2010 - %3, October

America's Awful Healthcare

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 10:02 PM PDT

We may spend more on healthcare than any other country in the world, but hey — at least we get a first class system in return for all that dough, right? I mean, aside from all those poor schmoes who don't have health insurance. At least the rest of us get great healthcare, don't we?

No. To go along with his recent series of posts on healthcare costs, Aaron Carroll just finished up another series on healthcare quality. The chart on the right shows where we stand compared to other rich countries:

With the exception of available technology, we do not rate well against comparable countries. And that’s the take home message. We can argue about which metric is best to describe the quality of a health care system, but it almost doesn’t matter what you pick. Don’t like population statistics? Fine. Choose another. But unless you think the only important thing is how many MRI machines are available, we’re still going to look bad. Not only does the system not perform up to snuff, but pretty much every stakeholder I discussed agreed that it’s not good.

The entire series is here. The whole thing is worth a read.

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FDR's Web

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 9:45 PM PDT

Ross Douthat makes a few good points and a few not-so-good ones in his column today, but this paragraph just confuses me. He's talking about Barack Obama's agenda of the past two years:

Legislative maneuverings — the buy-offs and back-room deals, the inevitable coziness with lobbyists — exposed the weakness of modern liberal governance: it tends to be stymied and corrupted by the very welfare state that it’s seeking to expand. Many of Barack Obama’s supporters expected him to be another Franklin Roosevelt, energetically experimenting with one program after another. But Roosevelt didn’t have to cope with the web of interest groups that’s gradually woven itself around the government his New Deal helped build. And while Obama twisted in these webs, the public gradually decided that it liked bigger government more in theory than in practice.

Interest groups spawned by the New Deal? The healthcare bill had to cope with a bunch of business lobbies, including the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the AMA. The finance reform bill had to cope with Wall Street. Cap-and-trade had to cope with electric utilities and geographical rivalries. Immigration reform, which never even got off the ground, had to deal with xenophobia on one side and business interests that wanted a continued flow of cheap labor on the other. And on all of these issues, Obama had to deal with a monolithic Republican Party that filibustered his every move, refused to bargain in anything close to good faith, and voted nearly unanimously against everything he proposed.

I'm just not seeing the shadow of New Deal interest groups there. These seem like the same old interest groups that FDR and every other progressive have had to fight since forever. I think you could make a case that AARP fits Douthat's description, but that's about it. What am I missing here?

Old Stuff

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 3:18 PM PDT

After admiring an old Kalashnikov rifle that's still in active use, C.J. Chivers asks:

Can you think of tools that last this long, or that you expect to? Your pickup truck? Cell phone? Refrigerator? Television? Laptop? Do you own anything that was manufactured in the 1950s and still is in regular, active use in your life?

Yes! My beloved reading chair. Unfortunately, it's out being recovered right now, which means I don't have a reading chair at the moment. And this in turn means that I'm not reading as much as usual, because I really don't have any other place in the house that I find comfortable for extended loafing. Buying a new chair probably would have been cheaper than recovering the old one, and I thought about it, but then Marian reminded me that (a) I really like this chair and (b) I always hate new stuff because it's made like crap and doesn't last. She was right! Almost without exception, every time I buy something new, the workmanship of the new item is annoyingly shoddy (and she has to listen to me gripe about it). It doesn't really seem to matter how much I paid, either, which is why I don't bother buying expensive things. It's almost all junky, so why bother?

But this chair? Built like a rock and it has spring cushions. It'll probably collapse about the same time as the heat death of the universe.

Anything else that old? Not really. My grandfather's wristwatch still works, but I don't actually wear it on a regular basis. Maybe a few old tools that we inherited. Nothing else I can think of. How about you?

(Via Sullivan.)

War as a Hobby

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 12:10 PM PDT

Here is David Broder proposing a way for Barack Obama to get the economy back on track in time for his 2012 election campaign:

Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.

Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

There's one bizarre idea here and one....other idea. The bizarre one is the notion that a war with Iran would cause the economy to improve. It wouldn't. War with Iran would cost us — at most — about 1% of GDP, and this would have essentially no effect on economic growth. This isn't a multi-year, two-front, full-scale national mobilization we're talking about here. On the other hand, it would cause a massive spike in oil prices as Iran's oil went off line (or traders began to fear it would go off line), and that would almost certainly be really, really bad for the economy. So everyone should just give up on the idea that even if an economic boost isn't a primary reason to go to war with Iran, it's at least an argument in its favor. It isn't.

