On Thursday, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez announced that his government will “allow gays to join the armed forces by scrapping military rules that define homosexuality as a disorder.” Vazquez explained his decision saying, “The Uruguayan government does not discriminate against citizens based on their political, ethnic or sexual identity.” Urugquay’s Deputy Defense Minister elaborated, “There were a series of rules … regarding the psycho-physical requirements (for entry into the armed forces) in which homosexuality was seen as a sexual identity disorder, and this is what is being repealed.” President Obama insists that he still intends to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which bans gays from openly serving in the U.S. military, but has not said when he will begin the process.
This weekend, the National Rifle Association is holding its annual convention in Phoenix. The Arizona Daily Star reports that if you didn’t know any better, you would have thought it was a Republican campaign rally.
One of the speakers, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, claimed President Obama’s position in support of reinstating the assault weapons ban is “threatening to deny Americans their second amendment right.” But Steele previously held the same views on assault weapons as Obama.
Steele wasn’t the only conservative proffering hypocritical attacks. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told the NRA gathering that he will oppose any “separate agenda” to rein in gun-owners’ rights. Unsurprisingly, McCain didn’t discuss his 2001 position on eliminating the so-called gunshow loophole:
In 2001, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., rattled the gun-rights lobby by collaborating with Sen. Joe Lieberman, then-D-Conn., on a bill to eliminate the so-called Brady law “loophole” that allows gun sales at shows without background checks.
“Criminals and gun traffickers have figured this out,” McCain said in a May 15, 2001, Senate floor speech announcing the ultimately unsuccessful measure. “Gun shows are the second leading source of illegal guns recovered in gun trafficking investigations. According to a recent report by Americans for Gun Safety, ‘the states that do not require background checks at gun shows are flooding the rest of the nation with crime guns.’ While 95 percent of buyers are cleared within two hours, the 5 percent who are not are 20 times more likely to be a prohibited purchaser. Background checks are an essential part of keeping guns from criminals and other prohibited individuals.”
McCain said he has “no plans” to revive his old legislation.
60,000 people are expected to attend the NRA convention this weekend, many of them rallying against what they perceive as “a growing hostility toward gun rights under the Obama administration.” “Our rights are under attack like never before, and at all levels of government,” NRA lobbyist Chris Cox said. And of course, the irrational panic induced by the NRA is helping drive the organization’s membership numbers. Watch a video compilation of some NRA members expressing their irrational fear that Obama will take away their guns:
The cost of health care reform is hugely important. But even more important, legislatively speaking, is the CBO’s estimates of cost, since that’s what binds legislators. Jon Cohn reports on their preliminary work:
The good news for reformers is the CBO’s determination that expanding health-insurance coverage would cost a lot less than many outside experts had predicted. Instead of a politically daunting $1.5 trillion, the CBO figures the price tag will be closer to $1 trillion, at least under certain parameters. But the reason for the lower estimate is a bit unsettling. Even with a requirement that everybody obtain insurance–a so-called individual mandate–the CBO assumes a that between a quarter and a third of the uninsured still wouldn’t have coverage. That would leave the country short of universal coverage, the goal Obama and his allies have repeatedly cited.
The same sources who provided these numbers say that CBO is also tipping its hand about a few other things–like whether information technology, data on the effectiveness of treatments, and other delivery reforms can save money and whether the money people pay for insurance should count as a tax. But, in those cases, the deliberative process isn’t as far along. Instead, CBO officials and staff are consulting widely–with congressional staff, outside experts, etc.–about how to make assessments as fairly and accurately as possible.
Reformers are going to be pushing for forward-leaning estimates of the savings available through delivery reform. The CBO has traditionally been hesitant on that score, but I don’t believe they’ve ever looked at the issue in such an intensive and detailed way. I’ll just note that I think it was a shame that so much high dudgeon was expended on catigating Barack Obama’s mandateless primary-era plan for failing to achieve universal coverage when it turns out that a mandateful plan doesn’t achieve it either.
Malcolm Gladwell ponders the idea of free market sports leagues:
Or how about eliminating the draft altogether? I’m at least half-serious here. Think about it. Suppose we let every college player apply for and receive job offers in the same way that, oh, every other human being on the planet does. That doesn’t mean that everyone goes to L.A. and New York, because you still have the constraints of the cap. It does mean, though, that both players and teams would have to make an affirmative case for each other’s services. So you trade for Steve Nash or Jason Kidd, because they make you instantly attractive to every mobile big man coming out of college. Instead of asking the boring question — which team is going to be lucky enough to draft Derrick Rose? — we ask the far more interesting question: Which team, out of every team in the league, should Derrick Rose play for? [...]
The bigger point here is that what consistently drives me crazy about big-time sports is the assumption that sports occupy their own special universe, in which the normal rules of the marketplace and human psychology don’t apply. That’s how you get the idea of a reverse-order draft, which violates every known rule of human behavior.
I would go further than this. My understanding is that in Europe, soccer leagues operate without all this active labor market policy aimed at driving parity. Teams can basically do what they want in terms of hiring personnel. But at the same time, the teams really need to compete against one another. A team isn’t permitted to just monopolize a large media market by planting its flag down and saying “I forbid you to move anywhere near my franchise.”
Right now, the New York City Designated media area contains 6.5 percent of households. LA has 5 percent. Chicago has 3 percent. Philadelphia has 2.6 percent. Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, and Atlanta all have about 2.1 percent. And things taper off from there. But considering that New York City has a media market three times the size of large cities like Dallas and Atlanta (and especially considering that it’s nearby to the Hartford media market with 0.9 percent of the population) why doesn’t New York have three baseball teams instead of two? There’s no iron law written that the number of teams in a given area should be directly proportionate to its population. But it seems like a reasonable strategy to try. Except in baseball there is an iron law saying you can’t try this.
I think our sports would be a lot more interesting with more free movement of teams, more freedom to negotiate salary arrangements, more freedom to sign whichever young players you can persuade to join you, promotion and relegation of teams that can’t cut the mustard, etc. The free market, just like they have in Europe.
Dave Weigel proclaims a new holiday:
One year ago tomorrow—May 16, 2008—former CIA analyst and current security consultant Larry Johnson put up this blog post at his site “No Quarter.”
I now have it from two sources that there is video dynamite–Michelle Obama railing against “whitey” at Jeremiah Wright’s church. Republicans may have a lousy record when it comes to the economy and the management of the war in Iraq, but they are hell on wheels when it comes to opposition research. Someone took the chance and started reviewing the recordings from services at Jeremiah Wright’s United Church of Christ. Holy smoke!! I am told there is a clip that is being held for the fall to drop at the appropriate time. The last thing Barack and Michelle need is a new clip that raises further questions about her judgment and temperament.
Johnson drove the point home:
Does Barack have an obligation to tell the Democrats, super delegates in particular, about this tape? Did Barack and his campaign do their basic homework and identify this tape as a potential problem? And, more importantly, do they have a copy? Probably better to deal with this issue before the convention rather than wait for October. What do you think?
Twelve months later, no such tape has surfaced.
In A Speech About Making The GOP More Relevant, Steele Calls Same-Sex Spouses A Burden On Businesses
This morning, RNC chairman Michael Steele delivered a speech to the delegates of the Georgia Republican convention. Steele made opening the GOP to more voices a theme of his remarks, declaring that Republicans need to “be relevant” and “engage.” However, in that same address, Steele spoke out against same-sex marriage, saying that such spouses become a huge burden on small businesses:
In a breakfast speech to delegates of the Georgia Republican convention, Steele put himself in the shoes of a small business owner having to pay for health care and life insurance for a same-sex couple.
“Now all of a sudden I’ve got someone who wasn’t a spouse before, that I had no responsibility for, who is now getting claimed as a spouse that I now have financial responsibility for,” Steele said. “So how do I pay for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money.”
Presumably, Steele is still in favor of “opposite marriage.” Those spouses also claim health care and life insurance and put no less a burden on businesses than same-sex spouses. In fact, a 2008 study by the Williams Institute at University of California, Los Angeles School of Law found that legalizing same-sex marriage in that state “could create hundreds of new jobs and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into California’s economy”:
Gay couples are projected to spend $684 million on flowers, cakes, hotels, photographers and other wedding services over the next three years – so long as voters don’t put a halt to the same-sex marriage spree. [...]
