Ezra Klein observes that the European Central Bank is buckling in the face of overwhelming pressure from American bloggers and loosening monetary policy.
Today, ThinkProgress interviewed Time reporter Karen Tumulty at the White House Health Summit. Tumulty, who just published a personal account about the disadvantages of purchasing health insurance in the individual market, attended a break-out session with America’s Health Insurance Plans CEO Karen Ignagni. According to Tumulty and pool accounts from the session, Ignagi proposed to outsource health care reform to an independent commission:
The break-out session that I was just at, in fact, Karen Ignangi made one of the more radical specific proposals, which is to take most of this out of the hands of Congress, set up a commission sort of like the Base Closing Commission, to come up with a plan and present it to Congress on a sort-of take it or leave it basis.
Ignagni’s proposal is revealing. With Democrats running the major health reform committees — Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) at Senate Finance, Henry Waxman (D-CA) at Committee on Energy and Commerce — the insurance industry probably believes that it can get a better deal out of (and have more influence over) some kind of commission.
AHIP, which strongly opposed President Clinton’s plan, remains publicly committed to comprehensive health care reform. At today’s summit, Ignagni told the president, “we understand that we have to earn a seat at the table…you have our commitment, to play, to contribute and to pass health care reform this year.” Still, the industry opposes key parts of Obama’s health care proposal and it’s unclear if it’s willing to sacrifice profits for progress. (Coincidentally, Tumulty’s article describes how insurance companies game the individual market to avoid paying-out large claims.)
As Tumulty suggested, “I think we’re all going to learn over the next few months, how and whether the environment really has changed all that much since 1994.”
International Criminal Court’s case against Bashir could provide legal precedence for going after Bush.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Today, the AP reports that, based on the legal principles the ICC used to arrest al-Bashir, former President George W. Bush could be next on the list:
David Crane, an international law professor at Syracuse University, said the principle of law used to issue an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir could extend to former US President Bush over claims officials from his Administration may have engaged in torture by using coercive interrogation techniques on terror suspects.
Crane is a former prosecutor of the Sierra Leone tribunal that indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor and put him on trial in The Hague.
Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch, said the al-Bashir ruling was likely to fuel discussion about investigations of possible crimes by Bush Administration officials.
President Clinton signed the “Rome Statute” setting up the ICC in 2000 but Bush then “unsigned” the document in May 2002, thereby withdrawing U.S. support for the court. However, the Wall Street Journal reported today that according to a senior White House official, the Obama administration may reconsider joining the court.
Today, Rick Scott, the front man and funder of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR), talked up his agenda with Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review. After being asked about his view of health care reform, Scott touted his experience as a hospital executive as a model:
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why are you stepping up to the health-care plate now?
Richard L. Scott: America is ready to improve health care. I believe there needs to be a strong advocate for patients’ rights, someone who has worked in the health-care industry. I hope my experiences focusing on reducing costs and improving outcomes can help ensure that any health-care proposals that are implemented focus on choice, competition, accountability, and personal responsibility.
In 1987, Scott didn’t start his hospital business for the sake of improving the quality of care, but rather wanted to “do for hospitals … what McDonald’s has done in the food business.” Indeed, through an aggressive strategy of rapid acquisitions and consolidation, Scott made his Hospital Corporation of America/Columbia Hospital Corporation into one of the largest health care companies in the world. Forbes magazine noted Scott ruthlessly bought “hospitals by the bucketful and promised to squeeze blood from each one.”
Carefully omitted from his official profile is the fact that under Scott’s leadership, Columbia/HCA plead guilty to a massive array of fraud charges – which resulted in a fraud settlement of $1.7 billion dollars, the largest in U.S history. Columbia/HCA systematically defrauded taxpayers, charging Medicare $15,000 for Tiffany pitchers and other luxury goods, “exaggerating the seriousness of the illnesses they were treating,” and engineering a program where doctors were granted partnerships in hospitals as a kickback for referring patients. In 1997, Scott resigned in disgrace.
Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, will reportedly not leave his television career to become Surgeon General. “Gupta, who had been the leading candidate for the post, withdrew his name even as President Obama hosted a health care summit at the White House. Gupta did not attend.” He encountered criticism for “his mugging of Michael Moore over Sicko” and for having a cozy relationship with drug companies. On the Wonk Room, Igor Volsky floats Howard Dean as a possible replacement.
“Sanjay Gupta was under serious consideration for the job of surgeon general,” an administration official told CNN. “He has removed himself from consideration to focus more on his medical career and his family. We know he will continue to serve and educate the public through his work with media and in the medical arena.”
It seems that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is weighing-in in favor of continuing the federally-funded DC school voucher program that many House Democrats are trying to kill.
