Quote of the Day

From Arlen Specter (D–Pa.), responding to Joe Sestak's decision to run against him in next year's Democratic primary:

His months of indecisiveness on his candidacy raises a real question as to his competency to handle the tough rapid-fire decisions required of a Senator.

Rapid fire?  The U.S. Senate?  Are we talking about the same U.S. Senate here?

Ad Wars

Dan Neil, whose day job consists of winning Pulitzer prizes for driving around test tracks in Porsches and Lamborghinis, also writes an advertising column for the LA Times.  And he says that in the healthcare war, liberals are getting their asses kicked:

There's some hope on the horizon, though, in the ad from Americans United for Change....To a kicky bass riff and the occasional cash register ring, the female narrator asks, "Why do the insurance companies and the Republicans want to kill President Obama's health insurance reform?" Note the yoking of insurance companies to Republicans. Note also that it's Obama's health insurance reform. Evil insurance.

The ad then lights into Cigna Corp. CEO Ed Hanway, who is retiring with a $73-million golden parachute. The GOP's prescription for the healthcare crisis? "Be as rich as Ed and you'll be happy too."

Of course it's disingenuous. Executive compensation at insurance companies is at best peripheral to escalating healthcare costs. For all we know, Hanway may be one of the good guys. The important thing is that the ad hominem ad is pointed, shrewd and manipulative.

Well, watch the ad and decide for yourself.  If you ask me, it's still got too light a touch.  And unlike Ezra, I can't say that I feel especially sorry for Karen Ignani, head lobbyist for the health insurance industry.  She's got a job to do, and she's doing it.  But the reality is that I don't think the insurance industry has actually conceded all that much during this round in the healthcare wars.  They were afraid of getting steamrolled, so they did what they had to do to survive.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Does Joe Sestak Have A Chance?

In 2006, when recently retired Naval Admiral Joe Sestak announced his candidacy to represent Pennsylvania's seventh congressional district, he knew he'd be fighting an uphill battle. He was a Democrat and a political newcomer facing 10-term GOP incumbent Rep. Curt Weldon in a traditionally conservative district. But first Sestak bested his opponent in the fundraising race, and then he beat him at the polls, becoming only the second Democrat to win that seat since the Civil War. On Tuesday, after serving for little more than two years in the House of Representatives, Sestak announced that he would run against Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary.  Can he defy the odds once again?

Well, maybe. But it won't be easy. When Sestak pulled off his upset victory over Weldon, he was helped by the fact that his opponent was the target of an FBI investigation. Specter, by contrast, is a 30-year incumbent with some major Democratic heavyweights standing behind him—including President Barack Obama; Vice President Joe Biden, who helped broker his party switch; and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. So far, the only big(ish) Pennsylvania pol to jump on board for Sestak is Joe Hoeffel, the former congressman and current vice-chair for the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, whom Specter defeated in the 2004 election.

The Economist's anonymous Democracy in America blogger says journalists should make sure to call the show trials of opposition figures in Iran what they are: show trials.

That point goes to a key advantage that opinionated newsmagazines enjoy: magazine journalists are more likely to call 'em how they sees 'em. Instead of offering readers phony evenhandedness, a magazine writer will generally give you a position on a story (markets are awesome!) and trust her readers to be smart enough to know the difference between fact and opinion. And since they're not used to "opinions on the shape of the earth differ" journalism, magazines don't fall into the trap of turning everything into a he-said she-said cable news argument as often as newspapers do.

Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday, Mr. President!  Or is it?  If we don't really know where he was born, do we really know when he was born either?

Joel Tenenbaum has been ordered to pay $675,000, or $22,500 per song, for downloading and sharing a few dozen songs on Kazaa. That sounds unfair because it is. It's also incredibly stupid. The Recording Industry Association of America's litigation strategy can only work for so long. Soon, electronic storage capacity will be so great that you will be able to fit every song ever recorded onto a single flash memory drive. You'll be able to hand your friends every song ever over lunch in the school cafeteria. That kind of piracy won't be legal, but it won't be traceable, either.

