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Print view: Egyptians rail against their censors. We're not that bold over here
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PLEASE GO TO FINLAND! Egyptians rail against their censors. We’re not that bold over here: // link // print // previous // next //

Postponed until Monday: Yesterday, we nauseated ourselves with the third installment of our ongoing series. We’ll finish it after the weekend.

Will someone alert Dana Milbank: A few weeks back, Dana Milbank named the names of some major journos who mention Sarah Palin too much (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/24/11). He even named Paul Krugman, who has mentioned Palin in 14 columns since she burst on the scene.

Will someone please wake Milbank? Yesterday, the New York Times’ highest lady, Gail Collins, racked up her 63rd mention of Palin! Bristol Palin, the former governor’s daughter, scored her own twelfth cite.

In fairness, Collins broadened her scope, offering several key insights which didn’t involve either Palin:

COLLINS (2/10/11): “It’s a disgrace that we continue to fund an organization like the U.N.,” said Representative Connie Mack of Florida. Did you know his real name is Cornelius Harvey McGillicuddy IV? Also, he is married to Representative Mary Bono of California, who has now been the wife of two members of Congress, only one of whom once had a singing act with Cher.

But I digress.

“But I digress,” the high lady opined. Will somebody please alert Milbank?

Earlier, Milbank was pressed into service: Actually, Milbank was pressed into service on Wednesday evening, appearing on the Last Word to discuss the latest sex scandal. An insignificant, second-term congressman had resigned from the House due to silly sex piffle. Remember when liberals used to complain about press corps focus on such silly nonsense? Those days are gone, long gone. Lawrence O’Donnell was on it:

O’DONNELL (2/9/11): Revelation to resignation in a record two hours and 27 minutes. In the spotlight tonight, the fastest moving Capitol Hill sex scandal ever!

Tonight, Christopher Lee, who resigned— No, wait a minute, not that Christopher Lee (showing a photo of the musician). New York Republican Congressman Christopher Lee resigned just before 6:00 p.m.

HOUSE CLERK READING RESIGNATION STATEMENT (videotape): I hereby give notice of my resignation from the United States House of Representatives, effective 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Wednesday, February 9th, 2011. Attached is the letter I submitted to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Signed sincerely, Christopher J. Lee, member of Congress.

O’DONNELL: The sudden resignation came after Gawker broke a story about Lee using Craigslist to contact women. He is, of course, married and he has one child.

With the story, Gawker uncovered this picture, allegedly of Lee. In the age of Photoshop, we have to use that allegedly at this point. Shirtless, flexing for a 34-year-old Maryland woman. In their email conversation, Lee allegedly uses his own name, but says he is a divorced lobbyist, and, quote, "a fit, fun, classy guy," which he obviously is. Although looking classy is a challenge for any of us while shirtless.

In one note, he also says, quote, "I promise not to disappoint." The e-mails also falsely indicate he is 39 years old when, in fact, he’s 36 [sic]. Why would you lie about being 36 [sic] when you’re not in show business is beyond me. A spokesperson for Speaker Boehner tells NBC News it was Lee’s decision to resign.

In his farewell statement, Lee worked with the standard template for congressmen who are completely guilty of everything they have been accused of. "I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituent. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes. And I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness."

Let me be the first to forgive Congressman Lee.

Joining me now, Dana Milbank of the the Washington Post. Dana, I haven’t checked every single sex scandal in the history of the body. We haven’t had time—we’ve run down most of them. Did we set a record today at two hours and 27 minutes for that resignation?

MILBANK: This was officially the land speed record from moment it was posted until I believe 5:58, when that clerk read it out on the floor.

“I promise not to disappoint,” Lee had vowed. But then, that’s what O’Donnell once said!

Milbank has pledged to stop citing Palin; he remains on call for stories like this. The boys went on to burn a whole segment on this perfect tribal nonsense. In the next hour, Rachel Maddow did her own segment on Lee’s resignation. At ten o’clock, Ed Schultz brought in Stephanie Miller “to help me make sense of this honky-tonk.”

For the record, Lee is 46, not 36, the point which had O’Donnell so puzzled. But then again, who need actual facts when the topic itself is so pointless?

In which we got it our way: On Wednesday, Ben Bernanke held forth in a congressional hearing about corporate tax rates and loopholes. In the New York Times, Sewell Chan reported part of Bernanke’s advice: “He told Representative Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, that Congress should close myriad corporate tax loopholes and then lower the corporate tax rate.”

Is that good sound solid advice? On balance, we have no idea. But we recalled last week’s column by David Leonhardt—and Steve Benen’s subsequent words of praise for Leonhardt’s sage presentation. In his post, Steve quoted a chunk of Leonhardt’s piece—a chunk which listed several big companies who pay very low tax rates. (Examples: Boeing, 4.5 percent; Southwest Airlines, 6.3.) Pleasingly, he proceeded to offer this assessment:

“Remember, when Republicans complain bitterly about the existing 35 percent corporate rate, they're assuming businesses are actually paying it. That's clearly not the case.”

Here’s the problem, if it’s information you seek: Benen omitted the fact Leonhardt cited later—the fact that, overall, the 500 big companies Leonhardt discussed pay 32.8 percent in taxes. According to the analysts, that comes very close to “the existing 35 percent corporate rate.”

As you may recall, there’s an apples-to-oranges problem here (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/2/11). But this is what we warned you about when we discussed Leonhardt’s piece in the first place! We liberals like this story the way Benen tells it. In his post, we got it our way.

This is the way the world tends to work when tribal preferences rule the day. In the process, we are all allowed to stay clueless.

PLEASE GO TO FINLAND (permalink): David Brooks recently spoke to Bill Gates, Brooks notes at the start of this morning’s column.

Normally, such news puts the analysts on high alert. But Brooks has produced a fairly standard column, in which he sketches the need to address the future cost of three federal programs. We can’t vouch for every detail in the projections from which he is working. But as a general matter, almost everyone seems to agree with the general thrust of this excerpt:

BROOKS (2/11/11): Over the past decades, spending in nearly every section of the federal budget has exploded to unsustainable levels. Each year, your family’s share of the national debt increases by about $12,000. By 2015, according to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Moody’s will downgrade U.S. debt.

The greatest pressure comes from entitlements. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on the debt has now risen to 47 percent of the budget. In nine years, entitlements are estimated to consume 64 percent of the budget, according to the invaluable folks at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. By 2030, they are projected consume 70 percent of the budget.

We can’t vouch for every aspect of those budget projections. But almost everyone seems to agree that, as matters now stand, Medicare and Medicaid may place serious burdens on future federal budgets. “The implication is this,” Brooks declares. People who care about domestic federal programs must “band together and fight their common enemy, the inexorable growth of entitlement spending.”

Absent that fight, there will be little money for anything else, Brooks declares.

We had two reactions to this familiar formulation.

First reaction: Where’s the three legs?

Brooks, like others, focuses almost exclusively on future cost-cutting. But there are three basic legs to the budget stool, and cost-cutting is only one of them. Brooks is right; if we reduce spending on these federal programs, that will help address projected federal deficits. But higher tax rates would do that too, as would some successful attempt to increase economic growth. Again: We can cut spending; we can raise taxes; we can find ways to produce stronger growth. But Brooks, like so many people today, addresses only one leg of that stool. Here is his formulation:

BROOKS: If people who care about this or that domestic program fight alone, hoping that their own program will be spared, then they will all perish alone. If they have any chance of continuing their work, they will have to band together and fight their common enemy, the inexorable growth of entitlement spending.

The foreign aid people, the scientific research people, the education people, the antipoverty people and many others have to form a humane alliance. They have to go on offense. They have to embrace plans to slow the growth of Medicare, to reform Social Security and to reform the tax code to foster growth and produce more revenue.

That last third of that highlighted sentence is the only place where Brooks goes beyond the single-minded focus on spending. He never contemplates what higher tax rates might do—for one purely hypothetical example, a return to the Clinton tax rates, under whose yoke the nation was suffering as recently as 2001.

Liberals should challenge formulations which focus on one leg only.

Second reaction: Please go to Finland!

Almost everyone seems to agree that health care spending is the biggest problem facing future federal budgets. (By “almost everyone,” we mean “Paul Krugman.”) Despite this general agreement, a familiar black-out remains in effect; intellectual leaders never explain why the per-person cost of health care is so crazily high in this country. In the future, federal budgets will groan beneath the yoke of Medicare spending, Medicaid spending and spending in other federal health programs. This always makes us wonder:

What would those budget projections look like if the cost of health care in this country resembled that in the rest of the world? In the miracle nation of Finland, for instance. Do you recall these statistics?

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
United States: $7285
Finland: $2900

Our projected federal budgets are burdened by the astonishing cost of health care in this country. As of 2007, Finland was spending about 40 percent as much per person. Question: What would our future budgets look like if Finland’s level of health spending was miraculously substituted for ours? Just a guess: The troubling numbers in Brooks’ projections would suddenly look very different.

This is a purely academic exercise, of course. Our level of health care spending will never resemble that in Finland. As we all saw in 2009, there is an ironclad agreement among our elites: On pain of death, no one will ever attempt to explain why we spend so much more on health care than all other comparable nations. Here’s the irony: Our intellectual elites constantly fly to Helsinki, where they tug their whiskers and pretend to explain that nation’s high test scores. (In recent weeks, the New Republic explained the whole thing—in Finland, kids get longer recess!) But in accord with Implacable High Pundit Law, no one ever tries to explain how the Finns maintain a universal health system while spending so much less, per person, than we rubes do over here.

We pretend to study the Finns when it comes to public schools, but not when it comes to health clinics.

Please go to Finland, the analysts cried, begging Brooks to fly away and explain how the Finns get by with that level of spending. But Brooks will never do any such thing—and neither will “liberal” journalists. No one will tell you why our health spending is so crazily high—although the problem we gnash our teeth about comes straight from that contrast in spending.

We must restrain health spending, elites all cry. When did you ever see them explain why our costs are so high in the first place? Under such rules, your discourse strains.

Egyptians rail against their censors. We’re meeker than that over here.