The U.S. government's rescue of wobbly companies and financial markets is starting to look far less expensive or long-lasting than once feared.
As momentum grows at companies that looked like zombies just a few months ago to repay taxpayers for lifelines they got during the financial crisis, the projected cost of the bailout is shrinking to just a fraction of previous estimates. Treasury Department officials say the tab is likely to reach $89 billion, which includes the Troubled Asset Relief Program, capital injections into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, loan guarantees by the Federal Housing Administration and Federal Reserve moves such as buying mortgage-backed securities and propping up the commercial-paper market.
Treasury officials are increasingly optimistic that even American International Group Inc. could be on its own within a year, with officials discussing ways to extricate the government from its 80% stake in the insurer, according to people familiar with the situation. AIG is on track to repay its loan to the Fed through asset sales that will raise $51 billion.
The discussions come as the Treasury is planning to sell its $32 billion stake in Citigroup Inc. and General Motors Corp. moves toward repaying its $6.7 billion government investment and embarking on an initial public offering this summer. Both companies could be free of government strings sometime this year.
Just a year ago, the Congressional Budget Office and Office of Management and Budget estimated that the overall bailout would cost more than $250 billion. Last month, though, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the rescues will amount to "less than 1%" of gross domestic product. The $89 billion projection is less than the cost of the savings-and-loan crisis in the 1980s and early 1990s, which totaled as much as 3.2% of GDP.
The Treasury's estimate is dependent on many factors, including the health of the economy and the housing market. Still, the smaller-than-expected price tag reflects the quick stabilization of financial markets, which helped companies to return their taxpayer-funded money—often at a profit—and allowed the government to spend less on some aid programs than originally projected. The government also is earning dividends, interest payments and other rescue-related income, ranging from about 5% annually on $1.5 trillion in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt to $4 billion from the sale of warrants it got to buy shares in TARP recipients.
But the direct costs of the bailout are dwarfed by the broader political and economic impact, many experts say. It likely will take many years for the U.S. to recover from the economic misery, ballooning U.S. debt, lost tax revenue and political tumult fueled by the financial crisis.
"If you look at the cost of a financial crisis ... the bailout costs are often a small part of it," said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard University and co-author of a 2009 book about financial crises.
In preparation for today's Nuclear Security Summit, did Obama achieve a breakthrough with China over Iran or not? It apparently depends on your source of news, as the teasers from 3 different newspapers' homepages make clear.
President seeks global help in sanctioning Iran
Obama uses summit on nuclear terrorism to press international leaders to support further isolating Iran, and garners support on issue from China.
China Pledges to Work With U.S. on Iran Sanctions
President Hu Jintao agreed to join negotiations on sanctions against Iran, but he made no specific commitment to U.S.-backed measures, officials said
U.S., China Divided Over Iran
President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to step up pressure on Iran for its nuclear program, the U.S. said, but the two nations still appear divided on how to apply that pressure.
The federal deficit is running significantly lower than it did last year, with the budget gap for the first half of fiscal 2010 down 8 percent over the same period a year ago, senior Obama administration officials said Monday.
The officials attributed the results to higher tax revenue and to lower spending than projected on bailing out the financial system. If the trend continues for the rest of the year, it would mean the annual deficit would be $1.3 trillion -- about $300 billion less than the administration's projection two months ago for 2010.
But by suggesting the deficit may have peaked, administration officials are taking a political gamble. If the favorable number does not hold up in coming months and the budget shortfall surpasses the $1.4 trillion recorded last year, voters in the November midterm elections could punish the Democrats for offering false hope.
No official statement on the deficit is scheduled until the release of a late-summer review. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the findings are preliminary and the results for the full year might not turn out so well.
The officials expressed cautious optimism about the figures but noted that the outlook remains uncertain. Although the economy has stabilized, growth has been lackluster. If the administration and Congress pursue a new round of measures to stimulate the economy, these could boost government spending. Officials also want to see whether the favorable trend in tax collections recorded in February and March holds up through the April tax season.
The improved budget figure comes at an opportune time for Democrats as they head into a difficult political campaign, with Republicans blaming the administration for running up record deficits.
The federal deficit was large when Obama took office, but it ballooned as the administration launched an ambitious stimulus program to soften the economic downturn, which was eating tax revenue and prompting increased spending on safety net programs. In recent days, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has added his voice to those of other prominent economic figures warning about the long-term dangers posed by large deficits.
A senior administration official acknowledged that the lower deficit number would not substantially ease the budget problems facing the government. But the favorable trend could allow Democrats to say they have turned the corner, and the number is one they would want to highlight for voters souring on Obama because of the government's red ink.
At a town hall meeting, Sen. Tom Coburn criticized Fox News, saying it peddled false information about the health care bill, and he chastised constituents who had nasty things to say about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It’s not exactly the kind of thing you expect from Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who has become a hero of sorts to fiscal conservatives and the tea party movement, not only for his opposition to the health care bill but also his track record as one of the Senate’s toughest fiscal conservatives. He’s even nicknamed “Dr. No” for his record of blocking bills he opposes, usually on fiscal grounds.
But Coburn has distinguished himself in another way: he’s really tired of how nasty politics has become in the nation.
In remarks at the town hall, Coburn referred to Pelosi, a California Democrat, as a “nice lady,” which prompted audible disagreement from Oklahomans. “Come on now. She is nice – how many of you all have met her? She’s a nice person,” Coburn said, according to Capitol News Connection.
He continued: “Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re not a good person. I’ve been in the Senate for five years and I’ve taken a lot of that, because I’ve been on the small side both in the Republican Party and the Democrat Party.”
Coburn also batted down constituents who raised ill-informed concerns about the health care bill. When one woman said she feared being thrown in jail if she didn’t get health insurance, Coburn advised turning off the TV.
“The intention is not to put any one in jail. That makes for good TV news on Fox but that isn’t the intention,” Coburn responded.
He warned of basing opinions about policy or politicians on the cable news network. “What we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what’s going on and make a determination yourself,” he said. “So don’t catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody is no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don’t know what they don’t know.”
Fox is owned by News Corp., which also owns The Wall Street Journal.
Coburn has friendly ties with another Democrat who doesn’t sit well with conservative activists: President Barack Obama. The two had a friendly relationship when Obama was in the Senate, and while Coburn has opposed much of the administration’s agenda, he doesn’t make it personal with the president.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) might have gotten the exactly the help he didn't need from a friend this morning, as Republican Governors Association chairman Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) defended him for issuing a proclamation in honor of Confederate History Month that did not include reference to slavery.
On CNN's "State of the Union," Barbour said people already know slavery was a bad thing and that the outcry over McDonnell's proclamation amounted to making "a big deal out of something that doesn't amount to diddly."
Barbour's main point was that Mississippi's own Democratic-controlled state legislature has adopted similar resolutions in honor of Confederate soldiers, as have Mississippi governors of both parties. Asked by anchor Candy Crowley if McDonnell's resolution was a mistake, Barbour said, "I don't think so."
"I don't know what you would say about slavery, but anybody that thinks that you have to explain to people that slavery is a bad thing--I think that goes without saying," he said, adding "Maybe they should talk to my Democratic legislature, which has done the exactly same thing in Mississippi for years...I'm unaware of them being criticized for it."
As for the criticism McDonnell faced, including from President Obama, Barbour said: "It's sort of feeling that it's a nit, that it is not significant, it's trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't amount to diddly," he also said.
The problem for McDonnell, of course: He's been saying for several days now exactly the opposite, apologizing repeatedly for leaving slavery out of the proclamation and calling it a "major omission."
The comments from the RGA head and major McDonnell supporter could threaten the governor's attempts to put the issue to rest and move on.
