2007 - %3, March

Enticing New Health Care Plan from Little Known Corner of Congress

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 2:21 PM EST

A new Slate article by Jacob Weisberg examines that state of American health care, from the status quo to Bush's plan to John Edwards' plan to... Ron Wyden's plan?

Yup. The Democratic senator from Oregon has a plan, and it sounds mighty attractive. Imagine if the giant, Byzantine mess that is the current health care system in this country was reduced to this:

Under Wyden's plan, employers would no longer provide health coverage, as they have since World War II. Instead, they'd convert the current cost of coverage into additional salary for employees. Individuals would use this money to buy insurance, which they would be required to have. Private insurance plans would compete on features and price but would have to offer benefits at least equivalent to the Blue Cross "standard" option.

And Wyden is serious about the "universal" aspect of universal health insurance. From a summary of his plan: "Every time an individual interacts with state, local and federal government — registering their car, enrolling their children in school, applying for a driver's license or paying their taxes — they can be required to verify their enrollment in a private health insurance plan." Also, I'm sure this is music to some people's ears: "Previous and existing health problems, occupation, genetic information, gender and age will no longer be allowed to impact eligibility or the price paid for insurance."

Now you might say, "That's very well and good, but what about the unemployed, low-wage workers, and freelance bloggers? If they can't afford private health insurance now, why would they be able to afford it under the Wyden plan?" Wyden's website is stocked with information on the subject, and in all the "Before Wyden Plan"/"Under Wyden Plan" scenarios you can find there, previously uninsured individuals pay for private insurance at affordable rates. But how? From the same summary:

Employers who do not currently provide health benefits will be required to begin making phased in "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments." These payments will be used to ensure that everyone can afford their health plans by funding premium reductions.

After two years, all employers will pay these "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments," driving down the cost of premiums for employees across the country, the semi-employed, and the unemployed.

Now it's just a matter of getting this thing off the ground. As Weisberg writes in Slate, it might actually have a chance to succeed because Wyden is building support methodically and effectively.

He has support from CEOs, labor leaders, and even one maverick health-insurance executive. And instead of trying to flatten the opposition, as the Clintons did in 1994, Wyden is courting Republicans. He recently got five of the most conservative men in the Senate to join him and four other Democrats as co-signers of a letter to Bush responding to the White House proposal. The letter endorses the principles of universal coverage and cost containment, and proposes that they all work together on a compromise.

Godspeed.

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Seriously Mixed Signals from the Commanders in Baghdad

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 12:06 PM EST

About a week ago I highlighted an important story in Newsweek that explained how completely different the discussion about Iraq in America is from the reality on the ground. Congress may be debating (kind of) how to end the war, but over in Baghdad, Gen. Petraeus is embedding our troops with the Iraqi citizenry and "putting down roots." We're in it for the long haul, said Newsweek. Petraeus is trying to fight the war over again from scratch.

But today the Guardian reports that Petraeus and the Brainy Bunch are giving themselves six months to turn things around.

An elite team of officers advising the US commander, General David Petraeus, in Baghdad has concluded that they have six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

This could mean several things. (1) That Petraeus really does have a long-term strategy but he will scrap it if there is no discernable progress in the next six months. (2) This Guardian story is just a bit of masterful PR by the Army to show that the new commander is aware of the war's failing support back home, and the long-term strategy moves forward unimpeded. Or (3) one of the two stories is wrong.

I'm guessing some combination of all three. But Petraeus -- who was basically set up to fail -- appears to have an even more impossible situation.

What Doug Feith Left Off His New Website

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 11:56 AM EST

Doug Feith, the former undersecretary of defense who helped set up the Pentagon operation that stovepiped bad intel about WMD and Saddam-Al Qaeda links to the White House, has been trying to clear his name recently. Now he says he was just asking "tough questions" about the CIA's work, not trying to peddle bogus theories to justify an invasion of Iraq. Just a skeptical public servant holding those in power accountable. And if you believe that, I have a war to sell you. Feith's latest effort in name-clearing is a website that promises to challenge the "media myths" and offers glowing quotes about his character from Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace. Funny, but Feith has conspicuously left off what's probably the most memorable quote about him by a military man he used to work with. Here, let us fix that:

feith.gif

Global Warming...Are You Ready?

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 11:56 AM EST

Diesel shoppers surely are. I can't believe I missed this. Diesel's new ad campaign for their Spring/Summer '07 collection, is out, and my oh my, just wait until you see what they have in store. The campaign is based on the premise of whether or not you (their client) are ready (Read: Do you have the right clothing and accessories?) for the hot temps of global warming. Yes, this is for real. There is even a video which warns of the dangers associated with a warming climate, but urges fashion lovers not to distress, and instead take action (of course, in the form of bolstering your wardrobe with warm-weather essentials). You really have to see it for yourself.

Keep up on the latest news about global warming at the MoJo science and health blog, The Blue Marble.

Democrats Will End War in Iraq with... Pork?

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 11:52 AM EST

With John Murtha's plan to slowly end the war in Iraq mired in controversy and unable to get broad support, and the Democratic leadership's plan to rewrite the 2002 authorization for war going nowhere, the Democrats have turned to a different tactic.

Loading a war spending bill with pork.

Seriously, that's the best the Dems, who control both houses of Congress, can do. From today's Washington Post:

While Democrats try to restrict how President Bush can spend the $100 billion he wants for Iraq, they also hope to load his measure up with $10 billion in add-ons...
Lawmakers from the Great Plains are pressing for about $4 billion in disaster aid for farmers suffering under drought conditions.
The California delegation is demanding help for citrus, avocado and other Central Valley farmers facing $1.2 billion in losses from a devastating January freeze.

And so on and so on. Mind you, the idea here isn't to pump the bill so full of special interest spending that Bush has to veto it. No, the idea is to take advantage of the fact that Bush and Congressional Republicans would never have the cojones to stop a war spending bill, and thus push through a lot of favorite projects.

What? Seriously, what? Talk about having a tin ear. Didn't the Democrats ride into Congress promising to end the march of bills swollen on earmarks and Republican pork barrel projects? Are they seriously proposing this right now?