Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stockholm Syndrome

Key Quote, Dahlia Lithwick:
And it wasn't just that Senate Democrats were confused among themselves about whether to embrace John Roberts' umpire analogy. Some of them have now clearly appropriated it, and others laid out vaguely articulated theories about the need for judges to do more than mechanically apply the law—whether it's hearing both sides of the story, or being particularly sensitive to some classes of plaintiffs. But even if you accept that there is nothing to be learned from the nominees themselves at these hearings, Democrats should understand that there is still much that can be taught. I learned more about liberal theories of jurisprudence from the Democrats' opposition to Roberts and Alito than I could glean from their support of Sotomayor. Sure, I get that Democrats like women and the environment and privacy. That comes up a lot in today's questioning. But that's not a judicial ideology. Nor is just calling balls and strikes—but that is the only theory we seem to have left in America.


So consider this: Republicans came into these hearings with nothing to lose. They were never going to block this nomination, but they could have used these days to make it clear they are not the party of Rush Limbaugh and Joe the Plumber. They could have questioned Sotomayor about her record, her views, even asked a tough question or two about wise Latina women. They opted not to.

Democrats also came into these hearings with nothing to lose. They were going to seat this nominee, tee up the next two, and school the American people on why the Supreme Court matters and how it's letting them down and explain why balls and strikes are half the equation. They opted not to. When you think of it that way, beyond just being a waste of time, these hearings were also a waste of a thousand opportunities.

Levine (FDL): Late Night: Elephants on Parade

Dahlia Lithwick wrote a piece for Slate
a couple of days ago, and then went on Rachel Maddow’s show to emphasize a point that I fear too few others have made this week:

Democrats, too, have failed to use this hearing to their advantage. With an opportunity to talk to all of America about their theory of jurisprudence and to make the case against the Roberts Court's narrow view of justice, they said almost nothing. Some of the only questioning along those lines came from Sen. Al Franken, who made Sotomayor very uncomfortable as he grilled her on the Roberts Court's tendency to overreach. In this term's Voting Rights Act case, the court came close to striking down an act of Congress, and in an age-discrimination case, it decided an issue that was never briefed. Franken politely asked Sotomayor, "How often have you decided a case on an argument or a question that the parties have not briefed?" He wondered whether that constituted judicial activism.

Good question. Why was the junior senator from Minnesota—the one sworn in only a week ago—the first one asking it?

And it wasn't just that Senate Democrats were confused among themselves about whether to embrace John Roberts' umpire analogy. Some of them have now clearly appropriated it, and others laid out vaguely articulated theories about the need for judges to do more than mechanically apply the law—whether it's hearing both sides of the story, or being particularly sensitive to some classes of plaintiffs. But even if you accept that there is nothing to be learned from the nominees themselves at these hearings, Democrats should understand that there is still much that can be taught. I learned more about liberal theories of jurisprudence from the Democrats' opposition to Roberts and Alito than I could glean from their support of Sotomayor. Sure, I get that Democrats like women and the environment and privacy. That comes up a lot in today's questioning. But that's not a judicial ideology. Nor is just calling balls and strikes—but that is the only theory we seem to have left in America.

I could go on (at length) about what a bunch of freaking racists Sessions, Graham, Kyl, Cornyn, and Coburn are—this is Elephants on Parade, after all—but I think we all can see that the Party of No is pretty set on branding itself the Party of Ivory Snow (Michael Steele’s happy meal not withstanding). Instead, let me take just a moment to echo Dahlia’s admonition to the Majority Party.

Look, Sotomayor was a safe pick. To my mind, President Obama missed an opportunity—one he is not likely to have again. I am glad he wants more diversity on the court, but this was a moment to strike while the iron was hot. I believe the president could have pretty much gotten anyone on his long list (never mind his short one) confirmed this time. By the time the next opportunity presents itself, Obama will not be as popular. Maybe because of something he did, maybe because of something he didn’t do, maybe for no good reason at all. The next pick should have been his safety. This was the moment to move the window.

But what’s done is done on that front. I wish Justice Sotomayor the best, and I hope that she surprises me by turning out to possess a more inventive and a more liberal legal mind. Now, for the Democrats that were given four days of free airtime to make a broader point. . . .

Democrats went out of their way to stir up as little interest in this hearing as possible. (Call it trickle-down no-drama.) That was a mistake. Sotomayor was as close to a slam-dunk as they had in a nominee, so the opportunity could have been used, as Lithwick notes, as a teaching moment with little fear of losing the confirmation battle. But fear is exactly what the Dems tapped, reifying Republican frames, doing nothing to carve out an opposing doctrine, and setting up a situation where everyone wanted to see the Republicans (even if only to see them make asses of themselves), and everyone yawned when the Democrats grabbed the microphone (Franken being the only exception—then everyone laughed, even though he wasn’t being funny).

And so, the ratings for these hearings were abysmal, even for daytime cable.

Here’s what the Democrats should have done, they should have looked at these hearings as if they were the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is a ridiculously expensive event to produce, and so, combined with the fees that must be paid to the NFL, it is pretty much a money loser. Even with the ridiculous ad rates, the host network usually comes out behind.

But you don’t host the Super Bowl to make money off the Super Bowl; you host the big game to make money everywhere else. Because the Super Bowl is such a ratings goliath, the host network has the opportunity to promote the rest of its programming to more people than they could ever realize through any other ad buy. . . and it sort of comes gratis.

The Sotomayor hearings were obviously never going to grab Super Bowl numbers, but for a political news cycle, it could have been a relative blockbuster. The Democrats could have used the week to promote their agenda—legal and otherwise. They could have pointedly drawn a contrast form both the bitter white men across the aisle, and from the bankrupt quasi-legal policies of the previous president. They could have focused on the destructive rulings of the Roberts court—if not the overly politicized judiciary at all levels—and how that affects the daily lives of voters, many who don’t think these things affect them much at all.

They could have even used the week to raise some money.

Oh, don’t look so shocked—you know that’s what the Republicans were doing.

They may have looked like a bunch of crackers on crack to you, but to the hungry, scared, hate-filled base, they were fighting the good fight. . . and fighting all the way to the bank. (Why do you think the Second Amendment suddenly became an issue? Didn’t that seem out of the blue to you? It didn’t seem that way to the NRA.)

So, the Sotomayor hearings turned out to be elephants on parade. . . and the elephants were happy for the exercise and attention.

For Democrats? Maybe we saw the first star turn of a rising star, Senator Franken. But we still have a sometimes divided but increasingly rightist Roberts Court, we still have a judiciary polluted by Bush appointees, and we still have an uphill battle to get our country (and our president, for that matter) to care about all the (un)constitutional abuses of the Bush-Cheney era.

Enjoy the circus.

Health Care Saturday: That Brilliant Plan Edition

Sigh. Better media please . . .
Josh Marshall: Blitzer calls Obama afternoon remarks on health care a "hail mary pass" on to save health care reform.

Kurtz: Not Very Senatorial

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) twitters on Obama's White House remarks:

Obama speech on healthCareReform Absolutely nothing new Waste of time saying we are going to get that done Baucus and I know that But doRITE

Worries me that Grassley and Baucus think they have it all figured out.

Marshall on Keepin' It Classy

Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS): If health care covered abortions, Obama's mom might have aborted him.
Ben Smith: Health reform foes plan Obama's 'Waterloo'

Conservative leaders will push delay any vote on health care reform until after the August recess to capitalize on what they say is a growing tide of opposition to reform measures, they said on a conference call with "tea party" participants today.

"I can almost guarantee you this thing won't pass before August, and if we can hold it back until we go home for a month's break in August," members of Congress will hear from "outraged" constituents, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint said on the call, which was organized by the group Conservatives for Patients Rights.

"Senators and Congressmen will come back in September afraid to vote against the American people," DeMint predicted, adding that "this health care issue Is D-Day for freedom in America."

"If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him," he said.

The founder of Conservatives for Patients Rights told the 104 participants in the call, which was organized to coincide with the National Tea Party Patriots group's protests at the offices of members of Congress today, that polling suggests majorities oppose a "government take-over," which is how Scott's group casts the Obama plan.

Rep. Mike Pence, also on the call, also said the tide is turning.

"Every single day more dems are expressing op to government-run health care," he said.

Kurtz: Let the Record Show ...

Remember this?

President George W. Bush signed into law Thursday the first major piece of legislation of his presidency, a $1.35 trillion tax cut over 10 years.

Of the six senators begging President Obama to slow down health care reform, four of them -- Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Susan Collins (R-ME) -- voted for those huge Bush tax cuts.

Their votes were cast on May 26, 2001. Bush signed the tax cuts into law on June 7, 2001. Here we are in mid-July, eight years later, struggling to get health care reform passed by the end of the year.

So whatever these four foot-draggers are saying about why they want health care reform slowed down (and Nelson, for one, was all over the place yesterday warning against "rushing into this"), it's not really about wanting to be more deliberative or avoid ballooning the deficit. All you have to do is look back to 2001. Their records speak for themselves.

  • digby provides needed Perspective
    Let's not forget that the war in Iraq was a totally unnecessary expense. And there was absolutely no good reason to cut the taxes on rich people in 2001.

    I honestly don't recall even the mildest objections to the costs of Bush's programs coming from the same timorous Democrats who are now threatening to block health reform because they are expensive. But then, among our vaunted centrists and conservatives, cutting taxes or embarking on a useless waste of lives by violent means always seem to take precedence over making anyone's life better.
  • Benen adds HE CAN'T COUNT, EITHER....
    Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, on Fox News yesterday:

    "They love going back to George Bush and his deficit that was inherited. Great. I'll take George Bush's deficit right now of a trillion dollars over the 10 trillion dollars that this administration has created in just six months."

    Even for Steele, that's pretty awful. Nate Carlile offers the confused party chair a quick primer on reality.

    ...Bush inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion in 2001. Budget experts projected a $710 billion surplus for 2009 when he came into office. But the deficit soon exploded, thanks largely to the Bush tax cuts -- which accounted for 42 percent of the deficit. When Bush left office, he handed President Obama a projected $1.2 trillion budget deficit for this year, the largest ever.

    As for the debt, when President Bush took office, it was $5.73 trillion. When he left, it was $10.7 trillion.

    I can appreciate why the RNC might find these inconvenient details embarrassing. This is the party, after all, that pretends to care about deficits, fiscal discipline, and balanced budgets. If I were the head of the RNC, I'd have a hard time defending the Republican record on this, too.

    But c'mon. Obama created a $10 trillion deficit in six months? If Steele wants to be taken at all seriously, he should at least try to come close to reality.

sgw: What You Been Waiting For

Listen closely. That sound you hear is President Obama saying any health care bill he signs MUST have an insurance exchange INCLUDING a public option.

Let me say that again, INCLUDING a public option!

You gotta think this was a direct response to the ConservaDems and their bullshit "lets put on the brakes" letter. I bet they won't try that shit again anytime soon.

Now, lets get this shit done and get everybody covered!
Josh Marshall says Just Go Read It
Everyone who's yapping about the CBO chief's comments about health care costs, should read this piece by Jon Cohn. Another one of those cases where -- shockingly -- it really helps to understand the policy details and not just the political atmospherics.

It's not my first choice for paying for health care reform (this is), but the House is moving forward with a proposal to apply a graduated surcharge, or "surtax," on the very wealthiest Americans. The indispensable Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report yesterday on the proposal and deemed it a "reasonable approach" to paying for reform. (thanks to K.F. for passing this along)

The House surcharge proposal is reasonable and well-targeted. In recent decades, incomes have grown disproportionately for households at the top of the income scale, while their tax burden has fallen substantially. Moreover, despite charges to the contrary, the proposal would have only a small impact on small businesses. The congressional Joint Tax Committee estimates that it would have no impact at all on 96 percent of small business owners -- broadly defined as any taxpayer with as little as $1 of business income -- and that only half of the 4 percent of small business owners who would be affected derive more than a third of their income from a business. At the same time, the House plan would enhance the ability of small businesses to offer affordable, quality health insurance to their employees.

And while 96% of small business would be unaffected, so too would 98.8% of taxpayers.

Those remaining 1.2% would pay a higher rate, but as the CBPP report explains very well, these are the same very wealthy Americans who've done extremely well for themselves over the last quarter century. The richest taxpayers would pay slightly more, and in exchange, we can finally improve a broken health care system, and bring coverage to tens of millions of Americans who haven't fared as well as the very wealthy in recent years.

And what of the small businesses? While 96% of small businesses would feel no impact at all, the CBPP analysis also found that the reform package would extend key benefits to these businesses. For example, the House Democratic plan would "eliminate insurers' ability to increase premiums for small businesses based on their workers' health status and other factors," "allow small businesses to buy health coverage through a new health insurance exchange in order to lower administrative costs and ensure access to quality plans," and "provide tax credits for the smallest firms to help them offer coverage."

Some details to consider as the debate progresses.

digby: Who Says The Right Is Out Of Ideas?

Maha found this gem at the Cato Institute:

I have discovered a proposal for “fixing” health care on the Cato Institute website that is an absolute hoot.

The plan (see PDF) is to eliminate employee health benefit insurance and all government health care support, and throw everyone into the private insurance market. Insurance companies would be allowed to risk-rate premiums, so that as people got older and/or sicker their premiums would go up.

However, Cato says, this doesn’t have to be a problem. The solution is … wait for it … insurance insurance. They call it “health status insurance,” but essentially it’s insurance insurance. It’s a separate policy you take that will insure you against catastrophic increases in your health insurance.

I’m not kidding. That’s the brilliant plan.

She explains that in order to make it work, it requires that everyone, including young healthy people voluntarily buy in and also carry the insurance insurance, which sounds perfectly doable, right?

If that doesn't work out I assume there will soon be a market for insurance insurance insurance, for those who are under covered and over charged by the first two, which would create yet another market for insurance insurance insurance insurance.

Markets are so awesome. If only human beings weren't involved in all this it would be perfect.
  • Atrios adds . . .
    It is quite funny how their minds work. Problem with the insurance market such that they tend to increase prices when you get old and sick? Simple! Just take out an insurance policy on that. Of course, if the same thing happens with that insurance policy...take out another one! Eventually all the risk and costs will be passed on to insurance policy #666, at which time the health insurance companies will eat up 80% of our GDP.

    They almost grasp the problem, but they're ideologically unable to understand the obvious solutions.

Think Progress: GOP Rep. Admits That Health Insurance Companies Control The Market And Dictate Medical Decisions

Today on C-Span’s Washington Journal, a caller told a story of how he was forced to see numerous doctors at different hospitals in the area in where he lives, some as far as 100 miles away, to get a diagnosis. The caller then faulted health insurance companies for preventing the practice of having “diagnostic tests done under one roof.” “So in essence,” the caller noted, “the insurance companies are the ones controlling what tests you can get, when you get them, how you get them and if they’re accepted or not.”

In a remarkable moment of candor, C-Span’s guest — Republican Congressman Tim Murphy (PA) — agreed:

MURPHY: Yeah and that brings up the point here that with regard to one of our big frustrations with insurance companies is they control the market place, they control what’s done, a lot of times doctors not making the decisions here. And you recognize the frustration.

Watch it:

Murphy is right: Insurance companies control markets and are the ones making medical decisions. Insurance companies have consolidated in local markets which has resulted in limited choice and higher profits. In fact, “1 in 6 metropolitan areas in a 2008 study of more than 300 U.S. markets is dominated by a single health insurer that controls at least 70% of consumers.” And as The Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky has noted, insurance companies try to cover only the healthy because offering care to sicker Americans puts them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.

In order to preserve the status quo of keeping health insurance in the private sector,
the GOP’s strategy has been to repeat the dubious claim that a public option “rations” care. But by making that argument, as Murphy pointed out, rationing care is just what these very same conservatives are supporting. Indeed, during her confirmation hearing in March, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “as insurance commissioner where I served for eight years saw it on a regular basis by private insures, who often made decisions overruling suggestions that doctors would make for their patients that they weren’t going to be covered.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

Simply Remarkable

Maddow challenges Buchanan on race July 16: MSNBC's Rachel Maddow invites Pat Buchanan to explain (and debate) his column in Human Events calling on Republicans to treat Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor with contempt for being a beneficiary of affirmative action.
Kos asks: What would white people do...
... without Pat Buchanan defending them from the oppression of the minority?

And to remind people why Buchanan has been unhinged about Sotomayor all week:

We’re going to have 135 million Hispanics in the United States by 2050, heavily concentrated in the southwest. The question is whether we’re going to survive as a country.

He sees Sotomayor -- heck, any brown person really -- as a threat to his beloved White America's very survival.

Pat Buchanan is living proof that MSNBC doesn't want Fox News to have a monopoly on racists.

Think Progress: Lindsey Graham concludes that Sotomayor is not an ‘activist’ judge.

After Judge Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) joined with conservatives in declaring her an “activist” judge. “If I look at her philosophy, her legal philosophy, which I think is very activist in nature,” said Graham in May. But after three days of confirmation hearings, Graham appears to have changed his mind:

GRAHAM: And here’s what I will say about you. I don’t know how you’re going to come out on that case. Because I think fundamentally, judge, you’re able after all these years of being a judge to embrace a right that you may not want for yourself. To allow others to do things that are not comfortable to you, but for the group, they’re necessary. That is my hope for you. That’s what makes you, to me, more acceptable as a judge and not a activist. Because a activist would be a judge who would be chomping at the bit to use this wonderful opportunity to change America through the Supreme Court by taking their view of life and imposing it on the rest of us.

Watch it:

In his live-blog of the hearing, Ian Millhiser remarks that “Graham looks a whole lot like a ‘yes’ vote” following that exchange.

John Cole: I wonder What She Thinks About Tire Gauges

Meghan McCain states the obvious:

“Joe the Plumber — you can quote me — is a dumbass. He should stick to plumbing.”

I wonder, if in a future unguarded moment of candor, Miss McCain will blurt out the name of the person responsible for elevating all of these “dumbasses” to the national stage.

I believe she calls that person “dad.”

Hypocris-C Street July 16: Another veteran of C Street, former Rep. Chip Pickering, R-MS, is alleged to have had an extramarital affair. This is the same secretive Washington D.C. residence linked to Sen. John Ensign, R-NV, and Gov. Mark Sanford, R-SC. Rachel Maddow is joined by Harper's Magazine contributing editor Jeff Sharlet.

DougJ: Wingnut math

I had a friend in grad school who worked at a wine store where he was able to buy wine at one-third off the normal price and without paying California sales tax (then 8%). This, he concluded, gave him a 41.3% discount, and I was never able to convince him otherwise. He and Dennis Prager should take a class together:

Hewitt: Let’s cover this 23, 30% divide Dennis. If we can. If I want a dollar for a pencil at the end of the transaction, I make a pencil I want to have a dollar in my pocket, I’m going to have to charge $1.30 under the Fair Tax plan. Do you call that a 23% tax or a 30$ tax?

Prager: Ok. I have mulled this thing over, and over, and over, and I don’t know of much in life where truly the way one phrases the question gives you a different response. That’s one way of stating the statement. The other is I charge a dollar for a pencil and you pay me 23%, therefore you are in fact going to pay $1.23 for the pencil. That is 23%.

Sargent: Despite Quitting, Palin Still Most Popular Figure In GOP By A Mile

This blog has repeatedly wondered aloud whether Sarah Palin would be able remain hugely popular among Republican voters, now that her resignation has shown that the Alaska governorship was too big a fish tank for the Bailin’ Barracuda to handle.

Well, the new Gallup poll shows that she’s still far and away the most popular GOP figure among Republicans and Republican-leading independents (click to enlarge):

Palin retains an astronomical favorability rating of 72%. No one else in the Republican Party can touch her. Current Republican officials such as Michael Steele, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner just aren’t anywhere near being in her league.

What’s that say about today’s GOP? I really wonder what smart Republican consultants would have to say about this.

Sargent: Republican National Committee Rolls Out Epithet: “Obama Democrats”

A source sends over the latest fundraising email from the RNC, which employs an interesting phrase to tar Congressional Dems on health care and the economy:

The RNC believes your voice should be heard before the Obama Democrats nationalize almost one fifth of our economy, incur trillions of dollars in new spending and debt, and begin rationing health care to the American people.

Your opinion on the many domestic and foreign policy issues that America faces has been vital. The future of health care in America is so important — especially as Obama Democrats are moving swiftly to bring European-style socialized medicine here — that I am asking for more of your grassroots insight today.

That’s why I hope you will take a moment right now to fill out online our Future of American Health Care survey. Your input will help Republican leaders in Washington, D.C. and across America know where you stand on the Obama Democrats’ nationalized health care plans and the Republican alternative.

It’ll be interesting to see if we’ll hear more of this. Six months ago, the Republican approach was to avoid attacking Obama and to fault Congressional Dems for falling short of Obama’s bipartisan ideal. Now the GOP is stamping Obama’s face on Dems in a manner once reserved for Nancy Pelosi. The specifics of Obama’s agenda have made him a lightening rod for the base, but the GOP is also gambling that his goals are losing broader support.

By contrast, despite the downturn in some polls, Dems continue to believe the public wants Obama to succeed in enacting his agenda. Guess we’ll find out who’s right soon enough.

Yglesias: “Obamacare”

One thing I’ve noticed is that conservatives like to call whichever health care proposal they’re criticizing at the moment (they oppose all health care proposals because they believe, irrespective of the merits, that a defeat will serve their interests) “Obamacare” even though the proposals are different and often don’t fully reflect the White House point-of-view. What’s interesting about this, to me, is that it’s basically just a tick. The right labeled the Clinton administration’s 1994 proposal “HillaryCare” and they also beat it. So now there’s a new health care debate, so let’s trot out the term “Obamacare.”

Back in the real world, though, Barack Obama is really popular. Probably more popular than any particular health reform initiative. Labeling something “Obamacare” is going to make it more popular. The right should be slagging on Dingellcare and Baucuscare and Doddcare. Nobody knows who those guys are, and people generally take a dim view of members of congress other than their own.

Health Care Friday

I am happy with my current health insurance through WV PEIA. They cover minor expenses (minus deductibles) without problem. But I, and my family (so far), has never had more than minor medical expenses (largest was a colonoscopy). I have absolutely no idea if our health insurance will perform as I need it to perform if we have an expensive, protracted treatment or extended hospital stay or need for long term expensive prescriptions. Which means my attitude toward my insurance coverage is utterly irrelevant to the current discussion. What is relevant are the experiences of people who are insured and have tested their insurance against need. Like John Aravosis . . .
John Aravosis: "The reality is if you get real sick, no matter if you're insured or not, you're probably financially f**ked."
That headline was posted by Sardine over at Eschaton. And they're right. It's a point I've been trying to make for a while. Health care reform isn't just about poor people, and we should stop trying to sell it to the rest of America by using that argument. I think most Americans feel a sense of empathy with those in need, but when the economy, their job, and their family's livelihood is hanging by a thread, I think that most Americans become less generous and more selfish. And I propose that we play to their selfishness when pitching health care reform.

No matter how good you think your health insurance, answer me these questions off the top of your head:

1. What's the annual limit on prescription benefits under your plan? Do you have a limit? I didn't think I did until last year when Blue Cross cut me off and I had to pay for my $250 a month asthma medicine, and more, out of my own pocket.

2. What's the lifetime limit on our major medical plan? What do I mean? Lots of health care plans only cover your major medical up until a certain point, then if you cost them too much, they cut you off. What's your cut off, and would getting cancer push you beyond that cut off?

3. How much does an appendectomy cost? We know from Joe that is costs $19,000 in Washington, DC. How much does your insurance cover? Joe has good insurance, and his still required him to pay $1,500 of that. What would yours require? You don't know? Then how do you know your insurance is so good?

4. Would your insurance pay for an MRI? For radiation and chemotherapy treatments? For a liver transplants? What if your mom or dad has cataracts? Or a detached retina? What about diabetes?

I don't think most people have a clue what their insurance really covers. I know I didn't. I simply told Blue Cross 12 years ago to give me the most expensive PPO they had, because I assumed that a PPO, and the most expensive one, was the "good" coverage.

Silly me.

I didn't know what my good plan covered until I got asthma as a result of my allergies. Now I know that my asthma drugs cost a whopping $471 a month. That's $5,652 a year. After Blue Cross' paltry share, that leaves me with $4,152 a year in asthma drugs (not counting any other prescriptions I may have to take for other unrelated problems that may arise). My insurance costs me nearly $420 a month. That's another $5,040 a year. And the premium goes up around 25% a year. Imagine how much it's going to be in ten years when I'm 55. And the joke, Blue Cross will still only give me $1500 in prescription drug coverage ten years from now - that's the way their policy works. I got $1500 when I started 12 years ago with them, and I'll have $1500 in ten years.

I have no idea what I would do if I came down with something really serious (as though my asthma isn't - I was told that things won't be pretty in 20 years if we don't get it under control now). This is how a lot of Americans live, but I think most have no idea just how precarious things are. We all love to think that our health insurance will protect us, as if Blue Cross actually gave a damn. They don't. They're a company out to make money. And helping you live doesn't help them make money - in fact, if you think about it, if you get sick, your insurance company is better off financially if you die. That's one hell of a crazy incentive to base a nation's health on.

PS And before anyone tells me - aha, you want more in drugs than you paid for your health care! - health insurance like all insurance is a gamble. For the past 45 years of my life, Blue Cross and all the rest have done pretty damn well having me on their policies. It's about time we played a little catch up.
Ezra Klein: The Idea That Could Save Health-Care Reform

I don't want to overstate my case. I am not suggesting that Sen. Ron Wyden's Free Choice Act is the difference between a health-care reform bill passing the Senate and dying in committee. But I am arguing that it might be the difference between a bill that delivers on its promise of reforming the health-care system and a bill that merely expands health insurance coverage.

There are two major problems with the proposals being considered in Congress. The first is that they do not do enough to cut costs, because they do not do enough to change the fundamental nature of the employer-based health-care system. Earlier this morning, Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf told the Senate Finance Committee that health-care reform will not save us money. If the problem is that our health-care system is too expensive, and reform does not change the structure of our health-care system, then it is unlikely to mitigate the expense. The flip side of trying to avoid changing what people have is that you don't change what's not working.

The second is that the bill does not offer obvious benefits to an insured worker. You can argue that it changes the system around them: There are subsidies if they lose their job and regulations to protect them from the excesses of private insurers. But though the health-care system might be different, it will not, for most people, feel different. And that has made it hard to explain to people why this is something they should pay for. You can tell the insured worker what he gets if his circumstances change. You cannot tell him what he gets if his circumstances do not change.

Enter Wyden. The Free Choice Act is not a health-care-reform bill. It is best understood as a reform of the health-care-reform bill. In particular, it reforms the nature of the Health Insurance Exchange. Under the bills being considered right now, the exchange will be limited to the uninsured, the self-employed and small businesses. Maybe it will be expanded over time. Maybe not. In addition, it is barricaded by what's called a "firewall." The firewall essentially bars individuals from entering the exchange so long as their employers offer them a basic level of health-care coverage.

The Free Choice Act starts by setting the rules for the exchange: Within five years the exchange is open to all employers. More importantly, it's open to all people. The firewall is extinguished. But as the late, great, Billy Mays would say, that's not all!

The key component of the Free Choice Act is called "cash-out." Under the Free Choice Act, if I decide that I don't like any of the health-care coverage options being offered by my employer and would prefer to choose from the many options being offered on the Health Insurance Exchange, my employer has to give me a voucher that covers 65 to 70 percent of the cost of the lowest level of exchange plan. (That is the average portion that an employer pays of his employee's health insurance premiums.) I can take that voucher and, along with whatever money I want to throw in, choose a plan on the exchange.

This does a couple of things. First, it changes the health-care system for the currently insured. It doesn't take what they have. But it gives them a choice. If the political yin of health-care reform is that you can keep what you have if you like it, the policy yang should be that you can choose something different if you don't. The Free Choice Act gives the insured something concrete: autonomy. If they don't like what they have, they are assured options. In 1994, Bill Clinton's plan was defeated because people believed it would restrict choice. Given the apparent power of the objection, it makes some sense to try to sell health-care reform atop the concrete promise that it will increase choice.

Second, it gives people an incentive to choose cost-effective plans. If your employer is paying 70 percent of your $10,000 health insurance premium, and you find a $9,000 plan on the Exchange -- maybe it's an HMO rather than a PPO -- you pocket $1,000. Currently, since I pay only 30 percent of my health-care premiums, making the same choice within the HMO and PPO offerings that The Washington Post gives me would only net me $333 dollars. Wyden's plan would put 300 percent as much money in my pocket. That changes behavior. And even the CBO thinks so. This is one of the main reasons the Congressional Budget Office scored Wyden's Healthy Americans Act -- which had a similar provision -- as saving, rather than costing, money.

Third, it begins to build a viable alternative to the employer-based health-care system. Experts think that the exchange will need at least 20 million participants to really start seeing advantages of scale. This will ensure it has much more than that. And if the exchange works? If direct competition between insurers lowers costs and increases quality, if standardized billing and administrative efficiencies save money, if the massive pool of customers helps insurers bargain for discounts with providers, then the exchange will become a progressively better deal, and more people will choose -- there's that word again -- to enter it. And if more people choose to enter it, then that cycle happens again, more people enter, and so forth. Soon, you've built the system we want rather than the one we have.

That is not to say there are no problems with this idea. The primary one is adverse selection: What's to stop all of a company's young employees from buying their way out and leaving their employer with bad health risks and high premiums? According to Wyden's office, risk adjustment. And they say they'll risk adjust back to the employer level, potentially. It's hard for me to imagine how that would work. But it's also hard for me to imagine a flood of young people who don't care much about having good health insurance going through the process of contacting HR, attaining the voucher, going to the exchange, comparing plans, and so forth.

And the potential upside of this idea is huge: It gives the currently insured a bevy of new choices, creates real incentives for cost control, and begins the hard, and necessary, work of building a better health-care system. Wyden's Free Choice Act will not decide whether a bill called "health-care reform" passes the United States Congress. But it might decide whether that bill actually is health-care reform.

For more: Read Jon Cohn's write-up of the Free Choice Act, or my interview with Ron Wyden.

Think Progress: Tracking the influence of Frank Luntz’s obstructionist health care memo.

In early May, conservative word guru Frank Luntz authored a messaging memo defining the Republican rhetoric on health care reform. In order to obstruct reform, Luntz offered a set of poll-tested words that he said “should be used by everyone.” Some of those words were “rationing,” “doctor-patient,” “takeover” and “bureaucrats.” Using the Capitol Words search engine, the Sunlight Foundation’s Paul Blumenthal has found that Republicans are following Luntz’s advice:

Over the past month, as the health care debate has really gotten off the ground, the use of these words in the Congressional Record has skyrocketed. See the numbers below:

“Rationing” goes from 18 uses in May to 90 uses in June. This marks the highest level of use for the word “rationing” in the Capitol Words database.

“Doctor-patient” goes from 6 uses in May to 20 in June. This marks the highest level of use for the word “doctor-patient” in the Capitol Words database.

“Takeover” goes from 13 uses in May to 106 in June. This marks the highest level of use for the word “takeover” in the Capitol Words database.

“Bureaucrats” goes from 53 uses in May to 78 uses in June. This marks the highest level of use for the word “bureaucrats” in the Capitol Words database.

Watch a compilation put of GOP lawmakers mimicking Luntz’ “doctor-patient” rhetoric:

Think Progress: Bachmann Misreads House Health Bill To Claim ‘Whatever Health Care You Have Now’ Will Be Gone In 5 Years
On Tuesday, three separate House committees — Ways and Means Committee, Energy and Commerce Committee, Education and Labor Committee — released a single health care reform bill, the American Affordable Healthy Choices Act. An analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that the legislation would cost $1 trillion over 10 years and cover 94 percent of Americans (97% if you don’t count undocumented immigrants).

On Dennis Miller’s radio show today, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) attacked the bill, claiming that it plainly stated that Americans would be forced out of their current health care plans “within five years”:

BACHMANN: Well, what does that mean? That means that politicians are going to substitute their choice for your doctor’s choice for you. That’s exactly what this bill does. Here’s the other thing about that bill. It’s a monstrosity. I have the bill printed out on my desk, it’s over 1,000 pages long. On the 16th page, it says whatever health care you have now, it’s going to be gone within five years. So your current health care plan, you’re not going to have in five years. What you’re going to have is a government plan and a federal bureau is going to decide what you get or if you get anything at all.

Listen here:

Bachmann either misread the bill or is willfully misrepresenting it. In fact, page 16 is the beginning of the section on “Protecting The Choice To Keep Current Coverage.” The section that refers to five years is on page 17, but it’s not about pushing Americans off their current health plans. As the summary on Rep. Pete Stark’s (D-CA) website notes, it simply “provides for a five year grace period for current group health plans to meet specified standards.”

In fact, as the Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky points out, the CBO’s coverage tables “undermine the conservative claim that a public option would eliminate private insurance and erode employer-sponsored coverage”:

The House bill actually increases the number of people who receive coverage through their employer by 2 million (in 2019) and shifts most of the uninsured into private coverage. By 2019, 30 million individuals would also purchase coverage from the Exchange, but only 9-10 million Americans (or approximately 1/3) would enroll in the public option, the rest would enroll in private coverage.

So, in Bachmann’s world, increased private insurance is a government takeover of health care.

Think Progress: Blue Dogs threatening to quash health bill over surtax voted for Bush tax cuts.

Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR) — along with six other members of the Blue Dog coalition on the House Energy and Commerce Committee — are threatening to vote down the House’s health care legislation in committee. Ross reportedly objects to the surtax included in the bill, saying “I don’t like the idea of raising taxes in the worst economic crisis since World War II.” However, the Blue Dogs concerned about the surtax voted for some of the budget busting Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 that constituted a huge gift to the very wealthiest Americans. Of the seven Blue Dogs on from Energy and Commerce who are complaining, four were around to vote on Bush’s tax cuts. Here’s how they voted:

Member 2001 2003
Rep. Mike Ross (AR) Yes No
Rep. Bart Gordon (TN) Yes No
Rep. Jim Matheson (UT) Yes Yes
Rep. Baron Hill (IN) No No

Over the ten year window from 2001-2010, the Bush tax cuts gave the richest one percent of Americans about $715 billion in tax breaks. This comes out to about $518,000 per household over ten years or about $51,800 per year. The proposed surtax, meanwhile, would raise $544 billion from households making more than $350,000 per year. The Wonk Room has more.

Ezra Klein: An Interview With Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett's conservative credentials are impeccable: He's worked for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Jude Wanniski and Gary Bauer, Ron Paul and Jack Kemp. But he's also an economic realist: Government spending is growing, he says, and taxes are going to have to grow with it. The question for his party is whether it wants to get to work crafting those tax increases in a responsible way, or whether it wants to let Democrats levy inefficient hits on the rich and strange changes to the tax code. The health-care debate is a perfect example: A VAT could pay for this efficiently. But without Republican support, a surtax on the rich is likely to pay for this inefficiently. We spoke yesterday.

Start at the beginning. Why do we even need taxes? Why pay for anything?

We have a stream of revenue we'll continue to get in the future from the policies in place. But spending is projected to rise much more rapidly. So the question becomes what is the politically and economically tolerable level of the deficit? The Republican position seems to be, as Dick Cheney once said, that "deficits don't matter."

I don't know when we reach that threshold. But I think we were getting close even before the current problems. And federal spending is supposed to rise by about 50 percent over the next 25 years or so, and that was before any of the recent events. I think long before we'd reach the year 2030 we'd have a deficit large enough to create massive economic and political problems. Since the deficit has gotten so much larger so much faster, we're starting to see those problems on the horizon: Weakness of the dollar, increased efforts of foreign countries to diversify, unwillingness of other countries to hold the dollar. Eventually, we'll have a lot more trouble selling our bonds because our foreigners won't want them any longer.

What do you think a compromise between sensible members of both parties would look like?

I think the administration made a mistake approaching the funding of health-care reform how it did and I think Republicans made a mistake refusing to seriously debate the issue or its funding.

The value-added tax would be a very appropriate tax to use for this purpose. One reason is I am disturbed that we have a large percentage of the population that pay no income taxes. And I know many of those people pay payroll taxes. But income taxes fund the general government. According to a study by the Tax Policy Center, 47 percent pay no income tax, or have negative liability. And I think it's bad for democracy when people get into the position when a majority can vote benefits for themselves but not pay for it. And that should disturb liberals as much as conservatives.

The VAT would necessarily be a broad-based tax. It would be a way of getting people to pay for the benefits they themselves receive. People like Len Burman and Rahm Emmanuel's brother [Ezekiel Emmanuel, a health care adviser to Peter Orszag] have supported this for some time. Len argues that if people knew the VAT was dedicated to health-care reform, and the rate rose and fell automatically with the spending of the system, they would have an incentive to hold down taxes. They would have some positive reinforcement we do not now have with Medicare. I hope that's right. You know, every other major developed country has a VAT: The parties of the left in Europe made a deal a long time ago: If conservatives will let us have a welfare state, we'll fund it conservatively. And I think that's still a good deal.

So why aren't we seeing anything like that?

I think there's a couple of reasons for that. Both sides are pathologically afraid of advocating any kind of tax that would be paid by the average person. Republicans are opposed in particular to the VAT precisely because it's such a good tax. They fear it would become a money machine and it would help the government grow. I agreed with that for a long time. But the problem now is that we need a money machine! We have all this spending in the pipeline. It's not a question of whether we'll create new programs. It's whether we'll fund the ones that are already there.

What about a financial transactions tax?

I think that's pretty well dead. I don't support that myself. I think it's too easy for trading to shift to London or Tokyo or some other such place. It is interesting though that it hasn't come up. It could have something to do with the fact that guys like Chuck Schumer and Chris Dodd are in leadership positions and they're going to protect Wall Street.

Are there any other options you think particularly interesting?

One reason I've been more sympathetic to a carbon tax than other conservatives is that if you did it right it would be pretty close to a VAT. One of the objections a lot of us have to cap-and-trade is that it's too easily manipulated. It sounds good in theory, but once in the political meat-grinder, its failures become overwhelming.

Also, the corporate tax is no longer a viable source of revenue because of international capital flows and international trade. It's hard to pinpoint the source of a company's revenue. And this means we really need to shift more toward consumption-based taxation. You know where people consume. I think that's important.

And thinking about this from another perspective, suppose we had a VAT right now and we wanted to stimulated consumption. Reducing the VAT rate temporarily would be a wonderful way to stimulate consumption. Suppose you had a 10 percent VAT and we said we weren't going to collect it for the next 10 months. People would buy like crazy. They'd buy toilet paper, they'd buy anything they could get their hands on that they knew they'd need in the future. We're depriving ourselves of a great stimulant tool by ignoring this.

This gets back to the areas where there's no debate and there should be. I'd like to see some overall tax reform that lets us raise revenue at a lower deadweight cost to GDP. If you just did a tax reform that reduced that deadweight you could reduce the burden even as you kept the revenue. I'd love to see ways to do that discussed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wingnuts: the United States really is Alabama Edition

Republican opponents of health care reform have a new, colorful talking point. It turns out, if you put reform plans into a chart, fiddle with box sizes, arrow colors, and creative fonts, you discover that health care reform is ... complicated.

After a brightly colored chart failed to kill the Waxman-Markey bill, House Republicans are scrapping doubling down on the idea. They've created a new one to demonstrate just how complicated the Democrats' health care reform bill is.

Just as in the case of the Waxman-Markey chart, though, this doesn't actually explain anything. And it ironically begs the question of whether Republicans secretly want a simpler, single payer system to replace more complex reform proposals.

There are a wide variety of arguments against reform, but this may be the most ridiculous. The chart apparently proves that the health care system will be complex. Well, yes, it is. It will involve a lot of people, money, government agencies, and private entities. Of course, I hate to break it to the House Republican caucus, but the health system is already complex, and features a lot of people, money, government agencies, and private entities.

Indeed, if I were to do a chart detailing the way John Boehner's car works, it would also show a complicated system, but I suspect he'd take it to work every morning. More to the point, if I were to show Boehner a chart about the various international elements that went into invading Iraq in 2003, I suspect he wouldn't be persuaded if I said, "See? It's just too darn complex to bother."

And that's the underlying point of the GOP pitch: we can't reform the system because the solution doesn't fit nicely on a chart. But that's not an argument. It's barely even a chart.

Ezra Klein actually took a very close look at Boehner's new chart, and came to an interesting conclusion: "[I]t's not very scary. In fact, it's reminiscent of nothing so much as a Magic Eye picture: Stare at the whole thing and it's a bit bewildering. But focus in, and order reveals itself. And that order actually looks kind of good. Which leaves this chart in a bit of a weird position: Those who don't read it won't be able to understand it. And those who do read it won't be scared by it. All in all, a less than intimidating outing from the minority leader's office."

Better opposition party, please.


Of all of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's conservative critics, few have been quite as offensive as Pat Buchanan. For anyone who's followed Buchanan's record, this isn't surprising.

What's interesting, though, is Buchanan's advice for the Republican Party. In an odd piece for Human Events this week, Buchanan argues that the GOP's response to the Sotomayor nomination may produce "Hispanic hostility for a generation" towards the Republican Party. Sounds like a warning about electoral disaster? On the contrary -- Buchanan suggests the key to GOP success in the future is doing more to appeal to whites.

In 2008, Hispanics, according to the latest figures, were 7.4 percent of the total vote. White folks were 74 percent, 10 times as large. Adding just 1 percent to the white vote is thus the same as adding 10 percent to the candidate's Hispanic vote.

If John McCain, instead of getting 55 percent of the white vote, got the 58 percent George W. Bush got in 2004, that would have had the same impact as lifting his share of the Hispanic vote from 32 percent to 62 percent. [...]

Had McCain been willing to drape Jeremiah Wright around the neck of Barack Obama, as Lee Atwater draped Willie Horton around the neck of Michael Dukakis, the mainstream media might have howled. And McCain might be president.

He doesn't just see the benefits of race-baiting opportunities gone by. As this relates to a strategy for today, Buchanan urges Republicans to tell whites that "their sons and daughters are pushed aside to make room for the Sonia Sotomayors." Buchanan added that the GOP should also tell whites that Sotomayor has "a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males."

Jason Linkins notes that Buchanan's critique of Sotomayor's record isn't even close to reality, but we can safely assume that doesn't matter. Buchanan isn't making a substantive argument against a qualified jurist; he's making a demagogic argument in support of race baiting.

Ta-Nehisi Coates does a nice job today summarizing why this isn't just disgusting, but is actually bad strategic advice: "Amping up the race-baiting isn't just going to turn off black people (most of whom are already turned-off) it turns off Latinos also. The second problem is that it likely turns a significant portion of white people also. The GOP's problem isn't that it needs to shore up Alabama -- at least not yet. It's problem is, well, basically everywhere else that isn't Alabama. I don't know how bashing Sotomayor makes you more competitive in, say, Colorado or Oregon. I'd assume the opposite."

I suspect Buchanan assumes that whites everywhere share his attitudes. All whites must hate affirmative action, hate immigration, and be politically motivated by images of Jeremiah Wright. He believes, in other words, that the United States really is Alabama, and the GOP will benefit if they believe it, too.

Democrats are no doubt hoping that Republicans take Buchanan's advice.

JedL (DK): Obama calls Kyl's bluff on stimulus, McCain freaks out

On Sunday, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) called on the Obama Administration to cancel the rest of the stimulus plan, saying it was a complete failure.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) blew Kyl's arguments out of the water, reminding Kyl that only $56 billion of the $787 billion had yet been spent and that under Kyl's plan, tax cuts for middle-class Americans would be rescinded and jobs from much-needed infrastructure improvements would be lost.

Durbin's response was good, but what happened next was a thing of beauty.

WASHINGTON - Top Obama administration officials asked Gov. Jan Brewer on Monday whether the state wants to forfeit ongoing federal economic stimulus money after Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., suggested that the program should be nixed.

Agency heads ranging from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to housing Secretary Shaun Donovan sent letters to Brewer, pressing her to declare whether she supports the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or sides with Kyl and is willing to give up some of the money.

Brewer, a Republican, made it clear she wanted the stimulus funds -- but seemed to confuse whose idea it was to cancel the program:

"The governor is hopeful that these federal Cabinet officials are not threatening to deny Arizona citizens the portion of federal stimulus funds to which they are entitled," Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said. "She believes that would be a tremendous mistake by the administration."

Earth to Governor Brewer: the Obama Administration supports the stimulus. They don't want to cut off funds. It's your Republican U.S. Senator Jon Kyl who proposed cutting off your funds.

Although Brewer was confused, at least she made it clear she supported the stimulus.

John McCain, however, launched into a full-fledged freakout, offering a load of pure, unadulterated hypocrisy:

"I strongly support the comments of Senator Kyl and call on the administration to retract its threat against the citizens of Arizona."

So...John McCain supports Senator Kyl's demand that the Obama administration cancel the stimulus...but when the Obama administration asks state officials whether or not they agree with Senator Kyl's demand, McCain calls it a "threat against the citizens of Arizona."

Put another way, John McCain's message is this: "Don't do what I say I want you to do, because if you do what I say I want you to do, then you're doing nothing but threatening me. AND GET OFF MY LAWN! DAMMIT!"

And they wonder why we think they are a bunch of lunatics.

John Cole: Great Moments In Self Policing

The State published some of the emails fired back and forth from Sanford’s office while he was hiking the Appalachian Trail chasing Argentinian tail, and this cracked me up:

The e-mails also show some reached out to the governor on how best to come to his defense.

“If he wants something more personal for the blog to push back, I’m happy to help,” wrote Erick Erickson, a writer for On June 23, Erickson ripped “media speculation” about Sanford’s whereabouts.

“I wasn’t trying to be a reporter. I wanted to curtail the story,” Erickson said by e-mail. “Well that didn’t work.”

Which made me laugh, considering this memorable Red State post, which was an instant classic in the wingnut genre:

To majority media and other Democrats : we police our own, and you don’t get to judge: Drop dead.

By all means report the facts. I’m sure you’ll be happy to cover every salacious detail. Have at it. Be sure to cover the pain and suffering of Governor Sanford’s family. While you are at it, cover the depth to which all South Carolina and nation-wide Republicans and conservatives rightly feel betrayed.

Beyond that, just shut up. Shut your lying, hypocritical, power-above-patriotism, hyper-partisan, two-faced, shamelessly double-standard bearing pie hole.

You don’t get to judge.

Policing your own is a lot like OJ looking for the real killers.
Inside D.C.'s secretive religious sect July 15: More residents of C Street House in Washington D.C. are speaking about the facility. The House is run by a secretive religious group called "The Family," and is linked to Sen. John Ensign, R-NV and Gov. Mark Sanford, R-SC. What are some members of Congress who live at the house saying? Rachel Maddow is joined by Harper's Magazine contributing editor Jeff Sharlet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I'll be gone for three days. Here's your Palin fix.

Josh Marshall: New Palin Plot

On TPM Reader TG's advice, I checked out Sarah Palin's SarahPac, her political action committee.


And it turns out he's right. Palin does seem to have a plan for drawing a giant stencil of the state of Alaska on the mainland United States. Perhaps even removing entirely a series of midwestern and rocky mountain states.

Josh Marshall: Sarah 2.0

We knew there was a rebranding afoot. And here we have the first roll out of Sarah Palin, policy wonk. The Post agreed to run her new column on cap-and-trade.
DougJ: Jul Who would have thought it figured?

Sarah Palin has an anti cap-and-trade op-ed in the Post tomorrow. It’s all pretty good stuff, but this stands out:

In addition to immediately increasing unemployment in the energy sector, even more American jobs will be threatened by the rising cost of doing business under the cap-and-tax plan. For example, the cost of farming will certainly increase, driving down farm incomes while driving up grocery prices. The costs of manufacturing, warehousing and transportation will also increase.

The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics.

Maybe I’m dumb but it took me a while to figure out what any of this has to do with supply-side economics. In practice, supply-side economics mostly involves cutting marginal tax rates for the wealthy. I guess the idea here is that, more broadly, supply-side economics has to do with the idea of making things cheaper to produce. Is that what she’s saying?

and here's a Palin fellow traveler:

JedL: Hannity chopped video to support Drudge photo smear

Last week, wingnuts went loony about a photo pushed by Matt Drudge that they claimed showed President Obama ogling a young woman, but as the actual video from Italy showed, it's not even close: President Obama was helping a young woman step off a platform, not following Silvio Berlusconi's lead.

Fox viewers, however, would never know this, because Sean Hannity chopped up the video to conceal the truth of what happened:

Apparently, Fox and Hannity think making up a story about the President staring at a teenager's backside is a far better use of their time than getting their own Vitter-Ensign-Sanford house in order. What a bunch of clowns.


I agree. Hilzoy, digby, and Benen are my favorites. hilzoy will be sorely missed.

Apel: Hilzoy Quits

She is blogging through the rest of the week but will be hanging up her six-shooters at the end of it:

The main reason I started blogging, besides the fact that I thought it would be fun, was that starting sometime in 2002, I thought that my country had gone insane. It wasn't just the insane policies, although that was part of it. It was the sheer level of invective: the way that people who held what seemed to me to be perfectly reasonable views, e.g. that invading Iraq might not be such a smart move, were routinely being described as al Qaeda sympathizers who hated America and all it stood for and wanted us all to die...[It] seems to me that the madness is over. There are lots of people I disagree with, and lots of things I really care about, and even some people who seem to me to have misplaced their sanity, but the country as a whole does not seem to me to be crazy any more. Also, it has been nearly five years since I started. And so it seems to me that it's time for me to turn back into a pumpkin and twelve white mice.

I read a lot of bloggers. Over a thousand according to my RSS account. Hilzoy might be my favorite of the bunch. For purely selfish reasons, I hope that the blogging itch will be to much to bear and that she will relapse somewhere down the road.

The Dish wishes her nothing but the very, very best.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Get Your Empathy Here

JedL makes a great catch here. Must have been a hit rather than a ball or strike.
Jed Lewison: Coburn: Empathy is okay if you're a white guy

IOKIYAW must be the new IOKIYAR:

digby: On Biased Umpires
The opening statements coming from the Judiciary Committee Republicans are predictably revolting, but Senator Whitehouse's is a thing of beauty. Here's just a short excerpt:

It is fair to inquire into a nominee's judicial philosophy, and we will have serious and fair inquiry. But the pretense that Republican nominees embody modesty and restraint, or that Democratic nominees must be activists, runs counter to recent history. I particularly reject the analogy of a judge to an "umpire" who merely calls "balls and strikes." If judging were that mechanical, we wouldn't need nine Supreme Court Justices. The task of an appellate judge, particularly on a court of final appeal, is often to define the strike zone, within a matrix of Constitutional principle, legislative intent, and statutory construction.

The "umpire" analogy is belied by Chief Justice Roberts, though he cast himself as an "umpire" during his confirmation hearings. Jeffrey Toobin, a well-respected legal commentator, has recently reported that "[i]n every major case since he became the nation's seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff." Some umpire. And is it a coincidence that this pattern, to continue Toobin's quote, "has served the interests, and reflected the values of the contemporary Republican party"? Some coincidence.

For all the talk of "modesty" and "restraint," the right wing Justices of the Court have a striking record of ignoring precedent, overturning congressional statutes, limiting constitutional protections, and discovering new constitutional rights: the infamous Ledbetter decision, for instance; the Louisville and Seattle integration cases, for example; the first limitation on Roe v. Wade that outright disregards the woman's health and safety; and the DC Heller decision, discovering a constitutional right to own guns that the Court had not previously noticed in 220 years. Over and over, news reporting discusses "fundamental changes in the law" wrought by the Roberts Court's right wing flank. The Roberts Court has not lived up to the promises of modesty or humility made when President Bush nominated Justices Roberts and Alito. Some "balls and strikes."

So, Judge Sotomayor, I'd like to avoid codewords, and look for a simple pledge: that you will decide cases on the law and the facts; that you will respect the role of Congress as representatives of the American people; that you will not prejudge any case, but listen to every party that comes before you; and that you will respect precedent and limit yourself to the issues that the Court must decide; in short, that you will use the broad discretion of a Supreme Court Justice wisely and in keeping with the Constitution.
read on ....

kos: The GOP's continued war on empathy

I expected Republicans to resort to race-baiting in their fruitless effort to stop the inevitable confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. The party of Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, and the old Dixiecrats simply can't help themselves. That's why only 7 percent of Latinos have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party.

More surprising has been the war on empathy. We polled that question back in mid-June.

Do you think empathy is an important characteristic for a Supreme Court Justice to possess or not?

Yes No
18-29 63 17
30-44 47 34
45-59 55 26
60+ 46 35

White 41 39
Black 81 4
Latino 79 4
Other 79 5

Men 48 34
Women 56 24

[...] Same question as above:

Do you think empathy is an important characteristic for a Supreme Court Justice to possess or not?

Yes No
Dem 73 12
GOP 18 56
Ind 54 28

Every demographic polled thought empathy was a good value to have except ... Republicans, while whites were fairly evenly split (not surprising given their heavy over-representation in the GOP). It is this very question that ultimately holds the answer to the GOP's current troubles.

Look closely at the crosstabs. What are the three groups that have abandoned the GOP in droves, costing them hugely at the polls? Youth voters, Latinos, and independents. And as Republicans spend the next weeks trashing the concept of "empathy", keep in mind that it is further alienating those very groups (as well as African Americans, Asians, and other rapidly growing non-white groups).

For the longest time, the GOP kept its hostility toward empathy fairly well-hidden. In fact, it pretended otherwise for the sake of electoral viability, as Jonah Goldberd complained in the National Review when assessing the root causes of Bush's failures:

But in the background there was an even larger problem: compassionate conservatism.

As countless writers have noted in National Review over the last five years, most conservatives never really understood what compassionate conservatism was, beyond a convenient marketing slogan to attract swing voters. The reality--as even some members of the Bush team will sheepishly concede--is that there was nothing behind the curtain. Sure, in the hands of Marvin Olasky and others, compassionate conservatism had some heft. But Karl Rove's translation of it into a political platform made it into a pseudo-intellectual rationale for constituent-pleasing and Nixonian "modern Republicanism."

Got that? As conservatives themselves note, Bush and Rove wielded compassionate conservatism as an empty political ploy to win "swing voters". And "compassion" is no different than "emapthy". So, the last Republican to have electoral success (even though he lost the popular vote) was a Republican who pretended to be emphatic. Now, his party has determined that Bush failed because he tried to be compassionate, and they've resorted to openly sneering at the word.

STEELE: ... Crazy nonsense empathetic. I’ll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind. Craziness.

Problem is, people want empathy in their government. And if Republicans aren't going to provide it, they will cede the electoral battlefield to the one party who will. And really, who are we to complain about that?

Matt Yglesias has The Dream

Wouldn’t it be kind of great if the Senate GOP somehow did manage to trick Sotomayor into delivering a bitter tirade against whitey: “I took one look at Frank Rizzo’s pale, pale skin and unaccented speech and knew I would do whatever it takes to keep him down—that’s empathy in action!”

And just think of the gloating posts on the Corner.

UpdateEr... that should be Frank Ricci.

Sudbay: Ralph Reed claims he's going to be the GOP's cool, hip, younger Steve Jobs

Disgraced GOP/Religious Right activist Ralph Reed, a close associate of the now-imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is making a comeback. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution profiles Reed and his new group. A couple quotes from Reed stand-out. It sounds like he's having a mid-life crisis. And, he really has a very high opinion of himself.

First, the creepy, I'm having a mid-life crisis quote:

“This is not going to be your daddy’s Christian Coalition,” Reed said in an interview to describe his new venture, the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “It has to be younger, hipper, less strident, more inclusive and it has to harness the 21st century that will enable us to win in the future.”
But, Ralph is a daddy. Then, the "I'm the Messiah" quote:
“Even though I’ve been doing other things, this is kind of like Steve Jobs returning to Apple,” Reed said.
Yes, Ralph Reed said he'll do for the right wing what Jobs did for Apple. Somebody really loves himself.

Reed's sole foray into electoral politics didn't fare so well. In the GOP primary for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, back in 2006, Reed got thumped by a relatively unknown state senator. But, fear not, he's coming back. Hipper and cooler than ever.