The Democratic National Committee has already called on Republicans to condemn Barbour's remarks, with DNC Press Secretary Hari Sevugan saying that failing to do so would "send a strong message to all Americans that Republicans endorse Governor Barbour's sentiments and are content not only to be left behind in another century, but that they deserve to be a small regional party in the permanent minority."
We've reached out to McDonnell's office for a response and will let you know what they have to say.
UPDATE 3:14 p.m.: Tucker Martin, McDonnell spokesman, sent a statement by email that generally praises Barbour without specifically addressing this morning's comments. "Governor Haley Barbour is a tremendous leader for Mississippi. Governing Magazine named him Governor of the year in 2006 for good reason. He has led his state's recovery from Hurricane Katrina, focused on economic development and job creation, reformed the public education system and put Mississippi at the forefront of alternative energy research and development. We thank him for his leadership and service to the state and country," Martin said.
From the Onion, not the Sox:
President Barack Obama quietly breached years of protocol on Saturday morning by leaving the White House without the press with him.
About two hours before reporters were supposed to be in position to leave with the president, Obama left the grounds of the White House. Members of the press were told he was attending one of his daughter's soccer games in northwest Washington, D.C.
The White House press corps traditionally travels with the president anywhere he goes, inside and outside the country, to report on the president's activities for the benefit of informing the public and for historical record.
After Obama left, a press aide hastily gathered members of the media who happened to be at the White House early or working on other matters. They rushed to a van and left the White House to catch up with the president.
Too late. By the time, the press van appeared to arrive at the president's location, the press was told he was already departing. Time to go back to the White House.
Reporters and photographers didn't have a chance to see him or his vehicle to verify his presence at any location.
Although nobody outside the White House or the press may have noticed, Obama broke years of tradition.
The small press "pool" that accompanies the president had been told to gather at the White House at 11:30 a.m. He left about 9:20 a.m.
Asked what happened, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: "The president decided this morning to attend his daughter's soccer game. The pool was assembled as soon as possible to be there as well."
Obama eventually left the White House again on Saturday for a round of golf. This time, the press was with him.
Prescriptions has an informative Question & Answer where they answer the following:
Q. Won’t all these changes increase my health care premiums?
Q. Will young, healthy adults who don’t have insurance be helped by the reforms?
Q. How does this bill affect health savings accounts?
Q. How will the law affect children with pre-existing conditions?
Q. How much mental health coverage will this provide? Will i be able to get coverage for a therapist or psychiatrist?
Q. How is the new federal pool different from what is already offered by state high-risk pools or Medicaid?
Q. What exactly is a health insurance exchange? I have read much on this new law, but have not seen this concept explained beyond the abstract. Is it a company? A non-profit group? A state or federal government agency? Who sets it up, runs it and oversees it? Does if require membership? Does anybody really know?
Q. I am about to retire in August. Presently, many Social Security recipients purchase supplemental insurance plans. Will that now change or remain the same?
Q. Will Medicare recipients receive any immediate benefits?
Q. I understand that the bill includes major provisions that limit the transition of drugs such as Lipitor to generic status. Is this true? Are the drugs listed by company, name or type?
The NY Times on a Progressives' challenge in Nebraska:
For all the talk of an angry conservative electorate this year, those on the left side of the spectrum are plenty angry, too, frustrated that President Obama and the majorities his party enjoys in Congress have not accomplished more to enact a liberal agenda. And the primary in Arkansas, one of the most conservative of Democratic bastions, has become a place for liberals to vent frustrations and invest millions for television ads to unseat an incumbent.
And the Times on Kentucky's Tea Party challenge to the GOP:
In Kentucky, the Tea Party movement, with the voter discontent it has captured, has found its purest standard bearer in Rand Paul, who is challenging Mr. Grayson for the Republican nomination. An ophthalmologist, Dr. Paul is the son of Representative Ron Paul of Texas, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate whose libertarian backers often take credit for being the germ of the Tea Party.
While there are candidates backed by the Tea Party in other states, none is so much a product of it, with the name recognition and the fund-raising prowess (through his father’s network). And the proportions of Kentucky’s voter registration make it impossible for any Republican to win a general election without Democratic support, so if Dr. Paul wins the primary on May 18, as polls suggest he will, the Tea Party will have to prove its appeal beyond the Republican right.
It's going to make for a very interesting Primary season.
As April 15th approaches, the President discusses several of the tax breaks for middle class families he has signed into law. Find out more about the Making Work Pay tax credit, breaks for first-time homebuyers, rewards for making your home more energy efficient and more through our Tax Savings Tool.
It's not where they fall on the ideological spectrum, it's their ability to get five votes. Chuck Schumer in the NY Times:
Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, a Democratic leader who shepherded Justice Sotomayor through confirmation, said the focus should be finding a nominee who could influence Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the swing vote on the closely divided nine-member court, rather than selecting a firebrand who writes powerful dissents.
“One of the most important qualities for the new justice is the ability to win over Justice Kennedy,” Mr. Schumer said. In other words, he added, “somebody who’s going to be one of the five and not one of the four.”
Michael Schearer asks an important question:
The National Security Council says yes, based on a classified review of the evidence against U.S. born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is suspected to be residing somewhere in Yemen and working with Al-Qaeda. But as Spencer Ackerman points out, this decision seems to set up a rather daunting legal precedent.
The administration may very well be making the correct evaluation of the threat al-Awlaki poses. But if citizenship means anything, it means that a citizen can't be killed because the government uses secret evidence to say he or she is an intolerable threat.
Or does it?
Less than three weeks after the passage of the landmark national health-care bill, the abortion debate is being reignited: Lawmakers in least six states are pushing for legislation to block abortion coverage in some health plans.
After rancorous clashes over abortion coverage in the national bill, opponents were assured that federal funds wouldn't subsidize coverage of the procedure.
The final legislation requires insurers that sell plans in new government-run exchanges to segregate payments for abortion coverage from other premiums to ensure government subsidies won't go toward the procedure.
Still, many abortion opponents say that didn't go far enough.
So lawmakers are turning to another provision in the legislation that says states can choose to prevent plans offered through their exchanges from covering abortion altogether. That would likely affect most individual and small-group plans in a state, starting when the exchanges launch in 2014.
The new state-level proposals are likely to rekindle abortion as a political issue in November elections. Many state candidates, particularly those running for governor and state legislature, may be forced to take a position on abortion coverage, said John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. "Once an issue like this starts being debated in a state, everyone could become involved," said Mr. Green, who studies how religion affects elections.
The debate could spill over to congressional races as well. But these are expected to largely turn on bigger-picture issues like the economy and the role of government, said Charlie Cook, who edits the Cook Political Report.
Since the beginning of this year, lawmakers in five states including Tennessee and Oklahoma have introduced bills that would generally block abortion coverage in exchange plans, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
In Mississippi, state Sen. Alan Nunnelee, who is a Republican candidate for Congress, plans to introduce a similar bill this month. The federal language in the health bill, Mr. Nunnelee said, is "absolutely not" enough to ensure that government funds don't support abortion. Mr. Nunnelee is in a competitive congressional race this fall, according to the Cook Political Report.
Missouri state Sen. Scott Rupp, a Republican, is also backing such a bill. The state law already says that private plans generally won't cover abortion, except through special riders, but "we had to move over the ban to the exchanges," he says.
At least one state, Kansas, has seen a bill introduced this year that would prohibit insurance plans generally—not just in an exchange—from covering abortion, with certain exceptions. Five states, including Missouri, have similar laws, which don't affect large self-funded employer plans that aren't overseen by state regulators.
Lawmakers in at least three other states have introduced bills to ban abortion coverage in plans for state employees. Twelve states currently have such laws, according to Guttmacher.
A Wash Post follow-up to yesterday's Imagine If Germany Announced That April Was Going To Be Nazi Month ... That's What Va Just Did:
After a barrage of nationwide criticism for excluding slavery from his Confederate History Month proclamation, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) on Wednesday conceded that it was "a major omission" and amended the document to acknowledge the state's complicated past.
A day earlier, McDonnell said he left out any reference to slavery in the original seven-paragraph proclamation because he wanted to include issues he thought were most "significant" to Virginia. He also said the document was designed to promote tourism in the state, which next year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
However, Wednesday afternoon the governor issued a mea culpa for the document's exclusion of slavery. "The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission," McDonnell said in a statement. "The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed."
McDonnell also called the nation's first elected black governor, L. Douglas Wilder (D) of Virginia, and the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Kenneth Cooper Alexander (D-Norfolk), to apologize after they said they were offended by the document. McDonnell told them that he would alter the proclamation to include slavery and acknowledge that it was the cause of the Civil War.
The original declaration called on Virginians to "understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War." McDonnell added language to the document that said slavery "was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders."
But his decision to declare April Confederate History Month continued to cause a firestorm Wednesday, with national media descending on Richmond and Democrats and African Americans accusing the new governor of ignoring the state's role in slavery.
Sheila Johnson, one of McDonnell's most prominent black supporters and the wealthy co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, condemned the proclamation, calling it "insensitive" to Virginia's complicated and painful history.
"If Virginians are to celebrate their 'shared history,' as this proclamation suggests, then the whole truth of this history must be recognized and not evaded," said Johnson, who participated in a political ad for McDonnell's gubernatorial bid last fall and headlined several fundraisers during his campaign against Democrat R. Creigh Deeds.
State Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond), a member of the black caucus, accepted the governor's apology Wednesday but said he was disappointed that the state had to undergo the embarrassment and national scrutiny that followed the proclamation. "It's a black eye," he said.
McDonnell revived a controversy that had been dormant for years. Confederate History Month was started by Gov. George Allen (R) in 1997. Allen's successor, James S. Gilmore III (R), included anti-slavery language in his proclamation.
In 2002, Mark R. Warner, Gilmore's successor, broke with their actions, calling such proclamations a "lightning rod" that did not help bridge divisions between whites and blacks in Virginia. Four years later, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine was asked to issue a proclamation but did not.
President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a sweeping new arms reduction pact on Thursday that pledges to reduce the stockpile of deployed, strategic nuclear weapons in both countries and commits the old Cold War adversaries to new procedures to verify which weapons each country possesses.
Obama arrived in this historic city Thursday morning to formalize a step toward the vision he laid out here a year ago -- of a world without nuclear weapons.
The leaders met privately for about an hour before signing the pact in a ceremony hosted by the Czechs and full of symbolism. U.S. officials said the full document, just now finished after months of negotiation, would be posted in full on the Internet later today.
The treaty, called New START, imposes new limits on the ready-to-use, long range nuclear weapons and pledges to reduce the two biggest nuclear arsenals on the globe. Both countries will be required to have a maximum of 1,550 ready to use, long-range nuclear weapons in addition to the other parts of their nuclear stockpile.
Arms control advocates have expressed disappointment in the treaty, saying it does not go far enough in reducing the dangerous weapons on both sides. Some conservatives have raised questions about the treaty's impact on the American nuclear deterrent.
But experts from the right and the left agree the treaty extends a verification plan that has allowed the world's two nuclear giants to maintain stability that has existed for the past 20 years.
In the U.S., attention will soon turn to the Senate, where the White House is pushing for ratification of the pact by the end of 2010 ...
Senior U.S. officials said Obama's trip to Prague is designed to set the stage for further efforts by the president to argue for reductions in the spread of nuclear weapons around the globe.
The treaty's new limits on Russian and American nuclear weapons are important in their own right, officials said, but are also crucial in restoring a "moral legitimacy" to both countries as they seek to restrain other nations from becoming nuclear powers.
"The signing of the new treaty is part of an overall strategy to put us in a strong political position to mobilize support," said one top White House adviser. "By restoring our moral legitimacy it puts us in a much stronger position."
White House aides said the treaty demonstrates that both countries have taken a "serious step" toward nuclear disarmament, and predicted in advance that the conversation would quickly shift to efforts by the world community to deal with Iranian and Korean nuclear ambitions.
"All of that will come to a head in May," when the U.S. hosts a conference on the nuclear non proliferation treaty in New York, said one senior official. "Everybody understands that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. The question is whether the countries in the NPT and the United Nations will be acting together to stop Iran."
This NY Times story made me very hopeful. I've long thought that a truly nonviolent movement would be the best way forward for the Palestinians: while the Israelis have a very powerful military force, the Palestinians have an overwhelming moral force that if harnessed to a truly nonviolent movement, would be unstoppable (and would be especially hard for Israel in particular to stop).
Senior Palestinian leaders — men who once commanded militias — are joining unarmed protest marches against Israeli policies and are being arrested. Goods produced in Israeli settlements have been burned in public demonstrations. The Palestinian prime minister has entered West Bank areas officially off limits to his authority, to plant trees and declare the land part of a future state.
The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, said he planted trees in the West Bank last month “to establish our presence on our land and keep our people on it.”
Something is stirring in the West Bank. With both diplomacy and armed struggle out of favor for having failed to end the Israeli occupation, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, joined by the business community, is trying to forge a third way: to rouse popular passions while avoiding violence. The idea, as Fatah struggles to revitalize its leadership, is to build a virtual state and body politic through acts of popular resistance.
“It is all about self-empowerment,” said Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister, referring to a campaign to end the purchase of settlers’ goods and the employment of Palestinians by settlers and their industries. “We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.”
The new approach still remains small scale while American-led efforts to revive peace talks are stalled. But street interviews showed that people were aware and supportive of its potential to bring pressure on Israel but dubious about its ultimate effectiveness.
Billboards have sprung up as part of a campaign against buying settlers’ goods, featuring a pointed finger and the slogan “Your conscience, your choice.” The Palestinian Ministry of Communications has just banned the sale of Israeli cellphone cards because Israeli signals are relayed from towers inside settlements. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is spending more time out of his business suits and in neglected villages opening projects related to sewage, electricity and education and calling for “sumud,” or steadfastness.
“Steadfastness must be translated from a slogan to acts and facts on the ground,” he told a crowd late last month in a village called Izbet al-Tabib near the city of Qalqilya, an area where Israel’s separation barrier makes access to land extremely difficult for farmers. Before planting trees, Mr. Fayyad told about 1,000 people gathered to hear him, “This is our real project, to establish our presence on our land and keep our people on it.”
Nonviolence has never caught on here, and Israel’s military says the new approach is hardly nonviolent. But the current set of campaigns is trying to incorporate peaceful pressure in limited ways. Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, just visited Bilin, a Palestinian village with a weekly protest march. Next week, Martin Luther King III is scheduled to speak here at a conference on nonviolence.
On Palm Sunday, the Israeli police arrested 15 Palestinians in Bethlehem who were protesting the difficulty of getting to Jerusalem because of a security closing. Abbas Zaki, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, was arrested, prompting demonstrations the next day. Some Palestinians are also rejecting V.I.P. cards handed out by Israelis allowing them to pass quickly through checkpoints.
Palestinian political analysts say it is too early to assess the prospects of the nonviolent approach. Generally, they say, given the division between Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority here, nothing is likely to change without a political shakeup and unified leadership. Still, they say, popular resistance, combined with institution-building and international appeals, is gaining notice among Palestinians.
“Fatah is living through a crisis of vision,” said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, chairman of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem. “How can they combine being a liberation movement with being a governing party? This is one way. The idea is to awaken national pride and fulfill the people’s anxiety and passion. Of course, Hamas and armed resistance still remain a real option for many.”
Khalil Shikaki, who runs the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, said: “The society is split. The public believes that Israel responds to suffering, not to nonviolent resistance. But there is also not much interest in violence now. Our surveys show support for armed resistance at 47 percent in March. In essence, the public feels trapped between failed diplomacy and failed armed struggle.”
Israeli military authorities have not decided how to react.
An analysis from the NY Times:
At the heart of President Obama’s new nuclear strategy lies a central gamble: that an aging, oversize, increasingly outmoded nuclear arsenal can be turned to the new purpose of adding leverage to the faltering effort to force Iran and North Korea to rethink the value of their nuclear programs.
The 50-page “Nuclear Posture Review” released on Tuesday acknowledged outright that “the massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the cold-war era” is “poorly suited to address the challenges posed by suicidal terrorist and unfriendly regimes seeking nuclear weapons.”
Nonetheless, the new strategy aims to use the arsenal to do just that, despite considerable skepticism that any new doctrine or set of White House announcements is likely to change the calculus for North Korea or Iran.
Mr. Obama’s new strategy makes just about every nonnuclear state immune from any threat of nuclear retaliation by the United States. But it carves out an exception for Iran and North Korea, labeled “outliers” rather than the Bush-era moniker of “rogue states.” The wording was chosen, Mr. Obama’s senior advisers said, to suggest they have a path back to international respectability — and to de-targeting by the United States.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates made the choice explicit. “There is a message for Iran and North Korea here,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Nonnuclear states that abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty would not be threatened with nuclear retaliation by the United States — even if they conducted conventional, biological or cyber attacks. But, he added, “if you’re not going to play by the rules, if you’re going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you.”
A number of analysts argued that by publicly painting a target on Iran and North Korea the administration could, perhaps unwittingly, bolster hard-liners in those countries, who have made the case that nuclear weapons are the only way to ensure their safety against American plotting.
“We believe that preventing nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation should begin by directly confronting the two leading proliferators and supporters of terrorism, Iran and North Korea,” they wrote. “The Obama administration’s policies, thus far, have failed to do that, and this failure has sent exactly the wrong message to other would be proliferators and supporters of terrorism.”
To Mr. Obama and his aides, the “outlier” approach is all part of a broader strategy of adding to the pressure on both countries. Over the past year, they have aided the interception of North Korea’s shipping. They have sought to develop new sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and to undermine its nuclear program with a program of covert action.
Robert S. Litwak, vice president for programs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said that Mr. Obama had expanded an effort begun by President George W. Bush to globalize the effort to contain the nuclear aims of both nations.
This is mind boggling to me and shows the Right's true motivations. From the Wash Post:
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, reviving a controversy that had been dormant for eight years, has declared that April will be Confederate History Month in Virginia, a move that angered civil rights leaders Tuesday but that political observers said would strengthen his position with his conservative base.
The two previous Democratic governors had refused to issue the mostly symbolic proclamation honoring the soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War. McDonnell (R) revived a practice started by Republican governor George Allen in 1997. McDonnell left out anti-slavery language that Allen's successor, James S. Gilmore III (R), had included in his proclamation.
McDonnell said Tuesday that the move was designed to promote tourism in the state, which next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the war. McDonnell said he did not include a reference to slavery because "there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia."
The proclamation was condemned by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and the NAACP. Former governor L. Douglas Wilder called it "mind-boggling to say the least" that McDonnell did not reference slavery or Virginia's struggle with civil rights in his proclamation. Though a Democrat, Wilder has been supportive of McDonnell and boosted his election efforts when he declined to endorse the Republican's opponent, R. Creigh Deeds.
"Confederate history is full of many things that unfortunately are not put forth in a proclamation of this kind nor are they things that anyone wants to celebrate," he said. "It's one thing to sound a cause of rallying a base. But it's quite another to distort history."
The seven-paragraph declaration calls for Virginians to "understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War."
McDonnell had quietly made the proclamation Friday by placing it on his Web site, but it did not attract attention in the state capital until Tuesday. April also honors child abuse prevention, organ donations, financial literacy and crime victims.
After a fall campaign spent focusing almost exclusively on jobs and the economy, McDonnell had been seen in recent weeks as largely ceding conservative ground to the state's activist attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli II. The proclamation could change that view among Republicans who believe appropriate respect for the state's Confederate past has been erased by an over-allegiance to political correctness, observers said.
"It helps him with his base," said Mark Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University. "These are people who support state's rights and oppose federal intrusion."
Said Patrick M. McSweeney, a former state GOP chairman: "I applaud McDonnell for doing it. I think it takes a certain amount of courage."
The Virginia NAACP and the state's Legislative Black Caucus called the proclamation an insult to a large segment of the state's population, particularly because it never acknowledges slavery.
"Governor McDonnell's proclamation was offensive and offered a disturbing revision of the Civil War and the brutal era that followed," said Del. Kenneth Cooper Alexander (D-Norfolk), chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. "Virginia has worked hard to move beyond the very things for which Governor McDonnell seems nostalgic."...
But the president said in an interview that he was carving out an exception for “outliers like Iran and North Korea” that have violated or renounced the main treaty to halt nuclear proliferation.
Discussing his approach to nuclear security the day before formally releasing his new strategy, Mr. Obama described his policy as part of a broader effort to edge the world toward making nuclear weapons obsolete, and to create incentives for countries to give up any nuclear ambitions. To set an example, the new strategy renounces the development of any new nuclear weapons, overruling the initial position of his own defense secretary.
Mr. Obama’s strategy is a sharp shift from those of his predecessors and seeks to revamp the nation’s nuclear posture for a new age in which rogue states and terrorist organizations are greater threats than traditional powers like Russia and China.
It eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war. For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.
Those threats, Mr. Obama argued, could be deterred with “a series of graded options,” a combination of old and new conventional weapons. “I’m going to preserve all the tools that are necessary in order to make sure that the American people are safe and secure,” he said in the interview in the Oval Office.
White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.
Mr. Obama’s new strategy is bound to be controversial, both among conservatives who have warned against diluting the United States’ most potent deterrent and among liberals who were hoping for a blanket statement that the country would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.
Mr. Obama argued for a slower course, saying, “We are going to want to make sure that we can continue to move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons,” and, he added, to “make sure that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances.”
The release of the new strategy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, opens an intensive nine days of nuclear diplomacy geared toward reducing weapons. Mr. Obama plans to fly to Prague to sign a new arms-control agreement with Russia on Thursday and then next week will host 47 world leaders in Washington for a summit meeting on nuclear security.
Amid all the rancor leading up to passage of the new health care law, Congress with little fanfare approved a set of wide-ranging public initiatives to prevent disease and encourage healthy behavior.
The initiatives provide a big dose of prevention in an effort to counter the powerful forces that encourage people to engage in sedentary lifestyles, to smoke and to eat fatty, high-calorie foods.
The emphasis on disease prevention comes nine months after President Obama signed a law that gave sweeping authority to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products. It reflects a sea change in federal health programs and policy, said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee.
Republicans supported many of the health promotion initiatives and objected to a few, but had much bigger concerns about the overall law. The proposals largely escaped public notice as lawmakers fought over abortion, taxes and a government-run “public option.”
Health insurance companies will soon have to cover all recommended screenings, preventive care and vaccines, without charging co-payments or deductibles.
Medicare beneficiaries will get free annual physicals. Medicaid will cover drugs and counseling to help pregnant women stop smoking. And a new federal trust fund will pay for more bicycle paths, playgrounds, sidewalks and hiking trails.
Those are some of the provisions Congress tucked into the legislation in an effort to reduce the huge toll of preventable diseases — regardless of whether the initiatives also save money for the government, as some lawmakers expect.
“When people have insurance,” Dr. Seffrin said, “they are much more likely to receive screenings and treatment. And they are more likely to seek screenings when they do not have to pay co-payments or deductibles.” As a result of such screenings, he added, cancers are more likely to be detected at an early stage, when they are treatable.
