Conor Friedersdorf has three reasons he doesn't think he'll be able to support any of the progressive healthcare reforms currently on tap.  Here's #2:

It shouldn't be too difficult to imagine another Dick Cheney or Richard Nixon in the White House. Are we really comfortable assuming that the state will never use its role in health care to pressure political opponents, or collect frightening kinds of data, or politicize medical decisions more than is now the case? Isn't there any size and scope of government that progressives deem to be too big on prudential grounds? Why doesn't this put us there?

Points for originality here: I don't think I've ever heard this objection before.  And around here we like new and different.  Still, while I bow to no man in my contempt for either the Trickster or the Dickster, even I can't really see either one of them scheming to deny Ralph Nader a liver transplant or something.  But then again, maybe my imagination isn't active enough.

On the more conventional front, here's reason #3:

I keep seeing the argument that America is the leading health care innovator, and that if our system looks more like what Europe has, there won't be anyone left making strides in research and development. I haven't seen a convincing rebuttal, though there may well be one. Links?

This is actually the only objection to national healthcare that I find sort of interesting.  But here's the problem: the reason it's hard to find a convincing rebuttal is because the argument itself is purely speculative in the first place.  Sure, it's possible that the only thing keeping medical innovation alive is the (approximately) one-fourth of global healthcare spending accounted for by the quasi-private portion of the American market.  But that's all it is: possible.  There's no real empirical argument at work here, and given the current state of the global healthcare market, there probably can't be.  That makes it pretty hard to construct an empirical rebuttal.

So I guess I'd reframe this.  Instead of simply suggesting that innovation will die if America adopts national healthcare, how about breaking that down into three or four very specific arguments about what kind of innovations we're talking about and why they'd be destroyed if the feds funded 80% of American healthcare instead of the current 45%?  Let's hear some details and some proposed mechanisms.  Then maybe we can take a crack at having a discussion about it.

The view from Sarah Palin's porch remains as bizarre as it was when she said she could see Russia from there. Having conquered the limits of space, Palin's eyes now vaniquish time.

"American prosperity," the soon-to-be-former Governor of Alaska writes in today's WaPo, "has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy."

As Palin makes clear further on, the only energy sources that meet her All-American standards are fossil fuels. (Nuclear power is OK, but from an economic POV, it's something of a dinosaur, too.)

Coal. Natural gas. And, of course, the precious crude oil that gave rise to her battle cry, "Drill, baby, drill!"

The energy future Palin sees from her porch is, in fact, the past.

Palin's 20th Century obession with fossil fuels is not unique. On Monday, Wonkette took a swipe at the National Endowment for Democracy for hosting a conference on fostering democracy in oil rich countries. (Still?! Again?!)

According to a piece in today's HuffPo, even Exxon is experimenting with biofuels, investing half a billion dollars in algae-based program. (I think their dabble is doomed to failure, but that's a different post. Or, if you can't wait, check out what Greenbiz had to say on this subject last week.)

A more likely future was presented in a study released yesterday by the University of California: "Electric Vehicles in the United States."

The report forecast that electric vehicles (EVs) will account for up to 86% of all new car sales in the US in just two decades. What's interesting about the study is not its wildly optimistic viewpoint -- it's the business model they say will usher in that future.

Here’s the concept: You pay for the electric vehicle (like the Renault-Nissan Rogue shown above).

The company, Better Place, pays for (and owns) the $11,000 battery. And the network of charging stations. And the switching stations where customers can swap their nearly empty battery for a full one on long trips, at no fee. Under this scenario, you’ll buy the car in the usual way. But all the costs associated with powering the vehicle will come in the form of a pay-per-mile contract.

The concept is familiar to anyone who has a pay-per-minute cell phone contract. The cost to the consumer pencils out at a point well below what gasoline-powered drivers currently pay. The savings increase with the inevitable rise in oil prices.

The UC study found that “separating the purchase of the battery from the car and incorporating its financing into a service contract that pays for the electricity and charging infrastructure radically changes the pricing possibilities for electric vehicles.”

According to the study, other key benefits of adopting EVs at this scale include:

  • A decrease in oil imports of between 18-38%.
  • A reduction of the US trade deficit by a third.
  • A net increase of as many as 350,000 new jobs.
  • Health care saving of between $105-$210 million based on lower levels of airborne pollutants.
  • A 69% decline in CO2 emissions — if the electricity to charge the batteries comes from renewable, clean sources such as solar or wind.

To those who think this will never happen: it's already begun. With the aid of $45 million from the state of Hawaii, Better Place is installing charging stations in key areas on the islands. The company also plans on building a billion dollar charging infrastructure throughout the San Francisco Bay area. And the Japanese company, A123, has announced plans to build a $2 billion plant in Michigan to produce batteries for these cars.

The Sarah Palins of the world don't see any of this, of course. She and her followers are too busy marching backwards into the past and thinking they're gaining ground.

As all progressives know, looking forward is so much more fun.

 

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. He edited The Climate Bill: A Field Guide. For more of his stories, click here.

 

David Corn Talks Torture on NPR

On NPR today, MoJo's David Corn discussed Cheney, wiretapping, and torture.

To listen, click here. And read David's tweets about the segment below:

On NPR Diane Rehm Show (@drshow) I urged listeners to read IGs report on Bush's warrantless wiretapping & promised link http://bit.ly/O1nya about 4 hours ago from web

I'll be doing NPR's Diane Rehm Show (@drshow) in 16 minutes. Subject: torture, assassination, Cheney. You know, the usual.

Even for a legal nerd like myself, Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings have been fairly dull. So our friends at The UpTake took the liberty of spicing up the day's most interesting back-and-forth—between Sotomayor and Utah's Orrin Hatch.

So, there you have it: Sonia Sotomayor is Michelangelo.

Apples to Orgasms

An odd tidbit from our British friends across the pond:

A National Health Service leaflet is advising school pupils that they have a "right" to an enjoyable sex life and that regular intercourse can be good for their cardiovascular health.

The advice appears in guidance circulated to parents, teachers and youth workers, and is intended to update sex education by telling pupils about the benefits of sexual pleasure. For too long, say its authors, experts have concentrated on the need for “safe sex” and loving relationships while ignoring the main reason that many people have sex, that is, for enjoyment.

The document, called Pleasure, has been drawn up by NHS Sheffield, although it is also being circulated outside the city.

Alongside the slogan "an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away", it says: "Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes’ physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?"

Very interesting. But could such a sexually enlightened controversial program ever work here in the United States?

The so-called "Tri-Committee" healthcare plan has just been released, and it's so called because it's a joint effort from the House committees on Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce.  It looks pretty good at first glance, but honestly, I haven't read through it in any detail yet.  So more on that front later.

For now, though, let's take a look at the PR effort.  Here are the talking points from the "What's In It For You?" handout:

Comments?  I'd spruce up the "national pool" point, since I imagine most people don't really know what that means.  And I'd change "insurance companies" to "insurance company bureaucrats" — or maybe even "greedy, blood-sucking insurance company bureaucrats."  But I suppose that would be a little coarse for members of the United States Congress, no?

Overall, though, pretty good.  An average voter reading this really would come away with the idea that there's something in it for them.  It's a good start.

The State has some emails of right-wing media types sucking up to Mark Sanford's office. Josh Marshall calls this "Hacks on Parade." Steve Benen admits that "media professionals may try to curry favor with a source (or potential source) in the hopes of landing a bigger story or interview," but goes on to parse this story far too finely:

[T]his Sanford story seems different, to the extent that conservative news outlets communicated to aides for a conservative governor that they're on his side.

But it's not what the conservative outlets tell Sanford that's the issue. It's what they do. Take Stephen Colbert's email to Sanford's office, for example:

As you may know, I declared myself Governor of South Carolina last night. I went power mad for abut 40 seconds before learning that Gov. Sanford was returning today.

If the governor is looking for a friendly place to make light of what I think is a small story that got blown out of scale I would be happy to have him on. In person here, on the phone, or in South Carolina.

Stay strong, Stephen

Colbert's message highlights what's actually going on here. Colbert may or may not believe that the Sanford thing was "a small story that got blown out of scale." But he's clearly sucking up to get access: he's going to play it for laughs on the show. He certainly won't help keep it from being "blown out of scale," if that's what he really believes happened. Does anyone really think that it's only places like the WSJ and the Washington Times that do this sort of thing? How many journalists have told a source, "we want to get your side of the story out" when the story is already pretty clear from more reliable sources?

