Jason Bellini at The Daily Beast reports that for the first time since the early '90s, the Senate will hold formal hearings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. After failing to secure 60 votes (remember: we live in a democracy) to filibuster-proof her bill to end DADT, Kirsten Gillibrand lobbied the Senate armed services committee, which agreed to hold hearings in the fall.

I see this as a baby step, albeit one in proper direction. I know the House fight to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, led by Pennsylvania's Patrick Murphy, has momentum: It's picking up about two sponsors a week, but still needs 54 representatives to sign on to ensure passage.

In other words, this looks like it will shape up to be a long slog. The slow pace isn't frustrating per se; some issues require considerable thought and debate. But you would think in the United States our representatives would not have to think twice about purging blatant discrimination from the United States Code.

That's the reason I find myself so frustrated with the speed at which Congress is tackling this issue. (Obviously this is tempered by the fact that we arguably have more important issues on the table—two wars going on during the worst recession in more than 50 years.) But I see it as a civil rights violation that no reasonable person could support. Why so many of our representatives can bloviate about the importance of a strong military while supporting a policy that summarily fires more than 800 able service men and women every year is even further beyond me—and reason.

Meet Del and Barbara Spier. The Texas grandparents were bankrupt as of March 2002, but they bounced back big thanks to Afghanistan's contracting free-for-all. The ink had barely dried on their bankruptcy filing [PDF], when the Spiers' company, US Protection and Investigations, was handed a multi-million security contract [PDF] by the Louis Berger Group; USAID had selected the construction and engineering conglomerate for the massive task of reconstructing Afghanistan's decimated infrastructure. USPI went on to land work with the United Nations, the World Bank, and others, growing almost overnight from a mom-and-pop firm into a security behemoth, employing thousands of guards on loan to the company from Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior and other local powerbrokers (read: warlords). All the while, according to federal investigators, USPI was quietly defrauding the government of millions in connection with its USAID subcontracts—double-billing for personnel, fuel, and vehicles.

I have a long piece out today on USPI's operations and the fraud allegations facing the Spiers, whose case goes to trial in late September.

Below the fold, a few highlights.
 

Quote of the Day

From Sen James Inhofe (R–Cloudcuckooland), commenting on the conspiracy theorists who think Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States:

"They have a point."

This provides some needed context to Inhofe's frequently stated belief that global warming is also a hoax.  At least now we know what his standards are.

What was on the torture tapes that the CIA destroyed?

The ACLU is trying to get the details. On Friday, the group filed a motion (PDF) in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU hopes to force the release of documents that would help the public reconstruct what was on the destroyed videotapes and understand why they were destroyed. Those documents include, "among other things,":

(1) cables describing the contents of the destroyed videotapes and the CIA’s use of "enhanced interrogation techniques,"; (2) documents "summariz[ing] details of waterboard exposures from the destroyed videotapes," (3) numerous memoranda and cables discussing and perhaps deciding what to do about the videotapes and the harsh interrogations they depict; and (4) a photograph of Abu Zubaydah presumably depicting the use or consequences of "enhanced interrogation techniques."

If government officials were willing to defy a court order and destroy the videotapes to prevent them from ever being released, what are the odds that the ACLU will get documents that describe what was on the videotapes?

Sgt. Joshua Anderson of Battery B, 1st Battalion, 113th Field Artillery Regiment, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, from Indian Trail, N.C., secures the outside of a home while on a joint patrol with the Iraqi army, south of Baghdad, July 18. (Photo courtesy army.mil.)

Blue Marble-ish stories from our other blogs:

Commodifying Carbon: Turning carbon into just another commodity might not be a bad idea.

Making Lemonade: Congress is so close on the healthcare bill... yet so far.

In With the Old: The new drug czar, like the old one, still thinks marijuana is dangerous.

Global What? Despite George Will, the globe IS still warming.

Fat Cats: Kevin Drum is putting his kitties on a diet. Predicted Inkblot response: hiss!

Making Changes: Is healthcare reform wilting? David Corn opines.

Cougar Convention: Cougars are setting up a den in Palo Alto.

 

Grizzly Bear
Veckatimest
Warp Records

Veckatimest is one of the most anticipated and best-reviewed indie rock records of the year—"a game changer" and rare 9.0 on the Pitchfork scale that is said by The New Yorker to capture "a band in full, collaborative density." On this, its fifth release, Grizzly Bear has expanded its psych-folk sound in multiple directions, making it sweeter and happier, or alternately jazzier and brusquer. The choirboy melodies brood and pine, the odd instruments meet seamlessly and neatly layer. The album took more than a year to make. Which is why, ever since its release in May, I've been wondering how it could be that I like it a lot but don't totally love it. Is the problem with me, or with Grizzly Bear?

