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Washington Post Op-Eds: Koop, Coolers, Corruption, Consternation

8:02 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

I knew I would have to write this piece as soon as I saw in one of the WaPo columns that its author composed it while listening to Bach — I presume on a CD or downloaded — in the comfort of his home. What a coincidence, since I had just come from a bit closer to the real thing, a live lunchtime concert where the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (BWV 543) was played on the fine organ of the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington, DC, followed by a performance of the BWV 105 Cantata. That piece, btw, has instrumental obbligatos accompanying the arias, as is usual with Bach, but its continuo for one recitative includes arco upper strings but pizzicato cello and double bass, which is not. Bach was nothing if not an innovator, and innovation is an important theme in today’s study.

Today we are back to the regular Tuesday lineup: Compassionate Conservative, Honorary Hasbarist, Anti-Prometheus (a slight name change), and Liberal #1. CC’s contribution amounts to a meditation on the passing of C. Everett Koop on Feb. 25. This reflection all but suggests that the apparent curing of an infant of HIV the other day was due to the spirit of the late Surgeon General hovering over the Mississippi hospital where it happened. After all, his innovation consisted in bucking his bosses in the Reagan administration to produce a sensible document on AIDS, originally “distributed … on glossy paper to discourage edits.” That got the ball rolling, CC implies, or at least Koop’s “conspir[ing] to have a brochure containing similar information distributed to the entire IRS mailing list of 107 million households” did. Fine, I have no serious criticism as long as no one claims the AIDS problem is now solved.

HH likes to begin his columns with a metaphor, and this time it is the art scene in Paris at the beginning of the last century. This, he says, was the water cooler of its day, and new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer should have her minions study Picasso and Braque if they want to understand why her new order to stop telecommuting and come into the office makes sense. For the water cooler is where innovation takes place, and innovation is sorely needed at her troubled company. That, indeed, is the essence of her rationale for the new policy according to a leaked memo, although the real reasons, of course, may be otherwise: at least one commentator thinks Mayer is simply on a power trip.

HH duly notes the protests by environmentalists about the increased use of the internal combustion engine and by mothers with daycare problems, but says he misses the newsroom,”a community of experts and eccentrics where the chance remark could spark a retort, an observation, an idea — a column!,” as he sits at home writing, with his creature comforts and his Bach (yes, he’s the one). What, won’t WaPo give him at least a shared desk?

A-P is concerned with the taxpayers’ money being wasted in Medicare, and has been extolling a lawsuit by Rupert Murdoch the Wall Street Journal to get access to billing records. But “scientists doctors,” he says, (not, for example, their hospitals) are fighting the suit, so pending the outcome of that, he has done his own investigation. He finds that there has been a slew of inflated prices for “durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies,” in short, DMEPOS.. After some further musings he says that “Congress should accelerate the planned introduction of nationwide competitive bidding on DMEPOS to 2014, and extend it to medical devices, lab tests and advanced imaging services by 2015,” as has been recommended by the Center for American Progress, which is to say, the Obama administration. As much as I would like to poke holes in this analysis, I don’t know enough about the issues to do so intelligently. (Commenters, feel free.) But since he’s talking about overbilling for DME I do wish he’d said something about The Scooter Store, currently under investigation for outright fraud against Medicare,

L1 is angry at the sequester, thus agreeing with just about everyone except Wall Street (where the DJI hit a new record today). Apart from the fact that it changes a verb into a noun, he hates it because it “diverts attention from issues that actually matter, such as unemployment, gun violence, climate change, failing schools and the need to spur economic growth.” He goes on to offer some more reasons for hating it, then reviews the various talking points of the responsible parties, including the standard narrative that it was only supposed to goad them into serious legislative action, not actually happen, quoting the supposed wisdom of Casey Stengel (“Can’t anybody here play this game?,” actually apocryphal), and concludes by agreeing reluctantly that both Obama and the Republicans are to blame.

But in the process L1 reveals something about his priorities. With the sequester,

Medicare will see no more than a 2 percent cut, while Medicaid and Social Security will be untouched. Since these programs are so big and costly, other parts of the budget will have to face much deeper cuts to make up the total $85 billion savings.

And then, “[E-word] spending is largely untouched.” Clearly he wishes it were otherwise. So does O, as has been amply documented in numerous FDL posts

In short, O’s man pure and simple.

The Sequester and the Myth of WaPo’s “5 Myths”

3:53 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

For background on WaPo’s 5 Myths series, see my last post on it. The entry in today’s paper (but online since Thursday) is “5 Myths about the Sequester.” The authors are two frequent talking heads on outlets like the PBS News Hour, Thomas E. Mann of the liberal Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, the one member of the reactionary American Enterprise Institute who realizes that no one will listen to him if he just parrots its line.

The authors’ introduction gives the recent history involving “a near-default on the public debt and a ‘fiscal cliff’ that threatened a new recession,” and then says we face “another man-made crisis” with the across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect last Friday. Notice that this already adopts standard inside-Beltway jargon with “fiscal cliff” and “man-made crisis.” Then Mann and Ornstein get right to what they call separating fact from fiction on five points:

1. Blame Obama — the sequester was his White House’s idea.

After duly referencing Robert Redford Bob Woodward’s version of this charge offered the other day, M&O say it’s too simple. They claim that the idea emerged through 2011 negotiations between “the parties,” who proposed a super-committee to iron out a deficit-reduction plan, and a sequester as something “designed to be so potentially destructive that the supercommittee would surely reach a deal to avert it.” They say that O never envisaged the possibility that it would actually happen.

What this repetition of the conventional wisdom ignores is the statement by O’s advisor Gene Sperling himself, pointed out by FDL’s Jon Walker, that “the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues” (translation: force liberals among the Democrats to accept chained-CPI and other such attacks). Thus “Myth” #1 is closer to the truth than the authors acknowledge.

2. At least the automatic cuts will reduce runaway spending and begin to control the deficit.

Here the authors simply deny this Republican talking point, quoting a few numbers to the effect that the spending is not excessive. Why bother? Maybe because in the process they get to claim that, although spending on war-making defense has increased lately, “that pattern has slowed and will soon end. Additional reductions must be achieved intelligently, tied to legitimate national security needs.” Sure.

Notice that apart from that appeal to naiveté, M&O do not even hint at thr real truth: We need MORE spending, on infrastructure, on education, on green technology, on … , to get the economy going and to attack massive social problems. So they have successfully refuted Myth #2; big deal.

3. The amounts are so small, they won’t hurt much.

Here our erstwhile authors first quote the WaPo columnist I have called Baseball Fan to the effect that the $85B in cuts for this year amount to “only” 2.3% of the total federal budget, and then point out that (a) most of the federal budget is shielded from the cuts, and that (b) they must be applied to only a bit more than half of the fiscal year that remains. Further,

With little discretion about trimming areas such as aviation and food safety, layoffs and furloughs will interrupt services vital to the economy and public health.

That is, M&O are concerned with people who have enough money to fly and enough food to worry about its safety. I only wish we could say that those who lack those niceties will not suffer even more.

In short, it’s certainly a myth but the refutation is weak.

4. The cuts are so large, they will be catastrophic.

Here M&O simply claim that if one looks at the detailed estimates provided by the Obama administration the effects will not be “so immediate or dramatic,” although “damage will accumulate in less visible ways.” And we’re supposed to believe this why?

5. This fight is all about money.

That is to say, apparently, the sequester is truly for the purpose of reducing the budget deficit. Here the two-paragraph response is a thinly disguised polemic against the Republicans for “taking a meat ax to government as we know it” with the sequester and the upcoming threats to shut down the government and to refuse to raise the debt limit. The authors’ one substantive point is to say,

if the goal were really debt reduction, it would be easy to get a bipartisan deal that would lower the debt enough to meet the original target set by the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, with roughly a third coming from revenue.

I’ll give them that, but not the implication that it is only the Republicans who refuse to deal. Mann and Ornstein have not disproved the suspicion that O really wanted the sequester for the moment, to give him leverage in the negotiations that will unfold in the coming months to overturn it, so that he could strong-arm reluctant Congressional liberals into accepting cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Basically, the article is a mix of platitudes and airy abstractions; it does not recognize that there will be real blood in the coming months, with blame accruing to both parties. Read the rest of this entry →