2009 - %3, October

R.I.P. Chicago Olympics

| Fri Oct. 2, 2009 9:26 AM PDT

In a stunning upset, Chicago was the very first city eliminated this morning from voting to host the 2016 Olympics.  Reaction from The Corner:

Ponnuru: Chicago is out of contention....But I'm sure that Obama will be a lot more persuasive with the Iranians.

Miller: Wow, what an embarrassment for Obama. If he can't work his personal magic with the Olympians, why does he expect it to work with the Iranians?

Lowry: We Can Take Some Comfort....in this distressing hour that the Iranians, Russians, Chinese et al. are push-overs compared to the International Olympic Committee. Right?

You know times are tough when the NR gang all have to use the same gag writer to produce their lame jokes.  Of course, the real loser in all this is Oprah, but I notice that none of these guys has the guts to take her on.  Probably wise thinking.

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Your Morning Healthcare

| Fri Oct. 2, 2009 8:28 AM PDT

Here's your morning healthcare roundup.  First up is Bruce Bartlett, who, after a long technical explanation about how Medicare premiums work, summarizes a recent roll call on a bill that blew yet another hole in the deficit by preventing a scheduled premium increase even for very wealthy seniors:

The main people affected by this situation are those with high incomes for whom paying $6 to $16 a month extra can hardly be considered burdensome.... Interestingly, the only representative willing to speak against this unjustified give-away was House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.....Even many of the Congress' strongest budget hawks were AWOL in this case. Among those voting for it were right-wing heroes Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. Nor was I able to find anything about this legislation on the Web sites of various conservative think tanks.

No surprise here.  A few months ago conservatives decided that reining in spending was good for townhall speeches, but nothing to actually be taken seriously.  Much better to have a campaign issue against Democrats.

Reading on, here's a Bloomberg story about some real socialized medicine:

After serving in Vietnam and spending three decades in the U.S. Navy, [Rick] Tanner retired in 1991 with a bad knee and high blood pressure. He enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration and now benefits from comprehensive treatment with few co-payments and an electronic records system more advanced than almost anywhere at private hospitals.

“The care is superb,” said Tanner, 66, a San Diego resident who visits the veterans medical center in La Jolla, California, and a clinic in nearby Mission Valley. The record- keeping, he said, is “state of the art.”

....The system is a larger enterprise than that envisioned for the so-called public option being considered by Congress, where the government would run a nonprofit insurer as an alternative to the private industry, not provide care. That hasn’t stopped opponents such as House Republican leader John Boehner from warning that President Barack Obama favors “government-run health care,” a criticism that bothers many veterans.

“I really get annoyed every time I hear these talking heads talking about ‘the government can’t run anything,’” said John Rowan, 64, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who visits a New York clinic for complications from contact with the chemical Agent Orange. “Most veterans would give it a fairly good rating.”

Like they say, read the whole thing.  And finally, here's Kirk Nielsen on the cost of a single night at the hospital after feeling some chest pains:

The doc soon arrived, said my heart was fine and handed me an instruction sheet with two recommendations: ibuprofen or Tylenol, and antacids. Who knew? Gastroesophageal phenomena can cause dull, throbbing pains above your heart and make your left hand feel cold and tingly. Better safe than sorry.

And who knew that all of this costs only $4,712?

As it turned out, Nielsen was fine.  But considering the cost (his share was about $1,000), I wonder if he'll have second thoughts about heading to the emergency room the next time something like this happens?  Should he?

White House Signals Afghan Exit Strategy?

| Fri Oct. 2, 2009 8:16 AM PDT

For much of this past week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has been fielding a flow of questions about the Afghanistan war—especially queries about the three-hour pow-wow President Barack Obama held with his entire national security team on Wednesday to discuss the road ahead in Afghanistan. At Thursday's daily briefing, Gibbs wouldn't say much about what had been discussed in the Situation Room during that meeting. "The President got a chance yesterday to hear from—a robust discussion with the intelligence community and robust discussion with military and diplomatic advisors," he said, using routine press secretary-speak.

Gibbs did note that there had been no discussion about sending more troops. But he didn't say anything about the debate now underway in the administration between those who support the call of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, for expanding the war effort there into a full-fledged counterinsurgency operation with more troops (which would entail building up the Afghan government and military to defeat the Taliban), and those who favor a more narrow approach focused on counter-terrorism (which would mainly target al Qaeda). But Gibbs did signal what might become an exit strategy—or an exit excuse—for the Obama administration.

The New Right-Wing Attack Target: Kevin Jennings

| Fri Oct. 2, 2009 5:32 AM PDT

After pursuing--and nailing--Van Jones and Yosi Sergant, the right-wing hit squad is now after Kevin Jennings, a Department of Education official in charge of the safe and drug-free schools. They claim Jennings aided and abetted statutory rape.

In his DailyPolitics.com column, David Corn reviews this latest conservative crusade. He writes:

So what did Jennings do?

In a 1994 book, he recounted his experience as an in-the-closet gay teacher at a private school, and he described a 1988 episode in which a male high school sophomore confided to him his involvement with an older man. Jennings was 24 years old then, and as he wrote, "I listened, sympathized, and offered advice. He left my office with a smile on his face that I would see every time I saw him on the campus for the next two years, until he graduated."

In a 2000 talk to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, which Jennings had started, he recalled that this student had been 15 years old, had met the older man in a bus station bathroom--for that was the only way he knew how to meet gay people--and that he (Jennings) had told him, "I hope you knew to use a condom." Jennings' best friend had died of AIDS the week before his chat with the student. According to Jennings, the student replied, "Why should I? My life isn't worth saving anyway."

The right is vilifying Jennings because he didn't tell the student's parents or the authorities that this closeted gay student was having sex with an older man. That is, he didn't out this student, who was clearly troubled by his inability to be open about his sexual orientation.

Corn notes that this was not a black-and-white situation:

In 1988, it was harder to be gay than it is today--especially for a teacher and an adolescent. Conservatives who oppose gay rights generally don't display much sympathy for people who have to keep their homosexuality hidden--and don't show much concern for how that affects their lives. But I can imagine the difficult situation both Jennings and the student were in. The student needed a confidante, and Jennings had to worry about the students well-being, which included protecting his secret. (Had there not been so much anti-gay prejudice, of course, the two would not have been in these respective positions.) It's possible that Jennings helped save the kid's life by encouraging him to think about condoms. It's possible that outing the student may have led to terrible consequences. There's no telling. But only someone blinded by ideology would refuse to recognize that Jennings was contending with thorny circumstances. Perhaps he didn't make the right decision. It was a tough call. But the go-for-his-throat campaign being waged against Jennings is mean-spirited and fueled by an any-means-necessary partisanship.

In response to the right-wing bleating, Jennings has released a statement saying that he can now see "how I should have handled this situation differently I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training and guidance about this kind of thing." And Education Secretary Arne Duncan has stated his support of Jennings: "He is uniquely qualified for his job and I'm honored to have him on our team."

The question is, will the White House back Duncan and Jennings on this? Or will the attack dogs of the right gain another bloody prize?

UPDATE: Media Matters reports that it has obtained a copy of the driver's license of the student and that it shows the student was 16 years old at the time of this incident. The liberal media watchdog group has posted a redacted copy of the license here.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 2, 2009

Fri Oct. 2, 2009 5:30 AM PDT

A convoy loaded with shipping containers waits for the signal to depart the Class IV Depot, Sept. 19, 2009, aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. The lot is being closed as part of the drawdown in Iraq as excess materials are being sent to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Marine Corps photograph by Cpl. M. M. Bravo.)

Need To Read: October 2, 2009

Fri Oct. 2, 2009 5:28 AM PDT

Today's must-reads are somewhat surprised to see health care reform moving forward:

  • Senate Finance Committee to vote next week on health care reform (NYT)
  • White House may narrow war effort (WaPo)
  • Sen. John Ensign helped aide after affair (NYT)
  • Chris Dodd's Extreme Makeover (MoJo)
  • The Most Powerful Woman in the World: If We Could Read Olympia Snowe's Lips... (Hotline)
  • Even Hayek Thought Universal Government-Provided Health Care Was A Good Idea (Andrew Sullivan)
  • Copy Editing at The New Yorker Magazine. An Interview With Mary Norris (Red Room)
  • Jim Henley's Entry in WaPo's Next Top Pundit Contest=Epic Win (Jim Henley)
  • Judge Confirms That an Innocent Man Was Tortured to Make False Confessions (HuffPo)
  • It's comforting that, with all the uncertainty in the world, at least Ken Lewis (retiring CEO of Bank of America) is going to be okay. (CNN)

Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

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How Stimulating is the Stimulus?

| Fri Oct. 2, 2009 12:07 AM PDT

A fiscal "multiplier" is a measure of how effective government spending is.  If it's greater than 1, it means that a dollar of federal spending produces more than a dollar of increased economic activity.  So to evaluate how effective a stimulus package is, we need to know what multiplier to use.

Today we get estimates from two sources.  First up is Robert Barro, who has done a detailed study of the effect of increased defense spending:

World War II tends to dominate....the defense-spending multiplier that applies at the average unemployment rate of 5.6% is in a range of 0.6-0.7....It increases by around 0.1 for each two percentage points by which the unemployment rate exceeds its long-run median of 5.6%. Thus the estimated multiplier reaches 1.0 when the unemployment rate gets to about 12%.

To evaluate typical fiscal-stimulus packages, however, nondefense government spending multipliers are more important. Estimating these multipliers convincingly from U.S. time series is problematical, however....The effects of tax rates on GDP growth can be analyzed from a time series we've constructed....a one-percentage-point cut in the average marginal tax rate raises the following year's GDP growth rate by around 0.6% per year.

So: at the current rate of unemployment the multiplier for defense spending is about 0.85.  For nondefense spending, Barro guessed a few months ago that it's approximately zero, but this time around he just says that he doesn't know.  And tax cuts tend to be fairly effective.

Next up is a team of CEPR economists who have done a cross-national comparison of fiscal multipliers in 45 different countries:

For the US....The impact multiplier is 0.64 and the long-run cumulative multiplier is 1.19....pre-1980 multipliers are considerably larger than the post-1980 multipliers. The post-1980 multipliers are just 0.32 on impact and 0.4 in the long-run.

....In practice, a sizable component of President Obama's package consists of government investment, as opposed to government consumption....The multipliers are 2.31 on impact and 1.83 in the long run.

So: for the post-1980 period, the multiplier is some average of 0.4 and 1.83, depending on how much of the stimulus bill is consumption and how much is investment.  Roughly speaking, then, it's probably around 1.1 or so if they're evenly balanced.

I'll be fascinated to read learned commentary on this.  Barro's work strikes me as pretty shaky, since it's dominated so heavily by an extreme event many years ago (World War II).  On the positive side, he does take into account the fact that the multiplier ought to be higher as the economy gets worse and unemployment goes up.

The CEPR results are interesting, and the cross country dataset seems like a novel and worthwhile approach.  On the other hand, they produce only a single number that doesn't depend on economic conditions.  But that doesn't seem right.  In good economic times, it makes sense that the multiplier is low, since increased government spending probably just crowds out private spending.  During a deep recession, when monetary policy is already at its lower bound and lots of people are out of work, government spending ought to be more effective.  A single number doesn't capture that.

All told, then, I'm not sure how much either of these studies tells us about the size of the multiplier right now.  Zero really doesn't seem very likely, though.  Since Obama's stimulus package was a combination of investment, consumption, and tax cuts, and the unemployment rate is currently 9.7%, I'd guess that these studies taken together suggest an overall long-run multiplier somewhere in the range of 1.0-1.3.  But that's just an amateur swag.  Let's hear from the economists.

Public Opinion on Abortion

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 3:59 PM PDT

Is support for legal abortion declining?  A new Pew poll says yes, but ABC's polling director doubts it:

The problem: These two Pew results don’t match other polls that asked the same question this year. Support for legal abortion was 55-43 percent when we polled on it in June, 52-44 percent in an AP/GfK poll also in June and 52-41 percent in a Quinnipiac poll (among registered voters) in April.

....In a question we asked in June, for example, 60 percent said they’d want Sonia Sotomayor to vote to uphold Roe v. Wade if it came before the Supreme Court — very similar to the average (63 percent) when we asked this question four times (re Samuel Alito and John Roberts) in 2005. In somewhat different questions in CNN and CBS/NYT polls in May and June, 68 and 64 percent, respectively, did not want to see the high court overturn (or, in CNN’s phrasing, “completely overturn”) Roe — matching the high in occasional askings by CNN since 1989.

Abortion polling is notoriously sensitive to precise question wording and placement, but the Pew results really do appear to be outliers.  Worth keeping an eye on, though.

Is Rupert Murdoch Smothering Online Content?

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 2:52 PM PDT

Vanity Fair's November issue profiles Rupert Murdoch and his war against online news. Toward the end of the piece, Michael Wolff paints a troubling portrait of the man he says is leading the charge for reforming readers' access to online news:

It is not, what’s more, merely that Murdoch objects to people reading his news for free online; it’s that he objects to—or seems truly puzzled by—what newspapers have become online. You get a dreadful harrumph when you talk to Murdoch about user-created content, or even simple linking to other sites. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t buy it. He doesn’t want it.

This raises the question: Should the primary reformer advocating for paid online content be someone whose musings on the Internet sound more like, "Get off my lawn!"?

Murdoch's problem isn't, as Wolff suggests, that he's "ignoring his industry's biggest problem." But by closing his mind to the Internet and its potential for spreading information and promoting discussion, Murdoch himself has become the industry's biggest problem.

More on the Kerry-Boxer Climate Bill

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 2:04 PM PDT

A few things changed in the proposed Senate climate bill between the leaked drafts I wrote about on Tuesday and the official release yesterday.

Most notable is the drop of any reference to China and India. An earlier draft would have required the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to give a a report to Congress each year on whether China and India have adopted greenhouse gas emissions standards "at least as strict as those standards required under this Act," and if the administrator determines that China and India have not adopted standards, the administrator would be required to "notify each Member of Congress of his determination, and shall release his determination to the media."

That's completely absent from the final version the senators introduced on Wednesday. It's an interesting development, as the provision was clearly meant to abate fears from some legislators that domestic carbon regulations without an comparable response from other nations would put us at a disadvantage globally.