Thursday, September 3, 2009

Last Call

Steve Benen notes even Joe Klein is starting to get really and truly scared by The Stupid.
Time's Joe Klein reports from Arkansas, where he attended a town-hall event hosted by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D). He found an "astonishing" number of attendees who were absolutely certain that President Obama has "larded the government with communists." It was among many of the "vomitous, disgraceful notions" he heard from locals, one of whom said, "We are living Glenn Beck's fantasy life."

Could I just say that the intensity of this getting pretty scary...and dangerous? We are heading toward a cliff and the usual brakes of civil discourse are not working. Indeed, the Republicans have the pedal to the metal -- rushing us toward a tragedy far greater than the California health care forum finger-biting Karen describes below. I'm usually not one to panic or be overly worried about the state of our country -- even when we do awful things like invade Iraq and torture people, we usually right our course before long -- but I have a sinking feeling about where we're headed now. I hope I'm wrong.

It's possible that Arkansas is just uniquely strange right now. It is a state where a majority of residents trust Rush Limbaugh, and distrust President Obama. It's a state where less than half the population believes the president was born in the United States. It's a state with one of the highest rates in the country for those lacking health insurance, but where the idea of reform is wildly unpopular.

Or maybe it's not just Arkansas and there's something very wrong with our political system, put under a serious strain by the "conservative lunatic brigade," stuck in a "perverse nonsense feedback loop."

Birthers, Deathers, Tenthers. Beck, Palin, Limbaugh. Bachmann, Inhofe, DeMint, King, and Broun. A scorched-earth campaign intended to tear the country apart, questioning the legitimacy of the president, the government, and the rule of law. It's all very scary.

The best part? Obama has been President for just seven and a half months. We've literally got years of this ahead of us. And it will only get worse. I'm not sure there is a cure for this kind of pervasive lunacy. The country has gone insane, literally. And at the core of it is a Republican Party that believes it has no choice other than to continue to feed this conflagration.

No matter what Obama does, this will continue. If he fights it, it gets worse. If he ignores it , it gets worse. People have to want to learn new information and have to make a choice to open their minds. Millions of Americans refuse to do so. They see the President as an illegal usurper and do not recognize his legitimacy.

As I have said before, the logical endpoint of all this Obama Derangement is that somebody will attempt to remove him from office. Should the Republicans win in 2010, it will be only a matter of time before Obama is impeached.

Wrangling Charlie Rangel, Part 2

Yesterday I pointed out how the calls for Rep. Charlie Rangel to resign as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee were getting rather serious. Today, the Washington Post piles on:
FOR POLITICIANS with major bad news to release or to make public, there's no time like the dead of August to do it. The thinking goes that the public won't remember a thing come September. We hope Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) will have no such luck. His belated revelation of previously unreported income, property and bank accounts demands that he step aside as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Mr. Rangel's amended financial disclosure form, which exposes omissions from his 2002 through 2006 records, is a treasure trove of outrage. He neglected to report a checking account with the Congressional Federal Credit Union and one with Merrill Lynch, each valued between $250,000 and $500,000; the tens of thousands of dollars he's earning from dividends from a number of mutual funds and stocks; and the money made from the sale of a Harlem townhouse. As a result, Mr. Rangel's reported net worth doubled, from between $516,015 and $1,316,000 to between $1,028,024 and $2,495,000.

And they're right, this does look rather terrible for the Dems here. I still don't know if he's going to survive this, but then again the GOP has been jumping on Democrats to resign since Day One of the 111th Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi.

Still, "Dollar Bill" Jefferson went under for a lot less money.

Big Spending

The number one complaint I hear from people is that the public option is too expensive.

Let me show you what too expensive is:
In the past few months, we have seen the other side churn their messages about the failures of “big government,” driving the fear of a “government take-over,” of “government-run health care.” Democrats have managed to produce little clear messaging, despite being blessed with the most comical set of data in the world’s history:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
United States: $7290
United Kingdom: $2992
Average of OECD developed nations: $2964
Japan: $2581

That's right, we already, right now, spend almost three times as much on health care as other developed countries with single payer plans and that's per capita. And we still have a system where people are denied health care because they can't afford it. Assume that the per capita number now is $7500. It's probably more than that, but multiply that by 300 million Americans, and that's $2.25 trillion that we spend every year as a country on our "free market" health care system. That number is going up at roughly 10% per year. By 2020 that number is expected to be roughly $4.5 trillion if nothing changes.

And Republicans want nothing to change. Here's the question I have for people: Where in God's name do you think this money goes? Other countries can create single payer systems for half the cost per capita. We spend twice as much money. Where does it go?

Here's a hint: What industry does America have that countries with single payer health care do not?

The answer? Health insurance companies.

Americans hate big government in healthcare because the plans are supposedly inefficient and too costly? We already pay more for health care than any other country on earth. Why? To make health insurance companies rich? That's efficient, free-market care? If we took those guys out of the picture, what do you think America could do for health care?

But the Republicans are out there screaming that everything's fine and that Obamacare will kill thousands. Our system is already killing people, leaving them to die or bankrupting them, thousands each year. We need something better.

But we'll never get it.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade like John Cole:
If all the wingnuts are pulling their kids out of school because the President is going to speak for fifteen minutes, can we teach evolution the rest of the day?

The View From Here

TPMDC's Brian Beutler goes over the Obamacare events of the last 24 hours.
Low-level White House officials have reached out to certain reform groups that have staked their ground on the need for a public option, I'm told, and warned them not to spend any more money advocating for the policy--that it's just not worth it. That suggestion hasn't been heeded--at least for now. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Democracy for America raised over $100,000 to continue running this ad in Iowa after Congress returns from recess.

But a White House official told the New York Times "It's so important to get a deal [that Obama] will do almost anything it takes to get one," which strikes some as an all-too-apt description of the White House's mentality.

Many believe that the administration--reportedly in fevered negotiations with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)--will put their efforts into securing a health care reform bill that calls for a public option as a fallback--to be triggered at a later date if and only if private insurers don't manage to rein in premium prices on their own.

House progressives have vowed to oppose such a scheme and some are renewing their insistence that they won't accept such a compromise.

If that effort fails, the thinking is that the "reconciliation" option--which circumvents a filibuster, and could allow Congress to enact a fairly robust public plan--could still be in play.

That said, the process is still very fluid, and much still hinges on what happens in the days leading up to the President's landmark health care address before Congress next week.

So, it's the White House's mentality of "Deal At Any Cost" versus Democratic progressives rallying to make a play on reconciliation. Kind of an ugly situation all the way around, but we'll know more as the President's speech on Wednesday approaches.

Let's be honest here: Obama has indeed staked his term on health care reform. If we get reform, real reform, he'll be remembered for it.

If he blows it, he's done.

Filling Ted's Shoes

Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley is the first major candidate to announce their intention to run for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in January's special election.
Coakley said at a news conference the state has had a "crisis of confidence" following Kennedy's death and she wants to pick up his mantle.

"We've depended on him here in the Commonwealth and in Washington, and we will miss his strength and leadership and his sense of humor. As some have noted, no one can fill his shoes, but we must strive to follow in his footsteps," she told supporters at a downtown Boston hotel.

Coakley sidestepped a question from reporters whether she favored the changing state law to allow the governor to appoint an interim senator, as Kennedy had requested in a letter before his death. Legislators hold a hearing on the matter next week.

"For me, personally, I am fully focused on the race," she said, adding she trusted legislators "will make the right decision."

The 56-year-old Coakley becomes the most prominent candidate to officially declare. Several others are waiting for Kennedy's nephew, former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, to decide if he will run.

Coakley is a strong proponent of the state's MassCare program and is pretty progressive on issues, but until Joe Jr. makes up his mind, all bets are off as to what happens to the seat down the road, whether or not Gov. Deval Patrick gets to appoint anyone or not.

We'll see how this shakes out.

Political Cartoon Of The Moment

From the WaPo's Tom Toles, via Ezra Klein:


And yeah, that's about the entirety of it.

While We're Conceding

Obama has apparently officially given in on end of life counseling in the health care reform plan as well.
Buried in today’s New York Times article on the health care maneuvering is some dispiriting news: The White House is prepared to scrap Medicare-funded end of life consultations from health care reform entirely in response to the death panel criticism.

The Times passage on this neatly captures the state of our health care debate:

To avoid some of the most heated criticism voiced in recent weeks, White House officials said they would have no objection if Congress scrapped proposals to have Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care.

Critics said such counseling could lead to pressure on patients to forgo expensive treatments for terminal illnesses. Mr. Obama has said it is ludicrous to suggest that “we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on Grandma.”

Though the end of life provision was dropped from the proposal being negotiated by the Senate finance committee, it still survives (as it were) in the House proposals and could still end up in the final bill.

What final bill is that? Republicans have learned if they lie enough, the Dems give them 100% of what they want. Just keep lying until Obamacare is destroyed. Game over.

Seriously, folks. I thought the Democrats won in November.

Raising The Roof

Philly Fed President Chuck Plosser says the Fed's exit strategy for getting out of the mess we're in is to jack up rates to kill inflation when it rears its ugly head.
The Federal Reserve will have to raise interest rates as aggressively as it cut them when it becomes clear the economic recovery has taken hold, to avoid flaring up inflation, Charles Plosser, president of the Philadelphia Fed, told CNBC in an interview.

Analysts have been worried that the various stimulus programs and money-printing around the world will cause devaluation and price rises, and some European officials have suggested that all stimulus measures be pulled out at once to prevent that.

The Fed has an exit strategy, which it will apply when needed, Plosser said.

"Our exit strategy is really quite simple: we have to begin to pull back from our extraordinary programs, we have to begin to shrink our balance sheet, otherwise we will feel inflation in the months and years ahead," he said.

For the next few quarters inflation is not a problem but it may become so later unless the Fed orchestrates its exit carefully, according to Plosser.

My advice? I wouldn't worry about inflation too much on anything other than health-care prices. We're in a deflationary spiral and will be for a long, long time.

Indoctrination Nation

Latest Obama Derangement: the President is going to brainwash all America's schoolkids into serving him as mind-controlled slaves.

No, really.
President Barack Obama's plans for a televised back-to-school address to students next week are drawing fire from some conservatives, who say he's just trying to indoctrinate them to his political beliefs.

In the Sept. 8 speech, Obama will challenge students to work hard, set goals for their education and take responsibility for their learning, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a letter to principals.

The Education Department is encouraging teachers to create lesson plans around the speech, using materials provided on the department website that urge students to learn about Obama and other presidents.

"He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens," Duncan said in a press release.

But already, some conservatives are crying foul. The chairman of the Florida Republican Party is condemning Obama's speech as an attempt to "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda."

Sigh. As Steve at NMMNB points out, it's a good thing Bush never tried this.

Oh wait, he did.

It was Bush, so there was no indoctrination going on there, no sirree. Nor was there any indoctrination going when -- at a time when the White House was trying to brand Bush's foreign policy with the name "Freedom Agenda" -- the White House kids' site offered a "freedom timeline" that attempted to link the "American Response to Terrorism" to stories about U.S. history touchstones such as the Underground Railroad, the Statue of Liberty, the March of Dimes, and the Berlin Airlift. This was accompanied by teachers' and parents' guides that included the following:

* The class will identify the characteristics associated with each story, such as diplomacy, intelligence, liberty, giving and humanitarian aid.

Extension Activity One
The teacher will lead the class in discussing these characteristics and how they relate to today's efforts to preserve freedom.

"How they relate to today's efforts to preserve freedom"? No indoctrination intended whatsoever! Obama's fascist-communist "stay in school" message is simply an unprecedented example of presidential propaganda aimed at youth!
It was fine when Bush said this, because he was an American patriot. The Black Guy in the White House? He's not allowed near our children.

[UPDATE 11:10 AM] No matter what Obama does, Republican lawmakers will continue to attack him as a dictatorial tyrant who must be stopped.
"He has the three things that are necessary to establish an authoritarian government," Broun said. "And so we need to be ever-vigilant, because freedom is precious."
And the groundwork for a "patriot" to "stop Obama for good" continues to be laid.

More On The Trigger

Steve Benen brings up an excellent point this morning on the whole Susan Collins/public option trigger issue.
Everyone seems to realize that a public option would be a far more affordable way of delivering care. A public plan would lower costs, expand access, and use competition to improve efficiency. Those are, by the way, good things.

Those who like the idea of a "trigger" argue that if we pass a reform package and private insurers can lower costs, expand access, and improve efficiency on their own, we wouldn't need a public option. It's better, they say, to wait for the system to get really awful before utilizing a public option to make things better.

The problem should be obvious: if proponents of such an idea realize that a public option would necessarily improve the overall system -- and they must, otherwise there would be no need for the trigger to kick in when things got even worse -- then why deliberately delay implementation of the part of the policy that lawmakers already realize would help?

Or, put another way, if Snowe and Emanuel know a public option is a good idea, there's no reason to push it off to some arbitrary date in the future, as the system deteriorates in the interim.

Here's the reality: insurance company profits are more important to lawmakers than affordable health care coverage. It's a hard truth, but it's the only logical explanation for this asinine trigger plan. It's not that the public option would force insurance to behave. It's that a public option would fundamentally offer more affordable health care to Americans in a more efficient manner that would save money.

The trigger, as Steve mentions, is a tacit admission that a public option would be a better plan. But protecting our precious national treasures of insurance companies is the goal here, and not expanding affordable coverage to Americans.

The public option is dead, truly at this point. I'm at a loss. Economically, socially, morally, a public option is the right choice. But we'd rather have a plan that down the road will make insurance companies trillions of dollars that we'll have to pay for. If we're going to be paying for it anyway, why not get more efficient coverage?

What makes anyone in America think insurance companies are motivated by anything other than raw profit and greed? You win, Republicans.

Then again, they always do.

Village Chief Broder Wants Obama To Pull A Ford

Chief Broder's argument in the WaPo this morning: Yes, there's evidence that Bush and Cheney were up to some truly horrible things. No, we shouldn't investigate any of it because the truth will do too much damage to the country.
Looming beyond the publicized cases of these relatively low-level operatives is the fundamental accountability question: What about those who approved of their actions? If accountability is the standard, then it should apply to the policymakers and not just to the underlings. Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?

I think it is that kind of prospect that led President Obama to state that he was opposed to invoking the criminal justice system, even as he gave Holder the authority to decide the question for himself. Obama's argument has been that he has made the decision to change policy and bring the practices clearly within constitutional bounds -- and that should be sufficient.

In times like these, the understandable desire to enforce individual accountability must be weighed against the consequences. This country is facing so many huge challenges at home and abroad that the president cannot afford to be drawn into what would undoubtedly be a major, bitter partisan battle over prosecution of Bush-era officials. The cost to the country would simply be too great.

When President Ford pardoned Nixon in 1974, I wrote one of the few columns endorsing his decision, which was made on the basis that it was more important for America to focus on the task of changing the way it would be governed and addressing the current problems. It took a full generation for the decision to be recognized by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and others as the act of courage that it had been.

The truth of what was done in our name is too horrible for America to handle. Therefore, the only choice we have is to ignore it until it becomes our standard doctrine.

Got it.

What a glorious country we live in. We can impeach Clinton for getting a hummer from an intern. Going after Bush and Cheney for subverting the Constitution, lying us into a war we're still stuck in, failing to prevent 9/11 and for authorizing torturing people in the crusade to keep from failing America again?

That gets a free pass.

If It's Thursday...

Still 570,000 new jobless claims this week, four week average 571k, so we're still in it pretty deep. Tomorrow's August numbers I predict will be worse than expected. Continuing claims up about 100k to 6.23 million.

Still a recession going on, people. Not any relief in sight, either.

Triggering A Deal On Obamacare

The big news this morning is that CNN is reporting the Obama administration is cutting a deal with moderate Senate Republicans like Maine's Olympia Snowe for a "significantly smaller" health care deal that will include a "trigger" for a public option.
The compromise plan would lack a government-run public health insurance option favored by Obama, but would leave the door open to adding that provision down the road under an idea proposed by Snowe, the sources said.

One of the sources said White House officials are "deep in conversations" with Snowe on a much smaller health care bill than Obama originally envisioned.

The modified proposal would include insurance reforms, such as preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, according to the source.

The potential deal would give insurance companies a defined period to make such changes in order to help cover more people and drive down long-term costs. But if those changes failed to occur within the defined period, a so-called "trigger" would provide for creating a public option to force change on the insurance companies, the source said.

Snowe is pivotal to the debate because she may be Obama's last possibility for getting a Republican senator to support his push for a health care overhaul.

She is one of the so-called "Gang of Six" members of the Senate Finance Committee, three Democrats and three Republicans, involved in separate negotiations on the only bipartisan health care proposal in Congress so far.

However, the slow pace of those talks and recent partisan attacks by the other two Republicans in the negotiations have dimmed hopes for a breakthrough, leaving Snowe as the only Republican senator that White House aides believe they can work with on the issue.

Snowe first proposed the so-called "trigger" idea for a public option months ago, and has talked to Obama about it on several occasions, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

In other words, the trigger option trial balloon that got shot down two months ago is now the main thrust of Obama's negotiations. As I said back then:
If a public option for health insurance is reduced to a trigger option that will purposely be crafted to never happen, there will be no health care reform. There will still be 50 million uninsured Americans, and most likely there will be a lot more as health care continues to get more expensive and employers simply drop coverage altogther, putting health care out of reach of more and more Americans.
The trigger option will be designed with criteria so easy for the insurance companies to meet that the public option will never happen. It's a brilliant plan, Obama and the Dems can claim that the whole point of the public option will be to pressure the insurance companies to lower costs, but the hurdles the insurance giants will have to navigate will be so simple that the Republicans and insurance giants will be assured that they don't have to do more than token actions. These actions will not lower health care costs by any significant amount. And to make things even better, the rest of the Republicans will certainly oppose the plan 100% screaming that the trigger option is the Sword of Damocles that will destroy America. Republicans will vow to overturn the plan completely before the public option can be triggered. It will not win any serious GOP support because the GOP will never support Democratic health care reform, period. At the very best, Olympia Snowe would be vote number 60 for breaking the guaranteed filibuster, and there's ample evidence that plenty of the other 59 Democrats will bail anyway, claiming any plan is just too much money.

Wednesday's speech before Congress will therefore be Obama's terms of surrender to the "ruling GOP". They will smile, nod, and won't even wait until Thursday morning to call the President a fascist, and his health care reform plan tyranny. The Democrats will have to go for a reconciliation process bill anyway, and the Republicans will vow to overturn the bill in 2012 before it will ever take effect, gaining scare tactics mileage for years. Since the public won't see any results from the bill before then, the GOP Pretty Hate Machine will have the rest of Obama's term to make the constant case that the plan will kill everyone they love if it is allowed to go into effect...and yes, I use the words "Obama's term", singular, for a reason.

And people will wonder in 2012 why and how the Republicans got back in charge of the country. It's because even with 59 Senate votes, the Democrats are simply incapable of governing.


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