2012 - %3, March

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 19, 2012

Mon Mar. 19, 2012 1:38 PM EDT

US Army soldiers conduct a night raid mission during Emerald Warrior, near Hattiesburg, Miss., on March 5, 2012. The primary purpose of Emerald Warrior is to exercise special operations components in urban and irregular warfare settings to support combatant commanders in theater campaigns. Emerald Warrior leverages lessons from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and other historical lessons to provide better trained and ready forces to combatant commanders. Photo by the US Army.

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European Econ Blogging is Truly a Dismal Science

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 1:21 PM EDT

Via Ryan Avent, the European econ blog site Bruegel highlights this rather astonishing fact:

As Ronny Patz noted in a recent post [], European blogs are still very much “unconnected”. That is, they use hyperlinks far less than their American counterparts or do it and in a way that doesn’t create two-way debate. In brief, Europe has bloggers, but no blogosphere: it lacks a living ecosystem to exchange and debate. Of most leading European blogs, only 1 in 5 were linked to other online content. This is a pretty striking number but one that is somewhat consistent with the use that Europeans make of blogs (ie. just another media but not an interactive one).

The Bruegel folks suggest there are both institutional reasons for this (European economists mostly publish in their home country newspapers) and cultural reasons (European economists don't like to argue as much as American economists). And language plays a role. Still, it's very peculiar. Can it really be true that European economists aren't much interested in publishing online even after years of seeing how vibrant the American econ blogging scene is? Do they really shy away from arguing with each other? "European economists seem to prefer spreading knowledge rather than stirring debate," say the Bruegel bloggers.

That's.....admirable, if true, I suppose, but it doesn't quite smell right. I don't know anything about European economists in particular, but it's certainly never been my experience that Europeans in general are more reticent than Americans. They always seemed to me like they had plenty of opinions and just as much love for bar stool arguments as Americans.

I wonder if there's more to this?

Corruption? What Corruption?

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 11:53 AM EDT

The LA Times reports on the latest front in campaign fundraising:

A "super PAC" that has spent more than $35 million on behalf of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has accepted donations from federal contractors despite a 36-year-old ban against such companies making federal political expenditures.

....Several contributors — including a Florida aerospace company that has contracts with the Defense Department, and a Boston-based construction company that is helping build a Navy base — are taking advantage of a legal gray area created by the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, which said that independent political expenditures could not be regulated based on who was making them.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that corporate donations to campaign Super PACs were legal because there was no reason to think they led to "corruption or the appearance of corruption." This was a remarkably specious argument in the first place, but now we're apparently going to test it to destruction. Romney's Super PAC is essentially arguing that even contributions from federal contractors don't have the slightest taint of corruption to them. Both federal law and common sense have disagreed for more than 70 years, but we live in a brave new world, and common sense is no longer as common as you might think.

Watch: Police Get Violent as OWS Retakes Zuccotti Park

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters marked the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street by attempting to retake Zuccotti Park. By the end of the night, 73 had been arrested and the park forcefully cleared. In scenes that recalled the early days of the movement last fall, citizen journalists captured the New York City Police Department roughing up dozens of apparently peaceful activists. One of them, Craig Judelman, posted a bloody photo of himself on Facebook with the caption, "just got punched in the face like 5 times by NYPD." Journalists J.A. Myerson and Ryan Devereaux have good summaries of other alleged brutality, including officers throwing punches, "rubbing" a boot on someone's head, dragging a woman by the hair, and breaking a guy's thumb. Many other incidents were caught on tape. Here are some of the most disturbing: 

Flashback: Santorum Compares Voting for Him to Tiananmen Square's "Tank Man"

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Kristin Brenenman/Flickr. Original photograph by Jeff Widener, Associated Press.Kristin Brenenman/Flickr. Original photograph by Jeff Widener, Associated Press.

On the presidential campaign trail, Rick Santorum has never shied away from calling out the bluster of his fellow Republicans, chief among them Newt "Moon Base" Gingrich. "Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich," Santorum deadpanned at a January presidential debate. Casting Newt as a loose-lipped gaffe machine, Santorum said, "I don't want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and worrying about what he's going to say next."

Yet Santorum himself is no stranger to overblown campaign talk. In a previously unreported radio interview from April 1994, then-Rep. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) argued that supporting his underdog US Senate campaign and voting for him in the election was "every bit as important" as the bold Chinese protester who, in June 1989, blocked a column of military tanks near Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the site of student protests against China's Communist ruling elite.

Santorum's remarks were included in tracking documents compiled by Sen. Harris Wofford, the Democrat who Santorum narrowly defeated in his 1994 Senate race. Here is Santorum's full statement:

"...What you have to do is recognize that when you get up in the morning, you look in the mirror, you're looking at the person who really bears the moral responsibility for the future of that country, so your children can be safe and prosperous and free, and unless you take that responsibility seriously, you have no one to blame for the Roberta Achtenbergs being in the White House than yourselves.

You've gotta take that responsibility seriously, and the work you do, if it just means going out to vote, if it means passing the word onto friends and neighbors about what you've heard on this program, the work that you do is every bit as important as the guy who stood in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square when it comes to the future of our civilization in this country, and I don't know if I can say it any more strongly than that."

Here's the transcript itself:

 

Suffice it to say that comparing voting for Rick Santorum with the act of defiance by Tiananmen's "Tank Man," as he's known, far surpasses any of Newt Gingrich's bombast. The Tank Man shuffled left and right to block the tanks' forward progress, then clambered on top of the first tank, stuck his head inside, and reportedly said, "Why are you here? My city is in chaos because of you." Tank Man could've easily been shot or run over; one theory about his fate holds he was killed by a government firing squad weeks later. He etched his name, if anonymously, into the history books with one of the most iconic protests in the 20th century.

The Tiananmen line was one of many hyperbolic one-liners uttered by Santorum during his 1994 campaign. As Mother Jones reported, Santorum made welfare reform a pillar of his Senate bid. His welfare stump speech often targeted single mothers, and he claimed they were "breeding more criminals" and that lawmakers were needed who weren't afraid of "kicking them in the butt." In another grandiose touch, Santorum argued that the single mother problem posed an existential threat to the United States itself. At a February 1994 Clairtown, Pennsylvania, town hall, he said, "We are seeing the fabric of this country fall apart, and it's falling apart because of single moms."

Review: Daniel Rossen's "Silent Hour / Golden Mile"

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Daniel Rossen
Silent Hour/Golden Mile
Warp Records

Los Angeles-born, Brooklyn-based Daniel Rossen is most commonly known as part of the harmonizing, alternatively morose and pop-y indie quartet Grizzly Bear, whose latest album Veckatimest (2009) was almost universally hailed as a ridiculous success. A self-described recluse, Rossen has admitted that he never shared his own music much beyond a close circle of friends before joining Grizzly Bear. Regardless, after having a good amount of time to hibernate after Veckatimest's debut, this week Rossen is releasing Silent Hour / Golden Mile, his first solo record to date.

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Chart of the Day: Employer-Based Health Insurance is Going the Way of the Dodo

| Sun Mar. 18, 2012 2:41 PM EDT

Via Paul Krugman and Reed Abelson, here's a chart from the National Institute for Health Care Reform. Over the past decade, the number of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance has dropped from about 70% down to nearly 50%. Note that this is for the non-elderly only, so it's not due to the aging of society or the growth of Medicare. This is working-age people only. As Krugman says, our weird employer-based health insurance scheme is "coming apart at the seams."

Most Americans simply have no clue how bizarre it is that we rely on employers to provide health insurance for most people. We've all grown up in this sytem, so it seems completely normal. But it's not. It happened through a weird combination of historical accidents, and it makes no sense. Why should an airplane manufacturer also be in the healthcare business? Why should you lose your health insurance if you get laid off? Why should your choice of doctor be limited by your employer's choice of insurance carrier? (And why should it change whenever your employer decides to change carriers?) Why should your boss be allowed to dock your paycheck if you don't get the medical "counseling" he deems necessary? (Yes, this is real. And it's rapidly making its way to a corporation near you.)

It. Makes. No. Sense. And dozens of countries around the world have shown that there are better, less expensive, more universal ways of providing medical care. It is truly a mystery that we still put up with the archaic, Rube Goldberg mess that passes for health insurance in this country. If the red trendline I added to the NIHCR chart turns out to be accurate, maybe we won't for too much longer.

