Health Care Reform and Ideology

Will Wilkinson comments on Ezra’s Klein’s frustration with Rahm Emanuel’s being willing to compromise on specifics of health care legislation as long as the key goals are met  (which I discussed earlier). Wilkinson wrote:

Bush couldn’t reform Social Security because his plan was unpopular. Obama won’t be able to deliver a health-care bill ideological Democrats want, because what they want is unpopular and legislators know it. So Congressional Democrats want something they can cast as “victory” while doing nothing that could hurt their noble struggle for ongoing political self-preservation. Right now, strongly ideological media liberals like Klein have to decide whether they’re going to (a) act as enforcers, sending the signal to the powers-that-be that they will vocally and publicly count a “trigger” plan as a pathetic failure, or (b) sigh and prepare to declare whatever legislation passes a profound victory for ordinary Americans that shows just how great Democrats are.

I’ve noted many times before, there is widespread support in polls for health care reform, including a public option. Wilkinson is also at least partially correct in commenting:

Reform is very popular in the abstract. Even a government-run system. But most people are quite satisfied with their current plans. So support for systemic changes turns out to be shallow. This is what Clinton learned. As soon as people get the sense a new policy will force a change in their own situation, they break off. That’s what Obama’s people are worried about, and why the constantly return to the “you won’t have to change anything” refrain, even though the goal is to have everybody change into the government plan sooner or later.

When we write about the need for health care reform it only makes sense to concentrate on the millions who are uninsured, under-insured, or have been screwed by the insurance companies. The fact remains that millions of other people are happy with their current plan and prefer to remain in their plan as opposed to being forced into a government-run plan. They might be wrong, such as in thinking they have good coverage only because they have not yet run into a situation where their insurance company has tried to deny coverage, and they might be falling for untrue claims about government-run plans, but they will still vote based upon such beliefs.

A public plan could be advocated either as a way to keep the insurance companies honest or as a back door path to a single payer plan. Those who are pushing for it as a way to get to a single payer plan are unlikely to compromise. For those of us who are more concerned with changing the behavior of insurance companies, it makes sense for Emanuel to stress goals rather than drawing a line in the sand with regards to the public option.

The “strongly ideological media liberals like Klein” might only have the two options Wilkinson mentioned. Personally I chose an alternative option. I have long suspected that we will wind up with a compromise which falls short of what the progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants. The question is not whether they get everything but whether we have a bill which has positive results with regards to improving access to health care and making it more difficult for insurance companies to deny coverage. Even a watered down plan is likely to be far more comprehensive than what the Democrats were running on in 2004.

It isn’t a matter of declaring victory or proving “just how great Democrats are” but in being realistic in hoping for some improvements without expecting perfection. Our political system was set up to prevent the ideological extremes from usually getting everything they want. Sometimes this might be frustrating, but this reality was also beneficial when George Bush was in office.

Telecommunications Companies Face Possible Antitrust Action

The Department of Justice is looking into whether telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Verizon  are abusing the market power. The Wall Street Journal reports:

One area that might be explored is whether big wireless carriers are hurting smaller rivals by locking up popular phones through exclusive agreements with handset makers. Lawmakers and regulators have raised questions about deals such as AT&T’s exclusive right to provide service for Apple Inc.’s iPhone in the U.S. Big carriers say limiting exclusive deals would hurt innovation.

The department also may review whether telecom carriers are unduly restricting the types of services other companies can offer on their networks, one person familiar with the situation said. Public-interest groups have complained when carriers limit access to Internet calling services such as Skype.

Through a spate of consolidation and organic growth, AT&T and Verizon have become the two dominant players and have a great deal of clout with equipment makers. Combined, they have 90 million land-line customers and 60% of the 274 million U.S. wireless subscribers. They operate large portions of the Internet backbone.

Past antitrust regulation played a major role in shaping the telecom sector. The U.S. pursued a landmark antitrust case against AT&T, resulting in the 1984 breakup of the “Ma Bell” telephone monopoly into regional carriers. One of those, SBC Communications Inc., later led a merger roll-up, and by 2006 had reconstituted the giant now known as AT&T Inc.

Verizon, created in 2000 in a merger of GTE Corp. and Bell Atlantic Corp., bulked up through deals such as its 2006 acquisition of MCI Inc. Its wireless unit, a joint venture with Vodafone Group PLC, acquired Alltel Corp. early this year.

Some antitrust experts said the U.S. would have a tough time opening a Sherman Act case against telecom providers and showing a company was abusing market power. “It would be a very hard case to make,” said Donald Russell, a Washington attorney who reviewed a number of telecom mergers as a DOJ antitrust lawyer in the Clinton administration. “You don’t have any firm that’s in a dominant position.”

“Investigations don’t necessarily lead to court cases,” said Ketan Jhaveri, an attorney with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP who once worked on the Justice Department’s telecom antitrust task force. He noted that antimonopoly litigation consumes a lot of resources…

The debate over exclusive handset deals has been escalating. The Federal Communications Commission said last month it will investigate them. That followed a congressional hearing that spotlighted the complaints of small carriers that said they are being shut out.

“This is the outcome of indifference on the part of the government to the concentration of power in the hands of a few,” said Jack Rooney, chief executive of Chicago-based U.S. Cellular, in a recent interview. U.S. Cellular has 6.2 million customers, mostly in rural areas.

AT&T, with the iPhone deal, isn’t alone in striking exclusive arrangements. Verizon is the exclusive provider of Research In Motion Ltd.’s touch-screen BlackBerry Storm in the U.S. Sprint Nextel Corp. will be the only carrier with the Palm Inc. Pre until early next year.

The carriers say such exclusives enable them to take risks on expensive new smart phones and bring them to market at discounted prices. The deals limit the ability of manufacturers such as Palm, Apple and HTC Corp. to distribute their devices widely. But some analysts say those companies benefit by getting a significant share of a carrier’s marketing and sales resources.

“If you are launching an absolutely new product to the market, pairing up with a Tier 1 carrier gives you instant visibility and buzz and a first-rate marketing campaign,” said Andy Castonguay, a wireless analyst at Yankee Group.

I doubt that it would have been a risky move to bring the iPhone to market without the exclusive deal with AT&T.

While antitrust action might not be the way to accomplish this, I wish that Verizon wouldn’t do things to cripple their phones and force users to pay more to use Verizon services. Verizon replaces the software which originally comes with phones with their own software. In the past I was able to connect my Palm to a cell phone to go on line with the Palm’s browser and email programs as opposed to using the more limited programs on their phones. For the past several years they have changed the phone to prevent this. They also prevent transfers of music clips from the data card to the phone to use them as ring tones to attempt to force users to purchase the ring tones from Verizon. Should you change phones it is then necessary to purchase a new set. (Of course there are some ways around this such as sending a ring tone attached to a text message and programs available on some boards to directly load ring tones onto the phone.)

Posted in Economy, Gadgets. 1 Comment »

The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin was not ready for the national spotlight when John McCain asked her to be his running mate. It is questionable whether she would ever be ready, between her Bush-like lack of interest in the details of policy issues and her lack of integrity. Andrew Sullivan has posted this round up from his previous posts on The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin:

Palin lied when she repeatedly claimed to have said, “Thanks, but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere; in fact, she openly campaigned for the federal project when running for governor.

Palin lied when she denied that Wasilla’s police chief and librarian had been fired; in fact, both were given letters of termination the previous day.

Palin lied when she wrote in the NYT that a comprehensive review by Alaska wildlife officials showed that polar bears were not endangered; in fact, email correspondence between those scientists showed the opposite.

Palin lied when she claimed in her convention speech that an oil gas pipeline “began” under her guidance; in fact, the pipeline was years from breaking ground, if at all.

