Thursday, December 31, 2009

But What Do You Really Think Of Cheney?

Steve Benen quotes James Fallows as he eviscerates Dick Cheney, contrasting how the Democrats reacted after the failed shoe bomber to the latest binge and purge from the former Veep.
Democrats, at the time, didn't launch an assault against the Bush administration, and we didn't see Al Gore condemning the White House. It simply didn't occur to Democrats in 2001 to use the attempted mass murder of hundreds of Americans to undermine the presidency.
Eight years later, Dick Cheney believes his principal responsibility is to destroy President Obama -- the man Americans chose to clean up the messes Cheney left as a parting gift after eight years of abject failure.

This recent piece from James Fallows continues to ring true: "The former vice president, Dick Cheney, has brought dishonor to himself, his office, and his country. I am not aware of a case of a former President or Vice President behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power.... Cheney has acted as if utterly unconcerned with the welfare of his country, its armed forces, or the people now trying to make difficult decisions. He has put narrow score-settling interest far, far above national interest."

Dick Cheney is a coward and a disgrace.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Modern Conservatism

Kevin Drum summarizes the basic arguments of conservatives over the past several weeks.
Conservative response to a guy setting his underwear on fire on an airplane: It's Obama's fault! We should declare war on Yemen! We should stop allowing Muslims on our airplanes! We need to connect the dots! We're all going to die!

Conservative response to providing healthcare to 30 million Americans: It's socialism! It's going to bankrupt America! It's Chicago thug politics! It's going to kill grandma! It's going to turn our healthcare system into an abattoir!

Conservative response to regulating the financial industry that almost destroyed America's banking system: It's Marxism! It's going to cause hyperinflation! It's Uncle Sam's jackboot on the commerce of the country! It's the end of innovation! Buy gold!
Conservative response to catastrophic climate change: It's a hoax from the liberal media. Pay no attention to it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Air Attack Reactions

Heather Hurlburt on Democracy Arsenal posts a couple of wonderful quotes picked up from the Detroit Free Press coverage of the failed Christmas airline bombing.
But you might want to check out the Detroit Free Press/News' coverage -- on Christmas Day, by a newspaper that's so hard up it only delivers three days a week -- for these gems:
the child of a passenger who said hearing about how other passengers foiled the attacker made him "proud to be an American." Typically for Detroit, he was a Muslim whose dad was returning from visiting family in the Middle East.
Within hours of the attack, a metro Detroit Muslim leader had taken time out of his day -- a joint Muslim-Jewish Christmas Day service project in needy parts of the city -- to make a statement:
 We want to do everything we can to make sure this doesn't happen," said Victor Begg, of Bloomfield Hills, head of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. "We want to be on the front lines to help law enforcement."

Begg added that the Muslim community should partner with law enforcement "to stop these maniacs -- who in the name of religion -- pursue these political goals."

Begg said that he and family members have taken Northwest flights from Amsterdam to Detroit.  "We could have been on that flight," Begg said. "These guys kill indiscriminately."
I think this is a great statement.  I wish it neither seemed necessary for him to take time on a national holiday to make it, nor useful for me to take time on a national holiday to blog about it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Obama's First Year

Sully reviews Obama's first year in office and likes what he sees.
The substantive record is clear enough. Torture is ended, if Gitmo remains enormously difficult to close and rendition extremely hard to police. The unitary executive, claiming vast, dictatorial powers over American citizens, has been unwound. The legal inquiries that may well convict former Bush officials for war crimes are underway, and the trial of KSM will reveal the lawless sadism of the Cheney regime that did so much to sabotage our war on Jihadism. Military force against al Qaeda in Pakistan has been ratcheted up considerably, even at a civilian cost that remains morally troubling. The US has given notice that it intends to leave Afghanistan with a bang - a big surge, a shift in tactics, and a heavy batch of new troops. Iraq remains dodgy in the extreme, but at least March elections have been finally nailed down.
Domestically, the new president has rescued the banks in a bail-out that has come in at $200 billion under budget; the economy has shifted from a tailspin to stablilization and some prospect of job growth next year; the Dow is at 10,500 a level no one would have predicted this time last year. A stimulus package has helped undergird infrastructure and probably did more to advance non-carbon energy than anything that might have emerged from Copenhagen. Universal health insurance (with promised deficit reduction!) is imminent - a goal sought by Democrats (and Nixon) for decades, impossible under the centrist Clinton, but won finally by a black liberal president. More progress has been made in unraveling the war on drugs this past year than in living memory. The transformation of California into a state where pot is now more available than in Amsterdam is as remarkable as the fact that such new sanity has spread across the country and is at historic highs, so to speak, in the opinion polls. On civil rights, civil marriage came to the nation's capital city, which has a 60 percent black population. If that doesn't help reverse some of the gloom from Prop 8 and Maine, what would? And, yes, the unspeakable ban on HIV-positive foreigners was finally lifted, bringing the US back to the center of the global effort to fight AIDS as it should be.

Relations with Russia have improved immensely and may yield real gains in non-proliferation; Netanyahu has moved, however insincerely, toward a two-state solution; Iran's coup regime remains far more vulnerable than a year ago, paralyzed in its diplomacy, terrified of its own people and constantly shaken by the ongoing revolution; Pakistan launched a major offensive against al Qaeda and the Taliban in its border area; global opinion of the US has been transformed; the Cairo speech and the Nobel acceptance speech helped explain exactly what Obama's blend of ruthless realism for conflict-management truly means.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Insider's Account of Copenhagen

Mark Lynas in The Guardian has an insider's view of what actually happened at the Copenhagen climate summit and why it failed.
Copenhagen was a disaster. That much is agreed. But the truth about what actually happened is in danger of being lost amid the spin and inevitable mutual recriminations. The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful "deal" so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen.
After reviewing a particularly difficult meeting that the Chinese prime minister failed to attend even though Obama was present (a deliberate insult to the US), Lynas goes on to explain the reasons for China's unwillingness to allow any real progress to take place.
All this raises the question: what is China's game? Why did China, in the words of a UK-based analyst who also spent hours in heads of state meetings, "not only reject targets for itself, but also refuse to allow any other country to take on binding targets?" The analyst, who has attended climate conferences for more than 15 years, concludes that China wants to weaken the climate regulation regime now "in order to avoid the risk that it might be called on to be more ambitious in a few years' time".

This does not mean China is not serious about global warming. It is strong in both the wind and solar industries. But China's growth, and growing global political and economic dominance, is based largely on cheap coal. China knows it is becoming an uncontested superpower; indeed its newfound muscular confidence was on striking display in Copenhagen. Its coal-based economy doubles every decade, and its power increases commensurately. Its leadership will not alter this magic formula unless they absolutely have to.

Copenhagen was much worse than just another bad deal, because it illustrated a profound shift in global geopolitics. This is fast becoming China's century, yet its leadership has displayed that multilateral environmental governance is not only not a priority, but is viewed as a hindrance to the new superpower's freedom of action. I left Copenhagen more despondent than I have felt in a long time. After all the hope and all the hype, the mobilisation of thousands, a wave of optimism crashed against the rock of global power politics, fell back, and drained away.

Who Benefits

Courtesy of Sully, from the Wonkroom, a handy chart showing some of the benefits of HCR.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Still More on HCR

Ezra voices his support to the HCR compromise
The core of this legislation is as it always was: $900 billion, give or take, so people who can't afford health-care insurance suddenly can. Insurance regulations paired with the individual mandate, so insurers can't discriminate against the sick and the healthy can't make insurance unaffordable by hanging back until the moment they need medical care. The construction of health insurance exchanges so the people currently left out of the employer-based market are better served, and the many who will join them as the employer system continues to erode will have somewhere to go.

That's all policy. And as I spent yesterday arguing, it has a tendency to overshadow the lives in the balance. You can choose your estimate. The Institute of Medicine's methodology says 22,000 people died in 2006 because they didn't have health-care coverage. A recent Harvard study found the number nearer to 45,000. Since we talk about the costs of health-care reform over a 10-year period, may as well talk about the lives saved that way, too. And we're looking, easily, at more than a hundred thousand lives, to say nothing of the people who will be spared bankruptcy, chronic pain, unnecessary impairment, unnecessary caretaking, bereavement, loss of wages, painful surgeries, and so on.

A lot of progressives woke up this morning feeling like they lost. They didn't. The public option and its compromised iterations were a battle that came to seem like a war. But they weren't the war. The bill itself was. When liberals talked about the dream of universal health-care insurance 10, 20 and 30 years ago, they talked about the plight of the uninsured, not the necessity of a limited public option in competition with private insurers.

More on HCR

Kevin Drum also supports the Health Care Reform compromise.
If healthcare reform dies this year, it dies for a good long time. Say what you will about the Democratic leadership, but Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi, and Steny Hoyer all know this perfectly well. So do John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. (Boy do they know it.) But if it passes, here's what we get:
  • Insurers have to take all comers. They can't turn you down for a preexisting condition or cut you off after you get sick.
  • Community rating. Within a few broad classes, everyone gets charged the same amount for insurance.
  • Individual mandate. I know a lot of liberals hate this, but how is it different from a tax? And its purpose is sound: it keeps the insurance pool broad and insurance rates down.
  • A significant expansion of Medicaid.
  • Subsidies for low and middle income workers that keeps premium costs under 10% of income.
  • Limits on ER charges to low-income uninsured emergency patients.
  • Caps on out-of-pocket expenses.
  • A broad range of cost-containment measures.
  • A dedicated revenue stream to support all this.
What's more, for the first time we get a national commitment to providing healthcare coverage for everyone. It won't be universal to start, unfortunately, but it's going to be a lot easier to get there once the marker is laid down. That's how every other country has done it, and that's how we did it with Social Security and Medicare, both of which had big gaps in coverage when they were first passed.

But if we don't pass it, we don't get any of this. Not now, and not for a long time. Instead of being actual liberals, we'll just be playing ones on TV.

Compromising on Health Care Reform

Steve Benen's take on the value of passing HCR in its weakened form.
As far as I'm concerned, the question is whether the reform framework in the Senate is a step backward or an incremental step forward. Does it make the status quo worse, or does it make improvements with the promise of additional progress? If it's killed now, are reform proponents more or less likely to have success in the years to come?

Given what we think we know about the state of the legislation, I think the effort is clearly a step  forward. It's not the bill I'd write if I were dictator, but it advances the cause of reform, and create
is a foundation that can be built on in the future. If this bill were to fail, I suspect it would be decades before anyone even tried to improve the broken status quo. In the meantime, the effects on those suffering under the current system would get worse.

 As we've talked about recently, progressives have faced this situation before. When Medicaid passed, it did very little for low-income adults. When Medicare passed, it all but ignored people with disabilities. When Social Security passed, the benefits were negligible, and the program excluded agricultural workers, domestic workers, the self-employed, railroad employees, government employees, clergy, and those who worked for non-profits. The original Social Security bill offered no benefits for dependents or survivors, and included no cost-of-living increases.

These are, of course, some of the bedrock domestic policies of the 20th century, and some of the towering achievements of progressive lawmaking. But when they passed, they were wholly inadequate. There were likely liberal champions of the day who perceived the New Deal, the Great Society, FDR, LBJ, and their congressional Democratic majorities as disappointing and incompetent sell-outs who failed to take advantage of the opportunity before them.

But the programs passed, and once they were in place, they improved, expanded, and became integral to the American experience. It took years and perseverance, but progress happened after the initial programs became law.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Looking at Obama's Agenda

Steve Benen points out the essential disconnect between the views of conservative and liberal activists on Obama and his agedna.
Over the last several months, the right has come to believe that the president is a fascist/communist, intent on destroying the country, while at the same time, many on the left have come to believe the president is a conservative sell-out. The enraged right can't wait to vote and push the progressive agenda out of reach. The dejected left is feeling inclined to stay home, which as it turns out, also pushes the progressive agenda out of reach.
There's something wrong with this picture.

It'd be great to see the governing majority give Democratic voters a reason to feel excited. It's not like there's a secret agenda needed to make the base happy: finish health care; pass a jobs bill; finish the climate bill; bring some accountability to the financial industry; finish the education bill; pick up immigration reform; repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Demonstrate that a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president have the wherewithal to tackle the issues that matter and know how to get things done.

But Matt's call for a shift in focus is important here. Remember: nothing becomes law in this Congress unless Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman approve. Literally, nothing. That's not an encouraging legislative dynamic, and it's not within the power of the White House to change it.

It is within the power of voters to change it.
The result of this divergent perception is that righties may channel their discontent into high turnout in 2010, while the lefties become discouraged and do not vote.  If this does not change, the midterms could be trouble.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obama's Nobel Prize

Sully on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:
It was written and spoken in such a way to reach anyone of any faith or none. It translated a deeply Augustinian grasp of history into a secular and universal language. It was an expression of tragic hope.

And that's one aspect of Obama's now-famous-phrase, the "audacity of hope", that is often overlooked. Why is hope audacious? Because the world is inherently tragic. Because, in Camus' words, men die and they are not happy. Because in Obama's words,
We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified... For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
When I have been asked why I, as a conservative, support this man the way I do, I can only answer: listen to him. What is the philosophy that most affirms "the imperfections of man and the limits of reason"? What philosophy sadly demurs when told that peace is possible on earth, that history is leading to utopia, that war is over, that "freedom is on the march"? And this is the critical distinction between Bush and Obama: Obama is far more conservative than his predecessor. He sees that the profound flaws in human nature affect us as well as them; that we "face the world as it is," not as we would like it to be; that the decision to go to war is a moral and a pragmatic one; that ends have to be balanced by a shrewd and sometimes cold-eyed assessment of means.

For peace to exist, there must sometimes be war. A statesman will sometimes have to bargain with evil men. A statesman will also sometimes have to let evil flourish because he simply does not have the proportionate means to counter it. Human nature is alloyed between good and evil, and evil often wins.

Hope is not optimism. We have little reason for optimism given the first decade of the twenty-first century. Hope is a choice. As much a choice as faith and love.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's A New Day....Maybe

Sully reviews the situation the day after Obama's Afghanistan speech.
I think this strategy is doomed. But then I think any strategy that does not pledge to colonize Afghanistan, pour trillions of dollars into it and stay for a century is doomed. So why do I end up this morning feeling rather similar to my colleague, Jim Fallows, who simply sighs: 'Well, I hope he's right"?

Here's why. The sanest option - leave now - would leave allies high and dry, prompt domestic cries of surrender, demoralize the military, break a clear campaign pledge, and signal to Pakistan that the Taliban is their problem now. Everything but the latter are worth avoiding.

The neocon answer - stay until there are no Qaeda elements, no Taliban and a functioning democracy not financed by opium - is simply unhinged. It means an empire in the Muslim world for the rest of our lives. And the idea that permanent Western occupation of Muslim lands will decrease Jihadist terror is so insane only Dick Cheney could still believe it.

This war is already eight years' old and will soon have lasted longer than Vietnam. Its rationale today is very different than what it was in 2001 - 2002. Al Qaeda is based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The US, thanks to Bush and the recession, is bankrupt and facing a long and brutal period of high unemployment and soon huge cuts in entitlements or big tax hikes.
And then points to the unspoken second prong of the policy.
The final piece of the puzzle strikes me as this: the big ramp up in CIA activity in Pakistan. This is the second channel, the one Obama barely mentioned last night. It may be the more important one. My sense is that Obama wants to get bin Laden. Well, of course he does. Which president wouldn't? But the international and domestic impact of such a coup is hard to overstate and Obama's sense of how it would transform him and the entire dynamic of the terror war is typically cunning. I see the Afghan effort as one last chance to get al Qaeda's leadership, to bring justice to the 9/11 perpetrators, while hoping, in the medium term, to tamp down the raw civilizational conflict that empowers them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Price Security?

Sully watches some Fox coverage of the Obama speech on Afghanistan and poses a question.
I'm now watching Karl Rove use McChrystal against Obama and accusing the president of isolationism. Yes: he used the term "isolationist" to describe the addition of 30,000 more troops. If they're going to call you isolationist anyway, why bother intervening?
Obama's answer is that we cannot tolerate another terror attack. But at what cost? Is there any limit to the cost?
The way our politics of fear is now constructed, there is no limit to the costs involved in nation-building in every conceivable failed state that could be a safe harbor for Jihadists. We cannot have the adult conversation about how much terrorist damage the US should tolerate compared with the costs of trying to control this phenomenon at its source. We are not mature enough as a country to have that conversation. And Obama has decided it isn't worth confronting that question now.

I just don't believe that Afghanistan will be in much better shape in 2011 than it is now, or that withdrawal in 2012 will have any greater a chance of avoiding subsequent implosion than withdrawal now or withdrawal from Iraq in 2010.

So I am left with this deep ambivalence and concern. But we are at war and he is the president and he has committed the troops. I'll do with this what I did with the 2007 surge: support the troops once the decision is made, even though I disagree with the decision. And I fervently hope and pray this strategy succeeds in ways that the Iraq surge has not yet succeeded. And I just as fervently pray that the uncertainties and risks of those two countries do not destroy this president as they destroyed the last. And that they do not take this country with him.