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In which I Agree with James Stavridis

There are many reasons to support the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. One such reason is that Vladimir Putin cannot stand the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership:

President Barack Obama recently spent some quality time with leaders of Asian nations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing and again at the G20 Leaders summit, where he continued honing trade and diplomatic ties, and made another push for the long-delayed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. He also held several tense sideline meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin without any discernable reduction in the gridlock over Ukraine.

Flying under the international radar is one of the most potentially important agreements ever negotiated across the broad Atlantic: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), also known as the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). It is a big basket of agreed-upon rules and regulations that would make the United States and much of Europe a free trade zone, perhaps increasing overall trade by as much as 50 percent, according to the European Commission and the White House.

Guess what? Putin hates it.

It’s not hard to figure out why: it would more tightly bind Europe to the United States, thus hurting Russian leverage. The TTIP is a sensible agreement on economic grounds, broadly speaking. But it also holds enormous real value in the geopolitical sphere. The increased linkages between the United States and our European allies and partners will stand in direct opposition to Putin’s key strategy of driving a wedge between the United States and the EU as the central members of the transatlantic community.

There is very little not to like about TTIP, as Stavridis writes. Here’s hoping that the negotiations get concluded, that it receives the necessary congressional authorization, and that the Obama administration is actually able to use it to curb Russian hegemonic ambitions.

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The Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

For those trying to understand why the grand jury in the Michael Brown case came to the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, this appears to be a very good accounting:

The most credible eyewitnesses to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., said he had charged toward Police Officer Darren Wilson just before the final, fatal shots, the St. Louis County prosecutor said Monday night as he sought to explain why a grand jury had not found probable cause to indict the officer.

The accounts of several other witnesses from the Ferguson neighborhood where Mr. Brown, 18 and unarmed, met his death on Aug. 9 — including those who said Mr. Brown was trying to surrender — changed over time or were inconsistent with physical evidence, the prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, said in a news conference.

[. . .]

The fact that at least nine members of the 12-member panel could not agree to indict the officer indicates that they accepted the narrative of self-defense put forth by Officer Wilson in his voluntary, four hours of testimony before the grand jury. Mr. McCulloch, in his summary of the months of testimony, said it was supported by the most reliable eyewitness accounts — from African-Americans in the vicinity of the shooting — as well as physical evidence and the consistent results of three autopsies.

I should note that this doesn’t change in the slightest any of the conclusions that I have reached in writing in the past about Ferguson, or about the overextension of police power in general. Furthermore, whatever your feelings regarding the grand jury decision in the Ferguson case, the amount of popular mistrust concerning the application of the rule of law presents a serious problem for America.

Chuck Hagel Is Leaving, But Problems with the Obama Administration’s National Security Apparatus Will Remain

Let there be absolutely no doubt that Chuck Hagel was at best, an inconsequential secretary of defense, and at worst, a terrible one. But while we ought to be relieved that Hagel has been shown the door, we also ought to be concerned that a completely dysfunctional national security apparatus will remain long after Hagel is gone:

Two months before he was pushed out as defense secretary, Chuck Hagel penned a private letter to the White House, arguing for new measures to rein in Russian President Vladimir Putin and greater efforts to reassure anxious European allies, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Shortly after the September letter, he wrote another memo calling for the administration to clarify its approach to the conflict in Syria. The two messages capped a year of frustrations for Mr. Hagel, who repeatedly found fault with what he saw as indecisiveness by the White House National Security Council, according to current and former officials close to him.

“One of the things that Hagel values most is clarity,” said a confidante of the defense secretary. “That’s not something that this White House has always done well.”

Mr. Hagel wasn’t alone in his frustration. His upset over what he saw as slow decision-making and White House micromanagement of the Defense Department was shared by his two immediate predecessors at the Pentagon.

[. . .]

James Jeffrey, who served as Mr. Obama’s ambassador in Turkey and Iraq, said of Mr. Hagel: “His removal won’t make things better because he was not the source of the problem. The problems seem to be closer to the president.”

Other members of Mr. Obama’s security cabinet have privately voiced similar frustrations, complaining to aides about monthslong discussions that lead to no decision and of having little input in the process, which is tightly controlled by a small number of top White House aides, officials who work for these cabinet secretaries say.

Mr. Hagel’s predecessor, Mr. Panetta, a Democrat, complained to aides that the NSC let proposals “just hang out there” without being acted upon. “You can’t use caution as an excuse not to make a decision,” Mr. Panetta told aides.

And of course, the White House does not seem to be inclined to do anything about these problems:

With his party in a shambles after a disastrous midterm election and his administration ensnared in a messy war in the Middle East, the president stood in the East Room and showed his defense secretary the door.

History seemed to repeat itself this week when President Obama dismissed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, much as President George W. Bush sacked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld eight years ago this month. But beyond the eerie echo, Mr. Hagel’s removal bears little resemblance to that of Mr. Rumsfeld.

The ouster of Mr. Rumsfeld signaled a fundamental change of thinking about the United States’ war strategy and a profound shift in power inside Mr. Bush’s administration as it came to the end of its sixth year. The departure of Mr. Hagel, on the other hand, augurs no such pivot for the Obama administration and seems to cement the current approach to national security.

Mr. Hagel fell short in the president’s eyes because he was passive and quiet in Situation Room deliberations, hardly the commanding figure needed when the country is in a new war against Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria. To the White House, he seemed a captive of the generals and not in sync with the president’s team.

“The clear suggestion is that the White House does indeed still want a doormat — Hagel just forgot whose doormat he was supposed to be,” said Rosa Brooks, a former Obama administration official at the Pentagon. “So it’s sure looking like this move presages a White House doubling down on existing ways of doing business, not a White House interested in making real changes.”

Others pointed to Mr. Hagel’s pushback on budget cuts and a recent memo he wrote criticizing the White House strategy for Syria. “With Hagel, President Obama is firing the guy who wants to change the policy,” said Stephen Biddle of George Washington University, who advised Mr. Bush’s White House on Iraq strategy. “With Rumsfeld, Bush was firing the guy who had opposed changing the policy and was widely seen as a barrier to new thinking.

“So whereas the Rumsfeld firing cleared the way for a policy reversal,” he added, “the Hagel firing appears to be reinforcing a continuation of the pre-existing strategy by removing one of its critics.”

Would it be too much to ask–or perhaps even demand–that some senator say something about this dysfunctional national security apparatus during confirmation hearings when we have a nominee for secretary of defense? Would it be too much to ask–or perhaps even demand–that some senator say something about how no sane person would or should want to be secretary of defense in this environment? Or will senators during the confirmation hearings be content to pretend that there are no problems whatsoever with the Obama administration’s national security team and approach, and that everything is proceeding as planned?

Charles Schumer Commits a Kinsley Gaffe

And boy, what a Kinsley gaffe it is:

Democrats made a strategic mistake by passing the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, said Tuesday.

Schumer says Democrats “blew the opportunity the American people gave them” in the 2008 elections, a Democratic landslide, by focusing on healthcare reform instead of legislation to boost the middle class.

“After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus,” he said in a speech at the National Press Club.

He said the plight of uninsured Americans caused by “unfair insurance company practices” needed to be addressed, but it wasn’t the change that people wanted when they elected Barack Obama as president.

“Americans were crying out for an end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs; not for changes in their healthcare,” he said.

Maybe all of this is part of the “post-disaster syndrome” that is affecting relations between the White House and Senate Democrats, but then again, maybe relations are genuinely dysfunctional, and have little to do with the catastrophe suffered by Democrats during the midterm elections. If the latter, then you have to wonder what business Democrats had asking voters to keep them in charge of the Senate during this past election cycle.

Meanwhile, Tyranny Continues in Venezuela

I don’t believe for a single moment that there was a plot afoot to kill Nicolás Maduro, but of course, the Venezuelan regime pretends conveniently that there was. This makes it easier for the government to suppress protest and dissent, and allows the government to try to distract Venezuelans from the existence of truly awful economic conditions and living standards. Of course, I am not writing anything that anyone doesn’t know, but it is worth emphasizing that the Venezuelan government’s response to the problems afflicting the country–problems the Venezuelan government itself was responsible for having created–is to constantly exclaim “Squirrel!” No one should be fooled.

Once again, all of the people who once pretended that everything that Hugo Chávez and his cronies did was A-OK–especially when George W. Bush was president and Chávez was busy picking fights with the Bush administration and the United States in general (there’s some patriotism for you)–cannot be reached for comment.

Behold the Would-Be Next President of the United States

In all her glory:

When officials at the University of California at Los Angeles began negotiating a $300,000 speech appearance by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the school had one request: Could we get a reduced rate for public universities?

The answer from Clinton’s representatives: $300,000 is the “special university rate.”

That e-mail exchange and other internal communications, obtained this week by The Washington Post under a Freedom of Information Act request, provide a rare glimpse into the complex and meticulous backstage efforts to manage the likely 2016 presidential candidate’s lucrative speaking career.

