Ezra Klein

THE PITFALLS OF MAKING DAVID BROOKS YOUR GUY.

I've remarked before that the columnist with the best access to the Obama administration is, far and away, David Brooks. That's an odd state of affairs. He is, after all, likely to prove a relentless, if thoughtful, opponent of virtually every major initiative touted by the administration. Brooks might have a soft spot for their approach to politics, but he legitimately disagrees with them on policy. The traditional response to this is that it's more important for the administration to cultivate David Brooks than EJ Dionne. EJ will praise them regardless of any outreach. He, after all, fundamentally supports with their agenda. Not so Brooks. But the counterargument to this is nicely articulated by Matt: The appeal of a pundit outreach strategy focused primarily on the “reasonable right” is not lost on me—absent the outreach, it’s overwhelmingly likely that Brooks’ columns would be much harsher, whereas progressives who like most of Obama’s administration on the merits are likely to be...

LOVE THOSE CARS.

I think this result , from the Pew Research Center, should actually concern supporters of cap and trade: One of the quirks of the elite political debate is that it tends to occur in dense cities with extremely impressive transportation infrastructures. DC. New York. Places where cars are more of a luxury item. But that, as the graph shows, is not how most Americans think of them. Car stereos are a luxury. Cars are a necessity. They're ranked as more important than a phone, a computer, or an air conditioning system. That's not to say that the attachment between suburbanites and their Camrys is forgotten in the political conversation, but it doesn't, in my experience, inform the conversation as viscerally as some might expect. I fear that an Orange County commuter is car-dependent in a way a New Yorker has trouble fathoming, and thus correcting for, when they're thinking about how to sell a bill. The theory right now is that some sort of rebate system could actually make cap and trade...

CRUMMY GDP NUMBERS.

The GDP numbers today verged on the obscene: January, February, and March saw a 6.1 percent contraction in gross domestic product. That's the worst reading in since the 1950s, and significantly more dire than than the 4.7 percent predicted by economists. The chart above comes from the fine folks at the Economic Policy Institute and compares the numbers from this recession with the averages from past recessions since World War II. The takeaway is predictable: We're worse off. Justin Fox, however, sees a silver lining : In fact, the sharp decline in private inventories that accounted for 2.79 percentage points (almost half) of the GDP decline is actually extremely good news, because it means businesses may have already made most the inventory adjustment that's a part of every recession—clearing the way for an upturn. To unpack that very quickly, one of the ways recessions end is that companies begin to build their inventory back out. Having stopped production on microwaves because...

WHAT THE SEBELIUS VOTE TELLS US ABOUT HEALTH CARE REFORM.

Kathleen Sebelius mustered 65 votes in the Senate yesterday. That's something of a victory for Anti-abortion zealots managed to muster fairly -- though not totally -- united opposition among Republicans. Matt Yglesias looks at this and says , "if you can only get 65 votes for what should be an uncontroversial HHS appointment, then the odds of a broad bipartisan coalition for big picture health care reform are not so good." I think that's right. On the other hand, you don't need a broad bipartisan coalition. You only need a small bipartisan coalition. Or, if you could achieve full Democratic unity, no bipartisan coalition at all. The point of the bill is passing it, not passing it pretty. That, at the end of the day, is why the administration insisted on including the reconciliation process. Ramming the bill through with 50 votes isn't the most elegant way to pass health care reform. But it's better, they seem to have decided, than not passing health care reform. The voters aren't big...

FUN WITH COALITION POLITICS.

Nutty as Jim DeMint's demographic theories might be (see below post), news out of Israel reminds me to be glad that we don't have a coalition system that abets the participation of parties meant to represent nothing but religious extremism. The outbreak of swine flu should be renamed "Mexican" influenza in deference to Muslim and Jewish sensitivities over pork, said an Israeli health official Monday. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said the reference to pigs is offensive to both religions and "we should call this Mexican flu and not swine flu," he told a news conference at a hospital in central Israel. Both Judaism and Islam consider pigs unclean and forbid the eating of pork products. Yakov Litzman is a member of the United Torah Judaism party -- which is in turn the unlikely alliance of two ultra-orthodox parties. Litzman's original affiliation is with Agudat Israel, a party that takes policy instruction from the Hasidic rebbes of Ger, Vizhnitz, Boston and Sadigura, and from...

DEEP THOUGHTS FROM JIM DEMINT. [UPDATED.]

This is a novel response to the concern that the GOP has become an exclusively southern party: DeMint says he isn’t worried. He denied that the GOP has become a southern party, attributing Republican losses in the northeast to some northern voters who have left the region and moved south hoping to avoid labor unions and “forced unionization.” He said Americans will eventually come back into the Republican fold because of growing alarm about the size of government and President Obama’s fiscal policies. Huh. I am interested in your theories, Mr. DeMint, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. I'd also like to remind the general audience that Jim DeMint is a United States Senator who serves on the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the Committee on Foreign Relations, and the Joint Economic Committee. He is, in other words, a supposedly serious person doing serious work. And yet he appears to think that the...

CHUCK GRASSLEY'S MUSICAL CHAIRS.

Over at the Iowa Independent, Mike Lillis takes a look at the changed incentives for Chuck Grassley now that Arlen Specter has ditched the party. Grassley is currently the Ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. That's a big job. A powerful job. It makes him key to health reform and taxes and Social Security and trade. It lets him serve on all the subcommittees. It lets him ask a lot of questions at hearings. It lets him exercise his BFF relationship with Max Baucus. If Democrats lose the majority, it makes him the all-powerful commander of the Senate Finance Committee. But due to the rules of the Senate GOP, Grassley is termed out as the ranking member of Finance in 2010. So there's some question as to what he'll do next. And Arlen Specter's defection potentially answers it. With Specter gone, Grassley could become the ranking member the Senate Judiciary Committee, a spot he's admitted that he covets but hasn't pursued "out of respect for Specter." With Specter gone, he...

PROFANE ABSTRACTS.

Speaking of SSRN, I just stumbled across "Fuck," a paper by Ohio State Law Professor Chris Fairman, which "explores the legal implications of the word fuck." The abstract: This Article is as simple and provocative as its title suggests: it explores the legal implications of the word fuck. The intersection of the word fuck and the law is examined in four major areas: First Amendment, broadcast regulation, sexual harassment, and education. The legal implications from the use of fuck vary greatly with the context. To fully understand the legal power of fuck, the nonlegal sources of its power are tapped. Drawing upon the research of etymologists, linguists, lexicographers, psychoanalysts, and other social scientists, the visceral reaction to fuck can be explained by cultural taboo. Fuck is a taboo word. The taboo is so strong that it compels many to engage in self-censorship. This process of silence then enables small segments of the population to manipulate our rights under the guise of...

TOO MUCH CONVERSATION. NOT ENOUGH PAPERS.

John Sides notes that the Social Science Research Network -- one of the web's leading repositories of academic papers -- has started a blog . But it's not a very good blog. It's seen three posts in two weeks. And my hunch is that's partially due to a poor mission statement. "The SSRN Blog will not be a broadcast vehicle," they promise. "We want to engage you in an ongoing conversation." No! Lots of people are willing to engage me in an ongoing conversation. The world has, if anything, an abundance of ongoing conversation. Conversely, it has a decided scarcity of useful research papers, or at least people willing to point me, and others, to useful research papers. According to the statistics on SSRN's sidebar, the site has received 23,315 papers in the past six months. That's around 130 papers a day . That's a lot of graphs I could be using for this site. And you don't know how the knowledge of missed graphs pains me. What all us folks having ongoing conversations need, more than...

SHOULD WE PROSECUTE TORTURERS?

