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Archive for February, 2010

Conservative Praises Inefficiency, Inconvenience

Friday, February 26th, 2010

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One thing that’s often hard to get across in writing, and even to speaking to people, is just how far out of the mainstream the conservative movement is, even on taxes. After all, no one likes paying taxes, or fees, or fines, to the government, but when you can actually strip away the emotion and the cognitive dissonance a lot of people have about these things, you generally can come away with an understanding that they’re necessary for things people like. No one likes paying the fees to register a motor vehicle, for example, but if you really try, you can get them to acknowledge that maintaining roads costs money, and that that money has to come from somewhere. Ditto for traffic fines; no one likes getting caught or having to pay the fine, but no one wants people driving down highways at 90 MPH or speeding through neighborhoods, so some sort of punishment that actually stings has to be put in place to ensure compliance with the rules (although that’s not counting for people who simply think it’s different when they do it, obviously). Now though, Eric Felten actually makes the case for making dealing with government fees as difficult and inconvenient as possible. He starts out by excoriating red-light cameras, a topic that’s probably best left for another post (for the life of me I can’t understand how the notion that people have a right to go through intersections after the light turns red without getting caught for it became so widespread), but goes on to complain about…parking meters:

Take Montgomery County, Md. Last month it started a new program that lets motorists pay at parking meters with their cellphones. How easy! How convenient! How civilized! No more digging around the ashtray for dimes and quarters. No more pestering passersby to change a dollar. Of course, when you have to scrounge for coins to feed the meter, you’re painfully aware of just how much the parking regime is costing you. Not so with the mobile-phone parking app. According to a demonstration on the Web site of the company powering the service, you just key in how long you’d like to leave your car, and you’re on your way. The pesky question of how much you’ve just paid doesn’t come up.No doubt you can find out later from your online statement, and surely there are some savvy and well-organized folks who do. Yet for most of us the cost fades toward invisibility, and that’s when fees go to town. Policymakers have long understood that the less visible—or “salient,” to use the economist’s term of art—a tax is, the easier it is to raise. Which is why Milton Friedman, looking for ways the federal government could collect more money during World War II, recommended the creation of income tax withholding (an innovation he was not proud of). It’s also why “value-added taxes” act like steroids when it comes to bulking up government.

What I find interesting about this isn’t so much the comical level to which Felton takes his anti-government beliefs (the parking regime? Seriously man?), bu rather, how the examples he cites and the effect thereof mostly take apart his arguments themselves. What Felten has basically discovered is that people don’t so much hate cost as they hate hassle. It’s true that people hate dealing with parking meters, or waiting in line at toll booths, but it’s not so much the cost of a parking space they mind so much as it’s the inconvenience factor. Whether it’s the inconvenience of having to find spare change to pay parking meters or the burden of looking at/paying a bill as a whole, as opposed to splitting it into increments, the basic takeaway is that people are perfectly willing to pay more for parking spaces, or tolls, or whatever, so long as it’s more convenient. Indeed, it’s odd to see someone who I imagine probably fancies himself a free-market champion complaining that people are willing to pay more in exchange for something, in this case, convenience.

What this really is is an example of how exactly conservatives are very much out of the mainstream. Conservatives like Felten hate government, don’t much care for public services, but to the extent they do, really don’t like paying for them. I very much doubt that Felten objects to having public roads, or places to park, for example, he just doesn’t think he should have to pay the cost of providing those roads or parking spaces, or pick up any of the opportunity cost that goes along with him occupying a parking space. To that end, he imagines that a lot of people are like him, but it turns out they’re not. They’re more or less ok with paying for parking spaces, they just don’t like how inconvenient it is to pay a parking meter. Make it more convenient, and they’re perfectly fine with it. So fine, in fact, they’re willing to pay higher fees. And people who can pay a bill in increments find it more manageable than paying in one larger lump sum. But conservatives like Felten hate government, have built an entire political movement around hating government, and think other people should hate government too. But it turns out that most people don’t really hate government, so long as their routine interactions with it are convenient and at least somewhat pleasent. To that end, Felten thinks we ought to deliberately make routine interaction with government as inconvenient as possible, simply so that more people will hate government. It’s like that old joke that Republicans spend their time complaining that government doesn’t work, and when they elected they get straight to proving themselves right. Only this is an actual conservative really writing that government should be deliberately inconvenient so that more people will agree with him.


The Oppressiveness of Conservative Identity

Friday, February 26th, 2010

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Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponuru, in a tribute to American exceptionalism/identity, explain how mass transit is evil:

The Left’s search for a foreign template to graft onto America grew more desperate. Why couldn’t we be more like them — like the French, like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and civil society? You can see it in Sicko, wherein Michael Moore extols the British national health-care system, the French way of life, and even the munificence of Cuba; you can hear it in all the admonitions from left-wing commentators that every other advanced society has government child care, or gun control, or mass transit, or whatever socialistic program or other infringement on our liberty we have had the wisdom to reject for decades.

Matthew Schmitz points out that calling mass transit “socialistic” is stupid, given that highways and roads are also provided and maintained through government spending and taxation, but I think Yglesias’s critique of this as simply another instance of conservatives demarcating what does and does not count as “American,” as dismissing anything outside of that narrow conception subversively pro-European, is more accurate.

For my part I’ll just note that this yet again proves that the critiques you hear from conservatives from time to time about how liberals want to use public policy to force changes in peoples’ lifestyle is complete bullshit. It’s not so much that liberals don’t want to do this (basically any change to public policy, or lack of change for that matter, is going to effect lifestyle decisions at the margins), but rather that conservatives want to do this to. Yglesias points out that you never really hear conservatives or libertarians complain about local regulations designed to maintain the low-density, car-centric nature of suburbs. I would add that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movement conservative complain that things like the federal tax preference for homeowners over renters induces people to live in suburban or exurban areas over urban areas, or that the lack of quality mass transit systems in most American cities basically forces the people who live their into car-centric lifestyles, whether they like it or not. Which again, isn’t to say that using public policy to drive lifestyle patterns is bad, per se, it’s just to point out that conservatives who talk about “small government,” individual choice, etc. are usually full of crap, and that they’re just as comfortable, or even moreso, with using government policy to influence the decisions people make.

Will Charlie Crist Leave GOP?

Friday, February 26th, 2010

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I know Chait has been talking this up for awhile, and while I’ve seen some people giving this article a bit of attention today, I’m not sure how seriously any should take it. I know nothing about Jack Funari, but the tone and rhetoric of the article certainly makes him sound like a Rubio supporter. The closing in particular summarizes what I think is the obvious problem with taking the article seriously:

Here, in a minimalist nutshell, is why Crist will lose to Rubio in a Republican primary:
If someone told you that Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, was going to leave the Republican Party to become an independent, would you believe them? Would you believe it about Marco Rubio? No. If you knew anything at all about politics, or anything about Rubio and Dinerstein, you would dismiss out of hand such a ridiculous report as not being credible and just another silly political rumor.

So tell me, do you believe it is possible that Crist will leave the Republican Party to run as an independent?

You do, don’t you?

And that is why Crist will lose to Rubio.

So what we basically have is someone who supports Rubio, or at least clearly doesn’t like Crist, and who also thinks that the GOP primary electorate’s ability to imagine Crist leaving the party will be a huge liability for Crist, spreading anonymously sourced tips that Crist is getting ready to leave the GOP. The self-serving nature of the claim is transparent, and leaves me skeptical, unless Fumari wants to disclose his sources and they confirm.

This isn’t to say that Crist won’t run as an independent, and certainly not that he shouldn’t. I basically agree that it’s impossible to see Crist beating Rubio in a Republican primary at this point, so if Crist really wants to be a Senator, his only chance to do so is by running as an independent and crafting an electoral coalition of Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans. I’m just saying that this particular “report” is a little too transparently biased and self-serving for my tastes, and I’m not sure I can believe it.


