A mostly political weblog.

Feb. 3 2010 3:24 PM

Don't Start the Orgy of Recrimination Without Me!

Give Us 'Fat Product,' Please: The real long-term damage to Toyota from the unintended acceleration mess? Now the public will learn about the company's decades-long "decontenting" binge (designed to eliminate "fat products" that were 'overbuilt' in terms of quality). As Truth About Cars notes,

Toyota’s reputation was built on those "fat" products of the mid-80s to early-90s ...

They aren't coming back, even after Toyota weathers the current crisis. ... P.S.: Has Honda avoided decontenting, or has it just wisely not written so much about it? ...  P.P.S.: Toyota customers should demand the Denso pedal ! ( via Ellisblog ). ... Was the superior Denso device deemed too "fat"? .... 1:49 P.M.

All of a Sudden They Had an Election in Massachusetts! Who Knew? President Obama in Nashua, New Hampshire on Tuesday :

What I have said is that both the House bill and the Senate bill were 90 percent there. Ten percent of each bill, people had some problems with, and legitimately so. So we were just about to clean those up, and then Massachusetts' election happened. Suddenly everybody says, oh, oh, it's over.

Some would call this a stunning admission of incompetence . They couldn't have cleaned up the bill before the Massachuetts election? They didn't know there was an election coming up? ... I'm not saying Obama's screw-up was of that order of simplicity (i.e., forgetting to look at the calendar). I'm saying he's making it look like a screw-up of that order of simplicity. ... P.S.: The more complicated and, I assume, accurate explanation is that Congress moved too slowly to pass the bill because in their now-conscious subconscious lawmakers didn't want to pass the bill, because it wasn't popular enough . That's Obama's fault too--but it's a less simple failing. ...

P.P.S.: You can never start the orgy of recrimination too early! Sometimes it avoids the need for a later orgy--as with the tax reform of 1986, when anticipatory condemnation of Senator Packwood spurred him to change course and save the bill . ...  11:56 A.M.

Feb. 1 2010 2:25 AM

Name First, Shame Later ...

Does Toyota really think



for the company?

"The number of deaths, the number of accidents, whether 1 or whether it's 2,000, doesn't really make a difference."

Hello?  ... 




has repeatedly

, not the gas pedal, as the problem. Maybe the


has fallen under the sway of

. Or maybe not: Toyota's electronic drive trains have occasionally been controversial before--see the heated

What's the opposite of hesitation? ... Toyota would hardly be the first car company to go overboard on newfangled electronics. ...  

5:08  P.M.

Cherchez La Fern: Why did Bunny Mellon decide to give millions to help John Edwards?  Turns out it's all about ... gardening. From Lloyd Grove's Daily Beast report

One reason Bunny Mellon was supporting John Edwards, she told friends, was that somebody had to stop Hillary Clinton from becoming president. Shortly after Bill Clinton was inaugurated, Mrs. Mellon heard to her dismay that Hillary was planning to display modern sculpture in the First Lady’s Garden at the White House. Mrs. Mellon—a self-taught horticulturalist and landscape designer who had created a special First Lady’s garden for her friend Jacqueline Kennedy (as well as helping Jackie redecorate the White House and refurbish the White House Rose Garden)—lobbied Hillary to leave things as they were. After all, Bunny Mellon argued, it was a matter of respecting history: Ladybird Johnson, no less, had formally named the area the "Jacqueline Kennedy Garden."

"It’s my garden now," Hillary allegedly replied—thus earning the lasting enmity of the offended heiress. [E.A.]

P.S.: Marc Ambinder asks "Should Edwards aides be shamed and blamed?"  Nut graf:

But there were a handful of staff members who knew that Edwards had at least one affair, who knew that he continued to have extramarital sexual liaisons during the campaign, who knew that the portrait of the Edwardses marriage was fictitious, who aided and abetted the perpetuation of an image they knew to be false; who arranged for the cover-up; who lied, directly, to reporters and to other staff members; who were veterans of the campaign game; whose loyalty to the Edwards family, such was it was, trumped whatever residual responsibility they felt to the democratic process.  These men and women did the country a disservice.   Not that they should have gone public and accused their guy of being a demon: several folks who learned about the affair decided that they would leave the campaign and pursue other opportunities. [E.A.]

I think that's a 'yes' to "shamed and blamed." How about named? ...   11:36  P.M.

Mark Greenberg was one of the smartest opponents of the 1996 welfare reform --a brilliant guy, just on the wrong side. Because he's extremely smart, he's exactly not the sort of person those who backed the bill would want administering the program, Yet Obama has given him a high position at HHS's Administration for Children and Families . ... Someone needs to watch Greenberg (and his HHS colleagues) like a hawk. Luckily, Heather Mac Donald is on the job . .... 11:30  P.M.

Jan. 28 2010 11:07 PM

Are We "Cool" Yet?

Don't tell Glenn Beck: Obama favors nuclear power. Now he's taking his orders from the Port Huron Statement . ... 8:53  P.M.

Mark Krikorian and Polipundit note that the immigration module in the SOTU was encouragingly weak . I don't think amnesty for illegal immigrants is something Democrats are going to be able to sneak through under the radar, so if Obama can't bring himself to utter the words "path to citizenship" or "comprehensive"--itself a euphemism designed to allow pols to avoid saying clearer words like "legalization"--it probably isn't going to happen. ... It's all going according to plan! At least that part. ...

P.S.: You can see why Obama might be allergic to "comprehensive" at this point, since it was the "comprehensivist" fallacy that led him to think he should tackle all the health care system's problems--i.e., both coverage and long-term cost control--in one bill , as if that made it more likely to pass. ... Hello? Did "comprehensive" sell  immigration reform? Sell anything, ever? ...  Alternative view: "Comprehensive" = unpopular. Voters wonder what you are hiding under that word. ... Update: Obama did call for a "comprehensive energy and climate bill." In this case, "comprehensive" was apparently a euphemism for 
"not comprehensive"--i.e., not including 'cap and trade.' ...  8:36  P.M.

Gawker Buries the Lede ... well, the second lede, anyway:

Up until he discovered the DVD, says one of our sources, Young's devotion was typical of the "cultish" fervor Edwards brought out in his staffers. This is why, says our source, who is close to Hunter, major media organizations could not stand up the affair story despite well-intentioned efforts. "They [staffers] would do anything to stop it coming out — they lied, they bullied, they called reporters' editors and bad-mouthed them, they exchanged access ."

There's your story! What aides told what lies and bullied and bad-mouthed whom? Names please. It wasn't only John and Elizabeth who lied. ...

Update: Gawker unimpressively gets an interview with  "an Edwards staffer ":

Our staffer says Edwards' lies fooled most everyone:

We all bought the spin. Until the pregnancy stuff surfaced, it wasn't that crazy a story, just a report that he had an affair with a videographer.

This seems like BS . I do not think "most everyone" on the Edwards staff "bought the spin." I've probably written this before, but at the time I had two acquaintances who thought it was maybe ill-advised to push the story of Edwards' affair and who contacted friends of theirs in the Edwards camp. Both times the word came back, to paraphrase, 'It's true, but keep mum about it.'  Lots of Edwards staffers knew about this. It's mighty convenient for them to now say they didn't. ... Gawker , in its desperation for Edwards items, seems to have become a happy purveyor of disinformation. Sort of like People. ...  8:32  P.M.

Unlike Glenn Reynolds , I have not changed my view of Andrew Sullivan! But then, I knew him better. ... 8:22  P.M.

Jan. 26 2010 9:04 PM

kausfiles Pivots and Recaptures Its Message of Change!

Here's your mystery "celebrity " entering the California governor's race. Yes I was hoping for someone more ... celebritous. This guy's mainly famous for being married to someone who's famous for being famous, right? ...


John Ellis argues that Obama's job , governing in circumstances not of his choosing, isn't to pass health care reform or cap and trade but to:

get the country on a path to fiscal sustainability and to defeat (as much as humanly possible) those who seek to put nuclear weapons in our cities and detonate them in time for the evening news. His job, more accurately, is to cut costs, delay benefits, right-size government programs , rethink military and diplomatic strategies, re-focus our war efforts, all while rebuilding (or expanding) intellectual and physical infrastructure for the years ahead. And he must do all this while devising new strategies for jump-starting wealth creation. [E.A.]

That makes a lot of sense, except that establishing a guarantee of affordable health care is one of the things that would enable painful cuts in both the public and the private sector. If you know your health care is taken care of, then a cut in your projected pension becomes less threatening. It's less of a big deal to be downsized or outsourced, to give up your Detroit assembly line job (or D.C. newspaper job) and move to find work at some other company with a future. It's just money, then, not life or death. .And it's easier to jump at risks when there's a secure platform underneath you. ... P.S.: Tom Schaller of 538 thinks this sort of health care = flexibility argument  should have been the basis of Obama's sales pitch

Meanwhile, there should have been a rollout explaining that reform was not only good for corporate employers and thus American productivity, but also for worker and workplace performance and, thus again, American productivity. He should [frame] reform in those terms--rather than as a series of vignettes, true and as sad as they may be, about people with dropped coverage or bankrupting bills--and then publicly dared Republicans and their tea-partying conservative allies to vote against a bill that would make the American economy and the workers who fuel it more effective, more efficient, more productive and more competitive because we would no longer lose time and money and paperwork and missed work days to a cobbled-together health care system

Jan. 24 2010 10:35 PM

The Left Takes a Powder

Here's a twitter exchange I had today with Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo (I've reversed the order so read from top down):



Game Change Outtakes: Left on the cutting room floor when New York magazine excerpted the juicy Edwards bits from Game Change were these rather forceful sentences from the book itself, about St. Elizabeth:

What the world saw in Elizabeth: a valiant, determined, heroic everywoman. What the Edwards insiders saw: an abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending crazywoman.

They said it! I don't know the truth. I don't think any of the embarrassing, wacky incidents recounted in the book quite add up to that last word. But it would still explain a lot. ... 9:23 P.M.


I dont thnk I've seen an uglier mass-market sedan than the new Mercedes E-Class . A pretentious pile of dreck. Makes Chris Bangle look like Pininfarina . .... 9:30 P.M.


Jan. 24 2010 2:13 AM

Groopman 1, Orszag 0

If you didn't want Obama to fire Peter Orszag already,** you might after reading Jerome Groopman's piece in the New York Review of Books . Groopman notes that "comparative effectiveness" research on which treatments work and which don't--research Orszag would back up with financial incentives and other semi-coercive measures, and which he and Obama think will cut costs --is often a four card flush:

Over the past decade, federal "choice architects"—i.e., doctors and other experts acting for the government and making use of research on comparative effectiveness—have repeatedly identified "best practices," only to have them shown to be ineffective or even deleterious.

Plus, declaring one course of action a "best practice" often involves a value judgment that experts aren't in a much beter position to make than individual physicians or patients. When a federal panel recommended against mammograms for women in their forties--allegedly without considering cost--it implicitly decided that the anxiety and pain of false positives (resulting in biopsies and sometimes surgery) outweighed the saving of nearly 12,000 lives over 10 years. Maybe that's not an unreasonable weighing--seems crazy to me, and Groopman doesn't buy it--but it's not a "scientific" finding to be imposed through financial penalties.

P.S.: Obama, who (Groopman notes) consistently portrays "comparative effectiveness as equivalent to cost effectiveness," either a) has an average President's shallow understanding of the subject, or else b)  is conveniently trying to make "bending the cost curve" look painless (by pretending cost-cutting will never require denying treatments that have some benefit).  ... Or else c) he knows that if he knew more--enough to second-guess Orszag--he couldn't do the pretending, so he doesn't want to know more. (And Ron Brownstein and Dave Leonhardt love his position the way it is! ) (C) would be my guess.

P.P.S.: I think Groopman pretty clearly demonstrates why Bob Wright was wrong, so wrong, in our latest bloggingheads debate about what was and wasn't in the health care bill. But at least Wright wasn't smug about it. Oh wait, he was! ...

**--The latest humiliation to the Obama/Orszag/Pelosi/Reid health care effort: Dems are apparently floating the idea that the ban on excluding pre-existing conditions will apply only to children (who are of course the least likely to have them). That would be a pathetically small achievement designed mainly to preserve the careers of Dem Congresspersons by allowing them to hype a tiny, face-saving accomplishment. Kabuki wins! Or, as Charlie Peters calls it, Washington Make-Believe. ... 11:40 P.M.


Jan. 23 2010 1:02 AM

It's Not Rahm's Fault. It's Obama's Fault.

On bloggingheads , Bob Wright and I have a full and frank discussion of "curve-bending," rationing, "death panels," etc., and whether the health reform bills are objectionable on those grounds. I was in control at all times , I swear. ...

Have I mentioned that the point isn't that I'm right or Bob's right-- the point is that this is an entire debate we didn't need to have right now. Obama could have proposed a bill that expanded coverage and raised taxes to pay for it. True, that would have pissed off voters who really don't like tax increases. Instead, he proposed raising taxes and instituting some ominously vague, to-be-determined, 'scientific' and anti-democratic restraints on health care treatments. This successfully pissed off voters who really don't like tax increases and voters--mainly older voters--worried about being denied treatments. The combination of losing the anti-government voters and losing seniors may prove fatal . ...

If it does, it won't be David Axelrod's fault , and it won't be Rahm Emanuel's fault . It won't even be Peter Orszag's fault . It's Obama's fault. Obama's the one who fell for Orszag's Laffer-curve-like , win-win, 'this will save money' line, and who raised the issue at every opportunity in the middle of 2009. It's Obama who became infatuated with--and  ordered his staff  to read--Atul Gawande's amorphous New Yorker curve-bending argument and Ron Brownstein's even- less-convincing-than-it-seemed -at-the-time cheerleading piece . It was Obama who eagerly let himself get suckered into discussing end-of-life rationing in the pages of the New York Times
What do presidents do when they should fire themselves? They fire their advisers and bring in a new crew. That's what may happen here. I'd guess we're about 36 hours away from a Beltway call for "wise men." ... If it wasn't for his role in the Massachusetts Senate debate, I'd say we're a week away from David Gergen's touchdown at Reagan National. ...  10:22 P.M.


Jan. 22 2010 5:02 AM

Who's Going to Denounce Raul Grijalva?

Congressman Raul Grijalva--co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus-- must be a great source for the liberal healthbloggers in the TPM / TNR /Whippersnapper axis . He's now dramatically announced that he can't vote for the Senate's health care bill --"It does not add up to an improvement in our health care system"--and proposed a complicated two-step alternative that would require the Senate to pass a bill he prefers via the "reconciliation" process, to be followed by a "handful of popular regulatory measures." Yet liberal health reform proponents--who routinely  point  out  that a) the Senate bill is a huge improvement and b) the reconciliation and piecemeal alternatives are unworkable--somehow seem to spare Grijalva the scorn he deserves.
Under the Ezra Klein Standard, shouldn't Grijalva be condemned for being "willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people"?  I think yes!

P.S.: Grijalva's statement reeks of exactly the sort of posturing and ass-covering you would expect to accompany an engineered train-wreck in which Congressmen decide they want health care reform to die while they pose as its ardent proponents . Grijalva even highlights a poll-tested objection to "the last-minute deal-making with certain individual senators in exchange for their votes," as if a) that isn't how almost all legislation, including "progressive" legislation, gets passed and b) those deals couldn't be easily reversed--and, in the most obvious case (Ben Nelson's Nebraska Medicaid exception) haven't been voluntarily offered up for sacrifice by the now-chastened individual senator in question. ...
P.P.S.: I'm 2,500 miles away from the roiling pit of careerist fear in Washington, but I have to think there's still a decent chance (buck up, Josh! ) that House Democrats--maybe even those who are good sources--will get enough grief for having wasted 6 months of the nation's time (and maybe a Presidency) that they'll eventually be moved to face reality and accede to Plan B for Sudden Victory (ratification of Senate plan + some fixes). [ Update: Maybe less likely with consultants like Tad Devine, Doug Schoen and even ex-Howard Dean campaign manager and 'I-saw-nothing' Edwards aide Joe Trippi counselling retreat . (via Bevan )] What was that Sean Wilentz said about how "history will track you down and condemn you"? Mrs. Pelosi, maybe he was talking about you. Do you want to be remembered as the Ralph Branca of the Democratic Party? ...

Update/Correction: Pride of the Juiceboxers: Alert reader M.E. notes that if I'd scrolled down further in Matt Yglesias' column I'd have seen him denouncing Grijalva, complete with a photo, for "pernicious nonsense," on the grounds that "this is no time for ego trips." The headline even says he's "Flirting with History's Greatest Monster Status." It's a start!--though the "history's greatest monster" jibe turns out to be a self-undermining Simpsons reference . ...   2:39 A.M.


As monocausal explanations go, this one explains a lot . ... See also . ...    2:55 A.M.


I just bought the latest edition of the Consumer Reports 2010 Buying Guide , and noticed that the Cadillac CTS --arguably General Motors' flagship vehicle, and the car most often cited as being in the same league with BMW, Audi, and Infiniti--has crappy reliability (in the form of a large black mark). It was crappy in 2008 and in 2009 it's still crappy, with big brake problems, plus problems with "Body Integrity" and "Power Equipment." ... How can holdover 'New GM' VP Bob Lutz blame GM's troubles on a "perception gap" if it can't even fix the CTS? ... P.S.: Cadillac apparently doesn't make a single model with even "average" reliability, though the latest SRX crossover is too new to rate. (The previous versions sucked, reliability-wise). ... 3:10 A.M.


Jan. 21 2010 3:36 AM

Would Voters Punish Dem Health Care Backsliders?

Jonathan Cohn, and SEIU head Andy Stern , among others, argue that there's no turning back on health care for House Dems who've already voted for it once. If they now claim to have changed their minds, they'll still be attacked for their earlier vote , or else they'll be pilloried as Kerryesque flip-floppers. 

I'd like to think this is true. But in my experience voters are all too reluctant to punish politicians who've had timely conversions to the winning side after a drubbing at the polls .** Voters may even value those pols more than their colleagues who were on the "right" side all along--the post-defeat change of heart a) pays respect to the voters' power and b) suggests that the pol knows who is in charge and will be easy to control from now on (unlike an annoying principled true believer who might not take orders). ... Pols who have followed electoral repudiations with seemingly opportunistic turnabouts--but have survived thanks to this perverse rewards system--include Jerry Brown (who flipped after losing on Prop. 13) Arnold Schwarzenegger (who started looking a lot like a Democrat after his 2005 "year of reform" flopped in a special election). ...

All this suggests, unfortunately, that many wavering House Dems may decide that declaring they've 'gotten the message' and changed their position on health care reform could, in fact, help protect them from being effectively attacked for their earlier support. ... P.S.: This doesn't mean they won't be effectively attacked for having failed to accomplish much, a slightly different question.. ...

**--Kerry's flip-flops were different--they smacked of instinctive "positioning," the attempt to insure that whatever happened Kerry could say he was on the more popular side. Not a one-time move from "yes" to "no," as it were, but a drumbeat of "yesnos." ... 1:18 A.M.


Jan. 20 2010 1:19 AM

We're All Excitable Now!

Reservoir Moose: Tarantino has never achieved a scene this saturated with the tense rising threat of imminent violence ... 7:44 P.M.


Blame Orszag First! Let's Go to the Numbers: Isn't Question 32 in the NBC/ WSJ poll pretty close to a verdict on the success or failure of Orszagism as a means of selling health care reform? The verdict would be failure:

32: Thinking about efforts to reform the health care system, which would concern you more?

Not doing enough to make the health care system better than it is now by lowering costs and covering the uninsured.


Going too far and make the health care system worse than it is now in terms of quality of care and choice.

The second option wins, 53-40. Doesn't this at least suggest that all the talk about "game changers" and curve-benders, about how "we're going to have to change how doctors think about health care and how patients think about health care" and the need for a "very difficult, democratic conversation" about costly end of life care (requiring "guidance" from an "independent group" outside of "normal political channels") has spooked people, in a way that just saying "we're setting up these health care exchanges and here's how we pay for them," or "we're going to let anyone over 50 buy into Medicare" wouldn't have spooked them? ...

P.S.--Ask Not for Whom the Chooch Tolls: The GM bailout (Question 28) is shockingly unpopular :--65 vs 30. ...

P.P.S.--"I was upset":  Barney Frank had more in common with Andrew Sullivan than I realized. He's calmed down now. ...  4:47 P.M.


Keeping Up With the Whippersnappers: It's a Mini-festival of bitter excuses over at Ezra Klein's Twitter feed

So refusing to shake voters hands turns out to be a bad campaign strategy? Same with insulting the beloved local sports franchise? Huh. about 3 hours ago from web
If Brown wins, Democrats go from the largest majority since the 70s to the second-largest majority since the 70s. about 14 hours ago from web
Daily Show: "Coakley believes Larry Bird is a Sesame Street character. She went into the bar in Cheers and didn't know anybody's name." about 14 hours ago from web

Meanwhile, travel back in time with us to ... five days ago , when authoritative juiceboxer Matt Yglesias chastised Scott Brown for having managed  "to squander a very favorable electoral landscape." According to Yglesias, Brown "finds himself running in a winnable race, and yet he’s overwhelmingly likely to lose ." .... 10:37 P.M.


Missing in Massachusetts: A good day to remember the late Dean Barnett . ... [ via MKH P.S.: This past year I would gladly have traded the entire national staffs of the  New York Times, Washington Post and all four TV networks for any two of Barnett, Deborah Orin, Marjorie Williams and Cathy Seipp. They were all immune to Democratic BS. ... 10:31 P.M.


I still haven't heard a convincing argument against the Sudden Victory strategy (in which the House passes the Senate health care bill, fixes it later). Sure, attention-hounds like Anthony Weiner (who's done quite enough to damage the cause of health care reform, thank you) will denounce it today.** Give them a couple of weeks for the Kabuki makeup to wear off. (Or a couple of months-- alert reader S.S. wonders if there is is there a time limit on how long the House can let the Senate bill sit there before they take it up?) . ... P.S.: On Hardball just now ,  Lawrence O'Donnell said he's never seen a case of 'pass it now, we'll enact a fix later' work. But President Clinton endorsed (and signed) the 1996 welfare reform while pledging to correct its excesses (notably its harsh treatment of legal immigrants). There were rumors of a memorably cynical left-wing bumper sticker along the lines of "Only Clinton Can Undo What He Has Done." But in fact Clinton was  largely successful in going back and fixing the problems he identified, if I remember. ...

**--Don't we have to add Anthony Weiner's name to the list of those awaiting Ezra Klein's denunciation for being "willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people"?   10:25 P.M.