Saturday, September 5, 2009

Health Care Saturday: a small fraction of the problem Edition

Reich on health care reform Sept. 4: Former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich joins guest host Ana Marie Cox to talk about the latest push to pass health care reform.
Ezra Klein on Touching the Stove

It's a pretty good thing that touching hot things causes us sharp and relatively immediate pain. It means the incentives to avoid touching hot things are well-aligned. That's less true with health-care reform (and much less true with global warming). So much as families feel a bit burdened by health-care costs now, they're actually protected from the bulk of the system's spending: they think employers foot the bill, or the government does. In fact, they do, through lost wages, and they do again, through higher taxes. As health economist Jon Gruber explains, this makes the politics of health-care reform rather tricky: you're trying to solve a problem that's much worse than people realize, and so the real solutions are more painful than they're willing to accept. The incentives are misaligned.

Unless consumers face a financial penalty from their choices that drive health care upward, supply-side reforms will fail.

We already have an excellent example of this problem: the reaction to managed care in the late 1990s. Managed care in its strongest form was in fact successful in lowering the growth rate of medical costs; employer-sponsored insurance premiums rose by just 2 percent per year or less from 1995 through 1997.

Yet the managed care “revolution’’ ended in its infancy because of a public backlash. Consumers perceived that they were being excessively restricted in their choice of provider and denied care too frequently by care managers. In fact, there is little evidence to support this perception. The ample literature on managed care has not provided any consistent evidence that it leads to lower-quality care or outcomes. Yet the abandonment of effective care management is partly why employer insurance premiums rose at double-digit rates again in the early 2000s.

But what if consumers weren’t so insulated from the financial consequences of their health insurance choices? The typical employee pays only a small fraction of the full costs of employer-sponsored insurance and has no idea what the total costs are. Moreover, the premiums that all employers and most employees pay are exempted from both income and payroll taxation, unlike wages. This shields firms and employees from reaping the financial benefits of lowering insurance costs.

Suppose a company offers its employees a new plan that is $1,000 cheaper, and offers to pass the savings on to employees in the form of $1,000 in higher wages. The problem is that the $1,000 in higher wages would be taxed, while the more expensive insurance they now hold is not. So for the employee, the relevant savings is not $1,000 in higher wages, but $600 in after-tax wages. Many employees won’t make that trade-off.

I would like to go a lot further. I would like to see the tax preferences eliminated, and I would like to see every worker get the money their employer pays for their health care put back into their wages. Then I would like them to purchase health insurance on their own, so they see the full cost of it, and can decide whether they're willing to support more radical efforts to bring those costs down, or whether they're willing to accept more care management in order to save some money. This is, basically, how the Wyden-Bennett bill works, and it's why it's such a gamechanger. It's also why it has so little legislative support: It tries to solve the full problem when people only feel a small fraction of the problem.

Smooth LikeRemy: "Let's Get On With It Mr. President"

This why I LOVE Bill Moyers. The man tells it like it is with no BS.

Nice plug for Josh Marshall over at TPM at the end too.

Ezra Klein on The Primacy of Congress

The problem with David Brooks's column today isn't that it's wrong on the specifics. It's not, really. It would be good if the health-care proposals on the table accorded more closely with the views of the most ambitious experts. But Brooks's explanation of why health-care reform differs from this technocratic ideal is misleading to his reader. He argues that the health-care reform proposals on the table are insufficiently ambitious because of some intellectual oversight on the part of the White House. If only they read more white papers! That's simply not true: This particular White House contains more expertise on the economics of health care than any in memory. What they don't possess is the capacity to change the incentives of Congress.

Take the simplest way to both pay for health-care reform and cut health-care costs: reforming the employer tax exclusion. House Democrats quickly shot that down, no Republicans offered their vote in exchange for the policy, and the Senate Democratic Leadership eventually killed the idea. What was the White House to do?

Or take the Wyden-Bennett bill, which Brooks brings up as an ambitious alternative. When this process began, that bill had eight Republican co-sponsors. Now it has, in reality, five, and only two of them, to my knowledge, have committed to voting for it. What was the White House to do?

Or take the "Gang of Six" process, which pared health-care reform back significantly. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and thus the gatekeeper for legislation involving Medicaid, Medicare or new revenues, wanted to pull the bill into a backroom and negotiate its shape with a few of his closest friends. What was the White House to do?

To put it more simply, Congress writes and passes legislation. The president cannot write legislation or pass it. What is the White House to do about that?

The president does not have the power to substantially change the dynamics of Congress on health-care reform, or big bills in general. If they did, Clinton would have passed health-care reform, as would Nixon and Truman and FDR. But what Brooks tells his readers today is that this is, in fact, Obama's fault. It is a lack of presidential audacity as opposed to congressional will. But this is worse than untrue: It's damaging. It feeds the persistent delusion that the fix to our problems is a different president or a better White House strategy. And so we change our presidents, and the White House revamps its tactics, but we do not solve these problems. If you don't have a competent driver, buying a bunch of new cars doesn't end your transportation woes.

The president cannot pass legislation over Congress. But Congress can pass legislation over the president. That's how our system is constructed, but you wouldn't know it from the way we report on it.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana appeared on MSNBC the other day, and commented on his vision for health care reform.

"Republicans believe that in addition to tort reform what we should allow Americans to do is to purchase health insurance the way members of Congress can, the way all federal employees can and that is to buy health insurance across state lines to get out there and allow new insurance products to be created in a new competitive marketplace ... even the private insurance elements in the Exchanges, you know, are essentially government controlled and government dictated."

This is completely wrong. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program operates, and how exchanges work. What's more, it's keeping with the recent trend -- last month, Pence appeared on MSNBC on a Wednesday, made ridiculous and demonstrably-false claims about reform, and was invited back on Thursday to repeat the exact same demonstrably-false claims.

In other words, we learned this week that Pence is not only confused about the basics, he doesn't even understand his own health insurance plan. Matt Yglesias noted the other day, "Pence doesn't sit on any of the committees relevant to health care or to federal personnel management, which perhaps explains why he doesn't know what he's talking about. At the same time, that only raises the question of why he's talking about this on television at all."

And that's why I brought this up: Pence will be a featured guest on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" tomorrow.

Why on earth would ABC reward Pence with another appearance? If he doesn't understand the policy, doesn't have a role in shaping the policy, can't explain his opposition to the policy, and is going to reject the policy anyway, what possible value is there in having him on to discuss it?

Every time I see Pence, I'm reminded of something Matt wrote earlier this year: "Mike Pence is a moron, and any movement that would hold the guy up as a hero is bankrupt.... I would refer you to this post from September about the earth-shattering ignorance and stupidity of Mike Pence.... [I]t's really staggering. In my admittedly brief experience talking to him, his inability to grasp the basic contours of policy question was obvious and overwhelming."

There are conservatives who can talk about health care intelligently. Pence isn't one of them. Inviting him onto national television to repeat nonsense he doesn't understand is absurd.

Ezra Klein asks: What If They Had a Health-Care Reform Bill and Nobody Could Support it?

I'm firmly on the record as being willing to support all manner of compromises on health-care reform. Policy dogmatism has not, over the long history of this issue, proven a successful strategy. But there's an increasingly evident path by which health-care reform begins to hurt the very people it's meant to aid. As Jordan Rau reports, making health-care reform affordable for the centrists in the Congress could make it unaffordable for the people.

