I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Feb. 26
Today’s coffee is, once again, Guatemalan. First music of the day: The elegant Massachusetts indie-rock band Winterpills.
1, Perhaps you remember the 2010 State of the Union address, when Barack Obama castigated the Supreme Court for the Citizens United ruling that declared, as Mitt Romney has said, “Corporations are people too, my friend.” But as Obama warned, corporations wielding checks unchecked is a disaster for this county’s political process. Today’s front page of The Times reports on how the supposed separation of super Pacs – the organizations that can contribute unlimited funds to a cause, but not a candidate – is a glass wall. Perhaps literally. Romney’s campaign and the allegedly independent super PAC Restore Our Future share a company, TargetPoint, that specializes in direct-mail strategies. Restore Our Future (in reality a Romney fundraising operation) and TargetPoint even share the same office suit in Alexandria, Va. “Elsewhere in the same suite is WWP Strategies, whose co-founder is married to TargetPoint’s chief executive and works for the Romney campaign, The Times writes. “Across the room is the Black Rock Group, whose co-founder – a top Romney campaign official in 2008 – now helps run both Restore Our Future and America Crossroads, another independent group that spoke up in defense of Mr. Romney’s candidacy in January. Finally, there is Crossroads Media, a media placement firm that works for American Crossroads and other Republican groups.” As The Times notes, “The overlapping roles and relationships of the consultants in Suite 555 at 66 Canal Center Plaza offer a case study in the fluidity and ineffectual enforcement of rules intended to prevent candidates from coordinating their activities with outside groups.”
2, A cruise ship loaded with maritime-disaster enthusiasts will sail from Southampton, England, in what’s billed as a “re-enactment” of the Titanic‘s fatal voyage in April of 1912. Re-enactment? Really?
3, I had no idea how sinister Virginia’s proposed ultrasound legislation was until I read Erik Eckholm’s analysis in the Sunday Review. While the proposed law, which was withdrawn last week as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was beaten with the stick of national outrage, did not specifically call for the procedure which requires a wand-mounted camera to be inserted into a woman’s uterus, that was the only practical way that a doctor could get the results that the law spelled out: Before performing an abortion, the doctor would have to offer his patient the opportunity to listen to the heartbeat of the first-trimester fetus. And the doctor would offer to point out, on a video screen, the discernible features of the fetus at that early point in its development. The Times notes that, since 2008, passing state ultrasound requirements has been an anti-abortion movement strategy for attacking Roe v. Wade. Six states have passed a bill compelling an abortion provider to offer his patient the opportunity to view the image of the fetus (Virgina’s law, now pending, was in this category). Three states – Texas, Oklahoma and North Carolina – now have more Draconian laws that require a doctor to show his patient the images of the fetus. There is no medical necessity for this procedure for a woman seeking an abortion. “For a long time it was about shaming women,” The Times quotes Elizabeth Nash, the state issues manager with the liberal Guttenmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health. “And now it’s about humiliating women.” A California sociologist and expert on abortion care, Tracy Weitz, says “The women who come in for an abortion know what they are doing,” pointing out the six in 10 women seeking abortions have already had a child. “Woman are having abortions because of the conditions of their lives, their economic situation, their partner situation, their age, and the ultrasound doesn’t change that.” As proof that these laws are motivated by conservative politics, the medical director for Planned Parenthood in central Texas says “There are no other situations where the legislature injects itself into the examining room and dictates how physicians practice.”
4, Today’s astounding technologies are coming at us fast, but they are in some respects the result of a century of patient work. The Sunday Review examines Bell Labs, whose 20th century innovations included the transistor, the solar cell, communications satellites, the first cell phone systems and fiber optics; everything we’ve needed to create the 21st century. Mervin Kelly, who eventually became chairman of the board at Bell Labs, was largely responsible for this culture of innovation. “He personally helped design a building in Murray Hill N.J., opened in 1941, where everyone would interact with one another,” writes Jon Gertner, author of the forthcoming book The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation. “Some of the hallways in the building were designed to be so long that to look down their length was to see the end disappear at a vanishing point. Traveling the hall’s length without encountering a number of acquaintances was almost impossible. A physicist on his way to lunch in the cafeteria was like a magnet rolling past iron filings.” These idea men and women were also encouraged to understand the practical applications of their work through the men and women on the assembly lines and factories. “As manufacturing has increasingly moved out of the United States in the past half century,” Gertner writes, “it has likewise taken with it a whole ecosystem of industrial knowledge.”
