A man hears what he wants to hear ...


My predictions for ... 2006, here.

Three points about the new design of The Wall Street Journal:

1) In that long section explaining the changes yesterday, I didn't see any mention of the fact that it would save the company $18 million.

2) The design itself looks an awful lot like the new Guardian.

3) Letters to the editor have been moved off the editorial page to page B10 or 11. Normally I wouldn't mind this, but in the Journal's case it matters, because the extremist ideologues on the editorial page often make false claims about people and then, rather than printing a correction as would a genuine journalist, they simply let the mistreated individual make a counter-claim in the letters page. This is from What Liberal Media?:

The Journal editors, moreover, play by journalistic rules of their own making. In a lengthy examination in the Columbia Journalism Review, Trudy Lieberman examined six dozen examples of disputed editorials and op-eds in the paper. She discovered that "on subjects ranging from lawyers, judges, and product liability suits to campus and social issues, a strong America, and of course, economics, we found a consistent pattern of incorrect facts, ignored or incomplete facts, missing facts, uncorroborated facts."[1] In many of these cases, the editors refused to print a correction, preferring to allow the aggrieved party to write a letter to the editor, which would be printed much later, and then let the reader decide whose version appeared more credible. Almost never is the record corrected or does the paper admit its errors."[2]

So now, even this journalistically indefensible practice will be reduced. The paper continues to shame its excellent journalism with its editorial page, but I suppose that's not going to change. (I don't know the Google guys. But if I did, I'd tell them to buy the Journal, retain the news pages, and force the editorial page editors to experience the reality of capitalism by trying to find a job that did not reward their prejudices and weaknesses.)

But You Can Keep Them for the Birds and Bees ...

One thing that the wealthy and powerful have going for them in this country is the unwillingness/inability of the punditocracy to admit that our political system is dysfunctional when it comes to the interests of middle-class and poor Americans. Sure, they are allowed to vote every two or four years, but that's it. Otherwise, it's a government for the wealthy, by the wealthy, of the wealthy.

Look, for instance, at this Kurt Andersen column. He writes: "We have, in effect, turned the U.S. into a winner-take-all casino economy, substituting the gambling hall for the factory floor as our governing economic metaphor, an assembly of individual strangers whose fortunes depend overwhelmingly on random luck rather than collective hard work." All true. Then he writes:

I think practical-minded political majorities can be brought together to fix the big, important things that have nothing to do with religious faith or sex. In polls, between 60 and 70 percent of people now think "it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health-care coverage" "even if taxes must be raised." Universal health coverage, protecting everyone against the mammoth downside economic risk of illness, would empower people to take constructive economic risks, freeing them to move to new jobs or start new businesses. We could enact de facto compensation caps for top executives, either by limiting the tax deductibility of CEO pay or, as in Britain, by making CEO pay subject to a shareholder vote every year. We can raise -- and certainly not further reduce -- taxes on the extremely well-to-do.

Not bloody likely. "Practical-minded majorities" already exist on a whole host of things that are never going to happen because powerful and wealthy minorities do not wish them to, and that's who pays for our election system -- and who benefits from the Republicans structural advantages described in Off Center.

The longer we pretend "the system works," the longer we will be stuck with its pernicious results.

Need another example? A lot of people were surprised to read so cogent a case for single-payer health insurance in the Times business section over the weekend. It read, in part:

Judging from other countries, many features that Americans really like -- being able to choose their own doctor, for example -- would remain available in a well-designed single-payer system. And a single-payer system need not mean government-provided care: it often means government-provided insurance that encourages competition among providers.

Much of the resistance to a single-payer system appears to stem from a lack of confidence in the nation's ability to make positive change. With all of its prowess in research and technology, can't the United States match the efficiency of other developed nations, or do even better?

This is from a book I'm working on:

The U.S. and South Africa are the only two developed countries in the world that do not provide health care for all of their citizens.[3] Nationally, 29 percent of children had no health insurance at some point in the last 12 months, and many get neither checkups nor vaccinations. The U.S. ranks 84th in the world for measles immunizations and 89th for polio.[4] This is particularly ironic as Americans spend almost two and half times the industrialized world's median, nearly a third of which is wasted on just bureaucracy and administration.[5] As The New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell notes:

"Americans have fewer doctors per capita than most Western countries. We go to the doctor less than people in other Western countries. We get admitted to the hospital less frequently than people in other Western countries. We are less satisfied with our health care than our counterparts in other countries. American life expectancy is lower than the Western average. Childhood-immunization rates in the United States are lower than average. Infant-mortality rates are in the nineteenth percentile of industrialized nations. Doctors here perform more high-end medical procedures, such as coronary angioplasties, than in other countries, but most of the wealthier Western countries have more CT scanners than the United States does, and Switzerland, Japan, Austria, and Finland all have more MRI machines per capita. Nor is our system more efficient. The United States spends more than a thousand dollars per capita per year -- or close to four hundred billion dollars -- on health-care-related paperwork and administration, whereas Canada, for example, spends only about three hundred dollars per capita. And, of course, every other country in the industrialized world insures all its citizens; despite those extra hundreds of billions of dollars we spend each year, we leave forty-five million people without any insurance."[6]

