A Good Day for Al

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 1:55 PM EST


Jim Martin lost Tuesday night in Georgia, dashing the Democrats' hopes of getting to 60 seats in the Senate. But the Dems' hopes of getting to 59 were looking a little better Wednesday on the strength of some good news for Al Franken, who is in a recount battle in Minnesota with incumbent Republican Norm Coleman. Franken, who Jonathan profiled for Mother Jones in 2007, entered the recount trailing by over 200 votes. According to the Minnesota Secretary of State's office, he now trails by around 300. That seems like bad news. But all is not as it seems.

In all likelihood, Coleman's actual lead is in the low single digits, writes polling guru Nate Silver of The Franken campaign estimated on Tuesday morning that it was only 50 votes behind using the assumption that all vote challenges will be rejected (more than 6,000 challenges have been filed so far). That estimate was before Franken netted 37 votes from a batch of 171 previously uncounted ballots that were discovered in Ramsey County. But why doesn't the way the Secretary of State reports ballot totals make sense? Nate Silver explains:

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Soft Power

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 1:41 PM EST

SOFT POWER....Matt Yglesias talks framing:

Can we retire the term "soft power" already? I always feel that it's been popularized not so much by Professor Nye as by deranged warmongers who like the idea of terming every alternative to militarism as somehow "soft," fluffy, and weak. Soft Power is a good book, but it's a bad coinage for an era in which national security issues have returned as a partisan political topic, and I don't think it's an especially great label for what Nye's talking about.

I agree, but what do we replace it with? "Cultural power" is no good, since it evokes thoughts of cultural imperialism. "Economic power" sounds scary too, and none too apropos anyway considering the economic devastation we're currently wreaking on the world. Anyway, soft power encompasses lots of things, so any individual term won't be enough.

I've heard "smart power" bandied about, but I doubt that will catch on. Too jargony. "Non-military power" gets to the nub of things, but doesn't roll off the tongue very well. So what's a good alternative word that basically means "mostly non-military"? Anybody care to chime in?

UPDATE: In comments, Jon and Matt suggest "civil power." Dan Drezner suggests "social power." Matt Yglesias thinks the problem is with "power," not "soft." On the other hand, plenty of people in comments think "soft power" is just fine as is.

Quote of the Day - 12.03.08

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 1:31 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Tim Fernholz, on Bill Richardson's nomination as Secretary of Commerce:

For a man who once broke the world record for number of hands shook in eight hours, it seems like he's now gunning for number of cabinet posts held in one lifetime.

Hmmm. Who does hold the record for number of cabinet-level posts held? This will be Richardson's third. Elliot Richardson held four. No other serial cabinet members come immediately to mind. Anyone know?

College Costs

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 1:15 PM EST

COLLEGE COSTS....The New York Times, quoting a new report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, says:

Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation.

Bob Somerby is astounded, as well he should be. The report is here, and the chart on page 8 is clearly labeled "Growth Rate in Current Dollar Price." In other words, not adjusted for inflation. In real dollars, tuition costs since 1982 have gone up about 150%. That's a lot, but not quite the quintupling the Times suggests.

For what it's worth, my guess is that this number is strongly affected by big tuition hikes at state universities. Adjusted for inflation, for example, tuition at Harvard has gone from $15,000 in 1982 to $31,000 last year — a mere doubling. Conversely, the state university I attended charged virtually nothing when I was there in 1981 but today charges in-state students nearly $4,000 per year. The eye popping tuition figures at elite universities get the headlines, but it's the budget strapped state schools — and the middle class students they serve — who have seen the eye popping increases.

Slavery Comes Full Circle

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 12:49 PM EST

CNN reminds us, as the Obamas head for DC, of the slaves who helped build the White House (as well as many other federal buildings) and of the many presidents tended to there by slaves. George Washington started the trend:

16 Hours

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 12:20 PM EST

16 HOURS....A new report has — once again — stated the obvious: it's insane to require doctors to work long shifts without sleep. And — once again — not everyone agrees:

The report, produced by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academies, recommended that medical residents ideally should work no longer than 16 consecutive hours, considerably less than the 30-hour shifts now allowed.

