Friday, June 26, 2009

Good Guys & Bad Guys

QOTD, Matthew Yglesias: Nobody will ever be able to tell friends he’s hiking on the Appalachian Trail again.

Josh Marshall: The Choice

Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) ...

On Thursday, Rockefeller admitted he expects little bipartisan support.

"There is a very small chance any Republicans will vote for this health-care plan. They were against Medicare and Medicaid [created in the 1960s]. They voted against children's health insurance.

"We have a moral choice. This is a classic case of the good guys versus the bad guys. I know it is not political for me to say that," Rockefeller added.

"But do you want to be non-partisan and get nothing? Or do you want to be partisan and end up with a good health- care plan? That is the choice."

  • Robert Reich: "What Can I Do?"
    Someone recently approached me at the cheese counter of a local supermarket, asking "what can I do?" At first I thought the person was seeking advice about a choice of cheese. But I soon realized the question was larger than that. It was: what can I do about the way things are going in Washington?

    People who voted for Barack Obama tend to fall into one of two camps: Trusters, who believe he's a good man with the right values and he's doing everything he can; and cynics, who have become disillusioned with his bailouts of Wall Street, flimsy proposals for taming the Street, willingness to give away 85 percent of cap-and-trade pollution permits, seeming reversals on eavesdropping and torture, and squishiness on a public option for health care.

    In my view, both positions are wrong. A new president -- even one as talented and well-motivated as Obama -- can't get a thing done in Washington unless the public is actively behind him. As FDR said in the reelection campaign of 1936 when a lady insisted that if she were to vote for him he must commit to a long list of objectives, "Maam, I want to do those things, but you must make me."

    We must make Obama do the right things. Email, write, and phone the White House. Do the same with your members of Congress. Round up others to do so. Also: Find friends and family members in red states who agree with you, and get them fired up to do the same. For example, if you happen to have a good friend or family member in Montana, you might ask him or her to write Max Baucus and tell him they want a public option included in any healthcare bill.
hilzoy: "Hot Air", Indeed.

Here's an exchange from ABC News' special on Obama's health care proposal:

"Q: If your wife or your daughter became seriously ill, and things were not going well, and the plan physicians told you they were doing everything that could be done, and you sought out opinions from some medical leaders in major centers and they said there's another option you should pursue, but it was not covered in the plan, would you potentially sacrifice the health of your family for the greater good of insuring millions or would you do everything you possibly could as a father and husband to get the best health care and outcome for your family?

OBAMA (after talking about his grandmother): I think families all across America are going through decisions like that all the time, and you're absolutely right that if it's my family member, my wife, if it's my children, if it's my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care.

Ed Morrissey calls this Obama's Michael Dukakis moment", and writes:

"Oopsie! So ObamaCare for thee, but not for me? Hope and change, baby! (...)

If ObamaCare isn't good enough for Sasha, Malia, or Michelle, then it's not good enough for America. Instead of fighting that impulse, Obama should be working to boost the private sector to encourage more care providers, less red tape and expense, and better care for everyone."

It's worth taking this apart a bit. It is true now, and would be true under any remotely plausible insurance scheme, that sometimes insurers will not pay for treatments, on the grounds that they are too experimental and unproven, or that they just plain don't work. That is true under our current system, and it would remain true under Obama's plan.

It is also true, both under our present system and under Obama's proposal (and, for that matter, any other proposal out there) that people who want medical care that is not covered by insurance can get it, so long as they are willing to pay for it themselves (or find someone else to pay for it.) Thus, if Bill Gates wants to try some very expensive unproven treatment, he can. If I wanted that same treatment under the same conditions, I would not be able to have it.

If this counts as "ObamaCare for Bill Gates but not for me", then it exists now, and will continue to exist under Obama's plan, and any other plan under even remotely serious consideration. Curiously, we have the same system for all sorts of things. Cars, for instance: much as I love my Prius, I would really, really love to have a vintage Jag. Unfortunately, I can't afford one. I imagine that Barack Obama can. Oh no: he's a hypocrite again: it's ObamaCar for him but not for the rest of us, who can't afford vintage Jags! I could go on -- ObamaFood, ObamaLivingRoomSets, and so forth, but you get the point.

The main difference between ObamaMicrowaves and ObamaCare is that the government does not so much as try to ensure that everyone will have a toaster oven. So Obama and I get what the government provides in the way of toaster ovens, namely nothing, and then we have the option to buy more. This is what we call "the market", and it means that some people end up better off, toaster-oven-wise, than others.

With health care, by contrast, we guarantee that certain kinds of people -- the elderly, children, veterans, federal workers, etc. -- will get health insurance, which in turn provides them with health care -- at least, it's supposed to. As I said above, it will not pay for experimental treatments, or treatments that don't work. Nonetheless, unlike toaster ovens, the government provides some people with a decent level of health care; as with toaster ovens, they are free to get more.

Obama's health care plan would extend insurance to more people; ideally, to everyone. The point is to put a floor under everyone -- and a decent one. It's also to give them more choices about the health insurance they or their employers purchase. The point was never to put a ceiling on how much people can spend, or to make absolutely sure that Bill Gates has no advantage over anyone else, as far as health care is concerned.

