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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stuart Zechman's Z-Files: Separation

(Listen to Separation.)

I'm Stuart Zechman, and, as a movement liberal, I'm totally for religious liberty.

Yep, as a firm supporter of the Bill of Rights, I think that the first sentence of the First Amendment, which reads:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"
represents an inherently American value: the government has no place whatsoever instituting anybody's church's dogma into public policy...anywhere.

The next beautiful sentence in the First Amendment, which reads:

"or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"
, means exactly that: the state can't tell you if, when or how to worship whom. That is entirely your business as an individual, not mine and not the government's.

What you believe in your heart of hearts depends solely on what your conscience dictates, and nobody else's. That's freedom. That's liberalism. That's America.

So then I read this latest statement from the White House on the implementation of their Rube Goldberg health care law, the "PPACA," and it says:

"Today, President Obama announced that his Administration will implement a policy that accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women."
and I read that Nancy Keenan, head of NARAL, the Washington-based "National Abortion Rights Action League" put out the statement:
"the announcement makes it clear that President Obama is firmly committed to protecting women's health."
, and I thought to myself "Great! That must mean that the PPACA will be amended to say that abortion is now covered by Medicaid, which is the health insurer used by about 49 million low-income Americans, amongst whom a disproportionate share are low-income women, since the PPACA provides the majority of its 'Universal Coverage' by expanding Medicaid, and that the state-based private insurance exchanges in which the law forces individuals to participate will now be regulated to mandate abortion coverage."

You know, what else could it mean?

Religious liberty, making no law that establishes anybody's religious doctrine as the basis for public policy, surely that's what he discussion is about, right?

I mean, it's not like the President and Nancy Keenan could possibly mean that religious liberty somehow involves the government writing laws and regulations on the basis of the theology of a particular church?

Even if that church is a huge, world-wide institution, it would be a violation of everybody else's religious liberty to enforce the laws with special exceptions for them. That's crazy.

It's funny, the little church that I attend, the Middle Church on Second Avenue in New York, where I live, well, those folks believe that Jesus wasn't only giving out bread to eat, they note that he was healing the sick, too. So why shouldn't the law follow that example? Why do some churches get to say what's in the health care laws and regulations, while other churches --like mine-- don't? Isn't that the whole point behind "no law respecting an establishment of religion"? Why does some people's religion seem to matter more to the government than mine...or yours?

It seems to me as if the term "religious liberty" is being turned on its head to mean that some people's church doctrines are to be respected to the point where the President gets up at a podium and says "the government will accommodate you immediately," and some people's aren't. And, not to paint with too broad of a brush here, but it always seems to be a certain kind of church that gets the special treatment, that gets special rights, usually the ones that are the political enemies of movement liberals like me in their spare time, or have a great deal of institutional power and wealth.

That's not accommodating religious liberty, that's accommodating something else.

Maybe we movement liberals ought to be a bit more clear about just how much we support the Bill of Rights, and real religious liberty in particular.

Maybe we ought to start demanding that our government be concerned about the health of everybody, even the women on Medicaid that Washington lobbyists like Nancy Keenan don't seem too concerned about, and start respecting the religious liberty of everybody, by not granting special favors in the law to the churches with the most money to pay for public relations campaigns in an election year.

Maybe, when we talk about "the free exercise" of our religious liberties, we ought to be asking "Whose? Yours? Or everybody's?" for a change we can all believe in.

I'm Stuart Zechman, and this has been the Z-Files.



Avedon (1:58 PM) permalink




Saturday, September 08, 2012


Z-Files Episode 14, 04/17/2012                    

"Third Way"

I'm Stuart Zechman, and I'd like to do a little experiment with you folks listening, if you wouldn't mind helping me out.

So I'm going read you a representative quote from a politician, and I want you to try to guess whether that politician is liberal or conservative, OK?
Here goes, quote number 1:
""...God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.""

http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/environment/global-warming/audio-sen-james-inhofe-quotes-bible-disprove-global-warming
Is the politician who said that liberal or conservative?

OK, here's quote number 2:
""I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life""

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/tom-coburn-r-okla/gIQAvIQV9O_topic.html
Again, liberal or conservative?

What about this one, Quote number 3:
"The truth is that abortion drugs are not about women’s health but are really a seemingly innocuous means of advancing a radical agenda."

http://townhall.com/columnists/virginiafoxx/2010/09/15/the_truth_behind_abortion_pills/page/full/
And now for quote number 4. I wanted three quotes, but the fourth one is just too...perfect to leave out, so here goes, quote number 4:
""the gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power. They are the greatest threat, that agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom we face today.""
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/tom-coburn-r-okla/gIQAvIQV9O_topic.html
OK, I could go on like this all day.
But, by now, you're all probably saying impatiently "Hey Stuart, that was beyond easy. They're all conservative!"

And you would be correct!
Of course these are all right-wing politicians, all Republicans.

The first right-wing quote was from bible-based science denier, the Senator from Big Oil --I mean, Oklahoma, James Inhofe.

The second, that managed to combine aggressive death penalty advocacy with an abortion is premeditated murder message, that's from conservative Senator Tom Coburn.

The third right-wing quote, about the radical agenda behind access to contraception, was Congresswoman Virginia Fox, who will be the first to tell you that conservatism is an equal opportunity philosophy...apart from the "equality of opportunity" part of that statement.

And extra-bonus fourth right-wing quote, the one about the gays being the greatest threat...well, that was a trick question, it's Coburn again. 

So, the point of this exercise is this: these politicians --no matter how corrupt, no matter how stupid, no matter how cowardly and vote-seeking they are-- are all giving voice to the conservative movement. They're right-wing.  Informed people couldn't possibly confuse them with non-right-wing politicians.

But there's a related point I'd like to demonstrate, and that requires us to do another quick "guess the ideology" game, so here goes:

Quote number 1:
“Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will affirm the Senate’s commitment to the civil rights of all Americans and also make our military even stronger.”

http://lieberman.senate.gov/index.cfm/news-events/news/2010/12/lieberman-praises-movement-on-dont-ask-dont-tell-repeal-vote
Liberal or conservative?

OK, quote number 2, I have to mention this is from a 1995 speech entitled "Women's Rights Are Human Rights":
"As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace around the world - as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled and subjected to violence in and out of their homes - the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized."

http://www.famousquotes.me.uk/speeches/Hillary-Clinton/
So, liberal or conservative?

Alright, I'm running out of time, so the last quote is actually a double quote from two different speeches:
""A woman's ability to decide how many children to have and when, without interference from the government, is one of the most fundamental rights we possess. It is not just an issue of choice, but equality and opportunity for all women.""

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/27/us/politics/27debate_transcript.html?_r=1

""I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade...""

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3_mqxFmPlU&feature=player_embedded
Is the politician who said those things conservative, in your mind?
I think that virtually anybody who heard that second set of quotes would say that the speakers were not right-wing, that those were not expressions of conservatism.

So let me tell you who said what:

Quote number 1, from the guy who successfully led the fight to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell in 2010, that was Joe Lieberman.

Quote number 2, from "Women's Rights Are Human Rights" was from Hillary Clinton.

And quote number 3, about the basic, fundamental right to our own persons, and the declaration "I am pro-choice"?

Well, that was from Barack Obama, the President who just appointed two Supreme Court justices who are, like him, public proponents of the Constitutional right of Americans to choose.

I think these quotes and the record demonstrate that these politicians are not conservative.

They will never get gigs writing for National Review. They will never be given campaign money from Concerned Women for America. Their names, if ever mentioned at a CPAC convention, will mostly likely be greeted with calls for summary execution as fifth column traitors.

In almost every corner of America, if one were to publicly claim that Lieberman, Clinton and Obama are actually right-wing conservatives, one could expect to be met with derisive laughter, and for good reason.

But are they liberal?

Well, they're Democrats, that's true, but not all Democrats are liberals.

What Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have in common is that they're "New Democrats," meaning they were all members of something called the "New Democrat Coalition," which is a Congressional caucus of ideologically like-minded Democrats, kind of like the "Progressive Caucus," who are the left-most wing of the Party, or Blue Dogs who actually are a bloc of conservative Democrats.

