Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz, who is looking into supposed illegal coordination between independent conservative groups in Wisconsin and the recall campaign of Governor Scott Walker, got a nasty surprise from a state judge on Friday.
Some so-called “John Doe” subpoenas issued by Schmitz were ruled improper because they “do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws.”
The Wall Street Journal reports:
The quashed subpoenas were sent to Friends of Scott Walker, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Inc., the Wisconsin Club for Growth, and Citizens for a Strong America, as well as their officers and directors. Judge Peterson’s order doesn’t apply to other subpoena targets, but they can presumably get the same result if they file a motion with the judge and have a similar factual basis.
The order is all the more remarkable because it bluntly rejects the prosecutor’s theory of illegal coordination between the groups and the Walker campaign. Wisconsin’s campaign finance statutes ban coordination between independent groups and candidates for a “political purpose.” But a political purpose “requires express advocacy,” the judge wrote, and express advocacy means directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate.
“There is no evidence of express advocacy” and therefore “the subpoenas fail to show probable cause that a crime was committed,” Judge Peterson wrote. Even “the State is not claiming that any of the independent organizations expressly advocated” for the election of Mr. Walker or his opponent, he added. Instead they did “issue advocacy,” which focuses on specific political issues.
This means that prosecutors essentially invented without evidence the possibility of criminal behavior to justify the subpoenas and their thuggish tactics. At least three targets had their homes raided at dawn, with police turning over belongings, seizing computers and files, and even barring phone calls.
The judge’s order vindicates our suspicion that the John Doe probe is a political operation intended to shut up Mr. Walker’s allies as he seeks re-election this year. No one has taken public credit for appointing the special prosecutor, but we know the probe began in the office of Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf.
Mr. Landgraf works for Milwaukee County Democratic D.A. John Chisholm, and this is their second secret probe of Mr. Walker. The first one ended up with small-time violations against Walker aides but didn’t touch the Governor.
The subpoenas asked for all information and data and communications stretching back to 2009, two years before the recall elections that were supposedly the central issue. Because the subpoenas sought both donor identities and internal communications of the targeted groups, they failed to demonstrate the narrow and targeted investigation that the First Amendment demands. Our sources also say that only conservative groups were targeted.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Democrats in Wisconsin are desperate. Walker’s public employee reforms have eviscerated the power of unions in the state and Democrats are looking for any way they can to even the playing field. Much of the cash, many campaign workers, and much of the energy in Democratic politics in the state come from public unions. And with the unions crippled, Democrats are worried that the same coalition that brought Walker victory in the recall election will ride over them again in November.
Walker’s allies aren’t out of the woods yet. But without the subpoenas, Schmitz will have a hard time making any kind of a case against them.
Oregon’s Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber is on the hot seat due to the total failure of CoverOregon — the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange. To date, the site has not signed up a single enrollee due to massive technical problems, and there is little hope that it will be working anytime soon.
If that weren’t bad enough, now there are questions about the project’s chief information officer and her ties to the contractor who developed the non-working site. Carolyn Lawson may have given fraudulent testimony during a legislative hearing in addition to the possible conflict of interest.
Apparently, this is a sore subject for Kitzhaber. When asked about it during a TV interview, he walked out.
KATU has reported that an email sent in December 2012 from state Rep. Patrick Sheehan (R) to the governor’s legislative director, warned of problems with Lawson. Sheehan, a member of the legislative oversight committee for Cover Oregon, accused Lawson in the email of presenting fraudulent testimony in a legislative hearing and speculated about her ties to the company building the website. Kitzhaber denied having seen the email, even though his legislative director responded to it, and claimed he didn’t know of problems with Lawson until late last year.
Kitzhaber was open to discussing Cover Oregon’s new enrollment numbers, though he acknowledged that the exchange’s website is unlikely to work for the foreseeable future. It was scheduled to go live Oct. 1, but still hasn’t enrolled a single person online.
The governor claimed the exchange is actually beating expectations. “We figured that this would be a two-year process,” Kitzhaber said. “What we didn’t anticipate was actually this many [people enrolling].”
Oregon was the recipient of $1.9 billion in federal grants to improve the process it uses to provide health care to low-income individuals through the state’s Medicaid program. According to Cover Oregon, about 170,000 people signed up to begin health insurance in January through Cover Oregon or the Oregon Health Plan. But because of the website’s problems, the state had to hire hundreds of staff to process health insurance applications by paper and through call centers.
At a news conference this week in Portland, Kitzhaber said the state has hired a firm to conduct an independent review of what went wrong with the website.
That should be a very interesting review. The email sent by state Rep. Sheehan raised a lot of red flags as far back as December 2012, including the criticism that Lawson was clueless about her job.
Tech giant Oracle was the contractor in charge of building the site. Apparently, there were many in the state IT department who didn’t think Oracle was up to the job. Results would seem to bear out that criticism.
Kitzhaber claims to have never seen the email that raised critical issues about the website’s construction nearly a year before the site was supposed to go live. Immediately after being asked about that email and Lawson, a staffer interjected that the governor had to leave.
The interview was the first public statement made by the governor about the disastrous rollout of the website since November.
Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a brilliant general and controversial Israeli politician, died on Saturday from complications due to a debilitating stroke he suffered in 2006.
Beloved by many, reviled by some, Sharon marched to his own drummer during his military career and as prime minister from 2001-2006. He surprised the world when he unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, a move that some believed could have led to a settlement with the Palestinians if he had remained in good health. But his pragmatism about Israeli security was always tempered with the realization that only military strength guaranteed Israeli’s existence:
As one who fought in all of Israel’s wars, and learned from personal experience that without proper force, we do not have a chance of surviving in this region. … I have also learned from experience that the sword alone cannot decide this bitter dispute in this land.
As prime minister, Sharon presided over some of the most turbulent times in Israeli-Palestinian history, a Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000 and an Israeli military crackdown after peace talks collapsed. As Israel’s leader, he besieged his arch-nemesis Yasser Arafat with tanks after suicide bombers flooded Israel from the occupied West Bank.
Long a champion of Jewish settlement on land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war, Sharon, serving in 1998 as foreign minister, urged settlers in the West Bank to “run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours”.
He said the contested decision to quit the Gaza Strip, which pulled apart his Likud party and persuaded him to form a new political force, would enable Israel to strengthen its hold over “territory which is essential to our existence”.
It was a reference to the West Bank, where his government began the construction of a massive barrier during the Palestinian uprising. Israel called it a security measure – Palestinians condemned the project as a land grab.
His career as a soldier spanned the War for Independence and the 1967 and 1973 conflicts. He had quit the military in 1973 but rushed back to service when Egypt invaded the Sinai. Calmly, he led the IDF in a successful counterattack that destroyed the Egyptian army.
His career as a politician was more controversial:
He helped form the Likud party, which courted Israel’s underclass of Jews of Middle Eastern descent and rose to power in the 1977 election, ending the dominance of the “European” Labour Party.
Appointed agriculture minister, Sharon used that post and his chairmanship of a ministerial settlements committee to break ground on new settlements – helping to earn him the nickname “Bulldozer”.
As defence minister under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Sharon masterminded the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, one of Israel’s most divisive campaigns.
What started as a stab against Palestinian guerrillas on the border evolved into a murky and costly bid to install a government more friendly to Israel in Beirut.
Arab hatred of Sharon crested with the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila by Israeli-allied Christian militiamen.
He denied wrongdoing but was eventually forced to resign as defence chief in 1983 after an Israeli probe said he bore “personal responsibility” for not preventing the bloodshed.
Sharon’s supporters believed he was unfairly blamed for the refugee camp massacre. And to this day, the IDF’s role in assisting the Lebanese Phalangist militia in carrying out the slaughter is debated. But it seems fairly clear that even if Sharon had no direct knowledge of the attack, he should have realized what would happen when he invited the Phalangists into the area to seek out the murderers of Lebanese Prime Minister Gemayal.
Perhaps they didn’t want to be associated with an administration that wants to keep any security breaches at the healthcare.gov website secret.
You pays your monies and yous takes your chances…
Dozens of House Democrats broke ranks with President Obama on Friday to support legislation that would require people to be notified of security breaches under ObamaCare.
The House passed the Health Exchange Security and Transparency Act, H.R. 3811, in a 291-122 vote. Sixty-seven Democrats voted for the bill, ignoring arguments from party leaders that the bill was a “messaging” vote meant to discourage people from signing up for insurance.
The one-sentence bill says that no later than two business days after any security breach on an ObamaCare site is discovered, “the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall provide notice of such breach to each individual.” Republicans said that under current law, the government is not required to notify people if their information is put at risk.
“It may shock some people to learn that there is no legal requirement that the Department of Health and Human Services notify an individual if his or her personal information is breached or improperly accessed through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges,” said Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.).
The White House said it opposed the bill, arguing the government already has plans to tell people if their information has been compromised.
But that argument didn’t sway a large group House Democrats, many of whom fear the problem-plagued rollout of ObamaCare will cost them at the polls in November.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the new requirement is critical because a senior official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) advised in September that the site should not be launched due to security problems. Teresa Fryer, the Chief Information Security Officer at CMS, testified before Issa’s committee late last year.
“The truth is that actual interviews and depositions taken of the highest-ranking people that helped develop this website, both public and private, shows there was no end-to-end testing,” Issa said Friday. “It did not meet the spirit of any definition of a secure website.”
Democrats rejected those arguments, and said Republicans were not explaining Fryer’s complete views on the security of HealthCare.gov.
“All week, Republicans have been trying to make their case for this bill by quoting from a memo drafted by the chief information security officer at CMS about concerns before the website was launched,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on Issa’s committee. “But they omit one critical fact: this official never sent the memo. It was a draft, and she never gave it to anyone, including her own supervisor.”
Shorter Cummings: The website is a hacker’s dream and the government knows it, but memos like the one drafted by Fryer were never sent in order to keep a lid on the problem.
It hardly matters. Henry Chao, project manager at CMS for the website, says he never saw another memo from a CMS IT expert, Tony Trenkle, who described “limitless” security problems with the site. Whether Fryer sent her memo or not is irrelevant. There were others at CMS who knew full well the security shortcomings with the site.
Chao said he was unaware of a Sept. 3 government memo written by another senior official at CMS. It found two high-risk issues, which are redacted for security reasons. The memo said “the threat and risk potential (to the system) is limitless.” The memo shows CMS gave deadlines of mid-2014 and early 2015 to address them.
But Chao testified he’d been told the opposite.
“What I recall is what the team told me, is that there were no high findings,” he said.
Chao testified security gaps could lead to identity theft, unauthorized access and misrouted data.
According to federal guidelines, high risk means “the vulnerability could be expected to have a severe or catastrophic adverse affect on organizational operations … assets or individuals.”
It was Chao who recommended it was safe to launch the website Oct. 1. When shown the security risk memo, Chao said, “I just want to say that I haven’t seen this before.”
A Republican staff lawyer asked, “Do you find it surprising that you haven’t seen this before?”
Chao replied, “Yeah … I mean, wouldn’t you be surprised if you were me?” He later added: “It is disturbing. I mean, I don’t deny that this is … a fairly nonstandard way” to proceed.
The fact is, Democrats like Cummings would rather keep consumers in the dark about their personal info being stolen lest others get nervous about signing up using the site. Putting political success ahead of protecting American”s privacy is about what we’ve come to expect from CMS and the administration.
Many Republicans in the House are opposed to another extension of unemployment benefits, while others are demanding a dollar for dollar swap for budget cuts before such a measure were approved.
Facing a divided caucus, Speaker John Boehner says he’s open to an extension “as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again.” Boehner has not been specific about what those efforts might be, but approval of the Keystone pipeline could be in the mix.
But with stiffening opposition to an extension from the right, Boehner may not bring the measure to the floor for a vote at all.
“Despite a dozen extensions, academic research suggests the program has actually hurt, rather than helped, the job creation that the unemployed need most,” Michelle Dimarob, spokesperson for Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), said Friday in a statement.
“It is time to focus on policies that will actually lead to real economic opportunities for families who are trying to get back on their feet and back into the workplace.”
The comments came as President Obama and congressional Democrats are amplifying their pressure on Boehner to extend the benefits to the long-term unemployed who have exhausted their state help.
An estimated 1.3 million unemployed workers lost those benefits on Dec. 28, after GOP leaders rejected the Democrats’ efforts to extend the help as part of a bipartisan budget deal.