The basic structure of the bill has three main planks working in conjunction with each other: The individual mandate creates a mechanism for a universal, or near-universal, system. A universal, or near-universal, system creates the conditions for insurance market reform. The subsidies make the individual mandate affordable for people to follow.

There are a few ways to destabilize this system. The most likely way is to reduce the subsidies so that the individual mandate isn't really affordable. That seems to be happening even as we speak. At that point, reformers have two options, both of them bad.

The first option is to reduce the value of the minimum insurance policy such that buying something the government considers insurance isn't very expensive. This means policies with high deductibles and co-pays, or policies that don't cover very much. But asking someone with a relatively low income to purchase a policy with a $1,500 deductible and significant co-pays is asking them to purchase something they can't really afford to use. So we're making them spend $7,000 or $8,000 a year on something they don't necessarily want and can't really take advantage of. That's a recipe for a huge backlash.

The second option is to drop the individual mandate altogether. Obama, who didn't have a mandate in his campaign plan, might be amenable to this approach. But here, too, there are problems. The young, healthy risks will hang back from the system while the older, sicker risks will flood in to take advantage of subsidies and new regulations that stop insurers from discriminating against them. The risk pool will reflect that, and health-care insurance will become even more unaffordable for the people who need it. And because it's less affordable because of the presence of the sick, it will become even less attractive to the healthy.

The happy news is that the difference between a plan with decent benefits that's affordable for people and a plan that's not affordable for people and doesn't offer decent benefits is not that large. Optimally, you'd want to spend about $1.3 trillion over 10 years. You could probably do it for $900 billion to $1 trillion. But you can't do it for, say, $700 billion, which is a number I'm hearing fairly frequently.

The difference between doing this right and doing this wrong is, in other words, about $30 billion a year, or $300 billion over 10 years. To put that in perspective, many of the legislators who are balking at the cost of health-care reform voted for the Kyl-Lincoln bill to reform the estate tax at a cost of $75 billion a year, or $750 billion over 10 years. You can make health-care reform work at a price tag that legislators are, in theory, willing to bear, at least when the tag is attached to tax cuts.

This is sadly right on the mark.
TV guide: Franken video gets attention Sept. 4: Guest host Ana Marie Cox talks about what Sen. Al Franken, D-MN, has to do to receive national media attention.

...such little regard...

“One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal.” —Bill Moyers

This is a fascinating report, with a bit of history on how republican leaders in the 60s decided to marginalize the delusional wing of their party (Birchers), and how today's "leaders enable them.
Questioning WorldNetDaily's cred
Sept. 4: Far right website WorldNetDaily has apparently cooked up a lot of Obama conspiracy theories. From birthers to deathers, the Website consistently aims to give credibility to these already debunked theories. Can anyone, even moderate Republicans, reign in on this "fringe right?" Guest host Ana Marie Cox is joined by New York Times book review editor Sam Tanenhaus.

For all the complaining I do about media figures who buy into conservative spin or embraced forced neutrality, it's only fair that I praise a reporter who gets it right.

On MSNBC yesterday, John Harwood was asked about conservatives who don't want children to hear President Obama encourage kids to do well in school. "I've been watching politics for a long time, and this one is really over-the-top," Harwood said.

He explained, "[L]et's face it, in a country of 300 million people, there are a lot of stupid people too. Because if you believe that it's somehow unhealthy for kids, for the president to say 'work hard and stay in school,' you're stupid. In fact, I'm worried for some of those kids of those parents who are upset. I'm not sure they are smart enough to raise those kids."

Also yesterday, Harwood, in a separate appearance, went on to call this an "idiotic controversy," pushed by "clowns." He added, "It is the stupidest thing that I've ever seen in 25 years of covering Washington."

John Harwood, I should add, is not generally considered a firebrand. He's the chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and a political writer for the New York Times, and apparently, some right-wing controversies are so breathtakingly inane, Harwood feels compelled to tell viewers the unvarnished truth.

Good for him.

This is going too fast for Tom Frank. Think about that.

Class(room) struggle over Obama speech Sept. 4: Republicans seem to be up in arms about President Obama's planned back to school speech to students. Some school officials are already deciding not to allow the speech to be played in their schools. Why is there so much uproar? Guest host Ana Marie Cox is joined by Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Frank.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked this morning for his thoughts on the right-wing fit over the president's speech, encouraging kids to do well in school. "I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can't tell kids to study hard and stay in school," Gibbs said.

That's true. The problem, of course, is that the "silly" season never ends.

That said, the DNC's response was much more amusing.

"What this absurd episode shows is that the GOP can in fact come up with new ideas. For example, it's now clear that the new Republican education platform will argue against personal responsibility, hard work and staying in school."

Right. The president wants to share a simple, straightforward message with the nation's students: work hard, play by the rules, excel in school, and take responsibility for your success. Angry, paranoid, right-wing activists are desperate to make sure children don't hear that message.

If the situation was reversed, and it was Democrats criticizing a Republican president's speech to kids, the pushback would be obvious: the left rejects basic, pro-education messages. That, or they're so closed blinded by partisan rage that they don't want Americans to hear innocuous messages from the Commander in Chief during two wars and an economic crisis.

Why do conservatives hate America?

NYT Editorial: Respect Your Children

The American right has directed many silly and offensive attacks at President Obama. But so far nothing compares with the news that right-wing demagogues on talk radio and the Web, along with Republican Party officials, are trying to stop children from hearing the president urge them to stay in school — because, they say, that is socialist propaganda.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise after a summer in which town hall meetings on health care have been turned into mindless shouting matches, where protesters parade guns and are cheered on by elected officials. Not only Sarah Palin, but people who know better — like Senator Charles Grassley — have been tossing around the fiction that Mr. Obama is planning to institute “death panels” to speed the infirm elderly to their ends.

Still, it was startling to read in Friday’s Times about the overheated and bizarre response to Mr. Obama’s plan to give a speech in a Virginia school next week that schools around the country also can show.

The White House says Mr. Obama will talk about the importance of education — hardly, we hope, a controversial topic. But the article said that in a growing number of school districts, especially in Texas, parents, talk-show hosts and some Republican officials are demanding that schools either refuse to show it or allow parents to keep their children home. The common refrain is that Mr. Obama will offer a socialist message — although nobody said what they meant by that.

There is, of course, nothing socialist in any of Mr. Obama’s policies, as anyone with a passing knowledge of socialism and its evil history knows. But in this country, unlike actual socialist countries, nobody can be compelled to listen to the president. What is most disturbing about all this is what it says about the parents — and the fact that they have such little regard for their children’s intelligence and ability to think.

This is a terrific video of our newest Dem Senator in action with an unruly crowd.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is aware of the fact that she's a controversial political figure. It's understanding why that seems to be giving her some trouble. Bachmann told a conservative radio talk show yesterday that she's certain she's become the target of criticism because Democrats fear her ... as a presidential candidate.

"Also with women politicians, they want to make sure no women, no woman becomes president before a Democrat woman, and so they're doing everything they can to, I think, sabotage women like Sarah Palin, perhaps women like myself, or similarly situated women, to make sure that we don't have a prominent national voice. But the thing is, the people in our country, they don't care who the voice is, they just want someone, they want to know that someone is speaking out for them against what will certainly bring about the destruction of our great country if we continue to go down the Obama path."

Well, that's one possibility. The other is that Bachmann is mad as a hatter, and she's frequently ridiculed because no one can find a nuttier member of Congress who says so many ridiculous things on a regular basis.

Of course, the idea that Bachmann has presidential ambitions, and believes Democrats fear her as a credible national candidate, only reinforces the point that she's not all there.

That said, Bachmann has acknowledged that she would seek national office if she believes it's what "the Lord was calling me to do so." Rep. Jim Oberstar (D), one of Bachmann's colleagues from the Minnesota delegation, said this week, "I don't think God's talking to her anymore. I think she's hearing other voices."

NBC News' Chuck Todd seems amazed by the "controversy" surrounding President Obama encouraging kids to do well in school.

Finally, here's one more thought about the entire controversy over Obama's education speech on Tuesday: Since the White House has said the text of the speech will be available for 24 hours before he delivers it and since they altered the lesson plan language, why is this still a controversy?

The ability of the conservative media machine to generate a controversy for this White House is amazing. In fact, this is an example of a story that percolates where it becomes harder and harder for some to claim there's some knee-jerk liberal media bias. (Does anyone remember these kinds of controversies in the summer of 2001?) The ability of some conservatives to create media firestorms is still much greater than liberals these days. How effective is the conservative media machine? Just ask Van Jones...

To a certain extent, I'm amazed by a lot of this, too. The outrage surrounding the president's message is truly insane, and the right's ability to manufacture "controversies" out of nothing is almost impressive, in a brain-numbing kind of way.

And while I don't mean to pick on Chuck Todd -- indeed, his point is to rebut the silly notion of a "liberal" media -- I'd love to see him consider this in more depth. He realizes there's no longer a genuine, newsworthy story here, and expresses amazement that the right can "create media firestorms" whenever they want. What's more, Todd realizes the left can't do the same thing.

But here's the key: Chuck Todd and his colleagues help decide what does, and does not, become, a media firestorm. More to the point, the only "controversies" that gain traction are the ones Chuck Todd and his colleagues give attention to.

Todd's post seems to argue, "Wow, can you believe people are talking about this crazy, nonsensical story that conservatives cooked up out of nothing?" It fails to acknowledge Chuck Todd's role in helping promote the crazy, nonsensical stories that conservatives cook up out of nothing.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Wingnuts: socialist/Commie/fascist/Nazi Edition

Atrios sees that Matt Drudge Rules Their World
And they are powerless.

Whatever the merits of politics by hissy fit, it's almost impossible for a left wing hissy fit to penetrate our media. It rarely happens, even when it's a hissy fit about torturing and killing people. Perhaps especially then.
Following up on an item from July, there's at least a chance that policymakers will eventually agree on a health care reform bill, and the landmark legislation will become law later this year.

At which point, right-wing state lawmakers will begin their efforts to block reform before it's implemented. Far-right Republicans have already taken steps in that direction in Florida and Texas, and Georgia is going down the same road. (via Zaid Jilani)

A group of Republican state senators on Thursday said they want to amend the state's Constitution in an attempt to stop Democrats in Washington from enforcing health care reform here.

Sens. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) and Chip Rogers (R-Marietta) were joined by about half a dozen colleagues to unveil their plans. The resolution would be introduced when lawmakers return in January.

The proposed amendment would, Hill and Rogers said, would allow Georgia to invoke the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.... Hill and Rogers argue that the health care reform bill being debated in Congress would violate the 10th Amendment and that their state amendment would protect Georgia from having to participate in any federal reform.

Proponents added, later in the day, that Georgians would still be able to get Medicare and Medicaid. It's this other government intrusion in health care they don't think is unconstitutional. Initially, Judson Hill was asked if Medicare should be considered illegal, and he said he wasn't sure.

Chip Rogers added that he supports Medicare, but not government-run health care like "our friends in Canada" have.

About one in three Georgians lack health care coverage. Some state representatives want to make sure it stays that way.

Josh Marshall: Times Change

TPM Reader JF's lament ...

How long did it take the right to go from: "if you criticize the President you are a traitor" to "School children should not trust the President."
In 1988, then-President Reagan spoke to students nationwide via C-SPAN telecast. Among other things, he talked about his positions on political issues of the day. Three years later, then-President Bush addressed school kids in a speech broadcast live to school classrooms nationwide. Among other things, he promoted his own administration's education policies.

President Obama wants to deliver a message to students next week emphasizing hard work, encouraging young people to do their best in school. The temper tantrum the right is throwing in response only helps reinforce how far gone 21st-century conservatives really are.

This is no small, isolated fit, thrown by random nutjobs. The New York Times, Washington Post,LA Times, AP, and others all ran stories this morning about the coordinated national effort to either keep children at home so they can't hear their president's pro-education message, or demanding that local schools block the message altogether.

A Republican state lawmaker in Oklahoma said, "As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education -- it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality. This is something you'd expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein's Iraq." Fox News personalities have adopted the same line, calling a stay-in-school message from the president "cultist" and reminiscent of "North Korea and the former Soviet Union."

I can appreciate there's a question of whether the Department of Education erred in the wording of one sentence in the supplementary materials. It's reasonable to think officials should have been more cautious.

But that's not what this is about. The administration not only edited the supplementary materials, but has offered to make the text of the address available in advance, just so everyone can see how innocuous it is. It's made no difference. Conservatives don't want school kids to hear a message from their president. Those who claim superiority on American patriotism have decided to throw yet another tantrum over the idea that the president of the United States might encourage young people to do well in schools.

This is what American politics has come to in 2009.

Michelle Cottle had a good item on this, calling conservatives' behavior "disgraceful."

...Obama is the leader of this entire nation. It doesn't matter if you voted for him -- or even if your head threatens to explode every time you think about him. He is the president, and, as such, it's a big deal that he's speaking directly to students about the importance of education. (Not teachers unions, you hysterics.) And, whatever one's party registration, the idea that any child should be kept home from class purely so their parents can make a political statement about an apolitical speech is appalling. Is the idea that we should shelter children from any contact with or knowledge of any president we personally dislike? Maybe, during the years our preferred party is out of power, we should just pretend that the president doesn't exist. That's a healthy way to run a democracy.

Admittedly, Obama is smooth. But he ain't smooth enough to wipe away an entire childhood of conservative teachings with one quickie speech about (all together now!) working hard in school. Buck up, all you deep-red wingers: Make the kids watch Glenn Beck afterward if it eases your anxiety. Have them genuflect before a poster of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. But don't be so paranoid about what might happen if they're briefly exposed to the sinister charms of a liberal president that you drag them down into your foxhole of craziness.

Even Joe Scarborough asked, "Where are all the GOP leaders speaking out against this kind of hysteria?" They are, alas, nowhere to be found. As John Cole explained, "The entire party has been taken over by crazy people."

Scarborough blasts right-wing conspiracy theories

September 03, 2009 7:57 pm ET by Media Matters staff

From Joe Scarborough's Twitter page:


John Cole: By Whatever Means Necessary

At some point, even the dim bulbs in the media (and maybe even Rahm Emanuel) will figure out that all the Republicans want to do is destroy Obama. Period.

*** Update ***

We are getting closer:

There is some historical precedent for presidents speaking to students in nationally televised addresses. President George H. W. Bush did so in 1991 and President Ronald Reagan even talked politics with students in 1988.

Nonetheless charges from Republican officials that President Obama is seeking to indoctrinate students—unsupported by any real evidence—have been flying.

That is about as close to the “L” word as we will get in the “he-said, she -said” era of modern journalism.

Krugman: A strange madness

Since I have decent Internet access for a couple of hours, let me weigh in a bit on the craziness sweeping America.

Joe Klein reports on a town hall meeting where people think that Obama has larded the government with communists. Bizarre — but I’ve been getting equally bizarre claims in much of my mail. And what’s striking is the intensity.

I’ve mentioned before that my hate mail has reached levels I haven’t seen since 2004 or so. But back then, the hate was in a way understandable. People like me were questioning Bush’s bona fides as the great protector against terrorism, were claiming that he deliberately misled the country into an unnecessary war. Those were strong charges, and in a way you could understand that people who idolized Bush (believe it or not, there used to be a lot of them) were upset.

But now I get spitting, incoherent rage over articles on, um, health care economics or macro modeling. What enrages people so much about these pieces? Usually, it’s impossible to tell — in fact, I often have the sense that the enraged correspondents haven’t read the things at all. But that’s OK — they know that I’m corrupt, a liar, a Nazi, and have been spewing my evil in my writings.

The point is that whatever is driving all this doesn’t have anything to do with the realities of what I, or, much more important of course, Obama say or do. Obama could have come in proposing to pursue an agenda identical to Bush, and he would still be a socialist/Commie/fascist, with those of us who don’t see it that way lying Nazis ourselves.

Something is going very wrong in the heads of a substantial number of Americans.

Apparently, the "oligarh" is capable of influencing public art projects that were created before he was born. Yes, Glenn Beck now believes President Obama has the power to inspire through time.

Keith Olbermann did a nice job last night highlighting, and ridiculing, the Fox News lunatic's latest conspiracy theory. This time, the subject of Beck's obsession is artwork in Rockefeller Center created 30 years before Barack Obama has born.

It's a little hard for sane people to understand, but Nicholas Graham summarized the argument: "[John] Rockefeller was an early American progressive, which actually means he was a communist, and they have connections to the fascists. And we know this because Rockefeller left clues to his true legacy with these communist art pieces which are hidden in plain sight, and since we have people in our own time who call themselves progressives they must actually be communists (possibly fascists?)."

Throw in some references to Benito Mussolini and President Obama encouraging young people to do well in school, and you have, well, a peek into the mind of a disturbed television personality.

My favorite part: Beck shares his art-interpretation conspiracy theory and concludes, "This makes sense."

Sure it does, Glenn. Sure it does.

Think Progress: Broun says Obama is trying to establish an ‘authoritarian government.’

The Athens Banner-Herald reports that Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) told constituents during a meeting of the Morgan County Republicans Wednesday that he thinks Obama and Democratic leaders are planning to establish an “authoritarian government” through the use of a national police force, gun control, and controlling the press:

Broun, R-Athens, apparently has not changed his belief that President Obama may be a fascist since he made similar remarks in Augusta in November and then in an Associated Press interview.

He told a meeting of the Morgan County Republicans on Wednesday night that Obama already has or will have the three things he needs to make himself a dictator: a national police force, gun control and control over the press.

He has the three things that are necessary to establish an authoritarian government,” Broun said. “And so we need to be ever-vigilant, because freedom is precious.”

This isn’t the first time Broun has made these outrageous charges. Last month he told constituents that Obama’s “socialistic elite” are planning to “declare martial law” to turn the U.S. into a dictatorship.

What publius said . . .

publius: A Foolish Surrender

To add a more substantive note to my last post, the retreat on the school language is extremely irritating (and a bit depressing). The reason is that it signals weakness and defensiveness.

Look, I understand completely the need for legislative horsetrading and deal-cutting. We have a failed political institution (the Senate) that makes these deals necessary. And while I support the public option, I don't think Obama is a traitor or anything for not demanding its inclusion. My goal on all these big proposed bills (coverage reform; cap and trade) is to set up the broad institutional structures that will grow in time. That's what matters most -- and that's precisely how the New Deal legislation worked.

So that's all fine.

What really annoys me though is caving on these symbolic matters. I mean, it's outrageous that end of life counseling is even remotely controversial. The whole point is to help people (particularly those of modest incomes) plan and be informed for the inevitable, and to give them more freedom about those decisions. And neither should it be remotely controversial for the President of the United States to speak with school children. Everyone knows what "helping" the President means, and so the outrage is either extreme cynicism or willed ideological ignorance.

But here's the thing -- when you surrender to such obviously absurd outrages, you hurt yourself in the long run. You not only validate those complaints, you come off looking weak and defensive -- as if you did something wrong. The conservative outrages on both issues should be counter-attacked, not retreated from. I mean, if liberals had done this to Bush, the narrative would be "has the angry Left gone too far?"

Honestly, the caving on the school speech is one of the most depressing things Obama has done. It's not that the act itself matters. It's that it signals that they think they're incapable of winning fights against whatever today's absurd outrage happens to be. It shows me that they don't have much fight in them.

Hopefully I'm wrong.

publius: Bold Leadership

Jake Tapper, "WH, Dept. of Education Revise Language":

In an acknowledgment that the Department of Education provided lesson plans written somewhat inartfully, surrounding the President Obama’s speech to students next Tuesday, the White House today announced that it had rewritten one of the sections in question.

NYT, "Obama Aides Aim to Simplify and Scale Back Health Bills":

To avoid some of the most heated criticism voiced in recent weeks, White House officials said they would have no objection if Congress scrapped proposals to have Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care.

AP, "Obama Apologizes for Not Saying 'Bless You'; Asks Forgiveness":

John Boehner sneezed today, and President Obama did not say "Bless You." Republicans immediately denounced the poor manners. Fearing a public backlash, the White House was forced to offer a belated apology.

Reuters, "White House on Defensive After Forgetting Chuck Grassley's Ketchup":

The White House scrambled today to contain the damage after forgetting to ask for ketchup for Senator Grassley's "Whopper with Cheese" meal. Grassley had demanded that Obama order him a Whopper with cheese, extra onions, mayo on top bun only -- and specifically said, "Don't forget the ketchup for my fries."

Obama, however, forgot the ketchup. He has since apologized, and promised to drop the public option in return for his unthoughtfulness. If Rush Limbaugh remains upset, the White House may be forced to end the estate tax.

Health Care Friday: Conservative Wonks Edition

About a month ago, I recommended breaking up opponents of health care reform into several groups, because they're not all driven by the same motivations. We have The Greedy (who profit for the status quo's failings), The Partisans (who want to deny Democrats a historic policy victory); The Tin-Foil Hats (who are paranoid, delusional conspiracy theorists), and The Dupes (well-intention folks who've been misled by the professional liars from the other groups).

There is, however, a tiny fifth category: The Wonks. These are conservatives who actually care about substantive policy details, have read the proposals, and believe there are better ways to improve the system. I think they're mistaken, but The Wonks are at least worth engaging in debate.

The New York Times reports today on their existence.

Far from embracing the attacks, many leading conservative health care policy experts said in recent interviews that the dynamic was precluding a more robust real-world debate while making it nearly impossible for them to inject their studied, free-market solutions into the discussions.

And they said the focus on what they consider misleading or secondary issues was getting in the way of real questions about the plan they believed worthy of consideration.

"There are serious questions that are associated with policy aspects of the health care reform bills that we're seeing," said Gail Wilensky, a veteran health care expert who oversaw the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs for the first President George Bush and advised Senator John McCain in his presidential campaign last year.

Their conservative allies, however, don't want to hear "serious questions." They want to spout nonsense, conspiracy theories, bogus scare tactics, and obvious lies -- because they're convinced that's what wins.

And for all I know, they're probably right. If the political world had an honest, serious debate, in which credible experts explored real-world solutions, chances are very good progressive reform advocate would win. When it comes to health care and the broken system, the facts just aren't on conservatives' side. Indeed, the NYT piece noted some of the conflicts among conservative wonks who realize that a) they want to cut costs from the health care system; b) the most effective ways to save money in the system come from centralized, government decision-making; and c) they're against centralized, government decision-making.

So, The Wonks don't get invited to Tea Parties or onto Fox News. They don't write nutty pieces for the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Their opinions are not sought out by Republican policymakers.

Instead, we're left with liars and fools, spreading propaganda and nonsense, leaving us with a discourse unbefitting our democracy. It's a shame the voice of the opposition is stark raving mad, and the idea of an enlightened debate is a naive daydream.

Yglesias: Fear of Foreigners

Kevin Drum returns us to this classic of the health care debate:


I don’t think anyone has ever tried to suggest that American health care is somehow “twice as good” as European health care. Better at some things, maybe, sure. But the evidence is that our results are actually worse than what the French get at half price. The evidence is that the Swiss do about the same as we do at a fraction of the cost, except in Switzerland there are no medical bankruptcies and nobody can’t get treatment because they’re too poor. And so on and so forth.

But these facts about foreign models are staples of random blog posts, but they’re almost never mentioned in the official political debate. And I wonder why. The conventional wisdom, as expressed in this Third Way strategy memo, is that talking about foreigners is for losers: “Don’t compare the U.S. to other countries, or assert that America does not provide quality health care. (i.e. Do not cite statistics that say the U.S. is 37th in the world in health outcomes).”

They don’t, however, share with us the research on which this is based. Is there really research showing that Americans are such knee-jerk nationalists that they’ll just tune out evidence from abroad that it’s possible to do things differently and better? I suppose that’s possible. But it’s hardly going to be possible to hide from voters the fact that other countries have national health care systems. So naturally voters will wonder if such systems produce better or worse results than ours. And naturally opponents of creating a national health care system will claim that things are worse abroad. So I don’t see how failing to mention that results are actually better in other countries actually lets you avoid the argument. It seems to me to just avoid having a chance at winning it.

Maddow provides a great history lesson here ...
Rep. Weiner on health care fight Sept. 3: Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-NY, joins Rachel Maddow to talk about the health care reform battle ahead of President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress.

Ezra Klein: The Bush Record of Tax Cuts, Failure and Betrayal

I'm not sure what good it does for progressives to delude themselves about Bush's success in passing pure domestic policy initiatives that easily overcame the opposition of Republican moderates, but the reality is that he saw his initiatives watered down at every turn.

Bush initially sought a $1.6 trillion tax cut. The votes didn't exist. So the price tag was reduced to $1.35 trillion, and since a filibuster looked unbreakable, the bill went through the budget reconciliation process, which meant that its deficit-increasing provisions — that is to say, most all of it — would sunset in 2010. For that reason, much of that bill evaporates this year. Interestingly, Olympia Snowe advocated a "trigger" option that year, too, which would have revoked the tax cuts if the budget surpluses were beneath expectations.

The 2003 tax cuts were trimmed from more than $700 billion to about $300 billion by a coalition of Senate moderates. Social Security privatization was, of course, quickly abandoned. Medicare Part D was loathed by many House conservatives. Tellingly, Dick Armey wrote an op-ed opposing it, and Tom DeLay had such trouble passing it over conservative objections that the Department of Justice opened an investigation into the tactics he used to pass it.

There's a sort of comfort in believing that George W. Bush got everything he wanted, because it suggests that if liberals could only emulate his tactics, they too could get everything they want. But Bush's domestic policy was appalling to most conservatives. His tax cuts were a victory, but he never matched them with spending cuts. No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and McCain-Feingold looked a lot more like liberal efforts to increase the welfare state than anything the Heritage Foundation would produce. Ted Kennedy, in fact, was a key mover in each of those bills, though he voted against the final version of the Medicare expansion. Social Security Privatization was a bust.

The Bush White House was very good at leveraging 9/11 to ensure congressional support for Middle East adventurism, but they didn't crack the code unlocking a compliant Congress for a hard-line conservative agenda. That's why most conservatives think their domestic policy was a mixture of tax cuts, failures and betrayals, and they're right about that. The problems posed by the Senate are part of the system, not specific to a particular party.


Throughout the debate over health care reform, congressional Republicans haven't exactly played a constructive role. In addition to lying shamelessly and constantly about the provisions in the proposals, the GOP's response to every possible idea has been the same: "No." Even one of the Gang of Six members has publicly conceded that he's only at the table to reject Democratic ideas.

Now, it's worth noting that this isn't necessarily offensive. Republicans are the opposition party. They're supposed to oppose. They tried governing, failed, and were rejected by voters. Now their principal task is rejecting what the new majority wants to do.

But there are several factors that continue to make Republican satisfaction relevant. Senate Democrats, for example, don't have a filibuster-proof majority, and the reconciliation process comes with its own set of problems. For that matter, "centrist" Dems, especially those in "red" states, are looking for some partisan cover on health care. And the media still places enormous value in "bipartisan" solutions, and necessarily casts doubts on major initiatives passed solely with Democratic support.

And what do Republicans want? Other than to say "no," mislead the nation, and kill Democratic legislation? Apparently, they now want to appear constructive. Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee suddenly thinks a compromise is at least possible, just as soon as the majority scuttles that pesky public option.

"There is a common ground," Corker said Wednesday in an interview before his final town hall meeting. "It's half a loaf, possibly, from the administration's viewpoint. But what it does is take us way down the field."

Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa, after spending the past month trashing the White House and reform proposals, is suddenly taking a slightly more optimistic tone.

Arguing that the town hall forums of August have "changed the direction" of the health care reform debate, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), said Thursday that he nonetheless expects a bill to pass before Christmas -- though it "may be kind of miniature to what we're talking about."

"...I believe [the bill] will be a little more scaled down than what we were originally thinking when we left for August summer break."

Even House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia, who hasn't tried to be constructive all year, suggested Republicans are just waiting at the negotiating table, ready to be helpful.

Cantor said that Republicans need to hear from Obama that there will be "no government decision making" in rationing care or restricting Americans to get medical treatment.

"That's the signal for us that we could produce some reform," Cantor told The Hill Thursday.

This is what is generally referred to as a "sucker's bet." Congressional Republicans have spent every waking moment for the last nine months trying to destroy the Obama presidency, and kill reform. Now, perhaps worried about being blamed by the public for obstructionism, we suddenly see Republican lawmakers sound receptive notes.

To believe this is to believe Lucy really will let Charlie Brown kick the football this time. The White House and Democratic leaders could agree to drop a public option and the GOP would simply move on to the next set of demands. Eventually, Dems would say they can't give up any more, and Republicans would immediately respond that the majority isn't open to good-faith negotiations.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona, just a couple of weeks ago, said Republicans would oppose reform measures no matter how many concessions Democrats made. He wasn't kidding.


Marcy Wheeler had a terrific item yesterday, summarizing a point that's been circulating a bit: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D) of Montana used to have a great health care plan.

On November 12, 2008, about a week after voters handed Barack Obama a sweeping national victory and congressional Democrats large majorities in both chambers, Baucus put together a White Paper on his vision of reform. The plan included a national health care exchange, a public option, new consumer protections, universal coverage, an individual mandate, a Medicare buy-in at 55, and subsidies up to 400% of the poverty line, among other progressive measures.

Marcy noted, "It's like a journey through the looking glass, to a time when even a conservative Democrat would openly espouse doing what's right to truly improve health care."

That was Baucus in November, but let's also not forget where Baucus was in April. At that point, he and Ted Kennedy co-signed a letter to the president, explaining that they've been "working together toward the shared goal of significant reforms to our health care system" for nearly a year, and they planned to "swift" action. Indeed, they saw smooth sailing ahead: "Our intention is for that legislation to be very similar, and to reflect a shared approach to reform, so that the measures that our two committees report can be quickly merged into a single bill for consideration on the Senate floor."

So, what happened? Where'd this Max Baucus go? How did the Baucus of November and April (champion of a progressive, ambitious plan) become the Baucus of June and August (leader of the Gang of Six, opponent of the public option)? Ezra Klein explains the circumstances behind the switch.

Baucus pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch. That paper proved less his plan than his effort to articulate the Democratic consensus in such a way that Democrats were comfortable with him leading the debate. In particular, Kennedy had to be happy with that paper, because Kennedy was the threat to Baucus's leadership.

But Kennedy's illness took him out of the game. Baucus no longer needed to worry about Kennedy stealing the leadership of health-care reform away from him, which meant he stopped looking over his left shoulder. The effect was a bit like shutting down a primary challenge against Baucus: His surprising leftward lurch stopped entirely, and he drifted back to the more centrist approaches that had defined his career. It's hard to say how the process would have differed if Baucus had spent his days worrying about keeping Kennedy onboard, but it seems possible that the practical impact would have been to keep Baucus closer to the paper he'd written to attract Kennedy's support.

For all the recent talk from Republicans about Kennedy's absence undermining bipartisanship -- a cheap talking point, to be sure -- the real consequence of Kennedy not being able to serve is the effect it had on Baucus, who quickly embraced "bipartisanship," delayed the process, and continues to prefer to water down what was a strong proposal.

Yglesias: Ben Nelson Threatens to Blow Up Health Reform

I know a lot of the readers of this blog think that Barack Obama could cause any bill to pass the Senate that he wants if only he were sufficiently spiney, and that any effort to point out the existence of objective impediments to passing legislation is just “shilling” for the White House, but it’s still the case that objective impediments exist. To pass a bill through a non-reconciliation process, you not only need the support of guys like Max Baucus and Kent Conrad, you also need the support of even-less-progressive Democrats like Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln. And then there’s Ben Nelson, the most conservative Democrat of all:

“I see two endings,” Nelson said when asked by the paper what’s next for reform. “One is we find areas we can agree upon and we begin to do things incrementally, taking more of an insurance approach, not a government approach. Or it implodes.”

The context leaves no doubt that by “government approach” he means the public option, and this statement would seem to be pretty definitive. How can Nelson support the public plan if it will destroy reform?

As Greg Sargent notes later in that item, it’s extremely annoying to see Nelson’s use of the passive voice here to avoid responsibility. What Nelson is saying is that he, personally, will cause health reform to implode unless reform is incremental and lacks a public option. But instead of fessing up, he’s using a lot of weasel words. Maybe you can get a public option put in place via reconciliation, in which case you don’t need Nelson, but absent reconciliation you do need Nelson and he’s intransigent.

Now of course Nelson represents Nebraska which is a pretty conservative state. It’s worth noting, however, that it’s pretty hard to think of pieces of major beneficial legislation becoming law in the United States purely out of people behaving in a craven and self-interested manner. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, secured the support of Senator Mike Monroney of Oklahoma, not exactly the most black-friendly state in the Union. But Monroney seems to have been a man of conscience and thus he “voted for the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964. He also refused to sign the ‘Southern Manifesto,’ a call by a group of Southern senators in 1956 urging resistance to school desegregation.” These were real acts of political courage. Oklahoma was once upon a time a safe Democratic state, but it went for Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 and Nixon in 1960. The state elected its first Republican governor in 1962, and he was re-elected in 1966. And Monroney’s political courage met with exactly the fate that cowardly politicians fear—he got beaten in 1968. But he still did the right thing.

No compassion at town halls Sept. 3: Msnbc analyst Lawrence O'Donnell discusses the ugly behavior at some of the health care town halls. What has turned some protestors into defenders of insurance companies?

Think Progress: McCain Endorses Claim That Obama Finds Seniors ‘Expendable’: ‘I’ve Never Heard It More Eloquently Put’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the past month, ThinkProgress has traveled to town hall events across the country to report what we’re seeing on the ground. This is our fifth eyewitness report.

This past Tuesday, Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John McCain (R-AZ) took their nationwide health care road show to Florida, where they teamed up with Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) to participate in a closed-door town hall event at the Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah. ThinkProgress attended the forum.

During the question-and-answer session, Jim Dolan, president of the Florida Medical Association, expressed his anger with the American Medical Association for supporting President Obama’s health care plan. We “repudiate that action on their part,” Dolan said, speaking for his Florida chapter.

Dolan went on to propagate a version of the false “death panels” myth, claiming that the Obama administration is promoting “dranconian rationing that Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Ezekiel, talks about as though it’s going down to pick up a loaf of bread.” Dolan wondered when are people going to realize that “the people advising this president” feel that the seniors “are expendable.”

Rather than distance himself from Dolan’s false assertion, McCain wholeheartedly embraced it:

McCAIN: Doctor, I know you have a day job, but I’d like to take you with me wherever I go. [Laughter] I’ve never heard it more eloquently put than you just stated the situation.

Watch it:

When his former running mate Sarah Palin first offered the false “death panel” claim last month, McCain defended her. He said that end-of-life counseling “at least opens the door to a possibility of rationing.”

Think Progress: Pence embraces town hall questioner who compares Obama to Hilter.

Yesterday, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), who serves as chairman of the House Republican Conference, held a town hall-style meeting at Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, IN. During the event, an elderly woman stood to ask Pence a question, and in the midst of doing so, told the congressman that President Obama wants members of Congress to be treated as “a superior race.” “And we know who came up with the terminology of a superior race,” she continued, “it sounds a lot like Hilter.” Many in the crowd applauded. Rather than reject the questioner’s false assertion, Pence simply said, “Thank you.” Watch it (beginning at 1:50):

(Video courtesy of the Pendleton-Gazette)

Benen on Our Tearing Fabric

Time's Joe Klein reports from Arkansas, where he attended a town-hall event hosted by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D). He found an "astonishing" number of attendees who were absolutely certain that President Obama has "larded the government with communists." It was among many of the "vomitous, disgraceful notions" he heard from locals, one of whom said, "We are living Glenn Beck's fantasy life."

Could I just say that the intensity of this getting pretty scary...and dangerous? We are heading toward a cliff and the usual brakes of civil discourse are not working. Indeed, the Republicans have the pedal to the metal -- rushing us toward a tragedy far greater than the California health care forum finger-biting Karen describes below. I'm usually not one to panic or be overly worried about the state of our country -- even when we do awful things like invade Iraq and torture people, we usually right our course before long -- but I have a sinking feeling about where we're headed now. I hope I'm wrong.

It's possible that Arkansas is just uniquely strange right now. It is a state where a majority of residents trust Rush Limbaugh, and distrust President Obama. It's a state where less than half the population believes the president was born in the United States. It's a state with one of the highest rates in the country for those lacking health insurance, but where the idea of reform is wildly unpopular.

Or maybe it's not just Arkansas and there's something very wrong with our political system, put under a serious strain by the "conservative lunatic brigade," stuck in a "perverse nonsense feedback loop."

Birthers, Deathers, Tenthers. Beck, Palin, Limbaugh. Bachmann, Inhofe, DeMint, King, and Broun. A scorched-earth campaign intended to tear the country apart, questioning the legitimacy of the president, the government, and the rule of law. It's all very scary.

Josh Marshall recently noted, "It's always important for us to remember what the last eight years have again taught us, which is that America has a very strong civic fabric, one that can withstand, absorb and conquer all manner of ugly behavior. It can take in stride a lot of angry rhetoric, townhall fisticuffs and more. But as this escalates we should continually be stepping back and thinking retrospectively from the vantage point of the future about where this all seems to be heading."

Klein's not the only one with a sinking feeling

The crazies have a political party, a cable news network, and a loud, activist base. They're mad as hell and they're not going to take their medications anymore.


Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma sure is nutty. Last month, he raised the specter of a "revolution." This month, he's just making stuff up.

[Inhofe is] alarmed, he said, by the proposed closing of the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Obama administration wants to shutter the camp because of its association with torture.

Inhofe said: "There has never been a case of torture there. The people there are treated better than in the federal prisons."

He continued, "I don't know why President Obama is obsessed with turning terrorists loose in America."

The administration says it wants to bring 60 to 80 prisoners to the U.S. for trial. Some Republicans have said those acquitted could be released in the U.S., but authorities say they would be deported as foreign nationals.

Inhofe's third concern, he said, is that "Barack Obama is disarming America." He conceded that Obama requested more military spending, but he criticized the elimination of several weapons systems, including the F-22 fighter.

Just to briefly offer a little fact-checking of America's worst senator, Inhofe is wrong about torture at Gitmo, wrong about turning terrorists loose, and wrong about the F-22.

Matt Finkelstein added, "This kind of fear-mongering, of course, is nothing new for the right wing, but that doesn't make it any less despicable."

Or any less common. One of Inhofe's House counterparts, Rep. Paul Broun, an unhinged Republican from Georgia, continues to talk about the likelihood of an Obama dictatorship.

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun is again raising the specter of Democrats turning the United States into a totalitarian state. [...]

He told a meeting of the Morgan County Republicans on Wednesday night that Obama already has or will have the three things he needs to make himself a dictator: a national police force, gun control and control over the press.

"He has the three things that are necessary to establish an authoritarian government," Broun said. "And so we need to be ever-vigilant, because freedom is precious."

So is sanity.

I continue to think crazed remarks like these from Broun and Inhofe sound a lot like the kind of things one might say if he were trying to drive already-angry conservatives over the edge. These two see a simmering right-wing fire, and they're reaching for the kerosene.

"I have given up hope for a loyal opposition. I'd settle for a sane one."


So, President Obama wants to encourage kids to do well in school. The right is throwing a fit, accusing the White House of trying to "indoctrinate" America's children. Fox News has even begun promoting the idea of having parents keep children home from school so they won't be able to hear the president's pro-education message.

The attacks are even more insane than usual, but it's also fun to make note of some history.

ABC's Jake Tapper noted today, for example, that in 1988, then-President Reagan spoke to students via C-SPAN telecast. During Q&A, Reagan "talked about opposition to gun control and other issues." Does this count as "indoctrination," too?

Steve M. has an even more recent example.

And do you know what the administration is calling the "community service" organization the president wants kids to join? The "USA Freedom Corps"! That's right -- "Corps"! It's a civilian fascist army! You don't believe me? It's right there on the section of the White House Web site specifically dedicated to children!

No, wait -- it's on the archived Bush administration White House site for children.

It was Bush, so there was no indoctrination going on there, no sirree. Nor was there any indoctrination going when -- at a time when the White House was trying to brand Bush's foreign policy with the name "Freedom Agenda" -- the White House kids' site offered a "freedom timeline" that attempted to link the "American Response to Terrorism" to stories about U.S. history touchstones such as the Underground Railroad, the Statue of Liberty, the March of Dimes, and the Berlin Airlift.

The Bush gang's supplemental educational materials encouraged teachers to tell kids how those historical touchstones "relate to today's efforts to preserve freedom." They also encouraged classes to "explore the biographies" of Bush and Cheney.

None of this generated criticism, and because Bush was a Republican, this doesn't count as an effort to "indoctrinate" children. But if President Obama wants to deliver a stay-in-school message, it's an outrageous and unconscionable abuse.

These people are crazy.

Of course, it doesn't have to make sense; it just has to fit into the conservative scorched-earth strategy.

  • John Cole had An Idea

    If all the wingnuts are pulling their kids out of school because the President is going to speak for fifteen minutes, can we teach evolution the rest of the day?

    Seriously, I think it is great Jon Henke is waging his own “jihad” against WND and I support him 100%, but if he just thinks it is Joseph Farah, he is sadly, sadly, mistaken. Go read Malkin. Go read Andrew McCarthy and the rest of the NRO clowns, go read the Free Republic, go read CPAC’s blog of the year wailing about Obama in Muslim garb, go read Sarah Palin kvetching about death panels.

    Your problem isn’t just WND- as the RNC is happy to prove. The entire party has been taken over by crazy people.

    Not that some people haven’t been warning about this for several years or anything.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Josh Marshall: Mainstreaming the Crazy

TPM Reader SG's Lament ...

This "outrage" over Obama speaking to schoolchildren is the last straw. The Swiftboating -- and that's what this is -- of Obama must be dealt with.
For months we've had a great time laughing and ridiculing the GOP as they've spewed one ridiculous outrage after another at Obama. We've treated each successive charge as more absurd and laughable than the last, responding only with derisive sarcasm. We howled with laughter at teabaggers after the stimulus only to have them brandish guns and become players at townhalls. We rolled our eyes at Palin's Death Panels, only to have month long national discussion over whether Obama wants to kill grandma and now veterans. Now we're going to discuss whether it's "appropriate" for the President to speak to schoolchildren? Really?

Enough is enough. Images of Obama as Hitler are now commonplace and, seemingly, unremarkable. It has become customary and usual for senior GOP officials to make outrageous, disparaging ad hominem remarks about the President. The crazy is becoming mainstream. Obama is in a real, tangible way now being delegitimized as a person and a leader.

So my question is, when is the White House, the Democratic infrastructure and the progressive press/blogosphere going to stop laughing and start pushing back on this? Clearly, laughter and ridicule is not a sufficient response and is not working.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Econ 101

Yglesias: Reading Comprehension and the WSJ


The Wall Street Journal opinion section publishes some truly odd material, but rarely have I seen anything as odd as this op-ed from Allan Meltzer which appears to be primarily founded on an inability to comprehend the meaning of the term “since”:

Day after day, economists, politicians and journalists repeat the trope that the current recession is the worst since the Great Depression. Repetition may reinforce belief, but the comparison is greatly overstated and highly misleading. Anyone who knows even a bit about the Great Depression knows that this is false.

The facts we face today are very different than the grim reality Americans confronted between 1929 and 1932. True, this recession is not over. But it would have to get improbably worse before it came close to the 42-month duration of the Great Depression, or the 25% unemployment rate in 1932. Then, the only safety net was the soup line.

To say that the current recession is the worst since the Great Depression just doesn’t mean that the current recession is as bad as the Great Depression. It means that the current recession is worse than all the recessions that came after the Great Depression. And Meltzer’s own chart clearly shows that this is correct. The other bad post-Depression recessions were 1973-75 and 1981-82. We’ve already exceeded both in terms of duration and decline in industrial production, and the unemployment rate seems likely to eventually peak above 81-82 levels. The only way to introduce ambiguity into this claim is to pretend not to understand that “Great Depression” refers to the entire period from the beginning of the crisis in 1929 all the way until the war-induced recovery in the 1940s. Everyone uses the term this way.

If you pretend not to understand this, you can hive off the recession-within-the-depression of 1937-38 as a very bad “post-Depression” recession. But what’s the point? I don’t even really understand how throwing smoke in readers’ eyes about this is supposed to advance the WSJ’s political agenda. It’s just nonsense.


I sometimes get the sense that congressional Republicans want to appear ridiculous on economic policy. It would explain a few things.

When the economy was in free-fall and there was talk of a depression, GOP lawmakers recommended tax cuts and a spending freeze. Fortunately, they were in the minority. More recently, the same Republicans who trashed the economic recovery package they opposed en masse suddenly began touting the ways in which it's helping their constituents.

At the same time, however, they're calling for the repeal of the stimulus, just as the economy starts to turn the corner. In July, Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona, the #2 Republican in the Senate, said he'd like to see all stimulus efforts come to end -- wrap up the pending contracts and then stop recovery investment altogether. This morning, Rep. Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia, the #2 Republican in the House, said the same thing, calling the cancelling of the stimulus "the responsible thing" to do.

Yes, this is the same Eric Cantor who's bragged about the benefits of the recovery efforts in his district.

The evidence of how wrong the Republicans are on this is hard to ignore.

The government has funneled about $60 billion of the $288 billion in promised tax cuts to U.S. households, while about $84 billion of the $499 billion in spending has been paid. About $200 billion has been promised to certain projects, such as infrastructure and energy projects.

Economists say the money out the door -- combined with the expectation of additional funds flowing soon -- is fueling growth above where it would have been without any government action.

Many forecasters say stimulus spending is adding two to three percentage points to economic growth in the second and third quarters, when measured at an annual rate. The impact in the second quarter, calculated by analyzing how the extra funds flowing into the economy boost consumption, investment and spending, helped slow the rate of decline and will lay the groundwork for positive growth in the third quarter -- something that seemed almost implausible just a few months ago. Some economists say the 1% contraction in the second quarter would have been far worse, possibly as much as 3.2%, if not for the stimulus.

For the third quarter, economists at Goldman Sachs & Co. predict the U.S. economy will grow by 3.3%. "Without that extra stimulus, we would be somewhere around zero," said Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist for Goldman.

"The signs of the stimulus are there," Allen L. Sinai, chief economist at Decision Economics, a forecasting firm in New York, said a couple of weeks ago. "Government -- federal, state and local -- is helping take the economy from recession to recovery. I think it's the primary contributor."

The Economic Policy Institute's Josh Bivens responded to the recent GDP numbers by noting, "The marked improvement in this quarter relative to last is largely due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act."

Here's a tip for future reference: if you want the country to prosper, do the exact opposite of whatever Eric Cantor recommends on economic policy.

Think Progress: Cantor Suggests Canceling The Rest Of The Stimulus

One of the most bitter opponents of the economic stimulus package is House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who has repeatedly claimed that the stimulus is “failing.”
Yesterday in an interview with CNBC’s Erin Burnett, Cantor floated the idea of canceling the rest of the economic stimulus and using the money to pay off debt:

CANTOR: Since we know now that the Stimulus has not met the criteria by which it was passed and the White House promoted it, which was to stave off job losses and to stop unemployment from reaching above 8.5%, since we know it’s been a failure, why not do the responsible thing, which is to take the $400 billion that has not been committed yet - or not been spent, but been committed to the stimulus - and just pay off the debt and deficit so we can get our fiscal house back in order?

Watch it:

While Cantor might think that he can score political points by posturing on the stimulus, his constituents continue to benefit from its funds. Last month, Cantor hosted a job fair in Midlothian, VA, where the economic recovery package created dozens of jobs. Additionally, Chesterfield County, where the fair was being held, will receive more than $38 million in stimulus funding over the next two years. Were that money to be paid towards the national debt instead, tens of millions of dollars would have to be taken away from promised funding for higher education, special education, food stamps, and other essential public goods.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) made the same suggestion last July, despite the fact that his state has received billions of dollars in stimulus funding that has provided much-needed relief to Arizona’s health and education systems.

While conservative members of Congress continue to slam the stimulus — even while hypocritically touting its effects in their own districts — the Wall Street Journal reports today that the stimulus appears to be “helping the US climb out of the worst recession in decades.”

Yglesias: Voucher FAIL in Arizona

Where public funds are expended, people normally desire public accountability. This has always been the hidden flaw in the scheme to dismantle the public education system via vouchers. Voucher systems in the United States have always been implemented only on a very small scale. And it’s impossible for me to imagine them being really scaled-up without coming to look a lot more like charter school schemes or the kinds of school choice that you see in some European countries. In either case the point would be that schools that are mostly funded by taxpayers are going to wind up being pretty heavily regulated.

The cutting edge loophole around this is the idea of education tax credits which, as Kevin Carey explains, are “a shell game whereby Taxpayer (A) donates $X to Non-Profit Foundation (B), which then turns around and gives $X to Private School (C). Taxpayer (A) then gets a tax credit from the government equal to $X.” The hope is that by hiding the expenditure in the tax code the funds can flow without any public oversight or accountability. And that’s how you get the kind of massive scandal unearthed by the East Valley Tribune about the operation of Arizona’s tax credit scheme.


The way the system works is that “taxpayers give money to nonprofit charities called school tuition organizations, or STOs for short. STOs give scholarships to children for private school tuition, and the state provides donors a dollar-for-dollar tax credit in exchange for their contribution.” Some key bullet points:

— An untold number of STOs, schools and parents are using the tax credits in ways that violate federal tax laws governing charitable donations.

— Nearly two-thirds of all STOs failed to spend 90 percent of their donations on scholarships – as required by state law – since 2003, the year the STOs began filing annual reports with the state Department of Revenue.

— Executives at two of the largest STOs have used tax credit donations to enrich themselves, buying luxury cars, real estate and funding their own outside for-profit businesses.

— A majority of tax credit donations are earmarked to give scholarships to students already enrolled in private schools, no matter how much money their parents earn. Just seven of the state’s 55 STOs use financial need as the primary factor in deciding who gets tuition money.

— Even as they took in millions of dollars in scholarships, the state’s private schools hiked tuition dramatically, pushing the cost of private education further from the grasp of middle- and low-income families.

— Tax credits have failed to increase minority students’ access to Arizona’s private schools. Students at the schools receiving the most scholarship money remained overwhelmingly white at a time when the state’s Hispanic population boomed.

Read the whole thing. This is the kind of serious investigatory work that, unfortunately, we’re seeing less-and-less of.