Posts Tagged ‘politics’
There’s always going to be reasons to complain about Congress. Even today, there are. Senate Democrats rolled over on the omnibus spending bill the other day, and the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for children who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents, was shot down this afternoon. We’ll see what happens with the ratification of the New Start Treaty next week.
Folks like me who are fans of justice, equality, empathy, fairness, having a fully functional and prepared military, and not being a backwards country can’t help but be pleased today. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed today. Whenever President Obama signs the bill, he’ll be fulfilling a campaign promise that most liberals considered to be a slam-dunk, no-brainer, but actually turned into a long, hard slog. Considering all of the campaign promises BHO has broken or just completely ignored, this is a big deal.
And of course, generally, it’s a huge deal. We never should have been discriminating against homosexuals serving in the military in the first place. One of these days, gay people will be full and equal citizens of our country. This is a big step in the right direction. Some notes on this historic occasion.
# Since cloture votes are all we seem to have nowadays, it’s interesting to see how an actual bipartisan vote plays out compared to a vote to end debate. They always say that cloture votes don’t necessarily tie the voter to a yay or nay vote. So to see Richard Burr of North Carolina and John Ensign of Nevada vote against cloture but then vote for repeal, it makes you wonder what’s up. These guys weren’t the high profile swing votes in the run-up to the vote (Scott Brown was, for one example). What’s going on here?
# Good for Ron Wyden, who’s undergoing prostate cancer surgery this coming week, but still showed up to cast his vote. Hopefully everything works out for him.
# Here’s a gem from that Times story: “‘In the middle of a military conflict, is not the time to do it,’ said Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia.” Which is precious for two reasons. Firstly, military conflict is America’s business nowadays. When’s the last time you couldn’t say “we’re in the middle of a military conflict”? And whenever we get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s always Iran, North Korea, and hell, even Mexico, for us to get duplicitously war-mongered into invading. It’s a bullshit excuse.
Secondly, I’d like Senator Chambliss to explain why allowing gay servicemen and servicewomen to openly fight while we’re in the middle of a military conflict is very bad, but allowing perfectly viable troops to be dismissed from the military simply for being homosexuals during a military conflict is perfectly fine. Actually, I wouldn’t like to hear him explain that. It’d probably make my head hurt. Fortunately, that’s no longer something we have to worry about. Saxby Chambliss and his ilk are wrong, and they always have been. The dustbin of history is too good for guys like him.
# Speaking of the dustbin of history, prepare to be swept into it, John McCain. Here’s a ruthless war cheerleader who somehow came to be the voice of reasonable opposition to DADT repeal, and who consistently moved the goalposts of his own opposition to such ridiculous lengths that he was eventually forced to whimper “well, ONE of the Joint Chiefs agrees with me.” And indeed, the Marine Corps commandant, General James Amos, did. But not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, nor the Secretary of Defense, nor a wide-ranging survey of the military, nor most of the American people. John McCain is a villain.
Back in the old neighborhood, I had a pal named Frankie who taught me an early lesson about negotiating. Any time he saw someone had a pack of gum, or some Skittles, or some Twizzlers, he’d say “Lemme get three pieces of gum” or “Gimme a handful of Skittles” or “Can I get four Twizzlers?” In all my days, I never gave up three pieces of gum, and I never saw someone hand over four Twizzlers, but Frankie always got something. His thinking was, nine times out of 10, he’s going to get something out of the deal. And who knows, maybe he’d get lucky and someone would give him the whole absurd amount he asked for. The point is, when he entered a negotiation, he put his pie-in-the-sky, best-case-scenario offer out there, and it eventually, most of the time in an instant, got negotiated down to a mutually agreeable deal. What Frankie never did was say “Gimme only one piece of gum.” And it was unimaginable to think he would say “You’ve got some gum. Want some more? Here.”
Which brings us to the president, who this week announced a pay freeze for federal civilian employees. You can go ahead and read that whole article, but here are the five most important sentences:
The pay freeze will save $2 billion in the current fiscal year that ends in September 2011, $28 billion over five years and more than $60 billion over 10 years, according to Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and the government’s chief performance officer. That represents just a tiny dent in a $1.3 trillion annual deficit but it offers a symbolic gesture toward public anger over unemployment, the anemic economic recovery and rising national debt.
Mr. Zients said the president made the announcement on Monday because of an approaching legal deadline for submitting a pay plan to Congress. But by doing it now, the president also effectively gets ahead of Republicans who have been talking about making such a move once they assume greater power in January. Some Republicans have gone further, proposing to slash federal worker salaries.
Actually, I lied about those being the most important sentences, because President Obama had a nice quote at the beginning that offers some important context: “I did not reach this decision easily. This is not just a line item on a federal ledger. These are people’s lives.”
So look at what we have here. We’ve got people’s lives, we’ve got almost purely symbolic political gestures, and we’ve got an attempt to preempt something the Republicans were undoubtedly going to do anyway once they formally took control of the House.
The most important question here is, what’s preventing Republicans from going ahead and actually cutting federal civilian employee salaries once they take all their seats in the House? This is where the little anecdote about Frankie comes into play. There’s nothing compelling President Obama to do this now. It’s anti-stimulative. No one is clamoring for it. The midterm elections are over, so any perceived political benefit will disappear, like tears in rain, by the time any of the president’s political capital needs to be cashed in. It’s quite literally an example of the administration’s confounding habit of negotiating with itself before even coming to the table with Republicans.
In a sensical world, our liberal, Democratic president would sidle up to the negotiations with Congressional Republicans and say “We’re not going to deny thousands of middle class Americans the salaries they’re entitled to in the middle of the tough economic times.” Then Congressional Republicans would cackle like the aliens from Mars Attacks, and in the end, you’d come out with a compromise. Probably the same federal pay freeze we’re looking at now. But maybe you’d get something better. The point is, you wouldn’t have pissed away your leverage before the discussions even started. Because ask yourself this: does Darrell Issa sound like a guy that’s going to be satisfied with Obama’s voluntarily offered pay freeze? Dude thinks BHO is a socialist, so anything the president does must be an underhanded attempt to push the country further to the brink of Marxist revolution in the streets.
Ezra Klein of the Washington Post today offered another model for negotiation that (probably) wasn’t devised outside the Quik Chek on 38th Street in Bayonne.
“The best negotiator I ever came across was [former Reagan and Bush chief of staff] Jim Baker,” says Paul Begala, who served as an adviser to President Clinton. “He began every negotiation with this sentence: ‘Nothing is agreed to till everything is agreed to.’ So no one can pocket anything, and no one suffers for making the first move.” To many Democrats, Republicans have simply proven the wisdom of Baker’s strategy: They keep pocketing these gains without giving the White House any credit, while both the Democrats and Obama take lashings from their base for being insufficiently principled and tactically incompetent.
Whether you subscribe to the candy store philosophy (which I admit assumes, probably naively, good faith between negotiating parties) or the more politically savvy and realistic philosophy of Jim Baker, the truth in both cases is that you’re not negotiating with yourself.
Earlier in that post, Klein talks about various arguments from White House staffers for why the president has pursued this unilateral self-negotiating strategy. (Previous iterations include the $300 billion stimulus tax cuts, the discretionary spending freeze, and the expansion of offshore drilling.) One of these arguments is that these weren’t bargaining chips at all, but rather good policies that the president wanted to get credit for. As a flaming liberal, this is an infinitely more dismaying argument than “Obama is just a bad negotiator.” As his term goes on and the evidence keeps piling up, though, the most dismaying argument might end up being the most true.
I have no problem saying that if you object to the construction of Cordoba House, it’s up to you to explain how you aren’t a bigot and that you actually believe in the Constitution of the United States
However, comma, if you’re interested in actually learning a little something about local zoning and construction issues in New York City, instead of just recklessly exploiting them for political gain, I definitely recommend this lengthy New York Times report, from the fifth anniversary of September 11, titled “The Hole in the City’s Heart.” It’s old, but it should give you a good flavor of the concrete problems involved in building anything near Ground Zero.
There’s a special election in Massachusetts tomorrow to fill the Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy. As per this blog’s tradition, I’m encouraging all of my Massachusetts readers to get out there and vote tomorrow. It’s an incredibly important election. I’d love nothing more than to tell my more Republican-inclined readers to just stay home and stay dry, but that wouldn’t be very sporting of me, would it?
I’ll be voting for the Democrat, Martha Coakley, and if being represented by someone that opposes perpetual war, believes that people shouldn’t be sentenced to die for want of health insurance, supports women’s reproductive rights, and supports marriage equality is important to you, I suggest you do the same.
I don’t mean to be flip in that title. Health care reform IS a big effing deal. I haven’t written much about Congress’s effort to pass comprehensive health care reform because honestly, things are changing every day, and while I get worked up about every little development in real life, I don’t feel compelled to expose you, my precious and treasured readers, to that sort of madness.
But it’s definitely worth taking a step back and looking at the larger effort, how it’s progressed, and what the consequences are. This is where my ambivalence comes in. Because, on the one hand, it’s become painfully apparent to liberal supporters of reform that most of the store has been compromised away. Even though any reasonable objective observer will recognize that a Canadian-style single payer system would be the most effective way to achieve both universality AND cost control (notice I said “reasonable objective observer,” which disqualifies pretty much every Republican critic of reform), that idea wasn’t even put forward as a serious starting point for debate. Consequently, the so-called public option, the next-most-progressive idea for reform, got whittled down and exposed to ridiculous right wing obfuscation and misinformation, to the point that even the most feckless shadow of the public option became anathema for conservative and moderate Democrats. Here’s the inimitable and heroic Matt Taibbi discussing the latest compromise, a proposed expansion of Medicare to folks age 55 and over:
I get that some people think this is a good idea, and it’s hard to argue that any kind of expansion of Medicare is a bad thing, given that the program has been popular and successful throughout its history. But this move just smacks of the bass-ackwards Solomonesque bargaining that has marked this whole health care effort from the start. If expanding Medicare is good for people aged 55 and up, why isn’t it good for everybody? Why isn’t it a good idea to provide cheaper insurance for people in their preventive care years, so that they cost Medicare less as they do get older?
Answer: because it’s a political non-starter, because hospitals and doctors won’t tolerate having to take Medicare rates from everyone, nor will the pharma companies or the insurance companies tolerate having to compete with Medicare for their most profitable customers.
So what they’ll do instead is expand Medicare for people aged 55 and up in exchange for the preservation of subsidies everywhere else in the system, as well as an individual mandate that increases the revenue flow for private insurers by forcing millions of new (and relatively young and healthy) customers their way. This isn’t a health care strategy, it’s a big baby that’s been hacked up into parts and fed in descending size order to the administration’s weightiest political lobbies. I almost can’t wait to see what the next “compromise” is.
It’s hard to argue here. If you start from a position where you have to appease doctors, insurers, the pharmaceutical industry, and the conservative members of your own party, it’s very difficult to construct meaningful, coherent reform.
But then you’ve got the equally inimitable Ezra Klein taking a different sort of long view, and discussing liberal ends versus liberal means:
The first year of the Obama presidency has been a long tutorial on the difference between liberal ends and liberal means. If I told you America has a president determined to pass large amounts of Keynesian stimulus spending (that’s particularly concentrated in impoverished areas), a near-universal health-care plan, and a bill addressing climate change, you’d say liberals had recaptured the White House. Ambitious liberals, even.
But though Obama’s program is quite liberal, he doesn’t seem to care much how it’s achieved. A public option would be nice, but if it’s not there, then that’s fine, too. Full auction of permits is a good idea, but if most get given away to corporations, then that’s how it goes. Infrastructure spending is good, but if tax cuts are the price of passage, then tax cuts there shall be. The best description of the administration’s ideology probably came from Rahm Emanuel when he said, “The only nonnegotiable principle here is success.”
He’s sort of right. The stimulus may not have been everything liberals hoped for, but it passed. Health care reform will pass, and while it may not include a state-run system, it will result in meaningful regulation of the insurance industry and coverage for millions more Americans. I’m a zealot, so I want the most liberal possible program with a trail of broken Republicans behind it. But at the end of the day, Obama is enacting a pretty liberal agenda. This is not to say that we should just sit back and be satisfied; Obama is a pragmatist who needs to be prodded from the left at every turn. But things might not be as bad as we think.
In the meantime, it’s important to look for silver linings wherever we can. In that spirit, here’s another writer with upper management written all over him, Atul Gawande, writing about how the Senate draft of health care reform, with its mish-mash of pilot programs and wacky ideas, might actually succeed in controlling the cost of health care. It’s not much, but it’s a tiny ray of hope. We’ll see what happens.
To do the right thing, that is. The New Jersey state senate will be considering a gay marriage bill in the coming week, with a vote possible late in the week.
There was a bit of scuttlebutt after the recent gubernatorial election that some Democratic lawmakers were uneasy about going through with the gay marriage bill. You see, outgoing governor Jon Corzine is in favor of marriage equality; incoming governor Chris Christie has promised to veto any such bill. And, you know, this is politics, so it would be unseemly for a Democratic legislature to do anything that would appear like they were trying to pass a bill at the eleventh hour before the opposition took control of the State House. Because it’s more important for Democrats to reap the rewards that come with decorum and proper comportment than actually, you know, do their fucking jobs.
Here’s the thing: at the end of the day, nobody CARES what manner good bills are passed in. And about this there can be no debate: a marriage equality bill is a good bill. Not just good, but entirely necessary and overdue. This isn’t some routine appropriation. This is civil rights. Please, New Jersey, do NOT fuck this one up.
Or, in other words, make New York look stupid for not doing the same thing last week. As Daily Intel says:
How would a huge defeat for same-sex marriage on Wednesday create momentum for the bill’s prospects, and not against them? Maybe it’s the irresistible opportunity to show New York what a progressive Northeast state with balls looks like.
# From the annals of grudging respect: I never want to admit that the Red Socks do anything worthwhile, but this is a good project they’re engaging in. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a real thing, but there are still a lot of people, in the military and outside of it, who don’t treat it with the gravity it deserves. Good for the Red Socks. In this one instance, I wish them luck.
# In honor of my younger self who, like every 6-year-old boy, was CONVINCED he was going to be a paleontologist, here’s a wacky story about a tiny tyrannosaurus they just discovered in China. It’s the size of a man!