Under the law, insurers must provide coverage for all services recommended by an independent panel of experts, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, and cannot impose “any cost-sharing requirements.”
In addition, each Medicare beneficiary will be entitled to an “annual wellness visit,” in which a doctor can assess the patient’s condition, check for signs of Alzheimer’s disease and draw up a “personalized prevention plan” with a screening schedule for the next five or 10 years.
We are entering a new phase in the 2010 campaign: The center of attention over the spring and summer will be independent voters and party primaries, especially those on the Republican side.
President Obama and congressional Democrats have been so focused on issues other than job creation that many voters have come to think that they are not doing enough to turn the economy around. Independents, who tended to vote like Democrats in 2006 and 2008, have begun behaving more and more like Republicans, surveys show. But some Democratic pollsters say they were starting to see independents' movement toward the GOP beginning to slow even before the health care overhaul was enacted. A new Democracy Corps memo by Stan Greenberg and James Carville observed that in a national survey of likely voters, "independent voters who did not approve of Democratic governance over the past year seemed to be reassessing their feelings" toward the GOP. The memo stressed that "this pullback is very specific to the Republicans and does not represent any gain for Democrats."
It's not hard to see how Republicans could stall their progress toward winning back independents. Among GOP challengers in competitive primaries, pledges to repeal the new health care law are ubiquitous. After all, in this climate, could a Republican who refuses to take that stand hope to attract a GOP base that feels under siege? But as Republican primary fields tack far to the right, how will independent voters, who have grown impatient with Democrats' handling of the economy, react? The fact that the health care bill lost popularity as time ticked away last fall suggested that voters were not only skeptical about an overhaul but also upset that Democrats were spending so much time on it. And now, all of a sudden, it's the "repeal and replace" Republicans who risk being seen as the ones dwelling obsessively on health care.
To win races this fall, Republican hopefuls don't need to convince independents that Democrats are drunk on power or brazenly thwarting the will of the people. They only need to convince them that shared power and "checks and balances" are good things -- that Democrats have gotten some of what they wanted but that fresh GOP voices could hold the president's party accountable. In 2006, Democrats reversed their fortunes in part by learning to keep their message simple. That's something the GOP could profit from doing this time around.
Even if independents do pull back somewhat from Republicans, Democrats' problems won't disappear. Independents are just part of the equation. The GOP base is incredibly fired up. The Democratic base isn't as demoralized as it would have been if health care reform hadn't been enacted, but a stroke of Obama's bill-signing pen can't eliminate the yawning gap in partisan enthusiasm that is creating so many GOP pickup opportunities. For the time being, the health care bill's enactment is much more likely to slow Republicans' momentum than to reverse it. Will that change of pace be enough to enable House Democrats to hold on to their majority? Spring and summer will yield important clues.
Some Republicans are worried that an anti-government surge among conservatives will lead to lower participation in the U.S. census, which they fear could reduce the number of Republican seats in Congress and state legislatures.
The census, which is currently being collated and is gathered every ten years, dictates the distribution of federal funding, how many House members each state gets and how congressional and legislative districts are drawn within states.
Conservative activists this year have argued it is unconstitutional for the census to ask anything beyond the number of people in a household. This year's census form also seeks information on race, gender and age, among other things, and filling it out is required by law. The census has asked similar questions for decades.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.), who is admired by many tea-party activists and ultra-conservatives, has said she will refuse to provide information about anything except the number of people in her household.
Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas), a former presidential candidate with a small but ardent following, was the only lawmaker to vote against a recent congressional resolution urging participation in the census.
Respondents must answer all questions on the census at the risk of a fine of as much as $100, according to the Census 2010 Web site. If forms are sent in incomplete, census workers are sent out to those homes to collect the missing data.
"The census should be nothing more than a headcount," Mr. Paul wrote this month in his weekly column. "It was never intended to serve as a vehicle for gathering personal information on citizens."
In a counter move, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R., N.C.), the top Republican on the House subcommittee that oversees the census, posted a message last week on Redstate.com, a popular conservative Web site, pleading with conservatives to fill out their forms.
The unstated concern: An under-representation of conservatives could mean fewer Republicans in Congress and state legislatures for the next 10 years.
"It's your constitutional duty to respond to this," Mr. McHenry said in an interview. "It's often difficult for conservatives to separate overall government intervention from a question as simple as the census."
In previous years it was mostly Democrats who complained about the census, warning that minorities and the poor may be undercounted because they are often hard to reach and distrust government. These groups often vote Democratic.
The Census Bureau is fighting a perception the census goes beyond what the nation's founders intended, noting that the Constitution authorizes lawmakers to conduct the census "in such manner as they shall by law direct."
Sharp words and millions of dollars in television advertising are turning a Democratic primary challenge to two-term Sen. Blanche Lincoln into an outsize duel over the party's direction in the heartland.
Backed by national labor unions and Democratic activists, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is attacking Lincoln from the left as an uncertain senator who too often tilts right on major issues, including Wall Street, health care and the environment.
Halter contends that the seat is as good as lost to resurgent Republicans if the centrist Lincoln wins the May 18 primary. He said after leaping into the race last month, "My sense is that people want somebody to fight for them."
Lincoln counters that Halter, who returned to Arkansas to run for office after 20 years in government and business, misunderstands the Arkansas electorate. Touting moderation as a virtue, she calls herself "the rope in the tug of war." ...
Halter's challenge, which came as little surprise to the Arkansas political establishment, quickly became a national story. Liberal Democrats, frustrated with President Obama and Congress, cheered the chance to make Lincoln pay for her opposition to a government-run health insurance option and the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow drew appreciative laughter during a recent talk at the Clinton School of Public Service when she said of Lincoln, "It's one thing to be a conservative Democrat. It's another thing to act like you don't want to be a Democrat at all."
Emily's List abandoned Lincoln, as did labor unions. She was pummeled with millions of dollars in television advertisements last year during the health-care debate. A radio advertisement from Halter declares, "She didn't stand up to the special interests. She worked for them."
"Our members have been watching Blanche's votes. They've decided enough is enough. We're not throwing our money down the well and getting nothing back from it," said Alan Hughes, president of the Arkansas AFL-CIO, referring to earlier support for Lincoln. "The final straw," he said, was her decision to join Republicans in opposing the nomination of labor lawyer Craig Becker to a seat on the National Labor Relations Board.
The duel is playing out on ideological grounds, yet the contest would not have happened if Halter were not hungering for a bigger political stage.
The History of the Internet:
An amusing, and surprisingly accurate, 1969 view of what the Internet would be like:
This chart from Steve Benen shows the monthly job losses since the start of the Great Recession with an interesting twist: red columns point to monthly job totals under the Bush administration, while blue columns reflect job totals under the Obama administration.
What a difference winning makes — especially in America. Whatever did (or didn’t) get into Obama’s Wheaties, this much is certain: No one is talking about the clout of Scott Brown or Rahm Emanuel any more.
But has the man really changed — or is it just us? Fifteen months after arriving at the White House, Obama remains by far the most popular national politician in the country, even with a sub-50 percent approval rating. And yet he’s also the most enigmatic. While he is in our face more than any other figure in the world, we still aren’t entirely sure what to make of him.
Depending on where you stand — or the given day — he is either an overintellectual, professorial wuss or a ruthless Chicago machine pol rivaling the original Boss Daley. He is either a socialist redistributing wealth to the undeserving poor or a tool of Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs elite. He is a terrorist-coddling, A.C.L.U.-tilting lawyer or a closet Cheneyite upholding the worst excesses of the Bush administration’s end run on the Constitution. He is a lightweight celebrity who’s clueless without a teleprompter or a Machiavellian mastermind who has ingeniously forged his Hawaiian birth certificate, covered up his ties to Islamic radicals and bamboozled the entire mainstream press. He is the reincarnation of J.F.K., L.B.J., F.D.R., Reagan, Hitler, Stalin, Adlai Stevenson or Nelson Mandela. (Funny how few people compared George W. Bush to anyone but Hitler and his parents.)
No wonder that eight major new Obama books are arriving in the coming months, as Howard Kurtz reported in The Washington Post last week. And that’s just counting those by real authors, like Bob Woodward and Jonathan Alter, not the countless anti-Obama diatribes. There’s a bottomless market for these volumes not just because their protagonist remains popular but also because we keep hoping that the Obama puzzle might be cracked once and for all, like the Da Vinci Code.
The first of these books, out this week, is full of intriguing clues. Titled “The Bridge” and written by David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, it portrays Obama as fairly steady in his blend of liberal and centrist views, however much they (like everyone else’s) may have evolved over decades ...
If Obama’s belief system was fairly consistent, his public persona was not. Remnick returns repeatedly to the notion that Obama is a “shape-shifter,” with a remarkable ability to come across differently to disparate constituencies. Some of that reflects his agility at shifting rhetorical gears when, say, speaking to a living-room gathering on Chicago’s Near North Side or at a black church — a talent not unknown to some white politicians, starting with Bill Clinton. But much of this has less to do with Obama’s performance style than with how various audiences respond to his complex, hard-to-pigeonhole poly-racial-cultural-geographical identity. As far back as 2004 — when Obama was still in the Illinois Senate — a writer at The Chicago Tribune, Don Terry, framed what remains the prevailing Obama takeaway to this day. “He’s a Rorschach test,” Terry wrote. “What you see is what you want to see.”
Last week, after I wrote about the role race plays in some of the apocalyptic right-wing hysteria about the health care bill, a friend who is a prominent liberal Obama supporter sent me an e-mail flipping my point. He theorized that race also plays a role in “the often angry and intemperate talk” he has been hearing from “left-liberal friends for the past many months about what a failure and a disappointment” the president has been. In his view, “Obama never said anything, while running, to give anyone the idea” that he was other than a “deliberate, compromise-seeking bipartisan moderate.” My friend wondered if white liberals who voted for Obama expected a “sweeping Republicans-be-damned kind of agenda” in part — and he emphasized “in part!” — because “they expect a black guy to be intemperate, impetuous, impatient” rather than “measured, deliberate, patient.”
The Republican Party's strategy since early last year of lock-step opposition to the Obama administration's major legislative initiatives has proved to be less bankable than some party leaders may have anticipated.With eight months to go before congressional elections, House and Senate Democratic candidates exceed in virtually every important campaign fundraising category. Democratic House lawmakers appear likely to reverse their seven-cycle record of being outspent by House Republicans, according to recent finance reports.
Democrats in both chambers are enjoying the traditional advantages of majority-party status -- and then some. They lead in donations by political action committees, by committees affiliated with the national political parties or with House and Senate leaders, and in individual contributions to incumbent lawmakers. In some instances, their lead exceeds what the Republicans had when that party controlled both chambers in the 2005-06 midterm election cycle.
To no surprise, analysts differ by party on the causes and significance of the disparity. Some Republicans say a donations surge may still come in the campaign's final months, particularly as the party courts new, small donors outside Washington. They also complain that donations to party stalwarts have been affected by internal squabbles with rebellious tea partiers, which they hope will end soon.
Republicans also say the party must remain unified in opposition to President Obama if it wants to energize the most reliable donors, volunteers and voters. "If we look like winners, money will follow," said Steven H. Gordon, an adviser to Senate Republican leaders who in the past has raised $70 million for GOP congressional candidates.
But recent controversy over lavish and questionable expenditures by the Republican National Committee -- including chartered airplanes and a young Republicans' night out at a bondage-themed nightclub in Hollywood -- appears likely to complicate efforts by the Republicans to overcome their deficit. Some traditional party supporters, such as Family Council President Tony Perkins, have recently urged followers to respond by withholding donations from the national party.
Democrats say their higher tallies so far are just the beginning, because campaign cash usually follows political momentum and Obama's health-care triumph may have ended a political slide.
"There's been a real kickup of wind in Democratic party sails," said Jonathan Mantz, a former finance director for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign. "Success will breed success, and the energy will bring new resources" to congressional candidates.
The Republicans' unified opposition to Obama's agenda kicked off with a failed attempt early last year to defeat his economic stimulus legislation, and reemerged during a failed effort last June to block a House Democratic climate change bill. It played out again during the failed attempt to stop Obama's health-care legislation.
But the party's defiance shows no sign yet of enabling its lawmakers to overcome the traditional financial disadvantage of a minority party, a status that routinely leads to smaller campaign contributions.
For example, the 165 incumbent House Republicans seeking reelection last year on average raised $587,570 over 12 months, while the 245 incumbent Democrats seeking reelection raised an average of $662,793, according to data from the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonprofit group affiliated with George Washington University.
At the end of 2005, when Republicans controlled the House, the tallies were almost precisely opposite. Of course, the Democrats went on to gain 31 seats in the 2006 election and regain control of the chamber for the first time in 12 years, so fundraising tallies midway through a cycle do not necessarily predict outcomes.
And Obama insisted, over lobbyist & Congressional opposition, it be there. Wall St Journal:
Last year, Congress rejected a bill that would have required an up-or-down vote on recommendations to reduce the budget deficit from a commission composed primarily of members of Congress. This year, Congress acquiesced to President Barack Obama's insistence that it create a presidentially appointed Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) to craft ways to slow Medicare spending that will take effect automatically unless Congress votes to reject them.
Did something big just happen that will nudge Washington toward fiscal sanity? Or is this a smoke screen, one that allows backers of the health bill to argue today that it was fully paid-for and gut the provision tomorrow?
We won't know for a decade. "We'll get earlier feedback on the Apple iPad's performance than the IPAB," quips Peter Orszag, the White House budget director.
There is a chance—a chance—this will grow into a mechanism that overcomes congressional inability to say "no" to Americans who collectively demand more in benefits than they're willing to pay in taxes. It is hardly democratic. It substitutes technocrats' judgment for decisions by elected representatives. But, as Maya McGuiness, head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, puts it: "Outsourcing some of the harder policy decisions is the best chance we have."
The law instructs the 14-member board to devise money-saving changes to Medicare when per-capita spending is projected to climb faster than one percentage point above the overall economy's growth rate. Congress can block the changes, but that requires a majority vote or, if the president vetoes, two-thirds. There are lots of strings: The law says the board can't ration care, increase revenue or restrict eligibility for benefits (though it can change the amount and way Medicare pays for care.) Hospitals get a pass for the first several years.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the board will save around $15.5 billion over 10 years, on top other changes to Medicare specified in the law—more if run by the right people and if Congress lets it take the heat, less if run by the wrong people or if Congress resists.
But it is a big change: A Medicare panel Congress created in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act can only make suggestions; this one has more teeth. "If I had gone to the Aspen Institute or the Brookings [Institution] board, and said you're going to get an entitlement commission with authority to control health-care costs, they'd be breaking out the champagne and high-fiving themselves," says Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff. "That's what's been done at the president's insistence over the opposition of providers and defenders of congressional prerogatives."
When House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) told Mr. Obama that House Democrats were uneasy about surrendering their power over the purse, White House aides say the president responded: "There'll be no health bill if I don't have the ability to control costs."
Mr. Orszag injudiciously told the Washington Post's Ezra Klein that the provision represents "the largest yielding of sovereignty from the Congress since the creation of the Federal Reserve." (Don't tell the Supreme Court.) If the board realizes its potential to push Medicare toward paying for better quality care, as opposed to paying for more care, "it could well turn out to be perhaps the most important component of the new legislation," he says. (Mr. Orszag sometimes sounds like a man growing weary of the high-pressure budget director's job who would love to chair the new board.)
Yelps from doctors and drug companies suggest the IPAB may bite.
As New Englanders await a decision in Massachusetts on a bitterly contested proposal to build the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the State of Rhode Island is forging ahead with its own project in the hope of outpacing — and upstaging — its neighbor.
Crucial to its strategy is dispelling worries that economics will trump the environment, or the broader public good.
Instead of having a private developer dominate the research on potential sites, as Massachusetts has, Rhode Island embarked on a three-year scientific study, to be completed in August, of all waters within 30 miles of its coast. It has spent more than $8 million on research into bird migration patterns, wildlife habitats, fish distribution, fishermen’s needs and areas that might be of cultural importance to Indian tribes.
Its goal has been to head off the hurdles that have been in the way of the Massachusetts project, which has pitted coastal Indian tribes, business interest and homeowners against the developer, Cape Wind, and proponents of alternative energy. Frustrated by the failure of the two sides to broker an agreement, the Obama administration’s interior secretary, Ken Salazar, has promised to determine the fate of the project on his own this month. (On Friday a federal historic panel sent Mr. Salazar its recommendation that the government reject the Cape Wind Project.)
“We took the opposite approach of what Cape Wind did,” said Grover Fugate, the chief administrator of the Rhode Island project and the director of the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council.
Still, independent of the scientific study, Rhode Island has proposed two potential offshore sites — a $200 million eight-turbine project off Block Island, and a far bigger $1.5 billion farm in the eastern Rhode Island Sound — and has selected a preferred developer, Deepwater Wind.
In February, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri went so far as to suggest that the Block Island site was “on target to become the nation’s first offshore wind farm.”
Massachusetts counters that it is much further ahead. “We’ve been through all the state permits and we’re awaiting the final permits,” Ian Bowles, the state’s secretary of energy and environment, said in a recent interview.
Rhode Island has not secured permits, but it has trumpeted what Cape Wind so far lacks: a “power purchase” agreement with a utility company to buy what a farm generates. Yet on Wednesday, the state’s utility commission rejected that pact, which involved the proposed farm off Block Island, as too costly.
So for now, Cape Wind is poised to be first, said Matt Kaplan, a wind analyst at Emerging Energy Research, a firm that tracks emerging energy markets.
“If Cape Wind makes it through the permitting process, that is a major feat that no other offshore wind project has achieved in the U.S.,” he said. “However, power purchase agreements have been hard to secure.”
Officials consider a viable project as a source of energy and jobs, but the wind wars are also driven by state pride. “There is a rivalry to be the first state to have an offshore wind project in the nation,” Mr. Kaplan said. “And there is some embarrassment on the part of Massachusetts, having taken so long with Cape Wind.”
In this week of Easter, Passover, and faithful celebration, the President offers a holiday greeting and calls on people of all faiths and nonbelievers to remember our shared spirit of humanity.
It is official: Barack Obama is the nation’s first black president.
A White House spokesman confirmed that Mr. Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, checked African-American on the 2010 census questionnaire.
The president, who was born in Hawaii and raised there and in Indonesia, had more than a dozen options in responding to Question 9, about race. He chose “Black, African Am., or Negro.” (The anachronistic “Negro” was retained on the 2010 form because the Census Bureau believes that some older blacks still refer to themselves that way.)
Mr. Obama could have checked white, checked both black and white, or checked the last category on the form, “some other race,” which he would then have been asked to identify in writing.
Uwe Reinhardt, a Princeton economics professor:
A coalition of 300 large American corporations is lobbying Congress to rescind a tax provision in the recently passed health reform bill. This provision forces companies to book sizable write-offs in the current quarter.
In its lead editorial of March 27-28, The Wall Street Journal decried the provision as “The ObamaCare Writedowns,” writing that
ObamaCare passed Congress in its final form on Thursday night, and the returns are already rolling in. Yesterday AT&T announced that it will be forced to make a $1 billion writedown due solely to the health bill, in what has become a wave of corporate losses. This wholesale destruction of wealth and capital came with more than ample warning.
What might have prompted the Obama administration and its allies in Congress to embark on this alleged “wholesale destruction of wealth?” Is it, in fact, a wholesale destruction of wealth?
To understand this issue, it may be well to illustrate it with a familiar analogy: a household expenditure that is deductible from taxable income under current law. For example, consider interest payments on mortgage loans made by homeowners who itemize their tax deductions.
Suppose that last year a homeowner made all his monthly payments on the second year of a 20-year, fixed-rate mortgage loan, which had an A.P.R. (“Annual Percentage Rate”) of 5 percent per year.
Using a standard amortization table for such a mortgage, we find that a homeowner with this mortgage could deduct $14,338 in mortgage-interest payments for 2009 from his taxes.
Now suppose that for some reason, the government had decided to grant homeowners a 30 percent subsidy on that interest expenditure. Consequently, this homeowner gets a check for $4,301 from the government.
What amount should that homeowner then be allowed to deduct from taxable income for 2009 – the gross interest payment of $14,338, or the net interest payment $10,037?
If the former, the homeowner in effect could tax-deduct an expenditure that was actually made for him by the government. Would that be reasonable? Many people would say no.
The answer to this question bears directly on the current brouhaha over the “ObamaCare Writedowns.”
In previous decades, many American companies offered their workers retiree-health plans that promised to cover sundry medical expenses not covered by Medicare, prescription drugs prominently among them. Economists are convinced that, at the time they were made, these promises were substitutes for the cash take-home pay of workers.
Under a Financial Accounting Standards Board statement (FASB ASC 715), business firms since 1993 have had to estimate, at the end of any fiscal year, the total projected cost of all future retiree health benefits promised to employees already on board or already retired at that time. Companies must then add that total to the liabilities on their balance sheets.
To maintain the famous accounting identity
NET WORTH = ASSETS – LIABILITIES
firms also recorded a corresponding reduction in the firm’s reported net worth. That reduction in the firm’s book net worth, however, is not a destruction of wealth. It merely makes visible the net worth that management has already given away to workers in the form of promised future retiree health care ...
Enter now the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which since 2006 has provided Medicare beneficiaries with substantial federal subsidies for prescription drugs.
An appalling finding by Gallup:
Americans hold all sides of the healthcare reform battle responsible for the rash of threatening e-mails, phone calls, and vandalism that erupted last week after the healthcare bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. Roughly half (49%) say controversial political maneuvers by Democratic leaders to secure the votes they needed were a major reason. Nearly as many blame harsh criticism of the bill by both conservative media commentators and Republican leaders.
Overall, a majority of Americans surveyed in the March 26-28 USA Today/Gallup poll believe each factor was at least a minor explanation for these extreme public reactions to the bill's passage.
Republicans mainly blame the actions of Democratic leaders while, in equal measure, Democrats mainly blame the rhetoric of conservative commentators and Republican leaders. Political independents are somewhat more likely to attribute responsibility to Democratic leaders' actions than to Republican leaders' words.
A striking Gallup finding in the immediate aftermath of the healthcare vote was that by 41% to 29%, Republicans were more likely to say they were "angry" about the outcome than Democrats were to say they were "enthusiastic."
One reason for Republicans' anger may be revealed in a new question asking whether Americans believe the methods Democratic leaders used to secure passage of the bill represented "an abuse of power" or "an appropriate use" of the majority party's power in Congress. Nearly 9 in 10 Republicans see it as abuse of power, whereas a smaller majority of Democrats (70%) call it an appropriate use of power. The majority of independents agree with most Republicans on this question.
