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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Late pleadings for the ACA

For those who, like a besotted lover whose beloved's day to wed another fast approacheth, can't stop piling up arguments in favor of the constitutionality and necessity of the Affordable Care Act, a few eloquent doomed love notes:

1. Healthy twentysomething Mormon missionary can't buy coverage:
I hit the quarter-century mark on the eve of two adventures -- an LDS mission and life without health insurance.

Away marriage

Last night I read a sweet short story, The Proxy Marriage by Maile Meloy, about a pair of high school friends (one in love with the other) who over the course of many years perform a series of "double proxy marriages," standing in together for soldiers overseas and their fiances at home. Such marriages are legally binding and allow for death benefits to the soldier's children if the soldier is killed.

In the final scene, the marrying couple ask to be skyped in to the proxy ceremony, and both couples interact on-screen.  This seems to me to raise an obvious nonliterary point: why not eliminate the middle-couple?  That is, in an age ubiquitous webcams, why can't physically separated couples marry by videoconference, with officiator and witness?  Proxy marriage seems a needless anachronism, great story premise though it is.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The bogus economic basis of the case against the individual mandate

As I have noted before, the plaintiff's argument against the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act centered largely on a morality tale spun by the plaintiffs, in which the main characters were hoards of healthy young adults being forced to buy more coverage than they need in order to subsidize the coverage of older adults. The ACA is structured "to compel the uninsured into engaging in economic activity that is harmful for them" (Michael Carvin brief on the individual mandate, p. 1). "They're making young, healthy people subsidize insurance premiums for the cost that the nondiscrimination provisions have put on insurance premiums and insurance companies" (Carvin, oral argument, p. 100). In the 3/27 pleadings, Justices Alito, Roberts and Scalia appeared to buy this argument, voicing various aspects of it.

I have also pointed out that the Michael Carvin misrepresented the mandate in oral argument when he stated. "Congress prohibits anyone over 30 from buying any kind of catastrophic health insurance" (p. 105). In fact, the ACA provides the catastrophic coverage option for others exempt from the mandate, e.g. on grounds of financial hardship. In the 3/27oral session, no one pointed noted explicitly that the ACA provides a catastrophic coverage option for those under 30, let alone that it extends that option to others exempt from the mandate on financial or other grounds -- or that the bronze plans offered in the exchanges, as the Kaiser Family Foundation recently detailed, might also reasonably be labeled "catastrophic" coverage.

Now, two economists from the University of Michigan, Jill Horwitz and Helen Levy, writing on the Health Affairs blog, demonstrate on several fronts that  bogus economic premises underpin the plaintiff's argument that the mandate exploits the healthy young uninsured for the sake of the sick and old -- and that it grants Congress unlimited powers to impose purchase mandates. The main thrust of their argument is that the health insurance market is unique across several dimensions, while bogus analogies to mandated purchases of cars or broccoli or whatever are each analogous in only one dimension. Then, regarding the emotional core of the plaintiffs' case -- those imagined legions of healthy young people exploited by the mandate -- Horowitz and Levy write:

Monday, May 28, 2012

A false choice between hope and fear

Media coverage of political strategy is often about framing false choices. Or rather, about framing either/or choices where a delicate balance is required.

For the Obama campaign, the either/or de jour is hope vs. fear.  A couple of days ago, I put forward my own plea that the Obama campaign quite legitimately scare us by spelling out the consequences of the tax cuts and budget cuts Romney has promised.  Seems I needn't have worried -- at least as regards the degree of aggression, if not its focus: I think it should be mainly economic, as Romney's polling lead as the candidate better able to manage the economy is the chief danger sign for the Obama campaign right now.  But John Heilemann has taken a deep dive into the Obama campaign's thinking, and he reports on plans for a full-scale multi-front attack in the offing:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Self-lacerating Sunday

Well, it's the middle of Memorial Day weekend, and here I am sucking in campaign news -- or rather, campaign speculation -- that leaves me beating myself for spite. So fool that I am, I'll look into my heart and write for a moment -- that is, vent, or lament, without troubling too much to develop the thoughts, or spleen. A couple of points:

1) Jonathan Chait, responding to Romney's flash of his inner Keynesian in an interview with Mark Halperin, rolls up various commentary to argue that we're likely to get more short-term stimulus if Romney wins than if Obama does:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Paul Ryan presidency

My prior post argues that Obama's attacks on Romney's perceived economic competence should focus on what Romney has promised to do as president. As a model, I cited Obama's critique of the Ryan budget last month, which detailed the effects of Ryan's proposed spending cuts if they are spread evenly across all programs.

Today, Ezra Klein details the extent to which a Romney presidency would hew to the Ryan blueprint:
We don’t have to pore over every decision Romney made in Massachusetts to discern what he would do in Washington if elected. Romney and the Republicans in Congress have explained exactly what they intend to accomplish -- and their plans are remarkably in sync.

The budget prepared by Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, and the Romney campaign’s general-election platform look quite similar. Both would cut taxes while flattening the tax code. Their Medicare-reform plans look similar; Ryan even modified his original draft to make it look more like Romney’s, which allows seniors to choose between traditional fee-for-service Medicare and private options.

Their plans to increase defense spending are alike, as are their plans to cut domestic spending and to turn Medicaid, food stamps and other safety-net programs over to the states.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"In Mitt Romney's America..." -- Scare us, Obama

As I've said before, these recent Gallup numbers frighten me: voters give Romney the edge in handling deficit and debt, 54-39, and economic growth, 52-42. Together they suggest that people are buying Romney's core pitch: an able businessman is well equipped to run the economy.  The perception could well be decisive.

On the campaign trail, Obama is contrasting his core economic vision with Romney's, and that's good. He's tying Romney's Bain tenure to his trickle-down economics, and that's fair and potentially helpful -- though I think he desperately needs a bulked-up Super Pac to keep his hands clean while the team offsets all the scurrilous shit that Crossroads & co. will heap on his own head.

But what seems to my amateur political sensibility the most effective way to tear down the perception of Romney's economic competence is also the most truthful way: hammer home in detail the ruinous spending cuts and tax cuts that Romney has proposed for the country.  Scare people. Because these proposals are scary -- and most Americans oppose them when they're spelled out in ways that Romney dare not do.

I think Obama was on the right track when he hammered the Ryan budget in detail, extrapolating the specific cuts that would be called for if the broad category cuts were distributed evenly, filling in the details that Ryan decorously left blank.  He needs to do the same with Romney's proposals, which are in sync with Ryan's. I want to see the economic equivalent of Ted Kennedy's vision of Robert Bork's America. Romney's America would suffer

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ask whom the mandate tolls

Einer Elhauge, the legal scholar who dug up the health insurance mandates imposed on ship-owners, sailors and militiamen by U.S. Congresses and presidents in the 1790s, and economist Kevin Caves have placed the "individual mandate" in the Affordable Care Act in an arresting new frame:
Ronald Coase won the Nobel Prize in Economics for showing that social costs are symmetrical. In The Problem of Social Cost, Coase invoked the example of a farmer whose crops are trampled by the neighboring rancher's cattle. Before Coase, it would have been common to view the rancher as the culprit responsible for imposing costs on the blameless farmer. Coase pointed out that no matter which way the legal rights were allocated, one was imposing costs on the other. If the law forces the rancher to keep his cattle fenced in, the farming imposes fence-building costs on the rancher. If the law gives the rancher the right to let his cattle roam free, then the farmer bears the social cost....

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Iran wants sanctions relief; Israel ain't gettin' no total enrichment ban

On Friday I noted the symmetric spin on the part of Iran and the major powers negotiating over Iran's nuclear program. While Dennis Ross claims that Iran's  "leaders are preparing their domestic audience for concessions," the careful language in which the Times' Mark Landler described U.S. goals suggested that the U.S. and allies had moved off the maximalist "no enrichment" position loudly and repeatedly demanded by the Israelis.

Today, as the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, announces an imminent deal with Iran on an inspection regime, the terms in which Times reporters describe a prospective general agreement on the how Iran's nuclear program may proceed suggests more firmly that a total ban on enrichment is off the table:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quote of the day

If your main argument for how to grow the economy is "I knew how to make a lot of money for investors," then you're missing what this job is about.
- President Obama, explaining why Romney's tenure at Bain is a legitimate campaign subject.

Gallup's scary polling on economic issues

As the economy goes, so goes the electorate's assessment of the President's ability to run the economy. That's the way it's always been, in all electorates. It's no good railing or making excuses. It's an electoral law of nature.

Nonetheless, two numbers in Gallup's current polling of American's economic assessment of the two candidates frighten and anger me. Voters give Romney the edge in handling deficit and debt, 54-39, and economic growth, 52-42. They give Obama the edge on other economic issue rated of high importance, including healthcare and college costs, and the candidates are virtually tied on jobs.   But the two on which Romney leads are the broadest economic fundamentals.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

About that NRO correction

On Friday, NRO's Katrina Trinko posted a correction retracting an inflammatory accusation against Elizabeth Warren:
I took down my earlier post on Elizabeth Warren plagiarizing from the book Getting On the Money Track.  On Amazon.com, the Warren book All Your Worth is listed as having been published January 9, 2006. As it turns out, that is the paperback publication date; the hardback book was published in March 2005. As such, it appears that Getting on the Money Track (published in October 2005) plagiarized from All Your Worth, not the other way around.

I apologize for the error.
"Listed as having been published," eh?  I posted a comment on Trinko's correction on Friday evening which is either "awaiting moderation" or was moderated out (four or five other comments have since been published).  Here it is:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

An upright man who lies nonstop

The Times' Jodi Kantor is out with a long article about the centrality of faith in Mitt Romney's life and his commitment to living a life of service and rectitude and devotion to God's will as God gives him to see it.

Having read the The Real Romney, a well-documented biography y Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, I don't doubt the truth of this narrative as far as it goes.  What is unfathomable to me is the level of doublethink that will allows an extremely able, intelligent, in many ways generous man who believes that God is watching over him to go out and lie every day, in general concept and in detail -- about his opponent's record and beliefs, about his own past positions, about the inevitable effects of his own purported policies. Steve Benen documents 10-20 verifiable lies per week in his now 18-part series, Mitt's Mendacity (Vol. 17 here).  Paul Krugman has ably captured the full arc of Romney's false narrative about Obama in his op-ed The Post-Truth Campaign. To review Romney's most fundamental and oft-repeated untruths:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spinning in the mirror with Iran

There's a fearful symmetry to the diplomatic posturing on display in this Mark Landler article about the pending talks with Iran:
...Mr. Ross said, Iran’s recent statements signal that its leaders are preparing their domestic audience for concessions. Iranian officials have declared that the West has effectively endorsed Iran’s right to enrich uranium, a step they portrayed as a major strategic coup. American officials insist the United States has not done that and has been deliberately ambiguous about whether it would ever grant Iran the right to enrichment.

A Rory Stewart Afghan strategy -- on timed release?

In August 2009, as the Obama administration mulled an escalation of its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Rory Stewart, the Brit who walked across Afghanistan in mid-winter, mused about his consultations with U.S. officials to the Financial Times' Emily Stokes : 
Since arriving at Harvard in June last year, he has been consultant to several members of Barack Obama’s administration, including Hillary Clinton, and is a member of Richard Holbrooke’s special committee for Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. “I do a lot of work with policymakers, but how much effect am I having?” he asks, pronging a mussel out of its shell.

“It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ...’”
Stewart's own recommendation, voiced in Senate testimony in September 2009, was for a scaled-down and therefore sustainable -- and long-term -- commitment:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is Obama still paying for the debt ceiling debacle?

On  Marketplace this evening, Gallup's Frank Newport delivered  bad news for Obama: by a nine point margin, Americans think that the economy will be in better shape for years from now if Romney is elected than if he is. The question is, why do they think that?  They prefer Obama's tax policies and "balanced" approach to deficit reduction. They would hate the massive cuts to domestic spending necessitated by Romney skeleton of a budget if they could be made aware of them. They support the separate elements of the job creation package Obama put forward last fall.

I would have thought that the answer is, first, that an incumbent president inevitably gets blamed for a weak economy, and second, that they have so far bought the Romney pitch that a highly successful businessman is well equipped to turn the economy around.  But Newport said something that turned my head around and brought me back to August 1, 2011:  "Romney does better than Obama in terms of being able to manage the government."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Don Taylor envisions a distant healthcare compromise; might Justice Kennedy impose something like it next month?

At present it would seem that there is no common ground between the parties on healthcare -- though the Democrats built the ACA on Republican ground, which the GOP fled (and rhetorically bombarded) as soon as the Dems set foot on it.

Nonetheless, looking down the road and seeking the contours of a future compromise, Don Taylor, in his new book Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority, identifies Democrats' top priority as universal coverage, and Republicans', insofar as they have one, as ensuring that everyone has "skin in the game," i.e. is on the hook for some of the medical expense they generate.  He therefore envisions this future deal:
  • Universal catastrophic coverage implemented through Medicare, with gap insurance available to persons wanting it (no mandate!) via state based exchanges
  • With a massive deductible (I suggest $10,000/persons; $15,000/family to maintain a key role for private insurance; far larger out of pocket exposure than Bronze level cover in the ACA)
While such further compromise might strike most progressives as equal parts unlikely and undesirable, it caught my eye because, as I have noted repeatedly, there's an outside chance that Justice Kennedy (as swing vote) may impose something akin to it in the Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of the mandate.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A growing chorus indicts GOP intransigence (updated)

[Reposted, with additions from David Frum, Chuck Hagel and John Danforth. The list of testy-moany-yowls groweth apace.]

Sometimes the charge is leavened with a little bit of obligatory false equivalence -- or alternately, tinctured with partisan outrage. But left, right and center, in this election season of taking stock, a number of seasoned observers are stepping back for a global view of the hyperpartisanship and bad-faith obstructionism that Gingrich brought to Washington and that has become the Republican m.o.

One strong screed of this sort is Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein's 4/27 Washington Post op-ed Let's just say it: the Republicans are the problem, a foretaste of a book they've just published on "the problem."  [Update: David Frum writes of Mann and Ornstein: "Both men have hard-earned reputations for nonideological independence" - link at bottom.] Their brief:
Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.

What poli-sci can't quantify

When Eric Fehrnstrom came out with his indelible Etch-A-Sketch metaphor for the Romney campaign's intention to wipe the slate clean for the general election, I took issue with political scientist Brendan Nyhan's assertion that all such gaffes have "little electoral significance":
There are gaffes and gaffes, however.  The evidence that they don't matter is often gathered from polls taken shortly before and after the incident in question, showing little difference -- e.g., in this John Sides post cited by Nyhan.  Some campaign blowups sink deep, however, and some are gifts that keep giving for the opposition.  When making phone calls for Obama in the fall campaign in '08, I spoke to several people whose opinion of Obama had seemingly been shaped by the Jeremiah Wright affair or by his "cling to guns and religion" riff.  Perhaps their fears about him -- in some cases racist ones - -simply seized on those handy objects. But who's to say whether some such explosive objects-to-hand may not pack more charge than others? That anxieties about Obama's "black agenda," as one person characterized it to me, would not have been less intense if that particular fodder had not been furnished?  And when a potent negative perception works its way over time into people's overall perception of the candidate, is it detectable in polling?

It seems to me that Fehrnstrom has put a weapon with staying power in the hands of Romney's opponents, chiefly Obama.  Any time an antagonist wants to call attention either to a new tack-to-the-center policy shift or an old one, he or she can figuratively shake an Etch-A-Sketch
Well, the Obama campaign at least takes this view -- at the highest levels.  Obama's May 10 interview with Robin Roberts (famous for other reasons) included this exchange:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Great Risk Shift, updated

The Times' front page story today about the enormous growth in student loan debt loads is long on personal narrative, but also tells a succinct story in numbers:
From 2001 to 2011, state and local financing per student declined by 24 percent nationally. Over the same period, tuition and fees at state schools increased 72 percent, compared with 29 percent for nonprofit private institutions, according to the College Board. Many of the cuts were the result of a sluggish economy that reduced tax revenue, but the sharp drop in per-student spending also reflects a change: an increasing number of lawmakers voted to transfer more of the financial burden of college from taxpayers to students and their families. (Local funding is a small percentage of the total, and mostly goes to community colleges.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A growing chorus indicts GOP intransigence

Sometimes the charge is leavened with a little bit of obligatory false equivalence -- or alternately, tinctured with partisan outrage. But left, right and center, in this election season of taking stock, a number of seasoned observers are stepping back for a global view of the hyperpartisanship and bad-faith obstructionism that Gingrich brought to Washington and that has become the Republican m.o.

One strong screed of this sort is Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein's 4/27 Washington Post op-ed Let's just say it: the Republicans are the problem, a foretaste of a book they've just published on "the problem."  [Update: David Frum writes of Mann and Ornstein: "Both men have hard-earned reputations for nonideological independence" - link at bottom.] Their brief:
Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Citizens United* has changed...me

I was a little shocked when I caught my own train of thought after reading this:
A high school classmate of presidential candidate Mitt Romney told ABC News today that he considers a particular prank the two pulled at Michigan’s Cranbrook School to be “assault and battery” and that he witnessed Romney hold the scissors to cut the hair of a student who was being physically pinned to the ground by several others.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Portrait of the candidate as a cruel child

In honor of deep-dive candidate bio day:
There was one other child in my class, though, who reminded me of a different sort of pain. Her name was Coretta, and before my arrival she had been the only black person in our grade. She was plump and dark and didn't seem to have many friends. From the first day, we avoided each other but watched from a distance, as if direct contact would only remind us more keenly of our isolation.

Finally, during recess one hot, cloudless day, we found ourselves occupying the same corner of the playground. I don't remember what we said to each other, but I remember that suddenly she was chasing me around the jungle gyms and swings. She was laughing brightly, and I teased her and dodged this way and that, until she finally caught me and we fell to the ground breathless. When I looked up, I saw a group of children, faceless before the glare of the sun, pointing down at us.

Misrepresentation of the mandate in the Supreme Court: why it still matters

I have made the case below piecemeal, across many posts. This is an attempt to make it as succinctly and completely as possible.
---
In his oral argument against the constitutionality of the ACA's individual mandate on March 27, plaintiff's counsel Michael Carvin asserted, "Congress prohibits anyone over 30 from buying any kind of catastrophic health insurance" (p. 105).

That is not true -- the ACA provides the catastrophic coverage option for others exempt from the mandate, e.g. on grounds of financial hardship. And that factual error signals a greater distortion, one that was not countered and apparently made a major impression on Justices Alito, Roberts and Scalia: that the mandate forces Americans to buy coverage greatly in excess of what's required to offset the cost of catastrophic care for those lacking health insurance. No one pointed out that a) the ACA provides a catastrophic coverage option for those under 30; b) that it extends that option to others exempt from the mandate on financial or other grounds; or c) that the bronze plans offered in the exchanges, as the Kaiser Family Foundation recently detailed, might also reasonably be labeled "catastrophic" coverage.

It seems to me that a) the justices were misled on this potentially crucial point, and b) Kennedy and/or another might still be convinced, if not to accept the mandate as constructed, to divide the baby by further limiting it -- as Marty Lederman suggested they might:

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Lugar's noble sign-off, leavened with false equivalence

Richard Lugar's statement issued last night in the wake of his primary loss to Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock will be rightly celebrated as warning and diagnosis about the dangers of extreme partisanship. At the same time, in perhaps inevitable loyalty to his own side, Lugar raises false equivalence to a high art:

Unfortunately, we have an increasing number of legislators in both parties who have adopted an unrelenting partisan viewpoint. This shows up in countless vote studies that find diminishing intersections between Democrat and Republican positions. Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum are dominating the political debate in our country. And partisan groups, including outside groups that spent millions against me in this race, are determined to see that this continues. They have worked to make it as difficult as possible for a legislator of either party to hold independent views or engage in constructive compromise. If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several years. And I believe that if this attitude expands in the Republican Party, we will be relegated to minority status. Parties don't succeed for long if they stop appealing to voters who may disagree with them on some issues...

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Reset to Massachusetts moderate: Romney fondly recalls Bill Clinton

The GOP may finally be getting a little tired of embracing Ronald Reagan's corpse. This election season, Bill Clinton is becoming their icon.

Throughout the debates, Gingrich bragged repeatedly of balancing budgets and creating jobs "with President Clinton."  You'd have thought Gingrich was Clinton's veep.

Now Mitt Romney's latest chosen trope for painting Obama as an old-line liberal is a faux contrast with that great small-government Democrat...Bill Clinton.  In Lansing, Michigan today, this is how Romney cast Obama as a pre-Reagan Democrat:
President Obama chose to apply liberal ideas of the past to a 21st century America.  Liberal policies didn’t work then, they haven’t worked over the last four years, and they won’t work in the future. New Democrats had abandoned those policies, but President Obama resurrected them, with predictable results.

About that "treason" charge

Greg Sargent is not too deeply troubled by Romney's failure to contradict a questioner who declared that Obama should be tried for treason. He finds it more troubling that Romney regularly says things about Obama that might induce the intemperate or the unschooled to think of him as treasonous. 

Thus primed, I had a memory flash while reading Romney's response when  a reporter asked him whether he agreed that Obama should be tried for treason. "No, of course not," Romney said. Of course not!  Never mind verbal assaults like this one, delivered two years ago, a precursor of the daily Romney demagoguery to which we've all become numb. It's a statement Romney released on March 22, 2010, in the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act:
America has just witnessed an unconscionable abuse of power. President Obama has betrayed his oath to the nation — rather than bringing us together, ushering in a new kind of politics, and rising above raw partisanship, he has succumbed to the lowest denominator of incumbent power: justifying the means by extolling the ends. He promised better; we deserved better.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Obama, four years later

Like Alec MacGillis, I am reassured that Obama's 'populism' on the campaign stump, as unveiled in two rallies this weekend, is of the signature Obama variety - -"communitarian" in MacGillis' apt characterization, "less 'us versus them' than 'all together now.'"  That doesn't mean not hitting Republican policies hard any more than it did in 2008  -- it was only in the thick of failed budget negotiations in 2011 that Obama pulled his punches with regard to the GOP agenda.

One difference with 2008 thus far, though. Obama's pitch then was to reform our politics as well as our policies -- his promise to find common ground with Republicans chimed harmoniously with his assertions that Americans had historically committed themselves to the common good. Now, it's only his policies  -- not the political process in which the rival parties are bound to work -- that he is presenting in a "communitarian" vein -- balancing capitalism's individual incentives with collective effort that leads to shared prosperity. There was no "sometimes the other side may have a point"-ism.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Attention, Justices Kennedy, Roberts et al: read the young people's brief

Of the 79 amicus briefs filed with the Supreme Court on the question of the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, arguably the one most directly germane to the main thrust of oral argument on 3/27 was a brief filed by a coalition of 20 youth organizations calling itself, with pointed irony, the Young Invincibles. Did the justices read the damn thing? The evidence from oral argument suggests not.

For all the legal intricacies regarding what kinds of regulation come within the scope of the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause in the Constitution, oral argument centered largely on a morality tale spun by the plaintiffs. In this tale, the main characters were hoards of healthy young adults being forced to buy more coverage than they need in order to subsidize the coverage of older adults.  The key verbs, deployed relentlessly in the plaintiffs' briefs and testimony, were force, conscript, compel, and commandeer.  Free, strong, savvy young Americans were being robbed of their ability to assess risk, drive bargains, and buy precisely the amount of risk transfer that their robust condition required. The ACA is structured "to compel the uninsured into engaging in economic activity that is harmful for them" (Carvin brief, p. 1).

Several of the justices appear to have swallowed it hook line and sinker. Alito, Roberts and Scalia buzz-sawed Solicitor General Donald Verrilli with serial restatements of it. Verrilli did point out that young people will a) become old, and b) sometimes, unpredictably, need catastrophic care.  Yet he did not bring to bear these facts: that young people overwhelmingly want health insurance; that they are disproportionately uninsured and underinsured; that their lack of health insurance causes them bodily and and economic harm; and that the ACA makes insurance affordable, not unaffordable or unduly expensive, for them.

The Young Invincibles brief articulates and documents all of these basic and readily available facts. (To these I would add that far from mandating unnecessary "Cadillac" coverage as the plaintiffs aver, the ACA provides, perhaps to a fault, a range cheap, stripped-down coverage options, including catastrophic coverage, that limit the scope of the mandate.) Some highlights:

Friday, May 04, 2012

Hey, Romneycare may get a 'death panel'

Not really. But legislation is afoot to create an IPAB (Independent Payment Advisory Board) on steroids -- Trenbolone to the ACA's Creatine. The WSJ's Jennifer Levitz and Anna Matthews report:
Key state legislative leaders unveiled a bill Friday that proposes setting a target for the rate at which overall health spending should rise—a step that would once again put the state in the forefront of efforts to remake the American health-care system...

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Supply-side gastronomics: does low rent and cheap labor mean good food?

The Dish has put up an Ask Tyler Cowen Anything feature, focused on his new book, An Economist Gets Lunch.  Which reminds me: I read the excerpt or precis in The Atlantic, Six Rules for Dining Out, and found those rules bizarre.  I want to have a little fun with them. In most cases my "objections" are a matter of taste (literally) or sensibility, but I have a stray logical or economic quibble or two to air as well. So here we go:
In the Fanciest Restaurants, Order What Sounds Least Appetizing 

At fancy and expensive restaurants (say, $50 and up for a dinner), you can follow a simple procedure to choose the best meal. Look at the menu and ask yourself: Which of these items do I least want to order? Or: Which one sounds the least appetizing? Then order that item.

The logic is simple. At a fancy restaurant, the menu is well thought-out. The kitchen’s time and attention are scarce. An item won’t be on the menu unless there is a good reason for its presence. If it sounds bad, it probably tastes especially good.
My counter-logic is simple too. I'm a residually fussy eater (much worse as a child). There are a lot of textures, colors and smells that I don't like in food.  If an item sounds unappetizing to me, it's almost guaranteed to prove so.  Which probably explains why I don't eat in $50+/person restaurants.

A catastrophic error: The misrepresentation of the ACA's individual mandate in the Supreme Court

[I am reposting this at intervals.  Justice Kennedy: come in for some cookies and tea?] For those who've noted that, contra the 3/27 oral arguments in the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, the ACA does in fact offer various catastrophic coverage options, an index of coverage of this issue, here and elsewhere:

Michael Carvin misrepresented the mandate in oral argument (4/12) 

Attention SG Verrilli and Justices Kennedy, Roberts: A plea for one more pleading (4/29)
Kaiser weighs in: the ACA offers catastrophic coverage to all comers (4/27)
Patient cost-sharing under the Affordable Care Act (Kaiser Family Foundation. 4/27)
Another limiting principle for mandate: states can opt out (4/23)
Jonathan Cohn tells the justices: the ACA has catastrophic coverage options (4/20)
Will the justices make a catastrophic error? (Jonathan Cohn, 4/19)
The ACA offers catastrophic coverage: the AP notices  (4/10)
Supreme Court misunderstanding on health overhaul? (AP's Ricardo Alonso-Salvidar, 4/10)
Marty Lederman concurs: the individual mandate could be trimmed, not killed (4/5)
The bounded, minimalist way to uphold the ACA (Marty Lederman at Balkinization, 4/2)
Go tell the justices: the ACA has a catastrophic coverage option (3/31, updated 4/2)
Was Verrilli just the wrong man for the job? Part I (Ragbatz Tumblr, courtesy of Anon below, 3/28)

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Obama at Bagram, cont.: a caveat for Samuel Popkin

For a take on Obama's speech last night from Afghanistan, James Fallows turned to political scientist Samuel Popkin, whose insight into the difference between running as a challenger and as an incumbent he had aired in a prior post. Popkin emphasized the difference between challenging in poetry and running on your prose record:
Obama's two visits to Afghanistan nicely illustrate the difference  between a challenger and an incumbent. 

The highlight of Senator Obama's 2008 visit to Afghanistan was the three-point shot he hit and the high fives he got from the troops.  Now, President Obama will sign a treaty, and note the anniversary of the shot heard round the world that took out Bin Laden.
 In keeping with that difference, he noted the caustic, limited-liability tenor of Obama's statement of commitment to the Afghan government:
Note that there were two references [in Obama's speech, which I have not yet heard -- JF] to strengthening democratic institutions and no mention of democracy or liberty.   And a very clear emphasis, like an NPR pledge week. on matching grants: "as you stand up you will not stand alone."  I took that to imply if you don't stand up you will be on your own.
Fallows glosses: " If you think the Osama-killing, drone-strike-ordering, bank-rescuing, compromise-accepting Barack Obama of 2012 is different from the "Change We Can Believe In" / dreamy Hope-poster figure of 2008, you're right: that's how it always is, according to Popkin."

Popkin's core incumbent/challenger contrast is the fruit of decades of research and makes intuitive sense. At the same time, as someone who's been tracking Obama's rhetoric for five years,  I'm attuned to continuity over that span,  and there's a lot of that in this speech too.  There have always been two Obamas, ultrapragmatist and long-view promiser of deep change, and the difference in the '08 and '12 campaigns is one of emphasis.  I noted last night, in a quick response to Obama's speech prior to the availability of a transcript, echoes of Obama's major March 2008 foreign policy speech, mainly in his rationale back then for shifting resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. Here's what he said in '08:

A Catastrophic Error: The Misrepresentation of the ACA's Individual Mandate in the Supreme Court

For those who've noted that, contra the 3/27 oral arguments in the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, the ACA does in fact offer various catastrophic coverage options, an index of coverage of this issue, here and elsewhere. The first, out of sequence, is the most comprehensive statement of the plaintiffs' misrepresentation of the mandate. The rest are in chronological order, by category.

On the mandate more broadly
The individual mandate is a piece of Cake (4/25)
Verrilli's limiting principles (4/24)
If only Verrilli had said (A, B, C) (3/31)
Verrilli, slapped silly, recovers willy-nilly (3/28)
External links
The morality tale that could sink the ACA (xpostfactoid in the Atlantic, 6/22)
Patient cost-sharing under the Affordable Care Act (Kaiser Family Foundation. 4/27)
Will the justices make a catastrophic error? (Jonathan Cohn, 4/19)
Policy ignorance at the Supreme Court (Steve Benen, Maddow blog, 4/16)
Supreme Court misunderstanding on health overhaul? (AP's Ricardo Alonso-Salvidar, 4/10)
The bounded, minimalist way to uphold the ACA (Marty Lederman at Balkinization, 4/2) 
Ragbatz on the catastrophic coverage options in the ACA - a healthcare attorney picks up the plaintiff's con in real time ( 3/28)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Obama at Bagram: binaries, bookends and bye-byes

I cannot yet find a transcript of Obama's sober, straightforward, well-constructed speech from the Bagram base in Afghanistan (some excerpts here).  But a few notes:

Eyes on the prize: Obama made it very clear what the war was about: making sure that al Qaeda could "never again use this country to launch attacks against us."  With the goal thus narrowly defined, he could credibly claim victory-in-progress.  In fact he closely echoed a major speech he delivered in March 2008 laying out his foreign policy strategy, which centered on shifting focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. Then he said:
This is the area where the 9/11 attacks were planned. This is where Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants still hide. This is where extremism poses its greatest threat.
Binaries, bookends and bye byes: Because the speech was about closure it was full of binary pairings: two wars wound down in (he would have us believe) similar fashion; ten years of combat to be followed by ten years of support/partnership; standing them up/us down. The opening words were the keynote: now the war ends and a new chapter begins. And the close was a bookend: “This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.”

Also in this binary vein, and in characteristic fashion, Obama positioned his policy as a golden mean between two wrong courses advocated by his critics: leaving now, and remaining without setting a timeline.  The timeline he cast as the essential signal to Afghans that they have to take responsibility for their own security. And that message in turn was counterbalanced by another: that the just-signed agreement was the basis for an "enduring partnership"-- "as you stand up you will not stand alone."

So lovely a narrative: As always in such speeches, a war effort and alliance in fact fraught with conflict and failure sounded like a beautiful, steady progression from one phase of partnership to another with a lot of claims that rest on very questionable bases (to put it politely): the Taliban momentum broken, a steady transition to Afghans taking the lead in combat, firm commitments from the Afghans to combat corruption and ensure the rights of all.

The bottom line: But from at least the spring of 2008, Obama (with help from Gates) has been consistent about defining success down in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  If neither place becomes a safe haven, and neither place implodes into full-scale civil war, that is enough. Obama stated in no uncertain terms: the U.S. sought no permanent bases in Iraq. If that sounds like a no-brainer today, recall McCain's talk of a 50-60 year troop presence in Iraq if not Afghanistan.  Again, then, this takes us back to Obama's alpha and omega in this long war effort: no bases from which al Qaeda can attack the United States.  That's been his message and stated goal all along, and that's a message to which I think Americans are well attuned at this point.

Lincoln again: When speaking of war, Obama cannot forebear echoing Lincoln. Tonight again, near the close he channeled the Second Inaugural, exhorting the nation to finish the work at hand and build a lasting peace.

Update: More on Obama at Bagram and the continuities with Obama '08 here.

Gideon Rachman takes on Krugman on Eur-austerity

Since the fullest flush of the financial crisis, Paul Krugman has been a relentless voice for stimulus, infrastructure spending and all-out war against high unemployment. Throughout his tenure at the Times, he has been so often right on fundamentals -- the Bush tax cuts, the housing bubble, the size of the 2009 stimulus -- that I would guess his credibility is unsurpassed among lay liberal readers.

So it's interesting to see a fact-based, more or nonideological commentator take on Krugman with regard to Euro-austerity. The dissenter is the Financial Times'  Gideon Rachman, repeat winner of xpostfactoid's Wolf Munch Rock award, so named because the truth is hard to digest.  Krugman calls European austerity policies "insane," Rachman notes, "with characteristic understatement."  There's a bit of a tonal joke there, methinks, because for Rachman, understatement really is characteristic.

Rachman shares the FT Comment page with Martin Wolf, Wolfgang Munchau and others who have lamented the slow-motion Eurozone train wreck these past two years -- and the drastic effects of cutting spending as economies contract. He recognizes the basic Keynesian equation. But his argument about stimulus in Europe is a kind of mirror image of progressives' take on tax cuts for the wealthy in the US: we are tapped out on that front. So is much of Europe, he argues, on infrastructure spending, government payrolls and social services: