Monday, December 22, 2014

Midday Music Break

Have you guys seen this?

What a wonderful tribute this is to the timelessness of the Beach Boys! This song (God Only Knows) was released 49 years ago as part of their Pet Sounds album and is rightfully credited as being one of the best songs (both lyrically and musically) in all of rock and roll.


Why the Cuban Embargo Didn't Work - And Why it Never Would Have

I have to give BooMan an awful lot of credit for trying to see Sen. Rubio's arguments about Cuba from Rubio's perspective. This is exactly what President Obama has asked us to do.
“I am obligated to try to see the world through George Bush’s eyes, no matter how much I may disagree with him,” he wrote in Audacity. “That’s what empathy does—it calls us all to task, the conservative and the liberal … We are all shaken out of our complacency.”
Doing this is the only way we'll ever break down the polarization that infects our politics today. And yes, we're the adults, so it doesn't work to simply say to the other side: "You go first."

But in acknowledging that normalization isn't likely to work in bringing democracy to Cuba, BooMan left out the one really big reason why the embargo was never going to work. We all join the bandwagon President Obama articulated in suggesting that if it hasn't worked for the last 50 years, its time to try something new. But the President also suggested WHY it hasn't worked during his announcement about our change in policy last week.
And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.
Strategies like an embargo depend on the power of partnership to be effective. By definition, if you have no partners (or not enough partners) have no power. The expansion of our partnerships in regards to Iran and nuclear weapons at the beginning of the Obama administration is EXACTLY why Iran is now at the bargaining table. And its also why President Obama worked so hard to get European countries to back sanctions against Russia after their invasion of Ukraine. If we had tried to go it alone, it would have been as unsuccessful as our embargo of Cuba has been for the last 50 years.

All of this is one of the reasons why having a community organizer who understands power dynamics in the White House is such a BFD!!!

So if Sen. Rubio really wants to see some change in Cuba's government, he'd have to make the case for why the rest of the world should join us in the embargo. That's not likely to be an effective argument. And so, regardless of whether or not you think normalizing our relationship with Cuba will bring any change, it was time to end this ineffective strategy.

Why I Write

I am starting to get used to the fact that on so many occasions - when I'm feeling alienated from the crowd and out on a limb about something - Al Giordano comes along to reinforce that  I'm exactly where I need to be.

It all started back when he noticed that there was something very different about this guy Barack Obama. Even though Giordano's politics were WAY left of this presidential candidate, he recognized a fellow community organizer and saw the possibilities so few people were able to envision.

Of course there was also the time he accurately predicted the split between progressive activists and organizers long before it actually happened. He is the one who invented the term "poutragers" for the former and also took to calling them "chicken littles."

So it comes as no surprise that today Al very eloquently articulated exactly why it is that I write about culture and politics. He was reacting to this article in Slate on The Year of Outrage 2014.

First of all, Al takes a deep psychological dive into why it is that we - as readers - are so attracted to outrage.
What is it that has turned the rest of us from readers into salivating Pavlovian pets, so easily (and eagerly) manipulated and pulled by the nose ring from crisis to crisis? I've concluded that our participation in these daily outrage/poutrage cycles comes from a place of deep frustration over our own individual impotence. We feel powerless (or too lazy, or fearful) to change the big and important things and so we seize upon the latest Poutrage-du-jour in the futile hope that just by being part of something that "went viral" we have somehow done our part or at least hitched our wagon to its star. Many non-media workers also look for hit counts (or "likes" or "retweets") not for money but as illusory compensation for the absolute alienation all this "interconnectedness" has given us.
But then, rather that getting all poutraged about that, he turns the tables and suggests that it provides an opportunity for writers.
I've come to look at the failings of other media as opportunities for my own writing. I do believe fervently in constructing a counter-culture of noncooperation with the daily poutrage cycle, and so whatever the next big outrage that comes to surprise us today or tomorrow brings, the first task is to step back, examine what is driving this particular poutrage convention, and not say anything unless and until one has something real to add to it. That's how all truly meaningful change ever began: a few people stepping back from what everybody else was saying and thinking while they were driven by the dominant media of their eras, refusing to get swept up in it because there was something more worthwhile, outside of those limitations prescribed from above, yet to do...
That sounds like exactly what I was trying to say yesterday in my intro to this piece.

Its true that I occasionally decide to engage in a rant - and when I do, I get a lot more hits. But overall I recognize that a constant state of poutrage leads to cynicism and eventually inertia.