Here's a description:
"New Democrats...are an ideologically centrist faction within the Democratic Party...identified with centrist social/cultural/pluralist positions and neoliberal fiscal values.[1][2] ...represented by organizations such as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the New Democrat Network, and the Senate and House New Democrat Coalitions."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Democrats
Let me read to you what the New Democrats say about themselves:
  "As Congress works to tackle the challenges facing our nation, the New Dems, through our seven policy task forces, have put forward a commonsense agenda...These initiatives are about moving the U.S. forward in the 21st century.

The Coalition’s seven task forces are: Critical Infrastructure and Manufacturing; Education; Energy; Financial Services; Health Care; Innovation, Competitiveness and Tax Reform; and Trade.
"

http://newdemocratcoalition-crowley.house.gov/about-me
Well, well, well. Health care. Financial Services. Taxes and trade.

And what were the Obama Administration's and Democratic Congress's "historic achievements" during the past four years, again?

Heritage Foundation-Third Way compromise health care "reform." Financial "regulation" that leaves "Too Big To Fail" bigger and with more fail than ever. The lame duck Bush-Obama tax cut deal and estate tax repeal. And more NAFTA-style free trade agreements as far as the eye can see.

What inevitably passed into law these past four years was the New Democrats' agenda. Just as inevitably, what wasn't the New Democrats' agenda was universally characterized as "politically impossible," and never put on the table.

And, just as surely as we can recognize the first set of quotes as conservative, and the second set of quotes as not-conservative, we movement liberals can recognize that the New Democrats' agenda is not liberal.

So there must be something else, other than liberal or conservative, that describes that ideological framework, a "Third Way," if you will, between right and left. An ideological center, a committee-packing voting bloc of bipartisan-fetishizing, Tom Friedman-idolizing, anti-right and anti-left Democrats who always seem weirdly, ideologically desperate to compromise, especially in the name of destroying entitlements, or keeping America at constant war, even when that means they lose elections.

I think that people who are truly interested in saving our country from this not-New Deal we've been handed ought to play "guess the ideology" a bit more often, and consider that, in addition to many Democratic politicians being corrupt or stupid or cowardly, maybe there's an agenda other than left or right that, like many important things that go on, the purveyors of conventional political wisdom would prefer to ignore. Maybe, when other explanations fail to adequately describe how politicians who get a 100% NARAL rating or who repeal DADT can still not be liberal, we should at least begin to try --in an organized way-- to help liberal Democratic voters understand that there's left, right and Third Way center represented in the capital, and that, for the vast majority of Americans, two out of three are bad.

I'm Stuart Zechman, and this has been the Z-Files.


stuart_zechman (2:06 AM) permalink




Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Z-Files Episode 9, 03/13/2012

"Equivalence"


I'm Stuart Zechman, and I've been hearing the phrase "false equivalence" being used lately in ways I've never heard before.

You remember what "false equivalence" is, right?

It's when someone points out what appears to be a similarity between two things that are, in reality, not equivalent at all.

I'm pretty darn familiar with the expression, because, especially during the 2000s, the national press corps would put their centrist biases on display by manufacturing false equivalences all the time.

Remember that?

The centrist media would routinely couch its reporting in language like:

"...the extreme rhetoric from both liberals and conservatives in the debate over the Iraq invasion became even more heated than usual this week, as Ann Coulter's new book 'Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism' topped the New York Times best-seller list..."

and we'd say, whoah-whoah, hold on a minute there...we movement liberals are saying that, in addition to it being weirdly immoral to invade a country for basically no reason, and then spend the next decade occupying hostile foreign lands, it's a stupendously bad idea in policy terms, because it makes America less safe to bankrupt ourselves whilst inspiring more and more people around the world to dedicate themselves to blowing us up than would otherwise. Like, say, if we weren't pointlessly blowing up people who are just trying to go about their lives in their homes day after day, year after year.

The movement conservatives, on the other hand, were saying that, by definition, liberals are traitors. During wartime. Also, Joe McCarthy was right, and McCarthyism was a good thing...because liberals really are traitors who would love to sell out their country during a time of war, because we don't like America or Americans. Ann Coulter would say things on television and in print like “Liberals have a preternatural gift for always striking a position on the side of treason,” and “Everyone says liberals love America, too. No, they don’t.” That was June of 2003, by the way. It was just a few months into the Iraq war, and just a year and a half after 9/11, and that's what movement conservatives were saying about their fellow Americans, that we were trying to betray our country just because of who we are.

Now, anybody can see that these two sets of arguments aren't the same. They're just not equivalent. That would be false equivalence.

And so it became a pretty widely accepted critique of the centrist media on the left, for good reason.

But I've noticed something:  "false equivalence" now means something else entirely.

When I've said that prime time MSNBC sounds sometimes like the same partisan, propaganda channel devoted to the political empowerment of a single Party we liberal Democrats used to mock, I'm now told that I'm engaging in "false equivalence."

And when I've said that Eric Holder's declaration based on a secret legal memo that when it comes to the government assassinating American citizens, "due process" doesn't necessarily mean "judicial process," sounds like John Yoo at a "24" DVD drinking party, I'm now told that I'm engaging in "false equivalence."

It now means "When Democrats do the same thing that Republicans do, pointing out those facts is engaging in false equivalence, because, although it may appear to be similar policy regimes, Democrats are basically good, and have people's interests at heart, while Republicans are nasty, evil racists and misogynists who motivated purely by hatred of liberals like us."

See?

According to this view, Democrats in power can't possibly be like Republicans, even when they do identical things, because, by definition, liberals are good, and, by definition, conservatives are bad.

But when Paul Krugman accurately writes that Mitt Romney's "signature achievement was a health reform identical in all important respects to the national reform signed into law by President Obama four years later," it just can't be "false equivalence" to call the Affordable Care Act "Romney-Care," even if that makes some Democrats mad to hear it described that way.

You know, we liberal Democrats like to say that we're "the reality-based community."  If that term is to continue to have any meaning at all, and not become the tragic joke of the 2012 election cycle, we movement liberals should probably spend less time yelling about false equivalence between Democrats and Republicans, and more time pointing out the actual equivalence between some Democratic and Republican policies...no matter which party happens to be in charge at the time.

I'm Stuart Zechman, and this has been the Z-Files.


stuart_zechman (1:22 PM) permalink




Monday, September 03, 2012


Z-Files, 02/28/2012 "Extremists"
I'm Stuart Zechman, and I've heard something that really disturbs me.

I've heard that the Republican Party is now populated with wild extremists, right-wing lunatics who are completely divorced from reality, and so, like never before in American history, the GOP is now totally unreasonable and insane, and, if they get into power in Washington,  the will enact the most dreadful, terrible, awful policy...ever.

Have you been hearing this, lately, too?

See, I thought that the Republican Party has always advocated the worst kind of policies and agenda.

Since, like, as far back as the 1990s, I remember Republicans being in favor of all kinds of anti-Bill of Rights, pro-endless war, anti-New Deal and pro-big corporate monopoly proposals, and performing all of these crazy political hostage-taking maneuvers to try to get that horrifying agenda through the government.

I vaguely --really vaguely-- remember way back when that Christian fundamentalist and televangelist fraud Pat Robertson actually ran for President as a Republican, I think that was in the 1980s, actually.

I remember, in the late 90s, when Congressman Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, was so freaking nuts that he actually staged a supposed "re-enactment" of how Hillary Clinton murdered a White House staffer named Vince Foster, by shooting a pumpkin in his back yard, and telling reporters to imagine that this was Foster's head. I remember when he said things like "If I could prove 10 percent of what I believe happened, he'd [Clinton] be gone. This guy's a scumbag. That's why I'm after him."

Just to give you some idea of what I'm talking about, Dan Burton, I swear to you, once proclaimed in a 1995 House hearing on the War on Some Drugs, that

"the US military "should place an aircraft carrier off the coast of Bolivia and crop dust the coca fields." It was later pointed out to him that a) Bolivia is landlocked and has no coast (Burton was chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee); b) the Bolivian coca fields (in the yungas and Amazon lowlands) are beyond the reach of any carrier-borne crop-duster, being separated from the nearest coastline (the Pacific coast of Peru and Chile) by the 20,000+ feet high peaks of the Andes; and c) F-18s cannot crop-dust."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Burton#cite_note-31

I'm telling you, this is well-documented. The Republicans from the 1990s were like this.  If you listened to talk radio, like I did, or had enough time on your hands to watch the Christian conservative religious broadcasters, like I did, you were more than likely to hear Hillary Clinton referred to as a secret lesbian murderess. I'm not kidding.  They literally told people that Clinton was Satan.  These guys made today's "War on Religious Freedom" hucksters look like college Democrats. It makes Romney's references to Obama as a "European-style socialist" look like an endorsement.

