Quote of the Day

The notion that conservatives not only oppose liberal health care reforms but are vigorously working to deny Americans access is a popular one on the left. If you don’t support Obamacare, you are basically endorsing murder. A recent contemptible piece in The New Republic, which argues that Democrats should—without any evidence, if necessary—blame the unfortunate deaths of Americans on the rival political party, is perhaps the pinnacle of this brand of absurd demagoguery. Alan Grayson mainstreamed.

Although, it’s also the unspoken starting point for many pundits, including The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, who believes he’s detected a seismic shift within Republican ranks:

“Republicans remain gung-ho for repeal, and continue to insist Obamacare is destroying the lives of millions, if not American freedom itself. And yet, Republican Senate candidates are increasingly sounding like Obamacare’s most ardent supporters in one key way: they are rhetorically embracing the imperative of expanding affordable health coverage to those who need it.”

Two small problems with that contention: 1) It is possible to deem Obamacare destructive policy and still support “expanding affordable health coverage,” and 2) the GOP has been using the exact same rhetoric Sargent points to from the beginning of the debate. And I mean exactly the same.

The majority of Americans believe that Obamacare is detrimental to the health care system yet, one assumes, many of them believe extending “health coverage” to everyone is a worthy cause. There are— and I realize this might be inconceivable to some—other systems that deliver affordable, high-quality services and products to lots and lots of people. Presumably, most of you have bought food or clothing without an individual mandate in a highly regulated government exchange? This kind of delivery system may seem excessively chaotic, antiquated or even unfair to you, but it’s worth mentioning that the moral objective of those who support competitive markets over contrived technocratic schemes is probably just as good as yours.

David Harsanyi, with the “it’s amazing someone actually has to point this out to be people” piece of the day.

Why Did Anyone Ever Believe that Power Politics Went Away?

Be sure to read this piece by Raphael Cohen and Gabriel Scheinmann, which serves to remind us that even though it is not the 19th century, nation-states still play the Great Game. There is nothing particularly earth-shattering in this revelation, but the revelation has to be emphasized nonetheless, because the Obama administration–through the comments of Secretary Kerry–seems to have thought that international power politics were a thing of the past. The administration ought to have known better than that, but for a time, it seemed to pretend not to know. If that kind of naïveté doesn’t bother you, you are more laid back than I am.

The following excerpt is especially worth pondering:

Ironically, it is the Obama administration’s reaction, not Vladimir Putin’s behavior, that seems out of step with historical precedent. To be sure, the administration shares the combined feelings of horror, revulsion, and pity of European power politics with early American leaders. In his Farewell Address, George Washington characterized European disputes with the same disgust that Kerry expressed for Russia’s recent actions, describing them as “the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice.” Thomas Jefferson similarly remarked on the “calamitous scenes of Europe,” noting that “it is our duty to look on the bloody arena spread before us with commiseration indeed, but with no other wish than to see it closed.”

The founding fathers, however, were not naïve. Washington, Jefferson, and others were fully cognizant of American weakness and the limited interests the country had in such far-flung corners of Europe. They understood the way the game was played and decided it was best for the United States to sit it out until it could compete. As Washington imparted, “it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her [Europe’s] politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.” This approach, whose echoes can be seen in contemporary libertarianism, is at least internally consistent, if not always prudent.

The Obama administration’s reaction also marks a break from the giants of 20th-century American internationalism. Awoken from their slumber by the wars in Europe, Americans realized that while they may not like the zero-sum nature of European politics, they had to live with it, and thus they sought to shape it. In his 1941 State of the Union address, Franklin Roosevelt argued that “from 1815 to 1914— ninety-nine years— no single war in Europe or in Asia constituted a real threat against our future or against the future of any other American nation.” But, he asserted, this was no longer true: “No realistic American can expect from a dictator’s peace international generosity, or return of true independence, or world disarmament, or freedom of expression, or freedom of religion—or even good business.” And with this, Roosevelt cemented the conversion of American foreign policy that began with Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, lasted through the Cold War, and persists today among the more hawkish elements of both parties—transforming the United States from a neutral, if sometimes naïve, power to the indispensable nation. The game was simply too important for the United States to sit on the bench any longer.

Again, it is worth emphasizing–as Cohen and Scheinmann do–that the Obama administration simply tried to pretend that great power politics went the way of the dinosaur. That fact ought to be remembered the next time someone tries to claim that this administration has brought foreign policy realism back from the dead.

