Public Droption Dropped, the Blue Dog Battle, one Weiner of an Argument, Iranian Nukes, Obamanauts, Obama Goes Brazilian, the Amazing Disappearing Cargo Ship, and the Perils of Worldview

Public Droption Dropped, the Blue Dog Battle, one Weiner of an Argument, Iranian Nukes, Obamanauts, Obama Goes Brazilian, the Amazing Disappearing Cargo Ship, and the Perils of Worldview August 19, 2009

1.  Interesting spin coming out of the White House and Congressional leadership about the deterioration of the health care reform effort.  Suddenly, they announce (or see the NYTimes article here), they’re no longer going to try to include the Republican party in their solution.  This is absurd, but it’s excellent rhetoric.  The Dems have made no serious effort to include Republican suggestions and therefore court Republican support for their plans.  There was no effort at bipartisanship, except perhaps to lure some liberal Republicans to replace the lost votes of Blue Dog Democrats.  Yet Democrats have enough votes to pass health care reform without a single Republican vote, and the real problem has been the intra-party rift between Left and center-Left Democrats.  The rhetoric makes it appear that the reform effort has stalled because Democrats have been striving heroically to reach across the aisle, and now they’ve finally accepted that the Republicans are simply so evil that they will not cooperate.  All of the failure heretofore can be blamed on Republican intransigence, and now the Dems will simply do what has to be done.  There is also here an implied threat of pushing for health care reform through the budgetary reconciliation process, so that not even the Blue Dogs in their own party could stop them.  The Blue Dogs receive cover for their objections so far, and the Dems can even blame all the town hall ugliness on Republican obstructionism.  Yet now the attention will fall on the Blue Dogs, since the Dems will no longer be able to blame Republicans.  Once you’ve said you’ve written off the Republicans and gone it alone, you can’t come back to that table and blame the Republicans again.  (Perhaps the public is not much swayed by the town hall kerfuffles, but they were designed to sway Representatives.)

But what do the Dems want to do?  The suggestion that the Obama administration might accept a reform plan without a “public option” set off a firestorm within the party, as many liberal Democrats vowed not to support a reform bill without it.  Now the Obama administration says that it never seriously considered dropping the public option.  Is this a flip flop?  Or a trial balloon that popped?  Or perhaps just a media mischaracterization, and the administration truly never gave it serious thought?

Steve Pearlstein, whom Obama has called “required reading” in the White House, actually does recommend that Democrats drop the public option.  Here’s the rub.  For some–that is, especially for liberals of full stripe–the public option really was a way of working toward a government takeover of health care.  In fact they were quite open about it.  For others, the public option really is not about occluding the private market, and really is about controlling costs and increasing choice and competition.  But if controlling costs and increasing choice and competition are the goals, then the public option is only one way among many, and perhaps not a very effective way, of achieving these goals.  Pearlstein makes this quite clear.  As Pearlstein writes, “You also hear the argument that government-run insurance would have lower costs because it wouldn’t have to generate a profit (that’s true) and would be more efficient than private insurers (that isn’t). The evidence of greater efficiency is Medicare, which spends about 2 to 3 percent of its budget on administration. But if a government-run plan had to spend its own money to collect premiums, market itself to customers, maintain a reserve, and manage care in a way that lowers costs and raises quality — none of which Medicare now does — then you can be sure its administrative costs would be nowhere near 2 or 3 percent…In sum, there is nothing about having one government-owned health insurance company that is likely to change the competitive dynamic and bring costs under control.”

Watching their numbers plummet, the White House and its spokesmen are pretending as though the public option was a very minor part of the proposal, and pretending to be surprised that people on the Right as well as the Left have focused so much attention on it.  This is disingenuous.  The White House knows full well that many Democrats had pushed hard for a “single payer” system and only agreed to a compromise when they were promised a robust “public option.”  And since Obama himself, as well as other Democrats such as Barney Frank and Russ Feingold (see another explosive video here), have stated that the “public option” is the best way to lead to “single payer,” they cannot be serious when they say that it was not a big part of their design for reform.  Obama was in the camp of those who wanted a public option in order to move toward single payer; he said so himself on numerous occasions.  Of course, Presidents are allowed to change their minds; in fact, we should hope that Presidents do change their minds when they learn more about the issues.  If Obama has changed his mind, he should simply say so.  Instead, Obama again is insisting that he has not wavered in his commitment to a public option.

