And now, Yemen!

Apparently Iraq and Afghanistan are not enough for an exhausted military or its commander-in-chief. The United States has launched two missile attacks against insurgents in Yemen, on the tired pretext of attacking “al Qaeda bases in the provinces of Sana’a and Abyan,” presumed facilities of an organization invented by neoconservatives that never seems to really exist in any real numbers except where the U.S. creates it by massacring civilians.

“The government took pride in saying that some al Qaeda members have been targeted in this monstrous operation, while it knows very well where do these wanted elements move around,” [Ali Husayn] Ashal[, a member of Parliament and a leader in the opposition Islah Party,] said, according to Al “These elements move around openly and publicly before the government’s eyes. The government can, at any given time, target those who are believed to be outlaws, without inflicting dozens of innocent casualties.”

It’s entirely too convenient. A Nigerian man boards a plane in Lagos, changes planes in Amsterdam, and after clearing security at both airports, ridiculously bungles an attempt to blow up an airliner as it approaches Detroit. According to the Washington Post,

Federal officials have strongly suggested to lawmakers that the Nigerian man who attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight has connections to the al Qaeda terrorist network in Yemen. . . . A Yemeni government official said his government is looking into claims that Abdulmutallab came to Yemen to pick up the explosive device and instructions on how and when to deploy it. But the official cautioned it could take time before Yemeni immigration authorities could determine if he entered the country. His name is relatively common and also can be spelled in different ways.

The story is developing: Juan Cole has pointed to a CNN report that, in Cole’s phrasing, “Sometime in late October [Abdul Mutallib] sent [his] family a text message that he was going off to Yemen and that the family would find it difficult to trace him because he was throwing away his phone’s sim card. So it appears that he was recruited into a radical Salafi cell in the United Arab Emirates that sent him to Yemen.”

I think Cole is being careful about using a message that Mutallib is “throwing away his phone’s sim card” as evidence that Mutallib joined up with al Qaeda. According to, “Salafi is a term often used to describe fundamentalist islamic thought. . . . However, ‘Salafism’ is not inherently synonymous with violence, terrorism, or radicalism.” The term is so generic that stresses the distinctions between four Salafist categories. Only one of these, the “Jihadist Salafis” include “followers of al-Qaeda and like-minded local groups.”

But according to a logic that all fundamentalist Muslims must be terrorists, and all terrorists are members of al Qaeda, it follows that the Shia insurgency in Yemen must be affiliated with al Qaeda. Never mind that Shi’ites and Wahhabis don’t get along; hence Saudi Arabia’s support for Yemen’s government. Never mind that the rebel group, the Houthi are not connected to al Qaeda. Never mind that Yemen is “a country tearing itself apart, with civil war raging in the north and armed demonstrations calling for independence in the south.” Never mind that al Qaeda sees Shi’ism as a greater threat than the Christians and the Jews and that the feeling is apparently mutual. Never mind that the Council on Foreign Relations puts the number of al Qaeda in Yemen only in the dozens. It would be al Qaeda that Mutallib hooked up with.

And indeed we have Mutallib’s word that he was an agent for al Qaeda. And though the Obama administration claims that Mutallib bought his ticket on the day before the missile attacks, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also claims responsibility, saying that Mutallib’s attack was in retaliation for the missile attacks. On the word of this lonely and conflicted (I had initially written, “bumbling, deranged”) idiot, and on the word of a group that has an interest in provoking the U.S. into massacring civilians, we massacre civilians and create a post hoc rationalization for involving ourselves in Yemen’s civil war. Indeed Senator Joe Lieberman is calling for a preemptive attack, saying “an administration official told him that ‘Iraq was yesterday’s war, Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war.'”

So never mind a lot of things. I’ve got a correlation at least as valid as the logic for attacking Yemeni territory: George W. Bush was suffering in the public opinion surveys when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Barack Obama hasn’t been doing so well himself, lately.

And here’s another one: The economy was deteriorating rapidly in 2001; a recession officially started in March 2001. The economy now? Not so hot. Many economists think we’re climbing out of the recession that began in December 2007, but this has yet to appear for ordinary Americans. Yes, politicians have, even by political scientists, been suspected of using war to distract from domestic problems.

I’ve been updating this posting since early Saturday afternoon, as I’ve thought about this further, and as I’ve put together more information. And it seems really strange that now, out of the blue, the U.S. has involved itself in a remote civil war, in a country the West has largely ignored for decades, when the whole world knows that the U.S. cannot sustain another land campaign, which means that any contribution it will make will be aerial, which means that it will mostly kill civilians.

There is a geostrategic angle to this that is a little more than theoretical with a number of factors pointing at Iran. Yemen sits opposite the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, from which pirates have been raising havoc with shipping passes through the Red Sea en route to the Suez Canal. It’s close to the Persian Gulf and it very much appears the insurgency in Yemen is a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. An earlier report suggested “that Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran’s nuclear sites.” (Both Saudi Arabia and Israel have denied the report.) And the U.S., which also has been threatening Iran and which already counts Saudi Arabia as an ally, has–at least according to Yemen–signed a military cooperation deal with Yemen. (The U.S. has neither confirmed the deal nor disclosed the terms.)

If Mutallib was working for the Houthi insurgents rather than for al Qaeda, his attempt to blow up the airliner might be seen as a response from Iran or its proxy to the U.S. missile attacks. In the logic of asymmetric conflict, where the conventional power values the lives of its people much more highly than the insurgents value the lives of the people they’re supposedly fighting for (a phenomenon seen most visibly in the Israel-Palestinian conflict where Israel will exchange multitudes of Palestinians for a small number of Israelis), this can be seen as an escalation. In short and in poker terms, Iran is calling and raising the U.S. bluff.

There is some question where the U.S. will get the troops to sustain its present commitments. Its land forces are spent. It cannot even take on the Yemen conflict except under the illusion that aerial attacks will do any good. And it is playing with Iran. A poll taken in October suggests higher U.S. public support for an attack for Iran than under the Bush administration but Obama has been taking flak from progressives for among other things, his foolhardy escalation in Afghanistan, largely justified as a war against al Qaeda, which Obama conflates with the Taliban.

Obama conflates al Qaeda with the Taliban, and now his administration conflates the Houthi with al Qaeda. According the the New York Times, “administration officials and American lawmakers said Yemen could become Al Qaeda’s next operational and training hub, rivaling the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan where the organization’s top leaders operate.” The Washington Post explains that “the current AQAP generation has its roots in a February 2006 jailbreak of 23 prisoners from a maximum-security prison in Sanaa, the capital.” But neither story mentions the Shia insurgency. Neoconservatives will be delighted. And a lot of people are going to die for no good reason.

Nowhere to go

Earlier this year, when the tea party protests were getting seriously out of hand, I decided I would leave the country. I set my sights on Canada, preferably the Vancouver area, because I was deeply distressed by what I saw as a strongly possible forthcoming fascist takeover. I’m still worried about that possibility, but Canada has its own problems as illustrated by Amy Goodman’s detention at the border and by a constitutional coup. Its hypocrisy on climate change derives from Alberta’s oil sands and its Governor General ate harp seal meat as a gesture of solidarity with brutal seal hunters. Canada is the only western country who still has a citizen in detention in Guantanamo Bay and refuses to try to get him out of U.S. custody. And Canada has been sending war deserters back to the U.S. These are all things that give me pause but I’m guessing I’d still be better off there than here.

Still, when I went to visit a friend who was feeling down, she demanded that I stay, saying that this country needs me. It hasn’t offered me a job, I replied. If it needs me so badly, why can’t I earn a living? But I guess either I’m not the only one willing to move north or the immigration hassles are too burdensome for colleges to want to deal with. So despite the fact that college teachers are in short supply in Canada, none of the resumes I’ve sent have drawn any response whatsoever.

Now the U.S. is beating a war drum for a war in Yemen. As the country’s political leadership obscures important differences between al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, it is also obscuring a flat out contradiction between the Houthi rebels and al Qaeda in Yemen. I am sickened and aghast that yet another war may be launched in my name. Never mind that it is on false pretenses, just like the other two already in progress.

I honestly don’t know what to do. I don’t have the luxury of just saying it’s okay for Obama to bail out the banks while leaving the unemployed to twist in the wind; I’m out of money, now. My 69-year old mother, who should be enjoying her retirement, is having to feed and house me. And it is absolutely intolerable that the only way the U.S. can deal with international conflict is through massive killing expeditions.

I can’t stay. But I have nowhere to go.

A profoundly distorted view of this country

Quite some time ago, I asked, how is (the Reverend Jeremiah) Wright wrong? Barack Obama’s former pastor had “married Obama and his wife Michelle, baptized their two daughters and is credited by Obama for the title of his book, ‘The Audacity of Hope.'” And on September 16, 2001, the Sunday following the 9/11 attacks, he gave the following sermon (transcript via ABC News):

I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday, did anybody else see him or hear him? He was on Fox News, this is a white man, and he was upsetting the Fox News commentators to no end. He pointed out, did you see him John, a white man, and he pointed out, an ambassador, that what Malcolm X said when he got silenced by Elijah Mohammed was in fact true, America’s chickens . . . are coming home to roost. We took this country by terror, away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arowak, the Comanche, the Arapahoe, the Navajo. Terrorism. We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism. We bombed Granada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers, and hardworking fathers. We bombed Qaddafi’s home and killed his child. Blessed are they who bash your children’s head against a rock. We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to payback for the attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of hardworking people, mothers and fathers who left home to go that day not knowing that they would never get back home. We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye. Kids playing in the playground, mothers picking up children from school, civilians, not soldiers, people just trying to make it day by day.

We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and Black South Africans and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.

The British government failed, the Russian government failed, the Japanese government failed, the German government failed, and the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese decent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. The government put them in chains. She put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in sub-standard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education, and locked them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three strike law, and then wants us to sing God Bless America. . . no, no, no

Not God bless America, God damn America. That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme. The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent. Think about this, think about this.

For every one Oprah, a billionaire, you’ve got 5 million blacks who out of work. For every one Colin Powell, a millionaire, you’ve got 10 million blacks who cannot read. For every one Condoleeza Rice, you’ve got 1 million in prison. For every one Tiger Woods, who needs to get beat, at the Masters, with his cap, blazin’ hips playing on a course that discriminates against women. God has his way of bringing you up short when you get to big for your cap, blazin britches. For every one Tiger Woods, we got 10,000 black kids who will never see a golf course. The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent.

I still want to know how Wright was wrong. Obama simply declared of Wright’s comments that:

they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country — a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America, a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Rev. Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems — two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

It was a moving speech, made all the more poignant when Obama said of Wright, “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”

But Obama did disown Wright and he did so without ever explaining just how it was that Wright was wrong. That lack of integrity, that willingness to throw his own people under the bus for the sake of his own political ambition, would be echoed when “since day one of the inauguration, many of us have been shocked to see Obama going into reverse on his campaign pledges faster than Lewis Hamilton in an F1 car.”

But we have been asked to understand that “the world’s big problems are inherently complex and difficult, that solutions are inescapably imperfect,” as if this could rationalize sheer avarice. We are to believe that “politicians are neither bad nor stupid,” as if this could somehow account for Obama’s actions since coming into office.

I have another explanation. I see a political hierarchy as serving those who are most ambitious for personal advancement. I can see the economic, political, and military power elites that C. Wright Mills identified clear back in 1958 as having such common economic and social interests as to coordinate their distinct heirarchies toward similar ends, as now so profoundly interconnected that there can scarcely be any distinction between them. I see a system that rewards the pursuit of self-interest at the expense of the greater good.

I suppose in Barack Obama’s vision, I have “a profoundly distorted view of this country.” But I challenge anyone to explain how a system such as we have can produce any other result.

Irreconcilable differences: why the two-party system must end

In a vein similar to that of a bumper sticker, which says, “If you aren’t mad as hell, you just aren’t paying attention,” I am coming to believe that depression is a rational response to a horrendously oppressive political, social, and economic environment in which we are being catapulted to ecological disaster.

Obama, elected with progressive energy and bankers’ money, is a conservative. Even those who saw through him early, who understood that he was betraying progressive principles, who preferred another candidate must feel betrayed.

We are told we should support an abysmal health care plan because if we don’t, the tea party fascists will win. That’s like when George W. Bush told us to go shopping, or more precisely, praised those who carried on with their normal consumerist lives following the 9/11 attacks, because otherwise the “terrorists” would have won.

There’s a false dichotomy at work here. The Axis powers didn’t win World War II because people in the U.S. resumed their normal lives following the Pearl Harbor attack. The Axis lost because many men went to war and many women manned the arms factories. Nor does it follow that progressives should support this health care plan because the alternative is a victory for tea party fascists.

I think there’s something wrong because out of 47 million uninsured, this health care plan only covers 31 million. Republicans have an explanation for about 20 million of an earlier closer to 46 million uninsured figure. But the combination of subsidies and premiums can still take a severe bite out of a modest income earner’s budget and there’s also a searing loophole in the plan. As Jon Walker writes, “Anyone who can’t find insurance that costs less than 8% of their income can get a hardship exemption from the individual mandate.”

Walker argues that the presence of the hardship exemption in the Senate bill is an acknowledgement that
it fails to “guarant[ee] everyone access to quality, affordable health insurance.” Who will qualify for this exemption? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing it will be those who are most expensive to insure, which to me suggests it will be the people who most need coverage.

I also think the parts of the bill affecting abortion coverage will operate to reduce access and is therefore a back door attack on a woman’s right to choose. So in order to prevent the tea party fascists from winning, progressives should support a bill that is anti-choice, that throws the most vulnerable under a bus, and which hurts not exactly the poor, but those with modest incomes. In other words, progressives should be regressive to prevent regressives from winning.

This is the kind of absurdity that two-party politics leaves us with. We’ve seen it on the right in the past, with three kinds of conservatives: fiscal, evangelical Protestant, and talk radio hate show types. But Sarah Palin seems to unite the holier than thou and the haters. It’s possible to argue that conservatives need to fragment into three parties, but probably not before 2013.

Progressives have a more urgent problem. Michael Lind gets it partly right and partly wrong. Unfortunately, the part he gets wrong is offensive:

New Dealers need to distinguish themselves from pessimistic, technophobic and antinatalist Green Malthusians. You can’t be a New Deal liberal and view poverty in either the American South or the global South as a problem of too many dark-skinned people instead of too little social justice and too little economic development. You can’t celebrate FDR’s Tennessee Valley Authority as a symbol of economic and social progress and condemn it as a monstrous assault on the purity of an idealized natural world in which humans, unlike other animals, are intruders. And because one of the achievements of the New Deal was to use federal investment to promote electrification, the auto mobile and industrialized agriculture, you can’t be a New Deal liberal and weep for a vanished early-industrial world of steam railroads, trolleys, tenements and locally grown food. (For opponents of coal, Greens seem to share a surprising nostalgia for the densely populated, transit-based cities of the ephemeral steam engine era.)

No Green I know of would make arguments which Lind attributes to us. We never say there are too many dark-skinned people. We do say the earth is overpopulated (and getting more so), but we also emphasize that the most exploitive countries are the (mostly white-skinned) developed countries. And flatly, no Green would advocate “a vanished early-industrial world.” But Lind equates hydroelectric (and eventually coal and nuclear) power with electrification; all public transportation with “steam railroads” and trolleys; and walkable urban spaces with tenements. I have no idea what his problem is with locally grown food, but he seems to prefer “industrialized agriculture” even when it is unsustainable and likely to increase our vulnerability to food shortages–meaning it will likely lead to famine.

I think most Greens would argue that a life more in harmony with the earth not only would improve our prospects for long term survival but improve our lives–all of our lives. There is nothing anti-poor about that, but despite the association between industrialization, poverty, and the gap between rich and poor, Lind bizarrely reads an anti-poor message into Green positions.

The rest of Lind’s article makes more sense, as he contrasts New Democrats of the corporatist mold with New Dealers. And it is indeed difficult to reconcile Obama’s economic and health care policy priorities with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

It’s not that FDR was anti-corporation. But Obama has rushed to aid “too big to fail” banks, pharmaceutical companies, and the health insurance oligopoly while doing precious little to help people earn decent livings, to stay in their homes, or–with the Senate bill–even to be able to afford health care. Obama prefers corporations at the expense of everyone else on a rationalization that corporations can be used to advance putatively progressive ends.

And that’s a contradiction that progressives need to take note of. Because one cannot reconcile the aspiration for a more just society with policies that protect the rich and make them richer. One cannot reconcile climate change policies that protect the powerful with concern even for the availability of drinking water. One cannot reconcile a search for peace with an escalation in Afghanistan that repeats the mistakes of previous invaders in a policy that looks increasingly like that of the Vietnam War. And that’s why we need to support a third party and make it a real force.

Barack Obama: a failing grade

While African Americans endure poverty rates higher than other groups, not all suffer. Some have, through fortune and hard work, managed to overcome the barriers and to prosper. Among these, some harshly criticize their less successful brothers and sisters for disproportionate imprisonment rates and for failing to emerge from poverty. In so doing, they enable conservatives who have fought the New Deal for as long as there’s been a New Deal.

Barack Obama’s beginnings, we are to understand, were humble (though his background is sufficiently international that wingnuts question his birth certificate and he has lived in enough places that wingnuts accuse him of being Muslim). He has to have worked hard to become a professor of law. And he must have worked hard as a community organizer. He became a politician, and that would have been hard work, too. Last year, he ran for president. He ran on a platform of change and of hope. His victory raised expectations. I still see the bumper sticker, “Yes, we can.”

So for all this hard work, Obama is now president. By all accounts, this is another hard job. Much is made of the grey hair accumulated in eight years each by previous presidents who have served two terms (though a lot of men grey considerably at that age over that period of time).

None of that means that mediocre results are acceptable. I can’t even keep track of all the failings of this president. I think I’ve managed to gather many of them together in three previous posts: one on health care, another on what I see as a need to break up the country, and a third on what Obama apparently expects Palestinians to accept. Since I wrote those posts, we have had yet another display of mediocrity, yesterday in Copenhagen.

I’m still trying to piece together just what exactly happened there. Apparently, Obama reached an agreement with China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, which the other countries have taken note of. Apparently, “a Sudanese delegate said the plan in Africa would be like the Holocaust.” None of it is binding. It is to limit warming to two degrees, Celsius, which depending on whom you believe might actually considerably exceed three degrees (a more positive view is here). Yet we are to accept “minimal results” as unprecedented and even as great progress.

Obama “gives himself a ‘good, solid B-plus’ for his first 11 months in the Oval Office” but by any grading standard I know, this would be a solid ‘F’.

In truth, he has succeeded at nothing since being elected. He has not brought peace in Iraq, in Afghanistan, or in Palestine. In Iraq, we simply dismiss ongoing violence and a fact of ethnic cleansing that has driven millions out of the country. In Afghanistan, we are to accept an escalation combined with a promised (but unlikely) pull-out date that makes sense only to neoconservatives who figure the pull-out date is a sham and to some mainstream Democratic Party politicians. In Palestine, he has failed to push Israel to face up to its international obligations.

On the economy and on health care reform, he has only made bankers and health insurance companies very, very happy. There is no sense of justice here when the government rushes to bail out big corporations, but when it comes to people’s mortgages and jobs–well the budget is more important. There is no sense of justice when poor but relatively healthy people will be forced to buy health insurance that even with subsidies they can ill afford, while the uninsurable, who need coverage the most, will be left to die.

On civil liberties and torture, Obama has defended and embraced criminal policies. His solution to Guantanamo and military commissions is simply to move them to Illinois.

On all of these matters, we are to accept public relations gimmickry as progress. And yet, even here, the Obama administration has failed to persuade. The most convincing evidence of Obama’s failure is in his own speaking performances. Even he knows he has failed.

And there can be little doubt of the grade voters will give in 2010 and again in 2012.

20 questions, 20 answers, 20 defenses–now it’s my turn

Nate Silver posted 20 questions for [health care] bill killers, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos answered and Jon Walker at FireDogLake answered. Silver is thrilled “that this debate seems to be evolving into something a little more civilized on all sides” and has posted his answers to the answers.

But he’s still wrong, on all but one point.

  1. Over the medium term, how many other opportunities will exist to provide in excess of $100 billion per year in public subsidies to poor and sick people?

    Moulitsas refuses to accept that this is the only bill on the table. Silver answers this essentially claiming that Liberals have tried everything possible to get a robust public option and failed. But he doesn’t answer Moulitsas’ point that “the point of reform isn’t to shovel taxpayer dollars to the insurance companies.” And that is just what the current proposal does. As my 69-year old mother put it, instead of providing insurance for some 47 million people, this provides 29-36 million more customers for health insurance companies. And it does so without any meaningful cost control.

    Walker thinks the threat to use the reconciliation procedure could have forced some obstructionists to back down on a filibuster. I’m inclined to accept Silver’s point here. Yes, reconciliation can be used to pass something with only 51 votes, but as Senator Ron Wyden explained to Rachel Maddow, “with reconciliation, you can‘t get any of the insurance reforms. Reconciliation deals with budget matters. So you can‘t get the protection for folks from preexisting conditions. You can‘t protect them from cancellations. You can‘t even get the exchanges up and running.” Though I see Moulitsas and Walker both think it can be done and that Silver thinks you might be able to do it, I don’t see how you could legally institute a public option under these rules. And even if you can do it, we already have enough problems in this country with hypocrisy about who should abide by rules and who can simply ignore them.

    But the point isn’t how Silver frames it. It isn’t “to provide in excess of $100 billion per year in public subsidies to poor and sick people,” but rather–as Silver acknowledges in his discussion of question 19–to make sure they have access to affordable health care. By failing to institute meaningful cost controls, this bill trusts insurance companies whose abuses have led to the need for reform. That means this isn’t reform. It simply opens a pipeline from the U.S. Treasury to the health insurance companies.

  2. Would a bill that contained $50 billion in additional subsidies for people making less than 250% of poverty be acceptable?

    Moulitsas thinks “the insurance industry would simply absorb the new subsidies just like universities have raised tuition to shovel up any increases in financial aid.” Walker doesn’t trust the subsidies to remain adequate. To some degree, Walker’s objection would apply to anything that passed, but Moulitsas’ argument is much harder to answer. Particularly if, like me, you’re a starving student who has been watching tuition rates and fees go up year after year like we’re made of money. And Silver simply punts.

  3. Where is the evidence that the plan, as constructed, would substantially increase insurance industry profit margins, particularly when it is funded in part via a tax on insurers?

    Moulitsas rephrases the question: “Where is the evidence that insurance companies would rig the system to extract record profits? I don’t know. Perhaps the last decade or two might provide the answer.” That’s clever, but Walker points out that “the bill doesn’t need to increase profit margins to make the insurance companies more profitable. It will increase overall profits by expanding their customer base, which has be shrinking for years.”

    Silver argues that insurance company profits are low. Perhaps that’s because they pay their executives so much. Or perhaps it’s because, as Walker wrote, their customer base has been shrinking. Or perhaps it’s because, as Moulitsas suggests, they’re fixing the books.

    But the fact is that it doesn’t matter. The health insurance companies–and their profits–are only one part of a hugely expensive problem, that we have the world’s most expensive health care system but really a rather low standard of care. Simply throwing money and customers at these companies cannot rectify this.

  4. Why are some of the same people who are criticizing the bill’s lack of cost control also criticizing the inclusion of the excise tax, which is one of the few cost control mechanisms to have survived the process?

    Moulitsas sees it as targeting “blue collar workers in high-risk jobs, or workers that have given concessions on wages to preserve good benefits packages.” Walker writes, “The excise tax is designed horribly. It’s a very weak cost control that will only reduce NHE by $100 billion by 2019. That is a 0.3% reduction. And it will only do that by encouraging employers to provide their employees with worse quality insurance policies that cover fewer procedures and have higher co-pays and deductible.

    Silver’s answer to this, other than flatly denying Moulitsas’ claim, is horribly unclear. He cites the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who explains that “over 80 percent of the revenue generated would come not from the tax on insurance premiums itself, but from income and payroll tax revenue on the tens of billions of dollars of higher wages that workers would receive — as employers modified their health plans to avoid the excise tax and converted what they had been spending for health coverage in excess of the tax thresholds into higher wages and salaries.” Sorry, but that’s a win for general revenue that does absolutely nothing to contain national health expenditures.

    Moreover, “many of the plans that would be affected apparently are smaller plans with a below-average number of enrollees.” I don’t know but I’m guessing that’s a lot of blue collar workers. Finally, the CBPP confirms Walker’s point, writing “Employers would modify their health plans to stay within the thresholds for the excise tax, and they would convert the resulting savings into higher wages or other fringe benefits for their employees.” Higher wages for that portion of the workforce with these sorts of insurance plans does not make insurance more affordable for everyone else.

    So Silver merely creates the appearance of rebutting the answers on this without actually doing so.

  5. Why are some of the same people who are criticizing the bill’s lack of cost control also criticizing the inclusion of the individual mandate, which is key to controlling premiums in the individual market?

    Moulitsas hits this one on the head: “Because without premium caps or a public-run competitive option, there is no incentive for them to lower their premiums.” Because there is no more competition than we already have. And we’ve seen what that does. As Walker writes,

    This bill fails to guaranty either quality or affordable health insurance. There is no ban on annual limits, meaning the insurance companies can now put a cap on how much they will pay out. They will still be allowed to drop their sick customers and deny claims if they decide their customers need an “unreasonable” amount of health care. And the maximum out-of-pocket limit is far too high. It will not stop medical bankruptcy if you get really sick, which makes a mockery of the whole idea of insurance.

    Silver answers that the individual mandate is necessary if you’re going to require companies to accept people with pre-existing conditions. And he’s right. But Walker is right too, and Silver doesn’t actually answer him.

    Silver insists, “The bill on the floor fact does create a somewhat more competitive insurance market — through the exchanges.” That’s laughable. While exchanges might facilitate price comparisons for some people, they will still have essentially the same choices they have now. Silver is flatly wrong.

  6. Would concerns about the political downside to the individual mandate in fact substantially be altered if a public plan were included among the choices? Might not the Republican talking point become: “forcing you to buy government-run insurance?”

    This alleged Republican talking point contradicts itself. Silver explains it better in his defense:

    I just think it’s liable to have more to do with the extent to which insurance is perceived as affordable, rather than who you’re buying it from — someone who gets deeply subsidized insurance from Aetna is not likely to complain, whereas someone who gets “unaffordable” insurance from the government probably will. (And for what it’s worth, the CBO has estimated that premiums for the public option would actually be higher than those for private plans, although in exchange for much better coverage.)

    But it is important to remember why the “premiums for the public option would actually be higher than those for private plans.” This issue arose when it was revealed that insurance companies would essentially be able to cherry pick their customers, perhaps through unaffordable rates. That made the public option into a dumping ground for the people needing the most coverage. Because these costs would not be spread among that healthier portion of the population whose money the companies deign to accept, of course the public option’s costs would be higher, and so its premiums would be higher.

    In the absence of a public option, however, an individual mandate leaves individuals at the mercy of a very few companies who have established a record for abusive practices. So if you’re going to have an individual mandate, you must do something to curb these practices. And the present bill goes nowhere near far enough to do this.

  7. Roughly how many people would in fact meet ALL of the following criteria: (i) in the individual insurance market, and not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare; (ii) consider the insurance to be a bad deal, even after substantial government subsidies; (iii) are not knowingly gaming the system by waiting to buy insurance until they become sick; (iv) are not exempt from the individual mandate penalty because of low income status or other exemptions carved out by the bill?

    Moulitsas responds: “Is this argument that the mandate doesn’t matter because too few people will be subject to it? If so, then strip it out. It shouldn’t matter.” Actually, Silver concedes this: “The point is that not that very many people will fall into the category of feeling like they’re ‘forced’ to buy insurance because most of them will continue to get policies through their employers, or will think they’re getting a pretty good deal.” But if we say there is a problem with an individual mandate, it is reasonable to ask how many people are affected by it. Walker effectively points out the difference between the 47 million uninsured and the 29-36 million who would be forced in:

    If people are “exempt” from the individual mandate because the private insurance companies made insurance too expensive for them to buy (which thanks to the 1:3 age rating would be the older sicker people most in need of insurance) what is the point of the individual mandate? This sounds like a recipe to price out the old (nonprofitable) and force only the young (profitable) to buy insurance. The individual mandate should only be used for an “everyone in” system. This is “everyone in” except those whom the private insurance companies price out of the market.

    Walker’s point is that the people who most need insurance will be among the 11 to 18 million who won’t get it under this plan. Silver doesn’t answer that.

  8. How many years is it likely to be before Democrats again have (i) at least as many non-Blue Dog seats in the Congress as they do now, and (ii) a President in the White House who would not veto an ambitious health care bill?

    Moulitsas writes that “if anything, this argues for pushing for the most progressive bill possible.” But another question to ask is, if the public correctly perceives this so-called reform to be a sham, how much longer will it be before they ever again vote in Democrats? Silver effectively concedes this when he writes, “There’s almost no way that Democrats will end up with more votes for a public option at any point in the near future.”

  9. If the idea is to wait for a complete meltdown of the health care system, how likely is it that our country will respond to such a crisis in a rational fashion? How have we tended to respond to such crises in the past?

    Moulitsas correctly treats this as a straw person:

    No, the idea is to get the best possible legislation today. We may not be able to get something with reconciliation before Obama’s State of the Union Address, but I don’t think something this important should be beholden to something as trivial as a speech, even one as important as the SOTU.

    As Walker writes, “The meltdown is coming either way. This Senate bill is at best a very expensive band aid, and at worst a way to quicken the meltdown.” Silver acknowledges the straw person but writes, “If you examine the collective response to recent cataclysms such as 9/11, the financial meltdown, and global warming, it has been a little scary for progressives.” The truth is that it’s been scary for a lot of people. The responses to these events have been poorly thought through. But what we’re getting now has also been poorly thought through. This is an indictment of the political system rather than an argument for a flawed health care plan.

  10. Where is the evidence that the public option is particularly important to base voters and/or swing voters (rather than activists), as compared with other aspects of health care reform?

    This question is laughable. In August, “support for a public option [was] at a robust 77 percent, one percentage point higher than where it stood in June.” Now, “fifty-one percent of poll respondents said they oppose the proposed changes for the health-care system.” Moulitsas writes (relying on a different poll):

    Given that the current bill only has 32 percent support, I don’t think this turd of a bill in the Senate has much support of anyone, much less party activists. And the voter intensity numbers are clear — base Democratic voters are planning to sit out 2010. And I doubt 18-29 year olds — a key part of the Democratic base — are going to be thrilled with a mandate. In fact, it may be the single least popular item in the bill.

    What we’re looking at here is a plan to leave the most vulnerable uninsured while sticking younger, healthier people with a tab for enhancing insurance company profits. I’m guessing 18-29 year olds just aren’t that stupid. Silver tries to answer this by citing a column that doesn’t even mention the public option, let alone rebut polls indicating its importance.

  11. Would base voters be less likely to turn out in 2010 if no health care plan is passed at all, rather than a reasonable plan without a public option?

    Moulitsas thinks the Democrats damage themselves by “caving in to Lieberman, Republicans, and corporate interests,” that doing so “sends the message that the Democratic super majorities are irrelevant, and all the hard work from the last four years in electing them was a wasted effort.” That’s pretty apparent. Silver admits this, saying he’s “actually coming around to the view that Democrats are about equally screwed either way, in large part because of the vehemently negative reaction that we’ve seen from the left over the past 72 hours.”

    I would point out that this isn’t a “reasonable plan.”

  12. What is the approximate likelihood that a plan passed through reconciliation would be better, on balance, from a policy perspective, than a bill passed through regular order but without a public option?

    Both Moulitsas and Walker discount the objections to reconciliation, but when I see the actual arguments against it, they don’t sound like bullshit. I think they’re coming from people who are intimately familiar with the process. This is the one point I’ll concede to Silver.

  13. What is the likely extent of political fallout that might result from an attempt to use the reconciliation process?

    Both Moulitsas and Walker say essentially the same thing, but Moulitsas is a much more colorful writer:

    Fallout with the DC press corps? They didn’t mind when Republicans used it to pass their tax cuts under Bush, but that’s a different time. I’m sure they’ll hyperventilate about it now. The voters? I’ve seen no data that suggests they care about process. Just results. Democrats would cheer, Republicans would bitch, but those guys will bitch anyway.

    Silver essentially answers by writing, “The Bush tax cuts were popular; health care is not.” I would ask whom “the Bush tax cuts were popular” with, but I’m guessing they did manage to convince the working class that the cuts would be to their benefit. But to claim that “health care is not” popular flies in the face of those poll results showing 77 percent support for the public option.

  14. How certain is it that a plan passed through reconciliation would in fact receive 51 votes (when some Democrats would might have objections to the use of the process)?

    Walker actually has the pithier answer here: “First you only need 50 votes plus the vice president to break the tie. Second, are you really asking progressive to not stand up for better policy because there are possibly 11 Democrats who will bring down the reconciliation bill to protect their absurd Senate clubhouse feel?”

    Silver estimates the votes aren’t there. And he might be right. But what’s in question right now is whether the Democrats can even muster 60 votes for the plan they’re advancing. If that falls through, and I’m thinking it very well might, well, here’s Walker again: “The Democrats in the Senate seem were willing to give Joe Lieberman anything he wanted to get a bill labeled ‘health care reform’ passed. If they will swallow their pride for Lieberman, they will do it for reconciliation if that is the only way the can get the ‘win.'”

  15. Are there any compromises or concessions not having to do with the provision of publicly-run health programs that could still be achieved through progressive pressure?

    Moulitsas suggests, “Expand medicaid, add a national exchange instead of the state one, get rid of mandate, etc.” Then he wonders what New York Democrat Representative Anthony Weiner wonders when he points out that “Some of us have compromised our compromised compromise.” Moulitsas asks “how many concessions has the other side made? Maybe it’s time for a ‘compromise’ that actually includes a compromise.” Walker writes, “Progressive have zero power in Washington if they can not draw a line in the sand and say enough is a enough. Only by being willing to bring down a bad bill will they force those in power to listen to them instead of Joe Lieberman.”

    Silver accuses both of using the public option as a proxy for progressive influence. But he starts from a presumption that this is an essentially good bill that still deserves passage. It’s pretty clear, however, that this simply isn’t true.

  16. What are the chances that improvements can be made around the margins of the plan — possibly including a public option — between 2011 and the bill’s implementation in 2014?

    Moulitsas writes, “[If] everyone surrenders now, the impetus for such tinkering will be gone. If people are angry and campaign on these key issues, then political pressure will be maintained for further action. The ‘surrender now’ crowd actually makes further tinkering less likely, not more.” Walker writes, “If Obama does not feel a need to listen to progressive on the issue of health care reform at this moment, I don’t see how that will change between now and 2014. If anything, when people are not looking the lobbyists will go to work slowly crippling all the new regulations this bill will add.”

    Silver is trying to advocate a “split-the-bill” strategy. This is to pass what can be passed now and work on it further later on. But for a whole bunch of reasons in addition to health care, I really don’t think that’s happening. I wrote earlier:

    [Obama’s] escalation of the war in Afghanistan is simply bone-headed. His acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize unmasks a bipartisan warmongering. His administration is acting to cover up war crimes.

    Obama’s rhetorical harshness towards bankers is belied by the fact he undermined his own negotiating position with them, the fact that he believes in them, and the fact he relies on them for economic advice even though they have only profited themselves (UPDATE: harshly phrased corrections to linked article here) and have no real plans to reduce unemployment. His handling of the economy is subject to withering criticism from both left and right.

    Obama’s plans to address climate change (as well as those of Western countries generally) are a fraud. His record on civil rights is deplorable. He can’t even get it right with marijuana.

    With all that and more going on, it is easy to overlook poll results showing that people are so unhappy that some 44 percent in the U.S. want George W. Bush back. Bush was heavily criticized for being “a divider, not a uniter,” but polarization seems only to have become even more extreme under Obama.

    Poll results show people are increasingly unhappy with Obama; his public approval rating is down to 47 percent. I don’t have any idea how this plays out. The same poll shows that “the entire Republican Party . . . continues to maintain a net-negative favorable/unfavorable rating, 28 percent to 43 percent.” Democrats are only a little better, but who knows for how long: “For the first time in more than two years, the Democratic Party also now holds a net-negative rating, 35 percent to 45 percent.” It’s hard to see who is going to vote for whom with these kinds of numbers. And it’s simply nuts to bank on further health care reform after this. I return to Moulitsas’ point that “if anything, this argues for pushing for the most progressive bill possible.”

  17. What are the potential upsides and downsides to using the 2010 midterms as a referendum on the public option, with the goal of achieving a ‘mandate’ for a public option that could be inserted via reconciliation?

    I don’t know where Silver comes up with this question. There is no national referendum process. People are going to vote for candidates based on their expectations of those candidates, which will largely be based on their experience with those candidates. Moulitsas writes, “The public option remains popular, despite the year-long demonization process by insurance interests, Republicans, teabaggers, and even some Democrats. . . . But if 2010 is a referendum on that current Senate bill, we’re in deep trouble.” Silver refers to his earlier answer, writing “that the fight over the public option, to the extent that people regard it as a gratifying organizing exercise, will not end just because a bill has been adopted that doesn’t include one.” I hate to break this to you, but 2010 is now two weeks away. A public option would probably help the Democrats but as Moulitsas also wrote, “2010 will be all about Democratic ‘socialists’, and HCR will be Exhibit A in the wingnut playbook.”

    It’s not even one year into his first of two possible four-year terms, but I’m seeing Obama as a lame duck. Even if he isn’t a lame duck, he might as well be for all the good he and the Democrats are doing progressives. We need a third party to bring some real pressure to bear.

