Morning Report, August 10th
I was away over the weekend. The Morning Reports resume today, and again I’ll try to keep them briefer.
1. A story in England’s Daily Mail gives the fullest picture yet of the capture and eventual release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee–and the picture is not flattering to the two novice reporters, least of all to Ling. While Euna Lee is portrayed as Ling’s “lackey,” someone who follows Ling around and holds the camera, Laura Ling, the little sister to the far more successful Lisa Ling of The View (and soon to have her own talk show, at the prompting of Oprah Winfrey), is portrayed as insecure, jealous, “fiercely ambitious” and yet less talented than her sister. The two were sent to the border of China and North Korea, to report on human trafficking for Current TV, Al Gore’s television venture. Yet Ling led them across the border, according to the Mail, pranced around on North Korean territory, and refused to stop filming when North Korean soldiers ordered it.
Apparently the majority of the pressure for their release came from Ling’s British husband Iain Clayton, through the London ambassador. Kim Jong Il, of course, is a complete nut, and he “idolizes” Bill Cilnton as a ruler who is also a “virile stud” with influence over Hollywood (Mr. Kim is a big fan of such classic Hollywood fare as Rambo and Friday the 13th; he also goes from love affair to love affair with men as well as women). So Kim told the young women, and Laura told her husband in England, that they would receive amnesty if Bill Clinton were to pay a visit. When the Obama folks suggested sending Al Gore, but Kim insisted on Clinton. (See an entertaining take on the return of “big dog” here.)
To make a long story short, these two young women–I am sure they are sweet and well-intentioned, and they were reporting on an important subject, yet they made a fool of themselves, created an international incident, embarrassed the Obama administration and handed one of the world’s most brutal dictators a PR coup that strengthened his regime–and now they stand to make millions of dollars for telling the story in interviews, books and movies. And Laura Ling, for one brief shining moment, outshone her big sister.
I’m sure the “media advisor” (yes, they have one) who is handling their contracts will recommend that they donate a percentage of the money to a refugee agency. And I’m sure there are other ways of looking at this story. Although they never saw the inside of a labor camp, and stayed for their 140 days in something like a luxury villa, I do not doubt that theirs was a terrifying experience. A grain of salt is advised, since this is the Daily Mail we’re talking about. Yet these women are not heroes. As a senior state department official and a Clinton confidant say, these young women were “useful pawns in a much bigger chess game.” “This was a PR coup,” a “farce. It couldn’t be more embarrassing for Obama and the agency. No one hired these girls. No one in Washington had ever heard about them until they were captured by the North Koreans.” Now the North Koreans are saying that they are willing to discuss nuclear disarmament–but they won’t speak with Obama or his delegates; they’ll only speak with Bill. “Two greenhorn journalists stand to make a financial killing. And Bill is on a roll now that everybody has bought into the official story.”
2. In a previous Morning Report, I noted how the Air Force had requested two more jets for its duties of ferrying members of Congress and other brass around the country. The Obama administration decided it wanted four. Now the House has voted for 8, at a cost of $550M. Yes, Congress lectured chief executives who were receiving taxpayer dollars (and even some who were not) for using private jets to fly to Washington. Yes, the rest of us are tightening our belts. But for Congress, the spending bonanza–on our dime–continues. When will these people get the message? Or, speaking from a Christian perspective, when will they learn to be wise stewards of our money? (And on this note, the deficit grew by $181B just in the month of July.)
This is just foolish PR as well. It strengthens the Republicans’ attempt–which is difficult, after the Bush years–of returning to a message of fiscal responsibility. The poor press is richly deserved.
3. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer have a letter in today’s USA Today in which they characterize the opposition many Congressmen and -women are facing in town halls as “ugly” and “un-American.” They still seek to show that the appearance of opposition is manufactured by special interests, and truly found only on the fringe. In their defense, Pelosi and Hoyer do not say that protest is un-American, but the drowning out of voices and facts. (They also cite an effigy-burning and a picture of a tombstone with a Congressman’s name on it, which makes one wonder where they were when those on the Left were burning effigies of Bush and displaying “Bush assassination porn”.)
UPDATE: One can see a humorous “I am the mob” video here.
One of the “facts” they cite is Obama’s oft-repeated promise that “health insurance reform will mean more patient choice. It will allow every American who likes his or her current plan to keep it.” This, of course, is one of the primary points of contention between proponents and opponents of this reform. Opponents believe that the “government option” (which some liberal commentators like Paul Krugman had said would never make it into the final legislation) is not a means of increasing competition, but of moving the American people away from private insurers and, eventually, toward a government monopoly (or “single payer” plan) of health care. Is this a reasonable concern?
Many Democrats in the House had originally insisted on a single-payer plan, and only agreed to compromise when a “strong government option” was promised. Then, single-payer advocates were excluded from Congressional hearings, and nary a word of single-payer has been spoken in public. Yet, it’s not difficult to find many Democrats, speaking on record to supportive audiences, calling for the end of the private insurance industry and the birth of a single-payer plan. It’s not a “fact,” despite Pelosi and Hoyer’s claim, that “every American who likes his current plan” will be able to keep it. As Jacob Hacker, a political theorist at Yale and the designer of the Democratic strategy on the point, says, at first, as a transitional stage, “We’re going to give them a choice of public and private insurance when they’re in the pool, and we’re going to let them keep their private employer-based insurance if their employer continues to provide it.” This is more honest. It’s not that you can keep your coverage. It’s that you can keep your coverage if your employer continues to provide it. Yet, as one non-partisan group estimates, as many as 100 million Americans will see their employers drop their coverage in the first few years because it is cheaper for them to pay the penalty. Over a half of Americans (given Medicare and etc.) would then be covered by the government, and would have less to lose from a single-payer plan. See Robert Samuelson’s column today on this point.
UPDATE: One can also see a video from Verum Serum, which puts together the evidence for a single-payer deceit, here.
As Hacker says, this is not even a Trojan horse sort of plan. It’s “right there,” not even concealed, that this is intended to move toward a single-payer plan. Then of course there are the statements from Obama in 2003 and 2007, circulating on video, which suggest that he too shares the goal of moving from a government ‘option’ to a government monopoly of health care.
Is it perfectly clear that Obama and the Democrats want to move toward a single-payer plan? No. Is it a justified fear? Absolutely. So if the Democrats are not interested in a single-payer plan, as they claim, then let them put it in writing. Let them write into the legislation that this cannot be made into a government monopoly. If a certain number of Americans are unwillingly thrown out of their plans, it will “trigger” the end of the “government option.” Or let them write pledges that they will immediately resign their offices if the government option ever becomes a government monopoly. Sure, they can later change the laws and take back the promises, but not without paying a significant cost.
4. More on the Health Care debate: a deal the Obama administration cut with “big Pharma” is getting a lot of bad press. Now it’s got more from Robert Reich.
5. Moderates on the Left are growing louder with their questions of whether the war in Afghanistan is worth it.
6. David Frum on health care reforms that Conservatives can support.