The deficit in the 16 countries which use the euro increased to 1.9% of GDP, against 0.6% in 2007, with Ireland’s deficit the highest, at 7.1%. [...] Deficits look set to continue rising. The Commission has forecast that the eurozone’s deficit will reach 4% of GDP in 2009, the highest yet, and 4.4% in 2010.
This is all a bit of a mess, if you ask me. Ireland’s deficit is way too high, but 1.9 percent of GDP on average is way too low considering the extent of the economic downturn. Better policy coordination would have had more stimulative deficit spending in general, but somewhat less in the worst-afflicted areas as other places would be able to help Ireland out, much as Florida and Michigan aren’t totally on their own in America’s recession. But of course that’s tricky to pull off institutionally.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) appeared on Fox New’s Your World with Neil Cavuto to discuss his exchange earlier today with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which Clinton took a shot at Dick Cheney’s credibility. Cavuto lauded Rohrabacher as being a “pretty gutsy guy” for defending Cheney “in a packed room that everyone made a laughing stock of the [former] Vice President.” Cavuto then asked Rohrabacher why other Republicans aren’t sticking up for Cheney:
CAVUTO: [S]ome Republicans have been oddly silent in defending him or not. You took the fight on. Do you think that the vice president has been misrepresented here?
ROHRABACHER: I think that there’s a lot of people in this town that don’t have any courage, when someone is being belittled and they’re under attack, to stand up and say, ‘wait a minute, this person did some very good things.’
Lately Josh Marshall’s been kicking around the question of how Dick Cheney, chief of staff to Gerald Ford and defense secretary to George H.W. Bush, turned into the Dick Cheney, sociopath and vice president, that we all know and despise.
This is an interesting question. But I think the preponderance of the evidence suggests that he didn’t really change that much. The 1992 Defense Planning Guidance was a pretty radical document. It came out of an office Dick Cheney supervised, and was most directly done by Paul Wolfowitz working with some other neocon subordinates who came back in the W. Bush DOD. But when it leaked, the president disavowed it.
By 2001, Cheney had acquired a more powerful position and he had a new boss who was dumber and less moral than his father. But on top of that, the United States had grown accustomed to a world in which there was little objective constraint on its power, and then 9/11 made the public much more receptive to military aggression than it had previously been. Put that together with the fact that Cheney’s baseline views had long tended toward the militaristic and slightly insane, and it doesn’t seem so mysterious.
The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Jon Wellinghoff, said today of new coal and nuclear plants, “We may not need any, ever.” Greenwire (subs. req’d) reported his remarks at a U.S. Energy Association forum:
“I think [new nuclear expansion] is kind of a theoretical question, because I don’t see anybody building these things, I don’t see anybody having one under construction,” Wellington said.
Building nuclear plants is cost-prohibitive, he said, adding that the last price he saw was more than $7,000 a kilowatt — more expensive than solar energy. “Until costs get to some reasonable cost, I don’t think anybody’s going to [talk] that seriously,” he said. “Coal plants are sort of in the same boat, they’re not quite as expensive.”
Former Democratic senator Bob Graham, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2001 to 2003, said today in an interview with the Huffington Post that “criminal prosecution of Bush administration officials involved in implementing torture policies should not ‘be taken off the table.’” Graham added that it is “premature with the current state of knowledge to determine if that is appropriate.” Further, Graham said he favored a bipartisan 9/11 commission-style inquiry into what “transpired during the Bush years ‘so that there could be a record that is not too distant from the acts themselves for the benefit of the American people and the benefit of history.’”
Please join our campaign calling on Congress to begin impeachment hearings against Jay Bybee.
Ruy Teixeira talks about his research into American demographic trends and the implication that they’ll lead to a more progressive political environment:
As ever, I want to point out that I’m not 100 percent comfortable with the use of the term “white working class” as a blanket term for all whites who don’t have a bachelor’s degree. Among other things, it’s important to keep in mind that the average income of the white working class is, on this definition, higher than the average income prevailing in the country. Just keep that in mind as you listen to Ruy.
Jonathan Cohn (via Uwe Reinhardt) describes a new public health plan compromise in which “the government could promise that the new public plan would pay better than Medicare–say, by 10 or 15 percent on average. That should ease the concerns of insurers, providers, and other groups worried that a public plan wouldn’t pay sufficiently high rates”:
But in exchange for the higher payments, industry groups–particularly doctors and hospitals–would have to stop resisting changes in the way government pays for medical services. In particular, Medicare (along with the new public plan) would get to bundle payments, make contracts selectively, reward providers who meet quality standards, and tilt reimbursements towards primary care. These shifts have the potential (if done properly) to improve the quality of care while reducing costs in the long run. In other words, it’s a straight-up trade: Providers would get (relatively) higher payments. The government would get tools for steering money towards more efficient care.
