Peter Beinart's been ousted from power as The New Republic's editor, and Frank Foer, staff writer and novelist Jonathan Safron Foer's older brother, has taken over. Good luck to him; hopefully he'll be able to keep the magazine churning out quality political journalism while counteracting its center-rightist slide of late.
Paris Hilton is thrilled to be playing Mother Teresa in an upcoming biopic.
The hotel heiress has been approached by award-winning director T Rajeevnath, who is convinced that she will be a huge success…
Hilton explained, "It's such an honour. I'm so excited. I really want to learn more about this amazing woman, so that's what I'm doing in a few months."
In preparation for the role, Paris is apparently joining the Order of Mother Teresa missionaries, and will travel around Bangalore and Calcutta to care for the sick.
Look, if she's actually going to do charity work, and not just slack off, get high, and hit on Indian guys, that's great. I suppose. If I were a poor Calcuttan, I'd prefer not getting medicated than receiving medical help from Paris @!$# Hilton, but that's just me. But she shouldn't be allowed to request that people pay $7 to see her pretend to be serious. That's just cruel. She should either quit now, or else do what George Clooney does when people tell him they saw Batman and Robin in theaters, and paid money to do so: give them a ten.
What does this look like to you?
Some people, carrying on the noble tradition of the Virgin Grilled Cheese, think it's Jesus. I see a little Karl Marx in there, but maybe that's my unconscious communist speaking.
Since the time of John Dewey and the progressive movement in education, it's been thought that universal education of one level or another is a panacea for economic inequality. While certainly standardized elementary and secondary education worked wonders for the working class citizens who benefited from it, it didn't stop the expanding gap between rich and poor, nor has increased access to college education. Paul Krugman explains how (from TAPPED, as I don't subscribe to Times Select, as I'm too cheap):
A new research paper by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?," gives the details. Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains.
But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that's not a misprint.
Just to give you a sense of who we're talking about: the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that this year the 99th percentile will correspond to an income of $402,306, and the 99.9th percentile to an income of $1,672,726. The center doesn't give a number for the 99.99th percentile, but it's probably well over $6 million a year.
He goes on to detail the political causes of this, suggesting that the higher access to government that wealth provides allows an avenue for perpetuating that wealth, by exploiting the political process. This leads to an interesting conclusion: campaign finance reform and lobbying reform aren't important only in the context of the Jack Abramoff scandal, but in the larger field of economic equality. If the rich are forced to work for the continuation of their wealth, both wealth and poverty will become less permanent, because as the rich lose their share of the pie, the poor will pick it up. The result? Economic equality. Yet another reason to back public financing.
Steve Benen of the Carpetbagger Report, one of my favorite Democratic blogs both for its insight and its comprehensiveness, is celebrating his third blogoversary. I didn't start reading until about a year ago, on Kevin Drum's recommendation, and haven't even thought of stopping since.
One of the best birthday presents I received was The Twenty Year's Crisis by E.H. Carr, the 1939 book that created the study of international relations as we know it. I finished it a couple of nights ago, and I was completely blown away. For one thing, the writing style is positively Shakespearean - each sentence, each paragraph, provides the material for as much as a book of IR work. He discusses the difference between hard, soft, and sticky power fifty years before those terms were coined. He explains the reasons for energy independence forty years before Jimmy Carter called for it. He pinpoints the weaknesses of international law more astutely than anyone I've read six years before the U.N., and almost sixty years before the I.C.C. His analysis is always thought-provoking, and while certainly not always correct (see his attack on free trade), and sometimes even offensive (his call for organized "regulation" of opinion), his words are ever-more-important. Crisis is easily accessible, dense, and ever-relevant. I'd go as far as to say that it should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of world politics.
In an unusual step, I actually got up early enough this morning to watch the Sunday talk shows. Fox News Sunday was incredibly unimpressive; it lobbed mostly softballs to the Republican guests (homeland security advisor Frances Townsend and Mass. Governor Mitt Romney) and was incredibly bitter in its questioning of Joe Biden, the one Democrat on the show. The toughest questioning of Romney was about his flip-flop on abortion, but Chris Wallace, the host, didn't even delve very deeply into it. Also, the production values were simply atrocious.
Anyway, I'm watching Face the Nation now, which is much, much better, both in depth and production. But what really struck me was that, in Bob Schieffer and Tom Friedman's joint interview of Stephen Hadley, Hadley said something incredibly revealing. Schieffer was asking Hadley about a Pentagon report showing that the one Iraqi Army battalion which was capable of operating without American support no longer can do so, and Hadley countered by saying that the Pentagon didn't use that statistic to measure progress, instead preferring to measure units that can operate with American help. This says two things. First, it shows that the Pentagon isn't really planning for a withdrawal anytime soon; their focus is on getting the Iraqi Army to jibe with the American forces, which is a sign that, either through a continued occupation or permanent bases, they are planning for a long-term American presence, which is of course discouraging. Second, it showed just how cluelessly self-serving the DoD is in its measurements. If it were honest, and was measuring progress adequately, it would use the measure that Schieffer referenced; instead, it cares only about making itself look more competent than it is, and exaggerating the progress that has been made in Army training. Depressing, but hardly surprising, that.
Ezra reminds me of something that really bugged me recently - Hillary's strongly worded, even venomous condemnation of vouchers. And, if she's referring to vouchers that maintain state control of certain schools, she's certainly right. But if a system similar to that which Milton Friedman has proposed is implemented, than I think the results would be quite different.
Under Friedman's proposal, no school would be directly controlled by the government. All schools would be private, controlled by their headmasters. However, the government would issue a voucher of a set amount to all parents, who are then allowed to choose from the options available. Certain restrictions would apply; the schools would have to meet basic competence standards, and I would prefer a system that disallowed use of state money on religious schools. Also, some schools would be required to admit all students who apply, so as to ensure that all students receive an education. But basically, control of schools would be removed from government.
This would be good for two reasons. The first is that it would foster competition. Parents inevitably want their children to attend the best schools; this is part of the reason for inflated home prices in good school districts. Thus, schools that raise students' test scores and/or get them into good colleges will be rewarded, and those that don't will be forced to improve in order to compete. It's the basic rule of capitalism: competition breeds progress.
The second reason is that government bureaucracies are terrible managers of schools. There are exceptions, of course. New England's school districts are run quite well, because they are run locally. But schools that are run by the state or by cities tend to be quite poor; just look at most inner cities. The further control of the schools is from the students and their parents, the poorer the schools tend to be, which is the basic reason why private schools in cities like New York tend to be so much better than public ones.
It's understandable that liberals tend to be suspicious of vouchers. They are often used as a way to gut education spending, which is anathema to everything liberalism stands for. But if liberals are to be taken seriously, on this issue or any other one related to the welfare state, we must stress efficiency, and thus market-based solutions, over all else. Not only are such solutions more effective and less costly than bureaucratic solutions, but they tend to emphasize personal responsibility as well, giving the welfare state a better reputation than it currently has now due to the "welfare queen" image. A market-based liberal policy framework will prove to be much more effective, and popular, than a paleoliberal, money-above-all-else approach will.
It seems like Birch Bayh and John Anderson (disclaimer: the latter is one of my longtime political heroes) are creating a national campaign to get rid of the age-old injustice known as the Electoral College. I think the timing's right; the 2000 election is far enough in the past that this won't be construed as some leftist scheme. Moreover, I'm really encouraged that Anderson's on board, for one reason: he might include a transition to instant runoff voting (IRV). IRV is a method of voting that, instead of having each voter vote for only one candidate, has them rank the candidates in order of preference. For example, my ballot in the last election would have had a 1 next to Kerry, a 2 next to Nader, and a 3 next to Bush. The "1" votes are tallied up first, and the ballots for the candidate with the least number are retallied, and the "2" votes from these ballots are distributed. This continues until one candidate has a majority. This is important for a number of reasons. For one thing, it eliminates the spoiler factor. In 2000, Nader's votes would have, most likely, eventually gone largely to Gore, and thus people could have voted for Nader without fear of helping Bush. Additionally, IRV discourages negative campaigning. A candidate isn't just competing for "1" votes - he or she is competing for "2" and "3" votes as well, so bashing opposing candidates isn't as effective. I've yet to see a valid argument against IRV; most of the opposition to it seems to be driven by confusion, and little else. But with Anderson making a serious push, it seems at least plausible that IRV could reach the big-time.