James Pethokoukis says liberals like me need to apologize to Paul Ryan. See, the New York Times ran a piece yesterday suggesting that some Democrats think a carefully designed premium support plan might be a good way to reform Medicare:

Shorter version: Ryan’s idea of turning Medicare into a premium support system is actually a pretty mainstream idea. Former Clinton budget chief Alice Rivlin included it in her fiscal reform plan for the Bipartisan Policy Center....And as Avik Roy of Forbes notes (in a great piece), “Again, it’s not clear if Democratic supporters of reform are these think-tank types, or whether they include actual members of Congress.” Still, given the need to transform the U.S. social safety net into a rational, market-based system, any support from the left is a hopeful sign.

Hmmm. Let's roll the tape on this. As conservatives surely know, the concept of premium support originated with liberal healthcare wonks, in particular with liberal healthcare wonk Henry Aaron in 1995. Why? Because conservatives had been promoting the idea of replacing Medicare with vouchers, and he wanted to propose a reform that included some of the benefits of private-sector competition without the drawbacks of most voucher plans. So what does Aaron himself think of Ryan's proposal? Here he is in April, shortly after Ryan introduced it:

People are, of course, free to redefine terms: trying to avoid tainted terms is commonplace—people are no longer ‘fired’ but are given ‘new career opportunities.’ But it is important that the affective trappings of the term ‘premium support’ not protect the harsher realities of voucher plans from the scrutiny they deserve.

The recently released plan of the House Budget Committee chair, Paul Ryan (R-WI) is illustrative. The Ryan plan would replace traditional Medicare with a voucher indexed to consumer prices....As long as any of these plans ties support to indices that are virtually certain to lag health care spending and thereby promise erosion of benefits, they are not premium support, unless the term is redefined to suit the moment.

I could swear I've written about this before, and — oh, wait, I have. I put up this post just last month. Bottom line: plenty of liberal healthcare wonks have written favorably about real premium support (though, ironically, Aaron himself is less enamored of it than he used to be), and plenty of liberal healthcare wonks have written favorably about using competition to help drive down healthcare costs. It's a key component of Obamacare, for example.

It's a free country and Paul Ryan can call his plan anything he wants. But that doesn't make it so. The fact is that liberal wonks didn't object to Ryan's plan because it included premium support, they objected to it because it's not premium support. It's a voucher with a very slow rate of growth that (a) does very little to actually rein in healthcare costs and (b) within a couple of decades would leave seniors paying enormous out-of-pocket expenses for medical care. It was that stingy rate of growth and unwillingness to tackle cost growth that turned off liberal wonks from the start. There are still plenty of us willing to support variations on genuine premium support plans that genuinely try to rein in medical costs and insure that seniors can continue to receive reasonable care at a reasonable price.

So I think I'll hold off on any apologies for now. Paul Ryan's plan was never either serious or courageous. It was a meat axe designed to get him applause from true believers and headlines as a "bold" thinker. But if he ever does get serious, I imagine he'll find plenty of support from liberals. We've been there for a while.

Why did Mitt Romney lie so egregiously in his recent attack ad against Barack Obama? One of Greg Sargent's readers suggests that it's basically a signaling device, assuring his supporters that he's willing to go to any lengths to win next year:

This interpretation is practically supported by what the Romney camp itself has said about the ad. Romney advisers have proudly boasted that their dishonesty “worked,” because it secured more media attention for the ad and baited the Obama team into an all-out response, creating the impression of a head-to-head media showdown between Romney and the President. It’s only a tiny leap from there to the conclusion that the Romney camp saw the dishonesty itself as a way to prove to GOP primary voters that Romney will do whatever it takes to beat Obama. And if this is the game, then the Romney camp’s unrepentance in the face of widespread media condemnation only helps, signaling that Romney is willing to employ whatever tactics are necessary to end the Obama presidency even if it means bravely taking a sustained beating from the Obama-worshipping liberal media along the way.

If this interpretation is correct (about which I'm agnostic for the moment), I think Greg gets it right. It's not so much to show that Romney is willing to take heat from Obama, it's to show that he's contemptuous of criticism from the press. If there's anything the GOP base hates more than Obama, after all, it's the liberal media. Newt Gingrich has played on this hostility pretty effectively for months, and with Gingrich rising in the polls maybe Romney decided he needed to get into the act too.

The official explanation from the retail industry for the term "Black Friday" is that it's the day when retail profits for the year go from red to black. Are you skeptical about this? You should be. After all, the term Black ___day has, in other contexts, always signified something terrible, like a stock market crash or the start of the Blitz. Is it reasonable to think that retailers deliberately chose this phrase to indicate something good?

Not really. So let's trace its origins back in time. Here's a 1985 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

[Irwin] Greenberg, a 30-year veteran of the retail trade, says it is a Philadelphia expression. "It surely can't be a merchant's expression," he said. A spot check of retailers from across the country suggests that Greenberg might be on to something.

"I've never heard it before," laughed Carol Sanger, a spokeswoman for Federated Department Stores in Cincinnati…"I have no idea what it means," said Bill Dombrowski, director of media relations for Carter Hawley Hale Stores Inc. in Los Angeles…From the National Retail Merchants Association, the industry's trade association in New York, came this terse statement: "Black Friday is not an accepted term in the retail industry…"

Hmm. So as recently as 1985 it wasn't in common use nationwide. It was only in common use in Philadelphia. But why? If we go back to 1975, the New York Times informs us that it has something to do with the Army-Navy game. The gist of the story is that crowds used to pour into Philadelphia on the Friday after Thanksgiving to shop, they'd stay over to watch the game on Saturday, and then go home. It was the huge crowds that gave the day its bleak name.

If we go back yet another decade we can find a Philly reference as early as 1966. An advertisement that year in the American Philatelist from a stamp shop in Philadelphia starts out: "'Black Friday' is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. 'Black Friday' officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing."

And it seems to go back even further than that. After I wrote a post about all this last year, I got an email from a reader who had worked in a Philadelphia department store back in the day:

The dire warnings came from the sweet older women that took me under their wings in the arts and crafts department at John Wanamaker's department store in center city Philadelphia shortly after I was hired as temporary holiday help in October, 1971. They warned me to be prepared for the hoards of obnoxious brats and their demanding parents that would alight from the banks of elevators onto the eighth floor toy department, all racing to ride see the latest toys on their way to visit Santa. The feeling of impending doom sticks with me to this day. The experienced old ladies that had worked there for years called it "Black Friday." I'm quite sure it had nothing to do with store ledgers going from red to black.

"For years." But how many years? Ben Zimmer collects some evidence that the term was already in common use by 1961 (common enough that Philly merchants were trying to change the term to "Big Friday"), and passes along an interview with Joseph Barrett talking about his role in popularizing the expression when he worked as a reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin:

In 1959, the old Evening Bulletin assigned me to police administration, working out of City Hall. Nathan Kleger was the police reporter who covered Center City for the Bulletin. In the early 1960s, Kleger and I put together a front-page story for Thanksgiving and we appropriated the police term "Black Friday" to describe the terrible traffic conditions. Center City merchants complained loudly to Police Commissioner Albert N. Brown that drawing attention to traffic deterred customers from coming downtown. I was worried that maybe Kleger and I had made a mistake in using such a term, so I went to Chief Inspector Albert Trimmer to get him to verify it.

So all the evidence points in one direction. The term originated in Philadelphia in the 50s or earlier and wasn't in common use in the rest of the country until decades later. And it did indeed refer to something unpleasant: the gigantic Army-Navy-post-Thanksgiving day crowds and traffic jams, which both retail workers and police officers dreaded. The retail industry originally loathed the term, and the whole "red to black" fairy tale was tacked on sometime in the 80s by an overcaffeinated flack trying to put lipstick on a pig that had gotten a little too embarrassing for America's shopkeepers.

And now everyone believes it, which is a pretty good demonstration of the power of corporate PR. But now you know the real story behind Black Friday.

UPDATE: Barrett/Kleger anecdote added via email from Ben Zimmer pointing me toward his piece on the subject at the Visual Thesaurus.

This is Inkblot last night, helping to supervise Thanksgiving preparations. That's a big ol' pot of boiling sweet potatoes he's interested in—or thinks he is, anyway, since he'd probably recoil in carnivorous disgust if real-life tubers ever showed up on his dinner plate. Still, a cat can dream, and really, you never know what's in a pot until you've thoroughly checked it out, do you? It might have been turkey stew or something.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Enjoy the day and forget about politics. And if you're wondering what those boiling tubers are for, the answer is Praline Sweet Potatoes, an ancient family recipe originally from the LA Times. I don't care for sweet potatoes myself, but it seems to be pretty popular with everyone else. The recipe is below. Enjoy!

We all know that Republicans have done their best to hamstring President Obama's ability to get anything done via routine filibuster. That's old news. We also know that they've slow-walked his executive appointments for the same reason. That's also old news. We even know that they've tried to prevent the new Bureau of Consumer Protection from functioning at all by refusing to confirm a director — any director. That's yet more old news.

So what's next? Today Harold Meyerson passes along their latest brainstorm: they're going to prevent the NLRB, an existing body that already has existing board members, from operating by the simple expedient of refusing to show up for meetings. No quorum, no votes:

In a letter made public yesterday, Republican Brian Hayes wrote fellow GOP-er John Kline, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, that he might well not participate in the Board’s scheduled November 30 vote on changing the rules for union certification elections.

In his letter, Kline complained that he was not privy to some of the deliberations of the board (that is, of the two Democratic members) and thus might fail to show up for the scheduled vote. But in a long and devastating letter that board chairman Mark Pearce sent to Hayes yesterday, Pearce documented more than a dozen instances in which he and the board’s staff invited Hayes and his own staff to participate in all aspects of the rule-development process — hearings, data collection, even just trying to get Hayes to tell him which portions of the proposed rule he supported and which he opposed, and negotiating a compromise based on that discussion — only to have his entreaties either rejected or ignored by Hayes and his staff. In essence, Pearce told Hayes, you moved heaven and earth to ensure your exclusion from the process.

Whenever Republicans blow up another longtime tradition of governance, I always think, "What can they do for an encore? What's the next norm to go down for the count?" This one isn't as important as the filibuster norm, or even the debt ceiling norm, but on a smaller scale it's certainly every bit as egregious.

But I wonder what's next?

Hmmm. It looks like I got my eurozone gloom in reverse order today. It wasn't exactly front-page news in most newspapers — hey, who cares if Europe is imploding? — but today brought yet more bad news on the bond auction front. Except this time the bad news wasn't from Greece, or Spain, or Italy, or even from Finland or the Netherlands. It was from the one place where the news was never supposed to get bad, Europe's Rock of Gibraltar. Ryan Avent explains:

Markets were still digesting news of Spain's terrible bond auction yesterday, in which the yield on its 3-month debt more than doubled, from 2.3% to over 5%. That was but an appetizer, however; in an auction of 10-year debt today, Germany failed to place some 40% of the issuance. The lack of appetite for German debt has come as a shock to many, and the language being used to describe matters is increasingly apocalyptic. "It is a complete and utter disaster", Reuters has one strategist saying.

When investors turn up their noses at German bonds, they aren't really saying they think Germany is doomed. They're saying they think the euro itself is doomed and they're getting out until someone steps up to fix things. From the Wall Street Journal: "The auction reflects the deep mistrust [of the] euro project rather than a mistrust [of] German government bonds," said Danske's chief analyst Jens Peter Sorensen. "As some investors say regarding the euro project—if it is broke, then fix it." In a similar vein, Kathleen Brooks of Forex offered an optimistic take on the German auction failure (investors just want higher yields), a pessimistic take (Europe is doomed), and this take:

The bond market is staging a buyers strike, essentially trying to push Germany to take action.... If this crisis isn't dealt with in the near-term then bond investors will ditch all of the Eurozone, even Germany. Thus, the effect of German belligerence in dealing with this crisis is today's failed auction.

Maybe so. Maybe investors are just telling the core eurozone countries to get off their asses and fix things. The problem is that (a) Germany and France and the ECB have so far not shown any kind of willingness to damn the torpedoes and do whatever it takes to rescue the eurozone, and (b) things have now gotten to a point where it's not clear if they could rescue the eurozone even if they did pull out all the stops. Megan McArdle:

Effectively, Germany and France and a handful of other tiny countries have to guarantee both the sovereign debt and the bank liabilities of the whole eurozone. Given the holes that recent events have exposed in these systems, can they credibly do that? Even if the Greeks and Italians don't use that guarantee as a blank check to avoid reform?

....You can view the failed auction as a referendum on the instability of the euro, and hence the German banking system, in which case maybe "fixing" the euro with German guarantees fixes the problem. But you can also view it as a referendum on membership in the euro, full stop. The market may be saying that as long as Germany is tied to these other, troubled, countries, their debt looks more dangerous. In which case, deeper integration doesn't really help.

This might just be a bump on the road. That's certainly the official response from German officials and the ECB (the auction failed "for technical reasons," explained ECB Vice President Vítor Manuel Ribeiro Constâncio). Alternatively, it might be the beginning of the end, as the great delevering really kicks in and Hyun Song Shin's vicious circle of a banking crisis feeding into a sovereign debt crisis takes off in earnest. In any case, I assume your seat belts are already fastened, so I won't tell you to fasten them. But at least keep them fastened, OK?

