Kevin Drum

Staying a Step Ahead

| Mon Aug. 17, 2009 9:30 AM PDT

Should Democrats have foreseen the pushback against Medicare funding of advance care counseling and struck it from the House bill before it ever saw the light of day?  A couple of weeks I argued no.  After all, if conservatives hadn't gone crazy over that, they just would have found something else to go crazy over.

Now, I have to admit that the death panel frenzy we've been subjected to since then has shaken my confidence in this.  Maybe this was a uniquely vulnerable provision and we should have foreseen the reaction.  But no.  Amy Sullivan writes in Time this week about a completely different right-wing freakout over an even more innocuous provision in the bill: prenatal parenting counseling for expectant mothers.

Now conservative opponents of health reform have found a new threat: home nurse visits to low-income parents. "We are setting up a situation where Obama will be invading parent's [sic] homes and taking away their children," one columnist warned on RightWingNews.com. That something as harmless as home nurse visits has become a target of conservative ire is surprising because of its longstanding popularity with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. But health reform advocates are scratching their heads at the attacks for another reason: funding for home nurse visits was largely included in health reform legislation to accommodate social conservatives.

....The home visitation provision in health reform legislation was modeled on a bill authored by Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri. Bond went through a parenting education program in Missouri when his son was born three decades ago and has been a fan of the idea ever since. "Being a parent is hard work," he says, "and babies don't come with directions."....Home visits have been so popular with conservatives that the idea kept coming up during conversations White House aides hosted with pro-life advocates earlier this year in an effort to find common ground on abortion. And when Democratic Reps. Tim Ryan and Rosa DeLauro drafted the abortion reduction bill they introduced last month, they specifically included funding for home nurse visits as a way of accommodating pro-life preferences for policies that support women who decide to give birth instead of having abortions.

Home nurse visits are about as bipartisan an idea as it's possible to have.  Conservatives like it because it reduces the incentive to get an abortion and liberals like it because it's good social policy.  Everyone likes it!

But has that stopped the lunatic fringe from attacking it as a secular plot to indoctrinate the mothers of America?  Nope.  It hasn't gotten a ton of attention yet, but that's only because the loonies have been obsessed with death panels instead.  If that weren't in the bill, Sarah Palin would have dubbed the home nurse program as the Baby Brainwashing Brigades and everyone would be going nuts over that instead.

So I'm sticking to my guns.  It wouldn't have mattered what was in the bill, just like it didn't matter that we elected Obama instead of Hillary Clinton.  The loons would have found something crazy to scream about no matter what, and the media would have covered it.  That's just the reality we have to deal with.

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Cutting off Al-Qaeda

| Mon Aug. 17, 2009 8:51 AM PDT

Alex Rodriguez of the LA Times reports that the time is right for a major push against the Taliban:

For years, Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban have nurtured a symbiotic relationship that has paid off for both militant groups. The Taliban provided Al Qaeda and its leaders sanctuary within the rugged wasteland of Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghan border. In turn, Al Qaeda trained and helped finance its host.

Now, with the purported death of Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud and his organization temporarily rudderless, Al Qaeda finds itself made vulnerable by the disarray plaguing its patron, experts and Pakistani intelligence sources say. It's a window of opportunity that neither Pakistan nor the United States can afford to neglect.

....With the Taliban mired in disarray, experts say Pakistan and the U.S. need to ratchet up their bid to track down and eliminate other top Taliban commanders. The aim, they say, is not just to dismantle the Taliban, but to cut off Al Qaeda from the entity that keeps it insulated and secure deep within the badlands of Waziristan.

Italics mine.  Although the word "Afghanistan" is barely mentioned in this piece, it's pretty obvious that amping up the pressure on the Afghan Taliban is the flip side of all this.  So the question is: is it really true that the Pakistani Taliban is in disarray and al-Qaeda is vulnerable?  Or is this all part of a finely tuned media campaign to build support for a troop buildup in Afghanistan?  After all, we've been hearing that the Taliban is this close to defeat on pretty much an annual basis for the past five years.

And who knows?  Maybe it's true this time.  But even given the inherent difficulties in knowing what's really going on in the border regions, I think I'd still like to see some more concrete evidence.  As the article implies, one part of that would be evidence that the Pakistani army can actually fight effectively against the Taliban and al-Qaeda on its side of the border, something it really hasn't been able (or perhaps willing) to do in the past.  I'd like to see that happen first before we make any decisions about building up NATO and U.S. troop strengh.

Healthcare Bleg

| Sun Aug. 16, 2009 6:28 PM PDT

On the flight home from Pittsburgh I sat next to Jane Hamsher and we chatted about healthcare reform.  Our conversation got me wondering about something.

As you may know, there's a group of liberal Democrats in the House who are threatening to vote against any bill that doesn't include a public option.  Obviously they're hoping that this threat will be enough to force the conference committee to include a public option in its final report.

But even if this works, no one thinks that such a bill can get 60 votes in the Senate.  This means the only way to pass it would be via reconciliation.

So here's my question: supposing this happens, what are we likely to lose if we go down the reconciliation road?  The basic rule is that anything that doesn't affect the budget is off limits and would have to be discarded, but in practice only an expert could tell us which provisions are likely to fall foul of the reconciliation rules.  So who's an expert on this kind of thing?  I don't have a clue.  But before I decide what I think of this whole idea, I'd sure like to have a better sense of what I'm likely to get out of it.  On one side, I lose the public option but the rest of the bill has a pretty good chance of passing.  That's straightforward.  On the other side, I get a bill that includes a public option but loses a bunch of other stuff that can't survive reconciliation.  Like, say, community rating, which I suspect doesn't have enough budgetary impact to stay intact.  Ditto for just about everything else that reforms the private sector insurance industry.

So this is kind of a bleg.  Who knows enough about this stuff to give us the lay of the land?  If I have a choice between a bill that ditches the public option vs. a bill that keeps the public option but ditches a bunch of other stuff, which is better?  It all depends on what the "other stuff" is.  If anyone has any idea how to go about figuring this out, let me know in comments.

Reappointing Ben

| Sun Aug. 16, 2009 5:42 PM PDT

Video of my session at Netroots Nation doesn't seem to be available anywhere, which means that I can't watch it to see how it went.  However, I got this from a friend who watched it live:

I thought you might enjoy the attached screen capture.  You couldn't see it, but throughout there were ads on the screen, most of which keyed off your name.  We got ads for Canon toner DRUMS and oil DRUMS and all sorts of musical DRUMS and don't you just love the way "targeted" advertising works on the Internet?  I'm watching Kevin Drum so it follows that I might be in the market for a good oil drum.

Ain't the intertubes great?  On a more substantive note, not a single one of the panelists was opposed to reappointing Ben Bernanke.  Not even Dean Baker!  Et tu, Dean?  This suggests to me that Bernanke is a shoo-in for winning a second term.  If you can't even get a bunch of liberals at Netroots Nation to oppose him, what are the odds that anyone else is going to lead the fight?

Podcast: NetRoots Nation Dispatch

| Sat Aug. 15, 2009 2:14 PM PDT

If you didn't get a chance to watch Kevin's NetRoots Nation keynote live, this week's MoJo podcast is a short Pittsburgh dispatch from him. In it, we talk about the NetRoots Nation male-to-female ratio, Arlen Specter on the "death panels," and how fellow attendees are feeling about Obama. Listen to the podcast here.

Get Your Kevin Fix

| Sat Aug. 15, 2009 9:49 AM PDT

Hey Drum fans—today at noon Kevin is set to moderate the keynote Netroots Nation panel on "Building a 21st Century Economy" with New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, Change to Win Chair Anna Burger and economist Dean Baker. Rumor has it that C-Span may pick up the feed; you can also check out the live video below. While you wait, why not browse some of MoJo's fine economics coverage—Kevin's pieces on cap and trade and bank nationalization, James Galbraith on why the stimulus isn't big enough, David Corn's expose of Phil Gramm's role in bringing about the financial crisis, Nomi Prins' timeline of the debacle, and last but not least David Cay Johnston's modest proposal for fixing the tax code.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 14 August 2009

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 12:00 PM PDT

Just because I'm in Pittsburgh doesn't mean you don't get Friday catblogging.  Today I present "Still Life With Cat – 2009."  Clearly a masterpiece.

Specter on the Death Panels

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 8:52 AM PDT

Arlen Specter just told the Netroots Nation audience that as soon as he got off the stage he was going to call Chuck Grassley and set him straight on the whole death panel thing.  "Come on out and watch me dial," he said.  I wonder if anyone did?

UPDATE: From comments, apparently Specter did indeed dial but couldn't get hold of Grassley.  A Twitter war ensued.

The Hillary Narrative

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 8:39 AM PDT

Yesterday Paul Krugman reminded us that preferring Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton because you wanted to avoid the Clinton psychodrama of the 90s was always a vain hope.  Back in early 2008 he wrote, "Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false."  Ezra Klein, chatting online about town hall hysteria, added, "This is how the conservative movement organizes against major pieces of liberal legislation. It's not about a particular moment or leader."

This is unquestionably true, but I'd just like to add one thing.  If Hillary Clinton had won last year's Democratic primary and gone on to become president, and then this year's town hall meeting had turned into insane gatherings of lunatics yelling about death panels, every single pundit in Washington — Every. Single. One. — would be blaming it on her.  Their unanimous take would be: Democrats knew that she was a divisive figure and chose to put her in the White House anyway.  It's hardly any wonder that conservatives have gone nuts, is it?

That narrative, as we now know, would have been 100% wrong.  But that would have been the narrative anyway.  Caveat lector.

Off to Pittsburgh

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 10:36 PM PDT

I'll be at Netroots Nation this weekend, so blogging will be either light or very light for the next few days.  To make up for it, though, you might be able to watch me on TV.  I'll be moderating the lunch keynote panel on Saturday with Dean Baker, Jon Corzine, and Anna Burger, and the NN website suggests this will be carried live on either C-SPAN or C-SPAN2.  I don't know for sure if this will actually happen, but tune in at noon Eastern time and find out!