Senate Blocks Immigration Bill

This is just as well. I don’t think anything sensible regarding immigration could be legislated in the current political climate.

See also “Immigration Bill Prompts Some Menacing Responses” by Jeff Zeleny in today’s New York Times

Republicans who support the immigration bill are facing unusually intense opposition from conservative groups fighting it. This is among the first times, several of them said, that they have felt the full brunt of an advocacy machine built around conservative talk radio and cable television programs that have long buttressed Republican efforts to defeat Democrats and their policies.

This may be among the first times I’ve noticed a mainstream media outlet admitting there is an advocacy machine built around around conservative talk radio and cable television programs that has long buttressed Republican efforts to defeat Democrats and their policies.

The Devil and Dick Cheney

You know the Veep is in trouble when he’s lost David Broder. “[W]hen presidential candidate George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney as his running mate, I applauded the choice. … Boy, was I wrong.”

Truly, there’s not much lower Dick can sink. I checked to see if Hugh Hewitt had turned on him yet — that would be, I think, absolute rock bottom — but I found no recent Hewitt postings on Cheney. Yet. Even really stupid rats will get off the sinking ship before they drown.

Do a news google for “impeach Cheney” and you get an eyeful. Coming at a time when the Bush Administration faces mutiny over immigration, it can truly be said the White House is (finally) under siege from all sides. Some parts of the Republican Party are still trying to provide a buffer, of course, but the GOP is starting to look like the last defenders of the Bastille.

Raw Story reports that this morning the White House asserted “executive privilege” and said it would not turn over documents related to the firings of federal attorneys. I believe we’re still waiting for a response to yesterday’s subpoenas regarding the warantless wiretap program.

My understanding is that if the Administration refuses to comply with subpoenas from Congress, Congress has to go to a federal court to get the subpoenas enforced. If a court rules the Administration must comply, the White House can appeal, and fish around for federal judges who will allow them to continue to operate outside the law. That’s how the Dickster was able to avoid turning his energy task force records over to the General Accounting Office, for example.

I assume the White House can appeal this all the way to the Supreme Court. Yeah, that’s so … not reassuring. Judging in part by how the voting went in Bush v. Gore, in which Kennedy, O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas voted to stop the recounts, I can see the votes falling the same way they did during the recent Carhart decision — Kennedy, Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas supporting the White House; Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens upholding the law.

Right now, this nation is as close to totalitarianism as it has ever been. Closer, probably.

What if the White House exhausts all appeals and still refuses to turn over the subpoenaed documents? I honestly don’t know what the next step might be. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. How might they be forced to comply? There have been many times in American history in which some or all of the three branches of government were at odds with each other, but the extreme behavior of the Bush Administration is taking us into uncharted territory.

An appeal process could drag on for months. The Bushies might run out the clock. Or, if it is resolved late next year, Congress might decide to spare itself from sending law enforcement agents into the White House to enforce the subpoenas.

Even so, I sincerely hope all appearances of criminal behavior will be investigated, and the perps brought to justice eventually. As long as it takes. That means it’s essential to seek no pardon pledges from all our Democratic presidential candidates.

And, David Broder — shut up and listen to us dirty bleeping hippies next time, OK?

Essential reading — don’t miss Sidney Blumenthal’s essay, “The imperial vice presidency,” in Salon today. See also “Impeach Cheney: The Vice President Has Run Utterly Amok and Must Be Stopped” by Bruce Fein in Slate and “Cheney and the National Security Secrets Fraud” by Scott Horton at Harper’s.

Also — I realize Rep. Dennis Kucinich introduced articles of impeachment against Cheney last April. Does anyone have a link to the exact document that Kucinich submitted to the House? I ran into one commenter who said that Kucinich’s bill, while well-intentioned, did not introduce the strongest reasons to impeach Cheney. I’d like to read it myself before I comment.


So Ann Coulter was on Chris Matthews’s Hardball yesterday. Did I mention the walking freak show was the only guest for the entire hour? Today, the entire hour focused on the fallout from yesterday’s show.

I didn’t watch it all, but I checked every ten minutes or so to see if he’d moved on to a new topic. Nope.

In other words, on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, Tweety doesn’t have anything else to talk about but the spectacle he made of himself yesterday.

At Crooks & Liars, John Amato commented yesterday and today.

Send your thoughts on this to [email protected].

And Away We Go

Laurie Kellman, Associated Press:

The Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office Wednesday for documents relating to President Bush’s warrant-free eavesdropping program.

Also named in subpoenas signed by committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., were the Justice Department and the National Security Council.