Better Diplomats, Please

As I keep reminding readers, I believe that the realist theory of international relations best explains the behavior of nation-states, and as a consequence, I look askance at claims that the management and execution of foreign policy depends in significant part on individual personalities.

But that doesn’t mean that individual personalities don’t play some role in the management and execution of foreign policy. As someone who pays attention to foreign affairs, I certainly am going to pay attention to the identities, personalities, and skills of the president of the United States, the secretaries of state and defense, the national security advisor, and yes, the people who make up our diplomatic corps. And while I don’t believe that the choices other nation-states make are driven primarily by personalities, I do believe that our diplomats should be able to contend with the best other nations–especially adversary nations–have to offer.

And nowadays, in many instances, they do not. Why? Because, as James Bruno points out, many American diplomats are political hacks and bigwigs who get their posts because they gave a lot of money to the winning presidential candidate while the overwhelming majority–if not all–of Russia’s diplomats are skilled professionals who are masters of the diplomatic game, and are significantly more personally impressive than are their American counterparts.

Yes, I have tried to be sanguine about this kind of thing in the past, but perhaps it is long past time to stop being sanguine. If American diplomats are chosen due to the size of their bank accounts because they are expected to entertain and because the State Department is too cheap to increase its entertainment budget, then perhaps the best thing for the State Department to do is to increase its entertainment budget so that we can afford to put professional diplomats on the job and leave less important positions to be filled by political hacks and rich donors. The kind of people we let into the American diplomatic corps are precisely the kind of people who we would find intolerably unqualified for major cabinet posts. So why on earth should we put up with them as ambassadors, especially when the post of ambassador can be a consequential one?

Iran Is Not a Theocracy. It Is a Theocratic Mafiocracy.

To wit:

The 82-year-old Iranian woman keeps the documents that upended her life in an old suitcase near her bed. She removes them carefully and peers at the tiny Persian script.

There’s the court order authorizing the takeover of her children’s three Tehran apartments in a multi-story building the family had owned for years. There’s the letter announcing the sale of one of the units. And there’s the notice demanding she pay rent on her own apartment on the top floor.

Pari Vahdat-e-Hagh ultimately lost her property. It was taken by an organization that is controlled by the most powerful man in Iran: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. She now lives alone in a cramped, three-room apartment in Europe, thousands of miles from Tehran.

The Persian name of the organization that hounded her for years is “Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam” – Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam. The name refers to an edict signed by the Islamic Republic’s first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, shortly before his death in 1989. His order spawned a new entity to manage and sell properties abandoned in the chaotic years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Setad has become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran, though many Iranians, and the wider world, know very little about it. In the past six years, it has morphed into a business juggernaut that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming.

The organization’s total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts. But Setad’s holdings of real estate, corporate stakes and other assets total about $95 billion, Reuters has calculated. That estimate is based on an analysis of statements by Setad officials, data from the Tehran Stock Exchange and company websites, and information from the U.S. Treasury Department.

Just one person controls that economic empire – Khamenei. As Iran’s top cleric, he has the final say on all governmental matters. His purview includes his nation’s controversial nuclear program, which was the subject of intense negotiations between Iranian and international diplomats in Geneva that ended Sunday without an agreement. It is Khamenei who will set Iran’s course in the nuclear talks and other recent efforts by the new president, Hassan Rouhani, to improve relations with Washington.

The supreme leader’s acolytes praise his spartan lifestyle, and point to his modest wardrobe and a threadbare carpet in his Tehran home. Reuters found no evidence that Khamenei is tapping Setad to enrich himself.

But Setad has empowered him. Through Setad, Khamenei has at his disposal financial resources whose value rivals the holdings of the shah, the Western-backed monarch who was overthrown in 1979.

Don Corleone would have been proud.

Uber and UberX Help People Get Jobs

Here is the story. And here is the part where I ask (again) why it is that so many protectionists are willing to try to sabotage Uber and UberX, and by extension, sabotage the lives of those who depend on Uber and UberX to put food on the table and a roof over their heads and the heads of their loved ones.

Quote of the Day

BY now most of us know the basic facts of America’s rising income inequality: Since the early 1970s, the gap between the top and bottom of the income distribution has expanded significantly; what’s more, the only group to have experienced real economic gains during this period has been those in the top 20 percent, with gains heavily concentrated in the top 10, 5 and — most famously — 1 percent.

The picture drawn of the 1 percent has been that of a static population, just as the 99 percent is often portrayed as unchanging. There is a line drawn between these two groups, and never the two shall cross.

But is it the case that the top 1 percent of the income distribution are the same people year in and year out? Or, for that matter, what about the top 5, 10 and 20 percent? To what extent do everyday Americans experience these levels of affluence, at least some of the time?

In order to answer such questions, Thomas A. Hirschl of Cornell and I looked at 44 years of longitudinal data regarding individuals from ages 25 to 60 to see what percentage of the American population would experience these different levels of affluence during their lives. The results were striking.

It turns out that 12 percent of the population will find themselves in the top 1 percent of the income distribution for at least one year. What’s more, 39 percent of Americans will spend a year in the top 5 percent of the income distribution, 56 percent will find themselves in the top 10 percent, and a whopping 73 percent will spend a year in the top 20 percent of the income distribution.

Yet while many Americans will experience some level of affluence during their lives, a much smaller percentage of them will do so for an extended period of time. Although 12 percent of the population will experience a year in which they find themselves in the top 1 percent of the income distribution, a mere 0.6 percent will do so in 10 consecutive years.

It is clear that the image of a static 1 and 99 percent is largely incorrect. The majority of Americans will experience at least one year of affluence at some point during their working careers. (This is just as true at the bottom of the income distribution scale, where 54 percent of Americans will experience poverty or near poverty at least once between the ages of 25 and 60).

Mark R. Rank. Something for the class warriors to contend with, assuming that they ever let facts enter into their intellectual cocoons. (Thanks to Greg Mankiw for the link.)

Outrage of the Day

You have to be kidding:

With all the restrictions on selling and marketing food, it’s easy to forget that even sharing food is sometimes still a crime. Despite my own stated optimism last year, it appears that bans on sharing food with the homeless and less fortunate won’t be going away any time soon.

Last week, Scott Keyes, a senior reporter with the progressive news site ThinkProgress, reported on the idiotic outcome of one of the latest of such bans.

In that case, the city of Birmingham, Ala. has barred a local pastor from sharing food with the homeless from a church-owned vehicle because he doesn’t have… a food truck permit.

“Wood was stopped from handing out food by local police because he was in violation of a new city ordinance, passed in December, that regulates food trucks,” writes Keyes. “The new regulation requires food trucks to get a permit, which can cost as much as $500.”

Just like those on the left, conservative critics were aghast.

I can only imagine that the “thinking” behind the $500 permit requirement was that poor and homeless people had not suffered so terribly as to allow narrow-minded bureaucrats to give them a break, and to let Good Samaritans help the poor and homeless out a bit. Yes, that must be it. Indeed, now that I am on this topic, I have to ask: Just what is it with the poor and homeless–and, for at matter, with the Good Samaritans who wish to help them–that causes them to think that state bureaucrats in Alabama might take something resembling a broad view and let the charitable help the down-and-out? I mean, the nerve. Don’t the dispossessed and the generous know that there are rules and that those rules will be enforced–the facts on the ground notwithstanding?

Perhaps next time, those who are having a bad time of it, and the people who want to help them, will be smart enough to go through the proper channels and render unto Caesar that which Caesar has no business asking for at a time like this, before good deeds are done for those in desperate need of them. Otherwise, we may be well on our way to a society that is as smart as it is compassionate. And Heaven knows that bureaucrats the world around lose sleep at the thought of such a prospect.

For Those Wondering what a Real Political Scandal Looks Like . . .

Have I got one for you:

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid collected a $1.1 million windfall on a Las Vegas land sale even though he hadn’t personally owned the property for three years, property deeds show.

In the process, Reid did not disclose to Congress an earlier sale in which he transferred his land to a company created by a friend and took a financial stake in that company, according to records and interviews.

The Nevada Democrat’s deal was engineered by Jay Brown, a longtime friend and former casino lawyer whose name surfaced in a major political bribery trial this summer and in other prior organized crime investigations. He’s never been charged with wrongdoing — except for a 1981 federal securities complaint that was settled out of court.

[. . .]

The complex dealings allowed Reid to transfer ownership, legal liability and some tax consequences to Brown’s company without public knowledge, but still collect a seven-figure payoff nearly three years later.

Reid hung up the phone when questioned about the deal during an AP interview last week.

