Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Should we waterboard the Christian militia terrorists?

Or, as rule-of-law wimps might call them, accused terrorists?
In an indictment against the nine unsealed on Monday, the Justice Department said they were part of a group of apocalyptic Christian militants who were plotting to kill law enforcement officers in hopes of inciting an antigovernment uprising, the latest in a recent surge in right-wing militia activity.

The court filing said the group, which called itself the Hutaree, planned to kill an unidentified law enforcement officer and then bomb the funeral caravan using improvised explosive devices based on designs used against American troops by insurgents in Iraq.
Rod Dreher at BeliefNet answers:
Not really. I don't believe in torture. Still, I wonder how people who do believe in waterboarding terrorism suspects to make 'em tell what they know would feel about applying that technique to the nine members of the fanatical Christian militia arrested in Michigan on terrorism charges. Here's a promotional video the Christian militia produced. Looks a lot like Islamic terrorist recruitment videos:

[JW: Similar to many of them--though not as gory as the jihadist videos that feature actual killings, including beheadings. I do know, however, that this "Hutaree" group has made other videos a lot creepier than this one.]
This bunch doesn't look like it could fly airplanes into towers. They look like they could drive a K car through the door of a Kwikee Mart. Still, glad they're in jail tonight.
Same here.

I had never heard of this particular group, but in addition to the NYTimes article quoted above, here is some information from the Christian Science Monitor:
According to the group’s website, Hutaree means “Christian Warrior.” The website announces: “The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it.”

Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks militia groups nationwide, said Monday she was aware of two Hutaree chapters: one in Utah and one in Michigan. She noted Hutaree has more than 350 friends on its Myspace page, dozens of which are other other militias, and she said David Stone was planning to attend a summit in Kentucky with other militias next month.

“Hutaree is not an isolated crew,” she noted.[....]

The Hutaree website claims the group was “preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive.”
They do seem to be a manageable threat. On the other hand, back in 1995 another apparent weirdo with personal and ideological links to the "militia" movement, Timothy McVeigh, carried out the most murderous and destructive terrorist attack on US soil before 2001. So maybe torturing these guys a little, to get some information about other possible plots, might be a sensible precaution?

--Jeff Weintraub

Happy Passover - "They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Now Let's Eat"

An annual Passover feature, first posted in April 2006 HERE. Here is the gist of it:

The Basic Scenario:
According to one Jewish joke, the theme of all Jewish holidays is: "They tried to kill us. We survived. Now let's eat!"
(As a general rule, that's not completely accurate, but it captures a lot.)

The song:

That message was turned into a Passover song by the group What I Like About Jew. The lyrics are at the end of this post, and you can hear a performance of the song (not the best version I've heard, but the best available on YouTube) here:

Other versions here & here & here.

=> For further explanation, commentary, and interpretive wrangling about things Jewish, go back to the original post HERE.

--Jeff Weintraub

'They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let's Eat)'

Artist: What I Like About Jew
Composer: Sean Altman and Rob Tannenbaum
CD Title:Unorthodox
Label: Big Sean Music and Tbaum Music

They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let's Eat)
(words & music by Sean Altman & Rob Tannenbaum)

We were slaves to pharaoh in Egypt
The year was 1492
Hitler had just invaded Poland
Madonna had just become a Jew
Moses was found on the Potomac
Then he marched with Martin Luther King
He came back to free us from our bondage
'Cause S&M has never been our thing

They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
So they chase us to the border
There's a parting of the water
Tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat

Then the Pharaoh, who looked like Yul Bruyner
Heard the Jews were trying to escape
Charlton Heston came right down from the mountain
He said, "Pharaoh, you're a damn dirty ape"
The menorah was almost out of oil
Farrakhan was planning Kristalnacht
The gefilte fish was nearing extinction
It looked like Moses and his flock were fehrkakt

They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
And we knew how to resist
'Cause we'd rented Schindler's List
Tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat

The 10 Egyptian plagues
1. Blood
2. Locusts
3. Boils
4. Dandruff
5. Acne
6. Backne
7. Piles
8. Cataracts
9. Sciatica
10. Sickle cell anemia

We fled on foot, there was no time to tarry
Leavening the bread would take too long
All we had was egg foo yung and matzoh
While battling the fearsome Viet Cong
And so tonight, we gather to remember
The ancient Hebrews who paid the price
We have a Seder, every year in December
To commemorate our savior, Jesus Christ

They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
So we never did succumb to the annual pogrom
Tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat

They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat
They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet
So come on, blow the shofar
'Cause they haven't nailed us so far
Tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why God doesn't write for the Wall Street Journal editorial page ...

... and couldn't get tenure at a business school.

Another pick-up from Brad DeLong, who (like Chad Goldberg) went looking in Deuteronomy to see what God has to say about economics. (Let's not even mention the New Testament!)

A few highlights below. They might also be titled "God's Passover Blogging" (or, for the more observant, "G-d's Passover Blogging". "But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee to do this thing."

--Jeff Weintraub

Deuteronomy 15:7: If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today...

Deuteronomy 24:6: No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man's life to pledge. If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you. Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do. Remember what the LORD thy God did unto Miriam by the way, after that ye were come forth out of Egypt. When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge. Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee. And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge: In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee. The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin. Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge: But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing...

Deuteronomy 24:19: When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing...

Another federal law with an individual mandate from the early republic (Brad DeLong)

Brad DeLong quotes Randy Barnett, Professor of Legal Theory at Georgetown Law Center and proponent of the so-called "Lost Constitution" (essentially, the pre-New Deal Constitution), making the following claim:
Congress has never before mandated that a citizen enter into an economic transaction with a private company, so there can be no judicial precedent for such a law.
Is this claim historically accurate? As we already know, the answer is clearly no. One such example, from 1798, is here.

Now Brad has found an even earlier example, in the Militia Act of 1792:

I. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, by the Captain or Commanding Officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this Act. And it shall at all time hereafter be the duty of every such Captain or Commanding Officer of a company, to enroll every such citizen as aforesaid, and also those who shall, from time to time, arrive at the age of 18 years, or being at the age of 18 years, and under the age of 45 years (except as before excepted) shall come to reside within his bounds; and shall without delay notify such citizen of the said enrollment, by the proper non-commissioned Officer of the company, by whom such notice may be proved. That every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack. That the commissioned Officers shall severally be armed with a sword or hanger, and espontoon; and that from and after five years from the passing of this Act, all muskets from arming the militia as is herein required, shall be of bores sufficient for balls of the eighteenth part of a pound; and every citizen so enrolled, and providing himself with the arms, ammunition and accoutrements, required as aforesaid, shall hold the same exempted from all suits, distresses, executions or sales, for debt or for the payment of taxes. [Etc.]

What makes this example especially telling is that Prof. Barnett, in the piece quoted from earlier, went on to pose the following reductio ad absurdum:
Imagine if Congress ordered the majority of American households without a firearm to buy a handgun from a private company, and punished their failure to do so with an escalating monetary fine, which it labeled a “tax.” Would the supporters of the health insurance mandate feel the same about the constitutionality of such a measure?
Well, we don't have to imagine it. In 1792 Congress "ordered the majority of American households" to do precisely that, and President George Washington signed it into law. QED.

