A Sample of Modern American Education's End ResultsNovember 18, 2013
I'm teaching at a new school this year and, to see what I need to hit hardest, I gave my students a Shakespeare pre-test. I teach all levels of students, in mixed classes. All the students who took the test have had one to three years of Shakespeare. My very small sample, very simple test, with its unscientific results, yielded the following:
Many questions (most) were left blank. It was a fill-in-the-blank format.
One question asked Shakespeare's nationality. According to the students, he was French (9%), Italian (58%), German (4%), and English (20%). One student told me he was from the country of Europe (an award-winning student with the highest GPA in that particular class). This question had the most completed answers.
Where was Shakespeare born? Rome (20%), Florence (40%), London (12%)
He is most famous for writing __________: Books (40%), Romances (12%), Plays (6%) Novels (20%), Comedies (16%)
"List some other work by the Bard." The only responses were Hamlet, (because I told one class earlier in the week that we would be reading it next), and Romeo and Juliet. When I prompted them, some remembered that they had read Julius Caesar and Macbeth. Most couldn't tell me a thing about any play except: Caesar had been stabbed, Macbeth did something, and two kids were in love and both died in Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare had worked as a ____ as a young man. One student put actor. The rest had answers that had nothing to do with his biography (this, in a sense, was a trick question, but I was curious what they had learned about him, which tradition had been used in class: glover, tanner, butcher's apprentice, horse holder, actor, poet, school teacher to Catholic nobles, nothing?).
The rest of the questions were even more dismal. I shall spare you.
After one to three years, only 20% even knew he was English.
They are A students (by modern standards); most are college-bound.
Much of the confusion must come from (A) making a huge deal of Romeo and Juliet and (B) the quality of my predecessor. Many thought Julius Caesar was a pure fabrication.
We are doomed.
At the Federalist Society national convention last week, I appeared on a panel on cyberwarfare. I want to highlight what I think was my best line — that the United States should launch an immediate cyberattack on North Korea, Iran, and Syria ... by having their countries get health insurance through the Obamacare internet portal. It could devastate their economies.
I argued that the Obama Administration is unduly handicapping our ability to defend against widespread hacking of U.S. computer networks. The mistake is to consider cyberwar as automatically covered by the existing laws of war. If that were true, then the Stuxnet virus could be considered an act of war by the U.S. against Iran, and Iran would be entitled to launch a conventional attack in response.
Here's the video of the full panel:
For some enterprising web-based entrepreneurs, the Obamacare disaster is a perfect invitation to garner market share.
The folks at Seeking Arrangement, for instance, smell opportunity. Their business is, essentially, a form of "high-class" prostitution — they connect willing younger folks with richer older folks, in the ancient tradition of being "kept." It's what the web does best — take an old-fashioned transaction and optimize it for scale and efficiency. Garage sales turn into Ebay. Watercooler gossip turns into Twitter. This kind of thing turns into...well, go ahead and click on the link above or just take my word for it. (But if you do click, do yourself a favor: clear your history. Why open yourself up to an awkward conversation later, with whomever shares your computer?)
Okay, the whole idea is unsavory. Granted. And demeaning. Also stipulated. But set that aside, for a moment, and marvel at this press release, from the tireless business minds behind the site:
Most Americans believe the only options for getting healthcare and avoiding “Obama-drama” are through your employer or your parents. Well, they thought wrong! If you’re a young and beautiful woman (or man), SeekingArrangement.com has got you covered.
The average twenty-something woman not covered on her parents’ insurance will likely see an increase to her monthly premium. But with a Sugar Daddy footing the bill, $249/month will seem like no big deal--not to mention the spare cash.
Don’t worry about penalties or added costs due to the Affordable Care Act. The average Sugar Baby on SeekingArrangement.com receives $3,000 month from her Sugar Daddy. Don’t get [redacted] by Obamacare, find a Sugar Daddy today!
There's even a video, which I won't link to — I have some standards, okay? — that illuminates further the harm that Obamacare does to young people, and the reason that turning to prostitution is the best possible choice.
Obamacare: if it didn't exist, we on the right would have to invent it. Because it's perfect.
There's an argument I hear trotted out every time some governmental body wants to impose more restrictions on how we live our lives. The argument goes that people who do "X" (where X might be having a Big Gulp, adding salt to their food, or not having health insurance) impose a not-insignificant cost on the rest of us, and therefore "X" must be outlawed. Whether it's Nanny Bloomberg banning large sodas or President Obama banning the uninsured, we're told that fatties or smokers or those who lead generally unhealthy lifestyles (where "health" equals not engaging in "X") increase costs on all of us.
This form of argument is such a frequent accompaniment to whatever regulations or restrictions the political class desires that it has become accepted knowledge and relegated to the background noise of the event.
But is it true?
Certainly someone out there has done "studies" to determine exactly how significant these not-insignificant costs are to the citizen class. Would one of our readers be so kind as to share this data with me? What does it cost me if someone slips into a sugar coma after a super-size Slurpee? Is it possible that the fears of these economic bogeymen are overstated for effect?
The follow-up question is whether the costs imposed by lack of restrictions (aka "liberty") are less than the costs imposed by the packs of free-roaming Nannyists and their handbags of regulatory solutions.
A follow-up to the follow-up: if the costs to the citizen are, indeed, n0t-insignificant, how do we keep the costs incurred limited to the person or persons incurring that cost? In other words, if you're the uninsured moron who breaks his leg while skateboarding down the Capitol steps, how do we ensure that our rapidly-shrinking wallets are protected from your choices?
And then the final question, more philosophical in nature I suspect: isn't the freedom to procure and imbibe a Big Gulp of far more value than what I suspect is the minuscule effect it has on the populace?
Help me out, folks. I want an answer to give to the defenders of the Nanny State when they insist that economic hell is other people.
One last question™: is it just me, or does anyone else think that the activities that Mommy Government deems unhealthy are somewhat arbitrary? Big Gulps impose a significant economic cost, but teenagers boinking like bunnies doesn't? Trans-fats must be outlawed,* but tobacco is still legal?
*See this piece at The Federalist by David Harsanyi: Standing Athwart History, Yelling 'Trans Fats for Everyone!'
Why Obama's Healthcare 'Fix' Was Painful for the LeftNovember 18, 2013
President Obama’s move to allow insurers to temporarily keep people on non-compliant health plans was an act of political desperation. You know, the “junk” plans that don’t cover everything the White House wants them to cover.
For starters, the move potentially erodes the economic logic underlying Obamacare. Healthier people are more likely to continue coverage under the so-called substandard plans. So the consumer pool within the exchange will be sicker than expected with insurers less able to offset costs with the young healthies, raising an adverse selection challenge. “That will create pressure on states to allow insurance companies to raise prices for plans they will sell in 2014 and, because of increased uncertainty, prices charged in 2015,” explains Henry Aaron of Brookings. “It is not clear how large such effects will be. But the effects are clearly problematic.”
Obama’s move is also problematic for the ideology underlying the Affordable Care Act: health insurance must be comprehensive as possible. New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait mocks Karl Rove as “[running] against motherhood” for his criticism of Obamacare’s ”essential health benefits” requirement. In The Wall Street Journal, Rove offers the example of every policy “offering maternity care “even for single men or women past childbearing age … All this drives up the cost of insurance.”
And in The Nation, health policy researcher Harold Pollack says the botched Obamacare rollout may force supporters into “painful concessions” to secure greater GOP cooperation: “We may also be wise to revisit just how minimal the most minimal insurance packages should be. … I don’t know yet what can be done without compromising public health components such as substance abuse and mental health coverage, but these matters deserve a real look.”
As it happens, the essential health benefits requirement is one the worst aspects of Obamacare, at least for those who think greater innovation is needed to improve US healthcare quality, affordability, and accessibility. As Ben Wanamker and Devin Bean of the Clayton Christensen Institute point out in a recent report:
Essential health benefit requirements use existing health care plans as a benchmark, legally requiring that health plans and providers imitate the current offerings, effectively putting a floor in the market. This prevents the type of low-end competition needed for disruptive innovation to occur.
For example, antibiotic tuberculosis treatment displaced sanatorium care in the 1940s. If the ACA and modern insurance plans had existed then, insurers would have been required to cover sanatorium care, even when antibiotics were a more effective treatment at much lower cost. Even if an individual realized that they did not need sanatorium care, they could not have purchased a less expansive plan without sanatorium coverage.
Similarly, the essential health benefits provision locks customers into outdated, expensive treatment options, even when lower- cost, more convenient solutions exist.
What’s more, care will be provided in the traditional places, doctors offices and hospitals. What about retail clinics, telemedicine, or in-home monitoring? Their potential to disrupt the low-end of the healthcare market — for starters — is hindered by the essential benefits requirement. Of course, that sort of unintended consequence is what you risk when rigid ideology grabs the wheel and drives policy reform. But for the moment, at least, ideology is being pushed aside by political and economic reality.
In this morning's Washington Post:
During the past decade, the [Washington D.C.] region added 21,000 households in the nation’s top 1 percent. No other metro area came close.
Two forces triggered the boom.
The share of money the government spent on weapons and other hardware shrank as service contracts nearly tripled in value. At the peak in 2010, companies based in Rep. James P. Moran’s congressional district in Northern Virginia reaped $43 billion in federal contracts — roughly as much as the state of Texas.
At the same time, big companies realized that a few million spent shaping legislation could produce windfall profits. They nearly doubled the cash they poured into the capital.
Taken at their word, there are two things that modern liberals are supposed to despise beyond description: income inequality and the use of force. Yet their capital city is a place where the government's monopoly on coercion has been used to expand a gentry class whose wealth is a function of its proximity to power.
That last paragraph from the Post quote above is key. For all the hand-wringing done about the malign influence of money in politics, there's rarely an acknowledgement of its root cause. The companies with big lobbying budgets are still, after all, just doing businesses. The only reason they're going to drop, say, $3 million on lobbying is if they think they're going to get more than that back in return (or prevent a comparable loss). If you want to arrest or reverse that trend, you have to change that calculation.
Want to get the money out of politics? Get the politics out of money. A limited government is a government that's unprofitable to lobby.
Image of Washington via Shutterstock
He didn't exactly announce it; he has to win an election in his still-blueish state before he can do that. But Scott Walker's a straightforward guy and not very good at playing coy, and he made himself quite clear yesterday:
I think it’s got to be an outsider. I think both the presidential and the vice presidential nominee should either be a former or current governor, people who have done successful things in their states, who have taken on big reforms, who are ready to move America forward.
He could point to Chris Christie or Bobby Jindal or Mitch Daniels and maintain plausible deniability. But he didn't mean Christie, Jindal, or Daniels.
He specifically ruled out Cruz, Rubio, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan. "I love Paul Ryan.... if he had a fan club, I’d be the president of that." But "yes," Ryan's not the ideal nominee. He's part of the Washington fight too.
Said the Governor to the Congressman: I like you, Paul. Really, I do. But I'm the Wisconsinite in this race. (Or maybe Ryan is uninterested and Walker knows it. Hasn't Ryan been rather quiet recently? They would be competing for the same voters and donors, and I'd lose sleep deciding which one deserved my vote).
I wonder if Walker should have been so obvious so early. He shouldn't have ruled all those people out as VP. That was a misstep, Governor. The field of plausible VPs will shrink by 2016. One of them might even be considering you instead. Overconfidence and premature ambition has destroyed many a promising leader. Beware!
Look at that quote, his persistent refusal to promise a full second term, and the way he says he doesn't "rule anything out." If Scott Walker wins reelection in 2014, he intends to run for President in 2016.
Overambitious and boring small-state governor who will imitate Tim Pawlenty in 2016? Or the one person who can hold the fracturing center-right coalition together? Can he do in Washington what he is doing in Madison?
My mom called me a couple of weeks ago frantic and nearly hysterical. My 78-year-old father, who had been in the hospital because of a blood clot, had become dehydrated and malnourished. He was delirious, reliving days in Vietnam, yelling orders to troops, lashing out in terror at unseen enemies. I told my mother to do whatever was possible to get him out of there and take him to another hospital where he would get better care.
She hired a private ambulance service and had him transported to a hospital two hours away. I got in my car and traveled four hours from Charlotte to the coast, hoping that by the time I got there, my dad would be stabilized.
I wasn’t prepared for what I found. My Marine father, once vibrant, in command, and full of life, wasn’t himself. Lying in the bed was a man I didn’t recognize. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes swollen, his hair tangled, his skin a pale gray; he seemed unable to catch his breath, and he kept pulling oxygen tubes away from his nose. Worse was the wild look in his eyes as they darted from one point to another, seeing things only he could see.
I hurried to his bedside. He turned as I touched his shoulder.
“Denise,” he said slowly, as if he were trying to remember something from long ago.
I took his hand and held it.
“Hi, Dad,” I managed. He lifted his head to give me a kiss. His lips were cracked with drool crusted in the corners. I didn’t hesitate for a second and kissed him.
“How are you?” I asked.
“The reports need to be filed, and then we need to get out of here,” he said with a strained voice as he pointed to something in the far corner of the room. “There’s the patrol ... we need to find it and take care of business.” He squeezed my hand, his eyes wide. He motioned for me to come closer. “Not many make it out of the foxhole,” he whispered.
“We’ll get out, Dad; don’t worry,” I whispered back. He nodded and started pulling at his IV.
My mom told him to stop, but he didn’t listen. He kept trying to grab the tube. I moved his hand away, and he started fumbling with the blanket that was draped over him. He seemed to be looking for something.
“What are you looking for?” I asked.
“My jacket .... the button,” he said. He was getting agitated.
I lifted the blanket and pretended to find the button on his imaginary jacket. “Here it is,” I said.
He smiled and reached to take it. “Thank you.” He looked at the invisible button between his fingers, let out a slow breath, and turned away, talking to someone about getting men off the flight deck.
“He’s at least calmer now,” my mom said as she sank into a chair. She glanced at our hands and smiled. “It’s because you’re here.”
I tried to talk to him, but he didn’t seem to know I was there any longer even though he was still holding my hand—so tightly my fingers were turning purple.
I remembered a time when I was young, when my dad taught me to swim. He didn’t do it like most dads. There were no water wings, no shallow end of the swimming pool. My dad took me to the beach on the Marine Corps base, put me on a boogie board, pulled me out just beyond the waves, and told me to get off. “Sink or swim,” he said.
I was terrified, but I obeyed. I gasped for air as I flailed in the water, desperately trying to feel the sand beneath my toes as the tide fell. From a few feet away, my dad yelled at me to kick my legs. But I couldn’t. I was too weak. Too afraid. I was going to drown. The tide lifted, filling my mouth and nose with water. I tried to kick, but the tide rolled over me. Just as I went under, I felt my dad grab hold of my hand.
“You can do it,” he said. He held me at arm’s length so I could kick. The tide rose, and salt stung my eyes, but I wasn’t afraid any longer. My dad was there. He wouldn’t let me drown. He wouldn’t let me go.
As I stood beside my dad’s hospital bed, the scent of salt in the ocean air and the crash of the waves faded, replaced by the bitter smell of ammonia and the woosh and beeps of hospital machines. I held on to his hand, leaned over, and kissed his cheek. “You can do it,” I whispered.
Two days later, I had to leave to go back home. For the next couple of weeks, doctors worked on my dad, evaluating him and making a plan for recovery. My mom stayed with him, going back home only when she needed supplies. She was tired, and the stress was taking its toll.
Saturday, I left Charlotte to go see him again. As I made my way across the bleakness of Eastern North Carolina, passing cotton fields, rows of pine trees, and camouflage trucks with dead bucks strapped to the front bumper, I tried to distract myself from the worry. I shuffled through my IPod. I talked to friends on the phone. I listened to the news. But my heart was heavy. Would my dad recognize me? Would he ever be strong enough to go home? Would we ever walk along the beach again and watch sunlight dance on the waves?
Around lunchtime, I stopped at a Taco Bell in Scotland County. I ordered a large Diet Coke and a crunchy taco and pulled around to the first window. I took too wide of a turn and had to back up. An older African-American woman was at the window; she smiled warmly as she watched me. When I tried to right the car, I ran up against the curb.
“Sorry,” I said awkwardly through the open window.
She laughed kindly, “Don’t worry about it, baby girl. You just take your time.”
I finally maneuvered my car up to the window and shook my head. “I’m really sorry about that. I’ve been traveling awhile. Guess I’m distracted.”
“Where’re you coming from?” she asked.
“Charlotte,” I said. “I’m going to visit my dad in the hospital in Wilmington.”
She leaned against the ledge, her brow knitted with concern. “Why is he in the hospital?”
I briefly told her, my voice cracking at times.
“What’s his name so I can pray for him?” she asked.
“Don,” I managed.
She nodded. “And what’s yours?”
“Denise,” I said, sniffing back the tears.
She looked down at me from the Taco Bell window, the smell of spicy ground beef wafting into my car, her face glowing with reassurance and conviction.
“Dry those pretty eyes, baby girl,” she said. “It’s going to be all right.”
Instinctively, I reached up and took her hand. It was chapped and warm and strong. She closed her other hand on top of mine and held it tight.
I looked up at her, the dark circles under her shining eyes, the gray strands in her curly hair, the wrinkles around her mouth from years of smiles. I was stunned by her beauty, by her love, and as I drove away, the tension in my chest unclenched, the fear released.
When I walked into the hospital, I found my father sitting up, his eyes bright, his skin full of color.
“Denise!” he said, his smile big. He held open his arms for me to come to him.
I hurried over and gave him a hug and a kiss. He pulled me close, his white beard tickling my cheek. “It’s good to see you, darling,” he said.
Tears streamed down my face, the taste of saltwater on my lips. “It’s always good to see you, Dad.” Always.
The following is not an Onion story. This really happened:
Militant Islamist rebels in Syria linked to al-Qaeda have asked for "understanding and forgiveness" for cutting off and putting on display the wrong man's head.
In a public appearance filmed and posted online, members of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, one brandishing a knife, held up a bearded head before a crowd in Aleppo. They triumphantly described the execution of what they said was a member of an Iraqi Shia militia fighting for President Bashar al-Assad.
But the head was recognised from the video as originally belonging to a member of Ahrar al-Sham, a Sunni Islamist rebel group that often fights alongside ISIS though it does not share its al-Qaeda ideology.
The Telegraph, reporting the story, notes that the mix-up "is indicative of the chaos within rebel ranks" (you think?) and that the rise of ISIS has prompted "an exodus of moderate and secular activists." (Who knew there were any left?) The Free Syrian Army has watched its truce with the Kurdish militias explode, and some non-al-Qaeda Islamist rebels are talking about setting up their own united front.
Man. We'd better get that Israeli-Palestinian thing hammered out quick.
What do you make of this report?
According to the Sunday Times, Riyadh has agreed to let Israel use its airspace in a military strike on Iran and cooperate over the use of rescue helicopters, tanker planes and drones.
“The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs,” an unnamed diplomatic source told the paper.
I never thought that I would live to see this day, but politics does make strange bedfellows. That it does.
The Cure for Obamacare: What Does Team Ricochet Think?November 17, 2013
With Obamacare melting down, Washington journalists have begun to ask with seriousness for GOP ideas about a replacement. The answer is so simple it could be captured in the second half of a four-and-a-half-minute animation -- and in fact is here. Pacific Research Institute produced the film for the launch of The Cure for Obamacare, an Encounter Broadside by its president, Sally Pipes.
The program includes tax changes that 1) let Americans really keep their insurance if they like it and 2) open options for us to take more control over our own health spending, including our choices of health insurance and 3) other reforms that provide refundable tax credits to those who can't afford insurance, help states restore their high-risk pools (killed by Obamacare) for coverage of preexisting conditions and, of course, end the trial-lawyer-driven shakedown racket against doctors.
I'd like to hear Ricochet's critique of the video—and of the cure for Obamacare it summarizes. Would you add to, alter, or cut any of the reform particulars outlined in it? What and how?
Editor's Note: For more on this topic , please listen to Milt Rosenberg's interview with Sally Pipes here.
It's a special Sunday edition of the Hinderaker-Ward Experience, with John Hinderaker of Power Line and Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas reconvening to deliver a joint sermon on the vital issues of today. Topics addressed include:
* a synopsis of John's actual Sunday school teaching to 2nd grade Lutherans of Minnesota
* Barack Obama's strange and highly flawed attempts to delay Obamacare mandates
* Obamacare advertising come-ons in Colorado, featuring free sex and beer
* Loon of the Week with apparently imminent and inevitable passing of comprehensive immigration reform
* 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg address, with a related TWIG correction (150 years in the making)
This episode is brought to you by John Swon and Focus Financial. Focus Financial is a leading independent financial advisory firm focused on providing comprehensive wealth management and financial planning services to clients. John Swon and his team have over 25 years of investment experience, are dedicated to giving you the kind of one-on-one advice and analysis you deserve. And as independent advisers, they are focused on your priorities, not selling products.
Call now and request a free financial analysis at 952-896-3888.
HWX is also brought to you by Encounter Books. Our pick this week is their important and timely new broadside: How Medicare Fails the Poor by Avik Roy. This is available at Encounter for a low, low price of $4.19 And listeners of Ricochet can get an additional 15% off this, and other
titles, by entering the code "RICOCHET" at checkout. Our thanks to Encounter Books for sponsoring HWX.
All feedback for HWX welcome in the comments section, we hope you enjoy, and thanks for listening.
By chance, have you had enough yet? Many of you have either lost your jobs or had your hours reduced. Millions of you are seeing your insurance policies go up in a fireball before your very eyes, like a KISS concert only instead of singing, "I Stole Your Love," the frontman now sings, "I Stole Your Heath Care."
But I don't want you to feel gullible. I think, under the circumstances, something approaching totally bamboozled would be understandable, ... or snookered, or hoodwinked, or hornswoggled, swindled, fleeced, scammed, deluded, stung, bent, folded, spindled and mutilated perhaps, broken into tiny dehumanized pieces to be redesigned into an academic's experimental idea of a perfect society certainly, … but not gullible.
In what became the longest instance of political foreplay in contemporary American history, the President whispered utopian nothings in your ear, caressing your hopes while dreamily promising that millions of people would get something for nothing and you wouldn't have to pay for it. You could say he was being coy, but that would be on the order of saying that the Titanic took on just a little added moisture.
After quoting the President's oft-repeated promise that, "If you like your health insurance, you will be able to keep your health insurance," NBC News did a little investigative work (presumably without spraining anything) and found that:
'…when they made the promise, they knew half of the people in this market outright couldn't keep what they had and then they wrote the rules so that others couldn't make it either,' said Robert Laszewski, of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a consultant who works for health industry firms. Laszewski estimates that 80 percent of those in the individual market will not be able to keep their current policies and will have to buy insurance that meets requirements of the new law, which generally requires a richer package of benefits than most policies today.
You did catch that last sentence, yes? Those policies which meet Obamacare's requirements require "richer" benefits. That means "more expensive," as in, "you cannot keep your current plan and you will pay more for its replacement." Within the last two weeks, the Manhattan Institute reported that 41 states and the District of Columbia will see premium increases, which demolishes yet another presidential promise, namely that you will pay less for that plan you are supposed to be able to keep.
Now, if you've noticed, the President's response has been multi-fold. At first, he hadn't much to say, preferring to send his spokesman out to explain that, well, you were simply too wooden-headed to realize that the arrangements you freely worked out with your insurance provider were substandard, and that it now takes a village of Beltway brainiacs to manage your life and health for you because anyone with even garden-variety tenure knows that an 80-year-old man needs maternity coverage and free rubbers.
Next came, "…[W]hat we said was you can keep it if it hasn't changed since the law was passed," which, if you can believe it, is even worse than the fine print at the bottom of those horrid used car commercials.
BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE!! Because just a few days after lying, and then downplaying the lie, and then reinterpreting the lie in a way that makes Bill Clinton's parsing of the word "is" seem positively jesuitical by comparison, the President emerged to shred the separation of powers doctrine in the Constitution by unilaterally changing the law. (In case I'm getting too far into the weeds here, he can't legally do that. The legislative branch "legislates," see, and the executive branch "executes" or carries out the law, meaning the President has no legal authority to change it all by his lonesome. This may be a minor point to the Obamaphone crowd, but it really does lead to pesky problems like authoritarianism, for example, and if that term is too steep then I fear we really are hosed.)
Now, says our Most Majestic and Beneficent Royal Highness, you can keep your plan for another year. Except that the insurance companies just spent years going through over 2,000 pages of Obamacare law, with its attendant 10,535 pages of regulations that required them to cancel your plan. And now the President waves his magical unconstitutional wand and, presto!, the insurance companies have a big problem. The law still stands. It's still on the books. If they do what the President says, they will violate the the President's law. Do they take him at his word that they won't be penalized for following his order to break his law? What is his word worth these days? Are there penalties that the IRS, for example, could levy against them for breaking his law so they can't follow his command? This is, in short, a big hairy mess that demonstrates what happens when the government reaches beyond the bounds of protecting your freedom and instead starts running your life.
This just in from Reuters News Service:
United Health Group dropped thousands of doctors from its networks in recent weeks, leaving many elderly patients unsure whether they need to switch plans to continue seeing their doctors, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
How does the old song go? Oops there goes another Obamacare promise! The question keeps arising: how did a free and sovereign people allow themselves to be reduced to cattle, prodded here and pushed over there by people who, in the final analysis, are themselves no better than the rest of us? De Tocqueville may have summed it up best when he wrote that, "Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain."
We therefore delude ourselves when we fancy a faceless and nameless thing called the government as that which bullies us, pushes us around, and beguiles us with benefits only to pull them away, taking our income and our children's future with them. Fine. Let's add names to this debacle, courtesy of the Washington Examiner:
SEN. HARRY REID (D-Nev.): “In fact, one of our core principles is that if you like the health care you have, you can keep it.”
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: “We believe — and we stand by this — if you like your current health insurance plan, you will be able to keep it, plain and simple, straightforward.”
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): “If you like your insurance, you keep it.”
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-Wash.): “Again, if you like what you have, you will be able to keep it. Let me say this again: If you like what you have, when our legislation is passed and signed by the President, you will be able to keep it.”
SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-Mont.): “That is why one of the central promises of health care reform has been and is: If you like what you have, you can keep it. That is critically important. If a person has a plan, and he or she likes it, he or she can keep it.”
SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-Iowa): “One of the things we put in the health care bill when we designed it was the protection for consumers to keep the plan they have if they like it; thus, the term ‘grandfathered plans.’ If you have a plan you like — existing policies — you can keep them. … we said, if you like a plan, you get to keep it, and you can grandfather it in.”
THEN-REP. TAMMY BALDWIN (D-Wis.): “Under the bill, if you like the insurance you have now, you may keep it and it will improve.”
SEN. MARK BEGICH (D-Alaska): “If you got a doctor now, you got a medical professional you want, you get to keep that. If you have an insurance program or a health care policy you want of ideas, make sure you keep it. That you can keep who you want.”
SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-Colo.): “We should begin with a basic principle: if you have coverage and you like it, you can keep it. If you have your doctor, and you like him or her, you should be able to keep them as well. We will not take that choice away from you.”
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): “So we want people to be able to keep the health care they have. And the answer to that is choice of plans. And in the exchange, we're going to have lots of different plans, and people will be able to keep the health care coverage they need and they want.”
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-Ohio): “Our bill says if you have health insurance and you like it, you can keep it…”(Sen. Brown, Congressional Record, S.12612, 12/7/09)
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-Md.): “For the people of Maryland, this bill will provide a rational way in which they can maintain their existing coverage…”)
SEN. BOB CASEY (D-Pa.): “I also believe this legislation and the bill we are going to send to President Obama this fall will also have secure choices. If you like what you have, you like the plan you have, you can keep it. It is not going to change.”
SEN. KAY HAGAN (D-N.C.): ‘People who have insurance they're happy with can keep it’ “We need to support the private insurance industry so that people who have insurance they're happy with can keep it while also providing a backstop option for people without access to affordable coverage.”
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D-La.): “If you like the insurance that you have, you'll be able to keep it.”
SEN. PAT LEAHY (D-Vt.): “[I]f you like the insurance you now have, keep the insurance you have.”
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.): “If you like what you have, you get to keep it” “Menendez is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which is expected to release a bill later this week. He stressed that consumers who are satisfied with their plans won't have to change. ‘If you like what you have, you get to keep it,’ he said.”
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-Oreg.): “[E]nsuring that those who like their insurance get to keep it” “The HELP Committee bill sets forward a historic plan that will, for the first time in American history, give every American access to affordable health coverage, reduce costs, and increase choice, while ensuring that those who like their insurance get to keep it.”
SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D-Md.): “It means that if you like the insurance you have now, you can keep it.”
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D-W.Va.): “I want people to know, the President's promise that if you like the coverage you have today you can keep it is a pledge we intend to keep.”
SEN. JACK REED (D-R.I.): “If you like the insurance you have, you can choose to keep it.”
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.): “‘If you have coverage you like, you can keep it,’ says Sen. Sanders.”
