Thursday, May 21, 2009

Last Call

Now that I've remembered to update the fact Ezra Klein is over at the WaPo now, he has a pretty decent post up on the Republican alternative to Obamacare (Yes, they actually have one. It has numbers in it.)
But get ready for the break: Unlike the McCain health care plan, the Burr/Coburn/Ryan/Nunes proposal does not leave individuals to fend for themselves on the individual market. This was the McCain plan's fatal flaw. The individual market is cruel, unpredictable, and expensive. The Patient Choice Act does not repeat it.

Instead, all those people who would be purchasing health insurance on their own under the McCain plan purchase it together under the Patient's Choice Act. States are tasked with creating insurance marketplaces where consumers can easily compare different insurers, regulating insurers so they don't make money by making health coverage unaffordable for sick people, regulating insurance products so they meet some minimum standard of comprehensiveness (serious wonks: This is the standard. Go nuts.), and creating automatic enrollment provisions that encourage more people to purchase health coverage.

Are there problems with the proposal? Yes. Big ones. The minimum benefit package is too stingy. There aren't sufficient subsidies for low-income consumers. The plan controls costs by encouraging people to purchase less comprehensive insurance. That's fine until people fall comprehensively ill. It has a tendency to mistake a health care policy paper for the Sean Hannity Variety Hour and say crazy things like "the Federal government would run a health care system — or a public plan option — with the compassion of the IRS, the efficiency of the post office, and the incompetence of Katrina."

It's the last graph I disagree with.
But it's still a step forward for the Republican Party. It's an admission that individuals can't go it alone. That the state has a large and important regulatory role to play. The business model of insurers is not simply broken but actively cruel. A Republican Party that accepts the principles of this plan is a Republican Party that is much likelier to accept the principles of Obama's eventual plan.
Yeah, see, Ezra still thinks the GOP is going to eventually break down, rebel against El Rushbo, and make serious policy decisions WITH Obama rather than against him.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Two things here. One is the fact that as I've explained before, the GOP Plan means no Obamacare can pass. If it does, the GOP is politically toast. It would be a watershed, a paradigm shift, that would give control of Congress to the Democrats for a generation. They're not going to allow that.

Second is the fact that it's Evan F'ckin Bayh and the ConservaDems that are going to kill Obamacare, not the Republicans. The sensible centrist assholes will realize they can get anything they want in order to get this to pass, and they will in turn weaken the bill so badly that not only will it sink under the weight of its own suckitude, they will turn around and vote against it anyway when it becomes clear that the resulting nightmare piece of legislation has no real hope of providing health care for anyone, thus saying they stopped Obama's huge mistake. It will also have nothing to do with the multi-billion dollar Big Pharma lobby, either.

Pratical upshot is the Republicans have to have a credible alternative in order to kill Obamacare, and they know it will give political cover to the ConservaDems as well. It's nothing more than an opportunity to say "Well, we Republicans have a health care plan, but Obama rejected it out of hand. They're not bi-partisan at all, the rotten cheaters!" Then they will work with the ConservaDems to kill it. Period. I can see this coming from miles away, and I honestly can't believe Ezra Klein can't see this.

The plan makes it more likely that Republicans will accept Obama's government solution to health care? That's laughable. If the GOP allows Obama to pass health care, they are basically done as a party. Democrats will have the votes for years (same thing applies to immigration reform...Bush wanted millions of new Hispanic voters and signing comprehensive immigration reform would have given the GOP that majority they were looking for. Now Obama realizes he can get the same thing.)

Don't trust these jackals. They will never allow Obamacare to pass. "We come not to praise Obamacare, but to bury it."

Bailin' It Out In The Hotel California

Yeah, so Ahnold is basically throwing around the idea to the Feds that $15 billion in loans to the Golden State is really a much better deal than throwing another $15 billion at a bank or Chrysler or GMAC or whatever, right?
The state needs to borrow every summer because most of its income-tax receipts flow in during the winter and spring. But this year, the need is bigger than ever: Even if lawmakers balance the budget, California will need $15 billion to $20 billion in short-term loans to make it through the year. It is unclear whether Wall Street will put up that much cash. California's credit rating is in the cellar and the state has never secured a short-term loan that large.

That is where the federal government comes in -- or so state officials hope.

Lockyer and Schwarzenegger say last fall's federal bailout legislation gave the Obama administration legal authority to back the state's loans. Now is the time to exercise that power, they say. Under their plan, the federal government would guarantee private lenders that they would be paid -- with taxpayer money from across the country -- if California defaults on its loans. The idea is to take the risk out of lending to California so the banks will put up the funds.

"The state's view is, if they can bail out the auto industry, they can do this for us," said attorney Robert Feyer of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which is advising the state on the matter.
As I said yesterday, if Obama does this, it becomes implied that every state, county, city, town and village is eligible for a bailout. Only one problem:

If basically every taxpaying citizen in America needs a bailout, then who's paying for it?

Utter Lunacy

I actually hope this guy's prediction is true: the S&P 500 hitting a staggering 1,700 by 2012 would mean of course that our economy was not only fundamentally sound, but America would be the economic powerhouse to not only lead the world out of this recession, but would assure that it would remain the strongest economy on Earth.

It's complete lunacy bordering on the strong suggestion that anybody taking Lazslo Birinyi's advice be committed to an asylum, of course.

But it's a nice thought. I'll file this one away for the future file.

A Question For The Assembled

My employer has stopped 401(k) matching contributions some time ago, and I've been looking for advice on the situation. In this article I ran across some standard advice (keep putting in your money) but this caught my eye:
In today's economy, where layoffs are rampant and your employer has signaled financial vulnerability, every household should have three to six months' worth of living expenses set aside in a liquid, interest-bearing account such as a money market fund.
Do any of you have that kind of fund set aside? Enough money for six months worth of rent/mortgage, utilities, and food (or even three months of that?) It's the kind of advice I would give, but I would have to think that would be prohibitive for a majority of American households without making serious lifestyle changes.

Am I way off base here?

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Greg Sargent asks:
Back in March, after Cheney accused Obama of putting the country in danger the first time, White House press sec Robert Gibbs defended Obama by describing Cheney as a member of a GOP “cabal.” The comment triggered outrage from the MSNBC gang and other reporters who said Gibbs hadn’t shown the former Veep proper deference.

Today during the briefing, another reporter (I’m not sure who) attacked Gibbs again for being mean to Cheney. The reporter said Gibbs had taken a “swipe” at Cheney. What was the swipe? Earlier in the briefing, Gibbs had responded to Cheney’s attack by puckishly saying he had a lot of time on his hands. That was the swipe.

This is just weird. Cheney delivered a 5,000 word speech today blasting Obama and Dems as unwilling to defend us from terrorists. He called them phonies and hypocrites for condemning torture. He accused Obama of closing Guantanamo in order to “receive applause in Europe.” And Gibbs is taking heat for gently pushing back?

To be clear, this isn’t a partisan question. Should Obama aides attack the next administration once they’re out of office, it would be equally buffoonish for them to expect deference and respect in return.

This is an odd habit on the part of the White House press corps. Not sure what it’s about.

I'm damn sure exactly what it's about. Republicans still run the Village, and the Village still has the power to make Dick Cheney relevant. By exercising that power to make Cheney the "leading critic of the administration," as if a former Veep attacking a sitting administration after four months is 1) normal (it is not), 2) acceptable (can you imagine if Al Gore tore into Bush in May of 2001?), and 3) somehow not partisan (natch), the Village and Cheney both gain power.

It doesn't matter what the Obama administration does: attacking Cheney only plays into the Village's hands as pushing Cheney as the GOP's relentlessly heroic attack dog, and ignoring Cheney only allows him to spread his lies without challenge, meaning the Village will simply declare that Cheney has "won the national security debate showdown with Obama."

Remember though that Cheney would be both powerless and voiceless without a compliant Village media that acts as both gatekeeper and referee in these imaginary fights.

One Of The Largest Lies Ever Told

AIG's troubled CEO, Edward Liddy, is stepping down after nine months of losing a hundred billion dollars or so.
"Much work remains to be done at AIG, but much has already been accomplished," Liddy said in a statement. "With the financial assistance of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the U.S. Department of the Treasury we have made substantial progress in stabilizing AIG, reducing the systemic risk that led the government to rescue the company, protecting our policyholders and our businesses, and developing a plan to repay American taxpayers."
Suuuuuuuuuure you're going to pay back that $180 billion. I totally believe that you weren't fired by the government, either.

