Monday, September 28, 2009

Deficits DO Matter

My latest for Republicans United (formerly the Progressive Republican) is now up. Deficits DO Matter

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why the NEA Affair Matters

neaConor Friedersdorf and Freddie deBoer have had a tit-for-tat over the whole controversy about someone from the National Endowment for the Arts "inappropriate" actions during a conference call last month. The conservative new site Big Government broke the story. Yosi Sargeant, the communications director for the National Endownment for the Arts was part of this conference call and made statements that flirted with the kind of political nonsense that left a nasty taste during the Bush years.

It would be easy to dismiss this story as I believe Freddie did. After all, the allegations came from a partisan website which has an axe to grind. deBoer thinks it's quite rich that conservatives are shocked since they did the same thing very recently:
It does indeed bother me that the ideology responsible for having people sign written pledges declaring their support for President Bush before they see our elected officials speak now complains about this. It does indeed piss me off that a few short years ago, Republicans were routinely doing things like calling for Howard Dean's hanging for criticizing the war in Iraq, and yet now they stand enraged over this meaningless conference call. It does indeed make me angry that the president himself declared that anti-Iraq war argument "gives comfort to our enemies," and yet now I read Conor Friedersdorf calling for national prominence on this nothing of a story. Yes, indeed, it makes me angry that a party and ideology that represented nothing more forcefully or loudly than the notion that dissent was unpatriotic and treasonous, and that supporting the president and his aims were our solemn duties, now turn around and complain about something like this. Yes, that makes me angry.

Of course. all of this did happen. I remember it all and as a Republican, I found it reprehensible. That said, it seems that Freddie is painting to big a brush here, trying to tar and feather anyone that dares to call themselves a conservative. deBoer only has to read some of Conor's past blog posts to know that he is as upset at the current state of conservatism as anyone else. Freddie's condemnation of not just those in the Bush administration or a number of Republicans, but an entire ideology ,is not only simple-minded, it's mean. There are many good conservatives that wanted nothing to do with this behavior. His rant basically condemned us all.

I believe the whole story matters. I don't have anything against the NEA and I'm not looking to bring down the Obama Administration. But it matters because we have an employee of a government agency working in a capacity that was dancing dangerously close to propaganda.

We also have someone who represents an agency that is in the business of giving out money. While there might have not been any intent to influence people, the fact that the communications director of the NEA was on a call with artists where the intent political looks really bad. Seargant should have known better.

If the Obama Administration wants to get artists involved to push their agenda, fine. They can do that through groups like Organizing for America. But leave the NEA out of this. This is a government agency that is supposed to support all Americans, not just the ones that support whoever is in office.

In a response to Freddie, Conor lifts this quote from a commenter:
The NEA is not a tool of (administration) policy, and that’s the scandal here. I realize that this issue isn’t as crucial to some of you young’uns; I remember when the NEA was criticized heavily for funding to Mapplethorpe and “Piss Christ” and the like. Well, for one thing I think most Americans thought that that was “good” censorship. But for another liberals at that time stood for the idea that the NEA is not a policy tool. We fought the idea that conservatives should be interested in gutting it because of the messages of the art it funded, with the belief that the NEA didn’t exist to “message.” The NEA director isn’t supposed to be interested in the messaging of the art: he’s supposed to want to know to whom it’s accessible, if it’s introducing more and more diverse art into a community, if it’s something that can promote arts education, if it’s keeping a classic American form vibrant…

You would tear that up. Conservatives would then be well advised to kill the NEA and NEH and Smithsonian and intellectuals would be deprived of a good argument as to why that’s a bad idea. Now, some of us don’t share the TAS enthusiasm for crapola hipster bands, and the jazz I live on is pretty dependent on organiztions like the NEA, and not really very good for messaging. So I want this bullshit killed, and somebody from the Obama administration fired.

You want to keep kids in school and encourage service and so on with clever art? Use the fucking Ad council. Immediate thought: Jesus, you really do need to read Europe Central or some of Belinsky’s misguided takedowns of non-programmatic art from the late Romantics/early Realists. Those guys thought like you are. Thinking this isn’t a pretty serious deal is failing to realize how much art actually means — which is why we have an NEA.

I was in college when conservatives attacked the NEA in the early 90s for its funding of art that some deemed offensive. It was wrong then for conservatives to try to politicize the NEA then and it's wrong for liberals to try to attempt to do the same thing now.

Let the NEA do what it is good at doing: supporting the arts in America.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why Does Joe Wilson Matter?

When I wrote my earlier post on the President's health care speech, I had some knowledge of what Joe Wilson had done during the speech. But I ignored it. I mean, the real issue here was not about some obscure congressman but about tackling the important issue of health care, right?

Boy was I wrong.

Joe Wilson has become a poster boy of sorts. He has been blamed for taking people's attention off the important health care debate. He has been a hero to some, and a lout to others.

But why does he matter?

I know, I know: it's because he called the President a liar. I agree that it's quite boorish. Republicans have made it a habit lately in acting like children, but then so did the Democrats when they were the "out" party. The thing is, our political culture is filled with people on blogs, talk shows and books claiming that so and so politician is a liar. We seem to revel in calling people fakes; it's a good way to reveal how pure and true we are.

With such incivility everywhere in American culture these days, I don't know why we should get all into a bother because someone was uncivil on the floor of the House; Wilson was just doing what has become normal in our political life these days.

Wilson has been used by various people for various reasons. For Democrats, he is the poster boy of a Republican party gone mad, not to mention a rallying cry to raise more money. For the media, it's another trivial character they can focus on; another example of political entertainment. For Republicans, he's an example of the "common man" standing up to the liberal elites. For Joe Wilson himself, it's a nice way to raise money for his re-election campaign.

Joe Wilson in my view, doesn't matter. We should have not paid attention to him, instead, focusing on how best to solve the issue of health care. But we live in a world where politics and entertainment rules, and so we focus on some unknown representative from South Carolina.

Let's focus on what matters. There is nothing to see here. Move on.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Day Brings

I didn't know if I wanted to do another 9/11 remembrance post, simply because everything that has been said about this day has been said. However, as I was listening to some music, I was reminded of someone who posted on Livejournal years ago about listen to the song "The Day Brings" by the group Brad on that day.

I had enjoyed Brad when they first came out in the early 90s with the funky song "20th Century" and loved "The Day Brings" when it was released in 1997.

It seems fitting on this day to share the music video to that song, a song that talks about enjoying life because you never know when it might be taken from you.

So, this song is my way to remember those who died eight years ago, and a reminder to live life.

Try as I might, I could not find a video on YouTube I could embed, so you will just have to go the link. But you will enjoy the song, trust me.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Obama Health Care Speech: One Republican's View

I heard most the President's speech tonight over the radio. Here are some of what I thought were highlights and what I thought.
What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies - because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.

I don't have a problem with this provision. I've long believed that denying someone insurance because of pre-existing conditions, or using the horrible practice of recission should be against the law.
Now, if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage. We will do this by creating a new insurance exchange - a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers. As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It's how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it's time to give every American the same opportunity that we've given ourselves.

For those individuals and small businesses who still cannot afford the lower-priced insurance available in the exchange, we will provide tax credits, the size of which will be based on your need. And all insurance companies that want access to this new marketplace will have to abide by the consumer protections I already mentioned. This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right. In the meantime, for those Americans who can't get insurance today because they have pre-existing medical conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect you against financial ruin if you become seriously ill. This was a good idea when Senator John McCain proposed it in the campaign, it's a good idea now, and we should embrace it.

He makes a nod to the co-op idea and to the idea that market forces should bring prices down. He includes subsidies for those who can't purchase health care and seems to back a catastrophic insurance scheme that was devised by his 2008 opponent, John McCain. Smart move there. All in all, there are things for someone like me to love.
Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. The insurance reforms that I've already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear - it would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5% of Americans would sign up.

Despite all this, the insurance companies and their allies don't like this idea. They argue that these private companies can't fairly compete with the government. And they'd be right if taxpayers were subsidizing this public insurance option. But they won't be. I have insisted that like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects. But by avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits, excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers. It would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities.

Hmmm...this I don't get. If we have consumer protections and regulation (good), and we have companies competing and bringing down prices (also good), and we have subsidies to help those who can't afford the premiums (really good), then why do we need a "public option?" It just seems like the answer to a question no one is asking.

That said, I do like that he is looking to make it be funded not by taxes, but by premiums.
Finally, let me discuss an issue that is a great concern to me, to members of this chamber, and to the public - and that is how we pay for this plan.

Here's what you need to know. First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits - either now or in the future. Period. And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize. Part of the reason I faced a trillion dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for - from the Iraq War to tax breaks for the wealthy. I will not make that same mistake with health care.

Second, we've estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system - a system that is currently full of waste and abuse. Right now, too much of the hard-earned savings and tax dollars we spend on health care doesn't make us healthier. That's not my judgment - it's the judgment of medical professionals across this country. And this is also true when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.

Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan. Much of the rest would be paid for with revenues from the very same drug and insurance companies that stand to benefit from tens of millions of new customers. This reform will charge insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies, which will encourage them to provide greater value for the money - an idea which has the support of Democratic and Republican experts. And according to these same experts, this modest change could help hold down the cost of health care for all of us in the long-run.

Another hmmm moment. Other than the tax on so-called "Cadillac" plans, I don't see how tackling the old monster of "waste, fraud and abuse" is going to not make this plan a budget buster.

As for his partisan dig at Republicans for leaving a big deficit? Well, it was partisan, but it was also true. Moving on...
Finally, many in this chamber - particularly on the Republican side of the aisle - have long insisted that reforming our medical malpractice laws can help bring down the cost of health care. I don't believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs. So I am proposing that we move forward on a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first and let doctors focus on practicing medicine. I know that the Bush Administration considered authorizing demonstration projects in individual states to test these issues. It's a good idea, and I am directing my Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on this initiative today.

I think this is a worthwhile idea and it throws something to the GOP. Will the Republicans take it? I don't know.

All in all, it was a good speech and he did put some more flesh on the bones of his plan. My problems with it is that he still has not really given a reasonable explaination as to why we need a public option and has not really tackled how to best pay for this plan in a way that won't bust the already busted budget. He also has not taken on the idea of junking the idea of employer-provided insurance, something that doesn't work in this age of employment mobility. My guess is that killing employer provided care would mean taking on labor, one the building blocks of the Democratic coalition.

The question remains if he can get Democrats to agree on this, and if Republicans are willing to step up and work on the plan.

I've said it before, but I think we need health care reform. The question remains if Obama's plan is a plan that will work.

Friday, September 04, 2009

President Obama Goes to School

My latest at the Progressive Republican:

President Obama Goes to School