If there's a literary analogue to Grizzly Bear, it's Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia. Chatwin was a gay Londoner who worked at Sotheby's before becoming a travel writer; he built vignettes with the same attention to detail as one might construct the leg of a Chippendale cabinet. Yet this tendency toward the baroque was leavened by the rough beauty of Chatwin's subject matter. The same dialectic animates Williamsburg-based Grizzly Bear: Acoustic plucking, flutes or strings, and nearly effete falsetto harmonies lift us effortlessly on the wings of electric feedback toward the harshly sublime.

Wilco
Wilco (The Album)
Nonesuch


Any Midwesterners worth their salt know Chicago alt-rockers Wilco. They can pick out the unmistakable voice—by turns gravelly and soothing or resigned and rollicking—of front man Jeff Tweedy (interviewed here), or air-drum the intro to Wilco hit "Heavy Metal Drummer." Tweedy and Co. are finally back with the ingeniously titled Wilco (The Album), their most, well, Midwestern release in a decade.

But in this case, Midwestern isn't necessarily a good thing—as it was with Wilco's early, country-infused A.M. and Summerteeth (reviewed here) releases. Once the final song ends, you're more or less left feeling like you just finished a road trip from Minneapolis to Chicago: It's a modestly enjoyable experience with few highlights, and you don't remember much of it a day or two later. (The Album) has a few standout tracks, but unlike Wilco's haunting 2002 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, there's not much memorable here.

Sunday Dog Blogging

Paul Krugman writes today about the incoherence of the Blue Dog position on healthcare reform: they say they want it to be fiscally neutral, but they relentlessly oppose every effort to actually make it revenue neutral.  Does this mean they're just corporate shills?

I guess I’m not quite that cynical. After all, today’s Blue Dogs are politicians who didn’t go the Tauzin route — they didn’t switch parties even when the G.O.P. seemed to hold all the cards and pundits were declaring the Republican majority permanent. So these are Democrats who, despite their relative conservatism, have shown some commitment to their party and its values.

Now, however, they face their moment of truth. For they can’t extract major concessions on the shape of health care reform without dooming the whole project: knock away any of the four main pillars of reform, and the whole thing will collapse — and probably take the Obama presidency down with it.

I'll bet he was gritting his teeth when he typed that.  My attitude toward the Blue Dogs is a wee bit less charitable than that at the moment, and when he's not writing for public consumption I'll bet Krugman's is too.  The Dogs may be centrists, but someone needs to remind them that they're still supposed to be centrist Democrats.  It's time to fish or cut bait.

Paying the Piper

Matt Yglesias is pessimistic today about the chances of serious healthcare reform:

David Leonhardt has another in a growing series of great David Leonhardt pieces on the nutty and dysfunctional nature of “fee-for-service” medicine in which doctors are paid for doing stuff rather than for treating illness.

The problem, however, is that to totally change how medical professionals get paid would be a big disruptive change, and I see no sign that the public really wants such a change....Opting for the Barack Obama approach where you focus on reassuring people that the status quo won’t change too much seems like a smart play, even though the case for changing things a great deal is very strong.

Generally speaking, this is true.  It's hard to get people to accept the inherent risk of a major change unless they're personally dissatisfied with the status quo.

But this particular issue strikes me as quite different.  After all, how many patients know how their doctors are paid?  How many would care if their doctors were paid a straight salary rather than fee-for-service?  Would any of them be upset if they learned their doctor was switching from one compensation plan to the other?

I doubt it.  Conservatives could undoubtedly gin up some scaremongering talking points on the subject, but fundamentally this isn't something that would be hard to sell to the public.  There are plenty of other complicated issues related to how doctors are compensated1, but I'm not sure that public rebellion is one of them.  As Leonhardt says, this is mostly doctor vs. doctor stuff.

1Oh yes, it's complicated.  Fee-for-service is a problem because it motivates the entire medical industry to order lots of tests and procedures even if they have marginal value.   Boo!  Then there's capitation, where doctors are paid a set annual fee for every patient they take on regardless of how much medical attention they need.  Ordering tests and followup visits eats into the bottom line, so they have an incentive not to overtreat.  Hooray!  But would you want to see a doctor who was highly motivated to offer as little service as possible?  I didn't think so.

Paying doctors a straight salary seems like the best middle ground.  But that just pushes the problem up a level: maybe individual doctors get a salary, but how do you set overall compensation for the medical group or hospital?  And what about physicians in private practice?  You can't very well pay them a salary when they work for themselves, so does private practice go away?  And what about bonuses?  Should doctors be paid more based on some kind of formula for productivity and general wonderfulness?  Would you care to propose such a formula so the rest of can all laugh at it?

Anyway: complicated.