  18. Was the public option ever an attainable near-term political goal?

    Moulitsas answers:

    Yes. But even if it wasn’t, perhaps we would’ve been better off starting with a Medicare For All approach, or at least an expansion (back when Lieberman was for it). I’m sure someone will write a book about all the tactical mistakes made during this battle. There’s no doubt the Democrats blew it big time, but that’s not the same as saying a desired policy outcome was not attainable.

    Moulitsas is arguing for a single-payer plan. And he’s right. Democrats didn’t start with their strongest bargaining position. They already conceded the Republicans’ “socialism” argument by starting down a slippery slope with the public option. Now we have again what we always have, socialism for the rich, capitalism for everybody else.

    Silver pats himself on the back, saying that health care reform was always going to be a tough battle: “To use [the public option] as a litmus test for progressive efficacy was rather risky, in the same way that it’s risky to declare your training regime a failure because you collapsed on the last stage of the Ironman Triathalon.” Silver starts from a position that the public option was not that popular an idea; as I wrote above, he cites as column as evidence for this that actually says absolutely nothing about the public option and he ignores the polls that say the public option was a whole lot more popular than the present plan.

    So unsurprisingly, this amounts to the fact that politicians do not represent the people. If Silver criticizes the framing of the public option as a proxy for progressive influence, we might instead view the failure to pass meaningful health care reform as a failure of a system which is naïvely claimed to represent the people. There are many reasons why this is the case. But it cannot help that we have a deeply polarized country that no longer makes sense as a single country, where politicians are so remote from the people that they are clearly no longer accountable to the people in any meaningful way.

    That isn’t an argument against pushing for a public option. It’s an argument for breaking up the country into manageable chunks.

  19. How many of the arguments that you might be making against the bill would you still be making if a public option were included (but in fact have little to do with the public option)?

    Silver misses the importance of a public option as meaningful competition in an otherwise oligarchic industry and “find[s] more disingenuous . . . the people who have suddenly decided that the bill was really about cost control after all, and that the coverage aspects of the bill are merely incidental.” Walker writes that he has “always said the individual mandate is only acceptable if the government provide everyone with access to decent cost effective health insurance.” And indeed the criticism of the U.S. health care system that has long compelled reform has long been that it is the most expensive system in the world while delivering mediocre results and that it left an increasing number of people unprotected. People are dying because of this but the best this political system can manage is a system that abandons the most vulnerable while compelling the young and healthy to fatten insurance company profits.

  20. How many of the arguments that you might be making against the bill are being made out of anger, frustration, or a desire to ring Joe Lieberman by his scruffy, no-good, backstabbing neck?

    Moulitsas shifts blame to Montana Senator Max Baucus. Walker says he made his arguments “long before Joe Lieberman was empowered by Harry Reid to remove the public option.” Silver, while avoiding attacking Moulitsas and Walker directly, insists he’s never seen so many personal attacks. I think perhaps that what Silver is really seeing is a different origin for these attacks.

    In supporting Democrats, progressives have hitched their wagon to a horse that’s going the wrong way. Now we had a popular promise of health care reform that has evaporated for the most venal reasons. A lot of people are feeling betrayed. But what can we say about the right wing’s attacks on its opponents? We’ve been labeled as “terrorist sympathizers,” as “unpatriotic,” and as “betraying the troops.” Communism–technically a notion that we all owe something to society and that society owes something to each of us–has been demonized. Socialism–technically an idea that distribution of goods must be fair–has been demonized.

    Meanwhile, capitalism remains beyond challenge even as the gap between rich and poor widens, people die for lack of health care–and will continue to do so whether or not this plan passes–and war criminals walk free. It’s about damned time that some invectives hurl the other way. But Silver only notices progressives’ howls of protest.

Silver’s arguments are in many cases simply wrong and in some cases disingenuous. Citing a source for support that doesn’t even mention the topic does not win points with me. But all these interlocutors retain an investment in a failed political system in a failed country. We need to start talking about change that goes far beyond health care. And the sooner, the better.

Progressives must embrace a third party

“Some of us have compromised our compromised compromise,” said New York Democrat Representative Anthony Weiner. “We need the president to stand up for the values our party shares.”

Weiner is right on the first part and wrong on the second. After seeing the 2004 Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign Democratic Party platform, I concluded there was no difference between Democrats and Republicans, and switched my party registration to California’s Peace and Freedom Party. More recently, I’ve concluded that there is a difference.

That difference is on display with a badly watered down health care reform package. There was strong popular support for a public option which was not reflected in Congress, and particularly not in the Senate. Now, “a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Americans are generally fearful that a revamped health-care system would bring higher costs and worse care.” And they’re probably right.

A CNN poll last month also revealed concerns:

“Roughly one in three Americans opposes the House bill because it is too liberal, but one in 10 oppose the bill because it is not liberal enough,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “That may indicate that a majority opposes the details in the bill, but also that a majority may approve of the overall approach taken by House Democrats and President Obama.”

The story was different in August, when “support for a public option [was] at a robust 77 percent, one percentage point higher than where it stood in June.” Wording of the questions is important: “Earlier in the week, after pollsters for NBC dropped the word “choice” from their question on a public option, they found that only 43 percent of the public were in favor of ‘creating a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would compete directly with private health insurance companies.'”

So people were afraid of a single-payer system, but strongly supported the very feature of health care reform that has now been eviscerated. As host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough put it yesterday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Obama “had a mandate. He had 52-53 percent. He has sixty Democrats. If you can’t win under those circumstances, when can you win?”

The St. Petersburg Times dredged up the specific language of Obama’s campaign promise, that the plan would “create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals purchase new affordable health care options if they are uninsured or want new health insurance. Through the Exchange, any American will have the opportunity to enroll in the new public plan or an approved private plan, and income-based sliding scale tax credits will be provided for people and families who need it.” The Times thinks this promises an exchange, not a public option. I parse it differently: a “new public plan” is among the choices to be offered in the exchange. Consider this, another of his campaign statements:

We will break the stranglehold that a few big drug and insurance companies have on the health care market…. It’s become clear that some of these companies are dramatically overcharging Americans for what they offer…. We’re not going to get change unless we can overcome the resistance the drug companies, the insurance companies, the HMOs, those who are making a major profit from the system currently.

In a capitalist paradigm, the way you “break the stranglehold” is to introduce competition. As Obama said more recently, “I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs.”

It hasn’t happened. As Scarborough asked, “If you can’t win under those circumstances, when can you win?” If nothing else, this episode has shown that the Democrats don’t really have sixty votes in the Senate and, as Mike Barnicle argued, don’t impose the kind of party discipline they did under Lyndon Baines Johnson. Scarborough argues that unlike Obama, George W. Bush treated members of congress “like dirt,” that they feared Bush.

