Friday, July 24, 2009

Pointing the Finger on Health Care Reform

There's an old saying that you shouldn't ever point the finger at someone, because you'll have three other fingers pointing back at you (not counting the thumb, of course). I thought about that this morning as I considered all of the arguments flying back and forth over who is to blame about the delays in implementing health care reform.

Here's the finger being pointed: "Obama in recent days has shifted directly attacking Republicans, portraying their opposition to his health initiative as little more than a political attack designed to destroy his presidency... In remarks Tuesday, Obama continued to hammer home the theme that his opponents were driven by political motives, but he refrained from mentioning the Republican Party or referring to any specific Senator." - Roll Call, July 22, 2009

And today, here are the fingers pointing back at Democrats:

As the pressure increases to cut deals on health care reform, nerves are starting to fray among Democrats. Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and his top legislative aide, Phil Schiliro, traveled to the Capitol on Thursday to try to sort out an impasse between Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and seven fellow Democrats in the centrist Blue Dog Coalition. But they emerged after three hours in the speaker’s office without a breakthrough.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) conceded that House Democrats had held a “contentious” closed-door session on Thursday morning, the day after Obama increased the pressure on Congress to get something done on
health care.

And in the Senate, Democratic Finance Committee members not directly involved in the bipartisan talks warned Baucus that their votes could not be taken for granted as he works toward a deal with Republicans.

“Don’t think we are so desperate. We are not going to fall into line,” Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said, describing the message Democrats delivered to Baucus. “I’m not allowed into the meetings, the real meetings they have, what they call the coalition of the willing. It is a really, really bad way to try and develop support and ideas. So the whole philosophy is, if we can get these three Republicans, we can call it bipartisan, but I don’t think any of you [in the media] are going to think it is particularly bipartisan.” - Politico, July 24, 2009

Why did Obama not name any specific Senator or identify the opponents driven by political motives? Because that would entail identifying members of his own party - the members of the Senate who are opposed to the route this reform legislation is taking, and the 50-plus members of the House Blue Dog coalition who could block any bill that they see increasing taxes on their constituencies.

So I ask Democrats in Congress and the Administration, "Can you tell me who's really to blame here?" Let me state that I am not opposed to all Americans having access to health care; what I am opposed to is trying to jam a massive bill through the process in less than two months between the time the legislation was introduced and the time a final vote is held. What you're seeing here are members that recognize a fix needs to be made - a fix that is affordable and doesn't drive the country even further into a debt that we've succeeded in building up over the past several years - as well as recognizing that this vote could make or break their careers.

Be careful where you point the finger on this issue - and remember that one of the three pointing back at you is the middle one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New Game Demonstrates Effects of Card Check

I'm sure that many of you by this point have heard of the Employee Free Choice Act, more commonly known as "card check." Passage of this legislation - which President Obama indicated last year he would sign if it made it to his desk - would dramatically strengthen the ability of organized labor to unionize business and industry throughout the country, force management to accept binding arbitration in all negotiations over contracts and benefits, and increase the amount of money flowing to union coffers through mandatory deductions from workers' paychecks to cover the cost of dues.

The good news is that the legislation is showing few signs of progress in the Senate at this point in time, and senators are at an impasse over possible compromise language which would draw the support of 60 senators (with the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives, passage in that chamber is guaranteed). The bad news is that it continues to be the number one priority of organized labor, and as such they are pushing hard to get a compromise bill through - provided it doesn't touch the mandatory arbitration issue that would be so harmful to American business.

The Alliance for Worker Freedom has been very active on this issue, and earlier this week unveiled their new interactive online card check game. "Card Checked: The Game" allows the user to experience first-hand a scenario in which they are pressured to sign an authorization card to allow for unionization of their business. In a format similar to the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, you have the option of how to act at each stage of the game and witness the repercussions of your actions. The game is also heavily documented with real-life incidents relating to some of the pressure techniques used by labor to force unionization.

I encourage you to visit and explore this game and the supporting documentation for yourself. You can play the game by going here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Grief and Struggle of Robert McNamara

“’Terribly Wrong’ Handling of Vietnam Overshadowed Record of Achievement.”

“Robert S. McNamara, Architect of a Futile War, Dies at 93.”

“Vietnam War Architect Robert McNamara Dies.”

“Architect of Vietnam War Later Revealed His Regrets.”

“A Onetime ‘Whiz Kid’ Brought Low by Vietnam.”

Yesterday’s death of former Secretary of Defense and World Bank President Robert McNamara naturally made the front page of countless newspapers across the country, and you really only had to look at the headlines (such as the ones above from, in order, the Washington Post, New York Times, Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal) to get a sense of what slant the different writers would be taking. No matter the angle, however, Vietnam was the centerpiece of each story (and of the numerous personal reminiscences run on the op-ed pages of each paper) – surpassed only by the focus on the internal struggle McNamara faced from the time he stepped down from his post in the Johnson Administration in 1968 until the day he died.

Even though I was born during the height of the Vietnam War, I’ve never really considered myself part of the Vietnam generation. Thankfully, the war by and large bypassed my family – my father missed on having to go because of a previously-broken ankle, and my father-in-law was a C-130 pilot in the Air Force who flew several tours there in the 1960s before returning safely to the United States. Despite that, Robert McNamara was someone with whom I have always been familiar, at least peripherally. I haven’t read his 1995 memoir (yet), and I haven’t seen the 2003 documentary “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” (yet), but I do know that he fought mightily to come to grips with the role he played in the war.

Among all of the stories, analysis and recollections that I’ve read today, one passage from the Washington Post story really jumped out at me. In it McNamara is quoted as saying: “We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo – men, women and children,” he told [Errol] Morris [producer of the 2003 documentary]. “[General Curtis] LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost,” he added. “But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?”

What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?

It’s a new way of looking at the old saying about history being written by the victors, and I think it’s a glimpse – albeit a small one – into the intellectual and emotional struggle in which McNamara found himself during the past four decades. Looking at the Tokyo raid in World War II, as well as the horrific raid on Dresden during the same conflict, people have acknowledged these were tragic occurrences – but not much else. Had we in fact lost the Second World War, would we view these any more differently? And don’t you think that the Japanese and Germans view these under a different lens as well?

Not having known McNamara and not yet having read his book or seen the documentary, I can only guess that his statement about the morality or immorality of the Tokyo bombing was a reflection of his deeper internal struggle about this country’s role in Vietnam – and the tremendous cost in both in lives and national morale that we had to endure and which lingered for many years. The loss of 56,000 Americans in Southeast Asia was a tremendous tragedy, and I can only surmise from what I do know that McNamara deeply felt the loss of each one of those men and women every day for the rest of his life.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why Sarah Palin Just Torpedoed a Shot at 2012

In keeping with our recent spate of astounding, amazing, and downright shocking news stories, Sarah Palin has provided us with yet another. In order to enable herself to do more for the nation than she could if still governor, Palin announced today that she will not seek reelection for a second term - and to seal the deal also stated that she will be resigning effective the end of this month.

If this is her way of setting the stage for a 2012 run for the White House, I think this was a horrible move to make. During the election last year, the McCain-Palin team had a difficult enough time convincing the electorate that her time as mayor of Wasilla and brief period in the governor's mansion qualified as legitimate, national-level executive experience. But in all honesty, I don't think she can use that argument any longer, considering she wasn't even willing to finish out her first (and apparently only) term as Alaska's chief executive.

Unless she is about to sign a major deal with Fox News Channel or announce a potential run for Senate against Lisa Murkowski, this accomplishes nothing (other than giving her time to finish the manuscript for her soon-to-be-published memoir). The attention span for presidential primaries doesn't even really take hold until February or March of the actual election year, meaning that it's going to be the beginning of 2012 before anyone will - or should, for that matter - take a serious look at the contenders. Name ID certainly won't be an issue for Palin, if that's what she's thinking - anyone who hasn't heard of her by this point has been living under a rock.

And at the risk of offending my much more Conservative friends, I don't see Governor-for-28-more-days Palin as the savior of the GOP. I think she has potential at some level - Senate, perhaps, or maybe even a cabinet-level position like Interior secretary - but I just don't see her being the one crowned nominee at the 2012 Republican convention. Trying to determine a front-runner at this point is a useless exercise, and trying to make yourself a front-runner is even more pointless; people will get tired of you now long before your campaign even starts up.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tom Friedman and Dan Becker: Has Climate Change Made Their Memories More Selective?

In his latest New York Times column, "Just Do It," author and environmentalist Tom Friedman accuses Republican members of the House of Representatives - along with, to a lesser extent, President Obama and the American public - of being one of the major reasons that the Waxman-Markey bill arrived in the Senate in its current, weakened form. To be precise - and here he quotes comments made by Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign - he refers to the version that was passed last Friday on a 219-212 vote as being "too weak in key areas and way too complicated in others" and being "watered down to bring them [coal-state Democrats] on board."

(To say that the bill is weakened isn't going to matter much to the folks who will be paying higher electricity costs, higher costs on commodities, higher costs on goods and services, and on and on and on. I don't care if the CBO assessment of $175 per year or the Heritage Foundation prediction of several thousand dollars a year is correct, or whether you prefer the word "tax" or "free." More money is more money, and we're going to be spending more. How much could we be paying if the bill wasn't "watered down?")

To further buttress his argument about Republicans not supporting this bill (while, oddly, not mentioning at all that no compromise on earth could convince the 44 Democrats who voted against it to change their minds), Friedman again quotes Becker, who said "every House Republican voted against the bill and did nothing to try and improve it." I don't know what's worse: citing someone who doesn't know what he's talking about, or not thinking independently on this issue.

A few examples:

1. Becker says that every House Republican voted against the bill. Um, sorry Dan, but you're off there. Apparently you didn't check the vote tally - eight Republicans actually voted for the bill (much to the consternation of the conservative base). For your argument, I suppose that's not important.

2. Becker also says that Republicans did nothing to try and improve the bill. Again, I'm not sure at all where he's coming from on this. During the markup of the Waxman-Markey legislation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, minority members offered countless amendments in an attempt to try and make the bill better - and an overwhelming majority of them were defeated. Later, when the bill was handed off to the Rules Committee, the committee chair allowed a grand total of ONE Republican amendment to be considered on the House floor. And then Speaker Pelosi broke her pledge of allowing at least 24 hours between announcing a vote on a bill and holding the vote for members to read the bill, giving - as Minority Leader John Boehner said during his remarks on the floor - a total of five hours of debate.

I don't think the bill is in its current form because Republicans didn't offer any help. Truth be told, Democrats don't want their help - they're going to ram it through, come hell or high water, with or without Republican votes. I won't say that a more conservative columnist and the head of a more conservative think tank wouldn't tilt their explanation more to the right; it's just the nature of the game. No, my concern here is the selective memory displayed by Becker, and the reliance on those comments by someone who I thought had more sense than that.

Not everyone watched the debate or fully understands what's going on, and to read this slanted explanation leaves out much of the story.