Tag Archives: healthcare

Long Live the King

This week was a thriller.

Bernie Madoff thought he was a smooth criminal. Turns out he’s just bad. Really, really bad.

SCOTUS says it don’t matter if you’re black or white.

The House has a bill it hopes will heal the world. Will the Senate tell them to beat it? (No one, after all, wants to be defeated.)

LGBT groups think Obama secretly wishes they’d just keep it in the closet.

And Mark Sanford is starting with the man in the mirror. He’s asking him to change his ways.

But we begin this week with a milestone in what’s become a millstone. American troops are withdrawing from Iraqi towns and cities today, effectively ending U.S. occupation of those areas.

The drawdown is part of a Bush Administration plan sketched out this time last year. Dick Cheney supported the plan at the time, but since the responsibility now belongs to the Democrats, he says it puts America in danger.

Iraq is the main course on a full foreign policy plate. President Obama condemned a weekend Honduran coup, and Iran is still wracked by fear—not to mention increasingly jittery about foreign interference.

Despite turmoil abroad, domestic issues take may top billing this week. Yesterday, two court verdicts set the tone. First, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling against New Haven, Conn. firefighters who claimed they were passed over for promotion because they are white.

The lower court ruling was issued by a panel of three judges including Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Will this ruling threaten her confirmation? Doubtful. Will it make the hearings more interesting? Darn tootin’.

The other verdict came from Manhattan, where convicted swindler Bernard Madoff got the maximum: 150 years in prison. Madoff cheated 8,000 investors out of hundreds of billions of dollars. His case has become a focus for Americans who’ve lost jobs, homes, and retirements to economic forces beyond their control. Madoff himself is now a symbol of greed and crookedness, and few people were sad to see him jailed.

Back in Washington, Congress turns its attention from the environment to healthcare, which is shaping up to be an ugly fight. Senate Republican leaders held a press conference today to declare a need for reform and a desire to block whatever Democrats come up with.

Speaking of the Democrats, President Obama has again turned the details of a major legislative priority over to a rudderless Congress (see this week’s Top 5). So far the strategy has worked, but eventually the House may need more direction from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Other loose ends may affect the balance of power in Washington. Mark Sanford isn’t quitting (yet), but his plans to run for the White House in three years are on indefinite hold. He’s the second potential GOP 2012-er to flame out in the last two weeks.

The aforementioned House climate change bill may face well-entrenched opposition in the Senate. President Obama showed praiseworthy resistance (in the Blog’s humble opinion) to the House version’s protectionist clauses. Do the Democrats know what they think about trade policy?

And Al Franken is finally a Senator, but illnesses still keep Dems short of 60 votes.

And so the chaos continues. One final note this week: the Blog will be out of the office for the next month. Dry your tears. If you want to keep track of the Blog’s travels, check our sister blog.

See you in August.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

CNN: “Jenny Sanford becomes the new political paradigm” by Gloria Borger.

The New York Times: “Baucus Grabs Pacesetter Role on Health Bill” by David Herszenhorn.

The Washington Post: “Despite Majority, Obama to be Tested” by Murray and Balz.

Real Clear Politics: “Alice in Medical Care” by Thomas Sowell.

TIME: “FDR: Getting it Right” by Bill Clinton.

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Tied to the Rails

We begin this week with a tragedy. No, not Jon and Kate’s divorce. No, not Ed McMahon, either. A D.C. Metro train jumped its tracks yesterday. METAPOR ALERT!

Already, President Obama is keeping an eye on what else might derail.

Let’s start with healthcare. The hospitals, doctors, and insurers are all aboard, but the price tag has fueled a mounting GOP criticism of Team Obama. Is the tiny GOP remnant on Capitol Hill yet powerful enough to stop this speeding locomotive? You betcha.

Congress is slated to begin sifting the specifics this week. Enough blue dogs are on the fence that the White House will have to do some courting, even if the House bill little resembles his requests.

Here’s the Blog’s take: for decades, we have been committing fiscal child abuse. The debts we continue to grow have implications for the security and health of Americans yet unborn. But we gotta, hafta, needta fix the healthcare system. If Congress can’t come up with something that will do the job, we need a new Congress.

As pressing and dire as healthcare reform is, the primary topic at this morning’s presidential presser was the Islamic Republic. Iran’s ruling clerics (some of them, anyway) began blaming the U.S. last week for the continuing protests over their recent presidential election.

Here’s why: protesters were mainly using Twitter to organize rallies. Twitter was supposed to shut down for maintenance one night last week. The State Department—broken arm and all—called the Twitter folks and asked if they’d stay online to help out the protesters.

Naturally, Iran’s leadership didn’t take kindly to that. Now, since we’re getting blamed anyway, the White House finally began putting direct pressure on Iran.

The past week’s events make Iran’s rulers look silly, and the U.S.—not to mention the Blog—doesn’t mind that one bit. This is a country that shoots protesters, tells women how to dress and what to do, that espouses bigotry and narrow-mindedness. But as always, dear reader, you must watch what Iran’s rulers do, and not heed what they say.

And despite tough talk, the Supreme Council is struggling with hard questions about democracy, human rights, and how government should work. They have ordered an official inquiry into the results and even admitted irregularities at the ballot box, atypical behavior for an autocracy.

So which will win out: popular sovereignty or religious pedantry? We’ll all have to stay tuned.

Beyond these major headlines, weird stuff keeps happening in politics. As previously mentioned, the Secretary of State has a boo-boo. The governor of South Carolina went missing, then found himself, and said he was just on a hike. And apparently shooting the messenger is now something we do.

It’s a mixed-up world, dear reader.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

International Herald Tribune: “Iran’s Chinese Lessons” by Philip Bowring.

The New York Times: “A Supreme Leader Loses His Aura as Iranians Flock to the Streets” by Roger Cohen.

Bloomberg News: “Gods in White Coats Hold Key to Health Care Reform” by Margaret Carlson.

The Washington Post: “Public Confidence in Stimulus Plan Ebbs” by Balz and Cohen.

RealClearPolitics: “Hysteria from Right and Left” by Cathy Young.

A Chill in the Air

Summer officially starts this weekend, but it’s getting cold out there.

The AMA reacted coolly to President Obama’s healthcare plan. Iran’s elections may have a chilling effect on its relations with the United States. Senate Republicans want to freeze the Sotomayor proceedings until fall. And Sarah Palin is going all ice queen on David Letterman.

Bundle up, dear reader.

The president addressed the American Medical Association’s annual convention yesterday, outlining his healthcare policy to a new level of detail. If doctors, hospitals, and insurers can cut care costs, the president offered, government will also work to lower medical liabilities (right now, a doctor’s greatest expense is malpractice insurance).

Here’s where it gets frosty: the president said his plan may cost $1 trillion. For a federal budget buckling under the weight of bailouts, bankruptcies, and decade-old tax breaks, another trillion-dollar program makes everyone shudder. Think spending may become a political problem for the Democrats? You ain’t the only one.

Congress will soon undertake healthcare reform, but this week, it’s focused on the environment and new financial regulations. And Sonia: the GOP is hoping to stall for time, but it’s running up against a concerted White House media strategy.

The president’s primary international concern is (still) west Asia. Iran’s presidential elections have been fascinating to watch.

The incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a bigot who thinks America sucks. The challenger, Mir Hossain Mousavi, quit politics 15 years ago to become an architect. Mousavi wasn’t supposed to be the main opposition, but former president Mohammed Khatami thought he had no chance this go-round, so he dropped out.

That’s because until recently, Ahmadinejad was very popular. He is a hero to rural conservatives and the urban poor, whose causes he championed. But 70 percent of Iran is under 30 years old, and many young people find Iran’s current brand of theocratic authoritarianism suffocating. They want freedom, and Mousavi is their man.

Ahmadinejad won, but it looks like he may have cheated. Mousavi supporters have taken to the streets, and Iran’s ruling clerics have opened an investigation into the election results. New elections, or even hard evidence of cheating, are unlikely. But it’s interesting to watch a government testing out the mechanics of democracy, especially a government at the center of the world stage.

Meanwhile, there may be “tough months” ahead for Afghanistan, according to Gen. David Petraeus, who oughta know. The Blog wonders: “tough” as opposed to what? All the easy living Afghanistan’s been soaking up lately?

Pakistan isn’t doing much better.

Even our allies are raising a ruckus. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Obama’s recent call for a Palestinian state with a big “pfff.” Actually, Netanyahu said the Palestinians could have their own country, so long as that country didn’t have an army and so long as Israelis could continue trying to take over Palestine one settlement at a time. The Palestinians—and the Blog—find his munificence overwhelming.

Twenty years ago, the New York Times’ Tom Friedman (see this week’s Top 5) wrote that Israel’s big problem is that it can only have two of the three things it wants: to be 100 percent Jewish, 100 percent democratic, and occupy 100 percent of all the territory of Old Testament Israel. It can have any two, Friedman argues, but not all three. Israel has still not chosen.

Finally this week, the Blog presents a moment of absurdity. Guess who is conservatives’ newest worst enemy? This moment of absurdity has been brought to you by Sarah Palin, defender of all that is right.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

The Washington Post: “Muted Response Reflects U.S. Diplomatic Dilemma” by Scott Tyson.

The New York Times: “Winds of Change?” by Tom Friedman.

Economist: “Tehran Rising.

Newsweek: “The Micawbers and Mrs. Roosevelt” by Jon Meacham.

Wall Street Journal: “White House Sends Signals on Deficit” by Gerald Seib.

Meet Sonia

Say it loud and there’s music playing. Say it soft, and it’s almost like praying.

Sotomayor.

Suddenly that name will never be the same for us.

Her supporters and opponents are already eyeing one another like Jets and Sharks, and Dick Cheney says when you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way. But ABC News’ Rick Klein Notes the coming rumble isn’t “Democrats versus Republicans; it’s Republicans versus conservative interest groups.”

Before the confirmation song and dance begins, take a look at her biography and her qualifications, dear reader. And ask yourself this: if we cast Sotomayor as Maria, SCOTUS as Tony, and Obama as Bernardo, is who plays Officer Krupke? Wolf Blitzer?

Now consider the politics. Bench nominees must have sterling jurisprudential credentials, but politically, picking a justice is about which fights you want and which fights you don’t.

The fight Team Obama doesn’t want is with women. Since Justice O’Connor retired, there has been but one woman on the Bench. Candidate Obama was accused of sexism, by the left when he took a no-holds-barred approach to the primary, then again over his VP choice; and from the right, and their upholder of feminism.

Sotomayor allows the White House to bolster its credentials with the fairer sex. But Sotomayor’s nomination isn’t just good defense. It’s good offense.

Sotomayor puts the Republican Party in a bind. The GOP has struggled to attract women voters, as well as Latinos, who make up the nation’s largest ethnic minority and whose share of the population continues to grow. If the GOP shot down the first Hispanic woman Court nominee, women and Latinos might vote Democrat for a generation. The GOP might never recover.

But a Supreme Court nomination is a big deal, and conservative interest groups will expect GOP senators to vociferously oppose Sotomayor. Roll over, they will say, and you can forget about our campaign contributions the next time you run for re-election.

For now, the GOP may simply say there isn’t enough time to hold confirmation hearings before the August recess. A delay into the fall would allow the Republican caucus time to regroup. When the hearings finally come, expect more quotes like this one from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.): “She certainly stands in a good stead, but I do think it’s potentially a good teaching moment for the country.”

The Sotomayor announcement came at a welcome time for several folks. Take the junior senator from Illinois, for example. Roland Burris was caught promising a campaign contribution to Rod Blagojevich at the same time he was asking the now-deposed governor for the senate seat vacated by Obama.

Also, GM. n the 100 day anniversary of the stimulus package, GM has unveiled a plan to make the United States a 70 percent shareholder. If your broker advised you to buy 70 percent of General Motors, how long would he continue to be your broker?

And don’t forget Chris Dodd. The GOP hasn’t.

Finally this week, a study has found each family with health insurance pays $1017 each year to cover the uninsured. This may spur congressional action on the president’s healthcare plan.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

The New York Times: “Sotomayor’s Rulings are Exhaustive but Often Narrow” by Adam Liptak.

Politico: “Right Divided Over Court Fight” by Jeanne Cummings.

Real Clear Politics: “One Worthy Debate” by David Broder.

Newsweek: “They May Not Want the Bomb” by Fareed Zakaria.

Des Moines Register: “Father, an Old Soldier, in Spirit is Made Whole” by Nancy Dugan.

Cogitation

Politics, dear reader, is a thinking person’s game. For example:

 

Barack Obama thinks Egypt would make a good setting for a much-anticipated statement to the Islamic world. Would-be assassins may think so, too.

 

Dick Cheney thinks Rush Limbaugh is a better Republican than Colin Powell. The White House thinks every time Cheney (or Limbaugh) opens his mouth, re-election becomes just a little easier.

 

Sec. Gates thinks Stan McChrystal will do a better job in Afghanistan than David McKiernan. The Blog thinks Gates wishes McKiernan’s ouster was still the biggest news at the Pentagon.

 

GOP boss Michael Steele thinks former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney’s Mormonism might be a turn off for GOP base voters. Romney thinks Steele should stick it where the moon don’t shine.

 

Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist thinks being a senator might be fun. So (still) do Al Franken and Norm Coleman.

 

But the problem with thinking is it usually produces more questions.

 

Did Nancy Pelosi think silence was a good idea when she found out about torture? Did she think at all?

 

What will Congress think of the administration’s renewed healthcare push? And what will the president think of the bill congress eventually presents to him?

 

What was Wanda Sykes thinking when she called Karl Rove the 20th hijacker?

 

Of the events planned by the White House in the past week, none went better than the healthcare rollout (with the possible exception of the Tar Heel visit). But few policy proposals will face tougher challenges in coming weeks. As the NYT’s Robert Pear wrote, “There was something in [a revamped healthcare plan] for Mr. Obama, and something for the industry—though not necessarily the same thing. Their interests overlap but do not coincide.” Once Congress gets into it, Obama will need all his chips to control the stakes.

 

Obama’s control may be needed elsewhere first. Though the administration continues to project sunshine on the economy, many economists aren’t buying it. Nobody seems to dispute this: next year, the government will borrow 50 cents of every dollar it spends. Zoinks.

 

It’s not as simple as cutting waste from the budget. Obama will do that, but he must also fight tooth-and-nail for policy initiatives like carbon emissions, bank reorganization, and the aforementioned healthcare reform to keep his balance sheets in tact. If any one of those fails, the budget will have to be rewritten.

 

The president’s popularity remains high, which (as the Blog has argued before) is critically important. The president muted his reaction to Wanda Sykes’ out-of-line joke at last week’s White House Correspondents Association dinner, then gave a great speech of his own.

 

After the laughter comes tears (usually). Obama’s trek is as tenuous as it has ever been. He shoulders many heavy burdens, each tied to the other. Drop any one, and the rest may follow.

 

But he’s made it this far with a smile on his face, and for now, he trudges on.

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

 

The Washington Post: “Lawmakers Balk at Holding Guantanamo Bay Detainees in U.S.” by Perry Bacon Jr.

 

TIME: “Healthcare: Industry Steps Up. Maybe” by Joe Klein.

 

The Washington Post: “The Reticence in Broadcasting Network” by Dana Milbank.

 

Los Angeles Times: “Obama’s big bet on Pakistan” by Doyle McManus.

 

Real Clear Politics: “Catholic Political Divide Over Obama at Notre Dame” by Beth Fouhy.

 

On Deck:

You know you’re in trouble when…

 

…Democrats and Republicans agree you’re crooked.

 

…your best defense is “I thought it would be best if someone else wrote a strongly worded letter.”

 

…you face 29,000 counts of murder charges two weeks after the leader of the free world called genocide a global security threat.

That’s Politics

Ever seen Lawrence of Arabia? It’s one of the Blog’s faves. In it, a newspaperman asks an Arab what the Arabs are learning about politics.

 

“You’ll be a democracy in this country?” the reporter asks. “You gonna have a parliament?”

 

The Arab answers, “I will tell you that when we have a country.”

 

The reporter smiles.

 

“Did I answer well?” the Arab asks.

 

“You answered without saying anything,” the reporter responds. “That’s politics.”

 

The reporter is right, if cynical: skilled politicians can keep the game moving without granting either side any points. President Obama is a skilled politician.

 

Last week, Obama left federal policy unchanged in two key areas. First, he said he still supports the bygone assault weapons ban, but won’t actively pursue its reinstatement. Second, he released CIA torture memos, but declined to prosecute torturers.

 

What do these bob-and-weaves have in common? Neither issue is about the Benjamins. The president believes he needs all his political capital to revamp the economy, so with few exceptions, everything else can take a number.

 

No president can keep this up for long. Obama’s stasis disappoints his supporters on the left and evinces weakness to his detractors on the right. But if he can refocus the left and right on the economy (shouldn’t be hard), he can still choose the terms of debate.

 

Elsewise, last week was about foreign policy. Before the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, President Obama held bi-lats with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

 

Poor Felipe. Mexico’s border with the United States is nearly lawless. Ruthless oligarchs ship cocaina into El Norte and run guns back across the border so they can murder more soldiers, policemen, and innocents. If you haven’t already, peep the NYT series on that whole sitchu. Difficult to say whether Obama’s talks with Calderon will merit any progress.

 

When Obama landed on Trinidad, Cuba immediately took center stage. Ever since Teddy Roosevelt, er, James Monroe, what we call leadership Latin America has called domination. When economic times were high, we imposed regulatory requirements on Latin American countries before we lent them money. When last year’s downturn hit, those regulations meant Latin American markets plummeted just like our own. Now, Latin America looks at us the way Hardy looked at Laurel.

 

Finally, the Blog calls your attention to India, where last week the largest exercise of democracy in the history of the world began. India has 714 million eligible voters (the United States has 212 million, in case you were curious). Voting lasts for one month.

 

Among the central issues in India’s election is poverty. 40 percent of India’s population (or roughly 450 million people) lives below the World Bank’s poverty line, $1.25 per day. 450 million people, less than a buck twenty-five a day. Cogitate on that, dear reader.

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

 

The New York Times: “Big Profits, Big Questions” by William D. Cohan.

 

TIME: “How to Raise the Standard in America’s Public Schools” by Walter Isaacson.

 

The New Republic: “Nudge-ocracy” by Franklin Foer and Noam Sheiber.

 

Los Angeles Times: “Measuring Obama by FDR’s Yardstick” by Doyle McManus.

 

The Washington Post: “When Slapped, Slap Back” by Eugene Robinson.

 

On Deck: Stormy Weather

The Blog sees rougher waters ahead for the president. Congress has declared the “mother of all climate weeks” just as his cap-and-trade policy is taking on water from both port and starboard sides. Obama may do best to repeat his budget strategy here: stay focused on the big picture, and take what he can get. Education (see this week’s Top 5) and healthcare debates also loom.

 

Finally, Obama’s plan to shave $100 million from the federal budget in his first 100 days may be the worst kind of political promises: ones you don’t meet and wouldn’t do much good even if met.

 

Candidate Obama often referred to the tough decisions America has put off for too long. Now is the time to make them, and President Obama is in the big chair.

The Case

Welcome to a special Monday edition of Ripples. Check back throughout the day tomorrow for coverage of exit polls, news reports, and the votes as they come in. Wednesday, the blog will bring you a breakdown of the final results.

 

Today, I want to make my final case for Barack Obama.

 

This blog takes its name from the words of Robert Kennedy. Two years after Bobby gave his “Ripples of Hope” speech in South Africa, he announced his candidacy for White House. At his first campaign stop, in a dusty Kansas gymnasium, he concluded his remarks this way:

 

“Our country is in danger: not just from foreign enemies, but above all, from our own misguided policies—and what they can do to the nation that Thomas Jefferson said was the last great hope of mankind.

 

“There is a contest on, not for the rule of America but for the heart of America. In [this campaign] we are going to decide what this country will stand for—and what kind of [people] we are.”

 

Today, nobody need be told America is in danger. Both campaigns know our economy, foreign policy, environment, healthcare, and education are suffering, and there’s plenty of evidence to sustain that view.

 

In the last two months, we have witnessed the consequences of greed at home. Americans are losing their jobs, their savings, their homes.

 

Today, one in seven Americans has no health insurance. One in five American children is born into poverty.

 

Our roads and bridges are crumbling and we are still haunted by the buckling of our levies in New Orleans more than three years ago.

 

We are floundering in Afghanistan, where more Americans are being killed than in Iraq. Osama bin Laden still plots.

 

The war in Iraq has cost 4,000 lives, $580 billion, and the respect of our friends around the world. We fund Iraq’s government, which has a $79 million budget surplus. The United States has a $428 billion budget deficit.

 

We face nuclear threats from Iran, Russia, and Pakistan. The economies of Asia outpace our own. We owe China half a trillion dollars.

 

****

 

These threats endanger America’s world leadership. And yet the greatest threat to our nation can neither be quantified nor found on a map. We cannot bargain or legislate our way around it.

 

Dear reader, the greatest threat to America is a decline of self-confidence. We have lost sight of how very special it is to be American.

 

Look at our people, our Constitution, our laws, and our institutions and you will see a nation whose character is closer to the heart of God than any ever nation ever chartered by humankind.

 

Our history brims with what’s possible. Our forebears left the only world they’d ever known to hew from a wild continent a new life. We fought a war over the meaning of independence and another war over the meaning of freedom. We settled the West, we chased Fascism from the face of the Earth, and we built an economy for history to envy. We stared down communism and we sent a man to the moon. America sent a man to the moon.

 

But in our success we have wandered from the imagination and determination that set us apart. We have ceded what Franklin Roosevelt called our “righteous might” to follow cheap lusts and vanity.

 

John McCain is a good man, an according-to-Hoyle hero. But since Watergate, faith in our ability to govern ourselves has been shadowed by our misgivings of government run amok. McCain promises more of the doubt, contempt, and suspicion with which we hold our government.

 

Barack Obama cannot single-handedly raise us from our present doldrums to lofty heights. Nobody could, and Obama knows as much.

 

The first time I heard him speak, he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”

 

Obama added, “But it doesn’t bend all by itself. If you want it to bend toward justice, you have to reach up, grab ahold of it, and bend it there yourself.”

 

****

 

That’s what this election is about: reaching up for the arc of history and bending it where we want it to go.

 

We can take on the issues that plague our economy. We can halt and reverse the damage still being done to our environment. We can raise standards of education, lower the poverty rate, and guarantee no American ever has to wonder whether they can afford a doctor. We can secure America from threats within and without, and restore our nation to its rightful place as the world’s broker of peace.

 

Obama’s presidency promises to be a point where, as Seamus Haney says, “hope and history rhyme.” But ultimately, he asks us to take responsibility for our own future. He invites us to reclaim ownership of our government.

 

America’s challenges are many and great. The only reason we have not already overcome them is because we have forgotten what is possible when America stands together. Stand up, dear reader. Be counted.

 

On Deck: Just Do It

The blog has made no secret of its choice in this election. Whether you plan to vote for Change, for Country First, or for Cookie Monster, please, please vote tomorrow.

 

Only a tiny fraction of all the people in the history of humanity have had the right to choose their leaders. It is a sacred thing to cast a ballot. Don’t miss your chance.