Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year, By the By

This has been a troubling decade at best. Let us all hope the next is better.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Klein's Revealing Tantrum

Sure, Joe Klein is an idiot. We all know that. You can be reminded of it by watching his commentators absolutely eat him alive for his ignorance about what the term "villager" means, or the weird incoherence of his defense of LieberCare.

(He not only mischaracterizes the policy differences over it, he completely falls down on defending it, relying on the same-old same-old "it ain't perfect but it'll insure millions of people" Maserati Defense.)

It's also abundantly clear how personal this all is for him. He's ranted about Glenn Greenwald and other Bush critics before, screaming about "civil liberties extremists", and been completely humiliated for doing it. If you haven't, read about his outburst at a beach party about Glenn Greenwald. It's comedy gold.

But in his flailing tantrum, he's betrayed something important:
The denizens of the left blogosphere consider themselves the Democratic Party's base. But they are not. For Democrats, as opposed to Republicans, the wing is not the base; the legions of loyal African Americans, union members, Jews, women and Latinos are.
See it? Klein thinks that the Dems are nothing more than a collection of special interests. There are no beliefs, no political philosophies, no ideologies; to him it's just a bunch of grasping minorities shouting "more, more, I want MORE!" This is a right-wing stereotype from the nineties; yet as the first terrible decade of the twenty-first century comes to a close, it's made perfectly clear that Klein still believes it.

And, remember, Klein is not an original thinker. He doesn't have thoughts or beliefs of his own. He simply parrots whatever his betters say, reciting the conventional wisdom of Washington at the time. That's what makes him boring, but that's also what makes him useful.

This is what the Dems really think of progressives and liberals. Hell, this is what Washington thinks of progressives and liberals. They spent the whole of the past year blaming "the left" for every problem with health care reform while bending over backwards to please the Republicans and their maniac base. They recoiled at every attempt to highlight the overwhelming influence of Wall Street on Washington's financial planners, and lavished attention on the right-wing's deficit shibboleth while ignoring progressives' concerns about anemic job growth.

Sure, progressives are useful. They're passionate, donate time and money, and do a lot of the hard work of organizing human beings so that the professionals can get down to the far more important work of begging for cash.

But for God's sake, you don't listen to them. You don't legislate based on anything they have to say. You don't side with them in debate. You don't hold the line for them. And if they hold the line themselves, you and everybody else who is part of the Washington community is fully entitled—if not REQUIRED—to smack them down.

You have to smack them down, because they've forgotten their place. It doesn't matter which side of the aisle you're on, or which institute you're at, or how many baseball statistics you've collated. At the end of the day, progressives are objects.

Tools.

Nothing more.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hey Krauthammer: "Go Away"

Oh, now this is marvelous. Enduring America responds to that tool Charles Krauthammer.

Mr Krauthammer,

I never thought I would open an letter to you with a word of thanks. To be honest, I have almost never agreed with your past quarter-century of syndicated polemic in US newspapers and magazines. I respect your right to hold an opinion and your skill in writing. However, I find that your analysis is more often propelled by rigid belief rather than evidence, whether that belief is a specific objective (the unbending advocacy of Israel, whatever the circumstances) or a general aspiration, such as your call for an American “unipolar era” in which all others would bow to the dominance of the United States.

Yet I must note that, in your column on Friday, “2009: The Year of Living Fecklessly”, you ostensibly recognised the post-election demonstrations in Iran as a “new birth of freedom”. I am not sure exactly what a “new birth” is — I have found that most Iranians with whom I communicate have a long-held desire for freedom — but any acknowledgement of the public calls for justice and rights is to be welcomed.

So, thank you. And now a request: Go Away.

Please go away now and do not return to Iran as the setting for your political assaults. For — and let this be acknowledged widely, if not by you than by others — the “Iranian people” whom you supposedly praise are merely pawn for your political games, which have little to do with their aspirations, their fears, and their contests.

Let us recognise that your column begins with an attack on the “feckless” Barack Obama. The Iranian case, and specifically the US negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear programme, is the platform for another front in your continuing assault on the President. So if I agree with you that the nuclear-first approach gives “affirmation” to an embattled Iranian Government — and I do — that agreement starts from a desire not to bolster President Ahmadinead in the current domestic crisis in Iran, rather than your own domestic crisis with an American leader from a political party you do not like.

Let us recognise that your own supposed defence of the Iranian people is propelled by your own nuclear conceptions, bolstered by your emphasis on Israel: “Iran will dominate 2010. Either there will be an Israeli attack or Iran will arrive at — or cross — the nuclear threshold.” For, if this piece was completely honest, you would have informed your readers, and the Iranian people, that you have supported Israeli airstrikes. In the columns offering that support, you made no reference to how “a new birth of freedom” would be affected by missiles fired upon Iran. Your frame of vision was limited, as if this was a journalistic smart bomb, to the target of the Iranian regime.

Let us recognise that, if there is a context for you beyond this nuclear arena, it is a supposed geopolitical struggle in which an “Iran” confronts the American presence in the Middle East and Central Asia and participates in the regional battle with Israel. Thus, your support of a “revolution” is not for what it brings Iran’s people — who, incidentally, may not be protesting for a “revolution” or, more specifically, a “counter-revolution” against all the ideals of 1979 — but for “ripple effects [which] would extend from Afghanistan to Iraq (in both conflicts, Iran actively supports insurgents who have long been killing Americans and their allies) to Lebanon and Gaza where Iran’s proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, are arming for war”.

(Had I the time and patience to dissect your geopolitical construction, I might note that US officials have been quietly talking to Iran about co-operation in the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan — strange behaviour indeed if Iran is allied with the Taliban and the Sunni Al Qa’eda in Mesopotamia —- or that Hezbollah and Hamas cannot be reduced to puppets of Tehran masters. I know, however, that this would be logic falling on your stony ground of politics and ideology.)

Let us recognise, therefore, the slip of the pen in your sentences, when you refer to the apparent silence of Washington to the call of Iranian demonstrators, “Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them”: “Such cool indifference is more than a betrayal of our values. It’s a strategic blunder of the first order.” The slip is not your implicit confession that it’s the “strategic” that really concerns you — if these protesters were far removed from your strategy for American power, you wouldn’t hear a word they were saying — but in “our values”.

Assertion of “our” values does not mean acceptance of “their” values; it ignores them or, at most, wedges them into the framework of power that you find acceptable. Simply putting out the word “freedom” as if it were a universal umbrella for any proposal that follows does nothing to acknowledge, let alone, consider the complex negotiation of religious, social, economic, and political beliefs that has propelled movement inside Iran not just for the last six months but for decades.

Let us recognise, therefore, that you can throw out supposed solutions for “them”, not because they are considered measures but because they fit a model of “regime change” which is yours, not necessarily “theirs”. You advocate, “Cutting off gasoline supplies”, even though that cut-off might do far more harm to the “Iranian people” than to the regime you are condemning. You merrily think of “covert support to assist dissident communication and circumvent censorship”, even though overt calls of covert support play into the hands of an Iranian Government invoking the spectre of “foreign intervention”. (Far better to be open, in the name of the values of freedom and communication, in proposing overt funding of anti-censorship and anti-filtering programmes, as well as the encouragement of unrestricted media.)

Let us recognise, indeed even find common ground on, “robust rhetorical and diplomatic support from the very highest level: full-throated denunciation of the regime’s savagery and persecution”. Let us do so, however, not because that denunciation supports your strategy of regime change for the sake of American power — just as your denunciation of Saddam Hussein merely propped up your campaign for years to extend a US economic, political, and military presence through the “liberation” of Iraq — but because that denunciation fulfils a morality and ethics beyond “your values”.

Let us recognise that I could have written this letter not only to you but to a legion of others who, in recent weeks, have embraced the “Iranian people” as their vehicle for regime change. Outlets like the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard put forth former Bush Administration officials and former activists for the Iraq War who now see a new platform for a US power which was not fulfilled in the military ventures of 2001-2009. Let us recognise that, in those calls, the “Iranian people” serve as pawns in a game beyond their own concerns.

After all these recognitions, let me conclude by returning to my thanks to you. For — I am certain unwittingly — you have re-affirmed this central belief:

This is not “our” regime change, “our” revolution; “our” values. This is “their” movement.

