Total cost of HealthCare.gov is ~$300 million, so far[1] (and they had three years to design and build it[2]). It came out on October 1, right on time, but it crashed. Repeatedly. After three days of essentially no service, the president suggested that people use the phone bank. It crashed. It turns out that the “glitches” President Obama assured us would be cleared up in a couple of days are actually manifestations of software that is cobbled together not unlike the law itself. This most tech-savvy administration in history kept moving the goal posts on what the site was supposed to do until it was too late for end-to-end testing – well, QSSI did try one end-to-end test with 200 applicants (it crashed). Essentially, we were the beta test. It crashed. While in real-world service, it never got above 2,000 applicants before it crashed. We were told that there was so much interest in the insurance that the site was overwhelmed[3]. John McAfee, founder of the security software company, disagrees, noting that the site was actually conducting denial of service attacks on itself. The pieces don’t work together.

Three years and $300 million and it doesn’t work. It shimmies and it shakes and it falls down.

Not to worry, President Obama is mounting a “tech surge” to fix it. Jeff Zients, an economist, will head up a Geek Squad of computer guys from inside and outside of government to get the website going. By November 30th. You have to be covered by December 15th lest you get to deal with the IRS. Not to worry, the fine for not having insurance is absurdly smaller than the cost of the insurance. Of course, if you can’t afford the Affordable Care Act, everybody else will subsidize your policy. Let’s see if we can’t guess who will sign up for this house of cards – the takers: the old, the infirm, the uninsurable. In fact, this is the Achilles Heel of the business plan for ObamaCare. The way the whole scam works is to get a bunch of young healthy people to buy way more insurance than they need so that people who are uninsurable can get their bills paid. It depends on one demographic subsidizing another demographic. It’s wealth transfer.

Well, your average healthy young person is going to weigh this ridiculous coverage ($300-$400 a month and $6,000 deductible) against the $95 fine for not being covered, and make the rational decision. OMB tells us that there needs to be 7 million policies purchased by March, and that 2.5 million of them need to be the young and healthy, for the whole thing to be somewhat self-sustaining. So far, they are losing ground on those metrics.

Fourteen states are running their own exchanges, and they’re working (small government: 14, Big Government: 0), but the news isn’t all good – 85%-90% of those actually buying coverage are going to Medicaid, not private insurers. Oregon didn’t have a single sign-up for private insurance. All Medicaid. The deficit swells.

Doctors and hospitals are declining to participate with ObamaCare policies – they lose money.

When the website is fixed (sometime in the next administration, at a cost of billions – if current trends hold) then we will see that the real problem with ObamaCare is ObamaCare. The only way this works is to strip freedom out of the equation (mission accomplished) and produce a new normal (read: Liberal Utopia) of high unemployment, high debt, high taxes, and a mangrove thicket of bureaucrats between doctor and patient (partially done – just waiting for the rest to kick-in in January).

[1] Glenn Kessler, How Much Did HealthCare.gov Cost?, in Washington Post, October 24 2013, 0600EDT.

[2] The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 22 2010.

[3] Interest in the insurance? That’s just silly – we are mandated to get it.

Just 113 Shopping Days left Until the Next Crisis


… only 110 shopping days left until the can starts moving still further down the road.

Incompetence, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from malice. This is the pettiest, most overtly incompetent and destructive administration in memory – both sides of the aisle – and we were treated to late-night television of them congratulating each other for their hard work. Disgusting.

In a shabby display of partisan one-upmanship, we just experienced a government that thought it politically prudent to deny death benefits to survivors of its fallen warriors; to close the World War II memorial to those in whose honor it was erected; to roll out the president’s signature legislation on software known to be faulty and untested; to refuse to talk to the opposition while calling them intransigent; to call Republicans “terrorists,” “arsonists,” “suicide bombers,” “domestic abusers,” and so on, while describing Iranian president Rousani (ex-CEO of Hizbollah) as “moderate.”

Republicans were no better. Insisting on gutting the only accomplishment of a sitting president is beyond tilting at windmills, it’s hallucinatory; conducting a high-profile information operation (trying to make ObamaCare the issue) while the press is reading from White House talking points is delusional; the Speaker of the House not talking to the Senate Minority Leader for the first nine days of the shutdown is dysfunctional; openly bickering among themselves only feeds the self-righteousness of the opposition, and so on.

What Democrats got from this deal: a clean CR and a clean debt-ceiling relief, and perhaps mostly, cover for the “embarrassingly inept” (Robert Gibbs’ words) rollout of the ObamaCare network interface. What Democrats lost from this deal: any chance of deterring a guaranteed lame-duck remainder of the president’s term. What Republicans got from this deal: two days of focus on ObamaCare. What the Republicans lost from this deal: getting anything meaningful done about spending, ObamaCare and entitlements. The Republicans gave President Obama a blank check for a promise to negotiate later, but that may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for him. His behavior, and that of his cohort, has made future relations with Congressional Republicans far more difficult – and Democrats need at least some Republicans to get anything done (at least until after the 2014s, and probably after that as well). It’s the typical self-inflicted wound of short-term thinking.

What Americans got out of this deal: Nothing but a breather until these morons go at each other again.

Iran Sit Rep


In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama on two occasions went out of his way to warn the Iranians that the development of a nuclear weapon “would be a game-changing situation, not just in the Middle East, but around the world.” Obama later added, “It is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon; it would be a game changer.” And Obama twice this year again used “game changer” in reference to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, warning him not to dare use chemical weapons. In March, Obama announced to Assad that “the use of chemical weapons is a game changer.” A month later, Obama again warned Assad not to resort to WMD use: “That is going to be a game changer.” The Iranians must conclude that Obama’s oft-used sports metaphor is more a verbal tic than a serious red line[1].

That’s checkers. Now for the chess version.

Ahmadinejad had served his purpose – provide cover for the longish, complicated transition from technology demonstrator to production; as Iran geared its uranium enrichment capacity up, it needed to be left alone, as much as possible. The Mullahs chose an erratic, belligerent face for the regime – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His value during this time was to sow fear in the West and Gulf States – keep them treading lightly – so that Tehran could undertake the construction of dedicated enrichment facilities, buried deep inside a mountain (and attend to their new heavy-water reactor in Arak). Ahmadinejad’s last election was a joke, and the resulting public riots were inconvenient but yielded a valuable lesson – the US was no longer the clandestine threat it used to be. We could be bluffed. The ridiculousness of the election ended Ahmadinejad’s usefulness (he could not be run again), but Iran was now ready for the long sneak to the breakout point, where they could dash to building a bomb if they chose to.

The new face of Iran would have to be smoother – “good cop” to Ahmadinejad’s “bad cop” – the lies would be finer-grained, the diplomatic banter more critical, the overall demeanor nicer. The end is the same (always the same), to maximize development time while keeping the West satisfied that they [the West] are making headway. Iran is in the home stretch of a decades-long head-fake, and just has to keep it going for a little longer. Enter new president Hassan Rouani. He’s sophisticated, articulate – speaks English with a delightful French accent, having lived in Paris [in exile] with Grand Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini – and is deeply conversant with Iran’s nuclear program (his last job was as Iran’s nuclear negotiator to Europe, and bragged in his book about keeping Europe on the string while Iran’s nuclear program surged ahead). And he has that diplomat’s gift of making you think his gentility is genuine.

The Mullahs are keen students of the West; they may know more about us than we do. The day after we invaded Iraq, Iran turned the lights out and closed the door to their nuclear program. Literally, the next day. They did not get back to full speed for a year or more. But then there were the Green Movement riots where social media made its first showing as a tactical and organizing tool for ethereal “movements.” But most importantly, CIA did not intervene on the side of the protesters, as they surely would have in earlier days. The Mullahs are convinced that we wish to topple their regime, and they were surprised (not to mention relieved) that we did not use the riots as an excuse to destabilize Tehran. They have been evaluating our little dance with Bashar al-Assad in Syria – all hat, no cattle. The Americans have used terms like “red line” and “game-changer” with Iran for years, but now it seems, those are naught but bluffs – we would rather let Moscow manage the situation than do it ourselves. That’s fine with the Mullahs. Their geopolitical aspiration is to create a Shi’ite crescent arching over the Sunni Gulf States, and the Russians will be easier to work with than the Americans.

The Mullah’s actual intent can go one of two ways: things are happening just as they say they are (the West is simply misinterpreting what it thinks it knows about Iran’s nuclear program), or; things are happening just as we say they are (Iran is, as clandestinely as possible, working to develop the ability to build a nuclear weapon). The first version – we are just misinterpreting Iranian actions – has a statistically insignificant probability of being truthful. There is a corollary that says Iran is not pursuing a bomb, but is doing what it can to make us believe they are trying to hide a weapons R&D program. This version would at least move the probability needle, but not much. Although this would be the easiest version of events for reaching a diplomatic solution (read: the West is allowed to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for removing economic sanctions), it would by no means be easy – Iran would be very reluctant to admit that they had shamelessly misled the West in a decades-old, very expensive run through a non-existent maze. They would lose serious face (liars, to the West, and paper tiger to Arabs), and they would lose their game – their easy way to manipulate the West, misdirect us while they do something else.

Some version of the West’s interpretation of Iranian intent to become nuclear armed has a moderate to high probability. This can take three possible routes: race to a bomb; race to a-screw-away, or; race to breakout. They could be taking the “Netanyahu route,” tap dancing as fast as they can until they can mount at least a fission weapon atop one of their Shahab IRBMs. On another hand, they could be racing to having all the components ready for some degree of assembly before they technically possess a bomb. This is known as being “a screw away.” On the third hand, they could be racing to reach breakout capability – position themselves with the assets and expertise to sprint to a bomb before the rest of the world could react.

Any one of the bomb options would require Iran to demonstrate their design and fabrication – a test shot. This could be done while still clouding or shrouding Iranian involvement by getting the North Koreans to allow Iran to use one of their test sites, under the guise that another North Korean nuclear test was going to happen. It would take very good methods to get the requisite Iranian technicians out of Iran and into DPRK unnoticed, but it certainly can be done, especially with state sponsorship. Once they have tested – and the test would have to be on a miniaturized warhead (Iran doesn’t have the luxury of conducting numerous tests) – they could “announce” (after stockpiling around five deliverable warheads) by firing a nuclear-tipped Shahab into the dessert to atmospherically detonate a low-KT warhead in the dessert. This would yield maximum psychological impact.

Why is confidence higher for weaponizing than peaceful? A multitude of reasons, but mainly three: pedigree; intel, and; association. By pedigree I mean their national demeanor is one international agent provocateur, having formed a paramilitary foreign legion (Hizbollah) and sponsored an indigenous terror unit (Hamas)[2]; constant meddling in Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese internal politics; non-ambiguous threats to destroy another sovereign nation (Israel); and of course their near pathological lying. Iran has missed few opportunities to do the wrong thing. By intel I mean that the things we have caught Iran doing around the edges all point to a weapons program. The West has intercepted shipments to Iran from third parties containing a wide variety of dual-use equipment[3]; we know they have carried out field experiments with high explosive mini-shaped-charges[4] and conducted thermal testing of a group of carbon epoxy resins used for re-entry nose cones; they have enriched uranium far beyond any power generation requirement and enriched far more uranium than their contingent of reactors needs; and of course, there is no peaceful reason to secretly construct an enrichment facility buried deep inside a mountain beside a Holy City. By association I mean that we know Iran was one of the nations that received a “bomb book” from Pakistani nuclear proliferator Dr AQ Khan (DPRK and Libya being the others that we know of); we have evidence that Iranian technicians and officials have been present for two North Korean test shots, and that North Korean technicians have been to Iranian reactor sites.

The question of how to interpret Iran’s nuclear ambitions boils down to their congenital lying word against all the evidence and intangibles. This would be the case even if the supporting facts were weaker – some things are high-probability but minimally dangerous while others are low-probability but very dangerous. Both need to be gamed, the former because it could happen frequently and the latter because if it happens it could be catastrophic. The safest bet on Iran, in other words, is that they are up to no good. The consequences of guessing wrong on this are polar – guessing wrongly that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon decreases danger to the region; guessing wrongly that Iran is peacefully pursuing nuclear power generation increases danger to the region. Would you rather have a pleasant surprise or a nasty one?

Sorry this is longer than usual, but these are things I think people should know going into any sort of negotiations with Iran, and I don’t think you will hear any of this on broadcast news or read in most newspapers.

[1] Victor Davis Hanson, “Game changers”, Hoover Institution [Stanford University], October 3 2013.

NOTE: Title illustration by Nate Beeler.

[2] Notice that Hizbollah in the north and Hamas to the south keeps Israel bookended with Iranian paramilitary entities.

[3] Dual-use equipment consists of industrial machinery that can be used for both non-nuclear and nuclear weapons related manufacturing. Part of the problem is that the variety of equipment seized describes non-nuclear uses that the Iranian economy does not possess.

[4] This class of explosives includes the pentagon-shaped spherical caps used to symmetrically implode a nuclear bomb core.