Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hitler was a vegetarian

There’s a lot of chatter about how people who oppose the new health care bills are doing terrible things. In response, there’s a growing amount of chatter about how people who support the new health care bills are doing terrible things. The Gormogons have a nice little round-up of just the reported window breaking incidents in which they label each incident as “True”, “Hoax”, or “Not what it seems”. To which my response is, “So what?”

Now, don’t get me wrong. If hordes of people on either side were rampaging through the streets destroying property and attacking people, I would consider this a phenomenon worth writing about and - even more - worth doing something about. But it’s not. It’s a handful of inarticulate, maladjusted fruitcakes doing what vandals always do when they can’t figure out an intelligent way to deal with reality: they break something. To claim - as those on both sides of the health care debate are doing - that such bad behavior somehow invalidates the ideas held by those so behaving is ridiculous.

Ideas are not responsible for the people who hold them. If the ideas of those who oppose the new health care bills are good ideas, valid ideas, realistic ideas, they are so even if everyone who holds those ideas throws a brick through the window of the nearest government office. If the ideas of those who oppose the new health care bills are bad ideas, invalid ideas, unrealistic ideas, they are so even if everyone who holds those ideas devotes his or her life to selfless charitable works. The same is true for those who support the new health care bills. People with good ideas can behave badly; people with bad ideas can behave well. Good people can hold bad ideas; bad people can hold good ideas.

Guilt by association for people has at least some validity. If Zeke seems like an okay guy but his best friend is Will who I know for sure is as dishonest as the day is long, it’s reasonable for me to think Zeke may not be exactly what he seems. After all, humans can hide their true nature and Zeke may be concealing the less desirable aspects of his personality from me.

Guilt by association for ideas has no validity. If Zeke’s idea is a good one then the fact that Will also likes the idea doesn’t suddenly make it a bad one. Ideas cannot hide their true nature; they have no deceit, no charming facade. We are all intelligent, reasoning beings capable of evaluating ideas for ourselves. The behavior of the people who hold those ideas is irrelevant.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hair of the dog

The House passed the Senate’s Christmas Eve health care reform bill. Here are three afterwords I recommend: FDL because it’s a interesting (although lopsided) summary; McArdle because I share her fear (and - in my case and I think hers - anger) about process; and Douthat because he’s writing about possible outcomes. As terrifying as this bill and the process used to pass it are, it’s not everyone who gets to be alive and paying attention at the beginning of an undertaking that’s going dominate the political (and probably economic and possibly social) landscape for years to come. It will be fascinating to watch this unfold.

On what the bill does and doesn’t do: FireDogLake - Fact Sheet: The Truth About the Health Care Bill

On the politics: Megan McArdle - The Future After Health Care

On outcomes: Ross Douthat - Show Time for Health Care


On process, I strongly recommend a couple of posts from Deafening Silence, one written before and one written after passage of the bill:

You Just Lost Me, Mr. President. For Good. - Written before

Morning in the Brave New World - Written after

I also recommend Megan McArdle’s chat from yesterday.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What can't be cured must be endured

Just in case anyone is thinking that health care reform can be repealed after the 2010 elections if the Republicans are successful enough:

The Republicans currently have 41 votes in the Senate.
The Democrats currently have 57 votes in the Senate.
There are 2 Independents in the Senate who caucus with the Democrats.

There are 10 Republican Senators up for re-election in 2010.
There are 21 Democratic Senators up for re-election in 2010.
The 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats are up for re-election in 2010.

Let’s assume the Republicans hold all 10 of their contested Senate seats.
Let’s assume the Republicans win all 21 of the Democrats’ contested Senate seats.
Let’s assume that either the Republicans win both of the Independents’ contested Senate seats OR the Independents begin caucusing with the Republicans after the 2010 elections.

The Republicans will then control 64 votes in the Senate.

However, assuming all seats in the Senate are occupied and all members are present, it requires 67 votes in the Senate to override a Presidential veto.

Unless 3 Senate Democrats break ranks, it will not be possible to repeal health care reform after the 2010 elections even under the rosiest possible scenario for Republican gains in that election.

(Thanks to Texan99 whose comment inspired me to finally sit down and do the math.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pointless, futile, tiring

This is why I don’t really have anything else to say about the Democrat’s health reform bill. Movin’ Meat is complaining about his company’s insurance company imposing a $500 fee on emergency room use by two of their insureds. I am perfectly willing to stipulate that the trips to the emergency room were reasonable and should have been covered without question and that the insurance company is behaving badly by attempting to impose the fee.

Movin’ Meat was puzzled by the fee because it should have been prevented by his State’s insurance regulations. When he investigated, he discovered that his State’s insurance regulations did not apply; his company’s contract is controlled by ERISA. ERISA is Federal law and does not outlaw this type of behavior on the part of insurance companies.

Movin’ Meat is a strong supporter of the Democrat’s health insurance plan which will place control of insurance companies completely in the hands of the Federal government.

A. You just can’t make this stuff up.

B. Reality-based, my foot.

C. What logical argument could I possibly make that would have any impact on someone like Movin’ Meat?

Brooks on Blond

David Brooks is writing about Phillip Blond. I’d never heard of Blond but his ideas sound interesting since I have recently been discussing with an efriend the loss of the social web that holds society together. Since I’m not really blogging, I’m not going to do an extended analysis of Blond’s points but I do have a few thoughts on his piece in Prospect Magazine:

In the United States, one route to devolve power from a central government and monopolistic corporations is to re-empower the States. It’s not a full answer but it’s a start.

Blond quotes JB Priestly as saying:

the area of our lives under our own control is shrinking rapidly… politicians and senior civil servants are beginning to decide how the rest of us shall live.

I believe this conviction explains much of the vehemence of the reaction against the Democrat’s health care plan. There is something about the government telling us what we must buy that is qualitatively different from the government telling us we must pay taxes or telling us via regulation what we must not do. It is an order of magnitude shrinking of the “area of our lives under our own control”. Oddly enough, I believe a single-payer system funded by tax dollars would probably have produced less outrage: taxes are familiar to us all.

I believe Brooks has misunderstood the Tea Party movement and Blond (and possibly libertarianism) when he writes:

This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.

But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.

It’s not at all clear to me that the Tea Party movement objects to all public action; rather they seem to object to public action on the part of the Federal government. It seems to me that Blond would applaud the Tea Party movements disgust with Washington. I read Blond as being distrustful of large, heavily centralized government and preferring devolution of power to a level closer to those whose lives are affected by that power:

if Conservatives are to take power from the market state and give it to the people, they must develop a full-blooded “new localism” which works to empower communities and builds new, vibrant local economies that can uphold the party’s civic vision.

I’m not sure the Tea Party movement would argue with that idea.

Be sure to read what Brooks refers to as “a separate essay”, Blond’s piece on his ResPublica website.

Finally, Brooks closes with:

This country, too, needs a fresh political wind. America, too, is suffering a devastating crisis of authority. The only way to restore trust is from the local community on up.

I believe there are very few politicians in Washington who have any interest in relinquishing Federal power to States, municipalities, or any other government or non-government entity. However, of all the politicians who want to increase Washington’s power none wants to do so more than Barack Obama. I am unable to see how Brooks can square the conclusion he comes to in this essay with his continued admiration for the President.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Couldn't resist

Yes, I know I said I wouldn’t be blogging but I couldn’t resist saying something about this; the post saying it is quick and easy to write; and I’m feeling quite snippy today so this is a good outlet.

Today on Meet The Press, Tom Friedman said:

Well, this is what worries me, that, you know, I've been saying for awhile, Tom [Brokaw], there's only one thing worse than a one-party autocracy, the Chinese form of government, and that's one-party democracy. You know, in China, if the leadership can get around to an enlightened decision, it can order it from the top down, OK? Here, when you have one-party democracy, one-party ruling, basically, and the other party just basically saying no, every solution is suboptimal, you know. And when your chief competitor in the world can order optimal and you can only produce suboptimal, because what happens, you know, whether it's health care or the energy bill, votes one through 50 cost you a lot, votes 50 to 59 cost you a fortune, and vote 60, his name's Ben Nelson. And by the time you've made all those compromises, you end up with the description David had of the healthcare bill, which is this Rube Goldberg contraption. I really hope--I hope, personally, I hope it passes, I hope it works, but I can't tell you I think it's optimal.

Friedman is sort of half right although his passion for all things China has blinded him to the real issue here. It’s not that democracy is unworkable because we have one party ruling and one party saying no. The problem is more likely one of the following:

1) The more government does, the less well democracy works. This means we either need to make government do less or change our form of government.

2) Democracy does not work well when there are two sharply opposed views of what government should be doing and how it should be doing it. This means we either need to divide up the country or change our form of government.

These two possibilities are not mutually exclusive and I believe that at this point they’re actually mutually reinforcing. We do have two sharply opposed views of what government should be doing and how it should be doing it. Since one of those views is that government should be doing a lot less it automatically means that the more one side tries to get government to do the less co-operative the other side becomes.

So perhaps the solution is to divide up the country. One side gets a nation where government does a lot; the trade-off is that they have a less democratic form of government so “optimal” solutions can be imposed by wise technocrats. The other side gets a nation where government doesn’t do much; the trade-off is that they get a stronger democracy under which people and parties can disagree sharply without worrying about derailing an “enlightened decision”.



How weird was the last segment of Meet The Press this morning? Tom Brokaw and Tom Friedman chit-chatting about their weekend talks and their train trips while poor David Brooks must have felt like the class nerd who ended up at the table with all the cool kids.

Yes, I know Friedman is complaining about the Republicans saying no at the same time he’s bemoaning the horse-trading the Democrat leadership had to do with other Democrats to get that 60th vote. So he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Big surprise.

No, the two opposing sides are not the Democrats and the Republicans. Both parties want the government to do more, get bigger, spend more money, etc., although perhaps in slightly different ways. The two opposing sides are the entrenched political parties and the people who are sick of both of them. It looks like we have a struggle between the Democrats and the Republicans because the Republicans are hoping to regain control of Congress by pretending to side with those who simply want government to stop trying to do everything.

Yes, I know we have a representative democracy not a straight democracy.

No, I don’t think talking about splitting up the country is treason. I don’t think talking about a State seceding is treason either. Provided the country as whole agreed this sort of thing was the correct course of action and it happened peacefully and through some legal process, I don’t see any Constitutional problem with it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Out of the office

You may have noticed that blogging has been light and it’s going to get lighter. I’ve got three non-bloggy undertakings underway and a fourth I should have underway and if I’m going to do them right there simply isn’t time for me to blog - or even to read what I usually read in order to blog. And honestly, if I were passionate about anything I’m writing about right now I’d find the time somehow but the truth is I’m feeling rather ennui-ish about all the burning issues of the day.

So I’m taking a break. There’s a part of me that says, “No, not now, not during the big final push for health care reform.” Then I remember this is the third (fourth? fifth? tenth? eleventy-leventh?) big final push for health care reform. and I don’t know that I really have anything else to say about it. Maybe that was President Obama’s strategy all along: keep winding everyone up with deadlines and eventually we’d all get Final Push Fatigue, wander off, and let him do whatever he wanted.

Today is March 10th. I’ll stop back by on March 31st. Comments are open and I’ll be checking my email regularly so feel free.

Happy Spring!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thoughts on Stupak and a really long afterword on Feingold

I wrote earlier about the process by which Congress could relatively simply pass a version of Obamacare. First, the House passes the Senate’s already passed health care bill as is. The House and Senate then pass a second bill (the sidecar bill) which amends the first bill as desired by the House. To get this through the Senate, the reconciliation process is used. This means the second bill only requires 50 votes to pass the Senate; it also means the second bill can only cover matters that can somewhat reasonably be considered financial matters. Using the sidecar bill to amend the first bill’s abortion funding provisions will probably not be possible under the reconciliation process.

This probable inability to make the more restrictive House language on abortion part of health care reform is giving hope to those who would prefer such reform not be passed. They were made even more hopeful by Representative Bart Stupak earlier today. Stupak, whose name is attached to the House’s more restrictive language on abortion funding, said that:

he and 11 other Democrats will vote against the overhaul unless a provision subsidizing abortion is removed.

Since the House will probably need those twelve votes to pass the Senate bill and since abortion funding can probably not be changed via the sidecar bill, does this mean passing health care reform is virtually impossible? I don’t think so.

If I were trying to get this done, I would simply create a third bill - the Stupak bill - that does nothing except amend how the first bill funds abortion. The Stupak bill would replicate the extremely restrictive abortion funding language from the House bill and would therefore be a bill which prohibits the Federal government from funding abortions in any way through health care reform. It would be an anti-abortion bill pure and simple and that would put Republicans in a bind.

How could 41 Republicans in the Senate refuse to pass the Stupak bill? If they did so, they would be leaving in place the more liberal funding for abortion. Even if Republicans claimed now that they would oppose such a Stupak bill in the future, I don’t see how they could actually do so if the House in fact passed the Senate bill. Once that happens, filibustering the Stupak bill would mean leaving more liberal abortion funding in place and I don’t think Republicans could do that and explain themselves to their anti-abortion supporters in a believable way.

Of course, that’s what I think. What really counts is whether the Stupak Twelve can be convinced that getting a Stupak bill through both houses of Congress would be a cakewalk once the Senate bill is passed. I wonder, though, if it’s possible to pass a Stupak bill now. That is, can Congress legally pass a prospective bill, one which says:

In the event the Senate health care bill is passed by the House and signed into law, it will be amended in the following way...

I have no idea if that is legally possible but if it is, it might be a way for the Democrats to convince the Stupak Twelve to vote for the Senate bill. Even if it’s not, I wouldn’t bet against the Twelve coming to realize that the Republicans would be hard pressed to oppose a Stupak bill once the Senate bill is signed into law. If the Twelve do come to such a realization, they will also realize they can vote for the more liberal Senate language secure in the knowledge that it will be tightened up immediately.

Assuming of course they believe they can get enough Democrats to vote for the Stupak bill once health care reform is a done deal. Hmm. If I were the Stupak Twelve I might insist on the anticipatory version of the Stupak bill after all.



Writers at The Corner are talking about the House vote on the already-passed Senate bill being the one that matters. Ramesh Ponnuru is counting votes in the House.

Back in the “I’m so confused” world, The Gormogons are describing a process that doesn’t really make sense to me. They seem to think a conference committee (House and Senate) can work out the differences between the two versions and that the vote on a conference committee report cannot be filibustered. I’m not sure they’re correct on that (emphasis mine):

Conference reports themselves, unlike measures on initial consideration, are not subject to a double filibuster, because they are privileged matters, so that motions to proceed to their consideration are not debatable. Inasmuch as conference reports themselves are debatable, however, it may be found necessary to move for cloture on a conference report.

In other words, Senators cannot filibuster a motion to consider a conference report but they can filibuster a vote on the report itself. (If The Gormogons are right about conference reports not being subject to the filibuster, then why do they think a sidecar bill would still be necessary? Everything could be worked out in conference.)

I was looking for something else when I found this speech by Senator Russ Feingold in May of 2000, decrying the overuse of cloture:

[The Senate] rules honor the sentiments of committed minorities. They give dedicated groups of Senators substantial power. And they give any group of 41 Senators the absolute right to kill a bill.

The Senate Rules thereby force consensus. When these rules are honored, no major change in our government’s laws may come about without the concurrence of a three-fifths majority. When these rules are honored, policy changes are likely to be more moderate and more incremental.

As Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan has argued, societal efficiency may be served by a Congress that has a hard time enacting laws. Under such circumstances, laws change less often - less frequently disrupting peoples’ lives, less often intruding into them. If you agree with Thoreau that the best government is that which governs least, then the most efficient government for society is the one with the most checks and balances. [snip]

But the character of the Senate has been unmistakably altered. The majority’s actions are transforming the Senate into a much more majoritarian institution. And that is not how the Founders wanted it.

Recall that the Constitution itself manifests a belief in supermajorities. Supermajority requirements are evident in the veto power, in the ratification of treaties, in the Constitutional amendment process, and in a number of other places.

Recall, as well, that the Founders who created this Senate also expressed a healthy distrust of simple majority rule.

Feingold is, of course, a Democratic and when he made his impassioned speech he was decrying the tactics of a Republican-controlled Senate. To his credit, he repeated his concerns about reconciliation even after the Democrats took both houses of Congress and the Presidency. In the Spring of 2009 the Democrats inserted a “reconciliation instruction” into the Conference Report on the Concurrent Resolution On The Budget For Fiscal Year 2010. As Keith Hennessey told us in August of last year, the instruction was inserted:

for just this purpose, as a backup plan in case Democrats could not broker a deal with Senate Republicans, and in case they couldn’t hold all of their own caucus together.

This year’s reconciliation instruction orders two committees, Senate HELP (Kennedy/Dodd) and Senate Finance (Baucus) to report legislation to the Senate Budget Committee by October 15th. Each committee’s bill must reduce the deficit (through either spending cuts, tax increases, or a combination) by a net of at least $1 billion over the period 2009-2014.

Hold on. $1 billion?!? I thought this was supposed to be a budget bill? I thought these were trillion+ dollar bills?

You can see that Senator Reid created this instruction not to create a fast-track legislative vehicle for deficit reduction, but instead to create such a process for a bill that is basically deficit neutral.

In April of 2009, Feingold said he would support the conference report that contained the reconciliation instruction but reiterated his reservations about the abuse of reconciliation.

However, there are some features of this resolution with which I take exception, most notably the use of reconciliation as a tool to expedite health care reform. The arguments over the use of reconciliation are familiar to this body. Sadly, a tool intended to streamline the painful process of deficit reduction has been used to clear a path for major policy changes that have, at best, only a passing relationship to reducing the budget deficit. [snip]

I had hoped that with a new President in the White House and Democrats in control of both Chambers we could restore a respect for the proper use of budget procedures. But while the budget we pass today is a huge improvement over those submitted by the previous administration, both with respect to honest budgeting and the fiscal path it embraces, its misuse of reconciliation to advance policy priorities is regrettable.

I opposed using reconciliation when it was abused by the other party to enact fiscally reckless tax cuts and when it was attempted to be used to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. I opposed it earlier in this debate as a way to expedite climate change legislation, and I oppose it now as a vehicle to fast-track health care reform.

Congressional leadership indicate they may not need to use reconciliation to enact health care reform, that it will be used only as a last option to ensure Congress acts on that vitally important issue. That may be, and I certainly hope this body will pass a health care reform measure under regular procedures. Health care reform is long overdue, and I look forward to the Senate finally acting on an issue that is so important to my constituents. But let's not kid ourselves. It is no more appropriate to use reconciliation as a hammer to push through health care reform under regular procedures than it is to use it directly to enact those reforms. Both are abuses. Both undermine its original intent. Both invite even greater abuses in the future.

Sadly, it now appears - although I have seen only one small story about it and he is not on TPM’s running list - that Feingold has decided to support the use of reconciliation with regard to health care reform if that’s what it takes to get a public option enacted into law. I hope not. It would be nice if at least someone in the United States Senate thought that process was more important than outcome.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The magic of Obamacare

Movin’ Meat has up a post in which he cites the case of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield paying claims late and says:

Actually, that's pretty much SOP for most insurers: deny and delay at will, and dare providers/consumers/regulators to punish them. Fines (when there are any) just go back to the insureds as increased premiums, and any time the providers/consumers are fatigued out of demanding the insurers actually pay, that's pure profit for the insurance company.

Pass. The. Damn. Bill.

As I said in the comments there, I don’t see how any of the three (perhaps soon to be four) health care reform bills that might be passed would eliminate this issue. The bills don’t get rid of insurance companies so the business models for the companies won’t change and bad insurance companies won’t suddenly become good ones. I suppose supporters can argue that Federal law will be better at regulation than State law but in rebuttal I would simply mention the Great Financial Crisis of Twenty-Aught-Eight. Whoever was at fault in that Crisis, no one can argue that having the Federal government regulating the financial industry made companies behave in a saintly manner. Incentives are incentives even for the best companies in any industry and every industry has some bad apples. All the Federal law in the world won’t change that.

What intrigues me about this is that it’s representative of a firm belief in some quarters: passing Obamacare will make all the problems with our health care and our health insurance magically disappear. Movin’ Meat believes Obamacare will make insurance companies stop delaying claim payments. Yet Obamacare doesn’t get rid of health insurance companies. Similarly, at the health care summit, Representative Louise Slaughter said:

I have a constituent that you won’t believe and I know you won’t, but her sister died, this poor woman had no dentures. She wore her dead sister’s teeth which of course were uncomfortable and did not fit. Do you believe that in America that’s where we would be?

Yet according to The New Republic:

The Senate and House health reform bills are relatively silent about dentistry. (The word "dentist" appeared once in the 1,502-page Senate Finance committee draft bill.) Child coverage has been expanded. Provisions are included to strengthen the dental work force and to address other infrastructure concerns. Yet these bills do relatively little to ensure adult access or to apply a careful delivery reform lens to dental services. (The status of stand-alone dental plans within proposed insurance exchanges raises delicate concerns, for example.)

Based on that analysis, I don’t know why Slaughter would think Obamacare would magically produce dentures for her constituent.

A week ago, Movin’ Meat was claiming that we had to pass the health care bills in order to eliminate rescission. Yet the House health care bill still allows for rescission in the case of “clear and convincing evidence of fraud” subject to third-party review. The Senate bill is even more gentle, allowing for rescission in the case of fraud or intentional misrepresentation; this is not an improvement over most State regulations and existing Federal regulations. When the Exchanges are up and running in 2014, everyone will have to buy health insurance so there will presumably be no conditions under which rescission can happen. But until then passing Obamacare will not eliminate rescission.

If Obamacare passes, it will be interesting to see what happens to all the stories about people who suffer from denied claims, delayed claims, lack of dental care, and being dropped by their insurers because they left something off their applications. I don’t believe the problems will magically cease. I do believe those on the Left will magically stop talking about them.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thank you, Mr. Hennessey

My understanding of the current state of the heath care reform bills was that the House had passed one and the Senate had passed a different one. That is, both bodies had already passed a version of Obamacare. With the election of Scott Brown, it is almost impossible to imagine the Senate being able to pass another health care reform bill since the Democrats no longer have the 60 votes necessary to shut down a Republican filibuster. Therefore, the most likely scenario for getting a health care reform bill out of Congress and onto President Obama’s desk was for the House to scrap their already passed bill and pass the exact bill the Senate has already passed. The House and Senate could then pass a completely different second bill which made changes to the just-passed Obamacare bill to incorporate some of the features that are in the House-passed bill but not in the Senate-passed bill - and possibly to incorporate some of the ideas President Obama introduced a week ago. Since the Senate would still not be able to muster 60 votes, the follow-up bill would have to be passed via the 50-votes-needed reconciliation process designed to handle budgetary matters. Thus the follow-up bill could only address matters that could at least semi-reasonably be construed as having to do with the budgetary matters for which reconciliation was intended. Voila! Obamacare becomes law in two bills.

Then on Sunday I read this post by John Podhoretz and became hopelessly confused. Podhoretz is arguing that there are no good option for the Democrats when it comes to passing Obamacare and outlines the four bad options he sees. In the course of that outline he totally confused me with statements like:

The bill that has been voted out of the Senate committee for consideration of the full Senate... Republicans have enough votes to filibuster this bill. [snip]

The way to muscle this legislation into law is for the House to give up its bill, bring the Senate bill (after it’s passed with 51 votes) up for a vote, pass it, and have Obama sign it. [snip]

Even if the Senate does pass the bill through the 51-vote reconciliation process ...

I kept re-reading this and thinking that I must have missed something: Podhoretz seems unaware that the Senate has already passed a bill but surely that can’t be true. I finally decided that either Podhoretz was talking about some other Senate health care bill I was unaware of or there was some legal - not political - reason the House could not just pass the already-passed Senate bill.

Then (thanks to Neo-neocon) I read Keith Hennessey and my confusion subsided. My understanding of the strategy is correct. You can read his detailed and useful explanation of the process here. It is pretty much as I understood although I had not really thought about - and love - his description of the “Byrd bath” necessary to avoid the Republicans raising points of order in order to derail the passage of the follow-up bill via reconciliation.

Thank you, Mr. Hennessey, for reassuring me I had not wandered into some alternate reality. Now if I could just figure out what I missed in Podhoretz’ post, all would be well.

Health care reform reference links

Some references for discussion of health care reform:

H.R. 3962 - This is the version of health care reform passed by the House on November 7, 2009. This bill is 2016 pages long. Cite this bill as ‘‘Affordable Health Care for America Act’’. From the link, you can download a pdf of the bill or read a hyperlinked version on THOMAS.

H.R. 3590 - Despite the HR designation, this is the version of health care reform passed by the Senate on December 24, 2009. This bill is 2409 pages long. Cite this bill as “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”. From the link, you can download a pdf of the bill or read a hyperlinked version on THOMAS.

President Obama’s Health Care Proposal - This is a little confusing. You can download the pdf of “the President’s key improvements” but there is also a list of items headed “Summaries of Key Elements of the President’s Proposal” which doesn’t really match up with the pdf.

A transcript of the February 25, 2010, Health Care Summit from the Washington Post - I like the fact that this is indexed by speaker.

The mess at Megan McArdle's

I read Megan McArdle’s blog at the Atlantic website daily. That’s “read” as in present tense. But I’m feeing annoyed enough that I may soon either be saying “read” as in past tense or changing “daily” to “when I can stomach it”. The Atlantic changed the format for her blog. Actually, they apparently changed the format for all the blogs. So what’s the problem with the new layout, you ask? Let me tell you.

1) I have to click through to read any article longer than a few lines. Since McArdle rarely writes anything short, I have to click through for everything.

2) Once I click through and read one article, there are no navigation features. That is, I cannot ask to read the previous article or the next article. So if I go to her site and she’s got four new things up, I go:

- click and read article 1
- back to main page
- click and read article 2
- back to main page
- click and ...

Well, you get the idea. James Fallows assures us that:

what tech-world people call "performance" -- how fast things happen on a site -- seems a lot better with this new system.

That’s not much consolation when any time saved by better performance is lost by the need to constantly manually move from page to page.

3) And speaking of improved speed: perhaps the system loads faster because we’re getting far, far less functionality. Less text, of course, since we’re not seeing whole posts but also we’ve lost the thing on the right side that tells us what each of the other Atlantic bloggers has last written about. Since I read no one but McArdle regularly, I loved this. If someone else’s blog title looked interesting, I’d click through. Now they could be writing about how to do cold fusion on my kitchen counter and I’d never know it. And I’m not interested enough in them often enough to make it worth my while to click over without some kind of lure. And the pictures - which are all we now see of the other bloggers - are not going to do it.

There are also no archives. That is, I can’t click on a month to see what McArdle was saying in, say, October 2008 when the financial system was melting down. I can see last week and I can see a particular day but that’s it.

4) Commenters lost their handles. They switched to a new comment system so everyone had to create a login on that system. If someone else somewhere else was already using your handle, too bad. I got caught with this (curse whoever decided “Elise” was now a somewhat popular name) and found it mildly annoying. I imagine people who have commented regularly for years found it maddening. At least this explains why they didn’t port over commenter logins: they couldn’t. Hearing that should have given someone pause about whether this was really a good idea.

5) If there are a lot of comments, they now run to multiple pages. Under the old system even a zillion comments just took up one page. And - at least with my computer - splitting them into multiple pages isn’t making displaying them go any faster.

6) A link to what McArdle has written for the magazine stays stickied at the top of the list of her posts. Since I’m mildly absent-minded, I’ve now clicked on that three times thinking it was something new. Minor but oh, so annoying.

7) This is the one that I really, really, really hate: I can’t figure out a way to search just through McArdle’s columns. Prior to the new design all her columns were grouped together under:

If I wanted to find everything McArdle had to say on, for example, Toyota I could use Google’s advanced search to do so:

toyota site:

Poof! Back would come all the McArdle posts that mentioned Toyota. Now McArdle’s posts are partitioned out into various categories: Business, Politics, Personal, whatever. McArdle’s writings on Toyota might be under Business (, they might be under Politics (, they might even be under Personal ( if she owns a Toyota. If I search just the Business URL, I’ll miss anything she’s written about Toyota under the other categories.

Plus even if I do guess the correct category* and search, say, the Business URL for Toyota, I’ll get not only what McArdle has written but what other Atlantic contributors have written. I can narrow it down a little by adding McArdle as a search term but then I get her posts; pages that list her posts; and worst of all posts by other contributors where the name “McArdle” appears anywhere else on the page - like, say, under her picture next to the post.

So, I hate the design and I don’t think it’s just because I’m a curmudgeon who is cranky about change. I think it’s because I don’t read the Atlantic: I read McArdle. Imagine my horror at discovering that Andrew Sullivan - oh, no! - expressed my sentiments exactly:

a blog is inherently a live process and conversation and anyone who actually understands blogging's intimate relationship to its readership - and the critical importance of conversation to the endeavor - would never have dreamed of turning it into a series of headlines. That's what worries me deeply. Not the inevitable transitional glitches but the philosophy behind it.

Or, as a commenter as McArdle’s post announcing the changeover said after the event:

Worse, is how Megan herself seems to be diminished by the Atlantic. Her blog, which predates her arrival at the Atlantic. Has now become a mere collection of links to recent work.

The bottom line is that the redesign has made McArdle’s blog function like a magazine: a table of contents; go to page 37 to continue reading the article; pages have to be “turned” manually; she’s lumped in with everyone else in the “issue”; no consideration for people who want to read or write comments. I understand that the Atlantic has to make money and I gather than they believe this new design will increase revenue. Maybe they’re right and if the 345 comments on McArdle’s post about the health care summit and the 113 posts on her recent open thread are any indication, I’m the only person annoyed enough by the new design to cut back on my visits. (Although a quick skim indicates some people are using the open thread to complain about the re-design.)

And perhaps the Atlantic will put at least some of it back the way it was. The Fallows’ post I cited above is dated Friday, February 26. In it Fallows recognizes that the blogs don’t quite work in the new design: he does not like the click-through and believes the individuality of each blogger has been lost by the compressed, no picture, standardized format. He says that he will put up some posts over the weekend and will work with the tech team to see if the new layout can be modified. He concludes : “As ever, I am optimistic.”

A later update to that post says:

Update: I am optimistic that this will change, but find the new approach such a straitjacket that I won't even try to work within its constraints until it is fixed.

I’m with Fallows.


* Interestingly, today I see that most recent post on Toyota - written before the conversion to the new system - is showing up twice on her main page, once under Business, once under Politics. I don’t remember noticing that a couple of days ago although I may just have missed it. All the comments are under only one of the posts, in this case the one in the Politics category. Two other recent posts are also under two categories with the comments under only one category. I guess this makes it more likely I’ll find the posts if I can guess right on any category when I do a search but this is some seriously ugly stuff.