The study estimates that over the next three years, gay weddings will generate $64 million in additional tax revenue for the state, and another $9 million in marriage-license fees for counties.
Steele actually used his small-business example as a way to appeal to a broader base of the public without changing the GOP platform. “You don’t have to wear your pants cut down here or the big bling,” Steele said. “It’s a metaphor for taking this party to places and to people that we’ve either forgotten about, ignored or feel don’t want to engage with us.”
At a speech later in the day, Steele once again reiterated that while more moderates should join the GOP, the party isn’t actually going to change its views. “We don’t have to re-make anything. What do we have to re-make? Our values?” he asked. “We’re not too conservative. The liberals are jerking this country so far to the left we look like we’re too conservative.” He also acknowledged, “I’m a little different. I can be controversial at times. I can give people angina, even within my own party.”
Journalism is dying, etc., etc. with foreign bureaus closed down etc., etc., and newspapers shuttering but the world’s big news story today is the results of elections in India. And thanks to the Internet it’s now possible to sit on your couch and read about the future political prospects of opposition leader LK Advani, about the collapse of the left in West Bengal, analysis of how Congress’ big gains came primarily at the expense of “Third Front” coalitions, and much much more.
It seems to me, in other words, that Americans living in the year 2009 have easy access to much more and better information about this news story than Americans at any previous point in time would have.
The whole series of recent attacks on Nancy Pelosi has been a bit bizarre. Whether you love torture or despise it, and whether you believe Pelosi or not, there’s just no way of looking at the history of torture in America in which Pelosi comes out as anything other than a bit player. So it’s good to see what Faiz Shakir points out here, a montage of conservatives explaining that the point of this Pelosi mau-mauing is to try to intimidate progressives into abandoning efforts to investigate what, exactly, was done and why:
Pelosi, to her credit, has stood firm against this. She’s consistently not only defended herself, but defender her position in favor of establishing a truth commission to get to the bottom of all of this. But the right is hoping to scare her into tossing her principles overboard in an effort to keep herself out of controversy.
Spencer Ackerman notes an expanded US training mission in Pakistan. I always get queasy when people start talking about training missions. In part, because that’s how we slipped down the slope in Vietnam. But more broadly, there often seems to be a lack of conceptual clarity around what we’re doing and why.
Thinking about the conflict between the Pakistan military and the Taliban, for example, how plausible does it strike you that the main issue is that the military isn’t well-trained? The Taliban didn’t have benefit of external training assistance? You could imagine scenarios in which a lack of training on the US-favored side of a conflict really was that side’s important problem but it doesn’t seem to me that the shoe fits in this case.
Fox News conservatives are revealing one of the underlying motives for these attacks — to diminish calls for a truth commission on torture. While interviewing Newt Gingrich, and later, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Fox host Neil Cavuto wondered whether “both parties will cease and desist” from investigations:
Is it a potential Mexican standoff? And by that, I mean, Senator, that Democrats feel they have the goods on the prior administration to drag out hearings on what they knew about Iraq and when. Now Republicans have the goods, presumably, on Nancy Pelosi about what she knew about interrogation and when. So to avoid mutual self-destruction, both parties cease and desist.
Last night on Fox, Dick Cheney’s official biographer Stephen Hayes said, “Democrats who have been so enthusiastic about truth commissions have to be stopping and saying, OK, wait a second.” Mort Kondracke chimed in with some advice for the President: “I think Obama really has to get this stuff stopped.” Watch a compilation:
Pelosi has been clear that recent questions about her level of knowledge about Bush’s torture program only add more — not less — need for an investigation to take place. “Until a truth commission comes into being, I encourage the appropriate committees of the House to conduct vigorous oversight of these issues,” Pelosi said.
If conservatives were being honest about their criticisms, they’d be taking up Pelosi’s desire for a full investigation, an inquiry that would not only examine what members of Congress knew but also the prominent role Cheney played in authorizing illegal acts.