Monday, August 31, 2009

The Torture Party

Andrew Sullivan is back doing at least a little blogging, and he seems, what should I say, rested, feisty, and ready to go. Check out this post on torture.

Welcome back, Andrew. You are a national treasure (even if you aren't a citizen).

The Speech Yet To Be Given

Michael Lind writes a proposed speech for President Obama on health care, that might turn this thing around:

"My fellow Americans, we say that healthcare is a right of all citizens.
The other party says that it is a privilege for those who can afford it. If you
agree with them that healthcare is a privilege, not a right, then vote for them.
We would like to persuade you to join us, but if we can't, then we are going to
defeat you.

"Decades ago our opponents tried to block Social Security and Medicare,
using the same bogus arguments that they are using today against healthcare
reform. They said Social Security and Medicare would bankrupt the country. They
were wrong. Once we fix the cost inflation of our broken medical sector, with
some minor tweaks Social Security and Medicare can be made solvent

"Decades ago, our opponents said that Social Security and Medicare
would turn the United States into a fascist or communist police state. They were
wrong then and they are wrong now. And not only are they wrong, they are
hypocritical. Many of our opponents who claim absurdly that universal healthcare
will bring tyranny to the U.S. have defended some of the greatest assaults on
civil liberties and the rule of law in American history during the previous

"They can draw a Hitler mustache on me. They can draw a mustache on the
Mona Lisa, for all I care. They are wrong and we are going to defeat them.

"We won the elections and we are the majority. We would like to build
the biggest consensus possible, but progress is more important than consensus.
Our job is to help the American people, not split the difference between right
and wrong by giving a veto to the party that the American people have

"In this fight, as in earlier struggles, powerful interests are
opposed to the needs of the people. In the 19th century, we the people defeated
the Southern slave owners, freed the slaves and saved the nation. In the 20th
century, while fighting alongside many other nations to save the world from
militarism and totalitarianism, we the people here at home tamed the
corporations for a generation and fought segregation based on race, gender and,
more recently, sexual orientation.

"Today the campaign for affordable healthcare as a right, not a
privilege, is opposed by powerful interests in the medical and insurance
industries. They seek to deceive and confuse you. And they seek to bribe or
intimidate your elected representatives into serving their will rather than the
needs of the public.

"They may win this battle. They may win the next. But we will never
stop fighting for the needs of the many against the greed of the few. For more
than 200 years, from the time we threw off the tyranny of the British empire and
established our republic, we have worked to realize the spirit of '76 on this
continent and in the world beyond. The enemies of progress have money on their
side. We have history on ours."

LA Apocalypse

And now, for my last post of the morning, a little 'spice' from the incomparable James Howard Kunstler:

I was in Los Angeles for a few days last week, as chance had it,
marveling at the odd disposition of things there. I've been there many
times over the years, but you forget how overwhelmingly weird it is. Altogether
the LA metro area has the ambience of a garage the size of Rhode Island where
someone happened to leave the engine running. To say that LA is all about
cars is kind of like saying the Pacific Ocean is all about water. But one
forgets the supernatural scale of the freeways, the tsunamis of vehicles, the
cosmic despair of the traffic jams. The vistas of present-day LA make the
Blade Runner vision of things look quaint in comparison.

The city of Los Angeles, indeed the whole state of California, seems
exhausted too. Apocalypse is probably such a rich theme out there precisely
because everything about that particular way of life seems to be nearing its end
- whether it's the fiscal fiasco or the water supply, or the aerospace economy,
or the music industry, or the once-great university system, or the Happy
Motoring fantasy of cruising for burgers in what Tom Waits called the dark, warm
narcotic American night. I went to the movies there one hot afternoon -
Tarantino's latest, Inglourius Basterds, a completely crazy but enjoyable
revenge romp against Hitler & Co. - and before the feature, they showed a
"trailer" for Roland Emmerich's forthcoming apocalyptathon. 2012, in which
virtually every global landmark from the Vatican to the White House is
destroyed, and mankind's last hope is John Cusack riding a spaceship to worlds
unknown.... If that isn't shooting your wad as a movie-maker, I'm not sure
what is. Maybe next time out, Roland will step back and make a movie about
a puppy.

Initial Mistakes on Health Care

E. J. Dionne is always a thoughtful liberal commentator, whose judgment I respect immensely. Here is his take on the mistakes of the Obama administration on health care:

President Obama can still secure major health-care legislation this year if
he learns from his mistakes in recent months and spends more time reminding
Americans why they were once eager for fundamental change.

His White House lost sight of the need to make a strong case that
reform would deliver specific benefits to the insured as well as the uninsured.
Absent a consistent set of arguments from reformers, advocates of the status quo
filled the vacuum -- often with outright lies.

The administration also sent mixed and confusing signals about
its position on a public insurance option. This set off a liberal firestorm and
increased the role that the public option played in the public debate -- which,
paradoxically, is exactly the opposite of what Obama's lieutenants intended.

And his aides did not foresee just how fraught the situation would
become in the Senate, where Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Finance
Committee, allowed Charles Grassley, the committee's ranking Republican, to
string negotiations along indefinitely without making any commitment to voting
for a bill.

The road to compromise is not paved by offering premature concessions and vagueness. Having held back, the administration now needs to lay out clear and understandable goals, so it can bargain from a position of strength. Dare one say it? That was Ted Kennedy's way.

Future Looking Brighter?

Okay, for those of you who are open to 'psychic' things, here is an interesting article from the Washington Post, of all places, on the richest woman in Israel, who is also psychic. She sees the future, she says. Anyway, here is the final paragraph or two from the article:

And according to her book, the visions are getting nicer. "There is
still difficulty and pain in them, but they are going and fading away," Arison
writes. "If in the past, the visions were always harsh, catastrophic, violent --
recently I can see the new world. The quiet, the calm and the freedom it will
have. This is a very comforting knowledge for me because I already know that
what I envision materializes."

Liberal/Left Unhappiness With Obama

Howard Kurtz, WaPo media critic, writes about liberaldom's growing unhappiness with Obama:

"I'm concerned as to whether, in trying to reach out to the middle, he is
selling out his base," says Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page. "I find
myself saying, 'Where's that well-oiled Obama machine we saw last year?' . . .
Maybe he's being a little too cool at this point."

David Corn, a blogger for Politics Daily, says that despite a
reservoir of support for the president, some of his policies "have caused
concern, if not outright anger, among certain liberal commentators and bloggers.
It's been a more conventional White House than many people expected or desired.
. . . He's made compromises that have some people concerned about his adherence
to principle."

Perhaps that's why a recent Frank Rich column in the New York
Times was headlined, "Is Obama Punking Us?"

Rich says by phone that there is "a kind of impatience" with Obama as
his initiatives stall, but that the 24-hour news cycle is producing a rush to
judgment just seven months into the administration. "The big mistake made
in looking at him during the campaign was that he was a wuss or an academic or
professorial and couldn't rise to the occasion, and he did," Rich says. "It's
too early to talk about whether he's strong enough. He's got to be pretty damn
strong to have won the campaign. . . . Of course he's not the messiah. He never
was going to be the messiah."

But the sense of letdown is palpable. Krugman wrote recently that "Mr.
Obama was never going to get everything his supporters wanted. But there's a
point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly
feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line."

Liberal Differences on Abortion

Ross Douthat, the NYT's most recent conservative columnist who thankfully replaces the very obscene Bill Kristol, has a beautifully written and thoughtful essay today on the lives and deaths of the two Kennedy siblings, Eunice and Ted.

Why Reformers Like Krugman Are Pessimistic

"Given the combination of G.O.P. extremism and corporate power, it’s now doubtful whether health reform, even if we get it — which is by no means certain — will be anywhere near as good as Nixon’s proposal, even though Democrats control the White House and have a large Congressional majority.

And what about other challenges? Every desperately needed reform I can think of, from controlling greenhouse gases to restoring fiscal balance, will have to run the same gantlet of lobbying and lies.

I’m not saying that reformers should give up. They do, however, have to realize what they’re up against. There was a lot of talk last year about how Barack Obama would be a “transformational” president — but true transformation, it turns out, requires a lot more than electing one telegenic leader. Actually turning this country around is going to take years of siege warfare against deeply entrenched interests, defending a deeply dysfunctional political system."

--Paul Krugman, in the NYT

Moderate Republican as an Oxymoron

Paul Krugman explains why President Nixon could offer a plan for health care that sounds a whole lot like today's Democratic plan:

So what happened to the days when a Republican president could sound so
nonideological, and offer such a reasonable proposal?

Part of the answer is that the right-wing fringe, which has always been
around — as an article by the historian Rick Perlstein puts it, “crazy is a
pre-existing condition” — has now, in effect, taken over one of our two major
parties. Moderate Republicans, the sort of people with whom one might have been
able to negotiate a health care deal, have either been driven out of the party
or intimidated into silence. Whom are Democrats supposed to reach out to, when
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who was supposed to be the linchpin of any deal,
helped feed the “death panel” lies?

But there’s another reason health care reform is much harder now than
it would have been under Nixon: the vast expansion of corporate influence.

We tend to think of the way things are now, with a huge army of
lobbyists permanently camped in the corridors of power, with corporations
prepared to unleash misleading ads and organize fake grass-roots protests
against any legislation that threatens their bottom line, as the way it always
was. But our corporate-cash-dominated system is a relatively recent creation,
dating mainly from the late 1970s.

And now that this system exists, reform of any kind has become
extremely difficult. That’s especially true for health care, where growing
spending has made the vested interests far more powerful than they were in
Nixon’s day.

How Co-optation Happens

Do you want to know how co-optation occurs? Read Thomas Daschle being interviewed:

It has been reported that you’re a paid adviser to the insurance
giant UnitedHealth Group, which opposes your belief that health care reform
needs to have a public option. Why do you work with them?

On the left there are those who say that you should never talk to people
who differ with you on a high-profile issue. My question to the left would be,
whom would they advise these insurance companies talk to? Rush Limbaugh and
Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin? That’s the alternative. They can talk to Glenn Beck
and Sarah Palin, or they can talk to me.

Not FDR, But Ronald Reagan

A very interesting analysis by Matt Bai in the NYT about the ideological proclivities of today's senior citizens:

More to the point, though, it’s probably time for us to update our notions
of elderly Americans and how their worldviews were formed. We are inclined to
imagine our oldest citizens as products of the New Deal, voters whose earliest
memories engendered a lasting faith in the goodness of government. But
conservative theorists like Karl Rove used to say that time was on the side of
Republicans where the elderly were concerned, because Depression-era memories
would someday give way to a more complicated historical legacy — and perhaps, in
this narrow respect, their grand predictions had some validity. If Obama has
little of Bill Clinton’s appeal to old folks, it’s probably because old folks
now aren’t the same ones who rode volunteer-driven vans to the polls in

After all, a 70-year-old American today, born in 1939, probably has no
personal memory of F.D.R., but he would have lived through the pain of
disappearing manufacturing jobs and family farms, and the rapid deterioration of
urban neighborhoods and schools, conditions unabated by government experiments
in welfare and public housing. Wooed by Ronald Reagan during their prime earning
years, these voters may not be nearly as sympathetic to Obama’s vision of
activist government as Democrats might have assumed. For these new senior
citizens, even the Social Security and Medicare on which they often rely may be
viewed less as instruments of beneficent government than as a partial repayment
for decades of taxes.

Need for Shakeup in LEED

NYT reports on problems with the supposedly energy efficiency program called LEED:

Builders covet LEED certification — it stands for Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design — as a way to gain tax credits, attract tenants, charge
premium rents and project an image of environmental responsibility. But the gap
between design and construction, which LEED certifies, and how some buildings
actually perform led the program last week to announce that it would begin
collecting information about energy use from all the buildings it
Buildings would provide the information voluntarily, said
officials with the United
States Green Building Council
, the nonprofit organization that administers
the LEED program, and the data would be kept confidential. But starting this
year, the program also is requiring all newly constructed buildings to provide
energy and water bills for the first five years of operation as a condition for
certification. The label could be rescinded if the data is not produced, the
officials said.

The council’s own research suggests that a quarter of the new
buildings that have been certified do not save as much energy as their designs
predicted and that most do not track energy consumption once in use. And the
program has been under attack from architects, engineers and energy experts who
argue that because building performance is not tracked, the certification may be
falling short in reducing emissions tied to global

Some experts have contended that the seal should be withheld until a
building proves itself energy efficient, which is the cornerstone of what makes
a building green, and that energy-use data from every rated building should be
made public.

“The plaque should be installed with removable screws,” said Henry
Gifford, an energy consultant in New York City. “Once the plaque is glued on,
there’s no incentive to do better.”

Medicare For All

Roger Hickey, codirector of America's Campaign for the Future, writes about Ted Kennedy and health care reform:

Let’s get a few things straight:

Until last year, Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s health
care bill (co-authored with with Rep. John Dingell) was a bill known as Medicare for All. Not expensive private
insurance for some, but Medicare [a public insurance plan] for All.

Senator Kennedy encouraged candidate and then President Obama to make
health care for all his first priority -- during the campaign and as he took

And Ted Kennedy remained in charge as his HELP (Health,
Education and Labor and Pension) Committee wrote -- and then passed -- a new
health care bill with a strong public insurance option
for those who want

I feel the need to remind people of all this because conservatives, and
especially Republican Senators, are trying to promote the idea that if only Ted
Kennedy were still actively involved in the health care reform effort, he could
have gotten the Democrats to fold and embrace a weakened “bi-partisan”
compromised health reform strategy. And some are urging that the best
tribute we could construct to the great man’s memory is to pass such a
watered-down health bill that could win the support of a large number of
conservative Republicans.

Health Care for Wall Street, Not People

We have the most expensive health care, covering the fewest people, with the worst outcomes in the entire industrialized world. That is the crisis we face. Any reform that doesn't address each of the three aspects is just putting a band aid on an infected and worsening wound (ha!)

One of the best things I've seen recently explaining why we're in this crisis is a documentary called 'Profit-Driven Medicine', on Bill Moyers website. You can see it here (in two parts).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Setting Ourselves Up

Matthew Yglesias writes cogently about the four big banks now dominating our economy:

"J.P. Morgan Chase, an amalgam of some of Wall Street’s most storied
institutions, now holds more than $1 of every $10 on deposit in this country. So
does Bank of America, scarred by its acquisition of Merrill Lynch and partly
government-owned as a result of the crisis, as does Wells Fargo, the biggest
West Coast bank. Those three banks, plus government-rescued and -owned
Citigroup, now issue one of every two mortgages and about two of every three
credit cards, federal data show."

"A year after the near-collapse of the financial system last September,
the federal response has redefined how Americans get mortgages, student loans
and other kinds of credit and has made a national spectacle of executive pay.
But no consequence of the crisis alarms top regulators more than having banks
that were already too big to fail grow even larger and more interconnected." --
David Cho, Washington Post

You could see making a case for creating a system dominated by a
handful of giant players. That’s essentially what they have in Canada, and their
system held up much better than most during the crisis. But the flipside of that
is that Canada’s large banks are more tightly regulated in terms of leverage and
risk-taking than American banks. We seem to be mostly just consolidating while
offering one-sided semi-guarantees with no meaningful new regulations. Prudence
alone should keep a new crisis at bay for a little while, but basically as best
one can see we’re setting ourselves up for another round of boom and bust.


If true, the report of Israeli organ harvesting from Palestinian captives and killed is simply horrifying. It would be a form of cannibalism. Read the full article here.

Last week Sweden’s largest daily newspaper published an article containing
shocking material: testimony and circumstantial evidence indicating that
Israelis may have been harvesting internal organs from Palestinian prisoners
without consent for many years. Worse yet, some of the information
reported in the article suggests that in some instances Palestinians may have
been captured with this macabre purpose in mind.

In the article, “Our sons plundered for their organs,” veteran
journalist Donald Bostrom writes that Palestinians “harbor strong suspicions
against Israel for seizing young men and having them serve as the country’s
organ reserve – a very serious accusation, with enough question marks to
motivate the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to start an investigation
about possible war crimes.”

An army of Israeli officials and apologists immediately went into high
gear, calling both Bostrom and the newspaper’s editors “anti-Semitic.” The
Israeli foreign minister was reportedly “aghast” and termed it “a demonizing
piece of blood libel.” An Israeli official called it “hate porn.”

Seduced by Hope

One more leftwing snicker at poor deluded liberals, by Joe Bageant:

Almost a year after the Great Giddy Swarming of the Obamians last November,
some of the revelers are waking up with one booger of a hangover. And they are
asking themselves, “What were we thinking when we had that 10th drink of
Democratic Party Kool-Aid?” It was a clear cut case of seduction and date rape.
The spike in the drink was of course, hope. Poor pathetic American liberals.
Forever doomed to be naive freshmen at the senior beer bash.

Chairman Milquetoast

Mike Whitney cuts through the economic gobbledegook so visible everywhere and writes an insightful analysis of our current economic situation. He ends by criticizing the reappointment of Bernanke as Fed Chair:

This is why Bernanke should never have been reappointed as chairman.
Bernanke understands the issues---underwater banks, overextended consumers,
exotic debt-instruments (derivatives), and an out-of-control financial
system--but he's refused to do anything about them. He's made no effort to
re-regulate the financial system, but (oddly enough) wants Congress to reward
his inaction by elevating him to "Chief Regulator". Go figure? He's also done
nothing to determine which institutions can be saved and which should be taken
into conservatorship and have their assets put up for auction. Instead, he's
given a blanket guarantee to every brokerage house on Wall Street; their garbage
paper can be easily traded for US Treasuries or liquidity at any of the Fed's
handy-dandy lending facilities. That's not a sign of sound judgment; it's a sign
of "regulatory capture". Bernanke is a push-over; Chairman Milquetoast.
That's why Wall Street loves him; he gives them cheap capital with one hand and
a pat on the back with the other.

It's no secret what's wrong with the economy; the banks are
struggling and consumers are broke. But there are remedies, they simply require
fresh thinking about regulation and how to maintain aggregate demand. (A boost
in pay would be a good start) The real problem is the institutional bias of the
Fed itself. The Central Bank's policies are shaped by its allegiance to
its constituents, particularly the big banks. Anything that doesn't advance the
objectives of the financial establishment, is just not on the Fed's radar.
That's why Bernanke's lame efforts to revive the economy will continue to
sputter, because we've gone as far as we can without fixing household balance
sheets and purging the excessive debt from the system.

The Fed is an obstacle to change, which is why more and more people are
starting to figure out that the Fed has got to go.

Perverse Senate System

Mattew Yglesias writes with regards to Ted Kennedy's death's impact on Senate committee assignments:

Part of the larger moral of the story here is that one of the perverse
aspects of the committee system is that it encourages progressive politicians to
maximize their power on the issues where they take the least-progressive stands.
I agree with Tom Harkin about almost everything except agricultural policy. And
Chris Dodd has a much better record on all the issues that aren’t financial
institution regulation than on the issue he has the most power over. If you just
reassigned everyone at random, you’d probably improve outcomes.

This Is Our Country (Sung)

David Brooks 'moderate' summary of American society:

We in this country have a distinct sort of society. We Americans work
longer hours than any other people on earth. We switch jobs much more frequently
than Western Europeans or the Japanese. We have high marriage rates and high
divorce rates. We move more, volunteer more and murder each other more.

Out of this dynamic but sometimes merciless culture, a distinct style
of American capitalism has emerged. The American economy is flexible and
productive. America’s G.D.P. per capita is nearly 50 percent higher than
France’s. But the American system is also unforgiving. It produces its share of
insecurity and misery.

This culture, this spirit, this system is not perfect, but it is our
own. American voters welcome politicians who propose reforms that smooth the
rough edges of the system. They do not welcome politicians and proposals that
seek to contradict it. They do not welcome proposals that centralize power and
substantially reduce individual choice. They resist proposals that put security
above mobility and individual responsibility.


From a black Left perspective on what they call 'Obamaland', a poignant calling out of Obama's true position on different issues. Read the whole article if you have a chance. I have reluctantly come to share their position. Obama is corporate America's greatest ally. Question: why have the Republicans and Fox News reacted the way they have? That is my one remaining hesitation in this whole thing.

Somewhere there's a president who stands up for homeowners facing
bankruptcy and eviction. Somewhere there is a transformative leader who fights
to deliver hope, universal health care and equal rights for everybody, who will
bring the troops home from Iraq and other places and who is a relentless foe of
Wall Street's excesses. This president's very career is a repudiation of racism,
ancient injustice and unearned privilege. Of course, that guy is not the
president of the U.S. He's the president of an imaginary realm we call

Back in June of 2003, when Glen Ford and I introduced Barack Obama to
our audience at Black Commentator, he was a Democratic primary election
candidate for the US Senate in Illinois. Candidate Obama, we noted at the time,
seemed to be playing a double game. He offered progressive, black and antiwar
constituencies a hook just big enough to hang their hopes on, while through his
affiliation with the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council, Obama actively
courted the support of the full range of corporate America, from the energy,
insurance, military contractors and financial sectors to the airlines and Wall

Being named one of the DLC's “100 To Watch” as Obama was in 2003 signifies
that a candidate has been extensively vetted by a broad range of corporate
interests as completely trustworthy and utterly loyal to their agendas. Having
obtained the indelible seal of approval from Wall Street, insurance companies,
telecoms, military contractors, airlines and the like who sit on the DLC's
board, denying it all was the safe and sensible, if dishonest thing to do, and
Obama did just that. He claimed the DLC had conferred this distinction upon him
with no advance knowledge on his part, and that he would gladly renounce it, as
if such a repudiation could ever be taken seriously.

The fact that Obamaland has turned out to be a delusion is no surprise to
us, and to many others. It's a reality that dawns upon more and more of us as
time goes on.
“So the very best our popular president with whopping
majorities in both houses of congress can do is not single payer. It's not
universal health care at all, but “health insurance reform” as the president
calls it, a bailout for private insurers”

The Democratic
Leadership Council is almost irrelevant today, a victim of its own
success. It was established in the wake of Jesse Jackson's presidential
candidacies in the 1980s, when white, right wing Democrats felt themselves an
endangered species. Their goal was to enable Democrats to compete with
Republicans for corporate funding by promoting Democrats who were just as
pro-corporate as any Republican. By now corporate Democrats are the rule,
not the exception, and the career of Barack Obama is the crowning example of the
DLC's complete victory in freeing the Democratic party from the wishes of
Democratic voters, even if Obama denies the DLC brand itself.

The fight
for universal health care has blown away the illusions of many. Though months
behind schedule, the Democratic health care legislation appears to be where and
what our Democratic president wanted all along.

So the very best our popular president with whopping majorities
in both houses of congress can do is not single payer. It's not universal health
care at all, but “health insurance reform” as the president calls it, a bailout
for private insurers, under which millions will be forced to purchase junk
insurance, some with government subsidies funded by Medicare and Medicaid cuts.
The president is even open to taxing employer-furnished insurance benefits, a
position he ridiculed McCain for during the campaign. Drug prices will remain
high thanks to a deal cut with Big Pharma, and the public option, originally
conceived as a Medicare-scale government run insurance plan competing with
private insurers to drive their costs downward, was thoroughly gutted,
eviscerated and watered down before the White House declared it “not essential”
to its vision of national health care at all. What remains of a health
care bill is what Detroit Rep. John Conyers has
called "crappy."
But it's what the president wanted all along.

It is evident now that President Obama has simultaneously played both
the good cop and the bad cop on health care, using the excuses of Senate and
blue dog intransigence and Republican opposition in order to shed provisions of
the health care bill the White House did not favor. We all learned in sixth
grade civics class about “co-equal branches” of government, but like a lot of
things we learned in childhood, the reality is something else. Outside of
Obamaland, the president, any president, possesses levers of vast executive
power that can be utilized to bring any mere congressman or senator back onto
the reservation. The White House, according to California's Lynn Woosley,
routinely bares its fangs at junior members of congress who hint at voting
against the war budget, but never threatens to depose stubborn liars in the
Senate or call to heel the blue dogs of the House, whose careers are literally
the handiwork of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

It's morning in America again, and this time a hung over morning. The
left, and most of all the black left, is only beginning to rouse itself from the
Obamaland stupor and stumble out into daylight. The president after all, is not
necessarily an ally in the fight to deliver health care, or education, or halt
privatizations, bankruptcies, foreclosures or unjust wars, or most of the other
things that need delivering or need stopping. Now progressives and the wide
awake are beginning to leave Obamaland in droves, abandoning the automatic
stance that the president is an ally in the struggle for peace abroad and
justice at home.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lack of Leadership

Arianna Huffington writes compellingly about the lack of leadership from President Obama in the health care reform effort:

Recent polls show that while Obama's personal approval rating remains high
(57 percent), only 49 percent of the public has confidence that he will make the
right decisions -- down 11 percent from April. This means that Americans still
like him, but have less faith in his leadership.

Given his incredible skills as a leader, this is deeply ironic. How
could someone with a renowned ability to inspire, communicate complex ideas, and
connect with voters find himself in this position?

Chalk it up to another of his strengths that seems to have failed him
this time around. The president, though a dedicated student of history, has
failed to learn the lesson of our nation's most significant political
confrontations: they've required single-minded determination and the willingness
to battle entrenched opponents until the fight was won....

This is where Obama the pied piper, who builds consensus by charming and
seducing, has to give way to Obama the leader who brings about change by laying
down the law. This is not an issue where you are going to be able to get all the
stakeholders together and have the health care equivalent of a beer summit, with
everyone walking away singing Kumbaya. The president needs to drop the
delusional notion that there is some perfect plan that will make everyone happy,
from insurance companies to PhRMA to the people who want the government to keep
its hands off of Medicare.

The consensus will come later, once reform has taken hold. You
don't see many Republicans these days willing to come out in favor of repealing
Social Security and Medicare. But if those programs weren't already in place,
you can bet they'd be fighting against them just as hard are they are fighting
against health care reform now. (Back in 1961, Ronald Reagan warned that if we
passed Medicare we would "spend our sunset years telling our children and our
children's children what it once was like in America when men were free.")

Bad Time to Leave Us

The death of Senator Ted Kennedy makes passing substantial health care reform that much harder. His absence will pull everything to the conservative side and away from the direction we need to go. Even when his replacement is finally elected, they are not going to have the clout that he would have had. His passing is sad in more ways than one.

The Truth about Canadian Health Care

One of the major issues in our health care reform debate has been how other universal health care systems around the world function. In Canada, for instance, they have a nationalized health care system in which everyone is included and which has functioned to keep cost down. So how do the Canadians feel about it? The only Canadians I know, a pastor friend with who I went to seminary, think highly of it, as of the last time I talked with him. And then here is a first-person account that I found online. It seems that much criticism of the Canadian system is based on misinformation or lies.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Empowering Local Chiefs

Robert Dreyfuss writes in The Nation about Afghanistan:

I don't usually find inspiration in the pages of the Washington Times,
or rarely if ever in the writings of Tony Blankley, the former spokesman for
Newt Gingrich, but his recent
column on the mess in Afghanistan
struck me as intelligent and provocative.

It's called "Empower the local tribal chiefs," and it makes sense to me.
Blankley says that the United States is fast making enemies in Afghanistan of
the very tribesmen who expelled the USSR, and he makes this essential point
about the faulty thinking behind US strategy there:
"It would appear that a policy that calls for substantially increased troop strength for both the American and Afghan forces implies a policy that aspires to build a strong
central government in Kabul capable of permanently suppressing the Taliban. But
the long history of Afghanistan suggests that, unlike Iraq (or Japan and Germany
after World War II), Afghanistan is not likely to accept a strong central

Blankley, whose right-wing credentials are impeccable, adds:
"We are not hated quite yet. But we need to leave soon, or we will be."

He suggests that we simply buy up the poppy crop (cost: $2 billion to
$3 billion), stop "trying to prop up an inevitably corrupt and feeble Kabul
central government," and "support the tribes that have cheerfully and
courageously driven out all foreign intruders for thousands of years, not try to
build a national government that they will equally cheerfully massacre." I'm not
sure what Blankley means by "support" them, since it appears to me that the most
effective thing we can do is leave them to their own devices. But he's on the
right track that if the choices are either to spend decades, and hundreds of
billions of dollars, creating a democratic Valhalla based in Kabul, or start
winding down our presence while allowing some sort of province-by-province,
warlord-based (and in the south, Taliban-leaning, Pashtun) local fiefdoms to
emerge, then I'd pick Option Two.

Arm in Arm to War

Writing about how war protester Cindy Sheehan is now being shunned by the media, Justin Raimondo of writes:

Can’t we all just get along? On the higher levels of the commentariat, the "Left" and the "Right" are slow-dancing in perfect harmony whenever Obama plays a martial tune. Now that the Obamaite think-tanks, such as the Center for a New American Security and the Center for American Progress, are holding joint conferences with Rush’s neocon buddies – Bill Kristol and his Foreign Policy Initiative – hailing Obama’s Afghan "surge" and proffering advice on how best to go about it, Rush ought to relax. He and Keith Olbermann can now march together, arm in arm, into the glorious war-torn future, united in steadfastly ignoring the Cindy Sheehans of this world.

Culture of Courage

Why won't single-payer health care get through Washington?

BILL MOYERS: So, what are you up against? Where is the balance of power in
this fight in Washington right now?

DR. SIDNEY WOLFE: What we're up against, essentially, is the
health insurance industry. They pick who sits at the table. They pick who votes.
And so forth. I mean, we have a real absence of leadership. John Conyers, to his
credit, has introduced HR676, which is a single-payer bill. Bernie Sanders has
introduced a single-payer bill in the Senate. But the people who are on top, who
could have an enormous amount of influence are too afraid of the insurance
industry, the health insurance industry. And in some serious ways, they are as
in bed with them as Wall Street and the banks were in bed with the Congress and
have gotten their way, with their kind of bailout.

BILL MOYERS: What do the politicians have to fear from the
industry? Does it come down just to the power of to the power of money? To the
fact that campaign contributions really determine how elections go in this

DR. DAVID HIMMELSTEIN: Well, I think there are going to be campaign
contributions. There are going to be massive TV advertising campaigns. There is
going to be an avalanche of resources put into the field to try and protect the
billions of dollars of profits they make each year. So, I think the politicians
really are afraid that they're going to lose their elections. And lose the pot
of gold at the end of their political careers.

DR. SIDNEY WOLFE: Money buys Washington, as you know. So I think we
need a whole new culture there, we need a culture of courage, as opposed to a
culture of cowardice. We need people who feel the pain of families who lose 20
thousand, 18 thousand people a year. And those are probably conservative
estimates, which are probably much higher right now. This is a serious thing. It
is a war on the American public being conducted, orchestrated, and thus far won
by the health insurance industry.

'Single-Payer' Health Care Explained and Defended

Here is one of the best discussions of 'single-payer' health care and nationalized health care can be found here, in this video of about 30 minutes.


How much do health insurance executives make? Take William McGuire, who served as CEO of UnitedHealth Group, one of the larger insurers, for 14 years, from 1992 to 2006.

On 15 October 2006, it was announced that McGuire would step down immediately as chairman and director of United Health, and step down as CEO on 1 December 2006 due to his involvement in the employee stock options scandal. Simultaneously, it was announced that he would be replaced as CEO by Stephen Hemsley, who has served as President and COO and is a member of the board of directors. McGuire's exit compensation from UnitedHealth, expected to be around $1.1 billion, would be the largest golden parachute in the history of corporate America.

Estimates of McGuire's 2005 compensation range from $59,625,444 [9] to $124.8 million[10]....

Bush's Wars Continue

In the beginning of June, Bill Moyers interviewed respected investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill on America's wars. See the whole thing here. Excerpt below:

Well, I think what we're seeing, under President Barack Obama, is sort of
old wine in a new bottle. Obama is sending one message to the world, but the
reality on the ground, particularly when it comes to private military
contractors, is that the status quo remains from the Bush era. Right now there
are 250 thousand contractors fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's
about 50 percent of the total US fighting force. Which is very similar to what
it was under Bush. In Iraq, President Obama has 130 thousand contractors. And we
just saw a 23 percent increase in the number of armed contractors in Iraq. In
Afghanistan there's been a 29 percent increase in armed contractors. So the
radical privatization of war continues unabated under Barack Obama....

[W]e have two parallel realities here. We have the speeches of President
Obama. I'm not questioning his sincerity. And then you have the sort of official
punditry that's allowed access to the corporate media. And they have one debate.
On the ground though, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, you hear the stories of the
people that are forced to live on the other side of the barrel of the gun that
is U.S. foreign policy. And you get a very different sense. If the United
States, as President Obama says, doesn't want a permanent presence in
Afghanistan, why allocate a billion dollars to build this fortress like embassy,
similar to the one in Baghdad, in Islamabad, Pakistan? Another one in Peshawar.
Having an increase in mercenary forces. Expanding the US military presence

Tipping Point

It is becoming clearer to me than ever that the financial/Wall Street complex, the health care industrial complex, the military industrial complex, the energy industrial complex, and the media (probably in something like that order) have this country on a leash (I wanted to put that differently but this is a decent blog).

If you happen to be wealthy or have a high-level position in one of those industries, or if you receive political contributions from them or are a lobbyist for them, you have it made in the shade.

But if you are one of the remaining, what, 80% of the population, you are definitely up a creek without a paddle.

I'm not sure what kind of society that makes us. But it sure isn't a democracy. Kevin Philips calls it a plutocracy. It's definitely a form of aristocracy, where the aristocrats are industrialists and their political lackeys. Maybe just the good old 'corporate capitalism' label works.

I'm increasing convinced there is no changing this, politically or any other way. We thought Obama was the one to begin to do this. Neo, you know. But I increasingly don't think so anymore. The tipping point came for me two days ago when I wrote this.

I've concluded that he has been bought off by the bankers, the insurers, the militarists, and the other aristocrats. Maybe he has sold his soul in the process, I don't know. Maybe he doesn't even know it. But his goals and my goals don't seem to line up anymore. He talks a good line, but his actions and policies don't match what he is saying.

I feel like I've been tricked. Maybe I just tricked myself.

'Tremendously Destructive' Conservatives

Conservative David Frum is interviewed by Bill Moyers and has this to say about the radio talkshow conservatives like Rush Limbaugh:

BILL MOYERS: You describe yourself as a calm conservative. But you have certainly aroused those to your right in the Republican Party. You know, talk show hosts like Mark Levin have come after you saying you're kneecapping your own. What about that?

DAVID FRUM: Look, a lot of the conservative movement in this country is conducting itself in a way that is tremendously destructive. Both of the basic constitutional compact of the requirements of good faith and of their own good sense. I mean, when you were going on the air and calling the President of the United States a Nazi as Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly done. When Mark Levin -- you mentioned him -- he said the President of the United States is literally at war with the American people. And then people begin, unsurprisingly, showing up at rallies with guns. Well, obviously, if the President were-- I mean, folks, if I believed the President of the United States were a Nazi, were planning a Fascist takeover, it would be contemptibly cowardly of me not to do everything in my power, including contemplating violence, to resist such a thing. Every decent person should do that. That's why you don't say it when it's not true. And I mean, one of the ways that the constitutional system works is with some understanding that the people on the other side have slightly different priorities but they share your constitutional values. They have invested in the same system. The problems they've got are hard problems. And even if you don't like their answers, you have to have some restraint in the way you talk about them, as you would hope they would have about you. And I think it's just outrageous. It is dangerous. It's dangerous for the whole constitutional system. Now, I'm absolutely prepared to fight with them. And by the way, it's dangerous to conservatives because the effect of the talk of people like Levin and Rush Limbaugh is to kill our cause with voters who are under 65. You make that man the face and you say let us contrast him to Barack Obama who is maybe too expensive but who seems calm and judicious? That's an ugly comparison.

Joined at the Hip

You might want to reread this earlier post of mine about Max Baucus. He's the real center and power broker in the Democratic Party now, it seems to me. His former chief of staff is now Obama's deputy chief of staff. Obama and Baucus are joined at the hip.

The Health Care Industry's Insurance Policy

Read this excerpt from Wikipedia about Senator Max Baucus, Senate leader of health care 'reform' efforts, and weep:

[Max] Baucus has come under criticism for his ties to the health insurance
and pharmaceutical industries while significant numbers of his own constituents
lack health insurance and access to health care. The University of Montana
Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that Montana has always ranked
near the bottom in cross-state and national comparisons of health insurance
coverage. Despite this backdrop in his home state, Senator Baucus has been
one of the biggest Senate beneficiaries of campaign contributions from the
pharmaceutical and health insurance industries. From 2003 to 2008, Baucus
received $3,973,485 from the health sector, including $852,813 from
pharmaceutical companies, $851,141 from health professionals, $784,185 from the
insurance industry and $465,750 from HMOs/health services, according to the
Center for Responsive Politics.

The only senators who received more campaign contributions from the
health sector during the period from 2003 to 2008 than Senator Baucus were three
major Presidential contenders, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John

Only three senators have more former staffers working as lobbyists on K Street, at least two dozen in Baucus's case. Several of Baucus' ex-staffers with whom he is still close, among them, former chief of staff David Castagnetti, are now working for the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries. Castagnetti co-founded the lobbying firm of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, which represents "America’s Health Insurance Plans Inc.," the national trade group of health insurance companies, the Medicare Cost Contractors Alliance, as well as Amgen, AstraZeneca PLC and Merck & Co. Another former chief of staff, Jeff Forbes, went on to open his own lobbying shop and to represent the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Advanced Medical Technology Association, among other groups.

Reality Politics

Ross Douthat, NYT's new conservative columnist, has a very insightful column today on President Obama, the Democratic Party, the progressives/liberals, and the national media. Example:

Throughout the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama’s most loyal constituencies were
the national press corps and the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Those on the left loved him because they thought he was one of them. They
tolerated all the happy talk about bipartisanship because they were sure that
deep in his community-organizing heart Obama shared their premises, their
passions and their goals.

The media loved him because he was a great story and a great
campaigner. The press favors dreamy liberals, but it worships success, and Obama
was the best of both worlds — a soaring rhetorician with a ruthlessly competent
political machine.

But now both groups are turning on him. As the health care debate
enters its decisive weeks, the left doubts President Obama’s commitment, and the
press doubts his competence.

These are spot-on observations. Most progressives did love Obama, and thought he was a progressive. I loved him (and love him still, in a certain kind of way), but I was always skeptical of his progressivism. I thought him more a centrist economically and internationally, but still wanted to believe him to be a progressive. So when he began to act as a neo-liberal centrist from Day One, with almost all his appointments, I was horrified but not really surprised.

Interestingly, those of the true Left (like Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch) had Obama's number from the beginning. They pegged him for what he has turned out to be, a neo-liberal Clintonian centrist, with more than a touch of self-serving megalomania. (Note his wide-eyed love of 'Airforce One'.) And they warned everyone about it, but few were heeding their warnings. Most of us were thinking wishfully, hoping that he was truly a progressive or an American social democrat, and not a corporate capitalist and neo-liberal, neo-globalist internationalist.

And Douthat's view of the Democrats is accurate too. It is, unlike the Republican Party, a truly coalition party, made up of progressives, centrists, neo-liberals, a few neo-conservatives, and probably a bunch of non-ideological pragmatics who are in it mostly for themselves.

Given this makeup, the resulting laws on health care passed by a Democratic majority will not be progressive at all, but a blended mishmash of political compromises that will turn out to be just like our current health care system--too expensive because they are serving the corporations and not the people, and not universally applicable because that would be, um, too expensive and too intrusive on people's 'freedom'. Terrific.

Make way for a return of the Republicans to power in 2012. To be followed in 2016 by President (Hillary) Clinton. (How's that for a prediction!)

Deja Vu

"Despite the recent addition of 17,000 American troops and extra security efforts surrounding the presidential election, the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating." -- NYT

That sounds familiar, doesn't it.


Another Monday edition of James Howard Kunstler:

All this goes to show is how completely the people in charge of things in
the USA have lost their minds. They seem to think this mass exercise in
pretend will resurrect the great march to the WalMarts, to the new car
showrooms, and the cul-de-sac model houses, reignite another round of furious
sprawl-building, salad-shooter importing, and no-doc liar-lending, not to
mention the pawning off of innovative, securitized stinking-carp debt paper onto
credulous pension funds in foreign lands where due diligence has never been
heard of, renew the leveraged buying-out of zippy-looking businesses by
smoothies who have no idea how to run them (and no real intention of doing it,
anyway), resuscitate the construction of additional strip malls, new office park
"capacity" and Big Box "power centers," restart the trade in granite countertops
and home theaters, and pack the turnstiles of Walt Disney world - all this while
turning Afghanistan into a neighborhood that Beaver Cleaver would be proud to
call home.

The key to the current madness, of course, is this expectation, this wish,
really, that all the rackets, games, dodges, scams, and workarounds that
American banking, business, and government devised over the past thirty years -
to cover up the dismal fact that we produce so little of real value­ these
days - will just magically return to full throttle, like a machine that has
spent a few weeks in the repair shop. This is not going to happen, of
course. It is permanently and irredeemably broken - this Rube Goldberg
contraption of swindles all based on the idea that it's possible to get
something for nothing. And more to the point, we're really doing nothing to
reconstruct our economy along lines that are consistent with the realities of
energy, geopolitics, or resource scarcity.

What we've been seeing is nothing more than a massive pump-and-dump
operation in the stock markets, most of it executed by programmed robot traders,
with the trading nut provided by taxpayers current and future. These
shenanigans add up to new risks and fragilities so extreme that the next time a
grain of sand catches in the exquisite machinery they will sink the USA as a
viable enterprise.

He's right of course.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Better Dead Than Firetruck Red

For too long now, fire departments across the United States have been socialist organizations, resulting in taxes on the American people. FACT: Most Americans never use the socialized services of the fire department. The Obama administration has been very clear about keeping the status quo when it comes to taxpayer-funded fire departments.
It is time to open the fire department up to private industry. We have the best fire departments in the world in the US, but that doesn't mean that anyone (even non-US citizens) should be able to dial up and have fires put out, etc. There are private companies (Halliburtion, Etc.) who could step in tomorrow and take over every fire department in America and charge the consumer directly. This is AMERICA. NO FREE FIRE SAFETY.
"Better DEAD than fire truck RED." -member D.J. Hostettler

Our Blended and Confused Health Care System

Here is one of the most interesting articles on health care around the world that I've read. It's by T. R. Reid, a well-traveled reporter for the Washington Post. Here's an excerpt:

U.S. health insurance companies have the highest administrative costs in
the world; they spend roughly 20 cents of every dollar for nonmedical costs,
such as paperwork, reviewing claims and marketing. France's health insurance
industry, in contrast, covers everybody and spends about 4 percent on
administration. Canada's universal insurance system, run by government
bureaucrats, spends 6 percent on administration. In Taiwan, a leaner version of
the Canadian model has administrative costs of 1.5 percent; one year, this
figure ballooned to 2 percent, and the opposition parties savaged the government
for wasting money.

The world champion at controlling medical costs is Japan, even though
its aging population is a profligate consumer of medical care. On average, the
Japanese go to the doctor 15 times a year, three times the U.S. rate. They have
twice as many MRI scans and X-rays. Quality is high; life expectancy and
recovery rates for major diseases are better than in the United States. And yet
Japan spends about $3,400 per person annually on health care; the United States
spends more than $7,000.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Losing Faith

I hate to keep throwing fuel on the fire, but here is one more disappointed liberal columnist, Bob Herbert of the NYT, letting Obama have it:

It’s still early, but people are starting to lose faith in the president. I
hear almost daily from men and women who voted enthusiastically for Mr. Obama
but are feeling disappointed. They feel that the banks made out like bandits in
the bailouts, and that the health care initiative could become a boondoggle.
Their biggest worry is that Mr. Obama is soft, that he is unwilling or incapable
of fighting hard enough to counter the forces responsible for the sorry state
the country is in.

More and more the president is being seen by his own supporters as
someone who would like to please everybody, who is naïve about the prospects for
bipartisanship, who believes that his strongest supporters will stay with him
because they have nowhere else to go, and who will retreat whenever the
Republicans and the corporate crowd come after him.

People want more from Mr. Obama. They want him to be their champion.
But they don’t feel that he is speaking to them in a language that they
understand. He is seen as more comfortable speaking the Wall Street lingo.
People don’t feel that the voices of anxiety are being heard.

Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe the economy really is turning around. Maybe Mr. Obama is working on a bipartisan deal that will take us a few small steps down the road to real health care reform.

It’s possible that we’ve been without mature leadership for so long
that it’s difficult to recognize it when we see it. Mr. Obama has proved the
naysayers wrong time and again. But if it turns out that this time he’s wrong,
hold onto your hats. Because right now there is no Plan B.


From reporter Dan Balz of the WaPo, on Obama's growing problems with progressives:

How serious is the discontent on the left? Jane Hamsher, founder of the
progressive blog and a harsh critic of the White House
strategy on health care, said Obama and his team have negotiated themselves into
an untenable corner and should not expect the left to bail them out.

"I think it was always coming, and I think they were foolish not to see it
coming," she said of the disenchantment expressed by some on the left. "He
campaigned on a public plan, and people are really attached to it."

The deals the White House has made with drug companies and other
health-industry stakeholders, she added, "have neutered their ability to pass
any kind of meaningful health care reform. . . . There is no natural
constituency for that bill. Blue Dogs don't want it. Republicans don't want it.
Progressives don't want it."

Obama seems to regard the flare-up on the left as less serious. He
coined the phrase of the week in describing the state of play in health-care
politics when he said that in August, Washington often gets "wee-weed up" over
some change in the landscape. He urged everyone to calm down.

The test will come in the fall, when Democrats are presented with a
concrete set of proposals and the bells ring for a vote. That will be when it
becomes clear if there is a real rupture between Obama and his progressive

Who Will Obama Have Left?

If Obama loses his base, who will be loyal to him? The increasingly discredited neo-liberals, blue dog Democrats, and liberal internationalists (Clintonian foreign policy experts like Richard Holbrooke)? The black community? Those folks do not a viable and electable coalition make, without the progressive/liberal community.

And how do you win back disillusioned progressives and unionists? Possibly by changing direction in a believable way. But that will take not just words and speeches but concrete actions. And so far, those have been far and few between.

In this environment (admittedly this is looking way down the road), a moderate Republican like Pawlenty or, Gawd forbid, another Bush called Jeb, could make a very strong showing in 2012. Or, to think the unthinkable, another Clinton named Hillary could pose a primary challenge and split the Democratic party. (Think Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy in 1980, or Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976, or George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in 1992.)

All of which is very depressing.


Mike Lux writes on the Huffington Post about Obama's growing problem with his base, who are essential to his success and reelection:

The other key problem is the lack of passion Obama and his White House seem
to bring to fighting for what matters to progressives. The tap dance they've
been doing on whether Obama not just supports, but will fight for, a public
option has been going on since the transition, and it's only one of many
policies they are determined not to commit too much to. The unwillingness to
pick fights and go toe-to-toe with insurers, drug companies, Wall Street, and
other special interests is making the progressive community a lot less willing
to pick fights for them.

You see the warning signs everywhere, from Paul Krugman's columns to
Bill Maher monologues to the dropping numbers from Democrats in the latest DailyKos poll. But what worries me the most is the
hard-core Obama people I know, the ones who were most excited about him during
the campaign who are growing so disillusioned.

Progressives Moving Away From Obama

Liberals and progressives are losing faith, confidence, and trust in Obama, according to the recent WaPo poll:

A major factor in President Obama’s
slide in today’s big
Washington Post/ABC News poll
, which is preoccupying the political classes
today, is his surprisingly sharp drops among Democrats and even liberals,
according to crosstabs that were sent my way.

Much talk today has focused on Obama’s difficulties with independents.
But the drop among Dems and liberals is also a key driving factor in the
President’s skid, according to WaPo polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta, who
graciously provided the additional data.

This suggests Obama’s conciliatory approach to the GOP, and his lack of
clarity around the public option — both of which are presumably alienating Dems
and liberals — could be key factors driving his dip.

Treating the Symptom and Not the Cause

Bill Moyers interviewed Marcia Angell, one of the most insightful observers of the medical scene, and what comes out is an indictment against the current bills in Congress. A little excerpt from the interview follows:

MARCIA ANGELL: He [Obama] was right in his press conference, when he talked about cost as the central issue. And he said, if we don't control cost, not only will the health system continue to disintegrate, but it'll drag the whole economy down with it. What he has essentially advocated is throwing more money into the current system. He's treating the symptom and he's not treating the underlying cause of our problem. Our problem is that we spend two and a half times as much per person on health care as other advanced countries, the average of other advanced countries. And we don't get our money's worth. So, now he says, okay, this is a terribly inefficient, wasteful system. Let's throw some money into it.
BILL MOYERS: Into the same system?
MARCIA ANGELL: Into the same system. That's his problem. The other problem, in the press conference, was that he was trying to mobilize public support for a bill, and we don't know what that bill is.
TRUDY LIEBERMAN: I want to get to that point, because he's been vague right from the very beginning on this point. We have not known exactly what the Obama health plan has been. Even though the headline writers, and the press has been talking about his health care overhaul for months. And so, I like to step back and say, "Well, what exactly is he talking about? What exactly does he mean?" And he has not been clear on that.
BILL MOYERS: You said he's been AWOL, A-W-O-L--
BILL MOYERS: --on details.
TRUDY LIEBERMAN: He has been out to lunch on this. And I think that's a deliberate strategy on the part of the White House.
TRUDY LIEBERMAN: What they had done is learn from what they call the Clinton mistakes in '93-'94. And what happened then is that Hillary came out with this big 1 thousand-page bill, although we have now another 1 thousand-page bill. And let the special interest groups sort of pick it apart. This time, they decided not to do that. That they would be deliberately vague about this. And stay as vague as they could be until push came to shove. And so basically, it's my belief that this whole discussion about health care reform is flying over the heads of the American people. They know about reform, but they don't know-- they know the words reform, but they don't know what they mean at all.
BILL MOYERS: I had the same reaction you did to that press conference. And I woke up Thursday morning after the press conference, to the headline of "The New York Times" that read, "President Seeks Public Support On Health Care." And in the margin of the Times I said, "Does the public know what is in this health care--"
MARCIA ANGELL: He doesn't know. Nobody knows.
BILL MOYERS: Well, somebody has to know. They keep talking about it.
MARCIA ANGELL: Well, he says, let Congress do it. In their wisdom, they'll come out with something, and I will give you a few feel-good principles. And then we'll wait and see what happens. Because he doesn't want his fingerprints on it if it fails.
TRUDY LIEBERMAN: I feel the American people need to know what is in that bill. And what's in the bill is an individual mandate that is going to require all Americans with a few exceptions, to carry health insurance. And that means if you do not get insurance from Medicare or Medicaid or your employer. You're going to have to go out and buy health insurance. And that is a lot of money for most people because most of them would buy it now if they could afford it. About 85 percent of the uninsured require subsidies, because they can't afford it. And I think this is going to come up as a big surprise to people to realize they're going to have to buy insurance from private insurance companies or face a tax penalty.
MARCIA ANGELL: Well, that goes to the cause of the problem. We are the only advanced country in the world that has chosen to leave health care to the tender mercies of a panoply of for-profit businesses, whose purpose is to maximize income and not to provide health. And that's exactly what they do.
BILL MOYERS: The President, as you were saying a moment ago, is saying to everybody who's not covered, we're going to mandate that you exercise that right. We're going to mandate that you buy some form--
MARCIA ANGELL: We're going to deliver the private insurance companies a captive market. That's right. And they love that.
BILL MOYERS: Say that again.
MARCIA ANGELL: They love that.
BILL MOYERS: The-- his policy does what? His program?
MARCIA ANGELL: Delivers to the private insurance industry a captive market.
BILL MOYERS: By the mandate.
MARCIA ANGELL: By the mandate.
BILL MOYERS: It says "Marcia Angell, you've got to--"
MARCIA ANGELL: For whatever price they want to charge. Right. And so, this will increase costs. And let me tell you what he's running into, and he'd like to be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but he won't be able to. If you leave this profit-oriented system in place, you can't both control costs and increase coverage. You inevitably, if you try to increase coverage, increase costs. The only answer, the only answer, and he said it at the beginning of his press conference, is a single payer system. In his first sentence, he said, that is the only way to cover everyone.
BILL MOYERS: But he's also said, if we were starting the system from scratch, we could have single payer. But we're not starting this system from scratch.
MARCIA ANGELL: You know, you don't pour more money into a failing system. You convert.


Is Obama a shill for corporate capitalism? That's the question that keeps haunting me lately. It's a heretical question still in the progressive community, though on the Left, it is being stated very plainly as a growing conviction (see here, for example).

With all my heart, I don't want to believe it. Without knowing Obama personally, I find him extremely appealing both as a person and as a politician, which is to say, I'm attracted to the 'public image' of him that has been popularized through the media. But something is wrong.

Here are a few of the things that just don't jive.

Obama imported wholesale the Clinton economic advisors, like Larry Summers, who along with other likeminded neo-liberals contributed mightily to the recent housing bubble and economic crash. At the same time, he refused to bring aboard any economic advisors who had been warning of the bubbles and looming catastrophie, such as Joseph Stiglitz.

He has supported the bailout of the big banks, with no pretense of any really tough measures against them.

He has kept the Defense advisors that Bush brought aboard in his second term, such as Secretary of Defense Gates.

He has broadened and expanded the Afghanistan War, while keeping most of our troops in Iraq.

He has grown increasingly silent about climate change, allowed the weakening of climate change legislation, in such a way that benefits the energy industries mightily. Coal is back.

And most recently, he seems to be supporting the Max Baucus/Gang of Six health care reform, which will probably be no real reform at all.

Progressives across the board are beginning to wonder what in the world is going on with Obama. I'm one of them. I want to believe in a progressive Obama who will bring 'change we can believe in' to this country of ours, but he is making it awfully hard.

Government Of, By, and For the Corporations

Back to Wendell Potter and his interview with Bill Moyers concerning the health insurance industry. In the following part of the interview, he shares the inside track that these companies have with politicians of both parties. This is something that we rarely have knowledge about, but that obviously has tremendously impact on legislation. You can read the whole interview here.

BILL MOYERS: Why is the industry so powerful on both sides of the aisle?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, money and relationships, ideology. The relationships--
an insurance company can hire and does hire many different lobbying firms. And
they hire firms that are predominantly Republican and predominantly Democrat.
And they do this because they know they need to reach influential members of
Congress like Max Baucus. So there are people who used to work for Max Baucus
who are in lobbying firms or on the staff of companies like Cigna or the
association itself.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, I just read the other day, in THE
WASHINGTON POST, that Max Baucus's staff met with a group of lobbyists. Two of
them had been Baucus's former chiefs of staff.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, they left the government. They go to work for the
industry. Now they're back with an insider status. They get an access, right?
WENDELL POTTER: Oh, they do, they do. And these lobbyists' ability to raise
money for these folks also is very important as well.
Lobbyists, many of the
big lobbyists contributed a lot of money themselves. One of the lobbyists for
one of the big health insurance company is Heather Podesta, the Podesta Group,
and she's married to Tony Podesta, who's a brother of John Podesta.
MOYERS: Who used to be the White House chief of staff [for President Clinton].

No Red America, No Blue America. Just One Purple America.

Robert Reich is very skeptical about the 'Gang of Six' senators from the Senate Finance Cte. who are working on the health care bill:

I really don't get it. We have a Democratic president in the White House.
Democrats control sixty votes in the Senate, enough to overcome a filibuster. It
is possible to pass health care legislation through the Senate with 51 votes
(that's what George W. Bush did with his tax cut plan). Democrats control the
House. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is a tough lady. She has said
there will be no health care reform bill without a public option.

So why does the fate of health care rest in Grassley's hands?

It's not even as if the gang represents America. The three Dems on the
gang are from Montana, New Mexico, and North Dakota -- states that together
account for just over 1 percent of Americans. The three Republicans are from
Maine, Wyoming, and Iowa, which together account for 1.6 percent of the American

So, I repeat: Why has it come down to these six? Who anointed them?
Apparently, the White House. At least that's what I'm repeatedly being told by
sources both on the Hill and in the administration. "The Finance Committee is
where the action is. They'll tee-up the final bill," says someone who should

Reich was former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration. I'm as mystified as he is as to why the White House would be supporting such a strange process.

This is one more piece of evidence that, when push comes to shove, this administration is turning out to be very conservative, i.e. beholden to the corporations. Is this Obama's true MO?

Who We're Supporting in Afghanistan

It is hard to find insightful articles on what is actually happening in Afghanistan. Here is one by Patrick Cockburn, who's been in the region for years, reporting on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars:

Will the Afghan election bring the end of the war closer or noticeably
strengthen the government in Kabul? Mr Karzai, if he wins, will be able to say
that he was chosen as leader in a real election. But otherwise the poll will
only reconfirm the power of the men, often labelled warlords, who emerged the
surprise winners from a civil war between the Taliban, almost entirely drawn
from the Pashtun community (42 per cent of Afghans), and the largely non-Pashtun
Northern Alliance.

Just before 9/11, the Northern Alliance forces had been squeezed into a
corner of north east Afghanistan and seemed to be close to final defeat. But
within a few months of the US deciding to drive out the Taliban as hosts of
al-Qa’ida, the Northern Alliance was able to take over the whole of Aghanistan
thanks to US airpower and money. Most Afghans were glad to see the apparent end
of the Taliban, whose victories were won with the support of Pakistani military
intelligence and Saudi cash.

But opposing the Taliban was never quite the same as supporting the
Northern Alliance, whose leaders turned out to be ravenous for the perks of
office and power. I spent several months in the Northern Alliance
stronghold in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul in 2001, and, going back to
Afghanistan earlier this year, I was astonished to find so many of the warlords
I knew then are still monopolizing jobs, contracts and money-making positions in
Kabul. It is absurd for foreign governments to lament Mr Karzai’s promotion as
his running mates of the Tajik warlord Muhammad Fahim and his Hazara equivalent
Karim Khalili, both of whom are accused of human rights abuses. Mr Karzai is
simply recognizing the strength of established, if unsavory, power brokers in
the non-Pashto communities. This may be a very messy and highly corrupt
political power structure, but it is one which the US and Britain are fighting
to keep in place.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Insurance Whistle Blower

If you want to see a fascinating interview with a health insurance insider, watch Bill Moyers talking to former Cigna vice president Wendell Potter. He's changed sides, and brings an insider's perpective to the debate.

It's Not The Bully Lecturn

I agree with both Krugman and Robinson about President Obama. The 'fire' he showed during the campaign has not shown up enough since January. Rather, his professorial, technocratic side has dominated since then, and it isn't enough.

As a preacher, I tend to be professorial myself, rather than eloquent or fiery. And there are certain people who like that kind of 'teaching' sermon, thank goodness. But there are also plenty who don't, which has always been a problem for me. The great TV preachers, who can mobilize thousands and even millions of viewers, are not professorial, believe me!

So I can understand that Obama's tendency toward being a 'technocrat' (in Krugman's language) is where he normally resides, as he approaches the myriad problems he faces as President But in his public persona, he needs to put on the 'black preacher' persona and get back to lifting people up with his eloquence.

The President needs to stop trying to make little jokes and wry comments in town hall meetings, that mostly slide over people's heads ('unplugging Grandma'), and get morally passionate again. Because if he doesn't, he is going to fail. And then, not only will he have failed, but we will all have lost the biggest opportunity we may ever have to change the direction of this country.

'Fired up and ready to go' is not a description of sweet reason. It is what elected him in the first place.

A Passion Problem

Eugene Robinson suggests that Obama's 'trust' problem is really a 'passion' problem:

The Pew poll suggests that the Democrats' weakness is neither strategic nor
tactical but emotional. To quote the poet William Butler Yeats: "The best lack
all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

There's not enough passion on the Democratic side, not enough heat. There's
some radiating from the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, too
little emanating from the Democratic majority in the Senate, and not nearly
enough coming from President Obama. Republicans, by contrast, have little going
for them except passion -- but they're using it to impressive effect.

Democratic leaders should stop backpedaling, stop apologizing and show
their followers -- by words and deeds -- that the principle of universal health
care is worth fighting for. They should even allow themselves to raise their
voices at times -- not motivated by anger but by conviction.

Passion finds expression in anger, but also in hope. Democrats knew and
felt that during the campaign. If they forget it, they might as well also forget
about achieving the kind of fundamental change that the country sorely needs.

Obama's Trust Problem

Paul Krugman writes about Obama's growing 'trust' problem:

On the issue of health care itself, the inspiring figure progressives
thought they had elected comes across, far too often, as a dry technocrat who
talks of “bending the curve” but has only recently begun to make the moral case
for reform. Mr. Obama’s explanations of his plan have gotten clearer, but he
still seems unable to settle on a simple, pithy formula; his speeches and op-eds
still read as if they were written by a committee.

Meanwhile, on such fraught questions as torture and indefinite
detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to
challenge or change Bush administration policy.
And then there’s the matter
of the banks.

I don’t know if administration officials realize just how much damage
they’ve done themselves with their kid-gloves treatment of the financial
industry, just how badly the spectacle of government supported institutions
paying giant bonuses is playing. But I’ve had many conversations with people who
voted for Mr. Obama, yet dismiss the stimulus as a total waste of money. When I
press them, it turns out that they’re really angry about the bailouts rather
than the stimulus — but that’s a distinction lost on most voters.

So there’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my
colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on
the public option created such an uproar....So progressives are now in revolt.
Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he
needs to win it back.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Vitriol From the Left

David Lindell writes of the Left's bitter disappointment with Barack Obama:

Bill Clinton was the worst thing to happen to the Democratic Party and to
progressives since that racist warmonger Woodrow Wilson won the presidency and
dragged the US into the First World War.

Clinton, by posing as a progressive, confused and undermined, and
ultimately betrayed the liberal/progressive wing of the party, shattering what
was left of the New Deal coalition and leaving the American left adrift and
riven by the conflict between those who thought the Democratic Party was the
only viable vehicle for progressive reform and those who thought it was
hopelessly in the grip of corporate interests.

Barack Obama offers the hope of bringing that era of debilitating
confusion to an end.
Not because he is the Great Black Hope of progressives,
but because he has taken the concept of selling out to corporate interests and
compromising with Republicans to such remarkable heights that progressives
hopefully can no longer be confused about the irretrievably corrupted nature of
the Democratic Party.

On virtually every issue of importance, President Obama has sided with
corporate interests and the wealthy....

But here is the silver lining: The sell-out this time is so much more
blatant, and so much more serious, than it was with Clinton, and for all the
talk about Obama’s ability to string words together, he is so much less of a
charismatic figure than the gregarious Bill Clinton, that he is unlikely to hang
on to the ardent support that propelled him to his victory last November. The
disappointment and sense of betrayal among progressives this time is palpable,
especially because, while Clinton, by 1994, had the excuse that he was working
with a Republican, or partially Republican Congress, Obama has solid control of
both houses, but refuses to use it. If, as I expect, the recession continues to
deepen, with more and more people losing jobs and homes, if, as I predict,
health care continues to be unaffordable and inaccessible, and if, as I am
equally certain, Iraq explodes and the war in Afghanistan continue to worsen,
the left is going to see Obama and the Democrats in Congress as the failures and
corrupt frauds they are, and will abandon them.

Not Your Daddy's Republican Party

Harold Meyerson writes about the GOP:

The problem is that the GOP is no longer a truly national party in its
geographical composition or its ideological breadth. Throughout U.S. history,
our two major political parties have usually contained multitudes and
contradicted themselves accordingly. For much of the 20th century, the Democrats
were the party of the white South, the immigrant north and labor unions. The
Republicans were the party of Wall Street bankers, Main Street merchants,
professionals and Sun Belt cowboys.

But today's Palinoidal Republicans have lost most of the professionals,
much of Wall Street and an increasing chunk of suburbia. What they can claim is
the allegiance of the white South and the almost entirely white, non-urban parts
of the Mountain West. Of the 40 Republican members of the Senate, fully half --
20 -- come from the old Confederacy, the Civil War border states where slavery
was legal or Oklahoma, which politically is an extension of Texas without
Texas's racial minorities. Ten others come from the Mountain West. The rest of
the nation -- that is, of course, most of the nation -- has become an
ever-smaller share of Republican ranks.

All parties are home to distinct subcultures with distinct beliefs.
What's different about today's GOP is that increasingly, it is home to just one,
and a whole sector of the media -- Fox News, talk radio -- makes its money by
emphasizing this subculture's sense of separateness, grievance and alarm, and by
creating its own set of "facts." Asked in late July whether they believed Barack Obama
was born in the United States, 93 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of
independents said yes, but just 42 percent of Republicans agreed. Behind those
numbers, 93 percent, 90 percent and 87 percent of Northeasterners, Midwesterners
and Westerners, respectively, said yes, but just 47 percent of Southerners said
they believed the president was born in this country. Obama, the Republican base
is saying, personifies an America that is increasingly alien to them. It's
multiracial, as they are not. It puts Sonia Sotomayor, who sure doesn't come
from their America, on the Supreme Court. Increasingly, the Republicans have
descended into white identity politics.

Republican ideology has shrunk alongside its geography and
demographics. Where once its view of the role of government ran the gamut from
Rockefeller activism to Goldwater libertarianism, today the party largely
adheres to the religiosity and the anti-statism of the white South. (In its
ideological uniformity, today's GOP looks -- O, the irony -- more like a classic
European party than an American one.)

In short, the Republican Party with which Democrats could make
deals no longer exists. The GOP is too narrow; the gap between the parties, too

Replace 'Fee-For-Service'

David Ignatius argues that Obama needs a medical 'General Petraus' to explain to the American people what needs to be done to our medical system, and he proposes Dr. Cortese, chief executive of the Mayo Clinic. He adds that there needs to be a willingness to try some cost cutting measures with Medicare and the other 'public' health care options.

If liberals really want to show they are serious, they should begin with
our existing single-payer behemoths, Medicare and Medicaid. Cortese argues that
the White House should mandate that, within three years, these programs will
shift from the current fee-for-service approach to a system that pays for value
-- that is, for delivering low-cost, high-quality care. If doctors performed
unnecessary tests that ballooned costs, their compensation would be reduced. And
doctors would be compensated by regional formulas, to encourage them to work
cooperatively in local networks where they could all make more money by
practicing better medicine.

What difference would such Medicare reform make? Take a look at estimates prepared by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy
and Clinical Practice (which developed the national "health atlas" that was the
basis for the widely read New Yorker article by Dr. Atul Gawande). At current spending rates, Medicare
will run a $660 billion deficit by 2023. But by cutting the annual growth in
per-capita spending from the current national average of 3.5 percent to 2.4
percent (the rate in San Francisco, for example), Medicare could save $1.42
trillion and post a big surplus.

This "pay for value" approach would amount to a cultural revolution in
American health care. It would take our bloated system and make it cheaper and
better. The adjustments wouldn't be easy, and the medical profession would balk
unless respected doctors such as Cortese led the way.

Put the Gun on the Other Hip

E. J. Dionne joins the growing chorus pushing back against the gunslingers bringing their weapons to townhall meetings with the President:

Try a thought experiment: What would conservatives have said if a group of
loud, scruffy leftists had brought guns to the public events of Ronald Reagan or George W.

How would our friends on the right have reacted to someone at a Reagan or a
Bush speech carrying a sign that read: "It is time to water the tree of
liberty"? That would be a reference to Thomas Jefferson's declaration that the
tree "must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and

Pardon me, but I don't think conservatives would have spoken out in
defense of the right of every American Marxist to bear arms or to shed the blood
of tyrants.

In fact, the Bush folks didn't like any dissent at all. Recall
the 2004 incident in which a distraught mother whose son was killed in
Iraq was arrested for protesting at a rally in New Jersey for first lady Laura
Bush. The detained woman wasn't even armed. Maybe if she had been carrying, the
gun lobby would have defended her.