Archive for the ‘Health care’ Category

Worth a Thousand Words

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Secretary Clinton congratulating Barack Obama on the passage of health care legislation before a meeting in the Situation Room.

[Ed. corrected Clinton’s title. That was a silly mistake to make.]

[Image adapted by me and from one not subject to copyright. This is true despite notice on image that it cannot be altered, etc.]

Obama’s Self-Interest Lies With the American People’s; the Republican Party’s Self-Interest Does Not.

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Andrew Sprung – who I read semi-regularly thanks to links from Andrew Sullivan – sees Obama’s success with health care as part of “a recognizable pattern in Obama’s approach to setbacks – pause, regroup, rethink, collect new input, amend and re-present plans, and set a deadline.” You see this in Obama’s response to the loss in New Hampshire, to the Reverend Wright scandal, to Sarah Palin’s selection, to Afghanistan, to being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and now to health care.

But Sprung points out another factor that in some way should motivate some more skeptical voters to trust Obama a bit more:

Another key strategic element for Obama– as a matter of policy rather than politics — was emphasizing cost control at the expense of more generous coverage expansion. That decision reflects I think a fundamental calculation that only effective cost control will enable lasting coverage expansion — and more broadly, only evident progress in deficit reduction will enable a domestic agenda that includes new government initiatives. [my emphasis]

To put it another way: If my livelihood depends on the amount of anger people have towards the government, then I don’t have much incentive to make the government do a good job. Irresponsible governance proves my point. As a pundit or legislator, I have the incentive to make government look as bad as possible.

On the other hand, if my livelihood depends on whether or not I solve a problem, or at least make things a bit better, then I have every incentive to use every tool at my disposal to make sure that happens. Responsible governance then proves my point. As a pundit or legislator, I have every incentive to fix the problem, or failing that, make it look like it’s being fixed.

Obama, aiming for historical achievements, has every incentive to accurately diagnose the problem and take steps to fix it – even for purely selfish reasons. If his reform bankrupts America and undermines our power, he won’t be remembered kindly. The Republicans, aiming for 2010, have every incentive to “throw their bodies on the gears” to destroy the system – because in destroying the system they not only get short-term gains but ideological traction.

(Thomas Frank explored this last idea at some length in his book, The Wrecking Crew.)

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The Unhinged Anger on the Right Leads to An Ill-Advised and Unhedged Bet Against Reform.

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

There are 2 broad lessons to take from last night:

1. Unhinged Anger Makes For Great Ratings.

Hell no!” John Boehner frothed, spittle flying as he cursed on the floor of Congress yesterday.

“This health care bill will ruin our country. It’s time to stop it…We’re about 24 hours from Armageddon,” Boehner had claimed earlier.

Baby killer!” an as yet-unnamed Republican congressman screamed at pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak on Sunday.

Nigger!” a chorus of protesters chanted to Rep. John Lewis, who also heard such things while being beaten nearly to death fighting for civil rights in the 1960s on Saturday.

Faggot!” screeched other protesters at Barney Frank that same day.

Just a few days earlier, a disturbing video recorded a man barely able to walk due to Parkinson’s disease being mocked and ridiculed by anti-health care Tea Party protesters.

A short time before that, a conservative millionaire was promising guns to “patriots” concerned about “what was coming.”

This overheated Manichean good-vs-evil rhetoric in which slight changes in wording transform you from a pro-lifer to a “baby-killer,” in which subsidies for the uninsured constitute a “government takeover,” or in which America is about to be overrun by destroyed yet again eventually must discredit it’s purveyors. At least, it must decrease in its effect over time.

Common sense has taught people that “when there’s smoke, there’s fire.” And Republican operatives epitomized by Karl Rove have taken advantage of this. Top-line Republican operatives have adopted with more vigor than the left ever did the tactics of the radical New Left of the 1960s: from attacks on the legitimacy of political institutions (from the CBO – which Rove accused of Madoff-style accounting this weekendto the Senate Parliamentarian to Congress to the Courts to the media to presidency) to the maxim that the “personal is political.” Unlike the New Left, they have virtually no agenda but to hold onto power and to, having lost it due to incompetence, tarnish the other side enough to get it back. Their hysteric charges represent the triumph of moral relativism. Their escalating outrage is an attempt to fool the American people.

This is how the rage has been created over a bill whose provisions are broadly popular and that is based on a plan offered by Republicans a generation earlier. David Frum cogently explained last night how even those Republicans “who knew better” were driven to bend before this unhinged anger that led the Republican Party to take an unhedged bet against reform, how it provoked them to declare this fight a make-or-break fight, and to take out all stops to their opposition, even though they stood little chance of succeeding:

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

…Yes [such talk] mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

That’s point #1: Cynical politicos out for short-term partisan gain and entertainers trying to get ratings foment unhinged anger to push their party to make a suicidal unhinged bet against reform.

Point #2. This Was Waterloo.

The Republican Party made a huge wager that they could block health care reform, and lost. Senator Jim DeMint rather infamously declared in a secret call to anti-reform advocates:

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

Newt Gingrich echoed this point:

This could be the bill that drags his whole presidency down and they look back on it and suddenly the whole thing is unraveled.

Ralph Reed wrote in an email last week:

Our goal: To shock Congress into abandoning Obamacare (which will also effectively end the Obama Presidency and save freedom in America).

That was their game plan, their goal. They wanted a repeat of 1994. Their strategy in opposing the bill presumed it would never be able to pass. They escalated the rhetoric to insane levels. The less hysterical merely called it the “government takeover of 1/6th of the economy.” Bent on manipulating public opinion, the more cynical asked “innocent” questions:

Will America become another failed Cuba-style Socialist state? [Source.]

Do you think your political affiliation might eventually play into the decision on whether you get the life-saving medical treatment you need? [Source.]

A nation of Terri Schiavos with a National Euthanasia Bill? [Source.]

The more hysterical began to panic about legislation containing death panels, killing grandma, forcing government-mandated abortion, euthanasia, and reparations for slavery, authorizing government jackboots invading your home to take your children for socialist indoctrination, and overall, destroying America as we know it unless we arm ourselves and “prepare for what is coming.”

As the American people find out the answer to all of these questions is a resounding, “No!” – as they find out that the claims were made to monger fear for partisan gain – and that the bill that a plurality of people oppose contains mainly provisions that most people support – as the reality of this reform sinks in, the Republican Party will lose traction. As David Sanger quoted David Axelrod in the New York Times:

“This only worked well for the Republican Party if it failed to pass,” David Axelrod, one of the president’s closest political advisers, said at the White House as he watched the vote count for the final bill reach 219 in favor. “They wanted to run against a caricature of it rather than the real bill. Now let them tell a child with a pre-existing condition, ‘We don’t think you should be covered.’”

Now that the bill has been passed, we can focus on whether the health care plan’s tinkering with our dysfunctional system is making things better or not – as Ross Douthat says. And we can focus on the 10 things health care legislation will do right away. Obama can make his case for what he is doing (again to Sanger): “to sell the government’s oversight role over doctors and insurance companies the way he is trying to sell financial regulation: as a leveling of the playing field, in favor of consumers.” The passage of the bill re-shapes the coverage from “what could happen” to “what it is doing.” And the Democrats are more comfortable with that argument. Perhaps most frightening of all for Republicans, if this bill accomplishes what its supporters claim it will, it will re-shape the political landscape – as Bill Kristol explained in warning Republicans against cooperating in 1994:

It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle-class by restraining the growth of government.

This won’t necessarily benefit the Democrats. Republicans don’t need to keep doubling down on their anti-government rhetoric; but for the present, it seems they will.

Today, the most profound effect though is a different one. By passing this bill, Obama has proved he has yet again broken the backs of the idiocrats who threw every rhetorical, legislative, and political obstacle at him. He has showed the patience and passion which won him the presidency can be translated into presidential achievements. The bill only tinkers. It isn’t dramatic reform. But it’s core accomplishment is dramatic: a change to our core social bargain; as explained by James Fallows:

[T]he significance of the vote is moving the United States FROM a system in which people can assume they will have health coverage IF they are old enough (Medicare), poor enough (Medicaid), fortunate enough (working for an employer that offers coverage, or able themselves to bear expenses), or in some other way specially positioned (veterans; elected officials)… TOWARD a system in which people can assume they will have health-care coverage.

This is an historic achievement. It is a moral one, and it is, counter intuitively, an important step towards controlling societal spending on health care.

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Must-Reads of the Week: China’s distortionary exchange rate policy, Mario Savio, David Brooks, Ezra Klein, & Dana Priest’s The Mission

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Apologies for the very, very light posting. There are quite a number of personal issues I’ve been dealing with – aside from the uprooted tree in my yard and miscellaneous damage.

But let me still give you some must-reads for the week.

1. China’s distortionary exchange rate policy. On Sunday, Keith Bradsher in the New York Times gave a good primer on how China is using currency manipulation and the global trade organizations to gain economic advantages as part of a global strategy to increase China’s power. China has also been using the global financial crisis to further their economic aims:

China is starting to describe its currency interventions as stimulus. But unlike extra government spending in the United States and other countries, currency intervention does not expand global demand, but shifts it from other countries to China.

Paul Krugman followed this up with a column urging action regarding China:

Today, China is adding more than $30 billion a month to its $2.4 trillion hoard of reserves. The International Monetary Fund expects China to have a 2010 current surplus of more than $450 billion — 10 times the 2003 figure. This is the most distortionary exchange rate policy any major nation has ever followed.

And it’s a policy that seriously damages the rest of the world. Most of the world’s large economies are stuck in a liquidity trap — deeply depressed, but unable to generate a recovery by cutting interest rates because the relevant rates are already near zero. China, by engineering an unwarranted trade surplus, is in effect imposing an anti-stimulus on these economies, which they can’t offset. [My emphases.]

My first attempt to make sense of this issue here.

2. Mario Savio. Scott Saul of The Nation follows up with an excellent profile of Mario Savio who at one point seemed poised to lead the 1960s radical New Left, but who then dropped out of public view:

Savio was a revolutionary and civil libertarian, logician and poet, scientific observer and self-aware partisan–and in his heyday a virtuosic extemporizer who seemed not so much to perform all these identities as to incarnate them. He was, in short, an icon of possibility for his generation of student activists; and so it’s a great historical riddle, tinged with pathos, why he was, in Berkeley in 1964, the lightning rod of his time and, almost immediately afterward, a man who couldn’t conduct the energy he’d summoned.

3. David Brooks on Obama. David Brooks wrote an excellent column last Friday arguing that both the right and left have Obama wrong, as they accuse excessive fealty to an extreme left wing ideology and of being a weak, passive, unprincipled traitor respectively. Brooks describes Obama as I have always understood and described him – and in fact, as he has described himself:

Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer. Every time he tries to articulate a grand philosophy — from his book ”The Audacity of Hope” to his joint-session health care speech last September — he always describes a moderately activist government restrained by a sense of trade-offs.

4. Ezra Klein. Ezra Klein best summarized the CBO score released yesterday and how it gave the Democrats exactly what they needed:

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill cuts deficits by $130 billion in the first 10 years, and up to $1.2 trillion in the second 10 years. The excise tax is now indexed to inflation, rather than inflation plus one percentage point, and the subsidies grow more slowly over time. So one of the strongest cost controls just got stronger, and the automatic spending growth slowed. And then there are all the other cost controls in the bill: The Medicare Commission, which makes entitlement reform much more possible. The programs to begin paying doctors and hospitals for care rather than volume. The competitive insurance market.

