The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It's crazy!

On the one hand, there are online posts like Lanhee Chen's on the Bloomberg site, entitled “If 2013 Was Hard on Obamacare, Just Wait for 2014,” giving us the news that “Obamacare” is on its way down the tubes, and giving us some hope that this colossal mistake will be repealed soon. On the other hand, there are also posts like Jonathan Cohn's, on the New Republic site, entitled “We Don't Know if Obamacare Is Working Well. But We Know It's Working.” This post seems to imply that things are back on track with it, that we just have to let it work out some rough spots. They can't be looking at the same facts.

I wish I had all the facts. But what I've seen mostly confirms the first position. “Obamacare” is a disaster, and needs to be put out of its misery — quickly. But how to do so, with Obama in the White House? I do have to admit, I don't really know. Until President Obama is replaced by a competent chief executive, like Chris Christie, it looks like “Obamacare” will limp along, with temporary postponements of its worst features. And the United States will limp along too, with nobody knowing what will be the rules in a month. A shame, but too many people were dazzled into electing this total incompetent — people said Sarah Palin was inexperienced in 2008, but she was a seasoned veteran in gevernment executive experience compared with Barack Obama!

All one can do is hope that a Republican Senate will be elected in the coming year to go along with John Boehner's Republican House, and between them, as much of President Obama's agenda as possible will be frustrated.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

As the year approaches its end...

…there has been good and bad news.

For people who believe that anyone should be allowed to marry whoever they want to, it has been very good. There are now 18 states and the District of Columbia where marriage equality is the law — and who would have thought Utah would be in such a short list? — up from 10 at the start of the year. That is certainly good news.

The start of “Obamacare” is mixed news: it is certainly unfortunate that so many people are finding they can't keep the insurance they like, despite President Obama's promise, but the good thing is that even Democratic poluticians are having second thoughts about the law, and there might be enough delaying of its provisions that by the time they are ready to take effect, President Christie might be able to sign a repealing act.

Speaking of Chris Christie, more good news is that his re-election by a landslide, in a very blue state, shows that a Republican can win Democrats' votes while governing according to his own values.

The other gubernatorial race, in Virginia, has to be considered bad news, though Ken Cuccinelli is hardly the one I would have liked to see win. His nomination, of course, was really bad news, because it gave the GOP another candidate in the Todd Akin/Richard Mourdock/Christine O'Donnell mold, someone who drove away a lot of voters that a more moderate Republican could have won over. But the fact that Cuccinelli came as close as he did goes to show how poisonous “Obamacare” is. If the Republicans had nominated a Bill Bolling, they would certainly have won this election.

We will have to see what 2014 brings. I think we have to prepare for anything.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The biggest reason to nominate Chris Christie in 2016

There are a number of recent polls that show that in a race with Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie would win, and every other likely Republican nominee would lose.

Please, let us keep that fact in mind. We need to have a new President who would turn this government away from the direction which Barack Obama has chosen. If this is so, we need to have a GOP nominee who can win in 2016, not one who will lose to Hillary. We need to be sure that the GOP nominates a proven winner: Chris Christie.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The right to marry advances

Six days ago, a Federal court forced the state of Utah to legalize same-sex marriage, a day after another court decidid the same issue for New Mexico. There are now eighteen states, more than a third of the fifty total, with legal same-sex marriage.

Utah is a major surprise. It is a very conservative state, heavily Mormon, and the Mormon church has strongly opposed the right to marry for same-sex couples. A poll in 2011 found Utah citizens strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. If a judge can legalize same-sex marriage in Utah, it may well be the case that nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage will follow sooner than I would have thought.

The division among the people will still persist, and this may well become as divisive an issue as abortion has become since Roe v. Wade. Yet there is really less reason for that. In the case of Roe, I can really understand some people's conviction that a fetus is a person and abortion is murder — I can understand it, though I think they are totally wrong! But I do not understand how allowing John and Joe (or Jane and Joan) to marry affects anyone else's marriage. No clergyman is forced to perform a same-sex marriage, any more than a rabbi who will not perform an interreligious one is forced to, and if a florist or a baker is made to provide his product for use at such a marriage, he is not being called to recognize such a marriage as a marriage,: he is only selling a bouquet or a cake to some people having a party. I can't see how his religious freedom is being impacted, as some conservative columnists have intimated.

But things are moving faster than 'd expected!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A note to Christians reading this blog

While I am on many points in agreement with those on the political Right, there is one point on which I find us at serious odds. I recall having read Rush Limbaugh complaining about an “assault on Christmas,” and as far as I'm concerned, I'm proud to join that assault.

Now get my point correctly. I have no problem with your celebrating the birth of the founder of your religion privately, at home, or in your churches. Where I object is your attempting to make those of us who do not share your religion take part in that observance. I don't want to be wished a Merry Christmas — how would you appreciate being given some other religion's equivalent? I don't mind the idea of you having a Merry Christmas, or wishing it to each other — but can you take the trouble to find out whether someone celebrates Christmas before wishing someone a Merry Christmas?

Christmas is a time of sadness for me. I think of the time I was, at age 10, suddenly ostracized by a music teacher who had liked me enough to teach me songs to sing outside of class, simply because I refused to sing carols with words like “O come let us adore him, Christ the lord,” as contrary to my own religion. I think of the time, many years later, when in graduate school in Charlottesville, Virginia, I could eat, on one December 25, only what I could get in vending machines because not a single restaurant in that city was open. (At least, here in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D. C., I know of some places that will remain open; I think I'll be eating Chinese food this year.)

So please let alone those of us who are not Christians. Let me try to make this just a plain old Wednesday, not a festive day at all. We have our rights too.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A bad year for President Obama?

People are saying that this is a bad year for President Obama, with the botched rollout of Obamacare, various setbacks abroad, and such. But (unfortunately for the American people) it's not bad enough, and will not become bad enough. He is protected by the provisions of our Constitution that fix the term of office of the President. He has a sympathetic Senate, so he will not be removed by impeachment, despite the unconstitutionality of the way he's run his office. So he will serve until January 2017, more than three years from now.

I love our Constitution. It's survived longer than any other written constitution in history, and generally served us well. But once in a while, it leads to unfortunate consequences. And right now, we're in such a time. A president who, whether through incompetence or sheer malice, is wrecking the country, but who cannot be restrained. And three years more remaining in his term. It may have been a bad year for President Obama, but it's also a bad era — not just one year, but eight, of which we're only in the middle — for the American public.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Yet another Obama suspension of Obamacare

President Obama has suspended for one year the individual mandate in Obamacare — for some people. He will not allow the Congress — which the Constitution says has this responsibility — to delay or repeal the worst of the Obamacare disruptions, but he feels he has the power to make such delays unilaterally. Just one more case where the President thinks he is the Mayor of Chicago, who operates under a charter which provides for a weak mayor but actually exercises almost the power of an absolute monarch, rather than a Constitution-bound chief executive.

Yet it is senseless to try to impeach him. Because impeachment requires the agreement of two thirds of the Senate to remove a President, and there just won't be that two-thirds vote. Sad news for those of us who believe in our Constitution.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Polarization and divisive Presidents

Before George W. Bush was elected President, he remarked “I'm a uniter, not a divider.” Yet the country was more divided and polarized during his Presidency than it had been for a long time. And his successor, Barack Obama, had also expressed similar rhetoric:

Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.

There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.

But under this same Barack Obama, the polarization increased even more, to the point that it is hard to believe that it can ever be repaired. The United States Senate, for example, recently adopted a change of rules to throttle the minority's ability to filibuster executive nominees for some positions.

George W. Bush believed he could unite Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D. C., because he had done so as Governor of Texas. But Texas Democrats are a different breed from the Democrats he faced in the Nation's Capital: conservative enough that Bush could work with them without compromising his principles. In fact, George W. Bush's lieutenant governor during much of his service was a Democrat, Bob Bullock, and yet they were able to work closely together. But Bullock was not the vicious partisan that Bush faced in Nancy Pelosi in Washington, D. C. So he could not unite the parties in D. C.

And similarly, Barack Obama didn't understand the task when he became George W. Bush's successor as President. He had never been a chief executive. And his experience in south-side Chicago politics had never exposed him to the principles that Republicans hold dear. He assumed they shared his values, and tried to sell them his plans based on those values — which of course failed utterly.

So what would it take to be a unifying President? For one, someone who has been a chief executive in a state where the other party has a lot of power — a Democrat in a red state, or a Republican in a blue; and it would also take someone who has actually worked with the leaders of the opposite party to accomplish what he set forth as his program. Mitt Romney would have been someone who had a chance to fill that role; unfortunately, he faced an African-American opponent who brought out his co-race voters in 93% proportions, and with historically high turnouts. In the absence of this factor, he would be President now, and we would not be going through the throes of agony over “Obamacare's” launch. But we can't turn the clock back to 2012 and rerun it, and it is obvious to me that this nation's most likely path toward unification is to have Chris Christie as the next president. It is devoutly to be hoped that the hard-line conservatives in the GOP do not thwart the nomination of the one Republican who seems likely to win in 2016. And if the 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election is any clue, if the Republicans do nominate Christie, he will win, getting a lot of votes from people who normally support Democratic candidates.

And that is the path to a united Unoted States.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Competence - sorely deficient in the Obama administration

Peggy Noonan runs a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s site which posted, on December 17, 2013, a column called “Incompetence.” It is really worth reading.

Everyone is doing thoughtful year-end pieces on President Obama. Writers and reporters agree he’s had his worst year ever. I infer from most of their essays an unstated but broadly held sense of foreboding: There’s no particular reason to believe next year will be better, and in fact signs and indications point to continued trouble.

I would add that in recent weeks I have begun to worry about the basic competency of the administration, its ability to perform the most fundamental duties of executive management. One reason I worry is that I frequently speak with people who interact with the White House, and when I say, “That place just doesn’t seem to work,” they don’t defend it, they offer off-the-record examples of how poorly the government is run. One thing that’s clear this holiday season: New York’s Democrats, to the degree they ever loved the president, don’t love him anymore, and have moved on. They are not thinking about what progress he might make in Washington next year, they’re talking about what Hillary might do the year after that.

My worries came home with a certain freshness after the Mandela memorial, where the United States Secret Service allowed the president of the United States to stand for 19 minutes next to the famous sign-language interpreter who, it was quickly revealed, was not only a fraud but a schizophrenic con man who is now said to have been involved in two deaths. In fairness, the event was in another country and the Secret Service wasn’t strictly in charge. That said, it still looks like very basic negligence, as if no one is keeping enough of an eye on the Secret Service, no one’s checking the quality of the advance or sending emails asking: “Hey, what do we know about the sign language guy—any chance he’s a mentally ill criminal?”

It all looks so lax, so loosey-goosey. In the place of the energy and focus that would go into the running of things, the administering and managing of them, we have the preoccupation with spin, with how things look as opposed to how they are. The odd thing still is that the White House never misses a speech, a list of talking points, an opportunity to shape the argument on TV. They do the talking part, but the doing? They had 3½ years to make sure ObamaCare will work, three years to get it right top to bottom, to rejigger parts of the law that they finally judged wouldn’t work, to make the buying of a policy easy on the website. And they not only couldn’t do that, which itself constitutes an astounding and historic management failure, they make it clear they were taken aback by their failure. They didn’t know it was coming! Or some knew and for some reason couldn’t do anything.

And it’s all going to continue. One reason this scandal isn’t Katrina is that Katrina had a beginning and an end. The storm came, the storm left, the cleanup commenced and failed and then continued and succeeded. At some point it was over. ObamaCare will never be over. It’s going to poison the rest of the administration. It’s the story that won’t go away because it will continue to produce disorder. Wait, for instance, until small businesses realize it will be cheaper to throw their people off their coverage and take the fines than it will be to reinsure them under the new regime.

I’m worried, finally, that lines of traditionally assumed competence are being dropped. The past few weeks I can’t shake from my head this picture: The man with the football—the military aide who carries the U.S. nuclear codes, and who travels with the president—is carrying the wrong code. He’s carrying last month’s code, or the one from December 2012. And there’s a crisis—a series of dots on a radar screen traveling toward the continental U.S.—and the president is alerted. He’s in the holding room at a fundraiser out west. The man with the football is called in and he fumbles around in his briefcase and gets the code but wait, the date on the code is wrong. He scrambles, remembers there’s a file on his phone, but the phone ran out on the plane and he thought he could recharge in the holding room but there’s no electrical outlet. All eyes turn to him. “Wait—wait. No—uh—I don’t think that’s the code we use to launch against incoming from North Korea, I think that one takes out Paris!”

I have to say, I’ve never worried about this with any previous administration, ever.

“They mistook the White House for the government,” said an experienced old friend, a journalist and Democratic sympathizer. We were having holiday dinner and the talk turned to White House management. His thesis was that Obama and his staffers thought they could run the government from there, from the White House campus, and make big decisions that would be executed. They thought the White House was the government, but the government is a vast web of executive agencies that have to be run under close scrutiny, and within their campuses, to produce even minimally competent work.

I have come to see this as “West Wing” Disease. Young staffers grew up watching that show and getting a very romantic and specific sense of how government works. “The West Wing” was White House-centric. It never took place at the Agriculture Department. But government takes place at the Agriculture Department.

Anyway, my friend made me think of a story about Harry Truman. On leaving the White House after the 1952 election of Dwight Eisenhower, Truman made a small prediction about the general and his presidency. From memory: Eisenhower, Truman said, will pick up the phone and say do this and do that, pull this lever, and he’ll be shocked when nothing happens.

Ike was a general used to giving orders within an organization that takes the order and executes. But a government has to be leaned on every day, through management talent earned by experience. Generals can issue orders but federal agencies must be gently guided and clubbed around the head, every day.

People who run big businesses learn these facts of executive leadership early on. So do leaders of small businesses and great nonprofit organizations, and local political leaders in charge of local agencies whose success or failure can be charted.

Most of the Obama people just don’t have a background in executing. They have a background in communicating, not doing. That’s where their talent is—it’s where their boss’s talent is—and it’s a good talent, but not one that will in itself force a government to work well.

Whatever we look for from the Administration, we would like to see competence. The President may not agree with us on the direction the Government should go, but it’s particularly bad when it cannot even lead us in the direction they want us to go.

That’s just one more reason we need for Obama to be replaced in 2016 by the likes of Chris Christie. We need a competent President.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Obamacare -- a backward step?

Supposedly, the reason for implementing “Obamacare” was to expand health insurance coverage for Americans. But it looks as though it’s been a backward step in this direction, too. A post by Megan McArdle on the Bloomberg site, dated December 17, and entitled “Is Obamacare Really an Improvement on the Status Quo?” makes interesting reading. It begins:

By Jan. 1, fewer people may end up having insurance than before Obamacare.

Bob Laszewski, an insurance industry expert who has become the go-to guy for the news media on the rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (because the insurance industry is extremely reluctant to talk), tells the Weekly Standard that he thinks come Jan. 1, more people will have lost private insurance than gained it:

"Insurers privately tell Bob Laszewski that they think more people will have lost insurance by January 1 than the number who have signed up for Obamacare by January 1.

“‘I was out making some client calls this week with a number of different carriers and they know exactly how many policies they canceled and how many who reupped. And they know how many people have come in through the exchange,’ says Laszewski. ‘And I didn't find one of them who thought they were going to be net ahead on January 1. They all think they're going to net behind on January 1. That's where it's trending so far.’

“So far, at least 4.8 million Americans have received insurance cancellations notices, but Laszewski predicts that the total Obamacare enrollment will be less than half that number on January 1.“‘My guess is that we'll have somewhere around a million and a half people signed up for Obamacare on January 1 in the states and in,’ he says. The big question then, he adds, is 'why have we gone through this whole dislocation of the American health insurance system if only a million and a half to two million buy health insurance?’”

This is, of course, pretty bad news. And the post then continues:

Maybe we’ll make up some of the gap with Medicaid. But at the current pace of enrollment, it would be a big hurdle to make up all the losses. Which means that we may well start the year with fewer people insured than we had in January 2013. There’s reason to think that that may be what the administration is seeing in the latest enrollment numbers.

Get that? “[W]e may well start the year with fewer people insured than we had in January 2013.” If that isn't a backward step, I don't know what is!

One of the major defenses being offered for Obamacare — botched rollout and all — is that the status quo was so awful. Obamacare may have its issues, but at least it’s not the bad old days.

The problem with reformers is rarely that they’re wrong about the status quo; there are a lot of awful things in the world that could use fixing, and the reformers have usually correctly identified at least a few of them. The problem with radical reformers is that they tend to forget that things can get worse, as well as better.

That's one thing that the Obama campaign, with its “change” theme, refused to admit, but let me repeat it: “[T]hings can get worse, as well as better.” Conservatives understand this; radicals don't.

If I’d sketched out the current scenario last summer — computer systems don’t work for months, millions lose insurance, and by the beginning of December, only 1.2 million people have picked up coverage from the exchanges and Medicare combined — the law’s supporters would have rolled their eyes and shaken their heads at the wishful thinking of the law’s critics. And now they generally assume that it will of course get better — that by March 31, if not sooner, we will see a measurable and substantial reduction in the number of uninsured.

But while that’s certainly very possible, it doesn’t exactly seem inevitable. To be sure, I myself find it hard to believe that the number of uninsured people will actually rise, even temporarily, as a result of the law. On the other hand, the administration has been pretty quick to leak whenever they had good enrollment numbers, and we haven’t heard a peep since the beginning of the month. So however incredible, it’s at least a real possibility that we’ll see a net decline in coverage on Jan. 1 — or even on April 1.

That has implications beyond just the people who would be uninsured next year. A lot of these insurance pools are already pretty small. If enrollment is much lower than expected, many markets may not have enough customers to make a viable pool. Even if the insurance pool isn’t older and sicker than expected, a pool that is too small can be wiped out by a couple of unlucky and expensive illnesses.

If the December numbers show a net decrease in enrollment, the administration will probably offer reasons to hope that we’ll see a late influx of young, healthy customers by March. Or maybe they can argue that this is a down payment on the future, and things will really get going in 2015. If they can keep premiums low heading into Obamacare’s second year, then it’s probably reasonable to think that more people will sign up.

But you can’t just keep making down payments on the future forever; at some point, you have to close the sale. If the administration can’t deliver a substantial net enrollment expansion by winter’s end, Democrats are going to have a very hard sell with voters come next fall. And that, in turn, is going to make it harder for Democrats to actually build Obamacare into the coverage-expanding, cost-lowering, voter-pleasing program they thought they passed in 2013.

Of course, one thing I've been hoping is that “Democrats are going to have a very hard sell with voters come next fall.” That way, perhaps a Republican Senate will join the Republican House of Representatives in making it hard for Pres. Obama to continue his assault on the American people. But of course, unless Obama is replaced in 2016 by the likes of Chris Christie, we can't hope this mess is going to be cured.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Let’s help people, not force them!

Supporters of “Obamacare” take the Republicans and, in general, opponents of the act to task for trying to “sabotage the act rather than making it work better.” But there is a long and honorable precedent for this kind of activity, trying to sabotage an undesirable law rather than simply acquiescing in it and making it “work better.” Back in the early 19th Century, there was a Fugitive Slave Law, requiring people to turn over escaped slaves to their masters. But people who did not believe in slavery did not acquiesce — they actively worked to “sabotage” the law, by operating the “Underground Railroad” to get escaped slaves to Canada and freedom. “Obamacare” may not be quite as evil as the Fugitive Slave Law, but it is still bad law, and sabotaging it is a good end to strive for.

The goal of “Obamacare” is supposed to be universal health insurance, where everybody is insured — whether they want to be or not! And yet, even so, it is conceded by even its most fervent supporters that this goal will not be attained. I say that this is probably a good thing — it’s not a desirable goal in the first place — and a far better goal is to make sure that everyone who wants it can afford health insurance, while allowing those who don’t think they need it to “self-insure.” As I say in the title of this post, “Let’s help people, not force them!”

The guiding premise of “Obamacare” seems to be that the American people are like children, unable to figure out what is in their best interests, who need to be forced to do what is best for them. Not only the individual mandate, but even the rules that say that policies must cover thus-and-so, the ones that are forcing cancellations because existing policies (which their policyholders thought were right for them, but which the Obama administration has decided are “inadequate”) do not meet the standards, evince this philosophical attitude. A sensible plan would scrap this attitude and instead let the people decide what sort of health insurance plan is appropriate for them.

I am not going to write a total replacement law for “Obamacare” — I am not a Congressman, and my own Congressman is so strongly pro-Obama that I would never be able to get him to introduce a law on my behalf. But I have a few ideas which I think need to be expanded on.

The idea of “exchanges,” basically, is a good one. But it never should have been a state-by-state thing. Why can a resident of one state not be able to buy a policy that another person a few miles away can? While it might make sense for one state to establish a law that companies may not market a policy within a state if it fails to meet state standards, health insurance should be more like other commodities. If I see something I like that is only sold in one place, I can go there and buy it, and even, these days, buy it online from the place where it is sold. The exchanges — or rather, a national health insurance exchange — ought to work that way.

It has been stated that the requirement that preexisting conditions not preclude coverage requires an individual mandate. People, supposedly, will put off coverage until they are sick, and only enroll then. However, there is a better idea — which is already part of the way Medicare Part D (the prescription drug part of Medicare) works. You are not required to enroll in a prescription drug plan, but if you do not when you are eligible, then when you finally do, your premiums are raised, in proportion to the number of years you have not taken advantage of your eligibility. This is a far less coercive idea than making people pay a tax — and avoids the IRS being involved.

These are just a couple of the ideas that a replacement for “Obamacare” ought to consider.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

The world is mourning the death of South Africa's Nelson Mandela. And he deserves to be considered among the great.

In so many cases, the leader who brings a country to independence becomes a dictator. In the African continent alone, we have seen people like Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah and the still-serving Robert Mugabe of South Africa's neighbor, Zimbabwe. In the world's history, there have been very few George Washingtons — leaders who brought freedom to a colonized people and then showed, when the people brought them to power, that they truly believed in freedom and ran their governments appropriately. Nelson Mandela was one of the rare ones. And this despite being treated by the former governing class of his native land as a traitor, sentenced to life term in prison (though eventually freed), which could have made him extremely vindictive (once again, look next door, to Mugabe).

All one can say is that Nelson Mandela was one of the people that one wishes more would emulate. He was one of the great ones.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving note

Today is the day set aside for Americans to give thanks. And with our great divisions, one might wonder what to be thankful for. My thoughts are that we can be thankful that ours is a nation that finds, no matter how deep our divisions, a way to settle them peacefully. Only once have we had a civil war, and that ended almost a century and a half ago. We have had presidents elected against the wishes of a majority of people, and laws enacted which others have thought to be contrary to our founding principles, but we have always figured out how to get back to a peaceful polity. Even our current divisions over President Obama's policies, as unconstitutional as many of us (including myself) feel some of his actions have been, will be repaired. Of that I am certain, and for that I am thankful.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Too bad the election is still a year off

The Real Clear Politics site shows the generic Congressional vote being slightly in favor of the Republicans. It's just too bad that it's almost a year before an election takes place. Harry Reid still owns the Senate, and may yet make more mischief like what he just did in killing the filibuster rule. There are Senate rules that require unanimous consent for a lot of actions — but will Reid get those rules changed too?

Reid said that Congress was broken, and particularly the Senate was broken. But what is really broken is that Congress is not representing the people — and Reid's nuclear bomb makes it less so. President Obama is doing everything possible to frustrate the people's will, and the Senate is helping him.

What will fix the Senate is making Mitch McConnell the majority leader. And — unfortunately, that won't happen until an election next November and the installation of a new Senate in January 2015.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

It still puzzles me

Why do people keep posting statements that “The Republicans should try to make the ‘Affordable Care Act’ (aka Obamacare) work better, rather than trying to sabotage it”? I would love to be able to get their answer to a question: Suppose the Republicans, in a majority, passed a bill that you thought was an utterly bad thing for the country, and the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional. Would you think it your duty to “make the law work better and more efficiently”? Or would you work to repeal it, all the while putting up whatever barriers you had the power to create to prevent the law from going smoothly into force? Please answer that question, before you accuse Republicans of something unconscionable.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Let's pull together

When this blog was started in 2007, I was favoring a potential candidate for the 2008 Republican nomination, Rudolph W. Giuliani. I still think he would have been an excellent candidate, and an excellent President. But forces within the Republican Party decided he was not conservative enough for them. The candidate who was nominated, John McCain, was certainly good enough to get my support in the 2008 election, and I am sure he would have been a much better President than the man who actually won the office that year. But McCain was probably just too nice. He was not able to fight the Obama juggernaut. Would Giuliani have been able to win against Obama? Nobody really knows.

But the Republican Party needs to nominate a winner. Rudy Giuliani was able to win in strongly Democratic New York City, and McCain, for all his admirable qualities, had never been tested in such circumstances. By losing, the GOP found itself meekly standing by while the “stumulus that didn't stimulate” and the disaster known as Obamacare were unleashed on the American public.

Now we are looking forward to another chance, though it is three years away. The GOP has a chance to pull together behind someone who can win the Presidency. And we have a chance to pick another chief executive who has been shown able to win in a strongly Democratic jurisdiction. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is, like Giuliani, being dismissed by some as insufficiently conservative. My question to all those who want a Marco Rubio or a Rand Paul or the like is, do you want to cede the presidency to Hillary Clinton in 2016? The first task is to win. Even a Christie Administration is going to be better, even if you'd prefer Paul or Rubio, than one run by Hillary Clinton. Let's all get behind someone who can win — and nobody has shown this ability better than Chris Christie.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The relativity of politics

The Senate has changed its filibuster rule. Under the new rule, President Obama can appoint anyone he chooses to to a Federal judgeship, a compliant Democratic Senate majority will ratify it, and nobody will be in a position to prevent him. And Harry Reid is gloating: “The American people believe Congress is broken. The American people believe the Senate is broken. And I believe they are right.” And President Obama has said, “A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the results of an election is not normal. And for the sake of future generations, it cannot become normal.”

Of course, the shoe was on the other foot in 2005, with a Republican president and a Republican Senate. At that time, when a similar change was under consideration, a Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama said, “I urge my Republican colleagues not to go through with changing these rules. In the long run it is not a good result for either party. One day Democrats will be in the majority again and this rule change will be no fairer to a Republican minority than it is to a Democratic minority.” And the Democratic minority leader, a certain Harry Reid, said, “The threat to change Senate rules is a raw abuse of power and will destroy the very checks and balances our founding fathers put in place to prevent absolute power by any one branch of government.”

Interesting. But it shows how all is relative in politics. What was a “raw abuse of power” in 2005 when it might have been done by Republicans is now fixing a “broken” Senate when your people run it? It will all come around. The next time the Senate is Republican — in 2015? in 2017? — the Democrats will come to regret what they just did.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The "settled law" argument

Liberals like to say that “Obamacare is a law passed by Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court.” The arguments by “Sundance” on “The Last Refuge” blog should dispose of that. But in any case, any law Congress can pass, Congress can repeal. In 1798, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. There was no Supreme Court test of these, because prior to 1803, the Supreme court had not declared an act of Congress unconstitutional, but these laws were certainly as much settled law as Obamacare is now. Yet people as high as the Vice-President of the United States at the time, Thomas Jefferson, were so strongly opposed that Jefferson helped author state legislative resolutions against their enforcement. (Jefferson was the author, not publicly acknowledged at the time, of the Kentucky resolution, while another future President, who is acknowledged as well as the author of much of the Constitution, James Madison, had a similar rôle regarding the Virginia resolution.)

No law is ever totally settled. And anyone who thinks a law is a bad one certainly has the right to work for its repeal. If Thomas Jefferson and James Madison could take the actions they did on the Alien and Sedition Acts, no Republican should be considered unreasonable for opposing, by all means possible, Obamacare. (Even a Constitutional amendment is not beyond repeal. Look at the history of the Eighteenth Amendment, and the Twenty-first.)

You are also invited to read posts by Nick Gillespie on the blog, and by Noemie Emery on the Washington Examiner's site.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why should they do anything different?

Liberals are continually sniping at the Republicans, both in Congress and in the states, for “sabotaging the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare).” But why should they do anything else? The bill was written without the slightest bit of input from any Congressional Republicans — it's been called a “Republican bill” by some Democrats because some of its ideas were bruited by the conservative Heritage Foundation back in the 1990s, but these ideas were never accepted by anyone in the Republican establishment in Washington, D. C. — and passed with the vote of only one Republican Representative and no Republican Senators. It is clearly a bad bill in the eyes of all Republicans, so why should any of them lift a finger to help it work? It is in the interest of those of us who believe that it is a job-wrecker, an assault on our liberties, and such, to do all we can to make it fail, and fail so badly that the law will be repealed and a new law passed that accomplishes whatever is good in the bill, in a way that does not wreck the economy and our freedom. So there is nothing dishonorable in “sabotaging” Obamacare — and the Democrats would do exactly the same thing, the truth be told, if the Republicans were rolling out a bill that they felt to be as harmful as Republicans feel Obamacare is.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Social conservatism: the curse of the GOP

When we look at the recent elections in New Jersey and Virginia, one factor is inescapable. The embrace by many Republican politicians of a hard right social agenda is empowering Democrats. Look at what Terry McAuliffe did in Virginia. It was by calling attention to Ken Cuccinelli's policies on abortion and such that he built up a 10+ point lead in some polls — and it was only because Cuccinelli managed to shift the dialog to the Obamacare disaster that he made the final result much closer. Imagine what would have happened in Virginia if McAuliffe had not been able to attack the Republican on the social issues? If a moderate were to have had the Republican nomination, and so only the Democrats' weaknesses (especially on Obamacare) had been before the public, we'd have seen a GOP win the Governorship — this is certain to me.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, we had a Republican nominee who was conservative — but not an in-your-face sort of conservative. Chris Christie was not in favor of gay marriage, but when the court said New Jersey had it allow it, he decided not to appeal. He's worked with a Democratic legislature, yet managed to get them to approve a program that is economically (not socially) conservative. That's really the way to get Republican ideas into force — and it's why I have supported Christie for years, even before this month's big election win. He may have some trouble getting the nomination — I saw a headline on a post comparing Christie to “President Giuliani,” and it is this hurdle that worries me, because I think Giuliani would have made an excellent President, but simply could not get through the Republican primaries — but if Republican primary voters want to be able to win in November 2016, they will realize that nobody is better to getting Democrats and independents to vote for a Republican than Chris Christie. And you can't put your prograns through unless you win the election.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The lesson from yesterday's elections

Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle in 2010. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock in 2012. And now, Ken Cuccinelli. All have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Every one of these lost to a Democrat, in an election that the Republicans could have won with a better candidate. And yet, I wonder whether the extremists of the Right have learned the lesson: A less-than-pure conservative can win (see Chris Christie) where a perfect, give-no-quarter conservative will not.

Virginia's gubernatorial election was an even sadder story than most. Ken Cuccinelli lost by only around 56,000 votes (Note: In my original post I said 30,000 votes, but later results call for a correction), out of about 2 million cast. It is almost certain that a more moderate candidate would have won. After all, even the outgoing Republican lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling, refused to endorse Cuccinelli — and some believe he actually supported Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat who will be Virginia's next governor. When your candidate for governor is opposed by one of your own top state officers, that is a sign you've done something wrong.

Meanwhile, Gov. Christie was re-elected with a fraction of the vote that appears to have topped 60%. Several Democratic office holders openly supported him. You can't implement your programs without being elected to office, and while Christie may not be as conservative as some Tea Party types might like, he will definitely be more conservative than anyone the Democrats might put up. Supporters of other GOP hopefuls ought to realize this.

New Jersey is a liberal state. In the same election, yesterday, they passed a liberal referendum question on the minimum wage. Yet Christie got more than 3 votes for every 2 that went to his Democratic opponent — a proportion of the vote that hasn't been reached by a Republican statewide candidate in New Jersey since the 1980s. It is clear that New Jersey's citizens appreciate his first term as governor. He probably will not get 60+% of the New Jersey vote in a presidential race in 2016, but he can carry some states that no other Republican is likely to. And carrying states means winning electoral votes. And electoral votes are what you need to win the Presidency.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

What's happening in Virginia?

Some of the polls in Virginia seem to show the race tightening. Perhaps some Virginians are thinking the same sort of thoughts that I expressed in my Friday post, that as bad as Ken Cuccinelli is, it's more important to defeat Terry McAuliffe than to make some sort of statement about Cuccinelli's extremism.

Of course, the only poll that raally matters is the official one that will take place in two days. I can't wait to see how that turns out.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Two gubernatorial elections

In the years directly following Presidential election years, only two states choose their Governors: Virginia and New Jersey. And this year, the two could not be more different in how the races are developing.

In New Jersey, the Republicans have a perfect candidate: Chris Christie, who has run a State government with such a degree of competence that even Democratic office holders are backing his re-election. It is clear that the people of New Jersey are happy with him, and if I were in that State I would vote for his re-election with no qualms at all. I am certain that three years from now I will be supporting him for the step up to the Presidency.

In Virginia, a governor cannot succeed himself, so they are not dealing with a re-election campaign, but both major parties have selected atrocious candidates: On the one hand, the Democrats have Terry McAuliffe, whose only distinction is that he ran the DNC for a time. He's got no experience in state government, no real ties to Virginia, and had talked of bringing a business involving “green” automobiles to the State, but they ended up in Mississippi, and aren't making any cars yet, anyway. On the other hand, extremists in the Republican Party forced the Lieutenant Governor, Bill Bolling, to abandon a run for Governor by making the nominating process hostile to his chances, and the nominee is the Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, as extreme as they come in the GOP. There is a third candidate, Robert Sarvis, a Libertarian, but of course, he has no chance to win. If he had the slightest chance, I'd think Sarvis the best choice — a National Review posting that attempts to deny that Sarvis is a real libertarian only convinces me that I like him. (According to Charles C. W. Cooke in that post, Sarvis is a “social liberal” — but libertarians are socially liberal and economically conservative! Cooke tries to claim that you can be a libertarian and support the Religious Right's attempt to jam their ideas down other people's throats — hardly in conformity with what is, at least in my eyes, a libertarian stance.) Cooke cites some interviews by Sarvis that, in my mind, simply show that Sarvis is not as extreme a libertarian on economic affairs as he (Cooke) might like. But there are degrees of libertarianism, and such as Ron Paul take libertarianism to the point of caricature.

So while Robert Sarvis would be the best choice for Governor of Virginia if he really had a chance, if I were living across the river in Virginia, I'd be voting for Ken Cuccinelli. Perhaps holding my nose while doing so, but defeating Terry McAuliffe is more important than making an empty statement, which is what a vote for Sarvis would be. Get me right: I prefer Sarvis, but would vote for Cuccinelli if I lived in Virginia, and advise Virginians who read this blog to do the same.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

One person's experience with “If you like your health insurance, you can keep it.”

David Frum has recently written a column on The Daily Beast’s site, dated Oct. 29, 2013, entitled “The Obamacare Ripoff: More Money for Less Insurance,” and beginning with the following header:

The president said over and over again that if I liked my health insurance I could keep it. Now I'm one of the thousands of people with canceled policies.

The actual text of the posting follows:

It's always exciting to be part of a chapter in American history. I happen to be one of the hundreds of thousands of people whose insurance coverage was canceled for not complying with the terms of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, not only will I pay more, but I have had to divert many otherwise useful hours to futzing around with websites and paperwork.

President Obama promised, “If you like your health insurance, you can keep it.” It was a more ambiguous promise than it sounded. Who likes his or her health insurance? But it was there, and it did its job.

I probably need to be clear straight off that I am not presenting myself as any kind of hard-luck case. Maybe from some social justice perspective it's perfectly fair and reasonable to load all the costs of health reform onto people like me. The trouble is, this administration has been less than candid about what those costs would be.

As best I can tell, the ACA will require me to pay $200 a month more for a policy that is marginally worse than the one I have now.

Get that? He’s going to get a plan that is worse, albeit only “marginally,” than his present plan, yet he’s going to have to pay $200 more per month — $2400 per year — than he’s paying now.

Here's the before and after contrast:

My family was enrolled in a Carefirst high-deductible plan that cost $667.63 per month. In-network deductible, $5,400; out of network, $10,800. Out-of-pocket limit: $6,400 in-network; $12,800 out of network. The plan was joined to an HSA.

Now, before getting into the details of what he has to settle for under the ACA, Frum makes an observation that I’d never seen before:

The ACA was ingeniously designed to deliver benefits to Democratic constituencies and impose costs on Republican ones.

I wish he’d been more explicit there; I’d have liked to see this spelled out in some detail. But he now goes on:

The most directly comparable plan on the D.C. health exchange will cost $865. The deductibles are somewhat higher: $6,000 and $12,000. The out-of-pocket limits are very slightly lower: $6,000 and $12,000.

That $200 a month differential seems to be the cost of community rating: I had to answer a bunch of questions about my health before qualifying for my prior plan; the new plan will be issued, no questions asked. Presumably somewhere there is a D.C. resident who smokes or who has some pre-existing condition who will receive a corresponding $200 a month windfall.

If that extra $2,400 per year in insurance premiums were the end of my ACA costs, I'd congratulate myself on getting off easy: I'll also be paying considerably more than that in higher taxes to support the program. As I said, I'm not a hard-luck case.

Now Frum repeats himself – perhaps he didn’t proofread his post carefully:

The ACA was ingeniously designed to deliver benefits to Democratic constituencies and impose costs on Republican ones. The big surprise in the ACA rollout is that this design is going awry. It's not only plutocrats and one-percenters who will find themselves worse off; not only the comparatively affluent retirees enrolled in Medicare Plus programs. Self-employed professionals who earn too much to qualify for ACA subsidies will soon discover what I have discovered: They are paying more for a worse product.

Frum then goes on with an observation about politics in the District of Columbia, which is worth reading as well:

The District of Columbia is an expensive place in which to live. Those Washingtonians who earn too much to qualify for subsidies probably do not regard themselves as wealthy. An extra $2,400 a year to keep a high-deductible policy may feel to many of them like—if not a hardship—then certainly a serious nuisance. Unlike me, they probably voted for President Obama. Unlike me, they probably believed his promise that the ACA would deliver improvements for them personally.

How do they feel right now? Or, more exactly, how will they feel when and if they find the time to work their way through the kludgey website to discover what I've discovered?

Need anything be added to this? Probably not.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Now they're pinning Obamacare's failures on the GOP?

There is a post by Debra Saunders, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, on the Real Clear Politics website which I was happy to read, because it points out a lot of useful background on the Obamacare disaster. It was dated October 27, 2013, and titled “Lies the Dems Tell Themselves,” and I reproduce it here:

During the Obama years, a potent mythology has taken root in Democratic circles. In this narrative, Democrats are victims, martyrs even, whereas Republicans are wily tricksters.

Last year, there was a hyped-up fable about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. President Barack Obama told “60 Minutes,” “When I first came into office, the head of the Senate Republicans said, ‘My No. 1 priority is making sure President Obama's a one-term president.’” Sen. Dianne Feinstein even told the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board she heard McConnell speaking to that effect on the Senate's opening day.

The thing is that the quote in question first appeared nearly two years later — in an October 2010 interview with the National Journal's Major Garrett.

The latest iteration of Democrats-on-the-cross works like this: Obamacare hasn't delivered the big savings promised by the president — $2,500 annually for the average family — because Democrats ditched the single-payer model to mollify Republicans. In the Los Angeles Times, Harvard professor Jane Mansbridge writes,

“The Democratic Party reluctantly adopted RomneyCare, a.k.a. Obamacare, to get Republican approval.” What's more, House Republicans “coerced the Democrats into adopting a Republican health insurance reform plan.”

A reader emails me, “The Republicans who hate Obama would not permit the creation of a decent single payer plan which would allow private insurance carriers to participate on a competitive uniform benefit program.” Another insists, “We wanted single payer! The GOP did not — that was the compromise, and it was one of many from this president.”

So, Democrats are now calling Obamacare a compromise, crafted to be acceptable to Republicans? As Saunders points out, this is a rather strange sort of a compromise:

Really? The Affordable Care Act did not win a single Republican vote on the House or Senate floor. If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi abandoned single-payer to win GOP votes, they are the most incompetent negotiators in history.

Actually, it got one Rebublican vote in the House. But the basic thesis of Saunders here is correct. And certainly, there is clear evidence that the Democrats were not looking for compromise:

Former Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, voted for the Obama stimulus package and a measure to end “don't ask, don't tell.” In her book, “Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress,” Snowe recalls how 40 House Republicans voted with 249 Democrats to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, only to watch Democrats unveil a stimulus package with no GOP input a week later.

There was little spirit of bipartisanship when Pelosi crowed: “Yes, we wrote the bill. Yes, we won the election.”

When Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., rolled out his draft legislation in 2009, he didn't have a single Republican at his side. When the Senate Finance Committee voted on two Democratic public-option proposals — to allow government plans to compete with private insurers — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, denounced the public option as “a Trojan horse for a single-payer system.” Let it be noted that centrist Democrats joined Republicans to defeat both measures.

And where was President Obama in this process?

In “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama laid out a plan for universal coverage that allowed private carriers, such as Blue Cross and Aetna, to compete with new state pools. Still, he didn't stick his neck out to push for Democrats' public-option proposals.

In a 2003 speech, Obama, a second-term state senator, called himself “a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program.” PolitiFact, however, couldn't find a similar blank-check statement. The fact-checking organization observes that as Obama became a more well-known national figure, he spoke “favorably of single-payer in concept, but always (added) qualifiers.”

Snowe voted for the Democrats' health bill to get it out of committee, but it never won her support on the floor. You see, Snowe foresaw Obamacare's big problem. As she wrote (my italics), “not one single member in Congress — Republican or Democrat — could answer whether the newly created health insurance plans would be affordable, yet we hurtled headlong toward a final vote on a monumental bill affecting every American.”

Saunders continues, picking up other Democratic pleas for single-payer insurance (which, by the way, has immense problems in Canada, so it would be unconscionable to have it here!):

In a savvier Republicans-ruined-Obamacare argument, Washington Post wonk-blogger Ezra Klein contends that the Democratic part of Obamacare — Medicaid, which is single-payer — works. But: “The part of Obamacare that's troubled is the part Democrats lifted from Republican policymakers. It's the part that tries to integrate private insurance companies with government systems in order to create a universal insurance system that's subsidized by the state but run by private companies.”

Get it? If Obamacare fails, it's because Obamacare is a Republican plan.

In conclusion, Saunders points out:

Now, I won't deny that two decades ago, some conservative think tank swell came up with the term “individual mandate” — which allowed other wonks to try to pin the tail on the elephant. But if liberals have to fish for a 1989 Heritage Foundation policy paper that had no Republican support in 2008, 2009 or 2012 to establish Republican paternity for the Affordable Care Act, that tells you one thing: They think Obamacare won't work.

So when you find Democratic sources claiming “Obama is a centrist; he actually embraced a Republican plan,” perhaps they should read Saunders' column. It tells the real truth.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Obviously, he still doesn't understand.

President Obama, in his weekly address to the American people, chided Republicans for “rooting for [Obamacare's] failure.” He still doesn't understand the reason one would do so.

Because of Obamacare, employers do not want to hire people who would count as “full time.” They are keeping hours under 30 for the people they already have on their payrolls. So people are underemployed or unemployed directly as a result of Obamacare. And this is just one reason Obamacare is hurting our economy. Since Obamacare is hurting the economy, to make the economy better, it is necessary to get Obamacare to fail, and to fail so big that the Democrats will admit it has failed and allow it to be scrapped.

So that's why Republicans are rooting for Obamacare to fail, and why the American people — especially those who are suffering from unemployment and underemployment — should root for it to fail as well.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Who won? Who lost?

I am amazed when I look at the things being written about the recent shenanigans over the budget. On the one hand, there are people like the editors of The Nation, who wrote an editorial dated October 16, 2013, entitled “Even When the GOP Loses, It Wins,” whose thesis is that it was in fact a Republican victory because:

The GOP now goes into budget talks with sequestration as the new baseline, primed to demand longer-term cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And they still hold the gun of a US default to the nation’s head in the next debt ceiling showdown.

But on the other hand, Obamacare is still in place, and we read such things as Timothy Noah's posting on MSNBC's site:

[W]hat the GOP’s right flank is experiencing right now, in government and the court of political opinion, is failure.

Both these posts come from the political Left, so it is not a case of the Left seeing it as a Right win because they had to give up some and the Right seeing a mirror image of this. It is clear that John Boehner feels that he lost:

“We fought the good fight. We just didn't win,” Boehner told Cincinnati radio station WLW on Wednesday after the Senate stepped in to effectively end the legislative impasse.…“Every time I've gotten into a discussion with the President, the Vice President, the Democrats here in Washington, and talk about entitlement changes, trying to make these programs sustainable, all they want to do is raise taxes. Well we can't do that,” Boehner said.

“If they're going to hold onto their position that we're always going to raise taxes, then we're not going to come to an agreement.”

As I said in a previous post, they just kicked the can down the road. Who will come out ahead in the long run, I just don't know.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A British view of the recent happenings

An interesting blog post on the site of the British newspaper, The Telegraph, recently appeared. It was written by Tim Stanley and dated October 16th, 2013, and entitled: “US debt ceiling crisis — Barack Obama has won the shutdown. His prize is a lame duck presidency.” It is quite interesting to see how the events of the last week or so are viewed by others; of course, The Telegraph is a conservative paper, so this needs to be taken into account. But the title alone makes it clear that, to Mr. Stanley (who is a historian whose area of specialty is the United States) at least, President Obama has won a battle, but at a serious cost to his own ability to govern:

The shutdown is basically over and the President has won. Or, at least, he's won because the Republicans have definitely lost. Not only did they not get what they wanted — that “life or death” delay on Obamacare implementation — but they've given the impression of dragging partisanship to new lows. Obamacare had been passed already, the Supreme Court had okayed it and Obama had won an election on it, yet the GOP was still prepared to bring the country to the brink of ruin to cripple it. When Grover Norquist is saying that the Right went too far (he of the “drown government in the bath tub” fame) then the Right probably went a bit too far.

So much for the “won a battle” part. Then, however, he continues:

But there are caveats to that narrative. First, the Republicans aren't the only ones who ought to hang their heads in shame. It was the Democrat-controlled Senate that first rejected the House's bill and so sparked the crisis. It was the President who refused to talk to anyone about it (and went campaigning instead). It was the federal government — even when in shutdown — that behaved like a spoiled child, covering war memorials in fences and trying to stop military priests from saying Mass. And it was the mainstream media that took the side of the President and helped foster the impression that the GOP is run by a bunch of blowhard crazy people. For example, Dave Weigel points out that, contrary to reports, wild child Ted Cruz actually had “no intention” of delaying the critical final vote in the Senate. His image of being Sarah Palin 2.0 is entirely a media myth.

Many of these things, particularly regarding the Senate, the President, and the media, coincide with my own recent posts, so naturally I was happy to see someone else in agreement.

Continuing, Mr. Stanley writes:

Second, what has Obama really won? He keeps his precious healthcare reform and he gets government open again — but tomorrow morning he'll still have the same gridlocked political system that he had the night before. The shutdown is a rare example of him winning, but remember that this lame duck president has not only had a very simple (and, frankly, inoffensive) gun control bill killed in the Senate but was so spooked by bad poll numbers that he tried to dump responsibility for military action in Syria onto the Congress — before quietly dropping the idea altogether. Any thought that the shutdown payoff will be that he can sail an immigration reform package comfortably through Congress is pure fantasy. This is a broken presidency living out its last few years either holding off Republican attacks or lazily cruising the country on some pointless, endless, fatuous campaign trail. Obama's administration is politically bankrupt.

Very interesting. The media in general are unwilling to concede this, but I believe Mr. Stanley is right. The House of Representatives must approve any new legislation, and after this débacle, the House will be less inclined than before to pass anything with Obama's stamp of approval on it.

And finally, Mr. Stanley writes:

The talk for the next week will be about how the Tea Party is dead and Republicans must elect a politically correct, middle-of-the-road, unimaginative, establishment, compromising candidate in 2016 (preferably a singing sloth, cos the polls show that Americans just love those). But the reality is that US politics right now is a mess for both Left and Right, and the country is stuck in partisan limbo until the 2014 midterms or even the 2016 presidential election. This is not a Republican problem, it is an American problem.

Here, I part company to some extent with Mr. Stanley. A “middle-of-the-road, … compromising candidate” is necessary. There is no way a Rick Perry or Rick Santorum could get elected in this country in 2016. This, of course, is why I have been pushing Chris Christie. He will show, in three weeks, how he can get votes even in a deep blue state like New Jersey. This is clear. And no Republican can win unless he can get at least some people who are not convinced Republican voters to pick him. This is an important factor, which Mr. Stanley does not point out, and perhaps which he does not realize to be the case.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kicking the can down the road

The Senate has put forth a bill to avert the crisis for now, by the overwhelming majority of 81-18. And the House has accepted the Senate bill, by a substantial, nearly 2/3 margin, 285-144. President Obama has signed the bill. Nothing much has happened, except that the Government reopens, and the debt limit is raised. Under the terms of the bill, we will go through the same situation in a few months.

What this shows is that it's a great advantage to control the media. The Democrats could portray the Republicans as unwilling to compromise, despite it being that they were the ones unwilling to compromise. And the American public, according to polls, believed the Democrats' charges.

Where do we go from here? I don't know. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul were among the 18 Senators who refused to support the Senate bill. This means all three will have solid Tea Party credentials. But while, on this issue, the Tea Party had a lot of logic on its side — Obamacare is killing the economy and needs somehow to be derailed — the American public (which agrees that Obamascare is a bad thing, in poll after poll) does not want the Government shut down, or the debt limit increase threatened, or anything that might prevent the inexorable march forward of Obamacare. It's probably the media's fault, as I said. The media can't sell the public something as awful as Obamacare, but it can paint the GOP's attempts to stop it as so bad that the party is hurt. And that's really what the media want.

And I have no clue how to combat this.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A good summary of Obamacare's problems

Today I saw a post on the site by Megan McArdle, dated Oct 14, 2013, entitled “Obamacare Needs a Drop-Dead Date.” It makes fascinating reading:

Exactly how bad are things on the federal health-care exchanges? The working assumption among most journalists, including me, is that they would be fixed in a few weeks — that is, by the end of this week. But yesterday’s New York Times brought a deeply reported piece from Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen. There is too much information in the piece for an excerpt to do it justice, so I’ll summarize, with some editorial comments — but you should read the whole thing to get the full flavor:

One person familiar with the project says it’s only about 70 percent of the way there, and has heard estimates of somewhere between two weeks to two months to fix it. As a programmer I know points out, “two weeks to two months” is the programming equivalent of “40 days and 40 nights”: “A long time, but I have no way of knowing how long.” When I used to hear estimates like that, I used to assume it would be coming in on the late end of that range, earliest.

The administration delayed writing major rules until after the 2012 election, because it didn’t want to give Republicans any ammunition for their campaign. (This actually was noted at the time: “When it comes to health care, delaying regulations could help the president politically by avoiding discussion of the controversial health reform law. But that makes life difficult for states and industries that need to prepare for the coming changes,” wrote the National Journal. But most of us didn’t understand just how badly this was affecting implementation.)

Despite evidence to the contrary, the administration kept insisting that everything was absolutely on track to launch Oct. 1.

This passage is so extraordinary that it requires excerpting:

“Deadline after deadline was missed. The biggest contractor, CGI Federal, was awarded its $94 million contract in December 2011. But the government was so slow in issuing specifications that the firm did not start writing software code until this spring, according to people familiar with the process. As late as the last week of September, officials were still changing features of the Web site,, and debating whether consumers should be required to register and create password-protected accounts before they could shop for health plans.”

Suddenly, two months sounds optimistic.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services inexplicably decided to take on the role of central project manager itself, assuming responsibility for integrating all the various software pieces they’d subcontracted, rather than assigning that role to a lead contractor. CMS is not known to maintain a pool of crack programming talent with extensive project management experience that can be deployed to this sort of task.

Henry Chao, the Health and Human Services Department's digital architect of the insurance marketplace, seems to have been sounding the alarm bells internally. (He certainly was externally; he famously told a group of insurers in March that “I’m pretty nervous — I don’t know about you. … Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.”) Chao was worried that the systems wouldn’t work, a concern to which higher-ups apparently responded by basically telling him in effect that, according to the Times piece, “failure was not an option.”

Neither the consumer side nor the insurer side is working. A New York Times researcher made more than 40 attempts from Oct. 1 to Oct. 12 to log in, with no luck. Meanwhile, the Times confirms Bob Laszewski’s report that insurers are getting virtually no usable data from the exchanges. As the Times puts it, “just a trickle of the 14.6 million people who have visited the federal exchange so far have managed to enroll in insurance plans, according to executives of major insurance companies who receive enrollment files from the government. And some of those enrollments are marred by mistakes. Insurance executives said the government had sent some enrollment files to the wrong insurer, confusing companies that have similar names but are in different states. Other files were unusable because crucial information was missing, they said.”

Insurers began warning in 2012 that they were worried about these systems making their delivery dates, a concern that the Government Accountability Office echoed in June. Now we know why: The systems weren’t on track to meet their delivery dates.

This is stunning. It’s far worse than I imagined, and I am pretty cynical. The law’s supporters are engaged in some high-speed blamestorming: It’s the Republicans' fault for not giving the law more money, or it’s the fault of Republican governors who didn’t build their exchanges, or maybe it’s one of the vendors — CGI, the firm with the largest contract, is the most favored target, but at various times, the administration has clearly been teeing up to blame Experian or Oracle. Or perhaps the fault lies in federal procurement rules, which prevented the government from getting the right kind of staff and service. A lot of that shows up in the article; there’s a long prelude about the political barriers that the administration faced. But ultimately, the litany of mistakes that the administration made overwhelms these complaints.

I’m a longtime critic of federal contracting rules, which prevent some corruption at ruinous expense in money, quality and speed. But federal contracting rules are not what made the administration delay writing the rules and specifications necessary to build the system until 2013. Nor to delay the deadline for states to declare whether they’d be building an exchange, in the desperate hope that a few more governors might decide — in February 2013! — to build a state system after all. Any state that decided to start such a project at that late date would have had little hope of building anything that worked, but presumably angry voters would be calling the governor instead of HHS.

Federal contracting codes, so far as I am aware, do not emit intoxicating gases that might have caused senior HHS officials to decide that it was a good idea to take on the role of lead contractor — a decision equivalent to someone who has never even hung a picture deciding that they should become their own general contractor and build a house. Nor can those rules explain their lunatic response when they were told that the system was not working — “failure was not an option."

Nor can you really blame the Republicans — an argument that makes sense only if you don’t examine it very closely. It starts by assuming (but never stating) that the administration passed a law that didn't work as written, and then posits a civic duty for the opposition not to oppose laws that they oppose, but instead to help the majority party turn an unworkable law into something more to said party’s liking. This is absurd. Moreover, it’s not even a very good explanation for most of these problems. Maybe CMS turned lead contractor because they couldn’t get more funds to hire private help, but lack of funds does not explain why HHS took so long to write regulations and specifications, keeping insurers at loose ends until as late as this summer, and preventing their biggest contractor from writing code until spring. It does not explain why officials decided to launch a system that was so badly behind schedule, or to keep insisting, against all evidence, that it wasn’t broken. What explains this long train of poor decision-making is some combination of bureaucratic inertia, a desire to hide what they were doing from voters who might not like it and a terrifying insouciance about how easy it might be to build a system of this size and complexity.

My best guess is that by the time HHS officials realized that they hadn’t left enough time, the only possibilities were: 1. Ask Republicans for a delay; or 2. Launch a not-very-well-built-or-tested system upon an unsuspecting public. No. 1 would have been unpleasant for several reasons. Obviously, it would have been a huge political black eye. Republicans would probably have responded by joyously agreeing to a delay — of a year or more, which would either mean launching right before the 2014 elections or possibly never launching at all. Administration officials weren’t going to put the president’s signature achievement at risk that way.

After all, if they launched a nonfunctioning system, at least the state exchanges would hopefully work, and if enough people in the states signed up, it would be too late for Republicans to demand a rollback. They’d get the system working in a few weeks, and then everything would be fine. I’m guessing that even at the end, the senior officials didn’t realize just how bad this was.

But given that they didn’t even announce that they were taking the system down for more fixes this weekend, I’m also guessing that it’s pretty bad. Bad enough that it’s time to start talking about a drop-dead date: At what point do we admit that the system just isn’t working well enough, roll it back and delay the whole thing for a year?

Yes, I know what I’m suggesting is a major, horrible task. And I’m aware that since I opposed the law in the first place, people will take my suggestion with a huge grain of salt. Fair enough, but hear me out.

If the exchanges don’t get fixed soon, they could destroy Obamacare — and possibly, the rest of the private insurance market. The reason that the exchanges were so important was that they were needed to attract young, healthy people into the insurance system. The worry was that if insurance is hard to buy — if you have to do your own comparison shopping and then call the insurance company, and fax in some paperwork and two years of tax returns — that the young and the healthy simply won’t do it. Sick people and old people who were getting huge subsidies — and maybe the ability to buy insurance on the private market for the first time in a long while — would overcome any obstacles, because if you’re spending $15,000 a year on health care, it’s worth a lot of your time to make sure that you have insurance. But if your biggest annual health-care expense is contact lens solution, you may just decide to skip it and pay the fine.

The administration estimates that it needs 2.7 million young healthy people on the exchange, out of the 7 million total expected to apply in the first year. If the pool is too skewed — if it’s mostly old and sick people on the exchanges — then insurers will lose money, and next year, they’ll sharply increase premiums. The healthiest people will drop out, because insurance is no longer such a good deal for them. Rinse and repeat and you have effectively destroyed the market for individual insurance policies. It’s called the “death spiral,” and the exchanges, like the mandate, were designed to keep it from happening.

Without the exchanges, the death spiral seems almost assured. The amount of work required to find a policy, figure out your subsidy, buy coverage and file the paperwork will be very high. And it’s unlikely that folks who can’t even be bothered to go to right now will do it. The Affordable Care Act made the task of signing up young healthy people on the exchanges even harder with its much-loved requirement that companies allow kids to stay on their parents’ policies until they’re 26, which took millions of potential buyers out of the pool. The ones who are left are going to be disproportionately poorer and less well educated than the middle-class offspring who can get cheap insurance through mom and dad. There’s a reason that virtually every person you’ve seen written up in an article as they tried to get insurance at a community center or clinic is some combination of over 55, retired or afflicted with a serious chronic condition.

Once the death spiral happens, it’s very difficult to recover from. That’s why if the exchanges don’t work soon, we need to hit the reset button and try again next year. This will be very, very difficult: Insurers are already selling policies under the new regulations, and those regulations have driven up costs for existing buyers. People who have been counting on being able to buy insurance through the exchanges will have to spend another year without. And of course, it will be politically embarrassing. But it will be even more politically embarrassing to get to December and find out that we have commanded millions of Americans to buy insurance on a system that doesn’t work. And it is not a good bargain to cover some people now, but in doing so, to make insurance unaffordable for millions more in a few years. If we can’t launch the system correctly, then we need to wait until we can.

In the private sector, this system would already have been rolled back, probably less than 48 hours after it was rolled out. The government has more time, but not that much more, because every day they wait adds to the chaos that will occur if they have to pull the plug in December. If the system cannot reliably process 50 percent of its users on Nov. 1 — and I mean from end to end, including sending a valid enrollment file to the insurer — then the administration should ask for a one-year delay of Obamacare’s various regulations, including the individual mandate. Congress, including Republicans, should be ready to give it to them, with no strings attached.

Perhaps Nov. 1 seems too aggressive to you. I chose that date because it’s when Jon Kingsdale, who ran the Massachusetts exchange for its first five years, said we would be “really in deep doo-doo.” Well, let’s say Nov. 15 — the date when almost all the experts I’ve heard say we really need to be running at full speed, to handle the crush of applications sure to come between Thanksgiving and the mid-December deadline for buying insurance that starts in January.

Whatever it is, that date needs to be set now. Otherwise the political temptation will be — as it clearly has been all along — to declare that everything’s fine and we should keep going just in case it all works out in the end. The administration’s desire to avoid a giant political embarrassment is entirely understandable. But the rest of us have an even deeper and more important interest in a functioning market for health insurance.

This tells a lot — particularly about how the Administration was so caught up in making Obamacare happen that it failed to take the steps that might make it do what it was supposed to do.

More reason for the Republicans to do as much as they humanly can to hold up as many of the parts of Obamacare as they can — even if repeal is not possible until Barack Obama is replaced in the White House.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Paul Krugman's idea of "compromise" — what world is he living in?

A lot of the time, when I quote a column or a blog at length, it's because I agree with it, and would like to echo the sentiments posted there. This time, however, I wish to quote one which I think is so far from making sense that it boggles the mind to think that there are people who actually think that way. The column I am discussing was one dated October 13, 2013 on The New York Times' site, called The Dixiecrat Solution by Paul Krugman. He begins:

So you have this neighbor who has been making your life hell. First he tied you up with a spurious lawsuit; you’re both suffering from huge legal bills. Then he threatened bodily harm to your family. Now, however, he says he’s willing to compromise: He’ll call off the lawsuit, which is to his advantage as well as yours. But in return you must give him your car. Oh, and he’ll stop threatening your family — but only for a week, after which the threats will resume.

Not much of an offer, is it? But here’s the kicker: Your neighbor’s relatives, who have been egging him on, are furious that he didn’t also demand that you kill your dog.

The analogy that Krugman seems to be making assumes that President Obama and the Senate Democrats have a right to all they want to do with our government, that any attempt to oppose those plans is spurious, and that the Republican attempts to try to arrange a compromise is a phony compromise — in other words, that they are asking for everything and yielding almost nothing. In fact, if anything, it is the Democrats who have insisted they get everything they want — President Obama has even said that first they need to give up everything and only then will he talk! So when Krugman says:

And now you understand the current state of budget negotiations.

Stocks surged last Friday in the belief that House Republicans were getting ready to back down on their ransom demands over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. But what Republicans were actually offering, it seems, was the “compromise” Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, laid out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed article: rolling back some of the “sequester” budget cuts — which both parties dislike; cuts in Medicare, but with no quid pro quo in the form of higher revenue; and only a temporary fix on the debt ceiling, so that we would soon find ourselves in crisis again.

it is clear that Krugman's idea of “compromise” is a weird one. As he himself puts it:

I do not think that word “compromise” means what Mr. Ryan thinks it means. Above all, he failed to offer the one thing the White House won’t, can’t bend on: an end to extortion over the debt ceiling.

But this so-called “extortion over the debt ceiling” is the only weapon the Republicans have in the face of Democratic insistence that their entire program be allowed to go into force and the sequester rolled back. Krugman's idea of “compromise,” in short, is to allow the Democrats to have the whole of their wish list, without any give-back. This is a compromise? I certainly think not. And so, when he continues:

Yet even this ludicrously unbalanced offer was too much for conservative activists, who lambasted Mr. Ryan for basically leaving health reform intact.

it is clear that he considers Ryan's offer “ludicrously unbalanced,” without the slightest realization that it is his supposed compromise that would better be described in those terms.

I'm not going to continue further with his column, because it is easy enough to see how wildly out of touch with any notion of fairness Mr. Krugman is. And I assume he is not stupid. So my only question is, how can anyone take his ideas seriously?

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Who is insisting on 100%?

There seem to be a lot of people assailing the Tea Party for refusing to compromise. President Obama is quoted as saying,

I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can't get 100 percent of what it wants. That's never happened before, and that's what happening right now.

But it's not the Republican Party, or even the Tea Party, that's insisting on “100 percent of what it wants.” It's Obama and the Senate Democrats. When the Republicans passed a bill that simply delayed for a year some of the more objectionable features of Obamacare — scarcely 100% of what the Republicans want, which is an outright repeal of the act — the Senate turned it down. The Republican House of Representatives has passed bills to fund particular parts of the Government and avert some of the negative effects of the Government shutdown, but the Senate refuses to go along. And President Obama has echoed the Senate, saying he'd veto this type of bill if it comes to his desk. Who is insisting on 100%?