And then they were so suicide-bomber insane, that they actually impeached a sitting president over a blow-job. Bob Livingston, the Speaker of the House to be actually resigned when he was caught having an affair, so that they could more easily go after Clinton, they were that kamikazi. (His successor was a straight-shooter from Louisiana named David Vitter.) I'm not making this up.  You think that the debt-ceiling debate was Republicans at their craziest? I'm telling you, back in the 1990s they stopped the whole government, held a trial in which the now Very Serious Lindsey Graham got up on the House floor to carefully consider the nature of semen stains. This was the Republican Party of the 1990s...totally f-ing crazy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Livingston

And in the policy realm, it was unbelievable...their policy agenda, the policy proposals that came out of conservative think tanks like Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, was even worse for America than all the phony investigations, and fake scandals and even the blow-job impeachment.

These guys, these Republicans, actually proposed things like turning Medicare into a "premium support" system kind of like the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage we got that exploded drug prices when the crazy GOP controlled all three branches of government, and proposed --get this-- creating this vast, privatized health insurance scheme where, state-by-state, the private health insurance monopolies would sell people junk insurance who were forced by law to buy their crappy coverage. It would all be means-tested and funded through HHS, so the federal government would end up actually paying insurance companies to say in business, and only the deserving poor would get any help.  And this regime would somehow make health care "affordable care." Yeah, I know. Crazy, isn't it?

http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/1989/pdf/hl218.pdf

Or, talk about nuts, they proposed repealing the New Deal laws that stopped savings banks from becoming investment banks and even financial insurance companies. They basically said that the government needed to get out of the way of the giant banks gambling with all of our money, and should essentially let these geniuses create whatever debt they felt like making and selling, and then insuring themselves against default.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gramm-Leach-Bliley_Act

Now that's insane.

You really can't get more out of touch with reality than this, folks.

And they were just as crazy in the 2000s, too. You had best-seller books, like Ann Coulter's "Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism" or Michelle Malkin's "In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror."

I mean, how do you reason with people like this, people who want to, say, institute a massive program to infiltrate Muslim mosques with law enforcement agents, and put grade schools for African-American Muslim kids under constant state surveillance?

http://ggdrafts.blogspot.com/2012/02/questions-for-speaker-christine-quinn.html

Remember when they said that the President had the power to do virtually anything to "keep us safe," and we just had to basically trust that he wasn't going to abuse that virtually unlimited power?

What kind of lunatics believe that this sort of due-process-less regime is somehow compatible with small-d democratic government? It's obviously the path to oligarchy and tyranny, right?

It's like we might all have to pack up and move to Canada, if extremists like that ever got into power.

So, when I was reading the New York Times the other day --you know, they're so much more reality-based than Fox News, despite the whole Judy Miller/Iraq war thing-- anyway, and I saw Paul Krugman say that the party of American conservatism is divorced from reality, quote:
" How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality? For it was not always thus. After all, that health reform Mr. Romney wants us to forget followed a blueprint originally laid out at the Heritage Foundation!

"
The truth, of course, is that he was not a “severely conservative” governor. His signature achievement was a health reform identical in all important respects to the national reform signed into law by President Obama four years later. And in a rational political world, his campaign would be centered on that achievement."

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/13/opinion/krugman-severe-conservative-syndrome.html

 And I thought:  wait a second...Krugman is openly declaring that Heritage Foundation health care policy, the policy that flowed from those same insane, pumpkin-shooting Republicans in the 1990s, is an "achievement."

The argument in elite, big-D Democratic circles seems to be that the scary Republicans are scarier than ever before, so scary, with their Tea Party and their conservative media, that they make the Republicans of the late 1990s look reasonable.

So reasonable, in fact, that conservative Republican policies from the late 1990s, policies that are completely at odds with the philosophy of the New Deal, a functioning government, a federal state that doesn't spy on anybody it feels like, and a free and fair market for everybody, policies that reject everything that movement liberals stand for are now considered to be "achievements" when enacted into law by today's centrist Democrats.

Now, if you think about it, that is, itself, quite detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality. And, it was not always thus.

But it does seem to be the argument that national Democrats are using to win over people like Dr. Krugman.

How could it be that the passage of policy identical in all important respects to conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation's, policy we movement liberals would have recognized in 1998 as an obviously, deeply unpopular non-solution, the product of bankrupt ideological premises regarding the superiority of "markets", certain to bring tragic consequences to the people of our country, and discredit to the party which promoted it, how could this be ever be rationally called an "achievement?"

It can't be. Not unless one jumps through extraordinary intellectual hoops to rationalize voting for a Democratic politician whose own "signature achievement" is Mitt Romney's health care policy.

And that's what this line is about, folks. We movement liberals are being told from on high that the reason why centrist Democrats' failures are actually achievements...is because the Republicans of today are super-scary.

And that's just not true. The movement conservatives are just as frighteningly wrong today as when Ann Coulter became a millionaire writing a book entitled "Godless" about liberals, and when Ramesh Ponnuru wrote "The Party of Death" about Democrats a few years ago.
Quote-unquote "market-oriented" policies from the 1990s and 2000s are just as bad for America today as they were back when the majority of Democrats actually opposed them, instead of arm-twisting "progressive caucus" members into shilling for them.

So when you hear this line, that Republicans of today are like Congressional Ahmadinejads because they won't vote for Newt Gingrich's old agenda when it's proposed by Democrats, just remember:  it's pretty likely that you're going to read Dem-leaning pundits in the Washington Post consider how reasonable Newt Gingrich's old agenda actually is, compared to the new Newt Gingrich's agenda.

And then ask yourself:  is the political price that you're being asked to pay to protect yourself from these terrifying new Tea Party-style Republicans that you now have to vote for old, Dan Burton-style Republicans' agenda, and...

...what did FDR say about "fear itself"?

I'm Stuart Zechman, and this has been the Z-Files.


stuart_zechman (5:44 PM) permalink




Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pow Wow's comment, one year on


BDBlue mentioned in comments to this post at The Sideshow an excellent comment from last year to a post by Glenn Greenwald called "The Patriot Act and bipartisanship". That comment by Pow Wow is difficult to find thanks to the permalink at Salon being screwed up, so I thought I'd post it here to make a direct link for it.

[Two countries divided note: For reasons I have never been given an explanation for, the parliamentary term "tabled", in the United States, means the opposite of what it means everywhere else.]



pow wow
Tuesday, May 24, 2011 01:50 AM +0100

Resistance is NOT (yet) futile, thanks to Rand Paul

Let me see if I can coherently explain - even for Senate-myth-saturated audiences (which are remarkably, if unconsciously, resistant to criticism of "bipartisan" Party dogma) - how and why Rand Paul came to singlehandedly hold the power, if he so chooses, to delay S. 1038 into the weekend, without "filibustering," ahead of the Senate's planned week-long Memorial Day recess next week. [I've linked to a lengthier general explanation.]

Before I do that, though, read what Rand Paul himself said on CNN Friday night (May 20th), for a rare insider's view of what the Senate is today, courtesy of both Parties:

Senator Rand Paul: "We go week after week in the Senate and do nothing. I feel like sometimes I should return my check because I go up, they do no votes and no debate. Look at this horrendous debt crisis - we don't debate that either.

Anderson Cooper: "Really, you feel like that? You feel like you're not doing anything there?"

Paul: "Yes. I feel... Absolutely. We go up week to week and there's no debate in Congress. No debate in the Senate. We sit idly by. Some weeks we vote on two-three non-controversial judges and we go back home. It, really..."

Cooper: "Why is that?"

Paul: "I'm trying to get a vote on Libya. They say they don't have time. I was told, when I wanted to bring up my resolution on Libya - which I did force them to, but I had to kinda capture the floor..."

Cooper: "It got tabled like 90-10..."