Earlier examples, anyone?

--Jeff Weintraub

Slavery today (contd.)

(To follow up this & this & this ... and much else.)

Jonathan Zasloff, at The Reality-Based Community, offers some timely thoughts for Passover.

Chag Sameach,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. With a follow-up from Terry Glavin, a Canadian comrade and very righteous gentile:
Free the Slaves: Kevin Bales explains here how modern slavery works. It's a multibillion-dollar economy that underpins some of the worst industries on earth. He calculates the price of freeing every slave on earth, now.
Jonathan Zasloff (@ The Reality-Based Community)
March 29, 2010
Deliver Us From Egypt ...

... and Saudi Arabia, and the Congo, and Thailand, and Uzbekistan, and India, and the Philippines, and....

As we pause to celebrate Passover, and the liberation of the Jews from Egyptian bondage, it is well to remember that more than 27 million people worldwide today are enslaved. They are not building pyramids, but they are chained in forced marriages, conscripted as child soldiers, imprisoned as domestic servants, and — particularly grisly — forced as children to become the sexual playthings of their oppressors.

The Bible says that more than 600,000 Israelites were freed during the exodus. That pales in comparison to the current number.

Take a look at this report from the BBC, filed just a few months ago.

Then do something.

Chag Sameach.

Heavy metal music is a Zionist plot

A "well-funded Zionist campaign," no less, to promote Satan worship, drug addiction, "abomination," and the like, all in pursuit of "the real and stated goal of global Zionism," namely "ruling the world" ... as explained in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Didn't know that? It's all explained on an Egyptian TV talk show by a former adviser to the Mufti of Egypt. To be fair, the other participants are skeptical about the heavy metal part. (And the heavy metal fans on the show deny being funded by Zionism or worshiping Satan--but they would, wouldn't they?) The rest sounds straightforward to me.

A video clip is HERE. (Thanks to Mick Hartley for the tip.)

Yours for Zionist world domination,
Jeff Weintraub

"An unforgettable ceremony" - Newsreel of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945

Thanks to Jamie Plunkett for passing on a remarkable newsreel from 1945, of perfect quality, showing the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the US battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. This newsreel footage vividly captures a historic moment and the way that moment was presented to the world. If nothing else, it's a fascinating piece of cultural history.

It includes a recording of Douglas MacArthur's statements before and after the signing of the surrender document, for anyone curious to hear what he actually sounded like. Among his other qualities, MacArthur was a dramatic and sometimes eloquent showman with a strong sense of his own historical importance, and I think that comes through, too.

Incidentally, as the newsreel explicitly noted, this ceremony brought a formal end not only to the Second World War ("the costly, brutal eastern half of the most horrible world-wide war in human history") but also to the 1937-1945 Sino-Japanese War ("a war which had entered its eighth terrible year in China") that merged into World War II after December 1941. One touch I would not have expected was that a Chinese general--Nationalist, of course--was the third signer on the Allied side, right after the American signers but before the British and Soviet signers.

Watch it below or (to go directly to full-screen mode) here:

Japanese Sign Final Surrender!

--Jeff Weintraub

Monday, March 29, 2010

Chad Goldberg explains the moral basis of health care reform

In the controversies over health care reform, it is often too easy to get caught up in the political struggles and technical details--which are certainly important, but not the whole story--and to lose sight of the moral heart of the matter, which has to do with fundamental imperatives of solidarity, mutual responsibility, and basic moral decency. Here is a cogent and compelling discussion of those central issues.

My friend and intellectual comrade Chad Goldberg, a political sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, had an e-mail exchange about health care reform with a relative who asked him:
I was just wondering if someone smokes, drinks, does drugs and does not work should get health care on my hard earned dollar?
I think Chad's response would be hard to improve upon, so I share it with his permission (below).

--Jeff Weintraub

From: Chad Alan Goldberg

Dear X,

Always nice to hear from you. So you want to have a discussion about the recently enacted health care reform legislation? OK.

You asked me if someone who smokes, drinks, does drugs and does not work should get health care on your hard-earned dollar. This is obviously a loaded question designed to compel me to admit that the reform is misguided and unfair. But if you really want to know my opinion, my answer would be yes for several reasons.

Yes, for the same reason that I contribute my hard-earned dollars to pay for your Medicare benefits without scrutinizing your health habits or personal behavior. Medicare is a massive government-run health care program that compels younger working Americans to transfer huge amounts of money to older retired Americans. And it does so for good reason: public health is not merely a private benefit but a public good, like public education, clean air & water, public roads, and other public services.

Yes, for the same reason that you pay premiums for private health insurance without scrutinizing the health habits or employment histories of the other policyholders. By pooling both your financial contributions and the risk of sickness, a large number of you can absorb losses more easily than any one of you on your own.

Yes, because by doing so you might save that person's life.

Yes, because if that person had routine access to preventive health care (smoking cessation programs, for instance, or treatment for addiction), it might help her to adopt healthier habits.

Yes, because if you want that person to work, then you want her to be healthy. People who are seriously ill can't work.

Yes, because you pay for that person anyway when she goes to the ER and those costs are passed on to you indirectly. (They get rolled into hospital overhead, which is paid by people like you who can pay.) And if she has routine access to preventive care and doesn't have to wait until her problems develop into full-blown emergencies before they get treated, at least it will cost you less.

Yes, because it's better than paying the hidden social costs of having millions of your fellow Americans without health insurance. For example, health care costs are linked to the majority of bankruptcies filed in this country. Those costs are absorbed by banks and passed on to you in one form or another.

Yes, because health care is a fundamental human right. It says so in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted by a commission chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, which the United States voted to adopt in the UN General Assembly in 1948. Article 25 states in part: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
[JW: I know that UN documents make a lot of people yawn--and not always without some reason--but this notion that access to decent health care might be seen as a "fundamental human right" is not restricted to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For example, it also happens to be the official position of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:

For the Catholic Church, health care is a basic human right and providing health care is an essential ministry. We pick up the pieces of this failing system in our emergency rooms, clinics, parishes and communities. This is why we strongly support Congressional action on health care reform which protects human life and dignity and serves the poor and vulnerable as a moral imperative and an urgent national priority.

Which brings us to Chad's next point ... ]
Yes, because you're a good Christian, and therefore you remember what Scripture teaches us: “Take care lest you … say to yourselves, ‘My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.’ Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17). And it is the Lord who commands us: “open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

Finally, I doubt that you personally will be paying more taxes under the health care reform legislation unless your income is much higher than I think. (The law requires families with an annual income above $250,000 to pay a little more in taxes on their investment income and contribute a little more to Medicare from their payroll taxes.) In fact, you might well receive new benefits from the legislation in the form of changes to the Medicare prescription drug program. That program’s unpopular “doughnut hole”—the big gap in coverage left by President Bush and the previous Republican Congress—will now be eliminated by 2020. In the meantime, millions of Medicare recipients who are affected by it will immediately begin receiving rebates and in 2011 a 50% discount on brand name drugs. I’m in favor of that too.

Hope you have a happy Easter and are enjoying the spring weather.

Yours truly,

P.S. I have great faith in this country and its future. America has surmounted worse problems in the past, and I am sure we will get through the ones we face today if, listening to "the better angels of our nature" (as Lincoln said), we trust and look out for each other.


It is necessary that we never lose sight of what is the aim of public education. It is not a matter of training workers for the factory or accountants for the warehouse, but citizens for society. --Emile Durkheim

Most laughable threat of the week (contd.)

This was last week's winner, from John McCain:
Democrats shouldn't expect much cooperation from Republicans the rest of this year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Monday.
Unlike last year?

=> This week, an even better version of the same joke:
A leading Republican predicted Sunday that President Obama’s appointment of 15 officials while sidestepping Senate confirmation would make it more difficult to get bipartisan support for future legislation.
As Mark Kleiman correctly wonders, given that this has already been impossible, how can it get any "more difficult" than that? "Ummm … a probability of zero can’t get smaller."

(That last point does sound logical ... but if we're talking about Republican obstructionism, I wouldn't be so sure.)

--Jeff Weintraub

Paul J. O'Rourke's history lesson about US federal mandates to purchase health-care insurance

(To which I was tipped off by Brad DeLong.) Actually, since several of the Founders are involved, the 1798 precedent discussed here may also bear on the question of the "original intent" of those who drafted the US Constitution. This history lesson is both timely and self-explanatory, so I'll just reproduce it below. --Jeff Weintraub

Paul J. O'Rourke
March 24, 201o
News: Pres. Signs H-Care Insurance Mandate-212 Years Ago!

A Lesson in American History, Healthcare and the Constitution for 14 State Attorneys General

Let’s begin today’s history lesson with the following news:

(CNN) -- Officials from 14 states have gone to court to block the historic overhaul of the U.S. health care system that President Obama signed into law Tuesday, arguing the law's requirement that individuals buy health insurance violates the Constitution.

Thirteen of those officials filed suit in a federal court in Pensacola, Florida, minutes after Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The complaint calls the act an "unprecedented encroachment on the sovereignty of the states" and asks a judge to block its enforcement.

"The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage," the lawsuit states.

The history lesson

In July, 1798, Congress passed, and President John Adams signed into law “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen,” authorizing the creation of a marine hospital service, and mandating privately employed sailors to purchase healthcare insurance,

This legislation also created America’s first payroll tax, as a ship’s owner was required to deduct 20 cents from each sailor’s monthly pay and forward those receipts to the service, which in turn provided injured sailors hospital care. Failure to pay or account properly was discouraged by requiring a law violating owner or ship's captain to pay a 100 dollar fine.

This historical fact demolishes claims of “unprecedented” and "The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty...”

Perhaps these somewhat incompetent attorneys general might wish to amend their lawsuits to conform to the 1798 precedent, and demand that the mandate and fines be linked to implementing a federal single payer healthcare insurance plan.

The other option is to name Presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison et al. in the lawsuits. However, it might be difficult to convince a judge, or the public, that those men didn't know the limits of the Constitution.

Because the attorneys general research is obviously lacking a comprehensive review of history and the Constitution, I’m providing a copy of the 5th Congress’ 1798 legislation.

CHAP. LXXVII – An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled - That from and after the first day of September next, the master or owner of every ship or vessel of the United States, arriving from a foreign port into any port of the United States, shall, before such ship or vessel shall be admitted to an entry, render to the collector a true account of the number of seamen, that shall have been employed on board such vessel since she was last entered at any port in the United States,-and shall pay to the said collector, at the rate of twenty cents per month for every seaman so employed; which sum he is hereby authorized to retain out of the wages of such seamen.

SEC2. .And be it further enacted, That from and after the first day of September next, no collector shall grant to any ship or vessel whose enrolment or license for carrying on the coasting trade has expired, a new enrolment or license before the master of such ship or vessel shall first render a true account to the collector, of the number of seamen,and the time they have severally been employed on board such ship or vessel, during the continuance of the license which has so expired, and pay to such collector twenty cents per month for every month such seamen have been severally employed, as aforesaid; which sum the said master is hereby authorized to retain out of the wages of such seamen. And if any such master shall render a false account of the number of men, and the length of time they have severally been employed, as is herein required, he shall forfeit and pay one hundred dollars.

SEC3. . And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the several collectors to make a quarterly return of the sums collected by them, respectively, by virtue of this act, to the Secretary of the Treasury; and the President of the United States is hereby authorized, out of the same, to provide for the temporary relief and maintenance of sick or disabled seamen, in the hospitals or other proper institutions now established in the several ports of the United States, or, in ports where no such institutions exist, then in such other manner as he shall direct: Provided, that the monies collected in any one district, shall be expended within the same.

SEC. 4. .And be it further enacted, That if any surplus shall remain of the monies to be collected by virtue of this act, after defraying the expense of such temporary relief and support, that the same, together with such private donations as may be made for that purpose (which the President is hereby authorized to receive) shall be invested in the stock of the United States, under the direction of the President; and when, in his opinion, a sufficient fund shall be accumulated, he is hereby authorized to purchase or receive cessions or donations of ground or provision for buildings, in the name of the United States, and to cause buildings, when necessary, to be erected as hospitals for the accommodation of sick and disabled seamen.

SEC5. . And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby authorized to nominate and appoint, in such ports of the United States, as he may think proper, one or more persons, to be called directors of the marine hospital of the United States, whose duty it shall be to direct the expenditure of the fund assigned for their respective ports, according to the third section of this act; to provide for the accommodation of sick and disabled seamen, under such general instructions as shall be given by, the President of the United States, for that purpose, and also subject to the like general instructions, to direct and govern such hospitals as the President may direct to be built in the respective ports: and that the said directors shall hold their offices during the pleasure of the President, who is authorized to fill up all vacancies that may be occasioned by the death or removal of any of the persons so to be appointed. And the said directors shall render an account of the monies received and expended by them, once in every quarter of a year, to the Secretary of the Treasury,or such other person as the President shall direct; but no other allowance or compensation shall be made to the said directors, except the payment of such expenses as they may incur in the actual discharge of the duties required by this act.

APPROVED July 16, 1798.

[JW: For more details, see Our Founding Fathers' Socialized Healthcare System.]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New frontiers in Senate Republican obstructionism

Have they run through all possible tricks for generalized procedural obstructionism? Far from it. It's amazing what you can accomplish by manipulating Senate rules if you're single-mindedly determined to gum up the works--and have no sense of shame or embarrassment, as well as no fear of suffering any political consequences.
The Republicans seem to be responding to the passage of health care and likely passage of the reconciliation measure by invoking little-known rules to slow everything down. Senate Republicans have used a rare tactic during the opening of Senate business to cancel or postpone committee hearings. [....]

Senate Democrats are decrying the tactic -- used yesterday to stop a subcommittee hearing on bark beetles and then today to slow a hearing on police training contracts in Afghanistan and cancel a Judiciary hearing on nominees -- as obstructionism beyond the pale. [....]
Further explanation and elaboration here.