....Dr. Mark I. Langdorf, medical director of the emergency department at UC Irvine Medical Center and associate director of the residency program, called the recommendations "nuts."

"The problem here is balancing the need for patient safety, which I acknowledge, with the need to have the training in medicine be an apprenticeship," he said. "It sells the educational process short to make training so intermittent that you don't really get continuity."

"Continuity of care" has been the excuse for 30-hour shifts forever, but I've never seen a single person actually make a coherent case for objecting to a five-hour nap in the middle of a shift. They just chant continuity like a mantra and expect the rest of us to believe that 30 hours is some kind of talismanic number even though it really doesn't make any sense. Hell, I don't think I could even blog intelligibly after 30 hours, let alone make subtle and potentially life-saving diagnostic decisions. This may be an ancient practice, but so was bleeding patients until we figured out better. It's time to stop being idiots about this.

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More Genetic Tests: Still Creepy

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 11:41 AM EST

There's another spit test out on the market, this one claiming to tell parents which kids have the genetics to be which kinds of athletes. I've got a bad feeling about this.

What's going to happen is that kids of privilege will be tested almost from the cradle, with their helicopter-parents frog marching them toward whichever future seems the most successful. Twenty years later. And poor kids? Kids who'll never get to find out that they'd rather teach or dance than be the Olympian weight lifter their parents drove them to be?

From Slate:


| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 11:34 AM EST

MUMBAI....Christopher Hitchens is feeling peevish:

When Salman Rushdie wrote, in The Moor's Last Sigh in 1995, that "those who hated India, those who sought to ruin it, would need to ruin Bombay," he was alluding to the Hindu chauvinists who had tried to exert their own monopoly in the city and who had forcibly renamed it — after a Hindu goddess — Mumbai. We all now collude with this, in the same way that most newspapers and TV stations do the Burmese junta's work for it by using the fake name Myanmar.

Andrew Sullivan approves: "I wasn't aware of this but now that I am, the Dish will refer to Mumbai by its previous name."

Hold on a second. The Burma/Myanmar issue hinges on whether you think its ruling military junta is legitimate. No such ambiguity attaches to Mumbai. The Shiv Sena party may indeed be Hindu chauvinists, but Mumbai's name change was eventually approved by the democratically elected municipal corporation of the city, the state of Maharashtra, and the federal government of India, and they've stuck to it for over a decade now. Like it or not, there's no question that this was a legitimate change. Comparing it to the renaming of Burma is absurd.

KBR Subcontractor Keeping 1,000 Asian Workers In a Warehouse

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 11:17 AM EST

I'm no expert in human trafficking, but this strikes me as worthy of criminal punishment. McClatchy:

About 1,000 Asian men who were hired by a Kuwaiti subcontractor to the U.S. military have been confined for as long as three months in windowless warehouses near the Baghdad airport without money or a place to work.
Najlaa International Catering Services, a subcontractor to KBR, an engineering, construction and services company, hired the men, who're from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. On Tuesday, they staged a march outside their compound to protest their living conditions....
The laborers said they paid middlemen more than $2,000 to get to Iraq for jobs that they were told would earn them $600 to $800 a month. Some of the men took out loans to cover the fees.
"They promised us the moon and stars," said Davidson Peters, 42, a Sri Lankan. "While we are here, wives have left their husbands and children have been shut out of their schools" because money for the families has dried up. The men live in three warehouses with long rows of bunk beds crammed tightly together. Reporters who tried to get a better glimpse inside were ushered away by armed guards.

One man held in the warehouse said there are "about 12" toilets for the 1,000 men. Because of this news report, the Kuwaiti subcontractor has said it will return the men to their home countries and give them back pay. The men, unsurprisingly, are skeptical.

New Nixon Tapes Are Always a Delight

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 10:22 AM EST

The new Nixon tapes released this week include a couple moments that neatly summarize Nixon's flaws and foibles.

The wickedness:

— On July 1, 1971, Nixon instructs Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman to have someone break into the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.:
"I can't have a high-minded lawyer ... I want a son-of-a-bitch. I want someone just as tough as I am. ... We're up against an enemy, a conspiracy that will use any means. We are going to use any means... . Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institution cleaned out and have it cleaned out in a way that has somebody else take the blame."

The inferiority complex: