Bush Signs New GI Bill

Monday, June 30, 2008

The new GI bill became law today when Bush signed the war supplemental spending bill that contained the new education benefit for veterans. This is a big victory for the men and women who serve in our military. Happy 4th of July to all!

For members of the armed services looking for more info about the bill, visit IAVA.org.


The World’s Top Public Intellectuals Are…

Friday, June 27, 2008

Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine held voting for the top 100 public intellectuals earlier this year. The results are available now. They are surprising at first, and then not. The top 10 were all Muslims, a result that arose from bald politicking and religious and national identification among the voters. Although this might invalidate the results for some, they are still important for two reasons:

1) It shows a genuine desire and effort by the Muslim intellectual class to bring their public debates into the global consciousness. The brightest people residing in Islamic states do not want to be isolated and misunderstood.

2) This is a valuable education for people in the West (and around the world). To be honest, I had only ever heard of four of the men (and they’re all men) in the top ten. And among those, I had only a passing familiarity with three of them.

Perhaps I am horribly uninformed, or perhaps not. I will confess that my five votes were biased towards the West (they’re either American or English), though there were many more that I wished I could have voted for. In any case, I chose:

Craig Venter
David Petraeus
Tony Judt
Lee Smolin
Richard Dawkins

The results are also interesting because you know the people on the list care about where they rank. Salman Rushdie beat Christopher Hitchens (Amis wasn’t even on the list). Poor Ian Buruma finished dead last. Thomas Friedman was in the middle of the pack. And still other names shouldn’t have been there at all (I’ll leave you to judge who).

In any case, the results merit consideration, so here you go:

Foreign Policy Top 20 Summary
Prospect Top 100 List

Economic Apocalypse Now

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Not to put too fine a point on it, but today’s meltdown was pretty bad (though not unexpected by readers of this blog). For today:

  • The Dow closed down 358 points (3%)
  • Oil spiked to $139.64 (a record close)
  • Analysts predict additional write-downs and losses for Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, while rumors continue to swirl about Lehman (8% drop) and UBS
  • All in all, a big pile of merde. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this doesn’t accelerate through the summer (rarely a great season), but I can easily see Dow 9,000 on the horizon, and those $150 barrels of oil just over the next hill.

    Ranking the New York Times Columnists

    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    The editorial page of the New York Times is arguably the most influential in the world. Lately, I’ve begun to feel that the page has grown a little stale. In an attempt to understand why, I decided to rank the columnists who regularly appear there. This ranking system is presented beginning with the worst columnist (#11) and continues to the best (#1), and is measured on a purely subjective qualitative scale.

    So, without further ado:

    11. Irving Kristol’s son. This smug, lizard-faced, son-of-privilege delights in writing columns that he believes tweak the noses of the Times liberal readership. This is, as far as I can tell, his only goal. When he signed on, he was already way overexposed writing and editing for the Weekly Standard, appearing on Fox News, etc. It still remains a mystery why the NY Times felt this “useful idiot” needed another platform. A disastrous addition, expect him to be gone in one year.

    10. Thomas Friedman. This self-important Iraq War supporter is responsible for foisting the worst metaphor in the history of metaphors upon an unsuspecting public with “The World is Flat.” A globalist lapdog, he is beloved by a middle-brow audience for his “Aftab Meets the Future” columns and equivocal analyses of complex situations. Rarely worth the read (now he’s going green, ugh), somehow he’s the star of the paper. He’ll be there for as long as he wants.

    9. Roger Cohen. The Parisian Partisan. Combines a love of France with oddly unsexy writing. He is a longtime foreign correspondent who originally appeared as a columnist in the International Herald Tribune. His opinions reflect a bien-pensant benignity that would be right at home during cocktails at Bernard Kouchner’s. His columns are eminently skippable. Seems like a decent fellow, though.

    8. Nicholas Kristof. In a word? Borrrrring. He bleeds for the world and wants you to bleed, too. Darfur, sex trafficking, the occasional toe dipped into the Middle East. Somehow he makes these topics seem even more wonkishly mind-numbing than they actually are. I appreciate the effort, I really do, but I don’t read him very often. If I’m ever feeling too pleased with life, I’ll give him a shot, but otherwise I’d sooner read the letters to the editor.

    7. Charles Blow. Haven’t the faintest idea who this is. He’s listed on the website as publishing every other Saturday. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything he’s written.

    6. David Brooks. Brooks is still capable of a broad social insight and a truly thought-provoking piece, but he might be overtaxed by the demands of the paper. He seems to want to come up with a fresh idea for every column and some of them are hurting (did you read that weird, dorky one about the magic of the Middle Ages?). That said, Brooks is a good writer and a smart guy and he should stay. Maybe just one column a week?

    5. Paul Krugman. It pains me to put him here because he was, easily, the best columnist they had during the Bush years. His scalding attacks left you breathless with their intelligence, research, and evocative writing. But Krugman might be like Churchill; without a war, he’s just an irritating eccentric. Now that Bush is winding down, Krugman’s political columns have become flat and, often, misguided. Despite that, he’s got to stay, if only for his brilliant and clear writing on economics and related topics.

    4. Bob Herbert. Even when he’s writing about something dull or obvious, which is fairly often, Herbert draws me in. His prose style makes convincing points without unnecessary flair and he’s capable of tugging on the heart strings. When Herbert writes about sex trafficking, you read it. He is a powerful, populist force on a sometimes sadly removed opinion page. He’s there to stay.

    3. Maureen Dowd. The paper’s other big star, she’s clever as all hell and loves to show it. Plus, she’s kind of hot for an older broad. I don’t have much to complain about with Dowd, except that she’s a little bitter about men. She’s got a bead on Washington and a sense of fairness and common sense backed up by a wicked vocabulary and the tools to wield it like a knife.

    2. Gail Collins. I’m surprised by this one myself. Collins used to run the page and now writes on Mondays and Thursdays. I’ve been reading her columns on the campaign and they are laugh-out-loud funny. I swear I’m on the subway snorting into my shirt. She happily deflates any political pretension and serves up a serious dose of real world perspective. She has quickly supplanted Dowd as the best (Irish-American?) woman on the page.

    And, the winner is:

    1. Frank Rich. Rich is always on-point, always ahead of the game, always capable of a new, interesting idea or a startling insight. His prose is accessible, but nuanced. He brings gravity and seriousness to his columns while sacrificing nothing in terms of, yes, pleasure in reading. Rich writes once a week on Sundays and this is a good perch for him. His column is the first one I check in the Week in Review.

    So there you have it. My suggestion is that Andrew Rosenthal gets rid of the last five (or keep Blow, but give him real shot) and adds some fresh blood to the page. Here, as an added bonus, are my suggestions for the additions:

    To fill the foreign policy hole: Tony Judt and Fareed Zakaria

    To supplement internally: Michiko Kakutani (with guns blazing), Natalie Angier (they definitely need more science writing on the editorial page), Gretchen Morgenson (and good business writing too), and, if she isn’t taking a buyout and retiring forever, Linda Greenhouse.

    To add a little youthful point-counterpoint: Matt Taibbi and Jonah Goldberg.

    That’s it.

    Koons, Serra, Murakami, Hirst Under Fire

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    Jed Perl of the New Republic has authored a nice rant against the above mentioned “artists,” (you see, I used quotes) and others, in a piece covering their recent shows as well as the architecture of several new museums.

    It’s like he took the words right out of my mouth. Referring to Murakami, he writes:

    You cannot possibly understand what a safe haven for frauds and con artists the art world has become until you have walked into this trickster’s trap.


    Those of us who are outraged that Koons and Hirst and Murakami now take up so much space in our museums are not angered by their work. We are angered by the significance that arts professionals are attaching to this work. There is no art here to enrage me–or to engage me, either.

    And he goes on, decrying this dismal state of affairs. I don’t expect anything will change, but it’s good to know that people are trying.

    Read also:
    Koons in Chicago
    Richard Serra in Paris
    Robert Rauschenberg

    The Housing Rescue Plan Fiasco

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    It isn’t easy to oppose a bill that is designed to help prop up America’s cratering housing market. Just yesterday, the S&P/Case Shiller composite index noted that home prices are down more than 15% since April 2007. In some markets, like Las Vegas and Miami, home prices are down more than 25%. This is having an enormous impact (along with inflation) on the health of our economy. But the nine senators who voted against moving this bill (invoking cloture) forward deserve praise.

    Although passage is by no means certain – there are a number of amendments to the bill that are in dispute – the move yesterday signals that Congress is working hard on a bipartisan compromise.

    Unfortunately, this bill, once again, puts the taxpayer on the hook; this time for the irresponsible borrowing of consumers and financial malfeasance of lenders.

    Mike Enzi (R-Wyo) is quoted in this story by Julie Hirschfeld Davis of the AP:

    “They expect the federal government to turn their backs on responsible lenders and borrowers and renters waiting — waiting — to become first-time homeowners, and support those groups that have pushed our housing market into decline with bad loans and bad investments. This bill is a federal government bailout.”

    Like the Bear Stearns bailout, only bigger, this bill…

    …would let the Federal Housing Administration back $300 billion in new, cheaper home loans for an estimated 400,000 distressed borrowers who otherwise would be considered too financially risky to qualify for government-insured, fixed-rate loans.

    $300 billion!!! Not only is this the moral hazard writ large, but how exactly are we going to pay for it? What percentage of these new FHA loans will default? Just how rigorous will be the oversight to ensure that speculators don’t receive help? And so on.

    I have written that the Bear Stearns bailout was necessary to prevent an epic and immediate collapse of the financial markets. In the end, it was one of those deals that you had to hold your nose and roll with. But this is going too far. Millions (32% of Americans rent) of responsible American renters didn’t buy into a market they couldn’t afford, they waited. Now you’re going to tell them that the U.S. government is going to help defer their dream even further by artificially propping up home prices?

    I say, let them fall!

    And let those who have borrowed to buy a house they couldn’t afford learn their lesson the hard way. This is a great start to breaking the American culture of debt.

    As Benjamin Franklin put it: He that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing.

    Though if the Congress (and likely Bush, too, despite the veto threat) has their way, those who have borrowed (and lent – after a loss, the bill will clear some of the worst mortgages off of the books of lenders like Countrywide) won’t go a sorrowing, they’ll go a prospering.

    Look for a final resolution, one way or the other, on the bill this week.

    Go to Dick Armey’s (and Steve Forbes’s) AngryRenters.com to sign a petition against it.

    DOJ Inspector General Finds Anti-Liberal Bias

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    A report released (go straight to Conclusions and Recommendations) Tuesday found the Department of Justice illegally based hiring decisions on the political views of potential employees.

    This is one of a few investigations by both the Department of Justice’s Inspector General and Congress.

    Sen. Chuck Schumer is quoted by the AP saying:

    “This is the first smoking gun. We believe there will be more to come. This report shows clearly that politics and ideology replaced merit as the hiring criteria at one of our most prized civil service departments.”

    All I can say is the courts had better force Harriet Miers, Rove, and the rest to testify under oath before Congress. These actions are illegal and should be punished accordingly. We all knew that the Bush administration elevated politics above honor, propriety, and impartiality, now we know they elevated politics above the law.

    The Department of Justice has its work cut out for it in order to regain a reputation of upholding our laws with scrupulous fairness.