=> In what has become their characteristically indiscriminate style, the Republicans had no qualms about blocking a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Chair of the committee, Sen. Carl Levin, was appropriately indignant:
"It is astounding to me that Republicans have taken a step of such pointless, blind obstructionism. It cannot achieve their goal of obstructing health care reform. Instead, they are obstructing a hearing that has nothing to do with the health care debate and everything to do with the defense of our nation. And they have disrupted the schedules of senior commanders who in two cases have traveled thousands of miles from their troops, and who would be providing the Senate with information on pressing national security topics such as North Korea's nuclear program, Chinese military capability and the threat of cyber-warfare. Our national security should not be held hostage to Republican pique over health care."
Well, it may be astounding, but by now it shouldn't be surprising. (In December 2009, for example, the Republicans were willing to filibuster the military funding bill in order to bring the Senate's business to a halt and prevent a vote on health care reform.) It's going to be a long year.

--Jeff Weintraub

Most laughable threat of the week

A tough competition. But I think John McCain is the winner:
Democrats shouldn't expect much cooperation from Republicans the rest of this year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Monday.
Unlike last year?
"There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year," McCain said during an interview Monday on an Arizona radio affiliate.
Well, why did they need to ask John McCain? I could have told them that.
"They have poisoned the well in what they've done and how they've done it."
Tentative translation: They've hurt our feelings--imagine, they actually had the gall to pass legislation we didn't like, just because they won the last election and had a majority!--so now we'll just sulk for the rest of the year, and let the country go to hell. (Or, to put it another way, "Country first.")

There must be a joke in there somewhere, but I'm not sure I get it.

--Jeff Weintraub

Political culture in Iran and the US

I just happened to see this cartoon from the summer of 2009 by Matt Bors. (Clicking on the cartoon will expand it.)

(For irony-challenged readers: No, of course the two situations weren't precisely the same. It's a satirical cartoon.)

--Jeff Weintraub

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What change looks like - More mysteries of public opinion polling

According to House Republican Leader John Boehner (or almost any other Congressional Republican picked at random, since they all repeat the same talking-points):
Instead of continuing to push a government takeover of health care that the American people have soundly rejected, the President and Democratic Leaders on Capitol Hill should scrap their plan and start over [etc.]
A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted on Monday, the day after the House voted for health care reform, got the following response to this question:
As you may know, yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that restructures the nation’s healthcare system. All in all, do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing that Congress passed this bill?

Good thing 49%
Bad thing 40%
Don’t know 11%
The largest single group, 48%, calls the bill "a good first step" that should be followed by more action on health care. An additional 4% also have a favorable view, saying the bill makes the most important changes needed in the nation's health care system.
Of course, this is just one poll, and that upward bump in support for the bill may turn out to be a passing blip. Maybe Americans just like a winner? Maybe they don't want to hear another word about health care reform? I suspect this means more than that, but who knows for sure?

But that's really the key point. Public opinion polls are often fickle, and the public response to this health care reform effort, as measured by polls, has been extremely fluid, complicated, and ambivalent. If the Republicans do run their 2010 election campaign on a promise to repeal this bill, they may be in for a surprise.

--Jeff Weintraub

Lessons from HCR - Time to repeal the 17th & 19th amendments?

Back in February, when it looked as though health care reform might be dead as a doornail, Jonathan Chait predicted that if it passed after all, the right-wing freakout would be "something to behold." My guess is that the next few months will confirm that prediction in a big way.

Meanwhile, the reaction of Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas, who is always good for political comic relief, may be an early straw in the wind.
In the wake of the passage of health care reform, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) has decided enough is enough and it's time to repeal the 17th Amendment which ended the appointment of senators by state legislatures in favor of direct election by the people.
That would help restore states' rights, for sure. But would that be enough? David Kurtz suggests an alternative, or perhaps supplementary, approach:
But why go all the way back to 1913? You could just freeze time in 1920 by repealing the 19th Amendment. There's no way we'd have health care reform without women voting and a female speaker of the House. So there's your real culprit.
--Jeff Weintraub

Obama: "This is what change looks like."

Nobody needs me to provide a news service. But this is genuinely historic. From Christina Bellantoni at TPM:
With much fanfare, dozens of pens and members of Congress beaming at his side, President Obama signed a sweeping health care reform bill this morning. "Today after almost a century of trying; today after a year of debate; today after all the votes have been tallied health, insurance reform becomes" the law of the land in America, Obama said in the White House East Room.
The next step is for the Senate to pass the "reconciliation" measure with its various fixes, corrections, and adjustments. Assuming that works out OK, this health care reform package will be complete.

As Obama said in his speech on Sunday night, after the House vote:
So this isn't radical reform. But it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.
(Or, to quote Joe Biden: "This is a big fucking deal.")

--Jeff Weintraub

Some Senate Republicans begin to concede defeat on "reconciliation"

The Senate version of the health care reform bill, approved by the House on Sunday, will be signed into law by President Obama later this morning. To complete the health care reform package, the House also passed a bundle of fixes, patches, and revisions (together with a long-overdue reform of the federal student loan program). This now needs to be passed by the Senate as well. As everyone should now be aware, this measure will be voted on using the procedural device of "budget reconciliation," which circumvents a Republican filibuster and allows the bill to be passed by simple majority vote.

Senate Republicans have promised a final crescendo of procedural obstructionism to block this measure, but the consensus of informed opinion seems to be that this will fail, and that they probably can't delay final passage for more than a day or so. Even some Republican die-hards are beginning to concede this.

Republicans are unlikely to force major changes to the measure making final tweaks to healthcare legislation, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Monday night. [....]

"No," Coburn said during an appearance on CNBC when asked if the GOP would be able to stop many elements of the reconciliation bill. "We'll put a few holes in it, but basically it's going to come through here because they've done a good job crafting it." [....]

Senate Republicans have said they plan to raise a series of objections and points of order against the bill, leading some to say they are "virtually certain" they could force changes that would send the reconciliation measure back to the House for another vote.

Those efforts were dealt a blow Monday night, though, when the Senate's parliamentarian dismissed a GOP challenge that claimed the bill should have been dismissed for touching on Social Security revenues.

Instead, Coburn sketched out some elements of the long-term propaganda war that will follow enactment of this health care reform package. This was in a sympathetic TV conversation with the outspoken market-fanatic, anti-tax, pro-plutocratic right-wing economic commentator/propagandist Lawrence Kudlow on Kudlow's CNBC show. It's worth listening to the video clip from their exchange down at the bottom of this piece, since it offers a partial foretaste of what we'll be hearing from the Republican side for the rest of 2010 ... and beyond. (And a few of Coburn's remarks are even, in their own tendentious way, perceptive.)

--Jeff Weintraub

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mitt Romney now pledged to run against his own record

Alex Massie, writing in the conservative British Spectator, perceptively captures this somewhat peculiar situation in a piece aptly titled: "Obamacare = Romneycare = Mitt's the Biggest Loser?"
Jon Chait loves a good fight so I'm not surprised he's in I Told You So mood today. I kinda, sorta, less confidently, told you so too even after Massachusetts when the prospect for HCR were pretty bleak and Fred Barnes was saying it was dead, dead, dead.

Well, we all get things wrong and sometimes perhaps we get a little lucky. The chap with the most to lose from last night's vote - in terms of politics and 2012 if nothing else - is our old chum Mitt Romney. No wonder Romney released this statement:

America has just witnessed an unconscionable abuse of power. President Obama has betrayed his oath to the nation [...] His health-care bill is unhealthy for America. It raises taxes, slashes the more private side of Medicare, installs price controls, and puts a new federal bureaucracy in charge of health care. [...]
Blah, blah, blah ... etc.

Massie cuts through all this verbiage and zeroes in on what it actually means:
In other words, Romney is now pledged to running against his own record. This is an unusual strategy but one forced upon him by a) his actual record and b) the temper of the Republican party and conservative movement. All this trouble over one tiny bill he signed when Governor of Massachusetts!
[JW: I apologize for belaboring the obvious, but I know some readers will miss the fact that Massie's formulation here is ironic.]
Because Obamacre is, in the view of plenty of sensible observers, merely a souped-up version of the Romneycare Mitt signed into law in Boston - and that he boasted about during the 2008 campaign. Back then it was a case of "I can fix health care because I've done it in the Bay State". How times change

Now, of course, he must disavow this and pretend it never happened. In a sense, mind you, this merely shows that, for all that the MA reforms may not have been perfect and for all that they may not scale to the national level, the ideas behind Obamacare were hardly revolutionary. The detail may, for sure, be another matter. Still, in outline, Governor Romney could be proud of this sort of thing; Candidate Romney must disavow his own past.
In fact, Romney already began to do that in 2008, so it won't be a new experience. Time will tell how successfully he can get away with it.

=> Meanwhile, what should we make of all the whining by Romney and other Republicans about the Democrats' "unconscionable abuse of power", their "totalitarian tactics", and the rest of this nonsense that we're sure to be hearing ad nauseam for the rest of 2010? Massie says pretty much all that needs to be said:
The legislative process may have been, to put it mildly, untidy but the President and the Congressional leadership had a mandate to produce these reforms. Complaining that they've done what they said they would do and howling that it's not fair and a big Democrat took the ball and ran away is neither dignified nor persuasive.
--Jeff Weintraub

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The House passes the reconciliation bill ...

... by 220-211 votes. Now it goes to the Senate. In all probability, the health care reform package will soon be complete.

Back at 4:39 p.m., when the announcement of by Stupak and the other anti-abortion Democrats that they would vote for health care reform made it clear that it would almost certainly pass, Paul Krugman put it this way:
There is, as always, a tunnel at the end of the tunnel: we’ll spend years if not decades fixing this thing. But kudos to all involved, with special praise for Nancy Pelosi, who is now a Speaker for the ages.
--Jeff Weintraub

The House approves the Senate HCR bill

They did it! TPM:
By a razor thin margin of 219-212, the House of Representatives tonight passed far-reaching legislation that will lead to near-universal health care coverage in the United States -- a goal that has eluded Presidents and Congresses for a century.

The vote concluded at 10:48 p.m., almost 10 hours after Democrats gavelled the chamber into session, confident the vote would be there. The bulk of reform will now be enrolled and signed into law, while a separate, smaller package is expected to go to the Senate, where Democrats are expected to muster the 51 votes needed to pass it. [....]
The health care reform bill, in the version passed by the Senate in December 2009, has now been passed by Congress, and will become law when signed by the President. That's done.

The House is now moving toward a vote on the reconciliation measure that will complete the health care reform package. At this moment, Rep. Bart Stupak, no less, is speaking against Republican efforts to sabotage it by re-introducing his own previous anti-abortion amendment.

--Jeff Weintraub

Congressman Jim Cooper does the right thing

Brad DeLong has been doing a series of posts today that started out being headed "As RomneyCare Moves Toward Possible Final Passage..." (an appropriate title, since the final Democratic plan closely resembles the system enacted in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was Governor, though Romney tries to pretend otherwise) and have gradually shifted to "As RomneyCare Approaches Near-Certain Final Passage...".

Some of these posts have been about wavering Congressional Democrats who decided, at the Very Last Moment, to vote for health care reform. Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee described his decision to do that with a statement that deserves noting:
I woke up this Sunday morning, said my prayers, and finally decided that I will vote YES on health care reform.

Having heard from tens of thousands of Middle Tennesseans on all sides of the issue (including the flood of messages in the last few days and hours), and having spent months studying the various bills, I know that America must improve its health care system because it is unsustainable. This legislation will make it better.

Any decision of this magnitude must be made very carefully, after weighing every concern. We Nashvillians are proud of our outstanding health care community that makes us “the nation’s health care industry capital.” Given our community’s expertise, it is interesting to note that:

· Every Nashville hospital strongly supports the legislation, whether it’s St. Thomas, Vanderbilt (both University and Hospital), Centennial, Meharry Medical School, Nashville General, Summit, Skyline, or Southern Hills.

· A majority of physicians who contacted me support the legislation and, although the Tennessee Medical Association opposes it, the TMA’s national organization, the conservative American Medical Association, supports it.

· A majority of local nurses support the legislation, along with the American Nurses Association.

· Despite media controversy regarding abortion, the Catholic Health Association, Catholics United, and groups representing 59,000 Catholic Sisters support the legislation.

· The largest Nashville and national senior organization, AARP, supports the legislation.

It means a lot to me that so many local people who know so much about health care agree with my decision. [....]

The bottom line is that this legislation offers the only realistic hope that most Americans have for getting a fair deal in today’s private health insurance markets. [....] No matter what your insurance company is, most Tennesseans are only one illness away, one pink slip away, or one premium hike away from being mistreated by current insurance practices: discrimination against pre-existing conditions, arbitrary premium pricing, and last-minute rescission of coverage when you need it most. This legislation will cover 32 million hardworking, middle-class Americans who are left out in the cold by today’s insurance practices. Rival legislation only attempts to cover 3 million uninsured people, or less than 10% of the problem. America can, and must, do better. [....]

Regardless of what happens to this legislation today, America cannot afford to ignore the growing crisis in financing today’s medical system. In the future, we need to focus on these issues every year, not every 15 years. Passage of this legislation is absolutely certain to do that. Flaws will need to be corrected, adjustments made, new ideas explored. I have a list ready. [....]

I am well aware of the fact that this is a big vote, and perhaps a career-limiting decision. But I think most folks back home want me to do what is right, not just what’s temporarily popular. [....]
You can read the rest here.

Brad's reaction:
Put a ring on his finger! Dress him in a fine robe and put sandals on his feet!! Slaughter the fatted calf!!! Let there be music and dancing!!!! For our brother who was dead is now alive!!!!! He who was lost now is found!!!!!!
Makes sense to me.

--Jeff Weintraub

Republicans start to concede defeat on HCR

The latest from TPM:
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) tells MSNBC: "Now that Bart and these other pro-life Democrats have switched, they're gonna be able to pass this bill."
And David Frum, who has been trying to serve as the Voice of Reason on the right tweets:
if HCR prevails, Republicans need an accountability moment. Jim DeMint/ Rush / Beck etc. [l]ed us to Waterloo all right . Ours.
Let's hope so.

--Jeff Weintraub

Breaking news: The Stupak anti-abortion Democrats agree to vote for health care reform

I think this puts health care reform over the top.

As reported by TPM:
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) has reached a deal with House Democratic leadership on the abortion language in the health care reform bill.

Stupak, a pro-life Democrat, was one of the key holdouts on the bill, and as late as this morning told reporters that he controlled eight of the votes.

He just announced that he and the leadership have reached a deal on the bill's abortion language, and he and "eight or nine" house Democrats will now vote "yes." [....]
Part of this deal was an agreement with the White House that the President "will be issuing an executive order after the passage of the health insurance reform law that will reaffirm its consistency with longstanding restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion." For the text of that executive order, see here.

At first glance, the promised executive order doesn't change the provisions in the existing health care package, but merely confirms them. However, that will be a matter for more extended interpretation.

More immediately, however, what this agreement almost certainly means is that the health care reform package will pass the House today. Doing that will require 216 votes. Stupak: "We're well past 216." And: "The real winner is really the American people,"

--Jeff Weintraub

Live TV coverage of today's House showdown on health care reform

Following today's talking and voting in the House of Representatives may or may not be something you crave. But anyone who's interested can do it below (or here).

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I see from TPM's Countdown To Reform Wire that "Both parties have called all of their members to the floor during the entirety of the debate." In either house of the US Congress, that's highly unusual.

From Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office: "The Republican Leadership has instructed their Members to remain on the Floor today during debate on Health care Reform. We expect Republican procedural delay tactics during the day. Members' presence is requested on the Floor throughout the day."
Republicans have indeed promised to do whatever they can to stop this health reform package from passing, so if it does clear the House today, then we can expect a climactic extravaganza of obstructionism in the Senate. House rules make obstructionism more difficult, but there are always possibilities. When CNN's Candy Crowley asked Republican Mike Pence what the House Republicans planned to do today, he apparently responded: "Well, stay tuned, Candy. It's going to be an interesting day."

Even for people who aren't fascinated by procedural maneuvers, legislative trench warfare, and the endless repetition of misleading partisan talking-points (all of which, if truth be told, often look pretty dull to outsiders), the final votes will definitely make this a very interesting day.

--Jeff Weintraub

Health care reform after all? - Gail Collins becomes giddy with anticipation

It looks as though today really is the moment of truth in the year-long political struggle over health care reform. So what is this all about?

In her column in yesterday's New York Times, Gail Collins warmed up by tossing out some mildly sarcastic remarks about the process leading up to this moment--which really does have many grimly amusing aspects. Then she got a bit more soberly factual, though only up to a point:
On Sunday, the House is expected to finally vote on the bill that the Senate approved on Christmas Eve after a debate so endless that the wiped-out majority leader, Harry Reid, initially voted “no” by mistake. If it passes, it theoretically goes to the president. In the real Congressional world, there are still major complications involving a second bill making changes in the first one, under parliamentary procedures so abstract that they verge on the metaphysical. [JW: In the real world, these procedures look so "abstract" and "metaphysical" only to inattentive journalists, Republican propagandists, and people determined to be confused. But OK.]

That would bounce back to the Senate, where the Republicans are vowing to find some way to stretch the process out even longer. (Friday was also the feast of St. Pancharius, a Roman senator who was beheaded by the emperor in 303. No matter how bad it gets, this is not the sort of thing we want to encourage.) [JW: I'm not so sure.]
=> And then Collins abruptly zeroed in on the real heart of the matter. This is what it's about:
Nevertheless, Sunday feels as if it’s going to be the critical moment, and if the House votes yes, it will be kind of incredible.

We live in an era in which the power of the new hypermedia is so intense and politics so rabid that it’s almost impossible for Congress to do anything more difficult than tax cuts or highway construction. Yet, here’s this huge, complicated, controversial reform — bigger than any domestic program in decades.

If it passes, the short-term political consequences are unknowable. But in 10 years, people will look back in amazement that we once lived in a time when Americans couldn’t get health care coverage if they were sick, when insurance companies could cut off your benefits for being sick, and when run-of-the-mill serious illnesses routinely destroyed families’ financial security.
Or, if this whole year-long effort ends in failure today, no one will touch comprehensive health care reform again for decades, and the whole situation will continue to get worse. Stay tuned ...

--Jeff Weintraub

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The student loan reform

As Jonathan Chait pointed out yesterday:
If health care reform weren't such an enormous deal, people would be paying more attention to the sweeping student loan reform that's being attached to it and could pass on the same vote.
This is a straightforward and unquestionably sensible reform, which can easily save billions of dollars currently being wasted for no good reason and make them available to help students go to college, but it has has nevertheless been steadily blocked for more than a decade and a half by a coalition of Republicans, bankers and other special interests, and some Congressional Democrats beholden to them. Now it looks as though this reform might actually pass, since a reconciliation vote--requiring only a majority of Senators-- means it can't be killed by filibuster.

Chait is right that this story has been been developing largely under the radar, and most people seem to be unaware of it, so it's worth reading his explanation of what this is all about: "The Other Huge Reform At Stake Sunday"

For a compact introduction or, if you prefer, a condensed version, Ezra Klein has boiled this down to two clear and concise paragraphs:
Attached to the health-care reconciliation bill is a major reform of the student loan program. The easy way to explain this is that the current student loan program is both about education loans and corporate welfare. To keep rates down, the government guarantees these loans, which means that lenders get paid back even if the students default. Which means that the lenders aren't really serving any purpose.

Cutting them out will save taxpayers more than $60 billion over the next 10 years, with most of that money slated to go to Pell grants. Past attempts to reform this program have been blocked by a mixture of Republicans and Democrats with big lender companies in their states. But as Jon Chait says, "the fact that this is a straight majority vote means the usual coalition of every Republican plus a couple Democratic shills won't be enough to stop it. This would be a major advance for the cause of good government reform."
As Chait also says, the fact that this reform has been attached to the budget reconciliation resolution means that "a big vote has gotten even bigger". It's white-knuckle time now.

--Jeff Weintraub

How cynical inside-dopesterism masquerades as political "journalism"

The provocation for this Gawker piece by Alex Pareene is an article in Politico that his headline describes as "The Most Cynical Political Story Ever Written". Of course, that headline (which may well be an editor's, not Pareene's) is a wild exaggeration. Even the competition for "most cynical political story written in Washington this week" is fierce enough that this story might get lost in the pack.

But once we get past the headline, this is a great piece--not least because the kinds of journalistic pathology it identifies are not exceptional, but typical. It does a great job of bringing out the ways in which too many political "journalists" in the US confuse cynicism with sophistication. More than a half-century ago, in The Lonely Crowd, David Riesman and his co-authors nailed this perspective as that of the cynical inside-dopester, the guy whose pride lies in not getting fooled like the rubes because he knows that everyone's 'real' motives are always sordid, selfish, manipulative, and deceptively camouflaged. That's often part of the story, even a significant part; the illusion lies in believing that it's always the whole story, or the most important part of the story. Understanding social and political reality requires more than just debunking people's motives, real or imagined.

It's true that a touch of cynicism can often be useful for making sense of politics. But there is a difference between a critical perspective and a merely cynical one. When cynicism drives out everything else, the results are not really that insightful and illuminating. Instead, cynical inside-dopesterism easily becomes superficial and misleadingly reductive, and when it's pervasive it tends to corrupt and poison public discourse.

All that may be a slightly abstract introduction to a nicely concrete outburst. Some highlights:
When the Future Robot Death Panels ask you to show them one article that explains exactly how narrow-minded, cynical, amoral, and borderline sociopathic the Washington press was in the time of Freedom, you may want to consider this Politico story. ["The Drama Queen Caucus"]

[....] It is ostensibly "about" Democratic members of congress who have announced that they are undecided about voting for health care reform legislation. As Politico stories go, it's not bad and destructive and evil in the way that their Dick Cheney interviews are. It's just a piece of writing that only a man who doesn't have any sense of morality or principle could possibly understand. It's proof that the Politico model is to take everything bad and off-putting about Washington journalism, amplify the worst qualities, and strip out anything edifying, instructive, or redeeming.

The thesis is that everyone who announced that they had any problem, substantive or not, with the health care bill, did so purely and solely for the purpose of boosting their status or name recognition among the sort of people who write and edit Politico. It posits a world where everyone thinks "a Sunday talk show invitation" is a goal worth taking a stand on. [....]

For Representative Luis Gutierrez, for example, "immigration" is a "pet issue." In the Politico mindset, Gutierrez harping on this "pet issue" is purely a way to get himself some attention. The idea that "immigration" is an "issue" that he actually cares about because it is actually about real-life people facing real-life problems that require government intervention, and that he may have trouble supporting this bill because while it is probably a net positive it also fails to address the problems facing those people he may theoretically actually care about, does not occur to anyone. [....]

But this article comes from an insider mindset so corroded by cynicism that it cannot fathom a world where any political actor does anything for any reason other than naked self-promotion. Is it really so naive of me to believe that Dick Cheney keeps arguing for an all-powerful executive unencumbered by the Constitution, the courts, or congress because he misguidedly believes that would keep us safe, and not simply because he wants to be on TV? It's a repulsive mindset, and one that shouldn't be treated as sensible and mainstream by the press, but I think it's heartfelt!
Alas, too true. And here is a point worth pondering:
There is also an important [...] difference between these hypothetical members jockeying for bowling trips with the president and those holding out until the legislation is altered in some fashion—-the ones who want the legislation altered actually seem to grasp that legislation does stuff. To Politico, the purpose of legislating seems to be to go on Meet the Press, or get yourself elected governor.
Yes, legislation does stuff (even if it's not always, or not precisely, what it's intended to do). But to understand what it might or might not do requires something more than political gossip and drama criticism.

--Jeff Weintraub

Saturday, March 20, 2010
The Most Cynical Political Story Ever Written
By Alex Pareene (

The Most Cynical Political Story Ever Written

When the Future Robot Death Panels ask you to show them one article that explains exactly how narrow-minded, cynical, amoral, and borderline sociopathic the Washington press was in the time of Freedom, you may want to consider this Politico story.

The headline is "The Drama Queen Caucus." The author is Jonathan Martin. It is ostensibly "about" Democratic members of congress who have announced that they are undecided about voting for health care reform legislation. As Politico stories go, it's not bad and destructive and evil in the way that their Dick Cheney interviews are. It's just a piece of writing that only a man who doesn't have any sense of morality or principle could possibly understand. It's proof that the Politico model is to take everything bad and off-putting about Washington journalism, amplify the worst qualities, and strip out anything edifying, instructive, or redeeming.

The thesis is that everyone who announced that they had any problem, substantive or not, with the health care bill, did so purely and solely for the purpose of boosting their status or name recognition among the sort of people who write and edit Politico. It posits a world where everyone thinks "a Sunday talk show invitation" is a goal worth taking a stand on.
Call it the Drama Queen Caucus - members of Congress who labor mostly in obscurity, lucky to get a daytime cable hit, let alone a Sunday talk show invitation, until the big vote nears. And then they engage in an oh-so-public exercise deliberating over how they will vote or go to extraordinary ends demonstrating how strongly they feel about the way they have already decided to vote.
For Representative Luis Gutierrez, for example, "immigration" is a "pet issue." In the Politico mindset, Gutierrez harping on this "pet issue" is purely a way to get himself some attention. The idea that "immigration" is an "issue" that he actually cares about because it is actually about real-life people facing real-life problems that require government intervention, and that he may have trouble supporting this bill because while it is probably a net positive it also fails to address the problems facing those people he may theoretically actually care about, does not occur to anyone.

The idea is also that Dennis Kucinich didn't support the bill because he wanted to be on TV and talk to the President. And he changed his mind because he wanted more attention, and not because people convinced him that the bill the best possible bill we'd get in the current political climate.

Most politicians are vain. Many of them are stupid. Cynicism is easy and often justified. Plenty of people in congress and elsewhere truly do do the things they do for reasons more or less like the ones described in this piece.

But this article comes from an insider mindset so corroded by cynicism that it cannot fathom a world where any political actor does anything for any reason other than naked self-promotion. Is it really so naive of me to believe that Dick Cheney keeps arguing for an all-powerful executive unencumbered by the Constitution, the courts, or congress because he misguidedly believes that would keep us safe, and not simply because he wants to be on TV? It's a repulsive mindset, and one that shouldn't be treated as sensible and mainstream by the press, but I think it's heartfelt!

(There is also an important a marked difference between these hypothetical members jockeying for bowling trips with the president and those holding out until the legislation is altered in some fashion—the ones who want the legislation altered actually seem to grasp that legislation does stuff. To Politico, the purpose of legislating seems to be to go on Meet the Press, or get yourself elected governor.)

Self-preservation actually provides our lawmakers with a halfway decent incentive to do the popular thing, if not always the right thing, and people make political decisions based on a lotta bullshit like tribal identification and prejudice and fear, but sometimes people support or don't support things for the reasons that they say, and not simply for the sake of saying something to a camera.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Health care showdown - One side is about to freak out big-time

The moment of truth may arrive on Sunday, in the form of a House vote. It has been clear for a while that the legislative strategy would involve a two-part operation in which the House approved the Senate version of the health care reform bill, which already passed the Senate in December with a 60-vote supermajority, and both Houses passed set of fixes negotiated to harmonize the House and Senate bills, using the device of budget "reconciliation" to circumvent a Republican filibuster. For the final text of the overall package, plus an "easy-to-read, essential-for-understanding breakdown" of what it contains , see here. For a nice procedural overview of how this drama will (probably) unfold this weekend, see here.

If this package passes the House, then most analysts seem to think it will almost certainly pass the Senate, too. If it fails to pass the House, then the game is over.

=> On Thursday the chances of passage got a big boost when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released its estimates of the bill's long-term cost and impact. Among other things, the CBO concluded that this final package would extend coverage to 95% of all legal residents of the US by 2019 and would reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over the next decade. Whether or not those estimates prove to be correct (serious people find them plausible, but making such projections is not an exact science), those deficit reduction figures are politically very significant. They can help reassure wavering Democrats who want to think of themselves as "fiscally conservative," or at least provide them with some political cover, and they appear to guarantee that the amendments can be passed in the Senate using "reconciliation" (which can only be used for measures projected to reduce the deficit).

In addition, over the past few days the health care reform bill was emphatically re-endorsed by both the AMA and the AARP. It also picked up unexpected endorsements from the Catholic Health Association and from a group of nuns representing a wide range of Catholic women's religious orders--the CHA endorsement, in particular, being a fairly dramatic public break with the condemnation of the bill by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Again, these are the kinds of factors that might have at least some marginal effect on wavering Congressional Democrats--along with the fact that health insurance premiums have been going up substantially and conspicuously across the country.

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, whose skill at political counting is regarded with universal respect, concluded Thursday that passage now looks probable, though not certain.
It's sure starting to look like both the momentum and the math favor the Democrats and that something will have to go wrong to prevent them from getting to 216 votes on health care.
On the other hand, various things could still go wrong (Silver also explains some of the reasons why that might happen). So this remains a cliffhanger. We'll just have to see how it turns out.

=> Meanwhile, we can look ahead to some likely consequences The Day After. The odds are that one side is about to freak out big-time.

If the Democrats fail to pass this bill, then that will constitute a political debacle of the first order. Back in January, after the Democrats lost their nominal 60-vote majority in the Senate, Obama and the Congressional Democratic leadership could, hypothetically, have decided to abandon the whole effort to enact health care reform, whether or not they admitted this explicitly. Instead, they decided to make a full-scale push to finish passing it, and have effectively staked everything on getting that done. If they fail, then--quite aside from the fact that this will be a disaster in substantive policy terms-- the resulting demoralization among Democrats will almost certainly dwarf their reaction in January, when they went into a complete panic and spent weeks running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off. The more long-term after-effects will probably include legislative paralysis for the rest of 2010 and a greatly increased chance of a crushing defeat in the November elections.

On the other hand, if the bill passes ... then I suspect we will see the result foretold on February 20 by Jonathan Chait, who looked ahead to the prospect of "The Coming Conservative Health Care Freakout". In retrospect, Chait's analysis looks very prescient, so it's worth revisiting some of of the highlights:
Ever since Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley, conservatives, with very few exceptions, have been convinced that health care reform is dead. [....]

Some of us realized all along that there was no rational reason that the Massachusetts election had to kill health care reform. Fundamentally, the main barrier -- getting sixty votes in the Senate -- had already been crossed. [....] All the Democrats needed to do was have the House pass the Senate bill. If they insisted on changes, most of those could easily be made through reconciliation, which only requires a majority vote in the Senate. Most conservatives paid no attention to this basic reality, though they did indulge in some gloating mockery of those of us who pointed it out. [....]

But the mustache-twirling bonhomie has started to give way to the realization that the legislative door to health care reform is wide open, and Democrats simply need to walk through it. By no means is it clear that they'll succeed. But I've been waiting for conservatives, filled with hubris at having swept liberalism into the dustbin of history, to wake up to the fact that health care reform is very far from dead, and start to freak out. [....]

You can imagine how this feels to conservatives. They've already run off the field, sprayed themselves with champagne and taunted the losing team's fans. And now the other team is saying the game is still on and they have a good chance to win. There may be nothing wrong at all with the process, but it's certainly going to feel like some kind of crime to the right-wing. The Democrats may not win, but I'm pretty sure they're going to try. The conservative freakout is going to be something to behold.
We've already been seeing some of that right-wing freakout (I wouldn't call a lot of these guys "conservatives") over the past month. But if health care reform passes, then the freakout will really be "something to behold." Stay tuned ....

--Jeff Weintraub

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Public support for health care reform continues to grow ...

... though the polling trends hardly show a decisive shift in favor.

Of course, it would be a mistake to get too fixated on the mysterious fluctuations of public opinion polling, but it might be OK to think speculatively about some intriguing recent patterns.

=> As of a week ago, the composite results of the major polls (leaving out the Rasmussen Poll, which has a record of tilting misleadingly to the right) showed that the gap between opponents and supporters of the Democratic health care bill, which opened up about 9 months ago and has continued to fluctuate in size ever since, had practically disappeared.

Obama's decision to get more publicly and directly engaged in this struggle may be having some slight influence in moving public opinion. (Polls continue to show that, by wide margins, more people like and trust Obama than either the Congressional Republicans or the Congressional Democrats.) Or possibly this trend has something to do with the fact that health insurance companies have been raising their rates all over the country recently? Who knows?

=> At all events, the latest polls suggest that this really is a bit of a trend, and not just a passing blip. Yesterday's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, jointly conducted by Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff, shows the public evenly split on this issue. In fact, supporters number a statistically insignificant one percentage point more than opponents.
On health care, 46 percent say it would be better to pass the president’s plan and make changes to the nation’s health care system, versus 45 percent who would prefer not to pass it and keep the system as it is now.
So at least it can't be said that the polls show a clear majority opposing the bill.

=> But before supporters of health care reform get too giddy about this, it's important to note that the rest of the results from this poll suggest that members of the public continue to be highly confused and ambivalent about the whole question. And that goes beyond the fact that, for most of the past year, many people who tell pollsters that they oppose the bill actually support most of its main components when asked about them separately. Consider this, for example:
Thirty-six percent believe Obama’s plan is a good idea, versus 48 percent who think it’s a bad idea. That’s a slight (but statistically insignificant) change from January, when 31 percent said it was a good idea and 46 percent said it was a bad one.
Huh? More respondents still think it's a bad idea, but some of those favor passing it anyway. Either they're just sick of the whole topic, and want Congress to just get it over with and be done with it ... or they're still very skeptical, but they're willing to see the bill get passed and then hope for the best.

So how should wavering Congressional Democrats vote?
If their representative votes with Republicans to defeat the bill, 34 percent say they would be less likely to re-elect that member, 31 percent say they would be more likely to vote for the member, and 34 percent say it makes no difference.
OK, on balance that seems to add up to slight incentive to vote in favor of passing the bill. No, not exactly.
But if their member of Congress votes with Democrats to pass the legislation, 36 percent say they would be less likely to re-elect that member, 28 percent say they would be more likely to vote for the member, and 34 percent say it makes no difference.
That does look like a double bind.

=> According to McInturff, the Republican pollster, the basic implication for politicians is that "There is no easy place right now in the health care debate."

Hart, the Democratic pollster, draws a slightly different lesson:
Democratic respondents are overwhelmingly supportive of Obama’s health care plan -- they think it’s a good idea by a 64-16 percent margin, according to the poll. Hart argues that such strong support from the base will ultimately make a "yes" vote an easier sell for Democrats who are on the fence.

The key concern for these lawmakers isn’t losing some voters in the middle, he says. "It is alienating the base."
=> Well, since the public opinion polls aren't giving the Democrats a clear message about which vote would be most likely to give them an electoral boost, they should just go ahead and do the right thing: Pass the damn bill.

--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Meanwhile, on other subjects, respondents did
overwhelmingly agree on this: The nation is on the wrong track, the economy has negatively affected the country, and Congress is broken.