Paul: "Yeah, and they weren't too happy with me because I used some parliamentary procedures to gain access to the floor, and they came running down to the floor. They were apoplectic that I had taken over the floor, and the thing is is that we should be having these debates on the floor - they don't want to have any debate. I'm asking right now to vote on Libya - I have a resolution saying we're in violation of the War Powers Act. It's hard for me to get the floor unless I somehow sneak on the floor when no one's looking to try to get a vote. Why would we not want to debate great Constitutional questions? When I ran for office, that's what I thought - there will be great and momentous debates on the floor. We don't have any because they prevent the debates from ever even beginning."

Cooper: "Senator Rand Paul, appreciate your coming on. Thank you."

Paul: "Thank you."

[video]

"They" in this case being the Party (= fundraising) organizations and their leadership, which operate almost entirely off the public record and out of public view. Their objective at all times: avoid unpredictable democratic floor action, and the accountability of public debate.

To meet that objective the Parties basically gave the Senate the 'boiling frog' treatment. Slowly, over years - imperceptibly enough to have escaped journalistic notice of a sudden, shocking dismantling of the Senate - a fake quorum call (which doesn't call the quorum, but does suspend all floor business until lifted by unanimous consent, or by the Majority Leader) that was once a rare interruption to floor proceedings instead itself became the essence of Senate floor proceedings.

In other words, what was once informally used as a procedural pause on occasion, when floor debate needed to be suspended so Senators could briefly confer with each other off the record, now instead predominates in the Senate, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, with only an occasional speech or business action interrupting the non-quorum-call "quorum call's" idling away of Senate time. [See Paul's description above.]

Note, first, that this pernicious Fake Quorum Call (FQCall) is controlled by the Majority Leader (he can lift it at any time), and its existence is not formalized under any Senate rule.

Note, next, that in the absence of the FQCall, the Presiding Officer of the Senate is obligated under Senate rules to put the pending question to a simple-majority vote of the Senate, unless someone seeks the floor to debate (or requests an actual quorum call, to verify that there is a Constitutional quorum of Senators present).

By putting those facts together, I hope it's clear that, absent the FQCall, under default Senate rules and procedure, if no business or debate (or a real, live quorum call) is ongoing, nothing can stop a simple-majority vote on the pending business from being put to the Senate by the Presiding Officer while the Senate's in session.

And, thus, if the Senate this week was operating under default order and procedure, Rand Paul would have had to conduct an actual, extended-debate filibuster to singlehandedly "temporarily block" action on S. 1038.

So what's happened to change the situation, from that ordinary, default Senate order, to something else?

In addition to the usual (unchallenged) abuse of the FQCall, 18 Democratic Senators, including Harry Reid, voluntarily filed a cloture motion last Thursday to try (as is their wont) to impose a different, supermajority set of (Rule 22) procedures on the Senate - to replace the default, simple-majority public debating rules (held in abeyance by the FQCall) despite no unanimous consent agreement to do so.

Thus, Rule 22 cloture rules replaced default Senate rules when Thursday's cloture motion passed Monday, and they empower Senators to simply "object" to further action until Rule 22 says the Senate may proceed.

Significantly, Rule 22 mandates 30 hours of debate on the pending question after passage of a cloture motion. Unanimous consent is required to waive those 30 hours of debate, and we know that someone - presumably Rand Paul, but possibly someone else (we don't know because the FQCall creates a Senate that operates in backroom secrecy) - already "objected" Monday to waiving the 30 post-cloture hours of debate on the motion to proceed to S. 1038. Because the motion to proceed itself has not yet received a vote, and S. 1038 is thus not yet officially before the Senate.


Avedon (4:04 PM) permalink




Thursday, January 19, 2012

PPACA: The Third Way To Lowering Health Care Prices?


Stuart Zechman

[I asked Stuart to post something here that explained one of the big reasons medical costs are so high in the United States that is unrelated to the forces we usually discuss. He felt that this comment he posted in late 2010 at Swampland helped unpack it. - Avedon]

http://swampland.blogs.time.com/2010/11/10/what-the-deficit-commission-says-about-health-care/comment-page-1/#comment-216122

Kate Pickert:

You write:

"The commission report also calls for a much stronger Independent Payment Advisory Board, the newly created commission charged with slowing the growth in Medicare spending."

What exactly is this "Independent Payment Advisory Board?"

How exactly will it "slow the growth" of Medicare's medical insurance payments?

There are two ways of achieving a slower-growing Medicare that come to mind, of course.

One is to cut spending by reducing the amount of things for which Medicare pays, like, for example, setting a limit on how many MRI's, pain-alleviating pills or doctors' visits someone may have before they have to pay more for these things in some way themselves --which, at current prices, they will simply be unable to pay.

The other is to change the way that the "Resource-based Relative Value Scale" (the price schedule for the hospital visits, laboratory tests, etc for which Medicare pays) determines pricing for health care.

Since not only Medicare, but all HMOs use this price menu to determine how much they pay for all health care spending

(from the Wikipedia entry)

Resource-Based Relative Value Scale (RBRVS) is a schema used to determine how much money medical providers should be paid. It is currently used by Medicare in the United States and by nearly all Health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

RBRVS assigns procedures performed by a physician or other medical provider a relative value which is adjusted by geographic region (so a procedure performed in Manhattan is worth more than a procedure performed in El Paso). This value is then multiplied by a fixed conversion factor, which changes annually, to determine the amount of payment.

RBRVS determines prices based on three separate factors: physician work (52%), practice expense (44%), and malpractice expense (4%).[1][2]

, adjusting the prices on the menu to grow more slowly or to be less expensive altogether would not only have the effect of reducing Medicare's burden, it would lower the price of health care for Americans in the private market as well.

In theory, the pricing of health care by Medicare, and therefore the entire private health insurance industry, should be a matter of transparent, public record. In theory, the manner in which prices were decided would be available to all kinds of public scrutiny, including yours, Kate Pickert.

Unfortunately, that's not the case currently:
The RBRVS system has been criticized on a number of grounds:

# The regulatory committee (RUC) is largely privately run, an example of regulatory capture.[3]

# The regulatory committee (RUC) is secretive, with the meetings being closed to the public and uninvited observers.[3][4]

# The data are effectively copyrighted by the AMA, but its use is required by statute.

Although the RBRVS system is mandated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the data for it appears in the Federal Register, the American Medical Association (AMA) maintains that their copyright of the CPT allows them to charge a license fee to anyone who wishes to associate RVU values with CPT codes. The AMA receives approximately $70 million annually from these fees, making them reluctant to allow the free distribution of tools and data that might help physicians calculate their fees accurately and fairly.

Will the Independent Payment Advisory Board address these obviously corrupting flaws in the secretive, closed, copyrighted, regulatory capture-prone process used to decide how much Americans pay every year in health care prices, Kate Pickert?

And what about this other obvious flaw in the current, secret pricing scheme?

Paying based on effort rather than effect skews incentives, leading to overuse of complicated procedures without consideration for outcomes.[3] Contrast with evidence-based medicine (EBM), which is based on outcomes.

According to this critique, RBRVS misaligns incentives: because the medical value to the patient of a service is not included in how much is paid for the service, there is no financial incentive to help the patient, nor to minimize costs. Rather, payment is partly based on difficulty of the service (the "physician work" component), and thus a profit-maximizing physician is incentivized to provide maximally complicated services, with no consideration for effectiveness.

One effect attributed to RBRVS is a lack of primary care physicians (PCPs) at the expense of specialists – because specialist services require more effort and specialized training, they are paid more highly, incentivizing physicians to specialize, leading to a lack of PCPs.

Will the Independent Payment Advisory Board attempt to slow the growth in Medicare spending by changing the way that prices are calculated, so that a hospital can't charge the tax payer, say, $140 for a Tylenol pill, just because they're a hospital, and not a convenience store?

http://money.cnn.com/video/news/2010/03/01/n_medical_waste.cnnmoney/

Or, Kate Pickert, will the Independent Payment Advisory Board simply declare some devices, laboratory tests, drugs and procedures "less effective" using some similarly secretive and complex pricing scale set by unknown insiders, and therefore shove the burden for paying for them back on ordinary people?

Is that latter method how this Board intends to lower health care prices, by making it so that (in theory, at least) eventually providers stop lobbying the government to keep their prices high, and begin to lower their prices themselves, after average people prove year after year that they simply cannot pay --and suffer their individual fates?