It's a hard truth, but Janet Malcolm was right about the journalist:

He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction learns—when the article or book appears—his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and "the public's right to know"; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.

Bottom line: it is neither surprising nor unusual that media figures were trying to flatter Mark Sanford while he was the biggest story in America.

In the New York Times this weekend, Emily Bazelon interviewed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  In the LA Times this morning, Jonah Goldberg read the interview, chopped off a Ginsburg quote about Roe v. Wade halfway through, and then asked this:

Unlike Bazelon, I for one would like to know whether Ginsburg believes there were — or are — some populations in need of shrinking through abortion and whether she thinks such considerations have any place at the Supreme Court.

And while we're at it, it would be interesting to know what Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor thinks about such things.

Yes indeed.  Goldberg is seriously suggesting that maybe Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believes we should try to shrink a few of our less desirable ethnic populations by providing them with increased access to abortion.  And then, just for the hell of it, he thinks we ought to find out whether Sonia Sotomayor thinks the same thing.

Needless to say, Ginsburg believes nothing of the sort.  You only have to read the sentence right after the one Goldberg quoted to see that.  And Sotomayor, of course, has absolutely no connection to this at all.  Isaac Chotiner has the details here.

The almost manic eagerness of the right to inject race into the Sotomayor nomination at every opportunity is enough to make you ill.  It started within minutes of her nomination being announced, and it's continued ever since.  Sen. Jeff Sessions took up the reins today.

There's never been any reason for it, of course.  It was ostensibly based on one sentence in a speech and one court decision out of hundreds she's made.  In reality, it's just because she's a Hispanic liberal and conservatives figure that a race-based attack is the one most likely to resonate with their base.  And I suppose they're right, aren't they?

Congress is fed up with the Treasury Department's lack of bailout transparency and, more specifically, its refusal to account for how rescued financial institutions have used their billions in taxpayer funds. And rightly so. It's only fair that, in bailing out struggling financial institutions, Geithner and Co. track how those taxpayer dollars have actually been used. Specifically, whether they've been used for their intended purpose (boosting lending to small businesses and consumers), or simply to shore up their balance sheets—as appears to be closer to the truth. Since Geithner failed to respond to a May letter from 20 House and Senate Democrats on this subject, Congress is taking matters into its own hands. It has inserted into the FY 2010 Financial Services and Government Appropriations bill language to legally mandate that Geithner either increase oversight and transparency over the use of bailout funds, or show up before Congress and explain why not.

The Treasury's rationale for not tracking these funds, an excuse they've been peddling for months now, is that it's essentially impossible to track the flow of bailout funds once they're in the banks' coffers. But that's BS. The Special Inspector General for TARP, or SIGTARP, said in its April quarterly report to Congress (PDF) that it had gathered this very information by surveying 364 banks that had received funds before January 31. All SIGTARP did was send letters to the banks and ask nicely. As the 20 lawmakers wrote in May:

Although the results of the [SIGTARP] survey still need to be analyzed, one thing is clear: Treasury's arguments that such an accounting was impractical, impossible, or a waste of time because of the inherent fungibility of money were unfounded. Banks generally provided a reasonable level of detail regarding their use of TARP funds, and, while the response quality was not uniform, some banks were able to provide detailed, at times even granular, descriptions of how they used taxpayer money.

The Financial Services and Government Appropriations bill mandating that Geithner explain himself should come up for a vote before the full House later this week. After countless reports and statements from individuals like SIGTARP point man Neil Barofsky, Congressional Oversight Panel chairwoman Elizabeth Warren, lawmakers, and others calling for far greater transparency over the bailout, perhaps Congress' latest effort will shine a light on how taxpayers’ billions have actually been used—hardly an unreasonable proposition.

Ok, maybe flop is a bit of an overstatement, but in Al Franken's much awaited debut on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the no-longer-funny comedian gave one of the worst performances of his life yesterday. Looking nervous, Franken delivered opening remarks at the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor, tripping over his lines in a way he never seemed to on his other live performances. He did manage to pay tribute to the good citizens of Duluth, a sign that he's got the important parts of this senatorial job down. You can judge his performance for yourself here: