As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Saturday Night Massacre

I expected this, but it's still kind of depressing what has been done to Van Jones.

I am resigning my post at the Council on Environmental Quality, effective today.

On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.

I have been inundated with calls - from across the political spectrum - urging me to “stay and fight.”

But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future.

It has been a great honor to serve my country and my President in this capacity. I thank everyone who has offered support and encouragement. I am proud to have been able to make a contribution to the clean energy future. I will continue to do so, in the months and years ahead.

People who have said extreme things at some point need to resign. I eagerly await the resignations of the entire Fox News primetime lineup and about 85-90% of the GOP caucus.

Look, Presidential advisors get too hot to handle and they resign. Happens all the time. Off the top of my head, Alberto Gonzales, Don Rumsfeld and Karl Rove. But those took forever to consummate. Jones had one bad week, with the right-wing Wurlitzer ramping up to epidemic proportions. It turns out that the worst accusation, his signing a Truther statement, had an alibi - the Truthers flat out lied to him about what the statement would say (although, a Truther comes to me with a pen and paper, and I go running in the other direction). And that was enough for the White House to call no joy. Which is kind of pathetic and shows a complete lack of loyalty.

Really, Van Jones wasn't chased out of the White House because of any statement or action. It was because of what he believes.

To understand why and how he's being demonized, we have to look at the way information and misinformation makes it way from crazy blogs to crazy pundits to crazy citizens to, suddenly, the non-crazy regular media.

The "why" is simple: he is a genuine left-wing liberal with a White House job. He is black. He used to be radical, and probably still has radical sympathies (you know, caring about poor black people and all that). He is, in other words, fucking terrifying, if you frame his story right [...]

Here is the message machine in its platonic form: Glenn Beck introduces his audience to a group Jones once belonged to called "The Apollo Alliance" on August 24th. 72 hours later a constituent is asking his (Republican) representative if this Apollo Alliance wrote the health care bill. The Rep has no idea what the guy is talking about, but the rest of the audience certainly does ("Van Jones!" they shout).

And now, here we are. His name on an old 9/11 truther petition is dredged up. An amusing clip in which he calls Republicans assholes (but explains that he, too, is an asshole) is on CBS News. Jake Tapper and Politico are on the case.

That is how a smear becomes a meme. Schoolhouse Rock, 2009 style.

People in the progressive movement identify strongly with someone like Van Jones. He delivered the keynote at Netroots Nation 2008. He had a best-selling book about the Green-Collar Economy last year. His star was rising as he combined the unconscionable problem of urban poverty with the inescapable reality of climate change to find real-world solutions to both problems. And some people on the right couldn't handle that.

Glenn Beck, smarting from losing 57 advertisers in a few weeks, took a scalp in the form of Van Jones. Fox News may have a whole other problem before too long.

Labels: , , , ,


Justice And Accountability By Inches

After 9/11, among the many deprivations of civil liberties and violations of federal and international law, Attorney General of the United States John Ashcroft gave the FBI the power to detain and interrogate thousands of Muslim-Americans across the country as "material witnesses" without charges. We know little about the number of people detained, the nature of the interrogations and the extent of the abuse heaped on the prisoners. We do know, based on Ashcroft's own words, that this policy sought to pre-emptively detain Muslim-Americans suspected by the Bush Administration of future acts of terrorism or extremism, despite not having any evidence required to charge the suspects.

Yesterday, a federal appeals court panel, composed of two Bush 43 appointees and a Reagan appointee, allowed a case to go forward that would hold John Ashcroft liable for violating one detainee's Constitutional rights under the 4th and 5th Amendments.

The court found that a man who was detained as a witness in a federal terrorism case can sue Ashcroft for allegedly violating his constitutional rights. Abdullah al-Kidd, a U.S. citizen and former University of Idaho student, filed the lawsuit against Ashcroft and other officials in 2005, claiming his civil rights were violated when he was detained as a material witness for two weeks in 2003.

He said the investigation and detention not only caused him to lose a scholarship to study in Saudi Arabia, but cost him employment opportunities and caused his marriage to fall apart.

He argued that his detention exemplified an illegal government policy created by Ashcroft to arrest and detain people -- particularly Muslim men and those of Arab decent -- as material witnesses if the government suspected them of a crime but had no evidence to charge them [...]

''Sadly, however, even now, more than 217 years after the ratification of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, some confidently assert that the government has the power to arrest and detain or restrict American citizens for months on end, in sometimes primitive conditions, not because there is evidence that they have committed a crime, but merely because the government wishes to investigate them for possible wrongdoing, or to prevent them from having contact with others in the outside world,'' Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote. ''We find this to be repugnant to the Constitution and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history.''

You can read the 9th Circuit's opinion in the case, including the circumstances Abdullah al-Kidd found himself in back in 2003. Al-Kidd, a Muslim convert of African-American descent, planned a flight to Saudi Arabia to study on a law scholarship at a Saudi university. He was arrested at the airport under the material witness statute on a separate case, held for 16 days in detention centers in Virginia and Idaho, strip-searched on multiple occasions, and after several interrogations, eventually released. He was never called as a witness in the case on which he was arrested (a case where the individual was acquitted), nor has he been charged with any crime or called in on any other proceeding.

The ruling basically states that Ashcroft is liable for an unconstitutional policy that purposely violated the rights of al-Kidd, and by association thousands of other potential defendants, using the material witness statute just to hold anyone he fancied. If it survives appeal, the government will have to release all documents pertaining to the material witness policy under Ashcroft.

Glennzilla says the impact of this is to show the illegality and immorality of a preventive detention policy - one which this Administration might assert later this year. I agree with that, but I think its impact is slightly different. What it shows is that there are so many people whose lives have been touched - in some cases irreparably - by the terror practices of the Bush regime that there will be no limit to the actions to seek justice and accountability. The suits will continue, one by one, and the rulings made, over and over, and out of the thousands, at least one will find a crack. A legal hole in the framework of official secrecy and efforts by the executive branch to shut down the judiciary. And that hole will beget more holes. The groups and defendants striving for accountability will not stop because they rest on the principle of equal justice under the law, and to give up would signal the effective end of the American system.

Under the Bush Administration, officials in the highest levels of government committed heinous crimes, crimes to which they are only beginning to be held to account. The effort by the Obama Administration to indemnify those officials for those crimes just won't work. Little by little, good men and women with the law on their side will probe and appeal and file suit, and we will see justice. It's only a matter of time.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


The Iron Narrative

Mike Lux extends the argument that E.J. Dionne made in the Washington Post about the alternate reality the media covered in August, and the actual reality on the ground. It's an important piece, give it a read.

We still have a media wired for conservatism and based on the celebrity model of building up heroes only to knock them down. This is troubling for the progressive movement. We still don't have a big enough megaphone to influence this outcome, and indeed our progressive validators in the media get major ratings out of mocking the insanity instead of offering the real stories, for example, of why we need health care reform.

I haven't figured out the answer to this puzzle.

Labels: , ,


The Deepening Afghan Nightmare

This looks to me like a good pivot point to up and end involvement in Afghanistan.

A U.S. jet dropped 500-pound bombs on two tanker trucks hijacked by the Taliban before dawn Friday, triggering a huge explosion that Afghan officials said killed more than 70 people, including insurgents and some civilians who had swarmed around the vehicles to siphon off fuel.

Germany, whose troops called in the 2:30 a.m. strike in the northern province of Kunduz, said it feared the hijackers would use the trucks to carry out a suicide attack against its military base nearby.

We are completely in over our heads here. Once again we've allowed amorphous terms like "victory" to define our military involvement instead of achieving realizable goals. So a war initially based on dismantling Al Qaeda becomes a war to build a nation and protect an ethnic class. The country held an election that could lead to outbreaks of violence and unrest, as our man in Kabul is clearly corrupt and ineffectual. Tribal factions with no tradition of a central government have vowed armed conflict if Hamid Karzai is allowed to stand after multiple examples of election fraud. You could have a situation where the government is threatened by a popular uprising, leaving the US troops no clear guidance on how to react. And on top of that, dozens more civilians are bombed from above, leading to more alienation and more desire to drive out the occupiers. The latest in a series of after-the-fact inquiries will do us no good. Meanwhile, more Americans die every day without an articulated rationale.

The divisions in Afghanistan are mirrored by the divisions at home. Top advisers appear to be split on whether to add even more troops. Dick Holbrooke and Hillary Clinton look to be on the side of more troops. Robert Gates has been worried about the foreign footprint in Afghanistan but appears open to escalation. Joe Biden, no dove, is leading the group in the White House opposed to a long-term commitment, which is what escalation would signal. Inside the Pentagon, at least some officials will not acquiesce to Gen. McChrystal's request for more forces without major scrutiny. And in another sign that Obama would only have Republicans behind him if he orders more troops, Senate Democrats are not enthused by the prospect of deepening our commitment.

Speaking on a day when a U.S. bombed tanker trucks hijacked by the Taliban killing 70 people, including some civilians, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the U.S. must focus more on building the Afghan security forces. His cautionary stance was echoed by Sen. Jack Reed, who is also on the committee and spent two days in Afghanistan this week with Levin.

The senators will return to Washington next week, just as Obama receives a new military review of Afghanistan strategy that officials expect will be followed up by a request for at least a modest increase in U.S. troops battling insurgents in the eight-year-old war [...]

"There are a lot of ways to speed up the numbers and capabilities of the Afghan army and police. They are strongly motivated," Levin said from Kuwait. "I think that we should pursue that course ... before we consider a further increase in combat forces beyond what's already been planned to be sent in the months ahead."

Levin said there is a growing consensus on the need to expedite the training and equipping of the Afghan army to improve security in Afghanistan, where 51 U.S. troops died in August, making it the bloodiest month for American forces there since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.

In a separate call, Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said the U.S. must use a multi-pronged approach: build up the Afghan Army, send more civilians to Afghanistan to provide economic and political assistance, and reach out to Taliban supporters who are willing to recognize the Kabul government.

This is actually just a fantasy, a hope that more Afghan security forces can reduce our troop numbers. It doesn't talk about the policy itself, which as a true counter-terrorism strategy would focus on intelligence and law enforcement and containing terrorist activity to within the borders. As Chuck Hagel said very expertly this week, foreign policy is not an abstraction. We are committing real lives and real treasure to this effort, and trying to impose our will on a nation which has no interest in mimicking us.

Accordingly, we cannot view U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through a lens that sees only "winning" or "losing." Iraq and Afghanistan are not America's to win or lose. Win what? We can help them buy time or develop, but we cannot control their fates. There are too many cultural, ethnic and religious dynamics at play in these regions for any one nation to control. For example, the future of Afghanistan is linked directly to Pakistan and what happens in the mountains along their border. Political accommodation and reconciliation in this region will determine the outcome.

If the antiwar movement is truly planning a fall campaign, they should invite Hagel. He is as perceptive and cogent on this issue as anyone. Right now it appears that the DC establishment, while always tilting toward war, is split. The progressive groups who could engage the masses in a very powerful way are reluctant to challenge the President on his policy because, to be honest, they don't feel confident talking about foreign policy and national security. But the greatest organizing opportunity in recent progressive history, what brought Democrats the Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, was opposition to the war in Iraq. It galvanized a movement and made history. Moreover, it was the right thing to do. It's time for Americans to decide whether to agree to what amounts to endless war or not.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Friday, September 04, 2009

Friday Random Ten

I'm knocking off. Movie night for me and Mrs. D-Day. Enjoy the holiday weekend.

Squalor Victoria - The National
Laura - Charlie Parker
The Ghost Of Tom Joad - Rage Against The Machine
Lips Like Sugar (Way Out West remix) - Echo & The Bunnymen
A Head With Wings - Morphine
I'm A Lady - Santogold feat. Andrew Trouble
The First Five Times - Stars
Soft - Kings Of Leon
Just What I Needed - The Cars
Fade Into You - Mazzy Star

That's one of my favorite lists!

Labels: ,


Left-Wing Demagogues Found!

Republicans really aren't the problem right now on the health care bill, but here's a message that the Democratic National Committee could have put out in April, when 4/5 of the GOP caucus voted to kill Medicare:

Ryan Grim has the report.

I would have gone with that "Republicans want to end Medicare" line and repeated it 15 times to fill the 30 second spot.

This is at least a bar fight. They can do endless variations off of this. One senior's story: "Medicare saved my life. And Republicans wanted to end it?" A kid talking about how his grandmother was kept alive through Medicare and Republicans wanted to kill his grandma. Get creative!

...The DNC's actually been slugging it out pretty well. This spot calling Dick Cheney wrong about everything is pretty nice. They're a little late and a little reactive on these, however. Take the offense, all the time. Tomorrow, put out a spot about how Republicans think kids should drop out of school. Then one about how they think old people should eat cat food.

Labels: , , ,


No Need To Kid Ourselves

I don't think it takes a genius to see where things are leading:

CNN has learned that the White House is quietly working to draft health care legislation after allowing Congress to work on its own for months.

Multiple sources close to the process tell CNN that while the plan is uncertain, they are preparing for the possibility they could deliver their own legislation to Capitol Hill sometime after the President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday, with one source calling the possibility of new legislation a "contingency" approach if efforts by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus to craft a deal fall through.

Multiple sources say the current thinking among administration officials is that the president will lay out a path to reform in his speech next week that the White House hopes can bridge the various differences in the competing proposals. Sources expect the president to emphasize the message: If Congress passes something now, it will serve as a foundation to pass further reform in the future. (emphasis mine)

The Baucus caucus met today, and Baucus said he'll simply put out his own bill, and basically they'll either have a bipartisan solution by September 15 or break up the Gang of Six and go to a markup.

It's pretty obvious what's going on. The President will settle for the trigger and try to get President Olympia Snowe to write the bill. The trigger has basically already been triggered, that's why the crisis has moved to a point where we need reform. And we know from experience that the trigger will be set up so it never gets triggered to bring a public option into being.

A trigger for the public health insurance option would create underpowered public plans that would be swallowed whole by the insurance industry. A trigger would also tell the insurance industry the exact minimum level of care and service they need to provide (a level worse than they provide now) before they face competition, giving them incentive to stay at that level and no better. That trigger will never be triggered - instead, it will kill the public health insurance option. But most importantly, a trigger wants us to wait for our crisis to worsen before we fix it.

That's not a compromise. That's not even a rational proposal. Waiting for the crisis to get worse does nothing but help the insurance industry at the expense of our wallets, our health, and our lives.

The trigger kills the public health insurance option. It is not health reform. It should be rejected.

Liberals are angry but have been marginalized in the last few days. ConservaDems, emboldened by hopes of protecting their corporate contributors, are taking a victory lap. Fight on, radical moderates, fight on.

And in between, the mainstream Dems want to take half a loaf.

Clyburn said Democrats should be satisfied if they can only achieve "half a loaf" of reforms, noting that President Lyndon Johnson didn't get all of his landmark civil rights legislation through Congress on his first try.

"We can pass a health-care bill that will do a lot of good," Clyburn said. "It may not be perfect, but we ought not to sacrifice the good on the altar of the perfect."

The writing's on the wall here. And we'll see if the Progressive Block in the House means anything.

...In his conference call with Progressive Caucus members, Obama straight up asked House liberals "how far they're willing to compromise on the public option". Greg Sargent has more. He apparently told them that they had the luxury of being in safe seats, although while they may be safe D, they won't be safe from primary challenges if they have to give on what has become this fundamental pillar of health care reform.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


They Don't Call It "Sick For Profit" For Nothing

The California Nurses Association has put together a fantastic report detailing the denial rates on claims by leading insurance companies.

Researchers from the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee analyzed data reported by the insurers to the California Department of Managed Care. From 2002 through June 30, 2009, the six insurers rejected 45.7 million claims -- 22 percent of all claims.
For the first half of 2009, as the national debate over healthcare reform was escalating, the rejection rates are even more striking.

Claims denial rates by leading California insurers, first six months of 2009:
• PacifiCare -- 39.6 percent
• Cigna -- 32.7 percent
• HealthNet -- 30 percent
• Kaiser Permanente -- 28.3 percent
• Blue Cross -- 27.9 percent
• Aetna -- 6.4 percent

This has been the way that the 18 top insurers in America have received $16 billion dollars in profits last year. They deny care and make bank off it. As the Nurses report states, "If the private insurers are not paying for care, why do we have private insurers?"

After coverage of this report in the LA Times and the Sacramento Bee, Jerry Brown, the Attorney General of California, has opened an investigation into these allegations.

The inquiry was prompted by a report released Wednesday by the California Nurses Association. The report suggested that the insurers rejected a fifth of all claims received over the past seven years.

"The public is entitled to know whether wrongful business practices are involved," Attorney General Jerry Brown said Thursday in a statement.

The spokesman for the insurance industry in California blamed this on "paperwork issues." Lost in that paperwork are people like Nataline Sarkisyan and Nick Colombo, who died from denial of care.

As bad as these denials are, there's also the crisis that 2.2 million Californians have medical debts, with a third of those bills over $2,000.

"That even insured people are forced to take on medical debt to pay for their health care is another glaring inadequacy in our current system of health insurance," said E. Richard Brown, director of the UCLA center. "Current policies either do not offer enough coverage or offer full-coverage at a cost that is too expensive for many people to bear. The result is that too many people have health insurance plans that leave them financially vulnerable and force them to delay the care they need."

It's amazing that these kind of discussions aren't the number one subject when it comes to medical care, instead of people shouting in town hall meetings.

Labels: , , ,


Patrick Gilbert And The Danger Of Insufficient Reform

This remarkable viral campaign on Facebook has a very simple message. It happens to be the one that Harris Wofford rode to a Senate victory over a well-funded Republican opponent prior to the 1992 elections. It's what Bill Clinton pretty much ran on during those 1992 elections. It's an appeal to basic American fairness, and it's worked over and over again.

No one should die because they cannot afford healthcare. No one should go broke because they get sick, and no one should be tied to a job because of pre-existing condition. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.

Before the day was out yesterday, Barack Obama had posted this message on his Facebook page, along with tens of thousands of others. It distills the entire debate about health care into something simple. An individual's health care should not be based on an individual's available funds. It's a winning message.

Except this message is exactly what's being bargained away, if reports are correct, in the latest round of capitulations.

Patrick Gilbert, an uninsured lumber company worker in upstate New York, is in a predicament that President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats believe they can solve. Gilbert and his wife have two children, but he says that on his family's $50,000 annual income, he can't afford the $600 monthly premiums for his employer's coverage.

"If I could find some reasonable insurance for about $100 a month, then I would do that," says Gilbert, 38, a lymphoma survivor who lives near Lake Placid. "Something reasonable, not with high deductibles. Something fair."

The House's health overhaul proposal would allow Gilbert to obtain family coverage for $250 a month, with the government picking up the rest of the premium costs. While that subsidy would make insurance more affordable for Gilbert, he could still be stuck with huge medical bills if he or his family members got seriously ill. In the worst case scenario, Gilbert could end up paying $4,400 in co-insurance and deductibles on top of $3,000 in annual premiums — adding up to 15 percent of his family's income.

Concern about the legislation's cost has overshadowed a major worry among some policy experts: Whether the Democrats' plans would protect low- and moderate-income earners from excess financial burdens, as backers have promised.

Under the House proposal, people receiving government subsidies could still end up spending 20 percent or more of their annual incomes on premiums, deductibles and co-insurance, according to estimates prepared by the House Committee on Ways and Means and obtained by Kaiser Health News. That financial load could grow substantially if the proposal's financing — $1 trillion over a decade — is pared back as congressional leaders come under pressure to reduce the legislation's costs.

The number now being put out there for the cost of the bill is $700 billion over 10 years. That may save rich people from a surtax, but it's impossible to provide affordable health coverage to everyone with those numbers. It probably needs to be twice that much. And so people will still die because they cannot afford health care. And people will still go broke because they get sick.

The problem is completely a lack of political will. There are plenty of savings that could be gathered from inside the health care system. But the White House wanted to protect industry profits and make deals to keep them from running attack ads. And unions don't want to go after the employer deduction, which keeps in place an inefficient system of employer-based health care that keeps costs high (because employers take them out of your wage increases, so they have little or no incentive to shop for good premium prices). By protecting most of the current system, the costs inside the system cannot possibly go down to the degree to make health care affordable. And as far as going outside the system, Democrats haven't made an argument about tax fairness since 1933, I think, and couldn't even pull off something as simple as lowering deductions for charitable donations back to where they were during the Reagan Administration.

A $700 billion dollar bill will have practically useless subsidies. And people just won't be able to afford insurance. So they'll remain out of compliance with the mandate. In fact, they'll probably qualify for exemptions from the mandate because insurance will be too expensive for them. And then insurers will complain that people aren't joining their system, making it unable for them to spread risk and lower costs. So they will raise premiums as a result, or maybe even go back to discriminating against people for medical history.

The subsidies and coverage expansion is crucial to the entire jury-rigged project here. You cannot take the subsidies away and expect the architecture to remain standing. Politically speaking, if the Congress accepts a $700 billion dollar spending bill and coverage remains unaffordable for those who need it, and prices continue to rise, it will be an unmitigated disaster just begging for repeal.

Labels: , , , ,


John Harwood Can Never Work In The White House

He just called Murcans stupid!

MONICA NOVOTNY: John, what about this controversy over opposition to Obama’s speech to school children?

JOHN HARWOOD: I gotta’ tell you Monica, I’ve been watching politics for a long time, and this one is really over-the-top. What is shows you is there are a lot of cynical people who try to fan controversy, and let’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.

He probably has all kinds of Marxist-Leninist art in his house, too.

Harwood, or rather the editorial staffs at networks and newspapers, have another option besides calling fauxtrage stupid - they don't have to cover it at all.

...This is another way to do it: fight a hissy fit with a hissy fit.

“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.”

Now, get every single Democratic operative to say on television that Republicans clearly oppose hard work and staying in school. They don't want their kids to get an education. Just do it over and over and put Republicans on the defensive.

Labels: , , , ,


Johnson To Banking?

I don't want to sound insensitive to the disabled, and Tim Johnson appears to have all of his mental faculties with him. But Johnson is two years out from a debilitating stroke, and chairing a committee in the Senate is demanding work. Robert Byrd lost his gavel because he was physically incapable of performing the chairmanship on Appropriations. I would just be very surprised to see Johnson get the chair of the Senate Banking Committee if Chris Dodd moved over to run the HELP Committee to replace the late Ted Kennedy.

There's the other matter that Johnson clearly is a total shill for corporate banking interests, many of which are hid away in his low-regulation state of South Dakota. With consumer protection legislation coming up, absolutely nothing of worth would get through a Banking Committee under Johnson. But it would be simply terrible optics to have someone who may not be able to handle the job up there trying to put together this high-profile legislation. I just can't see it.

Next in line on Banking after Johnson would be Jack Reed, which would be a major improvement over Johnson and Dodd. If Reed gets it, we're seeing some serious change. If Dodd stays put and Barbara Mikulski takes over HELP, it's the status quo. If Johnson really gets that seat, the country is seriously ruled by corporate whores and sellouts.

Maybe I shouldn't be so unequivocal in my prediction.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Sorry, Arnie: Federal Judges Reject Stay On Prison Plan

The message from the panel of judges to Sacramento yesterday was, you broke it, you bought it:

Reporting from Sacramento - A panel of federal judges, accusing California officials of obstruction, on Thursday denied the state's request to delay an order to produce a plan for reducing its prison population by 40,000 inmates.

Aides to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said they would take their request to the U.S. Supreme Court today.

The judges issued their order on Aug. 4 in two long-running lawsuits by inmates. The state asked for a delay pending its appeal of the order to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was filed separately Thursday.

In rejecting the state's motion for the delay only two days after it was filed, the judges said they had been "more than patient with the state and its officials" and harshly criticized them for "conflicting representations" in court that have caused the cases to drag on.

It's getting comical at this point. Thelton Henderson initially found California's prison system to violate individual rights in 2005. Over those four years, state officials have resisted, bargained, shouted, and appealed their way into oblivion, trying all along to do as little as possible about the clear crisis. The judges are asking for a plan that essentially mirrors the Senate's version of prison reform working through the legislative process right now. For all the protests about "wasting taxpayer dollars" to come up with a workable plan, the judges are essentially asking for a copy of what's already being done.

The state doesn't want to give them one, because they now it's insufficient to conform with the clear guidelines on reducing the inmate population. And they'd rather appeal and appeal and be forced to respect Constitutional rights than do it themselves. With the taxpayer money and effort spent to studiously ignore this problem, we could have already solved it.

Labels: , , , ,


Falling Down On Making The Argument For Good Government

I think this post from John Aravosis is a little bit unfair, but only a little. The White House has soft-pedaled their defense of the stimulus package, but really with the jobs picture as it is, it was always going to be a hard sell to tell people who are losing their job that the stimulus prevented things from getting worse. The problem lay in the lack of job creation in the stimulus itself, rather than job saving. Those who follow these things closely understand that the stimulus really saved us from a deep recession if not a depression. But we also know it didn't go far enough to truly bring about recovery. Those who look at their own lives and don't pay attention to the day-to-day debate only see that they and their colleagues can't find work.

I think the White House will eventually get some credit for the inevitable recovery, but only if it includes jobs. A second stimulus simply won't happen now, and we're basically at the mercy of large firms and when they decide to hire at this point, which isn't likely in the near term if they can increase productivity without bringing anyone back.

That said, when the White House goes out and defends the stimulus, the least they can do is defend the underlying ideology. This AP "fact check" on the stimulus is fairly ridiculous, more a nitpick than a fact check, but assuming they quoted Biden right, this is terrible:

Biden exercised some restraint in his praise for the stimulus' impact. He took a more cautious approach, for example, when asked if his declaration of stimulus success means Americans can now rethink the common view that government is wasteful and inefficient.

"I think it's too early to make that decision, to be very blunt about it," he said.

No, it's not too early to make that decision. The point of stimulus is to get money out quickly and into people's hands. If anything, Biden and his team are being too deliberate about that, to keep away the newspaper headlines of wasteful spending. Pro Publica, for example, needs to blow it out their ass. Anything that creates jobs is stimulus, people. Pro Publica tries to catch Biden in a lie by claiming that money isn't flowing to hard-hit communities, when Biden was clearly talking about increased unemployment benefits and food stamps and help for all low-income Americans. It's hoops like this which modern Presidencies have to jump through that create such a "common view" about inefficient government.

But Biden needs to attack that. The fact of the matter is that public investment creates jobs and saves people's lives. It's OK to state that aggressively. If he doesn't, Republicans certainly won't. And they'll continue to demonize government.

The Administration is in a tough rhetorical spot, considering the jobless recovery. But that's not a time to give ground.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Truthers, Birthers, And Their Proper Side Of The Fence

I've seen Van Jones speak and had the opportunity to talk to him at the DNC last year. I'm going to rerun a bit of that discussion and have you tell me if these are the words of a Communist:

On green jobs, which is Jones' real focus area, he stressed that we need to move the environmental conversation from a cultural one to a political one. The green-collar economy "can be a place for people to earn money, not spend money. We need collective action for green citizenship, to create the jobs of the future in a Green New Deal. As long as carbon is free we're never going to move forward." He was pleased by the recent efforts by municipalities and states (green jobs bills have been passed in Massachusetts and Washington state, and the US Conference of Mayors is on board as well), but recognizes that the federal government must be involved as well. "This is about laws, not gizmos. Technology cannot be the savior. This has to be a bottom-up, inside-outside AND a top-down strategy. If the Feds are MIA, human life will be MIA in the future."

We talked about the offshore drilling debate, where Jones clearly stated that the Republicans won the day by lying to the American people. He had three major points:

• There is no such thing as American oil. There is oil drilled by multinationals that is sent overseas to China and India. American offshore driling will do nothing to solve any American oil problems.

• We banned drilling in offshore areas not to save birds and fish, but because of coastal families and coastal communities, because kids were walking into the water and coming out with oil on them, because property values were plunging. Democrats should not be willing to throw away America's beauty for a 2-cent solution in 10 years.

• We've seen the new phenomenon of the "dirty greens," who want to have an "all of the above strategy" on energy, with solar and wind, but also clean coal and drilling offshore and shale and all these dirty polluters. "All of the above" is not a strategy. It's not a wise choice, but a stupid swipe at a persistent problem.

That sounds like pretty mainstream liberal conceptions on energy and the environment. Jones was an activist who went into the government because he saw the need for a federal strategy to deal with green jobs.

But because he was previously involved with Color of Change, who has engineered a successful boycott of Glenn Beck, the Foc News crew has wanted to collect Jones' scalp. So they point to comments and replay them over and over. Not really anything he did, but things he said (ooh, he called Republicans assholes! What delicate sensibilities these chaps have), things he's signed. Although, I have to agree, this was certainly a mistake.

President Obama’s “green jobs czar” Van Jones has been targeted again and again by conservatives for his controversial views and now they’ll have another item to use as fodder.

Mr. Jones signed a statement for in 2004 demanding an investigation into what the Bush Administration may have done that “deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.”

Jones has thus far apologized for prior statements and said he didn't agree "now or ever" with the 911 Truth letter. But if he has to leave his job at the White House, that will be the reason. And he absolutely made a mistake

But it brings up something interesting. There are now around a dozen Republican members of Congress who have co-sponsored legislation, essentially asking the President to reveal his birth certificate. The Birther phenomenon is at least as crazy and irresponsible as the Truther phenomenon. Why would it be OK to have 12 members of Congress who are conspiracy theorists, and not one in the White House? Now, the members of Congress would tell you they're not conspiracy theorists. So would Van Jones.

The range of debate that's acceptable and unacceptable keeps changing, somebody send me a scorecard.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


White House Gives On Transparency

This is very good news.

Early this morning, the White House took a huge step toward a more transparent government by announcing a historic new policy to voluntarily disclose White House visitor access records. Each month, records of visitors from the previous 90-120 days will be made available online.

From the President’s statement:

For the first time in history, records of White House visitors will be made available to the public on an ongoing basis. We will achieve our goal of making this administration the most open and transparent administration in history not only by opening the doors of the White House to more Americans, but by shining a light on the business conducted inside it. Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process.

Aside from a small group of appointments that cannot be disclosed because of national security imperatives or their necessarily confidential nature (such as a visit by a possible Supreme Court nominee), the record of every visitor who comes to the White House for an appointment, a tour, or to conduct business will be released. Read the full policy here.

The Administration has also agreed with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) to settle four pending cases requesting specific White House visitor access records, including those dating from the Bush administration (read the transmittal letter here). We have provided CREW with the records relating to their requests….

Credit where due. Executive branches are going to be naturally somewhat secretive and guarded, and so allowing the visitor logs to be released for the first time in history is a major victory for open government. In general, very good news, as the President makes good on a campaign promise of transparency.

Labels: , , ,


Why Do Hissy Fits Succeed?

Dishonest morons motivated purely by ideology have decided to throw a scream-fest over a proposed "stay in school" speech from the President to children.

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.

The people organizing this protest and the people mad about the President daring to "indoctrinate" their children are the people who said nothing when Ronald Reagan talked favorably about tax cuts to schoolkids, when George Bush sat in a classroom on 9/11, and when they waged campaign to put PRAYER in American schools. It's OK, then, to indoctrinate your children to almighty God, but not for them to hear a speech about hard work from the elected President of the United States.

And yes, we were told for a while, under a Rpeublican President, that criticizing him was a form of treason.

But the award for lack of self-awareness has to go to NBC News, which asks today:

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.

Now, at least they admit that it's impossible to claim liberal media bias, meaning they understand who's to blame here. But do they really have to say "The ability of the conservative media machine to generate a controversy for this White House is amazing"? Isn't the answer that the non-conservative media will simply blindly follow whatever conservative media decides to gun up? Don't media types privilege conservative mini-controversies and hissy fits? Isn't there literally no way they could lay off something like this? Isn't that the problem?

Conservatives have cracked the code: yell real loud about some invented outrage, and watch the media chase the soccer ball. They actually don't have to cover it.

Labels: , , , ,


Washington, We Have A Jobs Problem

The jobs report for August showed another 216,000 losses. That's far less than previous months, in fact the smallest in a year, but still not very good. The unemployment rate jumped up to 9.7%, and it'll basically be a matter of time before we're at 10%.

The AFL-CIO released a stunning report about young workers, showing their struggles in the past decade, where they have less jobs, worse jobs and no security.

Some of the report’s key findings include:

31 percent of young workers report being uninsured, up from 24 percent 10 years ago, and 79 percent of the uninsured say they don’t have coverage because they can’t afford it or their employer does not offer it.
Strikingly, one in three young workers are currently living at home with their parents.
Only 31 percent say they make enough money to cover their bills and put some money aside—22 percentage points fewer than in 1999—while 24 percent cannot even pay their monthly bills.
A third cannot pay their bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.
37 percent have put off education or professional development because they can’t afford it.
When asked who is most responsible for the country’s economic woes, close to 50 percent of young workers place the blame on Wall Street and banks or corporate CEOs. And young workers say greed by corporations and CEOs is the factor most to blame for in the current financial downturn.
By a 22-point margin, young workers favor expanding public investment over reducing the budget deficit. Young workers rank conservative economic approaches such as reducing taxes, government spending and regulation on business among the five lowest of 16 long-term priorities for Congress and the president.
Thirty-five percent say they voted for the first time in 2008, and nearly three-quarters now keep tabs on government and public affairs, even when there’s not an election going on.
The majority of young workers and nearly 70 percent of first-time voters are confident that Obama will take the country in the right direction.

At the low end, workers are often paid under the minimum wage and cheated out of overtime pay.

This is just not sustainable. A thin layer of the super-rich exploiting a permanent underclass, with many out of work or unable to gain independence, will not result in a workable society. Social unrest is a more likely outcome.

We cannot forget this. The Democratic Party is becoming reliant on the professional class instead of the working class, and it leads to policy that doesn't help workers. The shrinking unionized sector, and the inability to create policy to reverse that trend, will come back to hurt the so-called "party of the people."

Labor's lack of clout to pass EFCA in even the most overwhelmingly Democratic -- and progressive -- Congress in decades is an indication that we already have a successful progressive movement in which labor plays only a modest role. Union support was less crucial to Obama's nomination and his general election victory than it was to any previous Democratic president, which is why he's not obligated to twist arms to pass the bill. Many Democratic victories in 2008 were in states and districts where labor is weakest, like Virginia and North Carolina. And I know dozens of engaged liberals who have no idea why EFCA matters.

The new progressive coalition follows the lines of the "emerging Democratic majority" that Ruy Teixeira and John Judis predicted in their 2002 book of that name: minority, professional, and younger voters, with help from a large gender gap. This is a coalition that can win without a majority of white working-class voters, whether union members or not. (Those who were union members were always solid Democrats.) In many ways, that's good because it helps to bring an end to the culture wars that limited the party's ability to speak clearly about matters of fundamental rights and justice.

But it's also dangerous. A political coalition that doesn't need Joe the -- fake -- Plumber (John McCain's mascot of the white working class) can also afford to ignore the real Joes, Josés, and Josephines of the working middle class, the ones who earn $16 an hour, not $250,000 a year. It can afford to be unconcerned about the collapse of manufacturing jobs, casually reassuring us that more education is the answer to all economic woes. A party of professionals and young voters risks becoming a party that overlooks the core economic crisis--not the recession but the 40-year crisis--that is wiping out the American dream for millions of workers and communities that are never going to become meccas for foodies and Web designers.

I think the lack of connection between Democrats and the working class reflects itself in all these jobless recoveries we're seeing. Policy just isn't made for the median income, but of, by and for the rich. It's a very dangerous situation.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Gonna Take More Than One Man Speaking Up

I'm going to hand it to Jon Henke and The Next Right for calling out the extremists in his midst:

In the 1960's, William F. Buckley denounced the John Birch Society leadership for being "so far removed from common sense" and later said "We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner."

The Birthers are the Birchers of our time, and WorldNetDaily is their pamphlet. The Right has mostly ignored these embarrassing people and organizations, but some people and organizations inexplicably choose to support WND through advertising and email list rental or other collaboration [...]

No respectable organization should support the kind of fringe idiocy that WND peddles. Those who do are not respectable.

I think it's time to find out what conservative/libertarian organizations support WND through advertising, list rental or other commercial collaboration (email me if you know of any), and boycott any of those organizations that will not renounce any further support for WorldNetDaily.

That's commendable and worth doing if reasonable Republicans want to save their party. Sadly it's probably too late. We've all seen the polling on the birthers, and how it's penetrated the Republican base. We've seen how politicians react to that base, getting more and more insane and radical. And now, Jon Henke has seen that the RNC values that insanity over reason:

After I argued that credible organizations on the Right should not support the conspiracy peddling of WorldNetDaily, it was pointed out that the RNC appears to have rented access to the WND email list. So I emailed the RNC to inquire about it and encourage them to stop.

My question was: "Is the RNC really renting the World Net Daily email list?" This was the response from the RNC Press Secretary:

Nice to meet you. Pls note that we have already weighed in on the birther issue -- weeks ago. Thanks.

The Press Secretary then appended a NYT story in which this was their response:

“Chairman Steele believes this is an unnecessary distraction and that the president is a U.S. citizen,” said Gail Gitcho, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. “He wants to move on and continue talking about real and immediate issues that are facing our nation, like health care and the economy. Chairman Steele has other issues to take up with the president having to do with policy, not a birth certificate.”

So, the sum total of the RNC's response was (a) Obama is "a U.S. citizen", but (b) we want to ignore this Birther story, (c) we're not saying whether or not we're working with the Birthers, and (d) we're just going to completely ignore the actual question you asked.

Also, World Net Daily readers called Henke a commie and a homo.

The right has gone over the moon. Because of how Washington and the media are wired, the true radicalism of their agenda isn't fully expressed. As John Cole said, the entire party has been taken over by crazy people.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Half A Loaf Is Not Enough On Prison Reform

George Skelton writes about some of the accomplishments on deck in the next week in the Legislature. Beyond the renewable energy standard, which would be a solid accomplishment, and water, which really is kind of an unknown, Skelton looks at the prison "reform" bill, where he is both right and wrong.

The goal is threefold: to reform a system that has the worst-in-the-nation recidivism rate -- 70% -- for inmates released from prison. To begin substantially reducing the overcrowded prison population before federal courts do, as they've threatened. And to save the $1.2-billion already slashed from the prison budget on paper, but not in reality.

There apparently will be no compromising with Republicans. They're having no part of it, playing the law-and-order card as they have for decades -- advocating long lockups but opposing any tax increases to pay for the bulging prisons [...]

One thing that's needed, he and other reformers contend, is more education, drug rehab and job training for inmates. Another is a better parole system. A scaled-down bill passed by the Assembly on Monday seeks to encourage the former and achieve the latter [...]

Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) are trying to restore much of the Senate version, which also included an independent commission to update California's sentencing structure. But their problem is Assembly Democrats. Some are scared of being portrayed as a crime softie by a future campaign opponent. Steinberg took a shot at them Tuesday.

"It's time to say, 'Come on,' " the Senate leader told reporters. "We have a law-and-order Republican governor who is willing to sign a comprehensive package with absolutely essential reforms that protects public safety. It's time to get real [...]

Steinberg and Bass may coax more votes from the skittish Democrats.

But if they can't, the good-time incentives and parole improvements alone would be worth passing. They'd mark substantial progress toward prison reform.

As I've said, the current bill is not a prison reform bill, but a parole reform bill. The education, treatment and job training encouraged is immediately undercut by the Governor's slashing of those programs as part of the deal. And the lack of an independent sentencing commission means that we're likely to see both increased sentencing laws and increases in the prison population continue, and we'll all be back here in 10-15 years.

That said, parole reform IS a key element. Changing the situation where 2/3 of the convicts returned to prison get sentences for technical parole violations is urgently needed. The Phillip Garrido case is an example of how increased case monitoring on the most serious offenders could have benefits for public safety. But it does not totally stand in for full reform. The sentencing commission goes hand-in-hand with fixing parole.

Sentencing commission: In other states, a sentencing commission looks at who is being sent to prison and for how long, and what sentences work best to lower reoffense rates. Sentences are based on the severity of the crime and the offender's prior record. Instead of a system driven by relatively low-level property and drug offenses, prison sentences are focused primarily on violent and career offenders. The result in other states is that fewer offenders go to state prison, but the offenders who do go to prison are serving longer. For lesser crimes, offenders go to county jail.

Skelton only touches on who's really to blame for our intransigence on prison reform - those allegedly fiscally responsible Republicans who refuse to bear the costs of their policy desires. They've joined the appeal of the federal judge order to reduce the population by 44,000 on the grounds that their beautiful minds tell them there's no problem in the system:

State Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster) said the judges had ignored the state’s recent “huge investment” in spending on inmate healthcare, as well as statistics showing that California spends more on healthcare per prisoner, and has a lower mortality rate among them, than many other states.

“We believe there is constitutional care today,” he said. “We believe there always has been.”

If you want the long form of this lie, read Tom Harman. Either way, it's just not true. Inmates have died, around one a week, before a federal receiver was instituted. Republicans fought the implementation of investing in prison health care, and the continued presence of infirm prisoners based on draconian sentencing laws like three strikes can account for the increased costs. Republicans typically call for increased rehabilitation and treatment for offenders while cutting the funding. It's a shell game.

However, we are well beyond that at this point. We have a bill that needs only a majority vote. And Assembly Democrats are petrified of justifying votes they had no problem with as recently as 2007. By the way, opponents can go back to those votes too, and make the same mailers. You either can act like you have the courage of your convictions, or not. Ultimately, the people will pay the price.

Labels: , , , , , ,


The Progressive Revolt And Its Implications

House liberals will not go quietly, Mr. Emanuel.

In a letter delivered to the White House moments ago, the two leaders of the bloc of House progressives bluntly told President Obama that they will not support any health care plan without a public option in it — and demanded a meeting to inform him face to face.

The not-yet-released letter — the first joint statement from progressives since news emerged that Obama might not address the public option in next week’s speech — is their sharpest challenge yet to the president, given the extraordinary sensitivity of this political moment. The letter urges him to mention the public option in his speech.

“Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Mediare rates — not negotiated rates — is unacceptable,” reads the letter, which was sent over by a source. It was signed by Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Raul Grijalva, the two leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

They're buttressed by the Speaker of the House, quoted again as saying that a bill without a public option cannot pass the House and that its elimination would be a major victory for insurance companies. Not much room to climb down from those remarks.

Some chin-scratchers are wondering why the public option, a so-called "sliver" of the legislation but not its entirety, has taken on such prominent significance. I think this gets at part of it.

To help understand, I think it’s useful to read past the sarcastic opening to this Chris Bowers post and read him lay out the strategic thinking in detail. I think what you’ll see is that while the movement on behalf of the public option certainly wants a public option and believes the public option is important, the larger goal is to “to try and make the federal government more responsive to progressives in the long-term” by engaging in a form of inside-outside organizing and legislative brinksmanship that’s aimed at enhancing the level of clout small-p progressives in general and the big-p Progressive Caucus in particular enjoy on Capitol Hill.

That requires, arguably, some tactical extremism. If you become known as the guys who are always willing to be reasonable and fold while the Blue Dogs are the guys who are happy to let the world burn unless someone kisses your ring, then in the short-term your reasonableness will let some things get done but over the long-term you’ll get squeezed out. And it also requires you to pick winnable fights, which may mean blowing the specific stakes in the fight a bit out of proportion in the service of the larger goal.

There's more to it than that, however. First of all, whatever the state of the public option on offer - and I don't think it's sufficient - can be improved upon if it just gets past the post and into circulation. I cannot believe that Ezra Klein would think that something like a public option could be introduced as an add-on later, as long as the "basic structure" of universality gets enacted now. A government-administered insurance plan is not a minor fix; getting one for Medicare or Medicaid took a number of years and tough battles, and we still leave out everyone under 65 who isn't impoverished. Adding it later would not be a "relatively simple matter," as he says. We get a crack at this now, or we create a forced market through an individual mandate that makes it a crime not to buy private health insurance. Given our crack regulatory structure in the US of A, that won't hold, the insurance companies won't live up to their end of the bargain, and costs will continue to soar. If the subsidies are too low, this wouldn't even get out of the gate - both parties would be clamoring to repeal it. Adding the public option offers far more opportunities to improve upon the system, rather than not having that option and having to do a supreme lift to get it. I agree that the coverage subsidies and the design of the exchanges are important, but the public option stands with those as a pillar of the plan.

And I know that because none other than Max Baucus told me so in his original white paper on the subject.

Tell me how this sounds for a health care reform plan.

• A national health care exchange
• Buy-in to Medicare at age 55
• No discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions
• No waiting period for Medicare for disabled
• CHIP covers up to 250% of poverty level
• Credits for small businesses and individuals to make health care affordable

Oh, and don't forget this bit:

• A public option

Now, it may surprise you to learn this. But the architect of this program is none other than Max Baucus--the guy who has been pushing against a public option since the insurers were allowed to drive this debate. Here's the language from his white paper--dated November 12, 2008--on the public option:

The Exchange would also include a new public plan option, similar to Medicare. This option would abide by the same rules as private insurance plans participating in the Exchange (e.g., offer the same levels of benefits and set the premiums the same way). Rates paid to health care providers by this option would be determined by balancing the goals of increasing competition and ensuring access for patients to high-quality health care.

There was a time when conservative Democrats knew how to best deliver a quality health care bill, and us dumb-as-a-stick bloggers and activists went ahead and looked at the proposals and actually agreed with them. Silly us!

The other reason why progressives are drawing a line in the sand over a public option is that they voted for one, and voted for a President and a Congress to deliver it. Clearly conservatives were going to freak out on the President as a mad socialist no matter how much he trimmed his sails, so it would be appropriate to at least deliver on a promise or two. Give them something to talk about and all that.

And contrary to popular opinion, Blue Dogs actually need health care reform far more than progressives. Sure, they want to do it in such a way that preserves corporate profits. But progressives can see the desire to pass something and exploit that for their own ends, which is approximately how politics works, basically.

The reason I disagree with Klein is fairly simple: if no health care legislation passes, and Democrats lose seats as a result, Blue Dogs are the people who will lose the seats, not Progressives. Even if Klein is correct and Democrats lose a bunch of seats because Progressives blocked it, Blue Dogs are actually the ones who will bear the brunt of those losses. As such, Blue Dogs have more to lose if health care fails to pass than Progressives [...]

If we feel that we have to protect Blue Dogs at all costs, then of course it will be impossible for Progressives to have as much leverage as Blue Dogs. However, as soon as we make it clear that we don't feel much of a need to protect Blue Dogs, then they are the ones who have a lot more reason to cave into our demands. If another Republican wave really is coming, Blue Dogs will be the first Democrats to lose.

I see nothing wrong with a maximalist strategy, which also corresponds to the stated goal of cutting costs and helping people get health care coverage. It does have an importance for future fights. But it also has an importance for right now. A health care reform that forces people to buy private insurance will destroy the party that builds it. And because of the emphasis placed on the public option, which is really out of the control of Washington at this point, a failure to incorporate it into the final legislation will dispirit the base and lead to a slaughter in 2010. In addition to being smart politics, the progressive revolt is a self-preservation strategy for the Democratic Party.

Labels: , , , , , ,


One Ex-Nixon Staffer Installed, Two To Go

Diane Sawyer's getting tabbed for the ABC World News Tonight slot, replacing Charlie Gibson. I read nothing into Gibson's reported anger at Sawyer's choice as anything more than the usual professional infighting. But let's be clear why Gibson should be mad.

While this was decades ago, Diane Sawyer staffed for Richard Nixon and never really lost that mentality. Her performance grilling the Dixie Chicks will go down as one of the all-time low points in the history of journalism, with Sawyer acting as chief counsel for a Republican President, subjecting entertainers to a cross-examination for the crime of stating their opinion:

When Sawyer prompted the three of them to ask for forgiveness, in a gruesome moment of utterly fake primetime piety, the trio paused. You could see them struggling with their pride, their conviction, and their desire to get along; I was half-hoping they'd suggest Sawyer kiss their three asses (and I'd be surprised if the notion didn't run through their minds). Instead, Maines kept her cool and her dignity. "Accept us," she said. "Accept an apology that was made ... but to forgive us, don't forgive us for who we are." And she went on to point out, as if it needed to be said, that the practice of dissent is fundamental to democracy.

That wasn't good enough for Sawyer. She spent an hour trying to bend the Chicks with a combination of false sympathy and crass sensationalism. Time and again, she cut back to a typeset insert of Maines' original remark, as if Maines had called for the pillage of Crawford. "Ashamed?" Sawyer said, incredulously. "Ashamed?" In the tradition of a Stalinist show trial, the women were forced to affirm their patriotism and their support for the troops. At every point they—who are, after all, entertainers with no particular training in political science—were thoughtful, modest, and firm. At every point Sawyer tried to force them into a crude, Manichaen choices. "Do you feel awful about using that word about the president of the United States?" she asked at the start of the interview—in a prime example of the sort of leading question no self-respecting first year AP stringer would ask. "Well," replied Maines, carefully, " 'awful' is a really strong word." Later, when Maines was trying to apologize and clarify, Sawyer said, "I hear something not quite, what, wholehearted. …"

Well, I heard something not quite—what—honorable in Sawyer's presentation of the affair: an attempt to take a trivial matter that had blown up into an absurd controversy, and blow it up even more under the guise of simply covering the story. Essentially, she asked the women to choose between abasing themselves on national television or stirring up more hatred against themselves. It was a depressing moment in an ugly time.

For what it's worth, I have profoundly mixed feelings about the war, and if I were to sit down with Natalie Maines, I'm sure we'd have much to disagree about. But, just so you know, I'm proud that the Dixie Chicks are from Texas. What's more, I'm embarrassed that Diane Sawyer is a member of my profession.

Actually, I can think off the top of my head of a worse moment: Sawyer interviewed Al Gore about his book "The Assault On Reason," wherein Gore savaged the news media for focusing on trivialities and horse-race nonsense. And Sawyer decided to follow this up with a question about - whether Gore was running in 2008.

And so the "conversation of democracy" gets debased yet more.

Labels: , , , ,


The "Insurance Companies Support Health Care Reform" Gambit

Angela Braly, the CEO of Wellpoint, called for health care reform at a meeting in Indianapolis.

One of them most powerful women in the nation is calling for health care reform. Wellpoint CEO Angela Braly says she supports guaranteed coverage for everyone - as long as everyone gets and stays covered [...]

"The high and rising cost of health care in America is just not sustainable," Braly said. She said the current system, including Medicare, which is administered by the federal government, was inefficient and promotes quantity over quality. She also said it posed "a real threat to the social and fiscal obligations of the government and to the health and prosperity of the American people."

"We believe insurance companies have a role to play. We can and are making a difference," Braly said. She said Wellpoint's strategy was moving beyond processing claims and managing risk, noting employee incentives when customers get healthy.

Braly says the what worries her most about the plan currently under consideration is the "public option."

This is, essentially, the insurance company-approved argument for health care reform. They see it as forcing everyone to buy their coverage, making refusal to buy their insurance a crime, and offering no competition to their monopoly over it. I'm sure they don't want to see that anti-trust exemption of theirs lifted either, the one that has led to 94% of the individual insurance market becoming "highly concentrated" in the hands of one or two companies.

Braly kept talking about how the current system is inefficient and leads to skyrocketing costs, as if she has no agency over that whatsoever. There are issues with how the fee-for-service system promotes quantity of medical care and not quantity, but that's due to the profit incentive, which is exactly the same in the insurance market. Braly's argument seems to be that it's doctors and hospitals at fault for chasing profit in health care, but insurance industry CEOs like her are good samaritans and innocent bystanders who just so happen to do the same thing. If a profit-driven health care system is wrong, then it's pretty much wrong across the board. And she actually advocated for an outcome where insurers would be "free to offer a range of choices," while worrying about a public option... which would just be another choice, one that could deliver quality coverage at a lower cost.

Braly tried to argue that health insurance profits aren't all that big:

According to Braly, the difference between the Medicaid or Medicare payouts and actual costs are shifted to the private plans, costing you $1,500 a year. Add that to the $1,000 a year shifted to the private plans to cover the uninsured and it costs you a total $2,500 a year.

"Sounds a lot like the Fannie Mae for health care and I think we all know how that experiment is going," Braly said [...]

"If you completely eliminated insurance company industry profits which is clearly the aim of some, you would pay for two days of health care in America and in the process you would eliminate the market mechanism to control costs and improve quality of health care being delivered," Braly argued.

I don't know what any of this means. The market mechanism in health care has not controlled costs in America whatsoever, yet throughout the industrialized world we see public programs that control costs and provide better health outcomes. Private industry has begged off completely from limiting health care costs through any means other than denying coverage to their customers and rationing. Health care spending in Medicare and Medicaid is lower than spending through the insurance market. And insurers have used the employer market effectively to confuse employers and employees alike about the true cost of their service. Braly throws out "Fannie Mae" for health care, but the current system is clearly "Goldman Sachs" for health care - where the relentless drive for profit at the expense of people creates a spending bubble that nobody ever bothers to burst until it's too late.

In the end, Braly calls Wellpoint a "supporter" of health care reform. That's funny, I would think that a company committed to health care reform wouldn't illegally force their employees to lobby against it.

Consumer Watchdog in Santa Monica has asked California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown to investigate its claim that UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint Inc. pushed workers to write their elected officials, attend town hall meetings and enlist family and friends to ensure an overhaul that matches their interests [...]

WellPoint, whose Anthem Blue Cross unit is the largest for-profit insurer in California and employs 8,000, took a more overtly negative tack.

"Regrettably, the congressional legislation, as currently passed by four of the five key committees in Congress, does not meet our definition of responsible and sustainable reform," Anthem said in a company e-mail last week. The proposals would hurt the company by "causing tens of millions of Americans to lose their private coverage and end up in a government-run plan."

The appeals amount to illegal coercion under California law, Consumer Watchdog research director Judy Dugan said. "While coercive communications with employees may be legal, if abhorrent, in most states, California's labor code appears to directly prohibit them," said Dugan, citing sections forbidding employers from "tending to control or direct" or "coercing or influencing" employees' political activities or affiliations.

Insurance companies like WellPoint support health care reform, all right - completely on their terms, and guaranteed to provide them a financial windfall. Anything else would be unacceptable, and they will take any tactic - no matter legal or illegal - to stop it.

Labels: , , , ,


$2.3 Billion Settlement From Pfizer

Say what you will about the Obama Administration, but they did manage to squeeze $2.3 billion out of Pfizer for violating FDA regulations. The investigation occurred mainly during the Bush Administration, but let's just say I'm less confident that a follow-through like this would actually occur. And with the President engaging in backroom deals with industry to keep their guns silent on health care reform, it comes at an opportune time.

“It’s another step in the administration’s ongoing effort to prosecute any individual or organization that tries to rip off health care consumers and the federal government,” said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services.

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have accused the Obama administration of failing to crack down adequately on health care fraud, arguing that huge savings in government health programs could be found with better enforcement. The settlement had been expected. Pfizer, which is acquiring a rival, Wyeth, reported in January that it had taken a $2.3 billion charge to resolve claims involving Bextra and other drugs. It was Pfizer’s fourth settlement over illegal marketing activities since 2002.

“Among the factors we considered in calibrating this severe punishment was Pfizer’s recidivism,” said Michael K. Loucks, acting United States attorney for the Massachusetts district.

For context, the $80 billion in savings negotiated over 10 years from the pharmaceutical industry would translate to $8 billion annually, so the White House picked up 1/4 of the annual savings just from this settlement (not that it would be applied, I'm just adding for context).

I don't think the Big Pharma deal is worth it and will cost consumers in the long run. But a commitment to actual regulations might force the drugmakers into compliance, and provide even more savings at the high end.

Of course, if we start actually regulating drug companies or work to cut into their record profits, we'll stifle their innovation and ruin their made-up market share:

Atlantic blogger Megan McArdle wrote a post on pharmaceutical companies last month, and while replying to one of her commenters, she said this:

The United States currently provides something like 80-90% of the profits on new drugs and medical devices. Perhaps you think you can slash profits 80% with no effect on the behavior of the companies that make these products. I don't.

Last week, during a Washington Post online chat, this exchange took place:

Anonymous: You said that medical innovation will be wiped out if we have a type of national health care, because European drug companies get 80% of their revenue from Americans. Where did you get this statistic?

Megan McArdle: It wasn't a statistic--it was a hypothetical.

You'd think McMegan would agree to resign at this point.

Labels: , , , , ,


Jobless Recoveries Aren't Recoveries

The President's poll numbers, which haven't slipped as much as has been reported if you take away crazy Zogby Internet polls (42%? Really, Zogby?), have little to do with his policies and much to do with the economy. Most political leaders are falling right now as the economic slump continues to worsen. The "recovery" that we're seeing is really more of a case of getting worse more slowly. The so-called "liberal interventions" that Obama has made in the economy clearly staved off a deep depression. Virtually everyone who's studied the issue would agree. But it's hard to prove a negative, and this is the source of Obama's troubles right now. For example, Joe Biden is right to say that the stimulus is working, but this is a difficult concept for people to wrap their heads around:

"The recovery act has played a significant role in changing the trajectory of our economy, and changing the conversation in this country," Biden said. "Instead of talking about the beginning of a depression, we are talking about the end of a recession."

Absolutely true, but if there are still no jobs, this won't register. People feel that the recession is still happening because, for their personal lives, it is. The rates of job loss have slowed but remain negative. That means less people working. That means less money available to spend. That means lower consumer spending. And so retailers feel the pinch, individuals feel the pinch, and even with economic growth, everyone feels like they're in a recession.

Jobs lag a recovery, so there's a chance for the White House to break out of this. But in recent times, the jobless recovery has become more and more prevalent. Know this - an economic "revival" which benefits elites and not the overall public will not be looked upon favorably. In fact, people will blame the President for failing to turn things around. You can put together all the white papers you want about the recovery meeting benchmarks, or whatever. But the only answer to the economic troubles are JOBS. If we don't value work over wealth in this country, we will not sustain an economic future.

...Biden's speech on the Recovery Act actually does some good message-building about the economy and the need for public investment, which is key.

We're also investing what everybody knows is necessary to build a 21st century economy. I have people sometimes say, aren't you guys doing too much? You know, Presidents in the past have been able to -- and I've been here for eight of them -- they've been able to take the problems that they have and segregate them -- said, we're going to take these two first. We'll put these other four or six or five aside, and we'll get to them next, because they know the status quo ante will pertain. But name me one problem that landed on the President's desk that allowed him to say, no, no, we're going to focus on this, and then in three years we'll get to this?

I say to my friends, does anybody think we can lead in the 21st century without a radically altered energy policy? Does anybody think we can sustain our position in the world without a radically altered education system, where we're no longer 17th in the world in the number of college graduates we graduate? Does anybody think we can sustain without radical change in the cost of health care in this country, and bending that curve? [...]

To state the obvious, we will emerge from this great recession. And I believe that is only -- that's necessary but not sufficient. We have to emerge better positioned to lead the world in the 21st century as we did in the 20th century.

Where the last cycle generated billions of dollars -- billions from investments made via high-speed trades, this cycle needs to make real investments in high-speed rail.

In the last cycle, "innovation" meant bundling and selling subprime mortgages. In this one, our innovations will bundle and sell technologies to produce clean, efficient, renewable energy.

Where the benefits of productivity have not grown in the past, from 2000 and 2007, productivity grew 20 percent; yet the middle-income households fell 3 percent, their income. In this cycle, we're determined to make sure that productivity doesn't elude the poor and the middle class. And this cycle must be one in which, once again, American workers get his or her fair share of the wealth they helped produce.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Conservatives Never Met A Criminal They Didn't Like

The Bush Administration sure had a knack for letting criminals get away with it, didn't they? They failed to stop 9/11, never caught bin Laden, and now we're learning about the total incompetence of the SEC in responding to Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission repeatedly missed chances to catch Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion fraud over 16 years by assigning inexperienced investigators and accepting “implausible” explanations after catching him in lies, the agency’s internal watchdog said.

At least six warnings from sources including a money manager, a “respected hedge-fund manager” and a firm that studied Madoff’s business failed to spur a “thorough and competent” probe, Inspector General H. David Kotz wrote in a summary of a report released today. Madoff, in an interview with Kotz, said even he “was astonished” when investigators failed to check trading records that would have exposed his scam.

“Despite numerous credible and detailed complaints, the SEC never properly examined or investigated Madoff’s trading and never took the necessary, but basic, steps to determine if Madoff was operating a Ponzi scheme,” Kotz wrote.

This is not only an incredible report, it plays into a larger truth about the conservative conception of regulation as a needless bother rather than a diligent effort to protect the consumer. One incredible moment, referenced above but covered in detail by Zachary Roth, shows that Madoff basically thought he was caught and the scheme had been discovered by federal regulators, only to find himself safe once again.

The agency's biggest screw up, says the summary, was the fact that examiners never verified Madoff's trading through an independent third party.

The details of that failure are more astonishing still. Madoff at one point told examiners that all his trades were cleared through his account at the Depository Trust Company (DTC), a clearing agency -- and he gave the examiners his DTC account number. At that point, Madoff told Kotz in an interview, "I thought it was the end game, over. Monday morning they'll call DTC and this will be over." Amazingly, the SEC never followed up with DTC. Madoff said he was "astonished."

The summary almost makes clear that the SEC's right hand didn't know what the left was doing. It notes with astonishment that at one point, two Madoff examinations were going on at the same time within the agency, without either being aware of the other. It was Madoff himself who informed one team of the other's existence [...]

The final, failed Madoff investigation of 2006 -- triggered by a detailed Markopolos complaint -- was perhaps the most egregious. According to the summary, most of the investigative work was done by a staff attorney "who recently graduated from law school and only joined the SEC nineteen months before she was given the Madoff investigation. She had never previously been the lead staff attorney on any investigation, and had been involved in very few investigations overall. The Madoff assignment was also her first real exposure to broker-dealer issues."

According to the summary, that inexperience helps explain why, when Madoff told the examiners that he got such unprecedentedly good return simply because he had a good "feel" for the market, they took that nonsensical explanation at face value.

Bush's SEC didn't bother to check up on Madoff's dealings, and they took his explanations as good enough for them, because their attitude toward regulation was "don't mess with a good thing." Indeed, the entire stock market during the Bush years was kind of operating under a false reality in its own right. Madoff was a crook, but at least an honest crook. And even he couldn't get caught.

This is not just the story of one agency's embarrassing failure. The failure lied in the theory of government, existing to make profits for cronies and lay off the connected and the powerful. The failure to catch Madoff and the failure of conservatism are essentially the same stories.

Labels: , , , , , ,