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Bad Medicine

The New Yorker on a Texas town whose health care costs are out of control.

The New Yorker, June 1 An article asks: Why does the border town of McAllen, Texas, spend more er person—an average Medicare enrollee there costs $15,000 per year—on health care than any U.S. city besides Miami? The author blames “across-the-board overuse of medicine,” which stems from the fact that our health care system “pay[s] doctors for quantity, not quality.” This overuse isn’t just expensive—it’s less effective. “In an odd way, this news is reassuring,” the author notes: Providing better health care will also save money. After President Barack Obama’s and former Vice President Dick Cheney’s speeches on Guantanamo Bay last week, Jeffrey Toobin argues that Obama clearly won in terms of “political stagecraft” and substance. Nevertheless, a more complex political battle lies ahead. Obama, recall, “suffered a political ambush in the Senate,” which in a 90-6 vote rejected a bill to close the prison; as for Cheney, his “political acumen is not to be underestimated.”

Newsweek, June 1 As part of a cover package on Iran, a profile of ex-leftist revolutionary, abstract painter, and reformist candidate for the Iranian presidency Mir Hossein Mousavi tries to gauge what his platform promises beyond “a government that can mend the damage caused by an irrational [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad.” Fareed Zakaria bucks the conventional wisdom and argues that Iranians “could well be happy with a peaceful civilian [nuclear] program.” Finally, an article describes how White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has used his status as Israel’s “near-native son” (his father was in Irgun, the militant Zionist organization) “to nudge the Israelis toward a more accommodating stance on the issue of a Palestinian state and negotiations with Iran.” Though “[b]rains help,” Jonathan Alter worries that Obama’s “faith in data and in his ability to reach the ‘right’ policy answer will not be enough for success.” What’s additionally needed is the sort of “BS detector” acquired only through real-world living.

Weekly Standard, June 1 A polemic holds that gay marriage can only hope to attain “a very limited, very modern, and very culture-bound version of marriage.” The author contrasts this new “romantic marriage” with traditional marital unions, which come with “the obligations of kinship” —such as discouraging illicit sex and protecting women’s premarital virginity, as “marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality.” The old model doesn’t apply to same-sex couples, so marriage’s trappings are “a nuisance” for gays, who nevertheless wish to marry. “[A]s kinship fails to be relevant to gays, it will become fashionable to discredit it for everyone,” threatening our “social organization.” Fred Barnes writes that “Obama is overleveraged.” He believes that several of Obama’s policy proposals, such as card check and green energy investment, will actually work against others, chiefly economic recovery. “The fewer of his risky initiatives that pass—in effect deleveraging his agenda—the better for the economy, and the better for him politically.”

New York, June 1 The cover story, pegged to Woody Allen’s forthcoming movie Whatever Works, tracks the trajectory and near disappearance of distinctly Jewish humor. First-generation Jewish-Americans created the “schnook” (think Woody) and the “bellower” (think Larry David, who stars in Whatever Works), two indelibly Jewish comedic archetypes. Allen refined them by adding intellectual and philosophical depth; by the ‘90s, though, “the idea of otherness, or even of depression, as central to Jewish comedy already seemed quaint.” In fact, the piece argues, it’s David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm that sustains the idea of funny-outcast Jews “by moving them to Los Angeles.” A column prepares us for the “Summer of Shove,” in which Obama will push both for a September vote on health care reform and for the passage of climate-change legislation ahead of December’s global warming conference in Copenhagen. Though “insuring 30 million people is not a small thing,” a successful health care bill will likely be a watered-down version of what liberals hope for.

The Nation, June 8 The cover story considers “literary Darwinism,” in which evolutionary psychology is applied to literature’s origins and to individual works. Adherents believe telling made-up stories is an evolutionary technique that “train[s] our minds for the vital business of social existence.” The author concludes that literary Darwinism’s “reductive tendencies”—in which works are analyzed with reference to the humans’ prime imperative to reproduce and pass on their genes—“enforce an impoverished view of both literature and life.” An article bemoans Congress, swayed by big banks and “the conservative noise machine,” persuaded regulators to relax mark-to-marketing rules, which require institutions to value assets at whatever they are worth on the market contemporaneously. Mark-to-market encourages transparency; “the alternative—allowing banks to decide what their securities are worth—is certainly worse.” Even more disturbing than the rule change itself is “the procedural precedent—Congress stepping in to push a change in accounting standards.”