The Christian Jail Monopoly

The Supreme Court recently ruled on two nearly identical cases involving prisoners and religion, and reached two different conclusions. In February, SCOTUS decided it was okay to execute a Muslim prisoner in Alabama without an imam present, as the prisoner had requested. In Alabama, only Christian ministers are allowed in the death chamber, and apparently that was okay with the SCOTUS. This week, SCOTUS stopped the execution of a Buddhist prisoner in Texas until the state provides a Buddhist clergyperson to be present during the procedure. Texas provides Christian and Muslim ministers for executions, but not Buddhist ones.

If this seems a tad inconsistent to you, you aren’t alone.

The Court failed to rule in favor of Domineque Ray, the Muslim prisoner in Alabama, saying that he had filed his request too late. I also point out that Domineque Ray was a black man, while the Texas Buddhist, Patrick Murphy, is, um, not. And the two men were of two different non-Christian religions. Other than that, I don’t see a substantive difference between the two cases.

Regarding prisoner Murphy,

The court did not give a reason for its decision. Only Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch said they would have let the execution proceed.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, writing only for himself, said Texas’s policy was discriminatory.

“The relevant Texas policy allows a Christian or Muslim inmate to have a state-employed Christian or Muslim religious adviser present either in the execution room or in the adjacent viewing room,” Kavanaugh wrote. “But inmates of other religious denominations — for example, Buddhist inmates such as Murphy — who want their religious adviser to be present can have the religious adviser present only in the viewing room and not in the execution room itself for their executions.

“In my view, the Constitution prohibits such denominational discrimination.”

Why didn’t that same reasoning apply to Domineque Ray?

That is the same argument Justice Elena Kagan made last month when she and the court’s liberals objected to the execution of Alabama inmate Domineque Ray.

Under Alabama’s policy, “a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites,” Kagan wrote.

“But if an inmate practices a different religion — whether Islam, Judaism, or any other — he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side. That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause’s core principle of denominational neutrality.”

Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan dissented from the majority in the Ray case. Domineque Ray was executed February 7. Patrick Murphy may or may not be executed; his lawyer is appealing the sentence.

This reminded me of the case of Frankie Parker, whom I wrote about back in 2008 — see “A Tale of Two Prisoners.” The point of this post was that, as governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee was infamous for releasing prisoners who had found Jesus but who then went on to rape and kill after their release. But Frankie Parker was a condemned man who found Buddhism. He was on death row when Huckabee became governor in 1996. Huckabee’s very first proclamation as governor was to arrange to execute Frankie Parker six weeks sooner. See also “Onward Christian Convicts.”

Here is an account of Frankie Parker’s execution by the Rev. Kobutsu Malone, who was not allowed in the death chamber. The state-sanctioned minister at Parker’s side when he was executed was Christian.

My larger point here is that in the U.S. Christian clergy have been allowed a monopoly on prison mission work since there have been prisons. Although there is little about it online, I know from my personal contacts many Buddhist organizations have had to spend a lot of time in courts trying to be allowed to offer books, meditation lessons and spiritual counseling to prisoners. Some states eventually permitted this; some, I understand, still don’t.  Christian denominations, of course, have these privileges in all states.

The 2008 documentary Dhamma Brothers is about the struggle to offer Theravada Buddhist meditation instruction to prisoners in Alabama. As I recall, the meditation instructors were permitted to teach meditation only if they swore up and down they would not teach the prisoners anything about Buddhism. I’m sure Muslim, Hindu, and other minority religions face the same issues. I don’t know if Jewish rabbis have met the same degree of resistance from prison and state officials, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

On the other hand, in 2017 a Kansas prisoner sued to be spared Christian proselytizing.

Shari Webber-Dunn — who in 1994 was handed a 40-year-minimum prison sentence for her role in the murder of her estranged husband — claims in a federal lawsuit filed last week that inmates at Kansas’s only women’s prison are subjected to an endless profusion of Christian imagery and propaganda, from the material posted on bulletin boards to the movies played in the common room.

The net effect, Webber-Dunn claims, adds up to an institutional message “imposing Christian beliefs on inmates” in a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit argues the prison has created a “coercive atmosphere where inmates are pressured to spend their time in a high religious atmosphere and to participate in religious activities and prayers, thus violating the establishment clause.”

I couldn’t find updates on this, so I don’t know if the case went anywhere. I’d personally like to see independent studies as to whether all this religiosity makes any difference in prisoner behavior or recidivism rates, for better or worse.

Trump: It’s All About the Base

Why did Trump decide to take up the banner of bashing Obamacare again? The New York Times says, to diss Barack Obama and to please his base.

The Trump administration’s surprise decision to press for a court-ordered demolition of the Affordable Care Act came after a heated meeting in the Oval Office on Monday, where the president’s acting chief of staff and others convinced him that he could do through the courts what he could not do through Congress: repeal his predecessor’s signature achievement. …

…Mr. Trump has declared that he has kept his promises, Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Grogan argued, and as a candidate he campaigned on repealing the health law. His base of voters would love it. Besides, they argued, Democrats have been campaigning successfully on health care, and Republicans should try to claim the issue for themselves. This could force the matter.

The base will really love it when they lose their health care, dontcha think? Paul Krugman provides this chart to show us how Trump kept his promises to just one red state, West Virginia.

By all accounts William Barr was opposed to filing the court challenge that his Justice Department filed on Monday, which tells us that he sees his role not at the nation’s chief legal representative but as Trump’s personal lapdog. Law professor Nicholas Bagley writes in the New York Times,

The irresponsibility of this new legal position is hard to overstate. It’s a shocking dereliction of the Justice Department’s duty, embraced by Republican and Democratic administrations alike, to defend acts of Congress if any plausible argument can be made in their defense.

It’s also the case, Professor Bagley continues, that the court ruling that found all of the ACA to be unconstitutional is widely considered to be “outrageous” and indefensible.

Indeed, even the Trump administration couldn’t bring itself to argue that the entire law should be scrapped. It agreed there was a constitutional problem, but said that the right remedy was to keep most of the law in place. Only those parts requiring private insurers to sell coverage at the same price to healthy and sick people alike — the protections for people with pre-existing conditions — would have to be struck.

Try to imagine what goes on in the mind of someone who thinks striking down protections for people with pre-existing conditions is a good idea.

That, too, was an outrageous position. It flouted the Justice Department’s duty to defend, a solemn duty, and one that goes to the heart of the rule of law. Without it, the sitting administration could pick which laws it wanted to defend in the courts and which it wanted to abandon. Laws could rise or fall based on nothing more than partisan disagreement. That’s inconsistent with a constitutional system that assigns to Congress — not the president — the power to legislate.

And so, at the confirmation hearing on his nomination to become attorney general, Mr. Barr said that he would review the Justice Department’s position in the Texas lawsuit. Apparently he did just that — but instead of mounting a vigorous defense, he doubled down on killing Obamacare. It’s as if Mr. Barr said to his predecessor, Jeff Sessions: “You thought your position was crazy? Hold my beer.”

Well, if there’s one thing the base likes, it’s crazy. The crazier the better.

Trump’s Big, Fat Unforced Error

It’s fascinating that in what might be his moment of greatest triumph, the Creature managed to step in some slop. On Monday, Trump’s Justice Department asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans to nullify the entire Affordable Care Act.

After the spanking they got in the midterms, Republicans in Congress had decided to drop their objections to Obamacare and move on to other issues, like blaming climate change on velociraptors, or whatever it was this moron was going on about.

But Trump’s Justice Department not only dragged the Republican Party back to the health care drawing board; but the so-called president is back to making promises his party can’t keep.

President Trump praised the move during a lunch with Senate Republicans, and suggested the GOP should embrace a new congressional battle over health-care policy ahead of the 2020 elections.

“Let me tell you exactly what my message is: The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care,” he told reporters before the lunch. “You watch.”

In other words, Trump is an effing moron. The Republicans have no workable plan to replace Obamacare and never will. If they could do it, they would have done it by now. Note that it has been estimated that 21 million Americans would lose health coverage if the ACA is struck down.

It’s widely reported that Republicans are furious with Trump for putting them back into the same position that got them roasted in the midterms. And this report from Axios makes it clear that the decision to make repealing Obamacare a major issue for 2020 came from the White House, not the Justice Department.

