Monday, August 10, 2009

Yin and Yang; This & That

This quote applies to much more than just the health care "debate." Some will find it offensive. Fine. If anyone can offer a substantive refutal, then please do so.
Sullivan: Quote For The Day II

"To take a Republican-sponsored healthcare provision that rather innocently and uncontroversially extends insurance coverage to those that want to create their own living wills and turn it into a declaration that the government will decide every five years whether or not you should be euthanized is something out of the Protocols, or out of Saddam's Iraq, or a mimicry of the worst and most stupid and most absurd of North Korean propaganda towards their own citizens. Likewise, the explicit instruction to protestors not to debate, but to aggressively attempt to shut down the meetings entirely -- not normal...

It is, in short, a movement made up of the enfranchised and enabled; people who have gained every benefit from the politics of America and yet who feel in their very bones that they are the oppressed ones, the ones who have nothing left to lose, so rapidly is America falling away from them. It is rare to run across any movement so deeply angry -- or more to the point, a movement which explicitly celebrates anger as the primary mission of their activism. They are not willing to listen to any factual evidence that contradicts their own beliefs in whatever dark conspiracies have been peddled to them; they have in fact made it their publicly proclaimed mission to block any such explanations from even being attempted.

That seems the operative element of discourse, of late. It is angry beyond any objective rationale. It is actively hostile to fact. It finds the mere premise of debating a political argument to be deeply offensive.

And as a movement, it is large," - Hunter, Daily Kos.

Think Progress: DeMint: Town hall disruptions are ‘unacceptable.’

This past week, town halls held by members of Congress across the country were disrupted by “increasingly ugly scenes of partisan screaming matches, scuffles, threats and even arrests,” many of which were part of an orchestrated conservative strategy. The town hall tumult has been encouraged by some prominent Republicans like House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). But in an interview with a McClatchy reporter, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said the disruptions were “unacceptable“:

DeMint, though, bridles at the notion that his hard-edged words have encouraged the angry shouts of “Move to Europe!” or “Socialist” that have disrupted some Democratic lawmakers’ town hall meetings.

“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “We’ve got to express our opinions, but we’ve got to show our respect.”

A month ago, however, in his National Press Club speech, DeMint said, “We’re about where Germany was before World War II where they became a social democracy.”


Those who follow the issue are well aware of this, but it was good of the New York Times to highlight the national security implications of global warming. For that matter, it was encouraging to know this issue is gaining prominence in policy circles.

The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.

Such climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.

Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response.

An exercise last December at the National Defense University, an educational institute that is overseen by the military, explored the potential impact of a destructive flood in Bangladesh that sent hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into neighboring India, touching off religious conflict, the spread of contagious diseases and vast damage to infrastructure. "It gets real complicated real quickly," said Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, who is working with a Pentagon group assigned to incorporate climate change into national security strategy planning.

Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of U.S. Central Command, recently wrote, "We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we'll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives."

The reasons for combating the climate crisis are already overwhelming, but security challenges usually aren't at the forefront. Given the interests of those who prefer to ignore the crisis, perhaps it's time to reframe the debate to consider an angle they care about.

Sen. John Kerry, for example, noted that in Sudan, drought and expansion of deserts has produced horrifying violence and displacement. "That is going to be repeated many times over and on a much larger scale," he said.

Indeed, Kerry has been making this argument for the last several years, but finally has an ally at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The NYT noted, "Although military and intelligence planners have been aware of the challenge posed by climate changes for some years, the Obama administration has made it a central policy focus."

The matter has also crystallized in the Pentagon. Amanda Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, who is working with a Pentagon group assigned to incorporate climate change into national security strategy planning, said she's seen a "sea change" in the military's thinking of late, and will be incorporated into national security strategy moving forward.

Just another angle for wavering lawmakers to consider when the ACES debate begins in earnest in the Senate.

  • NYT Editorial A Real Bill for the Climate

    Every two years, like clockwork, Congress seems to pass an energy bill, each one marginally better than the one before. What this country does not need in 2009 is another energy bill, even a better one. What it needs is a climate bill, one committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in a way that engages the whole economy and forces major technological change.

    Without such a bill, America will lose the race against time on climate, lose the race for markets for new and cleaner energy systems, and forfeit any claim to world leadership in advance of the next round of global climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

    The bill approved by the House last month is a start. It calls for greater efficiency and alternative energy sources. But at its heart is a provision that would cut greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by midcentury. It would do so by imposing a steadily declining ceiling on emissions — raising the cost of dirtier fuels while steering investments to cleaner ones.

    Yet there are small but disturbing signs that what this country might have to settle for is another energy bill. The atmosphere in the Senate is just short of mutinous. The mandatory cap on emissions has virtually no Republican support. There is talk of a turf war between two key Democrats, Barbara Boxer and Max Baucus, whose committees share jurisdiction over the bill. On Thursday, 10 Democrats from states that produce coal or depend on energy-intensive industries said they could not support any bill that did not protect American industries from exports from countries that did not impose similar restraints on emissions.

    The White House seems oddly disengaged. It has been a while since President Obama has issued a full-throated plea for a climate bill, and when his aides talk about the issue, they talk about things that are easy to sell — “energy security” and “green jobs” — rather than pushing for tough measures needed to cap emissions.

    They must start doing so, if not tomorrow, the moment the Senate returns after Labor Day. The planet cannot wait much longer for serious action. The last few months have brought a mountain of new data, including an M.I.T. study suggesting that the planet could be warming much faster than previously thought. The only possible response is a strong, demanding climate bill.
Timothy Egan (NYT): Palin’s Poison

In Egypt, 43 percent of people think Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks in America, a poll by found last year.

In the United States, six percent of Americans say the moon landing of 40 years ago was staged, according to Gallup.

And in Alaska, the former governor, a woman who was nearly a heartbeat away from the presidency, now tells followers that “Obama death panels” could decide if her parents and her baby, Trig, who has Down’s Syndrome, will live or die.

The United States, like most countries, has long had a lunatic fringe who channel in the flotsam of delusion, half-facts and conspiracy theories. But now, with the light-speed and reach of the Web, “entire virtual crank communities,” as the conservative writer David Frum called them, have sprung up. They are fed, in the case of Sarah Palin, by people who should know better.

For a democracy, which depends on an informed citizenry to balance a permanent lobbying class, this is poison. And it’s one reason why town hall forums on health care, which should be sharp debates about something that affects all of us, have turned into town mauls.

The lies and shouts have had the effect that all crank speech has on free speech — stifling any real exchange. In my state, Representative Brian Baird, a veteran of more than 300 town hall meetings during his 11 years as a Democratic congressman from southwest Washington, has decided not to hold any such forums this recess after receiving death threats.

But is it any wonder that some are moved to violent threats, given the level of misinformation being injected into the system? If you really believed that Obama was going to kill your baby and euthanize your parents, well — why not act in self defense?

Here’s what Palin said on her Facebook page Friday, in her first online comments since quitting as Alaska governor.

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society’ whether they are worthy of health care.”

This is pure fantasy, fact-free almost in its entirety. The nonpartisan group said there was no basis for such a claim in any of the health care bills under consideration in Congress. One House bill would pay for counseling for terminally ill patients — something anyone who has lost an elderly loved one of late, as I have, will find essential.

Palin was given some cover Sunday by the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a master of slipping innuendo into his arguments. Defending the “death panel” post on ABC’s “This Week,” Gingrich said, “you’re asking us to trust the government.” By such reasoning, American foreign policy is not worth its word, the currency is worthless, and the moon landing was indeed a fake.

The last time Gingrich went so far was when he called Justice Sonia Sotomayor a racist. He retracted it then. We’ll see what he does now. As for Palin, she should follow her own advice to the media of a few weeks ago — lay off the kids and “quit makin’ things up.”
Paul Krugman (NYT): Averting the Worst

So it seems that we aren’t going to have a second Great Depression after all. What saved us? The answer, basically, is Big Government.

Just to be clear: the economic situation remains terrible, indeed worse than almost anyone thought possible not long ago. The nation has lost 6.7 million jobs since the recession began. Once you take into account the need to find employment for a growing working-age population, we’re probably around nine million jobs short of where we should be.

And the job market still hasn’t turned around — that slight dip in the measured unemployment rate last month was probably a statistical fluke. We haven’t yet reached the point at which things are actually improving; for now, all we have to celebrate are indications that things are getting worse more slowly.

For all that, however, the latest flurry of economic reports suggests that the economy has backed up several paces from the edge of the abyss.

A few months ago the possibility of falling into the abyss seemed all too real. The financial panic of late 2008 was as severe, in some ways, as the banking panic of the early 1930s, and for a while key economic indicators — world trade, world industrial production, even stock prices — were falling as fast as or faster than they did in 1929-30.

But in the 1930s the trend lines just kept heading down. This time, the plunge appears to be ending after just one terrible year.

So what saved us from a full replay of the Great Depression? The answer, almost surely, lies in the very different role played by government.

Probably the most important aspect of the government’s role in this crisis isn’t what it has done, but what it hasn’t done: unlike the private sector, the federal government hasn’t slashed spending as its income has fallen. (State and local governments are a different story.) Tax receipts are way down, but Social Security checks are still going out; Medicare is still covering hospital bills; federal employees, from judges to park rangers to soldiers, are still being paid.

All of this has helped support the economy in its time of need, in a way that didn’t happen back in 1930, when federal spending was a much smaller percentage of G.D.P. And yes, this means that budget deficits — which are a bad thing in normal times — are actually a good thing right now.

In addition to having this “automatic” stabilizing effect, the government has stepped in to rescue the financial sector. You can argue (and I would) that the bailouts of financial firms could and should have been handled better, that taxpayers have paid too much and received too little. Yet it’s possible to be dissatisfied, even angry, about the way the financial bailouts have worked while acknowledging that without these bailouts things would have been much worse.

The point is that this time, unlike in the 1930s, the government didn’t take a hands-off attitude while much of the banking system collapsed. And that’s another reason we’re not living through Great Depression II.

Last and probably least, but by no means trivial, have been the deliberate efforts of the government to pump up the economy. From the beginning, I argued that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a k a the Obama stimulus plan, was too small. Nonetheless, reasonable estimates suggest that around a million more Americans are working now than would have been employed without that plan — a number that will grow over time — and that the stimulus has played a significant role in pulling the economy out of its free fall.

All in all, then, the government has played a crucial stabilizing role in this economic crisis. Ronald Reagan was wrong: sometimes the private sector is the problem, and government is the solution.

And aren’t you glad that right now the government is being run by people who don’t hate government?

We don’t know what the economic policies of a McCain-Palin administration would have been. We do know, however, what Republicans in opposition have been saying — and it boils down to demanding that the government stop standing in the way of a possible depression.

I’m not just talking about opposition to the stimulus. Leading Republicans want to do away with automatic stabilizers, too. Back in March, John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that since families were suffering, "it’s time for government to tighten their belts and show the American people that we ‘get’ it." Fortunately, his advice was ignored.

I’m still very worried about the economy. There’s still, I fear, a substantial chance that unemployment will remain high for a very long time. But we appear to have averted the worst: utter catastrophe no longer seems likely.

And Big Government, run by people who understand its virtues, is the reason why.

Beutler (TPM): Key Blue Dog Boasts: We Held Health Care Hostage For 10 Days

Via Firedoglake comes the below video, of Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), the Blue Dog's health care point man, boasting of holding House health care legislation hostage in the Energy and Commerce Committee for 10 days.

Ross also repeats a common, but strangely tone deaf, "critique" of a robust public option, tied to Medicare, nothing that "Medicare has really good rates, because they're negotiating for every senior in America." How horrible.

This is what happens when Gingrich is on teevee alongside someone who knows what they are talking about, and won't stand for his b.s. Without Dean, Gingrich's lies would have gone unchallenged (the normal condition).
Think Progress:
Gov. Dean Debunks Gingrich’s Health Care Falsehoods: ‘Nobody Is Forcing You In To The Public Option’

On ABC’s This Week today, former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich claimed that most government-run health systems are disasters. He said that the Veterans Health Administration is “the one system that actually works reasonably well,” and dismissed Medicare as “basically a private system with a government funding.”

Gingrich also claimed that Americans really won’t have any “choice.” “One estimate by Lewin Associates [sic] is 131 million Americans will lose their private insurance and be pushed into a government plan,” he claimed.

DEAN: Look, let’s be fair. Lewin Associates is owned by a health insurance company. So let’s — let’s — let’s — the CBO, which I think is a more reasonable organization, says 5 million or 10 million people are going to end up there. [...]

Second of all, what the speaker didn’t tell you is, let’s just suppose you get forced out of your employer-based system, which I think is unlikely, but let’s suppose that you do. You’ve got a choice. The government will pay your subsidy to either go into — based on your income, either to go into the public option or a private option. Nobody is forcing you in to the public option.

Watch it:

Medicare is a government-run program. But conservatives have been dancing around that point because they know that the public is incredibly happy with it. A 2009 study by the Commonwealth Fund found that Medicare recipients reported greater satisfaction with their plans than those in employer-sponsored coverage by wide margins.

Later in the segment, host George Stephanopoulos had to personally call Gingrich out on one of his falsehoods. Last week, Sarah Palin said that the Obama administration was advocating “death panels” that would determine whether a person was “worthy of health care.” Gingrich tried to lend that myth credence by bringing up the writings of “Dr. Zeke Emanuel, who’s the chief adviser to the president and brother of the chief of staff.”

First, as Stephanopoulos pointed out, Emanuel is “not the chief health care adviser.” Second, Emanuel’s comments on end-of-life issues were part of “academic discussions of theoretical constructs” — not expressions of his personal beliefs on the current health care debate. Stephanopoulos noted that Emanuel had “written three articles between 1996 and 2008 that include some of those phrases.” “Those phrases appear nowhere in the bill,” he added.


DEAN: Look, we’ve — what the president wants to do is very straightforward. Sixty — or roughly sixty — fifty or sixty million Americans have what Newt has called socialized medicine or government-run health care. They’re over — over 65. They’re Medicare. That’s what Medicare is.

Now, what Obama is essentially saying is, Let’s give the choice of getting into a system like that or staying with what they have to the American people. So if you’re voting against having a public option, what you’re voting against is something that 72 percent of Americans in two polls want, which is the choice. Most of them aren’t going to sign up for the public option, but they think they have the choice.

Why shouldn’t they have the choice? Why should the health insurance companies have that choice?

STEPHANOPOULOS: What’s the answer to that question?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, the government option we’re talking about — let’s look at where government runs the health system entirely. The Indian Health Service is a disaster. Medicaid is so corrupt and run so badly — we just published a book at the Center for Health Transformation called Stop Paying the Crooks, because our estimate is that government fraud between Medicare and Medicaid is between $70 billion and $120 billion a year.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Veterans care works pretty well.

GINGRICH: Veterans care is the one system that actually works reasonably well. But the others do not. I mean, Medicare is basically a private system with a government funding.

An amendment was offered in every committee to have the — to have the members of Congress and their staff in any government option as a mandate. And if this is good enough for the American people, it’s good enough for the politicians. In every committee, the Democrats voted no. Now, why is it they want to insist on a government-run system for — for people other than the Congress, but the Congress and their staff would be exempt?

Second, it’s not — it’s just, I think intellectually not honest to suggest that this is going to be a matter of choice. The way the bill in the House — and we’re talking about a specific bill — the way the bill in the House would work, if your company didn’t offer any insurance, they would pay an 8 percent tax on their personnel cost.

For most companies, that would be a net savings of 3 percent, 4 percent or 5 percent. One estimate by Lewin Associates (sic) is 131 million Americans will lose their private insurance and be pushed into a government plan.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Dean, those arguments seem to have taken hold, at least in the Senate, where even Democrats say you’re not…

DEAN: Look, let’s be fair. Lewin Associates is owned by a health insurance company. So let’s — let’s — let’s — the CBO, which I think is a more reasonable organization, says 5 million or 10 million people are going to end up there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Depends on the amount of subsidy…

(CROSSTALK) DEAN: Second of all, what the speaker didn’t tell you is, let’s just suppose you get forced out of your employer-based system, which I think is unlikely, but let’s suppose that you do. You’ve got a choice. The government will pay your subsidy to either go into — based on your income, either to go into the public option or a private option. Nobody is forcing you in to the public option.

Now, a third thing is that nobody talks about is this bill is terrific for small business, and the Blue Dogs made it a better bill, and I hope (inaudible) gets through, it gets even better.

Right now in the House bill, if you have a payroll, if you’re a small business with a payroll of less than $500,000, you have no responsibility whatsoever to give your employees health insurance. That now becomes a subsidy based on your income, and then you can choose either a private or a public sector.


DEAN: This is — this is choice. This is real choice.

Yglesias: MacGillis on the Senate

Alec MacGillis has a great piece in the Post on the evils of the U.S. Senate. Probably little of it will be strikingly new to anyone who’s read my extensive whining on this subject, but this bit of history—how the GOP manipulated the entrance of new states into the union in order to artificially preserve control of the senate—isn’t as well-understood as it should be:

After the Civil War, the Senate became the bastion of the GOP as the party pushed to admit pro-Republican states to the union. Nevada was admitted in 1864 to help ratify the Civil War amendments despite being virtually empty; the Dakotas joined in 1889, split in two to provide more votes in the Senate and the Electoral College; Wyoming joined a year later with 63,000 residents.

With these added votes in the Senate and the Electoral College, the Republicans dominated throughout the late 19th century despite Democratic strength in the House. High tariffs, land giveaways in the West, lax regulation of railroads and a pro-business Supreme Court were all thanks partly to the underpopulated new states, says MIT historian Charles Stewart III.

It turns out that if territories had been turned into states in order of their population, rather than in order of the partisan needs of the Republican Party, that control of the legislature would have looked quite different in the late nineteenth century.

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