The committee wants documents that might shed light on internal squabbles within the administration over the legality of the program, said a congressional official speaking on condition of anonymity because the subpoenas had not been made public.

My understanding is that the committee vote was 13-3, and that all ten Dems on the committee (Leahy, Kennedy, Biden, Kohl, DiFi, Russ, Schumer, Durbin, Cardin, Whitehouse) voted to issue the subpoenas, plus three Republicans. Hatch, Specter, and Grassley. Three Republicans must have voted no, and three more must not have voted.

The White House and the Cheney House will fight this. Could get interesting.

More Sicko

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks appeared on CNN’s Paula Zahn show last night to talk about health care and the film Sicko. You can watch the video here. Be sure to check out the spokesperson for the Right, Amy something.

My comments:

The young lady representing the Right kept going on about how she didn’t have health insurance because she was self-employed and wanted some kind of tax credit so she could afford it. However, I’m reasonably certain self-employed people already can deduct 100 percent of their health insurance premiums from their federal income taxes (Form 1040, line 29). So I’m not sure what other tax incentives she might need.

Which takes me to the next point — she was complaining about those awful “regulations” that make insurance so expensive. When the COBRA policy from my last job ran out I was able to purchase a private Blue Shield HMO policy, even though I am 55, overweight, and have high cholesterol. This is thanks to New York state regulations. I’m paying almost $700 a month for it, but by damn I’m insured. In many states I probably could not have purchased private insurance at any price.

This is, I think, critical: Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield could not deny my application because I applied the same month my COBRA insurance expired. I didn’t have to get a physical or anything; just provide proof of my prior insurance. This was New York law, they told me. Had I waited more than a month, they could have turned me down. In many states I wouldn’t have had even the grace period; I could have been denied coverage just because. These are the kind of “regulations” the Right says are so onerous.

Also in New York, if you start a new job, your new employer’s health insurance provider has to insure you even if you have pre-existing conditions. There may be some loopholes somewhere, but I have never heard of an employed co-worker being denied coverage in all the years I’ve lived around here. That’s another of those damn “regulations” the Right wants to do away with.

Ms. Amy the Tool (who is a pretty girl, but a twit) exemplifies another problem with “The System.” She’s young and healthy and thinks it doesn’t make sense for her to purchase health insurance when she sees a doctor maybe once or twice a year. Never mind that she’s gambling she won’t be in an accident or come down with something serious. Insurance is about risk sharing, and if healthy people aren’t in the system it drives up costs for everyone else.

Finally, the segment implied that Sicko focuses on the problems of uninsured people, but it’s more about insured people who have been ripped off by their insurance providers.

I hope I’m not being too hard on Cenk, who did good.

Also: Nice commentary on Sicko by Maggie Mahar.

Update: I forgot to answer one other thing — Ms. Amy Something mentioned all those Canadians who are dropping dead while on waiting lists for elective surgery. I don’t remember the number she gave. I want to repeat something I wrote last month:

Nearly a year ago the Institute of Medicine issued three reports (key findings here) saying the nation’s emergency rooms are inadequate and getting worse. Among other things, it found:

  • Demand for emergency care has been growing fast—emergency department (ED) visits grew by 26 percent between 1993 and 2003.
  • But over the same period, the number of EDs declined by 425, and the number of hospital beds declined by 198,000.
  • ED crowding is a hospital-wide problem—patients back up in the ED because they can not get admitted to inpatient beds.
  • As a result, patients are often “boarded”—held in the ED until an inpatient bed becomes available—for 48 hours or more.
  • Also, ambulances are frequently diverted from overcrowded EDs to other hospitals that may be farther away and may not have the optimal services.
  • In 2003, ambulances were diverted 501,000 times—an average of once every minute.
  • After these reports came out, David Brown wrote in the Washington Post:

    The number of deaths caused by a delay in treatment or lack of expertise is especially uncertain, though it may not be small. San Diego established a trauma system in 1984 after autopsies of accident victims who died after reaching the ER suggested that 22 percent of the deaths were preventable, said Eastman, one of the Institute of Medicine committee members.

    Our system doesn’t kill people by putting them on waiting lists for elective surgery. Out system has other ways to kill people. If it doesn’t kill them in the ER, it kills them by denying them necessary surgeries. Experimental, you know. And it kills them when it denies them basic medical care.

    A report came out in 2002 that 18,314 people die in the US each year because they lack preventive care services, timely diagnoses or appropriate care. They lack these things because they are uninsured.

    Those people would have been better off in Canada, wouldn’t you say?


    Yesterday I wrote about Sen. Richard Lugar’s apparent shift on Iraq policy. Matt Yglesias is skeptical.

    On the subject of US foreign policy, Lugar is one of the most knowledgeable senators, and certainly the Republican member who carries the most respect around town.

    Then again, he’s criticized Bush before and nothing’s ever come of it. “In the past, the administration has been inclined not to disregard congress but to not take congress very seriously,” Lugar said in late December when the administration was floating the “surge” proposal, “I think this time congress has to be taken seriously.”

    Congress, of course, was against the surge. And Bush didn’t take that opposition seriously at all. And when Democratic congressional leaders attempted to make him pay a price for his defiance by attaching to the war funds the administration sought a requirement that troops be withdrawn from Iraq, Bush showed how unseriously he took congressional opposition by vetoing the bill and then accusing congress of denying funds to the troops.

    Democrats made a token effort to override the president’s veto, but with the Republican Party opposed – including Lugar – the veto was sustained, the surge continued, and so it will go until enough Republicans defect to the other side.

    And after Senator Lugar’s speech calling for a new direction in Iraq, one of the Senator’s spokespersons told the Associated Press that the speech was not a signal Lugar would switch his vote on the war or embrace Democratic measures setting a deadline for troop withdrawals.

    Which begs the question, what does Lugar hope to accomplish, and why? Surely he knows Bush doesn’t care what he thinks, so he can’t be expecting to influence Bush’s policy choices. Lugar just won re-election in 2006, so his Senate seat won’t be up for grabs again until 2012. He doesn’t have to tapdance around an angry electorate. If he doesn’t intend to vote his conscience on the war, what was this week’s speech about? Matt asks,

    The shame of it is that he clearly knows better. When Bush pursues a misguided policy in Iraq, we can at least believe that Bush believes in it. When GOP legislators back his misguided policy, we can choose to believe that they, too, are misguided. Lugar, however, can see that Bush’s policies aren’t working. Indeed, dating all the way back to before the war he was raising reasonably prescient warnings and even cosponsored a resolution with Joe Biden that would have thrown some roadblocks in the path of war.

    He knows Bush’s policy won’t work, but in effect – with his votes, when it counts – he’s backing Bush anyway. The question is why?

    You could ask the same thing of nearly every Republican in Congress, of course. Lots of them have been willing to break ranks with Bush over his immigration policy, but not the war. I assume this is because more Republicans still support the war than support Bush’s immigration policy. The latest CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll says “Anti-war sentiment among Republican poll respondents has suddenly increased with 38 percent of Republicans now saying they oppose the war.” The article doesn’t say how much of an increase 38 percent represents, just that it’s an increase, and it’s still a minority. In any event, Republicans are sharply at odds with the public as a whole, two-thirds of which oppose the war.

    Surely Senator Lugar and other Republicans must realize by now that as long as George W. Bush is free to conduct the war at his discretion, he will make no substantive changes in Iraq policy. Congress can pass resolutions till the cows come home; if there are no binding dates or other non-discretionary benchmarks and no veto-proof majority, Bush will ignore them.

    Simon Tisdall reports for The Guardian:

    Mr Reid will test Republican support for Mr Bush’s policy next month by forcing a series of votes on a withdrawal deadline, a funding cut-off, and restricting the length of combat tours. Until now only a handful of lesser-known Republicans in the House of Representatives have dared to publicly challenge Mr Bush’s conduct of the war. But latest polls suggest that 38% of Republican voters now support a withdrawal, and pressure on the party’s elected politicians is beginning to tell.

    Willing to put your votes where your mouth is, Senator Lugar?

    So I’m Blue in the Face

    Andy doesn’t get it:

    Moreover, a wholesale shifting of healthcare from the private to the public sector simply means replacing rationing by wealth with rationing by number, and a drastic decrease in individual freedom on both sides of the medical equation. You’d replace insurance company bureaucrats who deny care with government bureaucrats who deny care. Removing the financial incentive from doctors simply means they will provide sloppier treatment. They’re not saints. They’re human beings. And slashing the profit motive from the drug companies will simply mean fewer new drugs for fewer illnesses. This is the trade-off the left will deny till they’re blue in the face. But it’s a real trade-off.

    But for the most part these trade-offs are not happening elsewhere. So why would they happen here if they are not happening in, say, France?

    In one part of Sicko a doctor — I can’t remember if he’s British or French — explained that his income goes up if his patients get healthier. Meaning, if his records show he is providing patients with good preventive care, as opposed to just writing prescriptions, he gets bonuses. Here, doctors get paid for not treating people.