Our Deeply Unserious Corporate Media

Friday, February 26th, 2010

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I think this really should have been the focal point of Krugman’s column today, and so the fact that it’s buried at the bottom is a bit disappointing, but I do think that this is the key takeaway from yesterday’s summit:

So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.

This is basically the fundamental obstacle to getting the public to understand what’s going on with any number of issues at the moment; the Congressional minority is spinning a bunch of outright lies about the proposals, and the media isn’t interested in pointing that out. Consider this Glenn Thrush report, explaining that the summit was “a tie,” and that that means Republicans won because they spoke in complete sentences and didn’t cite Sarah Palin’s Facebook page or something. Thrush was apparently particularly impressed with the Republican decision to let Sen. Alexander take the lead:

The GOP’s smartest move, Democrats say, was picking Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a folksy, even-keeled conservative with a moderate disposition, to lead off.

Alexander eschewed the usual GOP talking points, instead offering a barbed olive branch, disavowing South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint’s prediction that health care would be Obama’s “Waterloo” — while pressing the moral argument for passing the bill through reconciliation.

 “We want you to succeed,” said Alexander, who urged Obama to heed the lessons the senator learned back in 1979 when he was elected as a 39-year-old governor of the Volunteer State.

 “Some of the media went up to the Democratic leaders of the Legislature and asked, ‘What are you going to do with the new Republican governor?’ They said, ‘I’m going to help him because if he succeeds, our state succeeds,’” said Alexander. “But often they had to persuade me to change my direction to get our state to where it needed to go. I’d like to say the same thing to you: We want you to succeed, because if you succeed, our country succeeds. But we would like, respectfully, to change [your] direction.”

How touching. Thrush thinks (or his sources think, anyway) that it was a smart move to let Alexander lead, and that Alexander took a rhetorically wise track in his remarks. What Thrush never says, not even once, is that Alexander’s “barbed olive branch” included an awful lot of lying of the bill and the process. To the former, Alexander claimed matter of factly that the CBO report on the bill says it will cause premiums to rise. As Krugman notes in his column though, and as many people pointed out in real-time yesterday, this simply isn’t true. The CBO estimates that the bill will lower premiums, and that the lower cost and availability of subsidies will lead to some people buying more coverage. But the same unit of coverage would cost less if the bill was passed. (This, incidentally, is in line with my criticism of another POLITICO article yesterday). Relating to the latter, Alexander claimed that reconcilliation has never been used for something like this, which is an even more egregious falsehood. Reconcilliation has been used to pass TEFRA in 1982, the Balanced Budget Act of 1995 (and 1997), among other Republica priorities. As Krugman notes, both Bush tax cuts were passed using reconcilliation, at a price tag twice that of the current healthcare bill. In the realm of healthcare specifically, COBRA was passed using reconcilliation in 1985. There simply is no way to make Alexander’s statements anything other than egregious falsehoods, but not only do political journalists not point out when polticians are telling egregious lies, they actively praise them based on theater criticism.

It might sound like nit-picking or whining about the refs, but this is a serious problem. If American political journalists are going to make a habit of ignoring when politicians lie about issues, then there’s nothing keeping everyone from wildly making shit up about public debates, which means there’s basically no hope of maintaining an objectively informed populace. And if that happens, democracy itself is threatened.

Who Killed the Public Option?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

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Yglesias and Greenwald both write on the idea the public option died a curious death, killed off by some unseen Congressional entity, but the more I think about the politics of passing a public option now, the more I think the obvious answer for why there’s little enthusiasm for bringing the public option back is that the House probably can’t pass a bill that includes it. As plenty of people have pointed out, while Pelosi got 220 votes for the bill in the House, 4 of those votes (Murtha, Abercrombie, Cao, and Wexler) are gone. Additionally, they’ll probably lose 5 votes, give or take, over the differences in abortion language in the Senate bill. That means that Pelosi and House leadership are going to have to do some serious lifting getting Blue Dogs who voted against the House bill to vote for the Senate/reconcilliation bill, and that’s probably much easier to do without a public option, leaving the Congresspersons room to say they can support the more moderate Senate bill, even if they couldn’t support the House bill. It’d be a line of bullshit, to be sure, but that seems the only truly plausible answer as to why Democrats are running away from a chance to pass it in the Senate.

POLITICO Journalism

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

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This blurb from Carrie Burdoff Brown is striking for a number of reasons.

If President Barack Obama at Thursday’s summit, like caps on malpractice awards or allowing insurers to sell across state lines. really wanted to show he’s serious about winning over Republicans on health care reform, he could offer up some key concessions

And if Republicans wanted to reciprocate, they could at least acknowledge the congressional scorekeepers are right – the Democratic plans cut the deficit in the long term and rein in health care costs.

Yglesias does a pretty thorough job pointing out the substantive ridiculousness of this; noting that Republicans agreeing not to lie, or lie less anyway, about Democratic bills isn’t a sufficient trade off for actual, substantive, concessions on policy. If Democrats are going to include Republican priorities everyone can agree to more or less in the bill, then Republicans are going to have to vote for the bill. If Republicans aren’t willing to do that, then there’s no reason Democrats should offer them anything.

For my part, I’d just like to note what this says about POLITICO. For one thing, the second paragraph just makes no sense. For one thing, Republicans aren’t claiming that “Congressional scorekeepers” are “wrong;” Lamar Alexander is not saying, “the CBO estimates that this proposal will lower premium costs, but my Republican colleagues and I don’t believe that, and have evidence to the contrary,” he’s just claiming the the CBO said premiums would go up. In other words, he’s lying. And Brown either won’t say as much, or she really just isn’t listening to what various officials are actually saying. Either way, it’s illustrative of a major problem with American political journalism that’s going to have to be fixed before we stand any real chance of ever addressing a major social problem.

Rockefeller Doubles Down on Public Option Opposition

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

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Sen. Jay Rockerfeller (D-WV) is reiterating that he’s opposed to passing the public option through reconcilliation at this time. This remains odd, because to this point Rockefeller has been arguably the biggest champion of the public option in the Senate. This reinforces, I think, the idea that the major players just don’t think they have the votes for the public option, and while much of the attention on that question has been focused on the Senate, the more I think about it, the more I think the House may be the real impediment. Basically, you need to get 217 votes at the moment to pass anything, and while the healthcare bill passed with 220 votes the first time, Robert Wexler has retired, Jack Murtha died, and Jospeh Cao has joined the rest of the GOP in opposition. That leaves you with 217 before you account for Bart Stupak or anyone else who isn’t happy with the Senate’s abortion related language. So basically, any bill that passes the House right now is going to have to get a vote from a handful of Democrats who voted “no” the first time, and they might not be willing to support a public option. That seems like the most likely roadblock at the moment to me.

Washington Post Doesn’t Report King Comments On IRS Attack

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

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I haven’t said anything about Steve King’s remarks alluding to some sympathy for the guy who flew an airplane into an IRS office, killing an employee, because I figured that they were disgusting enough that there wasn’t any need for someone with as small a platform as me to weigh in to state the obvious. Someone who doesn’t have a small platform, on the other hand, is The Washington Post, and according to Steve Benen, they haven’t mentioned King’s comments once either. I don’t really pay much attention to the Post’s newspages anymore, and I’d like to pay less attention to the paper as a whole, so I don’t necessarily want to say they absolutely should have run it, but I will say that the lack of a mention highlights a major problem for Democratic politicians and progressive activists; you just can’t get the corporate media to build an accurate narrative about the degree to which actual Republican members of Congress are dangerous, crazy, extremists. King’s comments are downright shocking, and there’s really no way to defend them. Nor are they the first offensively crazy/hateful things King has said. He’s long been a major basher of gays and immigrants in particular. But you’ll never see King referred to regularly as “the Republican Congressman from Iowa who regularly engages in gay bashing and sympathized with the IRS attacker.” And that reluctance to accurately portray the Republican fringe in Congress significantly impacts the public’s understanding of just how out there the GOP is.

Strategies Change Based on Circumstance

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

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I’ve been fairly critical of the certain segment of progressive activists who generally assume that everything good that happens is the result of the “50 State Strategy” Howard Dean came up with as DNC chair, and consequently attribute anything bad that happens to the decision to end it in 2009. Indeed, I’ve been fairly critical of the strategy itself. Dean basically devised it in an overreaction to his crushing defeat in the Iowa caucuses when, after busing in volunteers from outside the state and ignoring precinct captains and prominent local activists, he was trounced by Kerry and Edwards, whose campaigns had courted these local fixtures who could actually deliver votes in the caucuses. Dean’s response was basically to overestimate the effect local effects have on elections, or at least national elections. Congressional general elections are not the Iowa caucuses, after all. And so, Dean took DNC money and paid for state parties to hire additional field staff, which left less money to spend directly to Congressional candidates. But hey, Democrats won big in 2006 and 2008, so it’s not really a big deal now, nor would I necessarily say it was a failure, even though the 2006 elections pretty clearly showed that Dean was overreacting to 2004. But all’s well that ends well.

By contrast, 2010 simply isn’t 2006, or even 2008. Whereas the Democrats were an opposition party in 2008, and especially in 2006, now they control every lever of the legislative process, especially the White House. And the sort of strategy that works for an opposition party simply doesn’t work for a governing party. The criticism that the DNC is too heavily geared towards advocacy for the Obama administration is just stupid; how voters feel about Obama’s Presidency will be (along with employment) the primary factor in how Democrats do in national elections, and to a lesser extent state elections. That’s just the place our national elections have evolved to; we have a parliamentary political system without having a parliamentary governing system. People view the President as the leader of government, assign outsized blame/credit to him for what the government does, and then votes accordingly. If unemployment stays around 10% and Obama’s approval ratings slip to the low-to-mid-40’s, it won’t make a bit of difference how many field organizers the Democratic Party has on payroll. This is something Republicans did a good job of recognizing, and getting their members of Congress on board for, for the most part, and something Democrats really need to figure out. Everyone staking out their own positions and haggling against one another isn’t really effective at managing public opinion, signing on the White House’s agenda and working to get it through Congress quickly would provide a much better political strategy, especially given that the President is much more popular than any Congressional actor, and certainly more popular than Congress as a whole. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman posturing against the President is one thing, but the Democratic caucus as a whole would do well to look out for the political fortunes of their President, because they’re inextricably wedded to him electorally.

On a more personal note, I’d add that one problem with the SPP worship is that the field organizers it paid for weren’t necessarily that good at what they were doing. Speaking from personal observation, Ohio Republicans ran strategic and tactical circles around their Democratic opponents in 2006. In fact, it wasn’t even close; it was sort of like watching the #1 team in the country play an FCS division school. But Republicans were so unpopular, nationally and at the state level, that it simply didn’t matter how good their campaigns and staff were; people didn’t want them in charge of government anymore. And so even though the Democrats were operationally overwhelmed, they won 4 of 5 state executive offices, got more votes for their House candidates, and even got Sherrod Brown elected to the Senate. All this, of course, because George Bush and Bob Taft were incredibly unpopular.

Leadership from the White House Is Still Not the Problem

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

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I don’t usually disagree with Ezra too much on healthcare reform matters, and he seems to have a pretty good handle on the political machinations involved, so seeing this from him surprises me a bit:

One other point on the public option: This has been a complete and utter failure of White House leadership. They need to give this effort their support, or they need to kill it by publicly stating their opposition. But they can’t simply wait for someone else to make the decision for them, which has been their strategy until now.Review Android Smartphone

