As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Rest Of The Week In Review

Another weekend gone by. Programming note: Netroots Nation happens in just a few weeks, and on Saturday, August 15 from 3-4:15 I'm part of a panel discussing the California budget crisis and the impact on the nation at large. OK, what'd I miss?

• Here's a good study about health care, from the RAND Corporation, showing the linkage between rising health care costs, job losses and lower output (they can also add wage stagnation - that raise you didn't get went to pay for your health benefits). Here's a bad study by the Lewin Group, consistently cited by Republicans, without them bothering to mention that the Lewin Group is pwned by large insurance company UnitedHealth Group.

• I had a good conversation with a teacher about the Department of Education and their plans for merit pay. The impetus was Arne Duncan announcing his "Race to the Top" funds from the stimulus package, which only can go to states that use test scores to measure teacher performance. I think there are a lot of problems with that, not the least of which that it seems to me like a blunt instrument, untied to personal student situations, class sizes and strengths, or the relative differences between individuals. Duncan has spoken of teacher's unions being partners in education reform, which is obviously a delicate dance. Meanwhile the various reformer groups themselves need to get their act together and work in concert.

• One thing becoming clear in health care reform is not just how enormous the issue is in and of itself, but how it intersects with so many other areas of public policy. Two smart commentators made those connections this week - Elana Schor, talking about transportation policy ("For every long-term $1 increase in gas prices, the national obesity rate drops by 10 percent"), and Jill Richardson, talking about food policy ("Our health care costs are going to be a mess until we stop eating MESSes - Manufactured Edible Substitute Substance").

• Secessionist Governor Rick Perry's next big idea is to nullify federal law if the health care reform bill passes. He's borrowing all the tricks of the antebellum South Carolina legislature? Perry is a blowhard, and this talk is all for the rubes.

• This fascinating piece looks at the role of CIA contractors in detention and interrogation of terror suspects. We're finally starting to see the result of how interrogation policy will change as a result of this stain on our conscience. Military commanders have sought changes to detention policy at Bagram AFB in Afghanistan, and a new specialized unit may be created to interrogate terror suspects. Which is fine, but ignores the realities of the detention itself, particularly those without charges or even hope, and the psychological disturbances they cause.

• Parity in crack and cocaine sentences would be a good step to a saner criminal justice policy, but I would rather see nonviolent drug offenders treated more as addicts and less as criminals. The fact that we see drops in violent crime but no concurrent drops in prison populations should worry people.

• Could Hamid Karzai get a legitimate challenge in Presidential elections in Afghanistan from someone named Dr. Abdullah Abdullah? By the way, if I see a candidate abroad using the language of "change" one more time, I know that I probably have enough old Obama material in the back of my car to make a killing as an international political strategist.

• Ralph "Blood and Guts" Peters had an interesting week. First he called for that Private Bowe Berdahl, captured by the Taliban, to be left for dead and murdered by his captors because he allegedly deserted. He got some major flak for that and partially recanted, then turned around and called the guy a liar and a deserter again. At least one Democratic Congressman has called for his firing. If Republicans were upset at these comments, there would be 150 of them pushing a resolution on the House floor.

• We don't have an industrial policy in this country, and have paid the price with historic drops in manufacturing. Very little from the Obama Administration has shown me any willingness to do something about this, and the article makes the case that any grand strategy has been on an ad hoc basis. Not good enough.

• Are you following Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Facebook? You should. He actually updates it frequently, and includes lots of interesting video and links. I've got one he could add - this study by the Dept. of Agriculture (crossing the cabinet streams) suggesting that the benefits of the Waxman-Markey energy and climate bill "easily outweigh" the costs when it comes to farmers.

• If Tuvalu can go carbon neutral, we all can. Unfortunately, the tiny group of islands are already close to underwater, and they represent about 1/600,000th of the global population.

• I greatly admired and respected Walter Cronkite's work, but I do wonder if he ushered in an era of the "anchorman" seeking prestige rather than reporting the news. It's no fault of his own, of course, but somewhere in his time period broadcast news became about the individual brand and not the content. And the result, over decades of devolution, becomes smug attack dogs using their brand to hurt people. I think this video of how the moon landing would be reported today sums it up.

• I'm guessing Carolyn Maloney could have gotten away with criticizing her potential opponent in a Senate primary in New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, without using the N-word.

• My fascination with the Silvio Berlusconi carousel of scandals continues. An Italian newspaper released an audio tape of the Prime Minister after he allegedly finished having sex with an escort. He goes through details of male orgasms and female masturbation on the tape. His response? "I'm no saint." Since he's basically a thief at the head of the government, I'm more interested in the fact that his approval rating has dropped below 50%.

• Here's some of the Republicans' fun week - they first falsely asserted that a million dollars in taxpayer money bought two pounds of ham (it was 380 tons for food banks). Then they lied about stimulus money going to fix a door without mentioning it was a HANGAR door. They also spent a lot of time claiming wrongly that the health care bill would take away insurance. In their one positive act, they deliberately held up Congress so they could all attend John Boehner's beach party. Is this a political party or a bad community college frat house?

• I have no idea if it's true that Lou Dobbs has a fake birth certificate, but if wishes were fishes...

• And finally, I thought this picture summed up the California budget mess: