Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Writing in the Nation, William F. Baker invokes the founders as part of his argument for national public funding for the print media.

It is no longer safe to assume, as the authors of the Constitution did, that free-flowing news and information will always be available to America's voters.
The costs of letting our journalistic institutions decay aren't visible like collapsed bridges or tent cities, but they're just as dire. A thriving news media, which America is in real danger of losing, is the unspoken assumption behind not only the First Amendment but the whole idea of self-government. It shouldn't seem radical to expect the same government that recognizes the freedom of the press to also ensure the survival of the press.

What's interesting is that Baker's romantic view of the newspaper industry dates back 50 or 60 years, certainly not to the time of the nation's founding. Foreign news bureaus would have been, well, foreign in the 1780's, as would the idea of a politically unbiased print media. Those much smarter than myself have written about the history of newspapers in America, and I believe the concept of the journalist as impartial and unbiased disseminater of facts dates back only about a hundred years or so, to the dawn of the progressive era.

So why does history matter? Even if you assume the Constitutional and historical value of the press implies the need for the government to preserve it, there's no Constitutional or historical logic that would lead to Baker's romantic view. Or as I've been saying all along, what's so special about the print media as it's now constituted that it needs to be preserved? The newspapers of the 1780's and the 1880's were vastly different from the newspapers of the 1950's and today. And herein lies the problem with the "fall of journalism" narrative, this idea that our democracy demands what we're used too and that the private sector couldn't possibly innovate.

All I Know Is That I Don't Know Nothing : Thoughts on 3 Weeks of NFL Football

The Cincinnati Bengals, presumed losers and Hard Knocks hard luck case are 2-1 and just one crazy, lucky Brandon Stokley play away from being undefeated. The Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, and Carolina Panthers, all division winners from a year ago are all 0-3. The New York Jets, quarterbacked by rookie Mark Sanchez, are 3-0. The Denver Broncos, benefactors of that lucky win against the Bengals are 3-0, and according to total yardage, have the NFL's best defense.

After the Patriots week 2 loss to the Jets, I wrote that week 2 meant something important and that after two weeks of football, we should have a much better grasp on the rest of the season. Except maybe I was wrong. My buddy McBlog! has been blogging on how confusing a season this has been for fantasy footballers thus far and I'm bound to agree, but this confusion extends to the totality of NFL football. We're three weeks in and there's not very much I'm sure about.

So what am I sure of? Here's a brief list:

# The Browns, Buccaneers, and Rams are really, really bad football teams. And the Dolphins aren't bad, but it's going to be a long, long season for Dolphins fans.

# The Ravens are very good, but I'm not quite sure just how good at this point. We know the defense is great, but although Joe Flacco and the offense have shown incredible promise, I'd still like to see more against teams not named the Browns and Chiefs.

# The Bills, Chiefs, Raiders, Redskins, and Lions won't make the playoffs. Beyond them and the four teams I mentioned up above, I'll make no promises.

For whatever reason, it's just been tough to get a real read on anyone this year. The big problem is the shake up at the top. I'm pretty confident about who the league's real losers are, but I don't think anyone is super confident about the league's top 5 or even top 10. Let's just look at the league's seven still undefeated teams for a moment. The Giants have looked impressive, but two of their wins were against the terrible Redskins and even more terrible Bucs. The Colts have had two of their three games- against the Jags and Dolphins- go down to the wire. Besides their lucky win against the Bengals, the Broncos have garnered wins against the Browns and Raiders. The Vikings beat the Lions and the Browns before Brett Favre's miracle win against the Niners.

That leaves the Jets and Saints, who just coincidently, happen to be playing each other this weekend. The Jets have chalked up impressive wins against the Texans, Patriots, and Titans, but ultimately, no matter how good their defense proves to be, we're still dealing with a rookie quarterback. I'm pretty sure the Jets will be a good team- probably a playoff team- this season, but who in their right mind would put money on their reaching the Super Bowl. The Saints are interesting and I give them some credit for their road wins against a McNabb-less Eagles and a not-very-good Bills team, but certainly no one is sold on the Saints defense.

As I mentioned, there are nine teams I'm sure are not playoff teams: The Rams, Bucs, Browns, Dolphins, Bills, Lions, Redskins, Chiefs, and Raiders. And looking through the previously mentioned undefeated teams and the various other two win teams, I see very few impressive wins. In fact, only 5 teams in the league have more than one win against teams not part of the lousy nine, and not one of those five stands out as super impressive. There are the Colts, with wins against the Jaguars and Cardinals, the Bengals, with wins against the Packers and Steelers, the Bears, with wins against the Seahawks and Steelers, the Niners, with wins against the Seahawks and Cardinals, and the Jets, who's wins I mentioned above. I know I haven't listed them with the bottom nine, but some of the wins on this list- Cardinals, Jaguars, Seahawks- are pretty damn close.

Ultimately, I think where we're getting is that no one has looked super impressive thus far and even the teams that have edged in that direction still have a lot to prove. And there are some huge "who's really good" games this weekend, most notably Patriots-Ravens, Jets-Saints, and Vikings-Packers. But even Cowboys-Broncos and Steelers-Chargers will go a long way in determining whose for real and whose not.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tea Parties

From earlier this week, liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald lays out an interesting analysis of the tea party movement, (certainly one of the most honest takes I've seen from the left), as part of a larger piece about the confusion over some of Glenn Beck's recent statements about preferring Obama to John McCain.

Far more interesting than Beck himself is the increasingly futile effort to classify the protest movement to which he has connected himself. Here, too, confusion reigns. In part, this is due to the fact that these "tea party" and "9/12" protests are composed of factions with wildly divergent views about most everything. From paleoconservatives to Ron-Paul-libertarians to LaRouchians to Confederacy-loving, race-driven Southerners to Christianist social conservatives to single-issue fanatics (abortion, guns, gays) to standard Limbaugh-following, Bush-loving Republicans, these protests are an incoherent mishmash without any cohesive view other than: "Barack Obama is bad." There are unquestionably some highly noxious elements in these groups, but they are far from homogeneous. Many of these people despised the Bush-led GOP and many of them loved it.

Add to all of that the fact that this anti-Obama sentiment is being exploited by run-of-the-mill GOP operatives who have no objective other than to undermine Democrats and return the Republicans to power -- manifestly not the goal of many of the protesters -- and it's impossible to define what this movement is or what is driving it. In many ways, its leadership (both organizationally and in the media) is fundamentally at odds with the participants. How can people who cheered on the Bush/Cheney administration and who want to re-install GOP leaders in power (i.e., Fox News, Limbaugh, the right-wing blogosphere, GOP House members) possibly make common cause in any coherent way with those who are in favor of limited federal government power, reduced debt, privacy, and Constitutional protections -- all the things on which the GOP relentlessly waged war for years? In one important sense, the "tea party" movement is similar to the Obama campaign for "change": it stays sufficiently vague and unspecific to enable everyone to read into what they want, so that people with fundamentally irreconcilable views believe they're part of the same movement.