This certainly seems like more of a case of political wrongdoing than did Reid’s utterly unsubstantiated charges that Mitt Romney did not pay any income tax. You remember those charges; they were the ones that Reid said he did not have to prove, and that Romney had to disprove, because in Harry Reid’s world, people are guilty until proven innocent and have to prove negatives–assuming that those people are Republicans.

In any event, given that the media gave far too much credibility to Reid’s completely substance-free accusations against Romney, it would be nice to see the media pay some attention to this story. There is, after all, a great deal more evidence that Harry Reid was involved in unethical–and possibly illegal–shenanigans, and he owes the public an explanation for this behavior. To help him out, I am willing to extend to him the presumption of innocence–the very same presumption that undergirds the American justice system, and the one that Reid refused to extend to Mitt Romney. After all, just because Harry Reid is a McCarthyite does not mean that the rest of us should be.

Today in Bad Russia-Ukraine News

Let’s go through the depressing details:

  • “Novorossiya” is quite the ominous term.
  • As pointed out by Walter Russell Mead and company, what Vladimir Putin tells a Russian audience is significantly more important than some vague agreement that supposedly is designed to reduce tensions, but in fact is actually designed to allow diplomats to say that they have worked to reduce tensions, without, you know, actually reducing tensions.
  • Allegedly, there is a move to have Ukrainian Jews register their names and property holdings with pro-Russian militants, and pay a registration fee to boot. The State Department is convinced that the leaflets announcing the registration policy are genuine, and is properly disgusted, but Julia Ioffe asserts that the leaflets are not genuine. I would like to believe that she is right, but in the event that she is not, would the Nation be so kind as to denounce some actual fascists, as opposed to the imaginary ones who allegedly staff the new Ukrainian government?

Quote of the Day

It was a simple question to someone accustomed to much tougher ones: What was her proudest achievement as secretary of state? But for a moment, Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing recently before a friendly audience at a women’s forum in Manhattan, seemed flustered.

Mrs. Clinton played an energetic role in virtually every foreign policy issue of President Obama’s first term, advocating generally hawkish views internally while using her celebrity to try to restore America’s global standing after the hit it took during the George W. Bush administration.

But her halting answer suggests a problem that Mrs. Clinton could confront as she recounts her record in Mr. Obama’s cabinet before a possible run for president in 2016: Much of what she labored over so conscientiously is either unfinished business or has gone awry in his second term.

Mark Landler and Amy Chozick. File under “gee, ya think?” Incidentally, Clinton’s response–”I really see my role as secretary, and, in fact, leadership in general in a democracy, as a relay race . . . I mean, you run the best race you can run, you hand off the baton.”–is not much of one. The question wasn’t “now that you have finished your term as secretary of state, is there anything left for anyone else to do?” The question challenged Hillary Clinton to state her proudest achievement as secretary of state. She couldn’t. That tells you something about her tenure.

Indeed, I daresay that both she and her supporters would find it similarly difficult to state her proudest achievement as senator from New York. Or . . . well . . . any achievement at all. Don’t believe me? Quick; what was the most significant thing that Hillary Clinton accomplished as either senator or secretary of state. Don’t Google, don’t look up any articles; state something off the top of your own head. And do it fast.

Difficult, isn’t it? I guess we now have an idea of what challenges await Clinton should she decide to run for president.

Yes, Jenny McCarthy Is Anti-Vaccine

Here is the proof. I am sure that there is more proof out there, but this ought to suffice. Can we debate something genuinely controversial now, like whether water is wet, fire is hot, ice is cold, night is dark and day is light? Because that might serve as a more valuable use of our time.

More Bad News from Russia and Ukraine


  • In war, truth is the first casualty. As a realist, I believe that national interests do more to determine the behavior of a nation state than do domestic political factors. But realists certainly don’t dismiss domestic politics out of hand. And unfortunately, since Russians are being lied to by their own government about what is happening in Ukraine, they are in no position whatsoever–even after factoring in the amount of political repression that occurs in Russia–to pressure their leaders to make smarter foreign policy decisions.
  • Pro-Russian separatists are making a bad situation worse. I am sure that Moscow is pleased, as it is incontrovertible that the separatists are acting on Moscow’s instructions.
  • Political and economic chaos are the order of the day in Ukraine. Even before tensions between Ukraine and Russia reached a fever pitch, Ukraine had to face a dire economic crisis. Now, it has to face a dire geopolitical crisis as well.
  • NATO is working to deter further Russian aggression. One hopes the alliance succeeds, but right now, Moscow believes that the West simply doesn’t have the will or the incentive to do much about its bullying of Ukraine. And it may yet be right.

