conservative movement has been very bad at identifying concrete problems in people’s lives and laying out things they’d like to change that would ameliorate those problems. The “drill baby drill” episode from last summer at least has the right formal properties, though I’d hardly call it an “idea.”
The world’s youth have every right to demand more climate action than Waxman-Markey provides — since they will suffer most from the Baby Boomers’ greed and myopia when the Ponzi scheme we’ve created at their expense collapses.
Worse, part of the “youth” movement — specifically the website “It’s Getting Hot in Here” and by extension the “Energy Action Coalition,” which features that blog prominently on its website — has been partly co-opted by people who are in fact anti-environmental, people who have repeatedly smeared environmental champions with false accusations, people who have consistently proposed infinitely weaker climate action than Waxman-Markey.
Why has there been no major piece of legislative action on global warming, clean energy, or air pollution in the past two decades? Because increasingly, Republicans will only offer “no” for an answer, while many environmentalists will not take “yes” for an answer. And that leaves precious little room in the middle. If moderates know that voting for even moderate climate and clean energy action like the Waxman-Markey bill will unleash a torrent of criticism and attack ads funded by the right wing and fossil fuel companies, but bring only tepid support, if not outright hostility, from the left, then they are in a lose-lose situation.
Fortunately, we aren’t in that helpless and hopeless place quite yet. The bulk of the environmental and progressive communities understand that, for all its flaws,
Waxman-Markey would complete the transition to a clean energy economy begun in the stimulus bill.
It’s failure would not lead to stronger climate action anytime soon — quite the reverse, it would all but doom any prospect of national and, equally important, international action for the foreseeable future, precisely the time-frame in which strong action must begin if our youth are not going to be left with a ruined climate (see here).
Still, the NYT was able to assemble an impressive array of quotes from people with mostly misdirected anger. I’m going to focus just on one:
Newspaper ombudsmen rarely, in my view, contribute all that much to our understanding of what’s happening. But Andrew Alexander’s column on the Washington Post industry-sponsored salons concept breaks from that mold and really adds value. Initially, this was explained to the public as a kind of rogue business staff operation gone off the rails without anyone on the editorial side knowing. But Alexander makes clear that that’s not the case. Charles Pelton was the key mover on the business side, and he was well aware that he ought to clear this concept with editorial before moving forward:
The e-mail said the plan to hold the dinners at Weymouth’s home “speaks to heavy editorial involvement” through “mixing different editors and beat reporters.” But in arguing for “background only” discussions, Pelton asked if they thought the discussions should be “on or off the record.” And while he endorsed the sponsorship idea, noting there would always be “more than one,” he also said “I want to be sure our newsroom is also comfortable” with the arrangement.
Within an hour of receiving the e-mail, Brauchli forwarded it to his top three editors — managing editors Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd, as well as deputy managing editor Milton Coleman — asking their thoughts.
You should read the whole piece.
My bottom line is that realistically even if the news business recovers from the recession we’re looking at a more competitive future environment with lower profit margins. That means, in practice, much less editorial insulation from business considerations than was the case during midcentury. Everyone will tell you that advertisers or sponsors or donors or whatnot don’t influence their coverage, but I think everyone should be suspicious of those kind of claims. In the real world, he who pays the piper calls the tune at least to some extent. Which is ultimately why it’s important to have a media that contain diverse revenue models—commercial and non-commercial, subscription-based and ad-based, etc.—so that you don’t have too much systematic distortion of coverage.
I’ve said before that thought I love my Kindle, it deprives me of the signaling fun that comes along with reading traditional books. I’m going through Infinite Jest, as are a lot of people this summer, but I can’t visibly display the book on the Metro or around my house. James Wolcott has a good essay on this:
Books not only furnish a room, to paraphrase the title of an Anthony Powell novel, but also accessorize our outfits. They help brand our identities. At the rate technology is progressing, however, we may eventually be traipsing around culturally nude in an urban rain forest, androids seamlessly integrated with our devices. As we divest ourselves of once familiar physical objects—digitize and dematerialize—we approach a Star Trek future in which everything can be accessed from the fourth dimension with a few clicks or terse audibles. Reading will forfeit the tactile dimension where memories insinuate themselves, reminding us of where and when D. H. Lawrence entered our lives that meaningful summer. “Darling, remember when we downloaded Sons and Lovers in Napa Valley?” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. The Barnes & Noble bookstore, with its coffee bar and authors’ readings, could go the way of Blockbuster as an iconic institution, depriving readers of the opportunity to mingle with their own kind and paw through magazines for free. Book-jacket design may become a lost art, like album-cover design, without which late-20th-century iconography would have been pauperized.
Now I’m pretty sure the world will survive this transition. But it’ll be interesting to see how it happens. I note that one thing a lot of people, myself included, sometimes do is use the Adium feature that automatically sets your IM chat status to the title and artist of the song currently playing on your iTunes. One way to think about that is as a substitute for the old game of visually displaying the physical records or CDs you own in your house. It’s a way to turn your music consumption into something quasi-public. Perhaps reading books in groups and writing blogs about what you’re reading will be the new way to share your cultural consumption with the world.
Earlier this week, seven House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee released a letter revealing that CIA Director Leon Panetta had “recently testified to Congress that the agency concealed information and misled lawmakers repeatedly since 2001″ about an unidentified CIA operation that was an “on-again, off-again” effort until Panetta stopped it in June. The New York Times reports today that former Vice President Dick Cheney gave “direct orders” for the program to be concealed from Congress.
On the Sunday shows this morning, several Republican lawmakers attempted to defend or divert attention away from the revelation about Cheney. “I don’t think we should be jumping to any conclusions,” said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) on ABC’s This Week. Kyl claimed that Cheney’s alleged actions were “not out of the ordinary”:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But this allegation of the vice president ordering it be kept secret, you believe that should be investigated?
KYL: Look, the president and the vice president are the two people who have responsibility, ultimately, for the national security of the country. It is not out of the ordinary for the vice president to be involved in an issue like this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But to order it be kept secret?
KYL: What if it’s a top secret program? Of course he and the president would both be responsible for that. Let’s don’t jump to conclusions is what I’m saying.
On Fox News Sunday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said that while he agrees that “the CIA should brief the Congress,” any mention of Cheney is just the Obama administration trying to “blame the Bush-Cheney administration” for everything. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he doesn’t “know whether it was appropriate,” but dismissed the concern by saying, “the CIA is in the secrecy business.”
Also on CNN, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said that it “is wrong if somebody told the CIA not to inform the appropriate members of Congress,” but tried to cast the debate as an “attempt” by Democrats “to basically undermine the capacity to protect and develop intelligence.” Watch it:
On NBC’s Meet The Press, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he doesn’t “know what the details of this are” and that Cheney “should obviously be heard from if the accusations are leveled in his direction.” “If I know Washington, this is the beginning of a pretty involved and detailed story,” said McCain, adding that he doesn’t know if there should be “a, quote, investigation.”
On Face The Nation today, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) defended Cheney, saying that “some of the Intelligence Committee people are pushing back on those stories. “I don’t know what the facts are. But I believe that Vice President Cheney served his country with as much fidelity as he could possibly give to it. And he tried to serve us in an effective way. And I hope that nothing like this would impact on his outstanding record,” said Sessions.
Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama’s domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months. “I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president’s agenda,” he says. “But that can’t be a part of my decision.”
Holder’s quite right to say that he’s not supposed to think of the impact on the domestic legislative agenda. But I think it’s something we here in the peanut gallery both can and should think about. Back during the transition, I had a lot of concern about this derailment possibility. But from the vantage point of July, it doesn’t look to me as if there are any substantial number of Republicans interested in voting “yes” on a universal health care bill or on a clean energy bill. So how derailed can the agenda become?
In a recent article for Vanity Fair, Todd Purdum reported that some of John McCain’s closest advisers “believed for certain [Sarah Palin] was nowhere near ready for the job, and might never be.” This morning, McCain bucked those criticisms of Palin, and instead offered a vigorous (and sometimes nauseating) defense of his selection of her as his running mate.
Asked by host David Gregory what he thought of Palin quitting her job as Governor of Alaska, McCain said, “I don’t think she quit,” adding “I don’t know there was a quote, promise” that she made to the voters of Alaska. Gregory pressed:
GREGORY: Senator McCain, you have faced personal torture, personal attacks, political attacks, investigations. You have never resigned from anything. Is it consistent with your qualities of leadership to resign an elected post like this?
GREGORY: It is consistent?
McCain said, “I know she’s qualified. … No doubt about it.” He added, “I’m confident she would make a fine president.” Gregory concluded by asking, “Knowing everything you know now, would you pick her again?” McCain unhesitatingly responded, “Absolutely.” Watch it:
The Washington Times reports that Palin will quickly jump “back into the national political fray.” “I will go around the country on behalf of candidates who believe in the right things, regardless of their party label or affiliation,” Palin said over lunch in her downtown office. “People are so tired of the partisan stuff — even my own son is not a Republican.”
Here is something I did not know: “20 percent of all homeless people live in three cities: Los Angeles, New York and Detroit.”
That seems like an extraordinary level of concentration. And it’s interesting that the three don’t make a set. Los Angeles and New York are the biggest cities and ought to go alongside places like Chicago or Houston. And Detroit is very economically troubled and normally found alongside other similarly collapsing urban areas.
The article is a writeup of this report from HUD released last week. We also learn in the report that the nature of the homeless population varies widely from place to place. In Phoenix, the homeless are split about 50-50 between families and individuals while in Cleveland it’s 85 percent individuals and in New York it’s only 32 percent individuals.