Today's Blogs

Hard Habit To Break

Bloggers examine the government’s apparent backing down in its racketeering case against tobacco companies; they also debate a proposal for universal healthcare vouchers and discuss the expansion of the Patriot Act.

Hard habit to break: The Justice Department told Judge Gladys Kessler Tuesday that it will ask tobacco companies for only $10 billion to pay for a smoking-cessation program in their racketeering lawsuit; the government had previously been expected to ask for $130 billion. The WashingtonPost reports today that, “Government lawyers asked two of their own witnesses to soften recommendations about sanctions that should be imposed on the tobacco industry.”

Liberal bloggers are huffing. Pillow Talk for the Disaffected’s Bush-hating ChuckD points to an LA Times story noting that Associate Attorney General Robert MacCallum, who may be responsible for the reduced demand, worked for R.J. Reynolds in the past. Whiskey Bar’s Billmon rounds up a list of tobacco companies’ campaign contributions to Republicans. America’s Moral and Ethical Demise’s Rob Parks writes, “I agree with a lot of what the Republican party and the Bush administration support, but on this I disagree. Don’t give a huge financial break to companies that have deliberately caused the addictions of millions of people!”

Outside the Beltway’s conservative defense analyst James Joyner insists that he doesn’t “feel much sympathy” for the tobacco companies but asserts that the lawsuits aren’t benefiting public health: “The payouts have mostly been expropriated for general revenues at the state level, with much less than the agreed upon amounts going to cessation programs and tobacco related health issues.” Incensed Melanie of Just a Bump in the Beltway complains, “This is, frankly, an outrage. I am one of the people looking for one of those smoking cessation programs (trust me, I’m an expert quitter, I’ve done it so many times.)” The Huffington Post’s Lizz Winstead suggests that the government should consider new warning labels such as, “Smoking during pregnancy causes low birth weight which could mean less stretch marks so you make the call.” She also points out that Judge Kessler, who seems skeptical of the drastically reduced demand, could award the government more than it has asked for.

Read more about the lawsuit.

Health-care debate: Oncologist Ezekiel Emanuel and Stanford professor emeritus Victor R. Fuchs have outlined a proposal for a universal health-care voucher in the current Washington Monthly. They claim that their plan, which would abolish Medicaid, synthesizes “goals long sought by both sides of the political divide: the progressive dream of universal coverage and the conservative values of free choice and efficiency.”

Kevin Drum and Emanuel are hosting a lively debate about the proposal on the Washington Monthly’s blog, The Political Animal. Drum noted yesterday that most of the plan is similar to French and Canadian models and claimed, “It’s the role of insurance companies that really sets it apart.” He’s skeptical about having for-profit companies involved but intrigued by the idea of many different companies providing a variety of options: “They all have an incentive to cut costs because their government reimbursement is a set amount, but they also have an incentive to offer state-of-the-art services in order to attract more customers than their competitors.” Today, he says he’s heartened by Ezekiel and Fuchs’ claim that corporations are starting to support universal health care.

Project Nothing’s liberal Scotty also dislikes insurance companies but buys Ezekiel and Fuchs’ argument that the companies must be included for the plan to make it through Congress. He likes the idea of having a “Federal Health Board” modeled after the Federal Reserve Board, and writes, “[Universal health-care vouchers] might just be the next big thing.” And on the American Prospect’s blog Tapped, Matt Yglesias asks, “If this plan is so business-friendly, where’s the business support?”

Read more about universal health-care vouchers.

Re-PATRIOT: President Bush is urging Congress to renew sections of the PATRIOT Act that are set to expire this year. He claims that the law has helped convict 200 people and “break up terrorist cells in New York, Oregon, Virginia and Florida.”

Liberals don’t buy it, and many conservatives aren’t blogging about it. Chud Vault’s Chudgoo points to today’s story about the arrest of five men in Lodi, Calif., who may be linked to al-Qaida and asks cattily, “What better way to convince the American people that they need these drastic anti-privacy laws than to arrest a terror suspect the same day a statement calling for the expansion of the ‘PATRIOT’ act is released by the White House.” Gabbahead’s James Francis writes, “The reforms will now allow the FBI to get information, any information, from corporations, libraries, hospitals and so on, all without the permission of a judge. It gets even better: the subpoenas are kept secret and anyone who leaks their content can face up to a year in jail.”

Read more about the PATRIOT Act; check out the ongoing discussion at Articulatry Loop about this Soviet-style poster in a Washington, D.C, commuter train.