the Gift Horse of ObamaCare

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In her now infamous gaffe[1], then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told us – “We’ll have to pass it to find out what’s in the bill.”

Although there have been hints at the shadow it will cast over everyday life, the first real testable event will occur next Tuesday when the state exchanges will be open for business in support of the individual mandate. What I would like to do here is to forget the moralistic debate over whether or not universal health assurance is a good idea, and examine whether or not it is, as enacted, workable.

The financing of the program comes from two main sources, a $50-billion-dollar-a-year transfer from Medicare to ObamaCare (for ten years) and a wealth transfer from young to old as young people must purchase coverage they don’t need to pay for old people’s coverage they can’t afford. The first stream has yet to kick-in as politicians have a hard time taking $50 billion away from seniors, who vote in greater proportion than any other demographic. So that part of the bill isn’t working and ObamaCare isn’t being funded as written. In fairness, it’s only been a couple of years and that may well yet happen, but at very least, ObamaCare is significantly underfunded at this point because of the lack of political will of politicians to obey the law they passed. I said at the time that no politician would vote to take $50 billion away form seniors.

The second stream is about to be tested. As the individual mandate kicks-in, we will see if the young are willing to pay for the elderly. Take, for example, a 27 year old who is no longer eligible for coverage under his parents’ policy. He will have the choice of buying coverage from an exchange for from $2,009.28 a year (minimum coverage) to $3,054.24 a year (“Gold” coverage), or pay a once-a-year tax of $95 if not covered by tax time. Which option do you think will appeal more to a rational young person? If they need medical care while not covered, they go to the hospital and acquire insurance then (insurers can’t turn anyone down for pre-existing conditions). It’s a no-brainer.

Regarding the exchanges themselves, only 16 states have set up exchanges, and the federal government hasn’t set up exchanges in other 34 yet. So, the law will come into affect with only 16 states able to comply. The online sign-up isn’t ready, so enrollees will have to enroll by phone for the time being. Can you say “2-hour hold”? The software that is to operate the data hub (that goes out and gets whatever personal information the exchange needs to verify your eligibility for the coverage you choose) isn’t ready yet, and will not have enough time to run exhaustive security checks before it’s pressed into use. The “navigators”, phone operators that help people wander around inside ObamaCare trying to figure out what they can and cannot do, are just now being hired (with only six states mandating background checks), and will be, by definition, lightly trained by Tuesday. I look for massive identity theft and misuse of personal information.

There are some unintended consequences of the employer mandate that are showing potential to do social harm. There are 315 companies that have laid workers off, siting ObamaCare as the reason, thus demonstrating a real negative effect on general employment. This means that even after recovery, the systemic unemployed will be higher than before ObamaCare, we just don’t know by how much yet. Also, many employers are moving what employees they can from full-time to part-time, lowering the standard of living for those employees. That’s a negative social effect in and of itself, but the details of the full-time/part-time migration has another embedded problem. To keep companies from cutting the workday by just an hour in order to classify a worker as part-time, the law stipulated that anyone who worked thirty hours a week would be, for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act, considered as full-time. Business has said “OK” and began limiting as many workers as possible to 29 hours. Unions have rebelled against what it calls a “set-by-government workweek of 30 hours” instead of the 40-hour workweek that unions fought to establish. They say this will weaken the middle class as wage earners work fewer hours than before. People who know me, know that I agree with very little unions have to say, but in this instance, their case is based on empirical evidence. The general workforce is weakened and impoverished by the consequences of the way the law is written. These situations don’t directly relate to the workability of the law as written, but may do so indirectly if the public blames the law for the consequences, rendering ObamaCare politically unworkable.

As a sidebar, the IRS, who hasn’t even begun enforcing anything yet, announced that it has misplaced $162 million of ObamaCare money. Just lost it. I think we can all agree that the federal government can lose $160 million with one hand tied behind its back, what makes this particularly troublesome are two things: The IRS is an accounting house, keeping track of monies received and spent is what it does, and; these guys are going to have the responsibility of disseminating our sensitive personal financial information onto the data hub, based upon request of anonymous exchange operators. This will all be done using just-finished, lightly-tested software. Shuttling our information around is the beta test. What could go wrong?


[1] The political definition of “gaffe” is when a politician inadvertently tells the truth.

NOTE: Title illustration by Gary Varvel.

Stop or I’ll Shoot!

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We are witnessing why I am not a Republican.

Let’s review. The current budget runs out of appropriations authority on September 30, meaning that the executive can distribute incoming tax revenues among the various commitments of the government, but can’t spend-forward money it doesn’t physically have. The House has passed a continuing resolution (CR) that upholds the current budget spending authority until December, with clause that defunds ObamaCare (prohibits any federal monies spent in implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). That bill now resides in Harry Reid’s IN box (along with the 14 other defunding and repeal acts sent by the House to the Senate).

A contingent of Senate Republicans led by Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah want to filibuster the bill (which they assume will put up for a vote with the defunding language removed). And it’s here that the logic eludes me. The CR would lock-in current levels of spending (which includes the sequester – more cuts in government spending than otherwise possible under this administration); if the defunding language actually made through the Senate (which it won’t), the president would veto it, now requiring 67 votes to override – and if Republicans can’t muster 60 votes to pass it in the first place, where are going to get another seven votes to override a presidential veto? Regardless of how this comes out, the press will see it (and sell it) as being the Republicans’ fault. This is a no-win situation for the GOP.

ObamaCare is an abomination – probably the worst piece of legislation ever passed[1]. I get that. If fully implemented, it will be ever-harder to reverse[2]. I get that. It’s just that there is no way the Republicans are going to win the battle they have chosen and everybody knows it.

They are making a valid point using an invalid tactic.


[1] This on the grounds that it is utterly unworkable. The 1,700 pages of plain-language text is complex beyond understanding, contains so many internal contradictions that there is no way to navigate the system without breaking some aspect of it. Whether or not you like what it tries to do, it just bad law – sloppily written and sold on false claims.

[2] It’s not unlike the dealer who gives kids their first taste of heroin – once they’re hooked, then the price comes into play. This is how liberals get their agenda enacted: they give you something for free, and when the actual cost becomes apparent, it’s too late, nobody wants to lose their freebee.

… and that’s just their foreign policy!

Let’s see if I’ve got this – President Obama has asked to postpone a vote (he would lose) to authorize an action (he tricked himself into), because President Putin (owner of Team Assad) will call Secretary Kerry’s bluff (from a cheeky response to a stupid question). Oh yeah. That’s how to make policy! And they did all this with Joe Biden on the bench! Not a single aspect of this Laurel and Hardy act can be traced to a Bidenism.

Remarkable depth at Court Jester.

Kerry’s ad lib Given Legitimacy

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Vladimir Putin has given President Obama a way out of his dilemma. Not unlike Greek gift-horses, however, it is worthwhile examining why he would do such a thing. Vladimir Vladimiravich Putin is no friend of the United States, nor of Bashar al-Assad for that matter.

Mr Putin is playing chess with the actors in the Syrian civil war, against Mr Obama, who backed into being a player on August 20 2012 with his now infamous “Red Line” ad lib. Mr Putin reveled in that gaffe, knowing that the United States would get scant few participants in making that statement good. Mr Putin would block any meaningful resolution at the United Nations. He supplies much of Western Europe’s oil and gas. His shadow casts over Eastern Europe. PRC would pick up the slack around the Pacific Rim. Mr Obama had isolated himself, and Mr Putin was going to let him play his hand.

Then SecState Kerry ad libbed that if Assad turned all his chemical weapons over to international observers by Friday, he could escape American punitive action. Mr Putin jumped on it. They must still be high-fiving in the Kremlin. By giving just a glimmer of diplomatic hope (which gleams eternal), the US is frozen until that glimmer is exhausted, and you will never get diplomats to admit that a problem is or has become diplomatically intractable. This ploy of underwriting Mr Kerry’s ad lib indefinitely postpones Mr Obama’s enforcement mechanism of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Why does Mr Putin care? His only Mediterranean port, indeed his only year-round blue water port, is Tartus in Syria. Damascus is one of the Kremlin’s largest customers for military assets, which Assad is burning through with satisfactory regularity. Mother Russia has its very own strategically important Muslim problem, and Mr Assad is currently killing Muslims. Any diminution of American world power leaves some slack for whoever will pick it up, and Mr Putin will gladly fill that void.

The situation is delicious to Mr Putin. Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama has his finger poised over the button to more than three hundred and sixty RIM-156SM-2 BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles while ex-KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin offers a diplomatic solution. For those of you playing at home, please turn to your briefing book on “Diplomatic Efforts to de-Nuclearize Iran” for how this will play out.

Colonel Putin comes off as the “good guy” while Nobel Laureate Obama comes off as the “cowboy.” Mr Assad goes unpunished for gassing a thousand or so of his own people – he wasn’t going to use them again anyway, in light of the international reaction to the Damascus strike. Russia keeps supplying Syria with conventional arms, superior to those acquired by the rebels. Mr Putin keeps his blue water port in Western waters. Mr Obama sends someone to negotiate the ridiculous notion of an international body to oversee the security of chemical weapons caches in the midst of a frontless hot war.

Make no mistake, we will take the offer. Congress, that poster child for non-vertebrate life, will leap at the chance of not being Barack Obama’s excuse for not backing up his own stupid remark. “We, the world’s only superpower,” they will assure us, “will certainly teach that orthodontist cum dictator a lesson … just as soon as the diplomats tell us that diplomacy has failed.” Mr Obama, whose favorite color seems to be plaid, will change course yet again. I look for tonight’s speech to be a vigorous defense of his “need to punish WMD’ers” schtick with only a mention of the Kerry-Putin proposal as an aside to diplomatic avenues, no matter how futile. But that mention is all it will take to set the silk-suits off on a search for the unicorn of settlement.

The process will likely take years, giving all interested players plenty of time to pilfer what sarin they may need before anything is actually done on the ground. American influence in the region will downtick. Russian influence in the region will uptick. Iranian influence in the region will uptick. Israel will be become even more imperiled.

Mr Putin has told us his price for helping us with Iran – to look the other way while he ethnically cleans Chechnya (his most active Muslim problem), allow him to reoccupy The Stans (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan – the rest of his Muslim problem), and accede to the “reabsorption” of states lost when the Soviet Union dissolved (mainly Ukraine, but also places like Georgia, Latvia, Belarus, etc). This is with whom we are dealing.

No matter. Mr Obama told Mr Medvedev to tell Mr Putin that he [Mr Obama] would be “more flexible” after the 2012 elections. That promise he will keep.

the View While Leading from Behind

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President Obama’s catch-phrase during the Libya campaign perfectly sums up his foreign policy: “Leading from Behind.” Aside from its deliciously oxymoronic antecedents, it’s why we distrust politicians. “Leading from Behind” is called “following.” When history’s most powerful nation does it, it’s cowardice.

We’re at it again.

Our president is circling the brink of a decision while American credibility circles the drain. Now he wants a show of hands before he acts on what he himself has described as “a heinous illegal act,” that crosses the “red line” he himself put in the sand. And if Assad gases another town while we’re waiting? It’s more important that the president can finger-point if his “limited yet decisive” attack fails. Limited yet decisive? I guess that’s like leading from behind.

National leaders are Machiavellian Realists – that’s how they separate themselves from the crowd to attain leadership. These are not, by nature, nice people – they lie, cheat, steal and bribe (and in some places, kill) in order to acquire national leadership. They’re ruthless. They’re also, usually, world wise, and thusly shepherd their nation well enough through the rough seas of the anarchy that is international relations. We are living what happens when a national leader is clueless about the rest of the world – why it is configured as it is, what motivates the various players, things like that. You get nervous insecurity meekly put forward as “Leading from Behind.” It’s pathetic sophistry.

The normal undefined nature of international affairs is unusually chaotic – and that chaos is unusually volatile – because of the Arab Spring, the ambiguous rise of PRC and Russian intransigence. It is made all the worse because, just at this moment, the Free World is without a spokesman. The Obama political machine has a spokesman (and a surprisingly inarticulate one at that), but the Free World has lost its leader – he’s hiding in the back of the line. “As Scandinavia goes, so goes the Free World!”, or something like that.

What has happened, and is potentially far more dangerous for everyone than any “Arab Spring,” is America’s abdication of leadership, a mantel it has held for the better part of a century. The rightness or wrongness of being leader of the Free World isn’t at issue here – the fact that, without warning, we have chosen to just walk away, is. The rightness or wrongness of the remainder of the Free World not having an answer for that isn’t at issue here, either. That both of those facts coexist, is. We have thrown gasoline onto the fire engulfing the Greater Middle East. It’s amateurism at work. By treating every crisis in splendid isolation – with no detectable knowledge of, or appreciation for, history – Mr Obama finds himself (and us) immersed in a world of unintended consequences.

He’s a naïve man who thinks himself worldly. At the risk of sounding somewhat Rumsfeldian, he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. That’s a very dangerous psychosis while holding such profound toys.