Monday, March 27, 2006

Because Dems Want a President Cheney?

So, Republicans are claiming that if Dems take over the House, Dems will impeach the President?

Becuase, what, House Democrats would prefer a President Dick "Go F* Yourself" Cheney? The guy who's gotten everything wrong in Iraq? Five Deferment" Cheney who hides behind the troops when people say he's a doing a lousy job? Cheney who said everybody was gonna die if we didn't invade Iraq, or if we elected John Kerry? Who outs covert CIA agents for political gain, and who has failed on homeland security, incompetent and cowering before lobbyists and special interests.

Yeah, Dick Cheney sounds like just the kind of guy Democrats want in charge. Outta the frying pan...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Not my Fault, Part 212...

"Listen, every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy."
-- President George W. Bush (AP)

Really? George Bush, Yale history major, tells us that every war plan looks good on paper. Has he not heard of:

  • Swedish King Charles XII’s invasion of Russia (hmm, take a seat at the table of Europe’s power brokers, or blow it all in a half baked invasion of Poland & Russia because you’re mad at their royal families. Hard call.)
  • Napoleon’s invasion of Russia (Supply lines? Who needs supply lines? It’s not like the Russians are famous for a “burn and retreat” defensive strategy…)
  • Hitler’s invasion of Russia (Who needs winter clothing on a march to Moscow? Does Russia get cold or something?)
  • The Maginot Line (I mean, the Germans couldn’t possibly DRIVE AROUND IT, right?)
  • Verdun, Gallipoli…pretty much all of WWI
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade (hint: when, as your cavalry charges directly into the enemy’s artillery, the enemy starts mowing you down while saying things like, “are those guys drunk? What the hell are they thinking,” you should entertain the notion that this plan probably didn't look so good on paper, either.)
  • Custer’s Last Stand (Really, who cares how many Indians there are? Just attack!)
  • Ancient Rome’s invasion of Germany under Augustus (Sure, when the German guy starts talking about this great shortcut he knows through a dark, muddy forest that no Roman has seen before and where your military advantage will be totally neutralized, you should definitely follow him. That doesn’t sound like a trap.)
  • The Crusades (most notably the Children’s Crusade. Unless you think it looks good on paper.)

But none of those sound like our war plan for Iraq, right? It's not like we sent too few guys, in without body and humvee armor, and then just expected that once Saddam had fallen that Iraq would pretty much spontaneously spring into a pluralistic peaceful democracy overnight?

Sure, George. Future military strategists are going to look at Iraq and say, "Yeah, but just look at this plan! It's not like anyone would have anticipated a plan this good would go horribly awry." Because, you know, there's no such thing as a war plan that looks bad on paper and a leader who's too stupid to see it.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Lies My Op-Ed Columnist Told Me...

Today, Michael Kinsley attempts a takedown of Paul Krugman and Robin Wells' brilliant piece in last week’s New York Review of Books—specifically, a takedown against single-payer.

The results are a rather sad mix of ignorance, lies, and idiocy as he suggests that the choices for healthcare reform are status quo with tweaks vs. rationing under single payer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Beginning with the idiocy, it appears that Kinsley subscribes to a view of health insurance as a bet: individuals bet on the odds that they will get sick and need $X amount of healthcare, and insurers bet the same amount of money that they will not. When people end up being sicker than the insurer expected, the insurer loses and the people win.

This totally bizarre way of looking at health insurance leads Kinsley to worry about a “problem” that no one with any sense cares about—that under single payer, some people will pay into the system and never get sick, while other people will pay into the system and be really sick. That is, single payer sets up an irrational system where if people stay healthy, they “lose” the bet, and if they get sick, they “win” the bet.

Getting cancer and needing chemotherapy is winning a bet? Perhaps I’m in the minority, but if I’d paid a tolerable amount of my salary into a health care system, never had to worry about paying medical bills for myself or my family, and then got hit and killed by a bus when I was 90, I really doubt my dying thought would be “darn it, I really got screwed because I paid into health care my whole life but never needed a triple heart bypass.”

This kind of thinking is why Kinsley agrees with Krugman that Bush’s health care savings accounts are bad but Kinsley only understands half of the argument. Kingsley correctly agrees that HSAs mistakenly focus on the pennywise spending and the issue in the healthcare system is that we’re pound foolish. But he fails to point out that they’re also a bad idea for several othe reasons, paramount among them the fact that they make health insurance really cheap for healthy people, and really expensive for people who actually need healthcare. Sadly, as we will see later, he considers this aspect a feature, not a bug.

It’s the next paragraph where he starts spinning. I don't know what's more insulting: that he's spinning, or that he's doing it so badly. Kinsley argues that Krugman and Wells are being misleading when they lay out the “complexity and administrative costs of the current fragmented [healthcare] system.” He suggests that the computer industry would look equally lousy if presented this way.