As Politico’s Eliana Johnson first reported — and Axios has confirmed — “The Trump administration’s surprising move to invalidate Obamacare on Monday came despite the opposition of two key Cabinet secretaries: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General William Barr.”

Republican officials are privately blaming Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, domestic policy chief Joe Grogan, and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought for engineering the new position. …

Several Republican senators told Axios they were surprised Trump spent most of the Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday on health care. Trump led with health care and went back to it several times during the meeting. “He’s clearly very passionate about it,” Sen. John Kennedy said. “It was one of few times at these things the president spoke more than the senators.”

Trump wants to do this. But why? I get the impression that the failure to repeal the ACA in 2017 still gnaws at him. It’s reportedly the reason he can’t stop bashing six-months-dead John McCain. John McCain’s vote kept Trump from fulfilling a campaign promise, it’s said. But even that’s bogus, because Trump’s campaign promise was to replace the ACA with something better, not to deprive 20 million people of health coverage.

And, of course, that didn’t happen. And Trump has no clue how this health care thing works.

Karen Tumulty writes,

Trump may be going through this as a theoretical exercise merely to please his base. After all, the Supreme Court has already ruled twice that the key parts of the ACA are constitutional.

But it may also be that Trump believes that the hardball tactic will somehow bring Democrats to the negotiating table. If that is the case, he is making the same miscalculation he did when he shut down the government on the assumption that it would give him leverage to get the money he wanted to build his border wall.

The old dog has a pathological inability to learn new tricks. And he still refuses to listen to those trying to dissuade him from boneheaded plans. WaPo reports today:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) urged President Trump to hold off on pushing for a court-ordered destruction of the Affordable Care Act, advice the president ultimately ignored, according to a senior Republican official familiar with the conversation.

The unheeded counsel, which McCarthy recounted to fellow lawmakers in recent days, underscores the angst that has set in among Republicans now that Trump is pursuing the politically precarious strategy with no plan in hand to replace Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.

McCarthy has complained privately to donors that the GOP attempt to gut Obamacare — including its most popular provisions, such as protections for preexisting conditions — was the main reason the party lost at least House 40 seats in last year’s midterm elections.

See Greg Sargent, Republicans blast Trump for making it harder for them to lie about health care.

Oh, and as for Mike Lee and his velociraptors, I like what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said about him.

Digesting the Barr Summary

It’s safe to say that William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report laid nothing to rest. It’s likely Barr will be invited to testify to both the House and Senate judiciary committees about what he wrote. People with better understanding of the law than I have say they are troubled about the summary and believe it leaves out too much. In short, the call to release the entire report is just getting started.

It’s my understanding that Mueller gave Barr his findings and left decisions on indictments to Barr and Rod Rosenstein. And Barr is declinging to issue indictments. But what was his reasoning?

Joe Conason:

Barr’s letter says that his decision on an obstruction charge was not based on his views about the presidency, but on Mueller’s finding that Trump did not commit the underlying crime of conspiring with the Russians to interfere with the 2016 election. The absence of sufficient evidence to charge on obstruction thus “bears on the President’s intent with respect to obstruction.” According to Barr, the Mueller report “identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent…”

But there are huge holes in that justification. Without interviewing the president, it seems impossible for either Mueller or Barr to determine his intent. And the president, despite his personal promise to submit to a Mueller interview, instead evaded it. And that leaves aside the glaring fact that the president himself declared he fired James Comey as FBI director to kill the Russia probe — a declaration of corrupt intent uttered in public more than once.

Even more telling is Barr’s attempt to brush aside Trump’s dangling of a pardon before Paul Manafort and other defendants. That hinted favor appears to have had an enormous impact on the Russia investigation, because the Office of Special Counsel indicated as much in its sentencing memorandum on Manafort.

So, the argument is that since Mueller was able to conduct an investigation, there was no obstruction? Not acceptable.

At the New Yorker, John Cassidy accused Mueller of punting.

The special counsel’s decision not to reach a conclusion, or render any opinion at all, about whether Trump obstructed justice will also have been a source of great relief at the White House. In the first place, it allowed Barr, a conservative lawyer whom Trump handpicked to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, to claim that the President is in the clear.

Robert Litt at Lawfare adds,

This conclusion must be read in coordination with Barr’s 2018 memo arguing that acts within the president’s constitutional authority over law enforcement, including firing the director of the FBI, cannot constitute obstruction of justice—at least if they do not “impair[] the integrity or availability of evidence.”

For that matter, the collusion charge wasn’t really laid to rest, either. Robert Litt continues:

The prevailing take on Attorney General William Barr’s letter to Congress on the Mueller report is summed up in the New York Times: “The investigation . . . found no evidence that President Trump or any of his aides coordinated with the Russian government’s 2016 election interference.” But a careful reading of Barr’s letter suggests that that may be wrong.

In fact, Barr’s letter quotes Special Counsel Robert Mueller as stating that the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Saying that the investigation did not establish that there was collusion is not the same thing as saying that the investigation established that there was no collusion.  …

…  as quoted by Barr, Mueller used the words “conspired” and “coordinated.” Unlike the colloquial term “colluded,” these terms have legal significance. “Coordination” with a foreign government would be a basis for a finding of criminal liability under the election laws, and “conspiracy” would be a criminal agreement to violate those laws. This language suggests that Mueller’s report viewed the conduct through the lens of a criminal investigative process—that is, whether the evidence met the Department of Justice standards for prosecution, including the ability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was intent to violate the law.

In other words, there was collusion, but the evidence didn’t support criminal conspiricy or coordination.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, “Mueller’s inability to prove conspiracy does not mean, however, that he failed to uncover evidence that would be troubling to many Americans.” Release the full report.

What is of most concern to me is that there is no indication from the Barr summary whether Mueller delved into the question of whether Trump is compromised, in particular through old business ties to foreign entities like Vladimir Putin or the Saudis.

Martin Longman:

Going back to Rod Rosenstein’s 2017 “Scope of Investigation” memo, he declared that the original order had been “written categorically in order to permit its public release without confirming specific investigations involving specific individuals.” My interpretation of that is that he was envisioning a counterintelligence report where sources and methods have to be protected and prosecutorial decisions are not the focus. There is no mention from Barr of any counterintelligence assessment on whether the president is or has been the subject of blackmail or external control. That is the most important thing that Congress and the American people need to understand, and Barr is silent about it. In Rosenstein’s original authorizing memo from May 2017, he asked for “any linksand/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Where is the report on the links?

The links are important because they inform any counterintelligence assessment….

… the president is obviously compromised in some ways, as is evident from virtually everything he says and does with respect to Vladimir Putin and Russia. This situation didn’t suddenly become acceptable because Mueller did not find prosecutable evidence of a conspiracy. It didn’t go away because Barr unilaterally did what he auditioned to do and cleared the president of obstruction of justice charges.

In short, nothing is resolved, and this ain’t over.

Stuff to Read (Barr Report Update)

Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare, How to Understand the End of the Mueller Investigation (Hint: You Can’t Yet)

Barr is expected to send his summary of findings to Congress today, but I don’t know that means we’ll hear anything about what it says.

Andrew O’Hehir, Beto O’Rourke, Ilhan Omar and the Democratic future: Time to kill off the ghosts of the past. Why we can’t go back to “normal.” Depressing but honest.

Update: The New York Times reports that, according to Barr, the report did not find evidence of the Trump campaign working directly with the Russians. However, it left open the question of obstruction.

“The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him’,” the letter says, signaling that Mueller’s team apparently struggled with the issue.

“For each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction,” the letter says.

What Else Happened This Week

Some significant developments that are not part of the Mueller report:

On Thursday, Trump gave Bibi Netanyahu a big present:

On Thursday, President Trump tweeted his intention to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory that Israel annexed from Syria in the wake of the 1967 war. For decades the United States, along with the entire international community, has refused to recognize Israel’s annexation, instead treating the Golan Heights as temporarily occupied territory.

While commentary has largely focused on the effects Trump’s announcement will have in the Middle East, this shift in U.S. policy has global implications, as well. Trump’s position on the Golan Heights is inconsistent with what scholars call the territorial integrity norm, the principle that denounces territorial conquest as a legitimate instrument of international politics. Trump’s announcement is likely to weaken the norm of territorial integrity, and in the process, undercut the U.S. ability to deter and punish states that engage in territorial expansion.

Juan Cole puts it in starker terms. Please read his entire post; this is just a snip:

Trump’s call for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, a part of Syria, is intended to help his and his donors’ ally Binyamin Netanyahu win the Israeli elections.

It is another example of his uncanny ability to sabotage his own policies.

Not to mention to sabotage any semblance of international legality. …

…Russian President Vladimir Putin is delighted at Trump’s move, since it cuts off at the knees US objections to the Russian annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine (and at least Russia had Crimea until 1954; Israel never had the Golan).

Moreover, it has implications for Russia’s return as a Middle East power.

The Syrian regime is already grateful to Putin’s Russia for its military intervention to defeat the rebels. Now, Damascus will view its close relationship with Moscow as the only hope of recovering lost territory. No state is willing to lose territory, and a weak Syria knows it cannot fight this development alone.

Juan Cole goes on to explain that the move has royally pissed off Turkey and is likely to drive other nations in the region to ally themselves with Iran. Way to go. See also Michael McGough, The Golan Heights switch is typical Trump, in the Los Angeles Times.

But thoroughly gumming up the Middle East was just a warmup. Then Trump announced a new appointment to the Federal Reserve Board — Stephen Moore.

Steven Pearlstein writes at WaPo:

Now our reality-TV president is set to nominate Stephen Moore, a right-wing crackpot who has been playing a TV economist for decades, for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board.

I use the phrase “right-wing crackpot” after careful consideration of possible alternatives, recognizing that it’s generally not a good idea to criticize the motives or intelligence of those with whom you disagree. Unfortunately, “famous idiot” was already taken by New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, who for two decades has been chronicling Moore’s unbroken string of false statements and failed predictions. I also might have gone with “charlatan and crank,” but New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a real economist with a Nobel Prize, beat me to it.

During the 2008 financial crisis, Moore and I were in regular disagreement while appearing on a CNBC show hosted by another TV economist, Larry Kudlow, now President Trump’s top economic policy adviser. Back then, Moore was blaming the government rather than Wall Street for the market crash and warning that the heavy dose of fiscal and monetary stimulus then proposed by the Obama administration and the Fed would result in hyperinflation and a collapse of the dollar. …

…The central features of Moore’s economic way of thinking? A stubborn refusal to learn from historical experience, embrace economic consensus or accept the world as it is rather than as he would like it to be. He led the charge in predicting that the Clinton and Obama tax increases would fail to raise additional revenue and drive the economy into recession. He turned out to be wrong on both counts.

The only way Moore is able to continue peddling his supply-side nonsense is to simply make stuff up, hoping nobody will notice. A few years back, Miriam Pepper, the editorial-page editor of the Kansas City Star, caught him lying red-handed in an op-ed she had published. She banned him from ever appearing on her pages again. Indeed, outside the alternate-reality bubbles of Fox News, the Heritage Foundation, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Trump White House, Moore has no credibility, even as a TV economist.

Here’s a blog post by Paul Krugman from 2015 that’s just too deliciously snarky not to quote:

But there’s another aspect of the story, which is Moore himself: this is a guy who has a troubled relationship with facts. I don’t mean that he’s a slick dissembler; I mean that he seems more or less unable to publish an article without filling it with howlers — true, all erring in the direction he wants — in a way that ends up doing his cause a disservice. For example, his attempt to refute something I wrote about Kansas ended up being mainly a story about why Stephen can’t count, which presumably wasn’t his intention.

But here’s the mystery: evidently Moore has had a successful career. Why?

Think about Heritage: It’s immensely wealthy, and could surely afford to hire a technically competent right-wing hack. The Wall Street Journal, similarly, could have attracted someone much less likely to trip over his own intellectual shoelaces. Again, the problem isn’t even that Moore got the macroeconomics of recent years all wrong, although he did; it’s the inability to write without making embarrassing mistakes.

See also Krugman’s 2016 post on Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore, titled “Send in the Clowns.”

Yesterday Trump tweeted a cancellation of some new economic sanctions against North Korea:

The tweet caused much confusion, because Treasury hasn’t announced any additional sanctions yesterday. It had announced some sanctions on Thursday, but what the Tweetster was talking about, it turns out, were some sanctions that hadn’t been announced yet.

