Archive

  • A NADIR OF LOGICAL ANALYSIS.

    A NADIR OF LOGICAL ANALYSIS. Here's a strange column ("A Nadir of U.S. Power") by Sebastian Mallaby in which he suggests a connection between domestic absurdities like "the crazy tort system, which consumes more than a dollar in administrative and legal costs for every dollar it transfers to the victims of malpractice" and the inability of the Bush administration to make headway on tough foreign policy problems such as Iran, North Korea, and Darfur. Mallaby is trying to make a Ferguson ian link between America's long-term economic health and its ability to project power abroad, but I must admit that I don't see his logic here. The consequences of the Bush administration's fiscal recklessness have yet to be felt, for instance, and our military spending is actually on the rise (though nowhere near Cold War heights in percentage of GDP). Besides, some of the issues that Mallaby identifies -- Russia kicking out Amnesty International and Sudan correctly believing that the horrible things...
  • BROOKS'S BOBOS ABANDON GOP.

    BROOKS'S BOBOS ABANDON GOP. Elsewhere in TimesSelectland, it must be said that David Brooks makes an insightful and valuable argument in his column on Sunday. Brooks, who has earned much-deserved mockery for his red and blue America shtick, in which he typically lambasts the coastal intelligentsia that he writes for and belongs to ("they can't tell wheat from corn in a field, or a soldier's rank by his insignia blah blah blah"), finally turns it on its head. Noting how the Republicans have endangered their majority by trampling their Northeastern moderate wing, he remarks, "it's as if they are purposely trying to antagonize the married moms at the pseudo-New Urbanist outdoor cafes." So, finally Brooks admits what liberals have been saying for years: that cultural/regional alienation cuts both ways in this country, and the proud heartland conservatives who use nouns like "Massachusettes" and "New York" as terms of abuse are the most deliberately responsible for it. What is really...
  • THEN AGAIN...

    THEN AGAIN... Contra my assertion that Barack Obama hasn't been a leader on any contentious issue and Tom 's lament this morning, Frank Rich made a solid point in his column yesterday. Says Rich, [I]t's important to remember that on one true test for his party, Iraq, he was consistent from the start. On the long trail to a hotly competitive senatorial primary in Illinois, he repeatedly questioned the rationale for the war before it began, finally to protest it at a large rally in Chicago on the eve of the invasion. He judged Saddam to pose no immediate threat to America and argued for containment over a war he would soon label "dumb" and politcal-driven." He hasn't changed. In his new book he gives a specific date (the end of this year) for beginning "a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops and doesn't seem to care who calls it "cut and run." While one could quibble that Obama isn't leading any actual withdrawal resolutions on the Senate floor at the moment, the point stands. While so many...
  • KNOCK IT OFF, FELLAS.

    KNOCK IT OFF, FELLAS. Senator Barack Obama had better do a little more reading and a little less presidential-positioning before going on Meet the Press again. It's understandably tempting to make a name for oneself by mocking Democrats. It's also a surefire way to gain plaudits from everyone from Tim Russert to Sean Hannity . But yesterday, when Russert read a passage from Obama's new book in which the senator says he's a big believer in free-market capitalism who also worries about the efficiency of government programs, Russert asked him a very specific question Obama couldn't platitude-pander his way out of: So, which programs, Senator? Suddenly the savvy, smooth senator disappeared, replaced by a fumbling dissembler. His answer? He supports Medicare and Medicaid, of course, (of course!), but laments that they use paper billing instead of electronic billing, which would be more efficient. Is he joking? Is he really so careless as to make sweeping laments about government program...
  • Accounting Games: The New Way to Cut Social Security

    The Financial Times reports that the Financial Accounting Standards Board is about to recommend that the federal government adopt "accrual" accoounting to more accurately affect its budget situation. This would mean, for example, that the projected cost of Medicare benefits for a worker who is 25 today should be listed as a government obligation. While the pretense is that this accounting method would be more honest, I can think of 20 ways to game this off the top of my head (e.g. write in cuts for 40 years out that you know will not happen, stop making projections for certain programs -- we don't make projections for prison costs now). It looks to me like another backhanded way to build support for cutting Social Security and Medicare by people who refuse to address the real source of the problem -- the projected explosion in U.S. health care costs. --Dean Baker
  • Every Honest Columnist: The Social Security and Medicare Trick, Yet Again

    Last week it was David Broder, this time it is Sebastian Mallaby telling us that "every honest politician" knows that we have to cut Social Security. Actually, honest politicians who know arithmetic and can read, know that Social Security is projected to be able to pay all scheduled benefits fro the next 40 years, with no changes whatsover. Why do Washington Post columnists so frequently say things about Social Security that are not true? --Dean Baker
  • Brazil's Dynamic Economy?

    In a piece on the importance of the Portuguese language, the Times explains that one reason for increased interest is Brazil's "dynamic economy." Brazil's per capita GDP growth has averaged less than 1.0 percent annually over the last decade. Add this one to the "huh" department. --Dean Baker
  • Sycophantism at the Post

    Steve Pearlstein often wrote thoughtful pieces when he was a reporter, and this has been the case in more recent years with his columns. For this reason, I was overcome by shock and awe (hence the 2 day delay in writing) when I read what could only be described as sycophantic praise in a column marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Institute for International Economics (IIE). Pearlstein devoted his whole column to explaining how IIE is simply the best, and how he often got grief from his editors for being too dependent on IIE sources (this is what is known as �good grief�). I have nothing against IIE. There are plenty of good economists who work with the Institute and I have often found their research useful, but let�s take a look at the track record. IIE was at the forefront in producing work showing that NAFTA would both increase U.S. exports and lead to more rapid growth in Mexico. For more than a decade, IIE has been producing papers predicting a collapse of China�s...
  • KIM JONG IL...

    KIM JONG IL AND DAVID KUO. Unable to match Brother Ezra 's heartfelt post about David Kuo and the compassion agenda, I offer readers a rueful laugh in the form of the title of a piece by Jason T. Christy of The Church Report , a right-wing political publication dressed in a cassock: " David Kuo: An Addition to the Axis of Evil ." --Adele M. Stan
  • A BITE SIZED SOLUTION.

    A BITE SIZED SOLUTION. I'm not sure how to feel about economist Martin B. Schmidt 's New York Times op-ed from yesterday. In it he argues for a 10% tax on food ordered from drive-throughs on the grounds that it will encourage people to get out of their cars, and raise money to off-set the social cost of obesity. In principle I think these are both laudable goals, but in practice this idea is deeply flawed. As long as there are drive-throughs, taxing the people who use them and not people who order the same food at the walk-in counter could reasonably be construed as discriminatory against people with disabilties. But I'm also troubled by the American state of mind that this suggestion seems to accept. Here is an economist, who clearly understands how our excessive driving culture bloats our wastelines -- and by extension our healthcare spending -- but his solution is almost comically miniscule. Getting people to walk a few steps from the parking lot to the door of a McDonald's will...

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