Perhaps it is my own "shocking, almost certifiable faith in humanity" that assumes there are those who are ready to exit the poutrage game and hunger for something else. But regardless of whether or not that's true - its where my authentic self wants to be. So I plan on staying put.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Flame Throwers and Fire Fighters

It's obvious that the big story of the day is the murder of two NYC police officers yesterday. I'm always hesitant to comment on a story like this as its unfolding. Its better to wait for all the information, process it, and see what we can draw from it.

But as people are weighing in, there are those that are fanning the flames and those that are trying to tamp them down. For example, in the category of flame throwers:

Rudy Giuliani:
“We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani said during an appearance on Fox News on Sunday. “The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don’t lead to violence, a lot of them lead to violence, all of them lead to a conclusion. The police are bad, the police are racist. That is completely wrong.”
George Pataki:
Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder & #mayordeblasio.
NYPD Union Chief Patrick Lynch:
"There’s blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest that tried to tear down what NYPD officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated," Lynch said, according to CBS New York. "That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor."
And here is what a few of the fire fighters had to say.

President Obama:
I unconditionally condemn today's murder of two police officers in New York City. Two brave men won't be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification. The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day—and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day. Tonight, I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal—prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen.
Attorney General Eric Holder:
I condemn this afternoon's senseless shooting of two New York City police officers in the strongest possible terms.

This was an unspeakable act of barbarism, and I was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of these two brave officers in the line of duty.

On behalf of all those who serve in the United States Department of Justice, I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the officers' loved ones and colleagues. I will make available all of the resources of the Department to aid the NYPD in investigating this tragedy.

This cowardly attack underscores the dangers that are routinely faced by those who protect and serve their fellow citizens. As a nation we must not forget this as we discuss the events of the recent past. These courageous men and women routinely incur tremendous personal risks, and place their lives on the line each and every day, in order to preserve public safety. We are forever in their debt.

Our nation must always honor the valor -- and the sacrifices -- of all law enforcement officers with a steadfast commitment to keeping them safe. This means forging closer bonds between officers and the communities they serve, so that public safety is not a cause that is served by a courageous few, but a promise that's fulfilled by police officials and citizens working side by side.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (and AG nominee) Loretta Lynch:
I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of this afternoon’s brutal and senseless attack on two NYPD Officers, and I join Attorney General Holder in expressing my deepest condolences to the families of these fallen heroes...

Today’s assailant struck at the heart of our city — the dedicated officers who pledge their lives to safeguard us all. Today, two have fallen, in a stark reminder of the challenges and risks that our law enforcement officers face every day, both in New York City and throughout our nation.

Let us take this time to grieve with their families, and join the NYPD and all New Yorkers in honoring them for their sacrifice.
Frankly, some of the rhetoric of the flame throwers scares me. I'm sure hoping the fire fighters prevail.

Learning From Fly-Over Country

For a couple of years now, I've been suggesting that we take our eyes off the coasts for just a while and focus on two states in fly-over country - Minnesota and Wisconsin. We might learn a thing or two about the results of Democratic vs Republican governance. About a year ago, Lawrence Jacobs did just that.
Minnesota and Wisconsin share much more than bone-chilling winters: German and Northern European roots; farming; and, until recently, a populist progressive tradition stretching back a century to Wisconsin’s Fighting Bob La Follette and the birth of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

But in 2010 these cousin states diverged. By doing so they began a natural experiment that compares the agendas of modern progressivism and the new right...

A month after Mr. Walker’s inauguration in January 2011, he catapulted himself to the front ranks of national conservative leaders with attacks on the collective bargaining rights of Civil Service unions and sharp reductions in taxes and spending. Once Mr. Dayton teamed up with a Democratic Legislature in 2012, Minnesota adopted some of the most progressive policies in the country...

Which side of the experiment — the new right or modern progressivism — has been most effective in increasing jobs and improving business opportunities, not to mention living conditions?

Obviously, firm answers will require more time and more data, but the first round of evidence gives the edge to Minnesota’s model of increased services, higher costs (mostly for the affluent) and reduced payments to entrenched interests like the insurers who cover the Medicaid population.
Excuse me for a moment while I humble-brag a bit - because I happen to live in Minnesota. Recent news weights that scale in our favor even more than it was last year.

First of all, the State's Department of Revenue announced that Minnesota's budget SURPLUS had risen to $1 billion. At the same time, our unemployment rate in November was the lowest we've seen since 2001 - 3.7%.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's budget DEFICIT sits at $1.8 billion and their unemployment rate is 5.2%.

I think its time to score this one:

Democratic policies - 1
Republican policies - 0

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Odds & Ends

Speaking of Gitmo detainees, today the Obama administration announced it was releasing four more who are going back to Afghanistan.

In spite of all the pearl-clutching on both the right and the left about bank bailouts, the TARP program has officially ended - leaving taxpayers with a $15.3 billion profit.

It's probably too soon to celebrate, but the good news is that - backed by U.S. airstrikes - the Kurds have recaptured a large swath of territory from ISIS.

Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that civil rights laws that provide workplace protection apply to transgender workers.

Having watched the bold moves President Obama has made over the last couple of months, a lot of people are trying to guess where the next one will come from. Some see a possible sign in the recent move initiating NLRB vs McDonalds.

Rand Corporation senior defense analyst Bruce Bennett screened the movie The Interview before all the commotion created by North Korean hackers. His take is that the depiction of Kim Jong Un would have created a problem for him with the elite in his country.

Finally, when I first heard Paolo Nutini sing, my thought was "Boy, he's an old soul" (as the saying goes). Paolo burst on the scene with a couple of cd's and then pretty much disappeared for four years. My initial assessment of him was affirmed when earlier this year he released "Caustic Love." Here's an incredibly relevant track off that cd titled "Iron Sky."

P.S. If you can't place the origin of the speech in the middle of the song, here's one ginormous hint.

Pope Francis, Catholic Conservatives and the Republican Party

One of the most fascinating parts of the negotiations between the United States and Cuba was the role Pope Francis played in both initiating the process and hosting a meeting at the Vatican. That story has been pretty well reported.

Much less noticed is the fact that recently Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration place Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Holy See welcomed recent signs President Barack Obama appears to have accelerated efforts to close the controversial facility where some detainees have been held for more than a decade without charge and tortured.

He said the Vatican stood ready to "help find adequate humanitarian solutions through our international contacts" in order to help place detainees, adding that Parolin and Kerry had discussed the issue in depth.
This is why many are seeing a "bolder vision of Vatican diplomacy" with this Pope.

During the Reagan era, fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics put aside their traditional enmity over religious differences and banded together around the Republican Party's cultural agenda. That's when the Democratic Party lost a lot of traditional Catholics who had been strong supporters of President Kennedy.

As Pope Francis calls the Church back into service to the poor, warns against the danger of idolizing capitalism, and engages affirmatively with a diplomatic approach to foreign policy, the alliance of Catholic conservatives with the Republican Party will be strained. That's something to keep an eye on.

President Obama Plays the Long Game

The media is settling on a new narrative about President Obama. It's always interesting watching one after another join in that process. For example, Timothy Egan calls it Obama Unbound.
Perhaps the best thing to happen to him [Obama] was the crushing blow his party took in the midterm elections. Come January, Republicans will have their largest House majority in 84 years — since Herbert Hoover was president. Granted, no politician wants to join Hoover and history in the same sentence. But Obama is not cowering or conceding. He’s been liberated by defeat, becoming the president that many of his supporters hoped he would be.

He promised to be transformative. Instead, especially in the last two years, he’s been listless, passive, a spectator to his own presidency. Rather than setting things in motion, he reacted to events. Even Ebola, the great scare that prompted so much media hysteria it was awarded Lie of the Year by PolitiFact, was somehow his fault. No more. Of late, the president who has nothing to lose has discovered that his best friend is the future.
Glenn Thrush calls it Operation Revenge.
“He needs to run, to compete – or more to the point, he needs someone to run against,” a former top Obama adviser told me.

He’s got that now, in a Republican-controlled Capitol Hill. Obama, a political counterpuncher who often needs a slap in the face to wake up, got a gut-shot in November. The Democrats’ staggering loss in the midterms – like his disastrous performance in the first presidential debate against Mitt Romney in 2012 – seems to have jolted him to the realization that he’ll have to act boldly to preserve what he’d assumed was a settled legacy.
The trouble with this kind of analysis is that it is ahistorical. Every one of the things these pundits name as an example of this President's newfound persona - executive actions on immigration, new EPA rules, climate change agreement with China, Russian sanctions, normalization of relationship with Cuba - has been in the works for at least the last 1-2 years (during the time he was supposedly a listless, passive spectator). Back in January of this year, he announced his intention to implement the “pen and phone strategy” we’re all witnessing unfold.
President Barack Obama offered a brief preview Tuesday of his State of the Union address, telling his Cabinet that he won’t wait for Congress to act on key agenda items in 2014.

