Back to Manhattan

•January 18, 2010 • 8 Comments

It was raining tonight as I touched down in New York for the first time in almost a month. It was raining when I left San Francisco this morning. I’m not sure what that means. Probably nothing.  As an aspiring writer I sometimes see, or want to see, connections where there are none for the sake of writing something interesting. But maybe everything does have a meaning, does have a purpose. Perhaps there are no coincidences.

The cab smelled faintly of cigarettes and strongly of body odor. The tourism bureau should bottle that scent and sell it. It’s the city’s real welcome mat.

I was listening to a tune by She & Him on my iPod as we cruised toward the city. The song was about a busted relationship. “Change Is Hard” it’s called. I wasn’t really concerned about the lyrics. I just know Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward make some very convincing country-esque sounding music. That and the title provided a nice backdrop for my life right now; jobless at 32, no solid prospects on the horizon, raiding my meager life savings with impunity to keep my head above water. But hey. I told myself 18 months ago I wanted a master’s degree in a dying industry.

Mission accomplished, one month ago to the day. It was worth the (roughly) $50,000 in loans and total upending of my life, wasn’t it? I’ll eventually figure out what I wanna be when I grow up. I think I need to take one of those tests that tells you what your skills and abilities are. Having some structure and boundaries would be good.

But not knowing what’s next is kind of exciting. I mean, I think I’m gonna open that bar I’ve always wanted. It’ll be like just like Cheers, except the customers will be kidnapped from the set of a Benetton ad shoot. Sexy and fun, monied and smart, they’ll wax poetic on all manner of things; the oeuvre of the Rolling Stones, whether or not Jersey Shore represents the apex of postmodernist thinking or the decline of western civilization, the odds that Boies and Olsen will win in the case of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, the possibilities of an Arrested Development movie.

There are other things, of course. I was supposed to be speaking Spanish, and possibly even French, fluently by now. There’s musical talent in my family, why I picked the trombone and tuba over the guitar and piano I still don’t know. It wasn’t for the chicks.

An oh yeah, this writing thing. I’m gonna see my name in the Intelligencer” after my first book camps out on the best seller lists like the latest set of errant thoughts that float out of Malcolm Gladwell‘s well-coiffed head.

And then I realize that I’m me and these are, for now, just dreams. I’m also reminded that you really have to be careful about what you wish for. Not because you just might get it, but also because you might not.

Gotham’s famous skyline was draped in a shroud of mist as we got closer, the only visible markers being the spire on the Chrysler and the lights atop the Empire State Building; the later set to green and white in honor of Gang Green’s toppling of the San Diego (not so Super) Chargers, earlier in the day. I have no particular love for any of New York’s sports franchises and am openly hostile to carpetbaggers who move here and immediately fall into a pattern of lemming-like boosterism for whichever team seems to be doing well at the moment. This is not a problem for the basketball teams, mind you, but this city has no problem producing an overabundance of self-satisfied and obnoxious fans. It doesn’t need a bunch of johnny come latelys upping the quotient.

Having said that, it is more fun when a team from here does well in the playoffs. The contradictions of New York run deep.

I haven’t been back here three hours yet and I’ve already had McDonald’s, something I’d not done since I left. I didn’t have a resolution about avoiding the Golden Arches, but I ain’t getting younger and I don’t quite believe that salvation (or path to six pack abs) lies down a road that terminates with a drive-thru diet.

But tomorrow is a new day. If there’s one good thing about New York, you can always start over again. The city certainly hasn’t missed me while I’ve been gone. I don’t know if I’ve missed it. But here we are. Time for the song and dance to being anew. Start spreading the news.


R.I.P. Ted Kennedy

•August 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

While going through the Boston Globe’s pictures of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s funeral procession today, I came across this image:


It immediately made me think of this:


I haven’t spoken to my mother since Ted Kennedy’s passing, but I wonder how this has made her feel. She was a supporter of both JFK and RFK and I know that she was, and perhaps still is, profoundly saddened by the fact that we never got to see the country that they both wanted us all to live in. That Teddy was able to live a full and productive life fighting for causes and people that might have otherwise been overlooked might give my mother some peace of mind.

If nothing else, the three of them are finally together again and, for me at least, this is how I’ll always remember them:

The Kennedy Brothers

R.I.P. Ted. You, and your brothers, are missed more than you know.

My 30 second speech for President Obama

•August 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

“You know what, America? The same people who are trying to tell you that I’m coming to kill grandma are the same people who told us Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. The same people who fired good soldiers for being honest about how many troops we’d need in Iraq. The same people who told us that deficits don’t matter. The same people who put through tax cuts and a prescription drug benefit that didn’t, and never even conceived, of paying for themselves. The same people that told us that they were doing a heck of a job while hundreds died in New Orleans. I could go on…but that’s more than enough.

They don’t deserve your support. They certainly haven’t earned your trust. And even if you don’t agree with what I’m doing, I’m not going to raise the terror alert to red just because you don’t like my health care plan”.

It’s Too Late for Incremental Health Care Refrom

•August 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Conor Friedersdorf, a Republican whose opinion I respect, lays out his case for incremental health care reform in a new column over at the Daily Beast. His central point is basically that liberals should essentially take a conservative approach to reform and advance smaller pieces of legislation rather than go all in under the guise of “comprehensive” reform.

That may be a defensible point of view, but I disagree with a few of the points he makes throughout the piece.

Conor writes:

Especially curious is President Obama’s decision to pursue comprehensive health care reform when it failed so spectacularly under the Clinton Administration. In contrast, “small bore” reform efforts initiated years later extended insurance to millions of children and afforded senior citizens a hugely expensive prescription drug benefit. Why are those who seek further reform so invested in a sweeping approach certain to provoke intense blowback? They’ve enjoyed their best successes using more incremental methods!

Does Conor not remember how contentious the debate over reauthorizing S-CHIP was? President Bush vetoed two versions of the bill, arguing that the program would “federalize health care” (sound familiar)? It took electing a Democratic president with sizable majorities in both houses to get the extension signed.

The prescription drug bill is now generally considered to be financial boondoggle of immense proportions. The Bush White House hid the true cost of the bill, which now looks to cost upwards of a trillion dollars over ten years (which is in the neighborhood of what the entire health care system overhaul being pushed by President Obama would cost). Widespread confusion followed in the wake of its roll out. And let’s not even talk about the problems with dread “doughnut hole” in the Bush program that leads to a substantial gap in coverage for a lot of seniors. An August 2008 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation said:

From a health outcomes perspective, our finding that some enrollees stopped taking their medications or reduced medication use when they reached the coverage gap could be a serious concern. Individuals with diabetes, for example, risk immediate and potentially serious health consequences if they stop taking their medications. For individuals with other chronic conditions, such as osteoporosis or high cholesterol, the health effects from stopping their medications might not be immediately apparent but it could increase their risk of negative outcomes over time. On the other hand, switching medications to save money might be a clinically acceptable response to the coverage gap.

Physicians can play an important role in helping beneficiaries who reach the coverage gap identify opportunities to switch to lower-cost alternatives, but in order to do so, physicians and patients need to talk with each other about drug costs. Ultimately, both stopping and switching medications could result in higher costs for other parts of the Medicare program if beneficiaries have health issues that are not
being controlled by medication, or if they simply require more physician visits to prescribe and monitor changes in medications. Careful attention is needed to ensure that gains to Medicare beneficiaries from the addition of the Part D drug benefit are not undermined by the coverage gap—especially for those enrollees who are highly dependent on medications to manage ongoing chronic conditions.

Conor then writes:

Though an Obamacare skeptic, I am hopeful that some health-care reforms will be made, as is my family. This American Life, a favorite radio program in my household, recently aired a segment on rescission, the insurance industry practice whereby insured Americans, having paid premiums over many years, find their claims rejected when they get breast cancer or diabetes or some other costly illness—the insurance companies scour their archived applications hoping to find an innocent mistake, often unrelated to their condition, that serves as a pretext for cancelling their policy. Why don’t the Democrats draft, pass, and enact legislation that ends rescission? It would be wildly popular, even among Orange County conservatives. And it would rectify an injustice.

