My Wonk Room colleague Brad Johnson runs the numbers and concludes that the odds are less than one in one trillion that you would have accidentally spelled out the “fuck you” message that was left encoded in a recent Arnold Schwarzenegger veto letter.
In response to the ongoing propaganda war against human rights NGOs by the Netanyahu government and its outriders here in the U.S. — especially the recent criticism of Human Rights Watch from HRW founder Robert Bernstein — a couple of Canadian social scientists did a statistical analysis of both HRW’s and Amnesty International’s reporting. Here’s what they found:
There is no anti-Israel or anti-democratic conspiracy at work. Like Pakistan or Afghanistan today, Israel is, and has been for many years, a tremendously newsworthy place. This is true for many reasons, but much of the interest must be driven by Israel’s very large claim on America’s overseas assistance envelope and foreign policy resources.
Global watchdogs, like western reporters and politicians, are keen to be heard, seen, and make an impact. As a result, they join the public debate wherever it takes place, prompting them to devote more resources and attention to Israel than to North Korea, Niger, or Burkina Faso.
Note also, however, that Israel’s security forces regularly commit violations against Palestinians and southern Lebanese, and since the statistical models show that actual abuse is also a significant factor, Israeli behaviour — along with other factors — is also driving the coverage.
Careful analysis, in other words, is a calming remedy in times of emotion, allegation, and counter-allegation. Statistics, disdained as boring by so many university students, can, occasionally, offer useful insights not found elsewhere.
For the most committed Likudniks, of course, the fact that their charges of anti-Israel bias are not borne out by a careful analysis of NGO reporting will only be taken as proof that the authors of that analysis themselves — indeed perhaps even the entire social science discipline — suffers from an anti-Israel bias. Certainly that fact that the authors even suggest — and actually assert straight out — that “Israel’s security forces regularly commit violations against Palestinians and southern Lebanese” (a claim that is uncontroversial in any country other than the U.S.) is quite enough to get them tarred as Israel-bashers in some circles. But for those seriously interested in interrogating recent claims made against human rights NGOs, this analysis should be very useful.
There’s no question that Israel has to deal with a precarious security situation, however this does not exonerate the country from its own commitment to uphold certain human rights standards, nor immunize it from criticism when it fails to meet those standards. It’s really unfortunate that, rather than cooperate with an American president who has made it a priority to improve that security situation, Israel’s current government has chosen instead to thumb him in the eye while organizing a smear campaign against its human rights critics.
Greg Jaffe, speaking to Andrew Exum, says “This whole conventional vs. irregular debate is stupid.”
War is war. And we waste far too much energy trying to categorize it. I think most lieutenants, captains and majors are beyond this false conventional vs. irregular frame that we try to impose on war. I wish I could say the same for the more senior people in the Pentagon.
I think there’s a lot of truth to that. At the same time, just because things look one way to “lieutenants, captains and majors” and another way to “senior people in the Pentagon” doesn’t mean we should take a dismissive view of the senior people’s outlook in a rush to celebrate the insights of the practical warfighter. United States military policy is, on one level, about brave men and women serving in uniform in difficult environments out of a sense of duty, honor, and patriotism. On another level, however, United States military policy is about control over by far the largest stream of public sector financing that exists in the world. Annual spending by the national security state (when you add in the spending that’s outside the “regular” Pentagon budget) is almost as high as the $900 billion ten year price tag for a universal health care bill.
And when you get down to the guts of defense budget politics, these high-level strategic concepts matter a great deal. Nobody, of course, is going to say that the U.S. should somehow completely abandon its ability to fight conventional wars. But the choice between a mindset that says “the main purpose of the military is to scare China & Russia” or a mindset that says “the main purpose of the military is to intervene effectively in third world backwaters” has very real implications for what kind of hardware purchases look cost effective. The 2017 budget deficit or the potential economic impact of a manufacturing plant closure in Georgia is not the kind of thing a lieutenant, captain, or major serving in the field is going to think about. But it’s still, in an objective sense, quite important and senior Pentagon figures are not mistaken to treat it as such.
And part of the subtext of the Afghanistan debate is that as a matter of bureaucratic warfare, it makes enormous sense for the currently ascendant COIN faction to try to press its advantages—to exaggerate the extent of what was achieved in Iraq in 2007, and to overstate the strategic significance of achieving some kind of comprehensive success in Afghanistan.
In an interview with the Washington News Observer, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) revealed that, next week in Washington, D.C., the right wing is trying to galvanize yet another mass protest rally against health reform.
Following in the spirit of the “tea party” protests in April and the Glenn Beck-inspired 9/12 rally, Bachmann announced, “We’re going to have a ‘house call’ and a big party out on the National Mall [next week], and we’re going to tell Congress what they can do with their health care bill.”
Fashioning herself as the leader of this mass protest, Bachmann exhorted everyone to “get off the couch, get in your car, get a van together, get a bus together, but get here! We’re going to have a ‘house call’ next week, and we need every American to be here.” She then issued this dire warning (infused with pop culture references):
The American people realize this is it. Just like that brand new Michael Jackson movie came out, ‘This Is It.’ This is it for freedom. If you believe in liberty, and if you’re rejecting tyranny, this is it. Dr. Mark Levin wrote a seminal book that really swept this country called Liberty and Tyranny. And that’s what this debate is about next week. Liberty and tyranny.
As you’ve probably heard by now, the official Republican nominee in the NY-23 special election, Dede Scozzafava, is dropping out of the race. A large number of national conservative figures have lined up behind Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman, and Scozzafava was lagging in third place. Under the circumstances, dropping out seems like a sensible choice. This election and the NJ gubernatorial are both reminders that it would probably make more sense to use an IRV/STV system in our elections. As for analysis of what this means in the real world, I’ll turn to Dave Weigel:
The best news for Owens in the Siena Poll might be the popularity of President Obama — his approval is at 59 percent in this district, the highest it’s been during the whole campaign. If Hoffman maintains his advantage with independents and Republicans and gets his excited activists — who are really walking on air today — to turn out the vote, he has a clear path to victory. The Democratic response is obvious — define Hoffman as a creature of the far right, max out their base turnout with the help of unions — and will be aided by a high-profile Monday campaign appearance from Vice President Joe Biden.
Of course, the fate of one congressional district that Republicans have held for more than a century might be less meaningful, in the long run, than the victory conservative activists have scored over their party’s establishment. Would-be Republican leaders such as Newt Gingrich, and to a lesser extent Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, have done themselves some damage by not getting on Hoffman’s bandwagon when it counted. Gingrich, in particular, who appeared on Fox News to make the case for Scozzafava, has quickly become a ridiculed figure among Tea Party activists.
It’s worth keeping in mind Andrew Gelman’s point that though Scozzafava was a moderate by national GOP standards she was in the more conservative half of her caucus in New York.
— In 2009, 42 percent of respondents say that the country is moving in the right direction.
— This figure is higher than in 2008 (38%). Similarly, 29 percent feel that the country is moving in the wrong direction compared to 32 percent in 2008, signaling a check on the trend of declining optimism that had been evident since 2006.
—The main reason for optimism continues to be good security which has been mentioned by an increasing proportion of respondents each year, from 31 percent in 2006 to 44 percent in 2009. More respondents in 2009 also mention reconstruction and rebuilding (36%) and opening of schools for girls (21%) as reasons for optimism than in previous years.
— Insecurity also remains the most important reason for pessimism, cited by 42 percent of respondents. However, the proportion of respondents that highlight insecurity in 2009 has fallen since 2008 when half of respondents (50%) emphasized this factor.
— Insecurity (including attacks, violence and terrorism) is identified as the biggest problem in Afghanistan by over a third of respondents (36%), particularly in the South East (48%), West (44%) and South West (41%). However, concern about other issues such as unemployment (35%), poor economy (20%), corruption (17%), poverty (11%) and education (11%) has increased in 2009 compared to 2008.
I think you can use this data to support a variety of policy conclusion. But it’s striking that the US debate between escalation and scaling-back tends to proceed from a shared assumption that Afghanistan is in a crisis point. But Afghans seem to think things are improving. Note also that corruption, which has been talked about a lot over the past month, rates relatively low on the complaint scale. In terms of unemployment it seems to me that the most helpful thing we can do would be to revise trade policies. Allow the duty free importation of Afghan textiles to the American market. See what it takes to persuade Turkey and India to stop putting such high taxes on Afghan agricultural products.
This kind of thing is very boring to talk about and isn’t amenable to David Brooks writing columns about how the real issue is whether or not Obama is manly enough to demand victory. But it’s really important. Poor labor market conditions make people disgruntled. In stable democracies they vote for opposition parties. In non-stable places they may take up arms.
In recent weeks, the special congressional election in New York’s 23 district has been heating up, with “big tent” and “establishment” Republicans — such as Newt Gingrich, the RNC, and the NRCC — backing Dede Scozzafava, and “purist” Republicans — such as Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and Bill Kristol — backing Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. Scozzafava had been “under siege” from these conservatives “because she supported gay rights and abortion rights and was considered too liberal on various fiscal issues.” Today — just three days before the election — Scozzafava has announced that she’s withdrawing because polling shows her too far behind to win:
“Today, I again seek to act for the good of our community,” Ms. Scozzafava wrote in a letter to friends and supporters. “It is increasingly clear that pressure is mounting on many of my supporters to shift their support. Consequently, I hereby release those individuals who have endorsed and supported my campaign to transfer their support as they see fit to do so. I am and have always been a proud Republican. It is my hope that with my actions today, my party will emerge stronger and our district and our nation can take an important step towards restoring the enduring strength and economic prosperity that has defined us for generations.