“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” he said at his first Cabinet meeting of the year. Outlining the strategy, Obama said he plans to use his pen to sign executive actions and his phone to convene outside groups in support of his agenda if Congress proves unable or unwilling to act on his priorities.
It's true that President Obama might have a new lightness in his step. But that could just as well be because he's finally off for a much-needed vacation in Hawaii with his family. Anyone who has really watched this President operate knows that he plays the long game. Here's how Michelle Obama described that back in 2011.
Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight.

If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.

We always have. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

President Obama's core

Jon Favreau, Obama's former speechwriter, tweeted this during the President's news conference today.

I think Jon understands President Obama better than anyone outside his close circle of family and friends. So let's take a look at why he thinks Barack Obama ran for office. Here are the last few paragraphs of the President's remarks today.
The one thing I will say -- and this is going to be the last thing I say -- is that one of the great things about this job is you get to know the American people. I mean, you meet folks from every walk of life and every region of the country, and every race and every faith. And what I don’t think is always captured in our political debates is the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing, and people are basically good and have good intentions. Sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should. Sometimes you've got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn’t maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around. But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems. It’s not -- this isn’t a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying. I think that troubles everybody. So there’s an opportunity of all of us to come together and to take a practical approach to these problems.

And I guess that's my general theme for the end of the year -- which is we’ve gone through difficult times. It is your job, press corps, to report on all the mistakes that are made and all the bad things that happen and the crises that look like they're popping. And I understand that. But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better. The economy has gotten better. Our ability to generate clean energy has gotten better. We know more about how to educate our kids. We solved problems. Ebola is a real crisis; you get a mistake in the first case because it’s not something that's been seen before -- we fix it. You have some unaccompanied children who spike at a border, and it may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed.

And part of what I hope as we reflect on the New Year this should generate is some confidence. America knows how to solve problems. And when we work together, we can't be stopped.
I keep going back to this over and over, but Ta-Nehisi Coates called it a "shocking, almost certifiable faith in humanity." Whether or not you think that faith is warranted, it is what sits at the core of who President Barack Obama is.

Latin America, Torture and the Cold War

I am tempted to use the word "serendipitous" to describe the fact that within a matter of days, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the investigation of the use of torture by the Bush/Cheney administration, Brazil's National Truth Commission released its report on the activities of its brutal military dictatorship, and President Obama announced the normalization of our relationship with Cuba.

Let me remind you of what Greg Grandin wrote back in 2007 when we were first learning about the extent to which torture had been used in the "global war on terrorism."
In fact, it was in Latin America that the CIA and U.S. military intelligence agents, working closely with local allies, first helped put into place the unholy trinity of government-sponsored terrorism now on display in Iraq and elsewhere: death squads, disappearances and torture.
Countries all over South and Central America (as well as Africa) have held truth and reconciliation commissions to document the atrocities committed in their countries as they attempted to throw off the weight of colonialism and reach for independence. Throughout that process, we've been reminded of the role the United States played as a "silent partner" in those atrocities. Brazil is simply the latest.
The final report confirms that the U.S. played a direct role in encouraging state sponsored torture in Brazil. According to the 2,000 page document — and backed by extensive historiography –, over 300 members of the Brazilian military spent time at the School of the Americas, run out of Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, where they had “theoretical and practical lessons on torture, which would later be replicated in Brazil,” the report notes. 
The school was one of the main tools used by the U.S. government to deter perceived communist threats in Latin America, and gave instruction to dictatorial militaries across the continent. A Pentagon manual released in 1996 details the curriculum, which encourages the use of torture, blackmail, and arresting the families of those being questioned.
This is not some ancient history. Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff was unable to hold back tears at the announcement of this report because she had been one of those people subjected to torture during her three year imprisonment by the military dictatorship (the one the U.S. had helped place in power by supporting a coup in 1964).

Initially these U.S. interventions in Latin America were blatantly justified by the interests of corporate America that were operating in these countries. But when the Cold War began, the threat of communism was used as the excuse for engaging in these atrocities.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that removing the last vestige of the Cold War in Cuba is welcome news to the leaders of South and Central America (many of whom were their freedom fighters in the 80's and 90's). President Rousseff called the deal with Cuba, "a moment which marks a change in civilization.” Former President of Columbia AndrĂ©s Pastrana summed it up this way:
There will be radical and fundamental change. I think that to a large extent the anti-imperialist discourse that we have had in the region has ended. The Cold War is over.
Many Americans credit President Ronald Reagan with ending the Cold War. To others, it ended when the Berlin Wall crumbled during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. For the people of Latin America, it happened on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 with this announcement by President Barack Obama.
Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.

And I call on all my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the inter- American charter. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.

A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible, if we work together, not to maintain power, not to secure vested interests, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens...

Todos somos Americanos.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In which I agree with an Erick Erickson tweet

I sure do agree with that! Of course, not in the way he meant it.

Its true that using the power of partnership is often associated with females - although not exclusively (see: Nelson Mandela). The idea of dominance as the only form of power strikes many of us as a massive "dick-swinging" contest.

What Erickson is reacting to is the use of the power of partnership by a male president. Being a consummate dick-swinger - Erickson doesn't even begin to grasp what that means. So he simply resorts to calling it "girly."

But YES! Look at us now: finally ending the last artifact of the Cold War and watching Russia tumble into the abyss - all while we are likely to be within reach of an agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons, ISIS' momentum has been stopped (although they are not defeated yet) and the new Iraqi Prime Minister is uniting Sunni and Shia in his country.

Not bad for a girly-man.


President Obama to Congressional Republicans: Govern or Make Yourselves Irrelevant

A lot of pundits are noticing that since the midterm elections, President Obama has been the opposite of a "lame duck." Kevin Drum does a good job of summing up the significant actions this president has taken recently.
  • November 10: Surprised everyone by announcing his support for strong net neutrality. 
  • November 11: Concluded a climate deal with China that was not only important in its own right, but has since been widely credited with jumpstarting progress at the Lima talks last week. 
  • November 20: Issued an executive order protecting millions of undocumented workers from the threat of deportation. 
  • November 26: Signed off on an important new EPA rule significantly limiting ozone emissions.
  • December 15: Took a quiet victory lap as Western financial sanctions considerably sharpened the pain of Vladimir Putin's imploding economy. 
  • December 16: Got nearly everything he wanted during the lame duck congressional session, and more. Democrats confirmed all important pending nominees, and then got Republican consent to several dozen lesser ones as well. 
  • December 17: Announced a historic renormalization of relations with Cuba. 
This is all part of the pen and phone strategy he announced way back in January 2014.
President Barack Obama offered a brief preview Tuesday of his State of the Union address, telling his Cabinet that he won’t wait for Congress to act on key agenda items in 2014.

“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” he said at his first Cabinet meeting of the year. Outlining the strategy, Obama said he plans to use his pen to sign executive actions and his phone to convene outside groups in support of his agenda if Congress proves unable or unwilling to act on his priorities.
Combined with the signature legislative accomplishments of his first two years - the stimulus, health care reform and Wall Street reform - we are beginning to see the transformative nature of Barack Obama's presidency.

Come January 2015, what will be the response of the Republican majorities in Congress to these achievements? As Kevin Drum notes in that same article:
GOP leaders had plans for January, but now they may or may not be able to do much about them. Instead, they're going to have to deal with enraged tea partiers insisting that they spend time trying to repeal Obama's actions. They can't, of course, but they have to show that they're trying.
Its important to note why they can't repeal Obama's actions. That is first of all because this President has been careful to recognize where he has constitutional authority and where Congress must act. He hasn't crossed that line.

But perhaps even more importantly, the 2015 budget bill strips Republicans of their ability to hold the government hostage as their leverage in trying to force change on any of these matters for at least the next nine months. After that, we'll be in full 2016 campaign mode and its unlikely Republicans will want to initiate a government shutdown leading into the November presidential election.

The only alternative for Republicans at this point is to attach a repeal of any of these policies to something the Democrats want done, for example, comprehensive immigration reform. But the really interesting thing is...if they do that, we're back to the process of actual governing via negotiation. Oh my!!!!

What this all boils down to is that President Obama has given Congressional Republicans two options: Govern or make yourselves irrelevant. That's a major power play by our Community Organizer-in-Chief.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Vermont gives up on single payer

Recently I noted that before the end of the year, Vermont's Governor Shumlin would lay out his proposal on how to pay for single payer health insurance. Today brought an unexpected announcement.
Vermont has long had a two-pronged approach to building a single-payer health care system. First, they would figure out what they would want the system to look like. Then, they would figure out how to pay for it.

The state passed legislation outlining how the single-payer system would work in 2011. And ever since, the state has been trying to figure out how to pay for a system that covers everybody. Most estimates suggest that the single payer system would cost $2 billion each year. For a state that only collects $2.7 billion in revenue, that is a large sum of money.

What Shumlin appears to be saying today is that the "time is not right" to move forward on the financing of the single-payer system. And that means putting the whole effort aside, with no clear moment when the debate would be reopened.
This has always been the HUGE hurdle that any single payer system would have to jump. Its true that - in the end - such a system would likely save money. But simply comparing costs in the U.S. to countries with single payer systems is not adequate. First of all, it has been proven that health care procedures are WAY more expensive here than they are in other countries. That's part of where the discrepancy comes from. Single payer wouldn't fix that.

Secondly, switching to single payer means that costs are shifted - not that they simply go away. Vermont found that, when implemented in 2017, those costs would equal an 11.5% income tax on all residents. Trying to design a system of who pays for what inevitably would create big winners and big losers. That means a lot of chaos and an awful lot of noise from the losers.

So...single payer advocates are going to have to address how that transition should happen. Vermont just showed that if you don't do that, it is never going to happen.

It's not just about Cuba. Todos Somos Americanos

From President Obama's remarks today on the normalization of our relationship with Cuba:
Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.

And I call on all my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the inter- American charter. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.

A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible, if we work together, not to maintain power, not to secure vested interests, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens...

Todos somos Americanos.
For many countries in South and Central America, Cuba remained the "flash-point" that recalled the way their efforts toward independence from corporate-fueled colonization were treated simply as proxies in our Cold War against communism. Much of what has been wrong about U.S. foreign policy in the modern era was played out on that stage.

President Obama's announcement today allows that flash-point to be quelled. It is a clearing out of the debris of the past that allows the doors of possibility to swing wide open. I'll be fascinated to see the results at the Summit of the Americas next April.

Why Republicans Admire Putin

Jonathan Chait reminds us of the origins of the neoconservative movement in the Republican Party.
Three decades ago, right-wing French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel published a call to arms entitled “How Democracies Perish,” which quickly became a key text of the neoconservative movement and an ideological blueprint for the Reagan administration. Revel argued that the Soviet Union’s brutality and immunity from internal criticism gave it an inherent advantage over the democratic West — the United States and Europe were too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat the resolute men of the Iron Curtain.

“Unlike the Western leadership, which is tormented by remorse and a sense of guilt,” wrote Revel, “Soviet leaders' consciences are perfectly clear, which allows them to use brute force with utter serenity both to preserve their power at home and to extend it abroad.”
This is what sparked a love-fest for Putin's tactics from Republicans immediately following his invasion of Ukraine.  "That's what you call a leader" said Rudy Giuliani. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-MI), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said that Putin was playing chess while President Obama played marbles.

At the time, the Obama administration consistently suggested that Putin was engaging in 19th-20th century tactics in a 21st century world.
...Obama is one of the first to have a broad range of potentially biting nonmilitary responses to employ—a measure of how much Russia has been integrated into the world's financial system since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

It is why American policymakers are so convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has miscalculated by dispatching troops to Crimea. And why you hear over and over again from the White House and State Department that Putin does not seem to understand the interconnectedness of the 21st-century world.

"What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President Putin to address problems, deploying military forces rather than negotiating," says a senior administration official, speaking on background. "But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st-century world, an interdependent world."
President Obama addressed this directly during his speech in Brussels on March 26th.
Throughout human history, societies have grappled with the question of how to organize themselves – the proper relationship between the individual and the state; and the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle—through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution—that a particular set of ideals began to emerge. The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding...

But those ideals have also been tested – and threatened – by an older, more traditional view of power. This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, and that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.
That speech - which was one of the most powerful of Obama's presidency - was meant to unite the people of Europe (especially its young people) around this new form of 21st century power - even if it meant sacrifice from them. In this interconnected world, it is about the power of partnership as a tool to defeat the power of dominance.

And so, while Republicans continue to believe that the democratic West is "too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat the resolute men," President Obama is demonstrating that partnership can be a powerful tool in this 21st century.