Conor surely knows this, but ending rescission is something that’s being addressed by the proposed legislation that’s floating around. Again, one can make an argument that this ought to be a standalone piece of legislation, but this leads to my final point.

Conor says:

Of course, some on the right will mistrust any legislation that President Obama backs, but even conservatives like me, who assume he is acting on the best possible motives, are right to be concerned by particularly complex bills. They are prone to capture by special interests, ripe for the sneaky inclusion of unpopular provisions, and more likely to result in unpredictable and unintended consequences. Talk of socialist plots is paranoia. The mundane reality to fear is that complicated measures benefit well-connected elites, who are best able to manipulate the legislative process

I’m fine with debating whether a bill should be over a thousand pages long and I think the fear of corporate giveaways being place in the legislation is appropriate, but the real issue is that moderate conservatives like Conor who actually don’t demonize the opposition have no real way to influence the debate over this legislation. It’s not that “some on the right will mistrust any legislation that President Obama backs”, it’s that everyone on the right who has any voice in the debate has gone full in on the crazy. When the lead Republican legislator on the Senate committee with the most influence over the shape of the bill is now saying that people are right to be worried about so-called “death panels” and that there aren’t negotiations going on, just talks, there’s just no reason to believe that any Republicans are serious about working to reform health care. And it’s important to point out that the hysterical rhetoric is starting to show some concrete effects.

The bottom line is that it’s too late in the game for anyone to turn back at this point. The Democrats have put all their chits on comprehensive reform; anything less and they lose. Republicans have gone all in to oppose any reform and backing down on their overheated arguments as this late date would cause elected members of the GOP unending grief with the base.

The nation seems locked in a Kobayashi Maru situation. We seem to have our Mr. Spock, but where’s our Captain Kirk who will cheat the system in the name of the greater good?

What You Should Be Reading…Now

•August 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Sorry for the absence, but I’m back to jump start this little feature that’s gone dormant since I started posting at True/Slant.

Here’s the picks for this week:

I’ve Got a Slant

•July 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Some exciting news…I’ve been tapped to contribute to True/Slant. Come on over and check it out.

In Which I Disagree With Nate Silver

•July 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Over at, Nate Silver says Obama and the Democrats are failing with their push for health care reform. I don’t disagree with his argument that the messaging could have been better and more united, but we part ways when he says:

The one thing that might have sent things down a different course is if President Obama had tried to preempt the negotiations by taking a more hands-on approach and placing a particular bill before the Congress. I had thought this was a good idea, although the Beltway conventional wisdom would disagree, and there would certainly be risks to the White House in trying to loop the Congress out of the process.

I’m sure Nate knows this, but placing a bill with a lot of specifics in front of Congress was what killed the Clinton’s attempt to reform health care in the early 90’s. Yes, that plan was written without a lot of input from legislators and so they had no vested interest in what was delivered to them, but still.

Obama came at the problem from the other direction and while there isn’t a codified listing of what exactly Obama wants, we have a pretty good idea of what he’s willing to support:

  • A public option (or, as an alternative, some sort of national co-op)
  • A health care exchange
  • Independent oversight of Medicare expenses (MedPAC)

Is that somewhat vague? Sure, but it’s not nothing and so Obama basically he decided to set down the guidelines and let Congress figure out how to get there (which, is actually what’s supposed to happen). We know that discussions on all of these things are ongoing, so people who freak out about the most recent version of a bill coming out of Max Bacaus’ committee need to chill for a second. There are multiple, competing bill floating around in both the House and Senate that will need to be reconciled, plus there’s about to be a month of intense lobbying, both for (and against) the reform packages.

The point is, there are several acts left in this play. We’re merely heading into intermission