I actually feel pretty damn sorry for the next poor asshole to become AIG's new CEO, in all honesty. One look at the books and I bet they quit within weeks.

Does anybody on Earth actually believe we're going to get that money back?

Dear America:

"Why is Obama dissing being scared? Al-Qaeda could kill us all instantly! The only logical response to terrorism is abject fear and urinating on ourselves! I sure hope your family doesn't die because Obama isn't afraid enough of these murderers who could kill you JUST LIKE THAT! Bush and Cheney had us scared out of our minds and we were safe!*"

--John Podhoretz, Commentary

*Safe being "Not suffering a second terror attack killing 3,000 Americans during Bush's term"

And Up From The Ground Came A-Bubblin' Crude

Oil speculation, that is. Black gold. Texas tea.
U.S. crude-oil inventories are at their highest levels in almost two decades, and demand has fallen to a 10-year low, but crude oil prices have climbed more than 70 percent since mid-January to a six-month high of $62.04 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, although refiners are operating at less than 85 percent of capacity, which leaves them plenty of room to churn out more gasoline if demand rises during the summer driving season, the price of gasoline at the pump has climbed 28 cents a gallon from a month earlier to $2.33.

Gosh, it's almost like somebody's bidding up oil prices again. Gosh, that never happens. I wonder who has the money lying around to bid up oil prices. Now, can I think of anyone who happens to have a few extra dozen billion dollars to speculate on oil prices...
Big Wall Street banks such as Goldman Sachs & Co., Morgan Stanley and others are able to sidestep the regulations that limit investments in commodities such as oil, and they're investing on behalf of pension funds, endowments, hedge funds and other big institutional investors, in part as a hedge against rising inflation.

These investors now far outnumber big fuel consumers such as airlines and trucking companies, which try to protect themselves against price swings, and they're betting that the economy eventually will rebound, that the Obama administration's spending policies and Federal Reserve actions will trigger inflation — or both — and that oil prices will rise.

So lemme get this straight: we give banks trillions in taxpayer loans and stuff, they turn around and use it to bid up oil to "diversify their portfolios" and screw over...taxpayers.

Demand for oil is down at 2000 levels. Supply is at a 20 year high, 1990 levels or so. Shouldn't oil prices ergo be back down at those levels, where gas was a buck a gallon?

Mysteriously, gas is $2.40 a gallon and on the way up. It was $1.90 not more than a month ago. Nice to see the TARP money being put to good use, huh?

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

The Gitmo debate has yet to get past the "We can't transfer them here, they are SUPERVILLAINS!" phase. We actually have sitting senators saying they will turn our prison system into a massive jyhadi uprising like these guys are all Paul Muad'Dib riding sandworms out of the deep desert or something.

It's goddamn sad, is what it is.

[UPDATE] John Cole makes another point:
CNN just had James Inhofe on talking about how we could not bring the Gitmo folks to the states because they are too dangerous, and it reminded me of something that has been bothering me the last few days. There seems to be an effort to pretend that we chose to put these people in Gitmo for security reasons.

That is simply nonsense on stilts. It was little more than barbed-wire and plywood when we started detaining them there, and we had to build the damned place. We didn’t put the detainees there because it was super secure. We put them there so there would be no controlling legal authority and we could do whatever the hell we wanted with them.


The First Man Who Should Be Talking On Terror

That man is President Obama. His speech is in some ways a blockbuster...and in other ways disappointing as all hell:

Finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.

I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face. We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who have received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture – like other prisoners of war – must be prevented from attacking us again. However, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. That is why my Administration has begun to reshape these standards to ensure they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges. Other countries have grappled with this question, and so must we. But I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for Guantanamo detainees – not to avoid one. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight. And so going forward, my Administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.

But the problem is simple: detaining these people without charging them, without trying them, without giving them the chance to defend themselves, is not lawful. Any "legitimate legal framework" for doing this that does not include these basic functions is not a legitimate legal framework, period.

It really doesn't get any simpler then that. If you cannot try them in a court of law, then you have to release them. That's how the basic principles of our laws work. Find a solution if you must, but that solution must be lawful.

Or we are no longer a nation of laws, but of political expediency.

[UPDATE] Greenwald on the speech:

The speech was fairly representative of what Obama typically does: effectively defend some important ideals in a uniquely persuasive way and advocating some policies that promote those ideals (closing Guantanamo, banning torture tactics, limiting the state secrets privilege) while committing to many which plainly violate them (indefinite preventive detention schemes, military commissions, concealing torture evidence, blocking judicial review on secrecy grounds). Like all political officials, Obama should be judged based on his actions and decisions, not his words and alleged intentions and motives. Those actions in the civil liberties realm, with some exceptions, have been profoundly at odds with his claimed principles, and this speech hasn't changed that. Only actions will.
Amen, brother.

[UPDATE 2]Footage of the speech on an independent commission and prosecuting Bush officials.

Actions, not words are needed.

The Last Man Who Should Be Talking On Terror

Dick Cheney, on the other hand, is completely wrong about the Warren Terrah and continues to be as wrong about it now as he was eight years ago.
I might add that people who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about “values.” Intelligence officers of the United States were not trying to rough up some terrorists simply to avenge the dead of 9/11. We know the difference in this country between justice and vengeance. Intelligence officers were not trying to get terrorists to confess to past killings; they were trying to prevent future killings. From the beginning of the program, there was only one focused and all-important purpose. We sought, and we in fact obtained, specific information on terrorist plans.
No Dick, they were trying to get them to admit they were in cahoots with Saddam Hussein so we could invade Iraq. We did it to get revenge for 9/11, to get revenge on Saddam Hussein for Bush, to kick the shit out of some Ragheaded Sunzabitches to make America feel good. Those were out "values".
Those are the basic facts on enhanced interrogations. And to call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives, and to cast terrorists and murderers as innocent victims. What’s more, to completely rule out enhanced interrogation methods in the future is unwise in the extreme. It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness, and would make the American people less safe.
They saved American lives? You mean the ones we sent to Iraq to die for this man? They saved us from terrorists we convicted legally in a court of law proving they were in fact terrorists?
The administration seems to pride itself on searching for some kind of middle ground in policies addressing terrorism. They may take comfort in hearing disagreement from opposite ends of the spectrum. If liberals are unhappy about some decisions, and conservatives are unhappy about other decisions, then it may seem to them that the President is on the path of sensible compromise. But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed. You cannot keep just some nuclear-armed terrorists out of the United States, you must keep every nuclear-armed terrorist out of the United States. Triangulation is a political strategy, not a national security strategy. When just a single clue that goes unlearned … one lead that goes unpursued … can bring on catastrophe – it’s no time for splitting differences. There is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people are in the balance.
Every lead, like the ones you got in August 2001 that Bin Laden was "determined to attack". You followed up on that lead, alright. Good job saving American lives there, Dick.

Still spouting the same tired 9/11 war rhetoric, still spouting the same old pointless "24" Jack Bauer garbage, still saying that America must treat every lead as a 100% certainly of lost American lives while ignoring 9/11 intel, still claiming to speak for the intel community that it co-opted and corrupted and abused and ignored when they warned him about 9/11 happening.

There is no person on Earth less qualified to criticize the Obama administration's national security policy than the man that failed to stop 9/11 and then manipulated the intel community to cover a program of failures, of torture, and of illegal atrocities designed to cover the ass of the President and his men.

[UPDATE] What Iggy said.

To The Left Of The Man

While right now I'm virulently angry at Democrats and the President in general on the Gitmo issue, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there are actual progressive Democrats trying to make positive changes in our country.

One of them as DownWithTyranny! notes is Orlando, Florida Democrat Alan Grayson.
None of our winners, though, have done better than one of our most unlikely successes: Orlando progressive Alan Grayson. When we first endorsed him, no insiders thought he had even an outside chance to win the primary, let alone beat an entrenched, well-financed Republican incumbent. But almost immediately we realized that Alan was anything but a run of the mill Democrat. Tireless, brilliant, idealistic and down to earth, the more we got to know of Alan through the primary and general campaigns, the more we realized he could be a rare leader in Congress who could make an outsized difference.

I remember him telling me one day after a meeting with central Florida labor unions how he had told them that if he were elected he would start the ball rolling towards passing a law to guarantee paid vacations. That sounded as crazy as... well, as weekends must have sounded when they were first proposed. Or Social Security. Tomorrow Alan is introducing a bill, the first in (American) history, that guarantees paid vacations. (France guarantees a month of paid vacation per year.)

The bill's provisions, which are expected to meet stiff opposition from Republicans and Blue Dogs poll exceedingly well among average Americans. Nearly 70% of Americans support the idea. This is what Grayson's legislation would accomplish:
• Requires one week of paid vacation for employees of companies with at least 100 employees. Three years after passage, the bill extends this requirement to companies with at least 50 employees, and requires two weeks for companies with 100 employees.

• Covers workers after one year on the job. Part-timers must work 25 or more hours a week and 1250 hours per year to be covered.

Oddly, it wasn't even Grayson's dedication to the betterment and security of working families that first attracted us to him. It was a Vanity Fair feature on his astounding work bringing war profiteers to justice. And this week Vanity Fair is back with another powerful piece of the Alan Grayson story: Freshman Democrat Alan Grayson Attacks Obama's War Policy.
Paid vacation? How novel. Dozens of other countries have paid vacation policies, including all of the European Union. Many employers in the US do this anyway, but not all...and of course the law only applies to companies with more than 50 employees, so the Republicans can't play the "It'll hurt small businesses unfairly!" card. It won't even apply to them.

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

If It's Thursday...

You guys are acquainted with the whole Thursday thing by now. Still, 631,000 new claims, 6.67 million continuing claims. No end in sight to the employment woes. As long as we stay consistently over the 500k weekly claim mark, we're in trouble. As long as we stay over 600k, we're in dire trouble. If it gets any higher, we're in death spiral territory.

President Georack Odubya Strikes Again

On a day where the FBI follows procedure and builds a case against terror suspects and makes arrests, charging suspects with crimes in order to try them in America's court system and send these alleged terrorists, who supposedly want to kill Americans, into our prison system, President Odubya wants to codify into law the ability to detain terror suspects indefinitely without charging them.
President Obama told human rights advocates at the White House on Wednesday that he was mulling the need for a “preventive detention” system that would establish a legal basis for the United States to incarcerate terrorism suspects who are deemed a threat to national security but cannot be tried, two participants in the private session said.

The discussion, in a 90-minute meeting in the Cabinet Room that included Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and other top administration officials, came on the eve of a much-anticipated speech Mr. Obama is to give Thursday on a number of thorny national security matters, including his promise to close the detention center at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Human rights advocates are growing deeply uneasy with Mr. Obama’s stance on these issues, especially his recent move to block the release of photographs showing abuse of detainees, and his announcement that he is willing to try terrorism suspects in military commissions — a concept he criticized bitterly as a presidential candidate.

The two participants, outsiders who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was intended to be off the record, said they left the meeting dismayed.
In other words, this man wants to put into law the ability to incarcerate people forever with no trial.

I'm hoping there's much more to this story than is being reported. I'm hoping as a matter of fact this is something of a trial balloon that will get the President pillaged by both the libertarian right and the civil liberties left, and that the President will abandon this stupidity.

Throwing people in jail with no trial? That really is Obama fascism.

Between his growing role as Odubya on civil liberties and the slow death of our economy, I have to honestly question our President's methods and abilities to lead this country at times. Not even George Bush dared to ask Congress to put laws on the books allowing this...which means Obama doesn't believe that the all-powerful plenary executive gives him the ability to do this. He wants Congress to cover his ass.

Which means Obama is basically admitting to breaking the law right now.

Might want to keep that in the back of your mind when you read about Democrats killing Obama's efforts to close Gitmo.
While allies such as Durbin have cast the development as a delay of only a few months, other Democrats have made it plain they don't want any of Guantanamo's detainees sent to the United States to stand trial or serve prison sentences.

Despite the setback, some Democrats said Obama should not be underestimated.

"The president's very capable of putting together a plan that I think will win the approval of a majority of members of Congress," said moderate Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson. "I can't imagine that he won't."

Well gosh Ben, I can. He's practically said he's considering plans to not only keep Gitmo open, but to keep detainees there for the rest of his Presidency.

If Obama allows "preventative detention" then no American is safe.

[UPDATE] Money quote in the Boston Globe:

Obama was succinct about his reversal, according to one person at the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private: "He said, 'I was a constitutional law scholar. Now I'm commander in chief.' "
If it wasn't so tragically Kafkaesque, I'd be laughing at how naive I was to think Obama would actually keep his promises on this.


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