Saturday, October 31, 2009

Real men don't read D.C. pundits

Brooks and Krauthammer try to macho-bait Obama into the McChrystal escalation in Afghanistan

Joan Walsh
October 31, 2009

Honestly, not a day goes by without something making me think about the fabulous Onion headline the day President Obama was elected:"Black man given nation's worst job." Just like African-Americans got to run the cities when they lost their manufacturing and tax base, Obama got to run the country as the Bush-Cheney recession seemed headed into a depression and the banking system approached collapse at home, all while facing two mismanaged wars and the threat of terror around the world.
He had a lot to complain about, and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has had enough. In Friday's Washington Post he called Obama a whiner:

Is there anything he hasn't blamed George W. Bush for? The economy, global warming, the credit crisis, Middle East stalemate, the deficit, anti-Americanism abroad -- everything but swine flu.

Wow, I look at that list and I think those are all things we should all blame Bush for, except swine flu. But what Krauthammer is really trying to do is elaborate on the Dick Cheney slur from last week: That Obama is "dithering" on Afghanistan, and he's "afraid" to make a decision.
Again, coming from the neocon Iraq war boosters who countenanced the abandonment of the Afghan war to fight a pointless war in Iraq, the criticism is galling. And the idea that the president may have been "dithering" when he went to visit the war dead at Dover Air Force Base this week is offensive. Obama knows what he has to do this week, and it's a good thing he took the time to let the mortal implications of his decisions sink in.
Even worse than Krauthammer's column today, though, was David Brooks in the New York Times. Partly it's because Brooks likes to pretend to be open-minded and reasonable, while spouting neocon talking points, and occasionally liberals get pulled in by him. But today was trademark lazy ideological Brooks. As Glenn Greenwald notes, unbelievably he bragged about "doing what journalists are supposed to do" -- which he defined as talking to a handful of anonymous pro-war sources, who uniformly criticized Obama's inaction to date on McCrystal's troop request.
That's some brave shit. Not quite David Rohde brave, but hey, he made the calls! If it was unanimous, that means he didn't call retired Marine Matthew Hoh, who resigned from a civilian post in Afghanistan this week because he said we can't win, and our presense is only fueling the insurgency. Hoh told the Washington Post's Karen de Young he's "not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love" and that he believes "there are plenty of dudes who need to be killed," adding: "I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys."
That question of toughness, macho, manhood, always comes up when we discuss what it would mean for Obama to get realistic about his two wars and get really serious about winding them down. David Brooks' worst Obama slur in his Friday column was the quietly outrageous, ad hominem, Peggy Noonan-ish revelation that his unanimous pro-war sources don't question Obama's smarts or understanding: "Their first concerns are about Obama the man." Oooooh. And here's how Brooks defines manhood: "tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion."
Brooks might protest that he meant "man" as a stand-in for "person," but it's hard to imagine him writing that sentence about President Hillary Clinton and saying, "Their first concerns are about Clinton the woman." Man equals warrior, and like Maureen Dowd before him, another Times columnist seems to be questioning Obama's manhood.
And yet I'm going to give Krauthammer one point: We're awfully close to a deadline for a big Obama decision on Afghanistan, especially since the president took one crack at the Bush-Cheney mess with a "comprehensive" new policy last March. Sure, after seven years of GOP neglect, it's a lot to expect an Obama plan to turn things around in seven months. Still, he committed himself to a new path in Afghanistan; so far there's little to show for it; his top commander in the country is publicly demanding more troops; it's time for him to lead. I am personally hoping he leads us out of the war, so I'm a little more patient than neocons who just want him to jump on McChrystal's recommendations. But even I have limits to my patience.
Next year we'll have been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviets were. Increasingly, we know we're propping up a corrupt, illegitimate government. Hamid Karzai's brother is on the CIA's payroll. Today talks between Karzai and presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah broke down, and while it's going to be hard to trust next week's runoff election, it's looming as crucial. I don't think Obama can or should be expected to launch a brand-new strategy with so much uncertainty this week, but I'm hoping he's listening to the folks preaching counterterrorism, and not McChrystal's version of counterinsurgency, which seems a blueprint for a Soviet-style quagmire and defeat. Most important, I hope he's not listening to Krauthammer or Brooks, because despite their translating Cheney's dithering slur into other big words, they'll never applaud decisiveness unless it endorses their war-without-end world view.
Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc. 

Friday, October 30, 2009

A GOP Civil War in Upstate New York

Bill Owens, the Democratic Party, Dierdre Scozzafava, the Republican Party candidate and Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate for New York's 23rd Congressional District.
(From L. to R.): Mike Lynch / Adirondack Daily Enterprise / AP; Jessica Collier / Adirondack Daily Enterprise / AP (2)

Kate Pickert
October 30, 2009
My home Congressional district, New York's 23rd, may cover 14,000 square miles of what's known as the North Country, but in many ways, it's really one big small town. With a population of just over 650,000 — most of whom are white and working- or middle-class — the key issues in the rural district that sprawls across the northeast part of the state are typically things like the future of the local Army base, falling milk prices and whether anyone can ever lure enough jobs back to the area to replace those lost when the region's manufacturing sector dried up in the 1980s and 1990s.

The current campaign to represent the place where I grew up and also worked as a beat newspaper reporter, however, is anything but typical — or local. For starters, there are three unorthodox candidates: A pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage, pro-union Republican; a registered independent running on the Democratic ticket; and a Conservative who doesn't live in the district and may well win — or play the part of GOP spoiler and help elect a Democrat to a seat occupied by Republicans since the 1800s — despite skipping most chances to appear publicly with his opponents. But even these three personalities aren't what make the campaign to replace former Republican Rep. John McHugh — tapped to be President Obama's Secretary of the Army — downright weird. What's making it weird — at least from the perspective of many of my former neighbors and colleagues — is all the attention focused on an area usually perceived by outsiders as merely remote. (The Wall Street Journal recently described the 23rd as "a part of New York so far north it actually abuts Canada." Actually!) (See pictures of Republican memorabilia.)

"It's surreal," says Scott Atkinson, news director at WWNY, the main television station in the district's largest city of Watertown. "From where we are, there are all these local issues to contend with. But then we turn on the tube and we're watching this weird parallel universe of the talking heads talking about this as the future of the Republican Party."

So how did this happen? After McHugh — a moderate, environmentally friendly Republican re-elected to the seat eight times — accepted Obama's nomination, local Democratic and Republican leaders chose their respective candidates. Bill Owens, an attorney with left of center views, was the choice of the Democrats, while Dede Scozzafava, a moderate state assemblywoman from the district, was the pick of the local GOP. Doug Hoffman, an accountant living over the district line in Lake Placid, then declared his own candidacy with the backing of the state's Conservative Party leaders, who had opted not to endorse Scozzafava. Now, Scozzafava has the support of the official GOP party establishment — including House Minority Leader John Boehner and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele — while Hoffman has garnered endorsements from other prominent Republicans (and probable 2012 GOP presidential candidates) like Sarah Palin and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, as well as conservative former U.S. senators like Rick Santorum and Fred Thompson. Hoffman is also a favorite of talk-show host Glenn Beck and tea-party activists across the country.

Jeff Graham, the mayor of Watertown and a member of the Independence Party, says Hoffman is "a meek, soft-spoken guy who is mad as hell and just decided to go ahead and do this 2009 version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And it seems to be working." Upstate political observers say Hoffman has struck a chord with voters based on his deficit reduction message and pro-life stance. He also supports a flat tax and lists four other "issues" on his campaign website's homepage: "Gay Marriage," "Bank Bailout," "No Pork Pledge" and "ACORN." "I'm fighting for the heart and soul of the Republican Party," says Hoffman, who helped manage the finances of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

What's not clear is how much he knows about my district. He showed up for just one debate, citing scheduling conflicts on other occasions. In an interview with the editorial board of my old employer, the Watertown Daily Times, Hoffman was asked about a new super-highway that had been proposed years ago for the district but needs federal funding. No opinion. Where did he stand on the controversial idea of dredging the St. Lawrence River, which forms the district's border with Canada? No comment. A subsequent editorial in the Times described Hoffman as "flustered and ill-at-ease" and said he "showed no grasp of the bread-and-butter issues pertinent to district residents." It didn't help that Hoffman brought along former House Majority Leader (and staunch conservative) Dick Armey with him to the editorial board meeting — Armey called the local issues "parochial" and said the editorial board ambushed his candidate. Hoffman also says he opposes pork-barrel spending, the kind of federal cash infusions a rural, economically depressed, military-heavy area like the North Country depends on.

But then, the race in the 23rd is no longer about local issues. It's about a Republican Party with little current power inside the Beltway searching for a way out of the wilderness. And it's about conservative Republicans sending a message — the future of the party is the conservative base. (It's also, incidentally, about money; according to the Federal Election Commission, more than $650,000 has flowed to the candidates from independent groups just since Oct. 24.) "The 23rd has as little significance as Gettysburg. It's just where the Armies met," says Bob Gorman, managing editor of the Times and my old boss. "Everybody was looking for a fight and that's where they found each other."

The money flowing to Hoffman's campaign from conservative interest groups has been used to paint Scozzafava as a leftist. True, Scozzafava supports abortion rights, gay marriage and the pro-union legislation known as Card Check. But she's also endorsed by the National Rifle Association, supported the Bush tax cuts, and opposes to much of Obama's health care plan. "Whether you agree with Scozzafava or not or whether you like her politics or not, there's this real cognitive dissonance between the woman that we know and this bizarre caricature of her that's being described out there," says Atkinson, of WWNY. "Now she's like a stand-in for Mao and it's just bizarre."

Scozzafava hasn't exactly helped herself. At one point she called 911 after a Weekly Standard reporter followed her to her car asking her questions about taxes. The gaffe soon became fodder for a Hoffman radio ad. Then Scozzafava, hoping to chide Hoffman into participating in more debates, appeared in front of his headquarters as a one-woman protest - an image that would make any political handler cringe.

Based on the most recent polls, it seems Scozzafava has little chance of winning; her support is trending downward, while Hoffman is gaining ground, putting him in a tight race with Owens — with only four days left until voters go to the polls. The newest television ad on Hoffman's campaign website attacks Owens, now perceived as a bigger rival than Scozzafava. And on Thursday, Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Politico Hoffman would be welcomed "with open arms" into the GOP caucus, no doubt to the dismay of the party's official candidate in the race. 

© 2009 Time Inc. All rights reserved

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sarah Palin Friends Doug Hoffman

Chris Kelly
The Huffington Post
October 23, 2009

I was a man who had many friends,
And many friends had me.

I used to pump gas about an hour north of where Doug Hoffman used to pump gas. I don't know if that makes us kindred spirits or ancient enemies. I know it makes us both old. ("What do you mean, you used to pump gas? For who? The Romans?") Now Doug Hoffman is the Conservative Party nominee for Congress in New York's 23rd District.

And I hate to say this about a fellow former pump jockey, but he's hooked up with some really loathsome people.

Doug Hoffman didn't want to be in the Conservative Party. He's not crazy. He wanted to be the Republican nominee. He applied, but the party chose someone else; a woman named Dede Scozzafava. Doug Hoffman was shocked by this decision, since he had that gas station experience going for him, and all Scozzafava had was six terms in the Assembly and four years as Mayor of Gouverneur. So he did what any modest, principled, grass-roots-centered, we-the-people-type citizen legislator would do: He got in touch with a fringe party and told them he was wiling to spend $250,000 of his own money to run.

Because that's what it means to have a servant's heart.
And a midlife crisis.

Barack Obama got 52% of the votes in the 23rd in 2008. Dede Scozzafava had the Republicans. Where could Doug Hoffman turn?

To a traveling freak show of evil creeps who want to use a misguided mediocrity to jerk around the people of upstate New York for shits and giggles.

To Glenn Beck, Gary Bauer, Sean Hannity, Michele Bachmann, Michelle Malkin, Dick Armey and, yesterday, like the churning of milk bringing forth butter and the wringing of the nose bringing forth blood, to Sarah Palin's Facebook page.

It's like Commissioner Gordon lit up the batshit signal.

He also has the support of the Club for Growth, the National Review, the Weekly Standard and Human Events. Or, as Sarah Palin puts it:
And best of all, Doug Hoffman has not been anointed by any political machine.

She's still got it.

He hasn't just been anointed by a political machine. He's been kidnapped by drifters.
Of course they're a machine. They're also rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers and horse thieves. And worst of all, they're not even from around here.

They're all from out of state.

According to the Watertown Daily Times:
Aside from his own personal wealth, Mr. Hoffman has paid for his congressional campaign almost entirely with money from outside New York...

The Club for Growth PAC, based in Washington, has contributed more than $95,000 to Mr. Hoffman's campaign through bundled funds, out of $307,888 he has raised, according to the FEC report. The Citizens United Political Action Fund, a conservative group, gave $10,000.

He also accepted $1,000 from the God is Not Government PAC, based in Washington, which describes itself as a "real religious right Political Action Committee" that can "run radio and TV ads favoring conservative Christian candidates" and requires its recipients to affirm in writing that they "are pro-life, pro-family and stand firmly against the unbiblical welfare state that is destroying the spiritual and economic greatness of our nation."

Sure, if you believe the liberal elite drive-by media, like the Watertown Daily Times. And not the feisty local little guys, like Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, where the editorial page has called for Scozzafava to step aside for Hoffman or risk turning America into "Dede's Police State."

Don't say you weren't warned, Oswego.

Listen, I'm in no position to say the people of upstate New York shouldn't vote for Sarah Palin's candidate. What do I know? My grandfather left Watertown in the 1930s, so we've never lived under Dede Scozzafava's iron heel. My step-grandfather, stepfather, mother and sisters all settled in the chilly Diaspora of Cortland, miles over the county line. If messages are smuggled to my cousins in Malone, I'm not endangering them by telling you.

And Doug Hoffman can do what he wants, including go into business with unspeakably sleazy characters.

But no one in New York should get the wrong impression, like that he's doing it for Watertown.

Copyright © 2009, Inc.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Good healthcare policy makes good politics -- and vice versa

Forget Olympia Snowe; pass the right healthcare bill, and voters will reward you

David Sirota
October 17, 2009

 I don’t get it.

I know that’s the simplistic refrain of every 10-year-old, but I’m 33 and I mean it: I just don’t get it.
Specifically, I don’t get why Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine -- or any Republican senator, for that matter -- is attracting so much attention.

In the last few months, Democratic senators eliminated the public option and substantially weakened their healthcare proposals in order to buy insurance industry acquiescence and, thus, Snowe’s vote. Now, based on the deafening media noise, all of American politics is focused on this unaccomplished backbencher and whether or not she will endorse the final bill. It is as if Republicans control Congress -- as if Snowe, not Barack Obama, won the biggest presidential landslide since Ronald Reagan.
This is bizarre for what should be obvious reasons.

First of all, Snowe's much-celebrated initial vote this week for an embarrassingly flaccid healthcare initiative wasn't necessary to pass the bill -- Democrats had enough votes to move the legislation out of the Senate Finance Committee without her approval. That's a mathematical fact, as is the fact that Democrats control the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster with or without Snowe; as is the fact that Democrats have the 51 votes to enact healthcare reform through a parliamentary procedure called reconciliation -- again, with or without Snowe.

So the notion that Snowe’s vote -- or any other GOP vote -- is inherently pivotal to healthcare reform is a fantasy created by the Beltway media and the Democratic congressional leadership. The former is desperately trying to manufacture headline-grabbing drama; the latter is looking for a Republican excuse to water down the bill and protect corporate interests -- all while absolving Democrats of legislative responsibility.

Second, the idea that Snowe’s support will result in the final legislation being called "bipartisan" -- and that such billing will politically protect Democrats -- is absurd. How do we know this? Because Democrats themselves taught us that via the Iraq war.

Recall that with solid Democratic and Republican backing, the 2002 Iraq resolution was far more "bipartisan" than any healthcare bill will ever be. Yet, Democrats turned right around and used the Iraq war to criticize Republicans -- and because the conflict was so wildly unpopular, Americans in 2006 and 2008 were willing to overlook the contradiction and vote for the only major party echoing any semblance of an antiwar message.
On healthcare, it will be the same in reverse: The GOP will invariably attempt to turn any bill into an electoral cudgel against Democrats -- regardless of how many Republicans end up voting for it
The lesson, then, is simple: If the Democrats’ hypocritical Iraq criticism worked only because the war was such a disaster, then the GOP’s inevitable healthcare attacks -- however hypocritical -- can be thwarted only by making healthcare reform the opposite of Iraq (that is, a major success). For Democrats, in other words, good healthcare policy is great politics, and bad policy is the worst politics.

Whether passed by one congressional vote or 50, real reform that improves the system (a bill with a public option, tough insurance regulation and universal coverage) will transform the Democratic Party into an election-winning force forever known as "the generous protector of middle-class interests," as GOP strategist William Kristol admits. Conversely, even if passed unanimously, bad legislation that makes the system worse (a bill empowering insurance companies, preventing a public option, and leaving millions uncovered) will make GOP criticism of Democrats extremely effective.

That's a truism, no matter if Snowe or any other Republicans add their support to a healthcare bill that doesn’t actually need it in the first place.

© 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Two Wrongs Make Another Fiasco

Frank Rich
Columnist Op-Ed
The New York Times
October 10, 2009

THOSE of us who love F. Scott Fitzgerald must acknowledge that he did get one big thing wrong. There are second acts in American lives. (Just ask Marion Barry, or William Shatner.) The real question is whether everyone deserves a second act. Perhaps the most surreal aspect of our great Afghanistan debate is the Beltway credence given to the ravings of the unrepentant blunderers who dug us into this hole in the first place.

Let’s be clear: Those who demanded that America divert its troops and treasure from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002 and 2003 — when there was no Qaeda presence in Iraq — bear responsibility for the chaos in Afghanistan that ensued. Now they have the nerve to imperiously and tardily demand that America increase its 68,000-strong presence in Afghanistan to clean up their mess — even though thenumber of Qaeda insurgents there has dwindled to fewer than 100, according to the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones.

But why let facts get in the way? Just as these hawks insisted that Iraq was “the central front in the war on terror” when the central front was Afghanistan, so they insist that Afghanistan is the central front now that it has migrated to Pakistan. When the day comes for them to anoint Pakistan as the central front, it will be proof positive that Al Qaeda has consolidated its hold on Somalia and Yemen.

To appreciate this crowd’s spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’sconstant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.

What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.

Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCaingave Musharraf a thumb’s up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.

He takes no responsibility for any of this. Asked by Katie Couric last week about our failures in Afghanistan, McCain spoke as if he were an innocent bystander: “I think the reason why we didn’t do a better job on Afghanistan is our attention — either rightly or wrongly — was on Iraq.” As Tonto says to the Lone Ranger, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”

Along with his tribunes in Congress and the punditocracy, Wrong-Way McCain still presumes to give America its marching orders. With his Senate brethren in the Three Amigos, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, he took to The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page to assert that “we have no choice” but to go all-in on Afghanistan — rightly or wrongly, presumably — just as we had in Iraq. Why? “The U.S. walked away from Afghanistan once before, following the Soviet collapse,” they wrote. “The result was 9/11. We must not make that mistake again.”

