New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci has been the invisible man of Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. For four straight days, members of Congress have endlessly rehashed, dissected and debated the case that bears his name. Republicans have lionized Ricci and used his lawsuit against New Haven, Connecticut to bash Sotomayor for everything from shoddy analysis and perfunctory opinion-writing to reverse racism.

So it was with great anticipation that the man himself arrived in the witness chair today. But in case it wasn’t obvious from his uniform, Ricci is a firefighter, not a legal expert. So in his testimony, Ricci largely stuck to what he knew. He opened with a lecture on how “technology and modern threats have changed our profession.” He detailed the dangers of his job and why lieutenants and captains need to understand the “dynamic fire environment.” His point, eventually, was that the test he took was designed to promote only those who’d mastered all this tricky stuff. By refusing to promote on the basis of the test results, the city of New Haven risked putting incompetents behind the hose.

“When your house is on fire or your life is in jeopardy, there are no do-overs,” he said with the delivery of someone who has given this speech before, possibly to third-graders on career day. (The soliloquy prompted Sen. Lindsey Graham to tell him later, “Mr. Ricci, I would want you to come to my house if it was on fire.”)

 

Jobless Jack was down on his luck—until he followed the Goldman Sachs steps to success. Satirist Mark Fiore chronicles his rags-to-riches tale:

 

Verbatim from the "Careers" section of the CIA website (but the links are ours):

Medical Officer
Work Schedule: Full Time
Salary: $124,526
Location: Washington, DC metropolitan area

Join us on the world stage. As a premier agency responsible for intelligence about the ever-changing global political, social, economic, technological and military environment, the CIA has never offered more exciting and challenging opportunities for new employees. Are you up to the challenge? The Office of Medical Services is hiring individuals with medical degrees and broad [sic: board] certification in primary care specialties to provide medical care and advice to Agency employees, dependents and assets. Positions are available for overseas assignments.

A lighter moment from today's Sotomayor hearing courtesy of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and our friends over at UpTake:

The AMA Comes Around

Here's a pleasant surprise: the AMA has decided to endorse healthcare reform.  And not just any healthcare reform.  Jon Cohn reports that they've endorsed the House Tri-Committee plan, one of the better proposals out there:

This is unexpected. Or, at least, I wasn't expecting it. Recent signals from the AMA suggested they were reluctant to embrace reform, in no small part because they believed a public insurance option would underpay them. But the AMA letter contains no caveats. It is a straightforward endorsement.

And that makes it a pretty big deal. No, the AMA is not as powerful, nor as representative of the medical community, as it once was. But an unqualified endorsement for the most liberal plan out there has large symbolic value, given the role AMA played in killing health care reform for most of the 20th Century.

I'm not sure what all is going on behind the scenes (Jon thinks this might be a quid pro quo for higher Medicare reimbursements), but it's good news.  Max Baucus, please take note.

After announcing second-quarter profits of $3.44 billion, Goldman Sachs is set to pay out well over $10 billion in compensation this year. The Wall Street Journal editorial board, of all people, makes the key point that all those profits, and all that money for Goldman employees, comes on the back of an insurance policy provided by you, the taxpayer:

What the Goldmans of the world have in addition to profits is the widespread belief that they are too big to fail.... Goldman will surely deny that its risk-taking is subsidized by the taxpayer—but then so did Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, right up to the bitter end. An implicit government guarantee is only free until it's not, and when the bill comes due it tends to be huge. So for the moment, Goldman Sachs—or should we say Goldie Mac?—enjoys the best of both worlds: outsize profits for its traders and shareholders and a taxpayer backstop should anything go wrong.

The Journal proposes a new tax (probably one of the first times it's ever done so) on "too-big-to-fail" institutions to pay for potential bailouts. It's a nice idea, but a more free-market solution (and one the Journal doesn't mention) would be even better. Instead of taxing companies to provide for future bailouts, the government could decide not to bail out any more companies. But what about the companies that are "too big to fail?" The government could and should break them up. If a company is too big to fail, it's too big to exist. That might make Goldman unhappy, so it probably won't happen. The New York Times' Joe Nocera has written about that dilemma before:

If Mr. Obama hopes to create a regulatory environment that stands for another six decades, he is going to have to do what Roosevelt did once upon a time. He is going to have make some bankers mad.

Does the Obama administration have the political will to break up financial giants? If the government's continuing transfer of wealth from ordinary taxpayers to Goldman partners is any indication, probably not.

Sarah van Schagen wants to know how to talk to a cab driver about cap-and-trade.  Matt Yglesias responds:

The main point has to do with car ownership. One good reason to take a cab somewhere is that you don’t own a car. Conversely, one good reason to drive somewhere is that having already bought a car you’ve incurred the bulk of the costs involved in driving anyway. So if you nudge people toward less car ownership, you’ll end up with fewer total vehicle miles traveled but more cab riding. It’s win-win. More generally, insofar as people live in denser patterns of settlements (which cap and trade certainly encourages) that’s more business for cab drivers.