I don't want to agree with Tyler Cowen on the politics of torture prosecutions, but I think I actually do: I believe that a full investigation would lead the U.S. public to, ultimately, side with torture, side with the torturers, and side against the prosecutors. That's why we can't proceed and Obama probably understands that. If another attack happened this would be all the more true. Tyler notes that he agrees with the moral stance of those criticizing Obama's attitude towards prosecution. So do I. But insofar as Obama's opposition to torture prosecutions goes, I think it might be as much the calculation of an anti-torture pragmatist as the cowardice of a politician who'd prefer to move on. Right now, he's essentially assumed to have "won" the issue, and the American consensus is anti-torture. Opening up prosecutions -- which will inevitably see tough talking CIA agents swearing that sleep deprivation saved American lives -- could change that. There are two counterarguments to this...

ARLEN SPECTER AND JOE BIDEN: AN AMTRAK LOVE STORY.

No one will ever accuse Joe Biden of lacking for enthusiasm. "Arlen Specter has been my friend and my confidant and my partner," he said today, using language more commonly associated with wedding proposals. "And it gives me great pleasure, great pleasure, Mr. President, to now officially be in the same caucus with Arlen Specter. We’ve ridden the train for so many years, we’ve visited each other’s homes, our families, that, as a point of personal privilege, it’s just a delight to have no separation." Specter was similarly nostalgic. "We have talked over every problem under the sun and under the moon," he agreed. "We’ve ridden that train together again and again, and we’ve supported that train." It all sounds pretty sexy. Barack Obama, as is his tendency, was more measured. His remarks were mainly a warning to Joe Sestak and the other Democrats who are considering challenging Specter in the primary. "Let me start off by just saying I’m thrilled to have Arlen in the Democratic caucus,"...

WORTH QUOTING: HERDING DEMS EDITION.

Gail Collins : Everybody knows, of course, that even when Al Franken finally makes it to Washington, getting all 60 Democrats-and-fellow-travelers to vote together on something will be like herding … something really impossible. Not cats. Cats I could envision all going in one direction if there was a little herring-flavored incentive at the end of the line. Herding rabid guinea pigs in a thunderstorm, maybe.

TAB DUMP.

• When should people get married? • A 419 e-mail scam. • Think Tank Round-Up. • What Pierre Bordieu explains about Tim Geithner. • The odd union of Gay and Nan Talese.

WORTH QUOTING: RAHM EMANUEL ON COMPROMISE.

From an interview with CNBC's John Harwood: HARWOOD: One of your jobs as chief of staff is to help the president figure out when you can declare victory on an issue, even if you don't get everything you want. Two particulars: Can you have a successful outcome on health care if you have not dramatically expanded coverage, if you have a piece of legislation that focuses on cost reduction? And can you have a successful and transformative energy policy without putting a price or limit on carbon emissions? Mr. EMANUEL: Well, the way I'm going to answer that, John, is to go back with what the president said when we were passing the Recovery Act: Don't make perfect the enemy of the essential. And he said that in the Recovery Act, and key moments in the negotiation he made that clear in the--when we were negotiating this budget I think we're on the doorstep of passing, which will be, I note for you, as a blue--economic blueprint, will have happened in record time with record vote. That said,...

THE COMING DOCTOR CRUNCH.

The Obama administration is right to worry about a coming doctor shortage. We have a medical system that's co-evolved with a health care system that leaves 47 million people uninsured and tens of millions more underinsured. It employs about the number of doctors required for that level of care usage. Imagine, however, that health care reform succeeds beyond everyone's wildest dreams and 45 million more people have health insurance by 2012. It's sort of like giving everyone a coupon for a new TV without building any more Best Buys. Unless someone has an idea for quickly growing doctors from stem cells, the system will quickly be overwhelmed. But it's not just that: One of the themes in Robert Pear's article is the tension between primary care doctors and specialists. It's widely understood that primary care docs are undercompensated. It's also pretty well understood that our system is too heavily oriented towards specialty care, with all its attendant costs and incentives. And it's...

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