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Washington Post Op-Eds: Koop, Coolers, Corruption, Consternation

8:02 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

I knew I would have to write this piece as soon as I saw in one of the WaPo columns that its author composed it while listening to Bach — I presume on a CD or downloaded — in the comfort of his home. What a coincidence, since I had just come from a bit closer to the real thing, a live lunchtime concert where the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (BWV 543) was played on the fine organ of the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington, DC, followed by a performance of the BWV 105 Cantata. That piece, btw, has instrumental obbligatos accompanying the arias, as is usual with Bach, but its continuo for one recitative includes arco upper strings but pizzicato cello and double bass, which is not. Bach was nothing if not an innovator, and innovation is an important theme in today’s study.

Today we are back to the regular Tuesday lineup: Compassionate Conservative, Honorary Hasbarist, Anti-Prometheus (a slight name change), and Liberal #1. CC’s contribution amounts to a meditation on the passing of C. Everett Koop on Feb. 25. This reflection all but suggests that the apparent curing of an infant of HIV the other day was due to the spirit of the late Surgeon General hovering over the Mississippi hospital where it happened. After all, his innovation consisted in bucking his bosses in the Reagan administration to produce a sensible document on AIDS, originally “distributed … on glossy paper to discourage edits.” That got the ball rolling, CC implies, or at least Koop’s “conspir[ing] to have a brochure containing similar information distributed to the entire IRS mailing list of 107 million households” did. Fine, I have no serious criticism as long as no one claims the AIDS problem is now solved.

HH likes to begin his columns with a metaphor, and this time it is the art scene in Paris at the beginning of the last century. This, he says, was the water cooler of its day, and new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer should have her minions study Picasso and Braque if they want to understand why her new order to stop telecommuting and come into the office makes sense. For the water cooler is where innovation takes place, and innovation is sorely needed at her troubled company. That, indeed, is the essence of her rationale for the new policy according to a leaked memo, although the real reasons, of course, may be otherwise: at least one commentator thinks Mayer is simply on a power trip.

HH duly notes the protests by environmentalists about the increased use of the internal combustion engine and by mothers with daycare problems, but says he misses the newsroom,”a community of experts and eccentrics where the chance remark could spark a retort, an observation, an idea — a column!,” as he sits at home writing, with his creature comforts and his Bach (yes, he’s the one). What, won’t WaPo give him at least a shared desk?

A-P is concerned with the taxpayers’ money being wasted in Medicare, and has been extolling a lawsuit by Rupert Murdoch the Wall Street Journal to get access to billing records. But “scientists doctors,” he says, (not, for example, their hospitals) are fighting the suit, so pending the outcome of that, he has done his own investigation. He finds that there has been a slew of inflated prices for “durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies,” in short, DMEPOS.. After some further musings he says that “Congress should accelerate the planned introduction of nationwide competitive bidding on DMEPOS to 2014, and extend it to medical devices, lab tests and advanced imaging services by 2015,” as has been recommended by the Center for American Progress, which is to say, the Obama administration. As much as I would like to poke holes in this analysis, I don’t know enough about the issues to do so intelligently. (Commenters, feel free.) But since he’s talking about overbilling for DME I do wish he’d said something about The Scooter Store, currently under investigation for outright fraud against Medicare,

L1 is angry at the sequester, thus agreeing with just about everyone except Wall Street (where the DJI hit a new record today). Apart from the fact that it changes a verb into a noun, he hates it because it “diverts attention from issues that actually matter, such as unemployment, gun violence, climate change, failing schools and the need to spur economic growth.” He goes on to offer some more reasons for hating it, then reviews the various talking points of the responsible parties, including the standard narrative that it was only supposed to goad them into serious legislative action, not actually happen, quoting the supposed wisdom of Casey Stengel (“Can’t anybody here play this game?,” actually apocryphal), and concludes by agreeing reluctantly that both Obama and the Republicans are to blame.

But in the process L1 reveals something about his priorities. With the sequester,

Medicare will see no more than a 2 percent cut, while Medicaid and Social Security will be untouched. Since these programs are so big and costly, other parts of the budget will have to face much deeper cuts to make up the total $85 billion savings.

And then, “[E-word] spending is largely untouched.” Clearly he wishes it were otherwise. So does O, as has been amply documented in numerous FDL posts

In short, O’s man pure and simple.

Washington Post Op-Eds: Three Yawns and a Sequester

3:41 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

It was nasty outside this morning and I felt a cold coming on, so I thought: It’s not a good day to do something enjoyable like going to the library to pursue research in classical philology. Perfect, though, for unpleasant activity like reading WaPo Op-Eds.

First, some background. I long ago got in the habit of going out in the morning to get my paper. It’s good exercise, it’s one less list I would get my name on to have a subscription for home delivery, and I can’t get used to reading a newspaper on a computer screen (though I don’t mind finding the URLs for the benefit of you folks out there). This situation rules out the NYT because, apart from the fact that it costs too much, there is little market for it in the DC ‘hood where I live, so the corner store doesn’t carry it. Thus I place my money in the open slot of the hard plastic-enclosed lazy susan for the clerk to rotate and retrieve to put in the cash register, putting any change I’m owed in the slot and rotating it back to me. Now lighter by $1.33 including tax ($2.65 on Sunday), I tuck the WaPo under my arm and am ready to rock and roll.

Today we have Liberal #1, back in his usual time slot after missing last Tuesday, suggesting that Obama’s new immigration plan is a ploy to draw the Republican flak onto himself and allow the serious minds in the Congress to work quietly on a plan that will gain bipartisan support. The first part has certainly happened, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for the second. Honorary Hasbarist complains that there is too much false intimacy these days, and wants to go back to a time when men shook hands upon meeting and only smooched other men if they were family. I’m only surprised he forgot to blame Arab culture for the kissing surfeit. Fox Guest has moved on from last week’s anti-Promethean attack on Obama administration new technology initiatives (see here, updated here), to a more classic anti-labor issue, naturally disguised as the opposite: As against “Liberal firebrand Paul Krugman,” he opposes raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour, arguing that there is too much danger of negative effects like increasing unemployment. In a generous mood he concludes: “Here’s a thought: Don’t eliminate the minimum wage. Leave it at $7.25.” Here’s another: Let workers own their factories, and they can decide the optimum wage structure.

The most interesting column is by Compassionate Conservative, who laments that “official Washington is so concerned about the coming sequester that it headed off on vacation.” There are reasons why both of The Two Parties are just as happy to let the thing happen, he says: the Democrats, because it’s probably their only chance to get cuts in the defense budget; the Republicans, because a 5.1% reduction in domestic spending is at least something, even if it’s “more of a haircut than a scalping.” Of course, this will mean the “ethical abdication” of indiscriminate cutting of the deserving (citing the AIDS Drug Assistance Program as an example) as well as the undeserving. And the cuts in so-called entitlements will be too little in the context that their share of the budget is going to grow in coming years.

Apart from the last point, which succumbs to the notion that Medicare and the like are not something that people have earned, I have to say that I find little fault in CC’s analysis. And no amount of caving on Social Security and Medicare on Obama’s part is going to satisfy the Tea Party, so my prediction, as I said the other day in a comment on another blog, is that the sequester will happen. It will be followed by emergency measure after emergency measure in the opening days of March as constituencies scramble to restore funding, as the Lear jets of lobbyists urgently cutting their Florida vacations short jam “Reagan” National Airport, and as people out in the land anxiously await the results. Read the rest of this entry →

WaPo Updates 2/17/13

7:59 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Today’s paper presents a few developments in issues I’ve recently written on.

First, as to the football team’s R-word (see here and here), the local affairs columnist Robert McCartney addresses the argument that Native Americans exist who do not care about the issue. He gives the argument fairer treatment than it deserves, quoting some leaders on both sides, but making it clear that the great majority want the name to go. He also properly says, as against the implication of the team’s management, that the issue is not that the team intends no harm, but that the affected populace feels harm. He concludes that

Sometimes being politically correct is just plain correct.

(Emphasis added) This prompts me to the following primer on “politically correct”: The phrase has its origins in a satirical take on the pop-Marxism of the early 1970s, which demanded that “the correct line” be followed. However, its negation has principally been touted by the Heritage Foundation (e.g., here), in a thinly disguised effort to make racist and sexist speech seem respectable. Thus I would replace Mr. McCartney’s slogan with:

Usually being “politically incorrect” is just plain incorrect.

Second, Liberal #2, who wrote about Papa Ratzi’s heritage last Sunday, has a piece arguing that the best pope would be a nun. His arguments include: that among church people he and others have encountered, the church women are the more sensitive; that it would be more theologically consistent with the point that the mother of Jesus was a woman; and that a woman would best understand the issue of abortion.

I leave it to you, dear reader, to evaluate these arguments, because I really don’t care. Apart from the fact that L2′s proposal has no chance of coming to fruition, the Catholic Church is so reactionary an institution that I don’t see how a mere gender change at the top can reform it.

(BTW, the phrase “Papa Ratzi” has nothing to do with fatherhood: “papa” is the Italian word dor “pope.”)

Finally, the paper has selected three letters to publish on Fox Guest’s screed against the electric car, also covered here. I can’t find links to them, but in the print edition the first is from David Crane, the CEO of the electric vehicle development group NRG Energy, who says that the test that the columnist holds up to ridicule involving an inter-city trip by a particular model was ill-conceived because the model was not suited for such travel, and that, further, there is plenty of intra-city need for a vehicle where the electric one would do nicely. The second letter takes the columnist’s assertion that electric cars will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly to task, on the grounds that his data are simply wrong.

The third letter is a satire which “commend[s] Charles Lane for his excellent commentary pointing out the folly of those investing in these frivolous, new horseless-carriage businesses,” and continues in a similar vein, to bring out the fact that most of FG’s arguments were applicable to the invention of the automobile itself over a century ago.

In fact, one can go back further than that. In that Op-Ed FG also criticizes outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s “technocratic hubris” for trying to develop a microbe that would use a more efficient process than photosynthesis to produce fuel. This puts the columnist in the same bag as those of the ancients who thought that Zeus was quite proper in punishing Prometheus in the myth for bringing fire to humans. “Don’t touch that log with the flame from the gods sending lightning, Oog, we won’t get burned if we keep eating our food raw, and the gods won’t punish us for stealing their business.”

Washington Post Op-Eds: Popery, the AIDS SOTU, CIA capability, and Steven Chu

7:04 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Given that my last piece about WaPo scored fourth place in a Google search of its subject matter the day after I posted it (details @ comment 10 here), why not try again?

To emulate Marion in Savannah’s daily NYT Op-Ed report somewhat — I’ll skip the breakfast rundown — today we have Liberal #2 (aka E. J. Dionne, Jr.), Compassionate Conservative (Michael Gerson), Honorary Hasbarist (Richard Cohen), and Fox Guest (Charles Lane). Liberal #1 (Eugene Robinson) at least used to write on Tuesday, but not today for whatever reason. Here is what they say.

Liberal2, reminding us that he is a liberal Catholic, concerns himself with the legacy of Papa Ratzi upon the latter’s decision to relinquish the shoes of the fisherman. He writes with some authority since he once corresponded with then-Cardinal Ratzinger. He finds the man to be a paradoxical figure, one who was alarmed enough by the student revolts of the 1960s to fight liberalizing trends in the Church — thus his current campaign against gay marriage — but one who has unusual compassion for the poor and downtrodden. He thinks the nearly unprecedented decision to resign was “inspired.” because “it will give the church a chance to confront its crises — and its opportunities.”

Maybe so, but L2 does not trouble us with the well known problem of the then-Cardinal covering up child abuse or the possibility that the resignation really has to do with the resurrection of that scandal in the current case of Cardinal Mahony, where previously unpublished documents may yet come to light. Nor does he notice that Benedict either appointed or had a hand in appointing all of the Cardinals who will vote on his successor, so that he might be able to continue to guide the Church with an unseen hand. (These points are discussed by FDLer Pam Spaulding and her commenters here.)

Compassionate Conservative takes the occasion of tonight’s SOTU address to reflect on past such occasions, and unsurprisingly zeroes in on one by his former employer, Bush 43, in January 2003. Also unsurprisingly, CC does not mention “the sixteen words” in that speech that falsely claimed Iraq was trying to get a lot of Uranium from Niger, but rather extols at some length the proposal that would become The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which did make a dent in the global epidemic. Fine; I’ll give W points for that, his one foreign policy achievement, and for his respect for the Spanish language, although that’s all.

Honorary Hasbarist only mentions Israel in passing for a change, noting with thinly disguised satisfaction that it can attack the Syrian government’s air defenses any time it wants. His actual concern today is to criticize the Obama administration for not taking sides in the Syrian conflict more than it has, to implement a no-fly zone for that government’s aircraft and, especially, to supply weapons to those of the insurgents “who could be trusted with them.” For the CIA should be able to distinguish these worthies from the al-Qaeda-linked forces. (Right. As if the CIA could spare the resources from finding out where the “terrorist” funerals will take place in Pakistan so that it can attack the mourners.) Thus, says HH, the “Obama Doctrine” that everyone has been waiting for is here, and is called “looking the other way.” Sure, we really need to spread the American eagle’s wings further in that region.

Fox Guest disparages the Obama administration’s interest in electric cars, which others have certainly said has experienced roadblocks, as a “fantasy.” He cites such points as an American Physical Society symposium where it was concluded that “all-electric vehicles will not replace the standard American family car in the foreseeable future.” But the real target appears to be the outgoing Energy Secretary:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he of the Nobel Prize in physics, epitomized the regnant blend of sanctimony and technocratic hubris. He once told journalist Michael Grunwald that photosynthesis is “too damn inefficient,” and that DOE might help correct that particular error of evolution.

This does not quite reach the ignonimous level of the writer’s previous attempt to enlist the image of the wounded Gabrielle Giffords in support of Wisconsin Governor Walker’s attack on collective bargaining; still, it has a stench about it. (That cruise ship stranded in the Caribbean, without working toilets, comes to mind.) What Chu actually discussed with Grunwald, according to the latter, was the possibility of genetically-engineered microbes that would use a more efficient process than photosynthesis to produce fuel. To me this sounds more like finding a method to improve on natural evolution than “correcting its error.” And I don’t know what the pointed reference to Chu’s Nobel is supposed to prove: Several of the members of the American Physical Society that FG thinks is in love with gas-guzzlers also have one. (The politics of the Physics Prize may be as Byzantine as those for Peace or Economics, but that’s another story.)

The kicker is FG’s last sentence: “I might add that Chu does not own a car.” I guess the idea here is that he can’t competently recommend what kind of car people should buy if he doesn’t even drive one, but to me it suggests that the alternative to the electric car is not the individually owned internal combustion engine in the first place, but mass transit.

Phew. My respect for Marion in Savannah knows no bounds: I sure would not have the stomach to read these things every day.