I’m now no longer sure that Jack Z. can cure cancer, solve the Middle East, or work out how to properly run my university.
Archive for July, 2009
But it’s also worth offering a more general reality check here: The public option is not now, and has not ever, been the core of the argument for heath-care reform. It is the core of the fight in Washington, D.C. It is an important policy experiment. But it was not in Howard Dean or John Kerry or Dick Gephardt’s plans, and reformers supported those. It was not in Bill Clinton’s proposal, and most lament the death of that. It is not what politicians were using in their speeches five years ago. It is a recent addition to the debate, and a good one. But it is not the reason were are having this debate.
Rather, what has kept health-care reform at the forefront of liberal politics for decades is moral outrage that 47 million of our friends and neighbors are uninsured.
I certainly agree with this, as far as it goes. Obviously, the core of the argument for health care reform is universal coverage. And, indeed, there are better ways of achieving this than a public option and employer mandates, although they’re not on the table. My concern is whether or not a compromise bill will, in fact, provide politically sustainable universal coverage, or anything close to it. If Ezra (and Kevin) are right that even compromise legislation will, in fact accomplish a lot, then I agree that it’s worth supporting, and I guess we won’t know until we have actual legislation on the table, and I’m willing to keep an open mind.
Ezra also outlines a criteria we should use to evaluate whether a bill is worth passing:
If reformers cannot pass a strong health-care reform bill now, there is no reason to believe they will be able to do it later. The question is whether the knowledge that the system will not let you solve this problem should prevent you from doing what you can to improve it. Put more sharply, the question should be whether this bill is better or worse than another 19.5 years of the deteriorating status quo.
I agree with this, to a point. Anybody who’s read the many nasty things I’ve had to say about late-period Ralph Nader knows I’m not a heighten-the-contradictions guy. If the proposed bill represents a substantial improvement and is constructed in a way that it will be politically sustainable, I agree that it merits support. However, there also has to be a point in which the two premises start to contradict each other. It’s true that there may not be many more opportunities to pass a good health care reform bill. It is likely, however, that there will be plenty of chances to pass incremental reform that is far too expensive because of the need to buy off vested stakeholders. (The 2003 Medicare expansion, after all, passed with the Democrats holding none of the elected branches, and pretty much fits this description to a T.) If the bill gets bad enough, it’s not clear how much is being risked by trying again, perhaps after mid-term elections likely to be favorable to Senate Dems.
…and, yes, progressives are going to have to use threats if there’s any chance that the bill will be worth supporting. If only conservatives (in both party caucuses) are threatening to torpedo the bill it’s going to be bad.
[X-Posted at TAPPED.]
Ross Douthat gets the ball rolling:
These twists and turns make Iraq look less like either Vietnam or World War II — the analogies that politicians and pundits keep closest at hand — and more like an amalgamation of the Korean War and America’s McKinley-era counterinsurgency in the Philippines. Like Iraq, those were murky, bloody conflicts that generated long-term benefits but enormous short-term costs.
There is a certain vague similarity in that while I would say counterinsurgency in the Philippines “worked” it’s hard for me to see that it actually achieved anything. I mean, suppose the Philippines had obtained independence from the United States in the 1890s rather than the 1940s. How would my life be worse? How would any American’s life be worse? What “long-term benefits” actually accrued to us as a result of the counterinsurgency effort?
But the hinge point in U.S.-Philippine history — what yielded the friendship and closeness that the two nations presently enjoy — was the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. What the Japanese inflicted upon the Philippines and its people was by orders of magnitude far worse than anything the U.S. ever dared. You probably know the rest: MacArthur declares he Shall Return; he does; the battle of Leyte Gulf is one of the largest in the history of naval warfare; we drive the Japanese from the Philippines; the amount of gratitude is overwhelming; a partnership has been our inheritance ever since.
It’s really unclear what value Ross believes that the Philippines held for the United States. He could believe that they were a strategic asset for the US, or that the post-1946 relationship was an asset, or that the conquest and occupation was justified by the current Philippine democratic regime. All of these arguments are pretty unconvincing. On the strategic question, independence of the Philippines was threatened by actors other than the United States. Both Japan and Germany (yes, German Pacific imperialism [no pun intended] was to be taken seriously at the turn of the century) had an interest in the Philippines while it was held by Spain, and it’s not at all unlikely that either or both would have attempted to subjugate and independent Filipino state, or taken the Philippines away from Spain. This threat was understood to be serious by US policymakers. However, the conquest and occupation didn’t particularly help the US in World War II, as the archipelago was conquered in short order and at great cost to the US. David Silbey makes this point at greater length at Edge of the West; the islands ended up have virtually no strategic value to the United States. In this sense, Yglesias is quite correct; the brutal conquest of the Philippines earned the United States almost nothing in the long run.