This shameless argument assumes — perhaps correctly — that no one in this country remembers anything. So let me provide a reminder: We already did make that mistake again when we walked away from Afghanistan to invade Iraq in 2003 — and we did so at the Three Amigos’ urging. Then, too, they promoted their strategy as a way of preventing another 9/11 — even though no one culpable for 9/11 was in Iraq. Now we’re being asked to pay for their mistake by squandering stretched American resources in yet another country where Al Qaeda has largely vanished.

To make the case, the Amigos and their fellow travelers conflate the Taliban with Al Qaeda much as they long conflated Saddam’s regime with Al Qaeda. But as Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post reported on Thursday, American intelligence officials now say that “there are few, if any, links between Taliban commanders in Afghanistan today and senior Al Qaeda members” — a far cry from the tight Taliban-bin Laden alliance of 2001.

The rhetorical sleights of hand in the hawks’ arguments don’t end there. If you listen carefully to McCain and his neocon echo chamber, you’ll notice certain tics. President Obama better make his decision by tomorrow, or Armageddon (if not mushroom clouds) will arrive. We must “win” in Afghanistan — but victory is left vaguely defined. That’s because we will never build a functioning state in a country where there has never been one. Nor can we score a victory against the world’s dispersed, stateless terrorists by getting bogged down in a hellish landscape that contains few of them.

Most tellingly, perhaps, those clamoring for an escalation in Afghanistan avoid mentioning the name of the country’s president, Hamid Karzai, or the fraud-filled August election that conclusively delegitimized his government. To do so would require explaining why America should place its troops in alliance with a corrupt partner knee-deep in the narcotics trade. As long as Karzai and the election are airbrushed out of history, it can be disingenuously argued that nothing has changed on the ground since Obama’s inauguration and that he has no right to revise his earlier judgment that Afghanistan is a “war of necessity.”

Those demanding more combat troops for Afghanistan also avoid defining the real costs. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the war was running $2.6 billion a month in Pentagon expenses alone even before Obama added 20,000 troops this year. Surely fiscal conservatives like McCain and Graham who rant about deficits being “generational theft” have an obligation to explain what the added bill will be on an Afghanistan escalation and where the additional money will come from. But that would require them to use the dread words “sacrifice” and “higher taxes” when they want us to believe that this war, like Iraq, would be cost-free.

The real troop numbers are similarly elusive. Pre-emptively railing against the prospect of “half measures” by Obama, Lieberman asked MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell rhetorically last week whether it would be “real counterinsurgency” or “counterinsurgency light.” But the measure Lieberman endorses — Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s reported recommendation of 40,000 additional troops — is itself counterinsurgency light. In his definitive recent field manual on the subject, Gen. David Petraeus stipulates that real counterinsurgency requires 20 to 25 troops for each thousand residents. That comes out, conservatively, to 640,000 troops for Afghanistan (population, 32 million). Some 535,000 American troops couldn’t achieve a successful counterinsurgency in South Vietnam, which had half Afghanistan’s population and just over a quarter of its land area.

Lieberman suggested to Mitchell that we could train an enhanced, centralized Afghan army to fill any gaps. In how many decades? The existing Afghan “army” is small, illiterate, impoverished and as factionalized as the government. For his part, McCain likes to justify McChrystal’s number of 40,000 by imbuing it with the supposedly magical powers of the “surge” in Iraq. But it’s rewriting history to say that the “surge” brought “victory” to Iraq. What it did was stanch the catastrophic bleeding in an unnecessary war McCain had helped gin up. Lest anyone forget, we still don’t know who has “won” in Iraq.

Afghanistan is not Iraq. It is poorer, even larger and more populous, more fragmented and less historically susceptible to foreign intervention. Even if the countries were interchangeable, the wars are not. No one-size surge fits all. President Bush sent the additional troops to Iraq only after Sunni leaders in Anbar Province soured on Al Qaeda and reached out for American support. There is no equivalent “Anbar Awakening” in Afghanistan. Most Afghans “don’t feel threatened by the Taliban in their daily lives” and “aren’t asking for American protection,” reported Richard Engel of NBC News last week. After eight years of war, many see Americans as occupiers.

Americans, meanwhile, want to see the fine print after eight years of fiasco with little accounting. While McCain and company remain frozen where they were in 2001, many of their fellow citizens have learned from the Iraq tragedy. Polls persistently find that the country is skeptical about what should and can be accomplished in Afghanistan. They voted for Obama not least because they wanted a new post-9/11 vision of national security, and they will not again be so easily bullied by the blustering hawks’ doomsday scenarios. That gives our deliberating president both the time and the political space to get this long war’s second act right.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

And herein lies the problem with the private insurance model

Brilliant at Breakfast
Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The New York Times reports that the goals of coverage and affordability in health insurance may be mutually exclusive (in other news, sun expected to rise in east today):

As Democrats prepare to take up health care legislation on the floor of the Senate and the House, they are facing tough choices about two competing priorities. They want people to pay affordable prices for health insurance policies, but they want those policies to offer comprehensive health benefits.

These goals collide in the bills moving through Congress. The different versions of the legislation would all require insurance companies to provide coverage more generous than many policies sold in the individual market today. That is good for consumers, Democrats say.

But Republicans say the new requirements would mean added costs for some consumers and for the government, which would help pay premiums for millions of low- and middle-income people.

That tension between keeping costs low and improving coverage is just one of many challenges facing Congress and the Obama administration as they head toward the final stages of the effort to pass health care legislation.

Under the legislation, the government would not only require insurers to accept all applicants. It would also define the acceptable levels of coverage.

Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, said the federal government had to specify coverage levels because the benefits under many existing insurance policies were inadequate.

“We have more than 46 million people who are uninsured,” Mr. Bingaman said. “We also have a substantial number who are underinsured. Although they have coverage, it is so bad or so inadequate that if they really get sick, they find they cannot afford the health care they need.”

But the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, Jon Kyl of Arizona, said it was “an act of hubris” for Congress to prescribe the permissible coverage.

“For the life of me,” Mr. Kyl said, “I don’t see why Washington has to dictate what kind of insurance you get to buy. Why not let the consumer decide?”

Perhaps because more often than not, the policies the consumer buys are worth about as much for providing health care as the products sold by Ryan O'Neal's door-to-door bible salesman in 
Paper Moon, as Dawn Smith found out:

Is everyone who is denied payment of claims going to be able to get his or her story in front of people the way Dawn Smith has? Of course not. And that's what the insurance companies are relying on -- the millions of people who fight with these companies every day in order to get medical care that is supposed to be covered under their plans paid.

This is why when I hear talk of "coverage" in the context of health care reform I cringe. Because "coverage" is what's on paper. But absolutely nothing is being said on Capitol Hill about actually paying claims. And that's why I'm desperately afraid that what comes out of Congress is going to be far worse than what we have now. At least now those who cannot afford "market-based" insurance aren't paying up to $15,000/year for family coverage that covers very little. What Congress is talking about is forcing them to buy "coverage" -- and doing nothing to address the hoops that these companies make people jump through in order to actually get their care paid.

The answer, of course, is not to do nothing, or to stand on a street corner holding a picture of Barack Obama with a Hitler mustache. The answer is not "government-run health care." The answer is a single-payer plan in which everyone receives REAL coverage for health care, not promises from for-profit companies which they have no intention to fulfill.

Copyright 2009