There was a small story during last year's campaign after the October 2012 jobs report gave unexpectedly good news (a decline in unemployment from 8.1% to 7.8%) that has since been largely forgotten. Jack Welch, former head of GE, called the number bogus, but Paul Krugman assured us that Welch and other critics were crackpots. "It was nonsense, of course. Job numbers are prepared by professional civil servants, at an agency that currently has no political appointees."
The decline — from 8.1 percent in August to 7.8 percent in September — might not have been all it seemed. The numbers, according to a reliable source, were manipulated.
And the Census Bureau, which does the unemployment survey, knew it.
Just two years before the presidential election, the Census Bureau had caught an employee fabricating data that went into the unemployment report, which is one of the most closely watched measures of the economy.
And a knowledgeable source says the deception went beyond that one employee — that it escalated at the time President Obama was seeking reelection in 2012 and continues today.
“He’s not the only one,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous for now but is willing to talk with the Labor Department and Congress if asked.
Crudele names Julius Blackmon as the source of the faked data, in response to pressure to meet goals for getting responses for the survey. He simply filled in surveys for people he hadn't actually contacted, Crudele claims.
“It was a phone conversation — I forget the exact words — but it was, ‘Go ahead and fabricate it’ to make it what it was,” Buckmon told me.
It wouldn't take many fakes to change the numbers significantly: a 60,000 person survey to cover 240 million adult workers means each survey respondent represents 4,000 workers. The Census Bureau says it should have told the Bureau of Labor Statistics and BLS says, in essence, yeah, you should have.
There are three takeaways from the story (and if you don't believe Mr. Crudele, you may as well stop reading, because these work under the assumption that he has the goods on both Mr. Blackmon and the Census' lack of follow-through):
First, the Krugman assertion turns out to be false. Long before the Obama Administration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics had engaged the Census Bureau via an annual contract to do the Current Population Survey (CPS) for them. I doubt Krugman knew this; I know I didn't, and I teach this stuff for a living. I thought BLS did it. And we've known for some time that there has been politicization of the Census Bureau. In February 2009, John Boehner gave a press conference bemoaning the move of the Census from the Commerce Department to the White House. Yet, at that time, BLS did not choose to take its survey from Census. They should have had reason to know that the Census was in different hands. And, importantly, the Census director is a political appointment, unlike the director of BLS.
Second, Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee, had paid attention to the Census Bureau in 2009 over concerns about the decennial Census and the concomitant Congressional redistricting to follow. He claimed that this organization was to be nonpartisan. Yet there were complaints in 2010 about flipping enumerators at the Census to puff up what were then very bad jobs figures. I hate to add anything to the Chairman's already-full plate, and to suggest he missed one here seems a bit unfair. But he needs to track this story down with whatever information Mr. Crudele would provide.
Last, I confess that in 2012 I said on my radio program the Welch claims were likely untrue. In part, I failed to understand the contract between Census and BLS. But, more to the point, I find it disturbing that government officials game the numbers we use. I want to believe that the civil servants who take down the data are doing their jobs as best they can. (Full disclosure: a few are former students. I am protective of my young.) Part of me wants this story to be wrong, and part of me wants to believe Mr. Blackmon and his supervisor are just two bad Census employees. But it seems I've heard that story before.
The moral is to remind you and me once more to heed Stamp's Law:
The Government are very keen on amassing statistics—they collect them, add them, raise them to the nth power, take the cube root and prepare wonderful diagrams. But what you must never forget is that every one of those figures comes in the first instance from the chowty dar [chowkidar] (village watchman), who just puts down what he damn pleases.
Savvy public relations campaigns aren't unique to the abortion rights movement. That's just the only movement that is covered uncritically — more or less — by the mainstream media.
I wrote up some thoughts about that over at The Federalist, beginning with the curiously favorable media coverage of a couple that claimed their abortion was canceled due to new Texas safety regulations governing abortion clinics. There were various questions I had about the story, such as why the mother was running a public relations campaign against the regulations on the same day she claimed her abortion was canceled.
Also, of all the sympathetic figures for a heart-breaking abortion story out there, this was not that couple. They were financially well-off, educated, engaged, and at an age where they were possibly witnessing their last chance at conception. No media outlets, to my knowledge, even asked them about making an adoption plan for the child they'd conceived.
You can read the whole thing here.
That's probably where I should end this post, but I have to share another thing.
My piece struck a nerve. Here's popular abortion rights supporter Amanda Marcotte's response:
The anti-choice movement, at its core, is primarily a movement motivated by authoritarianism and conformity. The argument of pro-choicers—that people should have the right to determine for themselves things like whether or not to become pregnant or bring a pregnancy in their own body to term—makes them deeply uncomfortable for a very simple reason: If people have choices, they may make difference choices! And difference is scary. (Which is why being anti-choice is correlated with being uncomfortable with racial diversity and, of course, authoritarian religions that wish to use the force of law to push their beliefs on everyone else.) The deep urge to force everyone to be the same and to have a cookie cutter family life is on full display in this disgusting article by Mollie Hemingway at the Federalist where she determines, having watched a six minute video of a couple talking about their abortion experience, that she knows better than they do that it’s time for them to have a baby. And since they disagree, of course, they should therefore be required by law to procreate.
It goes on from there, including my favorite line, because it indicated how little she had to offer in response:
To which I clearly say [expletive] the [expletive] off.
Later she took to Twitter to talk about my piece. (A few of my responses, can be read here.) It really didn't go well for her. At all. As in, she compared pregnancy to colds, children to bacteria, and revealed deep ignorance about what antibiotics do.
She's not exactly known for her coherency or grasp of logic but this was just an epic meltdown. I should not have enjoyed it as much as I did.
Obamacare Is Bringing Down the Obama AdministrationNovember 18, 2013
With each passing day, the president’s signature legislative achievement is becoming more and more of a liability for him and for his administration, politically. (We leave aside for the moment the policy liability that it is and always has been for the country.) Josh Kraushaar invites us to contemplate the previously unthinkable scenario ofDemocrats (yes, you read that right. Democrats) urging the repeal of Obamacare:
There’s nothing that Democrats want more than to change the subject from Obamacare, despite DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s protestations otherwise. Congressional Democrats don’t want to be dealing with a drip-drip of news about premiums going up, patients losing their doctors, and a broken health care website as they face angry voters in 2014. Hillary Clinton doesn’t want this issue lingering past the midterms. She hitched her presidential prospects to President Obama’s wagon and she’s not about to let someone else’s crisis damage her presidential ambitions yet again, Even Vice President Joe Biden, who called the health care law a “big f—ing deal,” didn’t mention it once at a fundraiser last week for North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan.
Unless the HealthCare.gov website miraculously gets fixed by next month, there’s a growing likelihood that over time, enough Democrats may join Republicans to decide to start over and scrap the whole complex health care enterprise. That became clear when even Obama, to stop the political bleeding, offered an administrative fix that threatened the viability of the entire individual exchange market to forestall a House Democratic mutiny the next day. It was as clear sign as any that the president is pessimistic about the odds that the federal exchange website will be ready by the end of the month, as promised.
More than anything, politics is about self-preservation, and the last two weeks provided numerous examples of how public opinion has turned so hard against the law that even its most ardent supporters are running for the hills. It’s not just red-state Democrats, like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, distancing themselves from the law. It’s blue-state senators like Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen — and top blue-state recruits like Michigan’s Gary Peters and Iowa’s Bruce Braley, who voted for GOP legislation Friday that the White House said would “gut” the law. Nearly every House Democrat in a competitive district joined with Republicans to threaten the law. Without a quick fix, those ranks will grow.
This tsunami of blowback, which built in just the last month, is unsustainable for Democrats over the long haul. The president isn’t just losing his skeptics from the chaotic Obamacare rollout but his allies who stood to gain from the law’s benefits — namely Hispanics, whose approval of the president has dropped more than any demographic subgroup since the problems began. The simplest solution — if only to stop the bleeding — is to get the website fixed. (When former DNC Chairman Howard Dean’s proposal is to hire tens of thousands of young phone operators to sign people up for insurance — straight out of a Jerry Lewis telethon – as he suggested on “Morning Joe,” it’s clear the website problems are really bad.).
Would President Obama sign a death warrant on his own signature legislation? That’s almost impossible to imagine, but it’s entirely reasonable that he may not have a choice in the matter. Consider: Despite the White House’s protestations, 62.4 percent of the House voted for Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton’s legislation (261-157), just shy of the two-thirds necessary to override a veto. And consider the House Democrats who voted against Upton’s bill but nonetheless released harsh statements criticizing Obamacare. Maryland Rep. John Delaney, in a statement, wrote: “The problem we have currently is that the Affordable Care Act is not working.” Added Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick: “The stunning ineptitude of the ACA marketplace rollout is more than a public relations disaster. It is a disaster for the working families in my Arizona district who badly need quality, affordable health care.” Add them into the mix — the dozens more members who were poised to split with the president until his face-saving press conference — and you’ve got all but the hardy Obama loyalists who could end up bolting if the political environment doesn’t improve.
Ron Fournier–who has been a tiger concerning this story–notes that the Obama administration’s display of utter incompetence has not yet run its course. Read the whole thing–to excerpt one part of it would be to have to excerpt all parts, and I am certainly not going to do that–but note that the White House is defining down what a successful website registration means, there were no benchmarks included in the technology contracts, the administration is hardly being transparent with the public, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi still refuse to tell the truth, and there has been no one fired and there will be no one fired for this display of incompetence in the near future. The administration is not exactly setting records in the getting-back-the-trust-of-the-people department.
Walter Russell Mead points us to the frankly scary fact–which cannot be emphasized enough–that right up until the rollout of Obamacare, the president did not know that the signup vehicle for his signature legislation would not work. I imagine, of course, that the president did know that even if Americans liked their plans, and the doctors and hospitals that they were seeing, they wouldn’t be able to keep those plans/doctors/hospitals, so in addition to presidential inattention to detail, we also have to contend with presidential dishonesty, and the dishonesty of all those who joined the president in selling Obamacare to the public. Again, the president bears responsibility for his lack of intellectual curiosity regarding the workings of the Obamacare website, but as Mead notes, the president doeshave a staff which is supposed to alert him to oncoming disasters. The staff dropped the ball completely, and it cannot be emphasized enough that as of this writing, the president’s response has been to fire no one.
We are not, of course, done with things that might go wrong:
The stumble-filled debut of President Barack Obama’s health care law is drawing new attention to the other risks that have been on the radar screen of health care wonks for months. Think health insurance plans sinking under the weight of sick customers, newly insured people being stunned that they still have to spend on health care, and possibly another wave of canceled policies — right before the 2014 elections.
They’re mostly worst-case scenarios, and an Obamacare recovery in the next few months could still prevent some of the biggest ones from ever happening. But health care experts are taking all of them a lot more seriously now — because at this point, why wouldn’t they?
So, the time bombs to be worried about are as follows:
- The Death Spiral. Only sick people get on the health insurance exchanges, which means that there will be skyrocketing premiums since the risk is not balanced out for insurers by having healthy people in the exchanges as well. The malfunctioning website increases the chances that there will be a death spiral, because healthy, richer people will give up on signing up for the exchanges faster than will poorer, sicker people.
- Implementing the President’s New Cancellations Fix. In addition to the fix being an utterly cynical political maneuver with no redeeming policy consequences, it is going to be costly to implement as well. Insurance prices may rise despite the “fix,” or perhaps even because of it.
- Election Season Price Increases. This will be a political headache for the Obama administration and for Democrats, but it will, of course, also be bad for ordinary people who are less interested in politics and more interested in making sure that they can balance their personal budgets. You know, the people the administration and its allies said would be helped by Obamacare.
- Obamacare May Cause You to Have No Coverage. If you can’t get insurance by December 15th, you may be utterly and completely without it until January 1st of next year. If something happens to you in the interim, well, tough, I guess. Behold the compassionate nature of Obamacare.
- “Insurance Is How Much?!?!” If you think that there will be no sticker shock associated with Obamacare, you might want to think again. And in the event that you are hoping that subsidies will absorb some of the price shock, remember that most people simply will not qualify for subsidies. And even if you get subsidies, you may get the wrong ones because of a change in your income after a subsidy payment.
- You May Not Even Be Able to Prove You Are Covered. As the Politico story notes, this was a problem for people who registered for Medicare Part D. Given the website problems, it is sure to be an issue with Obamacare.
Other than all of that, of course, I am sure that things will go wonderfully.
Or maybe not. It appears that even if you sign up for insurance by December 15th and make your first premium payment, you may not get coverage until January 1st. And paying the premium is very difficult because–guess what?!?!–the website doesn’t work. As the story indicates “[t]he window of opportunity for consumers needing coverage for 2014 for all practical purposes may be about a week.”
The White House is now forced to try to bypass the very website it touted as the best vehicle with which to sign up for Obamacare, and it needs the help of insurers to do so. These are the very same insurers the Obama administration and its allies tried to blame for the cancellation of insurance that you were supposed to keep “period” if you liked; never mind the fact that in canceling the insurance, the insurers were only doing what the Affordable (ha!) Care Act told them they had to do–cancel insurance policies that did not meet Obamacare standards. Gee, I wonder why this calamity is being considered a threat to liberalism itself, in addition to being considered a mortal blow to the president’s prospects for a successful second term.
It's time to break out the Riddler jackets for another edition of Question Time on the Ricochet Podcast. Leave your queries for Rob, James, and Peter below and then tune in Wednesday for the answers. We'll endeavor to get to as many as we can.
Sorry we missed you in L.A., EJ.
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.
I am not awash in unwanted cash, alas. If I were, however, this is what I would do. I would buy billboard space all over the country, and I would buy radio advertisements. The theme would be simple: "Make Him Keep his Promise!" On the billboards, that is all that is required. There is no need for a picture; there is no need to mention the man's name. Everyone will know to whom the pronoun refers, and the billboard will remind drivers of the problem every day that they pass the sign.
In the radio advertisements, I would broadcast the President making his promise over and over. Then I would broadcast his non-apologetic apology and point out the manner in which what he put on offer in Thursday's press conference falls well short of what he promised: A one-year stay of execution, even if it could be delivered, is not the same thing as being able to keep the health insurance that one had before Obamacare. Finally, I would broadcast Bill Clinton saying, “Even if it takes a change to the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got.”
My aim would be simple: to force Harry Reid to call a vote on the bill, authored by Fred Upton, that the House passed on Friday.
The insurance policy cancellation problem is not going to go away. There is no way that the state insurance commissioners and the insurance companies can radically change course overnight.
The trick is to make everyone aware that this whole mess turns on the fact that Barack Obama and the Democrats in the Senate and the House lied, lied, and lied again and that they are still trying to weasel out of their promise. As Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) told ABC News on Sunday, "We all knew."
Hold them to their promise! And if they are unwilling to make good on that promise, ask the voters next November to send a message to Washington.
The key to success, as I have argued time and again over the last four years, is to nationalize the elections to the House and the Senate. Make them turn not on the putative competence or likeability of individual candidates or on the reputation of the Republican Party but on a great national issue that divides the house in which we live.
The following advertisement, which is about to be broadcast on national television, is a good start:
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.