Peloton Madness

I kinda sorta tried to figure out what the whole Hincapie/Garmin/Columbia/etc. contretemps this weekend at the Tour de France was about, but I eventually gave up.  Cycling is just such a stupid sport.  explains it here in case you're interested.

Still a stupid sport, though.  Especially the velodrome version.

As this blog was among the first to note, the EPA has a Most Wanted list. Posted in December, it includes rap sheets and mug shots for 21 environmental criminals, among them  Robert Wainwright, an Indianan convicted of child molesting and weapons violations whose personal hygiene seems as if it should be an environmental crime of its own. Accused by the EPA of dumping steel mill slag into a wetland, he was featured on this site in March. Behold the power of the press: On Friday, the EPA announced that federal and Mexican agents nabbed him in Zamora, Mexico. It's hard to say whether a Mother Jones reader turned him in (the tipoff was anonymous), but publicity from the list seems to be paying off. Since it debuted, the EPA has also caught two other fugitives.

Anyone seen this fellow? He's accused of discharging unnamed pollutants into San Diego harbor. Body hair, perhaps?

 

Some people don't think President Barack Obama is an American citizen. Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) isn't one of them. Not everyone's too happy about that:

The Economist's Democracy in America blog is right about pretty much everything in this post:

Everyone in Washington knows that a delay of a health-care bill this year will mean the death of health-care reform for the foreseeable future. But they can't say that.... The Republicans can't really afford to be this blunt, because the White House will happily use that against them.

It's worth pointing out, however, that the (anonymous) blogger is essentially encouraging Republicans to go ahead and lie about their dreams of killing health care reform.

Baghdad Update

Four years ago, during a commemoration of the Shiite saint Imam Musa al-Kazim, a thousand pilgrims to the Al Kadhimiya Mosque in Baghdad were killed when rumors of an imminent suicide bomb attack caused a panicked stampede across a bridge.  Every year since then, the commemoration has been regularly targeted by insurgents and militias.  Until now:

President Barack Obama's withdrawal strategy for Iraq got a big bump this weekend, when the Iraqi military and police presided over massive gatherings of pilgrims from the provinces in the capital, and pulled it off with no bombings. Obama could not plausibly withdraw from Iraq unless Iraqi security forces could keep a minimum of social peace. But if they can do so, the withdrawal could go smoothly. This weekend's evidence is positive.

That's from Juan Cole, who has more over at his place, both good and bad.

Brad DeLong chides Clive Crook for opposing a second stimulus package because it would increase the federal deficit.  The problem is that Crook isn't distinguishing between short-term and long-term deficits:

But if you don't distinguish between these two — if you call them both "fiscal policy" and pretend they are the same thing, as Crook does — then you get yourself completely confused....A while ago I wrote that one of the big problems in American governance was that Washington's political class was stupider than the pigs in the Orwell novel Animal Farm. The fundamental slogan of Animalism — "four legs good, two legs bad" — is no more complicated than "cyclical deficit good, structural deficit bad," and if pigs can understand the first why can't members of congress, anchor persons, and op-ed writers understand the second?

Well....I agree with Brad, but I also don't think this is quite the mystery he makes it out to be.  The problem is both obvious and old: nobody trusts politicians.  They're eager to increase short-term deficits during recessions because that allows them to give away goodies to their constituents.  And they're perfectly happy to promise to rein things in down the road when the economy recovers.  Occasionally this even happens.  But not very often, and everyone knows it.  The world being what it is, short-term cyclical deficits have a strong tendency to turn into long-term structural deficits.  (cf. California, fucked up finances of.)

In a perfect world we'd auction off 100% of the permits in a cap-and-trade system.  In a perfect world we'd construct a healthcare system that covers everyone but makes sensible compromises about how much coverage everyone gets.  And in a perfect world we'd create whatever short-term deficits we needed during a recession because we'd all feel confident that when the emergency was over we'd dutifully reduce spending and increase taxes to create a cyclical surplus.

But this isn't a perfect world, which means that concerns about a short-term deficit spilling over into the far future are actually pretty understandable.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, but it does mean that skeptics aren't being unreasonable if they ask for a credible plan in advance that insures deficits will come down in the future even in the face of monumental political pressures not to do it.  I have to admit that, given the current political environment, I'm not sure what such a plan would look like.

It seems that President Obama is finally switching gears and going to all health care, all the time. He's doing health care events almost daily now, and he's holding a prime-time presser on Wednesday to put the spotlight on the issue. But the real question is whether the President's push is coming too late. The August recess looms. Can the Democrats get the job done, or will they have to wait another generation for another chance? There is some good news: Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) supports a public option available on day one. The next two weeks are crucial.

Over the weekend Mitch McConnell told David Gregory that "we have the finest health care in the world."  This is pretty standard Republican boilerplate, and it got me to wondering.

Has any Democrat ever said that "we have the worst health care in the world"?  Why not?  Sure, technically, you'd need to say "industrialized world" or some such, but aside from that it would be pretty accurate.  Certainly more accurate than McConnell's formulation.

So why not say it?  I can think of a few reasons.  (a) Americans don't like to hear anyone telling them they aren't the best at anything. (b) It would require politicians to explain how it is that other countries do healthcare better and cheaper than us — and Americans really, really don't like to hear that France does something better than us. (c) Since most Americans have health insurance and get adequate care, it's a tough sell. (d) Democrats agree with McConnell.

I suppose there are other possible reasons too.  But why nibble around the edges?  Republicans are willing to straight out claim that we're the best, even though there's virtually no metric in which this is even remotely the case.  It's as laughable as saying that America has the best soccer team in the world.  So why aren't we willing to stretch things a bit and flatly say that virtually every advanced country offers better healthcare than we do?  What's so hard about that?

Every year, the Pentagon is required to send Congress a round-up of the total cost of major weapons systems. The Select Acquisition Report, or SAR, is one of the few publicly available tools with which to keep track of how major programs measure up with their original cost estimates—you can find them here. GAO uses the SARs to calculate that the DOD's biggest programs are currently running nearly $300 billion over budget.  Outside analysts have combed the reports to estimate that if the Pentagon doesn't change its ways, those programs will go an average 46 percent over budget in the next 10 years.

But this year, the Pentagon won't be compiling a SAR. The official excuse so far is that the weapons portfolio will be dramatically overhauled during the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) later this year, and so the DOD plans to put together a SAR after that review is completed. That doesn't strike me as very convincing. The Pentagon is required by law to submit a SAR every year.  Even if the weapons portfolio happens to change in 2010, Congress and the public are entitled to an explanation of weapons spending as it stands now. In fact, releasing that information would surely help Obama and Gates make the case during the QDR that more troubled weapons programs should be slashed—and would also lend weight to their ongoing efforts to overhaul the Pentagon's messed-up procurement process.

Given Obama's rhetoric on the campaign trail about making government more transparent to citizens to help them pressure elected officials to serve their interests, one might have hoped that his DOD would make this kind of information more accessible, not less so. Indeed, because pro-defense industry lawmakers are predictably resisting Gates' weapons cuts, getting the public on board is probably the only hope Obama has of making those cuts stick—and there's never been a better time to argue that the country can't afford the DOD's out-of-control spending. But right now, the information the DOD does release about acquisitions programs is slapped haphazardly onto this epicly crappy website. It's hard to use and difficult to navigate. Even if a concerned citizen wanted to learn more about how the Pentagon is wasting his money, it's likely that all he'd get for his trouble is a bunch of "file not found" messages and a giant migraine. A Pentagon rep will be meeting with congressional representatives next week to discuss the missing SAR. Let's hope lawmakers press the DOD to change its mind.

Moby Healthcare

On Friday I told David Corn that on odd days I was optimistic about the prospects for healthcare reform and on even days I was pessimistic.  Since it was Friday the 17th when we talked, I was optimistic.  The AMA is on our side!  The House Tri-Committee Bill is pretty good!  Hoorah!  He just laughed.  On Saturday, I was again pessimistic.  The centrists Dems are screwing everything up!  There's no way to pass a tax increase to fund it!  We're doomed!

On Sunday I was going to write about this.  But shortly after Tom Watson's epic meltdown at the end of the British Open, our power went out.  And stayed out.  It didn't come back on until 4:30 this morning.  Turns out that was mostly good news, though.  I did get to see all the golf, after all.  And the power outage spared you all some aimless musings about the politics of healthcare.  And since I had nothing else to do, I pulled Moby-Dick off the shelf and decided that dammit, I'd actually read it this time.  I haven't quite done that yet, but I'm about halfway through.

As for healthcare, I don't really know what I think.  It's an even day so I supposed I'm pessimistic.  We landed a man on the moon 40 years ago but we can't even pass a national healthcare plan?  What a screwed up country.  But check back with me tomorrow for another opinon.