2012 - %3, January

The World's Most Annoying Man

| Thu Jan. 5, 2012 11:50 AM EST

The front page of the New York Times piques my interest today with a headline telling me that Tyler Brûlé is my go-to guy if I want to learn about The Next Big Thing. Which I do, naturally. So what is it?

ON a rainy Thursday last month, Tyler Brûlé huddled over a cappuccino at Le Pain Quotidien in Greenwich Village, offering a peek at the future: a Heritage G2 tabletop radio designed for Monocle 24, a new radio station he is starting....“It’s an object with provenance,” said Mr. Brûlé, 43, who looked immaculate in a custom blue flannel blazer, rolled Edwin jeans and Pierre Hardy desert boots that seemed box-fresh, despite dodging puddles all day. “There’s clearly a design language there which hearkens back to the work of the German industrial designer Dieter Rams.”

Um....OK. Anything else? His magazine, of course, but dammit, only if you read it where other suitably hip people can see you:

Mr. Brûlé has no plans for a Monocle magazine app yet: on an iPad, no one can see you reading Monocle.

“So many media companies these days forget the power of the brand, of people actually displaying, and wearing, the media brand,” he said. “In public circumstances where you have to choose a seat, you can look at a person’s shoes, you can look at their luggage, and oftentimes, it’s interesting to see what they’re reading as well. ‘Do I want to be near that person or not?’ ”

Something tells me the answer is "No," and that Brûlé is happy to hear that. So I guess everyone ends up happy.

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Study: Obama Got Most Late-Night Talk Show Jabs in 2011

| Thu Jan. 5, 2012 11:18 AM EST

Barack Obama got it hardest from late-night talk show hosts in 2011. According to a study published by George Mason University's Center for Media and Public Affairs, the president was the No. 1 target of the three leading late-night comics—Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon—in politically-themed segments and opening monologues, accounting for a grand total of 342 jokes made at Obama's expense.

Here's a decent example:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 5, 2012

| Thu Jan. 5, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Soldiers with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, walk into the sunset to catch their flight out of Forward Operating Base Pacemaker, December 25, 2011 in Kandahar. The soldiers were on a mission to deliver holiday gifts of cookies, candy and personal hygiene products to the outlying FOB. When the Chinook helicopter flew in to pick the soldiers up, it made dust go into the air, which caused the foggy look of the photograph. (US Army photo by Sgt. Ruth Pagan, 2nd BCT, 4th Inf. Div., PAO)

Onward American Soldiers

| Thu Jan. 5, 2012 1:44 AM EST

Oh for chrissake (if you'll pardon the expression). Here is Rick Santorum early last year:

“The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical,” Santorum said in Spartanburg on Tuesday. “And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom.”

....After asserting that Christianity had not shown any “aggression” to the Muslim world, the former Pennsylvania senator — who is considering a 2012 run for the White House — argued that American intervention in the Middle East helps promote “core American values.”

“What I'm talking about is onward American soldiers,” he said. “What we're talking about are core American values. ‘All men are created equal' — that's a Christian value, but it's an American value.”

Every time one of these yahoos surges in the polls, we all take a deep breath and then start cataloging both their past and current tsunami of insane public statements. This time, I'm not sure I have it in me. On a pure policy basis, I can't say that Rick Santorum is really much worse than any of the other GOP candidates this year, but on a purely personal basis I find him by far the creepiest of the lot. I feel like I have to wash my hands whenever I write a post about him.

Via Mark Kleiman, who has more to say about this.

Doing Deregulation Right

| Thu Jan. 5, 2012 1:13 AM EST

Michael Mandel argues that in the complex, modern economy, big companies are essential drivers of innovation. Only companies like Apple and Google are big enough to create the kinds of ecosystems that end up supporting lots of smaller companies and generating lots of jobs. This means that aggressive pursuit of antitrust actions can be a problem:

[Government] regulators are used to thinking in terms of U.S. markets. But most large companies today are global-facing, and concerned with their ability to compete in global markets, to negotiate with suppliers and to find customers. What matters is scale relative to the size of the global economy, not relative to U.S. markets. Scale is not the enemy of American prosperity, when achieved through honest competition.

Ah. "Honest competition." That's the key, and both "honest" and "competition" are equally important components of that. Jim Manzi comments:

I’m glad to see somebody on the left arguing for a modernized view of antitrust, but I think that what is essential if we are to do this is to reduce simultaneously the political power of large companies to stifle competition, as manifest in manipulation of patents, financial regulation, safety rules, and the endless list of regulations, subsidies, and tax breaks that govern the modern economy.

....The market process is imperfect and takes time, but in my view is preferable to one in which we allow large companies (which will always have an advantage in lobbying and compliance) to use the political process to protect their position, which we then counter-balance with antitrust regulation. No real system of political economy is ever pure, so we will always have some amount of political jockeying and counter-jockeying; but in general, the more we get government out of the way of innovation, the better off we will be.

I think that “de-politicizing” the economy could be an important and powerful component of a Republican presidential campaign in 2012.

One of these days, when the Republican Party returns to sanity and Democrats feel like they can safely sit across a table from them again, I suspect that this will be a fruitful area for conversation. Obviously conservatives are always going to have a more expansive view of deregulation than liberals, but if everyone is being honest this is the kind of regulatory reform that can fit the agenda of both sides. For a variety of reasons of political economy, liberals dislike entrenched corporate power and should be eager to dismantle regulations and tax breaks that protect the interests of big corporations and put up barriers to entry that keep smaller companies at bay. Likewise, conservative dedication to the principles of competition and free enterprise should lead them in the same direction. There won't be any Kumbaya moments here, just a lot of grueling political horsetrading, but there's still plenty of scope for agreement here. And it's the only way this stuff will ever happen. Neither party alone will ever be willing or able to stand up to the tsunami of corporate lobbying that stands in the way of this kind of reform.

We're years away from anything like this taking place. Democrats will have to decide that deregulation per se isn't a dirty word, and Republicans will need to edge away from the tea party cliff and agree to genuinely deregulate in the interests of competition, not their corporate masters. Maybe it'll happen someday.

On Juvenilia

| Wed Jan. 4, 2012 11:55 PM EST

Harold Pollack:

It continually annoys me that Maureen Dowd calls President Obama “Barry.” I find that usage superficial, uncreative, and disrespectful.

In a similar spirit, though, I submit that progressives shouldn’t call Mitt Romney “Willard.” What say others?

Maureen Dowd is a twit, so that explains that. I'm not sure what excuse progs have for the "Willard" nonsense.

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FDA Takes a Baby Step on Factory Farm Antibiotics

| Wed Jan. 4, 2012 7:37 PM EST

For a few months now, President Obama's FDA has been showing zero appetite for standing up to the meat industry on factory-farm livestock use. In two key decisions (here and here), the agency declined to impose real restrictions on farm drug use, promoting a "voluntary" approach instead.

But today, the FDA abruptly canned the lapdog shtick and growled like a real watchdog: It banned certain uses of the cephalosporin family of antibiotics. The FDA declared in a press release:

Cephalosporins are commonly used in humans to treat pneumonia as well as to treat skin and soft tissue infections. In addition, they are used in the treatment of pelvic inflammatory disease, diabetic foot infections, and urinary tract infections. If cephalosporins are not effective in treating these diseases, doctors may have to use drugs that are not as effective or that have greater side effects.  

Citing concern that routine use on factory farms will push pathogens to develop resistance to these antibiotics, the FDA has banned certain uses of them. Now before I show just how limited this move is in the grand scheme, I have to stress its historical significance. For 34 years, the agency has been wringing its hands over the dangers of farm antibiotic abuse, all the while doing precisely nothing about it (save for appointing committees and issuing polite requests for "judicious" use). Now it's actually regulating. The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farms, which advocates a ban on routine antibiotic use, praised the move Wednesday as an "important first step" in addressing the problem.

But make no mistake: This is just a first step, and nothing more. It turns out that cephalosporins make up a tiny—and shrinking—percentage of the antibiotics used in factory farms. This 2010 post from Ralph Loglisci Ralph Loglisci, Center for a Liveable FutureGraphic: Center for a Livable Future of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future (h/t Helena Bottemiller) offers the chart to the right listing the amounts of various antibiotic families used on factory farms in 2009.

Note that these operations used 91,113 pounds of cephalosporins—an amount that literally rounds to zero compared to the whopping total of 28.8 million pounds they burn through. By comparison, they consumed more than 10 million pounds of tetracycline, also an extremely important drug for humans.

Now check out the FDA's 2010 numbers (the latest that have been released) on livestock antibiotic use. The following chart compares 2009 and 2010 FDA data.

Note that the industry's already-modest use of cephalosporin plunged 41 percent between 2009 and 2010. Meanwhile, overall antibiotic use held steady (rising 1 percent), tetracycline use jumped 21 percent, and consumption of penicillin—another important medicine you may have heard of—soared 43 percent to 1.9 million pounds.

Precisely why the industry is ramping up use of these two particular drugs is something I'll be investigating. At first glance, what I'm getting from these numbers is that the FDA has courageously restricted the use of a drug the industry barely uses and is already phasing out, and it is cravenly looking the other way as the industry increasingly leans on other antibiotics as a crutch to prop up a reckless production system. Indeed, as Wired's excellent Maryn McKenna points out, penicillin and tetracycline are in the very antibiotic families the FDA recently decided not to regulate.

We'll know whether the agency is changing its ways if, in the coming year, it follows Wednesday's ban with ones on drugs the industry is actually abusing. If not, then what we just heard from the FDA isn't much more than the growl of a toothless watchdog.

Why a Combination Lock is Better Than a Key

| Wed Jan. 4, 2012 7:00 PM EST

This is fascinating. Jeralyn Merritt writes today about a case in which the government got a search warrant to seize a computer that turned out to have its data encrypted. So now the government wants to force the owner to give them the password. Can they do this?

The answer may turn on whether the Judge decides the password should be viewed as a key to a lockbox, in which case there is no 5th Amendment protection, or as a combination to a safe.

While the key is a physical thing and not protected by the Fifth Amendment, the Supreme Court has said, a combination — as the "expression of the contents of an individual's mind" — is.

Now there's the law in its infinite majesty. If you buy a safe with a combination lock, you're golden. If you buy a safe that opens with a key, it's 20-to-life in San Quentin. I'll bet this is the kind of thing that mob lawyers advise their clients about all the time. It also sounds like a great premise for an episode of Law & Order.

10 Reasons Michele Bachmann Will Be Sorely Missed

| Wed Jan. 4, 2012 6:35 PM EST
Bachmann campaigns at a Rock the Caucus event on the morning of the Iowa caucuses.

Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann dropped out of the GOP presidential race on Wednesday morning in Des Moines after a fairly disastrous sixth-place finish at the Iowa caucuses. "I believe that if we are going to repeal Obamacare, turn our country around, and take back our country, we must do so united," explained the one-time front-runner, whose campaign began to collapse almost immediately after her triumph at the Ames Straw Poll in August. "And I believe that we must rally behind the person that our country and our party and our people select to be that standard-bearer." In characteristic Bachmann fashion, she left her audience with a dire warning: If Americans don't elect the right candidate next November (she wouldn't suggest who that might be), the United States would become a socialist country. Take it to the bank.

Bachmann's campaign might be history, but no one can ever take away the memories. She represented—to paraphrase Kennedy—the greatest collection of paranoia, factual inaccuracy, and overheated rhetoric since Herman Cain dined alone. And she will be missed. Here's a quick look at the road we traveled:

  1. Her proposal to build a border fence through the Rio Grande and across the length of Big Bend National Park, even though that would have the unintended consequence of diverting the course of the river and, by extension, the US–Mexico border.
  2. Her autobiography, which made its first of many egregious factual errors on the very first page.
  3. The time she tried to sway undecided Iowa voters by dancing to Train's "Soul Sister."
  4. Bachmann Eyes!
  5. The time she accused Rick Perry of giving teenage girls a vaccine that made them "retarded," was soundly rebuked by the entire pediatric community, and insisted that she was just relaying what had been told to her:

     

  6. Her obsessions with lightbulbs, the regulation of which she believes is a steppingstone to United Nations tyranny.
  7. The time she promised to close the US embassy in Iran, which does not currently exist.
  8. Her insistence that the CIA had outsourced its interrogation policy to the ACLU.
  9. The time she paid strategist Ed Rollins $90,000 to help run her campaign.
  10. Her use of the title "Dr.," even though she is not a doctor by any commonly accepted standard.

Why does the GOP race suddenly seem a little less marvelous?

Obama Set to Make Yet More Recess Appointments

| Wed Jan. 4, 2012 6:13 PM EST

Apparently President Obama has decided to make three recess appointments to the NLRB in addition to his recess appointment of Richard Cordray to the CFPB. Matt O'Brien tweets:

I'll ask again: if Obama will recess appoint CFPB and NLRB positions, why not also Federal Reserve seats?....CFPB and NLRB draw contrasts with the GOP in a way Obama likes, but the Fed could actually, you know, improve the economy.

Two things. First, I'll bet that Obama doesn't think additional Fed appointments would actually change Fed policy that much. So he doesn't think there's a lot of urgency there.

Second, and more important, if these are the only recess appointmentments he fills, then he's making a very clear, very defensible constitutional point. He's not merely complaining that a Senate minority is blocking his nominees. He's arguing that it's wrong for a Senate minority to shut down entire agencies — agencies that have been duly created by statute — by abusing its confirmation power. Because that's the difference between the CFPB/NLRB and the Fed. The former literally can't function without their appointees, and Republicans have been explicit that preventing them from functioning is their goal. The latter continues to function just fine.

This is a point worth making, even if it's arcane enough that it's unlikely to get much public attention. Because to the extent that it does get public attention, it's nothing but bad news for Republicans. They'll be forced to defend a strategy of using their filibuster power not to stop legislation they don't like, but to unilaterally nullify legislation they don't like even after they've lost the vote and it's been passed and signed into law. That's going to be a hard case to make.