What does lowering the level of spending mean: Your DAILY HOWLER just keeps getting results! On Sundays This Week, Kruggers relented:
KRUGMAN (7/26/09): I think the health care plan, the basic outlines are extremely clear. We know exactlythere are four components. I won't go through the whole thing. There are four components in all the plans. We understand how they're all going work. He's been quite clear, or certainly his officials have been quite clear about how you're going to cut costs. He was perhaps not that good at conveying all of that in the press conference. I mean I likeI thought it was crystal clear but that's because I've been following the subject. But you can't accuse him of having vague ideas, vague policies. This is the clearest policy initiative I've ever seen in my life.
Thats what we said! But failure to explain such matters clearly can be deeply destructive. And the press corps has always had a hard time speaking clearly about budget mattersespecially when inflation is involved, which it almost always is.
In the case of health reform, how will some such bill affect future health spending? Consider the puzzling highlighted passage from Sundays Post editorial:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (7/26/09): Instead of taking on these hard questions, Mr. Obama emphasizes wringing waste and inefficiency out of the system. Certainly it's thereMr. Obama cited repetitious tests as one exampleand it makes sense to change payment policies to reward better care and remove incentives for unnecessary procedures. Preventive care can save money in some situations: Mr. Obama pointed to the situation of the diabetic who obtains nutrition advice and avoids an unnecessary amputation. But mostly it doesn't. A 2008 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded, "Although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not."
More important, lowering the level of spending, although a good thing, is different from slowing the rate of spending growth. Without the second, the underlying problem persists; it will just pinch more slowly.
To his credit, Mr. Obama gets this. I won't sign a bill that doesn't reduce health-care inflation, he said Wednesday night.
According to the Post, lowering the level of spending is good. But its different from slowing the rate of spending growth. (Slowing the rate of spending growth seems to defined, in the next paragraph, as reducing health-care inflation.) The Post seems to think that this second possible effect is more important than the first. Sure, you can lower the level of spendingbut the underlying problem persists.
Luckily, Obama gets this. Well be honestwe dont. Yesterday, as we read this passage, we didnt have the slightest idea what the Post was talking about. This morning, struggling further, we can imagine a paraphrase. But that passage is really quite murky.
(By the way: If we slow the rate of spending growth, mightnt we say that the underlying problem persiststhat it will just pinch more slowly?)
This is a big major problem. Its easy to scare people away from major changes unless you can explain, quite clearly, what youre trying to do. For us, that paragraph captures the cosmic murk surrounding the current welter of claims about containing costs and bending the curve. In our experience, the press corps persistently has a hard time speaking clearly about matters like this.
Thats the Post, not the Administration, of course. Obama is quoted saying he will reduce health-care inflation. Thats a fairly clear formulation. Instead of rising at current rates, the cost of health services (somehow defined) will continue to rise, but not as fast.
Democrats and liberals need to learn how to explain budget matters quite clearly. By the way: Obama described his goal quite clearly last Wednesday night, and we thought his goal was a moral disaster. Instead of wasting six thousand dollars per family per year, he wants to waste only four. If he meant per family, that is.
If thats the upshot of Rappaccinis experiment, perhaps we should stick to the murk and the gloam.
For the upshot quotation: Click here, scroll to the final paragraph. Increasingly, we may all be forced to seek the alleged consolations of literature.
BAD FOR GOOD PEOPLE: In Sundays column about Walter Cronkite, Frank Rich portrayed the unfortunate connections which sometimes exist between American power and American journalism. In this passage, he described the cozy relations between Robert Strange McNamarafull name supplied! and the Washington Post of his era:
RICH (7/26/09): If anything, the spirit of another recently departed lion of the establishmentRobert Strange McNamara, born five months before Cronkite in 1916may live on more potently at the nexus of American power and journalism than that of the CBS anchorman.
When McNamara died this month, many recalled his status as Exhibit A of what David Halberstam labeled the best and the brightest, the brilliant and arrogant Kennedy-Johnson team that blundered into a quagmire. Far less was said about how McNamara, at his height, wielded that image to spin a dazzled Washington press establishment on his misplaced optimism about the war. The Washington Posts obituary, pointedly or not, included a photo of a smiling McNamara enjoying cocktails with a powerful syndicated Post columnist (and Vietnam apologist), Joseph Alsop. The obituary also noted that McNamara served on The Posts boarda sinecure he was awarded after he had helped send some 50,000 Americans to pointless deaths.
What Halberstam labeled the nice genteel chumminess between potentates like McNamara and the Beltway press establishment, though occasionally frayed by scandals like Watergate, remains intact.
For ourselves, well reject linking brilliant to McNamara. But as we pondered the nice genteel chumminess Rich describes, we thought of the genteel chumminessand business relationswhich exist between the Washington Post and a figure who is now in the news. That current figure is Professor Gates, a business associate of the Post.
Professor Gates is editor-in-chief of The Root, a web site owned by the Washington Post. Theres nothing wrong with that relationshipor with The Root itself, of course. But there was something wrong with the Posts decision to publish last Wednesdays column by Professor Lawrence Bobo, who described Professor Gates as his best friend.. The column was absurdly one-sided, and epistemologically strangeevery bit as strange as McNamara. No column was published by Crowleys best friend, asking us to imagine the case in a way which favored him, quite absurdly. The Post was defending a business partnerand a member of an elite class.
Gates is a lion of the establishment too. Within our pseudo-journalistic world, this can lead to problems.
On Friday, the genteel chumminess continued. The Post published this column by Michael Kinsley; it too imagined the case one major way. Indeed, Kinsleys opening paragraphs were so odd that we first assumed he had written a column in which he would alternate one-sided accounts of the incident, from the points of view of both participants. No such luck, Rashomon! Those first paragraphs were offered straight. (So too, Kinsleys string of factual errors.) Oh, and by the way:
Kinsley no longer writes his column for Slate, but he served as the sites founding editor. Back then, Slate was owned by Bill Gates. Today, its owned by the Washington Post.
The Vietnam war was a giant event; millions of people lost their lives. (Rich only mentions American deaths. Shall we list him as a bigot?) The incident at Professor Gates home is minor in comparison. But this event has also shown the genteel chumminess which exists between American pseudo-journalism and the public figures it pretends to cover.
In the current case, this is the fault of the Washington Post, not of Professor Gates.
Rich says this chumminess served us poorly during Vietnam. It has also served us very poorly over the past several decades. It has served us poorly in the past week, in the case destined to be known as My-friend-Skip-Gates-gate.
Good lord! Is anyone in Americas ruling class not a friend of Gates? Well assume Gates has so many friends for a simple reasonbecause hes a decent, outgoing person, not someone who typically shoots up bars or sasses cops. (Associates describe him as proactively constructive in human interactions.) That said, the wealth and celebrity which belong to Gates have served as a deeply noxious force in the wider society over the past several decades. This has been especially true at the nexus of American power and journalism, where we note a genteel chumminess between potentates like Gates (Skip and Bill) and that Beltway press establishment.
(Melinda Gates, the wife of Bill Gates, serves on the board of the Washington Post. Not that youd ever know it when the Post promotes the Gates educational theories, rightly or wrongly, as it frequently does. Nexus-of-power spoken here! For an especially silly example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/27/06.)
Uh-oh! Human nature being what it is, smart/decent people will sometimes get less smart and less decent when they sit at this nexus. Weve thought of that principle over this weekend as weve read some statements by Professor Gateswho may well be completely right in the factual assertions he renders. Consider a statement Maureen Dowd recorded as she supported the lion this Sunday:
DOWD (7/25/09): It escalated into a clash of egosthe hard-working white cop vs. the globe-trotting black scholar, the town vs. the gown, the Lowell Police Academy vs. the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Crowley told a Boston sports station that Gates seemed very peculiareven more so now that I know how educated he is.
Gates told his daughter Elizabeth in The Daily Beast: He should have gotten out of there and said, Im sorry, sir, good luck. Loved your PBS seriescheck with you later !
Further notes on that nexus: In this piece, The Daily Beast subjected Gates to an interview by his daughter. As one might have expected, its an embarrassment. (By the way: Elizabeth Gates is a graduate of The New School University, where she cultivated her love for fashion and writing. A former intern at Vogue Magazine, her interest in image, art and fashion has driven her desire to contribute to the vast narrative of modern culture in America and abroad.)
Officer Crowley should have told Gates that he loved his PBS series! You might assume Gates was just jokingunless youve read a bunch of his other statements. In fact, Gates seems unable to gargle or cough without promoting his PBS programs. Example: The Root asked Gates to describe what happened at his home on July 16. The analysts couldnt help noting the slightly odd way the professors answer began:
THE ROOT (7/21/09): Can you describe, in your own words, what went on in and outside of your home? When did you suspect you were the victim of racial profiling?
PROFESSOR GATES: I just finished making my new documentary series for PBS called Faces of America. It was a glorious week in Shanghai and Ningbo and Beijing, and on my trip, I took my daughter along. After we finished working in Ningbo we went to Beijing and had three glorious days as tourists. It was great fun.
We flew back on a direct flight from Beijing to Newark. We arrived on Wednesday, and on Thursday I flew back to Cambridge. I was using my regular driver and my regular car service. And went to my home arriving at about 12:30 in the afternoon.
If Kinsley had bothered to read that interview, he would have known that Gates flew back from China the day before the incident, unlike what he wrote in his column. But lords like Kinsley no longer prepare before dispensing comment to us. And people like Gates do tend to self-promote, as you see at the start of that answer. It doesnt mean theyre bad peopleby all accounts, Gates isnt. But human nature can be like that. And youve paid a giant price for that culture of celebrity over the past twenty years.
Celebrity is bad for good people. Sometimes, famous people like Gates may start to wonder if fate and history have chosen them for great events. (See Dowds column, near the part where Gates is discussing his next PBS project.) If weve learned anything from the past twenty years, we should have learned thisin the age of televised mega-celebrity, wealth and fame have helped create a self-involved, fatuous opinion class. We thought of that problem when we read further in Gates interview with The Root.
What happened at Gates house that day? Sorrywe dont know. But Gates and Crowley agree on some basic factsincluding the fact that Officer Crowley instantly asked Professor Gates (whom he didnt know) to step out on the porch. Some police types have now explained that conduct; apparently, it would be a routine request in an investigation of this type. (According to several experts weve read, the procedure is designed to protect the police officer.) Is that explanation correct? We dont know, but it makes perfect sense. But this is what Professor Gates told The Root about that request:
GATES: My home is owned by Harvard University, and so any kind of repair work thats needed, Harvard will come and do it. I called this person, and she was, in fact, on the line while all of this was going on.
Im saying, You need to send someone to fix my lock. All of a sudden, there was a policeman on my porch. And I thought, This is strange. So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said, Officer, can I help you? And he said, Would you step outside onto the porch. And the way he said it, I knew he wasnt canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, No, I will not.
My lawyers later told me that that was a good move and had I walked out onto the porch he could have arrested me for breaking and entering.
Gates instinct may have made perfect sense. But did his lawyers really hand him that last nugget? The statement seems to make little senseexcept it makes the professor right, as professors of this stature tend to end up. But then, it has never quite made sense to think that Gates found it strange when a police officer appeared at his door that day. There was nothing wrong with what Gates had just donebut he had just broken into a home (his own). Unless Gates is the type of professor whos a bit absent-minded, its odd to be told that this didnt enter his head when an officer suddenly appeared at his door. But note how Gates explanation, given five days post-incident (to his daughter), continues from there. By all accounts, Professor Gates is a thoroughly decent person. But in part, this account reflects the mental world of an upper-class elitean elite which has done amazingly little for you, or for your interests, over the past twenty years:
GATES (continuing directly): He said, Im here to investigate a 911 call for breaking and entering into this house. And I said, Thats ridiculous because this happens to be my house. And Im a Harvard professor. He says, Can you prove that youre a Harvard professor? I said yes, I turned and closed the front door to the kitchen where Id left my wallet, and I got out my Harvard ID and my Massachusetts drivers license which includes my address and I handed them to him. And hes sitting there looking at them.
Now its clear that he had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someones house, probably a white persons house, and this black man had broken and entered, and this black man was me.
So hes looking at my ID, he asked me another question, which I refused to answer. And I said, I want your name and your badge number because I want to file a complaint because of the way he had treated me at the front door. He didnt say, Excuse me, sir, is there a disturbance here, is this your house?he demanded that I step out on the porch, and I dont think he would have done that if I was a white person.
Were sure that Gates is a decent person. (Most people are.) But wealth and fame are bad for good people. And those paragraphs are pretty much awful.
As in the statement recorded by Dowd, Gates seems to have a clear idea of how he should be addressed by a cop. Five days after the unfortunate incident, he still seems to think it was strangeand insidiousthat he was instantly asked to step onto the porch. Most absurd is that statement in the middle. It deserves a reprise:
GATES: Now its clear that he had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someones house, probably a white persons house, and this black man had broken and entered, and this black man was me.
Did Crowley have a narrative in his head about a black person inside someones housea black person who had broken and entered? Of course he did; he had that narrative in his head because a citizen had just reported such an event. Thats why Crowley was there! As a police officer, Crowley is paid to arrive at the scene of such reports and risk his life by chatting pleasantly with whomever he happens to find inside such houses. In this case, he found a well-known Harvard professora well-known professor he didnt know. At the end of last week, this professor told his daughter that Crowley should have praised him for his most recent TV program. Presumably, Gates was joking then; he didnt seem to be joking when he told The Root what Crowley should have said to him at the door. And, of course, he still felt sure that Crowley must have made that initial request because he, Gates, was black: I dont think he would have done that if I was a white person.
Its always possible that could be true. And gigantic emotions turns on race, for reasons which are perfectly obvious. But in all candor, that remark isnt star-professor smartand at that aforementioned nexus, others will reason that same way. Its the destructive culture of their High Pundit Class: Theyre paid to simper in silly ways about all sorts of topics, most of them pointless. Consider Judith Warners column in todays New York Times.
The Times is usually good enough to keep Warner locked on-line. This morning, they turn her loose in hard copy. Soon, she is reasoning like a child about a very serious topic. She describes perhaps the most telling moment in the Gates/Crowley encounter:
WARNER (7/26/09): Ya, Ill speak with your mama outside, Gates allegedly told him.
Gates denied referring to Crowleys mama. The idea that I would, in a vulnerable position talk about the mans mother is absurd, he told Gayle King of Sirius radio. I dont talk about peoples mothers You could get killed talking about somebodys mother in the barbershop, let alone with a white police officer I think they did some historical research, and watched some episodes of Good Times.
I think theres more to it than that. I think its very likely that Crowley really does believe he heard the insult to his mother. And thats because Gates wasnt the only one in that house, on that day, whose thoughts were traveling well-worn grooves chiseled by race. Both men were, consciously or not, following scripts in their heads, stories of vulnerability and grievance much more meaningful than their actual exchange.
Its hard to get much dumber than that. And yet your army remains in Iraq to this day because people like this reasoned this way all through the 1990s (and beyond), as liberal leadersand famous professorslooked uncaringly on.
Please note the way an establishment lion get treated at that nexus:
Crowley alleges a comment by Gates; Gates denies he said it. Like us, Warner has no earthly way of knowing if the comment was made. But at the nexus of American power and journalism, Professor Gates is a lion of the establishment. For this reason, once he has denied the remark, Warner must, by the laws of the clan, assume the remark wasnt made. Reasoning like an absolute ninny, she then starts explaining why its very likely that Crowley thinks he heard the remark. (Request: Will someone invent a time machine, go back and strangle Freud in his crib?) But how about this: Is it possible that Crowley really does believe he heard the insult because the insult really was spoken? Not at the nexus of power it isnt! At the nexus of power, a lions denial settles the factual matter. Warner bows to her lord, and moves away, looking for psychiatric explanations for this thing the office thought he heard. When she comes upon such a theory, she pronounces it very likely.
Its possible that Crowley is lying, of course. Warner skips that possibility too. Missing is any psychiatric explanation for why the professor has very likely forgotten saying the thing he must have said. At the nexus of power, the professors claim has to be factually accurate. From that point on, the officers claim cannot be.
Warner is a long-standing ninny. But this is the way your High Pundit Class reasoned its way through the 1990s. Most consequentially, they reasoned this way for twenty months during Campaign 2000. Endlessly, they invented brainless psychiatric theories, explaining why Candidate Gore said various thingsvarious things he hadnt said. They also invented psychiatric theories explaining the candidates clothing. (Bill Turque and Brian Williams, come on down!) The dead of Iraq look up from the ground into these various nincompoops faces. These people still sit at the nexus of power, serving selected lions.
The dead of Iraq look up from the ground into these nincompoops faces. So do the abused men and women who are exposed to racial profiling by police, sometimes at gigantic cost, including the loss of their lives. Of course, this is a problem no one on cable TV was discussing until a lion at the nexus of power said he was such a victim. As Gates continues speaking with his daughter, he goes onand on, and on and onabout the four hours he was forced to endure in this recent incident. Well be honest: Thinking of the dead of Iraq; thinking of victims of deeply consequential racial injustice; thinking of the way this professors cohort routinely failed to help in the past several decadeswe found the professors comments there to be border on the disgusting.
(Or should we perhaps be more sympathetic? By his own account, Gates was forced to spend four hours speaking with Harvard professors!)
(For the record, the professor who supervised our senior thesis is a smart, sane prince of a man.)
In fact, Gates last PBS program was in large part silly pap, the kind of program a professor may start to produce after becoming a bit too famous and fawned-to. This professor now says he will do a new program about the problems of profiling. Of course, everyone mentally alive on the planet has known that this is a major problemhas known it for a very long time. To watch Glenn Loury hit Gates rather hard about his born-again outrage, you know what to dojust click here. (I find laughable, and sad, Professor Gatess declaration that he now plans to make a documentary film about racial profiling...Where has this eminent scholar of African-American affairs been these last 30 years?)
We wouldnt be that judgmental ourselves. (And what would he knowhes at Brown!) But similar thoughts have come to mind as weve watched the wealthy/famous/influential lion professor complaining this week.
Your fancy professors have done very little on your behalf in these past thirty years, as you as your society has been pillaged, mocked and looted. They have routinely avoided the fray; instead, theyve had great fun in Beijing with their daughters, by whom they will later be grilled in the press. In this case, the press corps performance goes well beyond clownish. Heres the first question in that interview. No, were not making this up:
Daddy, how did it feel to read in the police report that although you had been cooperative with Sgt. Crowley, while he was standing uninvited in your home, your behavior had been reduced to loud and tumultuous after asking to see to his badge? Were you surprised at the inaccuracy of the police report?
No, we didnt make that up. Almost no one could have. No one but a pampered child of Americas upper class.
You think the chummy treatment of McNamara was strange? In this case, the lions best friend imagined the tale in the Washington Postand the lion was interviewed by his own daughter! But then, at that nexus, your culture has long been derangedbarely sane. The people who behave this way have just about destroyed your society in the process.
In that interview with his daughter, Professor Gates seems to accuse Officer Crowley of committing serious crimes. Here is his answer to that first question:
GATES (continuing directly from above): Well, the police report was an act of pure fiction. One designed to protect him, Sgt. Crowley, from unethical behavior. I was astonished at the audacity of the lies in the police report, and almost the whole thing from start to finish was just pure fabrication. So yes, I felt violated all over again.
Gates goes into a bit more detail as he proceeds. Were not legal eagles ourselves. But to our ear, he seems to be alleging a very serious crime. Or dont we care if a police officer invents audacious lies about a citizen? If he presents pure fabrication?
Now, were told that this professor will go have a beer with this apparent possible criminal, hosted by the nations chief law enforcement officer. Bowing and scraping at the nexus of power, the lords and ladies who invented Bush and Iraq will agree that they havent noticed the oddness in this tale.
For ourselves, well withdraw an earlier framework. Given the serious charges Gates has made, it would seem that someone in this incident has had more than a recent bad day. (We dont know who. Werent there!) Someone seems to be telling very serious liesperhaps committing serious crimes. Well let Lady Warner flit about, dreaming up psychiatric theories that very likely explain the whole thing. For ourselves, well be damned if we know why a former law professor wants to host such a smooth-over meeting. In our book, someone has done something grossly wrong. Like you, we dont know who it is.
How they reason at the nexus: To see Warner at her gruesome worst, read this passage, in which she admits she doesnt know precisely what was going through Crowleys mind:
WARNER: We dont know precisely what was going through Crowleys mind. But his report and later statements seem to attest to a greatly outsized sense of vulnerability and victimization.
Crowley demanded that the small, slight, cane-carrying professor come outside, he said, because he feared not living to make it home to his wife and children. A remark by GatesThats none of your businessappeared to sting him to the quick. And then there was that matter of his mama. Speaking about my mother, he said sadly to a sympathetic local pair of radio talk show hosts, its just beyond words.
Warner doesnt know precisely what Crowley was thinking. Here at THE HOWLER, we dont know at all. But the lady thinks Crowleys possible concern for his safety in such a situation represents a greatly outsized sense of vulnerability and victimization.
It takes a special kind of tool to author such a remark. Sometimes, small, slight people have guns. To read Crowleys actual statement, click here.
What went through Crowleys mind? We dont know. Did he lie on his report? Dont know that either. Did Gates make that remark about Crowleys mother? Dont know, dont much care. Luckily, at the nexus of power, we have lords and ladies to fill us in on all such niceties. The dead of Iraq are in the ground because these lords reason these ways.