So why don't we get single-payer, or at least universal coverage? Let's note that the pharmaceutical lobby that contributed over $20 million to the Republicans in 2002 alone and the insurance industry -- which spent $100 million on federal lobbying in 2003. (If someone has updated figures, with sources, I'll take 'em.) Let us note also the life and work of my favorite Marxist theoretician (by far), Antonio Gramsci, and think about, say, the role of William Kristol in killing the Clinton health care plan.

Tom Engelhardt over at TomDispatch.com writes that the Marine Corps recently sent the daughter of a friend of his an e-letter inviting her to a uniform-less summer camp to discover her "leadership potential" ("You will earn approximately $2,400 [six weeks] or $4,000 [ten weeks] plus room and board during the training. How's that for a summer job?") -- no commitment to the Corps necessary. He uses this "illustrative text" from 2006 initially to explore the President's holiday decision to expand the U.S. military and what it means for the rest of us in cost terms. But what he's really after is: the choices being made for us by our top officials that invariably confirm our journey down the imperial path in the world -- choices never presented to us as such and that we never get a chance to make for ourselves.

These choices are so basic -- and so agreed upon -- in the world of Washington as to make all discussion of what really matters seem beside the point. So, for instance, while most of Washington, Democratic as well as Republican, jumped on the expand-the-military bandwagon, no one thought to pose the question at hand this way: Expand the military or shrink the mission? Shrink the imperial mission? Not likely.

From Our Sponsors:

Media to Democrats: Let the Bush administration get away with its crimes... or else, here.

Willard Scott: "I understand less about science than an 8-year-old," here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: David A. Snyder
Hometown: Tallahassee, FL

Dr. A.,

Regarding your question of the day: "Does Fox only hire black people it thinks will make its white audience think all black people are stupid -- or does it think its audience really is this stupid?" The answer is, of course, both. But what's really interesting is that Juan Williams is not as stupid as he appears to be on Fox or most "mainstream venues" in which he appears. I am a regular listener to "News and Notes", for which Juan Williams often gives non-stupid, if not especially insightful, commentary. To listen to Mr. Williams on "News and Notes" versus even to listen to him at other times on NPR is almost to listen to a different person.

To me, the real question is thus: why does Juan Williams display less intellectual acumen when giving commentary in a "white" venue rather than one directed predominantly toward African-Americans?

Name: Rob Stafford
Hometown: San Diego

Hey Doc --

Have been aware of Juan Williams since he replaced Ray Suarez on NPR many moons ago. Ray was something special, you knew he wouldn't take any bunk & he would ask questions that made people squirm, he was intellectually honest and his show was one of the best on the air at the time.

Juan didn't embarrass himself too much on NPR, but he was clearly a lightweight compared to Suarez -- his analysis was more shallow, his questions easier, his comments more at my level of discourse rather than clearly above it (as Ray's often were).

I too saw those comments from him the other day, and I was disturbed by them. Were his politics when he was at NPR a lie, or are they a lie now, or is he, perhaps, simply a flip-flopper?

Name: Jason Boskey
Hometown: Seattle, WA


Dr. Breland doesn't convey an understanding of how conditioning plays into what someone would consider to be free will.

His example of someone hungry not grabbing someone else's food, but someone starving actually grabbing it is no more free will than a dog who is hungry not grabbing your sandwich, but the same dog that is starving grabbing your sandwich. He's been conditioned to ignore his body for as long as he can (e.g., housetraining) but at some point he'll snap and have to take care of what his body requires.

He then goes on to talk about exactly the concern the article indicates, that people will fear that this will lead to a lack of responsibility. After all, though, isn't responsibility a human invention anyway, so that people don't have to blame themselves?


[1] Trudy Lieberman, "Bartley's Believe it Or Not! The Wall Street Journal's editorial page has plenty of clout. But what about credibility?" Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 1996.

[2] Letters, The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2002.

[3] John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (New York: Penguin Press, 2004), p. 7.

[4] Nicholas D. Kristof, "The Larger Shame," The New York Times, September 6, 2005.

[5] Steffie Woolhandler, Terry Campbell and David U. Himmelstein, "Costs of Health Care Administration in the United States and Canada," The New England Journal of Medicine, August 2003 (abstract); "Health Care Problem? Check the American Psyche," The New York Times, December 31, 2006.

[6] Malcolm Gladwell, "The Moral-Hazard Myth: The bad idea behind our failed health-care system," The New Yorker, August 29, 2005.

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