That last part is just utterly brilliant, although many tea partiers would probably reject the idea. Opposition to the Obama agenda, like support for "change," is the easy part. But what do the tea partiers want in terms of actual policy? The idea that the line between socialism and freedom is where we are right now in the policy debate is pure fantasy, so again, the question is, what does the tea partiers ideal government look like? I suspect that Greenwald is right, that you wouldn't get any consistent, specific answers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pat Disaster

There's a big difference between week one in the NFL and week two. Week one ultimately does not matter, as the history books are loaded with teams whose week one performance had no bearing on the ultimate outcome of their season. Case-in-point, the 2003 Patriots released Lawyer Milloy, went up to face Milloy and his new Bills teammates and were dismissed 31-0. The Bills finished 6-10 that season and the Patriots went on to win 23 of their next 24 games. So last week, I took the glass-is-half full tact, mostly because a week one win is simply a week one win. But Sunday's game against the Jets? It was one of those rare games where there was nothing good to take out of it. The Patriots looked old and terrible and the Jets looked young, fired up, and dominating. Obviously the season's not over, but I have have a mind to kneel down and kiss the SUper Bowl ring that Rex Ryan hasn't gotten yet. Rather than dwell on any one thing let's just look at all the bad before trying to find some positives.

1. Brady looked terrible. In fact, it was probably the worst Brady's looked since that game against the Bills 6 years ago and the numbers don't really tell the full story. Brady was inaccurate in the face of the blitz, not stepping into throws, throwing off his back foot and missing potentially open receivers. With the pressure coming all day, Brady was never able to develop any sort of rhythm in the passing game, but ultimately, the awfulness- and the loss- should be mostly at his feet.

2. The play calling for two straight weeks has been atrocious, something we maybe should have expected with the loss of Josh McDaniels. Supposedly, quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien is involved in the play calling, with Belichick also having a hand. Regardless of who's calling the shots, it needs to get better. Given the low scoring nature of the game, 47 pass attempts were not needed. That Lawrence Maroney and Fred Taylor combined for only 14 carries was a huge mistake, particularly when they actually ran rather effectively when they actually had the chance, rushing for a combined 69 yards on those 14 carries.

3. The defense continued last year's problem of being unable to get off the field on third down, particularly in the second half. To have your zone coverage picked apart by a rookie the way Sanchez did was just embarrassing.

4. Joey Galloway does not look like he belongs on the Patriots.

There's little good to be found here, but maybe there are some reasons not to over react. Most importantly, I have no doubt Tom Brady will be okay. But oddly similar to Matt Cassel last year, there is a learning curve in getting him used to facing a live pass rush again. Whether the line can protect him is another question, as we've seen two weeks of less than stellar play up front. Ultimately, there's just too much talent on this offense for the team to continue to struggle the way it has. Defensively, the team hasn't been awful, giving up only three touchdowns through the season's first two weeks, so it's hard to say much of anything. The defense doesn't look good, but it certainly doesn't look terrible either.

And hell, maybe the Jets are that good, or at least this good for the start of the season. In week one, the Jets shut down a Texans offense that had it's way with the supposedly defensively talented Titans this past weekend. And those Bills from a week earlier? They put up 33 this past weekend. I started off by pointing out that two weeks matter in a way one week doesn't, but ultimately, it's still a long season. And ultimately, there's still a learning curve for everyone in determining just who are the good and who are the bad teams in the league. 1-1 is exactly where the Patriots should be right now, as, for the most part, they've looked remarkably average. But in writing all this I think I've convinced myself ... It's a long season and we've still got 14 weeks left.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Does The Scourge Really Persist and More Importantly, What Is The Scourge?

In the New York Times this Saturday, columnist Bob Herbert opines,

I have no patience with those who want to pretend that racism is not an out-and-out big deal in the United States, as it always has been. We may have made progress, and we may have a black president, but the scourge is still with us.

Why is that? Well, according to Herbert,

For many white Americans, Barack Obama is nothing more than that black guy in the White House, and they want him out of there.

I'm going to use Herbert's column as a launching point for a larger discussion on race, rather than address it point-by-point. Like the allegations I just noted in my last post which I received in an e-mail from the Nation, this narrative of right wing racism, anger, and violence is incredably disturbing because it's just plain not true. As someone who truly cares about intellectual debate, it troubles me that those on the left are trolling for racism rather than engaging ideas and arguments. And obviously it's troubling when the race card is used as a means of shutting down debate.

But beyond those obvious points, there's a lot more to this story as well. That so many on the left have picked up and ran with this narrative is telling, not about their intellectual honesty, of which I could never be sure one way or the other, but of their view of the world. For many on the left, this narrative of racism and hate is not something new, it's what they've been taught and what they've believed for decades.

Forgetting about tea parties and Republicans for a moment, I've got to ask just what Mr. Herbert means by the scourge still being with us. No one would ever deny that the racism of America's past was indeed a scourge. Into the 50's and 60's we had legally enforced segregation and a culture that accepted white supremacy as a cultural norm. Obviously today, segregation is a thing of the past and discrimination in the private sector has been stamped out. And white supremacy as a cultural norm? That's a tough pill to swallow when we have a black president, when black hip hop artists top the pop music charts, when the majority of our professional athletes are black, and when the wealthiest woman entertainer in the world is black. And for whatever else you may hear from the right, there's been nothing but praise for someone like Condoleezza Rice, Bobby Jindal is mentioned as a Republican up-and-comer, and Michael Steele is head of the RNC. There may be plenty to talk about in regards to race, but Herbert's statement that any significant number of Americans want Obama out of the White House because he is black just defies all the evidence in front of us.

The truth is, you can't find any evidence that the tea parties are a result of racism (or that tens of thousands were chanting "white power") because such a narrative is just plain contrary to all of the known facts. What Hebert gives us for evidence is not the agenda of a white power movement but a number of off-color racist jokes. And herein lies the problem, as I think Mr. Herbert (along with many others on the left) view the race issue as simplistically black and white as George Bush's view of the war on terror: either your with us or your against us.

The problem is, there's racism ... and then there's racism. People don't present racial jokes on their signs or in their e-mails because they think it's a clever way of making a point while hiding their true white supremacist leanings; they do it because they're stupid. We know this because the people who make such signs and send such e-mails are called out on it and are lumped in the worst sorts of bigots. The fact that racial humor persists is not a sign that the most virulent forms of racism persist. This is not to say that there are are no racial issues left in this country, but unlike Mr. Herbert I do beleive that the scourge for the most part has been eliminated. We don't live in the era where Jackie Robinson feared for his life or an era where there was a ceiling on the dreams of black children.

So to the extent that they exist- and more on this in a second- what does the persistence of racially based humor and other mild forms of racism actually mean? (And yes, I say mild, because a racial joke is far more mild than say separate lunch counters and racially based voter intimidation.) I think what it ultimately amounts to is mostly harmless; the idea of humor relying on any definable characteristic. In short, at a protest with hundreds of thousands of people, there were signs referring to Obama's race because his race is a discernible characteristic. And I bet if Obama was fat there would have been a lot more signs about his weight than his race. Are there really nasty racists out there? I'm sure there are, but I'd bet those folks aren't the ones holding the stupid signs. The people holding the racially insensitive signs? I don't know how "racist" they necessarily are, but I'd probably jot down stupid as a more defining characteristic of their personality.

The racist game is a difficult one to play because ultimately, you don't know what's deep down in anyone's heart. You simply can't play it with a crowd of hundreds of thousands because each and every single person there had there own reasons for protesting. And in terms of the voices of the right, the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaugh's of the world, I have trouble with judging someone's moral character based on bits and pieces of what they say. It's easy to portray someone in a particularly bad context when they're on the air running their mouths everyday. But as I've been saying, there's a difference between a stupid comment and what's truly in someone's heart.

Finally, there's one more argument I'd like to address that relates to race that I think does have some merit and this is the argument that many on the right fear that Obama-because of his race- is going to serve as a force for redistributing income to undeserving "others." The racial implication is that Barack Obama is going to redistribute taxpayer money to poor blacks - and unfortunately for those on the right, I've heard Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh make such insinuations. Insinuations however, is the key word. I've never heard a voice on the right to suggest that income redistribution would be okay if it were geared toward white folks. The issue is the redistribution, not who it's going to or even where it's coming from. But in a way, we're back to the joke issue again. Yes, there are some racial overtones, but the political question is ultimately the issue.

The worst part of the racism that dominated this country for so many years was that race was the issue. There was legal segregation on the books because of race and white folks made decisions against their own economic interest because of race (and gender too for that matter). That's what we're beyond today. No it's not a racially harmonious paradise, but unless we're talking about affirmative action, no one is making an argument based solely on race. Well almost no one ... No one other than those who will no longer engage in serious debate with the right because of racism.

From My E-Mail

For some reason I'm signed up to get frequent e-mails from the Nation magazine, a bastion of liberal thought and this is what was in my inbox today:

Dear Nation Friend:

If you think the "Age of Obama" has miraculously swept clean right wing influence in American schools and on campuses, think again:

* Just weeks ago, Rush Limbaugh, the crown prince of hate speech, twisted words and logic to turn a simple presidential speech encouraging school children into a sinister political plot.

* Just days ago, Glenn Beck led the astro-turf 9-12-09 "Taxpayer March on DC." Compared to the millions who have marched for civil rights, equal rights, and gay rights, and against the war, Beck's 70,000 would be small stuff -- except for the tens of thousands waving Confederate flags, anti-gay hate signs, and shouting "White Power!"

Well-equipped minds have no trouble countering an increasingly dangerous, racist and radical right wing. And, unlike any other magazine in America, The Nation's unique Student Outreach Program equips students to question... think... and seek the truth.

Thousands waving Confederate flags, anti-gay hate signs, and shouting "White Power!"???? Really?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

More Humor About Those We Don't Understand

HBO's resident douchebag Bill Maher writes in the Huffington Post, "New Rule: You can't complain about health care reform if you're not willing to reform your own health." (This via Ann Althouse.)

Unlike most liberals, I'm glad all those teabaggers marched on Washington last week. Because judging from the photos, it's the first exercise they've gotten in years. Not counting, of course, all the Rascal scooters there, most of which aren't even for the disabled. They're just Americans who turned 60 and said, "Screw it, I'm done walking." These people are furious at the high cost of health care, so they blame illegals, who don't even get health care. News flash, Glenn Beck fans: the reason health care is so expensive is because you're all so unhealthy.

Yes, it was fun this week to watch the teabaggers complain how the media underestimated the size of their march, "How can you say there were only 60,000 of us? We filled the entire mall!" Yes, because you're fat. One whale fills the tank at Sea World, that doesn't make it a crowd.

Thanks for the intelligent contribution to the health care debate Bill. What's that? A joke? Well jolly good one old chap, wait to stick it to the folks you disagree with by calling them fat.

Remember my comments on Stephen Colbert last week? Well, let me second those comments here. And Colbert was at least dismissive; Maher is just plain foolish. The teabaggers were in Washington to protest the encroaching specter of big government and Obama's proposed health reforms were only a small part of the reasons for the protests. To suggest that those arguing for less government need to get their personal health issues in order before protesting more government involvement in their health is just plain asinine. And the worst part of it is, Maher has gone around in the past declaring himself a libertarian.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Illegal Immigrant Problem

This is a health care question, to harken back to Congressmen Joe Wilson's "you lie" statement when President Obama promised that illegal immigrants would not be covered by any proposed health care reforms.

That's all fine and dandy, but does it really make sense, particularly in regards to the individual mandate that seems to be attached to every reform proposal? The idea behind a mandate is that people without health insurance wind up costing our health care system, both down the road in terms of a lack of preventative care and in the immediate future because of emergency room bills whose cost winds up falling on the system.

So if people without insurance wind up costing the system more money (and as far as I know this is the only rationale for an individual mandate), why wouldn't it be true that illegal immigrants without health insurance also cost the system more money? It's an uncomfortable point, but I have trouble seeing how you can argue for the necessity of an individual mandate while promising not to include illegals as part of these reforms. Unless there's also been some proposal I haven't heard about to have emergency rooms stop treating illegal immigrants, I just don't get it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Death of Conservatism?

Reason's Nick Gillespie has an excellent interview with New York Times Book Review Editor Sam Tanenhaus on his book "The Death of Conservatism." Tanenhaus's thesis is one I've been harping on in this blog for months: that the right has abandoned intellectual debate in favor of a more shallow politics.

Case-in-point, the utter nonsense I heard from Rush Limbaugh on my brief car trip this afternoon. It was more Jeremiah Wright, more Bill Ayers, both of which should have been evidence to thinking people about Obama's true intentions for this country. Forget the racial angle, Rush's argument is that Obama is angry at this country and his policies are going to be based on that anger. And it's almost as ridiculous as the liberal arguments during the Bush administration that George Bush wanted to kill brown people. I can't prove either of those statements true or false, one way or another and that's exactly the point. It's dirty politics that borders on conspiracy mongering and it's the exact opposite of intellectual rigor.

When it comes to any presidency and to politics in general, what's important should be actual policy, not what may or may not be in someone's heart. It ultimately doesn't matter with Obama is driven by the good intention of helping every American or whether he's driven by a lust for government power, what matters is what laws and what policies we get under his administration. I'd take an evil bastard that doesn't do all that much in office over a well-meaning fool any day.

This is not to say that every tea party attendee with an "Obama=socialism" sign is a fool. There's a difference between a protest where you have a limited ability to project a brief and memorable message in the form of a protest sign and a public figure who has the forum of a column, blog, or radio show.

What I see from any number of leading conservative figures aren't intellectual arguments, but pomp and circumstance where spectacle is valued over depth. You just can't attack the Obama health care proposals while glossing over the numerous problems and inequities of our current system that are directly the result of government action. And sure, it may get briefly mentioned, but I hear a lot more about Van Jones, Bill Ayers, and Jeremiah Wright. And the crazy thing is, Rush was much better at hammering John McCain on real big government issues then he's been on Barack Obama.

Sam Tanenhaus points out that the late William F. Buckley, because of the intellectual level of his arguments, made liberals think and write better. Part of the problem today, according to Tanenhaus, is that people tend to congregate more with those of like minds and fewer and fewer take the time to seriously examine the intellectual arguments of the other side. And I can't disagree.

Coming from the other side, the liberal bloggers I enjoy reading most- Glenn Greenwald and Ezra Klein for example- are those who take the time to take intellectual arguments for the other side seriously. I may not agree with them much, but I can respect their intellectual honesty. What I'm interested in is people who take ideas seriously, or at least, much more seriously than politics. There's a tremendous opportunity on the right for someone to fill the intellectual void that exists right now and to become the one on the right who takes ideas seriously, but it seems to me as though as though many public figures on the right have actively stepped away from that role.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Colbert Report

Having not watched Stephen Colbert's "Colbert Report" in a while, I tuned in last night to see just what the show looked like in the age of Obama ... and I was not impressed. The lead-in from Jon Stewart and the Daily Show was funny enough, with Colbert telling Stewart he had just returned from safari in Barack Obama's birthplace. When Stewart chided Colbert, telling him, "Barack Obama wasn't born in Kenya," Colbert replied, "No John, I was on safari in Hawaii." Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

I've never minded the Colbert character as a flag-waving conservative caricature, but the humor of the character tends to get lost when real policy becomes the topic of conversation. Case-in-point, last night's segment with Colbert interviewing an Obama health reform proponent. While the reform advocate kept pointing out how these reforms would save tens of thousands of lives, Colbert's hook was to reinforce the advocates admission that, yes, people would still die under these reforms. It's an exaggeration of political spin, arguably a subject which needs little exaggeration. And whether or not it was intended this way, what it becomes is a joke on this idea that health reform opponents don't have any ideas of their own and are being opposition for the sake of being oppositional.

There's skewering and then there's distortion and this is my biggest problem with the Colbert Report, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and any of these other left-leaning comics: It's just not that funny when you're skewering a boogeyman that isn't really there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Return of Tom Terrific

My assessment of last night's Patriot 25-24 comeback win over the Bills seems to differ from most of the critics. I was impressed, if only because snatching a victory out of the jaws of defeat is the sign of a good team (whereas blowing a two-score fourth quarter lead is the sign of a team coached by Dick Jauron). Maybe I'm an optimist for seeing the positives, but there seemed to be plenty last night that left me hopeful going forward. There is a shadow hanging over this victory, and that's the shadow of Jerod Mayo's injured knee, but in terms of the Patriots other 43 active players I remain surprisingly hopeful.

I'll get to Brady in a minute, but first the defense, which has been the focus of most of the criticism today. The 24 points put up by the Bills are obviously deceiving because they include Aaron Schobel's touchdown, so without them, we see the Bills putting up 17 points and 276 yards. Not great numbers (and the yardage figure is skewed lower because of the Bills relatively low number of offensive plays), but hardly the worrisome trend some seem to be fuming about. The Bills had 7 real offensive drives on the day, 2 of which (both Bills touchdown drives) the Patriots looked terrible on and the rest of which they looked pretty damn good. Of the other 5 drives, the Bills one field goal drive was set up by a 27 yard Terrell Owens catch, the only first down of the drive. On the other 4 drives the Bills were forced to punt and totaled only 3 first downs.

Here's where my glass half-full analysis comes in. Jerod Mayo, team defensive captain and a player who was becoming the leader of that defense left in the midst of the Bills second drive. Yet despite that, the Patriots D still put together a decent effort. Clearly they planned on taking Terrell Owens out of the game and they held TO to only 2 relatively inconsequential catches on the night. And on 3rd down, the Patriots bugaboo the past few years, they generally excelled. The Bills did convert 3 of 3 third downs on their final touchdown drive, but over the course of the rest of the game, they converted only 1 of 7.

And then there's just the fact that the Bills looked sharp. This goes backed to my axiom from last season, that teams in the NFL don't get blown out unless they deserve it and last night, the Bills didn't deserve it. Other than the terrible fumble at the end of the game, they held on to the football. Trent Edwards was pretty damn accurate with his passes and Fred Jackson looked like a man who wants Marshawn Lynch's job for the entire season.

In terms of individual players, Gary Guyton, Bruschi (and now Mayo's) replacement looked good at times and lost at others. Richard Seymour was missed, as I saw Jarvis Green being pushed around and trapped on various plays. What looked better than expected was the secondary, which held TO and Lee Evans to 5 catches for 71 yards. But ultimately, we're waiting on Mayo. The sentiment seemed to be that he was ready to make that step to Pro Bowl-level this year and there's just no one who can replace that level of talent in the middle.

But even if Mayo is done for the year, his lost hurts much more for the rush defense than it does the pass. And if the offense can keep making the moves to return to it's 2007 level of efficiency, the holes in the run defense might not seem so troublesome.

In terms of the offense, first off let me cite my axiom of teams getting blown out. The Patriots offense muddled it's way through three quarters, but the Bills as they say, came to play ball. Aaron Schobel looked to be performing at a particularly high level, as he gave Matt Light fits all night. Light by the way, is my biggest worry after week one other than Mayo's injury. It's not just that he had a few bad plays, it was that Schobel just seemed to own him for much of the first half. The running game didn't look particularity good from the O-lines point of view, but both Taylor and Maroney had a few nifty runs. And in terms of the passing game, well, it was fairly well documented during the game by Jaws how Brady looked tentative and struggled a bit with his accuracy early on. But of course, by the end of that forth quarter we had the confident Tom Terrific Patriot fans know and love and in terms of sheer efficiency, this may have been one of his better comebacks yet. Moss, Welker, and Kevin Faulk work with him in that passing game as well as any group of receivers in NFL history and Watson for whatever reason still has Brady's confidence. Joey Galloway didn't catch a pass, but that's just another indication that these things take time.

I'm excited for Brady, excited for the defense, and hopeful, oh so hopeful that Mayo isn't done for the year.

Free Speech and Campaign Finance

I've been meaning to blog about this for a week or so now, but there is a huge, huge case before the Supreme Court this term. That case, Citizens United v. F.E.C., raises the question of just how much free speech can be restricted in the name of campaign finance regulations. (Reason has more here.)

For those unfamiliar with the case, Citizens United produced a documentary entitled "Hillary: The Movie" during the 2008 presidential primaries, but was unable to advertise the film or offer it on pay-per-view because according to the F.E.C. such advertising violated provisions of McCain-Feingold banning "electioneering communications" paid for by corporate interests within 30 days of a primary. According to all reports, the Supreme Court is on the verge of overturning the FEC's decision, but what's unclear is whether such a decision would be narrow, applying just to this particular case or be more broad and strike down this entire provision.

One point of interest before I get to my larger discussion. One, the case drew interest earlier in the year when Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart claimed the FEC had the authority to ban books that fit this electioneering vein. This comment was retracted by current solicitor general Elana Kagan. Regardless of your feelings on the case, free speech, and campaign finance reform in general, it's pretty clear that the law of McCain-Feingold is broad, and the book banning argument is a perfectly reasonable interpretation. The question before the Court is, obviously, the First Amendment question, but it's pretty frightening that Congress comes up with laws in the first place that are ambiguous about something like book burning.

The response from the left has been ... interesting. It's mixed in that plenty of the left have no problem with the FEC's decision being overturned, but hope that it is overturned on narrow grounds. The interesting discussion point was noted by Reason's Ron Bailey last week: What are the free speech rights of corporations?

I believe I've dealt with the corporate question in this blog before, but it always amazes me that some on the left get their feathers so ruffled by the idea that corporations might have rights. One of the problems is made clear in the Citizens United Case. Citizens United isn't a traditionally evil; corporation, it's a non-profit. Yes, corporate form is defined by law, but ultimately, a corporation is a collection of individuals. As a collection of individuals, it's difficult to see the legal distinction between a for-profit company, a non-for profit company, and a loose collection of individuals organizing for a political purpose. The logical distinction is, of course, the money-making one, but that's not a legal distinction made in the Constitution or anywhere else.

