Sunday, June 28, 2009

Policy is Complicated

DemFromCT (DK) interprets . . .

Gregory Mankiw:

In the end, it would be a mistake to expect too much from health insurance reform. A competitive system of private insurers, lightly regulated to ensure that the market works well, would offer Americans the best health care at the best prices.

The health care of the future won’t come cheap, but a public option won’t make it better.

BTW, I used to advise George W. Bush, and I undoubtedly have health insurance. If you don't have health insurance, that's your problem.


On June 28, 1969, police officers raided a gay raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, touching off days of riots. Forty years later, federal policy makers are in a position to finally enshrine equality in the law, but they're not only reluctant, they're behind the American mainstream.

[E]ven as cultural acceptance of homosexuality increases across the country, the politics of gay rights remains full of crosscurrents.

It is reflected in the surge of gay men and lesbians on television and in public office, and in polls measuring a steady rise in support for gay rights measures. Despite approval in California of a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage, it has been authorized in six states.

Yet if the culture is moving on, national politics is not, or at least not as rapidly. Mr. Obama has yet to fulfill a campaign promise to repeal the policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military. The prospects that Congress will ever send him a bill overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, appear dim. An effort to extend hate-crime legislation to include gay victims has produced a bitter backlash in some quarters: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, sent a letter to clerics in his state arguing that it would be destructive to "faith, families and freedom."

"America is changing more quickly than the government," said Linda Ketner, a gay Democrat from South Carolina who came within four percentage points of winning a Congressional seat in November. "They are lagging behind the crowd. But if I remember my poli sci from college, isn't that the way it always works?"

The political establishment developed certain preconceived notions of how America approaches gay rights, and as of now, most of those notions are locked in the early '90s. For Dems, that means a fear that a culture-war clash will cost the majority party dearly, seemingly unaware that polls show most Americans already support many of the measures Democrats want but are afraid to seek.

For the right, it leads to confidence that the country is on conservatives' side, reality notwithstanding. For example, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a far-right anti-gay group, noted to the NYT that supporters of equality want to see an end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but doubts the administration is willing to oblige. "I think there's a reason for that, and that is because I think the American public isn't there," Perkins said.

Except, of course, the American public is there. Gallup poll released this month found that 69% of the country supports allowing openly gay men and lesbian women to serve in the military. Better yet, a clear majority (58%) of conservatives support it, too.

It's time for policymakers to catch up to the rest of the country. Indeed, it's past time.

  • Aravosis: A fierce Democratic donor writes
    Dear DNC,

    I truly "support" Democrats being elected in 2010 and 2012. I am a "fierce advocate" of the Democratic Party after all. I know that I have promised you my support over the past few decades and have done my best to follow through.

    Even now I am "working towards" a financial donation to the Party. I do have to ask for your "patience" though, because as a gay man, my family and I are still second class citizens and are having to funnel our resources towards causes that protect and honor our basic civil rights. "We have a lot on our plate."

    We are "proceeding" towards lifting the denial of funds to the DNC and are "developing a strategy" that will get us there by the end of Obama's time at the White House. As a matter of fact, my family has planned several "meetings" to discuss these very important donations and will be sending out a press release shortly to announce our "cocktail party" celebrating Democracy.

    Thanks for understanding. And hang in there!

When the administration talked up the idea of a new U.S. policy in Afghanistan, officials apparently meant it. This includes new restrictions on airstrikes, but just as importantly, it also includes a new approach to Afghanistan's drug problem.

The U.S. has announced a new drug policy for opium-rich Afghanistan, saying it was phasing out funding for eradication efforts and using the money for drug interdiction and alternate crop programs instead.

The U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, told The Associated Press on Saturday that eradication programs weren't working and were only driving farmers into the hands of the Taliban.

"Eradication is a waste of money," Holbrooke said on the sidelines of a Group of Eight foreign ministers' meeting on Afghanistan, where he announced the policy shift and said it had been warmly received, particularly by the United Nations.

Afghanistan is the world's leading source of opium, cultivating 93 percent of the world's heroin-producing crop. The United Nations has estimated the Taliban and other Afghan militants made $50 million to $70 million off the opium and heroin trade last year.

Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the U.N. drug office, has been arguing that international efforts are necessary to assist Afghan farmers who are willing to grow valuable crops, while at the same time, targeting drug trafficking and production. Holbrooke told the AP that hasn't been U.S. policy, but it's exactly what the Obama administration intends to do.

