Archive for November 9th, 2009
When you listen to House members talk about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ability to set the legislative calendar and count votes, they speak with a certain reverence. There’s an implicit understanding: the Speaker knows what she’s doing.
Ezra Klein had a good item this afternoon on this point, highlighting the fact that Pelosi oversaw House passage of a cap-and-trade bill back in June.
Many considered it a huge, unforced error. The Senate wouldn’t consider the bill for many months, if it ever took it up at all. Health-care reform was in full swing. And Pelosi had just forced her most vulnerable members to take an incredibly difficult vote. The House legislation would languish as it waited for the Senate, and angry House Democrats would be less willing to take a second hard vote on health-care reform.
Talking to congressional Democrats over these past few months, Pelosi’s decision to push cap and trade came up in almost every conversation. Coaxing support from vulnerable members who hadn’t yet forgiven the leadership for cap and trade had, according to some of these sources, become one of the biggest obstacles to health-care reform.
But health-care reform passed the House. And so, too, did cap and trade, all the way back in June, when most eyes were on health care and the Republicans hadn’t yet found their voice in opposition (eight Republicans, in fact, voted for cap and trade). Pelosi’s decision to move on climate change as soon as she had the votes now looks, well, a little bit genius: It’s virtually impossible to imagine the House passing cap and trade in the coming months, not after the exhausting health-care reform battle and not as the midterm election draws closer.
Likewise, it’s hard to imagine the House trying to pass health care reform next year, when nervous lawmakers feeling that much more jittery. But Pelosi put together a plan, stuck to it, and assembled a majority. There have been a lot of House leaders who’ve come and gone over the decades since health care reform became a national priority, but Nancy Pelosi is the first to actually bring a reform bill to the floor and pass it. Getting it and energy reform onto the floor and finished in the span of less than five months is no small task.
In the larger context, it helps to lead a caucus with 258 members. It gives a Speaker some leeway and room for error. Nevertheless, Pelosi doesn’t have the biggest majority ever, and leading a very diverse House Democratic caucus is about as easy as herding cats. Blind, stubborn cats.
Time will tell what future cycles hold, but let no one doubt that Nancy Pelosi wields that Speaker’s gavel as effectively as anyone in quite a long time.
In July 1972, musician Johnny Cash sat opposite President Richard Nixon in the White House’s Blue Room. As a horde of media huddled a few feet away, the country music superstar had come to discuss prison reform with the self-anointed leader of America’s "silent majority." "Johnny, would you be willing to play a few songs for us," Nixon asked Cash. "I like Merle Haggard’s ‘Okie From Muskogee’ and Guy Drake’s ‘Welfare Cadillac.’" The architect of the GOP’s Southern strategy was asking for two famous expressions of white working-class resentment.
"I don’t know those songs," replied Cash, "but I got a few of my own I can play for you." Dressed in his trademark black suit, his jet-black hair a little longer than usual, Cash draped the strap of his Martin guitar over his right shoulder and played three songs, all of them decidedly to the left of "Okie From Muskogee." With the nation still mired in Vietnam, Cash had far more than prison reform on his mind. Nixon listened with a frozen smile to the singer’s rendition of the explicitly antiwar "What Is Truth?" and "Man in Black" ("Each week we lose a hundred fine young men") and to a folk protest song about the plight of Native Americans called "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." It was a daring confrontation with a president who was popular with Cash’s fans and about to sweep to a crushing reelection victory, but a glimpse of how Cash saw himself — a foe of hypocrisy, an ally of the downtrodden. An American protest singer, in short, as much as a country music legend.
Years later, "Man in Black" is remembered as a sartorial statement, and "What Is Truth?" as a period piece, if at all. Of the three songs that Cash played for Nixon, the most enduring, and the truest to his vision, was "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." The song was based on the tragic tale of the Pima Indian war hero who was immortalized in the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo, and in Washington’s Iwo Jima monument, but who died a lonely death brought on by the toxic mixture of alcohol and indifference and alcoholism. The song became part of an album of protest music that his record label didn’t want to promote and that radio stations didn’t want to play, but that Cash would always count among his personal favorites.
The story of Cash and "Ira Hayes" began a decade before the meeting with Nixon. On the night of May 10, 1962, Cash made …
Apparently we’re just about out of multi-year ice at the north pole:
“I would argue that, from a practical perspective, we almost have a seasonally ice-free Arctic now, because multiyear sea ice is the barrier to the use and development of the Arctic,” said Barber [Canada's Research Chair in Arctic System Science at the University of Manitoba].
Interesting post at Crooked Timber by Henry Brighouse:
These immigration prisons constitute the new face of imprisonment in America: the speculative public-private prison, publicly owned by local governments, privately operated by corporations, publicly financed by tax-exempt bonds, and located in depressed communities. Because they rely on project revenue instead of tax revenue, these prisons do not need voter approval. Instead they are marketed by prison consultants to municipal and county governments as economic-development tools promising job creation and new revenue without new taxes. The possibility of riots usually goes unmentioned. … Initially, most speculative prisons were privately owned, a case of the federal government outsourcing its responsibilities. But prison outsourcing is rarely that simple anymore. The private-prison industry increasingly works with local governments to establish and operate speculative prisons. Prison-town officials have a mantra: “If you build a prison the prisoners will come.”
Most of the time, these public-private prisons are speculative ventures only for bondholders and local governments, because agreements signed with federal agencies do not guarantee prisoners. For the privates, risks are low and the rewards large. Usually paid a set fee by local governments to operate prisons, management companies have no capital investment and lose little, other than hefty monthly fees, if inmate flows from the federal government decline or stop.
… Prisons are owned by local governments, but local oversight of finances is rare, and the condition of prisoners is often ignored. Inmates such as those in Pecos are technically in the custody of the federal government, but they are in fact in the custody of corporations with little or no federal supervision. So labyrinthine are the contracting and financing arrangements that there are no clear pathways to determine responsibility and accountability. Yet every contract provides an obvious and unimpeded flow of money to the private industry and consultants…
Continue reading. Putting prisons in private hands is a very bad step, IMHO.
As readers of the blog know, I believe that the US Air Force should be disbanded, with the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps taking over airpower in their respective theaters. This is not an unusual position—Thomas Ricks seems to share it. But he got an excellent response from a member of the Air Force:
This speaks for itself, so take it away, Lt. Col. Kelly "K Mart" Martin. She’s a veteran KC-135 pilot who recently commanded the U.S. air base in Baghdad and is now a colleague of mine at CNAS, the little think tank that could:
A short time ago, the host of this blog deemed it appropriate to categorize the Air Force as different from the other military service-"Another of the great things about CNAS is our military fellows program, which brings in smart officers from the military services, as well as the Air Force." As the Air Force Fellow here at CNAS, I found this curious. Upon further conversation with Mr. Ricks, it was clear that he did in fact view the Air Force as not being equal to the other services because of its lack of "military ethos," an assertion based primarily on the fact that Airmen don’t face the same risk as soldiers of being injured or killed and, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate, it’s really the Army that are the winners of America’s conflict and defender of its national security.
My first reaction was that the families of the 81 Airmen who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan — not to mention those Airmen lost in the wars of the 20th century — would take great exception to the assertion that their loved one didn’t have a "military ethos" because of the type of uniform he or she was wearing. But it’s the underlying value projection that only by shedding blood makes one truly a ‘brother in arms’ that I find troubling.
There’s no disagreement that the current fight in Iraq and Afghanistan is ground-centric and that airpower plays a supporting role. But as retired Army Lieutenant General Barno said in 2004, "While it takes boots on the ground to win a counter-insurgency fight, it takes airpower to move, supply, and protect those boots on the ground." In this capacity, airpower’s combat effectiveness is best measured in the lives saved…
I blogged earlier about how the House passage of Pelosicare was a major step forward, and if the Senate also acts, we are well on the way to healthcare reform. A commenter rejoined that the bill was just a baby step. I think we both are right: the bill that was passed is (I think) the big first step that allows on-going refinement and improvement—so that in looking back, the bill does seem a baby step. Steven Benen has a good post on this topic:
John Judis notes a conversation he had with a friend who’s disappointed with the compromises that have been part of the health care reform debate. The friend, Judis said, has taken to comparing President Obama unfavorably to FDR.
In response, Judis reminded his friend about the original Social Security Act of 1935: "[I]t was a bare shell of what it became in the 1950s after amendment. Benefits were nugatory. And most important, coverage was denied to wide swaths of the workforce, including farm laborers." In particular, farm laborers were excluded from Social Security in order to get racist Southern Democrats to vote for the legislation.
Judis concluded, "[T]he bill that the House passed last Saturday is considerably more robust that the original Social Security bill. But don’t tell my friend that."
Paul Begala raised a similar point in August.
No self-respecting liberal today would support Franklin Roosevelt’s original Social Security Act. It excluded agricultural workers — a huge part of the economy in 1935, and one in which Latinos have traditionally worked. It excluded domestic workers, which included countless African Americans and immigrants. It did not cover the self-employed, or state and local government employees, or railroad employees, or federal employees or employees of nonprofits. It didn’t even cover the clergy. FDR’s Social Security Act did not have benefits for dependents or survivors. It did not have a cost-of-living increase. If you became disabled and couldn’t work, you got nothing from Social Security.
If that version of Social Security were introduced today, progressives like me would call it cramped, parsimonious, mean-spirited and even racist. Perhaps it was all those things. But it was also a start. And for 74 years we have built on that start. We added more people to the winner’s circle: farmworkers and domestic workers and government workers. We extended benefits to the children of working men and women who died. We granted benefits to the disabled. We mandated annual cost-of-living adjustments. And today Social Security is the bedrock of our progressive vision of the common good.
Roosevelt, the towering political figure of the 20th century, with an electoral mandate, a Democratic Congress, and the stench of a failed Republican president fresh on the nation’s mind, had to take what he could get on Social Security, which was far less than what he wanted.
This is not to say health care reform advocates should accept every abhorrent conservative demand, just to get something done. Democratic policymakers have a rare opportunity in front of them, and there’s no reason in the world they can’t pass a strong bill, with a public option, and without measures like the Stupak amendment.
Indeed, let’s be clear. There may be some Dems who say, "Well, the reform bill could be better, so could the original Social Security bill have been, so let’s not fight too hard for progressive goals." This attitude is entirely wrong and self-defeating.
That said, the Social Security example is illustrative — even after historic policy milestones, the work will continue. Where reform advocates come up short this year — if they come up short — it’s not the end of the fight.
And, BTW, for those who say the government cannot run an operation efficiently: Social Security is amazingly efficient, productive, and important.