Definitely worth watching both because it's amusing and because it again makes clear that Obama operates on a longer time frame than his opponents and the media:
As Obamacare, particularly the exchanges, are modeled on Romneycare, this Boston Globe report on the Commonwealth's push back against medical cost increases has import for everyone:
Making good on Governor Deval Patrick’s promise to reject health insurance rate increases deemed excessive, the state Division of Insurance yesterday denied 235 of 274 increases proposed by insurers for plans covering individuals and small businesses.
The rulings, following a review process set in motion by emergency regulations Patrick filed in February, mark the first time the state has used its authority to turn down health premium increases. The action immediately sent ripples through the state health care industry.
Insurers said it would usher in an era of price controls, and vowed to appeal to the state or through the courts — a process that could drag on for months.
“We share the concern about rising health costs, but we don’t think government price controls will solve the problem,’’ said Jay McQuaide, vice president at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state’s largest health insurer.
But small businesses applauded the rejection of higher premiums, saying they can’t continue to endure rapidly escalating insurance bills, especially after the long economic downturn.
“Costs will double in four years if it keeps going on the same trend,’’ said Dennis Franson, whose two-person investment firm in Woburn was facing an 18 percent rate increase. “That’s unsustainable.’’
Insurance Commissioner Joseph G. Murphy found that most of the base rates proposed by state health plans were “unreasonable relative to the benefits provided,’’ according to a statement issued by the agency.
The rates were to have taken effect yesterday for thousands of businesses and individuals in the so-called small group market. That group, created by the state’s 2006 universal health care law, combines businesses employing up to 50 people with sole proprietors and self-employed people who previously bought insurance on their own or were uninsured.
Insurers proposed base rate increases averaging 8 percent to 32 percent for hundreds of separate products, offering different mixes of benefit designs, copays, and deductibles. On top of overall base rates, insurers often add extra costs for each business, adjusting for such things as geography, industry, and the size and age of a workforce. That can drive rates up significantly.
For now, premium rates established last year remain in effect. Because insurers send out bills four to six weeks in advance of the date policies take effect, companies or individuals that already made the new, higher payments will receive a refund or a credit from insurers ...
The Insurance Division, in letters to carriers, outlined reasons for the rate rejections. Among them were rate proposals that are significantly above the medical consumer price index — a consumer health care spending measure estimated at 4.8 percent — and proposals that failed to explain how insurers set different reimbursement rates.
Several proposals, including those from for-profit, out-of-state insurers such as Aetna, ConnectiCare, and United HealthCare, were approved after the companies worked with Insurance Division staffers on ways to reduce costs. Some of those approved called for increases above 4.8 percent, but insurers offered data justifying the increases, according to the state.
Insurers whose rates were rejected — most of which posted operating losses for 2009 due to job cuts at companies they sell plans to — received yesterday’s decision with anger.
“We’re very disappointed,’’ said McQuaide at Blue Cross-Blue Shield. “The rates we filed reflect expected medical costs of members buying our products. And we were surprised the disapprovals had no actuarial opinions, suggesting this was an arbitrary decision.’’
Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said her group was weighing all administrative and legal options with its members, which include nonprofits such as Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Tufts Health Plan, and Fallon Community Health Plan.
“If we’re not going to be allowed to have our prices cover our costs, that will be a problem for the whole industry,’’ she said.
But Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which represents 3,100 retailers and restaurants, said the rejections were justified.
“It’s welcome news on Main Street,’’ Hurst said. “They’re not hiring, and they’re seeing double-digit health premium increases every year. The real message is that a line in the sand has been drawn. And big health care in the state has got to get out of its alternative universe.’’
Insurers have up to 15 days to request appeal hearings at the Insurance Division, Murphy said in an interview. Such public hearings would be complex, lasting from a few days to a week. They would examine rate increases proposed for various products, and hearing officers would have 30 days to make their rulings. If the appeals are rebuffed, insurers can go to Superior Court.
Carriers also have the option of filing new rate requests with more modest increases, which would require a 30-day review.
As of now, however, the old rates remain in effect, and insurers must honor the plans they sold.
Several health care industry officials said that as a result of the state’s stance, insurers will probably take a tougher position with hospitals and other health care providers when current contracts expire, in an effort to limit reimbursements.
From the Wash Post, "President Obama's decision to approve new oil and gas drilling off America's coasts for the first time in decades reflects a high-stakes calculation by the White House: Splitting the difference on the most contentious energy issues could help secure a bipartisan climate deal this year."
President Obama's decision, announced Wednesday, to approve new oil and gas drilling off U.S. coasts for the first time in decades reflects a high-stakes calculation by the White House: Splitting the difference on the most contentious energy issues could help secure a bipartisan climate deal this year.
In what could represent the biggest expansion of offshore energy exploration in half a century, Obama announced that he will open the door to drilling off Virginia's coast, in other parts of the mid- and south Atlantic, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and in waters off Alaska. At the same time, he declared off-limits the waters off the West Coast and in Alaska's Bristol Bay, canceled four scheduled lease sales in Alaska and called for more study before allowing new lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
What Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called "a new direction" in energy policy amounted to an offshore political gerrymander in which the administration barred drilling near states where it remains unpopular -- California and New Jersey -- and allowed it in places where it has significant support, such as Virginia and parts of Alaska and the Southeast.
Some conservative critics questioned whether the policy will have any real impact on energy production, while liberals decried the risks to the environment. But the White House's key audience -- undecided senators who will determine whether a climate bill succeeds on Capitol Hill this year -- suggested that the move had helped revive the legislation's prospects.
A string of senators, including Alaska's Mark Begich (D) and Lisa Murkowski (R), Louisiana's Mary Landrieu (D), New Hampshire's Judd Gregg (R), and Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and James Webb, praised the strategy. They have urged the administration to use a climate bill to help boost domestic energy production, through expansion of oil and gas drilling and nuclear power, and Begich and Gregg said Wednesday's announcement made them more optimistic about a deal on the bill than they have been in months.
Noting that Obama has also offered recent support for more nuclear production, Gregg said such moves show that the administration is "genuinely trying to approach the energy production issue in a multifaceted way and a realistic way, rather than listening to people on their left."
Landrieu concurred, saying that Obama is "sending as clear a signal as possible that he is willing to compromise in a way that will bring forth a great energy and climate bill, and he wants Republicans to be a part of it."
But coastal lawmakers such as Democratic Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland joined environmentalists in blasting the change as unnecessary, and said it could jeopardize fisheries and tourist attractions.
And I hope they succeed since that'll ensure a social conservative will become the GOP's candidate in the general election ... which will diminsh their chances of winning the election that matters. From the Wash Post:
The Republican contest to determine who will challenge California Sen. Barbara Boxer in the fall has focused so far on the bread-and-butter issues of the day - jobs, the economy and federal spending.
That's changing as the June primary draws closer. A national group opposed to gay marriage is trying to shift the focus to that lightning rod issue in the coming weeks, putting pressure on the candidate seen as the most moderate of the three GOP challengers.
Former congressman Tom Campbell, a supporter of gay marriage, finds himself under attack and his previous front-runner status reduced to a statistical tie with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in one poll. Another poll taken about the same time showed Campbell clinging to a narrow lead.
The National Organization for Marriage is spending $300,000 on television ads that liken Campbell to Boxer on taxes and gay marriage, calling them two peas in the same liberal pod.
Republicans who have been hard-liners on gay marriage and abortion typically perform well in GOP primaries in California but falter in general elections, when the voter base is far broader and more centrist. Republicans account for less than a third of the electorate.
A business professor who holds a doctorate in economics, Campbell is the kind of middle-of-the-road Republican who would be likely to give Boxer a tough challenge as she seeks a fourth term in the Senate. But his opposition to Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that enshrined a ban on gay marriage in the California Constitution, has made him a target of the social conservatives who dominate the ranks of the state GOP.
A recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found that 67 percent of Republicans disagree with Campbell on the issue. The same poll found that for the first time more Californians support gay marriage than oppose it.