I am, of course, perfectly aware that you've included mentions of the Independent Payment Advisory Board in prior reports, Kate Pickert, such as this one in September of this year:

...the [minority Republican] motion [to the 9/11 responder's bill] would have rolled back a few key provisions in the Affordable Care Act, particularly those that are highly unpopular or easy to caricature. The motion would have, for example, repealed the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a 15-member independent panel created by the ACA and charged with figuring out ways to cut Medicare payment rates to keep them from increasing so quickly. (Political attack version: “Mr. Congressman voted to ration Medicare.”)

, but you haven't (as far as I am aware) reported exactly how the Board says (or if it's willing to say) how it will reduce payments.

So, Kate Pickert, is the cost-cutting method likely to be of the first way, in which people increasingly pay more for care at current price growth rates, until the exorbitant health care prices paid by Americans come down "by themselves"?

Or will it be of the second, in which the current Resource-Based Relative Value Scale method of a private group deciding how much we will pay for health care is brought out of the shadows, and we, the people who are paying the highest prices in the world, can see for ourselves that things are fair, well and good with our money?

Can you tell us exactly, or in more key detail how the PPACA's new Independent Payment Advisory Board will reduce health care prices for Americans, Kate Pickert?


stuart_zechman (6:08 AM) permalink




Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Difference Between Us and Them

by Stuart Zechman

Briefly summarizing this representative Third Way policy memo from pre-financial crash, 2007:

Laissez-faire is bad, because markets and the state would still fight.

Liberalism is bad, because the state and markets would still fight.

Both sides' agendas are burdened by the intellectual chains of obsolete ideological dogma, while we Third Way, on the other hand, pragmatically recognize that history will inevitably occur in the exact manner as we predict.

Big government (increasingly global) must partner with big industry and finance
(also increasingly global) to do what's best for everyone else. Capitalism can abide a reasonable limit; anybody who claims differently must be an old, suspicious Marxist.

For optimal productivity and growth, big government must first facilitate First World workers competing with Third World workers in a global labor market, or, rather, must facilitate big industry's unmitigated access to the cheapest labor on earth --wherever the most people are the most desperate for a buck, and their totalitarian or kleptocratic bureaucracies are willing to play along. It then must facilitate big industry's access to US consumer markets, which can be driven by big loads of individual debt on peoples' backs, which can be repackaged as securities, and sold by big finance to gullible sovereign wealth funds overseas and municipal workers' pension funds at home
. As complex and breakable as that scheme sounds, the world's biggest insurer says this sort of system can go on forever, judging by the soundness of the financial products insured by institutional participants. Folks will increasingly work for less and less, mostly in health care services and advertising. It's for their own good. The workers', that is. Eventually. Once the Chinese and Indian populations have a stake in this gig, state war and violence will be obsolete. Huge military invasions and occupations will never happen again, while death and terror will be confined to sporadic fits of irrational, medieval Islamicist militancy, which will be crushed from twenty thousand feet in the air by legions of expensive, armed, flying robots. By the way, did you ever read "The World is Flat" by Tom Friedman? It's an amazingly prescient book; fascinating.

Big government must not accede to neo-populist passions exemplified by the temptation to protect ordinary people from the amoral, dangerous behavior of enormous, monopolistic corporations, or to maintain independence from their organized, corrupting influence.

Middle-class pain is inevitable, but ordinary people in America have it too good as it is. Folks aren't really struggling, they're competing. There's a difference. Get used to it. It could always be worse for you.

Even though ordinary people are reveling in the spoils of middle-class luxury, they're still anxious, mainly because they're all social conservatives who are deeply confused by new neighbors of differing ethnicity, and because of the dominance of stale, old, orthodox, 20th century liberal ideas about what government should do --like Social Security and strict banking regulation.

Our optimism in the face of an admitted decline in
Americans' living standards springs from the fact that we go to our think tank jobs to write policy memos every day carrying an unshakable faith that it will all work out for the best. We're realists, not theorists, though.

This faith is very different from conservatives' belief in infallible markets, because, as long as our government is being sufficiently modernized
and adapted to the new rules we made up about how things are going to work going forward, forever, we will believe in infallible markets and the infallible institutions of the state.

Utopia is coming; get the crap out of its way right now, you dirty fucking hippies and gun-toting tent-revivalists. Who's in charge, pilgrim? Not you.
Think I'm joking? Read it for yourself, below.

http://content.thirdway.org/publications/57/Third_Way_Report_-_The_New_Rules_Economy_-_A_Policy_Framework_for_the_21st_Century.pdf

The Third Way Middle Class Project, February 2007

Third Way Report --The New Rules Economy -- A Policy Framework for the 21st Century

Anne Kim, Adam Solomon, Bernard L. Schwartz, Jim Kessler, and Stephen Rose
Over the past six years, conservatives have had their shot at coping with the economy’s new rules. In keeping with Reagan’s philosophy, they have tried to shrink government’s reach in the economy with massive tax cuts for mostly the wealthy, wholesale deregulation, and attempts to eliminate or privatize safety net programs for the elderly and those at lower incomes. By any objective standard, the results have been a disappointment. On the plus side, economic growth during this time of change has been generally steady. But it has also been alarmingly uneven: average wages have been flat, income disparity has widened, and there is widespread anxiety about the nation’s economic future. Other measures of economic security, such as health care and pension coverage, have declined.

On the other side of the political spectrum are a growing number of progressives whose philosophy can best be described as “neopopulism.” Neopopulists see change as mainly a threat that requires American economic policy to turn inward. They believe that the tide of change will bring an unfettered race to the bottom, in which the rich get inexorably richer while the rest of America works harder to earn less. Capitalism, they argue, must be vigorously restrained, and workers shielded from the risks of competition and from corporations in search of a better, cheaper, faster way to produce goods and services. Reviving old suspicions about capitalism and markets, neopopulists want government to rewrite the rules to recapture a bygone era. It’s an idea that itself is deeply conservative—to turn back the clock “to reinvent the managed capitalism that thrived between the late 1940s and early 1970s,” as leading neopopulist Robert Kuttner recently wrote.3

Both sides see change through an ideological prism that pits markets implacably against government. As a consequence, both conservatives and neopopulists overstate the power of their chosen “side” to rewrite the rules of the economy. And while economic conservatism is premised on the myths of an infallible market and incompetent government, neo-populism is premised on the myths of a failing middle class, a declining America, and omnipotent corporations.

We urge a different approach, which we call “progressive realism.” Realism means recognizing and understanding the economy’s new rules while accepting the limits of government’s power to stop the forces of change. But as progressives, we also believe that government policies—if modernized and adapted to the rules of the 21st century—can create the optimal conditions for increasing economic growth, expanding middle-class prosperity and protecting those who fall behind.

As progressive realists, we do not doubt that change is disruptive and, for many people, painful. Globalization has made many jobs obsolete, and both companies and individuals have been hurt by its impact. As the neopopulists note, all is not well with the middle class. But we also see the current era of change as one of tremendous opportunity and potential for the middle class.

In addition, we view the challenges faced by today’s middle class as very different from the ones that most progressives believe them to be. We perceive the middleclass as struggling to get ahead, not—as the neopopulists argue—struggling to get by. Middle-class anxiety does not stem from broad dissatisfaction with capitalism but from the shifting terrain beneath their feet and the increasing irrelevance of an outdated government.

In an earlier Third Way paper, The Politics of Opportunity, we argued that 21st century economic policy—to be both politically resonant and substantively meaningful—should reflect the hope and optimism of the American people. Thus, unlike both conservatism and neopopulism, our approach is also profoundly optimistic. In contrast to conservatism, we have a positive belief in government’s ability to foster new middle-class opportunity. And in contrast to neopopulists, we have faith in the basic strength of the American economy to grow and in the ability of middle-class Americans to succeed...

This is the dominant policy framework being implemented by the leadership of your Democratic Party, to the extent that they have one.

A former member of Third Way's board of directors, former architect of NAFTA, former lobbyist for telecom giant SBC Communications, former Commerce Sec for Bill Clinton, former Midwest regional chair of JP Morgan-Chase (in charge of "government relations") now sits at Obama's right hand, as current White House Chief of Staff. This is what this individual had to say about your Democratic Party in 2009:

"The Democratic Party -- my lifelong political home -- has a critical decision to make," Daley wrote in 2009, one year before the devastating, for Democrats, 2010 midterms. "Either we plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come."
(4)
That's a threat. That's another way of saying "let us do what it says in that Third Way policy memo, or else..." That's who's in charge of your Democratic Party and of this country's future. That's what they believe about themselves...and about you.