At UCLA, efforts to book Clinton and then prepare for her visit were all-consuming, beginning almost immediately after she left her job as secretary of state on Feb. 1, 2013, until she delivered her Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership speech on March 5, 2014.

The documents show that Clinton’s representatives at the Harry Walker Agency exerted considerable control over her appearance and managed even the smallest details — from requesting lemon wedges and water on stage to a computer, scanner, and a spread of hummus and crudité in the green room backstage.

Top university officials discussed at length the style and color of the executive armchairs Clinton and moderator Lynn Vavreck would sit in as they carried on a question-and-answer session, as well as the kind of pillows to be situated on each chair. Clinton’s representatives requested that the chairs be outfitted with two long, rectangular pillows — and that two cushions be kept backstage in case the chair was too deep and she needed additional back support.

I am absolutely certain that middle class and working-poor voters will have no problem whatsoever relating to a presidential candidate whose $300,000 speaking fee is a “special university rate” (gee, thanks for helping to keep tuition low so that students don’t have to go into massive amounts of debt. Oh, wait . . .), and who demands in divaesque fashion that “lemon wedges” and “a spread of hummus and crudité” be available. Real person of the people, that Hillary Clinton.

Have I mentioned recently that this soon-to-be presidential campaign is looking more and more to be a complete and unmitigated disaster?

I Told You So (Chuck Hagel Edition)

Chuck Hagel was never cut out to be secretary of defense. I wrote as much. Repeatedly (just scroll down, and you will see). Hagel was selected because he was deemed the ideal secretary of defense to preside over declining Pentagon budgets and a declining American presence on the world stage, and astonishingly enough, he was also selected because rabid anti-Israel anti-Semites thought that selecting Hagel as secretary of defense would be a great way to “to pay back Benjamin Netanyahu for all the ‘cooperation’ Obama received from him during the first term, as well as Bibi’s transparent attempt to tip the scale for Romney last fall?” Yes, you read that right; people like Stephen Walt wanted Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense so that it would hurt Benjamin Netanyahu’s feelings. That is how rigorous Walt’s thinking has become these days.

Well now, Hagel is gone. The firing was sudden, it was notable, and yes, it was a firing; do not believe the nonsensical claims that the decision to let Hagel go was somehow as much Hagel’s as it was the president’s:

[Hagel’s firing] was a striking reversal for a president who chose Mr. Hagel two years ago in part to limit the power of Pentagon officials who had repeatedly pushed for more troops in Afghanistan and a slower drawdown of American forces from Iraq. But in the end, Mr. Hagel’s passivity and lack of support in Mr. Obama’s inner circle proved too much for an administration that found itself back on a war footing.

Aides said Mr. Obama made the decision to remove his defense secretary on Friday after weeks of rising tension over a variety of issues, including what administration officials said were Mr. Hagel’s delays in transferring detainees from the military prison in Guantánamo Bay and a dispute with Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, over Syria policy.

The strains were evident in a stilted ceremony on Monday at the White House, where Mr. Obama called the defense secretary he had pushed out “exemplary” and lauded his status as the first enlisted combat veteran to hold the job, saying it had helped him to empathize with American soldiers. “He’s been in the dirt. He’s been in the mud,” Mr. Obama said. “He sees himself in them. They see themselves in him.”

But as the president spoke of the “blood and treasure and sacrifices” of enlisted men and women like Mr. Hagel, turning several times to try to address his defense secretary directly, Mr. Hagel stared ahead fixedly, declining to make eye contact with Mr. Obama.

So, I am guessing that Hagel and the president won’t be having any beers together in the near future. And the following is quite notable:

If the ouster of Mr. Hagel was intended to minimize coming fights with Congress, the Republicans were not impressed on Monday. “The Obama administration is now in the market for their fourth secretary of defense,” Representative Howard (Buck) McKeon, Republican of California, said. “When the president goes through three secretaries, he should ask, ‘Is it them, or is it me?’ ”

Good question. One wonders if the president will be brave enough to ask it of himself. And let’s remember that Hagel was never intellectually up to the job of being secretary of defense:

Even Mr. Hagel’s defenders say that articulating strategy is one of his biggest weaknesses. He never entirely gained traction in the administration after a bruising confirmation fight with his old Senate colleagues, when he was criticized for being tentative in his responses to sharp questions.

In the past few months he has been overshadowed by General Dempsey, who officials said had won the confidence of Mr. Obama with his recommendation of military action against the Islamic State.

Of course, it is worth pointing out that the decision to fire Hagel reflects broader and more serious problems with the Obama national security team:

Almost as soon as Hagel’s departure was reported, dueling narratives emerged about the real reason he’s stepping down. Administration officials whispered—predictably—that Hagel was never up to the task of running the fight against ISIS or responding nimbly and dependably to the other crises that appeared on the horizon. But others inside the Defense Department accused the White House of trying to micromanage the Pentagon and keep Hagel from stealing the spotlight, as earlier secretaries, including Panetta and Robert Gates had been known to do. And they said that the blame for managing foreign policy crises can hardly be heaped on the departing secretary. Inside the building, “the louder criticism is directed squarely at the White House and not the Pentagon,” according to another Defense Department official.


Former Democratic aide Brent Budowsky said Democrats across the Capitol saw Hagel’s ouster as the latest example of “unprecedented” drama created by “too tight and too controlling of an inner circle.”

He noted that not only had each of the president’s previous Defense secretaries voiced concern over his Syria policy, so had former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“This is going to precipitate a very visible battle beginning today and going through the confirmation of his successor about what the policy should be, and highlight the long-term and chronic internal disagreement,” said Budowsky, who is a columnist for The Hill.

Other defense experts say Hagel was not particularly close with the president or members of his national security team.

“He had no relationships that were already established within this administration,” said a retired military officer with current policy experience in Washington, who wanted to speak on background.

Unfortunately, the broader problems with the president’s national security team will likely not be addressed, as it seems that there will be no other firings of members of that team. A pity; whatever one’s feelings regarding Chuck Hagel’s performance at the Pentagon–and make no mistake, it was an exceedingly poor performance–there are other problems with the national security apparatus that need addressing, and those problems start with the equally poor performance turned in by national security adviser Susan Rice. But President Obama doesn’t seem to have the intellectual willingness, energy or horsepower to engaged in a deeper look at his national security team and their shortcomings. And the United States itself will pay the price for that lack of introspection with foreign and national security policies that are poorly designed and badly implemented.

Our Very Wise and Poorly Implemented New Immigration Policy

In reacting to President Obama’s recent speech on immigration, I find myself in the same position as Ilya Shapiro; I commend the president on a truly excellent, much-needed policy change, while deploring the way in which the change is being implemented. Like Shapiro, I cannot get past the fact that previously, the president swore up and down that he did not have the authority to put into effect the changes that he is now putting into effect. To be sure, there are legal justifications for the president’s position–see Ilya Somin on that issue. But let there be absolutely no mistake that in effect, the president has issued a signing statement when it comes to the immigration laws on the books; stating that there are certain provisions of the law that he won’t enforce. When George W. Bush did that kind of thing, the very people who applaud the Obama administration’s action on immigration went on the offensive and accused President Bush of usurping the Constitution and behaving like a king or a dictator. Now, that President Obama has imitated (yet again) the same governing style, these same people shout hosannas and encomiums. As I have noted before, let me note again that some imperial presidencies are more popular than others in the bien pensant community.

It would have been nice if, in the president’s speech, he explained to the rest of us why he suddenly decided that he has powers that in the past, he denied having. But we were deprived that explanation. And that’s too bad. The president’s comments to the contrary notwithstanding, his position on immigration has changed. A pity that we were given no justification for that change, other than “Republicans are not doing what I want them to do.”

Rebuking Crazy Talk on the Supreme Court

Remember Paul Krugman’s ridiculous comments regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to grant certiorari in King v. Burwell? Justice Elena Kagan–no one’s idea of a right-wing jurist, of course–has something to say about them:

Statements such as that of economics professor Paul Krugman’s argument in a New York Times column that the Court is corrupt, which was brought up by Eisgruber, are inaccurate, Kagan said.

“That is just ridiculous language,” she said.

Justices may agree or disagree, she said, yet they all fulfill their jobs in good faith.

“I think [the Supreme Court] is an institution of government that really works,” Kagan said.

Well said. Similarly enlightened commentary from Jonathan Adler:

For an example of someone making arguments that are not nearly as strong as he thinks they are it would be hard to do better than Paul Krugman’s most recent column.  In this piece, Krugman makes basic mistakes — e.g. the plaintiffs’ case is not based on just “one clause” in the statute — and insists that only an “incredibly hostile reader” could read “established by the State” to mean, well, “established by the State.” This would be news to the folks at CRS or those at the IRS who initially drafted implementing regs that tracked the statutory language. Even some folks on Krugman’s side have conceded that the statute’s words “clearly say” credits are only authorized in state-established exchanges, even if they believe this is “what Congress clearly did not mean.”

The one appellate court to agree with Krugman conceded “there is a certain sense to the plaintiffs’ position.”  Yet, according to Krugman, only those who are “hostile” and “corrupt” could reach such a conclusion.  In ruling for the government, the panel majority in King concluded  “the defendants have the stronger position, although only slightly,” and ultimately held for the government because it found the statutory language sufficiently ambiguous to support the IRS rule as a reasonable interpretation. I find the Fourth Circuit’s opinion reasonable but unconvincing. See this post for some of the reasons why the Fourth Circuit was wrong (or see my co-authored amicus brief for the Halbig en banc).  There are serious arguments here on both sides, but Krugman can’t see them.

According to Krugman, the claim in King is based upon an “obvious typo.” In other words, Krugman thinks this is a case of sloppy legislative drafting that should be corrected by the courts.  This is a popular argument among pundits, but it’s not made by the government or more knowledgeable legal experts — and for good reason: It’s a weak argument. In order for the government to prevail in arguing that a statute does not mean what the plain text says — that, there is a “scrivener’s error” or a statute would produce “absurd results” — the government has to show that there is no conceivable possibility that the text was deliberate.  For reasons I explained years ago (literally) this argument fails, as most thoughtful commentators on the other side have conceded.  The government’s strongest argument is not that there is a typo, but that the entire statute, construed as a whole, allows for what the IRS did, even if only because the text is sufficiently ambiguous to allow for the IRS’s interpretation.

And of course, the same criticisms could be applied to Linda Greenhouse’s commentary on the Court’s decision. One of Greenhouse’s complaints about the Court’s decision to grant certiorari is her claim that there is no circuit split, and no apparent emergency. Note that in addition to being wrong, Greenhouse also opts to be hypocritical:

Finally, I find Greenhouse’s stated rationale puzzling because there are instances of the Court granting cert absent a split or an emergency when Greenhouse apparently hasn’t found the grant at all objectionable. Consider the cert petition in Lawrence v. Texas, which did not allege a split or claim an emergency. The Court granted cert even though the petition did not meet the usual criteria for cert. When Greenhouse has written about Lawrence, she hasn’t lamented the cert grant as a “power grab” (naked or otherwise) that ruined her faith in the Supreme Court. Instead she has celebrated what a wonderful moment it was when the Court handed down its opinion.

Is it too much to ask that the New York Times find pundits who are capable of providing more intelligent commentary regarding the Supreme Court’s actions?

The Latest Obamacare Outrage

Let’s say that you have an Obamacare plan. Let’s say that you like it. Let’s say that you want to keep it. Let’s say that open enrollment comes around, and you do nothing, because you think that you don’t have to–since everything is fine, and you have a plan, and you want to keep it, after all.

See where I’m going here?

Here’s a Friday Obamacare news-dump for you: In a 300-page regulatory proposal released late this afternoon, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it is considering changing Obamacare’s auto-renewal rules so that, within the health law’s exchanges, instead of being automatically renewed into your current health plan, you’d be moved into the lowest cost plan from the same service tier.

[. . .]

States running their own exchanges could start doing this in 2016, and federal exchanges could start in 2017.

It’s not just auto-reenrollment. It’s auto-reassignment, at least for those who pick that option. Basically, if you like your plan, but don’t go out of your way to intentionally re-enroll, the kind and wise folks at HHS or state health exchanges might just pick a new plan—perhaps with different doctors, clinics, cost structures, and benefit options—for you. And if you want to switch back? Good luck once open enrollment is closed. There’s always next year.

A hassle? Maybe. But have faith: They know what’s best.

Remember how we’ve been hearing that there are no more administrative problems with Obamacare, that everything is fine, and that concerns regarding how the program has been run are completely overblown? Yeah, those reassurances sound pretty funny now, don’t they?

Health Care Sign-Up Inflation and the Obama Administration’s Continuing Credibility Problem

As scandals go, finding out that dental plans were incorrectly added to the sign-up numbers for Obamacare does not, by itself, amount to all that much. Maybe the reason that 380,000 dental subscribers were added to the total numbers was to push the numbers above the 7 million mark, but 6.7 million sign-ups would be nothing to sneeze at (of course, many of these people signed up for Obamacare because they got thrown off of their employers’ plans in a violation of the administration’s “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it. Period.” policy, but that is another matter). So I am not inclined to make too much of a big deal over this matter, when the matter is taken in isolation.

However, given all of the other lies that were told in the formulation, selling and passage of Obamacare, it should be clear that the Obama administration has a serious problem when it comes to engendering trust. There was the “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it. Period.” imbroglio mentioned above. There were all of the problems with the website when it first went online and all of the excuses and misstatements that attended the website disaster. There is Jonathan Gruber. And now, a new story that reveals, at best, incompetence, and at worst, deception.

It seems as though every time we switch on the news, we find out that when it comes to health care, we have been misled somehow by the Obama administration and by people associated with the Obama administration. As a consequence, I have learned not to trust much of what this administration has to say when it comes to health care and health care policy. And I am pretty sure that I am not alone in doing so.

Quote of the Day

. . . on every story we report, we should always be the outsiders; most important, we should always, always identify with our readers over the insider experts. That doesn’t mean we can’t root for a political party, or a policy, or a company.  We are customers and citizens as well as writers, and we have a rooting interest in our own society.  But it does mean that we should not think of ourselves as part of the policy elite; we should identify ourselves with our readers, who are not only less informed than the insiders, but also less informed than we are.

So when I see journalists saying that Gruber’s revelations don’t matter because he’s just kind of awkwardly saying something that everyone knew, I get a little jittery. I am not “everyone,” and neither are any of those journalists. We’re a tiny group of people with strange preoccupations who get paid to spend our time understanding and explaining this stuff. The fact that we may have mentioned it once to our readers, in the 18th paragraph, does not mean that readers read it and understood what it meant. (In fact, if you actually interact with your readers, you’ll be astonished at how little they remember of what you told them, especially if you didn’t go out of your way to headline it. Their minds are already crammed full of information that they need to, you know, live their lives. So they tend to take away a few big bullet points, not the piddling details.)

Obamacare was designed — as many laws now are — to exploit this lack of understanding.  It is huge and complex for a reason, and that reason is that this complexity is an effective thicket in which to hide what you are doing. Don’t want to go after the tax subsidy for employer-sponsored health insurance? Pass the bizarre and unwieldy Cadillac tax instead. Don’t want to talk about rationing care? Create the Independent Payment Advisory Board, with a complicated mechanism for defunding certain treatments and a far-off start date. Use mandates instead of cash payments and taxes. Delay the start date so that the arcana of CBO accounting allow you to claim that it costs less than $1 trillion over 10 years. Strap on unrelated provisions, such as a student loan bill that was due to pass anyway, or unworkable provisions, such as the CLASS Act and the 1099 rule, so that you can claim it is deficit-reducing. The list goes on and on and on, but I am trying not to, so I will stop here.

The net effect of this was that the administration could make claims that were impossible to effectively refute in debate, because doing so required voters to follow lengthy technical discussions, and the readers had whole lives to live and didn’t have time to master the arcane art of CBO budget rules.  So politicians gamed the CBO process, and then wielded the numbers as a weapon against critics.  Many journalists also used the CBO score pretty uncritically, because that was a lot easier than walking readers through an abstruse argument.  So stuff got done that couldn’t survive public scrutiny, and highly contestable “facts” about things like deficit reduction entered the media stream.  Jonathan Gruber comes along and tells us that this was deliberate, which was obvious to anyone who was paying attention, but not actually much remarked upon in many quarters.

That politicians should try to exploit the accounting rules was inevitable; that is what people do with accounting rules. I’m not saying that’s what the rules are for, or that they do no good; I’m just saying that about eight seconds after your rules are made, some bright Johnny will start figuring out a way to game them.

What is not inevitable is that journalists should effectively sanction this by saying it’s no big deal. We don’t have to get elected, after all. And those politicians and policy makers aren’t our bosses; the reading public is. We shouldn’t act like we’re part of the insider clique that decides what other people need to know — no, worse, that decides what other people do know. If we knew this all along and voters didn’t, that doesn’t mean voters don’t have a right to be outraged. It means that we’ve lost track of whose side we’re on.

Megan McArdle.

Yes Virginia, Jonathan Gruber Was a Key Obamacare Consultant

Peter Suderman has the facts at hand. It is not surprising that Obamacare fans are currently trying to convince the rest of us that Gruber had very little to do with the design and implementation of Obamacare–after all, given the degree to which Gruber has inconvenienced pro-Obamacare forces, it would be positively unnatural if fans of the Non-Affordable Care Act didn’t try to distance themselves from Gruber–but the attempt to rewrite history just will not and should not work:

Nancy Pelosi, for example, knew Gruber’s name when she cited his work by 2009 in support of the law. And while Tanden is technically right that Gruber did not work for the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services, or any congressional committee as a staffer, he did, as she notes, work as a contractor, receiving almost $400,000 for a technical analysis of the law.

As for whether Gruber helped write the law, he has claimed explicitly that he did. In a 2012 lecture on the structure of the law, Gruber says that the small business tax credits are a portion of the bill that he “actually wrote.”

In a video marking the anniversary of the Massachusetts health care law, which Gruber helped design, Gruber says he “helped President Obama develop a national version” of the same law. The video was produced and distributed by President Obama’s campaign organization.

Reporting backs up Gruber’s claim. A 2012 article on Gruber in The New York Times reported that he “helped the administration put together the basic principles of the proposal, the White House lent him to Capitol Hill to help Congressional staff members draft the specifics of the legislation.”

Yes, Gruber was an adviser, as Obama describes him, but that significantly understates his role. In addition to the nearly $400,000 he received from the administration (more than Obama’s senior staff earns annually), his work was cited repeatedly by the administration as evidence for the law, and Gruber participated in high-level discussions with the president himself about what policies the law should include.

When the bill was being scored by the Congressional Budget Office, Gruber was one of just three outside economists summoned to an Oval Office meeting with the president and CBO director Douglas Elmendorf to look for ways to adjust the law in order to receive a better score, according to The Washington Post. That discussion, Gruber later said in a 2012 PBS documentary on the creation of the law, “became the genesis of what is called the Cadillac tax in the health care bill.” Gruber also visited with senior administration officials at the White House on several other ocassions, according to visitor logs.

The White House relied on Gruber not only to help determine policy, but to make the case for why it would work. In November of 2009, as Obamacare was being debated, the White House touted a report produced by Gruber as an “objective” analysis of the law—failing to mention that he had been paid by the administration.

And then there was the time in 2006 when, as a senator, Obama said he’d “stolen ideas” from Jonathan Gruber—in Obama’s words, “liberally.”

So, Jonathan Gruber very much was an Obamacare architect. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise either doesn’t know the facts, or does not want you to know them.

The Difference Between Israelis and Terrorists

Let’s be abundantly clear about something: It is not the policy of the state of Israel to purposely send people to kill and terrorize Palestinian civilians. That kind of action is anathema to the overwhelming majority of Israelis, and to the extent that there are some crazies among the Israeli population who think otherwise, those people have never wielded power in Israel and never will.

If only the Israelis were the beneficiaries of some reciprocity regarding this issue:

Four Israelis were killed and eight more wounded in a frenzied assault by two Palestinian men on Jewish worshippers praying at a Jerusalem synagogue in the most lethal incident in the city in years.

The two assailants who launched their attack with meat cleavers and a gun during early morning prayers were then killed by police officers in the ensuing gun battle at the scene of the attack.

The deaths occurred as the two men – identified by family members as cousins Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal from the East Jerusalem district of Jabal Mukaber – burst into the Bnei Torah synagogue in Har Nof, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of West Jerusalem.

Three of the victims held dual US-Israeli citizenship, and one was a British-Israeli citizen – 68-year-old Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, who emigrated to Israel from the UK in 1993.

The three US citizens were 59-year-old Rabbi Moshe Twersky – the head of an English speaking religious college – Aryeh Kopinsky, 43, and Kalman Zeev Levine, 55. The grandson of one of the founders of the Modern Orthodox movement, Twersky lived close to the scene of the attack in Har Nof.

[. . .]

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a militant group, said the cousins were its members. A PFLP statement did not specify whether the group instructed the cousins to carry out the attack. Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that runs the Gaza Strip, also praised the attack.

[. . .]

A cousin of the men, Sufian Abu Jamal, a construction worker aged 40, described it as a “heroic act and the normal reaction of what has been happening to Palestinians in jerusalem and at the Al Aqsa mosque.”

Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement could not be reached for comment.

More Gruberisms


In a 2011 conversation about the Affordable Care Act, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of the law more commonly known as Obamacare, talked about how the bill would get rid of all tax credits for employer-based health insurance through “mislabeling” what the tax is and who it would hit.

In recent days, the past comments of Gruber — who in a 2010 speech noted that he “helped write the federal bill” and “was a paid consultant to the Obama administration to help develop the technical details as well” — have been given renewed attention.

In previously posted but only recently noticed speeches, Gruber discusses how those pushing the bill took part in an “exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter,” taking advantage of voters’ “stupidity” to create a law that would ultimately be good for them.

The issue at hand in this sixth video is known as the “Cadillac tax,” which was represented as a tax on employers’ expensive health insurance plans. While employers do not currently have to pay taxes on health insurance plans they provide employees, starting in 2018, companies that provide health insurance that costs more than $10,200 for an individual or $27,500 for a family will have to pay a 40 percent tax.

“Economists have called for 40 years to get rid of the regressive, inefficient and expensive tax subsidy provided for employer provider health insurance,” Gruber said at the Pioneer Institute for public policy research in Boston. The subsidy is “terrible policy,” Gruber said.

“It turns out politically it’s really hard to get rid of,” Gruber said. “And the only way we could get rid of it was first by mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people when we all know it’s a tax on people who hold those insurance plans.”

(The White House press secretary said at a press briefing in 2010: “I would disagree with your notion that it is a tax on an individual since the proposal is written as a tax on an insurance company that offers a plan.”)

Later on in the story, former White House press secretary Jay Carney is quoted as saying that the Gruberisms are “very harmful politically to the president.” In related news, water is wet. Of course, the president doesn’t believe that his administration misled on health care, but then, the president doesn’t seem to have that much of a connection to reality these days, and in any event, the Gruberisms put the lie to the claim that the administration dealt fairly and squarely with the American people.

Much of the media is also trying to pretend that the Gruberisms don’t amount to anything, which kind of makes you wonder about claims that the media is not biased. But to be fair, some people in the media do appear willing to talk about the meaning of the Gruberisms. Charles Krauthammer:

It’s not exactly the Ems Dispatch (the diplomatic cable Bismarck doctored to provoke the 1870 Franco-Prussian War). But what the just-resurfaced Gruber Confession lacks in world-historical consequence, it makes up for in world-class cynicism. This October 2013 video shows MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, a principal architect of Obamacare, admitting that, in order to get it passed, the law was made deliberately obscure and deceptive. It constitutes the ultimate vindication of the charge that Obamacare was sold on a pack of lies.

“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” said Gruber. “Basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.” This was no open-mic gaffe. It was a clear, indeed enthusiastic, admission to an academic conference of the mendacity underlying Obamacare.

And as Byron York points out, Gruber sure did make a lot of money by going around, engaging in consultancy jobs, and deceiving people. Perhaps the politicians who enabled this kind of behavior–and their allies–could be made to pay a price for giving license to Gruber’s cynicism and dishonesty the next time that voters go to the polls.

More Gaffes by Jonathan Gruber

The theme remains the same: Voters are stupid and had to be misled by the Obama administration and its allies during the fight over Obamacare–for the voters’ own good, you understand.

As Congress voted on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in 2010, one of the bill’s architects, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, told a college audience that those pushing the legislation pitched it as a bill that would control spiraling health care costs even though most of the bill was focused on something else and there was no guarantee the bill would actually bend the cost curve.

In recent days, the past comments of Gruber — who in this 2010 speech notes that he “helped write the federal bill” and “was a paid consultant to the Obama administration to help develop the technical details as well” — have been given renewed attention. In previously posted but recently noticed speeches, Gruber discusses how those pushing the bill took part in an “exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter,” taking advantage of voters’ “stupidity” to create a law that would ultimately be good for them.

In this fourth video, Gruber’s language is not as stark as in three previous instances, but his suggestion that Obamacare proponents engaged in less-than-honest salesmanship remains.

“Barack Obama’s not a stupid man, okay?” Gruber said in his remarks at the College of the Holy Cross on March 11, 2010. “He knew when he was running for president that quite frankly the American public doesn’t actually care that much about the uninsured….What the American public cares about is costs. And that’s why even though the bill that they made is 90% health insurance coverage and 10% about cost control, all you ever hear people talk about is cost control. How it’s going to lower the cost of health care, that’s all they talk about. Why? Because that’s what people want to hear about because a majority of American care about health care costs.”

Gruber’s comments have now become embarrassing enough that Nancy Pelosi is pretending she doesn’t know who he is. Emphasis on the word “pretending.” Nancy Pelosi knows exactly who Jonathan Gruber is, and has praised his work in the past.

Incidentally, if you want to know why there is so much news about Gruber’s past comments, it is because of an investment adviser named Rich Weinstein. I hope that Mr. Weinstein doesn’t face a tax audit in the near future, but something tells me that he might.


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