"We're essentially phasing out our support for crop eradication and using the money to work on interdiction, rule of law, alternate crops.... That's the big change in our policies."

Holbrooke said the previous U.S. policy to combat Afghan poppy, which focused on eradication programs, hadn't reduced "by one dollar" the amount of money the Taliban earned off cultivation and production.

"It might destroy some acreage," Holbrooke said. "But it just helped the Taliban." [...]

"The farmers are not our enemy, they're just growing a crop to make a living," he said. "It's the drug system. So the U.S. policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban."

Afghanistan is going to remain a nightmarish challenge, but the chances of U.S. policy succeeding go up considerably with smart policies like these.

Atrios: I Love It When They Impotently Stamp Their Feet

If you ever demonstrate an ability to actually raise money for these organizations, they might start caring what you think. Before? Unlikely.

  • Benen: ELITE EIGHT...
    House Republicans wanted to put up a united front against the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), but eight GOP lawmakers -- Reps. Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Mike Castle (Del.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Leonard Lance (N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), John McHugh (N.Y.), Dave Reichert (Wash,), and Chris Smith (N.J.) -- broke ranks. In light of the narrow margin, it's likely ACES would have failed were it not for these Republicans' support.

    Today, conservative bloggers responded to the eight.

    RedState labeled them "quisling" Republicans who "sold out the nation\'s [sic] future." Malkin put up a "wanted" poster with the eight, under the text: "Wanted in the United States of America for selling out taxpayers." She went on label them the "GOP's Cap-and-Tax 8."

    And Robert Stacy McCain is targeting the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), now that the "Monstrosity From Hell That Will Destroy the American Economy" passed with the help of eight GOP lawmakers.

    ...I've got four words for the National Republican Congressional Committee: Not One Red Cent.

    We've already said Not One Red Cent for the National Republican Senatorial Committee because Sen. John Cornyn and the NRSC betrayed the GOP grassroots in Florida. Now, add the NRCC to the list.

    What's the point of giving money to the national party if, on key votes, Republican members of the House are indistinguishable from Nancy Pelosi?

    Why give money to the campaign committee whose job is to re-elect these RINO sellouts?

    It's not altogether clear why RSM blames the NRCC for last night's outcome, but he added, "Unless and until all eight of these swine announce their retirements -- or are defeated in next year's primaries -- I say the grassroots answer to the NRCC should be NOT ONE RED CENT!"

    Whether the party is inclined to take this talk seriously is unclear -- few seemed to care when these activists were livid about the Crist endorsement -- but some of the eight from last night are preparing statewide campaigns next year. If activists were really focused on punishing the defectors, Kirk and Castle would be the two most vulnerable of the eight.

  • David Kurtz (TPM) adds:

    CQ takes a closer look and points out that all of those Republicans, except Smith, hail from districts that went for Obama over McCain. The bill passed 219-212.

    Late Update: On the flip side (from The Hill):

    One Democrat was upset that his leaders would needlessly force vulnerable Dems to vote for a bill that will come back to haunt them. Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor (D) voted against the measure that he says will die in the Senate.

    "A lot of people walked the plank on a bill that will never become law," Taylor told The Hill after the gavel came down.

    Taylor knows the score as well as anyone. Since 2006, when Democrats took control of Congress, the Senate has been the La Brea Tar Pits of progressive legislation passed by House Dems.

  • Think Progress: Claire McCaskill Tweets That Clean Energy Bill Will ‘Unfairly Punish’ Missouri

    Last night, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which will establish the first national standards for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and global warming pollution. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) responded on Twitter this morning, saying that the legislation’s cap on carbon pollution would “unfairly punish” Missouri’s families and businesses:

    Claire McCaskill tweets on cap and trade

    Missouri gets 85 percent of its electricity from coal and is home to the world’s largest coal company, Peabody Energy. Peabody has spent neatly $10 million lobbying against climate legislation since 2008. In reality, the cap-and-trade system the House passed fully protects states now dependent on coal, with multi-billion-dollar programs for advanced coal technology. “My focus in the shaping of the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee was to keep electricity rates affordable and to enable utilities to continue using coal,” coal-district Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) explained during yesterday’s debate. “Both of these goals have been achieved.”