Getting providers (and insurers!) on board with the public option is no small goal, but promising higher payments sounds a bit like a government subsidy a la Medicare Advantage. Here is the big picture: currently, providers fear that a new Medicare-like program would reimburse with Medicare rates (which are about 20 percent lower than what private insurers pay) and lower profits. Public plan advocates like Jacob Hacker have proposed that the new program negotiate prices with providers. This latest “twist” would promise providers a 10-15 percent boost in payment from the current Medicare rates (bringing the payments of the public option closer to what private insurers now pay) but would allow the government to use the new public program to spearhead payment reforms that would, in the long run, lower overall health care spending.
But it’s unclear why providers would accept a public plan that pays lower than most private insurers or sit on their hands and stay silent about payment reforms. Under Reinhardt’s approach, a public plan that piggy backs off of Medicare could more easily steer payment reform and would probably be easier to implement. But wouldn’t a bargaining process that forces private insurers to consider the price of the competitor have a greater impact in lowering overall costs?
Aside from the objection that there’s something a little messed up about creating a consciously un-level playing field and asking the public plan to compete with one arm tied behind its back, I’m skeptical this will solve anything. It looks like a grand compromise, but doesn’t do anything to improve policy. Instead, it water down the effectiveness of competition to no real improvement.
In the second part of their interview last night, Fox News’ Sean Hannity asked former Vice President Dick Cheney to give his “overall analysis” on where President Obama is “taking the country economically.” “Well, I’m very concerned about it,” replied Cheney before heaping praise onto the anti-Obama tea parties held last week.
“I thought the tea parties were great,” said Cheney. He then expressed his view that if would be a “healthy” development if the demonstration of conservative “grassroots” opinion had an “impact” on the debate in Congress:
CHENEY: I think when you get that kind of grassroots sentiment being expressed, thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people all across the country, that will have an impact on Capitol Hill. It will have an impact, I think, on the political process. And it’s basically a healthy development.
Cheney’s praise for the tea parties is surprising considering his contempt for public opinion while in office. As Vice President, Cheney dismissed the the opinion of far more Americans when they disagreed with his administration’s policies:
CHENEY: On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.
RADDATZ: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.
RADDATZ So? You don’t care what the American people think?
CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.
According to statistics expert Nate Silver, roughly 300,000 people across the country participated in the tea parties. Apparently this was enough to convince Cheney that maybe public opinion should “have an impact” on policy.
Reporting on the intelligence community is very interesting to read. Since intelligence activities are, by definition, secret, there’s a lot of interest in journalism that pierces the veil of secrecy. But this leads to frustrating situations. To do intelligence reporting you need intelligence sources. And to have intelligence sources, you need to be pretty kind to the institutional interests of the intelligence people who are serving as your sources. What’s more, since the whole thing is supposed to be shrouded in secrecy, there’s an incredibly low bar for what constitutes a journalistically viable level of sourcing.
Which is how you get things like this David Ignatius column warning darkly of the pernicious impact on CIA morale of the release of the torture memos and the even more dire impact that further pursuit of legal accountability would have. His main example is, however, pretty unconvincing:
For a taste of what’s ahead, recall the chilling effects of past CIA scandals. In 1995, then-Director John Deutch ordered a “scrub” of the agency’s assets after revelations of past links to Guatemalan death squads. Officers were told they shouldn’t jettison sources who had provided truly valuable intelligence. But the practical message, recalls one former division chief, was: “Don’t deal with assets who could pose political risks.” A similar signal is being sent now, he warns.
Lets get real here. Guatemalan security forces killed hundreds of thousands of people. I would like to see David Ignatius go visit the mother of someone killed by a death squad in Guatemala and explain to her why it is that making the CIA feel good about taking “political risks” was more important than making the CIA feel bad about killing her kid. He could do it tomorrow. Then visit another mom the following day. Then another the following day. It would take him well over 400 years to finish explaining himself to everyone.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman concluded that Bush administration officials let “political considerations, delays, and implausible justifications” rule decision-making on the emergency contraception Plan B. Korman ruled that “at the behest of political actors,” the FDA commissioner “decided to deny non-prescription access to women 16 and younger before FDA scientific review staff had completed their reviews.” The FDA is now announcing that it will be complying with Korman’s order and reversing the Bush-era policy. Women 17 years old will be able to purchase the emergency contraception without a prescription.