On the one hand, I think Atrios is basically right to point out that, in releasing their own plan, the White House has staked out their position on reform, although I think the more relevant question is what the Senate will do here. Basically, I very much doubt that the White House is going to try to stomp out an effort to pass a public option in the Senate if 50 votes are actually there for it. But that’s the tricky part, because it isn’t really clear how many votes are there. It seems safe to assume that Lieberman, Nelson, Lincoln, Pryor, Bayh, Landrieu Carper, and Conrad are definite votes against it. Add in Jay Rockefeller, and assume Lautenberg won’t be able to mke the vote, and all you have left are 49 Democrats, assuming that all of them would vote for the public option, something that’s far from guaranteed. But maybe they could! It’s the uncertainty that makes it difficult to take a firm public stance. There’s also the question of whether the House could find the votes to pass a public option without the Stupak language. What I think the White House has managed to do is to find the easiest path through the minefield. If the votes for a public option via reconcilliation do materialize in the Senate, and the House can pass the same package, it will be much easier for the White House to sign off on it than it would be to backpedal away from public support for the public option, again, in the event that the votes for it can’t be found in Congress.

On the other hand, I really don’t see what good the White House can do either way here. Obama might be able to bring a few Senators on board by lobbying them to support the effort but most of that work would need to be done behind the scenes. Public support from the White House at this juncture would only raise the stakes and amplify the cost of failing to get the votes. Conversely, if liberal activists and lawmakers have their hopes up about a public option revival and don’t view this as a quixotic effort, then explicitly stamping out the effort isn’t going to make them feel any better about its failure so much as it guarantees they’ll be pissed off at the White House, probably for the remainder of Obama’s tenure in office. And if they haven’t gotten their hopes up, there’s no reason not to see if the movement can’t pick up more momentum. 50 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House is a higher hurdle than most people realize at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The White House has been reluctant to gamble on too many moves to this point, and I’ve largely supported that, but in this case, I really do think they ought to put the money down to see another card. They won’t lose that much more than they’re already in for if they don’t see the card they need.

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Are Democrats Conspiring to Betray Public Option?

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

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That’s Greenwald’s theory:

In other words, [Sen. Jay] Rockefeller was willing to be a righteous champion for the public option as long as it had no chance of passing (sadly, we just can’t do it, because although it has 50 votes in favor, it doesn’t have 60).  But now that Democrats are strongly considering the reconciliation process — which will allow passage with only 50 rather than 60 votes and thus enable them to enact a public option — Rockefeller is suddenly “inclined to oppose it” because he doesn’t “think the timing of it is very good” and it’s “too partisan.”  What strange excuses for someone to make with regard to a provision that he claimed, a mere five months ago (when he knew it couldn’t pass), was such a moral and policy imperative that he “would not relent” in ensuring its enactment.  […]

This is why, although I basically agree with filibuster reform advocates, I am extremely skeptical that it would change much, because Democrats would then just concoct ways to lack 50 votes rather than 60 votes — just like they did here.  Ezra Klein, who is generally quite supportive of the White House perspective, reported last week on something rather amazing:  Democratic Senators found themselves in a bind, because they pretended all year to vigorously support the public option but had the 60-vote excuse for not enacting it.  But now that Democrats will likely use the 50-vote reconciliation process, how could they (and the White House) possibly justify not including the public option?  So what did they do?  They pretended in public to “demand” that the public option be included via reconciliation with a letter that many of them signed (and thus placate their base: see, we really are for it!), while conspiring in private with the White House (which expressed “sharp resistance” to the public option) to make sure it wouldn’t really happen. 

There’s a few obvious mistakes Greenwald is making in this post. First of all, he’s overstating what Rockefeller said. As I’ve argued before, when you’re trying to make a point around a politician’s statement, you have to be careful to stick to what they actually said, because politicians carefully select their language. Rockefeller did not say he was completely opposed to using reconcilliation to pass a public option, he said he was “disinclined” to do so. What does that mean? I don’t really know, and neither does Greenwald. It’s certainly a pessimistic non-committal, at best, but it doesn’t give you any indication how committed Rockefeller is to this. Would he actually oppose the public option if there were 49 or 50 votes for it in the Senate? I don’t really think so, given the work his office did in writing the strong public option amendment in the Senate, but it’s possible. 

Secondly, Greenwald is constructing a bit of a strawman when he expresses his skepticism that you could get 50 votes for the public option. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve certainly been skeptical of the notion that there were 50 votes for it in the Senate, as have, among others, Ezra Klein and John Cole. Really, the only people I’ve seen who were certain there were enough votes for it were the progressive activists who spent the fall demanding Democrats use reconcilliation to get the bill done.

Lastly, Greenwald takes one person’s comment and spins a conspiracy involving the entire Democratic caucus. We’re to believe that, because Sen. Rockefeller doesn’t think using reconcilliation to pass the public option is a good idea, the entire recent campaign among a minority of the Democratic caucus is all a big sham. Aside from the obviously faulty reasoning here, I’m wondering to what extent Greenwald actually believes this. Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown have both signed the letter urging a reconcilliation vote on the public option, does Greenwald think these two Senators are just pulling a fast one on progressives? Does he think Bernie Sanders isn’t actually interested in passing the public option? And if he does (or even if he doesn’t), I’d like to see some actual evidence for his premise, not just more conspiracy theories. One political movement that’s consumed with paranoia and conspiracy theory is quite enough for me.

Evan Bayh Wants Me To Like Him, Can’t Quite Seal the Deal

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

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I guess I’ll add my voice to the chorus of writers with an interest in Congressional reform offering praise to Evan Bayh’s guest Op-Ed in yesterday New York Times. Not only does Bayh identify issues like the filibuster and campaign finance demands as major obstacles to functioning governance, he actually brings proposals to reform them. He doesn’t go as far as I’d like, which is to say I think his ideas are still sub-optimal, but they’re a step in the right direction, which is better than nothing.

However, Bayh being, well, Evan Bayh, he just can’t resist indulging in the elitist/centrist wankery of yearning for the comity of yore. You see a lot of this in the commentary from the Broderian circle of Beltway pundits, and the implicit premise is that partisan identification is basically arbitrary, and of no more significance than, say, which football team you root for. It’s as though they really do imagine there’s some singular, obvious, solution to the problem, and the only thing preventing it from being enacted is partisan squabbling, with the solution being that everyone should “put politics aside” and agree on things. Completely foreign to this worldview, of course, is the idea that partisan identification actually says things abouta persons beliefs, values, and ideological convictions. It doesn’t recognize that people actually disagree about issues, or that that these differences are sometimes irreconcialable. It is, in other words, the way someone without a single deeply held conviction, or a sense of purpose about issues, would look at politics. And for as much as I might want to credit the guy for calling attention to the problems in the Senate, I just can’t get over that such emptiness really is the essence of Evan Bayh’s being.

Well, Someone Doesn’t Understand Insurance Anyway

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

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People have made the point before that, for a couple of reasons, there really aren’t any healthcare experts on the right. Between a combination of conservatives generally believing there aren’t significant problems with America’s healthcare system and people who spend some time investigating and researching it concluding otherwise, pretty much everyone who becomes an expert or something close on healthcare issues winds up developing opinions that fall in line somewhere in the broader left. What I think goes less remarked on is the degree to which a substantial number of people on the right just don’t understand how health insurance works. Timothy Noah hit on this a little bit recently, but consider this declaration from CATO’s Michael Cannon, ironicallycontained in a post asserting that Paul Krugman doesn’t understand how insurance works:

  • Healthy people dropping coverage would not lead to across-the-board premium increases in California, because California allows markets to set premiums.  Only when the government imposes the kind of price controls that Krugman wants does an “adverse selection death spiral” follow.
  • To be polite about it, this just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The adverse selection problem Krugman is discussing is what happens when younger, healthier people opt not to enter into insurance pools, leaving the pool older, unhealthier, and more costly than they would be with them. Because this is how insurance works; risk is pooled together, and costs are distributed amongst the people in the pool. This makes coverage cheaper for people at higher risk, and more expensive for people with lower risk. But of course, everyone gets older, so while this may be a bad deal at one point, at a later point you’ll be on the other end of the spectrum. As Cohn notes, this is why conservatives love of high-risk pools illustrates that they’re simply not serious about doing real healthcare reform. I’m not really sure why Cannon thinks price controls would exacerbate this problem, if anything they ought to make insurance more attractive to younger customers. But then, I don’t really understand how libertarians think anymore than they understand how health insurance works.


    It’s Alright, Cuz It’s All White

    Saturday, February 20th, 2010

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    I think Yglesias is driving at a good point in this post, but he kind of goes off the rails here:

    But instead of complaining about the hypocrisy involved in not trying to whip people into a fit of terror and madness about this incident, I think it makes more sense to congratulate everyone on handling this in a calm and sensible manner. The key point, that all authorities seem to agree on, is that while this is a serious crime and a genuinely Bad Thing To Have Happen, that you need to put the likelihood of this sort of incident into a broader context. Simply put, the odds of “death by disgruntled anti-tax activist flying an airplane into your office” are extremely small and it’s extremely difficult to think of cost-effective and efficacious methods of ensuring that this never happens again. Off the top of my head, this looks to me like a demonstration of the desirability of better mental health services in the United States, but that’s something that I would think was true one way or the other.

    The problem with this is that what you’re seeing isn’t a rationally subdued response to a terrorist attack so much as people arguing that this wasn’t actually a terrorist attack. Which is absurd, of course, Stack used violence for the same cause al Qaeda uses it; to provoke an over-reaction from the government in the hope of furthering their ideological cause with the populace. It’s certainly nice that we’re probably not going to over-react to this attack, but given the freakout over the attempted underwear bomber, who failed to kill or injure a single person, it’s seems much more accurate to say that racial/religious factors are playing an outsized role in peoples’ response to terrorist acts than to assume we’ve suddenly gotten rational about our response to small scale terrorist actions.

    Nuremburg is Not A Domestic Legal System

    Saturday, February 20th, 2010

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    Legal issues aren’t necessarily my specialty, so it’s taking me a little while to go through the OPR’s report on possible malfeasance in the Bush DOJ, as well as various reactions to the report, but I can safely say that this framing from Paul Rosenberg is unambiguously stupid.

    Judgment at Nuremberg was the sort of movie that helped me feel like I was not a freak when I was growing up.  It helped me feel that I was the real American, and bigoted wingnuts I ran into from time to time were the despicable un-American scum.

    But now, Obama & his “Department of Justice” has effectively declared that those men were unjustly convicted.  They were right, and the men who prosecuted them were wrong.  They may have been guilty of bad advice, or bad legal decisions, but misconduct?  Come on!

    This isn’t just a matter of “being on the wrong side of history.”  This is changing sides more than 60 years after the fact, on the great issue of what constituted good and evil in World War II.  Sure, we expect the sociopathic neocons to come down on the side of the Nazis, and clueless fratboy Bush to sign on with his signature, “Whatever.”  But Obama was supposed to be elected to clean up that mess.  To restore us to constitutional rule, at the very least.  Instead, he has given his impremature to reversing the judgment at Nuremberg.

    Aside from the fact that Nuremberg wasn’t a domestic court, and that if it were it would have represented a clear violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against ex post facto laws, the larger point Rosenberg misses about Nuremberg is that it fundamentally represented the idea that there were different rules for “us” and “them.” While it’s certainly nice that World War II created new norms about the way wars should be fought, including the notion that civilian casualties should be avoided and human rights respected, no one tried to put the Soviets on trial with aiding the German conquest of Poland or enaging in their own aggressive war in Finland. Nor was Curtis Lemay dragged before any tribunals to account for the firebombing campaign against Japan or “Operation Starvation.” Lemay went on to rise through the ranks to the point he was able to argue for bombing missile sites in Cuba, which would have led to full blown nuclear war with the Soviets, and to call the resolution of the conflict without military action a “defeat,” before running for Vice-President on George Wallace’s ticket in 1968. Which, again, isn’t to discredit the Nuremberg trials, but if you’re trying to argue that we ought to hold ourselves to international standards concerning the conduct of warfare and human rights, Nuremberg isn’t exactly a great benchmark to use.


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