This was a hard bill to write. Pairing the largest coverage increase since the Great Society with the most aggressive cost-control effort isn’t easy. And since the cost controls are complicated, while the coverage increase is straightforward, many people don’t believe that the Democrats have done it. But to a degree unmatched in recent legislative history, they have.

Klein then succinctly explained what was missing from the Republican approach to the deficit that this health care bill – to its great credit – attempted to address:

Our long-term deficit is not a function of our current spending, which is manageable. It is a function of our expected spending growth, particularly in health care. With the system growing at 8 percent a year and GDP growing at 2 percent or 3 percent a year, there’s a real long-term problem there. But you can’t cut, or even tax, your way out of it. If you cut 5 percent from the system in one year, that cut disappears by the next year.

5. The Mission. I’m currently reading this 2003 book by Dana Priest who writes for the Washington Post on the military’s mission and how it evolved after the Cold War through the 1990s and into the War on Terror. Absolutely excellent. I highly recommend it.

[Image by me, this morning.]

Must-Reads of the Week: A history lesson, Reconciling Chart, Theism, Starbucks, the New Global Middle Class, the Beijing Consensus, and the Traitorous Supreme Court

Friday, March 12th, 2010

A history lesson in ramming through one piece of legislation. Ezra Klein gives a short history lesson describing the tactics used by Republicans to “ram through” the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit.

Reconciling chart. The New York Times provides a chart of all the times reconciliation has been used.

Theism. Andrew Sullivan provides a beautiful quote from David Foster Wallace making what may be the best case for theism generally that I’ve seen.

Starbucks. Greg Beato for Reason has an interesting if annoying skewed take on Starbucks and its attempts to stay hip. His history and overall point is interesting, but the point of view he injects, his contempt for his less capitalist brethren, is irritating.

The New Global Middle Class. Rana Foroohar and Marc Margolis in Newsweek describe the new “global middle class” which “is more unstable and less liberal than we thought.” The examples they give are rather frustrating though. Brazil’s middle class is described as “more unstable and less liberal” because they applaud “more state control of the oil industry to keep out greedy foreign firms” and that “they don’t need outside advice on how to structure their societies, thank you.” The Russian middle class’s support for Putin and the Chinese support of the Beijing consensus are also cited and are much better examples proving their point. An interesting article, that touches on some gradually evolving issues in a way that most articles do not – but it seems to harness facts to reach their end rather than allow the facts to dictate the result.

The Beijing Consensus. Yang Yao in Foreign Affairs speculates that the Beijing Consensus – “a combination of mixed ownership, basic property rights, and heavy government intervention” – may be eroding. And as “the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) lacks legitimacy in the classic democratic sense,” and “has been forced to seek performance-based legitimacy instead, by continuously improving the living standards of Chinese citizens,” the end of this consensus would lead to “greater democratization.”

The Traitorous Supreme Court. Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy takes on the Andrew McCarthy/Liz Cheney line of attack calling those attorneys currently in the Justice Department who represented some of those branded terrorists by the Bush administration asking this question:

Does McCarthy think the Justices of the Supreme Court are guilty of aiding the enemy, and that (if we treat them like everybody else) they should be “indicted for coming to the enemy’s aid during wartime”?

[Image by me.]

Obama’s Health Care Reforms are morally decent technocratic improvements

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I hate to quote this much from anyone, but Jonathan Chait’s entire post is brilliant and you should read his entire piece. But for future reference, and so I can always find it, these three paragraphs are what I wish I had written:

The latest Republican gambit, put forward by John McCain (who has become a pure stalking horse for the party leadership) is to demand that no change to Medicare be permitted through budget reconciliation. This means that the very difficult task of getting a majority of both Houses to approve a Medicare cut would become the nearly-impossible task of getting a majority of the House plus a supermajority of the Senate to do the same. Of course, Republicans as well as Democrats have used reconciliation numerous times to wring savings out of Medicare. But this proposal is not just the usual staggering hypocrisy. The immediate purpose is to render Obama’s health care reform impossible. But the long term effect would be to render any Republican reform impossible. How do Republicans propose to fulfill their vision of government when any forty Senators can block a dime of Medicare cuts? Don’t they ever aspire to govern?