    In his weekly video address, President Barack Obama congratulated “the House for passing this bill, and urged “the Senate to take this opportunity to come together and meet our obligations – to our constituents, to our children, to God’s creation, and to future generations.” He also asked senators like McCaskill not to be “prisoners of the past“:

    Now my call to every Senator, as well as to every American, is this: We cannot be afraid of the future. And we must not be prisoners of the past. Don’t believe the misinformation out there that suggests there is somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and economic growth. It’s just not true.

    Watch it:

Hilzoy on Indefinite Detention

From the Washington Post:

"Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.

Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that an order, which would bypass Congress, could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said. (...)

Under one White House draft that was being discussed this month, according to administration officials, detainees would be imprisoned at a military facility on U.S. soil, but their ongoing detention would be subject to annual presidential review. U.S. citizens would not be held in the system.

Such detainees -- those at Guantanamo and those who may be captured in the future -- would also have the right to legal representation during confinement and access to some of the information that is being used to keep them behind bars. Anyone detained under this order would have a right to challenge his detention before a judge."

This is a very puzzling article. It has some good news: for instance, that Obama has rejected the idea of national security courts. This is good: the idea of trying to construct an entire new set of courts, all of whose procedures could be litigated until eternity, is crazy, and why we need a new court system has never been adequately explained. If the administration has rejected that, that's good news.

Then there's this:

"One administration official said future transfers to the United States for long-term detention would be rare. Al-Qaeda operatives captured on the battlefield, which the official defined as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and possibly the Horn of Africa, would be held in battlefield facilities. Suspects captured elsewhere in the world could be transferred to the United States for federal prosecution, turned over to local authorities or returned to their home countries.

"Going forward, unless it's an extraordinary case, you will not see new transfers to the U.S. for indefinite detention," the official said."

Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress comments:

"Congress has already approved traditional law of war detention in the Authorization to Use Military Force of 2001. The Supreme Court sustained military detention authority of those detainees captured in zones of active combat in 2004 in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, so President Obama is on firm legal ground should he choose to limit military detention to those circumstances. (...)

This would be a significant shift from the Bush administration's policy that swept into U.S. military detention virtually anyone suspected of terrorist activity captured anywhere in the world. It would restore the bright line between criminal and military detention, a crucial distinction to preserve not just in the United States, but also in other countries that look to or use the U.S. as an example."

That's not entirely right, I think. First, I'd like to see a very clear definition of "the battlefield", to prevent future reversions to Bush's doctrine that it was the entire world. This should not be left up to the discretion of the President. Second, this allows for exceptions to the rule that future detainees will be either held as prisoners of war, transferred to the US for trial, turned over to local authorities, or sent home. Those exceptions should not be "rare", or reserved for "extraordinary cases"; they should be nonexistent.

Finally, of course, there's that little bit about "going forward". Those detainees that the administration believes that it can neither try nor release could be held indefinitely, according to this policy. That is, of course, the elephant in the room. And it's just wrong.

In this country, we have what we call "laws". When you break a law, you can be tried, and, if the government can prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, you can be sent to jail. If the detainees in question have not actually violated any laws, then it's hard to see why we propose to detain them. If they have, and we cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, then we should ask: why not?

If we don't have convincing evidence against someone, we should not detain him. If we do have such evidence, but it was obtained under torture and the person we tortured will not repeat it in court, then it is unreliable. If we have evidence, but revealing it would compromise "sources and methods", then we're in a pickle, but not an insoluble one. We might allow a judge to review that evidence in camera. We might decide that convicting this person is worth compromising some of our secrets. We could try to find more evidence that we could disclose. But we do not get to just detain someone indefinitely.

No President should have that power. Period.

I sympathize with Obama's not wanting the Congress to pass legislation on this topic. They have been horrible on these issues so far, and I see no reason to think that they would change. (And, yes, Obama has been awful too, but the Congress has been even worse.) If he somehow has to obtain the power to detain people indefinitely, and it's legal to do it via executive order, fine.

I also don't envy him the politics of it. Obviously, if some released detainee commits an act of terror against the US, all hell will break loose. And the costs of that will not be purely political: people might not get health insurance, or we might be unable to act on global warming, if some released detainee decides to blow himself up in an American city. I wish that my fellow citizens were also moved by the wrongness of keeping people who might be innocent locked up without recourse, but apparently not enough of them are.

But that doesn't make it right. Obama doesn't have to do this. The rule of law is one of our most basic values. It underwrites the freedoms that we go on and on about, but are apparently unwilling to risk much of anything to preserve.

Shame on him if he does this. And shame on us.

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