So then: what about the idea that "Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century"? A lot of people seem to agree with this, so it's not right to call it bizarre. It is, however, a sign of the times that a major, supposedly centrist newspaper columnist can treat such a statement so cavalierly. I mean, whatever else you can say about Charles Krauthammer, he'd at least write a few paragraphs about why Iran is so dire a threat that we should go to war with them. Broder just tosses it off casually. This does not bode well for the idea that our ruling class has learned any useful lessons from our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Top Ten Lists

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 10:05 AM PDT

Here's a Twitter conversation from last night:

@kdrum: @ebertchicago's "Why I Loathe Top 10 Film Lists" doesn't actually say a word about why he loathes Top Ten lists. http://ow.ly/323Z8

@RemoteClancy: re: @ebertchicago & Top 10 lists. Not a word, just 900 of them. Re-read his response to 'Best in Film' for clearest reason.

I guess you'll have to click the link and decide for yourself who's right. As near as I can tell, Roger Ebert told us why he doesn't like being asked to participate in creating Top Ten lists for free, but that's a whole different question than why he loathes Top Ten lists in general. I realize he didn't write the headline for the piece, but I still want to know: why does he loathe Top Ten lists? He does seem to, but there's really no explanation given. Even for a serious critic, it seems like it might be sort of a fun exercise.

Who You Calling a Print Magazine? MoJo Wins Online News Association Award

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 12:32 AM PDT

Just in case the grins on the faces of reporter Kate Sheppard and news editor Dan Schulman don't tell you everything you need to know—yes, we are  honored and proud today to have won the Online News Association award for Online Topical Reporting/Blogging for our team coverage of the BP spill. For much of the summer, Mother Jones actually had more reporters covering the disaster than most dailies or TV news operations around the country: Our human-rights reporter Mac McClelland was on the scene for four months while Kate in Washington kept up the heat on agencies and politicians, and environmental correspondent Julia Whitty explored the stunning new science that shows the true impact of BP. It was an amazing endeavor, involving literally everyone at MoJo at one point or another and drawing on major effort from many (reporters, editors, factcheckers, tech crew—you know who you are). You can read the results here.

Fun fact: As far as we can tell, Mother Jones was the only magazine (that doesn't publish exclusively online, a la Salon) honored at the ONA awards last night; the event has long been dominated by daily newspapers, broadcasters, and online-exclusive news sites, which makes sense given that much of the magazine industry has not exactly stampeded into digital news. Here at MoJo, though, we pretty much tore down the distinction between print and digital several years ago, and now aim to bring you sharp, sassy investigative reporting 24/7 via the Interwebs as well as in our award-winning print magazine (you do take advantage of our dead cheap subscriptions, right?). So hooray for an award confirming that that's working out okay—and an extra hooray for all the other great journalism shops honored last night, including our fellow nonprofits at NPR, ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and California Watch. (Bonus hooray for these last two, fellow Bay Area operations. Now back to the World Series already in progress.) 

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Kowtowing and Coddling

| Sat Oct. 30, 2010 4:26 PM PDT

So here's a good question. Thursday was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s birthday, so Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip Crowley tweeted the message on the right. Shane Bauer, of course, has written for Mother Jones in the past, so we have a personal interest in this case and were happy to see Crowley keeping it front and center.

Sarah Palin, though, not so much. She replied: "Happy B'day Ahmadinejad wish sent by US Govt. Mind boggling foreign policy: kowtow & coddle enemies; snub allies." That's a pretty stunning reaction, and Steven Taylor wonders if this deliberate misreading of Crowley's tweet is going to spread:

The reason I think that it is noteworthy is that I suspect that the notion that the Obama administration is “kowtow[ing]” and “coddl[ing]” Iran via sincere birthday greetings will probably become a meme on Fox News and on talk radio — the further dissemination of false information. This is unfortunate. It is one thing to have a different perspective on how to deal with a problem, quite another to make things up.