In the lonely center of this howling vortex stands the Obama administration, diligently pushing its morally decent technocratic improvements. For this, the salons of establishment thought have given the administration little but grief. Sunday’sWashington Post editorial offers a fair summary of the response from the center. The editorial does allow that Obama’s plan would be ever so slightly preferable to the status quo. The Post editorial page is disappointed that Obama agreed to delay a tax on high-cost health care plans, and to replace the lost short-term revenue with a tax on the rich: “We think that it is not asking too much,” demands the editorial, “given the dire fiscal straits, for Washington to show that it can swallow distasteful medicine while, and not after, it passes out the candy.” Centrist critics have habitually used terms like “candy” and “dessert” to describe the provision of medical care to those currently suffer physical or financial ruin by the lack thereof. It is one of the most morally decrepit metaphors I have ever come across.

As Harold Pollack notes, Obama has successfully fought, over the opposition of lobbyists and Congress, to include numerous delivery reforms, such as an Independent Medicare Advisory Commission, bundled payments, and numerous other cutting edge steps. Centrists give these reforms little or no credit — after all, because they are untried, they have no record and the Congressional Budget Office can’t calculate their potential savings. The CBO can credit things like the excise tax, but the centrists give that little weight as well — after all, Obama agreed to delay the tax in order to let labor contracts adjust. He replaced the lost revenue by extending the Medicare tax to capital income earned by the affluent. But tax revenue from the affluent somehow counts less, too. The Postdismissively calls this “the politically easier option of extending the Medicare tax to unearned income of the wealthy,” as if raising taxes on the most powerful and well-connected people in America, in an atmosphere where one party opposes any taxes on the rich with theological fervor, is the kind of solution that’s just sitting there for the taking.

Paul Ryan’s Principled Objections to Obama’s Health Care Reforms

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Last week, Derek Thompson made a point countering the man he calls “the wonderful Hendrick Hertzberg” of The New Yorker. Hertzberg had claimed that the health care bill is “Ideologically and substantively… centrist. It has Republicans, and Republicanism, in its family tree.” Thompson counters this:

So health reform adheres to the Republican platonic ideal, even if no flesh-and-bone Republicans vote for it? Maybe. Or maybe it doesn’t adhere to Republicanism at all because it’s garnishing a decidedly liberal goal with conservative touches. Maybe saying “it’s already bipartisan” is like a steakhouse saying its filet mignon is vegetarian, because it’s served with quite a lot of carrots.

He uses Representative Paul Ryan’s principled dissent from Obama’s health care reform as the counterexample disproving Hertzberg’s claim.

But this doesn’t really acknowledge Hertzberg’s point – also made here and throughout the liberal opinionosphere. Obama’s health reform bill has more in common with previous Republican attempts to reform health care than with previous Democratic ones. It seems like a genuine attempt to fuse the ends Republicans focused on and the methods they used with the social justice issues Democrats were concerned with. The Republican opposition has been far from principled – as they have used every populist and procedural and inside tactic to block this. They have defended Medicare; they have attacked Medicare; they have attacked every cost-cutting measure and then railed against the bill for failing to cut costs (which it still manages to do); they have claimed it is radical while at the same time claiming it doesn’t go far enough. Ideology seemed to have little to do with this knee-jerk response – and the rhetoric attacking it had very little to do with the bill itself. Aside from the widely debunked death panels and such, there is the constant claim that this bill will increase the deficit and represent a “government takeover of 1/6th of the economy.” The government takeover claim is so ridiculous as the bill would leave most of the health insurance market untouched (including those portions already controlled by the government to popular acclaim such as Medicare.) And yet the “government takeover” line has proven so effective that Republicans have started to brand everything as “government takeovers.” (Net neutrality legislation is now the “government takeover of the Internet” according to John McCain.)

But Thompson (who I often enjoy reading – he’s a good and often fair commentator) wants to find some good faith disagreements. There are some. Republicans tend to favor less government involvement. When the Democrats proposed an intrusive regulatory system, they proposed something similar to Obama’s plan. Now that Obama has proposed this, they demand – if we are to accept Paul Ryan as their representative as Thompson does – that the government pull back from health care entirely and dismantle Medicare and other such programs. Except you wouldn’t know that from what most of them say. They are out there attacking this bill for cutting Medicare. They are attacking the bill as a sellout to the insurance industry. They are attacking the bill with everything they can think of. Which is why it is hard to give credence to any principled reason for the unanimous Republican opposition.

There are reasons to oppose this bill – and some people do so for principled reasons. Paul Ryan is likely one (though as was evident when Ezra Klein interviewed him) he often stoops to disingenuous talking points to do so.

Some people have fundamental disagreements that prevent them from supporting Obama’s moderate, centrist, tinkering health care reforms. Paul Ryan objects now to measures that increase the deficit (it bears repeating that he voted for all the Bush measures that exploded the deficit.) But he also objects to measures that decrease the deficit while increasing the role and size of government too. And he likes to keep claiming that this health care bill will increase the deficit, not because he thinks it does, but because it increases the size of government. This isn’t a principled objection. This is a political calculation that harping on the deficit plays into people’s anxieties about government overreach.

In other words, contra Derek Thompson, Paul Ryan is a man who decided to become a vegetarian when Obama became the chef. The other Republicans meanwhile are demanding the kitchen using animals for food while simultaneously defending the right of every elderly individual to have bacon cheeseburgers. Obama’s health reform would be a well-balanced meal – with some vegetables, some steak, and some tofu, a nice salad, a fruit dish and a scoop of ice cream for desert. It’s a mish-mash with something for everyone except the pure carnivores and vegetarians which no one is claiming is vegetarian – only that it’s got something for everyone. That’s bipartisanship.

P.S. Has it occurred to anyone (I’m sure it has) how Paul Ryan became a star?

First, Ryan unveiled a budget counterproposal that proposed radical changes to America’s social bargain.

Then Obama singled Rep. Ryan out at the Republican Congressional Retreat saying that Ryan “stud[ied] this stuff and [took] it pretty seriously” and that he had “made a serious proposal” to cut the deficit.

Then Ryan made a point to Obama during the bipartisan summit that was about the only one Obama didn’t demolish (which most pro-Ryan partisans took as gleeful confirmation that their man could do no wrong.)

Ryan’s star in the Republican Party has been rising – seemingly because he was singled out by Obama for praise, and because Obama didn’t go after some of the figures Ryan used in a later event even though pundits after the fact were able to do so easily. Ryan seems principled and telegenic. However, his ideas are so radical, only a tiny portion of Americans would agree with them.

I wonder if the White House doesn’t see Ryan as the perfect face for the good and principled side of the Republican Party, as opposed to the ugly partisan one Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin don.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Must-Reads During This Week: Perfect Storm for Health Reform, Making Controversy, Cyberwar, Limiting Government, Liz Cheney’s Al Qaeda Connection, George Will, and the Coffee Party

Monday, March 8th, 2010

In lieu of a substantial post today (as I’m having trouble getting back into the blog-writing habit), here’s a few links to worthwhile articles.

1. Perfect Storm. Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic explains that a “Perfect Storm Nearly Killed Health Reform; Another Storm May Save It.” However, what Ambinder describes as the “perfect storm” that might save health reform seems to be more properly called Obama’s willingness to wait out bad news cycles.

2. Controversy. Ezra Klein opines usefully on “how to make something controversial“:

The media is giving blanket coverage to this “controversial” procedure being used by the Democrats. But using reconciliation for a few fixes and tweaks isn’t controversial historically, and it’s not controversial procedurally. It’s only controversial because Republicans are saying it is. Which is good enough, as it turns out. In our political system, if Democrats and Republicans are yelling at each other over something, then for the media, that is, by definition, controversy.

3. Cyberwar? Ryan Singel of Wired‘s Threat Level reported some of the back-and-forth among the U.S. intelligence community, explaining why Republicans want to undermine and destroy the internet for national security as well as for commercial reasons. The Obama administration’s web security chief maintains in an interview with Threat Level that, “There is no cyberwar.”

4. Limiting government. Jacob Weisberg of Slate always seems to be looking for the zeitgeist. His piece this week is on how Obama can embrace the vision of limited government.  While all the pieces are there, he doesn’t quite make the connection I want to make: that government is absolutely needed even as it must be limited and its power checked. A post on this line has been percolating in my mind for some time, and now that Weisberg has written his piece, I feel its just about time for me to write mine.

5. Liz Cheney, Al Qaeda Sympathizer? Dahlia Lithwick slams Liz Cheney for her recent ad calling the Justice Department the “Department of Jihad” and labeling some attorneys there the “Al-Qaeda 7”:

Given that the Bill of Rights pretty much evaporates once you’ve been deemed a jihadi lover of Bin Laden, you might think Liz Cheney would be super-careful tossing around such words They have very serious legal implications…Having worked for years to ensure that the word jihadist is legally synonymous with guilty, Cheney cannot be allowed to use it casually to describe anyone she simply doesn’t like.

6. George Will: More Partisan Than Independent? Ezra Klein catches George Will out in a rather telling fit of procedural outrage over the Democrats’ use of reconciliation in the Senate. Plus, Klein uses this nifty chart to illustrate that dramatic change that George Will doesn’t happen to comment upon:

7. Coffee Party. I’m intrigued by this idea, though I don’t know how workable it is.

[Image taken by me over the weekend.]

The Difference Between Obama’s Health Care Reform and the Republican’s Health Care Reform

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

David Brooks, struggling to find some coherent ideological distinctions in the messy struggle over health care:

[A]s Yuval Levin has pointed out in National Review, the Democrats believe the answer is to create a highly regulated insurance system with inefficiencies eliminated through rational rules. The Republicans believe that the answer is to create a genuine market with clear price signals, empowered consumers and an evolving process.

If only it were so clear. It’s worth pointing out again how similar the current Obama-backed bill is to the Dole-Chafee bill proposed to counter Bill Clinton in 1993 (as I have before.) Both that 1994 Republican bill and this one seek to create a genuine market with clear price signals – as, it seems, does the main Republican proposals today. The difference between the Dole-Chafee bill and Obama’s bill on the one hand, and the current Republican efforts today isn’t that one sees government bureaucracy as the answer and the other sees the market as the answer. The difference is that one holds that the government can and should provide clear rules to prevent corporations from abusing their position and their customers, and the other assumes that the market will sort it all out eventually. It’s the difference between an open but regulated market and an unregulated one. It’s the difference between as much reform as the insurance industry can abide by and insurance executives’ wet dreams of glorious profits without red tape making them actually provide something of value to their customers.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Obama Chooses Policy Over Politics

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Ezra Klein:

[W]hat appears to be happening is that Barack Obama is listening to his policy people. He didn’t scale back the health-care reform bill because they convinced him that the different pieces didn’t work on their own. He’s trying to close Guantanamo because a lot of people who work on this stuff think we should close Guantanamo. That’s the thing about electing a smart technocrat as president: He’s swayed by smart, technocratic arguments. The political people are being used to help sell and shepherd the policy, and to figure out how much of the policy can pass Congress, but they seem to be losing the major arguments over what that policy should be.

That sounds about right. I don’t know how effective this style of governing is though. I expected more of a pivot from the White House focusing more on politics than policy after Scott Brown’s defeat. I don’t think that’s ideal – but it seems necessary if Obama wants to keep Congress Democratic. It doesn’t seem any longer that this is the lesson the White House took.

Or it is, but they’re not letting their timing be determined by these dramatic events. Perhaps, as he has so often, Obama plans on waiting out the negative media cycle and then going for the win.