We, the folks who are most affected by these ideologues' proximity to power, are the majority in this Party. They, the bubble-bound elites whose lives are spent making this unelectable crap up, are a tiny fraction of us. What's in this 2007 policy memo is what they want to do to us, using our votes, using our Party to do it. We simply can't let them. We, ordinary people, must take back control of the Democratic Party from them, even if it temporarily costs us --them, really-- political power to do it. It's clear that they are willing to lose elections rather than consider the validity of our "neopopulist" propositions, so why aren't we just as willing to play chicken with them? Why are we so exploitable? Why are we so predictable? Why are we so afraid?

If a gun called "right-wing nuts" weren't being held to your head by the national Democratic messaging apparatus (and their allies in the political press corps) day after day, would you ever, in a million years vote for this agenda? If you voted for Obama in 2008, you did, even though that fact might not have been clear to you at the time (it wasn't to me).

And, if you vote for Obama in 2012, you will again.

It's 2011, a year before another national election takes place.

If you don't want this agenda of theirs realized, then it's probably time to focus on how to stop being the perpetual hostages of national Democrats, isn't it?

If not now, then when?


stuart_zechman (11:01 PM) permalink




Saturday, January 29, 2011

Kevin Baker's SOTU email

Responding to Obama's State of the Union address, journalist Kevin Baker sent out this email:
The real problem with Obama’s speech tonight was, once again, the historical narrative that he led off with, and that he is determined to have us believe.

That is:

Once upon a time, Americans had all sorts of really good jobs because “they only had to maybe compete against their neighbor,” and they could count on getting ahead if they worked hard, “and maybe even see life improve for their children.”

But then “over the course of a single generation, came great technological changes.” Steel mills “that had been employing thousands, now only needed hundreds of workers.” Countries such as “China and India” started “making adjustments, and teaching their kids math.”

Americans suddenly found themselves competing with the whole world, and that’s been really tough, especially since our kids have gone from best-educated in the world to only ninth. But fear not. We “still have the best innovators in the world, the best colleges and universities. We still lead the rest of the world in patents.” All it will take is a lot of education, a little social investment here and there, some strict budget-minding, and…voila! We’ll beat anyone on this planet!

Nonsense.

Well-intentioned though it may be, this whole narrative makes no sense on the face of it.

So, back in the good old days, we were the best at everything, but we did well only because “we just had to compete against our neighbors”?

Say what? Which is it? Were we the best, or were we not?

China and India sure did make changes. But of course the Chinese have been “teaching math” since long before the rest of the world knew the Americas existed, and didn’t India invent it? Were the changes so much better education, or the fact that the two countries emerged first from under Western thumbs, and then from suffocating systems of caste and communism over the course of the last couple generations?

And how DID we fall behind? I mean, while still having the world’s best universities, best innovators, most patents, etc.?

What Obama’s pseudo-history conveniently ignores is that what really changed is not Chinese students buckling down to their algebra homework, or “sweeping technological changes in the course of a generation.” What changed was government policy.

American workers have ALWAYS operated in times of rapid, sweeping technological change. They’ve ALWAYS competed with other countries, in one way or another. And they’ve generally done pretty well.

The reasons they did well included the fact that for most of our history, our government protected our industries against competition from countries with desperately underpaid labor. And because the people running the industries kept inventing new stuff, and ploughing money back into their American industries, instead of shipping their plants overseas and devoting all their time and capital to figuring out new financial Ponzi schemes.

Still, though, the old America that Barack Obama refers to used to be plagued by constant, wrenching depressions. And those old industries didn’t necessarily help people make a good living, or improve their children’s standard of living.

Being a steelworker, or an auto line worker, doesn’t INHERENTLY pay well. In fact, for many decades, such jobs didn’t pay much at all.

Then the people who did them organized themselves, and forced higher wages out of owners (who didn’t have the option of searching out child slaves abroad), and elected representatives who defended and extended their rights.

THAT’S the “magic formula” that American prosperity came out of. Innovation, education, inventiveness—sure. But also industrial policy, unionism, protectionism, real patriotism, and all those other things that Barack Obama and the whole, lovely class he hails from don’t want to hear about because they might chip away some small portion of their staggering wealth.

But without acknowledging that narrative—without letting that narrative guide our future actions, which is the whole reason to learn history in the first place—we’ll just keep butting our heads against the wall.

We can make our kids do math problems until their fingers’ fray…and they still won’t be able to compete with sweatshop dictatorships where workers make 20 cents an hour.

We can talk all we want about making social investments…and they will never be made, as long as the financial oligarchy which has severed all bonds of loyalty to this nation continues to co-opt and buy off our leaders.

But hey, in the meantime, let’s find common ground: fire all the teachers!


Avedon (2:52 PM) permalink




Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Centrist Duck Test

A year-and-a-half ago, some folks thought I was bizarre for saying that Obama is an ideological centrist.

I was told back then that I was a little weird for talking about all of this "New Democrat" and "Third Way" centrist stuff, and comparing Obama's policies all of the time to the DLC's "Progresive Policy Institute" think tank policy memos.

It was relayed to me that Obama was "basically a liberal," but working within the constraints of the system in Washington, which he was sure to navigate masterfully...if I just gave him time to win 85-dimensional chess, and I withheld criticism that might turn fellow liberal Democrats into impetuous and impatient children incapable of recognizing what was good for them.

I was assured that this was the "pragmatic" way forward, and that it would all work out for the best. I was admonished that Obama surely must be a "progressive," and that, if I didn't recognize his policies as liberalism, it was because A) the secret liberalism couldn't be let out yet, lest Joe Lieberman vote against cloture, B) it was what he had to do, in order to enact some great New Deal 2.0 later, or C) it was the "most liberal" policy that could be accomplished by anyone, ever. In some extreme cases, it was edgily theorized the problem was D) that I must harbor some racist tendencies (Tim Wise's "With Friends Like These, Who Needs Glenn Beck: Racism and White Privilege on the Liberal-Left" ) that caused my misunderstanding of Obama.

And, patiently, over and over again, I replied that, if it looked like a centrist, and it walked like a centrist, and it quacked like a centrist, and its policies were straight out of the DLC's think tank, and its messaging was straight out of the New Democrat Network, and its appointed bureaucrats were Clinton-ites and Rubin-ites, and if, after it was finally elected to power after an extended primary season campaigning for the votes of a liberal Democratic base, it actually said "I am a centrist"...

...then Obama is probably a centrist.

As I can see from the commentary on this thread rebutting Michael Crowley (formerly a columnist at Third Way rag "The New Republic"), I may not have to argue that point quite as hard anymore.


stuart_zechman (3:56 PM) permalink




Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is Larry Summers Really a Conservative?

http://swampland.blogs.time.com/2010/12/13/larry-summers-warning-about-the-growth-of-government-transcript/comment-page-1/#comment-223886

(At Swampland, Michael Scherer posts the wisdom of Larry Summers in the form of his exit address to the Economic Policy Institute, the transcript of which is well worth reading in full, and then after which the question is equally worth answering: Is Larry Summers a conservative or a liberal...Or is he something else? My commentary response to Scherer's applause follows.)

Michael Scherer:

So...no mention whatsoever of Larry Summers' disastrous advice with respect to dismantling New Deal banking industry regulations and deregulating credit derivatives ten years ago?

Interesting.

Isn't this sort of like having a person who, while in positions of power in government, strongly advocated (and ultimately accomplished) an invasion of Iraq --twice-- opine on today's foreign policy?

Why didn't you feel compelled, as a journalist, to mention Summers' role in the past decade's financial disaster, Michael Scherer? I assume you are aware of it...

As such, one could leave the criticism right there, but this

"He is approvingly quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan's argument that increased government involvement in the health care sector is a risky idea."

really can't go without some kind of remedial examination --it just can't.

If you take Summers at his word, it is just incredible for its depth of denial.

Summers makes the fatuous pronouncement:

"every five years the share of GDP devoted to government spending on health care goes up by 1 percentage point"

, and one really wonders what kind of ideological hoops the guy has to jump through in order to leave the increases in private sector health care spending out of that analysis.

The thing that's particularly dishonest about Summers' orthodoxy is that he knows these data exist:

https://www.cms.gov/NationalHealthExpendData/25_NHE_Fact_Sheet.asp

CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services), US Department of Health and Human Services

Projected National Health Expenditure, 2009-2019:

* Growth in NHE is expected to increase 5.7 percent in 2009 and average 6.1 percent per year over the projection period (2009-2019).

* The health share of GDP is projected to reach 17.3 percent in 2009 and 19.3 percent by 2019.

* Medicare spending is projected to grow 8.1% in 2009 and average 6.9% per year over the projection period.

* Medicaid spending is projected to grow 9.9% in 2009 and average 7.9% per year over the projection period.

* Private spending is projected to grow 3.0% in 2009 and average 5.2% per year over the projection period.

Summers is apparently just incapable of honesty when it comes to analysis that contradicts his favorite theories.

What other explanation is there for omitting the fact that it isn't only public spending on health care that will be wildly out of control over the next 10 years, but private health care prices that will outpace inflation, as well?

And this descent into political hackery:

"This is why the recent tax agreement concluded between the President and congressional leaders is so important. It averts what could have been a serious collapse in purchasing power and adds far more fiscal support than most observers thought politically possible through:

• An extension of unemployment insurance,

• A payroll tax holiday,

• Refundable tax credits and business expensing.
"

is equally disgusting, equally par for the course with Summers.

It's almost unimaginable, the effrontery with which this individual, so recently discredited by a "serious collapse" of far greater significance which they personally helped to bring about eleven years ago, speaks to the "necessity" of deal-making which serves to increase inherited wealth and privilege in the same breath as he effuses about the "middle class."

Does he really believe that serious people will fail to notice that he continues his jihad against New Deal policies that place reasonable restraints on the activities of the financier class ("We need non-traditional approaches.") at the same time as he venerates the "institutions" that he empowered to catastrophically fail the country?

His definition of American greatness as the product of its virtuous institutions --not its people-- pretty much says it all:

"our strength must come from establishing uniqueness, establishing that which is difficult to replicate, that which comes from more collective action.

Any idea or machine or even individual capacity can be transplanted. Far harder to transplant, imitate, or emulate are our great institutions – the national laboratories and the national parks and the national highway system, great universities and great cities and great technology clusters, a diverse culture, deep capital markets, and a tremendous ethic.
"

To Summers, the rabid, unrepentant ideologue, America's elite institutions are not the cause of its decline, but it's very identity as America!

Summers is America, in other words!

People are interchangeable, individuals (without great wealth) may be transplanted, but the combination of the force of the giant federal state, the expertise of "great universities" and the well-honed interests of "deep capital markets," on the other hand --that's what makes America uniquely wonderful in the world...at least according to Larry Summers' warped ideology.

No wonder he and his people think HAMP is a crashing success!

Do you actually take this rot seriously, Michael Scherer?

Can you not see this for what it is: a rigid, fanatical orthodoxy that sees both New Deal liberalism and market fundamentalism as its implacable foes, and is literally willing to sink the country rather than admit its obvious, profound failures?

Proclamation
"I believe that at this point the risks of deflation or stagnation in the United States exceed the risks of uncontrolled growth or high inflation. But unless we change our course, we are at risk of a profound demoralization of government.

That's why Bowles-Simpson so important.
"


, after proclamation

"be clear that compromises that were necessary with a weak economy in 2010 should be inconceivable as recovery accelerates in 2012."

, after proclamation

"I am not one who sees financial collapse on the imminent horizon. "

What kind of pathology allows an individual with a record of failure as great as Summers to make those kind of claims with no apparent shame?

Of course Larry Summers is not the one who sees financial collapse on any horizon! He didn't see the last financial collapse when it was staring him in the face! When has he ever successfully predicted anything?

It's more of the same high-theoretical garbage that put us in this ditch, isn't that clear?

Can't you see the ideology there, Michael Scherer?

Do you honestly believe that Larry Summers is some font of wisdom, simply because he's not a movement conservative, and he's not a movement liberal, and he says things that people at cocktail parties in your part of town all agree that Serious people should believe?

Summers is reiterating the same things that the Progressive Policy Institute has been saying for over fifteen years!

At some point, don't you think that your ethic as a journalist compels you to take a closer look at how what was prescribed decades ago is now being proclaimed again as the magical, theoretical cure-all for everything, Michael Scherer?

It doesn't disturb you that Summers' whole speech is taken right out of Progressive Policy Institute's papers from 1995 --even the bit about "orthodoxy?"

Will it never occur to you that the reason Fareed Zakaria and this guy sound exactly the same is not necessarily because they possess Merlin-like expertise and erudition about everything, but because they believe the same things?

And, if they believe the same things, what is the name of their preferred ideology? What is not rightist, but not leftist, either? What philosophy is chiefly concerned with the demoralization of big government and the empowerment of our "excellence" in the form of our "unique" financial system? What advocates "collective action" and Keynesian solutions, but worships elite institutions, venerates wealthy individuals, and finds "strength" in our "deep capital markets?"

What is that ideology called, Michael Scherer? What's its name?

Larry Summers is saying things that sound right to you and people like you, Michael Scherer, and for that, you are willing to grant him all sorts of objectively undeserved credibility...just like us rubes the voters out here do with our favorite huckster politicians.

Can you at least consider that possibility, Michael Scherer?


stuart_zechman (6:33 PM) permalink




Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For the Good of Fox News Democrats, Obama Must Resign...Today


(my response taken from Swampland commentary)

lauriefive:

You write:

"When asked what he's going to do about the deficit, Obama should reply loud and clear and repeatedly that he will get Americans back to work and the economy booming again."

No, he mustn't do that!

No, no!

Obama should reply loud and clear that he welcomes business leaders, Republicans and Independents (all of the Republican-leaning ones) into the fold.

It sounds crazy, as if Obama were handing a loaded revolver to terrorists, and saying "Please, take me hostage, now," but it's the best political strategy possible.

I know this because aged Democratic consultant Pat Caddell (of Jimmy Carter re-election bid fame, I'm sure you've seen him often on Fox News) told me so in the pages of a Washington Post Op-Ed:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/12/AR2010111202846.html

One and done: To be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012

By Douglas E. Schoen and Patrick H. Caddell

Sunday, November 14, 2010

President Obama must decide now how he wants to govern in the two years leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

It is clear that the president is still trying to reach a resolution in his own mind as to what he should do and how he should do it.

To that end, we believe Obama should announce immediately that he will not be a candidate for reelection in 2012.

Obama can restore the promise of the election by forging a government of national unity, welcoming business leaders, Republicans and independents into the fold.

But if he is to bring Democrats and Republicans together, the president cannot be seen as an advocate of a particular party, but as somebody who stands above politics, seeking to forge consensus. And yes, the United States will need nothing short of consensus if we are to reduce the deficit and get spending under control...



Now, I understand that Pat Caddell hasn't been associated with a winning Presidential campaign since 1976, and was recently fired from Andrew Romanoff's Senate bid in Colorado, but I trust Pat Caddell's advice to the letter.

Want to know why I place my faith in quintuple loser (George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1980, Gary Hart in 1984, Joe Biden in 1988, and Jerry Brown in 1992) and Fox News Democrat Pat Caddell?

Because Barack Obama apparently trusts this clown's advice, too.

How do I know that?

Well, on November 14th of this year, the influential (in the Beltway) Washington Post prints the grand advice of Pat Caddell, and then only 8 days later, Barack Obama apparently runs with Caddell's "strategy"! It's true, at least according to Bloomberg Executive News:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-20/obama-prepares-new-overtures-to-business-to-keep-agenda-moving.html

Obama Is Preparing New Overtures to Counter Anti-Business Image

By Mike Dorning - Nov 22, 2010 12:01 AM ET

President Barack Obama is preparing new overtures to business that may start with a walk into the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a retreat with corporate chief executive officers, according to people familiar with his plans.

The Obama administration has been at odds with the Chamber, which fought Obama's health-care and financial regulatory overhauls and committed $75 million to political ads in the midterm congressional elections, mainly directed against Democrats. The CEO summit would be a way to address complaints from some executives the Democratic administration is anti- business...



How reassuring to me, as a Democrat!

Thank God that Barack Obama had the judgment to listen to the counsel of the savant Pat Caddell when he advised the President to begin "...welcoming business leaders...into the fold" (especially business leaders who had just spent $75 million dollars defeating Democrats)!

Thank God the President seems to be doing exactly what Serious Beltway publications inform him is politically necessary, "if we are to reduce the deficit and get spending under control."

Thank God the Administration has the wisdom to do the only thing that makes any sense in times of great, widespread economic suffering on the part of the American people --which, of course, is to immediately schedule "a retreat with corporate chief executive officers."

What political genius!

The only question left for me, as a voter, is whether Barack Obama has the unique foresight and leadership to take the next key step in governing. And no, I do not mean that weak half-measure suggested by Fox News' Pat Caddell. I do not mean that Barack Obama should immediately announce that he isn't going to run for re-election in 2012, as advised in the Washington Post.

No, since, as Pat Cadell points out "The president has almost no credibility left with Republicans," I'm suggesting that Barack Obama go that extra mile for bipartisanship, and step down as President, resigning effective today, November 23rd, 2010.

Wouldn't stepping down as President two years before an election in which --for the good of the nation-- he shouldn't compete send the ultimate signal of goodwill and pro-business intent on the part of the Administration?

Paltry symbolic gestures, like literally inviting corporate CEOs to run the government (from the Bloomberg piece)

To address corporate criticism, Obama is also contemplating bringing business leaders into his administration.

One possibility is retired Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Executive Officer Alan Lafley, who could be appointed to a high- level post as a Cabinet member or senior presidential adviser, said a person familiar with the deliberations.

Altman has defended the Obama administration against criticism that it is anti-business while also saying the administration has made mistakes in its approach.

Another open position that may be filled with a business executive is deputy Commerce secretary, said an administration official.


just won't cut it with either business leaders or Republicans or Republican-leaning independents (when those groups actually diverge, I mean), and so it's obviously time to do the right thing by them...I mean the country, to do the right thing by the country, and preemptively step down.

That way the President --I mean, soon-to-be-former President can't possibly "be seen as an advocate of a particular party," except maybe the Republican Party, which would be exactly what Americans are looking for in terms of Democratic leadership.

So, there it is:

At the very least, Barack Obama immediately resigns the office of the Presidency, and gets back to the task of attempting to "address both our national challenges and the serious threats to his credibility and stature," as Pat Caddell puts it, or his chances of re-election are finished.

Please, please do not demand that Barack Obama "get Americans back to work" and "reply loud and clear" to elite deficit-peacocks in the Beltway that his first concern is the people who elected him President.

He mustn't ever do that, because Pat Caddell is

...convinced that if Obama immediately declares his intention not to run for reelection, he will be able to unite the country, provide national and international leadership, escape the hold of the left, isolate the right and achieve results that would be otherwise unachievable.

, and five-time loser Pat Caddell is correct, at least about one thing:

This sort of "strategy" will, indeed, "achieve results that would be otherwise unachievable."

Thanks so much for reading and considering this, lauriefive.

Read more: http://swampland.blogs.time.com/2010/11/23/whipsawed/#ixzz168TrIAvx


stuart_zechman (7:47 PM) permalink




Wednesday, October 06, 2010

by Stuart Zechman

At Swampland, Kate Pickert asks the commentariat for feedback on the value of the new government web site "Healthcare.gov":


The Health Care Number of the Day - $8.7 Million

Posted by Kate Pickert Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I've praised the web site for being easy to use and for including a gigantic amount of information about private and public insurance plans which have, until now, not been accessible in one place online. The Department of Health and Human Services amassed and organized the data and factual information on healthcare.gov in about six months and no doubt spent a premium on outside contracts who could design the web site and gather data quickly. The site is, in some ways, a preview of what health insurance exchanges might look like when they are up and running by 2014.

What do you think, Swamplanders? Worth the investment?


, to which I respond in commentary, as reprinted (with some edits) below:

Kate Pickert,

Is it worth the investment, you ask?

That's a question dealing with the value of the web application. To people who would otherwise be spending money on insurance without knowing how badly they're actually screwed by those policies (if that denial rate information is accurate, for example), I'm sure it's worth it.

The question of its worth probably remains very much to be seen. Incomplete data, or data that's only accurate up until the point at which insurers are contacted, and then representatives say "the real rates are X, the real policies are Y" will destroy the value of that investment. I'm sure we've all been to sites that advertise a price or an available item, and then found out that "the web site wasn't updated" with the real story, for whatever reason.

Also, the real worth of the investment depends on consumers' ability to shop for meaningful benefits at competitive rates, Kate Pickert.

If the anti-trust exemptions for insurers remain in place, and they're allowed to share information and fix prices, unlike normal businesses, then what good does it do consumers to "shop around" for fixed prices?

Who cares if there's a lovely, well-designed web site that lays out all of the different policies, if, at the end of the day, the prices are what the insurance industry in that state all say they are together? If there's no competition between insurers because they're allowed by law to act like cartels, and legally collude with one another on pricing, then what this healthcare.gov really provides is an expensive, tax-payer funded web site that provides the illusion of competitive price-based consumer shopping, while the prices are fixed by the industry (and maybe HHS) as usual.

Let's hypothesize for a moment that the government passed a "computer sales reform bill," the UPACA --"User Protection, Affordable Computer Act."

Now let's assume that, unfortunately for individual computer purchasers, there were only state-based markets for computer resellers, so that Dell, HP-Compaq, Sony, Toshiba, ASUS, etc, had to have a separate company in each state, and didn't "compete" nationally. Also, a crazy, 1945 law declared that, unlike normally competitive companies, these state-based Dell, HP and Toshiba were allowed to share all of their information, and therefore fix prices together, to collude, in other words. This law allowed these computer companies to form trusts, state by state. That means these companies don't all try to compete with each other by lowering the price of their computers, or adding great new features. Dell just shares its pricing and retailing information for Kentucky with HP and Sony, and vice-versa, and they all come up with the same price for computers in Kentucky. It's easier for them than competing.

So, returning to that hypothetical "UPACA" act that our hypothetical Congress just passed, if part of the government's mission is to now provide a web application like "ComputerShopping.gov," and they then spend $8.7 million dollars making one available to consumers, what's still missing, Kate Pickert?

Well, you allude to it in your piece "Need Health Insurance? Click Here.", when you wrote "the number one thing people care about when shopping for insurance – price."

The reason people care about price when shopping for things like computers --or insurance-- is because they assume that prices are competitive, something that a big web site that looks like a market would allow ordinary folks to believe.

But, if ComputerShopping.gov makes consumers enter their zip code, and finds the computers for sale by the mini-Dell and mini-Toshiba in their state, where mini-Dell and mini-Toshiba are allowed to set the prices of computers un-competitively, and according to what they agree is best for both of them, then consumers aren't really price shopping, are they, Kate Pickert?

It's just that the web site the government spent big bucks on gives the appearance of shopping, since consumers can "look up their choices" and "see what's available." The prices they will end up paying will be whatever they're set at by the companies in their state, not what occur naturally in a market in which those companies have to compete with each other based on differences in price.

As Robert Gibbs put it so well at the beginning of this year, just prior to the President signing the PPACA into law:

[T]oday the President announced the administration’s strong support for repealing the antitrust exemption currently enjoyed by health insurers. At its core, health reform is all about ensuring that American families and businesses have more choices, benefit from more competition, and have greater control over their own health care. Repealing this exemption is an important part of that effort.

Today there are no rules outlawing bid rigging, price fixing, and other insurance company practices that will drive up health care costs, and often drive up their own profits as well.


So, is "ComputerShopping.gov" worth the $8.7 million dollar expense of making it?

Well, that depends on who's asking the question, doesn't it?

If the federal agency in charge finds it useful to temporarily provide voters with the illusion that they're shopping for deals, then yes, it's probably worth it.

If you're a consumer who will ultimately pay at the end of the day whatever HP and Dell have agreed you will pay in your state, then maybe it's not that wonderful of a deal.

Is it worth the investment?

Is a big web site in which you shop for cable TV from the one monopoly that provides your area with service worth the investment? Yes for them, maybe not so much for you.

Is it worth the investment to have a government web site in which mandated-by-federal-law consumers can look up the only price-fixed health insurance plans available to them in the state in which they happen to be trapped with their un-sellable, bottom-dropped-out value homes?

You tell us, Kate Pickert.


stuart_zechman (7:50 PM) permalink




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