Nothing -- nothing -- about this idea is in any way inconsistent with the idea that someone who can pay for health care that his or her insurance company declines to cover should be able to do so. The alternative would be to forbid people to get any care that is not covered by their insurance. Again, that is something that no one has seriously proposed. Surely Ed Morrissey isn't faulting Obama for not proposing to forbid people from buying health care on his own -- is he?

dday: Name That Lobbyist

This is a heck of an interesting project by NPR - during the markup of the health care reform bill in the Senate on June 17, one of their photographers snapped a picture of everyone in the audience. 99.9% of the time the cameras point in the other direction, at the lawmakers. This one points in arguably the right direction, at the lobbyists and stakeholders who will be just as responsible, if not more so, for the final shape of the bill. And they've asked people to help them identify the faces in the picture. So far there are a number of named lobbyists whose firms have earned millions from health care industry clients over the past year.

If we have any Washingtonian readers, help NPR ferret out these names by emailing to dollarpolitics-at-npr-dot-org or on the ubiquitous Twitter @DollarPolitics. We have an odd system in this country where the people who often write our bills are anonymous while the people who take their orders are well-known. We should maybe reverse that process and add some accountability into the mix at the same time.

Yglesias: Heritage Slams Mythical Defense Cuts


The Heritage Foundation has a blog post complete with chart claiming to demonstrate that “Obama plan cuts defense spending to pre-9/11 levels”. As Benjamin Friedman lays out this is nonsense:

This is a standard rhetorical device for defense hawks (see the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Mitt Romney and lots of others) so it’s worth pointing out that it’s misleading. The unfortunate truth is that Obama is increasing non-war defense spending this year and seems likely to increase it at least by inflation in the near future.

It’s true that defense spending will probably decline as a percentage of GDP, assuming the economy recovers. But that’s because GDP grows. Ours is more than six times bigger than it was in 1950. Meanwhile, we spend more on defense in real, inflation adjusted terms, than we did then, at the height of the Cold War. The denoninator has grown faster than the numerator.

By saying that defense spending needs to grow with GDP to be “level,” you are arguing for an annual increase in defense spending without saying so directly. That’s the point, of course.

Since economic growth causes real wages to rise over time, there is some reason for thinking that a military sized appropriately to the strategic environment would need real increases in spending to maintain its level of capabilities. But one way or another, the crucial issue is that the appropriate level of defense spending is determined by the nature of the strategic environment, not by the pace of economic growth. The US economy grew rapidly during the 1990s but the level of military threats facing the country didn’t—thus, a decline in defense expenditures relative to GDP was appropriate.

One interesting trope both in the substance and rhetoric of this argument from Heritage is the idea that 9/11 ought to have touched off a large and sustained increase in defense spending. On the merits, this is a little hard to figure out. It’s difficult to make the case that the 9/11 plot succeeded because the gap in financial expenditures between the U.S. government and Osama bin Laden was not big enough. Would an extra aircraft carrier have helped? A more advanced fighter plane? A larger Marine Corps? Additional nuclear weapons? One of the most realistic ways an organization like al-Qaeda can damage the United States is to provoke us into wasting resources on a far larger scale than they could ever destroy. The mentality Heritage is expressing here is right in line with that path.

Greenwald: Neocon enemies, using diplomacy, reach deal for Shalit's release

Last night, I noted the sudden and obviously hypocritical concern about detainee abuse emerging from The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb now that the transfer of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by the Palestinians to Egypt appears imminent and it's time to exploit his detention. In service of that same mission, Goldfarb also tries to attribute this deal for Shalit's release to the heroism of Benjamin Netanyahu, excitedly claiming that, if it happens, it will cause the Israeli Prime Minister's "approval numbers [to] skyrocket, further undermining Obama's leverage over him" (i.e., Israel will be able to continue to expand settlements on land that isn't theirs).

But as Omooex points out in comments, the Haaretz article which Goldfarb himself cited makes clear that it was not Netanyahu, but numerous other parties -- Jimmy Carter, Egypt, Syria and the Obama administration -- who engineered the agreement to transfer Shalit from Gaza to Egypt (followed eventually by his release to Israel, pending the release by Israel of Palestinian prisoners):

The move is part of a new United States initiative that includes Egyptian and Syrian pressure on Hamas . . . The idea to transfer Shalit to Egypt in exchange for the release of Palestinian women, teens, cabinet ministers and parliamentarians being held in Israeli prisons was raised about a year ago during a visit by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter to Damascus, Jerusalem and Gaza. . . . Carter raised it again on his visit earlier this month, during which he met Noam Shalit, Gilad's father. . . . The European source said Shalit's transfer to Egypt was the first stage of the Egyptian-brokered agreement hammered out between Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions, in coordination with the U.S. and with Syria's support.

In other words, the deal for Shalit's release was secured by some of the neocon's most despised enemies (Jimmy Carter and Syria), with the help of a President they insist hates Israel (Barack Obama), relying on tactics they have long scorned (diplomacy, negotiating with Terrorists, including Hamas). Of course, Jimmy Carter -- who neocons endlessly smear as being Israel-hating and even anti-Semitic -- did more to advance the interests of Israeli security than every neoconservative keyboard-tough-guy combined (indeed, more than virtually any single individual on the planet) when he engineered the 1979 Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt, which -- even 30 years later -- continues to pay dividends for Israel in the form of this apparent agreement for Shalit's release. Identically, the Shalit deal is possible only because, as Haaretz notes, Hamas knows that there is now an American administration willing to negotiate with hostile parties, rather than trying to feel "tough" by ignoring and/or threatening them:


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