Monday, December 28, 2009

MSNBC: Obama's (short) Speech re: Flight 253 and Iran Protests (VIDEO)

Even though I'm in Texas, the chief business of this blog continues. Providing easy access for my Dad (and occasionally Heidi) to get at the Speeches and Pressers than the President gives:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

UPDATE: 12:54pm Pacific: MSNBC cut off the part of the speech that dealt with Iran. He had some choice words for the regime, and I'll try to put them up should I find them online.

UPDATE: 5:45pm Pacific: Okay, here we go.


The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries, and even death.

For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days. And each time that has happened, the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people who are part of Iran’s great and enduring civilization.

What’s taking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country. It’s about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves. And the decision of Iran’s leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away.

As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. Along with all free nations, the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people.

We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I’m confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.

Does Al-Qaeda even matter anymore??

I know it's a bit of an odd question, given what happened in Detroit just a few days ago. But you've got a piece at saying, in effect, that when it comes to stories about Al-Qaeda, the Arab Media doesn't really give @#$% anymore.

In most of the Arab newspapers which I follow on a daily basis, the failed airplane plot didn't even make the front page -- or, at best, got a small and vague story. Gaza dominates the headlines, as it often does. Yemen continues to command considerable attention because of the ongoing clashes between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi movement, something which has been of far more consistent interest to the Arab public than to the American. Iran's protests are covered heavily. Most of the better papers also focus on local political issues. One of the only papers to cover the story prominently is the deeply anti-AQ Saudi paper al-Sharq al-Awsat, which leads with "passengers save America from a terrorist catastrophe." It's the same on the major pan-Arab TV stations. On the al-Jazeera webpage, the story doesn't even appear on the Arab news page, while a bland story about the airplane incident is only the sixth story on the international page (the same place it held in the broadcast news roundup; yesterday it was the third story in the news roundup, with the killing of 6 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza the lead). It does not crack the top 6 stories on the al-Arabiya website today.

The Arab media's indifference to the story speaks to a vitally important trend. Al-Qaeda's attempted acts of terrorism simply no longer carry the kind of persuasive political force with mass Arab or Muslim publics which they may have commanded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Even as the microscopically small radicalized and mobilized base continues to plot and even to thrive in its isolated pockets, it has largely lost its ability to break out into mainstream public appeal. I doubt this would have been any different even had the plot been successful -- more attention and coverage, to be sure, but not sympathy or translation into political support. It is just too far gone to resonate with Arab or Muslim publics at this point.

Following up on that point, Spencer Ackerman asks pretty much the same question, only about Al-Qaeda in general:

For the sake of argument, let’s take the most expansive theory of how Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger jet. According to the Wall Street Journal, Abdulmutallab gets an explosive device from al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen; takes a couple of layovers to get on the plane; boards with his device; ignites it; it fizzles; passengers and crew subdue him. And we’re supposed to be scared of this?

As I said, we’re going to assume those direct ties exist for the sake of argument. The Times account is more skeptical. But go with it. What does this say about al-Qaeda?

First, al-Qaeda’s signatures are redundance and simultaneity. Think 9/11, Madrid, London: all used multiple operatives focused on multiple targets, acting in unison. That’s to ensure something blows up if and when something goes wrong. But here Abdulmutallab acted alone. There can be little doubt the operation was intended to go off on Christmas, for the obvious symbolism, so we would have seen evidence of a coordinated attack by now. The inescapable if preliminary conclusion: al-Qaeda can’t get enough dudes to join Abdulmutallab. And what does it give the guy to set off his big-boom? A device that’s “more incendiary than explosive,” in the words of some anonymous Department of Homeland Security official to the Times.

And if Abdulmutallab didn’t have clear ties to al-Qaeda? That he’s part of the cohort of self-starters al-Qaeda is trying to inspire, not train and direct? That’s good news too, because his capabilities weren’t sufficient to bring down the plane. As I reported in this piece, the most salient facts about this recent slew of attempted terrorist attacks is that they either failed outright or they didn’t kill many people.

Combine that, as I did in that piece, with the growth in capability of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement since 9/11 and we have… a manageable threat. As Matthew Yglesias writes, it doesn’t do any good to blow this out of proportion, since blowing things out of proportion to spur an overreaction is Usama bin Laden’s explicit strategy.

Ackerman, to my eternal surprise, follows this with a short burst on Afghanistan:

I saw Dylan Matthews tweet that the conclusion to draw is that the Afghanistan war isn’t worth the money and the effort given the diminished scope of al-Qaeda’s capabilities. And I respect the contention, as it gets to the heart of the question. But I think it’s wrong. As I argued in this very long post, we have a credible approach in place to break al-Qaeda’s strategic depth and core operational capability; box it into a situation where it can’t export significant acts of terror against us or our allies; and we can do this along a reasonable timetable of the next several years, prompting us to significantly draw down our military presence in Afghanistan. And then the “Long War” is… over. And by over, I mean that we can restore our security posture to one where terrorism is primarily an intelligence and law enforcement preoccupation, not a military one, since al-Qaeda will be the 21st century version of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a once-fearsome and now-marginal enemy. If we stop now, we risk unnecessary metastasis of al-Qaeda, giving them a new lease on life at a moment when it really looks like if we fight somewhat further we can be done with this awful problem and this painful legacy of a miserable decade.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nate Silver: Doin' The Terrorism Math...

Greetings from the great (mediocre) state of Texas.

Nate did some math in regards to our collective odds of encountering a Terrorist on an Airline flight. The results are...well, about as startling as you might guess, given the headline of this posting, if not more so.

Over the past decade, according to BTS, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures.

These departures flew a collective 69,415,786,000 miles. That means there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 mles flown. This distance is equivalent to 1,459,664 trips around the diameter of the Earth, 24,218 round trips to the Moon, or two round trips to Neptune.

Assuming an average airborne speed of 425 miles per hour, these airplanes were aloft for a total of 163,331,261 hours. Therefore, there has been one terrorist incident per 27,221,877 hours airborne. This can also be expressed as one incident per 1,134,245 days airborne, or one incident per 3,105 years airborne.

There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Fireside chat for December 24, 2009

For the first time in a weekly address, the President is joined by the First Lady as they celebrate Christmas. They both honor those serving overseas, those who have sacrificed for their country, and the families that stand by them.

NewsHour: Jim Lehrer's Interview with President Obama of Dec. 23, 2009 (VIDEO)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sen. Whitehouse: "Americans will then know...that they were lied to, and they will remember..."

Madam President, as we are here in the Senate today, Washington rests under a blanket of snow, reminding us here of the Christmas spirit across the nation -- the spirit that is bringing families happily together for the holidays. Unfortunately, a different spirit has descended on this Senate. The spirit that has descended on the Senate is one described by Chief Justice John Marshall back in the Burr trial: "those malignant and vindictive passions which rage in the bosoms of contending parties struggling for power."

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Hofstader captured some examples in his famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."

The "malignant and vindictive passions" often arise, he points out, when an aggrieved minority believes that "America has been largely taken away from them and their kind. Though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion." Does that sound familiar, Madam President, in this health-care debate? Forty years ago he wrote that.

Hofstader continued, those aggrieved fear what he described as "the now-familiar sustained conspiracy" -- familiar then, 40 years ago; persistent now -- "whose supposed purpose," Hofstader described, "is to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism." Again, familiar words here today.

More than 50 years ago, he wrote of the dangers of an aggrieved right-wing minority with the power to create what he called "a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible."

A political environment "in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible."

The malignant and vindictive passions that have descended on the Senate are busily creating just such a political climate. Far from appealing to the better angels of our nature, too many colleagues are embarked on a desperate, no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, falsehood, obstruction and fear.

History cautions us of the excesses to which these malignant, vindictive passions can ultimately lead. Tumbrels have rolled through taunting crowds. Broken glass has sparkled in darkened streets. Strange fruit has hung from Southern trees. Even this great institution of government that we share has cowered before a tail-gunner waving secret lists. Those malignant movements rightly earned what Lord Acton called "the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict upon wrong."

But history also reminds us that in the heat of those vindictive passions, some people earnestly believed they were justified. Such is the human capacity for intoxication by those malignant and vindictive political passions Chief Justice Marshall described. I ask my colleagues to consider what judgment history will inflict on this current spirit that has descended on the Senate. Let's look at what current observers are saying as a possible earlier indicator of the judgment history will inflict.

Recently the editor of the Manchester Journal-Inquirer editorial page wrote of the current GOP, which he called "this once-great but now mostly shameful party," that it "has gone crazy," "is more and more dominated by the lunatic fringe," and has "poisoned itself with hate." He concluded, "They no longer want to govern; they want to emote."

A well-regarded Philadelphia columnist wrote of the "conservative paranoia" and "lunacy" on the Republican right. The respected Maureen Dowd, in her eulogy for her friend, William Safire, lamented "the vile and vitriol of today's howling pack of conservative pundits."

A Washington Post writer with a quarter-century of experience observing government -- married to a Bush administration official -- noted about the House health-care bill, "the apalling amount of misinformation being peddled by its opponents." She called it "a flood of sheer factual misstatements" about the health-care bill and noted that "the falsehood-peddling began at the top."

The respected head of the Mayo Clinic described [video] recent health-care antics as "scare tactics" and "mud."

Congress itself is not immune. Many of us felt President Bush was less than truthful, yet not one of us yelled out, "You lie!" at a president at a joint session of Congress. Through panics and depressions, through world wars and civil wars, no one ever has -- never -- until President Obama delivered his first address.

And this September, 179 Republicans in the House voted to support their heckler comrade, and here in the Senate, this month, one of our Republican colleagues regretted, "Why didn't I say that?"

A Nobel Prize-winning economist recently concluded thus: "The takeover of the Republican Party by the irrational right is no laughing matter. Something unprecedented is happening here, and it's very bad for America." History's current verdict is not promising.

How are these unprecedented passions manifested in the Senate? Well, several ways:

First, through a campaign of obstruction and delay, affecting every single aspect of the Senate's business. We have crossed the mark of over 100 filibusters and acts of procedural obstruction in less than one year. Never since the founding of the republic, not even in the bitter sentiments preceding the Civil War, was such a thing ever seen in this body. It is unprecedented.

Second, through a campaign of falsehood about "death panels" and cuts to Medicare benefits, and benefits for illegal aliens, and bureaucrats to be parachuted in between you and your doctor. Our colleagues terrify the public with this parade of imagined horrors. They whip up concerns and anxiety about "socialized medicine" and careening deficits. And then they tell us the public is concerned about the bill. Really.

Third, we see it in bad behavior. We see it in the long hours of reading by the clerks our Republican colleagues have forced. We see it in Christmases and holidays ruined by the Republicans for our loyal and professional Senate employees. It's fine for me, it's fine for the President; we signed up for this job. But why ruin it for all of the employees condemned by the Republicans to be here?

We see it in simple agreements for senators to speak, broken. We see it, tragically, in gentle and distinguished members -- true noblemen of the Senate who have built reputations of trustworthiness and honor over decades -- being forced to break their word and double-cross their dearest friends and colleagues. We see it in public attacks in the press by senators against the parliamentary staff. Madam President, the parliamentary staff are non-partisan, professional employees of the Senate who cannot answer back. Attacking them is worse than kicking a man when he's down; attacking them is kicking a man who is forbidden to hit back. It is dishonorable.

The lowest of the low was the Republican vote against funding and supporting our troops in the field at a time of war. As a device to stall health care, they tried to stop the appropriation of funds for our soldiers. There is no excuse for that; from that there is no return. Every single Republican member was willing to vote against cloture on funding our troops, and they admitted it was a tactic to obstruct health-care reform. The secretary of defense warned us all that a "no" vote "would immediately create a serious disruption in the worldwide activities of the Department of Defense." And yet every one of them was willing to vote "no." Almost all of them did vote "no"; some stayed away, but that's the same as "no" when you need 60 "yes" votes to proceed; voting "no" and hiding from the vote are the same result. And for those of us here on the floor to see it, it was clear; the three who voted "yes" did not cast their "yes" votes until all 60 Democratic votes had been tallied, and it was clear that the result was a foregone conclusion.

And why? Why all this discord and discourtesy, all this unprecedented destructive action? They are desperate to break this president. They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama. The birthers, the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups, it is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist. That is one powerful reason. It is not the only one.

The insurance industry -- one of the most powerful lobbies in politics -- is another reason. The bad behavior you see on the Senate floor is the last, thrashing throes of the health insurance industry as it watches its business model die. You who are watching and listening know this business model if you or a loved one have been sick -- the business model that won't insure you if they think you'll get sick, or you have a pre-existing condition. The business model that if they insure you and you do get sick, Job One is to find loopholes to throw you off your coverage and abandon you alone to your illness. The business model, when they can't find that loophole, that they'll try to interfere with or deny you the care your doctor has ordered. And the business model that, when all else fails and they can't avoid you or abandon you or deny you, they just stiff the doctor and the hospital, and deny and delay their payments for as long as possible -- or perhaps tell the hospital to collect from you first -- and maybe they'll reimburse you. Good riddance to that business model. We know it all too well. It deserves a stake through its cold and greedy heart, but some of our colleagues here are fighting to the death to keep it alive.

But the biggest reason for these desperate acts by our colleagues is that we are gathering momentum. And we are gathering strength. And we are working toward our goal of passing this legislation. And when we do, the lying time is over.

The American public will see what actually comes to pass when we pass this bill as our new law. The American public will see first-hand the difference between what is, and what they were told. Facts, as the presiding officer has often said, are stubborn things. It is one thing to propagandize and scare people about the unknown; it is much harder to propagandize and scare people when they are seeing and feeling and touching something different.

When it turns out that there are no death panels, that there is no bureaucrat between you and your doctor, when the ways that your health care changes seem like a pretty good deal to you and a smart idea -- when the American public sees the discrepancy between what really is and what they were told by the Republicans, there will be a reckoning. There will come a day of judgment about who was telling the truth.

Our colleagues are behaving in this way -- unprecedented, malignant and vindictive -- because they are desperate to avoid that day of judgment. Frantic and desperate now, and willing to do strange and unprecedented things, willing to do anything -- even to throw our troops at war in the way of that day of reckoning.

If they can cause this bill to fail, the truth will never stand up as a living reproach to the lies that have been told. And on through history, our colleagues could claim they defeated a terrible monstrosity. But when the bill passes, and this program actually comes to life and it is friendly -- when it shelters 33 million Americans, regular American people in the new security of health insurance, when it growls down the most disgraceful abuses of the insurance industry, when it offers better care, electronic health records, new community health centers, new opportunities to negotiate fair and square in a public market, and when it brings down the deficit and steers Medicare toward safe harbor, all of which it does, Americans will then know, beyond any capacity of spin or propaganda to dissuade them, that they were lied to. And they will remember.

There will come a day of judgment -- and our Republican friends know that. And that, Mr. President, is why they are terrified.

Mr. President, I yield the floor

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pundit vs. Pundit...

Normally, I'm not a big fan of Pundits going after other Pundits. (It does sorta remind me of Spy vs. Spy in all its glory...and its about as pointless). That said, I'll highlight this article by Joe Klein going off on Frank Rich.

Obama's is the least cynical of the seven presidencies I've covered. It is a presidency that took effective action to prevent a depression, that has refused to engage in arrogant jingoism in its dealing with the rest of the world and--most important--spent its political capital on the most important piece of social legislation, health care reform, of the past 45 years.

That Rich would even implicitly compare Barack Obama, who has made a significant and very substantive intellectual effort to deal with every problem he's faced, with an adulterous golfer is facile to the point of slander...And so is the judgment that the country is "mired in a sand trap with no obvious way out." From where I sit, the country is facing very difficult problems--caused, in large part, by the right-wing extremism Rich seems to be crediting here--but it is in much better shape than it was a year ago. And the way ahead seems very clear to me: After a thirty year period during which the very notion of governance was ridiculed, we need to take the work of government seriously again. Barack Obama is doing precisely that.

You can disagree with Obama's decisions and his philosophy. You can argue that that he has tried to take on too much. You can argue that health care reform was the wrong priority in the midst of a deep recession. But you cannot gainsay the intensely serious nature of this presidency. And to give any credit to the notion that Obama is "spineless" requires a fundamental lack of knowledge about what he has been trying to accomplish this year...and about the limits of the possible.

I think Klein's point shouldn't be lost, at the same time, its hard for me to take his side on...well, anything, given that he's been subject to the same level of histrionics that he accuses Mr. Rich of engaging in.

Let's just say that if you're a reader -- or anyone else that doesn't rise to what Mr. Klein thinks is Mr. Klein's level of brilliance -- he gets a mite bit prickly.

That being said, my hope for the new year is that we all cut each other some slack.

I know, likely story.

Rationality, welcome back!

After a lot of fire being tossed back and forth between the Bill Killers and the...and the...

Well, I don't know what we call ourselves. I've heard Process Wonks, but that don't feel right.

Good enoughers?

Do What You Can...ers?

Let's be honest. Bill Killers works because it's cute, it's quick and it rhymes; and summarizes a position well...or not so well.

Jon Walker published a piece on FiredogLake, apparently refining his position on the HCR Bill. This is a good thing, just because that very act is helping to calm the air in the debate. Nate Silver then took that piece, and ran with it, answering his ideas. (Warning, it's waaay long.)

If nothing else, this is what we Progressives are supposed to be good at. Calmly, rationally going through the facts and hashing things out.

Still think Nate's right though...

Olympia Snowe, Krugman's talkin' about you...

From today's New York Times:

And let’s also not fail to take note of those who had a chance to join in this historic moment, and punted.

I’m not talking about the progressives who have rejected this bill because they don’t think it’s good enough; I disagree, but I respect their motives. I’m talking instead about the self-described centrists, pundits and politicians, who have spent years lecturing us on the need to make hard choices and actually come to grip with America’s problems; you know who I mean. So what did they do when faced with a chance to help confront those problems? They made excuses.


Snowe Clinches Deal To Turn Logic On Head
Josh Marshall | December 19, 2009, 12:38PM

After months in which the Senate health care bill was held up over efforts to find some form in which she would agree to sign on to it, Sen. Snowe (R-ME) now says she will oppose it because it is being "rushed."

Friday, December 18, 2009

"What you're seeing is the progressive backlash against the progressive backlash."

If it's bill killer stuff you want Fort McHenry is definitely not the site for you. (besides, Kos and most of HuffPo are filling that bill for ya, so go enjoy!).

But amidst all the strum and drang, to quote the oft-hated Rahm Emanuel (Loved in 2006, loathed in 2009) "What you're seeing is the progressive backlash against the progressive backlash."

True dat. He is a sampler platter of today's highlights.

Jacob Heilbrunn

Is Obama really such a wimp? Or is he dealing with the harsh reality of: 1) the legacy of the Bush era; and 2) a divided Democratic party that has, in many ways, betrayed him?

It's hard to imagine that this is the health care plan that Obama envisioned during the campaign. Nor did he want to have to send tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan. But imagine the outcry had Obama begun to exit Afghanistan. He would have been the victim of a new stab-in-the-back legend on the right that might well have destroyed his presidency before it even had the chance to get off the ground. When it comes to health care, Congress will surely revisit it in coming years. Whether or not the bill contains a Medicare expansion, Obama is exactly right to say that it represents the biggest potential Democratic accomplishment since the establishment of Social Security. Little Joe Lieberman can pout and strut all he wants, but ultimately he'll be a mere footnote in the history of the bill.

The blunt fact is that Obama has been president for one measly year. Compared to the blunders that other presidents have committed early on, Obama is looking good. If the economy improves, he will look even better. So ignore the tedious and hypertrophied Obama bashers. And never forget that he is as as good and intelligent and decent a president as America will ever have. He still has a chance to become one of the greatest. Eight years from now, after Obama has successfully served two terms, that judgment may well look like a commonplace.


Joe Conason (from the end of a pretty positive profile of Howard Dean)

But the real crux of the argument between Dean and the bill's supporters is less about the details than over what this act means for the future of healthcare in America. For those who want the bill to pass despite its defects -- a position that I have come to share -- this is the moment when the nation decides that health insurance must be provided to every citizen, period. That tidal shift is why right-wing politicians and pundits are so ferociously opposed to this bill -- and why its passage would represent an important victory on the way to restoration of the American social contract.


Ezra Klein

The law for the law of unintended consequences is also an important reminder that this bill represents the beginning, rather than the end, of health-care reform. “I am not the first president to take up this cause,” Obama said back in September, “but I am determined to be the last.” He will not be the last, or even close to it.

But this bill is a start. It gives states the tools – new money, new regulations, new programs, new processes – to begin fixing the health-care system. Maybe just as importantly, it recognizes that, eventually, we’re going to have to fix the fix to the health-care system, too. Passing this flawed-but-important bill is, in part, a leap of faith. It is a bet that we, as a society, can solve our problems. It is an admission that we never get it totally right, but that that’s no excuse not to try. It is a decision to trust ourselves to do our best with what we know now, and apply the hard-won knowledge of experience when we know more later. It says so right in the legislation.

There are those who oppose this bill, and its aims, in its totality. I don’t agree with their opposition, but I respect it. Those who would let their disappointment with a small piece of the bill cancel out their support for the overarching effort are, however, making a far more serious mistake. Chances to take large steps forward on longstanding problems do not come often in American politics. This legislation is not perfect, but it can be moved in that direction. The same cannot be said for the status quo.


Jonathan Alter

There's another factor that liberals should consider: the fate of their non-health-care priorities. The plain political fact is that if this bill dies, it will cripple Obama's presidency. Certain impassioned progressives are this week saying, "So what? We don't work in the White House. His political fortunes aren't our concern."

But how about the dozens of other issues that are of concern to progressives? If health-care reform dies, the Democrats will be pummeled in 2010, just as they were in 1994 when Clinton's bill went down. Failure breeds failure. The 12 years that followed that shellacking were dark times for progressive ideas. Any liberal who wants to risk going back to that era should have his head examined.


Paul Krugman

A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy. Declare that you’re disappointed in and/or disgusted with President Obama. Demand a change in Senate rules that, combined with the Republican strategy of total obstructionism, are in the process of making America ungovernable.

But meanwhile, pass the health care bill.


Ronald Brownstein (took a bit of a cheap shot at the start of his article, which, even though I'm mad at the Bill Killers, wasn't cool)

Minorities don't seem to have much doubt about their investment in this debate. In November's Kaiser Family Foundation health care tracking poll, two-thirds of non-white Americans said that their family would be better off if health care reform passes. Though the evidence suggests that non-college whites could also receive a disproportionate share of the bill's spending (since they constitute more of the uninsured), they are dubious: just one-third of them believe they would be better off, a reflection of the mounting skepticism about government such blue-collar whites are expressing across the board. Yet the most skeptical group is the college-educated whites, the same constituency that has the most access to health insurance today: only about one-fourth of them expect to be better off under reform.

Against the backdrop of those attitudes, it's instructive to compare Dean's blithe disregard for the Senate bill to the more measured and sensible tone that Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, struck when he held a teleconference Thursday to discuss the debate. Stern recapitulated the concerns that many on the Left hold about the bill--the adequacy of the subsidies for the uninsured, the bite of the "Cadillac" tax on high-end insurance plans. But Stern also insisted: "We can't just focus on what we don't like--it's the largest expansion of coverage since Medicare, it's the largest expansion in Medicaid; with the bill it would make things way better than what our current system does, for our members at least."

Stern didn't commit to endorsing the final bill, but he pointedly refused to join Dean in urging the Senate to tear up its work. Stern can't surrender to the vanity of absolutism because he represents a predominantly lower-income and minority constituency with a tangible stake in the outcome of this epic legislative struggle--not only for themselves but for their relatives, neighbors and friends. For much of the constituency that Dean and the digital Left represent, by contrast, the health care debate may be largely an abstraction--just another round in their perpetual struggle to crush Republicans and ideologically cleanse the Democrats.


David Weigel (posted the same paragraph about Minority support for HCR, then followed up with this dark little warning):

A plugged-in Virginia Democratic strategist told me, after Creigh Deeds’s bumbling gubernatorial campaign came to an end, that there was a tide shift when Deeds appeared to say he would opt the state out of a public option if it passed the Senate. Black voters, especially, wanted health care to pass — it made it tougher to get them out to vote for Deeds when he said that.

MSNBC: President Obama (somewhat angry) Speech at Copenhagen (VIDEO)

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Andrew Sullivan: Reader Jokes...

Oh, this was friggin' hysterical:

Young Chuck moved to Texas and bought a donkey from a farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day. The next day the farmer drove up and said, 'Sorry Chuck, but I have some bad news, the donkey died.'

Chuck replied, 'Well, then just give me my money back.'

The farmer said, 'Can't do that. I went and spent it already.'

Chuck said, 'OK, then, just bring me the dead donkey.'

The farmer asked, 'What ya gonna do with a dead donkey?

Chuck said, 'I'm going to raffle him off.'

The farmer said 'You can't raffle off a dead donkey!'

Chuck said, 'Sure I can. Watch me. I just won't tell anybody he's dead.'

A month later, the farmer met up with Chuck and asked, 'What happened with that dead donkey?'

Chuck said, 'I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at two dollars apiece and made a profit of $898.00.'

The farmer said, 'Didn't anyone complain?'

Chuck said, 'Just the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back.'

Chuck now works for JP Morgan.

Stupid Blog Posts...Part 345

This morning Miles Mogulescu wrote a post for Huffington Post (rapidly becoming a joke in my eyes) entitled: Fire Robert Gibbs...Or At Least Make Him Apologize to Howard Dean.

Look, if Mogulescu wants to defend Howard Dean and rip on the White House's attack on Howard Dean, fine. I disagree with it. I'm not wild about the White House making a target of Howard Dean. (I'm also not sure, this isn't part of a larger strategy to mollify Conservative Democrats, but that's waaaay too Machevellian.)

But that's not what makes this a stupid blog post.

The Press Secretary is does not craft the White House's communications strategy. Robert Gibbs merely is the spokesman, the mouthpiece. The guy actually crafting the communications strategy...and thus telling Robert Gibbs to take a shot at Howard Dan Pfeffier, also known as the White House Communications Director. If Mogulescu wants to call for someone's firing (which is stupid it and of itself), he should be calling for Pfeffier's head, not Gibbs.

In the long view, it's a tiny, nit-picky error...but at the same time, we don't live in an age where we can afford nit-picky errors. If we're going to argue about Policy and Politics, we need to understand how they both work.

The Fireside chat for December 19, 2009

The President looks back to the bipartisan Patients Bill of Rights, a bill that was defeated in Congress at the hands of special interests and their supporters, and notes that health insurance reform covers the same ground and much more in terms of giving the consumers the upper hand over their insurance companies. He calls on the Senate to allow an up-or-down vote, and for those opposing reform to stop using parliamentary maneuvers to drag it out.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

If you want to get something...

Randi Rhodes talked to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), and got the Senate Conferees. These are the dudes (and in this case, I mean that literally) who'll be in there with the House Delegation, creating the Conference Report for the final Senate Health Bill, aka the one last chance to make the HCR Bill better.

The conferees are pretty much who I'd expect: Harkin, who's on the Senate HELP Committee; Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), also on the HELP Committee, Max Baucus (D-MT), and of course Harry Reid (D-NV).

Overall, this is pretty good news in that three of the four are pro-Public Option in their thinking (though Max Baucus wanted to include it, but couldn't get a Chairman's Mark out of Committee with it).

Does this mean one more chance for the Public Option?

Uhhh, probably not.

Conference Reports, unfortunately, can be filibustered, so the more odious parts of the Senate Bill (aka, the stuff that makes it suck) are probably going to have to remain.

So, does that mean Nancy has to show up and and just take everything the Senate throws at them? Not necessarily.

If I'm Nancy Pelosi, there are a few main areas I'd concentrate on. Can't bring back the Public Option, bring back this stuff and she'll go a long way to easing the hurt in the House. They are:

  1. Improve the Subsidies for working families. These have gotten less generous as the Senate Debate has gone on. The more money, the better in this case.
  2. Improve the Timeline to get the good stuff out the door faster. One of the things delaying implementation of HCR until 2014 is deficit concerns. Moving the schedule up means increasing strains on spending. If the GOP is against this anyway, even with Spending limits, I don't see the need to acquiesce on making the bill deficit neutral in the near term. As long as its deficit neutral over the ten year period, the President keeps his promise. This is both good policy and good politics.
  3. Improve the cost controls. Ironically, the Medicare Commission (one of the controls) might get strengthened in the Senate Bill, and strengthed by Traitor Joe (it's what he was talking about when Al Franken smacked him down). But more is always welcome.
No big surprises. All pretty basic stuff.

Looking to the Aftermath...

At the minimum, President Obama needs some face time with the people he's pissed off. I think that means a sit down interview with Keith Olbermann. (Yes, I'm still pissed at him for last night, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have issues that should be addressed, so don't cut him off). Face time in the Oval Office with Howard Dean. And I think a town hall at Yearly Kos wouldn't be a bad idea either, and yeah Kos should moderate.

This isn't about changing minds, it's about airing out...and not in a nasty or "screamy" way. I think the President should let what I'll call the Angry Left (for shorthand's sake) get a chance to speak their mind (underline: speak).

It's the kind of thing that wouldn't have happened under Bush.

Think Progress: "at the end of the day when what emerges from the piranhas’ den is better than nothing..."

The philosophizing has started. Can't tell if that means we're nearer to the end of this intra-idelogical squabble.

Today, it's Matthew Yglesias (of the Center for American Progress):

The question is where does this analysis lead you. The smarter brand of rightwinger I know believes—or at least professes to believe—that the corrupt nature of the political process means that any effort to seriously remediate social problems through public action is doomed. Therefore, the best thing one can do politically is nothing. Or perhaps cut the minimum wage.

Another place it can lead you is the place where Kevin [Drum -- of Mother Jones] and I are. You complain about this stuff. And complain and complain and complain. And fight and fight and fight. And at the end of the day when what emerges from the piranhas’ den is better than nothing, you say yes and live to fight another day. I think if you read Andy Stern’s letter you’ll see that’s what he’s saying too.

But the place where I think it can’t lead you is the place where I think a lot of the people on the left want to go. That’s a place where you’re so shocked and horrified by the corruption of the system that you think that if you can persuade two or three left-wing senators to say “no” that suddenly a better legislative product emerges. If you think that’s going to happen, you should spend some time reading Glenn Greenwald posts about how screwed up Washington is.

When even Paul Krugman is saying pass the damn thing...

Paul Krugman has been one of the...well, better critics of the Administration. I've spent my days wincing at some of his commentary. I've spend my mornings growling at what he said, even with an occasional "what the @#$%, Paul??"...

...but in the end, I still read him. (The man's a !@#$%ing PhD and Nobel Prize winner in Economics, for pity's sake. I read Galbraith because of him. I might read Keynes because of him.)

If I have to put a finger on how I feel about him is, he's an incredibly smart man with very a literate temper. I can feel the frustration oozing off the page at times. (A not-so-veiled "Oh my God, you really don't get it" tone that I often hear from Professors -- you hear that, Dad?).

I think his Math is impeccable, and the predictions connected to them are unusually on the mark, at least in the neighborhood. (So far, he was wrong that the Stimulus wasn't big enough to turn around the economy, but right that it was small enough lead to a jobless recovery.) I don't think he gives as much acknowledgment to Political realities as he should (see: frustration), but he will acknowledge when he's made a mistake.

And I also love his acknowledgment of the "shit sandwich" concept (no, he doesn't use those exact words, but you'll get what I mean), of which the Senate Health Care Bill is one:

Health care and Iraq

Steve Benen is right: for the most part the debate among progressives about whether the final product on health reform is worth supporting has been edifying. Serious people are making serious arguments, in a way that puts conservatives, who have offered nothing but smears and lies, very much to shame.

That said, some of the arguments here annoy me — in particular the line I’ve been hearing from some quarters that progressives who say we should hold our noses and pass the flawed Senate bill are just like the “liberal hawks” who supported the Iraq war.

No, they aren’t. And I don’t say that just because, as it happens, I stuck my neck way out in opposing Iraq, and was more or less the only columnist with a spot in a major newspaper to say outright that the Bush administration was misleading us into war.

Look, I don’t know for sure what motivated the liberal hawks; you’ll have to ask them. Some, I hope, were genuinely naive: despite all the signs that we were being sold a bill of goods, they just couldn’t believe that an American president would start a war on false pretenses. Others, I suspect, were being careerists, aligning themselves with where the power seemed to lie; sad to say, their career calculations were justified, since to this day you’re generally not considered “serious” on national security unless you were wrong about the war.

What’s going on with health care is very different. Those who grudgingly say “pass the thing” — a camp I have reluctantly joined — aren’t naive: by and large they’re wonks who have looked at the legislation quite carefully, understand both its virtues and its flaws, and have decided that it’s a lot better than nothing. And there isn’t much careerism involved: if you’re a progressive pundit or wonk, the risks of alienating the people to your left are at least a match for the risks of alienating people to your right.

Now, the pass-the-thing people could be wrong. Maybe hopes of improving the new health care system over time, the way Social Security has been improved, will prove to have been fantasies; or maybe rejecting this bill and trying again, a strategy that has failed many times in the past, would work this time. But it’s a carefully thought-out, honest position. And arriving at that position has, in my case at least, required a lot of agonized soul-searching.

And maybe I’m being unfair, but I don’t seem to see the same degree of soul-searching on the other side. Too much of what I read seems to come from people who haven’t really faced up to what it will mean for progressive hopes — not to mention America’s uninsured — if health care reform crashes and burns, yet again.

This is a moment of truth; it’s not a time for cheap shots or name-calling.

Nate: Answers to the 20 Questions...

Nate Silver posted 20 Questions for Bill Killers yesterday, and actually got some cogent responses from Markos Moulitsas (DK) at Daily Kos and Jon Walker (JW) at FireDogLake (two of my least favorite Liberal sites, BTW), but still they stepped up and answered.

Didn't answer particularly well, in my opinion (for reasons that will be made clear later). Didn't answer clearly at times, but they answered. And there does seem to be a desire in this intra-Liberal split to keep things civil in some parts.

Nate put up a very good (but very long) posting at his website. Since I don't feel like crashing my site, I'll just link to it. And I can already see a response to Nate's responses coming in short order.

Still, I feel a need to put up some of Nate's highlights:

One of the fundamental rules of political forecasting is never say never -- miracles, or at least things that seem like miracles beforehand -- can happen occasionally. But it would probably take a miracle to get any sort of marginally robust public option into the bill. At least 2-4 senators have stipulated outright that they'd vote to filibuster such an effort, have been saying so for months, progressives have no obvious leverage over them. Blanche Lincoln will not be unhappy if liberals block the bill; she'll be thrilled that she doesn't have to make a no-win vote and can blame Bernie Sanders or Roland Burris or the SEIU for her troubles. I don't know how many times you can bang your head against the wall before this sinks in. It's not like liberals haven't tried everything in the playbook to get a public option into the bill; they've been both dogged and creative in their pursuit of one. It hasn't worked.


I don't like the insurance companies either; I'd gladly get rid of them and replace them with single payer. But the industry's profits are low: only about 3.3%.

And the evidence that the insurance industry would benefit from this bill on balance -- on either a marginal or an aggregate basis -- is almost completely lacking. Jon's point that "insurance stocks have gone up dramatically with each day of bad news for the public option" [emphasis mine] is absolutely correct -- I have observed this as well. But my question is how insurance company profits would respond to a public-option-less bill versus the status quo.


I don't know how people can still be arguing that the individual mandate isn't necessary. If you don't have a mandate but require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions, you get extreme adverse selection and possibly even a death spiral.

Indeed, this why it's so hard to do incremental health care reform. If you want to cover people with pre-existing conditions, you need an individual mandate or everyone will be furious that their premiums have gone up. But if you have an individual mandate, you had better have subsidies to help poor people to afford the coverage.


The notion that only Blue Dog seats are endangered is flat wrong. There's almost no way that Democrats will end up with more votes for a public option at any point in the near future -- keep in mind that the House passed its bill, which had only a mediocre public option, by just about the bare minimum of votes.


There's also the idea, which Jon has advanced, of using the reconciliation process for some parts of the bill but not for others. It's a creative idea, but I don't see how it works, since it's not like you can keep this a secret from people. If you plan to pass certain provisions under reconciliation so as to circumvent Ben Nelson, it seems to me nearly certain that Ben Nelson would counter-circumvent you by filibustering the parts of the bill that you attempted to pass under regular order. So you'd still end up with half a loaf -- although maybe a different half than you might have otherwise.

Now, I certainly do think the Democrats would have some chance of passing portions of the bill under reconciliation in 2011; in that case you wouldn't have this transparent bait-and-switch with the moderates and could claim that you'd received a new mandate from the public.


For starters, you're going to lose any senator who is already looking for an excuse to vote against health care reform -- meaning Lincoln, Lieberman, Nelson, Landrieu. You're going to lose a couple of process hawks -- Byrd, probably Conrad, probably Bayh, maybe Feingold. There are far short of 50 enthusiastic votes for the public option -- there are closer to about 43, and that includes a couple of the process hawks. The odds of getting to 50 votes under reconciliation would seem to be about 60/40 at best.


The point is, at this point I don't think they've been directing their focus in ways that optimize the progressive-ness of the health care bill. But, as both Markos and Jon imply, that might not be the point. Rather, progressives are fighting a sort of proxy war over the public option -- as a way to exert their influence and authority. This is where I've always parted ways with the strategy -- I think health care is too important an issue to use as a demonstration of one's authority. What might be better? Financial reform would be one answer. But obviously, the cat is way out of the bag now on the public option and people have become vested in their positions.

Let me state for the record, even though I'm a Liberal, I can't stand Markos Moulitsas. I feel he lets his ego run amok at times. I think his positions are based in his belief in the superiority of his political wisdom, which of course I think he vastly overrates. I think he's a reason to fast foward through Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

That being said, you can't knock what he's accomplished, with DailyKos or anything else (he is a Veteran, after all). I feel much the same way about FiredogLake in general.

I've never read anything of Jon Walker's (at least I don't remember reading anything of Jon Walker's). That's not a swipe at him, it's on me. I certainly may have, but I don't personally recall his byline.

If you were to make a checklist of political positions, I'd probably agree with 98% of what these guys want and believe in (the one area of disagreement is probably Afghanistan).

Where we really diverge is in the area of is tactics, and the results they produce. I'm willing to sacrifice some of my agenda to get something done. They're not. Fine, a split on that area can actually be quite healthy.

But I also believe in fixing the damn problem at the end of the day (for those of you who remember the movie Disclosure). I believe that Liberal solutions are always preferable...but they're not an absolute. If a Conservative idea fix the damn problem, fine. I'm not so tied to ideology that I believe we're the only ones with good ideas in this Country. Despite what Kos and Walker think, not all of our ideas have worked in the past.

I also feel (as Nate suggested) that this is more about getting a pound of flesh fro the Republicans more than it is fixing said damn problem.

We just went through eight years of a rotten President, who thought that Government ended and began with the Executive Branch. Bush has become an epithet. A symbol of all that is wrong and evil in the country. In fact, you saw the President's Afghanistan speech being denigrated by calling it "Bushian".

But now, when cornered, my fellow Progressives want Obama to act like Bush.

Steamrolling was bad...when it was against us. Now that we need something, it's okay to steamroll Republicans.

I thought Obama was going to behave differently (he has). I thought we wanted him to behave differently.

So much for that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Keith's Low Point (VIDEO)

This was, without a doubt, the most ill-informed Special Comment Keith's ever delivered.

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There's a lot of reason to be pissed, but to argue against the Individual Mandate is insane. Worse, its demonstrably bad policy.

And yes, the argument that I make is from a person that Keith has had on his show multiple times. Yet, when it came to making his argument, instead of bringing on people that'd push back against his notion, Keith cleared the deck for his Special Comment by bringing on only Bill Killers -- with the possible exception of Anthony Weiner.

Where were Keith regulars? Where was Jonathan Alter? Where was Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), or Ron Wyden (D-OR). I'll grant you that Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) was on MSNBC earlier in the day, so Keith wouldn't want to step all over that interview. But he's had Erza Klein on, he's had Jonathan Cohn on. Both of them would have told Keith to his face, that he's out of his freaking mind.

Instead we had all Bill Killers.

And if there is a Primary Challenger to this President, as Keith cavalierly suggested, not a few people are going to suggest race is involved. (Yes, even for white does happen).

You're trying to tell me that a (white) President going into re-election with whispers of a sex scandal hanging over his head doesn't deserve a Primary Challenge, yet a (black) President who couldn't move an intractable Congress deserves one.

'In spite of all!'

Erza recommended reading this paragraph in regards to HCR. I'd figured I'd save y'all the trouble and quote it directly:

Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth--that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say 'In spite of all!' has the calling for politics.

Top Ten Benefits coming out of HCR

This is from John Podesta, following up on Ezra Klein's post.

Sorry fellow Progressives, more grown folk's business:

All of us are anxious to see the final language from the Senate. And a final bill must ensure that the subsidies provided are sufficient to make insurance truly affordable for working families. But based on what we know, here are my top ten reasons for why progressives should support the Senate passing the bill:

1. Largest Expansion Of Coverage Since Medicare’s Creation: Thirty-one million previously uninsured Americans will have insurance.

2. Low/Middle Income Americans Will Not Go Without Coverage: For low-income Americans struggling near the poverty line, the bill represents the largest single expansion of Medicaid since its inception. Combined with subsidies for middle income families, the bill’s provisions will ensure that working class Americans will no longer go without basic health care coverage.

3. Insurance Companies Will Never Be Able to Drop or Deny You Coverage Because You Are Sick: Insurers can no longer deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition. They can’t rescind coverage or impose lifetime or annual limits on care. Significantly, the bill also ends insurer discrimination against women — who currently pay as much as 48% more for coverage than men — and gives them access preventive services with no cost sharing.

4. Lowers Premiums For Families: The Senate bill could lower premiums for the overall population by 8.4%. For the subsidized population, premiums would decrease even more dramatically. According to the CBO, “the amount that subsidized enrollees would pay for non-group coverage would be roughly 56 percent to 59 percent lower, on average than the nongroup premiums charged under current law.”

5. Invests in Keeping People Healthy: The bill creates a Prevention and Public Health Fund to expand and sustain funding for public prevention programs that prevent disease and promote wellness.

6. Insurers Can’t Offer Subprime Health Care: Insurers operating in the individual and small group markets will no longer sell subprime policies that deny coverage when illness strikes and you need it most. Everyone will be offered an essential benefits package of comprehensive benefits.

7. Helps Businesses Afford Coverage: Small employers can take advantage of large risk pools by purchasing coverage through the bill’s state-based exchanges. Employers with no more than 25 employees would receive a tax credit to help them provide coverage to their employees. The bill also establishes a temporary reinsurance program for employers providing coverage to retirees over the age of 55 who are not eligible for Medicare.

8. Improves Medicare: The bill eliminates the waste and fraud in the Medicare system, gets rid of the special subsidy to private insurers participating in Medicare Advantage and extends the life of the Medicare trust fund by 9 years. It also closes the doughnut hole that affected 3.4 seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D in 2008.

9. Reduces The Deficit: Not only would the bill expand coverage to 30 million Americans without adding to the nation debt, it would also reduce the deficit by up to $409 billion over 10 years.

10. Reduces National Health Spending: A CAP-Commonwealth Fund analysis concludes the bill could reduce overall spending by close to $683 billion over 10 years – with the potential to save families $2,500. Even the most conservative government estimates conclude that the bill would reduce national health care expenditures by at least 0.3% by 2019.

Ezra Klein explains the Individual Mandate...

Ezra Klein wrote a brilliant post today, pushing back on one of my fellow progressive's more popular claims: that the Senate Health Care Reform would be okay if they just got rid of the individual mandate.

One of the many things that drew me to Barack Obama during the 2008 Campaign was his opposition to an individual mandate. (Hilliary if you remember, supported one). All that meant to me was that Heidi was gonna be made to buy Health Insurance, and I wasn't down with that.

Now, I've since learned...since watching the Health Care debate is that then-Senator Obama was wrong about the Individual Mandate, and so was I:

Erza, thus, presents the reasons:

The importance of the individual mandate

Markos Moulitsas explains his opposition to the Senate bill, and says it all comes down to the individual mandate. "Strip out the mandate," he says, "and the rest of the bill is palatable. It's not reform, but it's progress in the right direction. And you can still go back and tinker with it at a later time."

I'm sympathetic to his thinking. This was, of course, Barack Obama's position during the 2008 campaign, and it led toarguably the most bitter policy dispute in the race. But after winning the presidency, the Obama administration flipped on it, and they were right to do so. Here's why.

Pick your favorite system. Socialized medicine in Britain. Single-payer in Canada. Multi-payer with a government floor in France. Private plans with heavy public regulation in Sweden, Germany and elsewhere. None of these plans are "voluntary." In some, there's an individual mandate forcing you to pay premiums to insurance companies. In some, there's a system of taxation forcing you to pay premiums to the government. In all of them, at least so far as I know, participation is required except in very limited and uncommon circumstances. And there's a reason for that: No universal system can work without it.

Holding the price of insurance equal, insurance is gamble on both sides. From the insurer's perspective, it's a better deal to insure people who won't need to use their insurance. From the customer's perspective, it's precisely the reverse.

Right now, the insurer sets the rules. It collects background information on applicants and then varies the price and availability of insurance to discriminate against those who are likely to use it. Health-care reform is going to render those practices illegal. An insurer will have to offer insurance at the same price to a diabetic and a triathlete.

But if you remove the individual mandate, you're caught in the reverse of our current problem: The triathlete doesn't buy insurance. Fine, you might say. Let the insurer get gamed. They deserve it.

The insurers, however, are not the ones who will be gamed. The sick are. Imagine the triathlete's expected medical cost for a year is $200 and the diabetic's cost is $20,000. And imagine we have three more people who are normal risks, and their expected cost in $6,000. If they all purchase coverage, the cost of insurance is $7,640. Let the triathlete walk away and the cost is $9,500. Now, one of the younger folks at normal cost just can't afford that. He drops out. Now the average cost is $10,600. This prices out the diabetic, so now she's uninsured. Or maybe it prices out the next normal-cost person, so costs jump to $13,000.

This is called an insurance death spiral. If the people who think they're healthy now decide to wait until they need insurance to purchase it, the cost increases, which means the next healthiest group leaves, which jacks up costs again, and so forth.

Kill the individual mandate and you're probably killing the bill, too. The mandate is what keeps average premium costs low, because it keeps healthy people in the insurance pool. It's why costs have dropped in Massachusetts, not jumped. It's why every other country with a universal health-care system -- be it public or private -- uses either a mandate or the tax code. It's why the Obama administration flip-flopped.

But maybe you're willing to ditch universality. Add some subsidies, leave the mandate, and it's a step forward, right? At least until the project is consumed by an insurance death spiral? And Congress will surely do something to stop that, right? Well, maybe.

Kill the individual mandate and you make it easy for Congress to let the country backslide to its current condition. In a world with an individual mandate, insurance has to be affordable. If it's not, there's a huge political backlash. That gives Congress a direct incentive to focus on cost. Remove the individual mandate and ... eh. If insurance isn't affordable, people simply go uninsured. It's exactly what happens now. Same incentives, or lack thereof, to make the system better.

In his post, Markos says the bill lacks "mechanisms to control costs." I'd disagree with that, pointing to the bundling, MedPAC, the excise tax, the possibilities of a competitive insurance market, and more. The bill doesn't do enough, but it does more than anything we have ever done before. But put that aside for a moment. As Atul Gawande argues, there's no Big Bang of cost control. The public option wouldn't have done it, and nor would Medicare buy-in. It's a process. And this bill, in large part through the individual mandate, creates that process.

The key to cost control is a politics that forces Congress to make the hard decisions that lead to cost control. Right now, the ranks of the uninsured grow, the cost of insurance rises, and Congress can pretty much ignore the whole thing. The individual mandate controls average premium costs, but more than that, it is the political mechanism for cost control. Kill it, and you've killed our best hope of making the next reform better than this one.

Nate: 20 Questions for Bill Killers...

Wow. Nate's just as pissed as I my fellow progressives.

1. Over the medium term, how many other opportunities will exist to provide in excess of $100 billion per year in public subsidies to poor and sick people?

2. Would a bill that contained $50 billion in additional subsidies for people making less than 250% of poverty be acceptable?

3. Where is the evidence that the plan, as constructed, would substantially increase insurance industry profit margins, particularly when it is funded in part via a tax on insurers?

4. Why are some of the same people who are criticizing the bill's lack of cost control also criticizing the inclusion of the excise tax, which is one of the few cost control mechanisms to have survived the process?

5. Why are some of the same people who are criticizing the bill's lack of cost control also criticizing the inclusion of the individual mandate, which is key to controlling premiums in the individual market?

6. Would concerns about the political downside to the individual mandate in fact substantially be altered if a public plan were included among the choices? Might not the Republican talking point become: "forcing you to buy government-run insurance?"

7. Roughly how many people would in fact meet ALL of the following criteria: (i) in the individual insurance market, and not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare; (ii) consider the insurance to be a bad deal, even after substantial government subsidies; (iii) are not knowingly gaming the system by waiting to buy insurance until they become sick; (iv) are not exempt from the individual mandate penalty because of low income status or other exemptions carved out by the bill?

8. How many years is it likely to be before Democrats again have (i) at least as many non-Blue Dog seats in the Congress as they do now, and (ii) a President in the White House who would not veto an ambitious health care bill?

9. If the idea is to wait for a complete meltdown of the health care system, how likely is it that our country will respond to such a crisis in a rational fashion? How have we tended to respond to such crises in the past?

10. Where is the evidence that the public option is particularly important to base voters and/or swing voters (rather than activists), as compared with other aspects of health care reform?

11. Would base voters be less likely to turn out in 2010 if no health care plan is passed at all, rather than a reasonable plan without a public option?

12. What is the approximate likelihood that a plan passed through reconciliation would be better, on balance, from a policy perspective, than a bill passed through regular order but without a public option?

13. What is the likely extent of political fallout that might result from an attempt to use the reconciliation process?

14. How certain is it that a plan passed through reconciliation would in fact receive 51 votes (when some Democrats would might have objections to the use of the process)?

15. Are there any compromises or concessions not having to do with the provision of publicly-run health programs that could still be achieved through progressive pressure?

16. What are the chances that improvements can be made around the margins of the plan -- possibly including a public option -- between 2011 and the bill's implementation in 2014?

17. What are the potential upsides and downsides to using the 2010 midterms as a referendum on the public option, with the goal of achieving a 'mandate' for a public option that could be inserted via reconciliation?

18. Was the public option ever an attainable near-term political goal?

19. How many of the arguments that you might be making against the bill would you still be making if a public option were included (but in fact have little to do with the public option)?

20. How many of the arguments that you might be making against the bill are being made out of anger, frustration, or a desire to ring Joe Lieberman by his scruffy, no-good, backstabbing neck?

Empty Rhetoric...

Michael Moore and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) both call for Joe Lieberman's recall.

One problem...

Memo to Michael Moore and any other frustrated lefties out there: There is no such thing as a Congressional recall. So until 2012, we're all stuck with Joe.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Fireside chat for December 12, 2009 (Wall Street Scumbags Edition)

The President explains that while he continues to focus on jobs, it is also profoundly important to address the problems that created this economic mess in the first place. He commends the House of Representatives for passing reforms to our financial system, including a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and blasts Republican Leaders and financial industry lobbyists for their joint pep rally to defeat it. December 12, 2009.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

President Obama's Nobel Acceptance Speech (VIDEO)

The White House released President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Here's the full text:

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations -- that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. (Laughter.) In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who've received this prize -- Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela -- my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women -- some known, some obscure to all but those they help -- to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries -- including Norway -- in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict -- filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

Now these questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease -- the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

Of course, we know that for most of history, this concept of "just war" was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations -- total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it's hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.

In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another world war. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations -- an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize -- America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.

And yet, a decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states -- all these things have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, children scarred.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another -- that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions." A gradual evolution of human institutions.

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?

To begin with, I believe that all nations -- strong and weak alike -- must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I -- like any head of state -- reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don't.

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait -- a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America -- in fact, no nation -- can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don't, our actions appear arbitrary and undercut the legitimacy of future interventions, no matter how justified.

And this becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That's why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

America's commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.

The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries, and other friends and allies, demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they've shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That's why NATO continues to be indispensable. That's why we must strengthen U.N. and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That's why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali -- we honor them not as makers of war, but of wagers -- but as wagers of peace.

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant -- the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. (Applause.) And we honor -- we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.

I have spoken at some length to the question that must weigh on our minds and our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me now turn to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior -- for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure -- and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work towards disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I'm working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

The same principle applies to those who violate international laws by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma -- there must be consequences. Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy -- but there must be consequences when those things fail. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.

This brings me to a second point -- the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.

And yet too often, these words are ignored. For some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists -- a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.

I reject these choices. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent-up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests -- nor the world's -- are served by the denial of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements -- these movements of hope and history -- they have us on their side.

Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach -- condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable -- and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There's no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.

Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights -- it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can't aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

And that's why helping farmers feed their own people -- or nations educate their children and care for the sick -- is not mere charity. It's also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, more famine, more mass displacement -- all of which will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and environmental activists who call for swift and forceful action -- it's military leaders in my own country and others who understand our common security hangs in the balance.

Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more -- and that's the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there's something irreducible that we all share.

As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are; to understand that we're all basically seeking the same things; that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families.

And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities -- their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we're moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.

And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith -- for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. For we are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best of intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached -- their fundamental faith in human progress -- that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith -- if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace -- then we lose what's best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, "I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present condition makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him."

Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. (Applause.)

Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he's outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school -- because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child's dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you very much.