It’s worth mentioning that US conquest and colonization was probably preferable from a Filipino point of view to either that of Japan or Germany, although this argument doesn’t take you very far. I don’t say this in order to justify US imperialism, or to suggest that the US was an altruistic, gentle conqueror. Germany and Japan were among the most brutal conquerors of the colonial period, and it does not justify US conduct to say that the Philippines probably fared better under US occupation than it would have under German or Japanese. This was not lost on the Filipinos; contra Ackerman, while there were some collaborators after the Japanese conquest of 1941-1942, resistance was more widespread in the Philippines (and better organized) than anywhere else in colonial Asia. The Filipino elite believed in US guarantees of independence, and behaved accordingly. However, and this needs to be made clear, ensuring the independence for the Philippines did not require its subjugation by the United States. There was considerable Filipino goodwill towards the United States in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, and there’s no question in my mind that some kind of defensive security arrangement between the United States and the First Philippine Republic would have been possible. Such an agreement could have secured some US economic and strategic interest while maintaining Philippine independence. I’m not convinced that the First Philippine Republic would have become a stable democracy, but then it’s not as if the regime created by the United States after 1946 stayed democratic.
On this last point, the idea that it was necessary for the United State to “tutor” the Filipinos in democracy for 46 years is insulting. First, any such argument runs aground on the name “Ferdinand Marcos.” US influence was hardly incidental to Marcos’ success. Second, as noted above, whatever positive effect the US wished to have over Filipino political institutions could have been achieved without the conquest and occupation. Taiwan and South Korea achieved relatively healthy, democratic political systems without suffering from US control over their domestic institutions.
So again, I’m mildly curious about just what Douthat seems to believe was the long term benefit of US brutality in the Philippines. If his point is the extremely modest “US imperialism was better than Japanese or German,” then fine, but that amounts to arguing that our torturers are more gentle than their torturers, so Go American!!! The US conquest of the Philippines was not, in my view, necessary to the accomplishment of any goal that reasonable people think nations should have.
This is kind of cool:
Eminent economists have told Queen Elizabeth II that the global financial downturn was brought about by a “psychology of denial” among the financial and political elite, a report said Sunday. In a three-page letter, the experts said “financial wizards” completely failed to “foresee the timing, extent and severity” of the credit crunch, according to The Observer newspaper, which said it had obtained a copy of the letter.
The letter was signed by political historian Peter Hennessy, and Tim Besley, a London School of Economics (LSE) professor and an external member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee. It spoke of the “psychology of denial” that gripped the political and financial world in the build-up to the crisis.
The economists said financial experts convinced themselves and the world’s politicians that they had found clever ways to spread risks across the markets.
During a visit to the LSE in November, Queen Elizabeth asked Professor Luis Garicano about the credit crunch, saying: “Why did nobody notice it?”
Question, though; did the Queen ever publicly ask why nobody noticed that the Iraq War was going to be a colossal fuck up, and ruin British military power for a generation? I don’t mean that as criticism of the Queen, and if she did ask some set of experts at some point, then nevermind. If she didn’t, however, I wonder why not; why can the Queen reasonably, publicly inquire why financial and economic experts failed, but not why strategic analysts, military commanders, and the political elite failed?
I don’t necessary agree with every nuance — to say that law isn’t determinate is different than saying that there is “no law” — but I’m still gratified to see this kind of analysis in a major publication:
In her opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Sonia Sotomayor said that she wanted to clear up some questions about her views. “In the past month, many senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy,” she said. “Simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make law—it is to apply the law.” Coming from a jurist of such distinction, this was a disappointing answer. Like much of her testimony, it suggested that the job of a Supreme Court Justice is merely to identify the correct precedents, apply them rigorously, and thus render appropriate decisions.
In fact, Justices have a great deal of discretion—in which cases they take, in the results they reach, in the opinions they write. When it comes to interpreting the Constitution—in deciding, say, whether a university admissions office may consider an applicant’s race—there is, frankly, no such thing as “law.” In such instances, Justices make choices, based largely, though not exclusively, on their political views of the issues involved. In reaching decisions this way, the Justices are not doing anything wrong; there is no other way to interpret the majestic vagueness of the Constitution. But the fact that Judge Sotomayor managed to avoid discussing any of this throughout four days of testimony is indicative of the way the confirmation process, as it is now designed, misleads the public about what it is that Justices do.
Like Toobin, I don’t blame Sotomayor (or Roberts, or Alito) for this — it’s how the game is played — but the number of analysts who take these statements seriously is pretty embarrassing.
Aside from the bullying in and of itself — perhaps an homage to the departed Bernazard? — what’s striking is that this is inept even as Machiavellian politics. Even if he succeeded in getting Rubin taken off the Mets beat for a while, this will obviously result in much greater media hostility overall, heading into an offseason where Minaya is going to need all the support he can get.
In broad strokes, I’ve seen the Mets tracing the history of my beloved early 80s Expos — a team with formidable front-line talent but holes management didn’t take seriously enough, following a heartbreaking deciding game playoff loss with two disappointing seasons and one disastrous one. Ironically, the Expos failed to win pennants they should have in part because they traded Bernazard — one of the better-hitting second basemen in baseball — in order to play the likes of Doug “.552 OPS with overrated defense” Flynn at second base. I suppose his executive career explains why they might have made the move…
Shorter Verbatim James Inhofe: “If their argument there is “Well, we don’t want to use oil and gas because we think it pollutes” — which it doesn’t.”
As if to prove this.