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Quote of the Day

WHEREFORE, Captain Justice, Guardian of the Realm and Leader of the Resistance, primarily asks that the Court deny the State’s motion, as lacking legal basis. Alternatively, the Citizen Accused moves for an order in limine modifying the speech code as aforementioned, and requiring any other euphemisms and feel-good terms as the Court finds appropriate.

–In which we learn that lawyers can have a sense of humor.

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Obamacare Makes Republicans Look Good

So sayeth John Dickerson, not without reason:

Let’s go back in time. During the debate over the law, the president had a difficult balancing act. He had to argue that the status quo in health care was a disaster while at the same time not threatening the status quo for those people who were happy with their health care or who feared it would get worse under his changes. A CBS poll at the time showed that people were quite afraid that whatever the president did, it would hurt their plans. Sixty-nine percent worried that the ACA would affect the quality of their care. Almost three-quarters thought it would limit their access. There was a lot of pressure on the president to send the message that nothing would change.

In the summer of 2009, the president began to tailor his message to assuage the fears of these very people. If you liked what you had, it wasn’t going to change. That was a broad and simplified claim and the press called him on it. The president could never make that promise. He didn’t have the power to keep insurance companies from changing their policies in response to the law. Nevertheless, the president continued to make the claim in the desperate attempt to sell his unpopular plan.

This was a time bomb embedded in the legislation. It might have been mitigated if the website had worked. If it had been humming as administration officials so fervently hoped, there would be no broader context for debates about whether the president is living up to his promises. And in this specific instance, the flourishing of the site might have offered loads of examples of people in that individual market whose plans had only changed for the better. Of course, that’s not what happened.

The president’s message about his signature law has always been: It gets better, I promise. That was always an uphill battle. The benefits of the law were strung out over time, making it harder for people to recognize a payoff. “Trust me” claims clash with people’s mistrust of politicians and government programs.

When the website doesn’t work and the promises of 2009 and 2010 are revised, questions of credibility infect everything the administration says. This can lead to a death spiral as administration officials make bold assertions to distract from the current challenges. White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett tweeted Monday night: “FACT: Nothing in #Obamacare forces people out of their health plans. No change is required unless insurance companies change existing plans.” Of course the insurance companies wouldn’t have had to change plans if it hadn’t been for Obamacare. This is spinning—which is to be expected from a president’s defender—but its legalistic dissembling seems particularly weak in light of the president’s initial promises. (It isn’t the only time the administration has claimed a FACT recently about health care that isn’t one).

About the only thing that I would quibble with is the claim that “[t]he benefits of the law were strung out over time, making it harder for people to recognize a payoff.” This isn’t quite accurate; the Obama administration frontloaded benefits like being able to stay on one’s parents’ insurance until the age of 26, and not being denied for pre-existing conditions. If the website gets fixed and the exchanges start working as promised, it won’t be difficult at all for the public to notice that things are going well.

The danger, of course, is that the website won’t get fixed anytime soon, and the problems with the website will impact the working of the rest of the plan. If that happens, the Obama administration will lose whatever credibility it may still have, Republicans will have a tremendously powerful political weapon at their disposal, and whatever hopes there may be for a “liberal moment” to exist and take hold in American politics will have been dashed.

Do You Use Your Blog to Give Individual Advice?

If you do, the state can shut you down:

A moment’s reflection reveals that restrictions on advice are all around us, commonly in the form of occupational-licensing laws.  And as government has grown, so too has the amount of advice that it seeks to regulate.  In North Carolina, a state dietitian board ordered a blogger to stop giving advice on the low-carb “Paleo” diet because he is not a licensed dietitian.  In Texas, the veterinary board ordered a licensed veterinarian to stop giving pet-care advice to people in foreign countries, who often had no other access to veterinary care.  And in Kentucky, the state psychology licensing board ordered a syndicated newspaper columnist to stop giving parenting advice in his Dear Abby-style column.

All of these examples, of course, constitute outrageous instances of the nanny state working to curb individual–and in many cases, economic–liberties. And if one reads the article, one sees quite plainly that the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence plainly and expressly rejects the notion that giving advice–whether that advice is given for money, implicates a professional-client relationship, or implicates professional conduct–is not protected by the First Amendment. Quite the contrary; the Court has repeatedly ruled that First Amendment protections apply in these instances. Unfortunately, lower courts are rejecting the Supreme Court’s lead.

It’s nice to see that the Institute for Justice is working to change this state of affairs at the lower court level. Let us hope that they succeed. The marketplace of ideas thrives when more ideas and more speech get thrown into the mix, and it would be a travesty if that marketplace were to be curbed in direct defiance of the First Amendment.

Want Your Kids to Be Better Educated and Wealthier?

Remain married to your spouse, if at all possible. Note that the positive effect of having parents that remain married is even stronger when the parents in question never even went to college. Note the following as well:

The idea that marriages have such strong spillover effects strikes some as a spurious correlation. But there is evidence of a causal relationship, too. MIT economist John Gruber, studying the effect of divorce on later incomes, found that adults “exposed to unilateral divorce regulations as children are less well educated, have lower family incomes, marry earlier but separate more often, and have higher odds of suicide.” Indiana psychologist Brian D’Onofrio, relying on a study of twins, also found that young adults from divorced homes did worse than their cousins from intact homes (the cousins had parents who were twins) when it came to substance abuse and behavioral problems.

The intact, two-parent family seems to be particularly important for children hailing from less privileged homes and a powerful force for economic mobility when it’s the family norm at the community level. Policymakers who feel more comfortable talking about metrics than marriages need to understand that marriage could be one of the most important metrics.

James Clapper Throws the Obama Administration Under the Bus

Following up on this post, we have yet another indication that the intelligence community is pushing back against White House claims that it knew nothing about spying on friendly foreign governments:

The nation’s top spymaster said on Tuesday that the White House had long been aware in general terms of the National Security Agency’s overseas eavesdropping, stoutly defending the agency’s intelligence-gathering methods and suggesting possible divisions within the Obama administration.

The official, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the N.S.A. had kept senior officials in the National Security Council informed of surveillance it was conducting in foreign countries. He did not specifically say whether President Obama was told of these spying efforts, but he appeared to challenge assertions in recent days that the White House had been in the dark about some of the agency’s practices.

Mr. Clapper and the agency’s director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, vigorously rejected suggestions that the agency was a rogue institution, trawling for information on ordinary citizens and leaders of America’s closest allies, without the knowledge of its Washington overseers.

Peter Baker’s article is on point here:

President Obama finds himself under fire on two disparate fronts these days, both for the botched rollout of his signature health care program and for the secret spying on allied heads of state. In both instances, his explanation roughly boils down to this: I didn’t know.

As a practical matter, no president can be aware of everything going on in the sprawling government he theoretically manages. But as a matter of politics, Mr. Obama’s plea of ignorance may do less to deflect blame than to prompt new questions about just how much in charge he really is.

In recent days, the president’s health and human services secretary said that despite internal concerns and a failed test run Mr. Obama was not told about serious problems with the new program’s website until it was rolled out this month. Other officials said the president was not aware that the National Security Agency was tapping the phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and other friendly leaders until this summer, although intelligence officials said Tuesday that others in the White House had known.

Opposition lawmakers and pundits have seized on the White House explanations to accuse Mr. Obama of being a “bystander president,” as the Republican National Committee put it. Even some Democrats are scratching their heads at the seeming detachment from significant matters. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” ran a montage of clips showing Mr. Obama or his aides disclaiming presidential knowledge of various issues as well as a graphic titled “Implausible Deniability.”

For those who thought that “Change We Can Believe In” also meant a sense of accountability and responsibility at the White House, I guess the past few weeks have proven to be something of an unwelcome revelation.

Yes, It’s Time for Yet Another Obamacare Rollout Calamity Update

And we have quite a lot of ground to cover.

  • A poll indicates that seventy percent of American voters want a delay of the individual mandate. I am frankly surprised that the number is not higher.
  • There has been a lot of talk about extending the enrollment period. Insurance companies don’t like that idea, because it cuts into their profits. In the event that you hear anyone trying to excuse the administration’s incompetence regarding the Obamacare rollout by repeating the tired old line about Obamacare being “more than a website,” remind those people that it is precisely the problems with the website that are causing the enrollment process to go haywire. In the event that the enrollment process is not extended, enrollees get in trouble for website problems that are, of course, completely beyond their control. In the event that the process is extended, insurance companies suffer for website problems that are, of course, completely beyond their control, and the loss of profits may lead to a loss of jobs. Lovely little dilemma we have going on here, no?
  • Secretary Sebelius is testifying today. She claimed that at no time did the health care website crash. Um . . . Incidentally, how much more of these nonsensical and clearly false claims do we have to put up with?
  • The new excuse from Democrats is that people are not receiving cancellation notices regarding their old health care plans. No, they are receiving “transition” notices. And if the people receiving these notices liked their health care plans just fine and don’t want to be “transitioned” into anything new, well, that’s just tough for them.
  • It’s nice to see that there are people who are calling the president out for deliberately misleading the American people regarding whether they can keep their health care plans. Lena Sun and Sandhya Somashekhar cover the issue and actually do a good job of listing the many ways in which the Obama administration engaged in dishonest rhetoric. Glenn Kessler gives the president four Pinocchios for claiming that under Obamacare, people can keep their health care plans if they like them. For those keeping score, four Pinocchios involve “whoppers” and are as bad as one can get on the dishonesty scale. Kudos as well to Jonah Goldberg for pointing out that either the president of the United States did not know the details of the health care plan that he was advocating, or he and his allies deliberately deceived the American people regarding the details of that plan.
  • One month before the launch of the Obamacare website, the administration was warned that the website would not be ready for prime time, and failed to heed those warnings. This, of course, means that the following statement from Marilyn Tavenner, the chief of Medicaid who was supposed to shepherd the rollout of the site, is entirely and completely untrue: “No, we had tested the website and we were comfortable with its performance . . . Now, like I said, we knew all along there would be as with any new website, some individual glitches we would have to work out. But, the volume issue and the creation of account issues was not anticipated and obviously took us by surprise. And did not show up in testing.” Concerns were listed as “severe,” but I guess that wasn’t enough to raise any alarm bells at the Obama administration.
  • And there’s more! “An internal government memo obtained by The Associated Press shows administration officials were concerned that a lack of testing posed a ‘high’ security risk for President Barack Obama’s new health insurance website.” So, you know, that’s terrifying.
  • Finally, let’s round out by pointing out that if you sign up for Obamacare, you will have fewer physician options available to you. That’s because many doctors and hospitals are not accepting insurance plans offered by the health care exchanges, and that’s because the insurance companies under the exchanges will not adequately reimburse hospitals for the services that the hospitals provide. Recall that not only did President Obama promise us that if we like our health insurance plan, we can keep it, he also promised us that if we like our doctor, we can keep our doctor as well. So much for that promise; add it to the list of broken promises and deceptive statements issued by this administration.

Other than all of this, of course, everything is going just fine with the Obamacare rollout.

The Smell of Panic

Jonah Goldberg has a lot of fun at the expense of Greg Sargent, who is less a journalist and more a hack on behalf of the Obama administration, and the Democratic party. But in the midst of the entirely warranted Sargent-bashing, let’s not forget that Sargent’s calls for a bipartisan fix to Obamacare’s problems reek of fright and desperation.

As Goldberg properly notes, “[t]he president and the Democrats lied us into a bad law. The Right opposed the law on principle. A single party — the Democrats — own this law in a way that no party has had complete ownership of any major social legislation in a century. They bought this legislation with deceit and the GOP said so.” I am sure that this fact has dawned on even the likes of Sargent, and heck, he may be aware of the fact that the problems with the health insurance website actually do jeopardize the workability of Obamacare in general.