This is always a bit of an odd issue because the perceived ideological stakes are a great deal higher than the practical stakes on the ground. The DC public school system is terrible, one of the very worst-performing in the country. It’s burdened by a large proportion of disadvantaged children, but it does a worse job of educating disadvantaged children than do almost all other big city school systems. It also does a worse job of educating middle class kids than other big city school systems. And though DC has a lot of poor children in it, it’s not actually an especially poor jurisdiction overall—the system is funded at a reasonable level, though perhaps not a fully adequate one given that the metro area contains a number of super-wealthy counties that outbid us for resources. Meanwhile, the Washington Teacher’s Union has adopted an unreasonable posture in the face of Michelle Rhee’s efforts to reform the compensation structure, so nobody’s really interested in standing up for them. As a result of all this, support for the voucher program is something of a litmus test of reformyness.
On the other hand, actual evaluation of the program reveals what most studies of such programs reveal—namely that recipients of randomly assigned vouchers are a lot happier with their school, but don’t actually learn more than those who applied for the vouchers and didn’t get them.
Customer satisfaction isn’t nothing, and the fact that families are happy with attending bad, voucher-funded schools rather than bad, DCPS-administered schools is a reason to continue the program. And from an inside-the-District perspective, the voucher program is great—it’s a federally funded giveaway to DC driven by the right-wing’s relentless crusade to destroy public services in the Untied States. If we wanted congress to give us an equivalent amount of money to do something else with, they’d never do it. And there’s no reason to think the voucher program is doing any harm so no responsible DC resident or official would want to look this gift horse in the mouth. But in terms of solving DC’s systemic education problems, there’s not a ton of reason to be optimistic. Among other things, at its current size the vouchers don’t actually cover the cost to the schools of educating the children—they lose money when they take kids in. In part as a result of this, a healthy number of DC private schools are busy reorganizing themselves as charter schools in order to get on a sounder financial footing. And at the end of the day, this is where the action is in DC in terms of school choice—continuing to expand the capacity of our charter school system while working to maintain or improve its level of quality. Charter schooling has done a lot of good for DC, and could do more good in the future. But unfortunately, it doesn’t particularly do anything to pique the interest of conservative members of congress in giving us extra money. So insofar as we can get the vouchers, I’ll be very happy for it.
Our guest blogger is Kalen Pruss, intern with the Energy Opportunity team at the Center for American Progress, and a junior at the University of Michigan majoring in environmental studies and history.
A new report finds that the Southeast will benefit from a national renewable electricity standard (RES), despite the complaints of one of region’s largest utilities that there’s not enough sun, wind, or other renewable energy to move away from coal. Southern Company, the giant parent company of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Gulf Power, has actively lobbied against an RES for years, using empty excuses to prevent renewable energy development:
Renewables like solar power and wind turbines often catch the public eye, but challenges with their consistent and widespread use in the Southeast persist.
In 2007, Southern Co. protested a 15% by 2020 RES bill championed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), claiming that that compliance would cost $4 billion to implement by 2030, because “the Southeast is short on wind and sun, unlike the Midwest and Southwest.” “We’re not opposed to renewable energy,” Southern’s CEO David Ratcliffe claimed, just a “sort of a one-size-fits-all federal mandate that would be very difficult for us to achieve with any economic sense.”
In fact, Southern Co. has spent only a measly $6 million on research and investment over the last five years, while annual profits grew in 2008 to a whopping $1.74 billion despite the economic downturn. A heavy user of coal-fired electricity, Southern Co. is the most polluting utility in the U.S. when it comes to carbon dioxide, and “runs six of the 50 dirtiest power plants in the country in terms of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury released.” Southern Co.’s 172 million tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions — the same as the entire nation of Venezuela — make it the only U.S. utility to rank in the top ten carbon-emitting utilities worldwide.
A new Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) study busts the myth that the Southeast can’t produce clean energy. “Yes We Can: Southern Solutions for a National Renewable Energy Standard” finds investment in renewables to be an economic boon to the region:
The Southeast has been portrayed as a region that will face significant cost and difficulty meeting a national RES due to scarce access to renewable energy resources. This assertion is simply inaccurate. The Southeast has sufficient renewable energy resources to comply with a strong RES. Developing our region’s renewable energy potential and meeting an RES will actually benefit the region.
With investment from companies like Southern Co. and federal funding for renewable energy and efficiency (such as the $6.145 billion in the recovery package), SACE found that the Southeast could produce 15% of its electricity from renewables by 2015, and 25% by 2025. The implementation of an RES would also spur job growth in a region now suffering 7 to 8% unemployment. For example, one 20 MW biomass power plant creates an average of 177 jobs and $11.07 million in additional economic activity. North Carolina’s implementation of an RES will create 41,000 net jobs, SACE estimates. Despite the protestations of coal-fired executives, the Southeast is ready and able to become a leader in the shift toward green energy and green jobs.
The Center for American Progress explains how a national renewable energy standard (RES) would help usher in a green energy economy across the nation.
Swing-vote Snowe on Reid ‘mega-bill’ strategy: “You give people plenty of reasons to vote against this” by combining energy and climate legislation
Apparently Henry Waxman (D-CA) has sold both Harry Reid (D-NV) and the White House on the strategy of having a mega-bill that combines climate and energy legislation. This post explains why I believe that is both a tactical and strategic mistake.