Well....OK.  But I'd take this question a little less literally: not "what's in it for cab drivers," but "how do you convince an ordinary schmoe that higher energy prices are worth paying"?

Which is, admittedly, a very tough question indeed.  Unlike plain old regulation, in which the costs to consumers are hidden, cap-and-trade brings it right out in the open.  The whole point (well, one of the points) of cap-and-trade is to raise the price of conventional energy so that people will use less of it.  But who wants to volunteer for a higher electric bill or a more expensive fill up?

One tack, obviously, is to emphasize that your electric bill is likely to go up only modestly and that you'd get a rebate check that would cover some or all of the increase.  Another would be to point out that some of the money will be used to subsidize cleaner energy sources, something that most people support.  A third alternative is......

What?  Let's face it: this is a hard sell.  Global warming is a long-term problem that's hard to get people genuinely hot and bothered about.  What's worse, self-interest is far and away the most potent political force there is, and when policies leave the realm of airy rhetoric and enter the realm of kitchen table reality it's pretty hard to persuade people to vote against their self-interest with only a fig leaf and some righteous wonkitude as cover.

So I dunno.  Just keep plugging, I guess, with the understanding that there are a large number of people who won't ever be convinced to sacrifice even a small amount in return for a better planet in the future.  For people like this, it's probably best just to move on and save your energy for someone whose mind is yet to be made up.

Unless, of course, you have a better idea.  Which you might.  I remember once trying to explain something to a group of order entry clerks and having no luck.  They just didn't get it.  But the manager of the group understood what I was getting at and rephrased it in a way that wouldn't have occurred to me in a million years.  Immediately they all nodded their heads.  Mission accomplished.  So maybe all we need is the right translator.

While we're talking about unrealistic, impractical, utopian health care reform plans, I should mention that Brad Delong has offered up his own. Yglesias summarizes:

1. Taxes on public health hazards (booze, sweeteners, etc.)

2. An army of publicly employed doctors and nurses working in clinics and vans and such roaming the country dispensing preventive care and lifestyle advice to all and sundry.

3. 15 percent of your income is automatically plunked into a Health Savings Account.

4. When you want health care services that aren’t covered by the clinics, you pay out of your HSA.

5. If there’s money left in your HSA at the end of the year, it gets plunked into your IRA unless you specifically fill in an opt-out form.

6. If you run out of money in your HSA and need more health care, the government pays for it.

7. On top of the 15 percent HSA deduction, there’s a 5 percent tax to pay for 6.

Have your own plans? Leave them in the comments.

Soon-to-be former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has been communing with grizzly bears and tweeting about the survival tips she's picked up from the creatures she finds so majestic that she uses one as big, ferocious couch pillow. Some of her observations:

Great day w/bear management wildlife biologists; much to see in wild territory incl amazing creatures w/mama bears' gutteral raw instinct to

protect & provide for her young;She sees danger?She brazenly rises up on strong hind legs, growls Don't Touch My Cubs & the species survives

& mama bear doesn't look 2 anyone else 2 hand her anything; biologists say she works harder than males, is provider/protector for the future

You gotta admire those mavericky mama bears and their instinct to protect their cubs and refuse government handouts. Maybe Palin also had a twinge of self-recognition as she learned about other ursine behaviors such as mock charges and "false hibernation." And perhaps she was disappointed to hear that while grizzlies once freely roamed much of the lower 48, they're now considered a threatened species down there. No doubt they're just planning their comeback.  

 

Books That Defeated Me

What famous books haven't you read?  That's too easy a question.  Tons of 'em.  But what famous (or, in a pinch, reasonably well known) books have you given the old college try but just couldn't get past the first hundred pages or so?  I can think of five big ones off the top of my head:

Ulysses
Moby-Dick
Bleak House
The Brothers Karamazov (twice!)
Foucault's Pendulum

I'm not sure what sets these books apart.  It's not that I'm allergic to long books.  I plowed through War and Peace, Les Miserables, and Infinite Jest just fine.  I've read plenty of other Dickens (though I'm not really much of a fan) and nearly everything by Dostoyevsky except the Brothers K.  Ulysses is famously difficult, so no surprise there, but I'm not sure why I gave up on Moby-Dick.  Probably the middle third did me in.  Just wasn't interested enough in whales.  And frankly, I don't even remember Foucault's Pendulum, let alone why I gave up on it.  And I suppose I ought to throw the Bible onto this list too, since I've often thought I should read the whole thing but then given up pretty quickly for fairly obvious reasons.  How about you?