Our Financial Stockholm Syndrome

| Sun Mar. 18, 2012 1:05 PM EDT

Felix Salmon writes today that the power of the financial industry goes beyond mere lobbying:

One of the themes running through Noam Scheiber’s new book is the idea that professional technocrats have a tendency to take at face value much of what they’re told by Wall Street. Bankers are very good at capturing/flattering mid-level political operatives.

Yep. But this goes beyond mere regulatory capture. Here's a blast from the past: my take on regulatory capture in "Capital City," two years ago:

[The story of the finance lobby is] about the way that lobby—with the eager support of a resurgent conservative movement and a handful of powerful backers—was able to fundamentally change the way we think about the world. Call it a virus. Call it a meme. Call it the power of a big idea. Whatever you call it, for three decades they had us convinced that the success of the financial sector should be measured not by how well it provides financial services to actual consumers and corporations, but by how effectively financial firms make money for themselves. It sounds crazy when you put it that way, but stripped to its bones, that's what they pulled off.

....Their real power lies in the fact that they've so thoroughly changed our collective attitude toward financial regulation that sometimes they barely need to lobby in the traditional sense at all....Unlike most industries, which everyone recognizes are merely lobbying in their own self-interest, the finance industry successfully convinced everyone that deregulating finance was not only safe, but self-evidently good for the entire economy, Wall Street and Main Street alike. It's what Simon Johnson, an MIT economics professor and former chief economist for the IMF, calls "intellectual capture." Considering what's happened over the past couple of years, we might better call it Stockholm syndrome.

More here from me and David Corn at about 5:00 mark. As near as I can tell, not a lot has changed since then.

Could These Guys Be in Romney's Cabinet?

| Sun Mar. 18, 2012 12:14 PM EDT

The boys in the backroom?: photoillustration by Adam WeinsteinThe boys in the backroom?: photoillustration by Adam WeinsteinIn its latest story on Team Romney's nomination machinations, the Washington Post dropped a minor bombshell: Some scary/funny names of possible members in a President Mitt Romney cabinet.

The far ranging article, "Romney advisers try to lay groundwork for united GOP against Obama," details how the Romney camp has been working overtime to court Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention and a heavyweight among evangelical conservatives. Land told the paper that Romney's advisers have been in constant contact. What did they talk about?

Land said he recently told them that Romney could win over recalcitrant conservatives by picking Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) as his vice presidential running mate and previewing a few Cabinet selections: Santorum as attorney general, Gingrich as ambassador to the United Nations and John Bolton as secretary of state.

Rubio's been bandied about as a veep candidate, though he's kind of a yawner...when he's not legislating ladies' uteruses and keeping bad company, that is. The other members of this Land dream team sound like specters from a liberal's sweaty Jungian nightmare. (I, for one, am haunted by neoconservative handlebar mustaches.)

Then again, bluster is cheap on the campaign trail. Land—who laments America's "God-sized problems" (and who gave us a shoutout as an anti-Christian "leftist magazine" in his recent book)—is a culture warrior angling for some added clout in the Republican party. His fantasies don't necessarily become realities—like when he championed a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants a few years back. So don't start hoarding birth control and mustache wax quite yet. But don't be surprised if Romney dangles a few Cabinet spoils before the right, if that's what it takes.

Can Your Kid's Cafeteria Now Opt out of "Pink Slime"?

| Sun Mar. 18, 2012 10:00 AM EDT

Responding to a media storm (The Daily, CBS, ABC, me), the USDA has relented on "pink slime," the ammonia-treated hamburger filler that the agency has been ushering into school-cafeteria burgers. "USDA will provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without Lean Finely Textured Beef," the agency declared in a Thursday press release, using its preferred term for the product. .

So your kid's school cafeteria can now opt out of the stuff starting now, right? Not so fast.

An excellent post by Nancy Huehnergarth of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance (NYSHEPA) blog raises some key questions about the USDA's move. First of all, as Huehnergarth points out, the USDA's announcement only applies to the food commodities the USDA itself buys for the National School Lunch Program, which amounts to about 20 percent of the ingredients that end up on kids' plates.