WWE CEO Linda McMahon to Slam Dodd

It's no surprise that Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is in trouble. Chairman of the Senate banking committee—during the worst banking crisis in recent history—is not exactly a desirable job. But Dodd can't seem to catch a break. In June of last year, it surfaced that he received favors from the mortgage company Countrywide Financial as part of the "Friends of Angelo" program, which waived fees and rules for prominent businessmen and politicians close to the company's chief executive Angelo Mozilo.

With his approval ratings tanking, there has been much speculation about who the GOP will tap to oust Dodd in the 2010 midterm elections. Former Rep. Rob Simmons is the most likely challenger—a recent Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll shows Simmons beating Dodd in a dead heat. But Simmons and Dodd should get ready to rumble, because the uber-rich World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CEO Linda McMahon is likely to join the fight to tag team Dodd. Her spokesman is already talking smack against McMahon's future rivals: "She plays to win, so if she gets in, she's in all the way. She has the capacity to bring considerable resources to the race, and she has an established record."

McMahon's plan to take Dodd to the ropes comes as he draws criticism from all sides. Controversial documentary film maker (and one-time Mother Jones editor) Michael Moore takes aim at Dodd in his new film "Capitalism: A Love Story." Speaking to the Washington Post this week, Moore said Dems should ask Dodd to step aside to keep the GOP out of Connecticut. "I don't know why they'd risk losing that seat just because they're afraid to tell him not to run," he said.

Why So Serious?

Atrios complains about the hassles of flying:

Some of this is not the fault of the individual airlines, such as stupid security theater, but plenty of it is. I mean bag fees, what the fuck? And it isn't simply the money, it's the extra hassle and just general sense of being screwed and harassed throughout the entire process.

If I can put on my Andy Rooney hat for a moment, doesn't it seem as if this describes most of American business these days?  It's not just the airlines.  As near as I can tell, consumer-facing businesses these days virtually never think about how they can make things genuinely more convenient for people.  Rather, they seem almost obsessively concerned with calculating the maximum amount of pain people will put up with before they finally get pissed off enough to take their business elsewhere.  When you venture out into the shopping world these days, you almost feel like you ought to have a lawyer at your side at all times to try and figure out what new and different way you're going to get screwed this time around.  It's sort of exhausting.  Is it any wonder that so many people are so angry all the time?

Up, Up, and Away

Michael Mandel at Business Week looks at how fast healthcare costs are rising around the world and says:

It’s interesting to see that the UK, with its “socialized medicine,” actually had faster health spending growth than the U.S., at least according to these figures. On the other hand, other countries with single-payer systems, such as Canada, had slower growth.

Probably the safest thing to say is that healthcare costs are rising at a pretty good clip everywhere in the world, no matter how different countries organize things.  The main drivers of rising costs, after all, are global in nature.

Beyond that, though, you need to be aware of specific local issues too.  When Tony Blair came to office in 1997, for example, one of his campaign promises was specifically to increase funding for the NHS.  Britain was spending too little on healthcare, and he wanted spending to rise quickly.  So it's no surprise that spending went up.

Likewise, South Korea, which is #1 on the chart, spent the 80s and 90s implementing a national healthcare plan.  Their spending rose considerably, but again, that was because they deliberately chose to extend coverage universally.  They wanted to spend more money.

On the other hand, the timeframe in Mandel's chart excludes the late 80s, when U.S. healthcare spending exploded, and includes the years 1994-2000, when the great HMO revolution in the United States suppressed healthcare costs somewhat.  So our numbers probably look a little lower than they really are.  But the HMO revolution turned out to be a one-shot deal: costs shot back up in the early 2000s and have since come back down only a bit.

None of this is meant to really argue a lot with Mandel.  Roughly speaking, as his chart shows, the biggest increases have been in countries that currently spend the least on healthcare (Poland, Greece, Mexico, etc.) or in countries that were deliberately trying to spend more (South Korea, UK).  Contrariwise, with the exception of Norway, most of the big-spending countries are in the bottom half of the graph.  The United States is an obvious outlier, with enormous spending and a high growth rate, but everyone is having trouble controlling costs.  We're not the only ones who want all the latest treatments, after all.

UPDATE: It's also worth keeping in mind the power of compound growth.  Even a seemingly minuscule difference adds up over the years.  France's growth rate is only 0.3% less than ours, but $100 of healthcare in 1990 would now cost $276 in the United States and $262 in France.  That's nearly a 10% difference.  Germany is even more impressive: $100 of healthcare in 1990 would cost only $213 in Germany today.  That's a whopping 23% less than we're paying.  And of course, their costs were a lot lower to begin with.

Google + News Industry = BFF

First, Google announced a plan to help newspapers microcharge for online content. Now, it's launching a news aggregator, Fast Flip, that will share ad revenue with participating news organizations.

This is a momentous olive branch on the part of Google, considering the flak it got for not sharing revenue from its flagship Google News. It will be especially beneficial if Fast Flip, an appealing interface that allows users to "flip" through tailored news content, takes off. Said a Google spokesperson to the Nieman Journalism Lab

Google’s interest here is in trying to be a good partner to the news industry and to quality providers of news and try to frankly find ways to help publishers get more out of the web.

Google and the news industry, BFF? Stay tuned.

 

How the Economy Feels

Bob Herbert writes about the unemployed:

Fifteen million Americans are locked in the nightmare of unemployment, nearly 10 percent of the work force. A third have been jobless for more than six months. Thirteen percent of Latinos and 15 percent of blacks are out of work. (Those are some of the official statistics. The reality is much worse.)

....A national survey of jobless workers by a pair of professors at Rutgers University shows just how traumatized the work force has become in this downturn. Two-thirds of respondents said that they had become depressed. More than half said it was the first time they had ever lost a job, and 80 percent said there was little or no chance that they would be able to get their jobs back when the economy improves.

....It’s eerie to me how little attention this crisis is receiving. The poor seem to be completely out of the picture.

It is kind of eerie, and I've noticed the difference in mood too.  It's true that the unemployment rate isn't quite as high (yet) as it got in 1981-82, but it's pretty damn close — and yet the tone of news coverage seems quite different.  My recollection of the early 80s is of lots and lots of coverage of plant closures, homelessness, food banks, and a serious sense of panic and despair.  This time, not so much.  Has this been purely a difference in media coverage?  A difference in the way unemployment is distributed?  The fact that hard times have only been with us for about a year so far?  A genuine difference in the way people are reacting?  Or what?  I really don't know the answer.  But yes, it feels quite different than it did in 1981.

Help me out, fellow oldsters.  Does it feel different to you too?  Or am I just imagining this?

Last week Stephanie asked, "Where’s Mitch McConnell?" Well, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has just released its fifth annual report on the 15 most corrupt members of Congress, and the good-government group has an answer: misusing his nonprofit and handing out favors to former clients and staffers.

Senate Minority Leader McConnell, the highest ranking elected Republican, is no stranger to CREW’s survey of the seamy side of Washington. He's been on the list the past two years as well. This year’s list features five new members: Senators Roland Burris and John Ensign; Representatives Nathan Deal, Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Pete Visclosky; and, after a two year absence, Rep. Maxine Waters.

Although Democrats outnumber Republicans on this year's list, Republicans punch well above their weight in this congressional corruption survey, with seven GOP lawmakers on the list, which can be viewed below in its entirety. The full report and individual dossiers on those named and shamed can be viewed at the special site CREW has set up to publicize its findings.

Jews: Not "Values Voters"?

This weekend, thousands of "values voters" will convene in Washington for their annual summit sponsored by the Family Research Council (motto: "Defending faith, family and freedom"). All of the conservative luminaries will be there: Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and maybe even Sarah Palin. (South Carolina Mark Sanford was, sadly, disinvited over the summer.) One group of voters won't be too well represented, however. Event organizers have conveniently scheduled their big DC summit for Rosh Hashanah, meaning that most Jews will be elsewhere, celebrating their biggest holiday of the year just as Bill O'Reilly kicks off the summit's Friday evening plenary session. Not that many Jews were likely to come anyway; the Family Research Council isn't known for its interfaith outreach. But still, for a religious group, the scheduling seems a little insensitive. Perhaps it was intentional, you know, to keep out the mainstream media.

That seems unlikely, however, given that in past years, the FRC summit has been a hotbed of news. In 2007, it was the place to be for aspiring GOP presidential candidates. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee emerged as a major contender, tying in a straw poll at the event with the better-funded presidential contender former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Huckabee's overwhelming win of the on-site voting also showed early on that Romney had not captured the hearts of critical evangelical Republicans, a sign of things to come. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback also used the event to announce that he was dropping out of the race.

The 2008 summit was less eventful as political activists focused on the elections, but it did make some headlines after reporters discovered exhibitors at the event selling racist anti-Obama junk, including "Obama Waffles," boxes of which featured caricatures of Obama with big lips and wearing a Muslim headdress. But 2009 promises to be a big year for the conservatives, who are once again energized in opposition to the new administration and Democratic Congress. It will also be a testing ground for potential GOP contenders—people like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and, of course, Palin if she decides to attend. (At this writing, she had been invited but not confirmed as a speaker.) They'll get an early chance to try to woo the influential evangelical foot soldiers of the GOP. But if the candidates want to court the Jewish vote, perhaps they'll have to do it on Christmas day.

 

U.S. Army Soldiers carry a bag filled with food and water that will sustain them while on a multi-day mission near Sar Howza in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Sept. 2, 2009. The Soldiers, assigned to 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, will hide the bag until they return to gather and distribute the contents before moving to a different location. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith.)

Cute Animal in Danger: Cougar

Yes, we've all heard that cougars, that pop culture term for older women who prefer younger male lovers, are running rampant. Especially in Palo Alto. But those "cougars" actually have a few things in common with the real, endangered cougars (Felis cougar concolor). The average cougar is only slightly smaller than a woman, measuring 5' to 6' in length and weighing in at 105 to 150 pounds. Cougars, also called mountain lions, pumas, and catamounts, are also known for their "screams" which some say sound distinctly like a woman. Hear for yourself here.

All joking aside, cougars are in trouble. They've been hunted and poached to the point that their natural prey species like deer are creating overpopulation problems. Somewhat ironically, the farmers and ranchers who complained about and sometimes shot cougars now have to deal with depleted grasslands because of exploding deer populations. Even though cougars are federally endangered, and even though there have only been 10 fatalities since 1990, some hunters insist on believing there's actually a cougar overpopulation and that their children and pets are next on the dinner menu. In actuality, the cougar is shy, solitary, and rarely sighted: most interactions with humans end up with the cougar being eventually killed, rather than the other way around.