5, “Wanted: Conservative columnist who understands we’re living in the 21st century. Please apply at The New York Times.” Ross Douthat, still trying to help us forget the Times‘ failed William Kristol Experiment, finds ideas in the non-ideas of Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose “greatness was manifested in the crises he defused and the mistakes he did not make,” as Douthat writes. “He did not create unaffordable entitlement programs, embrace implausible economic theories, or hand on unsustainable deficits to his successors. He ended a stalemated conflict in Korea, kept America out of war in Southeast Asia, and avoided the kind of nuclear brinkmanship that his feckless successor stumbled into. He did not allow a series of Middle Eastern crises to draw America into an Iraq-style intervention. He did not risk his presidency with third-rate burglaries or sexual adventurism.” OK, aside from those last three sentences being an inadvertent call to return Barack Obama to office this fall, now that we have or have had all of that – courtesy of a series of unfortunate Republican administrations, from Nixon to the Bushes, I might add – how does Eisenhower’s “masterly inaction,” as Douthet calls it, get us out of this mess?
6, In the magazine today, Matt Bai sums it up in that work in progress, The 1 Page Magazine. “I mean, Ike was a terrific general, but was he really one of our greatest presidents? Apparently a nostalgic generation is going to keep building monuments to the 20th century until the mall looks like a zombie garden of calcified presidents. Except for Taft, because you know, there’s just no room for that.”
7, I looked it up: Taft weighed 340 pounds when he left office as president.
8, Maureen Dowd has coined a new coda for the GOP: “Ghastly Outdated Party.” In evaluating the deranged views coming from Republican candidates for president, she quotes no less an authority on such matters than Rudy Giuliani. “It makes the party look like it isn’t a modern party,” says the former New York City Mayor who once wanted to defund the Brooklyn Museum for presenting a piece of modern art that he did not like (That’s my fond recollection of Rudy, not Dowd’s). “It doesn’t understand the world we live in,” Rudy says. Yes, even the Republicans realize, the dire situation is just as Dowd describes: “The Republicans, with their crazed Reagan fixation, are a last-gasp party, living posthumously, fighting battles on sex, race, immigration and public education long ago won by the other side. They’re trying to roll back the clock, but time is passing them by.”
9, Bloomberg News reported last week that energy production has increased so dramatically under Obama that “the U.S. is the closest it has been in almost 20 years to achieving energy self sufficiency.” It is a transformation, columnist Thomas L. Friedman suggests, that “could make the U.S. the world’s top energy producer by 2020, raise more tax revenue, free us from worrying about the Middle East, and, if we’re smart, build a bridge to a much cleaner energy future.” But for this to happen, environmentalists and the oil and gas industry need to agree on standards for safe yet efficient energy production, Friedman warns. And then Friedman writes something startling. Something that should be oh-so-obvious if the United States does indeed reach its goal of energy independence. “No one likes higher gas prices,” he says. “But – perversely – the high price benefits America as we rapidly become a bigger oil producer and it ensures that investments will continue to flow into energy efficient cars and trucks…. As our producers succeed, we would become increasingly energy self-sufficient, keep a lot more dollars at home for our Treasury, stimulate innovation on renewables and drive down the global oil price that is the sole source sustaining Iran and other petro-dictators.”
10, Headline on the editorial page that says it all: “Mitt Romney and the other candidates can’t admit that the auto bailout worked.”
11, Kraftwerk, the robotic German synthesizer band of the 1970s, is performing eight of its albums in their entirety April 10-17 at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Kraftwerk. Did anyone think to ask Dylan to do this? Or, James Taylor, even?
12, Tucker Max, whose business card describes himself – correctly, apparently – as “Internet celebrity, boozer, Lothario and admitted Class A Jerk,” first hit the best-seller lists in 2006 with I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. He’s made two more trips to the NYT best-seller list, including the new Hilarity Ensues, debuting this week at No.2 in Nonfiction. Now 36, he has a fridge stocked with organic health drinks and does yoga. “I’ve sold millions of books!” he says. “I’ve had sex with hundreds, maybe thousands, of women. And I still had to go to analysis! I started analysis after all that dude.”