Paul Krugman: Poster Boy for Income Inequality

You cannot make this up:

In late February, the City University of New York announced that it had tapped Princeton economist and New York Times blogger Paul Krugman for a distinguished professorship at CUNY’s Graduate Center and its Luxembourg Income Study Center, a research arm devoted to studying income patterns and their effect on inequality.

About that. According to a formal offer letter obtained under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, CUNY intends to pay Krugman $225,000, or $25,000 per month (over two semesters), to “play a modest role in our public events” and “contribute to the build-up” of a new “inequality initiative.” It is not clear, and neither CUNY nor Krugman was able to explain, what “contribute to the build-up” entails.

It’s certainly not teaching. “You will not be expected to teach or supervise students,” the letter informs Professor Krugman, who replies: “I admit that I had to read it several times to be clear … it’s remarkably generous.” (After his first year, Krugman will be required to host a single seminar.)

Ordinarily, I would not care in the least about this little bit of news. Krugman won the Nobel prize in Economics, he is a widely read pundit, he is deeply respected in academic and punditry circles, and it stands to reason that he is going to command a high salary. But given Krugman’s frequent jeremiads against income inequality, it is more than a little hilarious that he is going to be paid “$25,000 per month (over two semesters)” and “$225,000 per year” (note that if Krugman is getting $25,000 per month for a year, he would actually gross a cool $300,000 for the year) in order to “play a modest role” in public events about income inequality and “contribute to the build-up” of an “inequality initiative.” I wonder if Krugman stays up at night worrying that he might be contributing to the very problem that he is decrying and being paid to decry. Probably not.

Oh, and there is this as well:

CUNY, which is publicly funded, pays adjunct professors approximately $3,000 per course. The annual salaries of tenured (but undistinguished) professors, meanwhile, top out at $116,364, according to the most recent salary schedule negotiated by the university system’s faculty union. And those professors are expected to teach and publish. Even David Petraeus, whom CUNY initially offered $150,000, conducted a weekly 3-hour seminar.

Any chance that people like Corey Robin–who raised such a fuss about David Petraeus’s teaching gig–will object to Krugman’s far more lucrative (and far less demanding) deal? Somehow, I doubt it.

Quote of the Day

Mr. [Rand] Paul was in New Hampshire last weekend, speaking to conservative activists at the Freedom Summit, emphasizing the need for Republicans to do a better job of reaching out to Hispanics and African-Americans.

It’s a fine message. Or rather, it would be a fine message if it weren’t for Mr. Paul’s long political association with Jack Hunter, aka the “Southern Avenger,” a former radio shock jock who co-wrote Mr. Paul’s 2011 book “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.” On April 14, 2004—the 139th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination—Mr. Hunter wrote a column titled ” John Wilkes Booth Was Right.” He also lamented that “whites are not afforded the same right to celebrate their own cultural identity” as blacks and Hispanics.

Mr. Hunter remained a member of Mr. Paul’s staff until last July, when the Washington Free Beacon broke the story. Afterward, Mr. Hunter recanted his views and pleaded amnesia. As for Mr. Paul, he defended his former aide, saying he had merely been “stupid,” that he had been “unfairly treated by the media,” and that “he got along fine with everybody in the office, treated everyone fairly, regardless of race or religion.”

So can we now, um, switch the subject?

Yes, we can. Let’s move on to a YouTube video of Mr. Paul in April 2009, offering his insights to a college group on foreign policy. Channeling Dwight Eisenhower, the future senator warned “we need to be so fearful of companies that get so big that they can actually be directing policy.”

“When the Iraq war started, Halliburton got a billion-dollar no-bid contract. Some of the stuff has been so shoddy and so sloppy that our soldiers are over there dying in the shower from electrocution.”

Then he gets to his real point: Dick Cheney, who opposed driving all the way to Baghdad when he was defense secretary in the first Bush administration, later went to work for Halliburton. “Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government and it’s a good thing to go into Iraq.”

Mr. Paul’s conclusion: “9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq.”

Cui bono—to whose benefit? It’s the signature question of every conspiracy theorist with an unhinged mind. Cheney. Halliburton. Big Oil. The military-industrial complex. Neocons. 9/11. Soldiers electrocuted in the shower. It all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

If Mr. Paul wants to accuse the former vice president of engineering a war in Iraq so he could shovel some profits over to his past employer, he should come out and say so explicitly. Ideally at the next Heritage Action powwow. Let’s not mince words. This man wants to be the Republican nominee for president.

Bret Stephens.

The Liberal Reagan? Not So Fast.

Andrew Sullivan is fond of claiming that Barack Obama is a liberal version of Ronald Reagan. James Freeman throws an appreciable amount of cold water on the notion:

President Obama inspired a generation of young people to support his historic election in 2008. And in 2012, despite the struggles of his first term, Mr. Obama still managed to win the support of a full 60% of voters age 18-29. But the man who once dreamed of being a transformative leader in the Reagan mold is inspiring few of those young people to follow his lead.

“For all the talk about the movement that elected Mr. Obama, the more notable movement of Obama supporters has been away from politics. It appears that few of the young people who voted for him, and even fewer Obama campaign and administration operatives, have decided to run for office. Far more have joined the high-paid consultant ranks,” reports the New York Times. “Unlike John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who inspired virtual legislatures of politicians and became generational touchstones, Mr. Obama has so far had little such influence.”

The Times quotes Harvard pollster John Della Volpe: “If you were to call it an Obama generation, there was a window…That opportunity has been lost.” Mr. Della Volpe’s polling of 18- to 29-year-olds shows that only 35% now believe that running for office is an honorable pursuit. “We’re seeing the younger cohort is even less connected with [Mr. Obama] generally, with his policies, as well as politics generally,” he told the Times. The paper also quotes former Obama pollster Sergio Bendixen saying that Mr. Obama’s onetime core supporters among the young “went on to the next website and then the next click on their computer. I just don’t see the generation as all that ideological or invested in causes for the long run.”

Why isn’t President Obama inspiring “virtual legislatures of politicians”? As Freeman notes, it may be because millennials have it really rough in the Obama economy and have soured on politics in general and the president in particular. And as Freeman points out, this may mean that young people won’t turn out this fall for the midterm elections, which constitutes tremendously bad news for Democrats.

The Most Transparent Administration in History, Really Isn’t

Are we honestly supposed to believe that there weren’t ulterior motives behind this move?

The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.

The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said.

An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a “total revision to health insurance questions” and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.

“We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,” said Brett J. O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.

With the new questions, “it is likely that the Census Bureau will decide that there is a break in series for the health insurance estimates,” says another agency document describing the changes. This “break in trend” will complicate efforts to trace the impact of the Affordable Care Act, it said.

A major goal of the law is to increase the number of people with health insurance. The White House reported that 7.5 million people signed up for private health plans on the new insurance exchanges and that enrollment in Medicaid increased by three million since October. But the administration has been unable to say how many of the people gaining coverage were previously uninsured or had policies canceled, so the net increase in coverage is unclear.

Health policy experts and politicians had been assuming that the Census Bureau would help answer those questions when it issued its report on income, poverty and health insurance, based on the Current Population Survey. The annual report shows the number of people with various kinds of health insurance and the number of uninsured for the nation and for each state.

The story goes on to indicate that according to Gallup polls, more of the uninsured are getting covered as a consequence of Obamacare. But the best way to verify this is through census information. And now–conveniently?–we can’t.

Understandably, Megan McArdle is gobsmacked. And then some:

I’m speechless. Shocked. Stunned. Horrified. Befuddled. Aghast, appalled, thunderstruck, perplexed, baffled, bewildered and dumbfounded. It’s not that I am opposed to the changes: Everyone understands that the census reports probably overstate the true number of the uninsured, because the number they report is supposed to be “people who lacked insurance for the entire previous year,” but people tend to answer with their insurance status right now.

But why, dear God, oh, why, would you change it in the one year in the entire history of the republic that it is most important for policy makers, researchers and voters to be able to compare the number of uninsured to those in prior years? The answers would seem to range from “total incompetence on the part of every level of this administration” to something worse.

[. . .]

Sarah Kliff of Vox says we shouldn’t freak out, because these are the numbers that the census collects for 2013, so the change is actually giving us a good baseline. But I’m afraid I’m not so sanguine. As Aaron Carroll says: “It’s actually helpful to have a trend to measure, not a pre-post 2013/2014. This still sucks.”

I am sure that we will be getting the “move along, nothing to see here” speeches from the administration and its partisans any moment now. Just once, can we ignore those speeches and insist on actual transparency, instead of the pretend variety that we have been getting since January 20, 2009?


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