Please respect it as such. If you cannot, move on. Thank you.
Neoconservatives think it's all about them. More than that, they think that the clashes in Iran somehow validate them.

They don't. They never have. They never will. Neoconservatism is an outdated, discredited ideology; its only value was in, perhaps, serving as a foil to realism that broke apart the neoliberal/neorealist axis that dominated thought in international relations for so long. But all of its worthy ideas about values and mores in international security have been better expressed by the constructivists, and its views on internal organization were either totally incoherent or simply evil.

The nations of the world is not their playground, Iran least among them. You already screwed up two wars and damned near lost the Cold War; had Gorbachev not been a great man and great peacemaker, your blithering nonsense would have killed us all.

Scott Lucas is absolutely right. For the sake of all of us, GO AWAY.

Ashura Protests and the Vicious Response

There has been more violence in Iran. Protesters and opposition members have been gathering on the streets for Ashura. Some of them were killed for it. (c/o Sully.) One of the people killed was Ali Mousavi, nephew of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, (quite probably) elected president of Iran.

And it looks like killing them was a big mistake:

Mr. Moussavi’s 43-year-old nephew Ali Moussavi was among 10 people reported killed during the protests, which came on religious holiday during which violence of any kind is normally forbidden, worsening the tensions in the conflict.

If the 10 deaths are confirmed, it would be the highest toll since the summer, when huge crowds took to the streets to protest what they said was rampant fraud in the presidential election won by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Protests and clashes were reported not only in Tehran, but in the cities of Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Najafabad, Babol, Ardebil and Orumieh. Foreign journalists have been banned from covering the protests, and the reports could not be independently verified.

The police used tear gas to disperse mourners who had gathered outside the Tehran hospital where Ali Moussavi’s body was being held, the Nowrooz Web site reported. A prominent opposition figure said that he was shot to death by assassins on Sunday, and that the authorities took his body to prevent a funeral ceremony.

A 27 year-old journalist who was reporting on the street clashes Sunday was also reported missing. Redha al-Basha has not been heard from, said a spokesman for Dubai TV, the channel he was working for. Mr. Basha was last seen surrounded by security forces in Tehran, witnesses said.

The decision by the authorities to use deadly force on the Ashura holiday, during which there is normally a prohibition on violence, infuriated many Iranians, and some said the violence appeared to galvanize more traditional religious people who had not previously been part of the protests.

The opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi was among those who lashed out at the authorities on Monday.

“What has happened to this religious system that it orders the killing of innocent people during the holy day of Ashura?” Mr. Karroubi said in a statement, according to the Jaras Web site.

The day commemorates the death of a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussein, whose followers formed the Shiite sect. The memory of Imam Hussein is so potent among Shiites that killing for any reason is strictly forbidden on Ashura, and Iranian leaders have always tried to avoid violence or even state executions during a two-month period surrounding the holiday, even during wartime.

This is absolutely astonishing. Ashura is a terribly serious day in Iran; the death of Ali Hussein is the vital difference between Shia and Sunni Islam. The mourning of the third Imam is so solemn that even music is frowned upon, let alone killing. To suppress protesters with brutal violence is bad enough; to execute a political assassination is almost unthinkable. Iran is a theocracy! they derive their right to govern from Shia Islam! If you undermine its most important traditions, it can't sustain itself.

At most it could endure as a dictatorship; but having ousted one dictator in order to install this Islamic government, I honestly doubt that Iranians would endure another for very long.

There is another issue. Andrew Sullivan (who has been all over this) has a list of arrested figures:

Ebrahim Yazdi (former Foreign Minister)
Emad-e’Din Baghi (Human Rights Activist)
Morteza Hadji (Minister of educaion during Khatami era)
Leila Tavassoli, daughter of Mohammad Tavassoli
Seyed Hosein Mousavi Tabrizi (Head of the clerical Association of Teachers and Researchers of Qom)
Alireza Beheshti Shirazi (Editor in Chief of Mousavi’s online journal Kalameh Sabz)
Ghorban Behzadian Nejad (Mousavi consultant)
Mohamad Bagherian (Mousavi consultant)
Rasouli (deputy of President Khatami’s Baran Foundation)
Forouzandeh (Manager of Mousavi’s office)
Mohammad Sadegh Rabbani (retired university professor who used to be the general prosecutor 20 years ago, arrested yesterday 27 December)
Mohammad Moin (son of former Presidential candidate Mostafa Moin, the former Minister of Science and higher education, arrested 27 December)
Heshmatollah Tabarzadi (Student Activist)
Haleh Sahabi (Women’s Rights activist)
Again, this damages their core credibility. Human rights violations aren't even the major issue; they are an issue, of course, but the country is a theocracy. It cannot even pretend to be a democracy. That ship sailed after the "election".

No, the major issue is that they exploited one of Shia Islam's most holy days for political ends. Killing, kidnapping, suppression, oppression, violence... all of these are bad enough, but to do them on a holy day that is (however you feel about the division in Islam) about standing up to all of these things is just insane.

For lack of a better word, it's perverse.

If you want to read more from Sully, start here and move forward along the entries. For another take on the affront to Islam that the Ashura suppression represents, check out Meir Javendanfar at Tehran Bureau. Meir predicts an anti-Khameini intifada; I'm not sure I disagree.

(Sully footnote: He is absolutely deluded about Obama's record in 2009. But that's not surprising; his Iran coverage has been consistently better than is American coverage. Much like how Krugman is quite correct about the "zeros", but his piece on how LieberCare is kinda like single payer was just dumb.)

Edit: Cripes, I hadn't even thought about the fact that Ali Mousavi is an Seyyid; a direct descendant of Ali Hussein.

To put that in perspective for western audiences: imagine if the whole Dan Brown thing had been right, and that Jesus really had had descendants. Now imagine if everybody knew about it, and one of those descendants was just assassinated. On Easter.

This is worse than that.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

And Now It's Cap 'n Trade on the Chopping Block

Well, this didn't take long:

“We’ve got to keep them together because they go together,” said Connecticut Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who infuriated liberals with his opposition to the public option in the health care bill but who's trying to keep cap-and-trade alive in a bipartisan climate bill he's drafting with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

The White House remains firmly behind an economy-wide cap-and-trade system, which would curb greenhouse gas emissions and create a market for polluters to buy and sell carbon allowances.

“We think that a cap-and-trade mechanism is the best way to achieve the most cost-effective reductions," a senior administration official told reporters last week.

But Kerry raised eyebrows last week when he seemed to hint at some flexibility over the issue.

"I can't tell you the method or the means or amount by which we might price carbon," he told reporters in Copenhagen. "We haven't resolved that issue yet.”

A move away from cap-and-trade would bitterly disappoint the environmental community and many powerful utility companies, who’ve lobbied hard for the system.

Many utilities, investors, and even some consumer companies like Starbucks and Nike believe cap-and-trade will unleash a flood of investments in energy efficiency and renewable fuels like wind, solar, and nuclear power But passage will be a heavy lift -- with few signs of Republican support and mounting concern from the moderate Democrats.

Earlier this month, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced a bill that would replace cap and trade with a system that would set a price on carbon dioxide emissions and return all the revenue to consumers, instead of industry.

And Republican Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and Richard Lugar of Indiana are examining proposals to cap greenhouse gas emissions only on power plants, coupled with energy efficiency programs for buildings and transportation.

After the tough health care fight, Democratic leadership believes a climate bill must pass with significant bipartisan support or risk leaving the party open to attack during the midterm elections.

“Any bill dealing with energy and climate change will have to be bipartisan to pass,” said Durbin. “Sen. Kerry assures me that there are other (Republicans) that he may have.”

But even among Republicans who believe global warming is a problem, few -- if any -- other than Graham support an economy-wide cap and trade system.

The Republicans managed to turn opposition to health care reform into a civil war within the Democratic party and the online progressive community. The bill that came out the other side was by-and-large terrible, defensible only has an improvement over the status quo, and broadly unpopular. They got a bigger "win" than anybody could have ever dreamed.

And that issue was far less controversial than climate change.

No, they have no reason to bend. No reason at all. They will oppose their way into another big victory... as their greatest opponents consume themselves in silly arguments about Grover Norquist.



(Edit: Fixed that "div class" thing that was messing with the site.)