So waddaya think? Is the conservative noise machine going to pick up on this meme? I think it's a stretch even for them, but I don't plan to turn on the TV or the radio to find out. And they've certainly surprised me in the past. So if they do, let us know in comments.

San Francisco's Liberal Tea Party

| Sat Oct. 30, 2010 3:47 PM PDT

Photo: Tim MurphyPhoto: Tim MurphyThe most dedicated progressive activist of the 2010 election cycle might be a 63-year-old hippie from Dayton named "Ganja Santa." Ganja (needless to say, a stage name), spent Saturday's Sanity Rally in San Francisco alternatively posing for pictures in a pot-green Santa suit, and riding around Civic Center Plaza on a beer cooler that's been retrofitted with handlebars and four wheels (a nifty contraption he calls "the cruiser cooler").

He moved to California earlier this year solely to help rally support for Proposition 19, the California ballot provision that would legalize Marijuana. "I was in Dayton, and I just thought, 'Man, if I'm sittin' here and Prop 19 fails, I'll never forgive myself," he said. On Wednesday, win or lose, Ganja Santa will pack up his belongings and return to Ohio.

It's the kind of commitment, if not necessarily the kind of outfit, Democratic campaigns wish they had more of in 2010. By now, you've probably read about yesterday's big Comedy Central rally on the Mall (or as MoJo's Suzy Khimm put it, "Ironypalooza"). Like any half-decent Tea Party-spinoff, though, the DC rally was only a part of the story; statellite viewing parties sprang up in dozens of cities, from the usual suspects (Seattle, Chicago) to the less so (Rapid City, South Dakota, home of the world's most sinister Richard Nixon statue).

In San Francisco, the crowd of about 700 that showed up to watch the main event on the big screen left as soon as it ended, opting not to stick around in the drizzle for the scheduled stand-up comedians, mime troupe, costume contest, and lecture on the virtues of "non-violent communication."

Ideology vs. Self Interest

| Sat Oct. 30, 2010 2:21 PM PDT

Bruce Bartlett thinks Republicans will have to start delivering the goods if they take over Congress next week. Matt Yglesias disagrees, citing research that voters always blame the president for whatever happens, not Congress. But:

Things look different in interest-group terms. CEOs do want their personal income taxes lower, do want the capital gains taxes they pay lower, and do want to be able to pollute and violate labor law with impunity. But they presumably don’t want to see the economy fall into a depression and Speaker Boehner may be “responsible” in their eyes.

You'd think so, wouldn't you? But the business community has long demonstrated a remarkable ability to value ideology over actual results. Think about it: if congressional Republicans had been in charge over the past couple of years, there would have been no TARP, no stimulus, and no auto rescue. In other words, the economy would be in truly harrowing shape and businesses would be failing left and right. What's more, simple self interest dictates that going forward the business community ought to be clamoring for monetary easing and more fiscal stimulus, something that Republicans are dead set against. But they aren't. In fact, they're planning to vote in massive numbers for Republicans. They're basically content with anemic economic growth.

I'm not quite sure what accounts for this. Opposing regulation I get. No one wants to be regulated. Ditto for higher taxes, even if they're pretty modest. But why do corporate chieftans oppose true national healthcare even though it would almost certainly make their lives easier and make them more globally competitive? Why do they oppose cap-and-trade even though its effects are modest and the alternative is more intrusive EPA regulations? Why do they oppose fiscal stimulus even though it would spur the economy and be good for business?

It's a mystery. I guess they truly don't believe that stimulus spending will help. Or, maybe they don't believe that anything the government does helps the economy. It's hard to say. But whatever happens, I'll bet they won't hold Speaker Boehner responsible for it. They'll blame it on stifling regulations or bad trade policy or too much government spending or bad currency management. Something that's Obama's fault. It'll always be Obama's fault.

Live Tweeting the Rally to Restore Sanity

Sat Oct. 30, 2010 8:00 AM PDT

MoJo's Washington bureau chief David Corn and DC based reporters Suzy Khimm, Kate Sheppard, Nick Baumann, and Andy Kroll are tweeting furiously on the scene at the Rally to Restore Sanity. The last time we did this it was for Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally, which turned out to be just a barrel of fun.

Front page image courtesy of the Rally to Restore Sanity and the March to Keep Fear Alive.