Browsing the blog archives for November, 2010.

Oopsie; New Jersey Owes $271m

Republican Party

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is doing his bit to further the Republican agenda of letting America rot, and as you recall he recently halted a project to build a new tunnel to Manhattan under the Hudson, for which the state had received a big chunk of federal money. He wanted to spare New Jersey taxpayers, he said.

But here’s the oopsie — the feds want the tunnel money back.

The Federal Transit Administration has sent a debt notice to New Jersey demanding a payment of $271,101,291 by Dec. 24. After that, the feds will charge interest on whatever the state still owes.

An editorial in the New York Times sums up Gov. Christie’s other accomplishments so far:

While Mr. Christie was busy hacking away at public education in his state so he could preserve lower tax rates for multimillionaires, his administration also bungled its application for education money through the Race to the Top program and lost $400 million. He also lost federal matching funds for family planning by vetoing the state’s share.

Apparently, Gov. Christie’s only executive abilities are losing federal money and getting himself on YouTube. No wonder the GOP sees him as future presidential material.

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Lawrence Wilkerson on the Wikileaks

Obama Administration

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

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The New Wikileaks Leaks

Obama Administration

I’ve been terribly busy doing other things today and am just now catching up on the new “leaks.” And one of the first wikileaked bits I found in the New York Times was this:

Thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea: American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the American ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believe that the right business deals would “help salve” China’s “concerns about living with a reunified Korea” that is in a “benign alliance” with the United States.

And I’m thinking, what kind of irresponsible shithead would leak something like that? Especially when the two Koreas are as close to war as they have been for many years. The world would be a far better place if North Korea imploded, and if the Koreas could be united under democratic government without China getting bent out of shape about it, so much the better. But stoking the paranoia and instability in Pyongyang is not what anyone needs right now.

Another leak describes a “highly secret effort” by the U.S. to get some highly enriched uranium out of Pakistan, where it could fall into the hands terrorists. Yeah, thanks loads for blowing that cover, bozo.

Other stuff described in the Times comes under the heading of stuff we already knew, even if we didn’t know details. Someone thinks the government of Afghanistan may be corrupt? This is news? China’s Politburo engages in global computer sabotage. There have been several news stories about Chinese government hacks over the past few years.

Sean Paul Kelley of the Agonist points out that some of the leaks have possibly set back the effort to close Gitmo. Further,

It’s fine and well to sit on your high horse and talk *tsk* *tsk* about bribery and ethics and morals but the disclosure of these cables will harm your interests. Let me put it this way: do you want to see the US invade Yemen? How can the disclosure of President Saleh of Yemen lying to his own people (and laughing about it) do us any good? How will it do the cause of peace any good at all when it will more than likely destabilize Yemen further and subsequently add momentum to the “do something crowd” in the Beltway? Do you think a Yemen post-Saleh will be less inclined to radical Islam? Do you honestly think these disclosures are going to stop that? This is just one example.

Keven Drum writes that the fallout in the Mideast could be huge. See also The Arabist.

For once, reactions from much of the right and left blogospheres appear to be in the same ball park — that much of what has been reported from the leaks so far is either stuff everyone pretty much already knew, or else was secret for a good reason. But today’s “even dumber than Jim Holt Hoft” award goes to Donald Douglas of Right Wing News, who writes,

I continue to be amazed at the fawning credibility Assange gets on the progressive left. Anything that tears down the military — even putting at risk the lives of Americans and our allies — is totally cool with these freaks. But maybe something good will come of all this, in the end.

And I thought, who on the progressive left is “fawning” over this stuff? And it turns out the link goes to Charli Carpenter of Lawyers, Guns and Money, who wrote,

Wow. Iran’s neighbors are threatened by its rise! Many governments think Pakistan may not be able to secure its nuclear arsenal! The US attempts to use its leverage with its allies to achieve its political objectives! China has engaged in a cyber-campaign against Google and other American companies! Yemen approves of US’ targeted killings on its soil (but claims otherwise to quell domestic opposition)! Also, governments routinely spy on United Nations officials!

Who knew all this stuff, eh? Thank the stars for Wikileaks.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

Yes, it’s true. Donald Douglas is too stupid to recognize obvious sarcasm, mistaking it for “fawning.” Like I said, even dumber than Jim Hoft.

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Leslie Nielsen, 1926-2010

entertainment and popular culture

Just don’t call him Shirley.

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Are We Too Cynical? Or Not Cynical Enough?

Obama Administration

Frank Rich is wrong:

The previous transient scapegoat was the Democrats. They were punished in yet another “wave” election — our third in a row — where voters threw Washington’s bums out. But most of the public remains bummed out nonetheless. In late October, the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that only 31 percent of respondents believed that America was on the right track. When the survey asked the same question after the shellacking, the percent of optimists jumped to … 32. Regardless of party or politics, there’s a sense a broken country can’t be fixed. Few have faith that even “wave” elections are game-changers anymore.

He’s not wrong that people are bummed out. But I think he’s wrong that Democrats are the previous transient scapegoats. Dems are the standard default scapegoat, seems to me.

I think Rich is wrong here, also:

… the big money that dominates our political system, regardless of who’s in power. Two years after the economic meltdown, most Americans now recognize that that money has inexorably institutionalized a caste system where everyone remains (at best) mired in economic stasis except the very wealthiest sliver.

He’s right that big money has inexorably institutionalized a caste system where everyone remains (at best) mired in economic stasis except the very wealthiest sliver. But I think he’s wrong that “most Americans now recognize” that. I’m not sure they do. Or, if they suspect something, too many don’t suspect the big money supporting their end of the political spectrum and pulling their strings; they just suspect the other side’s big money.

To answer the question in the post title — I do think progressives may have gotten too cynical. This is not to say there isn’t plenty to be cynical about, but that an overload of cynicism has turned us into defeatists. Our politicians are slaves to The Sytem like everyone else. Democrats always will betray our expectations. Nothing will ever change.

But the teabaggers, for all their outrage, aren’t cynical enough. They’re like backwoods rubes lining up to buy what the traveling snake oil salesman is selling. And at the moment they’re the useful tools helping the more pernicious malefactors of great wealth become even more inexorably institutionalized. Palin, Beck et al. are the 21st century version of Rome’s bread and circuses — although less bread, more circus.

The New York Times reports that Senator Dick Lugar has been bucking the Republican Party on some issues lately, and for this some “tea party” groups are planning a primary challenge when he runs for re-election in 2012. The teabaggers say they are independent of the Republican Party, but of course only a teabagger would be gullible enough to believe that.

Remember John Danforth, former Reublican senator from Missouri? Danforth said that if the GOP ditches Lugar, “we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.”

Senator Lugar has been trying to get Republicans to put national security ahead of political games and support the START treaty. Ben Armbruster writes for Think Progress:

Lugar has been reluctant to criticize his colleagues’ obstruction. When asked last week if they were just playing politics, Lugar said, “I am not ascribing motivations to anybody.” But other Republicans don’t seem to be holding back. Brent Scowcroft served as national security adviser to two Republican presidents and has been pleading with Congress to ratify New START. Profiling Lugar’s awkward position vis-a-vis other Senate Republicans on this issue, Politico reports today that Scrowcroft isn’t being as diplomatic as Lugar on the GOP’s incentive for holding up START:

In an attempt to rally bipartisan support for the treaty, the White House has enlisted the kind of GOP foreign policy wise men that Lugar exemplifies – among them former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and James A. Baker. But they have had no success with members of their own party, and it has left them scratching their heads over the source of the GOP opposition.

“It’s not clear to me what it is,” said Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush who noted that this START treaty is not very different from previous ones negotiated and ratified under Republican presidents. “I’ve got to think that it’s the increasingly partisan nature and the desire for the president not to have a foreign policy victory.”

Considering that the Republican Party is deliberately trying to destroy the economy, the health care system, and now national security just to win elections, maybe we can’t be cynical enough.

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Die Quickly for the GOP; or, Righties Still Can’t Read

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Last week I wrote about the anticipated 23 percent cut in Medicare physician reimbursements. And I explained that this cut is the result of a Clinton-era formula for reimbursement — called the “sustainable growth rate” (SGR) — not the new health care reform law. And I also wrote about the way Republicans in Congress blocked all attempts at a remedy so they could go home to their constituents and blame the looming cuts on “Obamacare.”