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.): ‘if you have health coverage that you like, you get to keep it’ “My understanding … is that … if you have health coverage that you like you can keep it. As I said, you may have missed my remarks at the beginning of the call, but one of the things I that I said as a requirement that I have for supporting a bill is that if you have health coverage that you like you should be able to keep that. …under every scenario that I’ve seen, if you have health coverage that you like, you get to keep it.”
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-Mich.): “As someone who has a large number of large employers in my state, one of the things I appreciate about the chairman's mark is — is the grandfathering provisions, the fact that the people in my state, 60 percent of whom have insurance, are going to be able to keep it. And Mr. Chairman, I appreciate that. That's a strong commitment. It's clear in the bill … I appreciate the strong commitment on your part and the president to make sure that if you have your insurance you can keep it. That's the bottom line for me.”
SEN. JON TESTER (D-Mont.): “‘If you like your coverage, you'll be able to keep it,’ Tester said, adding that if Medicare changes, it will only become stronger”.
SEN. TOM UDALL (D-N.Mex.): “Some worried reform would alter their current coverage. It won't. If you like your current plan, you can keep it.”
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-R.I.): “…it honors President Obama’s programs and the promise of all of the Presidential candidates that if you like the plan you have, you get to keep it. You are not forced out of anything.”
These are just some of the people you get to hold accountable as a voter. They aren't nameless or faceless. These people are directly accountable to you, the American voter, and they lied to you. There's another one though, who fancies himself as a journalist. On July 1, 2009, MSNBC's own Ed Schultz thundered, "If you have a health care plan and you like it, you can keep it. Got it?" Oh, we got it alright, Ed. De Tocqueville got it too, as he reminds us:
I am full of apprehensions and hopes. I perceive mighty dangers which it is possible to ward off, mighty evils which may be avoided or alleviated; and I cling with a firmer hold to the belief that for democratic nations to be virtuous and prosperous, they require but to will it.… The nations of our time cannot prevent the conditions of men from becoming equal, but it depends upon themselves whether the principle of equality is to lead them to servitude or freedom, to knowledge or barbarism, to prosperity or wretchedness.
And so again I ask: have you had enough yet?
I'm just a paranoid lunatic who doesn't answer the phone because I fear it'll be the 1980s, asking for their foreign policy back. But:
In recent months, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have been quietly waging a campaign to stop the State Department from allowing Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to build about half a dozen of these structures, known as monitor stations, on United States soil, several American officials said.
They fear that these structures could help Russia spy on the United States and improve the precision of Russian weaponry, the officials said.
Russian GPS stations. On American soil. Why would anyone think this was a good idea? Here's why:
For the State Department, permitting Russia to build the stations would help mend the Obama administration’s relationship with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, now at a nadir because of Moscow’s granting asylum to Mr. Snowden and its backing of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Well, when you put it that way, sure. We owe them a few concessions. Maybe we could toss in the decommissioning of a carrier group to sweeten the pot. At this point I'm imagining someone at State drafting a proposal to sell them back Alaska, just so salve their historical wounds over that one.
For the same price, of course.
One of the pleasures associated with having children is that, for brief moments, one can be a kid again oneself. That was what happened to me this afternoon.
With some frequency, I attended high school football games when I was in high school, but that ended 46 years ago, and I have not been to such a game since . . . until this afternoon.
My eldest child, a 13-year-old girl, has a voice, and she was chosen to sing the national anthem at the final game of the Los Altos High School football game at 1:30 p.m. today.
So I went, and I took my elder son, a seven-year-old who had never attended a football game, along for the ride. My daughter wowed the crowd; then the Los Altos team lay down on the field and invited Cupertino to walk all over them, which (at least until we left) they gaily did. That was not what was expected. Last year, Los Altos went 0 for 10; this year, they were 7 for 9.
But never mind. I have seen teams blow it before. What surprised me was this. There were, perhaps, twenty-five cheerleaders on the field. There were not twenty-five students in the stands. There were, maybe, ten. The school has 1800 students, and next to no one turned out for the last game in a winning season. Nor can you blame the weather. This is northern California. I wore a sweater to the game. I had to take it off. It was warm and sunny -- not a cloud in view.
I know nothing, as you can probably tell. Does this mean that football is dying? Do students turn out in New York? Michigan? Oklahoma? Texas? Nevada? Oregon? Where you live?
Or is it a tale of Silicon Valley? Are the students of Los Altos too academic to enjoy attending a football game? I am at a loss.
Here is another puzzler. Before the game began, all of the seniors from Los Altos were introduced. I did not keep count, but I would swear that 80% of the names were Hispanic. There were a couple of African-Americans. That I could see. There were a handful of whites. The school may be 10% Hispanic. What's up? Do white boys not go out for football any more? I have not a clue.
Help me, people!
Mark Shields: "If this goes down--if the Affordable Care Act is deemed a failure--this is the end of liberal government."
David Brooks: "We may no longer be a country in which people feel themselves part of a collective."
From yesterday's NewsHour, beginning at 8:28:
A USC supporter taunts the opposing team in advance of this evening's football match-up.
A trend in the making?
North Dakota: The Oil and Diversity Capital of AmericaNovember 16, 2013
WILLISTON, ND - I'm reporting here from the oily beating heart of the Bakken Formation, which is producing so much domestic energy that the state has just surpassed third-place Alaska in production and is setting its sights on number one Texas. I'm here doing research on a future novel. The place smells like...money.
First, a few facts:
-- 35-40 trains up to one mile long leave here every day. Every tanker car is filled with oil. (Why not via pipeline? Ask the EPA).
-- The unemployment rate is 0.4%. That's zero-point-four percent. You can sit back down now.
30 million barrels of oil are coming out of the ground each month and the success rate of each new well is over 95%. It's all fracking. And not a single accident or environmental disaster has occurred.
-- The Williston area has grown from 12,000 people five years ago to somewhere around 45,000 today. Nobody knows the true number. It may be 60,000. Over 10,000 men (and it's mostly men) bunk in temporary "man camps" surrounding the town.
-- The local Wal-Mart pays its employees $17 an hour and subsidizes their housing. McDonalds pays $15 per hour plus benefits, and has only recently been open seven days a week due to their inability to hire enough people.
-- The local newspaper offers $250 signing bonuses to carriers provided they'll deliver papers for a specified length of time.
-- Every new business builds adjoining housing units so employees have a place to stay.
-- The Bakken oil field is so huge and so productive it looks like Chicago or Minneapolis at night from space.
-- Williston is currently #1 in sales of Carhartt work clothing and 2013 Chevy Corvettes.
I could go on but I won't. And not everything is peachy. Every single day, the train arrives at the Amtrak station and unemployed people disembark and start walking toward the small and old-fashioned downtown. Some have only the shirts on their back. Housing costs are through the roof (houses rent for $1,000 per room). A small used-to-be farming village an hour from Williston sees 8,000 big trucks drive through their main street a day. Ranchers complain of horses dying from dust inhalation from the traffic on the dirt roads. There is not a single psychiatrist (I'm up in the air whether that is good or bad).
Something else is happening and it's especially noticeable to the locals and anyone visiting, like me. North Dakota has long been one of the whitest states in the union. It was also one of the oldest and it was losing population every census. Officially, it's 47.2% German, 31% Norwegian, 5% American Indian, and the rest largely Northern European. We used to call everyone we knew from North Dakota a "Scandi-hoovian." The black population was less than 1.2%.
But the boom has changed all that. Yesterday, in a tour through Wal-Mart, I saw many African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and multiracials. The nice hotel I'm staying at is managed wholly by a family of black Americans from Detroit.
Suddenly, Williston, North Dakota, is Diversity City!
No one created a program or made a law. No one shamed employers to agree on a quota. No one enacted regulations to right wrongs of the past. No one put in a scheme to redistribute income from the rich to the poor.
What happened was growth, opportunity, and prosperity for those willing to relocate and work hard.
And everyone showed up.
By now, you have to have heard about Miles Scott, a.k.a. “Batkid” and the amazing story surrounding him, but in the event that you haven’t, here’s the rundown. See also this. Short version: For almost all of his life, Miles (5 years old) has been fighting leukemia. Happily, he is in remission now. The Make-A-Wish Foundation was informed that Miles wanted to spend a day being a superhero, and yesterday, it swung into action to make his dream come true.
As did the entire city of San Francisco, in an absolutely amazing display. The city’s police chief got in on the act, as did Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Eric Swalwell. Batkid got to vanquish some villains, so naturally, federal law enforcement joined in. Quoting from the story: “Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, and FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson issued a statement Friday announcing formal charges against the Riddler and Penguin, indicting them on multiple counts of conspiracy and kidnapping for their ‘all too familiar villainous ways in Gotham City.’” Even President Obama gave Miles a shout-out on Vine.
Kudos to everyone who helped Miles and his family have an amazing day. But there’s no reason why we have to stop celebrating and honoring a superhero just yet. The way I figure it, Miles should get a medal at the White House for his heroism, and I bet that President Obama would be delighted to give him one. So I decided to create a petition calling for just that. It needs 100,000 signatures by December 16th, so this is your cue to click on the link and sign. And tell your friends, your family, your co-workers, even your enemies to sign as well.
And yes, this is important. There’s a lot of cynicism in the country these days, and it seems that just about every day, we are barraged with stories that cause us to lose our faith in our fellow human beings. But Batkid’s story has done wonders to restore faith in the human condition. The Make-A-Wish Foundation has rallied wonderfully behind Miles Scott and his family, the entire city of San Francisco–and the country–has had its heart stolen by Batkid and this story, and people came out in droves, on their own initiative, to help make the day more special for Miles. There are times when people can be nasty and awful. This time, however, people have been quite the opposite.
Do I believe that the story of Batkid will by itself lead to some kind of new Era of Good Feelings? I only wish that I did. But it can’t hurt to have this story play out a little longer. It can’t hurt to have an entire country tell Miles Scott and his family that they are behind them in facing any challenges they have to face. And it can’t hurt to be reminded that however imperfect the world, sometimes, moments of perfection can be achieved.
Let’s get Batkid his day at the White House. He’s the hero America needs.
What, I want to know, am I supposed to do with my sweater?
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Last week, as you may recall, Michael Spiekermann, a remarkable young member of Ricochet, half New Zealander and half German, put up a marvelous post about biking down the West Coast of North America. By some fluke of the Internet, as a university student in Vienna—that would be Vienna, Austria, not Vienna, Virginia—Michael had become a huge fan of Ricochet, so when his trip from Vancouver to Los Angeles brought him to Palo Alto, he got in touch and I bought Michael a cup of coffee, the least I could do.
Michael related all this in his post—and included the photograph I've reproduced here. Which prompted Ricochet member PsychLynne to offer this comment:
Wow, on the podcasts when Rob makes fun of Peter having a sweater jauntily tied around his neck, I thought it was a caricature. I didn't realize Peter actually dressed this way. Words fail me.
Okay, I admit it: I tie sweaters around my neck. But if you think I'm trying to make some kind of fashion statement, take another look at that photo. Have you ever seen a rattier object? It's at least a decade old—and so is nearly every other sweater I own. You see, I live in Northern California. For about 10 months of the year, it's sweater weather. Sometimes it warms up enough to permit you to remove your sweater, but you still want to keep it with you, because a breeze could come up and the temperature will in any event drop six to eight degrees in about five minutes when the sun dips below the horizon.
When I'm not wearing my sweater, I repeat, I need to keep it with me. And just how, I ask, am I to accomplish that without tying the darned thing around my neck?
Rob? Lynne? Michael? Anyone?
President Obama is now claiming ignorance of the flaws in the Healthcare.gov website. This is what he said on Thursday:
“I was not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to. I’m accused of a lot of things. I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity a week before the website opens if I thought that it wasn’t going to work,” Mr. Obama said during a press conference at the White House. “Clearly we, and I, did not have enough awareness about the problems with the website.”
Okay Mr. President, let's get a few things straight:
First of all, it was your job to know the status of the Healthcare.gov project. You are the head of the executive branch—the CEO of the government. It was a key piece of your signature legislation and a huge, expensive project by any standard.
It is also a matter of record that numerous parties attempted to tell you where you were going wrong. You received several personal letters from David Cutler, a supporter of Obamacare and a health policy expert, explaining the problems plaguing your team and your handling of the law in general. You ignored him.
Your health care adviser, Zeke Emanuel, advised you to hire a proper engineering manager to oversee the development of this massive technical project. Your team of economic advisers gave you that advice as well. You chose to ignore them and appointed a policy wonk to that position. But I forgot—you've said in the past that you are a better speechwriter than your speechwriters, and you know more about policies on any particular issue than your policy directors. So it makes sense that you would ignore the advice of the people you hired to advise you. You are a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Your appointee to lead the effort was smarter than you; she knew she was in over her head and attempted to find a proper engineering manager. She failed. I'm guessing this was because any competent professional who looked at the requirements, the timeline, and the behavior of your administration chose to run for the hills instead.
After she left the job, you learned nothing and appointed another liberal policy wonk to take her place. You were warned again by Mr. Cutler that you had chosen the wrong kind of person for the job, but you refused to budge.
In the months and years leading up to the release of the web site, your White House was repeatedly visited by executives from various insurance companies and by the contractors trying to build your web site. They all warned of problems, and begged you to release key technical documents to their teams. You did nothing. You were informed that a killer of engineering projects like this is the addition of new requirements late in the process. Your response? Your administration chose to withhold key requirements and documents from the engineers until after the election, then, for political reasons, added a huge new requirement near the end of an already failing project.
When people with engineering expertise told you that the schedule was unrealistic and couldn't be achieved, the White House response was a lame, "It is what it is. Just get it done." This is never an appropriate response to a serious concern by a project team. But since you've never been within shouting distance of people doing real work, how could you be expected to know that?
Since you've never had any executive experience, let me explain it to you: The CEO's job is not to dictate and demand the unreasonable. The CEO's job is to facilitate progress and to help break administrative and communication logjams slowing down the team. The CEO's job is also to make sure that there are mitigation strategies in place when things go into the weeds and to stay on top of key projects. You're supposed to be the ultimate 'go to' guy when things get rocky - not a dictator who issues decrees from on high and then goes golfing while the underlings squabble amongst themselves. CEOs who behave like you do usually cause havoc in an organization until they're removed.
When it became abundantly clear even to your White House that the project could not possibly be completed in time, your first response was to hold to the unrealistic deadline by shortening the required integration test period to a couple of weeks—an act that any competent project manager would consider negligent. No engineer worth his degree would make that choice. No CEO with any experience or sense of ethics would ship an untested product against the pleas of his engineering team.
The stupidity continues. The crush of the schedule left no time for critically important security testing and auditing. So how did your administration respond to that? You granted yourselves a waiver, despite being told that there were known high risk security issues with the system. But hey, it's only connecting to many different federal and state databases containing the sensitive personal information of millions of Americans. What could possibly go wrong?
This is the kind of behavior that causes space shuttles to explode while engineers are screaming about the risk. It's the kind of behavior that, had it occurred in the private sector, would open up a company to civil lawsuits and fines. It's the kind of behavior that, had it occurred in the private sector, Barack Obama would be using as an example of why governments must regulate and control everything.
It's also the kind of behavior that leaves millions of formerly-insured Americans stranded without health insurance.
On August 17, you received this status report (PDF) from CGI, one of your main contractors. The status report shows that the project was only 66% complete a month and a half before going live. Did you honestly think that a system 66% complete after years of development would magically be completed in a month and a half? Or is your staff so incompetent that, after receiving an e-mail describing an obvious upcoming disaster that could destroy your signature legislative achievement, they decided you didn't need to know about it? When you were giving speeches saying that the project was on track and was going to be marvelous, did none of your staff think to tell you what was really going on, so you wouldn't embarrass yourself in public? If not, why do they still have jobs?
On September 5, , a mere three weeks before the website would be released to the public, a final acceptance demonstration was scheduled for your approval. You were to be given a demonstration of the system to show that it was working and ready to go. Looking at this document, it appears that what you were shown was a mockup done in Adobe Captivate. Really? If that's correct, did you think that you were looking at the real thing? Or if you knew it it was a mockup, did you not wonder why you needed to be shown a mockup of a system that should have been finished and undergoing final tests by that point?
Two weeks before going live, your team finally got around to doing a 'load test' on the system—a test that should have happened months sooner, while there was still time to fix the problems it would inevitably uncover. The system crashed with just a few hundred users on it.
You knew you were going to get hundreds of thousands of people hitting the site after it went live. On what planet does this not ring alarm bells all through the White House? I honestly don't understand the logic here. Did you really think it was a better idea to launch the site and let it crash spectacularly in public than to take a smaller hit and announce a delay at a press conference? Or did you think someone would sprinkle magic hope and change dust on the computer systems and they would just spring to life and heal themselves of bugs? Perhaps you thought they would work anyway because you're the one they'd been waiting for.
If you didn't know about any of this, what kind of ship are you running? How can you possibly have an organization so inept that no one on your staff would think to inform you of such basic and critical information? Or perhaps you are such a terrible boss that you've been cut out of the loop because you're a net liability to the process.
At the end of this tragic series of stupid mistakes, you managed to do something so spectacularly stupid it boggles the mind. And this was not an engineering mistake—it was a political error. That's supposed to be in your wheelhouse, and you blew it anyway.
Let's re-create the scene: A month before the critical roll-out date of a web site that absolutely had to work right, you had a staff of terrified people frantically making rash decisions to risk security leaks and outright crashes. You had engineering teams warning of risks that would 'almost certainly' cause severe problems. You had a system that was crashing when only a tiny fraction of the expected load hit it. You or your team absolutely knew that you were weeks away from a terrible disaster.
And just as all seemed lost, here came the Republicans, threatening to shut down the government unless you agreed to do the very thing you desperately needed to do—delay the whole thing so you could get your act together. It was a gift from heaven itself.
If you actually were smart, you could have hung the delay around the Republican's necks, and they would have taken the blame for all those insurance cancellations you knew had to be coming. You could have gone in front of the American people and said, "I'm sorry for all of you who lost insurance. We would have replaced those plans with better ones, but the Republicans stopped us. It's on them."
You could have extracted other concessions from the Republicans in exchange for agreeing to delay the thing that couldn't possibly work anyway and built yourself a mountain of political capital by being the one who was 'reasonable'. You could have thrown your magnanimity in the Republican's faces for the next three years. No one would have known about your numerous failures of leadership and management.
But no, you decided to let the government shut down anyway, just so you could stick to the schedule you had absolutely no chance to meet. You chose to expose your own failures rather than make a deal that would have saved your presidency.
Now that's stupid.
"I don't think we're stupid" — John Kerry, November 10, 2013
It's always a bad sign when your nation's chief diplomat begins a process of tough negotiations with some brutal authoritarian adversaries by protesting his non-stupidity. Then again, we've reached the point where even Parisian socialists feel the need to remind the U.S. Secretary of State of certain undeniable geopolitical realities on the ground. So here we are, seriously entertaining what the French Foreign Minister rightly warned could be a "fool's bargain" with Iran.
Attention last week was focused on the failure of the Western powers to reach an interim nuclear deal with Tehran. That was the potential deal that made the French nervous. The bigger picture, however, is the broader set of negotiations over the coming months and their implications for American national security.
If Iran actually were to agree to a complete and verifiable dismantling of its nuclear weapons program, stop enriching and reprocessing uranium, shut down key facilities, and ship out all related materials - in full cooperation with international inspectors - then, of course, this would be most welcome. But there is little prospect of this kind of cooperation, or of this kind of deal. Iran has never even admitted that it has a nuclear weapons program, and it has been regularly mendacious about the true extent of its uranium enrichment facilities. This is not the behavior of a country simply looking for the peaceful use of nuclear power ... or of one willing to give up the bomb.
Iran's new President, Hassan Rouhani, is a seasoned and skillful negotiator who has boasted in the past of his ability to keep Iranian centrifuges running through diplomatic diversion. He was not elected to give up his country's nuclear weapons program, nor will Iran's Supreme Leader allow him to do so. On the contrary, Rouhani's mandate is to win international approval for Iran as a kind of virtual nuclear weapons state while securing the economic benefits that will flow from the lifting of sanctions.
Unlike his openly outrageous predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the more polished Rouhani knows exactly which buttons to push in order to impress Western liberal opinion. By smiling for the camera and speaking of the need for peaceful dispute resolution across cultural boundaries, he charms his Western counterparts. For this reason, he is described in the press as a "moderate."
The reality, however, is that Rouhani leads a country and a regime that actively supports terrorism within the Middle East and beyond; that wages a proxy war against U.S. interests throughout the region; that declares its violent opposition to an American-led international order; that plots assassinations on U.S. soil; and that helps to kill American troops in Afghanistan. If he has any fundamental objection to these policies, he hasn't said so.
Rouhani's good fortune is that he faces a U.S. President who is very eager for a deal. Obama and his aides appear to view Rouhani as the answer to their prayers - the vindication of halting American attempts to conciliate Iran since 2009.
The New York Times may operate on the sincere but misguided assumption that any diplomatic arrangement with an adversarial foreign power makes the world a safer place. Obama is probably too intelligent to fully believe this. His priorities are a little different.
Obama really is determined to try to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons test on his watch. That would be embarrassing for the President. But he is even more determined to avoid open conflict with Iran. If you pay close attention to Obama's words, he has never actually outlined any objection to advanced nuclear weapons capacity on the part of that country. He would very much like to be able to say that his Iran policy worked, capped off by a negotiated agreement during his time in office. If past precedent is any indicator, the exact content of such an agreement is probably not of great concern to him, so long as it can fly politically. He will be inclined to sign a deal, declare victory, and turn his attention home, in order to focus on domestic liberal policy legacies.
Unlike some of his starry-eyed devotees, Obama probably understands that a nuclear deal with Iran will leave that country as the leading force in the region, as a sort of legitimated and virtual nuclear power—and that this prospect deeply unnerves many of America's traditional allies. But it's a prospect that doesn't especially bother him, and therefore it's a deal he's willing to take.
John Kerry is a useful instrument to that end, since he appears to share the common belief inside this White House that completion of an Ivy League degree, good hair, a Boston Brahmin accent, and a Swiss-based location provide excellent and sufficient credentials for negotiating with some of the world's most mendacious and ruthless autocrats. Indeed, Kerry possesses the distinction of already having been outmaneuvered repeatedly within the space of only a few months by one such autocrat, Russia's Vladimir Putin. Perhaps the White House could save everybody time and roll international negotiations over Syria, Russian arms control, and Iran into a single bargaining process so that the United States can concede on all fronts at once without any wasteful duplication of effort.
Of course, there remains—apart from the French—one serious obstacle to these negotiations, and therefore, in the administration's mind, to world peace. You guessed it: congressional Republicans.
Congressional Republicans have suggested that the White House might want to avoid dismantling vital U.S. leverage, in the form of economic sanctions, before negotiations with Iran have actually begun in earnest. For making this commonsense suggestion, they have been denounced by the White House as aiding and abetting a "march to war."
This raises an interesting contrast between Obama's style in congressional negotiations and his style in international ones. In congressional negotiations, the President and his supporters have long since come to the conclusion that concessions toward a supposedly implacable adversary are pointless. In international negotiations, however, when dealing with actual enemies of the United States, the White House has never quite learned that lesson.
Thus, the play is to cut a deal with Iran that, for all practical purposes, leaves that hostile theocracy strengthened and validated as a virtual nuclear power, while describing said deal as a diplomatic victory for Obama. And if anything goes wrong, blame the Republicans—not Iran.
Still, a nascent Iranian nuclear weapons program is a very real threat to vital U.S. interests, and need not be legitimized by American consent.
For the United States, it's a fool's bargain.
This week on Need to Know, Jay and I welcome the insightful and erudite David Pryce-Jones. David tries – and fails -- to understand John Kerry’s reasons for truckling to Iran and betraying Israel, and reflects on Obama’s foreign policy generally. We recall with bitterness Obama’s awful dereliction in 2009, when Iranians took to the streets to attempt to dislodge the world’s most dangerous regime, and Obama remained silent.
Jay and I then discuss the long-term implications of what Jay hates to call, but what nonetheless is, a “teachable moment.” The failure to launch of the rocket ship Obamacare may well serve to discredit the liberal/progressive project for a very long time to come. Come to think of it, Jay and I haven’t been this cheerful in some time.
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“Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel..."
-- The creature, to Victor Frankenstein; Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly
Like Frankenstein's creature, Obamacare woke up a few weeks ago, jumped off the slab, and started a chain of political devastation which can only end in its destruction.
Victor Frankenstein spent years laboring, largely in secret (“You have to assemble the monster to see what's in it.”) over his creation, but knew the moment it came to life that this horror would end in catastrophe.
And it did. Tragedy mounted on tragedy, resulting in the utter destruction of everything the brilliant, driven Dr. Frankenstein sought. The creature destroyed his beloved, his family, his friends, his sanity, his reputation, and finally, his life. It wasn't the beginning of a new species that would, as Frankenstein hoped, worship him as a god; it was destruction and envy and wrath coupled with superhuman strength.
The Democrats are now trapped inside the castle watching the line of torches slowly snake up toward Capitol Hill in the gathering darkness. They embraced Baron Von Obama's repeated lies about Obamacare and his inept handling of every aspect of its launch and all the terror of the Obamacare creature, and they're beginning to sense there is no escape.
They know that 5 million peasants have lost their health insurance. They know millions more will see steep premium increases during the 2014 election year. They know the promise of “You can keep your doctor” is as false as that about keeping one's health plan. They know yesterday's “transitional fix” humble-pie press conference won't slow the crash. They also know Barack Obama is nearly a spent force, his credibility and competence now in increasing doubt.
Just a few weeks ago, it was confidently declared that not only would Democrats recapture the House in 2014, but they would hold and increase their Senate majority. The GOP might as well pack up, because they would never hold power again. Obamacare would be the political wind beneath the wings of Democrats for a hundred years. “Of course Democrats would run on it!”
Odd that we're not hearing much of that triumphalism today. The monster of Obamacare isn't just dysfunctional, it's destructive. Americans know it.
Republicans should let the creature rage. Strategic patience takes discipline, because the natural instinct is to stop the monster from tearing down the village. I know you're repulsed by the idea of doing nothing. You feel for the millions of Americans losing their coverage. You want to do something, anything to put points on the board. Most of all, you all want repeal. You sense that it's close.
But I want something else, and so should you. I'd like repeal served in the ruins of the Obama Administration and the Democrats' 2014 hopes. I'd like the Democrats and the media to be stuck talking about this disaster for a year, instead of being able to move on to immigration or ENDA or whatever is bugging Sandra Fluke this week.
If you drag it out long enough, you can make 2010 look like a cakewalk. If you have patience and smarts, you'll see countless YouTube videos of screaming townspeople confronting their Democratic members: angry, pitchfork-and-torches videos of peasants who lost their coverage and who are saddled with enormous premium increases.
We can get there if we avoid doing two stupid things. I'm going to irk the Ted Cruz cadre, but another shutdown will wreck the best political advantage we have ever had against Barack Obama. Another shutdown is the one thing - arguably theonlything - that will revive the media frame of “Evil Republicans vs. St. Obama” effectively. The post hoc ergo propter hoc belief that the shutdown caused Obamacare's troubles is delusional. Obamacare was always going to be an in-your-face stinker that ordinary Americas understood, and for which there was no emotionally effective response by Obama. We just delayed the beatings by a couple of weeks.
Shutdown 2.0 is precisely what Obama needs now. If you pursue it in hopes of repeal, or to build a bigger email list, or for a 2016 primary strategy, then you're responsible for letting the Democrats slip the trap. Oh, and Harry Reid still has the votes to beat you on a shutdown.
We also need to avoid another strategic error: the irrational desire to legislate fixes for Obamacare. The Upton bill is done, and dead in the Senate, but if the GOP starts tweaking Obamacare, Republicans will be responsible for reanimating the monster.
Don't tweak. Offer them full repeal only. Over and over. Upton showed a crack in their coalition. The tension and fear is building. Build a plan to pressure vulnerable red state Democrats. Hang the stories of the victims of Obamacare around their necks. Make them bleed. Make them own it. Stretch out the pain until consumer and voter pressure does your work for you.
It's important to not allow them to make an easy, one-time vote and then run home saying, “I know we built the monster. I know, I was there in the lab. I know I popped champagne when it came to life. But now I'm with you, friends! I voted to fix it! I'm a Blue-Dog centrist! Damn, I wish Baron von Obama had done this better! No one could foresee the creature's murderous rampage!”
No issue has the potential to cause more damage to the Democrats in 2014 and beyond than Obamacare. Let the Democrats' monster rage.
That is to say, the language, literature, music and spirit of the culture of the East European Jews. The key to the post-Holocaust survival of that culture was and remains the Yiddish language.
Our guest in this podcast, Jonathan Brent, is the Executive Director of YIVO, the Yiddish Research Institute which was founded in Poland in 1925 and fled the Holocaust by moving to New York in 1940. Before he came to YIVO about three years ago, Jonathan was Editorial Director of Yale University Press and helped to open the Stalin Archives in Moscow and then commissioned over 20 books revealing the barbarism and evil of that epoch.
Jonathan is one of the most interesting and innovative people personally known to the host of this program—a host who enthusiastically commends this conversation to all potential downloaders with the reminder (evoking the slogan of a great and classic advertising campaign ) “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy’s Rye Bread.”
From the Washington Free Beacon:
Of all the analogies being drawn between the calamitous rollout of Obamacare and other government muck-ups throughout history, one deserves a closer look. What’s happening to Obamacare right now isn’t this president’s Iraq war, or his Hurricane Katrina, or his Lewinsky moment. It’s his Iran-contra scandal: a complicated and controversial policy dispute that involves deception, a hostile Congress, and the bludgeoning of presidential credibility. Iran-contra marked the end of the Reagan Revolution, and it’s not hard to see how the implementation of Obamacare might mark the end of the Obama Revolution as well.
I'm not sure.
First, Obama's troubles are hitting the fan much earlier in the second term. Second, the problems with Obamacare are far less complicated than Iran-Contra. Third, when the story broke, Iran-Contra was something that happened out there, somewhere, some time ago. In contrast, the Obamacare nonsense is playing out on our kitchen tables in real time.
Finally, neither Iran nor hostages nor Nicaragua nor arms were items at the core of Reagan's revolution. Obamacare is Obama. That's his whole thing. That's his only thing.
This, I think, is much worse for Obama.
What do you think? Is Obamacare Obama's Iran-Contra?
Are any of these comparisons apt or useful?
Let’s make sure that everyone understands this: The president’s announcement yesterday that state insurance commissioners would be allowed to let people continue to keep their insurance plans for an extra year is designed to ensure that those who lose their plans will blame the state insurance commissioners and the insurance companies–who are trying to comply with Obamacare regulations and policies–instead of blaming the President and Democrats in Congress who sold a bad law by repeatedly and deliberately deceiving the American people regarding its contents. No one should allow the president to get away with this shameless bit of buck-passing.
Additionally–and this is just as important–no one should pretend that this “fix” will actually strengthen Obamacare. In addition to throwing under the bus the insurers and insurance commissioners with whom the White House would have to work in order to make the implementation of Obamacare a success, the president also threw his own law under that very same bus:
Facing growing outrage from Americans, President Barack Obama reversed course Thursday and offered to let insurance companies sell existing plans even if they don’t meet the minimum standards set by his new problem-fraught health care law.
But Obama’s much-delayed attempt to make good on his promise that Americans could keep their insurance plans if they liked them faces strong opposition from insurance companies, which warn that rates might spike, and it risks undermining the basic premise of his law, which requires quality, affordable insurance.
[. . .]
On Thursday, Obama announced that he’d allow – but not require – insurance companies to extend existing policies for a year as long as they notified customers that their benefits might be diminished with their current plans and that alternative policies might be available to them.
Insurance companies already have devised plans for next year, received the necessary approval from states and begun to sell policies. They aren’t required to continue to offer their existing policies and state insurance commissioners aren’t required to approve those 2013 plans.
“Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” Karen Ignagni, the president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents the industry.
Here is a dirty little secret: The reason that Obamacare needs to be repealed is that for it to “work,” people need to lose plans and access to the doctors they are comfortable with seeing. Otherwise, as the excerpt points out, consumers will see massive premium increases because the health insurance exchanges will consist primarily of poorer consumers with pre-existing conditions–many of whom will be in rather bad health indeed. Unless healthy, younger, and wealthier people are forced to lose their plans and forced to go into the exchanges, the risk won’t be acceptably balanced for insurers in the exchanges. Premium increases–which may be very significant–will be the only way to balance out those risks, and if you massively increase the premiums of poorer and sicker people, well, there goes the “affordable” part of the Affordable Care Act.
After the president announced the proposed changes, insurance regulators participated in a heated conference call, according to one regulator, where many expressed deep unhappiness about the proposal.
Some on the call felt “the president kind of threw us under the bus today,” the regulator said on the condition of anonymity because the discussion was supposed to be private.
What emerged from the call was a strongly worded statement warning of the possible effects of the president’s proposal.
“This decision continues different rules for different policies and threatens to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond,” said Jim Donelon, Louisiana’s insurance regulator and the president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
[. . .]
Insurers also expressed concern about the cost of reinstating policies that had already been purged from their computers and that had not been included in negotiations with doctors and hospitals. Carl McDonald, an analyst with Citigroup, said the president’s plan created an “enormous administrative burden” for insurers and predicted many would choose not to extend coverage.
“The complexity of trying to uncancel millions of canceled individual policies with only six weeks left in the year is staggering,” he wrote in a report.
Insurers who are new to the market could be particularly hurt by the proposal, with many people choosing to stay with their existing plans because they are less expensive rather than shop on the exchange. Consumer-operated plans, called co-ops, were set up to compete with existing insurers and must rely solely on attracting new customers.
The president’s new proposal is a deeply irresponsible one—and he knows that. The whole purpose of the press conference and the new policy is to save Barack Obama’s political skin. It has nothing whatsoever to do with making good policy that serves the interests of the American people.
Writing at Ezra Klein’s liberal Wonkblog, which has historically been supportive of Obamacare (though even Klein now realizes that the law is a complete mess), Sarah Kliff is surprisingly unsparing in disccussing the shortcomings of the Administration’s new plan:
When the drafters of the Affordable Care Act began working on a health reform law, there was a principle underpinning their goals: If they were going to make people buy insurance, they needed to make sure the insurance was worth buying. That meant covering the most important benefits and not charging older or sicker people exorbitant amounts.
What the White House announced today, under political pressure, is a temporary step back from that policy stance. The Obama administration will allow insurance companies to renew policies that do not meet health law standards through the end of 2014, senior White House officials told reporters on a call this morning.
And whether or not this quells the current political battle over cancellation notices, it is nearly certain to create a big mess for insurance companies and the state officials who regulate them.
“It’s just a big mess right now. . . . I don’t know what to tell people,” Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger told The Washington Post.
[. . .]
Here’s how Robert Laszewksi, an insurance consultant, put it in a note to clients earlier this morning:
This means that the insurance companies have 32 days to reprogram their computer systems for policies, rates, and eligibility, send notices to the policyholders via US Mail, send a very complex letter that describes just what the differences are between specific policies and Obamacare compliant plans, ask the consumer for their decision — and give them a reasonable time to make that decision — and then enter those decisions back into their systems without creating massive billing, claim payment, and provider eligibility list mistakes.
All by January 1.
No wonder USA Today’s editorial board recently came out with this:
The health insurance signup numbers the White House released Wednesday afternoon were deeply disappointing, though not particularly surprising.
Everyone knows that the HealthCare.gov website has been performing abysmally, and the actual numbers confirmed what everyone could only guess at until now because the White House had withheld the data.
Overall, only about one-fifth of the people the White House expected to sign up for insurance in the first month actually did so: 106,185 against a forecast of 500,000. That’s just slightly less than a capacity crowd at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium. And of those who signed up, only 26,794 did so on the federally run exchanges in 36 states. The rest enrolled on state-run exchanges.
The White House was pre-spinning the numbers weeks ago, as soon as it was clear that the website, which it had three-and-a-half years to make ready, was dysfunctional. Aides also pointed out that Massachusetts had similarly low sign-up rates when it first rolled out its universal health coverage plan. True, it’s human nature to wait until the last minute to do something, especially when that something involves paying money. And the number of people visiting the online marketplaces (26.9 million) does show potentially strong demand for the policies being offered.
But when the White House isn’t cluelessly advising people whose health insurance policies are being canceled to go shop at its barely functional website, it’s acting as if there’s plenty of time for people to sign up because the open enrollment period doesn’t end until March 31. Tell that to millions of would-be enrollees who don’t have the luxury of waiting that long because their insurance expires at the end of this year.
This may be a near-perfect specimen of that Washington perennial: the nonsolution solution. Insurers are already warning that they can’t simply allow people to stay on their old plans, firstly because all plans have to be approved by state insurers who haven’t signed onto this, and secondly because getting their computer systems to reissue the canceled policies is a hefty programming task that may not be possible to complete by the end of the year. But that’s not the administration’s problem, is it? They can say, “Hey, we changed the rule — if your insurer went ahead and canceled your policy anyway, that’s not our fault!”
The insurers are predictably furious. And it’s hard to blame them. One thing I haven’t seen anyone point out is that if insurers do go along with this, we’re talking about a massive cash transfer from the insurers to the customers in those grandfathered plans. Some of the left-wing commentators I’ve seen seem to be under the impression that health insurers make fabulous profits, and canceling plans was a venal move to further line their overflowing pockets with your hard-earned dollars. In fact, health insurance profits are quite modest (though relatively steady). Their business and rates are very heavily regulated, and never more so than post-Obamacare, when insurers with excess profits in the individual market have to contribute half their overage to a reinsurance fund. Those people suggested that insurers would decline to renew the policies so that they could keep all that extra cash.
Todd Purdum points out the lies keep coming:
. . . As recently as last week, the White House website itself was still pledging, “Nothing in the proposal forces anyone to change the insurance they have. Period.”
[. . .]
After the law’s razor-thin partisan passage in 2010, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, then House speaker, predicted that it would create “four million jobs, 400,000 jobs almost immediately.” In fact, some respected studies suggest that the law will have little net impact on overall employment, pro or con. That is so in part because of a tension inherent in the Affordable Care Act: It contains penalties for employers with 50 or more full-time workers who fail to provide coverage — which might cause some to lay off workers rather than comply — but also includes expansion of Medicaid and government subsidies that are expected to increase demands for treatment from doctors and hospitals.
Pelosi also predicted that that law would help Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections (a claim made again just the other day by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair, with reference to next year’s elections). When the precise opposite proved true, health care became an all but forbidden topic in the White House. It survived a challenge in the Supreme Court, only to again become an issue in Obama’s reelection campaign, when he was once more moved to defend it with sweeping optimistic predictions — like the one about keeping coverage.
The reality was always much less certain.
“There’s a piece of me that says this thing is just so complicated that God couldn’t have implemented it,” said Tom Peters, the veteran management guru and co-author of “In Search of Excellence.” “Every time you make one little adjustment, there are probably 150, if not 1,000, regulations that have to be taken into account. Would it be doable if it was inside a Google, with all the things the private sector allows you to do? But presumably at the top of the administration, I have to assume there was de facto no oversight of this thing.”
Just last summer, Bryan Sivak, chief technology officer of the Department of Health and Human Services, told Alex Howard of The Atlantic that the healthcare website was “fast, built in static HTML, completely stable and secure,” and Howard declared: “HealthCare.gov is the rarest of birds: a next generation website that also happens to be a .gov.”
And keep coming. House Democrats appear to have serious problems with reality–problems so severe that no one who actually cares about responsible government ought to trust them to possess any power whatsoever:
. . . Obama assured Americans they could keep health care policies they liked. And it wasn’t just Obama. “One of our core principles is that if you like the health care you have, you can keep it,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in August 2009. “If you like what you have, you can keep it,” said then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in October of the same year.
Many, many Democrats promised the same thing. They had to. If they had declared openly that millions of Americans would lose their current coverage and face higher premiums and deductibles — if Obama and Democratic leaders had said that, they would not have been able to maintain party unity in support of the bill, and the Affordable Care Act would never have passed Congress.
It would not have mattered that Republicans opposed the bill unanimously. A frank public discussion of Obamacare would have divided Democratic support, with the result being no new law at all.
But now, as the reality of Obamacare begins to present itself in the lives of millions of Americans, the president and his party can no longer avoid an honest look at the law they passed. And one part of that honesty will be examining what they said when they passed Obamacare. There will likely be a lot of accountability in coming months.
For example, on Thursday afternoon, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Rep. Steve Israel, a leading congressional Democrat, whether the bill’s supporters “were as forthright about some of the issues as they could have been” during the Obamacare debate. Tapper specified not just the president’s keep-your-coverage promise but “some of the tradeoffs” of the law that favor some Americans over others. “If you could go back in time, do you think there should have been more honest salesmanship?” Tapper asked.
“Well, there should have been certainly more precise education and more precise salesmanship, there’s no question about that,” Israel said. “But you can’t go back in time.”
Yes, you can. Not literally; of course Democrats can’t have a do-over. But the American people can certainly go back in time and examine the Democratic sales job for Obamacare in light of today’s reality. The president and his party knew full well the tradeoffs they were making; they just didn’t tell the rest of the country.
And with any luck, power will utterly and completely ebb away from the party as a consequence of this botched law and the lies that led to its passage:
The reaction to the incompetence, arrogance and deception has ranged from ridicule to anger. But more is in jeopardy than just panicked congressional Democrats. This is the signature legislative achievement of the Obama presidency, the embodiment of his new entitlement-state liberalism. If Obamacare goes down, there will be little left of its underlying ideology.
Perhaps it won’t go down. Perhaps the Web portal hums beautifully on Nov. 30. Perhaps they’ll find a way to restore the canceled policies without wrecking the financial underpinning of the exchanges.
Perhaps. The more likely scenario, however, is that Obamacare does fail. It either fails politically, renounced by a wide consensus that includes a growing number of Democrats, or it succumbs to the financial complications (the insurance “death spiral”) of the very amendments desperately tacked on to save it.
If it does fail, the effect will be historic. Obamacare will take down with it more than Mary Landrieu and Co. It will discredit Obama’s new liberalism for years to come.
The notion that Obamacare’s disastrous rollout could crush Democratic hopes is an entirely reasonable one, according to Ronald Brownstein:
The aftershocks from this failure are already rattling many windows. The most immediate damage is measured in Obama’s declining ratings for competence, trustworthiness, and overall performance. Although surveys have not yet found any gusting demand for repeal, they continue to record gale-force misgivings about the law’s impact, particularly among whites. In the exit polls taken during Virginia gubernatorial election last week, two-thirds of whites said they opposed the law; incredibly, a 52 percent majority of white voters said they strongly opposed it (three-fourths of minorities, meanwhile, said they backed the law).
This resurgence of resistance has emboldened Republicans and significantly increased the odds that the 2016 GOP presidential nominee will again run on repealing the law, as Mitt Romney did in 2012. It has also unnerved the president’s party. The Democratic confusion was visible in former President Clinton’s suggestion this week that Obama should allow consumers receiving cancellation notices in the existing individual market to keep their current plans.
Because the individual market now largely excludes the sick (through rules such as denying coverage for preexisting conditions), the relatively modest number of Americans who use it tend to be healthy. If they are allowed to remain outside the new system, the more comprehensive policies sold on the exchanges could tilt too heavily toward the old and sick. And that, notes Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, “would generate a huge [premium] rate shock in 2015” that could further discourage the healthy from enrolling and risk a fatal downward spiral.
Even if the former president intended to distance Hillary Rodham Clinton from the backlash with his remarks, his remedy would expose her, and other Democrats, to greater risk that the new system will sink entirely and submerge them all in future elections. Helping those losing policies to afford new coverage makes more sense for Democrats than allowing them to remain outside the system.
When the rollout of your health care plan is compared to the handling of Hurricane Katrina, you know that there are problems afoot. And as Kimberley Strassel writes, the president’s press conference yesterday and his faux-policy fix do nothing to alleviate pressures on Democrats:
The primary purpose of the White House “fix” was to get out ahead of the planned Friday vote on Michigan Republican Fred Upton’s “Keep Your Health Plan Act.” The stage was set for dozens of Democrats to join with the GOP for passage—potentially creating a veto-proof majority, and putting enormous pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to follow suit.
The White House couldn’t risk such a bipartisan rebuke. Moreover, the Upton bill—while it lacks those GOP joy words of “delay” or “repeal”—poses a threat, since it would allow insurers to continue providing non-ObamaCare policies to any American who wants one. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu‘s version of the bill would in fact (unconstitutionally) order insurers to offer the plans in perpetuity. Both bills undermine the law’s central goal of forcing healthy people into costly ObamaCare exchange plans that subsidize the sick.
The president’s “fix” is designed to limit such grandfathering, but that’s why it is of dubious political help to Democrats. Within minutes of Mr. Obama’s announcement, several Democratic senators, including North Carolina’s Kay Hagan —whose poll numbers have plummeted in advance of her 2014 re-election bid—announced that they remain in favor of Landrieu-style legislation.
And the White House “fix” doesn’t save Democrats from having to take a vote on the Upton bill. A yes vote is a strike at the president and an admission that the law Democrats passed is failing. A no vote is tailor-made for political attack ads and requires a nuanced explanation of why the president’s “fix” is better than Upton’s. Which it isn’t. Politicians don’t do nuance very well. This explains why the Democratic leadership on Thursday promised to soon introduce its own legislation that would “reinforce” the White House change (and, it hopes, provide its members better cover).
Finally, let’s make sure that we all remember that the president’s announcement yesterday is a plainly unconstitutional exercise of his powers. Eugene Kontorovich:
President Obama in his speech on “fixing” the Affordable Care Act today did not specify what statutory authority, if any, he thinks authorizes him to make such dictats. Given the gargantuan length of the ObamaCare statute, he might still be looking. Press reports say the President is claiming a broad “enforcement discretion.”
It is true that the Chief Executive has some room to decide how strongly to enforce a law, and the timing of enforcement. But here, Obama is apparently suspending the enforcement of a law for a year – simply to head off actual legislation not to his liking. Congress is working on legislation quite similar to the president’s fix, but with differences he considers objectionable. This further demonstrates the primarily legislative nature of the fix.
Indeed, the fix goes far beyond “non-enforcement” because it requires insurers to certain new action to enjoy the delay. This is thus not simply a delay, but a new law.
According to the President’s announcement, insurance companies will be allowed to renew policies that were in force as of October 1, 2013 for one additional year, even if they fail to meet relevant PPACA requirements. What is the legal basis for this change? The Administration has not cited any. (See, e.g., this letter to state insurance commissioners explaining the change.) According to various press reports, the Administration argues it may do this as a matter of enforcement discretion (much as it did with immigration). In other words, the Administration is not changing the law. It’s just announcing it will not enforce federal law (while simultaneously threatening to vetolegislation that would authorize the step the President has decided to take).
Does this make the renewal of non-compliant policies legal? No. The legal requirement remains on the books so the relevant health insurance plans remain illegal under federal law. The President’s decision does not change relevant state laws either. So insurers will still need to obtain approval from state insurance commissioners. This typically requires submitting rates and plan specifications for approval. This can take some time, and is disruptive because most insurance companies have already set their offerings for the next year. It’s no wonder that some insurance commissioners have already indicated they have no plans to approve non-compliant plans.
There is no way–none–that this latest move by the White House can be considered in any way legal. Someone with standing–likely the state insurance commissioners and/or the insurers themselves–should sue for an injunction that blocks the president’s fiat. Additionally, all of the people who made a big show of denouncing the alleged imperial presidency of George W. Bush should denounce the actions of the actual imperial presidency we have now.
Both Democrats and Republicans know America desperately needs tax reform. But what changes would both boost long-term growth and bring in enough revenue to pay the bills? In this week's Money & Politics podcast, we chat with economist Alan Viard, tax policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
Prior to joining AEI, Viard was a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and an assistant professor of economics at Ohio State University. He has also been a visiting scholar at the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Tax Analysis, a senior economist at the White House's Council of Economic Advisers, and a staff economist at the Joint Committee on Taxation of the US Congress. Viard received his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and a B.A. in economics from Yale University.
Here are some of Viard's writings on tax policy:
Six long-run tax and budget realities - Tax Notes
The quickest way to wreck corporate tax reform - Real Clear Markets