I think one of the great explanations for the mess the Obama administration is in — the whole cowbell dynamic — is that he, his advisers, and many of his fans in the press cannot fully grasp or appreciate the fact that he is not as charming to everyone else as he is to them (or himself). Hence, they think that the more he talks, the more persuasive he will be. Every president faces a similar problem which is why, until Obama, every White House tried to economize the deployment of the president’s political capital. The Obama White House strategy is almost the rhetorical version of its Keynesianism, the more you spend, the bigger the payoff.
In the latest Rasmussen poll, President Obama’s approval rating is down to 43%, the lowest level of his administration. In another first, Obama’s total approval is even with his strong disapproval, which is also at 43%. Obama’s total disapproval is at 55%.
Hugo Chavez is drawing his nation into a close union with Cuba, one of the very few nations in the western hemisphere run more badly than his own. Fidel Castro calls it “Venecuba”. (Personally, I think “Cubazuela” would have a better ring.) Chavez’s decision to outsource security to Cuba is the most troubling, of course, but some other areas seem even more striking:
In some ministries, such as health and agriculture, Cuban advisers appear to wield more power than Venezuelan officials. The health ministry is often unable to provide statistics—on primary health-care or epidemiology for instance—because the information is sent back to Havana instead. Mr Chávez seemed to acknowledge this last year when, by his own account, he learned that thousands of primary health-care posts had been shut down only when Mr Castro told him so.
The Economist has a good article on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to get us out from under the entitlement crisis. This chart shows the bottom line. (Note that the long-term outlook is without a new health care entitlement.)
I’ve written many times before that few scoundrels are worse than the man who lies in accusing another man of lying. Paul Krugman is among the worst of that bunch. In his latest, he accuses Republicans of lying at the health care “summit”. (As an aside, the very tone of the column confirms that Republicans won the debate. Krugman would much rather have written about how Obama won the debate, if he could have.) Let’s take it apart:
It was obvious how things would go as soon as the first Republican speaker, Senator Lamar Alexander, delivered his remarks. He was presumably chosen because he’s folksy and likable and could make his party’s position sound reasonable. But right off the bat he delivered a whopper, asserting that under the Democratic plan, “for millions of Americans, premiums will go up.”
Wow. I guess you could say that he wasn’t technically lying, since the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate Democrats’ plan does say that average payments for insurance would go up. But it also makes it clear that this would happen only because people would buy more and better coverage. The “price of a given amount of insurance coverage” would fall, not rise — and the actual cost to many Americans would fall sharply thanks to federal aid.
I think the best way to be fair here is to quote the CBO report (p. 6):
Average premiums would be 27 percent to 30 percent higher because a greater amount of coverage would be obtained. In particular, the average insurance policy in this market would cover a substantially larger share of enrollees’ costs for health care (on average) and a slightly wider range of benefits. Those expansions would reflect both the minimum level of coverage (and related requirements) specified in the proposal and people’s decisions to purchase more extensive coverage in response to the structure of subsidies.
So what the CBO says is that premiums paid would increase because of two factors: (1) people will be forced into more comprehensive plans, and (2) subsidies will encourage people to buy even more comprehensive plans than that. The report does not elaborate on the relative importance of the two factors, although we can guess that the more important factor is probably listed first. The CBO subsequently mentions some more minor factors with a positive impact.
The Krugman/Democratic spin is that the premium increase is okay, because people are buying more and better coverage. (By the way, nowhere does the CBO say “better”.) They ignore the fact that people are (at least partly, and probably mostly) buying more coverage against their will.
But Krugman doesn’t merely say that Democrats have a counter-argument. No, based on that counter-argument, he says that Alexander is lying, except in the “technical” sense that it is telling the truth. What a scoundrel.
Krugman is right when he says the CBO says that the price of a given amount of insurance will fall. (His use of the word “sharply” is pure spin though, since that impact is much smaller than the primary one.) Most people will find that to be to cold comfort, however, since their given amount of insurance will probably no longer be allowed. But, on this point I’ll grant Krugman the courtesy he would not grant to Senator Alexander, of not calling him a liar just for making an argument I disagree with.
But this brings up another point: the CBO analysis is not the gospel. CBO analyses are frequently rosy, in part because they are required to use a given methodology (one that is overly static and that legislators have learned how to game), and in part because they are required to analyze what is put before them, rather than what everyone knows will happen (e.g, the Medicare fix). Other studies, such as one by the Oliver Wyman actuarial firm commissioned by the Blue Cross Blue Shield association, are much less rosy. Oliver Wyman found that within five years health care costs will go up 54 percent, resulting in a significant increase in premiums, such as a 35 percent increase among the youngest third of the population.
Alexander never mentioned the CBO. (Transcript here.) So, although his statement was fully justified by the CBO, it was also justified by another study that Krugman does not rebut at all. And so Krugman is doubly dishonest for calling Alexander a liar.
That’s the worst of the column, but it’s not the end of it. Krugman continues:
His fib on premiums was quickly followed by a fib on process. Democrats, having already passed a health bill with 60 votes in the Senate, now plan to use a simple majority vote to modify some of the numbers, a process known as reconciliation. Mr. Alexander declared that reconciliation has “never been used for something like this.” Well, I don’t know what “like this” means, but reconciliation has, in fact, been used for previous health reforms — and was used to push through both of the Bush tax cuts at a budget cost of $1.8 trillion, twice the bill for health reform.
To be sure, Krugman is entitled to his opinion about what is or is not like this. But so is Alexander. Is Krugman simply unable to say “I disagree”? Must he call him a liar?
For the record, by any reasonable assessment reconciliation has never been used for something like this. Krugman does not give any details of the “previous health reforms” that reconciliation was used for, which is a hint that he’s not being forthright. There’s a list here of the occasions reconciliation was used. There’s only one bill on the list that directly affected private health care, the bill that created COBRA. There’s no comparison between COBRA and the current bill. COBRA asked that insurers offer continued coverage (for a fee, of course) for people in group plans who leave their job. It did not institute price controls and an individual mandate, comprehensively regulate the health industry, dictate what health plans must cover, provide federal funding for abortion, and create a massive new entitlement program.
What really struck me about the meeting, however, was the inability of Republicans to explain how they propose dealing with the issue that, rightly, is at the emotional center of much health care debate: the plight of Americans who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. In other advanced countries, everyone gets essential care whatever their medical history. But in America, a bout of cancer, an inherited genetic disorder, or even, in some states, having been a victim of domestic violence can make you uninsurable, and thus make adequate health care unaffordable.
Well, they did talk about high-risk pools. If you don’t like high-risk pools, that’s fine, but don’t pretend that Republicans didn’t say anything on the topic.
The next couple of paragraphs, while still nonsense, don’t contain outright lies, so we’ll skip ahead:
Look at the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House G.O.P. plan. That analysis is discreetly worded, with the budget office declaring somewhat obscurely that while the number of uninsured Americans wouldn’t change much, “the pool of people without health insurance would end up being less healthy, on average, than under current law.” But here’s the translation: While some people would gain insurance, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most.
“Translation” my foot. The CBO says (p. 7) that more young people would start buying coverage than older people. That’s why the pool of people without coverage would become less healthy. It says not one word about people losing coverage. Krugman is making it up.
As for the number of uninsured not changing much, the CBO says that the House Republican plan would extend coverage to 3 million more people. You can decide for yourself whether that counts as “much” or not. There’s two points to make. First, the Republican plan focuses on cutting costs, with the idea that you extend coverage by making it more affordable. (That’s the opposite of the Democratic plan, which dramatically increases costs and then compensates with big government subsidies.) I’m not sure why the CBO so undervalued the law of demand (lower cost leads to greater quantity demanded). Again, the CBO is not the gospel. But, second, the plan the CBO scored did not (as I read it) include the key Republican idea to eliminate the tax penalty for individual health insurance. Correcting the tax penalty would put coverage much more easily within reach for those not covered by an employer.
Is Paul Krugman the biggest scoundrel of all political pundits? That’s hard to say. But he certainly strengthened his case here.
Since a majority opposes the health care bill, it’s not surprising that a majority opposes ramming it through using reconciliation:
A new poll suggests that a majority of Americans would oppose a move by Senate Democrats to use a parliamentary procedure called ‘reconciliation’ to avoid a Republican filibuster and pass their health care reform legislation by a simple majority vote.
A Gallup survey released Thursday morning indicates that 52 percent of the public opposes using reconciliation, with 39 percent favoring the move, and 9 percent unsure.
Democrats say that democracy demands that they do this. (Not kidding!) I wonder if they see the irony.
House Democrats voted 162-87 last night to renew the Patriot Act. (Yes, that’s the right link, despite the profoundly misleading title.) The Senate already voted to do so, so the measure now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.
So what became of all the Democratic opposition to the Patriot Act? Ed Morrissey explains:
Republicans have mostly supported this bill because they believe it a necessary tool for counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Democrats mainly opposed it as a way to rally political opposition to Bush and the Republicans. Now that they’re in charge and responsible for preventing attacks, that Patriot Act looks pretty darned good to most of them.
We can now measure how much of the Democratic opposition to the Patriot Act during the Bush years was demagoguery and how much was honest. The ratio is about 2:1.
It’s unfortunate that the majority of congressional Democrats believe that national security is the sole province of the majority party, but there you are.
A centerpiece of Republican health care proposals is to allow the purchase of health insurance across state lines. The president’s claim at today’s health care “summit” that he supports the idea simply highlights the fact that he doesn’t. (I’ll retract this if he adds a real 50-state market to his bill, but I don’t expect to have to.)
The White House came out against it last November (back when they didn’t think they needed any GOP support):
RHETORIC: The House Republican health care “plan” lets families and businesses buy health insurance across state lines.
REALITY: Unlike the House Leadership bill, the Republicans’ bill takes us backwards rather than forwards.
Their argument, as far as I understand it, is that a national market would give states with fewer regulations an advantage, which would lead other states to loosen regulation, which would be bad.
But even if we accept that argument (regulation good, freedom bad), the president’s proposal would comprehensively regulate health care nationwide. Surely then there could be no problem with a national insurance market. But it’s still not in the president’s proposal.
Why on earth not? The White House has figured out at the eleventh hour that it would look good if they pretended to try to be bipartisan, and it would seem as though incorporating the Republicans’ main idea would be a good way to do it. What do the Democrats have against interstate insurance purchases? I assume it’s a cynical political calculation, but I can’t imagine what it might be.
The NYT reports:
As for Vancouver’s municipal government and the taxpayers, the bad news is already in. The immediate Olympic legacy for this city of 580,000 people is a nearly $1 billion debt from bailing out the Olympic Village development. Beyond that, people in Vancouver and British Columbia have already seen cuts in services like education, health care and arts financing from their provincial government, which is stuck with many other Olympics-related costs. Many people, including Mrs. Lombardi, expect that more will follow.
Why cities compete to host the games is beyond me. It has to be graft.
(Via the Corner.)
The London Times reports:
Patients were routinely neglected or left “sobbing and humiliated” by staff at an NHS trust where at least 400 deaths have been linked to appalling care.
An independent inquiry found that managers at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust stopped providing safe care because they were preoccupied with government targets and cutting costs. . .
Staff shortages at Stafford Hospital meant that patients went unwashed for weeks, were left without food or drink and were even unable to get to the lavatory. Some lay in soiled sheets that relatives had to take home to wash, others developed infections or had falls, occasionally fatal. Many staff did their best but the attitude of some nurses “left a lot to be desired”.
The report, which follows reviews by the Care Quality Commission and the Department of Health, said that “unimaginable” suffering had been caused. Regulators said last year that between 400 and 1,200 more patients than expected may have died at the hospital from 2005 to 2008.
Under the methodology underlying the Democratic health care plan, this place would look great because it spends less per fatality.
(Via Power Line.)
It’s been months since the last time we screwed the British, so I guess we were due. The London Times reports:
Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London, Buenos Aires and at the UN. . .
Senior US officials insisted that Washington’s position on the Falklands was one of longstanding neutrality. This is in stark contrast to the public backing and vital intelligence offered by President Reagan to Margaret Thatcher once she had made the decision to recover the islands by force in 1982.
I guess we’re serious about ending the special relationship.
(Via the Corner.)
UPDATE: A reader (yes, apparently I have some) writes to say that the US was officially neutral in the Falklands War. That was only true at first. On April 29, 1982, Argentina rejected the US peace proposal. On April 30, President Reagan declared American support for Britain and announced economic sanctions on Argentina. British landings in the Falklands began the following day.
Harry Reid last Friday:
In another surprising step forward for the public option, Senator Harry Reid’s office says that if a final decision is made to pass health reform via reconciliation, the Majority Leader would support holding a reconciliation vote on the public option.
Harry Reid on Tuesday:
“They should stop crying about reconciliation as if it’s never been done before,” Reid said.
Following Senate Democrats’ weekly luncheon, Reid said “nothing is off the table” but that “realistically, they should stop crying about this. It’s been done 21 times before.”
“The question is: Is reconciliation the only way we can do health-care reform?” he said.
Harry Reid today:
“Lamar, you’re entitled to your opinion but not your own facts. … No one has talked about reconciliation, but that’s what you folks have talked about ever since that came out, as if it’s something that has never been done before,” Reid said.
What’s particularly choice about this is how Reid accuses Lamar Alexander of lying.
(Via the Corner.)
UPDATE: On Tuesday Harry Reid also tried to make the case that Republicans have used reconciliation “more than anyone else.” That’s true, in the sense that there are two parties and Republicans have used it more than Democrats. Of course, that’s because Republicans have controlled the Senate more years since reconciliation was invented (by Democrats) than the Democrats have. If you work out the number of uses per year in power, you get 0.5 for the Democrats and 0.7 for the Republicans, so there’s hardly any difference.
But that’s all beside the point. Every time reconciliation has been used before (there’s a list here), it was for the budget. That’s the purpose it was designed for. Now the Democrats want to abuse the process to rework the nation’s health care system. Under Senate rules, that’s not even allowed, but it remains to be seen whether the Senate parliamentarian will stand up to the pressure to allow it.
In my last post, I noted the president’s brilliant idea simply to decree that the negative consequences of his policy won’t happen. They liked that idea so much, they used it elsewhere as well. The president’s health care proposal would create a Medicare cost-cutting commission that many are justly afraid would become a care-rationing board (in part because the president said it would). But the proposal decrees that it won’t happen that way:
To make sure that America’s seniors on Medicare are protected, all ideas that ration care, raise taxes or beneficiary premiums, or change Medicare benefit, eligibility, or cost-sharing standards will be banned.
The ideas are banned! Awesome! I’d love to see how they write that legislation.
Okay, seriously, this is nonsense. The reason for an outside commission is so that it could submit recommendations that are politically unpopular. Those recommendations would automatically become law unless Congress votes by a two-thirds majority to reject them. Why would they need such a mandate if they’re only going to propose painless, uncontroversial cuts?
The president’s health care proposal decrees:
If You Like the Insurance You Have, Keep It:
Nothing in the proposal forces anyone to change the insurance they have. Period.
Awesome! That’s how you deal with policy consequences, simply decree they won’t happen. They should have thought of this years ago.
Sarcasm aside, it’s a lie. The plan also says:
The Senate bill includes a “grandfather” policy that allows people who like their current coverage, to keep it. The President’s Proposal adds certain important consumer protections to these “grandfathered” plans. Within months of legislation being enacted, it requires plans to cover adult dependents up to age 26, prohibits rescissions, mandates that plans have a stronger appeals process, and requires State insurance authorities to conduct annual rate review, backed up by the oversight of the HHS Secretary. When the exchanges begin in 2014, the President’s Proposal adds new protections that prohibit all annual and lifetime limits, ban pre-existing condition exclusions, and prohibit discrimination in favor of highly compensated individuals. Beginning in 2018, the President’s Proposal requires “grandfathered” plans to cover proven preventive services with no cost sharing.
So you can’t keep your current plan. “Grandfathered” plans are still subject to a variety of new requirements all of which will increase their cost, and some of which (e.g., requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions) will increase their cost dramatically. So you can keep your plan, if you can still afford it. Unless you get your insurance from your employer; then you can keep your plan if your employer can still afford it. Except, don’t forget about the new price controls. When the government disallows your plan’s price hike, your plan goes away completely, whether you could have afforded it or not.
(Via the Wall Street Journal.)
The White House claims to have abandoned the House’s surtax on people making over $1 million a year, but that turns out not to be true. Well, technically it’s true, because the surtax now applies to people making over $200 thousand a year.
The provision is buried three clicks deep in the president’s health care proposal. On “high-income” households, it would impose a new 0.9 percent tax on all income, plus an additional 2.9 percent on “unearned” income. Furthermore, there’s a big marriage penalty. The threshold is $200 thousand for singles, and just $250 thousand for couples filing jointly. So if both spouses work, the threshold is actually $125 thousand per spouse.
Don’t be consoled if you make under $200 thousand. There’s no indication that the high-income threshold will be indexed for inflation, so it will bite everyone eventually. Yes, there’s a good chance that Congress with fix it every year as it does with the AMT, but that means that any deficit predictions for this proposal are worthless.
(Via the Wall Street Journal.)
Last night, the House voted to pass the execrable Hawaiian racial sovereignty act (a.k.a. the Akaka bill). Worse, Democrats voted 225-18 to reject the Flake amendment to the bill. What did the Flake amendment say?
The Flake amendment would’ve clarified that nothing in the Akaka bill could be interpreted to exempt the Native Hawaiian Governmental Authority from complying with the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Flake amendment failed 177–233 (Democrats voted 18 for 225 against; Republicans voted 159 [to] 8 [for]).
The salient portion of the Fourteenth Amendment as pertains to the Akaka bill is as follows: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
That’s right, the Democrats are on record supporting race-based government and opposing equal protection of law. Er, once again. After 144 years, the 14th amendment gained only 18 Democratic votes.
From John Yoo’s op-ed today, a stark reminder of the cost of politics in warfighting:
In 2005, a Navy Seal team dropped into Afghanistan encountered goat herders who clearly intended to inform the Taliban of their whereabouts. The team leader ordered them released, against his better military judgment, because of his worries about the media and political attacks that would follow.
In less than an hour, more than 80 Taliban fighters attacked and killed all but one member of the Seal team and 16 Americans on a helicopter rescue mission. If a president cannot, or will not, protect the men and women who fight our nation’s wars, they will follow the same risk-averse attitudes that invited the 9/11 attacks in the first place.
President Obama wants to institute price controls on health insurance premiums. This is the stupidest idea yet, in a long line of very stupid ideas. Price caps create shortages. (This is taught literally on the first day of Econ 101.) If you cap health insurance premiums, people will lose their insurance.
Of course, some are suggesting that that is the precisely the intent: to force people out of private plans and into the government plan.
(Via Michelle Malkin.)
It persistently strikes me as odd when politicians support tax increases even when they generate no revenue. For example, during the presidential campaign, Obama said he supported increased capital gains taxes even if they lost money (!), “for purposes of fairness.” He actually thinks it’s “fair” for the government to spend money to hurt investors.
Another example is Rhode Island’s “Amazon tax” (a sales tax on electronic retailers), which has generated no revenue, and actually costs the state income tax money. Nevertheless:
Though many in the local tech community are frustrated, House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, said there was no effort under way to repeal the “Amazon tax,” which he cast as a matter of fairness.
There’s that word again. Again, it’s “fair” for the government to lose money, as long as it can hurt somebody!
Now California is looking to go down the same path as Rhode Island. States cannot constitutionally collect sales taxes from companies without a presence in that state, so they construe Amazon’s affiliate program as a presence in the state. (Whether or not this satisfies the constitutional requirement is iffy, as it would require an affiliate to be deemed a “substantial nexus” with the state.) Amazon then closes the affiliate program in the state. Everyone loses. Hooray for “fairness”!
For much of the past year, President Obama lavished praise on a few select hospitals like the Mayo Clinic for delivering high-quality care at low costs, but a pointed analysis published Wednesday in an influential medical journal suggests that the president’s praise may be unwarranted.
Mr. Obama received his information about the hospitals from a widely cited analysis called the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, produced by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. An article in The New Yorker magazine last year written by Dr. Atul Gawande that used the Dartmouth Atlas as its organizing principle became required reading in the White House last year.
But an analysis written in The New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Peter B. Bach, a physician and epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, suggests that much of the Dartmouth Atlas is flawed and that it should not be used to compare the relative efficiency of hospitals.
The analysis identified more than one flaw in the Dartmouth study, but most important one is that the study looked only at dead people. It grades hospitals on their efficiency based on how much money they spent on people who died, without considering the possibility that fewer people might have died with better care:
Say Hospital A and Hospital B each has a group of patients with a fatal disease. Hospital A gives each patient a $1 pill and cures half of them; Hospital B provides no treatment. An Atlas analysis would conclude that Hospital B was more efficient, since it spent less per decedent. But all the patients die at Hospital B, whereas only half of the patients do at Hospital A, where the cost per life saved is a bargain at $2.
This underlines the fundamental problem with government-run health care everywhere it’s been tried: they save money by reducing the quality of care.
Last week, in a late Friday information dump (the traditional way to release information you don’t want people to pay attention to), the Obama administration released a memorandum from David Margolis. Margolis is an associate deputy attorney general who was tasked with reviewing the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility’s work investigating the so-called torture memos. (Margolis is a career lawyer who has had the job of reviewing OPR findings since the early in the Clinton administration.) The OPR’s draft reports and draft reports, which were leaked and widely splashed throughout the media, found that Yoo and Bybee engaged in professional misconduct and recommended that their findings be referred to the bar for disciplinary action.
Margolis’s 69-page memo absolutely shreds the OPR’s work. He finds numerous problem with the work, but perhaps this one is the most telling (p. 6):
In a departure from standard practice and without explanation, OPR in its initial two drafts analyzed the conduct of the attorneys without application of OPR’s own standard analytical framework. . . This departure was not insignificant. I have held my current position within the Department for nearly seventeen years. During that time, I have reviewed almost every OPR report of investigation. OPR developed its framework over a decade ago and to the best of my knowledge has applied it virtually without exception since that time.
Amazingly, the OPR admitted (p. 8) that it did not apply the framework “in an effort to facilitate public release of the report.” Margolis also notes (p. 8) that that the OPR’s use of the framework in its final report does not exonerate them. Indeed, he quotes approvingly Yoo’s response that by retrofitting the framework onto an existing finding, OPR engaged in exactly the sort of “ends-driven legal reasoning” that the OPR criticized in Yoo and Bybee’s work.
Apropos to that criticism, Margolis also rejects (p. 65) the OPR’s finding that Yoo deliberately tried “to accommodate the client”, which was central to the OPR’s finding of intentional misconduct on Yoo’s part.
This whole mess must be laid at the door of Attorney General Holder. It’s true that much of the OPR’s shoddy work was done during the Bush administration, but the OPR deliberately stalled its report in hopes that it would find a more receptive audience with the new administration (which, of course, it did). Consequently, on the last day of the Bush administration, Attorney General Mukasey sent a 14-page memo to the incoming administration noting significant problems with the OPR’s work. As Yoo now points out, it would have been easy for Holder to concur with the assessment of his predecessor, and doing so would have shown that DOJ was above politics. But Holder did the opposite, so he now owns the mess.
With the release of the Margolis memo, the books are now almost closed on the sorry mess. All that remains is to investigate the OPR’s own misconduct both in failing to observe proper procedure and — more importantly — in all the leaks. (Although it is possible that the leaks came not from the OPR but from Holder’s own office.) I’m sure that Holder will get right on that.
POSTSCRIPT: There’s a media failure angle to this story as well. The news reports I’ve seen or heard on this (e.g., in the Washington Post, and on NPR) omit any mention of the OPR’s misconduct. Instead they focus on the only aspect of Margolis’s memo not damaging to the Obama administration, which is his assessment that Yoo and Bybee “exercised poor judgement”. It’s barely true. Margolis did conclude that Yoo and Bybee should have foreseen that the torture memos would eventually be exposed to a broader audience, and so the memos should have contained more nuance than was necessary for the memos’ intended audience. That finding was in the penultimate paragraph of a 69-page report of which the first 67-1/2 pages were dedicated to the OPR’s shoddy work.
The long-rumored New York Times hit piece on NY governor David Patterson has finally appeared. The thrust of the piece is that Patterson is lazy. It seems pretty damning. On the other hand, the NYT has a history of dishonest hit pieces, and one could easily see how a story like this could be put together by cherry-picking isolated incidents, so the story needs to be taken with a grain of salt. (Still, the NYT usually uses its powers of distortion against Republicans, not Democrats.)
But there is one fact in the story that stands out:
Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, has always relied on trusted aides, in part because his disability forces him to turn to others for assistance with tasks like briefing himself on policy issues (he does not read Braille) and navigating crowded rooms.
The governor of New York can’t read? I guess New Yorkers knew this already, but I’m amazed. With all due sympathy for his disability, it seems like a minimal qualification for the job.
(Via Hot Air.)
How lost is the Obama administration when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program? Here’s a hint:
The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.
“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.
But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.
The news from Iran is bad enough, but the news from the White House is possibly worse. Are they really so clueless that they don’t even know as much as the freakin’ IAEA?
I’m worried that the White House is closing its eyes to the mounting evidence that the Iranian threat is serious and time-critical, because admitting that would mean admitting that President Obama’s strategy (which is predicated on the assumption that there’s always more time for talk) is wrong.
Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc. has drawn a fierce backlash from Capitol Hill and the White House by posting premium increases for some customers in its California Anthem Blue Cross plan. California officials say 700,000 households face increases averaging 25 percent overall and as high as 39 percent for some.
The company was forced to postpone the hikes while [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius ordered an inquiry and other lawmakers publicly railed against the company. . . Sebelius suggested the increases were unwarranted and needed to be checked.
“While we don’t want companies to be insolvent … to suggest that this is entirely in line with even health care costs … these profits are wildly excessive, are way over anybody’s estimate,” Sebelius said Thursday.
In a letter last week to Anthem Blue Cross, Sebelius said the increases were “difficult to understand” given that WellPoint earned $2.7 billion in the last quarter of 2009.
If Sebelius had ever worked in the private sector, she might understand that WellPoint’s overall profit has no bearing on what the price of a particular policy should be. In a for-profit enterprise, each endeavor must pay for itself. A for-profit company doesn’t use its profits in one area to subsidize another area that is losing the company money. Yes, sometimes a company will subsidize an endeavor because they think it will be profitable in the future, or because it generates some non-pecuniary benefit like good PR, but that doesn’t change the overall point. Each endeavor must justify itself; businesses don’t allow one area to hemorrhage money just because another area is doing well.
It turns out that WellPoint made nearly all of its profit from a one-time transaction, and is actually losing money on individual health plans:
The bulk of its fourth-quarter profits, $2.2 billion, came from the sale of a business, and WellPoint told Sebelius that it actually suffered a loss in 2009 for the unit selling individual policies to people not covered through their jobs.
WellPoint needs to make this part of its business profitable or shut it down. Sebelius may be able to prevent WellPoint’s price increase, but it can’t stop them from leaving the market. That’s what’s going to happen if the government won’t let them charge a rate that turns a profit.
Of the festivals of nonsense that periodically overtake American politics, surely the silliest is the argument that because Washington is having a particularly snowy winter it proves that climate change is a hoax and, therefore, we need not bother with all this girly-man stuff like renewable energy, solar panels and carbon taxes.
Okay, fair enough. Today’s weather does not refute global warming. Of course, he might have made the same argument when people were bellowing that hurricanes (or, even more stupidly, earthquakes and tsunamis) are the result of global warming. But we all know which side of Friedman’s bread is buttered. We’ll let it go.
The fact that it has snowed like crazy in Washington — while it has rained at the Winter Olympics in Canada, while Australia is having a record 13-year drought — is right in line with what every major study on climate change predicts: The weather will get weird; some areas will get more precipitation than ever; others will become drier than ever.
What? Friedman can’t even be consistent from one end of a column to the other! Now he says daily variations in weather do prove something. No matter what those variations are, warmer, colder, wetter, drier, it’s all global warming.
The only thing that’s not evidence for global warming now is for everything to stay exactly the same, which is the one thing we know won’t happen. How fatuous is that? I find it both amusing and sad that Friedman can simultaneously claim to be standing up for science, and propound a theory that can never be falsified.
The Democrats have settled on how to deal with the tea party movement. They are going to try to co-opt the movement, by speaking positively about its aims and backtracking on their most radical agenda items such as health care nationalization and cap-and-trade. They are also going to look at how to make serious cuts in entitlement spending.
Ha ha! Just kidding! No, the real plan is to get the personal destruction machine going:
Big Government has learned that Clintonistas are plotting a “push/pull” strategy. They plan to identify 7-8 national figures active in the tea party movement and engage in deep opposition research on them. If possible, they will identify one or two they can perhaps ‘turn’, either with money or threats, to create a mole in the movement. The others will be subjected to a full-on smear campaign. (Has MSNBC already been notified?)
Big Government has also learned that James Carville will head up the effort.
I had a debate today in which someone used, as an example of the “delusional” beliefs of the tea party movement, a claim made at the tea party convention that the government wants to dictate the color of our cars. Not so fast, I said. I hadn’t heard of that, but the government tries to control a lot of things. Let’s google it.
It turns out it’s true:
News that California may ban the sale of black cars for climate protection reasons raised the hackles of many a petrolhead yesterday.
At the root of the stir was a presentation . . . by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (CARB). The Cool Paints initiative suggests that the state should set a minimum level of reflectivity for all car paints and windows.
More reflective vehicles, goes the idea, could stay up to 10 °C cooler in the sunshine state – this in turn could reduce the need to have air conditioning on and thereby cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
However, as black paints can’t currently achieve this level, every cool dude’s favourite hue would effectively be banned. Motoring blogs lamented the end of consumer freedom to buy a car in their preferred colour, saying that “mud-puddle brown” could be the new black, as that’s what you get once you’ve added the reflective ingredients.
UPDATE: It turns out that this plan has been shelved for now. Good.
This is very old news, but it came up in conversation today and I seem never to have blogged it. The California government wants to control the temperature of your house:
California utilities would control the temperature of new homes and commercial buildings in emergencies with a radio-controlled thermostat, under a proposed state update to building energy efficiency standards.
Customers could not override the thermostats during “emergency events,” according to the proposal, part of a 236-page revision to building standards. The document is scheduled to be considered by the California Energy Commission, a state agency, on Jan. 30.
The description does not provide any exception for health or safety concerns. It also does not define what are “emergency events.”
ASIDE: Have no fear, the New York Times wants us all to know that it’s silly to be worried about this.
Fortunately, cooler heads (so to speak) prevailed, and the remote controllable thermostats were given a manual override. For now.
I’m quite surprised by this, but credit where credit is due:
The New York Times learned of the operation [that captured Mullah Baradar] on Thursday, but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials, who contended that making it public would end a hugely successful intelligence-gathering effort. The officials said that the group’s leaders had been unaware of Mullah Baradar’s capture and that if it became public they might cover their tracks and become more careful about communicating with each other.
The Times is publishing the news now because White House officials acknowledged that the capture of Mullah Baradar was becoming widely known in the region.
I wonder why the NYT set aside its usual policy of exposing every secret operation it can. Maybe this is a benefit of having a Democratic president; the NYT may be more inclined to cooperate with the White House on national security when a Democrat is in office.
The darker question is who leaked the capture to the NYT. Did someone at CIA want this operation blown?
(Via the Corner.)
The AP reports:
Western forces in Afghanistan are operating under rules of engagement, or ROE, that restrict them from acting against people unless they commit a hostile act or show hostile intent. American troops say the Taliban can fire on them, then set aside their weapon and walk freely out of a compound, possibly toward a weapons cache in another location.
“The inability to stop people who don’t have weapons is the main hindrance right now,” McMahon said after the firefight. “They know how to use our ROE against us.”
If this is true, it’s idiotic, and it’s going to get good people killed.
The DEA is continuing to raid medical marijuana growers, despite the Obama administration’s new stated policy that it will not enforce federal laws against medical marijuana in states that allow it.
Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) will not run for re-election. Before, it looked possible but tough for the GOP to pick up that seat. Now it looks likely. The Intrade price for a Republican victory has jumped from 40 to 80 today. That means that the GOP is now favored to pick up eight of the ten seats it needs to regain control of the Senate.
But the eight include Nevada. Unfortunately, the “Tea Party of Nevada” will be fielding a candidate in the US Senate race in Nevada, possibly endangering a Republican pick-up of that seat, which otherwise looks likely. (Via Instapundit.)
The Washington Post reports that the government is no longer trying to capture high-value terrorists for interrogation, preferring simply to kill them instead. This is understandable, when you have no interrogators and are trying to get rid of the prison as well. For years the left has been trying to argue that we never get any useful intelligence from interrogating terrorists, but it’s alarming that they actually seem to believe it.
Fortunately for the political fortunes of the Obama administration, we will never know what information we might have gained from interrogating terrorists, so it’s unlikely that anyone will ever be able to say specifically what this policy cost us.
(Via the Corner.)
UPDATE: The capture of Mullah Baradar (the Taliban’s #2) is great news; I’m glad we didn’t just blow him up. Also, it shows how we are coping with our new lack of interrogation and detention capabilities: we’re outsourcing it to Pakistan. In the interest of shutting down the (supposedly) inhumane facilities at Guantanamo, we’re leaving prisoners in Pakistani custody. I’m sure Pakistani intelligence will treat them much better. Good thinking.
Iran is mixing its messages:
Iran’s parliament speaker announced that his country will “speed up” its nuclear work if the Obama administration continues to target the Gulf country with sanctions, Iran’s state-run PressTV reported.
“Even if U.S. President Barack Obama dares to repeat threats of tougher sanction against us as much as ten times, we will still be determined to pursue our enrichment program, but with a much faster pace,” said Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, reported by PressTV.
You mean that nuclear program that is intended only for peaceful energy generation? That program? You’re threatening to start generating electricity sooner?
This threat only makes sense if Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Which of course it is. And which everyone knows, even if they pretend they don’t. But in light of this threat, it looks more foolish than ever to pretend we don’t all know what Iran is doing.
Mary Patrice Brown, the DOJ lawyer who is “investigating” the dismissal of voter intimidation case against the Black Panthers, is being vetted for the bench by the same people she is supposedly investigating. Since the DOJ inspector general (uniquely among all IGs) has no power to investigate anything, there cannot be an independent investigation unless the Attorney General appoints a special counsel. I’ll be holding my breath.
The winter storm hit nearly a week ago, and Pittsburgh still has yet to clear the roads. It’s not as though it can’t be done. The surrounding municipalities, at least in the east, managed to clear the roads promptly. Wilkins Township, where I live, is not particularly well run, but it had the roads cleared the day after the storm. Even Wilkinsburg (a poor suburb) has managed to clear its major roads. But not Pittsburgh.
Why is Pittsburgh unable to accomplish what nearly everyone else in the area can accomplish? Bad management can muddle along in normal times; it’s during a crisis that the quality of leadership is tested. We see now how bad that leadership is.
Luke Ravenstahl has been mayor since 2006, and was on the city council for three years before that. He has created a city administration that is unable to perform its basic functions in a crisis situation. Then, on the eve of the storm — a storm that everyone knew was coming — he left town to celebrate his birthday at a ski resort.
Business Week reports:
President Barack Obama said he is “agnostic” about raising taxes on households making less than $250,000 as part of a broad effort to rein in the budget deficit.
Obama, in a Feb. 9 Oval Office interview, said that a presidential commission on the budget needs to consider all options for reducing the deficit, including tax increases and cuts in spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
This would break President Obama’s firm no-tax pledge:
Honestly, though, I don’t see why this is such a big deal. The White House has already backtracked on the pledge, and indeed has already raised some taxes on people below the $250k lines. And, frankly, of course Obama is going to raise taxes; that’s what Democrats do.
I’m at a loss to explain why the Democrats can be perceived by many as the defenders of civil liberties. They’re awful, not only on the rights they oppose, like the Second Amendment, but also on the ones they supposedly support, like the Fourth:
Even though police are tapping into the locations of mobile phones thousands of times a year, the legal ground rules remain unclear, and federal privacy laws written a generation ago are ambiguous at best. . . The Obama administration has argued that warrantless tracking is permitted because Americans enjoy no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their–or at least their cell phones’–whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers say that “a customer’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records” that show where a mobile device placed and received calls.
Those claims have alarmed the ACLU and other civil liberties groups, which have opposed the Justice Department’s request and plan to tell the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that Americans’ privacy deserves more protection and judicial oversight than what the administration has proposed.
I can’t figure these guys out. According to the Democrats, an intelligence agency conducting surveillance on a foreign terrorist overseas should stop listening whenever they call someone in the United States, or even route a communication through the United States. But on the other hand, they think the government should be free electronically to track the movements of US citizens at home. What is wrong with these guys?
Now I’ve seen everything. Joe Biden wants to take credit for stabilizing Iraq:
I am very optimistic about — about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer.
You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government. I spent — I’ve been there 17 times now. I go about every two months — three months. I know every one of the major players in all the segments of that society.
It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.
Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and nearly every other Democrat voted for the anti-surge resolution that opposed the policy change that finally won the war in Iraq. Obama said that we should withdraw from Iraq even if doing so would lead to genocide.
Now, having inherited a stable Iraq and a plan for removing our remaining troops, the administration that opposed everything that made that possible wants to take credit? Unbelievable.
UPDATE: My gosh, they are actually serious about this. Robert Gibbs gives the president the credit for getting our troops out of Iraq. (No mention of his opposition to the surge, or his tolerance of genocide.) When a reporter points out the status of forces agreement was signed by President Bush, Gibbs actually argues that pressure from Barack Obama made it possible.
Most of the commentators, including Rush, are astounded. But relatively speaking, the administration’s achievement is no more astounding than Bull Connor’s passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Kruschev’s reunification of Germany, or Jefferson Davis’s preservation of the Union.
Former Texas representative Charlie Wilson is dead at 76. In December 2007 the Wall Street Journal had a very nice story about him and the eponymous movie.
When the Democrats locked up 60 votes in the Senate through two surprises (Al Franken’s outlawyering of Norm Coleman and Arlen Specter turning his coat), we were spared a piece of political theater that seemed inevitable with Barack Obama’s election: the rediscovery of the evils of the filibuster.
A year ago I noted how the New York Times’s opinion of the filibuster was, shall we say, highly correlated with who was doing the filibustering. In March 2009 the NYT had reversed itself yet again on the probity of the filibuster, but the issue went to the backburner when Specter switched parties, giving Democrats 60 votes. (Or rather, the prospect of 60 votes once Franken was seated.)
With Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, the putative evil of the filibuster is front and center once again. Paul Krugman inveighs thusly:
The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.
Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.
It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis.
It seems Krugman was not paying attention. Republican obstructionism was a central message in the Massachusetts race. More precisely, it was a central message from Scott Brown. Brown promised that if he were elected, he would put the brakes on the Democratic agenda, especially the health care bill. And he won.
Media matters lies. In other news, the sun rose in the east today and the deficit is still really damn big.
The AP reports:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducted a threat assessment of local pro- and anti-abortion rights activists before an expected rally last year, even though they did not pose a threat to national security.
The DHS destroyed or deleted its copies of the assessment after an internal review found it violated intelligence-gathering guidelines by collecting and sharing information about “protest groups which posed no threat to homeland security,” according to a department memo written last year.
The report was only shared with police in Middleton and with the director of the Wisconsin Statewide Information Center, an intelligence-gathering hub, according to the memo, which was signed by general counsel Ivan Fong and inspector general Richard Skinner.
It concluded the report was unlikely to “have any impact on civil liberties or civil rights” given its limited dissemination. But anti-abortion groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin on Monday both criticized the federal government’s collection of information on law-abiding protesters.
The people running our government today would surely claim to favor free speech and freedom of association. I’m sure they would be outraged if the DHS had compiled dossiers on peaceful anti-war protesters. But they have a peculiar moral blindness; they just don’t see those principles as applying to their political opponents. That makes them dangerous, because when it comes to their opponents, there’s no telling what they’ll be willing to do.
After weeks of trying, Argentine president Kirchner succeeded in sacking the president of the Argentine central bank. The head banker balked at Kirchner’s plan to seize $6.6 billion of the central bank’s foreign currency reserves to pay the government’s debt. With a more obedient central banker in place, the plan will now presumably go forward.
Argentina’s government is running out of money to confiscate. It already defaulted on most of its debt in 2001. In 2008 it confiscated the nation’s private retirement savings, to the tune of $30 billion. The latest money grab amounts to 17% of the central bank’s $48 billion in foreign currency reserves. The remainder will probably go quickly, and it’s hard to see where the government will find more money to steal. Then it will be time to run the presses.
The head of Iran’s atomic agency said the Islamic Republic would not enrich uranium to a higher level if the West provides the fuel it needs for the Tehran research reactor.
Iran is set to start enriching its stockpile of uranium to 20 percent on Tuesday, in a move sure to antagonize Western nations who fear that the process of enrichment could eventually yield material for a nuclear weapon.
France and the U.S. said Monday the latest Iranian move left no choice but to push harder for a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions to punish Iran’s nuclear defiance.
Ali Akbar Salehi, a vice president as well as the head of the country’s nuclear program, said the further enrichment would be unnecessary if the West found a way to provide Iran with the needed fuel.
You have to give Salehi credit for chutzpah. The West did find a way to provide Iran with the needed fuel, but Iran reneged on the deal. They were supposed to send their enriched uranium to France, who would fashion it into fuel rods and send it back. That would have made Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium unusable for nuclear weapons, which of course is why Iran reneged.
The ayatollahs think they can play us for fools again. Are they wrong?
King, NC, suspends the Second Amendment due to snow:
Authorities lifted curfew and alcohol restrictions in King on Sunday, but said a state of emergency declaration remained in effect until Monday.
Authorities said the state of emergency declaration would continue until Monday 9 a.m., barring any unforeseen circumstances or severe changes. . . Other restrictions included a ban on the sale or purchase of any type of firearm, ammunition, explosive or any possession of such items off a person’s own premises.