Posts Tagged ‘The New Republic’

Health Care Reform: A Test of Whether the Country Could Tackle Its Most Vexing, Long-Term, Systematic Problems

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Jonathan Cohn’s piece in The New Republic on how health care reform was passed is an excellent read. One of the most telling anecdotes was the story of how internally divided the administration was regarding pursuing health care reform at the start. The political advisers — Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod most prominently — favored avoiding the issue. And once significant push back was encountered, they favored abandoning comprehensive reform in favor of just tackling the problem of children without insurance. Of the prominent names in the White House who favored going forward through all these obstacles, the most famous and influential all opposed it. Save one — the one whose opinion mattered most. This particular passage probably best sums up the reason I saw health care reform as so essential:

Obama had come to view this debate as a proxy for the deepest, most systemic crises facing the country. It was a test, really: Could the country still solve its most vexing problems? If he abandoned comprehensive reform, he would be conceding that the United States was, on some level, ungovernable. Besides, several aides recall him saying, “I feel lucky.”

It’s only available in pieces currently to non-subscribers. But they’re releasing it in dribs and drabs to the rest: here’s Part OnePart Two, and Part Three. (Parts Four and Five have not yet been released.)

I have a feeling that when the retrospective histories of the Obama administration are written, the August-to-September 2009 period will be considered the turning point whereby Obama finally became comfortable in the office — and the moment the Obama administration began to gain some traction in making progress in this poisonous political environment — even against long-term systematic problems.

It was in this period that Obama made the Afghanistan policy his own — pushing back against the military forcefully even as he sided largely with their suggestions; and it was when Obama decided to go for health care reform even against a unified Republican opposition — and not just an easy bill, but one that went after the wrought issue of increasing health care spending.

This August-September period was when health care reform became about more than insuring millions of people — and instead became a test of whether or not Obama could break the hold of the idiocrats on our public conversation and make some small dent in tackling our systematic, long-term issues. It was tough; it was close; but the bill got done.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Arizona’s Illegal Immigrant Problem Is Shrinking Even As The Hysteria Grows

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

John P. Judis at The New Republic pointed me to a relevant fact that hasn’t been covered much in looking at illegal immigration into Arizona — the number of unauthorized immigrants has been decreasing in the past 2 years and the rate of illegal immigration was at its lowest point in the past decade nationally. See for example this chart from the Office of Immigration Statistics (pdf) in the Department of the Homeland Security Department:

For the more visual, I charted the data to demonstrate the drop:

And of course, the national data as well:

As the Wall Street Journal explained:

The larger reality is that border crossings track the economy. The recent downturn has meant fewer illegal entries and more immigrants going home. Before the law, Arizona’s illegal population had fallen 18% in the past year.

If the undocumented immigrant population is falling — including in Arizona — how then do you account for the increasing hysteria? For all the talk of the thousands killed by illegal immigrants, virtually all of these are mere car accidents which are no different than the car accidents thousands of Americans get into every day. For all the talk of an “increasingly violent” border — and there is some justification for this given the struggle going on in Mexico as the military is waging war on the drug cartels with corruption, violence, and abuse apparently rampant on both sides  – the violence on the American side has been minimal.

The exploitative use of the rancher Robert Krentz’s murder — like the use of the young boy killed in a car accident, Dustin Inman — is a pure propaganda tactic meant to focus anger. Where is the Marcelo Lucero Society dedicated to the immigrant stabbed to death by a group of high school students who had decided to go, “beaner hopping”? Marcelo Lucero was killed a short drive from where I grew up on Long Island — and his case only came to my attention because the FBI was investigating the Suffolk County Police Department for ignoring hate crimes against Latinos and undocumented immigrants.

But why the surge in anger and hysteria now?

The flip side of the Wall Street Journal‘s point is that even as undocumented immigrants leave during economic hard times, the resentment of them grows. As John P. Judis explains:

During the Great Depression, immigration to the United States from Mexico virtually ceased, but states began arresting and deporting Mexicans, many of whom were in the country legally. The Mexican population of the United States fell by 41 percent during the 1930s. And the same kind of thing is happening again.

Keep these numbers in mind as we hear again and again over the coming months of the “invasion” and of how the problem is getting worse.

[This beautiful image of the Arizona-Mexico border fence by ThreadedThoughts licensed under Creative Commons.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Obama’s Accomplishments and Diplomatic Brand, Facebook, Epistemic Closure, Financial Reform, Our Long-Term Fiscal Crisis and Problem-Solving Capacity, and Mike Allen

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

1. Obama’s Accomplishments. Jonathan Bernstein explains how Obama has gotten so many of his legislative goals accomplished despite the GOP’s constant obstructionism: By loading up the major bills with many other smaller items. In fact, according to PolitiFact, Obama has accomplished almost a third of his campaign promises if compromises count (and a fifth if they don’t).

2. Facebook v. Google. Ian Schafer in the Advertising Age has a smart take on Facebook’s recent challenge to Google and how Facebook is trying to reorganize the web.

3. Epistemic Closure. Julian Sanchez follows up on his starting post on the epistemic closure of the right wing. Every single link he provides in the article is worth following as the conversation he started extended across many people and was full of insights all around.

4. Obama’s Diplomatic Brand. Marc Ambinder has an excellent post on “the essence of Obama’s diplomatic brand.” While Ambinder acknowledges it’s too early to assess how effective Obama’s diplomacy will be and has been, he does a good job of describing it — and little wonder it bears little resemblance to the weak, anti-American apologizing that the right sees as Obama’s trademark. Ambinder lists a few qualities, but let me focus on one:

Bush assumed a position of direct strength, not deference, when he met with leaders. Obama has been decidedly deferential, which, in the traditional binary way the media covers foreign policy, allegedly suggests weakness. From Obama’s perspective, deference is both strategic and is demanded by the goals he sets out. Treating countries as equals foists certain obligations upon them. It helps leaders deal with internal politics. Year one, Obama was the star, and wasn’t seen as a heavyweight, even by some allies. Year two is different: he’s charted a course on legacy problems (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East peace), so the world knows where he stands.

5. How Financial Reform is Playing. There was some disagreement around the opinionosphere about how financial reform is “playing.” Initially, there was concern that the Republicans would once again follow their tried and true strategy of: Make up stuff that’s really awful — and pretend the bill is about that. There was concern that the Obama administration didn’t have a plan for this contingency, presuming that Republicans would crack under public pressure. And then, the SEC filed suit against Goldman and Blanche Lincoln (who was expected to water down the bill) adopted the strongest language we’ve seen and the Republicans seem to be breaking ranks over this with Bob Corker critizing McConnell’s lies and Chuck Grassley voting for the bill in committee. Kevin Drum suggests McConnell crossed some line of absurdity:

[I]t turns out there really is a limit to just how baldly you can lie and get away with it…[W]e seem to have reached a limit of some kind, and McConnell crossed it. Maybe we should name this the McConnell Line or something so that we know when future politicians have crossed it.

I tend to think Matt Yglesias is more right when he observed:

This time around, though, it doesn’t seem to be working nearly as well, perhaps because people realize we’ve seen this movie before.

6. Our Long-Term Fiscal Crisis. Jonathan Chait observes what may prove to be a fatal flaw in the political strategy of the GOP on fiscal matters if they authentically do support a smaller government:

Distrust of government makes Americans distrust everything people in governemnt say or do, including cut spending, which — with the exception of a few programs seen to help “others,” like welfare and foreign aid — tends to be wildly unpopular.

Their current strategy has been to provoke a fiscal catastrophe and cut government spending in the aftermath. But Chait suggests that this strategy of starve-the-beast governance may not work. On a related note, William Galston has an astutely even-handed piece describing the fiscal problems we are facing and what the solution must realistically be. He quotes Donald B. Marron in National Affairs who explains an idea that is antithetical to ideological right wingers:

Policymakers should not always assume that a larger government will necessarily translate into weaker economic performance. As few years ago, Peter Lindert—an economist at the University of California, Davis—looked across countries and across time in an effort to answer the question, “Is the welfare state a free lunch?” He found that countries with high levels of government spending did not perform any worse, economically speaking, than countries with low levels of government spending. The result was surprising, given the usual intuition that a larger government would levy higher taxes and engage in more income redistribution—both of which would undermine economic growth.

Lindert found that the reason for this apparent paradox is that countries with large welfare states try to minimize the extent to which government actions undermine the economy. Thus, high-budget nations tend to adopt more efficient tax system—with flatter rates and a greater reliance on consumption taxes—than do countries with lower budget. High-budget countries also adopt more efficient benefits systems—taking care, for example, to minimize the degree to which subsidy programs discourage beneficiaries from working.”

Right wingers rarely acknowledge this even as they oppose measures that would improve the efficiency of government (like the VAT). They simply call it “European-style socialism” and move on with addressing why on the substance more efficient government measures shouldn’t be adopted.

7. Our Problem-Solving Capacity. Stephen Walt has a very long and very, very good post that attempts to balance optimism (global violence is at historic lows!) with some pessimism:

One way to think about the current state of world politics is as a ratio of the number of important problems to be solved and our overall “problem-solving capacity.” When the ratio of “emerging problems” to “problem-solving capacity” rises, challenges pile up faster than we can deal with them and we end up neglecting some important issues and mishandling others.  Something of this sort happened during the 1930s, for example, when a fatal combination of global economic depression, aggressive dictatorships, inadequate institutions, declining empires, and incomplete knowledge overwhelmed leaders around the world and led to a devastating world war…

[Today] Washington D.C. has become synonymous with the term “gridlock,” leading the Economist magazine to describe the U.S.  political system as “a study in paralysis.” Obama did get a health care reform package through, but it still took an enormous effort to pass a watered-down bill that pandered to insurance companies and other well-funded special interests. Meanwhile, decisive action to address climate change, the persistent U.S. budget deficit, or financial sector reform remain elusive, and it’s going to get a lot tougher if the GOP makes big gains in the 2010 midterms. Nor is it reassuring to realize that the Republican Party seems to be taking its marching orders from two entertainers — Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck — the latter of whom has made it clear that he’s interested in making money and doesn’t really care about public affairs at all…

Nor is this problem confined to the United States. Japan’s ossified political order remains incapable of either decisive action or meaningful reform; the Berlusconi-government in Italy is an exercise inopera bouffe rather than responsible leadership, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s early flurry of reform efforts have stalled and Mexico remains beset by drug-fueled violence and endemic corruption. Britan’s ruling Labor Party is a spent force, but the rival Conservatives do not present a very appealing alternative and may even lose an election that once seemed in the bag. And so on.

There are some countries where decision leadership is not lacking, of course, such as China (at one end of the size scale) and Dubai (at the other). Yet in both these cases, a lack of genuine democratic accountability creates the opposite problem. These government can act quickly and launch (overly?) ambitious long-term plans, but they are also more likely to make big mistakes that are difficult to correct them in time…

In short, what I am suggesting is that our inability to cope with a rising number of global challenges is not due to a lack of knowledge or insufficient resources, but rather to the inability of existingpolitical institutions to address these problems in a timely and appropriate way.

8. Mike Allen. Mark Leibovitch in the New York Times Magazine has an excellent profile of Mike Allen of Politico and how that organization is changing the news business by covering it like some combination of ESPN and Facebook’s feed of data on the activity of your friends. As a character study, it succeeds given Mike Allen’s unique personality — and as a look at the changing media landscape in politics, it succeeds in raising many questions about where we’re headed. Marc Ambinder responds.

[Image by me.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Diabolical Republicans, Strategic Patience, Weiner, China, New York City, -20 Questions, & Glenn Beck’s Obsession With Woodrow Wilson

Friday, April 16th, 2010

1. Diabolical Republicans. Noam Scheiber in The New Republic explains how the “diabolical” plan the Republicans have adopted to achieve their fiscal ends (discussed on this blog here) may backfire:

Ever since George W. Bush massively cut taxes back in 2001, squandering much of the $5.6 trillion, ten-year surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton, liberals have assumed that the fiscal game was rigged. Conservatives had been explicit about their starve-the-beast strategy—the practice of creating large deficits through tax cuts in order to force future spending cuts…

“Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn’t enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state,” Krugman wrote. “So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe.”

…I suspect…that Republicans believe precipitating a fiscal crisis will force Democrats to roll back entitlement spending (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), which would be both politically unpopular and the realization of the right’s dearest policy fantasy. It’s an altogether brilliant, if diabolical, plan. Except for one minor flaw: There’s a good chance it could vaporize the GOP.

2. Strategic Patience in the Face of Long-Term Problems. David S. Broder, eminence of the press establishment, apostle of bipartisanship at all costs, proponent of convention, seems to have finally come around to Obama with this trenchant observation:

We are beginning to learn that the Obama presidency will be an era of substantial but deferred accomplishments — perhaps always to be accompanied by a sense of continuing crisis. His vaunted “cool” allows him to wait without impatience and to endure without visible despair. It asks the same of his constituents.

The backdrop of the serious long-term issues facing America is precisely what made Obama’s election so important in the first place — as this blog repeatedly argued. David Rothkopf put the matter in a wide-angled perspective:

[T]he reason the health care reform bill is important is not because it was the first major such piece of social legislation in the U.S. in decades, but rather because it represents the first in what will become by necessity an on-going series of efforts to fix deep and serious defects in the American economy. In a decade or two, this legislation is like to be seen by Americans as the beginning of a lengthy, brutal and spasmodic process to cut deficits and restore America’s leadership prospects in the global economy.

3. Answering Sarah Palin. Anthony Weiner meanwhile has arisen as the Democrat’s answer to Sarah Palin and our sensationalized media moment. (Others might argue for Alan Grayson.)

4. Chinese Predictions. Gordon G. Chang, for World Affairs, explains his argument for why the Beijing consensus cannot last and its power will soon begin to wane.

5. New York’s Neighborhoods. Nate Silver, baseball statistician and political polling expert, turned his skills to rating New York’s neighborhoods. Really interesting for locals.

6. Negative 20 Questions. Jason Kottke describes a game that “resembles quantum physics.”

7. Glenn Beck’s Woodrow Wilson Obsession. David Frum puzzles on why Glenn Beck focuses so much on Woodrow Wilson as the beginning point of all things progressive and source of evils in the modern world. There are so many more logical choices, more progressive historical figures of greater note who are more closely aligned to contemporary progressivism. And then he answers his own question:

Here’s a president who took the United States into a very controversial war, ending in an unsatisfactory peace. In response to a domestic terrorist threat, culminating in a deadly attack in lower Manhattan, this president adopted draconian domestic security policies. Oh – and his administration concluded with an abrupt plunge into severe recession.

Any parallels come to mind?

What’s taking place on Glenn Beck’s show is a coy conservative self-conversation. Maybe it’s because I’m in China now, but it reminds me of the way Chinese intellectuals in the late 1970s would discuss the first Qin emperor, as a way of debating – and denouncing – Mao Zedong without explicitly mentioning a sensitive subject.

[Image by me.]

Nuclear Policy in an Age of Terrorism and Madmen

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Unfortunately, you need to subscribe to get the whole thing, but Peter Scobolic has an excellent article in The New Republic on nuclear policy in an age of terrorism and madmen. Some excerpts:

That is, in the face of the most aggressive, most highly armed, most revolutionary power the United States has ever known, deterrence worked. It worked despite serious fears about the enemy’s rationality. Indeed, it may have demonstrated that rationality is not the appropriate prerequisite for nuclear stability. Rationality can produce undesirable outcomes; it does not preclude crisis situations (Khrushchev was not insane when he ordered missiles to Cuba, he was just wrong); and in the heat of nuclear battle, rationality is unlikely to guide decisions in any country, regardless of ideology. Demanding rationality of our enemies is therefore both asking too much and asking too little. It is perhaps best that, as the scholar Kenneth Waltz has noted, “Deterrence does not depend on rationality. It depends on fear.

Fear, after all, is an evolutionary imperative in a way that reason is not, and it induces caution in a way that can be understated by cold cost-benefit analyses. No state that values its continued existence would launch an attack that meant its own certain devastation, and there is every indication—from their oppression at home and their manipulations abroad—that the leaders of Iran and North Korea have every desire to survive. True, historically, leaders have made strategic errors that resulted in their downfall. But they did so because they miscalculated their odds of success—an error that is impossible to make in launching a nuclear strike against an adversary that clearly has the capability to retaliate. The only plausible suicide would be an assisted one in which, say, Pyongyang’s leaders feared total military defeat—deterrence does not cover “dictators in the mood of Hitler when he found himself in his final dugout,” as Churchill once put it. That means the United States shouldn’t push nuclear-armed leaders to the brink of extermination, but otherwise deterrence should hold…

…In other words, Iran is already quite bold.

Even if a nuclear-armed Iran were more aggressive, the United States could still deal with it forcefully. India and Pakistan, after all, fought directly and bloodily even when both states had nuclear weapons; and an Iranian incursion into a neighboring country could be met with force. Indeed, non-nuclear states have attacked nuclear states without apocalyptic consequences: In 1973, Israel’s nascent nuclear capability was not enough to prevent Egypt and Syria from attacking it, and, of course, in the subsequent decades it has found itself under near-constant challenge from state-sponsored terrorism and even missile attack during the Gulf war. Nor are nuclear states immune from nonmilitary regime-change efforts – there is no reason we could not support the Green Movement in a nuclear-armed Iran. We simply lose the ability to invade or militarily overthrow the regime. Which makes the rationale for attacking Iran’s nuclear program seem vaguely ridiculous: Regardless of whether we stopped or even delayed the program, we would essentially be taking military action against Iran in order to preserve our ability to take military action against Iran…

Kennedy wasn’t fully in control of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, either: According to Stanford political scientist Scott Sagan, during the [Cuban missile] crisis, Air Force officers in Montana “jerry rigged their Minuteman missiles to give themselves the independent ability to launch missiles immediately,” in gross violation of military regulations.

Whatever stability they provide then, nuclear weapons also generate a distinctly non-trivial chance of total catastrophe, and today, that chance is accentuated by the threat from nuclear terrorism. It is unlikely, but certainly not inconceivable that a state like Iran, long a sponsor of terrorism, could share nuclear technology with radicals – or that a radical sympathizer could divert fissile material from one of its enrichment facilities. States have long had trouble maintaining a perfect grip on their arsenals. When the Soviet Union broke up, it found itself riddled with poorly guarded weapons and fissile material that we are still struggling to lock up today. Pakistan’s government insists that its arsenal is secure, but the government itself is not secure. Even the U. S. arsenal has suffered numerous accidents and security problems (most notably the loss of eleven nuclear bombs during the cold war), and, in January, a group of peace activists managed to break into a NATO base where U.S. tactical nuclear weapons are stored.

[Image by jtjtd licensed under Creative Commons.]

Supply-side Theology

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Jonathan Chait:

A perceptive student of the supply-side theology might wonder: if revenue from higher taxes will simply be spent, why wouldn’t revenue from higher growth also be spent? But this question has never been asked, because there are no perceptive students of the supply-side theology. It’s just a series of talking points.

In any case, it’s worth keeping in mind that the entire conservative apparatus is already cranked up to insist that no tax hikes are acceptable in the pursuit of deficit reduction. I see no way around this problem unless and until the country actually begins to undergo a deficit-created economic calamity.

Which Party Is More Wingnutty?

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Michelle Cottle in The New Republic:

As the economy recovers, the level of public anger and panic will fall. That’s just the way things work. But even in fat economic times, there remain plenty of angry, scared, even paranoid people around, and these people need a place to come together and be heard. For a while now, the Republican Party has tended to be that place. [my emphasis]

Cottle makes the argument that Sarah Palin should become the leader of the Tea Party – and she makes more of it than I would guess could be made.

But the above point both struck me as true – and as something controversial that I couldn’t back up by citing to any sources or surveys.

Judging the truth or falsity of this statement would in the end have to come down to the precise meaning of “For a while now…” Certainly since Obama has become president this would be true – as it is always true that people who are “angry, scared, even paranoid” tend to gravitate towards the opponents of those in power. But my impression is that the “angry, scared, even paranoid” tended to be on the right even during the Bush years – though their leftist equivalents increased in number during that time.

I would guess that many of those to my right would see the opposite however. I think the argument can be made convincingly that the wingnuts of the right are wackier and more numerous than the wingnuts of the left. I don’t remember anywhere near the levels of support for such extreme statements as these about President Bush for example. But how can one measure which party attracts more wingnuts overall?

Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated.

Must-Reads of the Week: Google/China, Liberal American Exceptionalism, The Failed War on Drugs, Defending the Individual Mandate, Counter Counter-Insurgency, Idiocrats, and Men Did It!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

1. Google v. China. I’ve refrained from posting on the Google v. China battle going on until now. So much of the praise for Google’s decision seemed overblown and I wasn’t sure what insight I had to offer, even as I read everything on the matter I could. But now, the wave of criticism of the company is pissing me off. I get the source of the criticism – that Google is so quickly criticizing other companies for staying in China after it left, and that Google’s partial exit may have made business as well as moral sense.  But motives are new pure – we’re human. Those who the critics accuse the company of merely using as a pretext for a business decision see the matter in other terms – according to Emily Parker of the Wall Street Journal, “Chinese twitterverse is alight with words like ‘justice’ and ‘courageous’ and ‘milestone’ “ and condolence flowers and cups being sent to Google’s offices in China.

What the Google/China conflict highlights though is the strategic incompatibility of a tech company like Google and an authoritarian state like China. One of James Fallows’ readers explains why Google and China could never get along:

Internet search and analytics companies today have more access to high quality, real-time information about people, places and events, and more ability to filter, aggregate, and analyze it than any government agency, anywhere ever.  Maybe the NSA can encrypt it better and process it faster but it lacks ability to collect the high value data – the stuff that satellites can’t see.  The things people think but don’t say.  The things people do but don’t say.  All documented in excruciating detail, each event tagged with location, precise time.  Every word you type, every click you make (how many sites do you visit have google ads, or analytics?), Google is watching you – and learning.  It’s their business to.  This fact has yet to sink in on the general public in the US, but it has not gone un-noticed by the Chinese government.

The Chinese government wants unfettered access to all of that information.  Google, defending its long-term brand equity, cannot give its data to the Chinese government.  Baidu, on the other hand, would and does…

The reader goes on to explain how China would slow down and otherwise disrupt Google services in China enough to ensure that Baidu would keep it’s dominant position. This, he explains is:

…just another example of the PRC’s brilliant take on authoritarian government: you don’t need total control, you just need effective control. [my emphasis]

Which is why it is so important that a country like China have constant access to search engine data. In a passage deleted at some point in the editing process from a New York Times story (which an internal Times search reveals to be this one), it was reported that:

One Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that China now speaks of Internet freedom in the context of one of its “core interests” — issues of sovereignty on which Beijing will brook no intervention. The most commonly cited core issues are Taiwan and Tibet. The addition of Internet freedom is an indication that the issue has taken on nationalistic overtones.

2. Liberal American Exceptionalism. Damon Linker of The New Republic responds to critics:

[T]he most distinctive and admirable of all [America's] qualities is our liberalism. Now let me be clear: unlike Lowry and Ponnuru, who identify American exceptionalism with the laissez-faire capitalism favored by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, I do not mean to equate the ideology that dominates one of our country’s political parties with the nation’s exemplary essence. On the contrary, the liberalism I have singled out is embraced by nearly every member of both of our political parties—and indeed by nearly every American citizen. Liberalism in this sense is a form of government—one in which political rule is mediated by a series of institutions that seek to limit the powers of the state and maximize individual freedom: constitutional government, an independent judiciary, multiparty elections, universal suffrage, a free press, civilian control of the military and police, a large middle class, a developed consumer economy, and rights to free assembly and worship. To be a liberal in this primary sense is to favor a political order with these institutions and to abide by the political rules they establish.

3. The War on Drugs Is Doomed. Mary Anastacia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal echoes me saying: The War on Drugs is Doomed. (My previous posts on this topic here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

4. Defending the Individual Mandate. Ezra Klein explains why the individual mandate is actually a really good deal for American citizens:

The irony of the mandate is that it’s been presented as a terribly onerous tax on decent, hardworking people who don’t want to purchase insurance. In reality, it’s the best deal in the bill: A cynical consumer would be smart to pay the modest penalty rather than pay thousands of dollars a year for insurance. In the current system, that’s a bad idea because insurers won’t let them buy insurance if they get sick later. In the reformed system, there’s no consequence for that behavior. You could pay the penalty for five years and then buy insurance the day you felt a lump.

Klein also had this near-perfect post on our unhinged debate on health care reform and added his take to the projections of Matt Yglesias, Ross Douthat, Tyler Cowen on how health care law will evolve in the aftermath of this legislation.

5. Counter-Counter-Insurgency. Marc Lynch describes a document he recently unearthed which he calls AQ-Iraq’s Counter Counter-insurgency plan. Lynch describes the document as “pragmatic and analytical rather than bombastic, surprisingly frank about what went wrong, and alarmingly creative about the Iraqi jihad’s way forward.”

6. Idiocrats Won’t Change. Brendan Nyhan counters a point I (along with many other supporters of the health care bill) have been making (here and here for example) – that once the bill passes, the misperceptions about it will be corrected by reality. I fear he may be right, but I believe it will change opinions on the margins soon and more so over time.

7. Theories of the Financial Crisis: Men Did It. Sheelah Kolhatkar looks at one theory of the financial crisis some experts have been pushing: testosterone and men.

Another study Dreber has in the works will look at the effects of the hormones in the birth-control pill on women, because women having their periods have been shown to act more like men in terms of risk-taking behavior. “When I present that in seminars, I say men are like women menstruating,” she says, laughing…

Positioning himself as a sort of endocrine whisperer of the financial system, Coates argues that if women made up 50 percent of the financial world, “I don’t think you’d see the volatile swings that we’re seeing.” Bubbles, he believes, may be “a male phenomenon.”

His colleague, neuroscientist Joe Herbert, agrees. “The banking crisis was caused by doing what no society ever allows, permitting young males to behave in an unregulated way,” he says. “Anyone who studied neurobiology would have predicted disaster.”

A very interesting thesis. And one that strikes me as broadly true. I previously explored other theories of what caused the financial crisis:

[Image by me.]

Liberalism and the Punishments of the Free Market

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Jonathan Chait riffing off of Representative Paul Ryan:

Liberals do not believe in equality of outcome in most spheres of life. There are myriad punishments for the losers of the free market that liberals can accept: less money, less vacation time, lower social status, more uncomfortable, dangerous, or physically draining work. But the denial of medical treatment should not be among those punishments.

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.