Palin lied when she told Charlie Gibson that she does not pass judgment on gay people; in fact, she opposes all rights between gay spouses and belongs to a church that promotes conversion therapy.

Palin lied when she denied having said that humans do not contribute to climate change; in fact, she had previously proclaimed that human activity was not to blame.

Palin lied when she claimed that Alaska produces 20 percent of the country’s domestic energy supply; in fact, the actual figures, based on any interpretation of her words, are much, much lower.

Palin lied when she told voters she improvised her convention speech when her teleprompter stopped working properly; in fact, all reports showed that the machine had functioned perfectly and that her speech had closely followed the script.

Palin lied when she recalled asking her daughters to vote on whether she should accept the VP offer; in fact, her story contradicts details given by her husband, the McCain campaign, and even Palin herself. (She later added another version.)

Palin lied when she claimed to have taken a voluntary pay cut as mayor; in fact, as councilmember she had voted against a raise for the mayor, but subsequent raises had taken effect by the time she was mayor.

Palin lied when she insisted that Wooten’s divorce proceedings had caused his confidential records to become public; in fact, court officials confirmed they released no such records.

Palin lied when she suggested to Katie Couric that she was involved in trade missions with Russia; in fact, she has never even met with Russian officials.

Palin lied when she told Shimon Peres that the only flag in her office was the Israeli flag; in fact, she has several flags.

Palin lied when she claimed to have tried to divest government funds from Sudan; in fact, her administration openly opposed a bill that would have done just that.

Palin lied when she repeatedly claimed that troop levels in Iraq were back to pre-surge levels; in fact, even she acknowledged her “misstatements,” though she refused to retract or apologize.

Palin lied when she insisted that the Branchflower Report “showed there was no unlawful or unethical activity on my part”; in fact, that report prominently stated, “Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.”

Palin lied when she claimed to have voiced concerns over Wooten fearing he would harm her family; in fact, she actually decreased her security detail during that period.

Palin lied when asked about the $150,000 worth of clothes provided by the RNC; in fact, solid reporting contradicted several parts of her statement.

Palin lied when she suggested that she had offered the media proof of her pregnancy with Trig to “correct the record”; in fact, no reports of her medical records were ever published; and the letter from her doctor testifying to her good health only emerged hours before polling ended on election day, even though there was nothing in it that couldn’t have been released two months earlier.

Palin lied when she said that “reported” allegations of her banning Harry Potter as mayor was easily refutable because it had not even been written yet; in fact, the first book in that series was published in 1998 – two years into her first term – and such rumors were never reported by the media, only circulated as emails.

Palin lied when she denied having participated in a clothes audit with campaign laywers; in fact, the Washington Times later confirmed those details.

Palin lied when asked about Couric’s question regarding her reading habits; in fact, Couric’s words were not, “What do you read up there in Alaska?” or anything close to condescension.

Palin lied when she mischaracterized the “$1200 check” given to Alaskans as the permanent fund dividend check; in fact, that fund had yielded $2,069 per person, and she claimed otherwise to obscure the fact that Alaskans also received a $1200 rebate check from a windfall profits tax on oil companies – a tax widely criticized by Republicans.

Palin lied when she claimed to be unaware of a turkey being slaughtered behind her during a filmed interview; in fact, the cameraman said she had picked the spot herself, while the slaughter was underway.

Palin lied when she denied having rejected federal stimulus money; in fact, she continued to accept and reject the funds several times.

Palin lied when she claimed that legislative leaders had canceled a meeting with her to hold their own press conference; in fact, they only canceled it after being told she would not participate, and the purpose of the press conference was very different from the meeting’s.

Palin lied when she announced on the news that she never holds closed-door meetings; in fact, she had just attended a closed-door meeting with the legislature earlier that day.

Palin lied when she said that former aide John Bitney’s “amicable” departure was for “personal” reasons; in fact, Bitney said he was fired because of his relationship with the wife of Palin’s friend, plus a Palin spokesperson later claimed “poor job performance” for his firing – without elaborating.

Palin lied when she said she kept her running injury a secret on the campaign trail; in fact, her bandaged hand was clearly visible in photographs and the story was widely talked about.

Palin lied when she claimed that Alaska has spent “millions of dollars” on litigation related to her ethics complaints; in fact, that figure is much, much lower, and she had initiated the most expensive inquiry.

Palin lied when she denied that the Alaska Independence Party supports secession and denied that her husband had been a member; in fact, even the McCain campaign noted that the party’s very existence is based on secession and that Todd was a member for seven years.

Palin lied when she said the dismissal of her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, had nothing to do with his refusal to fire state trooper Mike Wooten; in fact, the Branchflower Report concluded that she repeatedly abused her power when dealing with both men.

I wouldn’t bother with some of these, such as the questions about Trig. Even if Sullivan’s allegations should turn out to be correct I wouldn’t be terribly concerned if she lied about being the mother to cover up a family scandal. I’m far more concerned with the lies which show her abuse of power.

Several of these could use further elaboration which is often provided in the original post which the list links to. The Harry Potter item appears trivial as posted but it relates to a more important point. Palin had attempted to ban books which were offensive to the religious right. Besides the legitimate news stories on the subject which contained factual information, there was also a mass emailing which continued untrue claims, such as that she had attempted to ban Harry Potter. When asked about her attempts to censor books, Palin would routinely respond by saying that the claims in the mass email are incorrect. This was her way of evading answering questions about her actual attempts to ban books.

Palin might not know much about public policy issues, but she is clever at misleading those who look into her past. Besides this evasion on her attempts to censor books, she practiced similar dishonesty when the reports on Troopergate came out. Although the report showed that she had abused her powers, Palin spun the report to deny this finding. When the real, bipartisan report on Troopergate showed she was guilty of abuse of powers, Palin arranged to have a sham report appear to clear her just before the election. Of course these lies are not really “odd lies.” They were calculated lies to cover up past.

Compromise To Remain On The Path To Health Care Reform

Whether a health reform deal includes a public option remains a key issue dividing the parties. The Wall Street Journal reports there is room for compromise:

It is more important that health-care legislation inject stiff competition among insurance plans than it is for Congress to create a pure government-run option, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said.”The goal is to have a means and a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest,” he said in an interview. “The goal is non-negotiable; the path is” negotiable.

President Barack Obama has campaigned vigorously for a full public option. But he’s also said that he won’t draw a “line in the sand” over this point. On Tuesday, the White House issued a statement reiterating his support for a public plan.

“I am pleased by the progress we’re making on health care reform and still believe, as I’ve said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest,” the president said in the statement. “I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals.”

While some have drawn lines in the sand, Rahm Emanuel gets it right. What is important is the final result and that solutions be offered to problems.  Some on the left have concentrated too much on the path, threatening to vote against bills which achieve the desired goals if they do not do it in the manner they prefer.

If a perfect health reform bill was passed which imposed the necessary restrictions on insurance companies it would not be necessary to have a public  plan. It might be argued that to demand a public plan is to be conceding that the health care legislation will not produce the needed reform. Of course this is also a realistic position, knowing that there is a strong chance that insurance companies will find ways to circumvent regulations to maximize profits regardless of what laws are written.

Many liberal bloggers such as Ezra Klein question why any compromise is needed with the Democrats controlling the White House and both houses of Congress. If Congress can pass legislation which contains a public plan then this whole discussion of compromise becomes irrelevant. The reason that it does remain a matter of discussion is that it is not yet certain whether the Democrats will remain united to pass a bill with a public plan. Moderate Democrats might join the Republicans in voting against a public plan.  It is then that we should remember Rahm Emanual’s stress on the goal rather than the path and still push for legislation which prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to those who need it in order to maximize profits.

Update: Will Wilkinson comments on Ezra’s Klein’s response to Emanuel. I have commented further on Wilkinson’s post here.