    Patients in those nasty foreign countries like Canada actually have shorter waiting lines in emergency rooms than they do here. They get better general care, which is why they live longer and have lower infant mortality rates. Patients are not being denied care because of some technicality in their private insurance contracts. People are not being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills. Other nations’ plans are not perfect, but nearly all of ’em are a whopping huge improvement on what we’ve got.

    As far as the “fewer drugs for fewer illnesses” line — what’s actually happening is that highly subsidized American Big Pharma cranks out tons of boutique drugs for boutique illness (toe rot; restless leg syndrome) or “new” drugs advertised as breakthrough but which usually are just minor tweaks to the old drugs, or perhaps not as good as the old drugs. “Life-saving” often means “terminal patients get one more month.” That sort of thing. I’ve written about his before; see “Demand Supply” and “Unhealthy Care.”

    Andy continues,

    The European health systems have, of course, been free-riding on private U.S. drug research for decades. Name a great new drug developed in Europe these past ten years. Their own pharmaceutical industries have been decimated by the socialism Moore loves (and many of Europe’s drug companies have relocated to the US as a result). But I fear the left is winning this battle; and the massive advantages of private healthcare are only appreciated when you lose them.

    European drug companies move here because they make money like bandits here. But let’s play Andy’s game. Name a great new drug developed in Europe these past ten years. Then name a great new drug — and I mean really great, and really new, not just advertised as great and new — developed in the United States these past ten years. Most of the “new” drugs I know of coming out of America are either variations on old stuff, drugs that had to be withdrawn from the market after patients developed nasty side effects, or drugs that really don’t deliver all that much — one fabulous “new” drug I discussed here increased overall survival rate in cancer patients by 4.7 months, for example. That’s nice, but that’s the “trade off” Andy doesn’t want to give up for single payer health care. I’m not convinced.

    Kevin Drum writes,

    This business about America providing all the world’s pharmaceuticals is a common trope on the right, but it’s absurd. There are more biotech startups in Europe than in the U.S. Pfizer is targeting Japan as one of its biggest near term growth opportunities (and Japan is also a major source of new biotech development). And plenty of pharmaceutical research is done outside the U.S.: The #3 pharmaceutical company in the world, GlaxoSmithKline, is British. The #4 company, Sanofi-Aventis, is French. The #5 company, Novartis, is Swiss. #6, Hoffman-La Roche, is also Swiss. #8, Astra-Zeneca, is Anglo-Swedish. Their combined R&D spending is slightly higher than the American companies that make up the balance of the top ten.

    Now, what is true is that American capital markets are both bigger and generally friendlier to startups than European capital markets, which means that small biotech companies often migrate to the United States in order to get funding. My sense is that Europe is improving on this score, but in any case this has nothing to do with the state of European healthcare. What’s more, an enormous amount of basic research is done in American universities and the NIH, most of it publicly funded. This speaks well for our system of higher education, but doesn’t really say anything about our healthcare industry, which is famously hesitant to invest in genuinely innovative (but chancy) new ventures. Ironically for big pharma’s cheeleaders, it turns out that America’s titans of capitalism mostly prefer to leave the risky stuff to the feds.

    No Parades

    E.J. Dionne writes in today’s Washington Post:

    Quietly, the real debate over Iraq is beginning.

    It’s not about whether the United States should pull out troops. That is now inevitable. The real challenge is to figure out the right timetable for withdrawal, whether a residual force should be left there and which American objectives can still be salvaged.

    The Bush Administration, by its own choice, is not taking part in this debate. The Bushies are still playing kick the can, moving the deadlines for making choices ahead into next year, when they hope to run out the clock. If they can’t have victory, the next best thing for the Bushies is to keep the war as it is until January 21, 2009. That’s the first day of work for the next administration. Then it’s somebody else’s war to lose.

    E.J. Dionne continues,

    The facts are these: We do not have enough troops to commit to Iraq to turn things around militarily, and the political situation is too fractured to give rise to a sudden burst of cooperation between Shiites and Sunnis.

    Colin Kahl, a nonresident fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a middle-of-the-road think tank that launches formally tomorrow, sees the American saga in Iraq as the Goldilocks story in reverse. We sent a large enough contingent of troops to give the United States responsibility for security but too few to keep order. “Not hot enough, not cold enough, just wrong,” Kahl says.

    Time is running out, because most Americans no longer believe the administration’s promises that the commitment in Iraq will turn out well if only we are patient. This is why we need to begin planning our withdrawal now rather than waiting until the Army and the reserves hit the breaking point.

    More than two months ago a “WaPo on the web” writer, William Arkin, wrote that the military is at the breaking point. So we can’t wait much longer.

    For that reason, and the fact that political support for the war continues to erode, I do not believe the Bushies will be able to kick that can into January 2009, as they hope.

    Yesterday Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana urged the president to change course in Iraq “very soon.”

    [CNN] Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also sounded a pessimistic note on the prospects for internal political progress in Iraq.

    He said he sees “no convincing evidence that Iraqis will make the compromises necessary to solidify a functioning government and society, even if we reduce violence to a point that allows for some political and economic normalcy.”

    The senator said continuing military operations in Iraq were putting a damaging level of stress on U.S. forces, “taking a toll on recruitment and readiness.”

    “The window during which we can continue to employ American troops in Iraqi neighborhoods without damaging our military strength, or our ability to respond to other national security priorities, is closing,” he said. “The United States military remains the strongest fighting force in the world, but we have to be mindful that it is not indestructible.”

    If Lugar can say these things without being struck by lightning or abducted by aliens, other Republicans may be emboldened to follow.

    Lugar is not yet talking about a “full” withdrawal, however.

    Despite his call for a course change, Lugar said he did not support calls by some Democrats for a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, which he said “also fails to meet our security interests.”

    Rather, he said a “downsizing and redeployment of United States military forces to more sustainable positions” — in rural locations of Iraq, Kurdish areas or possibly Kuwait — might better serve American security interests.

    Kuwait would make it an “over-the-horizon redeployment,” I believe.

    Lugar also warned the president that failing to pay heed to domestic political opposition to the war, especially with a presidential campaign approaching, would result in contentiousness that would “greatly increase the chances for a poorly planned withdrawal from Iraq, or possibly the broader Middle East region, that could damage United States interests for decades.”

    Translation: Republicans soon will have to choose between propping up Bush’s stupid ass and winning next year’s elections.

    Back to E.J. Dionne:

    Oddly, President Bush has more of an interest in this than anyone. “The more time passes, the more our options narrow,” says Kurt Campbell, the chief executive and co-founder of CNAS. “Left unchallenged, the president would fight to exhaustion, and we can’t afford to fight to exhaustion.”

    E.J. — He doesn’t care. All that matters to Bush is not having to say he lost.

    Here’s what’s going to happen: The White House will continue to kick the can and pretend everything in Iraq is going according to plan. But sometime — maybe not September, but before the end of the year — enough Republicans will switch sides on the war that a veto-proof majority will at least seem within reach. At that point the Bushies will scramble to come up with a “new” plan that is either (a) a desperate attempt to redefine the status quo to make it more palatable; or (b) a plan to withdraw some or even most combat troops, accompanied by some bullshit about how this had been Bush’s plan all along, and somehow Democrats are responsible for drawing the war out and making the troops stay in Iraq so long.

    Both plans a and b will involve a greater emphasis on the permanent bases. And no, I don’t want permanent bases in Iraq, either. But if some time this fall Congress settles on a troop withdrawal plan that includes permanent bases, remember that such a plan doesn’t mean there really will be permanent bases.

    When the last of the combat troops left Vietnam in March 1973, official U.S. policy was that an American “presence” would remain in South Vietnam, in the form of military advisers and permanent U.S. installations, guarded by Marines. Two years and one month later, the last Americans were airlifted out of Saigon.

    In effect, once the combat troops were withdrawn almost everyone, including the politicians, just plain lost interest in Vietnam. We had Watergate to keep us entertained, of course. But Congress (in a big reversal from what most of the congress critters had promised to do) stopped throwing money at the South Vietnamese government, and North Vietnam was able to take over, and virtually nobody in the U.S. bleeping cared. Overnight, the nation went from arguing about Vietnam 24/7 to “Vietnam, who?”

    That doesn’t mean the same thing will happen with Iraq. However, maybe it’s OK to deal with withdrawal of combat troops separately from the permanent bases issue. Certainly, right now it seems most politicians of both parties in Washington are talking about permanent bases. Some, like Lugar, who are beginning to make noises about withdrawing combat troops seem to think of permanent bases as a condition for withdrawing combat troops.

    Once combat troops are withdrawn, however, events on the ground in Iraq and political/economic dynamics here in the U.S. could soften support for permanent bases rather quickly. Or not. Depends on a lot of stuff that hasn’t happened yet. Could go either way. I personally would not insist on an absolutist, everybody-out-at-once position if it means combat troops stay in country longer while we haggle in the U.S. It’s OK to get the combat troops out first, then deal with the bases.

    See also: The plan from the Center for American Progress.

    Update: Voinovich joins Lugar.