Folks on the left always get very worked up about the notion of corporate personhood, worrying that our legal system has somehow given corporations rights to which they would otherwise not be entitled to. (Part of the problem is the philisophical place where this argument comes from, one where rights are granted by government and not held naturally by the people.) But when you break it down logically, it's pretty easy to see that it's much ado about nothing. The only special protection offered to corporations is the limited personal liability provided to shareholders, which is one of the driving engines of our economy. Other than that special protection, we're talking about corporations as having the same rights as any other collections of individuals. Forget about free speech and campaigns for a moment, but shouldn't corporations be protected by the 4th amendment? Or do you give your freedom from warrantless searches and seizures the moment your organization incorporates? Similarly, should the simple act of incorporating give up your to due process? And if you're a local organization, should you be free to speak and advertise on elections as candidates as much as you'd like but then be faced with severe restrictions the moment you choose to incorporate your organization?

The goal of campaign finance laws is always to keep big money out of elections, but the truth of the matter is that there's no way to really do that in a free society. Even under McCain-Feingold, the obvious loophole is that campaign finance laws don't apply to the speech of individuals. Bill Gates could have financed and produced the Hillary movie himself and there would have been nothing the F.E.C. could have done about it.

Ultimately, the FEC's pattern of enforcement and McCain-Feingold itself is about restricting speech in the days leading up to an election (30 days in the case of a primary, 60 days in the case of a general election) and this is a huge, huge problem people need to wake up and see. Speech is speech, whether it's a paid-for advertisement, a movie, or a book. The idea that bureaucrats sit around making decisions about what we're allowed and not allowed to hear in the weeks leading up to an election is just plain unacceptable. And it's one of those issues where I wonder whether or not supporters fully understand what they're supporting. We're not talking about campaign contributions here or money donated talking to political campaigns. We're talking about the independent speech of independent organizations and I just can't see on what planet that such speech would ever be a bad idea.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Patriots Defense

The New England Patriots defense will be a top ten defense at the end of the season. You can mark it down.

I noted John Clayton's power ranking comment last week mistakenly referring to the Patriots age and I was even more shocked to hear Patriot fan Bill Simmons claim the Pats were going to be locked in 38-34 games every week this season during his first week podcast preview with Cousin Sal. Just look around and you'll see plenty of folks down on the Patriots defense this year, particularly in the wake of the Richard Seymour trade. Not having followed the Patriots intensively this off-season, this widespread distrust of the Pats defense going into the season is a bit surprising.

Personally, I've been super excited for the season to get going so I can see this defense in action and I'm still excited after the Seymour trade.

First, let's just take a look at what the Patriots did last season. Last season the Patriots finished 10th in the NFL in terms of yards allowed and 8th in terms of points allowed. On the yardage front the team finished 11th against the pass and 15th against the run. And this, all while playing in closer games with Matt Cassel then they presumably will be with Brady back this year.

Obviously, there were some major changes in the off-season. Besides the Seymour trade, Ellis Hobbs was traded to the Eagles, Mike Vrabel was traded to the Chiefs and Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi retired. It seems like a lot to lose, but is it really? By the end of last season Rodney Harrison has basically ceded the starting safety positions to Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders. And by the end of last season, Tedy Bruschi just didn't have the speed to compete at the NFL level. Other than Seymour, who's still a very good player, we're talking about losing a 12 year veteran in Mike Vrabel and a cornerback in Ellis Hobbs who lost the Pats the Super Bowl and was reviled throughout Patriots nation.

When I think about who the Patriots do have, I get excited. Three players, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, and Adelius Thomas are near that Pro Bowl level and two other players- Jerod Mayo and Brandon Meriweather- are seemingly ready to make that jump this year. Losing Seymour hurts, but the defensive line is the area where the Patriots are the most stacked. Jarvis Green and Mike Wright have played extensive minutes in their time on the Patriots and the coaching staff supposedly loves young rookie giants Ron Brace and Myron Pryor.

Linebacker depth is a concern, but linebacker depth has been a concern the past few years. At the very least, the return of former Patriot Tully Banta-Cain and the addition of former Raider pass rusher Derrick Burgess should be of some help. And then there's the secondary, which should be better from last season. The safeties return and Shaun Springs replaces Ellis Hobbs, which should be an upgrade. While there are questions as to the second corner spot and the nickle and dime packages, the Patriots have 4 players in their first or second year ready to contribute. It's not a recipe for instant success, but there's more than enough talent for this defense to coalesce into a top unit by the end of the season. These Patriots have more young talent on defense than they've ever had before in the Bill Belichick era and I can see why the haters would have doubts ... but the Pats fans? That's what I don't get. I loved Bruschi, Seymour, Harrison, and Vrabel and everything they did for the team, but the team is better this year with them not on the field.

Tea Parties and Political Pundits

Reason had some eyewitness coverage of the big "tea party" in DC this weekend. The gist of it? The narrative of the mainstream media misses the point as this isn't about the birthers, racism, guns, or even Obama personally. These protests are a real grassroots reaction to big government and left unsaid by Reason's Matt Welch: While this is a pot that has just now come to a boil, the seeds of this very public reaction have been simmering for years now, well before Obama was even a presidential candidate.

Mick Gillespie's pictures tell more than words ever could, about the diverse nature of the crowd.

In terms of other reactions, liberal blogger Ezra Klein makes the important point that protests tend not to drive policy.

And perhaps making the opposite point of Klein, there was Rush Limbaugh, who I happened to catch briefly on the radio this afternoon. I know I've written about Limbaugh before and how it's disappointing that a guy I once found to be so entertaining has just gone so far off the deep end. According to Rush, these tea parties are about disgust with the Democrats and disgust with Obama in particular and the narrative that looks to these protests as bipartisan disgust with Washington is flat out wrong. Rush's evidence is the simple fact that these protests didn't happen where George Bush was president. The problem is, these protests did begin when George Bush was president, about a year ago when the financial bailout that came to be known as TARP was first put on the table. But Rush should also remember his own disgust- along with a great many other conservatives at the massive domestic spending of the Bush administration, Medicare Part D's prescription drug benefit in particular. As I said above, this isn't just anger about the Obama administration, this is grassroots reaction that's been a long time in coming.

In the past, I would have always said conservative if forced to pick between conservative and liberal, but the tact taken by many of the lead voices in the conservative movement is disheartening to say the least. Rush's take on the Democratic push for big government used to be, in essence, "stupid and misguided." But now I hear him regularly throw words around like fascism and totalitarianism and I hear him regularly tell his audience that Obama and his ilk are merely out to put more power in the hands of the government. It's not completely untrue, but it's a poor narrative, completely lacking in any nuance and far too adversarial for my liking. Yet this is what we've got from the conservative media (every time I see Glenn Beck, he's diagramming something on his black board about how our freedom is being taken away).

Protests are supposed to be be simple and reactionary. (Hence the best anti-war protests were the ones with normal folks calling to end the war and the worst were the ones where the crazies attempted to connect the war in Iraq to every other extreme leftist international issue.) What these protests need are spokespeople to put them into context, but instead what you get is Rush and Beck and Hannity and any number of others in the conservative media turning the whole thing into nothing more than a bash Obama and the Democrats session. It's dangerous because it reinforces the left's skepticism that this is politics and this isn't about ideas and even more importantly, it keeps free market ideas in the background.

