If only we’d tortured that pants bomber guy we wouldn’t be facing these kind of massive military setbacks:
The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.
The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder, and was a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Spencer Ackerman offers the pragmatic case against torturing Baradar—the goal of our anti-Taliban military operations is to bring some substantial bloc of Taliban types to the table in a bargain, but nobody’s going to give up if they think that means being subject to brutal treatment.
Now what? A breakup of the euro is very nearly unthinkable, as a sheer matter of practicality. As Berkeley’s Barry Eichengreen puts it, an attempt to reintroduce a national currency would trigger “the mother of all financial crises.” So the only way out is forward: to make the euro work, Europe needs to move much further toward political union, so that European nations start to function more like American states. [...] It’s an ugly picture. But it’s important to understand the nature of Europe’s fatal flaw. Yes, some governments were irresponsible; but the fundamental problem was hubris, the arrogant belief that Europe could make a single currency work despite strong reasons to believe that it wasn’t ready.
I think the darker interpretation is that this isn’t so much hubris-driven failure as it is catastrophic success. People who wanted a deeper political union than the political situation would support pressed ahead with a monetary union that they hoped would eventually force deeper integration. And now it’s happening.
Another possible interpretation is that we’re seeing a “success” of the German mania for hard money. If Europe had separate currencies, Greece would still be in terrible shape but Spain, Ireland, and Portugal would be devaluing like mad and probably Italy would as well. That would put domestic political pressure on the Bundesbank to engage in expansionary policies, and German central bankers like nothing less than expansionary monetary policy. So by locking the fringe a monetary union, the Germans get to indulge their preference for hard money at no higher price than mass unemployment in southern Europe.
Memo to climate scientists, environmentalists, and others: If you’re going to give an interview or speak in public, you need to know the FULL scientific literature. If you just stick to reading up on your area of expertise, you won’t have the sharpest answers for reporters or for a tough questioner in the audience.
Quitting the Senate was a no-lose move for the presidentially ambitious Bayh, since he can now crawl away from the political wreckage for a couple of years, plausibly alleging that he tried to steer the party in a different direction — and then be perfectly positioned to mount a centrist primary challenge to Obama in 2012, depending on circumstances.
There will be those Democrats who bid good riddance to Bayh and his coal-burning-state apostasy about cap and trade, etc. If so, they won’t need a very big tent to contain the celebration. On a more pragmatic view, Bayh’s dramatic vote of no-confidence in his own party’s leadership looks like another Massachusetts-sized political earthquake for the Democrats. Not only does it imperil the president’s short-term hopes of passing health care and other major legislation this year. It also makes it much more likely that the Republicans can pick up Bayh’s Senate seat in normally red Indiana and, with it, control of the Senate itself. If present trends continue, November could turn into a Republican rout.
The noteworthy thing here is that Lane, who seems to like Bayh and not see him as a selfish, immoral grandstander basically sees Bayh as a selfish, immoral grandstander. This is a move that, according to Lane, was undertaken not because Bayh believed it would improve the welfare of the people of the United States or of the world, but because it was “no-lose” from the selfish point of view of Evan Bayh. I think that kind of cynicism about the motivates of politicians is often warranted, but I don’t think it’s something that should be so blithely accepted in our public discourse. If a politician admitted on television “I’m running for office out of a lust for fame and power” that politician would be in big political trouble. When politicians undertake major actions for what appear to be selfish reasons, political observers should dwell a bit on the morally troubling nature of the conduct and not just congratulate the politicians on their savvy.
Bayh has always been shall we say a frustrating sort. Never a profile in courage. His father was a senator too, the much more liberal Birch Bayh. Birch lost in 1980 to Dan Quayle in the big Reagan sweep, and Evan surely must have seen that the voters gave pops the boot for being too leftie and adjusted his priorities accordingly. He was for the Iraq war, he’s a big deficit hawk, etc.
I always wonder about this stuff. Birch Bayh has been out of the Senate for 30 years, but people still remember him as a key architect of Title IX, a proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, and a crusader for sensible political reform like electoral college abolition. Thirty years from now, I think Bayh the Elder will still be remembered in that way. The feminist moment of the 1970s will be an important historical topic for decades, and Title IX and Birch Bayh will always be an important part of that story. Who’s going to remember Evan Bayh in 2040? What will he be remembered for? His die-hard commitment to the children of multi-millionaires?
California Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, a subsidiary of health insurance giant WellPoint, announced recently that it would be hiking premiums for customers in the individual market by up to 39 percent. The looming hike unleashed a firestorm of criticism, and provoked two Democratic lawmakers to launch congressional probes into the matter. Even a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was compelled to feign concern, telling reporters, “If the argument is that the WellPoint hike means we need reform, well, ‘duh.’”
Earlier today on Fox Business, WellPoint VP Brad Fluegel appeared to discuss the hikes. Fox hosts Charles Payne and and Stu Varney lashed out at WellPoint for increasing rates just when “it was safe to get out of the healthcare debate.” The hosts were uninterested with how the increasing rates would affect customers and struggling families in California. Instead, the pair attacked Fluegel for re-energizing advocates for health reform. Payne groaned, asking Fluegel why he didn’t “take Wall Street’s lead” and “wait for this to blow over and maybe a year from now try to hike rates”:
PAYNE: But Brad this is like Jaws 2, just when you thought it was safe to get out of the healthcare debate, you brought everybody back into it. [...] Didn’t someone though, wasn’t there a committee that said listen, let’s take Wall Street’s lead, do the minimum we can, wait for this to blow over and maybe a year from now try to hike rates?
VARNEY: You handed the politicians red meat at a time when healthcare is being discussed. You gave it to them! [...] You couldn’t see this coming? I mean really, you couldn’t see this coming? [...]
VARNEY: You actually did make a net in that quarter in twleve weeks, you made what, $500 million net profit didn’t you? You tell that to a politician and they’re going to say, ‘you made a half billion dollars in twelve weeks and now you put the price up 25%.’
HCAN has responded to the WellPoint rate hike by releasing a report demonstrating how premium increases have been feeding insurer profits, not paying for health care costs. “The report finds that the top five largest for-profit insurance companies increased their profits by $12.2 billion last year while dropping coverage for 2.7 million Americans.“ Pending the investigation and a review from the California Insurance Commissioner, WellPoint has postponed the hikes until May 1, 2010.
At the end of the interview, the Fox hosts chuckled with the WellPoint VP. They apologized for being so harsh and warmly reminded Fluegel that their criticism of insurer profits was only meant to be “warm up” for Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) investigation. “You did very good,” cooed one of the cohosts.
I think there’s a huge tendency among journalists to underrate the extent to which macroeconomic conditions drive everything in politics. For example, John Sides reviews the data and concludes that public trust in government is basically just driven by economic statistics:
The relationship is striking. The economy explains about 75% of the variance in trust. If you delete 1964, which looks like a potential outlier, the economy still explains 73% of the variance.
Of course the economy is not the only important factor. But it gets far less attention than it deserves when the hand-wringing begins. So, sure, perhaps we can and should tinker with the political process. Clip lobbyists’ wings. Get leaders to make nicey-nicey with the opposite party. But the process is less important than outcomes. More people will trust the government again when times are good, even if government ain’t.
One reason this kind of thing doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, of course, is that it’s against the professional interests of the political operative class to admit that objective macroeconomic factors are what drives most political outcomes. But this one again highlights how insane it was of Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill to ignore Christina Romer when she said the economy needed a $1.2 trillion stimulus and deliver a $700 billion stimulus insane.
We can argue about whether the White House or the Hill was the main locus of the madness, but it was truly mad. More effective macroeconomic stabilization policy would have made Obama more popular and made the public more confident in the ability of the government to govern. That, in turn, almost certainly would have improved the situation facing congressional Democrats. Ironically, it’s the very vulnerable Democrats who were most inclined to trim the stimulus who are now most likely to pay the price for their own short-sightedness.
State of Play, and Prime Suspect, the British detective show for which Helen Mirren was justly famous before her revival over in the States, both use six episodes to solve single crimes. State of Play was a one-off, while Prime Suspect ran for seven series, in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996-1997, 2003 and 2006. The size of the arcs let the main characters in both solve the crimes at stake while creating plenty of room around the investigations for character development not prompted by the immediate case at hand (something I think has always been a flaw of the Law & Order franchise: of course Fin meets his son on the job. Where else would he have time?). The shows felt more like watching the real lives of the people involved in the events in question, and the crimes feel like actual, extended, frustrating investigations.
The discussion in comments is well worth checking out, as it always is over there.
Nora Ephron’s list of her favorite romantic movies is pretty great, though I think the omission of The Lady Eve and Trouble in Paradise in particular are criminal. She hints at this, although I think it bears exploring a little bit more: the reason older romantic movies were good is because they tended to be about something other than simply the romance. In It Happened One Night, Clark Gable’s scoop is at risk. In His Girl Friday, it’s Rosalind Russell’s professional integrity. In the Thin Man, there’s crime, in Casablanca, Nazis. In The Lady Eve, there’s the right of Barbara Stanwyck’s accomplices to get away with their life of crime, and in Trouble in Paradise, it’s that Gaston can’t not be a crook, no matter how much he and Mariette fall for each other. “It could have been marvelous,” he tells her. “Divine,” she sighs. “Wonderful,” he agrees. “But tomorrow morning, if you should wake out of your dreams and hear a knock, and the door opens, and there, instead of a maid with a breakfast tray, stands a policeman with a warrant, then you’ll be glad you are alone.” The whole damn thing’s on YouTube, so you have no excuse not to watch it:
In American romances, and particularly romantic comedies, today, there is no problem that’s not directly related to the main characters’ ability, or lack thereof, to love. It doesn’t matter if it’s jobs, parents, a precocious niece, or the end of the world. It’s all about the love affair. Finding love will help all those characters find fulfilling employment, forgive their mothers, embrace their siblings, overcome low self-esteem, whatever. It’s an incredibly limiting plot-assumption, not to mention a guarantee that characters will be hopelessly self-centered. And that self-centeredness is just exhausting and diminishing and requires completely predictable endings. Characters must find love if they’re to find redemption or success in any other area. It’s too bad. Sometimes in the past, people walked away for the greater good. There was heartbreak that was real, and not intended to be fixed by the opening credits.
Obviously, Evan Bayh’s never been my favorite Senator. And the more one learns about both the manner of his departure, and the thinking behind it, the clearer it is why. Simply put: He’s an immoral person who conducts his affairs in public life with a callous disregard for the impact of his decisions on human welfare. He’s sad he’s not going to be president? He doesn’t like liberal activists? He finds senate life annoying? Well, boo-hoo. We all shed a tear.
He’s ditching his seat in a manner calculated to throw control of it to a conservative Republican. And nothing about his stated reasons for leaving suggest that he thinks replacing Evan Bayh with a conservative Republican will make the lives of Americans better. Nor does anything about his states reasons for leaving suggest that he thinks replacing Evan Bayh with a conservative Republican make the lives of foreigners better. But he’s acting to ensure that it happens anyway. Because he doesn’t care about the welfare of the American people or the people of the world. It’s not a recipe for good conduct as a Senator and it’s not a recipe for good conduct when it comes to choosing a way to depart.