Trump was referring to a future round of previously unknown sanctions scheduled for the coming days, said administration officials familiar with the matter. The officials declined to specify what those sanctions would entail.

The move to forestall future sanctions represents an attempt by the president to salvage his nuclear negotiations with North Korea in the face of efforts by national security adviser John Bolton and others to increase punitive economic measures against the regime of Kim Jong Un.

The confusion created by policy differences inside the administration was compounded by the president’s imprecise tweet.

When asked to explain the tweet, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders simply noted that “President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.”

The Many Roads to Universal Health Care

In his column yesterday, Paul Krugman reminded us that there are many possible solutions to our health care mess and that the Democratic Party seems to be moving toward two possibilities.

On one side, there’s “Medicare for All,” which has come to mean the Bernie Sanders position: replacing the entire existing U.S. health insurance system with a Medicare-type program in which the government pays most medical bills directly.

On the other side, there’s “Medicare for America,” originally a proposal from the Center for American Progress, now embodied in legislation.

The difference is that Medicare for America would allow people to keep employee-based insurance if they (and their employers) want that. Buying into Medicare would be a voluntary option, with substantial subsidies provided for lower- and middle-income people.

My concern is that a lot of people I bump into on social media seem fixated on Medicare for All as the only way to go, and any other approach is selling out. In many cases I can tell that people making these pronouncements are using “Medicare for All” as a synonym for “universal health care as a right” without really understanding that Medicare for All is just one of many roads to the same goal.

These days, most people on the left are very aware that the United States is the only industrialized democracy that doesn’t have a taxpayer-supported system providing at least basicc health care to all citizens. What has escaped the notice of many is that the many different countries have developed many different way to approach this. The French system is different from the German system is different from the Japanese system is different from the UK’s National Health Service system, etc.

Many countries have mixed public and private systems. The very highly rated Australian health care system, for example, provides a single-payer system to cover many medical services but encourages people to get private insurance also, often subsidized, for more comprehensive coverage. You can read about it here. The Commonweal Fund gives the Australian system a very high rating for providing good care; it’s also one of the most cost-effective systems on our planet.

I’m not saying that this is how the U.S. should go; I’m just pointing out that there are many ways to provide universal health care. Countries with only a single-payer system providing all health care are unusual. Most countries have worked out some kind of mixed public and private system. Switzerland’s system is something like Obamacare on steroids. The British National Health Service features government-owned hospitals staffed with government-employed doctors. And so on. You can compare the health care services of several countries from this page.

Krugman continues,

Every two years the Commonwealth Fund provides an invaluable survey of major nations’ health care systems. America always comes in last; in the latest edition, the three leaders are Britain, Australia and the Netherlands.

What’s remarkable about those top three is that they have radically different systems. Britain has true socialized medicine — direct government provision of health care. Australia has single-payer — it’s basically Bernie down under. But the Dutch rely on private insurance companies — heavily regulated, with lots of subsidies, but looking more like a better-funded version of Obamacare than like Medicare for All. And the Netherlands actually tops the Commonwealth Fund rankings.

It’s a shame we haven’t been allowed to have a rational discussion about national health care systems and what might work best for us without right-wing whackjobs screaming over everyone about death panels and gulags. But that’s the world we live in.

Krugman argues that the system he’d prefer to go with is the one most likely to actually get passed in Congress and enacted into law. And a lot of people think that the Medicare for America plan would be an easier sell.

Paul Waldman wrote a few days ago:

As you may know, almost every Democrat running for president has said he or she supports Medicare-for-all, but most of them (with the exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been proposing a single-payer plan for years) have been vague about what that might mean. Maybe private insurance will be eliminated, or maybe not; maybe people will continue to get coverage through their employers, or maybe not. They will all presumably present specific plans eventually, but they haven’t yet.

What they are doing is circling closer and closer to something that doesn’t yet have a name, but which I’ll call “Medicare For Anyone.” The fundamental difference between that and Medicare-for-all is that instead of eliminating (or minimizing) private insurance and putting everyone into the same pool, it would open up Medicare or something like it to anyone who wants it.

In most of the variations that have been proposed, large numbers of Americans (newborns, people with low incomes, the uninsured) are automatically enrolled to make sure they’re covered. Employers can choose to stay with the insurance they have, or put their employees into the government plan. It’s paid for through a combination of taxes and premiums, with low-income people paying nothing and premiums rising with income.

For the moment I won’t get too deep into the policy details. But if you’re looking for a full version of it, there’s a proposal from Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Jan Schakowsky called “Medicare for America” that is probably what most Democratic candidates will either specifically endorse or which will be very similar to what they present.

But if you want to sum it up in the most simplified form, this kind of proposal is like Medicare-for-all, except instead of everyone being put into Medicare, there will still be private insurance plans that people can stay with if they want to. If the policy heart of it is that everyone gets insured, the political heart is that it’s voluntary.

I suspect that over time the employee-based insurance would fade away and pretty much everyone would be in the single-payer system. And like Krugman, I also believe that selling the Medicare for America plan to the American people would be a lower mountain to climb than achieving Medicare for All.

However, I fear that even if most of the Democratic Party gets behind it, the plan will be undermined by people on the Left who are suspicious of anything that doesn’t have the Medicare for All label. If that gets in the way of passing something, that would be a damn shame.

For that matter, if Obamacare could be updated to make it more like the systems in Switzerland and the Netherlands, that wouldn’t be absolutely terrible. I’d prefer one of the Medicare-based approaches, though.

Did Deregulation Cause the Boeing Fiasco?

Something we learned today:

As the pilots of the doomed Boeing jets in Ethiopia and Indonesia fought to control their planes, they lacked two notable safety features in their cockpits.

One reason: Boeing charged extra for them.

And these features were …

The jet’s software system takes readings from one of two vanelike devices called angle of attack sensors that determine how much the plane’s nose is pointing up or down relative to oncoming air. When MCAS detects that the plane is pointing up at a dangerous angle, it can automatically push down the nose of the plane in an effort to prevent the plane from stalling.

Boeing’s optional safety features, in part, could have helped the pilots detect any erroneous readings. One of the optional upgrades, the angle of attack indicator, displays the readings of the two sensors. The other, called a disagree light, is activated if those sensors are at odds with one another.

Boeing will soon update the MCAS software, and will also make the disagree light standard on all new 737 Max planes, according to a person familiar with the changes, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they have not been made public. Boeing started moving on the software fix and the equipment change before the crash in the Ethiopia.

It sounds to me that there is more to this story, and when it comes out it will make Boeing look very, very bad. If it comes out, I should say.

James Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board during Bill Clinton’s administration, wrote last week,

President Trump’s executive order on Wednesday afternoon to ground all Boeing 737 Max 8s was a necessary step. But it is a step that should have been taken directly by the federal agency responsible for aviation safety. That it came from the White House instead speaks to a profound crisis of public confidence in the F.A.A.

The roots of this crisis can be found in a major change the agencyinstituted in its regulatory responsibility in 2005. Rather than naming and supervising its own “designated airworthiness representatives,” the agency decided to allow Boeing and other manufacturers who qualified under the revised procedures to select their own employees to certify the safety of their aircraft. In justifying this change, the agency said at the time that it would save the aviation industry about $25 billion from 2006 to 2015. Therefore, the manufacturer is providing safety oversight of itself. This is a worrying move toward industry self-certification.

Jeff Wise wrote at Slate:

For many years, every time a significant accident occurred, investigators would arrive on the scene, figure out what happened, and then issue a rule. Over time, there grew to be a mountain of regulations, directives, circulars, notices, and advisories. They cover things like the time interval between inspections of a particular part, the vertical distance that a plane can fly from its assigned altitude, the age at which pilots must get physicals every two years instead of every three. To read any one of these rules is an excruciatingly boring task, and there are millions of them. Yet each is there for a reason. If any one of them were erased, lives could be put at risk.

The urgency of a safety-first mindset is steeped into every facet of aviation. Pilots tend to be meticulous, dot-the-i-and-cross-the-t kind of people. The type who got their homework in on time, and enjoyed doing so. They understand the paradox of freedom: that you can only soar carefree above the clouds if you’ve been anal enough to check the fuel-tank sump and know that water won’t clog your fuel line.

The problem is: Regulation has gone out of fashion. As well as being tedious, regulations are also expensive. They require the commitment of money, material, and labor. One can easily imagine a struggling aviation company for which the expense of complying with regulations can mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy. If lives are at stake, so are livelihoods.

If you haven’t already read it, do see Wise’s Where Did Boeing Go Wrong?: How a bad business decision may have made the 737 Max vulnerable to crashes. And see After two fatal Boeing plane crashes, the world turned on the US.

Some conservative/libertarian pundits argue against any connection between deregulation and the Boeing crashes. Indeed, one cannot point to any particular rule that was deregulated that directly caused the crashes. But one has to question whether those planes would have been flying, in particular without all safety features, if regulators who were not employees of the company were deciding whether they would fly.

Sixteen Years

Paul Waldman reminds us that the invasion of Iraq was 16 years ago today. It says something that those seem like relatively innocent times compared to what we’re going through now. But Waldman’s question is, “What did we learn?”

Democrats learned a number of things. Many of them, including figures like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, learned that trying to look “strong” by supporting military adventurism makes you look anything but. And they learned that their worst fears about what such adventurism can bring came true.

I don’t know that Kerry and Clinton really learned that. Well, Kerry, maybe. In 2008 he said, “Four years ago today, the United States Senate voted to give President Bush the authority to use force in Iraq. There’s nothing — nothing — in my life in public service I regret more, nothing even close. We should all be willing to say: I was wrong, I should not have voted for the Iraq War Resolution.”

But when he was running for POTUS in 2004, and many times since 2008, Kerry has claimed that he really truly opposed invading Iraq back in 2002 and only voted for the Iraq War resolution … well, he seems to come up with differing reasons for voting for the Iraq War resolution. says that at the time Kerry was mostly supportive of invading Iraq but criticized how Bush was going about it.

Hillary Clinton has made several different excuses for the vote, ranging from an argument that she really just wanted Saddam Hussein to allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq (people forget that he did; Bush invaded anyway) to saying that yes, she was sorry about the vote, but having made that mistake made her uniquely qualified to not make it again.

However, I do think that other Democrats learned a lesson from the damage the vote did to Kerry and Clinton and have realized that it’s okay to oppose military adventurism. I believe that future Dems will not be so easily cowed by Republican war-mongering. So that’s something.

But what did Republicans learn? Waldman says, nothing.

It may have faded from most people’s memory by now, but in the 2016 presidential primaries the Republican Party was bedeviled by the question of Iraq, and specifically whether the war was a mistake. Though that was evident to every sane person in the country, it was a hard thing for those seeking to lead the party to admit, because their entire party couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about it at the time, and acknowledging the truth would mean criticizing the last Republican president.

The excuse is, of course, that the intelligence was wrong. But the real intelligence, meaning the genuine information available about Saddam Hussein’s capabilities and intentions,  wasn’t wrong. The morons in the White House refused to believe it because they wanted to go to war, so they made up their own intelligence.

Of the Republican candidates in 2016, Trump was alone in saying he wouldn’t have gone into Iraq, although that’s far from certain.

Yes, in typical fashion, Trump told a ludicrous series of lies about what a loud opponent he had been in 2003, even claiming that his opposition was so potent that the Bush administration sent a delegation to New York to beg him to tone it down. (In fact, he had said almost nothing publicly about the war and didn’t oppose it.) …

Trump ran for president saying he didn’t want to get entangled in more invasions like Iraq. But this wasn’t because he worried about the cost in human suffering or the threat to American interests, because he doesn’t care about human suffering and never demonstrated much conception of what American interests might be. His point was more that he wouldn’t invade someplace to spread democracy, nor would he favor military action to stop a genocide.

But what about the rest of the party?

But there’s absolutely no evidence that anyone in the Republican Party learned much of anything from the Iraq disaster. The next Republican president will probably be just as eager to launch an invasion or two as the last one was. You don’t hear them talk about the lessons of Iraq, because they didn’t draw any.

Within the GOP, the Bush Doctrine — or at least the part of it involving the belief that American military force is a useful tool to shape the world to our liking, and unintended consequences are not really anything to worry about — lives on. It’s just in suspended animation until Trump is no longer leading the party.

The Republican Party as we know it has to die.