Last night’s post about the Real Housewives of Atlanta got me to thinking about reality television in general. It’s easy to watch these people as part of a “cast,” as opposed to plain old regular folks, because they’ve bought into the adage that all the world’s a stage. In Kim Zolciak’s mind, she is a talented, stunningly beautiful woman whose charms are finally being appreciated. While viewers might not see her that way, she’s got an audience–so we’re sort of complicit in her fairy-tale making.
Ezra Klein calls out the President’s Deficit Commission — which released its final report earlier this morning — for showing “cowardice” in its proposed recommendations for controlling health care spending — the single biggest driver of the deficit. “The plan’s health-care savings largely consist of hoping the cost controls (IPAB, the excise tax, and various demonstration projects) in the new health-care law work and expanding their power and reach,” Klein writes. “But the commission ‘does not take a position’ on the new law” or “put its weight” behind any single measure to reduce health care spending.
Indeed, the commission’s “grab bag” approach was likely intended to secure the 14 of the 18 votes, but also a reflection of the reality that real cost control would require a patchwork of solutions. No one policy will win bipartisan political support or serve as a silver bullet for slowing the growth of health care spending.
So is the grab-bag any good? The recommendations for expanding the successful payment reforms in the Affordable Care Act, strengthening the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) — which will advise Congress on how to control health care spending — establishing “a robust public option in the health care exchanges” and “moving toward some type of all-payer system” are probably worth pursuing. Fixing the sustainable-growth formula (the so-called Doc-Fix) is also a good idea.
The commission is also proposing reforming the Medicare cost-sharing rules, which it describes as a “hodge-podge of premiums, deductibles, and copay.” “Because cost-sharing for most medical services is low, the benefit structure encourages over-utilization of health care. In place of the current structure, the Commission recommends establishing a single combined annual deductible of $550 for Part A (hospital) and Part B (medical care), along with 20 percent uniform coinsurance on health spending above the deductible,” the report says. But “it will be difficult if not impossible to ask the majority of beneficiaries to pay more or make do with less.” Seniors are already spending some 16 percent of their income on uncovered services and as the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Drew Altman points out,”nearly half (47%) of all elderly and disabled people on Medicare have incomes below twice the federal poverty level…And two-thirds of the 8 million disabled people on Medicare who are under age 65 have incomes below twice the poverty rate.”
Then there is the commission’s approach to controlling long-term spending by capping total federal health care spending – including Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, FEHB, TRICARE, the exchange subsidies, and the cost of the tax exclusion for health care – at GDP+1 percent after 2020. If applied globally, leaves no room for the increase in the number of beneficiaries that is expected in future decades, which is projected to rise from 13 percent of the population today to 22 percent in 2050. The commission does note the target “should be measured on a per-beneficiary basis if it is applied only to certain federal health programs,” which is less onerous.
It also flirts with the idea of transitioning Medicare into a “premium support” program, but recognizes that the idea — which would transfer future beneficiaries out of Medicare and give them a voucher that is intended to not keep up with health care costs — “carries serious potential risks” and only recommends running a pilot program of the concept for federal retirees in FEHBP. The commission suggests that if health care costs are projected to increase faster than GDP plus 1 percent, Congress and the President should consider “moving to a premium support system for Medicare” (among other options).
Significantly, here, the committee’s decision to give Congress and the President a list of other options to consider if spending increases faster than the cap is perhaps the strongest demonstration of its ‘leave it to others’ approach and one for which the badge of “cowardice” may be well earned.
Earlier this week, every single Senate Republican released a letter indicating that they would block all Senate business until the wealthiest Americans receive additional tax cuts:
[W]e write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers. With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities. While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.
Almost immediately, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) responded to the GOP’s obstruction on the Senate floor. “With this letter, they have simply put in writing the political strategy that the Republicans pursued this entire Congress: Namely, obstruct, delay action on critical matters, and then blame the Democrats for not addressing the needs of American people,” he said. And Reid is right. The sole reason why the Senate does not have enough time to complete the many pressing matters it still faces is because Republicans spent the last two years slowing Senate business to a near standstill.