From Dana Milbank, describing how Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl amost single-handedly torpedoed any chance of a compromise agreement in the supercommittee:

“Walking napalm” is how one Democratic aide involved in the supercommittee described Kyl this week. And if the senator makes some mistakes as he burns down the village — well, that’s just a cost of doing business.

This pretty much describes Kyl's entire career. He's been a cold-blooded front man for the interests of the tanned and wealthy since the day he showed up on Capitol Hill, and nothing has changed in 25 years. He's leaving exactly the way he arrived, most likely tickled pink at this latest description of his scorched-earth legislative style. It'll probably end up inscribed on his post-Senate business cards.

Worried about Europe? You should be! Via Stuart Staniford, here's the latest bad news from the eurozone: In September, as the chart below shows, industrial orders plunged 6.4% in the euro area (pink line) and 2.3% in the broader EU (black line). Here's Stuart:

There have been indicators suggesting mild contraction for a while — eg retail trade. But this is the first indicator I've seen that looks like the kind of sharp non-linear contraction characteristic of an out-and-out recession. I guess there's always the possibility that October will be better. However, given the financial news flow in the last six weeks, it's hard to imagine too many European executives getting all giddy and excited in approving new projects.

He's got more bad news at the link, if you have the stomach for it.

Electric cars are having a tough time finding buyers. Brad Plumer takes a crack at explaining what the problem is:

GM is struggling to meet this year’s sales target for the Chevy Volt, and Nissan has sold just 8,000 all-electric Leafs. Part of that might be due to the recession and the steep price tag: Like any new technology, the cars are pricey (the Volt goes for $40,000, though buyers can qualify for a $7,500 federal tax rebate). But a recent NPR report by Sonari Glinton highlighted another reason sales might be flagging — the fact that early models can’t go very far before needing a recharge, which gives would-be buyers “range anxiety.”

Electric-car advocates have occasionally dismissed range anxiety as irrational. After all, the vast majority of Americans commute less than 40 miles a day. So even a Nissan Leaf, which, realistically, gets about 65 miles on a single charge, should satisfy most of our daily needs. But what about slightly longer trips? Consumers really do worry about getting stranded on the road with a dead battery. Plus, as an executive at Better Place once told me, drivers don’t like feeling hemmed in. “Our research shows that people want to feel like they can get into their car and drive across the country at if they have to,” he said. “It might sound silly, but it’s real.”

At the moment, car companies are racking their brains for ways to allay these fears.

Wait a second. What am I missing here? Of course consumers are worried about getting stranded with a dead battery. That can't possibly be a revelation to the car industry, can it? It's the obvious #1 problem with electric cars: even if I normally drive 20 miles a day, occasionally I'm going to want to visit grandma in San Diego and I need a car that can do it. Who on earth thinks this sounds silly?

Besides, the Chevy Volt has a gasoline engine as well as a battery, so its range is the same as an ordinary car. Range anxiety can't be the problem there unless Chevy has been monumentally incompetent in its marketing campaign. (Always a possibility, of course.)

Surely the answer here is obvious. For pure electric cars like the Leaf, the issue is indeed range. Obviously. For the Volt, the issue is its fantastically high price tag. It's a Chevy Cruze (yours for $15K or so) that costs more than $30,000. That's my guess, anyway. Mickey Kaus has a different take:

I recently rented a Nissan Leaf all-electric car. No gas engine, just silent, battery propulsion. It worked fine. It did everything it was supposed to do. It was just incredibly boring.  Not just “doesn’t corner well” type of boring — though it doesn’t corner well — but boring in some corrosive, fundamental, existential way.

I don't think the Leaf is meant for car guys who want the thrill of a V-8 powering them through tight corners. It's meant for people who like boring cars. You know, Camry owners. So I'm skeptical that this is an issue either. But then again, I've never driven one.

The Washington Post reports that the terrorist group founded by Osama bin Laden is all but dead:

The leadership ranks of the main al-Qaeda terrorist network, once expansive enough to supervise the plot for Sept. 11, 2001, have been reduced to just two figures whose demise would mean the group’s defeat, U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials said.

Ayman al-Zawahiri and his second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, are the last remaining “high-value” targets of the CIA’s drone campaign against al-Qaeda in Pakistan, U.S. officials said....“We have rendered the organization that brought us 9/11 operationally ineffective,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. Asked what exists of al-Qaeda’s leadership group beyond the top two positions, the official said: “Not very much. Not any of the world-class terrorists they once had.”

However, pretty much the entire rest of the piece is devoted to "U.S. officials" telling us that (a) none of this really matters, (a) al-Qaeda remains an enormous threat, and (c) we can't afford any kind of reduction in our overseas military presence. So don't let this get your hopes up.