Good News for Canadian Freedom of Speech

Libel law in the fairly-restrictive Canadian legal landscape have been modified by its Supreme Court to add more protection for freedom of expression:

he Canadian Supreme Court on Tuesday rewrote Canada's libel laws to give more protection to reporters who can prove their stories were written in the public interest.

The nine judges created the defense of "responsible journalism" to aid publications which do all they can to produce even-handed and accurate accounts, even if not every statement turns out to be true.

Several large Canadian media organizations had argued that the current laws were too strict and made it easy for plaintiffs to win libel cases.

"A defense that would allow publishers to escape liability if they can establish that they acted responsibly in attempting to verify the information on a matter of public interest represents a reasonable and proportionate response to the need to protect reputation," the court said.

The judges cited recent court decisions in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa which gave more protection to the media.

"The current law with respect to statements that are reliable and important to public debate does not give adequate weight to the constitutional value of free expression," the Supreme Court said in a unanimous ruling.

No argument here. I hope that this movement continues in countries like Canada, Britain, and Australian where things have been far, far too skewed towards SLAPP suits.

Something that I saw elsewhere that also makes me happy is that Canada is following suit with the US in treating bloggers and other "citizen journalists" like Big Boy Journalists. I'm not sure how the media will react to that change, considering that they're often the targets of bloggers in one way or another. But it was the right decision to make.

(And, yes, I'm aware that this is not the big news of the moment. I will talk about the Nigerian bomber issue, but the situation is still very much in flux.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Louise Slaughter Says "NO!"

Surprising. After the noises I'd heard about Grivalja going along with the "screw the House and the horses they rode in on" attitude towards health care reform, i was expecting all the other Reps to fall in line as well.

But Louise Slaughter is out:


Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, wrote in a CNN op-ed today that the health care bill should be scrapped entirely.

"The Senate health care bill is not worthy of the historic vote that the House took a month ago," Slaughter wrote.

She listed her problems with the Senate bill: an individual mandate, no public option, no antitrust exemption and the Nelson abortion language, among other things.

"Supporters of the weak Senate bill say "just pass it -- any bill is better than no bill. I strongly disagree," she wrote. "It's time that we draw the line on this weak bill and ask the Senate to go back to the drawing board. The American people deserve at least that."

It may be that select progressives are being allowed to oppose the bill in order to ensure that they don't face serious primary fights and/or negative publicity.

Or it may be that she really does think it's a crock.

Either way, this changes things a bit.

Something You Can't Blame Obama For

For all that I've been negative about the man, it looks like he was not responsible for the failures of the Copenhagen meetings. Mark Lynas explains that it was China that wrecked Copenhagen:


Here's what actually went on late last Friday night, as heads of state from two dozen countries met behind closed doors. Obama was at the table for several hours, sitting between Gordon Brown and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi. The Danish prime minister chaired, and on his right sat Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN. Probably only about 50 or 60 people, including the heads of state, were in the room. I was attached to one of the delegations, whose head of state was also present for most of the time.

What I saw was profoundly shocking. The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country's foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world's most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his "superiors".

To those who would blame Obama and rich countries in general, know this: it was China's representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. "Why can't we even mention our own targets?" demanded a furious Angela Merkel. Australia's prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was annoyed enough to bang his microphone. Brazil's representative too pointed out the illogicality of China's position. Why should rich countries not announce even this unilateral cut? The Chinese delegate said no, and I watched, aghast, as Merkel threw up her hands in despair and conceded the point. Now we know why – because China bet, correctly, that Obama would get the blame for the Copenhagen accord's lack of ambition.

China, backed at times by India, then proceeded to take out all the numbers that mattered. A 2020 peaking year in global emissions, essential to restrain temperatures to 2C, was removed and replaced by woolly language suggesting that emissions should peak "as soon as possible". The long-term target, of global 50% cuts by 2050, was also excised. No one else, perhaps with the exceptions of India and Saudi Arabia, wanted this to happen. I am certain that had the Chinese not been in the room, we would have left Copenhagen with a deal that had environmentalists popping champagne corks popping in every corner of the world.

This isn't terribly shocking. China's poor environmental record and combative attitude towards multilateral institutionalism are well known. But it's instructive to note that Obama did try to do what he could, as did everybody at that table, barring China.

So why was China able to do this?

First, it was in an extremely strong negotiating position. China didn't need a deal. As one developing country foreign minister said to me: "The Athenians had nothing to offer to the Spartans." On the other hand, western leaders in particular – but also presidents Lula of Brazil, Zuma of South Africa, CalderĂłn of Mexico and many others – were desperate for a positive outcome. Obama needed a strong deal perhaps more than anyone. The US had confirmed the offer of $100bn to developing countries for adaptation, put serious cuts on the table for the first time (17% below 2005 levels by 2020), and was obviously prepared to up its offer.

Above all, Obama needed to be able to demonstrate to the Senate that he could deliver China in any global climate regulation framework, so conservative senators could not argue that US carbon cuts would further advantage Chinese industry. With midterm elections looming, Obama and his staff also knew that Copenhagen would be probably their only opportunity to go to climate change talks with a strong mandate. This further strengthened China's negotiating hand, as did the complete lack of civil society political pressure on either China or India. Campaign groups never blame developing countries for failure; this is an iron rule that is never broken. The Indians, in particular, have become past masters at co-opting the language of equity ("equal rights to the atmosphere") in the service of planetary suicide – and leftish campaigners and commentators are hoist with their own petard.

With the deal gutted, the heads of state session concluded with a final battle as the Chinese delegate insisted on removing the 1.5C target so beloved of the small island states and low-lying nations who have most to lose from rising seas. President Nasheed of the Maldives, supported by Brown, fought valiantly to save this crucial number. "How can you ask my country to go extinct?" demanded Nasheed. The Chinese delegate feigned great offence – and the number stayed, but surrounded by language which makes it all but meaningless. The deed was done.

The bolded text is mine. Harsh words, but I think they may be necessary. China is a powerful, powerful international actor, and one that has behaved in less-than-honorable ways in the past. I think civil society groups may well need to start taking a hard look at countries like China and India.

(Yes, that does play into the hands of xenophobic right-wing Americans, but looking at international politics through the lens of American domestic policy is something that civil society groups should be opposed to.)

And why did China bring things down? In a word: coal.

This does not mean China is not serious about global warming. It is strong in both the wind and solar industries. But China's growth, and growing global political and economic dominance, is based largely on cheap coal. China knows it is becoming an uncontested superpower; indeed its newfound muscular confidence was on striking display in Copenhagen. Its coal-based economy doubles every decade, and its power increases commensurately. Its leadership will not alter this magic formula unless they absolutely have to.
China broke apart a key multilateral meeting to preserve the filthiest, most dangerous energy-generation capability this side of the Canadian Tar Sands.

Yes, I think it is definitely time for civil society groups to start paying very, very close attention to China indeed.

Drew Westen on Obama: "Lead!'

Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain, wrote an absolutely crackerjack breakdown of exactly where the Obama administration has fallen down in its first year, including (especially) its dwindling support among independents.

It's lengthy, and excellent, so I'll just get to the conclusion.
Obama, like so many Democrats in Congress, has fallen prey to the conventional Democratic strategic wisdom: that the way to win the center is to tack to the center.

But it doesn't work that way.

You want to win the center? Emanate strength. Emanate conviction. Lead like you know where you're going (and hopefully know what you're talking about).

People in the center will follow if you speak to their values, address their ambivalence (because by definition, on a wide range of issues, they're torn between the right and left), and act on what you believe. FDR did it. LBJ did it. Reagan did it. Even George W. Bush did it, although I wish he hadn't.


But you have to believe something.

I don't honestly know what this president believes. But I believe if he doesn't figure it out soon, start enunciating it, and start fighting for it, he's not only going to give American families hungry for security a series of half-loaves where they could have had full ones, but he's going to set back the Democratic Party and the progressive movement by decades, because the average American is coming to believe that what they're seeing right now is "liberalism," and they don't like what they see. I don't, either.

What's they're seeing is weakness, waffling, and wandering through the wilderness without an ideological compass. That's a recipe for going nowhere fast -- but getting there by November.
Bolding is mine.

So many Dems never understand this, and the fact that they don't is the Republicans' single greatest systemic advantage. The Political Brain highlights the simple fact that people don't tend to vote on issues, they tend to vote on people; they vote based on the impressions they get as to a person's beliefs and character, trusting that their legislation and governance will flow from those two fonts.

Taking a stand on issues demonstrates character to independents, and that's important, even if they don't share that stance. As Westen says, they will respect you for your beliefs, and being respected is critical among voters who aren't part of either "team". Even leaners might well break from their usual pattern, and I believe that they did last year. But they did so because they bought into the idea that Obama's high-flying rhetoric demonstrated a strength of character, purpose, and vision that has simply not been evident in his triangulating, hands-off, warmed-over-DLC style of governance.

There is far more to the article: Westen goes over the lack of a clear vision, the perceived waffling on issues, and (critically) the perception that Obama is in the tank for whatever special interests are willing to pony up the dough. The arrogance of his economic team and their policies comes in for particularly harsh criticism, as jobless Americans seethe at Larry Summers and his ilk for cheering on the illusionary "recovery" and the big banker bonuses.

But instead of quoting, I'll just suggest you click through and read it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Parker Griffith Switches Parties

Yep, Rep. Park Griffith from Alabama has switched from a "D" to an "R".

That's not the funny part.

The fact that Rahm's PAC sunk over twelve grand into the guy, THAT is the funny part.

(He was a favorite of the DCCC too; they blew more than $1.2 million on the guy. In case you're wondering why you should probably donate your own damned money.)

Franken Amendment Passes

And now a bit of good news:

FRANKEN AMENDMENT BECOMES LAW.... In October, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) proposed a key amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill. Yesterday, it was signed into law.

Motivated by the harrowing violence Jamie Leigh Jones suffered in 2005 while working for Halliburton/KBR in Iraq, Franken pushed a measure to withhold defense contracts from companies that "restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court." Franken's measure passed, 68 to 30. The 30 opponents -- representing 75% of the entire GOP Senate caucus -- were Republican men.

There were some implantation questions from the Pentagon, but after some additional efforts, and overcoming a Republican filibuster, Franken's measure became law after President Obama signed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act over the weekend.

Digby had a good take on this.

The reason I think it's good news isn't just on the substance (which it certainly is) but on the politics. Franken's amendment is driving the Republicans crazy because they basically voted to protect rapists and are now paying a political price for that. And now they are whining that Franken was somehow "uncollegial" because the amendment put them in an embarrassing position (which makes me wonder how many other things issues are swept under the rug because it would make members of the opposition uncomfortable.)

That's the kind of thing the Democrats should do more of. Expose the Republicans' hypocrisy and cruelty by forcing these issues on to the agenda.

Remember, Republicans can barely contain their outrage over this -- Franken proposed a common-sense measure; it passed easily; and opponents of the amendment have faced some severe criticicism as a result. "The nerve of that guy," conservative senators keep saying.

For his part, this is Franken's first key legislative success. Here's to many more like it.

Good to hear. It'll almost certainly play well with the public, too: there might be some "ARE TROOPS" responses, but it's going to be really, really hard to defend PMCs blocking rape trials. (Especially in Minnesota, where Wellstone is still revered.)

It's also good news that a Dem is taking a shot at the "collegial attitude" in the Senate; they're the only ones who still buy it these days. If Republicans had actually believe it, they would have let HCR come to an up-or-down vote, and would have governed with more respect for their counterparts during their decade of rule.

Maybe now Franken will do something about the filibuster.

Reforms Don't Always Get Better Over Time (Edit: Nate Loves HCR, Ahmedinejad)

Both FDL's Jon Walker and Arianna Huffington bring up No Child Left Behind as a counterexample. Arianna:

It doesn't work that way. We heard the same kinds of sentiments about No Child Left Behind when it passed in 2001. Backers on both sides of the aisle had problems with it, but both sides celebrated it as a major step forward -- and promised to make it better in the future.

"The agreement we reached reflects the best thinking of both sides," said Sen. Joe Lieberman.

"This was a reform bill. We can't have reform without resources, and that will be the next step," said Sen. Tom Daschle.

"This is a good bill... And there are going to be many additional steps that will be necessary along the way, but all of us are committed to following in those steps," said Sen. Ted Kennedy, the primary Democratic co-sponsor of the bill.

But despite the widespread commitment to taking the "many additional steps" needed, the steps were never taken, the resources were never allocated, the bill was never improved, and, indeed, is now generally regarded as a disaster (or, as Bill Clinton put it last year, "a train wreck").

In an ominous sign of things to come, Vicki Reggie Kennedy, Sen. Kennedy's widow, made many of the same arguments that were used in support of No Child Left Behind in her Washington Post op-ed promoting passage of the current health care bill.

It's a moving piece of writing -- and nobody doubts her late husband's heartfelt dedication to health care reform. But nobody doubted his dedication to education reform, either.

When people bring up Social Security and Medicare, they would do well to remember that neither of those were passed by today's Democratic and Republican parties, neither were passed with today's ridiculous Senate threshold, and neither of those were suffused with today's naked, bipartisan corporatism, where people ar mandated by law to buy a poorly-regulated private-sector product.

(In fact, stopping to think about it, isn't today's "health care reform" much like what the Republicans wanted to do with Social Security?)

Edit: You can tell some of the defenders are embattled because, to put it bluntly, they sound like assholes:
I'm sorry, but debating the kill-billers on the policy merits of their position has become a bit like debating the global warming denialists. The denalists operate by picking and choosing which evidence they cite and what arguments they respond to. Sometimes, they raise fairly good points or expose legitimately sloppy work on behalf of "consensus" scientists. Sometimes, they are being contrarian for contrarianism's sake. And sometimes, they're just throwing a bunch of sh*t at the wall and seeing what sticks, hoping that the underlying truth or lack thereof is lost in the fog of debate.
See? Asshole. Even making this comparison is the proverbial "dick move" and makes it that much less likely that critics will me mollified.

But, hey, Nate? You're the one who resembles the climate change denialists. Most of the denialists are saying what they're saying because they have a strong financial and economic reason to do so. Either they prosper from from the status quo, or don't want to pay the costs of the lifestyle changes. Some are honest contrarians, but not many.

It is your crowd that has the financial incentives here, Nate. Not the HCR critics. Remember, if if HCR fails, the Dems take it on the chin, and so does everybody in the outer Demosphere. That includes "progressive journalists" like Matt and Ezra and the TNR crew.

And, yes, it also includes Dem-aligned jumped-up baseball statisticians masquerading as policy wonks. Ones who also argued until they were blue in the face that Ahmedinejad won legitimately...eyewitness accounts of fraud notwithstanding.

(Or did you think we had forgotten about that?)

The piece actually got worse as time went on, casting all manner of aspersions on a legitimate health care expert, Jon Walker. Walker turned around and handed Nate his own hams.

A Truly Excellent Deal on Maseratis

So here's a question.

Let's say that somebody came to you with a deal. They say "I have this beautiful sports car for you! I know you cannot afford a car and take the bus, but this sports car is 75% off! You only pay $200,000 instead of $800,000! Isn't that great?"

I imagine many of you would reply that you still cannot afford such a car, and would be bankrupted by paying for both it and its insurance. It doesn't matter how big a percentage reduction there is.

Now that same fellow comes to you later, saying "you MUST buy my sports car, I have brought a police officer who will seize your home if you do not. You must also keep buying sports cars from me indefinitely. Oh, and if you want to actually drive it, you must buy expensive gasoline from my friend over here, him and nobody else.""

I imagine many of you would reply with something else. Something a bit less polite.

So it is with Ezra Klein, Jon Cohn and others with this ridiculous chart. It extolls how much people at certain percentages of the poverty line will save on insurance under the new regime. Yes, they would save money if they were paying for insurance. But they aren't paying for insurance, any more than they are buying Maseratis, because they cannot afford either.

Except that under the new regime, they must buy insurance, no matter how terrible; and because the CBO was nonsensically whinging about "nationalization", 20% of that purchase will line the pockets of executives, administrators, and institutional investors, rather than going to pay for treatment.

(And let's not even get started on the perscription drug issue.)

If you can't afford it, you can't afford it. It doesn't matter how much cheaper it was than it used to be: it ain't a deal. And I think the public understands that, no matter how many smokescreens the defenders throw up.

Quick Comments Note

Haloscan is apparently being discontinued. I'm looking into migration options.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Primary Fights and Donation Advice

On DKos, the case of Jennifer Brunner:
The people who brought you Joe Lieberman are gearing up to knee cap the only Democrat who can win the US Senate seat in Ohio.

Bob Menendez, the head of the DSCC, is threatening to attack Jennifer Brunner if she is deemed to not have enough money in her primary against perennial loser Lee Fisher.

The DSCC has all but written her off, however, and the establishment has turned to Fisher. In fact, Brunner said when she spoke with DSCC Chair Bob Menendez in Sept., he first told her that he “didn’t want to see a Democratic candidate at the end of the primary with zero dollars,” and he followed up that his organization would go into the state to work against a candidate perceived as “being negative in the primary or not raising enough money.”

Brunner said she responded: “If you do that, the women of Ohio will never forgive you.” Menendez, she said, retorted: “I know you’re not scared of me, and I’m not scared of you.”

All because Lee Fisher has more money. Newsflash, Bob. Lee Fisher CANNOT WIN THE SEAT. He has lost his last two statewide campaigns, the most recent in 1998 to BOB TAFT, after OUTRAISING Bob Taft.

There's all kinds of juicy inside baseball nuggets from this interview, but the main point for this community is that Democratic Senate primaries are THE PLACE where we can most prevent Joe Lieberman from ever happening again. The Ohio US Senate primary in 2010 is the place where we can do that NOW.

We need to support Jennifer. She stood up for us, against DEATH THREATS from Republicans, to protect our votes in 2008. It's time we backed her up.

Please donate to Jennifer's campaign. Jennifer Brunner can beat George W. Bush's trade rep Rob Portman in the fall. Lee Fisher CAN'T.

UPDATE - Some folks are asking for more info about Jennifer. She's the Ohio Secretary of State who took over after Ken Blackwell in 2006. Ohio elections after Blackwell were a putrid, partisan, rat hole. Jennifer went about cleaning up Ohio's election processes to the point that she won the JFK Profile in Courage Award. It was her only priority. Here's a link to her campaign bio.

UPDATEx2 - Ohio blogs are weighing in, confirming that the establishment is coming after Jennifer guns blazing. Ohio Daily Blog.

The line from the people who really know her goes like this : "God help these f___ers if they don't take her seriously. She's a wonderful person. Don't get me wrong. She's caring and compassionate and I'd walk through fire for her. But God help these guys if they cross her. She's got ice water running through those veins and she'll take you down a brick at a time or blow your whole house down."

And that's from the people who not only really know her, but from the people who really respect her.

This afternoon, the DC publication Hotline ran a story that's chock full of every side story we've heard over the last six months, but could never repeat or report. At long last, the story about the behind the scenes look at the Jennifer Brunner for U.S. Senate campaign is playing out. In part, because Jennifer Brunner doesn't care what the establishment thinks anymore.

Just to unbury a link: if you want to support Sec. Brunner, you can do so through Actblue. I support pretty much anybody who is going up against the Democratic establishment this cycle; but someone who is a truthteller, a progressive, and the best shot at a pickup is an absolute no-brainer.

I'd also recommend avoiding the DNC, DSCC, and DCCC during this cycle. If you've donated to them in the past, they will undoubtedly email you for more cash. Don't give it to them. If you send them anything, send them a strongly-worded (but polite!) email explaining exactly why you have absolutely no intention of giving them a dime. Then hit up ActBlue and/or other direct-donation sites for candidates, and give them your money. If you live in-state, and find a primary opponent that you like, consider giving them a bit of your time as well.

Give the DNC et al your money, and they'll keep taking you for granted. Take your money away, and they'll stop. They need you. Exact concessions.

Mixed Results

The Senate apparently has the votes and has passed cloture. I'm disappointed in the liberal senators that voted the party line with little-to-nothing to show for it, and maintain that progressives should look very, very closely at possible primary opponents. Dean was right about the bill, and that hasn't changed.

But as I said, the discourse has changed. You need only look to Biden's NYT piece for proof.

I share the frustration of other progressives that the Senate bill does not include a public option. But I’ve been around a long time, and I know that in Washington big changes never emerge in perfect form.

Those in our own party who would scuttle this bill because of what it doesn’t do seem not to appreciate the magnitude of what it has the potential to accomplish. Howard Dean was head of the Democratic Party. I respect his leadership on health care, and I understand his criticism of the bill...

...If the bill passes the Senate this week, there will be more chances to make changes to it before it becomes law. But if the bill dies this week, there is no second chance to vote yes. What those who care about health insurance reform need to realize is that unless we get 60 votes now, there will be no health care reform at all. Not this year, not in this Congress — and maybe not for another generation.
The edited part was a bunch of boilerplate pro-Senate Bill talking points I won't repeat, including yet another "do you want to deny the poor and underprivileged" plea that is a bit grotesque, considering this bill will likely increase health care bankruptcies. But never mind that. Look at the rest.

Look at the "shared frustration" language. It's very different from what was heard even a few months ago, when nobody in the White House had a word to say about the public option. Yes, that might well be because they had little to no interest in it, and didn't expect it to pass the Senate... but one of their own had to acknowledge the anger.

Look at the comments about Dean. Howard Dean has been savaged by those who are infuriated that he dragged the "nutroots" into the Overton Window. Yet here is Biden playing nice with Dean, saying that he respects his leadership and understands his concerns. It was part of a "you don't understand how good the bill is" paragraph, but even then, they had to defend the bill from the left!

(THAT, folks, is what they do when they stop taking you for granted.)

Finally, look at that House/Senate bit. It is a bit disingenuous, since we can now be certain that LieberBaucusCare is undoubtedly closest to what the White House really wanted. It's also unlikely, considering both Conrad and Nelson were threatening to change their vote if the House isn't almost completely ignored. But the very fact that Biden is promising some progressive changes in the first place says a lot about where things stand right now. Progressives have a voice. A tiny one, to be certain, compared to their Republican counterparts...but they do have a voice.

Think about it. The progressives play ball, play nice, go along with things, raise money for the DNC/DSCC/DCCC like dutiful little fanboys, and they're treated like ants to be crushed underfoot. They start raising shit, and all of a sudden they're A Big Honking Deal.

There's a lesson in that. And if liberals learn it, if they start thinking less about Dems vs. Reps and more about what needs to be done to get the results that they want, if they stick to their guns and make a few incumbents very, very uncomfortable, maybe even throw a few bums out... then you'll see a change.

Nobody's going to save you. Nobody's going to carry you. Obama's election was the last gasp of that mode of thinking, and the last year proved it was ultimately useless. If you want results, you have to fight; and if you want to succeed, you have to recognize that you're going to be fighting Democrats and Republicans alike.

Obama was right about one thing, oddly enough. He said "we are the change that we've been waiting for". He just mixed up one word. YOU ARE THE CHANGE YOU'VE BEEN LOOKING FOR, not him.

It's not "we". He isn't the agent of change. He never was.

YOU are.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Just To Reiterate a Point

(Edit: Fixed the comedy spelling in the title.)

I was reading Ezra's "hostage-taking" piece, and I wanted to clarify something.

The problem with the Democrats' and press' response to Dean is not that they disagree. That's fine. I'm actually with Krugman, Ezra, Yglesias et al in believing that the discussion is a good thing, and I will acknowledge that there have been improvements in Reid's manager's amendment. If FireDogLake can, then I would be remiss in not doing the same.

(That doesn't change the basic problems with the bill, or that it will be a disaster to campaign on, but there have been improvements. It is simply that there must be more.)

The problem is the nature of the response to Dean. The "centrists" and New Democrats have quite literally gone insane. They always hated Dean, not least for having saved them from their own exclusionary, base-hating instincts in 2006. I'm absolutely positive that Rahm's pettiness had everything to do with Dean finding himself on the outside looking in.

They don't hate Dean personally, though. They hate him for what he represents. They hate that he gives "official cover" to all those smelly DFHs out there, and forces the "nutroots" into the dialogue and into the public's eye. Even if the press does not understand why there is such anger over this bill from progressives and liberals, they do recognize that it exists. And by this existence, it completely changes the Overton window of acceptable debate on this issue.

In fact, if you look at all this through that prism, the Dean pushback has been fantastically successful. The meaningful discussion over the past week has been between progressives and the bill's defenders like Krugman, Klein and Yglesias. Before, those three would be described as the hard-case far-lefties, and the debate would be juxtaposed between the horribly flawed bill that they're advocating and the madness of the teabaggers.

Now, though, those same people find themselves on the right of the debate. As powerful as the teabaggers have been in setting the debate, they really do find themselves in a very different position. They are still inside the Window, but it has expanded to the left so far that their old opponents are almost on the same side as them. Both are defending private health care, both are defending profiteering, and both are opposed to a public option as a necessary component to real health care reform. Both are defending the status quo of the robber-baron insurers; it's just simply to a greater or lesser extent.

(Progressives don't want the status quo. They want something better. They just believe that this system would make things worse.)

The fact that you're seeing Jane Hamsher on television has a lot to do with Dean. He made it possible. He stretched the window. He expanded the discourse. He gave the "DFH" crew a bit of space to work in. They're already changing things.

And, boy oh boy, do Rahm's boys HATE him for it.

Simple Answers to Esoterica

Yes, I overlooked a point by Steve Benin that's worth responding to.

Maybe this is an esoteric point, but it occurs to me that the quality of the policy debate between competing progressive contingents is infinitely better and more interesting than the policy debate between Democrats and Republicans we witnessed over the last eight or nine months. It's probably an inconsequential observation, but I think it nevertheless speaks to a larger truth.
Well, yes, it is. Benin is right in pointing out that Republican objections are nonsensical self-serving tactical twaddle, whereas progressive objections are based on real policy insights.

Here's the problem:

Republicans get respect. Progressives get shat upon.

What's the lesson, Steve?

Followup to the last Krug-Post

Okay, now this is just becoming comedy:

Matthew Yglesias makes a good point: The health care bill

represents a return, after fifteen years, of the idea that congress should be trying to pass major legislation that tackles major national problems. And even beyond that, it restores an even longer-lost tradition of congress trying to pass major legislation on specifically progressive priorities.

More than that, it represents a rejection of the view that the solution for all problems is to cut some taxes and remove some regulations. In that sense, what’s happening now, for all the disappointment it represents for progressives, is a historic moment.

No, it really doesn't. It's corporatist as all hell; Republicans love that, they just don't want to wear it. That's why they trapped the Dems, remember? I dislike quoting myself, but it seems appropriate here:

They knew, beyond a doubt, that Obama and the Senate Dems were aching for "bipartisanship" on this. Both have made a point of fetishizing it in the past, and both were likely to keep on doing it. They had to look hostile and recalcitrant in public, because they still always have to consider their base. But, in private, a few of them kept on playing at being just reasonable enough that it was conceivable that the Dems could get a few "R" names on the "yea" list.

It worked. The Dems thought they had a partner. Baucus sacrificed his credibility and became a laughingstock because of it. They hacked and hacked and hacked again at anything approaching tolerable policymaking in their legislation to bring some Republicans on board.

The Republicans didn't get on board. The Republicans were never going to get on board. They were just there to ensure that, sooner or later, the Dems would sacrifice so much that the legislation would be intolerable. It happened a few days ago, and we're seeing the fallout now.

No matter what happens, the Republicans win. If progressives—now so alienated from the party that they can barely stand it—support the bill, the Dems will all wear it. When it fails, when it creates this "financial and physical ruin", the Dems will be wiped out and the Republicans will gain control. Liberalism and progressivism will be discredited by their connection to this horror; the fact that this bill is antithetical to the ideals that animate liberalism will be completely washed away. The Republicans win.
Remember that the Finance bill that forms the backbone of this damned thing was practically written by Republicans. They're just too good at the game to have their party's fortunes ride on it.

As for "progressives causes" and all that...well, yes, that is lost, BUT IT'S LOST BECAUSE OF THE PEOPLE AND ATTITUDES MATT IS DEFENDING. Politicians—especially Democratic politicians,—go where the gettable votes and election resources are. If they can count on the base no matter what, they aren't going to do anything progressive, now, are they?
That's what's been happening, and that's what we've been saying!

The only difference is that we thought that Obama was different, and discovered that not only is he not different, but he might be the purest example of the breed in decades. Then he filled that big ol' kennel at 1600 Pennsylvania with every other prime example of the breed as well! (That the second-purest was undoubtedly Clinton just makes this that much worse. He just hid it better.)

If you want progressive legislation, then progressives need to be a concern. If progressives never break away from the party, even when faced with the one of the most horrifyingly corporatist, destructive, and impolitic health care bills that a Democrat could possibly author, then they'll never be a concern, so you'll never see progressive legislation. "Centrists" will always be the ones that may walk, so they'll be lovingly catered to.

Opposing this mess not only helps save the Dems from electoral apocalypse, but teaches them that they can't take their base for granted anymore. And people wonder why it's happening.

As for Matthew, I'll just bring up one quote:

I don’t want to endlessly rehash the intramural argument about whether this bill is worth passing or not, since at the end of the day I’m looking forward to working with all the netroots activists of the world on more and better legislation in the future.
The conciliatory language is cute, but it shows that he still doesn't get it.

If you pass this mess as-is, there won't be better legislation.

And if the bill's defenders keep on strawmanning and mischaracterizing the progressive opposition, and calling Dean every name in the book, why on earth do you think everything will be all nicey-nicey any time soon?

Edit: Yglesias himself links to a Greg Sargent piece entitled "Journalists Cheerfully Urinating On Senate Bill’s “Ideological” Critics", which links to offensive bullshit like this piece from Ron Brownstein about how Dean and LieberCare's critics (critics!) are "limosine liberals". Which is, from what I've seen, manages to be the most offensively wrong thing that has been said about all this. Quite an achievement.

Whether the Senate bill becomes law or not, this is not going away.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Needless to Say...

...I disagree with Krugman. It does happen, and it's happening here.

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

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

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

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

I'm honestly surprised that Prof. Krugman mischaracterized things so badly. No, it is NOT as great a risk to alienate the left as alienate the right. To even pretend to believe that is either disingenuous or naive, neither of which I'd usually call Paul Krugman, so I'll just assume he's having a bad day or is annoyed or whatnot.

Alienating the right carries serious, serious consequences for a politician or staffer. That's what is meant when people say "Washington is wired for Republicanism": the major institutions and players in Washington are still by-and-large right-leaning instead of left-leaning. At best, they follow that kinda-sorta-liberal attitude of "bigger safety net for the poor, but no challenge to the practices of the wealthy" that motivates the Obama administration's attitude towards the financial sector. Usually, you don't even get that much.

And what about lobbying? Both politicians and their staffers, once outside of Washington, find their most profitable employment in convincing their successors that What's Good For [insert client here] Is Good For America. That is not generally a left-wing enterprise, and progressives don't see the same kind of paydays for doing it.

Meanwhile, taking potshots at their core supporters is something the Dems—ESPECIALLY Rahm Emanuel in his capacity as Obama's chief of staff—have developed into a hobby. Look at the reaction to Dean: instead of being respectful of the difference of opinion, they have been absolutely savaging him. And look at the treatment of House and Senate progressives: they've been turned into zombie-like reciters of talking points, because they can barely think for having been whipped so bloodily. In fact, that's one of the biggest reasons why all this is happening.

And, yes, this is also true for the non-politicos in Washington. Since so many of the institutions are conservative-leaning, and since belonging to the right groups and going to the rights events and having access to the right people are so important...

(...emphasis on the "right" there...)

...they aren't necessarily going to be that different. Sure, you want to take some potshots at the right, but if you go too far, you'll be labelled as "unreasonable" or "unserious" and will be ignored and/or shunned by the community. Torturing the "dirty fucking hippies" in the "nutroots" just isn't going to carry the same consequences, and Krugman should damned well know that. That's one of the biggest reasons this is happening.

The biggest problem, though, is that Krugman is misrepresenting this as a left vs. right issue to begin with. It isn't about left/right. It's about in/out. With Iraq, as with health care, you don't want to be identified with the "unserious outsiders". There's no money in that: there's no columnist gigs in the New York Times or Washington Post, no editor positions for the American Prospect or the New Atlantic, no cozy sinecures at corporate-funded think tanks. Careerism is absolutely connected to all of this.

I'd also like to return to this assertion above:

Those who grudgingly say “pass the thing” — a camp I have reluctantly joined — aren’t naive: by and large they’re wonks who have looked at the legislation quite carefully, understand both its virtues and its flaws, and have decided that it’s a lot better than nothing.
Does he honestly think that people didn't argue this during the Iraq war? THIS WAS THE EXACT SAME CLAIM MADE ABOUT IRAQ. Absolutely. 100%. They said "the Bush administration's plan is questionable and they aren't terribly competent, but getting rid of Saddam's possible weapons of mass destruction and creating a democracy in the region is worth it".

Throughout 2003-2004, this was the defense used by the supporters of the flagging conflict. Whenever a "DFH" pointed out that they were right, this defense was the one that they resorted to. "You go to war with the president you have, not the president you might want."

Prof. Krugman, I know you may not be as familiar with the "liberal hawks" as some (bizarrely...) but rest assured, there is no difference.

Except, perhaps, that since Democrats are wearing this, instead of Republicans, the spectacle of progressives' putative allies dropping trou and soiling the people who hold them up is just too much. I wish the Dems who are savaging Dean while fĂȘting Nelson, Lieberman et al understood that. They are in for a nasty but well-earned shock.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jeebus, Lookit That

You couldn't create a more perfect example of the Dems' patronizing, dismissive, abhorrent attitude towards their own base if you tried.

And people wonder why the reaction is "fuck 'em".

Greenwald on Corporatism

Just as a followup to the last few posts, here's Glenn Greenwald on American corporatism:

At its core, it seeks to use government power not to regulate, but to benefit and even merge with, large corporate interests, both for political power (those corporate interests, in return, then fund the Party and its campaigns) and for policy ends. It's devoted to empowering large corporations, letting them always get what they want from government, and extracting, at best, some very modest concessions in return. This is the same point Taibbi made about the Democratic Party in the context of economic policy:

The significance of all of these appointments isn't that the Wall Street types are now in a position to provide direct favors to their former employers. It's that, with one or two exceptions, they collectively offer a microcosm of what the Democratic Party has come to stand for in the 21st century. Virtually all of the Rubinites brought in to manage the economy under Obama share the same fundamental political philosophy carefully articulated for years by the Hamilton Project: Expand the safety net to protect the poor, but let Wall Street do whatever it wants.

One finds this in far more than just economic policy, and it's about more than just letting corporations do what they want. It's about affirmatively harnessing government power in order to benefit and strengthen those corporate interests and even merging government and the private sector. In the intelligence and surveillance realms, for instance, the line between government agencies and private corporations barely exists. Military policy is carried out almost as much by private contractors as by our state's armed forces. Corporate executives and lobbyists can shuffle between the public and private sectors so seamlessly because the divisions have been so eroded. Our laws are written not by elected representatives but, literally, by the largest and richest corporations. At the level of the most concentrated power, large corporate interests and government actions are basically inseparable.

The health care bill is one of the most flagrant advancements of this corporatism yet, as it bizarrely forces millions of people to buy extremely inadequate products from the private health insurance industry -- regardless of whether they want it or, worse, whether they can afford it (even with some subsidies). In other words, it uses the power of government, the force of law, to give the greatest gift imaginable to this industry -- tens of millions of coerced customers, many of whom will be truly burdened by having to turn their money over to these corporations -- and is thus a truly extreme advancement of this corporatist model. It's undeniably true that the bill will also do some genuine good, as it will help many people who can't get coverage now to get it (though it will also severely burden many people with compelled, uncontrolled premiums and will potentially weaken coverage for millions as well). If one judges the bill purely from the narrow perspective of coverage, a rational and reasonable (though by no means conclusive) case can be made in its favor. But if one finds this creeping corporatism to be a truly disturbing and nefarious trend, then the bill will seem far less benign.

I hadn't really talked about corporatism in other sectors of the economy, but Greenwald is right in pointing them out.

All I'd add is that they don't generally work too well, either. One of the reasons why America has foundered so badly in its conflicts abroad is because private military contractors are both more expensive and more likely to enrage locals than actual uniformed soldiers. The soldiers haven't benefited much, either; I still remember the stories from "Iraq for Sale" about how KBR (allegedly) used filthy, contaminated water in Iraq. And certainly the Wall Street/Washington connection has been absolutely disastrous.

Of course, it works quite well if all you care about is enriching yourself or your friends. But, again, that's where that conflict of interests come in. The rest of us have no stake in that. If that's your motivation, we won't support you.

"Nothing Like the Netherlands"

One objection to critiques of mandates is that mandates work quite well in the Netherlands.

True. But the Netherlands implementation is quite a bit different, as Jon Walker points out. He even has a handy chart.

This bill is a sham BS imitation of a true universal health care systems built on the government guarantee of access to quality, affordable health insurance and an individual mandate. Countries like the Netherlands have important regulations ensuring all their citizens have access to quality, affordable health insurance, regulations that are completely lacking in this bill. Things such as:

Dutch Health Care System Senate Bill
True community ratings where everyone is charged the same premiums Very large age rating ratios that allow insurance companies to charge old people three times as much as the young
The government mandates only the sale of strictly defined high quality insurances and all basic policies must have identical coverage rules Gives insurers wide latitude in design policies and allows for the sale of very low 60% actuarial junk insurance and “catastrophic plans”
Premiums are very affordable (roughly €100 a month for basic coverage) People will be force to pay 9.8% of their income for a low value insurance plan
Extremely strong national regulator Basically no direct national regulator
Deductible of €150 No maximum deductible but based on 70% actuarial values the deductible should be well over a thousand dollars for most silver plans
Extremely robust risk adjustment mechanisms that force insurers to compete based on quality and not risk selection Weak risk adjuster that would not stop insurers from trying to game the system and cherry pick customers
Achieves near universal coverage with 98.5% of people in the country covered Achieves only 93%-94% coverage
Allows for drug re-importation to keep drug prices low Not permitted
Central government provider negotiator for most procedures No central provider negotiator

Listed here are only some of the ways the system produced by the Senate bill falls way short of the Dutch health care system. If the government promised everyone access to well regulated, high quality insurance with a $200 deductible and monthly premiums of $150, I would definitely be supporting the individual mandate. The problem is that the Senate bill will force people to buy extremely expensive poorly regulated junk insurance. The individual mandate is morally and politically wrong until the government lives up to its end of the social contract. On that front, the Senate bill is a failure.

I'd say that the political context is the bigger problem. Jonathan Cohn seems to think that if you do something weak like this, then that's okay, because it will eventually be improved upon. But let's be honest: that isn't what happened here. The bill started out weak, then got weaker and weaker, to the point where the Republicans relish the opportunity to run against it and the public hates it.

Does Cohn really think it will be improved under those conditions? Has he been paying attention at all?

Liberal/Conservative Critiques of Corporatism (Edit: Response to Kilgore's Strategic Piece)

(Some edits are below.)

That title is a mouthful, but it gets to my reaction one part of an otherwise-decent piece by Ed Kilgore on the split over LieberCare.

He notes that the distinction is between liberals (I think I can discard "progressive" here) who belong to the Bill Clinton/Tony Blair "third way" camp of regulated private entities providing public services, and other liberals who distrust these sorts of arrangements and this sort of ideology. (Generally because it doesn't work, ends up costing more, and is usually privatization-by-another-name.)

Were this Britain being discussed, this would be simpler, since you would just describe this as the distinction between "neoliberals" and "social liberals". The problem in America is that Americans shoehorn in the useless word "progressive" where the proper label "liberal" should go. There's no such beast as a "social progressive" in the same way that there's a "social liberal".

In any case, here's Kilgore:
To put it more bluntly, on a widening range of issues, Obama's critics to the right say he's engineering a government takeover of the private sector, while his critics to the left accuse him of promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. They can't both be right, of course, and these critics would take the country in completely different directions if given a chance. But the tactical convergence is there if they choose to pursue it.
Ed, these aren't antithetical. What we're discussing here is corporatism; a kind of synthesis of the public and private sector, creating private monopolies and cartels with enormous government-granted power. Honest conservatives (there are a few) hate it because they don't like government interfering with private enterprise; and social liberals hate it because...

...and let me just emphasize this...

...CORPORATISM IS A REALLY, REALLY BAD IDEA.

Look, everybody knows that patent, trade and copyright laws are pretty much broken, right? Under the guise of "intellectual property", you have everything from infinitely-extending copyrights to patent "vultures" stifling innovation to Disney suing daycares for daring to put Mickey on the wall. You have pharma corporations tossing man-eating lobbyists at everybody in Washington who even looks at 'em funny, Sony breaking your computer to keep you from putting a CD on your iPod, the horror that is ACTA, and people dying of easily-treated diseases in the third world because of bans on the production of generic drugs.

Well, copyrights, patents, and trades are government-blessed monopolies over copying or producing something. That's all that they are. "Intellectual property" wouldn't exist without the power of government backing it up. While it may have been a good idea to help creators out a bit, we've seen that without very, very careful treatment, it can lead to corps running absolutely wild, and ruining a lot of lives in the process.

(There's nothing unique about this, either. Privatizatized, exclusive providers of public services have spread across the developing world like weeds, thanks to the enduring legacy of the Washington Consensus. They're generally disasters there, too.)

LieberCare is a bit different. Nothing in LieberCare dictates that there must be regional or national monopolies on delivering health care, like with trademarks et al. But that is the logical endpoint of mandated insurance, since it still uses government's power to FORCE contract with a private enterprise. You still end up with government-blessed monopolies stomping on the bank accounts and rights of Americans, but this time in a far more important sector of the economy.

Neither social liberals nor honest conservatives would want this to happen. Conservatives don't want to be forced to contract to anybody, and social liberals want monopolies to be held only by governmental organizations that are ultimately responsible to the public, instead of the shareholders. But this is what will happen, sooner or later, under the Senate's plan.

That's why the public option was so important. This was always a problem. ALWAYS. That has never changed. But as long as there was a public option, even a weak one, one was not forced to contract with a private enterprise. There was always going to be an option, even if all the private companies tried to flow together into cartels and monopolies. There could be no monopoly, as a matter of fact, because there was going to be one stubborn player that would not go with the plan. It was the one thing that made this tolerable.

Now it's gone. Now the game has changed. Now America is looking at decades of mandated corporatism, in the exact period of time where medical care is going to be more important than ever before. "Exchange regulation" isn't going to solve that, any more than hiring more patent examiners would. People need to always have a choice: whether it's at the ballot box, or at the insurance exchange.

Under this plan, sooner or later, they won't have any choice at all.

Edit: Kilgore says that "we don't have the time or energy to spare in dialogues of the deaf wherein we call each other names while getting ready for the elections of 2010 and 2012".

I don't think he quite gets what's going on here.

If there isn't change, and soon, there is no"we". If liberals and progressives aren't convinced that they have a voice in the Democratic party, they are not going to "get ready for the elections of 2010 and 2012". They won't be helping you. At best, they'll be gearing up for as many primary challenges as they can muster. You will be the enemy, not a "we".

That's how bad it has become, it was a long time coming, it transcends this one terrible bit of policy, and you aren't going to paper it over with blog entries.

Re-Edit: Ah, he has a better take on these issues here. He misrepresents Taibbi's critiques, but he seems to understand things better. The biggest problem is that he does not really get into diverging interests. That is the real core difference between Democratic "Villagers" and liberals outside Washington.

The main thing animating the Democratic Villagers is their interest in retaining control of the White House and Congress, since there is an absolute flood of power, influence and (eventually) money that comse from that position. Even if you aren't in politics per se, your "think tanks" and magazines and journals and "Institutes" and whatnot will be far better off with your side in ascendancy.

Progressives and Liberals outside Washington aren't going to enjoy any of this. They aren't going to benefit from this influence. They aren't going to get the front page journal articles, or the sweet lobbying gig, or the shot at a House seat down the road. They have no stake in any of that crap. Their interest is
policy, whether it's foreign, economic, or social policy.

If the Dems make it clear that they will sacrifice progressives' policy goals to retain their power and influence, then it only makes sense that progressives and liberals should threaten to sacrifice the Dems' power and influence to achieve their goals. The Republican base already does this; progressives are realizing that they need to as well. If it takes losses in an election cycle or two to convince the Dems that they have to take progressives into account, and the Dems learn the lesson and change their policymaking calculus for the next twenty cycles, progressives will ultimately be better off.

(So will Dems, of course. But that's a whole different issue. As is the irony of this article being posted in The New Republic, of all places.)

Still Disappointed in Ezra (Edit: Reps on the Line)

...who seems not to understand what a merger is. Or collusion, for that matter.

Yes, Ezra, competition would reduce the extent to which insurance companies gouge their customers under a system of mandated insurance. But mandated insurance would provide enormous incentives for collusion and monopolization, so much so that it would almost be required to merge under simple fiduciary responsibility. And remember, they aren't going to be subject to anti-trust laws. That got taken out.

He also points out the "cadillac tax" and exchange regulators as agents who could keep prices down:

But the exchanges actually have a fail-safe solution, too. Rewind the tape to BCBS's decision to jack up premiums. Imagine that BCBS insures 420,000 people in California's exchange. As directed by law, they duly submit a notice to the Exchange Board saying they're increasing premiums. The exchange sends a letter back noting that underlying health-care trends don't justify that increase, which they're allowed to do under the law. BCBS says it doesn't care. The exchange, which doesn't much feel like being bullied, says fine, you're decertified. BCBS loses more than 400,000 customers, and has to reapply the next year.

And then, of course, there's the excise tax. Jack up your prices enough and suddenly you're paying a 40 percent surtax on the plan you're offering. Now you're way more expensive than the competition, and you're hemorrhaging customers.
Health-care reform isn't creating a monopoly market. There are other industries where people need to patronize some for-profit company. Food, for instance. But if there are a variety of companies competing for customers, monopoly problems don't emerge.

Two problems with that. First, there is no definition here on what is or isn't "justified". I suppose the exchanges will have to determine that for themselves. If the exchanges are staffed by anybody but the most dedicated public servants the Union has to offer, some of them are going to flub that decision; Especially when faced with a regional monopolist with deep mandate-fattened pockets. armies of lobbyists and pet politicians.

Second, do you honestly think that regulation and punitive taxation is going to deal with this problem? Your Democratic friends have already had their clock cleaned by the Republicans, America is already in this mess because Democrats can't pass legislation that isn't terrible. What the hell makes you think that the regulations and "cadillac taxes" won't get gutted by the Republicans, or even the ConservaDems, between now and 2013?

Especially when the most powerful lobby on the Hill—and it will be after this—is doing everything it can to water down the regulations, which has already been watered down to begin with? There WAS anti-trust reform in the bill. That got taken out, and language allowing these mandated insurers to get out of providing care was inserted in.

There is no reason to think that this process won't continue. There's no reason to believe that the regulations will stand. There is no reason to trust these exchanges to be immune to lobbying. There is no reason to expect the "cadillacs" to stay as they are. There is no reason to believe the lobbyists won't run rampant. There is no reason to believe that the Republicans and ConservaDems will ever improve this exercise in naked corporatism.

It will just get worse.

I'm still waiting for an answer to my question. Is there a bill these people wouldn't support? Is there a line they wouldn't cross? When women's health and safety are sacrificed to get Ben Nelson's vote, is that still not going to convince them that some things are indefensible?

Obviously the Dems are never, ever going to have a line that they won't cross, because they're terrified of the possible consequences. But that's why they supported the Iraq debacle, too, in all its destructive horror. The LieberCare hawks are primarily the "Liberal hawks" of 2002-2003. Have they learned anything? Have they changed at all?

IS there a line?

Edit: I'm wondering whether or not this has less to do with policy and more to do with pride. There are no small number of LieberHawks who have poured a ton of time and effort, now, into defending this crap. Convincing progressives that the bill is actually defensible is one thing: ultimately progressives want to be convinced, because they don't want to believe that they now have to take up rhetorical and political arms against the people that they had worked so hard to elect only last year.

Convincing the "wonks", however, is going to be much harder. (I scarequoted "wonks" because it is insulting to argue that the critics don't understand the legislation, but that's what its supporters insist.) If people like Ezra and Yglesias and Drum turn on the legislation, they're in deep, deep trouble. The Dems will shun them, because the Dems believe that their electoral fortunes will be better if they pass it than if they don't. (They're wrong, but it's a question of belief.) The Washington Establishment will probably shun them, too, because they'll have associated themselves with all those nasty dirty hippies, and irritating pseuds like me and digby and atrios. And progressives probably won't be terribly supportive, either, since this is twice now that they've been yelling at us for speaking Truth to Dems.

It's a hard place to be in. But, remember, we didn't put you in that place. They did.