Weekly Roundup 8/29/2011

American town halls more contentious ever, in part by design
David A. Farenthold, The Washington Post, Aug. 27, 2011 (Aug. 28 in print)

Synopsis: Farenthold, one of the Post’s congressional correspondents, travels to New Hampshire, birthplace of the town hall meeting, to see how members of Congress are interacting with their constituents in the contemporary iteration of retail democracy. Alas, he finds, town halls are often devolving into free-for-alls, discord replacing civil discourse. The intensified partisanship in Congress, Farenthold suggests, mirrors increased partisanship among constituents. But activist groups are also deliberately targeting town hall meetings with their representative in Congress for political confrontations uploadable on You Tube.

Takeaway: “Somehow, an event that was once all about listening has become all about shouting,” Farenthold writes. “It now counts as a defeat if one’s opponent is allowed to make a point in peace.”

For CQ Researcher coverage, see Marcia Clemmitt, “Gridlock in Washington,” April 30, 2010 (subscription required).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Medicare Spending Slows Sharply
Maggie Mahar, Taking Note blog, Century Foundation, Aug. 25, 2011

Synopsis: Health-care providers may be taking the hint delivered by the 2010 health-care reform law: Take steps to slow hitherto out-of-control medical cost growth by focusing more on improving people’s health outcomes – or the government will do the cost cutting for you. Even though the cost-trimming elements of the new law won’t begin to kick in until 2014, Medicare spending has been growing at a slower rate than usual since early 2010. Some experts think the unusual slowdown is happening because health-care providers are finally taking cost growth seriously, in anticipation of the law’s operation. Of course, a year and a half of data never tells the tale. But it’s an interesting – and heartening! – development, if it’s true. Stay tuned.

Takeaway: “Medicare spending began to plunge in January of 2010. After levitating by an average of 9.7 percent a year from 2000 to 2009, the Congressional Budget Office’s monthly budget reports show that Medicare pay-outs are now rising by less than 4 percent a year…. This slow-down is not a result of Congress cutting Medicare spending. Instead, as former White House health care adviser Dr. Zeke Emanuel” has pointed out, “Providers are ‘anticipating the Affordable Care Act kicking in 2014.’ They can’t wait until the end of 2013, he explained: ‘They have to act today. Everywhere I go…medical schools and hospitals are asking me, “How can we cut our costs by 10 to 15 percent?” They know that they must trim their own costs if they are going to lower the bills that they send to Medicare.’ ….Emanuel is seeing a ‘shift toward value in the health sector.’”

For more, see my reports on “Health Care Reform” from June 11, 2010, (updated May 24, 2011) and Aug. 28, 2009, and “Rising Health Costs,” from April 7, 2006.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Libyan Nation Building After Qaddafi
By James Dobbins and Frederic Wehrey, Foreign Affairs, Aug. 23, 2011

Synopsis: With the fall of Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi imminent, the United States and its allies must establish a strategy for post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction. The ensuing nation-building will be resource intensive and must address the interests of the competing factions vying for power.

Takeaway: As difficult as it is to overthrow an autocratic regime, it is more difficult to create a new government that stands by the ideology of the uprising. Like many things, it is far easier to destroy than to build.

For background see the CQ Global Researcher report “Turmoil in the Arab World” by Roland Flamini (May 3, 2011).

--Darrell Dela Rosa, Assistant Editor


The Changing Face of the Burning Man Festival
By Jessica Bruder, The New York Times, Aug. 28, 2011

Synopsis: Thanks to my grown sons, who live in San Francisco, at least I had heard about the annual, week-long Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert. But I didn’t know until yesterday that the celebration of creativity and personal freedom for some 50,000 participants is put on by a for-profit company. I don’t know why it freaked me out when I read that– after all, this IS America, global capital (at least for now) of capitalism. But the festival is indeed underpinned by capitalism. And that isn’t the only change, Jessica Bruder reports.

Takeaway: Perhaps because of the controversy over Burning Man’s lack of transparency about profiting from a decidedly counter-culture event, the operators of the festival have decided to cash out their ownership and convert the festival to a nonprofit operation in the next three years.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor