Ezra Klein

SEMI-REGULAR SOCIAL SECURITY CORRECTIVE.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities talks some sense on Social Security's finances. The short version is that the recession has worsened the program's fiscal outlook -- much like it's worsened the fiscal outlook for every program. The long version is that "Social Security continues to run significant surpluses, even though the recession has temporarily shrunk their size." It's a bit weird to have to write this exact post so often, but for reasons I'll never quite understand, there's a serious contingent of folks who'd like nothing more than to drop everything -- health care, global warming, taxes, everything -- and start tinkering with the finances of a comparatively sustainable pension program. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, is one of them. When the president turned to him for comments at the White House Health Care Summit, he ignored the issue at hand and said, "I'm among those, as you and I have discussed before, interested in seeing us address...

LET'S ABOLISH THE WORLD'S GREATEST DELIBERATIVE BODY.

By Dylan Matthews I hesitate to self-promote too shamelessly on Ezra's turf, but I have a new piece up at Campus Progress building on a guest-post I wrote here a few months ago. Basically, I want to get rid of the US Senate, and asked a number of constitutional law experts how one would go about doing that. Long story short, no one agrees on anything, least of all about whether the Senate is even capable of being abolished. An excerpt : Sanford Levinson, a professor at the University of Texas law school and author of Our Undemocratic Constitution , thinks a Senate-abolishing amendment would not violate Article V. “The lack of any suffrage at all for any state would meet the formal requirements of "equal suffrage" (i.e., none for anyone),” he said. Daniel Farber, a professor at UC Berkeley, agrees, and argues that equal representation may not even be required. “One of my former colleagues once suggested to me that the Senate to which the equal representation cause refers no longer...

AFTERNOON INTERLUDE: SPECIAL "THE SWEDES ARE COMING" EDITION.

By Dylan Matthews Nordic socialism is terrifying : The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M - Th 11p / 10c The Stockholm Syndrome thedailyshow.com Daily Show Full Episodes Economic Crisis Political Humor You know, when segments like this are airing on programs with viewership as high as The Daily Show 's, Harold Meyerson's "Glenn Beck will bring socialism to America" theory starts going from funny to plausible. And for good measure, here's Robyn talking about how socialism has helped make Swedish music as great as it is:

YOU DON'T NEED TO BE SO DISHONEST.

By Dylan Matthews Arlen Specter's flip-flop on the Employee Free Choice Act was shameless enough, but the fact that he's considering filibustering Dawn Johnsen reaches a whole new level of opportunism. The only reason Johnsen is being opposed so vociferously is because of her record on reproductive rights, particularly a single footnote written during her tenure at NARAL. And Arlen Specter is - or at least was - pro-choice . But when you're losing your primary for reelection, these things tend to fall by the wayside. I really wonder why Specter is choosing to do this rather than just run as an independent. No conservative who's involved enough to be voting in the primary is going to see Specter's flips as genuine, and if anything they'll lower their opinion of the man. After all, if he's only going to vote their way when he needs their vote, why choose him over Pat Toomey? On the other hand, a three-way contest between Toomey, Specter, and, say, Pat Murphy could very well turn out in...

PUTING THE POLITICS INTO POLITICS.

By Dylan Matthews TAP 's Tim Fernholz has an outstanding profile of former IMF economist and administration critic Simon Johnson today. You should really read the whole thing , but this in particular is a critical point: Unfortunately, Johnson posits, the economic specialty that deals with business cycles and recessions -- short-run macroeconomics -- hasn't yet acquired the tools to assess the influence of political interests on their policy proposals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, finance specialists have. '"If you walk into a finance seminar with data pertaining to power and influence, the kind of things we're talking about, they will take you very seriously," Johnson says. "The short-run macro people, not so much." Incentives-wise, this makes a lot of sense. Finance types need to take political considerations into account. If they don't they lose money. Academic economics, on the other hand, puts a premium on clean, elegant models, which messy things like interest groups politics only...

"WHO IS GEORGE PATAKI?"

By Dylan Matthews You know, I usually love it when Hari Sevugan goes off on somebody , but sometimes you just feel bad for whoever the victim du jour is (via Ben Smith ).

WE HAVE OUR FACTS, AND WE'LL MAKE YOU SAY YES.

By Dylan Matthews Even given what we already know about the Bush administration's distortions about a supposed link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and what we already know about its torture policy, this , via Matt Duss , is absolutely appalling: A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration. "There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. "The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there." It was...

POPULISM AND FUNDRAISING.

By Dylan Matthews Jon Corzine's situation poses some pretty interesting dilemmas for the party's campaign committees during the 2010 cycle. To recap: New Jersey is a solidly Democratic state, and Corzine has been elected statewide twice, the more recent time by a pretty comfortable margin , but he's currently seven points behind his likely opponent, former US Attorney Chris Christie. There are a variety of factor here, not least Corzine's budget woes and Christie's successful prosecution of Sharpe James , but you have to think that Corzine's past as a CEO of Goldman Sachs - and the man who took the firm public , contributing to this disaster - isn't doing him any favors. Populist outrage is a powerful thing, and as former bankers are noticing , it's reaching new heights. All of which makes for a frustrating situation for groups like the DCCC, the NRCC, the DSCC, and the NRSC. Funds are tight; when disposable incomes fall, and the savings of the upper class take a nose dive, luxuries...

WE SPIES, WE SLOW HANDS.

By Dylan Matthews Though clear in expressing support for Obama's release of the torture memos, David Ignatius' latest column involves a lot of handwringing about the decision's negative effect on morale within the CIA. I don't think it's an unreasonable concern; like Ignatius, I think the disclosure would be worth it anyway, but it's not crazy to think that the release would lead intelligence staffers to be more cautious, and thus potentially less effective. I'm not an intel specialist, so I know if Ignatius' anecdotes are an accurate representation of the situation, but he doesn't paint an unbelievable picture. But in a broader sense, the reason we care about the effectiveness of CIA officers is due to a belief that their actions make the country safer in a real way. And I'm not sure a lower CIA morale runs a real risk of, say, letting a terror plot slip through the cracks. The nightmare scenario Ignatius presents is hardly convincing: For a taste of what's ahead, recall the chilling...

FOR CASTRO IS A COLOR, IS A REDDER THAN RED.

By Dylan Matthews It appears Fidel feels left out : Fidel Castro says President Barack Obama "misinterpreted" his brother Raul's remarks regarding the United States and bristled at the suggestion that Cuba should free political prisoners or cut taxes on remittances from abroad as a goodwill gesture to the U.S. Raul Castro touched off a whirlwind of speculation last week that the U.S. and Cuba could be headed toward a thaw in nearly a half-century of chilly relations. The speculation began when the Cuban president said leaders would be willing to sit down with their U.S. counterparts and discuss "everything," including human rights, freedom of the press and expression, and political prisoners on the island. Obama responded at the Summit of the Americas by saying Washington seeks a new beginning with Cuba, but he also said Sunday that Cuba should release some political prisoners and reduce official taxes on remittances sent to the island from the U.S. That appeared to enrage Fidel...

A BEAUTIFUL ANIMAL, A DESTROYER OF WORLDS?

By Dylan Matthews Conor Friedersdorf had a good post on torture the other day which included this interesting tangent on the issue of whether al-Qaeda (or Islamic militancy more generally) constitutes an "existential threat" to the United States: Perhaps the term “existential threat” obscures more than it clarifies. I’d have said, immediately after the September 11 attacks, that radical Islam posed an existential threat to America, though I never thought that Islamic terrorists possessed a nuclear weapon, or that an Islamic state commanded an Army capable of invading the United States, or that radical Islam threatened America more than the Cold War era Soviet Union. So what did I mean when I used the term? Technological advancement is enabling ever smaller groups of people to possess weapons that can kill ever larger numbers of their fellow human beings. I worry less about suitcase nukes than I do about a virus that can be cooked up on a terrorist’s budget, and that decimates the...

REINHARDT'S BARGAIN.

By Dylan Matthews This wouldn't be Ezra's blog without health care wonkery, so I figured I'd note this interesting proposal by Uwe Reinhardt, flagged by Jon Cohn. Reinhardt suggests that, instead of running a new public plan like Medicare, or trying to limit its advantages in an attempt create a level playing field with private insurers, a new public plan should strike a deal with health care providers. I'll let Cohn explain: In Reinhardt's vision, the government could promise that the new public plan would pay better than Medicare--say, by 10 or 15 percent on average. That should ease the concerns of insurers, providers, and other groups worried that a public plan wouldn't pay sufficiently high rates. But in exchange for the higher payments, industry groups--particularly doctors and hospitals--would have to stop resisting changes in the way government pays for medical services. In particular, Medicare (along with the new public plan) would get to bundle payments, make contracts...

AMBASSADOR OREN.

By Dylan Matthews For those of us with a weird obsession with knowing who contenders are for various Deputy Assistant Secretary of State posts or senior directorships on the NSC, Laura Rozen's The Cable has been like crack ever since it launched in January. However, as the administration has filled up, the wonk gossip has gotten quite limited. Thankfully, Israel also has a new government, which means there's a whole new set of appointments for Rozen to report on. First up, the ambassadorship to the US : Michael Oren, a senior fellow and scholar of Middle Eastern diplomatic and military history at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's choice to be his ambassador to Washington, sources in Israel and Washington say. […] Hearing the appointment was a done deal, a plugged-in Washington Middle East hand said Netanyahu's choice for the key post of a historian with strong ties to the neoconservatives who never previously served in any diplomatic...

THINGS VENEZUELA HANDS SHOULD PROBABLY KNOW.

By Dylan Matthews First off, thanks to Ezra for having me over again. It's always a treat hanging out with you guys. So former ambassador to Venezuela/Assistant Secretary of State/chief Bush administration filibuster Otto Reich isn't pleased about Obama's Latin America policy. And when writers at The Corner find a foreign policy approach they disagree with, you know what analogy's coming: In varying degrees, Chávez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Honduras’s Manuel Zelaya, and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa are abusing their presidential powers to change the rules of the game. They are all allies of Chávez in what he calls “21st-century socialism” which is what. So far, this socialism recalls nothing less that the beginning stages of the socialism which was established in the first half of the 20th century in Russia, Italy, and Germany. I doubt a U.S. president would have given a warm handshake to any of those leaders. There are oh so many problems with this, not least that...

MONTANA-BOUND.

Apologies for the light posting today. I'm en route to Missoula, Montana, where I'm going to be giving a talk at The Badlander tomorrow night at 5pm. In the meantime, Dylan Matthews will be taking holding down the blog. He's smart. You like him. You know how this works.I'll be back on Thursday. Right now, however, I'm sitting on the tarmac at Dulles watching the rain collect on the window of my (currently grounded) plane. Very meditative. Among other things, it's leading me to contemplate the possibility that I will miss my connecting flight.

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