N.C. Aizenman writes about this in the Washington Post — “Doctors say Medicare cuts force painful decision about elderly patients.” Physicians complain that they can’t afford to see Medicare patients, they say, because since 2000 their expenses have gone up 18 percent but reimbursement has gone up only 5 percent. And then there’s that 23 percent cut, which will go into effect December 1 if Congress can’t stop it.

Aizenman also writes in the WaPo article that the way physicians are reimbursed now tends to overpay specialists and underpay primary care physicians. This has been going on since before Barack Obama was elected.

What’s not mentioned anywhere in this news story is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or this year’s health reform law. That’s because the PPACA really isn’t part of this situation. The only connection is that a provision in an early version of the bill that would have eliminated the SGR was cut out at the insistence of deficit-hawk conservatives.

In other words, the passage of the PPACA did not cause this problem, and what parts of the PPACA that might help rein in Medicare costs eventually haven’t gone into effect yet, again to placate the deficit hawks. Yet that didn’t stop The Usual Knees from jerking.

Remember folks, all that talk about Death Panels, reduction of doctors’ availability, etc. under Obamacare was just a series of Republican lies. … So now that we passed it, and we are beginning to see what is in it, how does it look? Do you think maybe we should have figure out what was in it, before we passed it?

Amusingly, the blogger quoted above urges his readers to “read the whole thing” when he, apparently, did not. Or else he can’t read.

Here’s another one:

Recall that these steep cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates are the way in which the Obama administration was able to claim that a) Obamacare cost less than a trillion dollars and b) it would bend the cost curve. In fact, the administration now has a stark choice between instituting the “doc fix” which would rescind the Medicare cuts or welcoming in the era of decreased access and rationing via long wait times. They don’t have long. The rate cuts to Medicare reimbursement are set to begin December 1st.

But the rate cuts were not dictated by the PPACA but by another law passed back in 1997. The original PPACA bill would have eliminated the cuts resulting from the 1997 SGR formula, but at conservatives’ insistence this provision was taken out. But when Democrats attempted, first, to repeal SGR in a separate bill, and then to pass the usual one-year “doc fix” to postpone the cuts another year, it was Republicans who blocked it.

And it’s too obvious that the reason Republicans wouldn’t stop the rate cuts is that they could be blamed on “Obamacare,” even though they aren’t the fault of “Obamacare.”

The cuts to Medicare in PPACA were mostly to Medicare Advantage, a popular program that unfortunately costs taxpayers more than regular Medicare. However, from what I can glean from this fact sheet from the Congressional Research Service, PPACA as passed does not directly address the basic physician reimbursement rates in regular Medicare that people are complaining about. Instead, it establishes a Medicare Payment Advisory Commission to report to Congress in March of every year recommending what adjustments might be needed to the rate. But we haven’t heard from the MedPAC yet, and I’m not sure if it’s even been appointed.

Beside trimming back Medicare Advantage, the other major cost-saving Medicare plan in PPACA is to “bundle” hospital payments — instead of reimbursing for every individual procedure, hospitals will be reimbursed for treating a person’s condition over a period of time — X amount for six months of diabetes treatment, for example. This should eliminate hospitals’ padding their profits with unnecessary procedures.

But if the 23 percent cut isn’t stopped, could cause massive disruption in seniors’ health care. Perhaps since the midterm elections are done, the GOP will relent and at least go along with a temporary “doc fix” and kick the can down the road another year. But I suspect it’s going to be awfully tempting for them to block the fix one more time, because it’s all too easy to persuade the peabrains who support them that it’s all Obama’s fault. And if it puts some of the older folks at risk, it’s all for the glorious Republican cause.

See also Ron Chusid.

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Happy Turkey Sandwich Day

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There’s a possibility of war looming in Asia, where the belligerent nation is led by a psychopathic jerk with nuclear weapons. In a sane world, this would be a concern.

However, from what I can tell today’s hot item on the blogosphere is Moosewoman’s Thanksgiving tweet. I’m not even going to bother to link to it, because Moosewoman is getting, well, old. Like the leftover lime-pineapple jello mold that sits in fridge too long because nobody really wants it. She’s turning into the Kim Kardashian of politics — over-publicized and splashed all over media, but it’s hard to say exactly why.

It’s a slow news day, and let’s hope it stays that way.

Update — Interesting — Harold Meyerson, “How Germany Got It Right on the Economy.” In a nutshell, they didn’t allow the financial sector to run wild and overrun manufacturing, and they’ve got strong unions. And now the German economy is the strongest in the world.

Update: Krugman’s blog is very much worth reading.

Update: In the “what’s wrong with this picture” department — Ross Douthat discusses a “compromise” on the abortion issue proposed by William Saletan, and Saletan’s “compromise” (which, according to Douthat, is to allow elective abortion only to 12 week’s gestation) leads heavily on the work of a guy named David Garrow.

Yes, three men are debating a “compromise” on abortion. To me, this is something like Texas and Wyoming “compromising” on Connecticut speed limits.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Obama Administration

There’s a bit of Zen liturgy called the “Five Reflections” or “Five Remembrances” that is chanted before meals; it’s sort of the Zen version of saying grace. There are a number of translations of the reflections floating around, but they all boil down to this:

First, reflect on all the work that went into putting the meal on the table. This goes beyond just the cooking. There are grocers and truckers and farmers and suppliers of farmers. And all of those people are sustained by food provided by other cooks and grocers and truckers and farmers and suppliers. And don’t forget the non-human creatures represented on the table, from the turkey to the dairy cows and even the bees who make pollination possible. If you think about it, you realize the food in front of you represents a huge web of relationships that spreads across the globe.

Second, reflect on whether you are contributing to the greater good with your own life, and if the work you do is sustaining other people as much as their work sustains you.

Third, reflect on not being greedy.

Fourth, reflect on what food is really about — keeping us alive and healthy.

Fifth, reflect on “attaining the Way,” or realizing enlightenment.

If you want to adapt any part of these for “grace” today, feel free.

One of the things I like about the Reflections is that it reminds us we are not just passive recipients of God’s Blessings, but that we have received what we need to stay alive through the work of countless people. Further, we have a moral duty to contribute to others in return. In other words, it’s a reflection on how interconnected we all are and that we all depend on each other.

There’s an attitude that because we pay money for things like food, clothing, and utilities, we are not dependent on others. But money is just a handy means to facilitate the exchange of goods and services that we need and don’t provide for ourselves. Just imagine if you had to barter with the electric company to keep the juice on (and would they accept chickens?).

When most people in a society are able to contribute their labor and talents in the web of interconnection, and when the work of providing for each other is unimpeded, that society is healthy and probably prosperous. But when there are barriers to people contributing their labors and talents, that society is in trouble.

Poverty itself is a huge barrier, because people without the money to buy the goods and services they need burn much of their time and energy begging, bartering, worrying, and stealing — or doing without. In a society that depends on money to exchange goods and services, the very poor are not just unfortunate; they easily can become incapacitated.

Few opportunities come without some kind of price tag, even if it’s just the cost of transportation and a haircut. And sometimes there are no opportunities within reach. If a person is kept down far enough, and long enough, pulling himself up can require almost superhuman strength.

Unfortunately, people who have never been genuinely poor rarely understand how hard it is to climb out of poverty. They also don’t appreciate that keeping other people cut off from opportunity impacts them as well. A society in which increasing numbers of people are barred from opportunity and prevented from contributing is a society that is dying. If it gets dead enough, the spreading rot will eventually reach everyone, even the wealthy.

A rising tide doesn’t necessarily lift all boats (some boats leak, you know). But when the water dries up entirely, even luxury yachts are stranded.

Americans have become steeped in a mythology that we as individuals are entitled to abundance, but other people aren’t, and that we as individuals are completely autonomous and self-sustaining units with no dependence on anyone but ourselves. But this is a fantasy.

And because too many of us are lost in a fantasy, we don’t see the spreading rot, and most probably won’t see it until it reaches them. (And then they’ll complain bitterly that no one acted to stop the rot.)

Sorry if this sounds gloomy, but it’s what I see. In spite of the gloom do enjoy your dinner.

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Stuff to Read

Obama Administration

Salon has been running a series called “The Hack Thirty” listing the 20 worst political hacks in media. The Number One pick is in, and it’s (spoiler alert) … Richard Cohen. I don’t disagree with the choices, but I wouldn’t have put them in the same order.

“Most Americans think incoming Congressmen who campaigned against the health care bill should put their money where their mouth is and decline government provided health care now that they’re in office,” says Public Policy Polling. See also Steve Benen.

Matt yglesias notes that the alleged mistrust of government is highly selective.

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Test to Follow …

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