Co-host Mika Brzezinski, who was mostly drowned out in the segment, tried to suggest that we haven’t seen the last of this, that Obama has a different leadership style. The proxemics on this program are eye-catching; Scarborough and Brzezinski sit very close together, he mostly ignores her, and at this point in the segment, Scarborough had his back to her while he was speaking in a highly animated fashion apparently at The Nation‘s D.C. editor Chris Hayes. Given the opportunity to serve as something other than “arm candy,” she might have pointed out that “different” does not mean inferior.

But as the Daily Kos put it two months ago:

[Former Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist never had 60 votes. Bill Frist never cared. Republicans ran the Senate as if they owned the place, even when enjoying razor-thin majorities.

Yet when Democrats took the chamber, the first thing [current Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid did was complain that he couldn’t do anything because he didn’t have 60 votes.

Even with Joe Lieberman, who’s been attracting so much attention lately, and Al Franken in the caucus, Reid still doesn’t have sixty votes.

Something needs to be acknowledged here. While the Republicans are seeking purity, the Democrats are seeking political control. I have interpreted the Republican strategy as not being an electoral strategy. The Republican Party is representing an extremely narrow, social conservative base, most prominently in the South.

But I have also heavily criticized the Democrats for shifting rightwards, adopting increasingly conservative positions that seemed to me to have particular appeal in the heavily evangelical Protestant South. There’s a logic there: though socially conservative, the South is a swing region. This is the 2004 electoral cartogram, when George W. Bush stole a second election for the presidency:

And this is the map from 2008, when John McCain couldn’t steal the election and Obama prevailed:

As you’d expect, the 2008 map is a lot more purple–representing shades from Republican red to Democrat blue–than the 2004 map, but particularly in the South (and along the length of the Mississippi River), bright blue Democratic areas appear to have shrunk or to have submerged in surrounding seas of purple. Republicans appear not to have turned out as strongly in the rest of the country, but the patterns appear largely the same.

In response, Republicans have apparently focused even more tightly on the South, at the expense of support in a large part of the population in the rest of the country. Democrats thus claim the center and take progressives for granted. As Joy-Ann Reid wrote, “[The White House and compromising senators have] obviously calculated that with time, the anger of liberal Democrats (whom they believe have made too much of the whole “public option” thing anyway) will subside, and the sheer magnitude of the achievement will boost the president’s approval ratings. After all, where are liberals going to turn? Sarah Palin?”

Progressives need another party. Because in a two-party paradigm, the Republican Party is the only alternative and Democrats have no reason to fear losing our votes. We have a choice: we can continue to be disappointed or we can choose another path.

What might a U.S. divorce look like?

Yesterday, I posted an article (which has been updated to today due to a dispute over an article I linked to) advocating dissolution of the United states according to political preferences expressed in the 2004 presidential election, when, as I wrote, we had the opportunity to toss out George W. Bush–and didn’t. I believe this makes sense because political preferences often reflect social and cultural attitudes. These have important impacts on attitudes about, for instance, abortion, universal health care, economic regulation, environmental and social responsibility, personal freedom, and civil rights.

The map I posted yesterday was a cartogram put together by some folks at the University of Michigan. The map I’m posting today is based on that map, and where that map showed too much nuance to be workable, this map perhaps shows too little. I’ll emphasize again that I’m not prescribing how the areas I’m classifying as red should divide themselves.

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A divorce for the United States

It is easy to criticize Barack Obama these days. And some of us have been doing it for a while. His escalation of the war in Afghanistan is simply bone-headed. His acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize unmasks a bipartisan warmongering. His administration is acting to cover up war crimes.

Obama’s rhetorical harshness towards bankers is belied by the fact he undermined his own negotiating position with them, the fact that he believes in them, and the fact he relies on them for economic advice even though they have only profited themselves (UPDATE: harshly phrased corrections to linked article here) and have no real plans to reduce unemployment. His handling of the economy is subject to withering criticism from both left and right.

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A scamming president

Even for someone as jaded about this president as I am, the pace of scams emerging from this administration so early in December is breathtaking. First we have Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan. You have to know that something’s up when neoconservatives approve. Right now, I’d have to say Conn Hallinan has the most thoroughly devastating critique I’ve seen. Bob Herbert deserves mention, however, for his description of the impact of repeated deployments on a tiny fraction of the U.S. population, whose sacrifice allows the rest of us to satisfy ourselves with mere prattle about “supporting the troops” we repeatedly send out as cannon fodder and who come back deeply in need of psychological help but face abuse and inadequate resources instead. Meanwhile, we are treated to double-talk about an end to even this particular bit of madness.

Second, was the three-part exercise in hot air production with Obama’s pretense at concern for the unemployed. Nobody seems satisfied with what came out of the jobs summit and the plan he announced yesterday at Brookings Institute simply flies in the face of facts. Obama apparently listens only to his gilded advisors; even former Labor Secretary Robert Reich can’t get a word in, let alone John Cavanagh and Sarita Gupta. There’s no talk here of relief for states and local governments who are effectively countering the stimulus with their own cutbacks and there is an absolute refusal to even discuss a real jobs program. Chris Hedges points out that the least he could do is something about NAFTA. But “free” trade stupidity lives on. Paul Craig Roberts points out that there are other priorities and Bob Franken is blistering as he highlights the betrayal of the unemployed. Obama doesn’t even make sense about this if you ask him to his face and while he probably thinks he can get away with it, the less awful news on jobs this month was about temporary workers and government jobs. But if there’s an uprising to come against the bankers whose travails received so much more prompt and diligent attention, be aware that they’re arming themselves.

On climate change, a draft agreement appears to exempt the European Union from doing even as much as it has and to barely reduce United States emissions at all. But Western nations seem to be relying heavily on a carbon trading scheme that means no real reductions whatsoever. And Paul Krugman should be ashamed for his failure to recognize this.

And while Ben Bernanke’s reconfirmation is probably a foregone conclusion (even if four “holds” have been placed against it), let’s just not even get started on it.

I don’t want to talk about Obama’s forthcoming acceptance of a Nobel Peace Prize either.

George Bush is fortunate to be back in Texas. His incompetence was so astonishing that I thought I’d never feel as sickened again. But Obama doesn’t have Bush’s excuse and I am even more nauseated. (By the way, I knew that some were defending Obama’s record, but apparently a few are, and Glenn Greenwald, whom I’m admiring more and more, handles this nicely.)