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January 25, 2007

Hillary Clinton's DLC Problem

Re: The Blog | Matt Stoller: Hillary Clinton's DLC Problem | The Huffington Post:

... a clear-eyed Democratic message[, Jim Webb's SOTU response] centered on two themes - inequality and Iraq. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the speech worked, since Webb and a whole host of Democrats just won a big election based on that message.

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January 23, 2007

Individual Health Plans Are Out Of Reach For Millions Of Americans

Re: Think Progress » SOTU: Individual Health Plans Are Out Of Reach For Millions Of Americans:

MILLIONS OF AMERICANS WILL BE UNABLE TO AFFORD EXPENSIVE INDIVIDUAL PLANS: Karen Pollitz, a Georgetown University researcher who co-authored a 2001 study on the individual health-insurance market for the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that people who aren’t in perfect health are largely unable to buy individual health insurance. In her study, Pollitz found that “roughly 90% of applicants in what’s known as less-than-perfect health were unable to buy individual policies at standard rates, while 37% were rejected outright.” Individual health insurers may deny coverage to people based on their medial history, or put them in “a high-risk category that it makes health coverage too expensive.”

January 22, 2007

Et Tu, George?

Re: Et Tu, George? - New York Times:

To me at least, Melville['s Moby Dick] captures the trajectory of the Bush years. It begins with a president who started out after 9/11 with immense support at home and abroad and a genuine mandate to fight terrorism. But then Mr. Bush became obsessed by his responsibility to prevent another terror attack.

This was an eminently worthy goal, but Mr. Bush abandoned traditional rules and boundaries — like bans on torture and indefinite detentions — and eventually blundered into Iraq. And in a way that Melville could have foretold, the compulsive search for security ended up creating insecurity.

Melville’s lesson is that even a heroic quest can be destructive when we abandon all sense of limits. And at a time when we hear the siren calls of moral clarity, the classics almost invariably emphasize the importance of moral nuance, an appreciation for complexity, the need for humility.

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Re: Frameshop: At 26%!! Bush Will Triangulate

[Submitted re: Frameshop: At 26%!! Bush Will Triangulate on 1/22/2007]

I think that one of the challenges of triangulation as a strategy is when it becomes focused too closely on finding a “center”. Triangulation as strategy is focused on “co-option” -- co-opting the otherside’s issues, but solved on your terms and therefore focused on outcomes that reflect your values and principles. But once one starts looking at solutions that are supposed to find the “center”, I think people often get confused -- loose the co-optiong as front-and-center approach -- because thinking of the center reverts people to the linear thinking (since that how most of us are wired, and not geometrically) and implies that it is about compromise -- and so they end up developing compromise rather than co-option solutions.

In fact, compromise is an important part of the political process, but it belongs more to tactics than strategy.

At least here’s how I think about it: co-option is a strategy for laying out where you want to go -- that is, part of campaign positioning, state of the union speeches, etc. -- Dick Morris’s notion of triangualation. Compromise is the process of give-and-take in order to get enough votes in congress to get a (co-option) bill passed that the president can then sign.

Ironically, the impression one gets of Hilary Clinton is that she spends all her time trying to do some complicated finding of the center, which compromises her positions as part of developing her strategy -- as opposed to Dick Morris triangulation, meaning co-opting the other side in order to bring them to your solution.

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January 21, 2007

Bush to Urge New Tax Plan for Health Care Coverage - New York Times

Re: Bush to Urge New Tax Plan for Health Care Coverage - New York Times:

...in an interview, Mr. Wyden was skeptical. He said any tax changes must be coupled with regulations that would encourage private insurance companies to offer affordable coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions.

“The market is broken,” Mr. Wyden said. “Private insurance companies cherry-pick. They’re trying to take just healthy people and send fragile people over to government programs more fragile than they are, and I’m not sure what this does to fix the broken market.”
The Census Bureau estimates that 175 million Americans obtain private health insurance through employers, while 27 million people are covered by insurance bought outside the workplace. The rest, with the exception of the 47 million uninsured, are covered through government programs like Medicare and Medicaid and military health care.   
It would work like this: The administration would cap the amount of benefits that can remain tax free at $15,000 for a family and $7,500 for an individual. Anyone whose health insurance cost more than that would pay taxes on the difference. For example, a family with coverage costing $16,000 a year would pay taxes on $1,000.

In the context of small tweaks to the current system, some elements of this make sense.  Why should CEO's get fancy healthcare coverage subsidized when they can afford it just fine.  To the extent that capping the deduction at $15,000 generates tax revenues that can allow us to expand the deduction to those buying insurance on their own, that increases fairness: why should only employer-provided healthcare premiums be deductible??

However, it doesn't do anything to address those who can't afford insurance today, or are, as Wyden points out, excluded from the health insurance market.  If you are making $30,000/year with no insurance today, the deduction won't allow you to suddenly be able to put $15,000 of that $30,000 into health insurance premiums.

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Bush pitches tax code change to expand healthcare coverage

Re: To expand health coverage, Bush pitches tax code change - Los Angeles Times:

The current tax breaks for health insurance are worth about $147 billion a year, surpassing the mortgage interest deduction. Not only is employerprovided health insurance tax-free for employees, but companies can also deduct the cost as a business expense.

There are two main reasons many economists and healthcare experts believe this system is flawed.

One is that it gives no help to people without employer provided coverage. In effect, that makes health insurance coverage even more prohibitive for small employers and the self-employed.

“It's an unlevel playing field in terms of providing support,” said Mark McClellan, who formerly headed Medicare and Medicaid and is a health economist and physician. “In the 21st century, we have more people working in self-employment, so there are more and more people who don't benefit from the tax exclusion.”

The other reason is that many economists believe an unlimited tax deduction for employer-provided coverage encourages wasteful healthcare spending.

Many of those who would have to pay more under Bush's plan are union workers who have negotiated generous health insurance packages. The plan is likely to be opposed not only by organized labor, but also by big employers, which fear that unions would push for bigger wage hikes if health benefits were curtailed.

Additionally to point two above, the unlimited deduction means that society is foregoing taxes on the super healthcare coverage of the superrich ... they don't need that “incentive” via a tax deduction.

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Re: The Equality Engineer

Re: George F. Will - The Equality Engineer - washingtonpost.com:

[Barney Frank] thinks he discerns cultural contradictions of conservatism: Some conservative policies -- free trade and tax and other policies that (he thinks) widen income inequalities -- undermine support for other conservative policies. When capitalism's “creative destruction,” intensified by globalization, churns the labor market and deepens the insecurities of millions of families, conservatives should not be surprised by the collapse of public support for free trade and an immigration policy adequate to the economy's needs.

Frank's solution, “fair trade,” is to use the threat of denying access to the American market to force less developed countries to adopt “minimal standards of civility,” meaning more expansive -- more American -- labor rights and environmental protections.

January 16, 2007

Re: Annual Sessions?

[Comment to Annual Sessions? 1/16/2008]

Oregon's tax system is both volatile and error prone.  Moving to annual budget sessions can help reduce the magnitude of forecasting errors since the time frame is cut in half -- one year at a time instead of two.  This is good.  But there is lots more to do to reform the tax system.

By meeting only every two years, I believe that the current legislative system encouragaes “overuse” of the ballot system -- as soon as it becomes clear that nothing will happen for an issue in a given session, it means that the next legislative opportunity is two years away but bringing out a ballot measure is much sooner.

Ballot measures are one-way affairs, written by the proponent of the measure without the compromise of the give-and-take of legislation, meaning that there are often many unforseen (or intentionally hidden) consequences.  I think they end up making the issues even more divisive, if not outright partisan -- because the only choices are “Yes” or “No”, and not “Yes, but ...” or “No, unless ...”.

Good governance says we should have annual legislative sessions.

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Civil war in Iraq might suit the West's interests

A very interesting take on Iraq:

Re: Civil war in Iraq might suit the West's interests - Comment - Times Online:

...From 9/11 onwards the West’s war on terror has essentially followed the ideological narrative of Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden: this is a war between Islam and the West. President Bush’s dismal war strategy has only intensified that narrative, and that storyline is easily the most powerful recruitment device for Islamist terrorists in the West.

But if America withdrew from Iraq and a Sunni-Shi’ite war took off, the narrative of the long war would inevitably change. It would go from Islam versus the West to Islam versus itself. Escalating conflict in the Arab Muslim world would only be fully explicable in terms of the Sunni-Shi’ite split.

Instantly, Sunni Al-Qaeda would have a serious enemy close at hand: Shi’ite Iran. Think of this not as a “divide and conquer” strategy so much as a “divide and get out of the way” strategy. And with deft handling it could conceivably reap dividends in the long run.

Wars, after all, are not just about guns and military action. They are also about ideas and ideology. Long wars, especially, are won by those who gain control of the narrative. The West won the cold war when it became understood globally as a battle between totalitarianism and freedom. Defining the conflict that way helped a great deal towards winning it, and in retrospect the Helsinki accords which publicly endorsed that narrative were the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union.

Similarly, redefining the war on terror as essentially the product of ancient feuds within Islam immediately shifts the argument onto terrain favourable to the West. For the first time in five years, it takes the narrative out of Bin Laden’s hands.

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January 14, 2007

Re: The American Way of Equality

[Submitted to the New York Times re: Re: The American Way of Equality 1/14/2007]

David Brooks complains in his column, The American Way of Equality (1/14/2007), that all the Democrats have done in the first few hours of congressional majority is to “push through a series of small proposals.”  He is disingenuous: even these “small pebbles” he decries have been blocked for years by Republicans and 70 - 80% of Americans want them, which only shows how awfully Republicans have governed and how appropriately the Democrats are starting out; (2) these are only the first few backlogged things out of the gate -- good governance means a longer period to develop comprehensive legislation, and (3) these are in fact positions the Democrats campaigned on.

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