E&E News PM (subs. req’d) reports tonight:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) confirmed today that he will package energy and global warming measures together into one large bill for consideration later this year, a decision that should put to rest questions about whether Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have different strategies for one of President Obama’s top agenda items.
Reid gave only a one-word answer — “yes” — when asked whether he planned to wrap a cap-and-trade bill together with separate bills establishing a nationwide renewable electricity standard (RES) and promotion of a modernized grid that can improve energy efficiency, reliability and renewable energy management.
There are three reasons this is a bad idea — two that are obvious to all, one that is apparently not. First, the climate bill is huge and complicated and uber-controversial and will be exceedingly difficult to get to Obama’s desk this year according to everybody I talk to (see “Breaking: Sen. Boxer makes clear U.S. won’t pass a climate bill this year“). So that means we are delaying important clean energy and smart-green grid bills that could otherwise probably get passed by the end of the summer (and quickly start help Obama meet his crucial promise of doubling renewable power in his first term):
But not everyone is on the same page.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said earlier today that he wants to mark up the energy and “smart grid” legislation next month and he still has doubts whether a cap-and-trade bill can move within the same timeframe. “I hate to see all of that sort of held hostage until we can get agreement on a cap-and-trade bill,” he told reporters today.
Second, and more importantly, the climate bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation that any Congress will ever consider. You don’t want to add stuff to it that will lose votes or give people an excuse to vote against it. The RES in particular may prove unpopular with people who might otherwise be inclined to vote for the climate bill — since the whole point of a cap and trade is that you don’t force everybody to do exactly the same thing, whereas the point of the RES is that every state is being mandated to adopt the same percentage of renewable power.
Yesterday, in a piece that has become a media and right-wing favorite, Politico’s Jonathan Martin suggested that the White House hatched the strategy framing Rush Limbaugh as the face of the Republican party.
Interviewed on Fox News yesterday, Karl Rove strongly objected to the recent focus on Limbaugh. “Is this appropriate?” Rove asked. “The idea that the White House is devoting all this time and energy and effort when we’ve got all this myriad problems facing the country.” “They’re trying to draw attention away from the things that the country wants to talk about,” he quipped. Rove criticized the White House for allegedly engaging in “old style politics” that elevates politics over policy:
ROVE: And it’s clear that this is — that this is the same old style politics that we grew to really dislike in the 1990s, when the White House thought everything through from a political perspective, road-tested it by running polls and focus groups and did everything with a very keen eye towards the politics of the matter, not what was in the best interests of the country.
How does this serve the country for us at this point when we’re discussing these big, vital things like the budget and health care and the stimulus bill and the omnibus spending bill – how does it well serve the country for this little sideshow concocted in the chief of staff’s office in the West Wing? Not very — not very useful.
Rove’s newly-discovered moral highground is laughable. Indeed, it was Rove concocting “side shows in the West Wing” during his time in office. Rove oversaw the politicization of nearly every aspect of Bush’s federal government, from the Justice Department to the EPA. Rove convinced President Bush to outlaw embryonic stem cell research, helping curry favor with the GOP’s evangelical base.
What was Rove up to in the 1990s? Indeed, he was involved in “old style politics that we grew to really dislike.” In a 1996 campaign for Arkansas Supreme Court, Rove printed flyers that “viciously” attacked his client’s opponent’s family. President Bush’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign, on which Rove was a top adviser, featured an infamous push poll hinting that opponent Ann Richards was a lesbian.
Spencer Ackerman reports on defense contractors gearing up for battle with the Obama administration:
One Pentagon official expects much more of that as the services and the defense industry push back against reform. Their “ground game,” the official said, will be run from the services’ legislative outreach and public-affairs offices, feeding talking points and strategy information to sympathetic members of Congress — something that “got the services in trouble in 2002″ with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when the Army resisted his ultimately-successful plan to scrap an archaic artillery system called Crusader. An “air game” will feature “a lot of ominous whispers on background to the press and conservative think tanks and commentators about endangering the American people and costing lives in some future fight.”
Gates, whom Obama tasked with working closely with OMB, has told confidantes that he views a sustainable long-term rebalancing of defense priorities as one of his most important tasks now that Obama has given him the chance to continue on as Pentagon chief. His service under the Bush administration was more about supporting the immediate needs of the Iraq war after Bush fired Rumsfeld in November 2006. “The services are accustomed to reviews that start out with a lot of talk about setting priorities and making tough choices but in reality usually end with leaving everything more or less intact,” the Pentagon official said. “This time they have a secretary who really means it.”
Note that “the services’ legislative outreach and public-affairs offices” are technically part of the United States government. Indeed, they’re technically not supposed to be doing any lobbying at all. In fact, they regularly lobby congress against positions taken by the civilian leadership of the United States and on behalf of the defense contractors they’re hoping will employ them post-retirement.