GOPers claim that their most recent gambit is motivated by concern over the economy, but they don’t even attempt to defend their decision to block confirmation of one of the nation’s most important economic policy makers — Nobel Prize winner and Federal Reserve Board nominee Peter Diamond. Simply put, giving one of the world’s leading economists an opportunity to shape U.S. monetary policy would do a whole lot more to benefit the economy than giving yet another tax cut to Paris Hilton.
Similarly, it’s been more than two months since the Senate has held a single judicial confirmation vote, even though 34 nominees have already cleared the Judiciary Committee, 26 of them unanimously. Indeed, President Obama’s judges have been confirmed slower than any president’s in recent memory — and at less than half the rate of President Bush’s nominees. On the legislative side, the picture is just as bleak. Nearly 400 bills which passed the House of Representatives — many of them unanimously — have yet to even receive a vote in the Senate.
Republicans were able to create this logjam because the Senate rules enable them to force up to 30 hours of pointless delay before the Senate can vote on nearly anything. Thirty hours may not sound like a lot, but it is utterly crippling when multiplied across the hundreds of votes the Senate must take just to keep the country running. Indeed, at 30 hours per nominee, it would take more than two entire presidential terms to fill all the Senate-confirmed jobs a new president must fill, and that’s assuming that the Senate gets nothing else done during this entire nine year period:
The good news is that a brief window opens up next month which will allow the Senate to amend its rules with only 51 votes. Sadly, however, next year’s battleground is likely to shift to the House, where GOPer’s are already threatening to take the entire U.S. economy hostage if the nation does not agree to an as-yet unspecified list of demands.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell clarified after this letter was released that its terms “only appl[y] to legislation, and not to nominations.”
With huge investment from the Government, tons of sand are being pumped from offshore sandbars by two huge dredgers and then sprayed along miles of Cancun’s hardest hit areas.
The annual international climate talks began this week in Cancun, Mexico, the beach resort city that has already lost most of its beaches to climate change. Brad Johnson, who will be reporting live from the climate talks through next week, has the story.
While many conservatives are reacting to the WikiLeaks U.S. diplomatic cables release with hyperbolic rage and vindictiveness, the neoncons appear to view the doc dump as an opportunity. Take Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who this week said that his top takeaway is that the U.S. should attack Iran because some Arab leaders have urged American officials to take action (other cables, however, reveal Arab officials imploring restraint).
Now, in a Weekly Standard article titled, “WikiLeaks: The Iran-Al Qaeda Connection” and subtitled, “What a leaked State Department cable says about the mullahs’ collusion with al Qaeda,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies fellow Thomas Joscelyn appeared to find what the neocons need: an Iranian connection to Al-Qaeda (see late 2002-early 2003 for a preview).
What is the evidence? Joscelyn found a cable from September 2009 in which Saudi Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Prince Nayif bin Abdulaziz “complained” to U.S. top counterterror official John Brennen that “over the past two years Iran has hosted Saudis (all Sunnis) — including Osama bin Laden’s son Ibrahim — who had contacts with terrorists and worked against the Kingdom.” To bolster his case, Joscelyn notes previous reports that Ibrahim’s brother, Saad, and another wanted terrorist, Abdullah al Qarawi, had both “operated inside Iran” at some point.
Joscelyn makes the leap that, because a Saudi official told an American official of concerns that Iran “hosted Saudis…who had contacts with terrorists” and “operated” in Iran at some point, Iran’s leaders are therefore “connected” and “colluding” with Al-Qaeda. Nevermind the fact that the terrorists have also “operated” inside the United States (the cable does not actually say these Saudis were terrorists). Neither the article, nor the cable itself, offer anything else that “highlighted Iran’s relationship with al Qaeda,” as Joscelyn wrote.
As the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss notes in the American Prospect today, “Unsurprisingly, these cables have bolstered neoconservative calls for a U.S. military strike on Iran. Leaving aside the irony that neoconservatives are citing as justification for another war the concerns of the same Arab authoritarians they wanted overthrown in 2003, it’s quite interesting to note when and on what subjects Arab leaders are to be believed.”
Last September, the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates co-signed a bizarre op-ed laden with Glenn Beck-esque rants against dastardly “progressives” who created a “constitutional imbalance” by allowing voters to choose their own senators. The centerpiece of this op-ed was a proposed constitutional amendment allowing a supermajority of the states to repeal federal laws:
Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed.
Silly constitutional amendments are proposed all the time, so that fact that a right-wing editorial page decided to publish one such proposal isn’t all that surprising. What is surprising, however, is that this proposal appears to be gaining some steam — earning the endorsement of incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) yesterday.
At first glance, it’s not entirely clear what the amendment’s proponents hope to accomplish. Cantor might not be aware of this fact, but there’s already a mechanism to repeal a law that the states disapprove of in the Constitution. It turns out that the states get to send representatives to two little-known bodies called the “House of Representatives” and the “Senate” which can vote to repeal laws –- one of which is even malapportioned to favor Republican states! Cantor is not likely to change much by creating a new constitutional procedure for repealing laws — enacting a repeal resolution in 34 of the 50 state legislatures — that is significantly more difficult to invoke than simply repealing a law the old fashioned way.
But Cantor’s support for this solution in search of a problem is just the latest example of conservatives wrapping themselves in the rhetoric of the Constitution while simultaneously trying to remake to document into something completely unrecognizable. In recent months, Cantor’s co-ideologues have called for a return to the Dred Scott vision of U.S. citizenship, and declared war on Congress’ power to raise money and on voters’ power to chose their own senators. Many have even proclaimed everything from child labor laws to the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters to the minimum wage to Social Security and Medicare to be unconstitutional.
Untouchable like Elliot Ness:
— Where are the health care entrepreneurs?
— FreeDarko gives us the best all-time Jewish-American basketball team.
— I think I forgot to blog about the giant Omri Casspi billboards I saw in Tel Aviv.
— Hamas says it would accept the results of a referendum on any peace deal.
— You’re no longer free to move about the country.
The first time I came to California, I was disappointed to see it’s not really as portrayed in 2Pac’s “California Love” video, but given the intractable budget situation we get closer every day.
Media Pushes Narrative That Arabs Want War With Iran, Ignores Cables That Show Arabs Urging Restraint
Over the weekend, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks began leaking hundreds of diplomatic cables sent by U.S. embassies and diplomatic staff across the world. The cables contain all sorts of information, from gossip from embassy staff poking fun at world leaders to details of high-level meetings between world leaders and American legislators.
However, one set of cables that the major news media found particularly attractive were ones detailing Arab leaders’ concerns about Iran. Seizing on a handful of the cables, major news media outlets published stories pushing the narrative that Arab leaders had privately urged the United States government to attack Iran:
- “Around the World, Distress Over Iran” [NY Times, 11/28/10]
- “Arab leaders urged US to attack Iran, says WikiLeaks” [Irish Times, 11/29/10]
- “Cablegate: Arab Leaders Pressuring US to Attack Iran” [PBS, 11/29/10]
- “Netanyahu Says WikiLeaks Cables Show Arab States Share Israeli Concerns About Iran’s Nuclear Program” [Washington Post, 11/29/10]
- Iran ‘Must Be Stopped’: Arab Leaders Implored U.S. To Attack, WikiLeaks Disclosures Show” [Los Angeles Times, 11/29/10]
- “Cables Show Arab Leaders Fear a Nuclear Iran” [Der Spiegel, 12/01/10]
While it’s true that a number of the cables include Arab leaders urging the United States to engage in a military attack against Iran — Saudi King Abdullah made the most persistent calls for a militaristic response — a number of Arab public officials also questioned the idea that Iran is an imminent threat to them and rebuked the idea of attacking the country.