The music industry's big problem is that its business model relies on selling copies of something that can be copied for free. If you could duplicate Lexuses in the comfort of your own home for free, Lexuses would be a lot harder to sell, too.

Journalism has a similar problem. The marginal cost of reproducing a newspaper article on the internet is zero. Command-C, Command-V. But you don't see the New York Times suing grad students who are printing out its articles or copying and pasting them into Word documents. And you definitely don't see the Times convincing juries to fine people hundreds of thousands of dollars for sharing its articles with their friends.

"It’s big and tall. It is also nestled into the mountains and revetted. There seems to be a power transmission line running in (or out of it). It is several clicks from an obvious water source." It's also in Burma. Jeffrey Lewis has the details.

Via Yglesias, an Alex Massie post about the Royal Navy's awesome ship names:

I mean, the new Type 45 Detroyers, HMS Daring and HMS Dauntless have proper naval names as do the submarines Trafalgar, Ambush, Audacious. The new carriers being built - the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales - take us a little too far in the American direction, (even if there have been seven previous ships names Prince of Wales) and they’re not quite as good as previous carriers such as Implacabale, Indefatigable, Furious, Colossus, Vengeance and, perhaps best of all, Vindictive.

Yglesias points to Star Trek's starships for examples of good ship names. I think we should go even further. If you're hunting for some ship names that will really make Al Qaeda respect our authoritah, look no further than the Galactic Empire. Well-known Joe Lieberman lookalike Emperor Palpatine had an Accuser, an Agonizer, and (according to the "extended" Star Wars universe) an Eviscerator. Now these are some ship names.

(Yglesias also says "Basically no starships seem to be named after committee chairman or undistinguished former presidents." But presumably, in the enlightened future society that is the Federation, starship-building is removed from the realm of earmarks and appropriations bills and fully and fairly competed. Political patronage is less important to the process, and I'm almost certain that Star Trek contractors that are asked to extend starships by 12 feet don't end up making modifications that ruin the ships' structural integrity and make them unusable.)

UPDATE: The Economist has pwnd me with some truly awesome ship names. USS Batman, anyone?

As Dan noticed yesterday, Chuck Norris, who makes apple pie look un-American, is wondering why Barack Obama won't just release his original birth certificate (as opposed to a "certification of live birth," which is good enough for pretty much all of the rest of us). I was talking about this with some friends last night, and we covered all the obvious reasons: it won't convince anyone who isn't already convinced (reasonable people are), it won't actually make the "controversy" go away, and the White House has nothing to gain from engaging the birthers.

But maybe there's something else going on here, too. By not releasing the certificate and making the birthers even madder, the administration is probably benefiting politically. Reasonable people think the birthers are crazy. By keeping the media spotlight on them, the administration can continue to brand the Republicans as a party of marginalized nutjobs. E.J. Dionne concern-trolled this yesterday:

[The Republican] party is being defined by extremist voices who have faced little push-back from its leaders.

The extremists include the "birthers" who, against all evidence, insist that Obama was not born in the United States and thus ineligible to be president. These guys are so out there that party leaders and commentators have started to disown them.

[...]

But to take advantage of the opportunities that might come their way, Republicans will have to make themselves an acceptable alternative. They have not done this yet. Facing down extremism and breaking out of the party's regional enclave would be good places to start.

If the White House thinks the birther movement is hurting the Republican party, they might refrain from doing anything that could cause the GOP to totally marginalize the group—like releasing the original certificate.

With polls showing the Republicans on the rebound, and with conservatives driving to win state governorships this fall and cut Democratic majorities in Congress in next year’s midterm elections, the stakes of the health care fight just got higher. If Obama can’t win a little something in the health insurance battle, he’ll be portrayed as a flop by the GOP in the midst of an election season. But if he wins even a token victory, right-wing attack dogs can pick apart the details of the final plan—or simply paint him as a socialist with a secret plan to "kill Granny” by rationing health care. Tuesday’s Washington Times lays out the opportunity for Republicans: