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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: Down’s Syndrome, Arabia’s Lawrence, and Hobson’s Choice

5:10 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Greetings, all.

The menu today includes Compassionate Conservative, Honorary Hasbarist, and Liberal #1. My spleen gets less of a workout this time because the anti-Promethean Fox Guest is taking the day off, to leave room for a guest column on a local matter (transportation legislation in Virginia) that I will skip.

Before getting to the three mouseketeers, though, I must mention a feature article masquerading as a news item (front page, though below the fold) in today’s WaPo, on FLOTUS as Oscar presenter. Not even those of us who wouldn’t be caught dead watching Hollywood’s annual paean to itself could avoid learning that Michelle O was charged with presenting the BP award to “Argo,” from inside the WH while standing next to troops in dress uniform. (Thus some of us have perforce developed opinions on what this was all about, for which I direct you to the comments thread following fatster’s roundup for yesterday.)

The article first quotes the FLOTUS communication director, to the effect that MO accepted the task because as a movie lover she was honored to be asked. As for criticism, the article says (after an intervening history of the relations between presidential couples and Hollywood), it has been of two kinds. Conservatives seem to have tweeted that it’s a matter of the Obamas ingratiating themselves everywhere. TV critics, for their part, “panned it as part of a disjointed Oscar ceremony.” But no critic has cited the fact that the film glorifies the CIA or the current villainous status of its villain, Iran; if they had, surely the paper of record in the nation’s capital would have mentioned it, right? (Never mind what the international TV news channels have pointed out: at least Iran itself has protested on such grounds.)

To the subject. From his perch “in the packed gym at Blessed Sacrament School in Northwest Washington,” CC waxes eloquent about the improved opportunities these days for people with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome or autism, particularly in athletics with the Special Olympics. He is watching an SO-sponsored basketball event where some of the players could not make a basket without the referee allowing a few extra tries. Nonetheless, he says,

By giving opportunities to those with intellectual disabilities, we discover what interests them. This includes sporting competition — and the inalienable right to put on a skirt and lead cheers. At halftime, the Joy cheerleading squad performance includes some impressive splits. The sight of young women with Down syndrome and other disabilities breaking the cheerleading barrier is no longer unusual. It is still better than Beyonce.

CC also reminds us that things were not always so, and that even today a fetus that betrays Down’s syndrome is often aborted. Then he concludes:

Everyone, it turns out, is dependent and vulnerable — and sacred and able. And the most remarkable thing about that discovery is the sheer joy of it.

I am not going to endorse the implied criticism of the pregnant woman who believes she simply would not be able to care for a child with Down’s and decides to abort. As CC himself says, “raising a child with a disability … remains difficult in ways that are hard for outsiders to imagine.” Still, I can’t fault his giving voice to the fact that all human life is capable of positive experience. I only wish he would express it in a less cloying manner.

HH’s topic, as it was two weeks ago, is the Obama administration’s supposed inaction where action is needed, namely in Syria. There he chastised the administration for not implementing a no-fly zone against Assad’s planes and not supplying the rebels with weapons (or not openly, I guess he meant, since one hears that the CIA is helping out), ultimately accusing it of “looking the other way” in the face of disaster. Today he first reminds us that at the end of David Lean’s film, T. E. Lawrence tries to unite the individual tribe-oriented Arab leaders to defend Damascus in 1918, but is unsuccessful so that the city falls. HH observes at the end of the piece that the battle for Damascus is joined again in the present. In the interim, he cites a new insider expose, to be published in April but with underground copies already available, to the effect that domestic political considerations have trumped the opinions of seasoned policy experts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus, HH infers, the same process must be at work for Syria. That is why Obama has done nothing to “contain the civil war” via a no-fly zone and arming the insurgents.

You read that right: to favor one side in a war is to contain the war. Sure.

L1′s piece is something of a jeremiad against coal as fuel. He begins:

The test of President Obama’s seriousness about addressing climate change is not his pending decision on the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline. It’s whether he effectively consigns coal-fired power plants — one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions — to the ashcan of history.

Later on he throws a bone to the “tens of thousands of demonstrators” who came to Washington the weekend before last, acknowledging their concern, but says the tar sands oil “is likely to be extracted eventually, regardless of the pipeline decision.” (Some FDLers have their own critique of that rally, but that’s another story.) Obama, he says, can act now to reduce global warming, independent of Congress, by instructing the EPA to escalate the process of tightening the rules on carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, “and effectively guarantee that no new coal-fired plants would be built.” Rather, the new ones would use natural gas. That fuel, admittedly, has its own problems, but to phase out fossil fuels completely “is a journey of many years.” Obama should act now on coal, which will “take us many miles down the road.”

In short, we have no choice but to use fossil fuels in one way or another for the indefinite future, even if we can get rid of one of them.

My response is: renewables, renewables, renewables. I have no problem with shuttering the coal-fired plants, but has L1 been so shell-shocked by the Republicans’ feeding off the Solyndra debacle that he cannot propose anything positive at all in the direction that everyone knows will have to be the answer? As FDL’s Phoenix Woman pointed out the other day, electrical generation from renewable sources has seen a considerable increase lately, in spite of subsidization of dirty energy sources and of obstruction by their representatives. But either L1 is unaware of this development or is simply too obsessed with abolishing one particular fuel that he doesn’t feel like suggesting any measure to enhance the trend.

Of course, it’s possible that that will be the subject of his next column, but I won’t hold my breath.

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 →