Syrian President Bashar Asad questioned whether Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and promoted the use of diplomacy — including offering Syrian cooperation in monitoring the Iranian nuclear program — while meeting with an American congressional delegation including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):
Asad swiftly responded, “we’re not convinced Iran is developing nuclear weapons.” He argued Iran could not use a nuclear weapon as a deterrent because nobody believed Iran would actually use it against Israel. Asad noted an Iranian nuclear strike against Israel would result in massive Palestinian casualties, which Iran would never risk. Second, he continued, the IAEA had reported no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran existed. [...] Asad asserted demands for Iran to “stop” its nuclear program were unproductive and a violation of its rights under the NPT. Instead, he said, “the argument should be about how to monitor their program,” as outlined in the NPT. “Without this monitoring,” Asad warned, “there will be confrontation, and it will be difficult for the whole region.” Asad leaned slightly forward and said: “Let’s work together on this point.”
Oman’s General Ali Majid, in a meeting with U.S. diplomats, said that Oman prefers a “non-military” solution to the Iranian issue, and cautioned against taking the words of Arab leaders urging for war seriously, warning that they may be speaking from “the basis of…emotion” and may be offering false intelligence much like Iraqi defectors did prior to the invasion of Iraq:
Citing Oman’s preference for a non-military solution, [Majid] nevertheless acknowledged that a nuclear-armed Iran as opposed to war with Iran posed “an extremely difficult dilemma for all of us.” Returning back to comments about GCC countries, General Ali singled out Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar as three Gulf countries that probably would want the U.S. to strike Iran. However, he urged the U.S. to determine whether such voices were speaking on the basis of logic or emotion. He likened private entreaties of these countries to the U.S. for military action on Iran to the Iraqi opposition in exile providing the U.S. false information on Iraq that led to the invasion of Iraq.
While Majid believed that neighboring Qatar may be agitating for a strike against Iran, the leaked diplomatic cables show that at least one top Qatari official opposes such a route. During a meeting with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the Amir of Qatar says that he does not want to “provoke a fight with Iran.” When Kerry suggested that the U.S. needs to talk to the Iranian leadership directly, the Amir agreed:
The Amir answered by affirming that his first obligation is to defend the interests of Qatar. Due to the natural gas field Iran shares with Qatar, Qatar will not “provoke a fight” with Iran. He added that in the history of the two countries, “Iran has not bothered us.” [...]
Senator Kerry lamented that every communication the current Administration has attempted to the Government of Iran has gone back channel and been met with no response. There have been non-U.S. initiatives, too. Again, no success. The Chairman observed that the Iranians are scared to talk. The Supreme Ayatollah had met with Russian President Putin, but seems not inclined to meet with other political leaders. Our instinct is that we need to find a way to talk to him. Your instinct is right, replied the Amir. The U.S. needs to talk directly with senior Iranian officials.
Additionally, the Guardian reports today that the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Deputy Director for Western Affairs Department Mojahid Ali Alwahbi, during a meeting with U.S. officials, “strongly advised against taking military action to neutralize Iran’s program. Rather, establishing a US-Iranian dialogue was the best course of action, asserting that the USG opening an Interest Section or re-opening our Embassy in Tehran would be positive step.”
Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a modified version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to address several of the concerns expressed by Republicans — namely the
GOP talking points criticisms voiced in a memo put out by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) last week. Media Matter’s Political Correction already debunked several of Sessions’ claims before a new bill was even introduced. The latest version of the DREAM Act further blows each of his grievances out of the water:
CLAIM: “The DREAM Act Is NOT Limited to Children, And It Will Be Funded On the Backs Of Hard Working, Law-Abiding Americans”:
REVISION: The latest version of the DREAM Act lowers the age cap for eligibility from 35 to 29 on the date of enactment. It’s worth noting that an earlier version of the DREAM Act that was authored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), did not include any age cap and was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee on a 16-3 vote.
CLAIM: “The DREAM Act PROVIDES SAFE HARBOR FOR ANY ALIEN, Including Criminals, From Being Removed or Deported If They Simply Submit An Application and Certain Criminal Aliens Will Be Eligible For Amnesty Under The DREAM Act”
REVISION: Anyone who applies for the DREAM Act and has an outstanding deportation order must show that s/he is likely to qualify in order to receive a stay of deportation while the application is pending. Since the DREAM Act already requires security and law-enforcement background checks, criminals will not be able to delay their deportation nor will they qualify for a path to legalization.
CLAIM: “Despite Their Current Illegal Status, DREAM Act Aliens Will Be Given All The Rights That Legal Immigrants Receive—Including The Legal Right To Sponsor Their Parents and Extended Family Members For Immigration”
REVISION: The DREAM Act is not amnesty. Applicants must go through a rigorous process of background checks, in addition to paying taxes, learning English, and either serving in the military or attending college. The new version is even more stringent and does not grant legal immigrant status to anyone for at least 10 years. Instead, they receive “conditional nonimmigrant” status once they establish that they qualify. In other words, if they fail to meet any of the DREAM Act’s requirements during those 10 years, they can be stripped of their status. The new bill also specifically excludes nonimmigrants from the health insurance exchanges, Medicaid, Food Stamps and other entitlement programs.
DREAM Act individuals have very limited ability to sponsor family members for U.S. citizenship. They can not sponsor extended family and parents or siblings would have to wait 12 years before their DREAM Act relative can even start the sponsorship process. If those parents or siblings entered the U.S. illegally, they would have to return to their home country for ten years. Essentially, it could be decades before a DREAM Act student’s immediate family could legally live in the U.S.
CLAIM: “Current Illegal Aliens Will Get Federal Student Loans, Federal Work Study Programs, and Other Forms of Federal Financial Aid an Illegal Aliens Will Get In-State Tuition Benefits”
REVISION: Unlike previous versions of the DREAM Act, the latest bill does not repeal the ban on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Also, it would not allow undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition or Pell and other federal grants.
Soon, Sessions and his Republican colleagues will run out of semi-rational excuses to vote against the DREAM Act. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t. My guess is that Sessions and the far right will continue to stall and further misrepresent the bill as they always have. Hopefully, though, the modified DREAM Act will give at least a few “moderate” Republicans enough cover to get the legislation over the finish line.
As a football fan, I’d of course be plenty happy to see the Redskins play someplace more convenient to get to than FedEx Field way out in the middle of nowhere. And as a fan of seeing more development in Washington, DC I usually like development-happy city councilman Jack Evans. But I have a very hard time seeing the logic of this plan:
Evans envisions a $2 billion to $3 billion project to tear down RFK, located on the shores of the Anacostia River just over 20 blocks due east of the Capitol Building, and build a new, 110,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof.
Such a facility could be home to much more than the Redskins, he adds.
“You build a 110,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof, and you get the World Cup,” says Evans. “And the Olympics would also be something we could compete for.”
The fundamental problem with football in an urban setting is that the NFL plays very few games. You’ve got 8 regular season home games. Throw in a bit of preseason and playoff appearances and you’re still looking at a facility that’s empty on 95 percent of days. That’s an inherently low-intensity land use and like other low-intensity land uses—farms, airports, etc.—it belongs to be way out somewhere where land is cheap and space is plentiful. Which is to say it belongs far from the city center and, in DC’s circumstances, that means outside the city limits. The fact that you might or might not attract some World Cup matches or Olympic events every couple of decades doesn’t challenge this calculus in any meaningful way.
From a pure urban planning perspective the ideal thing would be a combined football/baseball/soccer stadium that would be used quite frequently and could be located nearer to the urban core at a more accessible location. But it seems that football, baseball, and soccer team owners all have a strong preference to play in sport-specific stadia. And fortunately in the United States of America land per se is not in short supply so it’s very possible to allocate plenty of land to low-frequency sporting events. But land in the middle of big cities is in fact scarce and should be reserved for things that are used frequently.
So what should be done with the current RFK Stadium site and its associated parking lots? This seems easy to me—build a neighborhood there! We’ve got empty space, a metro station, river-frontage, everything you could ask for. Demarcate some of the land to be a new park (this is my key concession to the insidious park lobby), sell the rest of it to developers, let them build some stuff, and then watch in amazement as the property tax revenue flows in.