So I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that Sargent’s calls for a bipartisan fix to Obamacare’s problems stem from the fact that he doesn’t want Democrats to own Obamacare anymore. He is worried–rightly–that if the Internet registration problems are not fixed, if people continue to suffer from sticker shock, and if outrage increases over the fact that millions of people cannot keep their plans, even if they like them (the reassurances of the White House and Obamacare supporters to the contrary notwithstanding) then support for Obamacare will plummet to rock bottom in the polls and those who support it (Democrats) will suffer and suffer mightily when election seasons roll around. Sargent wants Republicans to have some ownership in the event that Obamacare crashes and burns; that way, he figures, Republicans won’t be able to use the crash and burn of health care “reform” as a political weapon.

Republicans should, of course, heed Goldberg’s advice and refuse to make Obamacare a bipartisan project. The legislation is terribly flawed and it was passed using utterly deceitful tactics. A price should be paid for the dishonesty and incompetence with which Obamacare was designed and implemented. And no matter what Greg Sargent might want, the political pain for Obamacare’s failure should fall entirely on those who assured us from the beginning that Obamacare was the best thing since sliced bread.

The Government Shutdown Was a Terrible and Disastrous Idea

So sayeth Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry. I align myself entirely with their comments, and the following is both bracing and completely accurate:

Prior to the government shutdown, the House Republican leadership offered a plan to force the Senate to hold a symbolic vote on defunding Obamacare before allowing it to move on to a so-called clean continuing resolution — one, that is, with no anti-Obamacare provisions. The plan was denounced by various conservative groups as a sell-out and caused a revolt in the caucus. A few weeks and a government shutdown later, all Republicans had to show for their trouble was . . . a symbolic vote on defunding and a clean CR. They were back where they had started, only with lower poll numbers and more poisonous divisions.

If someone had missed the intervening weeks, he would have had no idea of the drama and political pain that had ensued before the party accepted a version of the initial unacceptable compromise. From one point of view, the entire episode was all rather pointless; from another it was quite important. It was the latest and most consequential expression of an apocalyptic conservative politics.

It is a politics of perpetual intra-Republican denunciation. It focuses its fire on other conservatives as much as on liberals. It takes more satisfaction in a complete loss on supposed principle than in a partial victory, let alone in the mere avoidance of worse outcomes. It has only one tactic — raise the stakes, hope to lower the boom — and treats any prudential disagreement with that tactic as a betrayal. Adherents of this brand of conservative politics are investing considerable time, energy, and money in it, locking themselves in unending intra-party battle.

The tendency arises from legitimate frustrations. The federal government seems constantly to expand even as — and sometimes because — it proves itself incompetent. Republicans have done precious little to reverse or even halt the trend. Obamacare is a disastrous and unpopular law; but if the Republican party has a strategy for bringing about its eventual end, it has been kept well-hidden.

There is no reason whatsoever why conservatives can’t be pragmatists, and it is nice to see that Ponnuru and Lowry are trying to bring some pragmatism to the GOP and to the conservative movement in general. A healthy dose of pragmatism will make the GOP and the conservative movement–libertarians too!–tougher political opponents for President Obama and the Democrats. I can only hope that Ponnuru’s and Lowry’s warnings, admonitions and prescriptions fall on fertile ears; their piece is a tremendously smart take on the state of the GOP and the conservative movement. Again, it is worth contemplating just how advantageous the GOP’s political position would be right now–and just how terrible the Democrats’ and President Obama’s position would be–if only the GOP didn’t give Democrats a gift by shutting down the government and instead allowed the utterly disastrous Obamacare rollout to dominate the news for the past month.

Incidentally, I should note that I like both Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz. I think that they will ultimately be very good legislators and very strong and effective champions for a right-of-center agenda. But they got outplayed in the shutdown fight. Once they resolve not to make the same mistakes twice, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

There are a lot more excerpts that I could provide readers, but instead of excerpting, I am going to urge everyone to just read the entire piece. It is outstanding, and it is necessary. In particular, I hope that Republicans in Congress read the piece; the lessons and advice that Ponnuru and Lowry pass on will help Republicans and conservatives win political fights in the future, instead of getting shellacked by Democrats and suffering in the court of public opinion.

Everyone Can Be Good at Math

Please spare me protestations to the contrary:

“I’m just not a math person.”

We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career. Worse, you may be helping to perpetuate a pernicious myth that is harming underprivileged children—the myth of inborn genetic math ability.

Is math ability genetic? Sure, to some degree. Terence Tao, UCLA’s famous virtuoso mathematician, publishes dozens of papers in top journals every year, and is sought out by researchers around the world to help with the hardest parts of their theories. Essentially none of us could ever be as good at math as Terence Tao, no matter how hard we tried or how well we were taught. But here’s the thing: We don’t have to! For high school math, inborn talent is just much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence.

[. . .]

The idea that math ability is mostly genetic is one dark facet of a larger fallacy that intelligence is mostly genetic. Academic psychology journals are well stocked with papers studying the world view that lies behind the kind of self-fulfilling prophecy we just described. For example, Purdue University psychologist Patricia Linehan writes:

A body of research on conceptions of ability has shown two orientations toward ability. Students with an Incremental orientation believe ability (intelligence) to be malleable, a quality that increases with effort. Students with an Entity orientation believe ability to be nonmalleable, a fixed quality of self that does not increase with effort.

The “entity orientation” that says “You are smart or not, end of story,” leads to bad outcomes—a result that has been confirmed by many other studies. (The relevance for math is shown by researchers at Oklahoma City who recently found that belief in inborn math ability may be responsible for much of the gender gap in mathematics.)

Psychologists Lisa Blackwell, Kali Trzesniewski, and Carol Dweck presented these alternatives to determine people’s beliefs about intelligence:

  1. You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it.
  2. You can always greatly change how intelligent you are.

They found that students who agreed that “You can always greatly change how intelligent you are” got higher grades. But as Richard Nisbett recounts in his book Intelligence and How to Get It, they did something even more remarkable:

Dweck and her colleagues then tried to convince a group of poor minority junior high school students that intelligence is highly malleable and can be developed by hard work…that learning changes the brain by forming new…connections and that students are in charge of this change process.

The results? Convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades. The intervention had the biggest effect for students who started out believing intelligence was genetic. (A control group, who were taught how memory works, showed no such gains.)

But improving grades was not the most dramatic effect, “Dweck reported that some of her tough junior high school boys were reduced to tears by the news that their intelligence was substantially under their control.” It is no picnic going through life believing you were born dumb—and are doomed to stay that way.

Read the whole thing. Needless to say, these are tremendously important findings, which we are crazy to ignore during the process of designing and implementing school curricula, classroom teaching methods and education policy in general.

Wanted: Adult Supervision at the Department of Homeland Security

Everyone should be disturbed by this story:

President Obama has now moved to place a new team at the head of the Department of Homeland Security, nominating Jeh Johnson for secretary of Homeland Security, to join Stevan Bunnell as general counsel. Both men are eminently qualified, but they’ll need to hit the ground running.

At least with respect to immigration enforcement, Homeland Security is an agency that has lost sight of its own policies. The result is that several hundred thousand of the immigrants passing through state or county jails each year are then flagged on DHS orders—often in violation of the department’s own policies meant to separate ordinary people from dangerous criminals and terrorists—and end up being deported. Some of the deportees are even U.S. citizens.

(Emphasis mine.)

New Bulletin: The National Security Agency Doesn’t Like Being Thrown under Buses

So, we know that the Obama administration is claiming that the president did not know that the National Security Agency was bugging the communications of foreign leaders like Angela Merkel. I don’t believe these denials, and I certainly hope that they are not true, because I think that the question of whether we should spy on friendly foreign countries and whether we should bug the phones of friendly foreign leaders is important enough to land on the desk of the president of the United States.

But regardless of whether the protestations of ignorance are true or not, they have the effect of claiming that the NSA was the primary actor behind the espionage effort, and throwing the NSA under the bus. And guess what: The NSA is not down with this plan:

The White House and State Department signed off on surveillance targeting phone conversations of friendly foreign leaders, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said Monday, pushing back against assertions that President Obama and his aides were unaware of the high-level eavesdropping.

Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself from the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have strained ties with close allies.

The resistance emerged as the White House said it would curtail foreign intelligence collection in some cases and two senior U.S. senators called for investigations of the practice.

[. . .]

Obama may not have been specifically briefed on NSA operations targeting a foreign leader’s cellphone or email communications, one of the officials said. “But certainly the National Security Council and senior people across the intelligence community knew exactly what was going on, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.”

If U.S. spying on key foreign leaders was news to the White House, current and former officials said, then White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.

Some U.S. intelligence officials said they were being blamed by the White House for conducting surveillance that was authorized under the law and utilized at the White House.

“People are furious,” said a senior intelligence official who would not be identified discussing classified information. “This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community.”

Any decision to spy on friendly foreign leaders is made with input from the State Department, which considers the political risk, the official said. Any useful intelligence is then given to the president’s counter-terrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, among other White House officials.

At some point, I fully expect the White House to blame the NSA for the failed rollout of the health care exchange websites. It’s only a matter of time.

About that “If You Like Your Health Insurance, You Can Keep It” Pledge

It was nonsense from the beginning. And the White House knew it:

President Obama repeatedly assured Americans that after the Affordable Care Act became law, people who liked their health insurance would be able to keep it. But millions of Americans are getting or are about to get cancellation letters for their health insurance under Obamacare, say experts, and the Obama administration has known that for at least three years.

Four sources deeply involved in the Affordable Care Act tell NBC NEWS that 50 to 75 percent of the 14 million consumers who buy their insurance individually can expect to receive a “cancellation” letter or the equivalent over the next year because their existing policies don’t meet the standards mandated by the new health care law. One expert predicts that number could reach as high as 80 percent. And all say that many of those forced to buy pricier new policies will experience “sticker shock.”

None of this should come as a shock to the Obama administration. The law states that policies in effect as of March 23, 2010 will be “grandfathered,” meaning consumers can keep those policies even though they don’t meet requirements of the new health care law. But the Department of Health and Human Services then wrote regulations that narrowed that provision, by saying that if any part of a policy was significantly changed since that date — the deductible, co-pay, or benefits, for example — the policy would not be grandfathered.

Buried in Obamacare regulations from July 2010 is an estimate that because of normal turnover in the individual insurance market, “40 to 67 percent” of customers will not be able to keep their policy. And because many policies will have been changed since the key date, “the percentage of individual market policies losing grandfather status in a given year exceeds the 40 to 67 percent range.”

That means the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.

Yet President Obama, who had promised in 2009, “if you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan,” was still saying in 2012, “If [you] already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance.”

“This says that when they made the promise, they knew half the people in this market outright couldn’t keep what they had and then they wrote the rules so that others couldn’t make it either,” said  Robert Laszewski, of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a consultant who works for health industry firms. Laszewski estimates that 80 percent of those in the individual market will not be able to keep their current policies and will have to buy insurance that meets requirements of the new law, which generally requires a richer package of benefits than most policies today.

This is a scandal. This is the very definition of a scandal. An administration deliberately misled the American people regarding the consequences of legislation that affects one-sixth of the nation’s economy. Bipartisan outrage, congressional investigations and legislation that fixes this mess immediately and comprehensively are the only appropriate reactions. Anyone who tries to diminish the breadth and depth of this scandal–and again, yes, it is a scandal–should frankly be laughed out of polite and civilized society.

Oh, and don’t say that you weren’t warned:

Rep. Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, giving the Republican response to the president’s weekly address, back in August 2009: “As someone who’s taken care of patients, I’d like to take a moment to clear up a couple of the president’s worst offenses. On the stump, the President regularly tells Americans, ‘if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.’ But if you read the bill, that just isn’t so.”

Finally, try to read the third paragraph of this story without falling off your chair, laughing.

Is there anyone who still refuses to admit that the rollout of the new health care plan is a complete disaster? And if there is, how much worse do things have to get before those people finally admit that Obamacare is what happens when the Hindenburg and the Titanic decide to have offspring?

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