2.  There is one substantive point I want to address.  This video has caused a lot of buzz, as a Congressman Weiner is denouncing private health insurance providers and arguing that we would be better off if we had “national Medicare,” or a nationalized health insurance program.  Of course, this contradicts the rhetoric from the Obama administration, which constantly assures us that it is interested only in increasing the choices Americans have.  Weiner wants a single-payer system.  If people are so happy with Medicare, he says, why shouldn’t we all be on health care?  And what value to private insurers really add, if government can do the same job for cheaper?  And in fact one often hears this objection: so many people are happy with Medicare, so what would be the problem if we were all essentially on Medicare?

Yet there is a vast difference between having a government option (such as Medicare) and having a government monopoly.  Medicare has done well, in part, because it is not the only option.  Yes, it’s paid for by the state, but it has competition, and people can leave Medicare and get their own private insurance.  Because of the private insurance market, the United States health care system is extraordinarily innovative.  Roughly 80% of all medical and pharmaceutical innovations come out of the United States.  When the government goes from being one option and competitor in the marketplace to having a monopoly over the marketplace, then we will quickly find all the inefficiencies and mediocrity that come from monopolies.

Of course, for Christians, one of the questions, when it comes to health care reform, is: “What would Jesus do?”  The question is being debated.  I will join in later on a massive conference call between President Obama and “religious leaders” on the issue, and I’ll try to live-blog.

3.  It appears that the UN nuclear watchdog agency is withholding evidence of Iran’s militry nuclear program, evidence it recently received in a “classified annex” from its own Iran inspection team.  “The document was not included in the final report,” according to Israeli officials.  “British, French, German and US senior officials have recently pressured ElBaradei to publish the information, the newspaper said.”  Mohammad ElBaradei has been accused before of seeking to undermine the US/Israeli argument that Iran is seeking to weaponize its nuclear program.

4.  The Obama administration is apparently killing any notion of leading a manned mission to Mars or to the moon anytime in the next decade.  Aware that some Americans are still in love with the notion of space exploration, and aware that there are practical arguments to be made in its favor as well, the administration is blaming even this on the Bush administration.  As one White House official said, “We have inherited one of the many failed promises of the Bush administration–to set out a very good program without providing the resources to fund it.”  Of course, many at NASA believed they did have a very good program, and the fact that it would need increased spending in its later years is not unusual.  I’m all for blaming Bush for the things he clearly got wrong, but this strikes me as absurd.

5.  A very strange story: the Obama administration is providing a $2b loan for a Brazilian company, Petrobras, to explore the immense oil field that was discovered off the coast of Brazil.  Why would the US government subsidize a Brazilian company–a very large company with substantial resources of its own–in drilling for oil off the coast of Brazil?  We’ll have to learn more about this story.  One thing we’ve learned already: George Soros, a major supporter of Obama as well as organizations (such as ACORN) that Obama has been involved with, positioned himself to make major money off of Petrobras just a few days ago.  Strange goings on.

6.  In England, the average number of sick days in the private sector is 6.4; in the public sector, it is 9.7.  In the National Health Service that average rises to 10.7, as 45,000 NHS staff call in sick each day.  A few little factoids for ya.

7.  The mystery cargo ship called the Arctic Sea, which had disappeared after passing through the English channel was “found” by Russian authorities (the crew was Russian) on Monday near the Cape Verde Islands.  The Russian news service (essentially a state-run media organ) claims that it was hijacked, but speculation is rife that there was actually some sort of clandestine material on the ship. As one Russian opposition journalist said, “To put it plainly: The Arctic Sea was carrying some sort of anti-aircraft or nuclear contraption intended for a nice, peaceful country like Syria, and they were caught with it.”

8.  Yesterday we mentioned Tom Daschle’s work as a lobbyist for companies in the health care field.  Dick Armey, a Republican, recently left a firm for much the same reason.  As it happens, Howard Dean as well serves as a lobbyist with clients in the health care industry.  The incestuous relationship between government and lobbying is a major problem with Washington today, and one of the best arguments in favor of restricting the reach and power of the federal government.  The more power it has over the private market, the more money will be poured into lobbying and the more that federal legislation and government will be directed by those with the deepest pockets–directed not by national interest, but by corporate interests working through government manipulation.

9.  Today’s Two Sides.  Two views, from the Right and from the Left, of how the Obama administration is flailing.

10.  Finally, an article very much worth reading at Christianity Today on the notion of “worldview.”  The article concerns a recent book by the philosopher James K. A. Smith, who argues that evangelical obsession with “worldview” is not so much a response as a capitulation to the Enlightenment, rationalist conception of human nature, and that education in pursuit of a Christian “worldview” is therefore misguided.  If education is not primarily about what we know, but is instead primarily about what we love, then the task of education is that of formation, or rightly ordering our loves, and less about information, or rightly organizing and justifying what we know.  Read the whole article.

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