The debate will intensify next week, with Senate Democrats planning a vote on a three-month renewal.
Sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the proposal would not offset the estimated $6.4 billion in costs, setting the stage for a potential showdown with Boehner and the Republicans if the bill is sent to the House.
Rhode Island and Nevada have the highest unemployment rates in the country, at 9 percent in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It remains unclear if Boehner and the Republicans will consider the issue.
A memo released by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) Friday outlining the GOP’s legislative agenda for January does not mention unemployment insurance.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Senate passage of a bill could put Boehner under more pressure to bring up the measure, but he cast doubt on its chances. Van Hollen noted that GOP leaders last month rejected his proposal, sponsored with Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), to extend UI benefits by three months and offset the costs by reducing farm subsidies.
“The Speaker refused to allow a vote at that time,” Van Hollen told MSNBC Friday. “So our hope is that a push from the Senate will get things moving in the House, but the jury is still out.”
Reid may, indeed, force Boehner’s hand by handing the issue off to the House after Senate passage. But if he actually wants to pass an extension, rather than simply embarrass Republicans, he’s going to have to compromise:
“If the Senator comes up with any kind of a reasonable idea to offset the $26 billion, I think that he might find some people that are willing to talk to him,” Salmon said. But he added that Congress should be dealing with the root cause of unemployment by passing one of the many jobs bills the Republican-controlled House has sent to the Senate, including approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Salmon was echoing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has said it is incumbent on President Obama to come up with a way to pay for the extension of benefits if he wants the GOP to consider it.
King didn’t agree with Salmon that every dollar of a benefits extension would need to be offset, but he did say that “there has to be some compromise coming from the Democrats.”
“I would like to find a way to get a compromise, to extend unemployment insurance at least for a brief period of time. But at the same time, the Democrats should make compromises as far as burdensome regulations and attempt to unleash the economy. Because the ultimate answer is not unemployment insurance. The ultimate answer is more jobs,” he said.
Boehner doesn’t want to do anything to take the focus off of the Democrats and the failure of Obamacare. This will be a constant theme from now until November as the Democrats will seek to distract the public from the Obamacare debacle by raising issues like the minimum wage, “inequality,” and more of the “War on Women” so beloved of liberals.
Boehner has to weigh the chance that his fractured caucus will splinter over votes on an increase in the minimum wage and an extension of unemployment benefits against the political opening he will leave Democrats if he doesn’t take them up at all. It’s a delicate balance that could impact the GOP’s chances for the mid term elections.
It’s early yet and there’s a chance that the skewed Obamacare numbers of young and healthy enrollees being dwarfed by old and sick ones may not be as bad as some analysts are predicting.
But Big Insurance companies who salivated at the chance for tens of millions of new customers driven into their laps by a coercive government didn’t take any chances when the law was being written. By dint of the millions of dollars they’ve contributed to the campaigns of both parties, they were able to sneak into Obamacare a bailout provision that would have taxpayers footing the bill for the administration’s incompetence and their own greed.
Dan Mitchell compares a potential insurance bailout with the TARP program:
Some financial institutions gambled on the government’s misguided policies and got caught with their pants down when the bubble burst.
But rather than let those companies fail and use the sensible and non-corrupt “FDIC resolution” method to recapitalize the banking system, we got a taxpayer-to-Wall-Street bailout.
Or, from the perspective of the big banks, they got a very good return on their campaign contributions (read Kevin Williamson if you want to get upset about this disgusting form of cronyism).
Well, as Yogi Berra might say, it’s deja vu all over again.
Except now the fat cats lining up at the Treasury door are the big health insurance corporate titans. They got in bed with the White House to push Obamacare and now they’re worried about losing money now that it’s becoming more apparent that the American version of government-run healthcare doesn’t work any better than the British version. (H/T: Instapundit)
Mitchell points to this Charles Krauthammer column that explains the insurance bailout mechanism in Obamacare:
…there’s a Plan B. It’s a government bailout. Administration officials can’t say it for political reasons. And they don’t have to say it because it’s already in the Affordable Care Act, buried deep. First, Section 1341, the “reinsurance” fund collected from insurers and self-insuring employers at a nifty $63 a head. (Who do you think the cost is passed on to?) This yields about $20 billion over three years to cover losses. Then there is Section 1342, the “risk corridor” provision that mandates a major taxpayer payout covering up to 80 percent of insurance-company losses.
Mitchell speculates that the reason the bailout provision is in the bill is because “maybe the White House knew that Obamacare would be unstable and they needed a bailout option to keep the system from totally unraveling. Particularly when it seems that the Obama Administration is arbitrarily changing the system every other day.”
So, in addition to making a deal with the devil that will enrich their companies by tens of billions of dollars, the titans of the health insurance industry made damn sure that if things went south, they wouldn’t be stuck holding the bag.
How did Republicans miss this? This would have been a deal killer even with some Democrats if it had come out before the final vote. Regardless, the question is what to do about it.
…the GOP needs to act. Obamacare is a Rube Goldberg machine with hundreds of moving parts. Without viable insurance companies doing the work, it falls apart. No bailout, no Obamacare. Such a bill would be overwhelmingly popular because Americans hate fat-cat bailouts of any kind. Why should their tax dollars be spent not only saving giant insurers but also rescuing this unworkable, unbalanced, unstable, unpopular money-pit of a health-care scheme? …Do you really think vulnerable Democrats up for reelection will vote for a bailout? And who better to slay Obamacare than a Democratic Senate — liberalism repudiating its most important creation of the last 50 years. Want to be even bolder? Attach the anti-bailout bill to the debt ceiling. That and nothing else. Dare the president to stand up and say: “I’m willing to let the country default in order to preserve a massive bailout for insurance companies.” …Who can argue with no bailout? Let the Senate Democrats decide: Support the bailout and lose the Senate. Or oppose the bailout and bury Obamacare.
Some choice. The problem is, if there’s no bailout and the insurance companies suffer enormous losses, what happens to the individual insurance market? Or group plans? Might premiums be massively increased to offset the losses? How else can the companies recoup their losses? How many more Americans will be unable to afford insurance of any kind if the government lets them hang?
No one knows, and the insurance companies are banking on that uncertainty — just like the big banks did for TARP when they warned of a depression if they didn’t get their bailout.
“Too Big to Fail” may become “Too Important to Fail” if the companies get their way.
Republican campaign consultants are urging GOP members of the House to forgo any messy fights on raising the debt limit in favor of concentrating on trying to take the Senate in 2014.
“What Republicans have to realize [is] the political winds are in our direction. We can’t risk changing the winds at this stage,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “You can shut down the Obama agenda completely if you have the Senate.”
A GOP decision on the debt ceiling is likely to come out of the annual House retreat scheduled for Jan. 29 in Maryland. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has told Congress he expects the government could be in danger of missing payments by early March, giving lawmakers a narrow window to find another borrowing boost.
“The only way you lose the House is if Dems intercept a Hail Mary pass on the debt ceiling,” another GOP strategist said. “If you lose the House, you open the door to everything.”
At the same time, GOP tacticians acknowledge that the party cannot look weak in the debt ceiling fight and simply grant the president the “clean” hike he wants. Furthermore, the timing of the fight means members facing conservative primary challenges will face a tough dilemma.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in December that the party would not accept “nothing” for the debt ceiling and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he could not imagine a clean increase.
Tea Party and outside conservative groups said this week they are still formulating their approach. Feisty outside groups have helped pull congressional Republicans to the right in several past battles, but they came under intraparty criticism — most notably from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — for pushing the GOP into the ill-fated shutdown fight over ObamaCare.
With the debt limit looming as the next battleground, conservative forces are still looking for a policy win, but are not drawing any lines in the sand.
“Conservatives have the expectation that the debt ceiling is an important tool to reduce the size and scope of the government,” said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. “That’s what conservatives are going to be looking for…that’ll be the expectation from conservative voters.”
Even so, Holler acknowledged that no clear overall strategy has crystallized around the debt limit yet.
Might President Obama be more amendable to negotiations on the debt ceiling considering how much trouble he’s in with the voters over Obamacare?
MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, who, along with her guests, mocked a photo of Mitt Romney and his adopted black grandson, made an emotional apology on her show for her “poor judgment”:
“Whatever the intent was, the reality is that the segment proceeded in a way that was offensive, and showing the photo in that context, that segment, was poor judgment. So without reservation or qualification, I apologize to the Romney family,” Harris-Perry said, her voice choking up while her eyes moistened but failed to produce tangible tears on her cheeks.
Harris-Perry and her show’s guests previously mocked a photo of Romney with his adopted black grandson, with one guest even saying that the photo was representative of the largely white Republican party, which tries to “find the one black person” for photo ops.
Harris-Perry is the latest liberal to fall victim to the liberal-created virus that ensnares people who publicly say things that can be interpreted as offensive or politically incorrect. As The Daily Caller noted, three straight liberals went down at the end of 2013 in free speech controversies. Alec Baldwin lost his MSNBC show for calling a photographer a “c**ksucking fag.” Martin Bashir was fired from MSNBC for comments he made about crapping in Sarah Palin’s mouth. Washington Post syndicated columnist Richard Cohen was roundly lambasted for comments he made about traditional Americans’ views on interracial marriage.
Considering the fact that Baldwin’s and Bashir’s apologies didn’t do the trick, you wonder if those tears shed by Harris-Perry were less about being sorry for her racist opinions and more about a desperate attempt to salvage her job.
Regardless, Howard Kurtz looks at MSNBC and wonders if the rude, loutish behavior is really accidental. Could it be network policy to generate controversy and goose the ratings of the low-rated network?
Go back a bit further and there are more transgressions. Ed Schultz apologized for calling Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” and was suspended for a week. Chris Hayes said he was “uncomfortable” calling fallen soldiers “heroes” because that could be seen as justifying more war. He apologized: “As many have rightly pointed out, it’s very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots.”
Just about everyone on television, including me, makes mistakes. And cable news can be a rough neighborhood. I’m sure some folks are at this moment scrambling to dig up incendiary comments made on Fox, which shouldn’t be difficult. I’m not crazy about pundits calling their opponents idiots and liars. But not since Glenn Beck was branding Barack Obama a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred” of white people has anything been at the Bashir level, and that was five years ago.
MSNBC is now 85 percent opinion, according to a recent Pew study. The channel doesn’t have its own reporters and has no problem having such commentators as Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews anchor news events, including conventions and election nights.
With so many opinions being flung around, perhaps there is subtle pressure to push the boundaries of acceptable commentary in an effort to break through the static.
Personally, I hope things settle down at MSNBC. It’s good for the country to have three healthy cable news networks and a vigorous debate that doesn’t descend into offensive bile.
If it’s “subtle” pressure, it’s not very subtle. But really, I think what’s going on at MSNBC is the same thing that’s going on at many liberal blogs and in the liberal commentariat, not to mention in liberal salons and liberal coffee klatches all over the country. I’ll explain on the next page.
Have you noticed the dearth of information about Obamacare coming from the White House?
You would think they were guarding nuclear codes or President Obama’s college transcripts for all the secrecy that surrounds information about the progress of Obamacare. We certainly hear all the good news that’s to be had, that’s for sure. So many happy people getting coverage. So many ecstatic people on Medicaid. The website purring like a kitten.
The problem for the administration is that the morsels of good news have been so few and far between that it seems that days, even weeks go by without any news about how the implementation of the law is going.
How many people have signed up and paid their first month’s premium? How many are young and healthy? How many are old and sick? How many who had their insurance cancelled have been able to get coverage on the exchanges? How much has been spent on the website to date?
Lots of questions — zero answers. That’s why the House GOP wants to formalize the reporting process by passing a law forcing the White House to give them weekly updates.
House Republicans will call up legislation next week that requires weekly reports from the Obama administration on how many people are using the HealthCare.gov website and signing up for health insurance under the law.
Members will consider the Exchange Information Disclosure Act, which Republicans say is needed because the Obama administration has failed to offer details about ObamaCare participation levels.
Since the launch of the troubled website in October, the administration has offered sporadic updates about participation. But those updates have mostly frustrated Republicans who are seeking more detailed data, and who are also pressing for more information about what officials are doing to fix the websites various problems.
The bill up next week, H.R. 3362, would address both complaints. First, it would require weekly updates on the number of unique website visitors, new accounts, and new enrollments in a qualified health plan, as well as the level of coverage. All of this data would have to be provided on a state-by-state basis.
Secondly, it would require a weekly update on efforts to fix problems people have had logging into the website and enrolling in coverage. Reports detailing all of this information would have to be submitted to Congress every Monday until the end of March 2015.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), said in November that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must give states data about statewide enrollment if they are to help implement the law. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who sponsored a Senate version of the bill, said there’s no reason why HHS can’t provide the data on a regular basis.
“With Wikileaks and Edward Snowden spilling our beans every day, what’s happening on the Obamacare exchanges is the only secret left in Washington,” he said in October. “The National Security Administration should learn some lessons from Secretary Sebelius.”
One of the pieces of information Republicans want is the extent to which young, healthy people are signing up versus those more likely to need medical care. The bill from Terry and Alexander doesn’t require that information, but it does require weekly reports on enrollees by zip code, which could provide clues about the kind of people signing up for coverage.
Additionally, Republicans have demanded information about how many people have actually made their first monthly payment for an ObamaCare health plan. But the bill does not address this issue, and as payments are made directly to insurance companies, it’s not expected that the government would have this information.
If I were the secretary of HHS, I would want regular updates from insurance companies about Obamacare enrollees. Maybe just raw numbers — something the insurance companies should be able to supply without much trouble. And I would also be in constant contact with exchanges in other states, tabulating enrollments among other things.
The point is, this information could probably be generated on a single spreadsheet from information flowing into CMS. But then, we’re talking about a government operation and just because something seems logical and efficient doesn’t necessarily mean they would have thought of doing it.
It’s time for the administration to stop playing politics with Obamacare numbers. We’re in a crisis entirely of their making and the idea that they’re playing hide and seek with statistics so that Republicans don’t gain a political advantage is absurd. Millions have lost their insurance and can’t afford an Obamacare replacement. Millions more will almost certainly be in the same boat by the end of this year.
But nothing can be done unless accurate information is shared with Congress. Trying to mask the failure of Obamacare is only compounding a crisis that has to be addressed.
When last we left our heroes, they had successfully evacuated 52 global warming scientists from the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian ice breaker that was stranded by ice for 10 days. A Chinese ship, the Xue Long, used a helicopter to ferry the scientists — who still insist the Antarctic ice is melting due to global warming — to an Australian ice breaker that is now on the way back home.
But rather than get the girl and live happily ever after, the Chinese ice breaker itself has now become trapped by sea ice.
The Chinese ice-breaker that helped rescue passengers stranded on the Akademik Shokalskiy vessel in Antarctica may now itself be stuck.
An Australian ice-breaker carrying the rescued passengers has been placed on standby in case the Chinese ship, Xue Long, needs assistance.
On Thursday, a helicopter from Xue Long transferred 52 passengers from the Shokalskiy to the Aurora Australis.
The Shokalskiy has been trapped by thick floes of ice since 24 December.
“Xue Long notified Amsa [the Australian Maritime Safety Authority]… this afternoon [that] it has concerns about their ability to move through heavy ice in the area,” Amsa said in a statement.
“[Xue Long] will attempt to manoeuvre through the ice when tidal conditions are most suitable during the early hours of 4 January,” Amsa said, adding that there was no immediate danger to the crew on the Xue Long.
The Australian Aurora Australis has been asked to remain in open water nearby as a precautionary measure.
BBC reporter Andrew Luck-Baker is on board the Australian ship: “The irony of the situation is that the Xue Long was originally summoned to break a clear route through the pack ice to the smaller Russian vessel. That was not possible and the large icebreaker is now trapped itself.
“As a precautionary measure, the Australian icebreaker has been put on standby to assist the Xue Long, if needs be. All the vessels involved in this drama are within a sea area of East Antarctica that is claimed by Australia. Hence, the coordinating role lies with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.”
As a political joke, the idea of global warming scientists out to prove the shrinking Antarctic ice sheet becoming trapped is mildly amusing. But as a matter of science, looking at an infinitesimally small part of the ice sheet and basing any conclusions on how thick the ice is at that small section at a given point during a given time of the year is silly. The Antarctic ice sheet covers 4.5 million square miles and the local concentration of ice that covers a few dozen or even hundreds of miles is certainly not indicative of whether the entire ice sheet is growing, shrinking, or remaining constant.
That said, there doesn’t seem to be a good explanation for why part of the Antarctic ice sheet is shrinking and other parts are growing. The explanation for both cannot be global warming so there is obviously some dynamic about ice masses at work of which we are still in dark.
I don’t know whether the rescued scientists were interested in studying the problem with an open mind or whether they had braved the ice in order to advance a cause. We should rejoice that they are safe while, at the same time, allowing ourselves a chuckle at the superficial irony of seeing global warming scientists hoisted on their own petard, so to speak.
And that’s without the wind chill. The bottom line: this is very dangerous cold where exposed skin can experience frost bite in 15 minutes.
The latest GFSx MOS temperature forecast is now -8 deg. F for game time in Green Bay on Sunday evening for the playoff game between the Packers and the 49ers. This is getting awfully close to the record coldest NFL game temperature of -13 deg. F, set Dec. 31, 1967 at Lambeau Field during “The Ice Bowl”, the NFL Championship game between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys.
The 2nd coldest game was Jan. 10, 1982 at Riverfront Stadium during the AFC Championship game between Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers, at -9 deg. F, so Sundays game might take the #2 spot. The top 10 coldest NFL games are listed here. Makes my hands hurt just thinking about it.
Other games on Saturday and Sunday won’t be nearly as cold. On Saturday, the Indianapolis vs. Kansas City game will be in the Lucas Oil domed stadium; the Philadelphia vs. New Orleans game in Philly will be played in a relatively balmy 29 degrees; and the Sunday contest between Sand Diego and Cincinnati in Cincy will see temps in the mid-30′s.
Should the NFL go through with the game? The problem is, it’s going to be just as cold for the next few days in Green Bay and if the NFL tried to reschedule for mid-week, it would give an unfair competitive advantage to either Green Bay or the 49ers opponent next week. It takes the behemoths of the NFL at least 4 days to recover from the intense combat of a pro football game (see controversey over Thursday Night Football), and even then, it is generally acknowledged that the quality of play suffers due to lack of preparation and battered and bruised players.
Besides, the NFL has no policy about how cold a game can get before they cancel it:
Football routinely is played in the elements. Except when the elements endanger life and limb.
But when it comes to whether the weather will be so cold that it’s too cold from a safety standpoint, the NFL has no predetermined temperature reading that would postpone a game.
“We don’t have a number, no,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy tells PFT via email.
It’s a bit surprising that the league hasn’t worked with experts to identify a temperature at which it automatically becomes unsafe to be outdoors for extended periods of time. That’s likely because the league has never had to do it.
After Sunday’s game at Green Bay, the NFL may have to do it.
Players and officials will be exposed to those conditions for roughly 90 minutes in the first half of the game, along with another 90 minutes in the second half – even more if there’s overtime. And while fans can, in theory, exit the seating area and look for a warmer spot in the stadium, how warm will any spot in the stadium be, other than the restrooms?
Of course, fans can choose to leave early or not come at all. Players, officials, stadium workers, and others who are employed to be there have no real choice. (The players and the officials are represented by unions, which at some point have a duty to intervene on behalf of their constituents.)
For all parties involved, there are few viable options. The NFL could play the game on Saturday, when the temperature will spike to a balmy 25 during the day. That would entail possibly moving one of the Saturday playoff games to Sunday, or playing three on Saturday, with the Green Bay game perhaps landing in the currently vacant 1:00 p.m. ET time slot. Alternative, the NFL could flip the order of the games on Sunday, with 49ers-Packers kicking off (and in turn ending) well before the wind chill warning kicks in at 6:00 p.m. local time.
Moving the game to Monday definitely won’t work. That day, the projected high temperature is 14 below.
None of those scenarios is likely to pan out. Green Bay fans pride themselves on their heartiness and ability to endure, and despite recent accusations of the “wussification” of the NFL, with ever increasing rules against hard hits and “protecting the quarterback,” there really will be no alternative but to go on with the game as scheduled.
It probably won’t get as cold as was described in Jack London’s excellent short story, “To Build a Fire,” where the author’s protaganist braved the frigid Yukon to make a trip that ordinarily would take him less than a day:
He was a newcomer in the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man’s place in the universe. Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head.
As he turned to go on, he spat speculatively. There was a sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again. And again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled. He knew that at fifty below spittle crackled on the snow, but this spittle had crackled in the air. Undoubtedly it was colder than fifty below-how much colder he did not know. But the temperature did not matter. He was bound for the old claim on the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the boys were already.
Now that’s cold.
The year 2014 looks like it’s going to be a very busy time. It’s the “Year of Obama’s Reckoning.” It’s the “Year of the Resurgent Progressives.” It’s the “Year of Two Americas.” It’s the “Year of the Bible.” Futurist David Brin is wondering “What if the 21st Century begins in 2014“?
So 2014 has a lot to live up to. Naturally, I believe them all to be wrong. The year 2014 will actually be “The Year of the Below Average American.”
First of all, below average Americans never get any recognition so I thought it would be nice to acknowledge their non-contributions to American excellence. Secondly, below average Americans now appear to be in power — even though they’re largely too dumb to realize it. Calling them “low information voters” is an exaggeration. It’s much worse than that. If the only news you get comes from late night comic’s monologues or John Stewart, your below average comprehension means you fully deserve to have a below average president.
Now, the full import of Obama’s below averageness comes to the fore. Obamacare is getting off the ground and if there was ever a law designed for, designed by, implemented by, and ignored by below average Americans, this is it. Everything about it screams “below average”; below average affordability, below average deductibles, below average network availability, below average ease in understanding.
Of course, there are other reasons 2014 will be the Year of the Below Average American. They are playing the Super Bowl in New York City. In February. Who but a below average NFL front office would have chosen a city to host the Super Bowl with an average monthly high in February of 40 and a low of 24? It’s not even going to be in a dome for crying out loud. And since new Mayor Red Bill DeBlasio is making it his first order of business to forcibly retire that fine New York tourist attraction of horse drawn carriage rides around Central Park, just what is it that tourists coming into town for the big game are supposed to do?
Aside from taking a bus to the casinos of Atlantic City, nothing comes immediately to mind. Sure, New York has great museums, live theater, the vim, the verve, and all that jazz. But really, who’s going to be traipsing through the neighborhoods of the city, or taking in the sights of Times Square if it’s below freezing? The NFL better hope that Green Bay or some other northern city makes it to the big game or the stands are going to be half full and the city’s hotels half empty.
You know this year is going to be a year celebrating the non-entities in American life when Hollywood is remaking Robocop immediately after Detroit filed for bankruptcy. Nothing like life imitating art imitating life. And while we’re on the subject of Hollywood, what half witted below average studio executive had the bright idea of casting Russell Crowe as Noah? A Gladiator he may be. You could even envision him as a 19th century British naval captain. But Noah? Sheesh.
No doubt, we will find more examples of below average Americans to celebrate as the year progresses. After all, as E.J. Dionne informs us, progressives are “resurgent”:
More generally, the Democratic left is animated by the battle against growing inequality and declining social mobility — the idea, as Warren has said repeatedly, that “the system is rigged for powerful interests and against working families.” She and her allies are not anti-capitalist. Their goal is to reform the system so it spreads its benefits more widely. Warren has argued that everything she’s done on behalf of financial reform has, in fact, been designed to make markets work better.
The below average will always seek to drag the rest of us down to their level — intellectually, morally, economically — because they are too dumb to figure out how to lift themselves out of their own mediocrity. Those who look for equal outcomes based on the notion that equality can be decreed — sort of like ordering Obamacare to work despite its obvious unworkability — are finally going to have their day in the sun.
Unless they know who Icarus is, we’re in trouble.
Provocative headline, no? Actually, I would dearly love to provoke a global warming advocate into lecturing me about the difference between “climate” and “weather.” I mean, it’s not like every heat wave, or hurricane, or tornado outbreak that occurs isn’t followed immediately by calls by climate change believers for swift action to prevent catastrophe.
There’s only a difference between climate and weather when skeptics are making the claims of proof.
I bring this up because in the midst of one of the most severe winters on record, climate change advocates are warning us that global warming is happening even faster than they originally thought.
As the planet marked its fourth hottest year on record, a study published in the journal Nature found increasing levels of carbon dioxide will lead to thinner ocean clouds and reduce their cooling impact, causing temperature rises of at least 5.6F (3C) over the course of the century.
The team of scientists said the findings show some climate models have been too “optimistic” and previous estimates of a minimum temperature rise of only 2.7F (1.5C) could now be discounted. The optimistic models did not properly assess the impact of water evaporation, which sometimes rises only a short distance into the atmosphere and causes updraughts that reduce cloud cover, the study found.
”These models have been predicting a lower climate sensitivity but we believe they’re incorrect,” Professor Steven Sherwood, from the University of New South Wales, told The Sydney Morning Herald.
”The net effect of [climate change] is you have less cloud cover.”
The study comes amid a controversy in Australia over claims by Maurice Newman, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s top business adviser, who said the world had been taken “hostage to climate change madness”.
Mr Newman said the climate change establishment, led by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, remained “intent on exploiting the masses and extracting more money”.
“The scientific delusion, the religion behind the climate crusade, is crumbling,” he wrote in The Australian. “Global temperatures have gone nowhere for 17 years… If the IPCC were your financial adviser, you would have sacked it long ago.”
Mr Newman, a former chairman of the Australian Stock Exchange, was criticised by the opposition and pilloried by scientists, who said he was expressing “flat earth” views and should be sacked.
“His piece is a mix of common climate change myths, misinformation and ideology,” said Professor David Karoly, from the University of Melbourne, in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald.
“I would not choose a person who believes that the Earth is flat to advise Australian shipping or airline businesses on how to plan routes to travel around the world. It is clearly not sensible to have a person who believes that climate change science is a delusion as leader of the prime minister’s Business Advisory Council.”
The prediction of even more apocalyptic climate change represents a doubling down by some scientists who may feel the argument getting away from them. With no appreciable rise in temperature for at least 17 years and models predicting the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere wildly off-target, the “in for a penny, in for a pound” group of climate experts have apparently decided we aren’t sufficiently scared enough to force our politicians to act.
The French Constitutional Council approved President Francois Hollande’s plan to tax salaries above one million euros ($1.4 million). The Council had sidelined the proposal earlier this year because it applied to individuals and not households. But Hollande fixed that by making employers pay the tax.
It was originally designed as a 75 percent tax to be paid by high earners on the portion of annual income exceeding 1 million euros, but the council rejected it last year, saying it was unfair. France’s top administrative court later said that 66 percent was the legal maximum for individuals.
The Socialist government has since reworked the tax to levy it on companies instead, raising the ire of entrepreneurs.
Under its new design, which the council found constitutional, the tax will be a 50 percent levy on the portion of wages above 1 million euros in 2013 and 2014.
Including social contributions, the rate will effectively remain about 75 percent, though the tax will be capped at 5 percent of a company’s turnover.
The tax is expected to affect about 470 companies and a dozen soccer clubs, and is forecast to raise approximately 210 million euros a year.
The Constitutional Council, a court comprising judges and former French presidents, has the power to annul laws if they are deemed to violate the constitution.
Tax increases designed to reduce France’s budget deficit have fuelled rising discontent in the country, with recent polls giving Hollande the lowest approval rating of any French president on record.
His 2012 supertax election pledge infuriated high earners in France and prompted actor Gerard Depardieu to flee the country. It has also alienated entrepreneurs and foreign investors, who have accused Hollande of being anti-business.
Hollande has said that the wealthy should contribute more to help to repair the country’s finances, arguing that the supertax should also encourage companies to curb excessive executive pay.
In Sunday’s ruling, the Constitutional Council rejected planned wealth tax measures that it said imposed levies on potential gains – such as those on life insurance policies – and thus risked overestimating a taxpayer’s actual resources.
It also quashed several measures designed to crack down on tax avoidance schemes through which individuals and companies use legal loopholes to minimize their tax bills.
The tax is confiscatory regardless of who pays it. Nor does it matter that “the rich can afford it” or that the tax will affect relatively few people. There is an important principle of limiting government’s power that even socialists must acknowledge as vital to maintain liberty. A government that can tax your earnings at 75% can do just about anything.
You have to guess that President Obama and the Democrats are gazing with longing on Hollande’s “supertax.” They’ve probably got the cash from an American version of the tax already spent in their heads. Thankfully, there’s little consensus in Congress to be that punitive.
But 5 years from now, who’s to say?
Dave Barry is an American treasure and his year end reviews have become instant classics over the years.
This year, the satirist turns his devastating and incisive wit on those themes and personalities that were somehow resurrected in 2013. He’s calling it “The Year of the Zombies.” Barry explains:
Not in the sense of most of humanity dying from a horrible plague and then reanimating as mindless flesh-eating ghouls. No, it was much worse than that. Because as bad as a zombie apocalypse would be, at least it wouldn’t involve the resurrection of Anthony Weiner’s most private part.
Weiner and Eliot Spitzer (“Speaking of pathologically narcissistic sex weasels…”) are just two of the pols Barry highlights in this laugh out loud column. How about Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford?
There was one shining ray of hope in the person of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford , who admitted that, while in office, he smoked crack cocaine, but noted, by way of explanation, that this happened “probably in one of my drunken stupors.” This was probably the most honest statement emitted by any elected official this year, and we can only hope that more of our leaders follow Mayor Ford’s lead in 2014. (We mean being honest, not smoking crack in a drunken stupor.) (Although really, how much worse would that be?)
Also coming back: Miley Cyrus:
We thought her career was over; we remembered her fondly as a cute and perky child star who played Hannah Montana, wholesome idol of millions of preteens. And then one night we turned on MTV’s Video Music Awards and YIKES there was this horrifying, mutant, vaguely reptilian creature in Slut Barbie underwear twerking all over the stage while committing unhygienic acts with both Robin Thicke and a foam finger, both of which we hope were confiscated by a hazmat team.
It wasn’t only people who came back in 2013:
The Cold War with Russia came back. Al-Qaeda came back. Turmoil in the Middle East came back. The debt ceiling came back. The major league baseball drug scandal came back. Dennis Rodman came back and went on humanitarian missions to North Korea (or maybe we just hallucinated that). The Endlessly Looming Government Shutdown came back. People lining up to buy iPhones to replace iPhones that they bought only minutes earlier came back. And for approximately the 250th time, the Obama administration pivoted back to the economy, which has somehow been recovering for years now without actually getting any better. Unfortunately, before they could get the darned thing fixed, the administration had to pivot back to yet another zombie issue, health care, because it turned out that Obamacare, despite all the massive brainpower behind it, had some “glitches,” in the same sense that the universe has some “atoms.”
Were there any new trends in 2013? Yes, but they were not good. Kale, for example. Suddenly this year restaurants started putting kale into everything, despite the fact that it is an unappetizing form of plant life that until recently was used primarily for insulation. Even goats will not eat it. Goats, when presented with kale, are like, “No, thanks, we’ll just chew on used seat cushions.”
I may have been an awful year. But leave it to Dave Barry to lift our spirits at year’s end so that we can go into 2014 secure in the knowledge that the master satirist will find something amusing over the next 12 months to make his year in review column next December equally brilliant.
The New York Times picked the week between Christmas and New Years to help the White House scrub up the narrative on the Benghazi attack of September 11, 2012.
It wasn’t exactly a spontaneous attack – but it sort of was. The anti-Muslim video played no role – except when it did. And there wasn’t much planning involved in the attack – except when there was.
Yes. That should just about cover it.
The big takeaway from the article is that al-Qaeda was not involved. Turns out, it was local militia of bumpkin soldiers who coordinated an attack on two sites a mile apart using heavy weapons and assault tactics.
The Times’ article, which includes interviews with several Libyan militia leaders who helped bring down Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s dictatorship in 2012, says no evidence supports speculation about al Qaeda’s involvement in the Benghazi attack. To the contrary, the Times reports that the diverse and fractured opposition militias, many of whom were at least somewhat friendly toward U.S. interests, most likely contributed to the attack.
That dovetails with the findings of the State Department investigative panel report on Benghazi.
“The Benghazi attacks also took place in a context in which the global terrorism threat as most often represented by al Qaeda (AQ) is fragmenting and increasingly devolving to local affiliates and other actors who share many of AQ’s aims, including violent anti-Americanism, without necessarily being organized or operated under direct AQ command and control,” the report said.
The Times report zeroes in on militia leader Abu Khattala as well as the like-minded Islamist militia Ansar al Sharia.
In a recent interview with CNN’s Arwa Damon, Khattala acknowledged being at the Benghazi mission after the attack but denied any involvement.
Damon spent two hours interviewing Khattala at a coffee shop at a well-known hotel in Benghazi. He allowed Damon to use an audio recorder to tape the conversation, but refused to appear on camera.
Khattala’s narrative of the events that night was sometimes unclear and, at times, seemed to be contradictory, Damon said.
He admitted to being at the compound the night of the attack, but denied any involvement in the violence.
Asked about allegations he may have masterminded the attack, Khattala and two of the men he brought with him to the interview “burst out laughing,” Damon said.
I’ll show you what’s truly hilarious. The New York Times tying itself in knots in order to validate part of the administration’s narrative.
Are they serious?
The investigation by The Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was different, and murkier, than either of those story lines suggests. Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.
Mr. Abu Khattala had become well known in Benghazi for his role in the killing of a rebel general, and then for declaring that his fellow Islamists were insufficiently committed to theocracy. He made no secret of his readiness to use violence against Western interests. One of his allies, the leader of Benghazi’s most overtly anti-Western militia, Ansar al-Shariah, boasted a few months before the attack that his fighters could “flatten” the American Mission. Surveillance of the American compound appears to have been underway at least 12 hours before the assault started.
The violence, though, also had spontaneous elements. Anger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters. Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack, according to more than a dozen Libyan witnesses as well as many American officials who have viewed the footage from security cameras.
Perspective is vital in this case, and the obvious perspective of the Times is to totally trash the GOP version of the narrative while carefully upholding some parts of the administration’s story. Somewhere in that mess of illogic and confusion is a germ of truth. Rep. Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intel Committee, who has direct access to the raw intelligence and best analysis available, begs to differ:
“I will tell you this, by witness testimony and a year and a half of interviewing everyone that was in the ground by the way, either by an FBI investigator or the committee: It was very clear to the individuals on the ground that this was an Al Qaeda-led event. And they had pretty fairly descriptive events early on that lead those folks on the ground, doing the fighting, to the conclusion that this was a pre-planned, organized terrorist event,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told Fox News in a November interview.
“Not a video, that whole part was debunked time and time again,” Rogers added of the attack which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, “which just leads to questions of why the administration hung with that narrative for so long when all the folks who participated on the ground saw something different.”
The comments challenged the findings of a New York Times “investigation” which pointed instead to local militias and claimed an anti-Islam video played a role in inciting the attackers.
The New York Times makes a point of saying that there was surveillance on the mission 12 hours before the attack. What they never get around to telling us is how the attackers knew of the annex a mile away. It was there that the Benghazi survivors fled following the burning of the mission and where three Americans lost their lives. There were no outraged Muslims demonstrating against a video there.
I have problems with parts of the GOP narrative but it’s a darn sight more accurate than what the White House or New York Times have come up with. The resurrection of the video as motivation for some of the attackers is outrageous. Who cares if a bunch of fanatics were demonstrating in front of the mission? They certainly werent’ the ones who killed Ambassador Stevens or were firing .50 cal machine guns and other automatic weapons at our diplmomats. It may also seem a little strange that none of the demonstrators were apparently hit by fire from the attackers. I don’t care how fanatical you are, you don’t stand in front of a building and scream “Death to America” in the middle of a firefight. How “spontaneous” were the demonstrators if they didn’t feel it necessary to take cover during the attack?
The White House owes a debt of gratitude to the Times for trying to rescue their original narrative about the attack in Benghazi.
The administration appears to have finally turned the corner on fixing the healthcare.gov website, removing a major impediment to consumers who wish to purchase insurance on the exchange. The White House announced early Sunday that about 1 million people had signed up for insurance through the troubled portal.
I took a turn through the site myself and while it’s not easy to navigate in some ways, at least it’s not crashing and burning.
More than 1.1 million people enrolled in ObamaCare before a December 24 deadline for consumers seeking healthcare plans that begin Jan. 1, the Obama administration said early Sunday.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in a blog post that more than 975,000 people enrolled in a qualified health plan through the federal marketplace in December, following a rocky rollout in October.
Detailed demographics were not released.
Tavenner called the late surge “welcome.”
“Our HealthCare.gov enrollment nearly doubled in the days before the January 1 coverage deadline compared to the first few weeks of the month,” she said. “December enrollment so far is over 7 times that of October and November. In part, this was because we met our marks on improving HealthCare.gov: the site supported 83,000 concurrent users on December 23rd alone.”
Tavenner said administration officials expect to see enrollment ramp up through the six-month open enrollment period, “much like other historic implementation efforts we’ve seen in Massachusetts and Medicare Part D.”
The administration said Friday that the HealthCare.gov website adequately handled a massive surge of Internet traffic ahead of last Tuesday’s deadline.
“There’s no question that, over this past weekend, Monday, and Tuesday, HealthCare.gov met the mark and did exactly what it was supposed to do–helping Americans from across the country find secure, quality health insurance coverage at an affordable price,” CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said in a statement.
Bataille said that in the four days leading up to the Dec. 24 enrollment deadline, response times averaged half a second, and error rates were at less than 1 percent.
Of course, if the website were the only thing wrong with Obamacare, there would be smooth sailing from here on out. But the fact is, no one is sure what is going to happen on January 1, when coverage starts for millions of Medicaid patients as well as those who purchased insurance on the exchanges.
Nearly 70% of Americans believe that 2013 was a “bad” or “very bad” year according to a new poll by Economist/YouGov. How bad was it?
Apparently, it wasn’t as bad as last year. Nor was it as bad as 2008, the year of the financial meltdown.
Still, the numbers tell the story:
Overshadowed by the bungled debut of Obamacare and congressional gridlock, most Americans in a new poll dubbed 2013 a bad year that will be quickly forgotten. For more than four-in-10, the perils of 2013 hit home hard.
“Put simply, most Americans are happy to see 2013 go,” said the latest Economist/YouGov Poll.
— 54 percent called 2013 a “bad year” for the world. Another 15 percent called it a “very bad year,” with just 3 percent calling it a “very good year” and 29 percent a “good year.”
— Only 13 percent of Republicans say 2013 has been a good year for the world.
— Obamacare is a failure. “There are almost no issues where a majority of Americans have seen improvement. Only a quarter say health care coverage is better today than it was a year ago; more than half say it has gotten worse, reflecting the continued poor assessments given to the Administration’s health care reform (in this week’s Economist/YouGov poll, for example, a majority continues to call it a failure, and nearly half think it should be repealed).”
— 41 percent called 2013 a bad or very bad year for their families.
Since I’m pushing 60, I can testify that 2013 doesn’t come close to being a really bad year compared to some others. Any year from the 1970′s beats 2013 hands down for awfulness, except perhaps 1976, which briefly lifted the gloom of the decade as we celebrated America’s 200th birthday.
It didn’t last long. That fall, we elected Jimmy Carter.
The absolute worst year of my lifetime was 1968, and its hard to find someone older than 10 that year who would disagree. Assassinations, riots, and a general feeling that everything was coming apart made that year a hellish one indeed. Coming in a distant second was 1979 with 13% inflation and another energy crisis. For me, it was The Year of Peanut Butter Sandwiches. I couldn’t afford more than 5 gallons of gas at a time, which was lucky because that’s the amount that gas station owners were allowing you to buy. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan and the Iranians took our diplomats hostage. And sitting in the White House was a president who blamed the American people for his incompetence.
In contrast to those two annus horribilis, 2013 was a walk in the park. I suppose your personal financial situation has a lot to do with your outlook on how good a bad a particular year might be. At the moment, things aren’t too bad for me, which doesn’t mean I don’t worry that this time next year I’ll be in a bad way.
We better get used to the uncertainty. We’re living in Obama’s economy now and uncertainty about the future is its defining characteristic.
Extended jobless benefits ran out on Saturday for 1.3 million of the long-term unemployed, and Democrats are looking to make political hay out of the issue.
Democrats and some Republicans are working on a three-month extension of benefits that would be the first order of business when Congress returns in January. The bill would add $6 billion to the deficit unless offset by spending cuts elsewhere.
The fate of the bill is uncertain in the House. Speaker Boehner hasn’t said he would oppose an extension, but it’s probable that a majority of Republicans would not vote for one unless there were offsets included in the bill.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ratcheted up pressure on Republicans wary of another extension. In a statement issued Friday, she called the pending expiration “immoral,” and blamed GOP lawmakers for allowing it to happen.
“Starting tomorrow, too many American families will face the New Year with uncertainty, insecurity, and instability as a result of congressional Republicans’ refusal to extend critical unemployment insurance,” she said. “The first item on Congress’ agenda in the New Year must be an extension of unemployment insurance. That must be our priority on day one.”
House Democrats cried foul when the two-year budget deal was unveiled without an extension included, but many ultimately supported the package. Senate Democrats and the White House also backed the budget, vowing to address the unemployment issue soon but separately.
Democrats have buttressed their arguments with polling that shows steady public support for another extension and that Republicans could pay at the polls for opposing it. A poll from left-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) released earlier this week found that in four key swing districts, as well as the home district of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), voters support an extension by 63 to 38 percent.
Democrats are also working to play up the impact back home on local media, highlighting how many people in their hometowns could be losing assistance.
“When the American people get involved and speak out, we are going to win this fight, and I believe that that is what’s going to happen,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a liberal who caucuses with Democrats, on MSNBC this week.
Some Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have said they would oppose another extension. They argue that policymakers should be focused on creating more jobs rather than providing more assistance, especially as the economy continues to recover.
And other GOP lawmakers have remained noncommittal on the idea of an extension, but are clearly concerned about the cost. Boehner and other Republicans have not said explicitly that they would oppose renewing the benefits, but, at the same time, they want to see the costs offset by spending cuts elsewhere.
Democrats rebut that demand by arguing the extension of benefits is actually an economic boon. Pelosi and others point to analysis that shows an extension would allow the unemployed to continue pumping money into the economy, driving economic growth and job creation.
The problem for Republicans is that they are probably right on policy but wrong on the politics. Of course it’s better to encourage actual job creation. But what about the claim — one trotted out every time extended unemployment benefits are being debated — that benefits to the unemployed grow the economy?
Concern is growing among educators and school officials nationwide that digital testing online for the Common Core program has the potential of experiencing many of the same problems experienced by the healthcare.gov website.
Apparently, no one thought very much about the logistics of trying to test 29 million students when there are limited numbers of computers in many school districts and not enough bandwidth for all students in other districts to be tested at the same time.
Technological hiccups, much less large-scale meltdowns, won’t do: The results of the Common Core tests will influence teachers’ and principals’ evaluations and other decisions about their jobs. Schools will be rated on the results. Students’ promotion to the next grade or graduation from high school may hinge on their scores. And the already-controversial Common Core standards, designed to be tested using a new generation of sophisticated exams that go beyond multiple-choice testing, may be further dragged through the mud if there are crises.
States and the test developers have thought through some of the possible pitfalls. For example, some schools are stocking up on technology, and the tests have been designed to go easy on schools’ Internet infrastructure.
But problems with the exams seem imminent if issues during other large-scale online assessments are any indication: Schools’ bandwidth could collapse under the stress of too many students testing at the same time. Computers could hang up or crash. And schools in some places will have to come up with creative schedules to test all of their students, who may far outnumber available computers. Some schools are already planning to take paper exams until their districts can get up to technological speed — even though those tests will cost more per student than online counterparts and might throw off comparisons with computer-based tests.
“There will be bumps in the first couple years,” said Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of education policy and strategic alliances at McGraw-Hill. “There’s no question in my mind about that … It’s an engineering problem and a policy problem.”
The tests will be given on a massive scale: Roughly 4.2 million third through eighth graders will test the exams in math and English this spring, and 29 million students nationwide will use them starting next school year.
Last spring, Kentucky students taking digital end-of-course assessments designed by ACT had to switch to paper and pencil after slow and dropped connections complicated the testing. Alabama and Ohio students also had problems.
The Kentucky Department of Education wanted ACT to conduct a “stress test” in mid-November to see if the server could handle 20,000 students at one time. ACT was supposed to make software corrections and hardware fixes to improve the online system, but the testing company told the state those fixes wouldn’t be ready for the stress tests or next round of end-of-course exams. The stress test was ultimately canceled.
Sounds eerily familiar — right down to the massive understatements from supporters who think there will only be a few “bumps in the road.” Did anyone even bother to game this thing out on a district-wide or nation-wide basis? As with the Obamacare website, it seems that with no one person in charge, stuff just slips through the cracks.
One survey conducted by the Consortium for School Networking and Market Data Retrieval found “99 percent of districts need additional Internet bandwidth and connectivity in the next 36 months.” Cash strapped schools are in a poor position to do this, which makes the whole notion of Common Core testing a dicey proposition. Several states have already opted out of the pilot testing program with more to follow. The reasons cited are interesting:
Other states are teetering on the edge of their relationships with the federally funded groups devising the tests, decrying cost, federal overreach and the potential tech troubles. A shaky roll out could burn more bridges with those organizations and drive up the cost of testing for remaining states.
Above and beyond the troubles usually cited with the Common Core curricula, the testing regime appears to be too complex, too expensive, and not very well thought out or administered. The ambitious — some might say foolhardy — manner in which these tests have been designed and given serves as distractions from what schools have been created to do; educate the young.
Losing sight of that important task could be Common Core’s biggest drawback.
The A&E Network announced that Phil Robertson, who was suspended for remarks made about gays and blacks in a GQ interview, will rejoin his family in filming the hit reality show Duck Dynasty.
The network’s walkback of their original decision to suspend Robertson indefinitely was due to a massive backlash against A&E by conservatives, who saw Robertson being muzzled for his religious beliefs.
The network’s statement on Robertson’s reinstatement could easily have been written the day after the story broke. The fact that it wasn’t represents a strategic error in judgment by network executives who apparently feared a gay backlash more than they cared what ordinary people — who make up the bulk of Duck Dynasty’s audience — thought about what Robertson said.
An online petition to bring Mr. Robertson back to the show garnered nearly 250,000 signatures while a Facebook page in support of the Robertson family patriarch received 1.5 million likes. Numbers like this make television networks sit up and take notice.
In its statement, A&E said: “While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the “coarse language” he used and the mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would “never incite or encourage hate.” We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, and reiterate that they are not views we hold.
“But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family… a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.
“So after discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming Duck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family.”
The network’s ratings suffered after news of Robertson’s suspension, averaging 1.51 million prime time viewers from Dec. 16-22, down 13 percent from the same week in 2012. The show is often one of the most-watched cable programs, with its recent Christmas special grabbing 8.9 million viewers.
The Robertson family had released a statement saying it was “in discussions with A&E to see what (the suspension) means for the future of” the program, fueling speculation that A&E’s top show could get canceled or leave for another network.
Robertson, 67, of West Monroe, La., whose invention of a new type of duck call launched the family business, has not addressed the controversy beyond the statement he issued last week:
As a metaphor for demonstrating the total cluelessness of everyone in the administration from the president on down about the public perception of Obamacare, this story about trying to sell the ACA at a gay bar should serve as a model.
Washington’s new health insurance exchange dispatched a sign-up envoy to one of the city’s gay clubs one recent night to get out the word about Obamacare. It envisioned men mingling on the dance floor, a cocktail in one hand and enrollment information in the other.
But the brochures about DC Health Link, as the exchange is called, weren’t snapped up as quickly as the free condoms provided by a local clinic.
Like other health exchanges and coverage advocacy groups across the country, DC Health Link is reaching out to people wherever they may be, including bars. President Barack Obama even urged bartenders — who may themselves be uninsured — to hold happy hours to talk about health insurance and what it can offer young adults.
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That strategy has clear challenges, however. In a packed nightclub like Town Danceboutique in Northwest D.C., music smothers conversation, dimmed lights make reading difficult, and health coverage is not what’s on people’s minds.
“They’re looking to let loose. They’re not looking to talk about serious topics,” patron Maven Saleh said as he surveyed the Town crowd on a winter weekend.
Add an appearance by Santa wearing a “Naughty” hat as he posed for pictures on stage, and DC Health Link assister John Esposito had a near-impossible task that night. Positioned behind the stage and bar area, he stood by a small table offering not just information about insurance enrollment but packages of condoms and tubes of lubricant. The latter items were courtesy of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which also had its HIV testing van parked outside.
“It’s not about drawing a huge drove of people to the system,” explained an upbeat Esposito, who by day is stationed at Whitman-Walker as part of the DC exchange’s ongoing work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Like something out of a Dali painting.
Here you have an image of young men partying and dancing the night away, health insurance as a concern probably ranking right up there with trimming nose hair, and the geniuses at Obamacare central think it’s a great idea to set up shop and try to sell the law.
Stuff like this stinks of desperation. The earnest young man who is just doing his job by being there is not at fault. He’s just following the plan. But the people who sent him need a reality check. Next thing you know, we’ll have booths set up anywhere three people gather for a cup of coffee.
Not only are authorities wrestling with problems relating to a website on which they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars, but heads are rolling in the IT department as the original manager of the program was fired and his replacement resigned for personal reasons.”
Not one single Oregonian has signed up via the state’s Covered Oregon website.
Oregonians have been forced to sign up for Obamacare the old fashioned way — by filling out paper applications. That process has been so fraught with error that the state began robo-calling people who had signed up to give them a little Christmas cheer:
Oregon’s troubled health insurance exchange began robocalling applicants Friday, warning them that if they don’t receive enrollment confirmation by Monday, they should seek coverage elsewhere for Jan. 1.
“If you haven’t heard from us by Dec. 23, it is unlikely your application will be processed for Jan. 1 insurance coverage,” a woman’s voice on the pre-recorded call from Cover Oregon says. “If you want to be sure you have insurance coverage starting Jan. 1, you have other options.”
It’s yet another sign that the health insurance exchange’s technological breakdowns will prevent some — perhaps many — Oregonians from getting subsidized coverage Jan. 1, despite Gov. John Kitzhaber’s previous assurances otherwise. Out of more than 65,000 applicants, the exchange reports enrolling nearly 30,000, but only about 11,000 of them in private insurance plans.
The calls also suggest the exchange’s problems will prevent many of those individuals from receiving tax credits or subsidies in January, even though they qualify for them.
Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox said Friday he did not know how many recorded calls were being made. They targeted individuals whose eligibility for tax credits has not been determined, Cox said, including those with incorrect applications.
Once their applications are processed, Cover Oregon will notify them either by a phone call from a call center representative or a mailing, and they can enroll over the phone or online, Cox said.
The exchange will continue to process applications, except for on Christmas Day, to meet its Dec. 27 enrollment deadline for January coverage, he said. And applicants who get a call after Monday might still be able to enroll by year’s end, he said.
But Cover Oregon decided to launch Friday’s pre-recorded calls to address mounting concerns among applicants about possible gaps in coverage, he said.
“It’s giving guidance to those folks who are nervous because they haven’t heard form us and want and need coverage Jan. 1,” Cox said. Cover Oregon also posted a “Roadmap to Coverage” guide online that details other enrollment options.
The recorded call tells applicants that they can get coverage directly from an insurance company or through an agent. But they won’t qualify for tax credits. Cox said he did not know if Cover Oregon would compensate individuals for tax credits or subsidies they lose in January because of the exchange’s shortcomings.
Oregon ranks dead last in Obamacare signups and the situation is not expected to improve for a month or more. Governor John Kitzhaber puts on the happy face and keeps issuing statements of encouragement, but the fact is, no citizens in his state are likely to have their insurance subsidized.
Ben Domench at Heartland Institute summed up the problem with the Oregon program:
“It’s just another indication that this model as a whole is a problem,” Ben Domenech, senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, told Northwest Watchdog. “No state has done more to try and be ahead of the curve on this type of approach to reworking our health care markets than Oregon. It is a reflection that this approach was always from the beginning an ill thought out and ill structured approach.”
That seems to be the problem nationwide with Obamacare: Too much wishful thinking and not enough hard-headed analysis. Whoever let Barack Obama run around the country telling people that the Obamacare website would work like Orbitz or some travel site should be fired and put in a padded cell. It was never going to be that easy and Oregonians are discovering that in the most painful way imaginable.
It’s no secret that the state of Illinois is one of the worst run states in the nation. There have been national headlines about the state’s pension crisis, high taxes, corruption, and mismanagement.
Not making news, but a significant consequence of the awful government in Illinois, is the the steady stream of businesses fleeing the high taxes, poor infrastructure, and a decidedly anti-business environment for greener pastures.
And one of those pastures is Illinois’ neighbor, Indiana.
Illinois businesses are voting with their feet and one of the major beneficiaries is the economy of the Hoosier State. There to take advantage of this exodus is the state’s Republican governor, Mike Pence, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
Indiana slashed corporate taxes earlier this year and is pursuing an aggressive outreach to Illinois businesses, offering generous tax breaks and other amenities.
One of the new migrants is Tec Air, a nearly half century old Illinois manufacturer enticed by Indiana’s low taxes, central location and a package of incentives that helped close the deal.
“Indiana has a balanced budget and they’re solvent,” said Tec Air president Bob McMurtry in an interview with POLITICO. “We are getting three times the spacial footprint and we’re going to be paying less than half of what we pay now in real estate taxes.”
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Since January, Indiana has passed a major tax cut that will trim corporate taxes from 7.5 percent to 6.5 percent by the end of 2015 and cut individual taxes from 3.4 to 3.23 percent by 2017.
Pence, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, inherited the job creation drive when he took office in January of this year. But he is now pushing deeper tax cuts and an effort to scrap business property taxes, with the hope of sparking an Indiana boom.
At the same time, Pence announced $57 million in spending cuts this month to offset lower-than-expected tax collections.
Critics say the strategy has a spotty history of success.
The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed economic growth data from states that cut taxes in 1990s and the 2000s and found that, on average, those states grew less than the other states.
“It isn’t clear that they did worse because of the income tax reduction, but they certainly didn’t do any better,” said Michael Leachman, the group’s director of state fiscal research. “That’s consistent with the academic literature on this topic which finds in general that income tax levels don’t matter for economic growth.”
It is always tricky to isolate the impact of tax policy and the evidence in Indiana may be equally tough to judge. The economy was already starting to grow in the two years that preceded the tax cuts. In 2012, 256 companies committed to create over 27,600 jobs and the state created about 19,080 jobs in 2011.
Many Indiana communities worry that the infusion of new business won’t be spread evenly across the state. This wouldn’t be unusual, especially since relocation of the physical plant is a lot easier than relocating employees. Illinois towns and cities near the border of Indiana are most at risk of losing businesses, as many of the refugees tend to move no more than an hour’s drive from their previous location, making employee commutes to their new workplace reasonable. Eventually, the low taxes, good schools, and lower cost of living will entice most employees to move in-state.
Wisconsin and Missouri — two other Illinois border states — have also benefited from the problems in Springfield, but have not been as aggressive as Indiana in poaching businesses. But it would seem logical that as Illinois confronts its fiscal problems by continuing to raise taxes, more firms will flee the Land of Lincoln and go someplace where they are wanted and appreciated.
Harry Reid isn’t helping his cause by making the speaker of the House look weak in the knees. But it’s probably close to the truth — depending on your point of view. With the budget battle pushed to the sidelines and the debt ceiling looming in February, there appears to be a small window where the House could take up the piecemeal immigration bills that Boehner has indicated he wants to bring to the floor. Meanwhile, Reid insists that Boehner must go to conference willing to deal on the 1200 page comprehensive reform package passed by the Senate last year.
The question will be: what happens at a conference committee to reconcile the two approaches?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) believes Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will negotiate on comprehensive immigration reform next year, despite his declarations to the contrary.
The Democratic leader argued that Boehner has a new willingness to confront Tea Party groups and this, in turn, gives Reid confidence that he will not have to break up the Senate immigration bill to negotiate a series of piecemeal reforms with the House.
“I think that John Boehner will conference with the Senate. Why wouldn’t he? He’ll have a lot of pressure from his members now that the election is getting closer,” Reid said in an interview with The Hill.
“Some of his members are in very marginal districts where they need to do something on immigration,” he added.
Boehner has vowed he will not let the Senate bill, which spans more than 1,200 pages, reach the negotiating table. The most controversial element of the package is a provision granting a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
“We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” Boehner told reporters last month.
A spokesman for Boehner said his boss is sticking to his strategy.
“The Speaker has been very clear that the House will only address immigration reform in a step-by-step common-sense manner,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
Boehner has been under pressure from conservative members of his conference not to pass even smaller pieces of immigration reform.
They fear being strategically outmaneuvered. Narrowly-tailored legislation on border security or work visas could be combined with the Senate’s comprehensive bill and then returned to the House floor for an up-or-down vote, they fear.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a Tea Party favorite, has organized a group of conservatives pledging to vote against any immigration reform bill to prevent Democrats from using it as a legislative vehicle to enact the pathway to citizenship.
Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, has backed away from calls to go to conference with the comprehensive measure.
“At this point, the most realistic way to make progress on immigration would be through a series of individual bills,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said in October.
Paul Bedard of The Washington Examiner points us to this recent Pew Poll that reveals an interesting fact about parents today, and how they celebrate Christmas.
Just one in five children believe in Santa Claus. Only seven in ten parents plan to “pretend” that St. Nick will visit their house on Christmas Eve.
There appears to be a strong correlation between Christmas traditions that parents took part in as children and how their families celebrate Christmas today. But there are some exceptions:
The way Americans celebrate Christmas present is rooted in Christmases past. Fully 86% of U.S. adults say they intend to gather with family and friends on Christmas this year, and an identical number say they plan to buy gifts for friends and family. Roughly nine-in-ten adults say these activities typically were part of their holiday celebrations when they were growing up.
But fewer Americans say they will send Christmas or holiday cards this year than say their families typically did this when they were children. The share of people who plan to go caroling this year also is lower than the share who say they typically did so as children. And while about seven-in-ten Americans say they typically attended Christmas Eve or Christmas Day religious services when they were children, 54% say they plan to attend Christmas services this year.
Other key findings of the survey:
Among the religiously unaffiliated, 87% say they celebrate Christmas, including 68% who view Christmas as more of a cultural holiday.
Roughly eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say they plan to put up a Christmas tree this year. By comparison, 92% say they typically put up a Christmas tree when they were children.
Nearly six-in-ten Americans say they plan to give homemade gifts this holiday season, such as baked goods or crafts. There is a big gender gap on this question; two-thirds of women (65%) plan to give homemade gifts, compared with 51% of men.
Those who celebrate Christmas as more of a religious event are much more apt than those who view it as a cultural occasion to say they will attend religious services this Christmas (73% vs. 30%) and to believe in the virgin birth (91% vs. 50%). But on other measures, the differences in the ways the two groups will mark the holidays are much smaller. Roughly nine-in-ten in both groups will gather with family and friends and buy gifts this Christmas, and identical shares of each group will pretend to get a visit from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve (33% each).
In general, you could say that Americans today may see Christmas as a less magical time than they did when they were children. They also see it as a more secular holiday, but still a time to gather with friends and family.
I suppose it doesn’t matter how the rest of us celebrate Christmas. All that matters is that you and yours have a happy and safe holiday season.
Fallout from the Obamacare rollout is affecting at least two Senate races that Democrats expected to win with relative ease.
In Colorado, Senator Mark Udall was expected to have a fairly easy race against any Republican challenger that emerged, including Ken Buck who challenged Senator Michael Bennett in 2010 unsuccessfuly, as well as two other challengers.
But more than 100,000 Coloradoans have had their insurance cancelled because of Obamacare, while the state exchange has signed up a paltry 10,000 people. Even Democrats are conceding that the race is now far more competitive than it was as recently as last summer.
And in Michigan, three-term Congressman Gary Peters — once heavily favored against several mostly unknown Republican challengers — finds himself in a tight race with former Michigan Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land leading the GOP field. The Detroit bankruptcy and stubbornly high unemployment isn’t helping either.
Republicans need 6 Senate seats to wrest control from the Democrats. There are 7 Democratic incumbents or open races where a Democrat is retiring that are taking place in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012.
During a campaign swing last week, Peters defended his support for the health law, and refrained from attacking Land for backing House Republicans’ October shutdown of the federal government in their fight to defund the law.
“This bill gets us down the road but we’ve got to keep working on it,” Peters said in an interview after a campaign event in Kalamazoo. “This is an election about someone who just wants to repeal the law and has no alternative and someone who is rolling up his sleeves.”
Land said she plans to use Peters’ claim that policyholders will not lose their coverage as a main campaign point. “When you make that promise, and you don’t deliver, it really goes to the credibility,” she said.
The policy cancellations broadly link Peters and Udall, as well as other Democrats, to cracks appearing in public perceptions of Obama. Just 42 percent of Americans approve of the job he’s doing, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll this month. The poll found 56 percent of Americans said the word “honest” does not describe Obama well.
In Kalamazoo, in GOP-heavy western Michigan, perceptions of the health care law and its impact on the Senate race depend on who you ask.
“These issues can be fixed,” said Lucy Bland, director of a food co-op kitchen.
“It going to set us all back for a long time,” countered Kevin McLeod, with the area Chamber of Commerce.
Democratic National Committee leaders say publicly they welcome election-year attacks on the health care law, and plan to respond by pointing to the October shutdown. By next fall, they contend, the contour of the Michigan and Colorado Senate races will look more like 2012.
“None of these races have had their fundamentals change” due to problems with implementation of the health care law, said Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
But Republican strategist Charlie Black notes that former President George W. Bush’s believability slipped below 50 percent in November, 2005, a year before Democrats retook control of both houses of Congress. He said voters began questioning Bush’s honesty and competence after the failed federal response to Hurricane Katrina that year.
“Obamacare gives both these negatives to Barack Obama,” Black said.
In Iowa, the race to succeed retiring Senator Tom Harkin has tightened considerably. Democrats coalesced early around Rep. Bruce Braley, who has an excellent head start in organizing and fundraising. But a recent Quinnipiac poll shows Braley leading little known Republican, US Attorney Matt Whitaker by only 43-40.
The GOP is having its own problems in Kentucky and Georgia, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is dealing with a serious primary challenge from Tea Party favorite Mark Bevin. His likely Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is polling even with the incumbent. And in Georgia, where two Republican Congressmen are vying for the opportunity to succeed the retiring Saxbe Chambliss, Republicans face prospect of running against the probable Democratic nominee, Michelle Nunn — daughter of a legendary Senator in the state, Sam Nunn.
It’s generally believed that the Republicans have to hang on to at least one of those seats to have a chance to upend the Senate. But the changing map brought about by Obamacare’s problems may give the GOP a little breathing room as the year turns and campaigns begin to heat up.
The luxury of working for President Obama appears to be that you can be involved in one of the most gargantuan screw-ups in the history of Washington and still not have to worry much about losing your job.
What else are we to think when 4 states have now summarily fired the people in charge of their Obamacare exchanges for far less cause than the federal bureaucrats who continue to pull down paychecks and take up space at HHS?
Heads of four state-run health insurance marketplaces have stepped down amid persistent technical headaches and questions about leadership since Obamacare enrollment began Oct. 1. In contrast, virtually everyone tied to HealthCare.gov’s bungled rollout has held onto their jobs, except for one Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services official who abruptly jumped ship for the private sector.
The leadership changes in Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon and now Minnesota have come as tech woes have significantly undermined enrollment targets in states that were expected to be pacesetters in expanding coverage under President Barack Obama’s signature health law.
Oregon’s exchange is still only taking paper applications, Hawaii’s website launched two weeks late, and Maryland – once thought to be a model for Affordable Care Act implementation — has delivered a frustrating enrollment experience.
Exchange director “is a tough job and a high-pressured job,” observed Alan Weil, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy.
The job also comes with plenty of accountability, especially in states that have embraced the health law and must be responsive to very local constituencies. The federal government is slogging through the technological disaster with a more bureaucratic response as it works to repair the website rather than focus on who broke it.
“The fact that they are slowly but surely getting the kinks out of the system probably obviates the need to have a public hanging,” said Elaine Kamarck, a former President Bill Clinton aide and founding director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management.
The White House over the past couple of months has consistently pushed back against questions about who might lose their jobs over HealthCare.gov’s disastrous rollout. The focus, they say, is on getting everything working right for the federal portal, which serves 36 states that refused or were unable to set up their own exchanges.
The states haven’t been so patient.
Incredibly, two of the ousted state exchange managers were let go following revelations that they took Thanksgiving trips to tropical islands.
That’s the case in Maryland, where Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown were eager to set the pace for ACA implementation in the country. Instead, the state’s first exchange director stepped down this month after a two-year run, and Brown’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign has taken hits from Democratic opponents who’ve criticized the faulty exchange.
Minnesota’s exchange, known as MNsure, has been working better than most. But it, too, has its glitches, including long waits at the call center and inaccuracies in the applications transmitted to insurers. Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov resigned on Tuesday amid growing criticism over the technical problems, compounded by her decision to take a Costa Rica vacation in the middle of it all.
The head of the Maryland exchange, Rebecca Pearce, was fired following published reports that she took a trip to the Cayman Islands during Thanksgiving — despite continuing problems with the website.
No doubt the Obama administration has made a list and is checking it twice of employees who will be canned when the brouhaha over the website calms down a bit. But wouldn’t firing those people immediately have sent a message that incompetence wouldn’t be tolerated?
It also begs the question: Why should people who screwed up the website in the first place be in charge of fixing it?
One of the more interesting analyses from some on the right since the Obamacare rollout is that the massive flaws in the law are the result of deliberate design. A feature, not a bug. The system is designed to fail so that a single-payer health insurance regime can be established.
Tom Blumer sums up this theory:
Now we’re supposed to believe, even when given virtually unlimited resources, a 42-month head start, and another three months to make corrections, that the people in our government and the contractors who serve it are so breathtakingly stupid and incredibly incompetent that they can’t properly set up Obamacare’s bureaucracy, create functioning online and offline consumer interfaces, and build the systems required to communicate and interact with insurance companies participating in its federal exchanges.
I certainly don’t.
There’s been plenty written about the ineptness, the mismanagement, the stupidity of contractors, not to mention the political calculations that caused delays which doomed the website design from the start. (Rules governing coverage mandates were delayed until after the 2012 election, giving insurance companies a matter of weeks to design policies and website designers precious few days to write them into the website database.)
I think there’s enough proof that the problems with the website and the law were inevitable and not the result of some Machiavellian plot. The most successful conspiracies occur when information is radically compartmentalized so that only a handful of people can see the big picture. In Obamacare’s case, dozens — perhaps hundreds — of people would have had to have knowledge of the planned failure in order to pull it off: administrators, contractors, the employees writing code (500 million lines of it). The chances of someone snitching are far to great to even attempt pulling off a conspiracy of this kind.
The administration would also have had to figure that there was a way to somehow convince the Republican House to vote for a single-payer system. Some may view the Republican House as a bunch of milquetoast, namby-pamby RINOs. But they also have the survival instincts of jungle cats. Does anyone really think they would vote for a single-payer system despite the certainty that they would be clobbered in a primary?
Besides, would any politician set out to deliberately fail so massively? It’s far more reasonable and logical to accept the fact that the administration’s incompetent and negligent rollout of the law was due to stupidity and not design.
Peter O’Toole, considered by critics to be one of the finest English-speaking actors of his generation, died in London on Saturday at the age of 81.
An actor equally at ease on the stage or screen, O’Toole was a professional to the core. His legendary preparations for the roles he played served as an inspiration to several generations of actors. He immersed himself fully into his characters: “I use everything — toes, teeth, ears, everything,” he said.
He received a record eight Academy Award nominations, his last for the 2006 comedy-drama Venus. Although he never won, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 2003.
From the New York Times:
After his triumphs of the ’60s and early ’70s, he entered his most troubled period. His earlier binges had led to arrests for unruly behavior; now they caused memory loss and debilitating hangovers. In 1975, he developed pancreatitis and had part of his intestines removed.
Then his much-loved father died, and the woman Mr. O’Toole married in 1959, the actress Sian Phillips, left him for another man, explaining later that her relationship with an egoistic star had become too tempestuous and “too unequal.” Divorce followed in 1979.
Though Mr. O’Toole said he essentially gave up alcohol in 1975, his career continued to stutter. The universally panned 1979 film “Caligula,” in which he played the Emperor Tiberius, was followed in 1980 by one of the most derided theatrical performances of modern times: a Macbeth at the Old Vic who tried to exit through a wall on the first night and, according to The Guardian, delivered every line “in a monotonous tenor bark as if addressing an audience of deaf Eskimos.”
Yet there was evidence of recovery, too. The ABC mini-series “Masada,” with Mr. O’Toole as a Roman general resisting freedom fighters in Judea, brought him an Emmy nomination in 1981. He also impressed with a galvanically garrulous Jack Tanner in Shaw’s “Man and Superman” in the West End in 1982.
The flamboyant charm of the autocratic movie-director he played in the film “The Stunt Man” brought him a sixth Oscar nomination in 1981, and his playing of Alan Swann, the swashbuckling, Erroll Flynn-like thespian of “My Favorite Year,” a seventh in 1983.
Most will remember him for his brilliant turn as T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia. Movies don’t get much better than that one, and O’Toole captured the duality of Lawrence perfectly. This little byplay between General Murray and Lawrence revealed the character’s insouciance.
General Murray: I can’t make out whether you’re bloody bad-mannered or just half-witted.
T.E. Lawrence: I have the same problem, sir.
Everyone probably has a favorite O’Toole role. One of mine is his first fling at playing Henry II in Peter Glenville’s Becket.
Empress Matilda: Oh, if I were a man!
King Henry II: Thank God, madam, He gave you breasts! An asset from which I derived not the slightest benefit.
This is not going to instill a lot of confidence in potential Washington state insurance buyers. The state exchange website is not only down again, but it is apparently debiting the bank accounts of customers on the wrong date and even taking cash for premiums more than once.
Shannon Bruner of Indianola logged on to her checking account Monday morning, and found she was almost 800 dollars in the negative.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘I got screwed,’” she said.
The Bruners enrolled for insurance on the Washington Healthplanfinder website, last October. They say they selected the bill pay date to be December 24th. Instead the Washington Healthplanfinder drafted the 835 dollar premium Monday.
Josh Bruner started his own business this year as an engineering recruiter. They said it’s forced them to pay a lot of attention to their bills and their bank accounts.
“Big knot in my gut because we’re trying to keep it together,” said Shannon Bruner. “It’s important to me that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”
They’re not alone.
One viewer emailed KING 5 saying, “They drafted my account this morning for a second time.”
Another woman on Facebook with a similar problem commented, “We are all in the same boat.”
“We’ve got to figure out how to get money to pay the bills for the next week or two until we have another check come through,” said Josh Bruner. “It’s just crazy.”
Washington Healthplanfinder emailed the Bruners a few days ago telling them to log in to view their invoice, something they couldn’t do because the website has been down. The Bruners haven’t been able to get through on the helpline either. They finally contacted Healthplanfinder administrators by posting a message on their Facebook page.
Washington Healthplanfinder tells KING 5 their staff is looking into the problem.
Until it’s resolved, the couple is putting their best face forward.
“We haven’t bought anyone’s Christmas gifts yet,” said Shannon Bruner. “We’re just kind of waiting.”
“We wrote a check to our nanny last week, it isn’t going to work,” said Josh Bruner. “So she can’t get paid.”
Last month, the same exchange had problems identifying health care providers for specific plans:
The Washington Healthplanfinder insurance exchange has a feature on its website that allows consumers to see if particular doctors and hospitals are in a plan’s network of health-care providers.
The provider directory is to help consumers compare plans on more than just price. The idea is that consumers who want to keep their doctor should be able to find out which plans allow them to do so.
But the directory has been plagued with errors since the website was launched six weeks ago.
The most serious problems have included listing some doctors and hospitals as outside a plan’s network when they are actually in it. This has caused confusion for some consumers trying to choose a plan that includes their doctor or preferred hospital.
Hospitals and physician groups have been busy trying to catch the mistakes and tell the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which operates Healthplanfinder, to correct the errors. For its part, the exchange acknowledges there are errors and advises consumers to double-check the information on its website with the insurers.
How mad would you be if you chose a plan based on your favored providers being in the network, only to discover that they were mistakenly left off the plan you actually wanted?
I suppose it could be worse. The site could take your money even if you hadn’t signed up for a plan. Taking your money twice comes close to being the worst that exchange could inflict upon you, especially if you don’t look at your online bank account every day.
Hang in there, Huskies. It can only get better, right?
The Washington HealthPlanFinder investigated the claim of the Bruners and discovered that the debit to their bank account occurred on the date the family chose. There was no error:
Washington Healthplanfinder officials say they’ve finished their investigation after some enrollees said the website mistakenly debited their accounts.
Shannon and Josh Bruner claimed the Washington Healthplanfinder website debited their premium two weeks too early.
The Healthplanfinder staff investigated their case and could find no problems with the payment system, and that their records show the Bruners scheduled the earlier date as their payment date.
A spokesperson says enrollees received several email notifications to confirm the payment date for their premiums, but admits that because the site has been down for much of last week, that it would have been difficult for any enrollee to login to read those messages.
The finance department is willing to work with the couple to provide a refund if necessary.
We received an email from Bethany Frey of the exchange requesting a correction. We have made that correction for the part of the story that deals with the Bruners.
However, the exchange has not explained how other enrollees were debited twice for their premium.
Last I heard, the proposed Nicaraguan canal was a pipe dream that had little chance of being built.
But that was months ago. Since then, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega has signed off on the project, which is being funded by a Chinese billionaire telecommunications CEO Wang Jing. The Nicaraguan assembly approved the deal, which includes “a 50-year renewable concession to build a canal more than three times the length of the Panama Canal, as well as tax-free side projects including ports on Nicaragua’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts, an oil pipeline bisecting the country, a cargo railway, two free-trade zones and an international airport.”
Wang is making out like a Chinese bandit, as he is apparently also getting a lot of land along the canal at discount prices.
Needless to say, environmental groups are having apoplexy over a canal that destroys so much of the rain forest. And economics experts question whether the project is viable.
The deal pays Nicaragua $10 million a year for 10 years and gradually transfers ownership to Nicaragua, handing over 100 percent after a century. But the payments and the transfer only begin if and when the canal begins operation. Under the agreement, Wang can skip building the canal altogether but plow ahead with the other projects.
Critics fear this will leave Wang with a host of lucrative tax-free enterprises, and Nicaragua without the centerpiece of the deal or revenue from what actually gets built.
‘This is an astounding giveaway,’ said Noel Maurer, a Harvard Business School expert on Latin American development. ‘It’s just kind of like here’s a bunch of privileges, go build something.’
‘This is a worse deal than the original Panama Canal deal, which was not a good deal and not a deal that Panama voluntarily signed,’ Maurer said.
Manuel Coronel Kautz, a veteran Sandinista leader who manages Nicaragua’s Great Inter-Oceanic Canal Authority, said the government was confident the canal would ‘generate an enormous number of jobs for an impoverished country.’
Chief project adviser Bill Wild said Wang is spending large amounts of his own money to dispatch dozens of Chinese, Nicaraguan and Western experts around the country to conduct environmental and geological feasibility studies to be completed in coming months.
‘He’s not out there just to build these sub-projects,’ Wild said. ‘The canal is his vision, there’s no doubt of that if you talk to the guy.’
Wild said the heavily criticized canal concession was designed in good faith to fairly compensate Wang for taking a bold financial risk.
‘People expect a reasonable return, a good return,’ Wild said. ‘The return for Nicaragua in my books comes from the social benefit that comes from the existence of the canal.’
The legislation allows Wang to petition the state to confiscate any land needed. It requires him to pay owners the assessed value, but much of the property outside major cities has never been officially assessed, risking what private businesses fear could be a land grab for pennies on the dollar.
I smell boondoggle — a $50 billion hole in the ground that will massively harm the environment and fail to compete in a meaningful way with the Panama Canal.
Many legal and environmental experts charge that the canal deal violates national sovereignty, and construction could cause profound ecological damage to this rugged nation of lakes, cloud-wreathed volcanoes and thick tropical forest, by damming rivers, splitting ecosystems and moving untold tons of earth.
‘It’s basically handing over the whole country – water, air and land, without any studies,’ said Luis Callejas, an opposition congressman who was invited to join a 10-day trip to China sponsored by Wang in October for a group of prominent Nicaraguan businessmen and politicians.
After he announced he would present Wang with a letter decrying the secrecy and constitutional violations of the canal concession process, Callejas did not receive the promised visa to China, and the group left without him. A Sandinista lawmaker who abstained from voting in favor of the canal law was ejected from the party’s congressional caucus days later.
Well, that’s one way to sell the deal. Just stifle all opposition and threaten anyone who speaks up about how bad the agreement is.
Construction is supposed to start next year and take 5 or 6 years to complete. But Nicaragua being a communist country, expect that timetable to slip…and slip…and probably slip again. It is a massive engineering challenge. No one has ever attempted anything this big in such inhospitable terrain. We will follow their progress — or lack thereof — with great interest.
A bi-partisan group of Senators are looking at legislation that would remove corn ethanol from biofuel blending targets, despite the EPA’s recent ruling that drastically cut next year’s goal.
The EPA’s target for corn ethanol blends was dropped earlier this year from 18.1 billion gallons to 15.2 billion gallons — largely because of concerns that the rapid increase of corn ethanol was putting an undue strain on refineries.
Auto, oil, and some agriculture groups are lining up in support of the measure. Oil companies find the process of blending expensive and problematic. Auto makers claim the higher fuel blend ruins engines. And some domestic agriculture organizations believe that rapidly increasing corn ethanol blending targets harm crop land and drive up the price of food.
But the bio-fuels industry has had a stranglehold on Congress — especially members from farm states. It will be tough to fashion a majority who wish to see the biofuels industry move in a direction more toward biodiesel and cellulosic (corn stalks, switch grass) ethanol and away from corn.
“I strongly support requiring a shift to low-carbon advanced biofuel, including biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol and other revolutionary fuels. But a corn ethanol mandate is simply bad policy,” Feinstein said.
And Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and David Vitter, R-La., the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, also championed legislation that would curtail corn’s portion of the mandate.
The biofuel industry criticized the Feinstein-Coburn bill, and no doubt will have harsh words for the Cardin-Vitter effort once its details are known.
Biofuel boosters contend the oil industry, which is pushing for a full repeal of the mandate, is concerned about the impact a growing supply of ethanol has on its bottom line.
The biofuel industry also has defended the safety of E15 — gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol, instead of the standard 10 percent. It notes that the EPA has approved it for use in cars made in 2001 or later, but opponents charge that most automakers won’t cover E15-related damage in warranties.
The biofuel industry can rest a little easier knowing it has a friend in Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the fuel rule. She warned at the end of Wednesday’s hearing that lawmakers should not “turn our back” on the policy.
But while the Senate is churning, the House has hit a lull.
House lawmakers began working on legislation over the summer, but the EPA proposal has cooled some of the momentum.
A GOP committee aide says that the panel is considering a variety of options.
And therein lies the difficulty.
“The reason behind the stall is that, while they all agree they don’t like the [Renewable Fuel Standard], they don’t agree on why they don’t like it,” said Paul Winters, a spokesman with biofuel group the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Nothing is likely to get done before the end of next year. And 2015 brings the quadrennial trek to Iowa where presidential candidates pay homage to how great corn ethanol is and why we should be producing more of it.
But it is also possible that in the near future, breakthroughs in using other vegetation for fuel instead of food would make corn ethanol an expensive alternative. Corn would price itself out of the biofuels market in favor of grasses and other cellulosic species that can be grown more cheaply.
Either way, it is likely that corn ethanol will be the dominant biofuel for the near future.
There seems to be a difference of opinion about the functionality of HealthCare.gov, the Obamacare website.
The administration says errors have been reduced to “near zero” while insurance companies claim the fixes have been “overstated.”
If what the companies say is true — they have little motivation for lying, or exaggerating the truth — January 1 will become another disastrous day for the Obamacare rollout.
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, acknowledged that the government had failed to inform insurance companies about some people who had chosen health plans on HealthCare.gov, but she said the number of such cases from Oct. 1 to Dec. 5 was lower than 15,000.
“Since the beginning of December, missing 834s as a percentage of total enrollments has been close to zero” — down from 15 percent in the two weeks starting Oct. 13, she said.
Ms. Bataille said most of the problems occurred from Oct. 1 to mid-November, as enrollment reports on some consumers “were either not being generated, or had errors due to larger technical system issues.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the government sent information to insurers listing everyone who had enrolled in a plan through the federal marketplace. Insurers are supposed to compare the information with their own records and with the daily reports they received from the government over the last 10 weeks.
Insurers said that they had found many discrepancies and errors and that the government was overstating the improvements in HealthCare.gov.
In some instances, they said, the federal government reported that the home address for a new policyholder was outside an insurer’s service area. In other cases, a child was listed as the main subscriber — the person responsible for paying premiums — and parents were listed as dependents.
In some cases, children were enrolled in a policy by the federal government and parents were left off, or vice versa. In other cases, the government mixed up the members of a family: A child or spouse was listed two or three times in the same application in late November. Such errors can have financial implications, increasing the amount of premiums that a family is required to pay.
While some of the problems were discovered in the last few days, insurers said that they had previously reported many of the errors to the “help desk” at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and that the problems remained unresolved.
It hardly matters that 15,000 enrollees aren’t being reported to insurance companies — the so-called missing “834″ reports. That’s the least of their worries. Whether it’s the consumers who can’t fill out a form properly or a glitch with the website that has heretofore been hidden from CMS, the bottom line is that when unknown thousands of consumers try to use the health care system starting on January 1, they are going to be in for a very rude surprise:
Federal officials, insurers and health care providers said they were concerned about confusion and possible chaos in the early days of January, when people try to use the new insurance coverage they believe they have.
The government’s overriding message to insurers is: Do whatever you have to do to maximize enrollment and to provide coverage by Jan. 1 to anyone who wants it. Federal health officials have told insurers that they can sort out the details and work out financial arrangements with the government later.
“Confusion and possible chaos…” pretty much defines Obamacare. With so little reliable information coming from the government, and insurance companies contradicting the happy-face pronouncements of CMS and the White House about the website’s success, you have to wonder where the truth lies.
The administration’s less-than-zero credibility on Obamacare statistics appears to be matched by ignorance (or exaggeration) regarding how well HealthCare.gov is actually working. Consumers may be able to navigate the site more efficiently, although there is anecdotal evidence to the contrary, but what good is a smooth-running website if the information sent to insurers is bogus?
Chaos and confusion may be the hallmark of Obamacare, but these are real people whose lives are being turned upside down because of the incompetence of federal and state officials. It’s a preventable tragedy that is only just beginning.
There are already 4 Republican Senators who have said they will vote for cloture on Tuesday to allow the budget deal to come to the floor. John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Richard Burr of North Carolina have all indicated support for the measure, while a handful of other Republican Senators haven’t made up their minds whether they’ll vote for the bill but say they will probably vote for cloture.
The last week of the budget fight has amounted to an unusual role reversal for the House and Senate. For much of this Congress, it’s been the Senate that’s passed bipartisan deals, only to see House Republicans balk. But this time around, House Republicans — who were burned by the last government shutdown — pushed the bipartisan deal through their chamber, only to see their GOP counterparts in the Senate scoff at the measure.
The differing views speak to the party’s continued divide over fiscal strategy as conservative groups rail against the measure, and senators up for reelection or eying higher office — such as Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida — have all come out strongly against the plan.
The Senate developments come after the House gave overwhelming approval to the two-year budget bill Thursday evening, pushing the measure through on a resounding 332-94 bipartisan vote.
The big House vote appears to have convinced at least a handful of GOP senators to break a filibuster, but the margin is expected to be much narrower in the closely divided Senate.
Despite strong support from House Speaker John Boehner, Senate GOP leaders are expected to oppose the bill. GOP senators who are facing tea party-inspired challenges next year also are opposing the plan, including the defense hawk Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said the proposal would cause “disproportionate harm” to military retirees. And an increasing number of GOP senators began to lash out at the proposal.
Democrats were surprised when one of McCain’s like-minded colleagues, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, announced she would oppose the bill. She — along with McCain and Graham — traveled the country last year warning of the dangers of the sequestration cuts to national security and was furious about the October government shutdown.
“I cannot support a budget agreement that fails to deal with the biggest drivers of our debt, but instead pays for more federal spending on the backs of our active duty and military retirees — those who have put their lives on the line to defend us,” Ayotte said.
Every Republican in a tough primary fight is voting against the bill while it looks like all the vulnerable red state Democrats will be voting for it. Political calculations aside, it is, indeed, a remarkable turnabout to see Senate Republicans — who constantly complained about House Republicans gumming up the budget process — now acting the part of obstructionists when a budget bill sails through the House.
We’ll find out eleven months from now if any of this posturing and maneuvering actually mattered.