But it’s Kinsley who’s being misleading when he says “even the most competitive industry can seem wasteful and inefficient when described on paper.” He never mentions that, unlike the very competitive American computer industry, the American health care system is not at all competitive globally. America spends way more to take care of fewer people, and there's no evidence we get any more for our money. If Kinsley claimed the American auto industry looked inefficient on paper but might still be really competitive, he’d be laughed at. He deserves to be laughed at here.

Kinsley further argues that although Krugman and Wells point out that healthcare spending is skewed (the 80/20 rule), other forms of insurance are like that, and that’s not what makes health insurance unique. Kinsley claims they don’t explain why health insurance should be different from any other form of insurance—why we should allow people to use it as a “subsidy” rather than as a stop-loss based on their health risk. And to give the devil his due, at a certain level he’s right. Krugman and Wells don’t explain why health insurance isn’t like car insurance. Because it’s perfectly obvious why they’re different.

Health care isn’t like car repair, so it’s not surprising that a system that works well for cars has been working very poorly for people. The economic approach that Kinsley wants us to take—winning or losing the insurance bet—is completely wrong. For most people, health insurance simply isn’t about insuring against losses. Health insurance doesn’t guarantee you will have $30,000 to fix your old car or buy a shiny new car if you accidentally smash up your old one.

That’s because health insurance is about guaranteeing access to care. Its primary value is that it’s a subsidy, not a stop-loss or a replacement for a lost investment like a house or car. Most of us aren’t billionaires and know full well that if our kid got cancer, we couldn’t afford to pay the medical bills. The reason we buy health insurance is to make sure that if our kid gets cancer, she can get chemo. Period, full stop.

Finally and perhaps most disgustingly, Kinsley brings up the bogeyman of rationing and says that Krugman and Wells “duck the issue.” But they don’t. In fact, they say what Kinsley won’t admit, that our current rationing system—rationing by health status and ability to pay—is not only immoral, but also leads to colossal inefficiencies. They say that if we had the system every other country has, we might be able to avoid rationing altogether, although they are honest enough to admit that we may still need to ration. They do put a silver lining on it by saying that we could at least ration more rationally, but they have the honesty that Kinsley lacks and admit we may not be able to get rid of rationing.

It’s Kinsley who ducks the issue of rationing by pretending it doesn’t exist today, and by implicitly advocating for a solution that would lead to more rationing by health care status. Kinsley almost casually waves away the problem of charging people higher premiums if they're more likely to get sick by saying, “[a]dverse selection is only a problem to the extent that insurance is not really insurance but rather a subsidy.”

This, of course, ignores the fact that health insurance is only necessary to the extent that it’s a subsidy. He pretends that people are choose not to buy insurance because they do not value it enough, when the real reason that most people don’t buy insurance is that the exact opposite—because they’re sick, it’s too valuable and so they can’t afford it.

And so it’s in his closing paragraphs that Kinsley becomes the most odious. He says, “If you're not as hopeful as Krugman and Wells about being able to avoid rationing, you face this question: Should people be allowed to opt out of rationing if they can afford it?...Better-off or better-insured people could be told, individually or as a group: Give up your health care subsidy and you may opt out of any rationing-type restrictions that the system imposes.”

Guess what? That’s the system we have now. No one has to buy insurance. No one has to decide to accept the subsidy. And our system is still full of rationing. Most people without health insurance aren't rich folks choosing to forego a subsidy, they're the working poor—too “rich” for Medicaid, but unable to afford insurance. There are millions of sick people who can't afford insurance, and who don’t get medical care as a result. Sure, there's a handful of irresponsible twenty-somethings in there, too. So what?

Michael Kinsley is a deceitful, desperate defender of the status quo. His “free market rulz!” ideology has blinded him to the fact that American healthcare is failing on all fronts—fairness, quality, and cost. He thinks our healthcare system mostly works great, and the way to fix what ails it is to make insurance cheaper for people when they don’t need it, and more expensive for them when they do.

Krugman and Wells say we’ve got to admit that an “every man for himself” approach has failed in healthcare, and it’s bankrupting us financially and morally. They suggest that the solution lies in abandoning ideology and instead learning from the proven success of other healthcare systems. And the first thing we need to realize is that all successful healthcare systems guarantee treatment to sick people when they need it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

What Should the Dems do about Iraq?

Right now, big voices in the netroots are saying that Iraq is hopelessly screwed up, and that all that can be done is to get a new president in 2009. Democrats have to stop trying to come up with a "save Iraq" plan, because this gang will screw it up; and impeachment isn't an option because, no one wants to see President Cheney (or President Hastert or whatever).

Without disagreeing with the above, I'd like to point out that there is a third option. Today, we have a President who is an idiot, surrounded by toadies who make insanely bad decisions and are utterly incompetent. Democrats need to force the President to throw out his senior leadership and replace it with sane people. We need to make him clean house and fill it with people like Brent Scowcroft--people who, while we don't agree with them on everything, aren't going to lie to gin up support for a half-baked war in a critically strategic region and then lose it.

This is what used to be done in monarchies when the king went nuts. Instead of deposing him and running the risk of totally destabilizing society, nobles surrounded him with powerful and competent leaders who would act in his name, while talking him out of or otherwise undermining his completely insane ideas.

This is the best way for the Democrats to salvage what can be salvaged over the next three years, and also to position themselves to win the next election. Dems need to let it be publicly known that they are pushing for new leadership--and actually throw out the names of a new Secretary of Defense, or a new National Security Advisor who they are hearing "buzz" about and of whom they approve. Throw out the most gravitas-laden-name that gets the most bipartisan respect (like Scowcroft), even if there's no way this is going to happen. Then, when a neocon nut is replaced, the Democrats are in a position to say, "it's an improvement, we made this improvement happen, if you want more like this, start voting for Democrats, because unified Republican leadership brought you the fiascos of Iraq, Dubai, North Korea, nuclear proliferation, and no Osama."

Friday, February 24, 2006

This is Why you Never Play the Race Card...

When I was a little pup, I once heard a young operative suggest we solve a political problem by making race a factor where it wasn’t. I expected him to be shot down, but I was impressed—what a win-at-all costs, tough, cynical bastard. We were lucky to have him on our side.

And then a big dog with a long history in City politics looked down at him and said, "Never play the race card, sweetheart. Because it’ll come back and bite you in the ass."

Unlike any modern President, George Bush unhesitatingly throws down the cards that every sane politician avoids. Not just the race card, but the religion card, or the treason card, the terror card. Hell, he runs on them! But with this ports deal, I think for the first time, he and Karl Rove are seeing why sane politicians don't play these cards.

People think the danger in playing these cards is that they'll incite the masses uncontrollably. Which is true, eventually, but it's not why politicians don't play them. They think it's because people will see through the manipulation, and the blowback will be fierce. And sometimes that happens. But with the right approach, you can play this card pretty successfully. Perversely, the higher you get, the easier it is to play the card without blowback—people don’t want to believe that someone as powerful as, say, the President, could be this reckless, so they demand a very high level of proof before they will turn on him. So, playing the card isn’t the problem. The problem is that the card stays on the table.

And if you’re still in power, you will eventually have a situation where you need to do something that the card won’t let you do. If you’re governing at all responsibly, this point will come sooner rather than later. In this case, it’s come much later, when George Bush needs to, for whatever reason, turn over control of East Coast ports to UAE.

George is now potentially in the same position than his opponents were in before. He put the race and terror cards on the table when he justified the invasion of Iraq with laughably flimsy evidence of its collusion with terrorists. Cheney reinforced the racism with his talk about how Iraq was “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years.” Furthermore, the Administration’s arguments over the legal legitimacy of Guantanamo have rested on a very aggressive playing of the terror card, resting almost entirely on the assertion that anyone with possible connections to terror doesn’t have the same rights that other people do, and that it is dangerous to give them any procedural rights whatsoever.

The race and terror card is sitting on the table for Dems to pick up. Once they do, the substantive merit of the port deal is out the window. So, all George can do is try and stop his opponents from picking up that card. He'll try to frighten them—“you can’t play this card, because I’ll play the race card, too, and you’ll lose your base.” He'll falsely appeal to their sense of the greater good—“we really need this port deal for America.” He'll try to terrify them—“if you play this card, you will forever legitimize the double standards you claim to so thoroughly oppose, or you'll set off a race war!”

To date, arguments like those have stopped the Democrats from picking up any of the cards on the table. But with the port deal, all those arguments fell apart. America doesn't need the port deal, if Abu Ghraib didn’t set off a race war this certainly won’t, and after Katrina, not one member of the Democratic base is going to believe that George Bush, who don’t like black people, is going to stand up for racial justice.

But hopefully, this incident will make Congressional Dems figure out what old city pols have known for a long time. You can’t appease people who play these cards, because they will just keep playing them, for higher and higher stakes. There is only one way to beat these cards, and it’s to play them yourself. Let the other guy know that, politically, it’s mutually assured destruction.

In addition, I hope that Dems will also realize that playing these cards isn’t like losing your virginity—you can get it back. Look at Bobby Kennedy, commie-hunter turned fighter for Civil Rights.

And furthermore, you can only neutralize these cards once you have the credibility from playing them. The same way that only Nixon could go to China, only people who are on the right side of the terror card can neutralize it. You can’t take it off the table until you own it. And right now, the Dems are the party that are on the wrong side of this card. They are the ones who would rather see us all dead than offend some Muslims. Dems have to prove to the public that they’re willing to offend Muslims in order to protect America. Only then will they have any ability to make rational policy without falling victim to Republican demagoguery and race-baiting.

Usually, playing a card like this demands you do something very horrible and unjust, and that innocent people suffer as a result of it. All we have to do is not sell a port to some very rich people. Let’s do it.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

How to win on Illegal Domestic Spying...

I am really tired of Democrats who keep arguing that, "it's the lawbreaking, stupid." You know how that conversation plays in Peoria?

--"President Bush lied to spy on Americans."
--"Yeah, but he did it to protect us. Wouldn't you break the law to save your son's life?"
--"But that's not the point. Um, it's that he didn't go to congress and let them change the law."
--"Okay, he should have gone to Congress. But I'd rather have a president who'd break the law to protect me than one who was so afraid of going to jail he'd let me die rather than break the law..."

See how this DOESN'T work for us?

Here's how to make it work for us.
--"I love that Bush is talking about how it's OK he broke the law because he takes Osama bin Laden seriously. I seem to remember 6 months after September 11, he said he wasn't worried about Osama bin Laden, but he was REALLY concerned about Iraq."
--"Yeah, but Osama bin Laden is a threat."
--"He totally is. Why the hell did Bush say he wasn't concerned about him? Man, Bush is a total screwup. I don't see why we put up with him breaking the law. He needs someone to hold him accountable."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Insanity is doing the Same Thing Again and Expecting a Different Result.

Can someone please explain to me how this "keep Osama bin Laden on the run" strategy will keep us safe today when it didn't keep us safe before 9/11?
June 26, 2001
U.S. Has Bin Laden 'On the Run,' Sen. Shelby Says

Council on Foreign Relations Q&A:

How did bin Laden end up back in Afghanistan?

After he left Saudi Arabia in 1991, bin Laden settled in Sudan, where he established his own businesses and set up training camps for al-Qaeda. U.S. and Saudi pressure forced him to abandon Sudan in 1996; back then, the United States sought to keep bin Laden on the run, not to capture him [emp mine]. Bin Laden fled to Afghanistan, where the Taliban offered him a base in exchange for money to fund their fighters.

Before September 11, how did America pursue bin Laden?

In several ways, including military strikes, diplomacy, legal action, and intelligence work. The United States used diplomatic pressure and the threat of U.N. sanctions to get Sudan to expel bin Laden in 1996. For several years, the CIA paid agents in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan to monitor bin Laden’s movements; after the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, the United States used cruise missiles to hit his Afghan bases. Also in 1998, a federal grand jury indicted bin Laden and 21 other al-Qaeda members for conspiring to kill Americans abroad; four men were convicted in May of 2001.
And, for chrissake, how long are we going to maintain this delusion? That this guy isn't a threat to us because he's "on the run?"

Bush: "My attitude was, once we get him running, it's just a matter of time before we bring him to justice."

Bush: "I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run."

A top U.S. anti-terrorism official says al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is on the run, amid what officials say is an intensifying hunt for fugitive members of the terror network. The U.S. official says he believes Osama bin Laden will be captured soon.

Ambassador J. Cofer Black, coordinator for the State Department counter-terrorism office, say the United States and its allies will find Osama bin Laden.

"I feel confident that it will be sooner rather than later, although I'm not going to speculate on the exact date," he said.

"I don't know where he is," Powell said. "I don't know his state of health. I believe he is still alive, but I can't prove that. He clearly is in hiding and he is on the run."

KING: Have we ever been close to getting bin Laden?
KING: You can tell us.
CHENEY: Well, we've had him on the run, I believe.

"Clearly the al Qaeda leaders and other terrorists are on the run. They're under a lot of pressure," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Commitment, Terrrorism, and Audiotapes...

George Bush, one week after 9/11:

"I want justice. There's an old poster out west, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive'....I just remember, all I'm doing is remembering when I was a kid I remember that they used to put out there in the old west, a wanted poster. It said: 'Wanted, Dead or Alive.' All I want and America wants [bin Laden] brought to justice. That's what we want.

George Bush, six months after 9/11:

"I am deeply concerned about Iraq. And so should the American people be concerned about Iraq. And so should people who love freedom be concerned about Iraq..."


"I don't know where [bin Laden] is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him....Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."

Headlines 1/19/06:
Bin Laden tape warns that new attacks on US being prepared
Bin Laden’s tape sends oil prices rocketing
Dollar climbs despite mixed data and Bin Laden tape
Security Stepped Up After Bin Laden Threat
City Fury as Osama Threatens Attacks