How Dare You!

During a time where good television has arguably surpassed film in terms of artistic merit and cultural resonance, Tim Goodman of the San Francisco has quickly become one of my favorite television critics. I enjoyed his weekly takes at the end of Lost last Spring and I'm really digging his in-depth coverage of Mad Men this summer. And thanks to this last post in his blog- Why I Hate People, Volume 287- my respect for Goodman has increased exponentially. Here's the good part:

I love this country. I just have to remember that you get all kinds. One of my favorite sayings is that "there's no one more intolerant than a liberal in San Francisco." In college I did an internship at Mother Jones magazine and the experience moved me from the far, far left to middle of the road, where I've remained ever since. And those people who know me well enough know that I steer clear of politics now. People talk politics, I walk. You're entitled to your opinion. I'm entitled not to be remotely interested in hearing it. I wrote a column on Wednesday about "Glee" and noted that Fox, which had scheduled the new fall series well ahead of President Obama's speech that night, wasn't going to reschedule the series. Here's the first paragraph:

Much could be made about Fox's decision to skip President Obama's address to Congress tonight in favor of kicking off its fall season, but unless he's going to announce a war or cut taxes by 50 percent, then the country could probably benefit more by watching "Glee." (If you want to watch "So You Think You Can Dance," that's your decision.)

The humor-challenged among us (and there are a lot more than I thought), were outraged that I wouldn't order everyone to sit in front of the TV, rigidly and quietly, soaking up the president's words. That I suggested people might seek a little enjoyment in a wonderfully nuanced and tonally-ambitious series had people thinking I was - gasp - Republican. Or even anti-American (conveniently forgetting the "freedom of choice" ideals, apparently). These people know nothing about DVR usage or even VCR usage. They couldn't fathom that some people might watch the news later to catch important parts of the speech or read a newspaper. Nope. They almost demanded that we all sit and watch. Anything else was unpatriotic. (Again, they missed the irony there.) A lot of people in these messages identified themselves as being from Berkeley. (I'm using a database search engine now to see if they sent me similar messages when George W. Bush was president and addressing the country.) These people thought I couldn't be from the Bay Area. (Or, have free will, one would assume.) They said they wouldn't read my reviews again or that future reviews would be adversely colored by this notion I set forth about "Glee" vs. Obama. I tried to respond to them politely instead of saying, "Whatever. Good riddance."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Is This What We've Come To?

Is This What We've Come To?

This was Reason Editor-in-Chief Matt Welch in the post-Obama health care speech column I linked to the other day:

"But know this," President Barack Obama said in one of several such satisfying passages in his health care speech last night. "I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out."

Salon Editor in Chief Joan Walsh could barely contain herself at this nearly Snoop Doggesque display. "'We will call you out' on lies," she Tweeted. "love it!"

And this this was the same Joan Walsh on Salon, in response to Welch's comment:

Every time I think I'm exaggerating the nature of the racial nuttiness that Obama faces, an ostensibly tolerant, smart guy like Welch does something boneheaded like this. What in God's name does Snoop Dogg have to do with Barack Obama (besides the obvious). Snoop's chorus is some variation on, "I run this town, act loud, get wild, we'll shut you down!" Oh, I get it: Obama runs Washington, and he threatened to call out people who lie about his proposals, and ... that's the same thing?

I'll summarize for the readers here who don't want to be bothered with all the linking. Welch was making a reference to a specific Snoop Dogg song, linking to the you tube video where the chorus goes something along the lines of "We will shut you down." Full of post-racial indignation on the part of the President of the United States, Joan Walsh saw fit to call out Welch as a racist, or at least, as having made a racially insensitive comment.

Having read both Reason and Welch for over a decade now, I glossed over the comment when I read the column yesterday. I'm not familiar with the Snoop Dogg video, but I am very familiar with how Welch and many other writers at Reason work pop culture imagery into their writing. And perhaps most importantly, I don't think Reason has ever taken the position that good political writing can't be funny. (In fact, I beleive Welch had a piece a few months ago asking President Obama if he planned back bring Jimmy Careter-era cardigans.)

Matt Welch doesn't my help, nor anyone else's in defending himself, but this sort of thing is just too preposterous not to take note. This was a pop culture reference, plain and simple, of the exact same sort Welch or anyone else at Reason might have made during the Bush years. The only racial aspect to any of this is what people chose to read into it.

Yet here we are, where a pop culture reference is presented as evidence of "racial nuttiness." Perhaps most ridiculous is the assertion made by Walsh and then again by many of her commenters that, despite Welch's explanation, he must have been comparing Obama with Snoop Dogg ... As if somehow, that those sorts of direct comparisons are the only way to write.

I haven't written much about this phenomenon at all, but it's hard to escape the fact that some folks on the left are actively seeking out racist straw men wherever they can find them. It's sad, but the worst part is is how accepting others can be of these narratives. A lefty journalist can play the racial card and all you need to do is read the commenters to see how many people fall into line behind that journalist. I suppose this is the state of discourse in general, where good writers can find themselves subject to vicious personal attacks based on nothing more than someone else's ignorant interpretation of a blurb, but still ... It's depressing.

So what's the point of health reform again?

From today's New York Time's Editorial Page: A Clear Responsibility. And what is that responsibility? According to the Times, to provide health care to the 46 million uninsured.

In the moving peroration of his speech to Congress Wednesday night, President Obama cast health care reform as a moral issue that reflects on the character of our country. He also made clear that there are some problems that are too big for individuals to solve on their own — and that guaranteeing that all Americans have access to health care is one of them.

“Our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem,” he said. “But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little.”

Any critic who still questions the need for health care reform or rails against a “government takeover” of health care should look at the latest Census Bureau estimates of the number of people without health insurance in this country — and the number who have avoided disaster precisely because of government help.

The overall number of the uninsured rose from 45.7 million in 2007 to 46.3 million in 2008. The fact that tens of millions of Americans may be one major illness away from bankruptcy is unacceptable. But there is also some heartening news: The increase was relatively small considering the depth of the economic crisis. That is only because government programs helped offset the decline of private insurance and employer-based coverage.

An aging population made more people eligible for Medicare, that much-maligned “single-payer” government program that provides coverage to almost all of the nation’s elderly, usually to their deep satisfaction. And deepening poverty rates made more people eligible for Medicaid, a joint federal-state program to cover the poor.

A strong push to enroll children in either Medicaid or S-chip, the state health insurance program for children from low-income families, has driven the number and rate of uninsured children to its lowest levels since 1987, the first year comparable data were collected. This is a stunning achievement — courtesy of your federal and state governments.

The most worrisome trend is that the number of adults under age 65 who lack insurance is high and rising, reaching 20 percent of that age group last year. The number of uninsured adults increased by 1.5 million in 2008. The toll in 2009 is likely to be worse as unemployment rates continue to rise, depriving workers of their group coverage, and more companies drop or shrink health benefits.

The health care reform plan that President Obama and many Democrats in Congress are calling for could do a lot to reduce Americans’ vulnerability and stem that tide. Likely reforms would require employers to provide health benefits to their workers or pay a fee to help cover them elsewhere, thus slowing the erosion of employer coverage. Reform would also expand Medicaid to cover more poor people, create exchanges where people without group coverage at work could buy affordable policies and receive subsidies based on their incomes and prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage or charging exorbitant rates based on medical conditions.

Critics of health care reform have done Americans two great disservices. They have obscured and denied the very real suffering of tens of millions of uninsured Americans and the very real danger that millions more could soon join them. And they have twisted and denied the goal of health care reform when they rail against a fictitious government takeover.

As Mr. Obama said in his speech, when facts, reason and civility are thrown overboard, he said, “we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.”

All good and fine, but doesn't every Democratic proposal out there do a lot more than simply "help the uninsured?" The old fashioned liberalism of LBJ or FDR has to be scaled back and hidden because the public knows the costs of such massive government are unsustainable. The truth is, we've have Medicaid in this country for like forty years and none of these proposed health care reforms are about doing any more than we already do for the very poor. This is about helping the middle class, albeit a section of the middle class that's been screwed for over 60 years by government policy which discriminates against those without employer-provided health insurance.

You'd have to be pretty dense to admit there were no problems with our current system, but you're equally dense to dismiss all critics as ignorant fear mongers. The big question of critics isn't why we need reform, but why the answer to the problems created by government isn't to fix what government did in the first place, but to add more layers of government BS.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yes, More On the Big Speech

My biggest complaint with President Obama's speech: His justification (and every justification) for mandating that the young, healthy, and uninsured purchase health insurance is just patently false. Being in my twenties, there are plenty of my peers who have spent time without health insurance and there's just no way in hell this group is costing the system money. Most of these folks don't spend a significant time uninsured- it's usually a just matter of months or a few years as they're getting started with their careers. I can think of plenty of people in their twenties without health insurance and I can't think of any of that group who wracked up large medical bills that they couldn't pay. And yes, this is anecdotal, but it's also common sense.

The real reason- the only reason to mandate the young and uninsured purchase health insurance- is to force those same young and healthy people to subsidize the medical costs of older and less healthy Americans. It's the dirty little secret of health care reform and the only real way to reduce costs for the entire system.

Obama's Health Care Speech

We didn't see it live, but my wife and I caught the speech on DVR at 11:00 last night. My wife may have had the best comment of any pundit early on, noting that "all the Republicans look grouchy." While she tried in vain to keep up Obama's nonsensical mix of statistics, platitudes, and anecdotes, I did my best to dissuade her attention by assuring her that, yes, Obama did just promise federally funded abortions for all illegal immigrants.

Reason's Matt Welch has a nice little wrap-up of the speech today, highlighting the various untruths and misinformation that was presented.

But being who I am, I was most impressed by Peter Suderman's take on the Obama speech, comparing it to the new Batlestar Galactica.

Watching Obama's big health-care speech tonight, I was reminded of the recent remake of Battlestar Galactica: For a long time, the show opened with a foreboding note about the series' robotic villains, the Cylons: "They have a plan." But when their mysterious plan finally materialized, it was underwhelming, and not terribly consequential to the larger arc of the series. So my basic reaction to the speech tonight was the same as my reaction to the non-plan explained by Cylons: This is it?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Patriots Aging Defense?

This is the one line summary for the #2 ranked Patriots given by John Clayton in the first edition of ESPN's NFL Power Rankings:

QB Tom Brady's broad shoulders have to carry an aging defense. (Clayton)

I'll be honest, I expect more from John Clayton. One of the things that excites me about this years Patriots is how young their defense is getting. Gone are Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, and Mike Vrabel, making room for younger players. In fact, of the 20 some odd defensive players on the Patriots roster, only four are over the age of 30: Cornerback Shawn Springs, 34, Linebacker Adalius Thomas, 32, Linebacker Derrick Burgess, 31, and Defensive End Jarvis Green, 30. That's it. Got it Mr. Clayton?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Problem With Mandates

Ezra Klein has a seemingly thorough summary of Senator Max Baucus's health reform proposal. I don't have the time to get into my thoughts on everything now, but I did want to discuss individual health insurance mandates, which are a complicated and prominent part of the Bauscus proposal. I have two major problems with mandates, which I'll outline below.

1- Any individual mandate is bound to have some sort of disproportionate impact. Not that the opportunity to obtain health insurance now isn't disproportionate, but a mandate takes the problem of unaffordability and makes it potentially worse. The problem is that all the various brackets designed to make insurance more affordable are based on income, not ability to pay. Young people who go without health insurance generally aren't choosing to do so in order to live the high life. They're doing so because they've got other bills to pay, be it credit cards, student loans, or any other debt. But income based brackets don't take debt into account, particularly troubling given the vast disparities in student loan debt that exist among young Americans. What a young single individual making $35,000 a year with no student loan debt can afford is very different than what a young single individual making the same amount with over $100,000 in student loan debt can afford.

The problem with a mandate is that it doesn't take individual circumstances into account and what's affordable for some could literally push others into bankruptcy. Being pushed into bankruptcy by unforseen medical expenses in bad, but I've got to say, being pushed into bankruptcy by a government mandate seems far worse.

2- An individual mandate is Constitutionally questionable and a potential violation of our right to privacy. I've heard some legal scholars mention this tangentially- It may be hard to make the argument that Congress lacks the Constitutional authority to pass a health insurance mandate, but the privacy argument is a bit more interesting. Obviously, Roe v. Wade recognizes that the right to abortion is part and parcel of a right to privacy, but other Supreme Court cases have recognized the right to refuse lifesaving medical treatment. And forgetting about the uninsured for a second, the real interesting side of the argument comes to the insured who'd rather keep their medical information away from government eyes. I admit, it's by no means a convincing legal argument, but simply speaking philosophically, it's troubling when you start down the slippery slope of your health care being a public and not a private matter.

No Other Ideas

Reason's Peter Suderman tells President Obama, Let Me Google Some Health-Care Reform Alternatives For You, in response to this comment made by the President this weekend:

And because we're so close to real reform, the special interests are doing what they always do—trying to scare the American people and preserve the status quo. But I've got a question for them: What's your answer? What's your solution? The truth is, they don't have one. It's do nothing.

As Suderman points out, political opportunists in Congress aside, there are a multitude of market oriented ideas for real health reform out there ... if you're willing to listen.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Mini Movie Reviews

Vacation and it's aftermath has given me the opportunity to view a number of movies, some of which I was interested in, others, not so much.


I wasn't too interested in this one going in and was less interested going out. It wasn't just that I knew the ending- Hitler survives- it's that I just plain didn't care. I didn't think Tom Cruise was particularly good and none of the characters were very well drawn. Ultimately, I just didn't understand the motivations of anyone in the film not motivated by fear of the Nazi regime. Even the politics, which could have been intriguing, were rather black-and-white and uninteresting. Not really worth your two hours.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

I laughed pretty hard at a Family Guy joke about Seth Rogen and have to admit I may be succumbing to Seth Rogen backlash. Or maybe it's just that this movie wasn't any good, but whatever it was, I'm beginning to feel a bit tired of the Rogen shtick. In this case, neither Rogen's or Elizabeth Banks's characters are particularly appealing and the romantic part of the romantic comedy isn't unbelievable, just stupid.

The worst part of the film- other than a couple of jokes even I thought were too gross to be funny- was everything about the porno idea. The basic idea of "let's make a porno and sell it to our old high school classmates" is one that might ring true to a lot of people. After all, who wouldn't want to see someone they grew up and went to school with get naked. Only problem is, that's not what winds up happening. Moving from making a sex tape into the realm of making a full length pornographic feature was when the film moved outside any semblance of reality.

And maybe it's because of the internet, but an R-rated film about making a porno is just lacking, visually speaking. We have horror films and the "Saw" variety of torture porn where the truly awful is made to seem realistic, but when it comes to sex, however much porn there may be on the internet, the mainstream world is still pretty damn prude.

Gran Torino

Fucking brilliant. I was expecting this to be good, but I wasn't expecting it to be this good. The shocking part of the film was not the racism of Clint Eastwood's Walt Kowalski, but his humanity. The racism, as they say, only ran skin deep. In truth, it doesn't take all that much effort for Walt to develop relationship with his young Hmong neighbors, first Sue and then Thao. And for all his crotchetiness, it's not as though Walt doesn't know people either. It takes him no more than a minute to pick up on the fact that another Hmong teenage girl was interested in Thao.

It's a sharp contrast to the "get off my lawn" image that was sold to me in the previews and seemingly established in the film's early scenes. Looking back of course, it's not all that surprising that the grouchy old man was at his worst right after his wife died. What's truly interesting to see as the film goes on is how little Walt's family understands him and how little they care to try. Most telling was the granddaughter, whom we only see in the film's opening scenes, asking Walt if she can have his Gran Torino and then again at the end of the film, wondering why she's not the one ending up with it. It's a smack in the face of privilege and the illustration of why Walt can't relate to his family. Thao becomes close to Walt not because of blood, but because of the character traits that matter to a military man.

Gran Torino is one of those films that leaves you satisfied with the conclusion, yet leaves you fascinated with the characters. You're left wondering more about Walt's past and about Thao's future, while feeling nothing but bittersweet about the ending.


I was bored by the historical montages in the early part of the film, mostly because, I had no context in which to place them with my limited knowledge of the gay rights movement. Ultimately it serves to place the characters- mostly Sean Penn's Harvey Milk- in a political context. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but for my money, that just reeks of begging for recognition rather than wanting to simply tell a story.

And that's what stands out to me, because as uninterested as I wanted to be, I couldn't help but be drawn in by Penn's performance as Milk, so much so that I was left wanting more. We may have gotten the story, politically speaking, but there was seemingly so much to know about the man.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Megan McArdle asks, "Can we really protect consumer finances?," pointing out that such regulation only serves to limit the consumer credit options available to those at the margins. And never was there a better point on the subject as this:

For some people this is an argument for laws that make it unprofitable to loan money to people who are likely to default, aka those living on marginal incomes. The problem is, there are two groups of people among the poor: those who will be made better off by credit, and those who will be made worse off.

Big government types would love to think you can have the best of both worlds, but the sad truth is that you can't. You can either have the government step back and allow the credit industry to help some folks while others screw themselves or you can have the government step in and have the government regulate credit, preventing some folks from getting hurt, but also standing in the way of those who could be helped by readily available credit.

Libertarians will always come out on the side of choice, keeping the government in the background and allowing individuals to make their own decisions. If you're for regulation, so be it, but just recognize that's all about protecting the folks who would be hurt and standing in the way of those who would be helped.

Health Care Philosophy

Over on her blog, Megan McArdle argues the philosophy of health care reform with John Holbo. The relevant passage, the Megan takes the time to respond to, is this one from Holbo:

In all seriousness: I realize I have been arguing, for several posts now, at an unsatisfactorily high level of abstraction. (I have seized on the strange case of McArdle because she started it, insisting on talking only at the philosophical level, thereby giving me an excuse to continue in that vein.) But there is a point. Philosophically, there just isn't a case to be made against reform unless it's this simple one: if you don't have any money, you shouldn't be entitled to any medicine. McArdle is very indignant when people accuse her of indifference to the fate of the poor, but - honestly - if it isn't that, then it's nothing. At the philosophical level.

Megan's response is long and detailed, getting in to some of the intricacies of pricing and rationing. But forget about rationing for a minute (as I fear the word has become a bit of a non-liberal boogeyman) and there's a much simpler response to Holbo's charge. Holbo, after all, is accusing all opponents of reform- or should I say, all opponents of these particular reforms- of having nothing to say but poor people shouldn't be entitled to any medicine, a charge that's just patently untrue.

First off, we already provide medical services for the poor, unless, as Will Willkinson so eloquently put it, Medicaid is just something I dreamed. What health care reform is supposedly about is not helping the poor, but helping the middle class and changing the structure by which individuals obtain health care.

But speaking at a philisophical level, let's unpack Holbo's statement and find the truth of it: Not that poor people shouldn't be entitled to any medicine, but that poor people shouldn't be entitled to some medicine. We can dance around it all we want, but proponents of markets and opponents of reform do need to deal with the fact that, yes, in a non-single payer system, the wealthy are going to pay for and receiver better health care than the poor (and better health care than the middle class as well). It sounds terrible to say that there is some level of health care out there that the poor just are not entitled to receive, but when you unpack all the words, what we're talking about really is the difference between capitalism and socialism. And make the argument if that's the argument you'd like to make, but I've yet to see a compelling reason why health care and health care alone, of all the sectors of our economy, is what needs to be socialized.

And speaking at a philisophical level, lets just return to our very basic Rawls (not a libertarian by any means) for a moment, where economic inequalities ought to be arranged to the benefit the worst off. If the choice we were given was between a single-payer system where everyone received the equivalent of X dollars per year of medical care and a market system in which the poor received vouchers or some other form of subsides to the equivalent of 2X dollars per year, the better system would be the market system with the subsides for the poor. You can play all the philisophical games you'd like, but without getting into the practical economics you can't say that philosophy demands rejection of markets and the embrace of any sort of government run system. I suppose there's an argument to be made for pure economic equality, but that's rarely heard any more, nor is it being made in regards to health care.

The real debate on health care that's not going on- as was mentioned in that New York Times piece on choice from last week- is about how ordinary Americans should pay for their health care. Because if you think about it, whatever system we wind up with, be it single-payer, market-based, or anything in between, run-of-the-mill, middle class Americans are going to need to pay for their own health care. Health insurance through your employer is still a benefit, whether or not it's actually taxed as one. The point is, the system would never survive if the rich were forced to subsidize the health care of 80 to 90% of the population and I don't think this is really what anyone is proposing. As I said, right now, we have a system where the masses only indirectly pay for their health care and all the various proposals for health care reform don't change that simple fact. Even a single-payer system wouldn't change the fact that the middle class are going to be paying for their own health care, albeit even more indirectly. Real health care reform would, as much as it was possible, get rid of the middle men and have those already paying for their own care to pay for it more directly.

Much of the real impetus for reform- be it for a public option, all out single-payer care, or even just a health insurance mandate- is in direct opposition to this notion that people should pay for their own care. The discussion is always about the costs to society as a whole and the idea of pooling costs so that, as I've discussed before, the young and healthy can subsidize the middle-aged and less healthy. And this is a big point that opponents of reform tend not to address. Socialized health care as a practical matter is rejected outright, but nothing is done to counter the socialized nature of the discussion. Leaving aside for a moment there's the question of what help to provide for the poor the very sick, why can't the vast majority of middle-class Americans pay individually for health care appropriate to their age and their lifestyle?