Scozzafava has not yet thrown her support behind either Hoffman or Democratic candidate Bill Owens, and her name will remain on the ballot. Gingrich recently slammed his fellow conservatives for the “precedent” they’re setting, saying, “So I say to my many conservative friends who suddenly decided that whether they’re from Minnesota or Alaska or Texas, they know more than the upstate New York Republicans? I don’t think so. And I don’t think it’s a good precedent.”
After he announced his willingness to filibuster health care reform that includes a public option, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) defended his position by arguing that if the public option paid lower reimbursement rates than private insurers, medical providers would shift costs to Americans with private coverage. He also called the proposed plan “a new entitlement program.” As ThinkProgress and others have pointed out, Lieberman either doesn’t understand the details of the public option proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) or he is misrepresenting them. But in a conference call with Connecticut reporters yesterday, Lieberman claimed that it is the more than 60 percent of state residents that back a government-run insurance option that are confused:
What about the more than 60 percent of state residents that back a government-run insurance option, according to a Quinnipiac University poll last month?
Some of those respondents are confused about what such a plan entails, Lieberman said. And he added, “you can’t make a decision like this based on polling,” he said. Ultimately, he he said he has to do “what I think is right and hope in the end the people of Connecticut will respect me for that.”
Describing how his openness to derailing reform affected his role in the health care debate, Lieberman told the reporters, “I feel relevant.”
Public option proponents knew they weren’t going to get the plan of their dreams when the House leadership agreed to drop the Medicare + 5% reimbursement rate formula, but may have been surprised when the CBO came back with an analysis saying that public plan premium rates will be higher than the private plans available in the exchange. How does that work? Well, as Brian Beutler explains the problem with putting a good health care option together is you might wind up with too many sick customers:
“The House bill does a very good job of setting up rules restricting cherry picking,” says Edwin Park, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. But, he adds, “private insurers have years of experience gaming rules,” and will continue to do so.
“Insurers, just in terms of how they do outreach, how they market, are still going to be able to cherry pick,” Park says.
The second is that the public option will just be a gentler creature–it won’t erect as many restrictions on available providers and services as its private competitors will, and that’s likely to attract riskier consumers.
This is the fundamental issue with any mandate/regulate/subsidize approach. A lot is hinging on the “regulate” part. You need to get the rules against cherry-picking and the implementation of the risk-adjustment payments right. Some people see the public option as an alternative to faith in the capacity of the regulators, but absent adequate regulation the distortions in the market could just wind up bringing the public plan down.
Republicans responded to the release of the House health bill by criticizing the sheer size of the legislation. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) began the Republican press conference by carrying out the 1,990 page bill and positioning the stack between the two microphones on the podium, in full view of the cameras.
“Now tell me how we’re going to fix the health care system with 1,990 pages of government bureaucracy. Now this is what the American people have been saying over the last few months, ‘enough is enough,’” he said.
Watch a compilation:
The original Medicare legislation was a mere 15 pages. Today, Congress regularly produces legislation that that is thousands of pages long. So what happened? It’s the result of the “polarization of American politics,” Congressional historian Ross Baker told the Wonk Room. In the last 50 years, “the total number of pages of legislation has gone up from slightly more than 2,000 pages in 1948 to more than 7,000 pages in 2006.”
The trend started during the 1980s, once the Regan administration began padding various committees with industry cronies and taking full advantage of the vagueness of the legislative language. Congress began writing longer bills to ensure that its intent would be properly enforced. Lesley Russell, currently a visiting Fellow at the Center of American Progress, but at the time a member of the professional staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, recalls how in 1987, her committee, along with Ways and Means, produced an unusually large bill governing nursing home regulations.
The Reagan administration had sought to “repeal the federal rules that governed nursing homes,” including “basic requirements that nursing homes maintain a safe and sanitary environment and respect the privacy and dignity of residents.” Congress enacted moratorium prohibiting the repeal and the Institute of Medicine was commissioned to study the conditions of nursing homes.
The report concluded that “individuals who are admitted receive very inadequate — sometimes shockingly deficient — care that is likely to hasten the deterioration of their physical, mental, and emotional health,” and Congress responded by writing “broad reform legislation, commonly referred to as the Nursing Home Reform Act.” For the first time, “the law placed a new focus on resident rights. It gave nursing home residents the right to choose a personal attending physician, to participate in planning their own care and treatment, and to be free from physical and mental abuse, corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion, and “any physical or chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience.”
“We knew, when we were writing this needed legislation, that it was intrinsically opposed by the administration and so we were very conscious of the need to insure that all the provisions were fully enacted as Congress intended,” Russell said. “This is my earliest recollection of Congress deliberately putting a lot of detail into legislative language,” Russell said.
Baker explained that large multi-paget bills allow Congress to hide controversial provisions, but dismissed the oft-cited argument that smaller bills would help the public better digest legislation and enhance the Democratic process. “It’s a quaint thought to think that the public would read smaller bills,” but there is really no correlation between the size of the bill and the willingness of Americans to read it, he insisted.