Saturday, March 31, 2012

Go tell the justices: the ACA has a catastrophic coverage option

Attention, Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia: your objection to the extent of the individual mandate in the ACA may be based on at a partial misunderstanding. Or at least, on a failure by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli and the four justices supportive of the ACA to highlight an important provision of the law.

In questioning the right of the Federal government to require individuals to buy insurance, the justices glided past the argument that the requirement was justified because the cost of care for the uninsured drives up the cost of health care for everyone -- that we are all in the health care market -- by asserting that not everyone in the market needs the range of services that policies offered in the insurance exchanges are required to cover. This objection was hammered repeatedly, in a variety of ways, by Roberts, Alito and Scalia, and by Michael Carvin arguing for the plaintiffs.  Here's the first such assertion in the transcript:
JUSTICE ALITO: But isn't that really a small part of what the mandate is doing? You can correct me if these figures are wrong, but it appears to me that the CBO has estimated that the average premium for a single insurance policy in the non-group market would be roughly $5,800 in -- in 2016.

Respondents -- the economists who have supported the Respondents estimate that a young, healthy individual targeted by the mandate on average consumes about $854 in health services each year. So the mandate is forcing these people to provide a huge subsidy to the insurance companies for other purposes that the Act wishes to serve, but isn't -- if those figures are right, isn't it the case that what this mandate is really doing is not requiring the people who are subject to it to pay for the services that they are going to consume? It is requiring them to subsidize services that will be received by somebody else.
And Roberts, broadening the objection:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, but it's critical how you define the market. If I understand the law, the policies that you're requiring people to purchase involve -- must contain provision for maternity and newborn care, pediatric services, and substance use treatment. It seems to me that you cannot say that everybody is going to need substance use treatment -substance use treatment or pediatric services, and yet that is part of what you require them to purchase (pp 31-32).
And Scalia, following up a couple of minutes later:

If only Verrilli had said (A, B, C)...

To post-mortem is human.  Most attorneys acknowledge that oral argument is not the primary factor determining judges' decisions. And yet, if a judge is genuinely undecided, it's hard not to think that one definitive response to the primary source of uncertainty might not tip the scales. Hence the inevitable "if onlys" from those who sensed that Justice Kennedy at least was open to persuasion, and didn't get it from Solicitor General Verrilli.

Noah Feldman notes that Kennedy asked Verrilli for a "limiting principle" on the government's right to impinge on individuals' liberty and laments that Verrilli failed to tell him that health insurance is a unique market in that can't work unless everyone's in it -- though, as I argued previously, Verrilli did kind of make that point, in pieces.  Now here cometh Jeffrey Rosen, mourning one more un-fired silver bullet:

Friday, March 30, 2012

GOP "cruelty" revisited, and redoubled

if your budget passes, thousands of poor people are going to suffer because of your Medicaid cuts. I will never sign your Medicaid cuts. I don't care if I go down to five percent in the polls. If you want your budget passed, you're going to have to put someone else in this chair.

Bill Clinton to Dick Armey, 1995 (in Joe Klein, The Natural, p. 148)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Verrilli, slapped silly, recovers willy-nilly

I read rather than listened to the Supreme Court pleadings on the individual mandate yesterday, so I missed all the cues of body language and tone. Maybe that's why  I think that Solicitor General Verrilli is getting something of a bad rap in the lethal post-mortems.  (I'll also cop to being biased in favor of those under attack.)

To a degree, I suspect that critics are projecting their own discomfort and shock at the apparent intense hostility to the mandate expressed by Scalia, Roberts and Alito at the outset onto Verrilli, concluding that he buckled under the pressure of hostile questioning. Maybe he did look and sound ill at ease -- the play's the thing, not the script. But if  he did not answer this point or that point at the particular moment when one critic or another thought appropriate, it was in large part because he was repeatedly interrupted.  Ironically, some of the interventions by Ginsburg and Breyer may have diverted him an early answer to the core question: what was his "limiting principle, " a line the federal federal government could not cross while exercising its power to regulate interstate commerce.

By my count, Verrilli was interrupted 44 times in 50 pages of testimony.  Plaintiff's counsel Paul Clement, who was more fluent, was interrupted just 12 times in 24 pages. Clement's co-counsel Michael Carvin was interrupted at a rate similar to Verrilli -- 25 times in 27 pages. But the intensity in the two halves of the proceeding was reversed:  the liberal justices got in the groove of defending the mandate near the end of the proceeding, while Verrilli was buzz-sawed most intensely at the outset -- 16 times in the 15 pages following his opening statement. 

It therefore took him a while to spit out the core points. But he did get them out. The fractured early focus was the basis of much criticism -- for example, Noah Feldman's:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rock-a my soul in the bosom of 'bamacare?

There's the cliche that Democrats are "the Mommy party." And there's the tiredest rhyme in politics: Obama - yo' mama. Now there's the administration's decision to embrace, as the early Church did, a term of ridicule: Obamacare.

Methinks the resonance is maternal. Cue David Axelrod:

Of the tribe of Barack

Obama's statement on Trayvon Martin was an appeal to the better angels of our nature -- complicated but far from compromised by Obama's reference to his own blackness. For some, no doubt, that note was discordant with his universal appeal to parents to put themselves in the Martins' shoes, which came first:
And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together — federal, state and local — to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.
The way in which his personal note chimes or clashes with that appeal is complex:
But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.
That declaration, "if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," is literally addressed to the Martins -- and by extension, to all black Americans. That segues into a challenge to all Americans to acknowledge that the burdens still imposed on African Americans are a problem and responsibility for us all. That's where the risk comes in. It's a glimmer of the Jeremiah Wright speech: America's drive toward a 'more perfect union' is in some way centered on our continuing struggle with the legacy of slavery. That's implicit. And I imagine a lot of people still don't like it one bit. 

My personal reaction set me thinking -- not for the first time -- about Obama's hold on me. The clip teared me up. As is often the case when his speech strikes a chord, I recalled  the mildly self-mocking words of an academic friend. This time, I pulled them from her email of August 2009:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Egyptian Etch-A-Sketch, fear in -huville, etc.

In case you're finding the pickings lean on Twitter this weekend, a few good reads:

Egyptian Etch-A-Sketch -- in a good way. The Times reports that the Muslim Brotherhood, in a policy shift, is pressing Hamas to reconcile further with Fatah and present a united front to Israel.  The Brotherhood's Reda Fahmy explains the imperatives of power:  “Any movement of the size of the Muslim Brotherhood, when it is in the opposition it is one thing and then when it comes to power it is something completely different.”

Great writing, great marketing: What a riveting trope David Maraniss chooses to showcase his forthcoming Obama bio (though "old man" jars a bit):

Friday, March 23, 2012

Erasing the context of Fehrnstrom's gaffe

Blogging political scientists are useful killjoys, constantly reminding us that the things that feel like they matter most in daily political warfare usually matter not at all, or very little. Reagan's ability to sway public opinion from the bully pulpit? A mirage.  The 'driver's license' debate debacle that killed Hilliary's momentum? It didn't. The Etch-A-Sketch candidate, etched in stone? It'll shake clean by fall.

But this time I don't buy it. That is, I don't buy Brendan Nyhan's debunk in Columbia Journalism Review. Nyhan has two beefs about the coverage of Eric Fehrnstrom's Etch-A-Sketch gaffe: an ethical complaint about the way Fehrnstrom's remark has been interpreted, and a debunking of the widely forecast likely dramatic effects. On the latter front, I suspect he may be partly wrong. On the charge of unfairness to Fehrnstrom and Romney, I think he's almost completely off base.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jeremy Ben-Ami: economic pressure doesn't work?

Jeffrey Goldberg, previewing an interview he's soon to publish with J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami, puts up this response of Ben-Ami's to Peter Beinart's proposed Jewish boycott of West Bank settler goods:
"...I don't think that it makes any sense to put negative pressure on people whose behavior you hope to change. I think that the way that Israelis will feel comfortable making the compromises and the sacrifices -- and Israel as a whole, not just the settlers -- is when they really feel that not only American Jews, but the United States, is going to be there for them. I think if you begin to do things that say, "We're not really with you, we're against you, we're putting pressure on you," I think that causes people to pull more into a shell and pull back."
Hmm. I guess Ben-Ami doesn't think much of the sanctions imposed on Iran?  In December 2009, when Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) sponsored a bill in Dec. 2009 granting the Obama administration additional powers to place gasoline sanctions on that adversary, here's what he said:

Does Netanyhau know whether Netanyahu has been "bluffing"?

Jeffrey Goldberg, who's been warning us for two years that Israel is likely to strike Iran's nuclear facilities, recently mused aloud whether Netanyahu might not have been bluffing all along -- threatening a strike to induce the U.S. and the world to ramp up economic pressure on Iran. That stirred some indignation, since Goldberg has projected a kind of mind meld with Netanyahu, relaying his purported thinking and motive in detail.  If he's been played, he's been a main conduit for the rest of us being played.  James Fallows, accordingly, in his genteel way, has challenged Goldberg (via blogalog) to make a judgment. What's his best guess now? Bluff or strike?  Would he like to reassess his past analyses in light of what he's recently learned?

When I read that challenge, I thought of what I'm learning now about the Israeli government's conduct of policy in the wake of the 1967 war -- at least as presented by Gershom Gorenberg in The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977. Then, an analogous question might have been posed: annexation or land-for-peace?  (There is a crucial difference, in that there was not a short-term clock running on that decision, but the analogy still holds to a degree.)  And Gorenberg's thesis is that the leadership -- Levi Eshkol in particular at the outset -- never decided: their de facto policy was not to decide.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Proud owners of the post-truth campaign

Paul Krugman famously dubbed Romney's drive for the presidency "the post-truth campaign."  You would think the candidate and his organization would take umbrage at such a characterization.  But no, they've embraced it.

I can think of four occasions since October when Romney or his surrogates admitted more or less outright that Romney's words or deeds are either willfully misleading or purely for show.   Most recent first:

Rip Van Winkle looks at Super PACs

Take a step back. If you hadn't grown acclimated to our current political environment, mightn't this strike you as a bulletin from a democracy in decline? 
GOP candidates are relying more on super PACs. "The Republican presidential candidates are running low on campaign cash as expensive primaries in states like Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania loom, leaving them increasingly reliant on a small group of supporters funneling millions of dollars in unlimited contributions into 'super PACs.'...Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mr. Romney, spent more than $12 million in February, most of it on advertisements attacking his rivals as he battled in seven primaries and caucuses that month, according to campaign filings released on Tuesday. That followed close to $14 million in spending on Mr. Romney’s behalf in January." Nicholas Confessore in The New York Times.
I give Wonkbook's capsule, rather than select my own, just to capture that Rip Van Winkle moment when the full pathology of the new normal strikes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Courage, Peter Beinart

I don't have anything particularly insightful to say about Peter Beinart's call for a boycott of products from Israeli settlements on the West Bank, but as he gets attacked from various factions of the Israel-right-or-wrong bloc I just want to express my support.  Beinart draws his own red line on the green line, rhetorically quarantining "nondemocratic Israel" (the colonial power on the West Bank) from a still-loved still-democratic Israel proper. Here's his call to action:

Monday, March 19, 2012

The busted grand bargain was terrible -- but was it even worse than we knew at the time?

When I read the Washington Post's fly-on-the-wall account of last summer's failed negotiations for a "grand bargain" on deficit reduction, I felt it added more detail to what we already knew: Obama was ready to cut a horrendous bargain, deeply cutting spending while adding only $800 billion in new revenue over ten years, before the Senate Gang of Six unveiling made him raise his "ask" and so licensed the Republicans to walk away.

Chait, however -- who was quite vocal about the gross inadequacy of Obama's proposed deal at the time -- asserts that the Post's account reveals the pending deal to be even worse then was known publicly last July:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Is anyone around here interested in peace?

Updated 3/18 and reposted

Call me naive, but what seems to me an important overture from Mohammad Javad Larijani, Secretary-General of Iran's Human Rights Council and, according to Christiane Amanpour, a key foreign policy advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei, isn't getting much media attention -- certainly way less than all the saber-rattling at AIPAC earlier this month.

In an interview with Amanpour, Larijani said that Iran is "ready to go to full transparency" and allow "permanent human monitoring" of its nuclear sites in exchange for what he called "cooperation." Here is Amanpour's summary:
Mohammad Javad Larijani, who serves as Secretary-General of Iran's Human Rights Council and key foreign policy advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei, said the West should sell Iran 20 percent enriched uranium and provide all the help that nuclear nations are supposed to provide to countries building civilian nuclear power plants. He also said the U.S. and the West should accept his country's right to continue what Iran calls its peaceful nuclear program. In return for cooperation from the West, he said, Iran would offer "full transparency."
Recognizing that Iranian pronouncements can't be taken at face value, and that policy is often pulled in multiple direction in internal struggles, the following assertions by Larijani should not be fully be discounted, either:

Good riddance to Grand Bargain

As far as I can tell, the Washington Post's blow-by-blow of the disintegration of the "grand bargain" Obama was negotiating with House GOP leadership this summer does not change the basic outline of what we already know.  Obama was getting close to signing off on a horrendous deal with grossly insufficient new tax revenue; the Gang of Six rode in with the outline of legislation closer to the Bowles-Simpson mold than the deal in progress; many GOP senators made approving noises; the $1.5 trillion over ten years in new revenues called for by the Gang of Six outline highlighted the unpalatability of Obama's deal for Democrats; he tried to boost the headline revenue in his deal from $800 billion to $1.2 trillion; Boehner and Cantor recoiled; Obama retracted the new ask and expressed willingness to sign off on the prior deal contours, but Boehner left him at the altar.

The account, in my view, simply highlights old unaswerables:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Religious exemption for contraceptive coverage: who pays when the employer is self-insured? (cont.)

When the administration announced its compromise regarding the requirement that all health plans offer free contraception -- i.e., that if an employer objected on grounds of conscience, the insurer, not the employer, would pay -- I wondered immediately how that would work in the case of the large number of employers whose health plans are self-insured. Who would pay in cases where the employer is the insurer?

My guesses included the third party administrator (TPA) usually hired to run such plans. But that did not seem entirely to make sense, because a) not all self-funded plans use TPAs, and b) the TPA, by definition, does not fund the services provided.  Requiring them to pay for contraception would be a little like requiring outsourced payroll-handling services to pay for, say, ergonomic chairs.

Yesterday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rendered an answer of sorts. The Times' Robert Pear reports:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Attention, delegate math mavens: it ain't over when it's over

About this time in 2008, shortly after Hillary Clinton won the Texas and Ohio primaries on a night when Obama netted more delegates (March 4) than she did, political insiders were insisting with increasing certainty that Obama had a lock on the nomination. His narrow delegate lead was insurmountable, notwithstanding that Hillary Clinton was a "lead pipe certainty" to win the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, as Al Giordano wrote in early March.  And so it turned out.

Now, cognizati  are rolling their eyes at breathless horse-race coverage of the Republican primary contest.  Ross Douthat scopes out remaining contests, ventures predictions for each, and concludes, "the consequences are eminently predictable: Either Romney will clear the 1,144 delegate threshold in May or early June, or else he’ll fall 50-100 delegates short and need to play a little inside baseball to win some of the uncommitted delegates." For details, he kicks the ball to Michael Brendan Dougherty, who does the math:
Mitt Romney has won almost 1.2 million more votes than Rick Santorum overall. How much did Rick Santorum gain on him last night?

39,119 votes. So in Rick Santorum's "big wins" he erased approximately 1.35 percent of Romney's lead in votes. That's it....Get used to it: Romney is winning.
Quite so. But a few caveats.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

If the Democrats had a Romney of their own

After watching clips last night of Mitt Romney promising to defund Planned Parenthood and attacking Santorum for insufficient zealotry in matters sexual, I found myself engaged in a thought experiment. The analogy is imperfect, but the point of such things is just an imaginative nudge, so here goes.

Imagine that Joe Manchin, formerly governor of West Virginia and currently second most conservative Democrat in the Senate by voting record, runs for president in 2016 -- a year in which Democrats are frothing after four years of massive tax cuts and spending cuts (and maybe a new war or two) under President Santorum. In his Senate tenure, Manchin has voted against cloture for the bill repealing DADT, voted for the Blunt amendment that would have exempted any employer from providing coverage for any treatment that the employer objects to on grounds of personal conscience, voted against the payroll tax cut extension, announced that he would vote against raising the debt ceiling without a deficit reduction bill, and currently calls for "reforming" the individual mandate that is the lynchpin of the Affordable Care Act.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The case for Obama's weakness that the GOP won't use

As count-the-accomplishments plaudits for President Obama mount in this election year, it's disturbing to read Peter Beinert's account of Obama knuckling under to Netanyahu (adapted from his forthcoming The Crisis of Zionism).

The outlines were clear enough in contemporary accounts. The administration called for a settlement freeze and settled for the semblance of one. As the "freeze's" short term approached its end, the administration tried desperately to bribe the Israelis into an extension, and failed.  The never-really-started peace talks ended, and an Israeli-Palestinian settlement effectively disappeared from the agenda.  Now Israel's got the U.S. and the world riveted on the alleged "existential" threat from Iran.

At this point, Obama is hemmed in, thanks in large part to the disloyal opposition screaming at every juncture that can be no daylight between Israeli interests as defined by the Netanyahu government and American interests (as defined by the Netanyahu government).  Beinert's point is that it was not always that way.  At the outset, the Obama administration had the leverage to make its conditions stick. Or at least to have made a good-faith effort, which they failed to do:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In defense (a little) of Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is regarded pretty much across the political spectrum as the most malleable and opportunistic of candidates, willing to say anything to get elected.

If, however, you accept the premises that a) Romney has the ability and skill set to be a good president,  b) his only path to the presidency is the Republican nomination, c) he would make a better president than any other Republican candidate, and should therefore seek the nomination, and d) to win that nomination, he has to adopt many positions that he would not otherwise adopt, then it is true, as Romney has protested, that "I've been as consistent as human beings can be" (btw, I always found it telling that he pluralized that, effectively confessing to multiple personalities).

Romney's core positions sound like Republican orthodoxy. But generally, they are not only less extreme than those of his rivals, bu also vague enough to leave him room to tack back to the center, particularly if the Democrats retain at least one house of Congress or at least a filibuster firewall.  For example:

Friday, March 09, 2012

Romney keeps hacking at Obamacare's shadow limb

Jonathan Chait has helped me understand Romney's signature lie about Obamacare, repeated throughout the debates. The lie completes a false contrast: while Romneycare is a private, market-based solution, Obamacare is a government takeover. Here's the Jan. 26 iteration:
I didn’t say I’m in favor of top- down government-run health care, 92 percent of the people in my state had insurance before our plan went in place. And nothing changes for them. They own the same private insurance they had before.

And for the 8 percent of people who didn’t have insurance, we said to them, if you can afford insurance, buy it yourself, any one of the plans out there, you can choose any plan. There’s no government plan....

I don’t like the Obama plan... He wasn’t interested in the 8 percent of the people that were uninsured. He was concerned about the 100 percent of the people of the country.  “Obama-care” takes over health care for the American people.
For months I've wondered out of what slender thread of reality Romney spun the lie that the ACA "takes over health care" in a way that the Massachusetts coverage plan does not. The best I could come up with was the Independent Payment  Advisory Board, which can recommend reimbursement reductions in Medicare -- with an overlay of the death panel hysteria that Bachmann, Palin et al imposed on that modest instrument of cost control. He could also be referring to national standards for health plan coverage -- but Romneycare imposes such standards too, and in any case, HHS has largely empowered the states to set them.

Now I know what Romney has been swinging at with this "government takeover" bludgeon. It's the ACA's shadow limb: the public option.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A blurry green line for Iran?

Clive Crook rightly points out that Obama's presentation of his Iran policy in his AIPAC speech and the Goldblog interview has played out as something of a Rorschach test.  The WSJ is reassured that Obama has effectively bound himself to bomb Iran.  James Fallows, on the other hand, sees Obama's statement that "as President of the United States, I don't bluff" as a potential superbluff.

Crook tries to part the veil by focusing on the detailed case ("detailed" for a speech, anyway) Obama made that Iran's obtaining a nuclear weapon would be a severe blow not only to Israeli security but to American interests, middle east stability, and global antiproliferation.  He has thus set himself against the case, laid out by intelligence veteran Paul Pillar, that fears of an Iranian bomb are overblown and that a nuclear Iran could be effectively contained.  He has laid out the stakes in such a way that Iran's obtaining nuclear capability can be seen as nothing other than a colossal failure of his own policy

Whether Obama is committed to attack if Iran is seen to be building a bomb may be beside the point, however.  Or rather, it's not in itself news. If it's true that an American president can't be exposed to have bluffed, as Obama said, it's equally true that an American president under current political conditions can't suggest that a nuclear-armed Iran would not be such a catastrophe.  The real nub was captured, as Spencer Ackerman pointed out, is captured in a tweet by anything-for-Israel neocon Noah Pollack:
Obama policy = preventing Iran from getting nuke. Israel policy = preventing capability to build nuke. There's the rub.
Obama may be seeking wiggle room, not only for a perhaps-unlikely negotiated settlement with Iran, but for a protracted stalemate. I'd like to ask nuclear arms experts: how precise a concept is 'breakout capacity'?  Is it possible to clearly parse this statement of Obama's to Goldberg:

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Bibi bearing gifts: it's the thought that counts

With moral clarity and finely controlled indignation, Robert Wright pierces the theocratic-tribal heart of Netanyahu's darkness -- and that of his American fellow travelers:
Yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave President Obama a copy of the book of Esther, which will be read in synagogues this week in observance of Purim. Esther tells the story of a Persian government that tries and fails to wipe out all the Jews in the Persian Empire. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Netanyahu saw this as an occasion to generalize about Persians (or, as we call them today, Iranians). He told Obama, "Then, too, they wanted to wipe us out." Here's a thought experiment:

Suppose that an Arab or Iranian leader of Muslim faith met with President Obama and told him about some part of the Koran that alludes to conflict between Muhammad and Jewish tribes. For example, according to Muslim tradition, the Jewish tribe known as the Qurayzah, though living in Muhammad's town of Medina, secretly sided with Muhammad's enemies in Mecca. Suppose this Muslim said to Obama, "Then, too, the Jews were bent on destroying Muslims." What would our reaction be?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Obama maneuvers within a 'sacrosanct' commitment

On Friday, I expressed my admiration for Obama's articulation in the Goldblog interview of U.S. policy with respect to Iran. In his speech before AIPAC today, Obama threaded the same needle, balancing a promise not to let Iran obtain nuclear weapons (backed by a litany of alleged dire global consequences if it does) with a forceful statement that loose talk of war and/or a unilateral Israeli strike would undermine his strategy and yield potentially disastrous consequences. To his credit, unlike in the Goldblog interview, he argued at some length that Israel can have no true security if it does not make peace with the Palestinians. And it took courage to affirm the following in the face of a disloyal opposition always screaming 'weakness':
as president and commander in chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war. I have sent men and women into harm's way. I've seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who've come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don't make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency. And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it. And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

I am troubled, though, by the frame within which Obama maneuvers, which would take years to alter, and which in a sense he gave up altering when the Israelis refused a total settlement freeze in 2009 and when they ended their partial freeze in the fall of 2010.  While Obama may be withstanding the pressure to go to war in Israel's perceived self-interest as well as anyone in his chair might, at this moment when the entire GOP leadership is striving to outdo one another in subordinating American interests to Israel's, the price is maintaining the fiction that U.S. and Israeli interests are aligned.  He is bound to speak nonsense like this, delivered to AIPAC today:

The president who doesn't do sound bytes, revisited

Below, I've reposted my Friday response to Obama's remarkable in-depth interview with Jeffrey Goldberg focused on his Iran policy.  First, a prescript:

I felt a pang when I read in Andrew Sullivan's take that not a word in this interview was spoken about the Palestinians, because I had noted the same thing and meant to address it in my post, but left it out in my pre-workday "post haste" and enthusiasm for Obama's bravura performance.  So I want to say that in a sane political environment, on the policy merits, I think the American president should be able to make clear to the Israeli prime minister that U.S. aid would be cut off if Israel launched an unprovoked attack that the U.S. judged to be against its own interests and a threat to global order.  I also think that the U.S. should cut off aid if Israel continues to build new settlements on the West Ban and in East Jerusalem.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Romney on Rush: it's the thought that counts?

Asked to comment on Rush Limbaugh's slut-slur of law student Sandra Fluke after she testified about her classmates' need for contraceptive coverage, Mitt Romney took a prudish swat:
“I'll just say this which is it’s not the language I would have used," Romney said. "I’m focusing on the issues I think are significant in the country today and that’s why I’m here talking about jobs and Ohio.”

My immediate reaction on reading this was to wonder: is there some underlying idea in Limbaugh's bilge that Romney approves of? That women who want their health care coverage to pay for birth control are prostitutes, perhaps?

Kevin Drum has cleared up the point for me:

Friday, March 02, 2012

Romney's blueprint for Obamacare, July 2009

Thanks to Andrew Kaczynski for unearthing a Mitt Romney op-ed, dated July 30, 2009, exhorting Obama to follow Romney's Massachusetts blueprint in crafting a national healthcare reform bill.

Kaczynski tweets that in this op-ed Romney urged Obama to adopt the individual mandate (unlike in a 2006 WSJ op-ed, where Romney took federalist cover, urging states to follow his lead) . More or less -- though in characteristic fashion Romney left himself a tortured loophole:
Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages “free riders” to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others.
I can just hear him now: "I did not say that the federal government should impose a mandate." Barely true. Nevertheless, the piece is rife with ironies. Hectoring an implicitly clueless and venal student-executive, Romney urges Obama to

take his time:
Shortly after becoming governor, I worked in a bipartisan fashion with Democrats to insure all our citizens. It took almost two years to find a solution. 

drop the public option:
Massachusetts also proved that you don’t need government insurance. Our citizens purchase private, free-market medical insurance. There is no “public option.” With more than 1,300 health insurance companies, a federal government insurance company isn’t necessary...To find common ground with skeptical Republicans and conservative Democrats, the president will have to jettison left-wing ideology for practicality and dump the public option.

The president who doesn't do sound bytes

Quite a tribute to Jeffrey Goldberg to be singled out by President Obama as honest broker enough to receive the most precise and nuanced briefing on a vital foreign policy issue by a sitting president that I have ever seen or read.

While rapport is evident in this interview, with Obama's respect for Goldberg's ability to consider the interests and perspectives of all players plain, there is also a tension: Goldberg is looking for a couple of sound bytes.  And Obama doesn't do sound bytes. What he does, instead, is lay out guiding principles with precision, while maintaining strategic ambiguity on the crunch points.  Here are the key takeaways as I read them:

No ramping up of war talk.  The buzz is that Netanyahu wants new red lines: "all options are on the table" has been cast as a tired cliche. But it's good enough for Obama:

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Barack Obama, theocrat?

In a fundraising appearance in New York, Obama bid to turn the focus of the U.S. relationship to Israel back toward making peace with the Palestinians, rather than war with Iran. In so doing, he overcompensated by overstating the nature of the bond between the two countries. As summarized by ABC News' Devin Dwyer:
“The sacrosanct commitment that we make to Israel’s security is not only a matter of providing them the military capabilities they need, not only providing the sort of qualitative military edge that they need in a very tough neighborhood, but also that we are a partner with them to try to bring about a peace in the region that can be lasting,” he said. “And that is a challenge.”
"Sacrosanct" is an odd word for the foreign policy arena.  Here's a definition and etymology from The American Heritage Dictionary:
adj. Regarded as sacred and inviolable.

[Latin sacrosanctus, consecrated with religious ceremonies sacro, ablative of sacrum, religious rite (from neuter of sacer, sacred; see sacred) + sanctus, past participle of sancire, to consecrate; see sak- in Indo-European roots.]
What is Obama suggesting? That America is a Christian nation, with some kind of spiritual bond with the Jewish homeland? If a "sacrosanct" bond isn't founded on religion, what is it founded on?  Why should an alliance with any nation be founded on anything but the United States' interest? And if that interest is intertwined with the country's values, that means it's dependent on the behavior of the countries with which the U.S. interacts, e.g., commitment to human rights, democracy, peaceful resolution of differences, etc.

Here comes Bishop Romney

In Mitt Romney, Community Organizer, I noted that Romney, in his capacities as the Mormon equivalent of parish priest and a bishop, actually engaged quite deeply in the lives of his fellow Mormons. I suggested  that he really has to invoke this experience to counter the perception that he's lived his life in a superrich bubble. Yesterday in Ohio, Sara Murray reports, Romney cracked that Mormon kimono a little:
On Wednesday afternoon, though, there were glimpses of a candidate who could connect with voters as he disclosed a more personal side, one that’s rarely seen during his campaign events.

He spoke about counseling the unemployed through his work with the Mormon Church. He said his religion is an “unusual religion in a number of respects,” because of the rotating minister program Mr. Romney participated in as a volunteer for roughly a decade.
I expect to hear more in this vein.