It seems passage of a health insurance bill in the U.S. Congress is getting steam. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will soon publish a report stating that the bill will actually reduce the deficit, which might just be the pivotal push for fiscal conservatives within the Democratic Party to vote ’yes’. Left-wing Democrats, such as Dennis Kucinich, also seem increasingly on board. If the House adopts the current Senate bill, and if both Houses then vote on a reconciliation bill to make changes to the original bill (for which only a filibuster-proof, regular majority is needed), then the deal is sealed.
If Obama and congressional Democrats manage to accomplish this, it will be historic.
House Democrats are pushing to the brink of passage a landmark, $940 billion health care overhaul bill that would simultaneously deliver on President Barack Obama’s promise to expand coverage while slashing the deficit, a strategy aimed at attracting support from the party’s fiscal conservatives.The 10-year plan would provide coverage to more than 30 million people now uninsured through a combination of tax credits for middle class households and an expansion of the Medicaid program for low income people. Release of the legislation later Thursday sets the stage for a House vote on Sunday.
It would restructure one-sixth of the U.S. economy in the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare was created in 1965. It would also impose new obligations on individuals and businesses, requiring for the first time that most Americans carry health insurance and penalizing medium-sized and large companies that don’t provide coverage for their workers.
Hospitals and doctors, drug companies and insurers would gain millions of new paying customers, but they would also have to adjust to major changes. Medicare cuts would force hospitals to operate more efficiently or risk going out of business. Insurance companies would face unprecendented federal regulation. Health care industries would be hit with new federal taxes. Upper-income households would face a new tax on investment earnings.
Astronaut Soichi Noguchi is posting photos of earth taken from the ISS and spaceshuttle on Twitter:
Mont Saint Michel
Click here for more.
To be honest, I think this is sick. But on the other hand, every dictator and mass murderer was once a cute, innocent baby. We all know the picture of Hitler as a toddler. Moreover, I also believe there should be as less limits on art as possible, one’s personal moral judgment notwithstanding. Therefore, I’ll post one photo, the other pictures can be found behind this link.
This is food for historians. Especially those with an interest in early modern state formation, international relations and conflict studies. In a lengthy, well-written article in Foreign Affairs, Columbia University professor Sheri Berman illuminates how policymakers concerned with state building in Afghanistan today can draw lessons from the French experience in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Berman especially focuses on the state building efforts of Louis XIV, the Sun King. She states – rightly, in my opinion – that the central challenge for Afghan politics today is not democracy building or nation building, but state building. This involves centralizing political authority through making deals with local factions, and ultimately being able to build infrastructure, employ an army, deliver public services.
Historical parallels only go so far, however. For one, a difference between seventeenth-century France and contemporary Afghanistan might be the lack of resources in the latter country. French monarchs actually had rich groups to exploit and co-opt with: the nobility, the church, the mercantile class. Afghanistan, I would say, holds less promise in this respect. Secondly, while the buildup of the French state via such practices as the sale of offices might look succesful if you limit yourself to the time of the Sun King, it looks less rosy if you turn to the eighteenth century, especially from the 1750s onwards. Although this is a perennial debate, the sheer corruption and weight of the public-private French tax system, and the failure to enact reforms exactly because there were so many opposing stakeholders, at least partly contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution.
I’ll quote some of the best parts, but the essay is worth reading in full.
Calls for strengthening Afghanistan’s state institutions have become a cliché, duly repeated in every major speech or report on the war. Yet there has been relatively little serious discussion about just what buttressing these institutions would actually entail. Perhaps this is because the deeper one digs, the more entrenched the obstacles appear. Powerful warlords; traditions of local, rather than central, governance; the dominance of tribal and ethnic identities over a national one; difficult terrain; a long history of internal conflict and violence – none of these augur well. Indeed, they were the reasons why many critics wanted Obama to pull back rather than escalate: since establishing even a minimally credible and effective central state in a country with such powerful centrifugal tendencies is a fantasy, they argued, any mission that depended on achieving this was doomed to failure.
Looking deeper into the past turns out to be more useful. Early modern Europe, for example — the birthplace of the modern state — offers numerous lessons for contemporary policymakers to ponder. The paradigmatic case of state building in this era was that of ancien régime France, which managed to transform itself during the seventeenth century from a collection of localities into a unified polity.
The central challenge for Afghan politics right now is not democracy promotion (the development of political institutions representative of and responsible to the citizenry) or nation building (the development of a unified national consciousness among that citizenry). It is state building — the development of a national government that has a monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force throughout the country. As The New York Times reported recently, “The ability of the Afghan state to govern — to keep order, to build roads, to deliver basic services — is virtually nonexistent outside the capital.”
Up until the seventeenth century, the European continent was divided into many small political units with vague and porous borders. Where kings reigned, they usually were only titular leaders with little power outside a capital city. They had little contact with, or even direct impact on, their supposed subjects. The dominant authority figures in most people’s lives were religious leaders or local notables, and popular identities were based on religion, locality, or community rather than anything that could truly be called nationality. Christian clergy exerted immense social, cultural, and political influence, and the church carried out many of the functions normally associated with states today, such as running schools and hospitals or caring for the poor. Responsibility for security, meanwhile, lay chiefly with local or regional nobility, who maintained private fortresses, arsenals, and what would now be called militias or paramilitary forces. Political life in this prestate era was brutal: warfare, banditry, revolts, and religious and communal conflict were widespread. Even in England, where authority was centralized earlier and more thoroughly than elsewhere in Europe, one-fifth of all dukes met unnatural, violent deaths during the seventeenth century.
Around 1600, however, many European kings began to centralize authority.
It was primarily during the reigns of Louis XIII (1610-43) and, especially, Louis XIV (1643-1715) that the monarchy expanded its armed forces, legal authority, and bureaucracy and took control of the country.
During the second half of the seventeenth century, accordingly, he and his ministers focused on buying off and winning over key individuals and social groups that might otherwise obstruct their state-building efforts. Adapting and expanding a common practice, for example, they repeatedly sold state offices to the highest bidders; by the eighteenth century, almost all the posts in the French government were for sale, including those dealing with the administration of justice. These offices brought annual incomes, a license to extract further revenues from the population at large, and exemptions from various impositions. The system had drawbacks in terms of technocratic effectiveness, but it also had compensating benefits for the crown: selling off public posts was an easy way to raise money and helped turn members of the gentry and the emerging bourgeoisie into officeholders. Rather than depending on local or personal sources of revenue, these new officeholders eventually developed new interests connected to the broader national system.
Louis XIV and his ministers also adopted what would now be called targeted tax breaks. Nobles were freed from the hated taille (a direct levy on property), and the church was allowed to keep the revenue it earned from the land it owned (between six and ten percent of the country’s territory) in exchange for modest gifts to the king. The church was also permitted to collect the tithe — one-tenth of every person’s livelihood.
Such material incentives were deployed to build up an elaborate clientelistic system dominated by Paris.
Andrew Sullivan puts the morals of the Pope into question:
But if the Pope asked Brady to resign, wouldn’t he also have to ask himself to resign? After all, the Pope was part of a similar cover-up in Germany in which then-cardinal Ratzinger knowingly assigned a pedophile priest to therapy, without informing the authorities that he knew that the priest had forced an eleven year old boy to fellate him, and then allowed that priest to continue in his career, with his finally being convicted of more child abuse six years later. He was only removed from pastoral duties a few days ago.
The current moral authority for all Catholics personally put the interests of the hierarchy above the welfare of vulnerable children. He heard a case of a priest forcing an eleven-year-old to perform oral sex on him, and he did not take that priest to the police, as he should have, or removed him from his duties immediately. He sent him to therapy and allowed him to continue molesting children in future parishes, and never informed the parents of the priest’s past. Would you have done that? Would anyone you know have done that? Would anyone you know who had done that be able to sleep at night?
I don’t know of many things I find as repugnant as knowingly putting the interests of an institution’s public relations before children’s protection from molestation. Yet this is the Pope we have. This is the moral judgment he made.
How can anyone retain confidence in that figurehead? How can any orthodox Catholic not find this repugnant? And what has the Pope done since this has been revealed? He has said nothing, and put out a p.r. campaign to accuse critics in Germany of being anti-Catholic.