Nation editor-at-large and host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.
Dr. Don Berwick is an admired pediatrician and Harvard professor, and was recently haled by Health Affairs as “one of the nation’s leading champions of high quality, patient-centered care”—but that didn’t stop forty-two House Republicans from forcing him to resign from his government post, on the grounds that he was “socialist.” In a recent conversation with Nation editor at large Chris Hayes, Dr. Berwick discusses exactly why conservatives were so opposed to him running Medicare and Medicaid. You can watch more interviews on Up With Chris Hayes here.
I originally wrote the following to Joan Walsh in response to her recent piece at Salon. But after sending it I realized that by e-mailing her privately, I was conspiring to impose a liberal agenda on a fellow journalist! So, I figured in the spirit of openness I'd just publish it here. I feel like the entire explosion of words devoted to JournoList has a sort of fiddling-while-Rome-burns feel to it, but I guess I'm not going to escape playing a few bars myself.
For the record: I like you, too! And thought your piece on the shame of right-wing journalism was astute and suitably outraged. But I also felt like your characterization of me and my views was sloppy and unfair. If there's a God of Journalism, I'm sure she is looking very unkindly on me even taking the time to write this (the world needs exactly zero more minutes of mental energy expended on JournoList but because I respect you and take your writing seriously, I felt I had to respond.
First, a factual correction: You write "And while I don't think anyone on the JournoList directly took Hayes' or Ackerman's suggestion that they call people who raised the Wright issue 'racist' ..."
That apostrophe at the end of my name creates a claim that I suggested people accuse those who raise the Wright issue of being racist. I didn't. Not in the thread or anywhere else, so far as I can tell. It's not really my style. If I had, I'd be happy to be whacked for it. But I didn't. That sentence is just factually wrong.
I'm not quite sure what in my emails makes me a "combative Obama zealot," nor do I think I engaged in "Obama worship" but, OK, fair enough: I wanted Obama to win, and I wrote as much. If you think my devotion to him was particularly slavish, then there's little I can do to disabuse you of that sentiment. (I'll note that I more or less entirely avoided, in my public writing, food fights with Hillary Clinton supporters, or even going after Clinton.)
What rankles though is your use of the adjective "feverish." You write: "In fact, if you read the story, you'll see that several people are quoted strongly disagreeing with the feverish suggestions of Hayes and Ackerman..." Once again I find myself yoked to Ackerman. He's a friend, and a reporter I greatly admire. But we do actually have different stated opinions. In terms of what I wrote, I'm not quite sure what qualifies as "feverish." My (admittedly purple) riff on the consequences of the American empire? Maybe it was rhetorically indulgent, but every single thing I said was true. We do disappear people. We do torture people. And the combined civilian casualites from the US-led sanction regime combined with the US war is up near a million. The only "suggestion" I made is that people chose to write about things other than Jeremiah Wright. Does that really count as "feverish"?
Finally, there's the part that is mostly just confusing. You contrast my argument for why Wright wasn't important,with the fact that now I'm criticizing Obama from the left! But the two have nothing to do with each other. I've been dragged into an argument you want to make about Obamaphiles blinding themselves to his true nature. I get that: you're saying, "I told you so." But my defense of Wright doesn't have any real ideological valence, or relevance to progressive disappointment with Obama. The issues are orthogonal. To the extent they're related, they actually confound your analysis. The argument that Wright was deserving of so much attention was grounded in the notion that it was revealing of Obama's judgment, perhaps even his politics. Among the right and some supporters of Clinton, Wright was seen as the Rosetta Stone that translated Obama's language of national uplift into its radical original tongue. In other words it was the people focusing on Wright who were making the implicit claim that Obama was really some kind of crypto lefty. Not me. I was making the claim that it just didn't really matter one way or the other.
Now, say what you want about Barack Obama, but in temperament, word and deed he has been in every conceivable way, the opposite of Reverend Wright. My argument was that Wright's views and Obama's relationship to him simply weren't at all predictive of how Obama would govern or fundamentally revealing about the kind of president he would make. That view has been entirely vindicated, right?
Nation DC Editor Chris Hayes guest-hosts the Rachel Maddow Show Tuesday and reports on the recent BP oil spill which has left those in charge—BP, Transocean and Halliburton—employing the Shaggy Defense. What is the Shaggy defense? In a 2000 hit song, “It Wasn’t Me,” from singer Shaggy, a man finds himself caught red handed in an affair. Yet with each interrogation, he responds with an excuse and a catchy refrain: “It wasn’t me.”
Likewise, the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill has those in charge using the Shaggy Defense non-stop. In a circular blame game, BP pinned the blame on Transocean, Transocean returned the blame to BP. Transocean added that the blame also falls on Halliburton—the company responsible for the cement job on the oil well.
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey joins Hayes to discuss his new bill that would ensure that those responsible for the spill will be liable for all damages. Currently, BP’s liability stands at $75 million, which he believes is about $9 billion short. “When commercial fishermen are harmed, when shrimp fishermen are harmed, when seafood processing plants are harmed, when those coastal communities lose tourism and on and on and on, their liability is $75 million,” says Menendez. “That's ridiculous. So, we want to raise that to $10 billion.”
For Tuesday night’s Rachel Maddow show, guest-host and Nation DC Editor Chris Hayes, reports on “something remarkable” that happened in Washington earlier that day. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 96-0 to add the “Audit the Fed” amendment to the financial regulatory reform bill. As Hayes explains, the Federal Reserve is the bankers’ bank and beginning in 2007 when the economy went into an “apocalyptic death spiral,” identifying how much money the Federal Reserve lent out—and to which banks—met a similar, apocalyptic death. In one instance, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke flat-out refused to say which banks received money.
“The effort to combat that secrecy, and to account for the basic facts of who is getting how much money from the Fed, on what terms, has given rise to the ultimate strange bedfellows political coalition,” explains Hayes. “The Audit the Fed alliance includes lefty bloggers like Jane Hamsher, and the über-conservative right wing anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist…And now, remarkably, the Audit the Fed movement includes all of the 96 Senators who were present today.”
By now you've likely noticed the barrage of banner ads here at TheNation.com for my weekly podcast, The Breakdown. We've been doing it every Friday for two months now, sometimes with co-stars (Marcy Wheeler this week; Ryan Grim of HuffPo last month) and sometimes just me and my extremely dedicated intern Lauren. I started The Breakdown because I wanted to get into podcasting, but also because I thought there was a real hunger for explanatory journalism among Nation readers.
I wanted to put in a plug, then, for our new partner on "The Breakdown," ExplainThis.org. Started by Professor and Media expert Jay Rosen at NYU, ExplainThis.org bills itself as "a user-driven assignment desk for journalists doing explanatory work." Basically, it's a new model of how readers and citizens can get their tough questions answered by experts and journalists. They've been cool enough to create a separate page for The Breakdown. Go to ExplainThis.org/TheBreakdown, ask your politics or policy question, and the wheels start turning: questions are reviewed, sorted and ranked by the community of ExplainThis.org readers; then the most relevant and popular get answered.
What this means for The Breakdown is that there are three ways you can suggest the question I'll tackle each week:
1 - Tweet it, to @chrislhayes, using the hashtag #thebreakdown
2 - Email me, thebreakdown [at] thenation [dot] com
3 - Ask me and a community of dedicated news-hounds and truth-seekers, at ExplainThis.org/TheBreakdown.
I'll shake it up and take different questions from different places each week. But through those three channels, what we're trying to do is get a sense of what you want answers to. A special thanks to Jay and ExplainThis.org, who have put in a lot of work to set up a page where you can ask a question, but also have a real discussion with me and a whole community of site users.
In case you missed it, here's the latest The Breakdown with blogger and journalist Marcy Wheeler, about the torture memo authors, and whether or not they will ever be held accountable:
The Breakdown is posted each Friday at TheNation.com, and you can listen right here or subscribe in Itunes. Bloggers can also embed The Breakdown on their own sites.
Let me know any questions (or topics for this week!) in the comments.
For the first time since the Massachusetts debacle, I'm cautiously optimistic about the fate of health care reform. Here's why: In the wake of Scott Brown's election, what was most dispiriting was the total leadership vacuum and chaotic, every-man-for-himself atmosphere among congressional Democrats. There didn't seem to be any hard consensus on what to do next. Some said: break it up into smaller pieces, radically pare down the bill, go back and find Republican support (ha!) or let the thing die. Every one of these options would actually spell the death of health care reform, and one of the most stunning legislative failures in recent memory. To even consider such a move seemed insane, and yet those of us paid to observe Congress have spent the last two weeks watching, with mouth agape, as congressional Democrats slowly raised a loaded gun to their collective mouths and volubly considered pulling the trigger.
But sanity has, tentatively, provisionally prevailed. After spending much of yesterday talking to folks on capitol hill, it's clear there is increasingly consensus on a path forward: As I explained last night on Rachel Maddow, it involves a few steps, but is relatively straightforward. The House has to come up with a list of changes to the Senate bill that will get them to 218 votes (and will also pass muster with the procedural constraints of "reconciliation". For more on that you can listen to last week's episode of The Breakdown.) They then send those changes to the Senate leadership, which can pass them through reconciliation, a process that requires a simple majority. Once that process has moved forward or (better!) is completed, the House can then pass in quick succession the Senate bill, and the amended fix.
Now that's it, clear reconciliation is the only real option forward, we're suddenly operating in this bizarre alien universe where majority rules. So when I read Ben Nelson this morning expressing his discomfort with reconciliation I took great satisfaction in the fact that his opinion on the matter was more or less meaningless. It was always the razor thin 60 vote majority in the Senate that produced the agonizingly slow process of death by a thousand cuts. But that is, in the world of reconciliation, no longer operative.
In fact, now that reconciliation is on the table, the public option has regained a pulse. After all: it already got 218 votes in the House, remains one of the most popular parts of healthcare reform and once upon a time enjoyed majority support in the Senate. Today, Ryan Grim reported that two House members were circulating a letter to their Senate colleagues telling them to put the public option into the reconciliation package, and the PCCC, DFA and Congressman Alan Grayson delivered 250,000 petition signatures to Harry Reid this morning calling for the same.
This does not mean, by any earthly means, this is a done deal. If ten Senate Democrats get scared and back away from reconciliation the bill is sunk. That would be a massive and stunning rebuke to leadership, so this is a true test of Harry Reid's ability to see this through. So far, there's still been a startling lack of leadership both within the Senate caucus and from the White House. (Ezra Klein has a run-down of the latter here). It will also probably be necessary, for procedural reasons, to get Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad on board. So far he's been non-committal, but hasn't ruled out the idea of reconciliation.
So there are obstacles. And if the last year has taught us anything, it's that the congressional process is exceedingly ugly. So much so, that I think it's largely responsible for the drop in public support for health care reform legislation. At today's petition drop-off Alan Grayson made this point forceful: "I think that this endless discussion about process is cheating the entire country and it needs to stop," he said. "We need to go ahead and deliver to people what they voted on in 2008, which is affordable, universal and accessible healthcare."
But there's a very doable path forward, and there are almost certainly the votes to get it done. It really is a question of political will and pressure at this point. That may not be very comforting given the lack of leadership demonstrated over the last two weeks, but it's something.
There's lots of progressive backlash in the blogosphere to the announcement that the president is going to call for a multi-year freeze on "non-security discretionary spending," in the State of the Union.
The anger is totally justified, but I'll let others handle the policy of this. (Short version: it's criminally stupid).
But let me talk about the politics. I'm sure that in the short term it polls well. Most voters don't have a great grasp of what makes up the federal budget and the fact that about two-thirds of what the government does is security and social insurance for the elderly. Thanks to decades of right-wing attacks on Big Government, many people think that most of what the government spends money on are things like food stamps and foreign aid.
That's why this is so inexcusably insidious: because it uses the full power of the bully pulpit to reaffirm and endorse a kind of ignorance that the right-wing has spent years stoking, and in so doing further erodes what little conceptual and rhetorical foundation we have domestically for social democracy. It may be a head fake, the fine print may basically have a lot of loopholes, in which case the policy itself won't be terrible, but again it reinforces the enemy's narrative: that government spends too much on "programs," that defense and "security" spending doesn't count for the deficit and that times of economic misery and widespread unemployment the solution is fiscal austerity.
I wish there was a way to sue for political malpractice, because what we're seeing from the White House and congressional Democrats these last two weeks would make for a depressingly good case.
The Obama speech was about what I expected: on the one hand/on the other hand, I reject false choices, needle-threading "pragmatism." I have to say I find this rhetorical approach increasingly wearying. There always seems to be the implication, hidden between the lines, that only the author of the speech truly understands how complicated the world is. During the race speech, that was appropriate and affecting: there are few people who've experienced race in as much of its full complexity as Barack Obama. But I don't think the same thing holds for war and peace.
The main thrust of the speech was that in a fallen, difficult world, sometimes war is necessary to secure peace. If we want peace, we have to be hard-headed and clear-eyed. Since Obama was positioning himself as a practical advocate of peace, I was curious to hear what David Cortright thought about it.
Cortright is the Director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame has been advocating peace since he was in the Army in Vietnam and organized his comrades against the war. He went on to write "Soldiers in Revolt" about that experience and then was a lead organizer in the nuclear freeze movement. In the 1990s he and his colleague George Lopez wrote often and influentially about non-violent alternatives to war and their support for sanctions in Iraq earned them withering criticism from Nation reader who saw the sanctions as a moral abomination. (I wrote about the sanctions here)
In the run-up to the Iraq war, Cortright helped lead Win Without War, conceived of as a"mainstream" alternative to ANSWER and other anti-war groups.
So Cortright's credentials as a pragmatic advocate of peace (whatever, in the final analysis, that means) are pretty impeccable: no starry-eyed, weak-kneed, incorrigible idealist, he! I emailed to ask him for his reaction, and he wrote back right away. "I found the Nobel speech disappointing." He continued: "To use the Nobel dais to justify the use of military force is unseemly. The president's characterization of the historic role of US military power was distorted, and his interpretation of just war theory was incomplete."
His full response follows:
The president asserted that US military policy has helped to "underwrite global security." More accurate would be an admission that many of our adventures have created global insecurity. Vietnam, the wars in Central America in the 1980s, the invasion of Iraq, countless interventions by the CIA--these and other actions have sown suffering and insecurity. The US has supported democracy in some settings but very often we have subverted democracy and overthrown legitimately elected democratic regimes, in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Chile (1973), etc.
The president invoked just war principles but showed a shallow understanding of the criteria. The most important principle of just war theory is a presumption against the use of force, a belief that war is almost always unjust and can be justified only under the most dire circumstances and only if strict ethical criteria are satisfied. He mentioned a few of the criteria, without probing them in depth, but did mention the standard of ‘probability of success.' Under that criterion, the war in Afghanistan cannot be judged just, since there is very little probability that the war can be pursued to achieve military victory, however that is defined.
The president's assertions about Afghanistan did not acknowledge the fact that war is an inappropriate means of combating terrorism. The Rand Corporation study of 2008 on how terrorist groups end found that military force was responsible for ending terrorist groups in only 7 per cent of the cases. Political bargaining (43 per cent) and effective law enforcement (40 per cent) were the primary factors accounting for the end of terrorist groups. The military's own counterinsurgency doctrine calls for a campaign that is 80 per cent nonmilitary. The US effort in Afghanistan is the reverse, more than 80 per cent military.
Peace demands responsibility and sacrifice, yes, but it is built primarily through nonmilitary means. The president mentioned some of these, but he failed to mention that US foreign policy systematically undervalues these approaches. In Afghanistan the US is spending far more on military approaches than on development and humanitarian assistance.
The discussion about deficits and debt in Washington is so colossally stupid and disingenuous that even engaging it makes me despair. But today's Politico so expertly packages together every conceivable Beltway Establishment inanity about "spending" and "deficits" into one glib little piece of analysis that I can't help myself. (Well, I could help myself but was bullied over Twitter into writing about it here.)
There's one big maddening conceptual error at the heart of this piece (whether committed in good faith or bad I can't say) which is to confuse relatively substantial pieces of domestic legislation with a spending "binge." See, a government, like any organization, institution, or firm has expenditures and revenues. Miraculously, it can increase its expenditures, without increasing its deficit, if it also increases its revenues. This is called "deficit neutral" and it's what the current health care bill, in all its incarnations, is. It is what the cap and trade bill will also be. Now consider this paragraph.
For starters, the White House has not dropped plans for an aggressive global warming bill early next year that will be loaded with new spending on green technology and jobs – that would be paid for with tax increases. Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf says the White House focus on deficit reduction could easily kill the cap-and-trade effort. "I think this means cap-and-trade has to go to the backburner," he said.
It's an absolute and total non sequitur! The White House is pushing ahead with it's plans for a bill that won't increase the deficit. And Elmendorf says that a focus on deficit reduction means that this deficit neutral bill just won't fly. Huh?
Now cap and trade should actually be more than revenue neutral, it should raise revenue. (Indeed, that's the central attack on the bill, that it's a tax, ie, a revenue raiser) But in order to get the thing passed we'll have to pay out so many bribes to so many industries, it won't represent much of a net benefit to government coffers.
You may object to government doing the things it's doing. You may think the working poor should just suck it up when they get sick, or that we should subject Bangladesh to a horrific future in which it is plunged into the sea, but you can't say that the motivation for your objection is accounting.
This disingenuousness drives me bonkers, particularly since, as I and others have noted ad nauseum, military spending is simply never considered a relevant part of the balance sheet. (It's mentioned once in passing in the Politico article)
I raised this point in my feature about Blue Dogs. Blue Dogs really like to call themselves "fiscally conservative" but they're not: they're just conservative. In fact, one of their major agenda items is permanent repeal of the estate tax, which would enlarge the debt, and they generally oppose the public option, which would reduce the cost of the health care bill. And of course they all vote for every last defense bill that comes their way. Ask Parker Griffith of Alabama, who recently voted against health care, what he thinks about cutting spending for the military installation in Huntsville.
Fiscal conservatism and deficit concern is nearly always code speak in Washington for something else: sometimes it's class warfare, or just a cheap partisan attack. Most often, when someone in Washington says they're concerned about the deficit, what they're really saying is "I would like to make sure we have a government that focuses maximally on blowing people up."
Harry Reid just announced that he'll include a public option (with a provision that allows individual states to opt out of it) in the version of the health care bill he brings to the floor of the senate. This is a huge (though still partial) victory for progressives. Over the weekend there was a flurry of reporting over whether Reid would include the opt-out provision, or the "trigger" provision favored by Olympia Snowe, which would not create a public option unless and until some time in the future when health insurance costs had not diminished. The fact of the matter is, as David Sirota wrote here, the trigger is simply a way to kill the public option. Had Reid included it in the floor bill, progressives would have had to muster 60 votes to pass an amendment to strip the trigger out and replace it with the opt-out language. There's no way they would have been able to do that.
But with the opt-out public option included in the unamended floor-bill, opponents of the public option will now have to get 60 votes to pass their own amendment killing it, and they don't have those votes either. This means that the opt-out public option will almost certainly be in the final bill that comes up for a vote in the full senate. That's huge, since the house will also have a public option (an even stronger one, without the opt-out provision).
Reid is essentially calling the bluff of recalcitrant senators like Nelson, Lincoln and Landrieu, because the only way they can defeat the public option now is to join a Republican filibuster, something that I think Reid is gambling they won't do.
As I said on Maddow on Friday night, if you can't get members of your own party not to filibuster your single most important domestic policy priority, it's hard to understand why you even have a party to begin with.