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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?

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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

Oy.

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.

Venezuela’s Disastrous Economic Situation

Behold what Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro hath wrought:

The sprawling street market that radiates outward from the metro station in Petare, Caracas’s largest slum, is the retail equivalent of an anti-Target.

There’s no organization to it. Tube socks and school supplies are sold beside giant pyramids of pineapple and piled yucca. Leopard-print hot pants stretch over mannequin buttocks next to the stinky stalls of fishmongers.

The bazaar was known until this month as one of the city’s biggest open-air black markets, the place to find all the scarce items that shoppers must queue up for hours to get in supermarkets, or can’t find at all. Earlier this year, toilet paper and corn­meal were scarce; lately it’s diapers and deodorant that have “gotten lost,” as Venezuelans say.

Authorities mostly turned a blind eye to the informal commerce, but late last month Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro went on TV to decree a ban on street sales of coffee, eggs, shampoo and some 50 other “regulated” items whose prices­ are capped by the government. He ordered the National Guard to police market stalls for such items as mayonnaise and powdered milk, and threatened to prosecute recidivist violators.

The crackdown is tricky for Maduro. In Petare and elsewhere, it risks alienating some of the poor Venezuelans who had long been loyal to Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, but are increasingly unhappy with his understudy.

Maduro ya se maduró,” quipped vendor Maribel Nieble, with a play on the president’s last name that meant “Maduro has turned rotten.”

I am waiting, of course, for all of the people who once praised Chavismo to admit that they supported a disastrous economic and governing ideology that is responsible for the immiseration of an entire country. Isn’t it time for them to do so? I mean, after all, surely their consciences have caught up to them by now.

Jonathan Gruber’s Self-Immolation and Its Policy Consequences

Jonathan Gruber is utterly and completely destroying himself, and is providing massive amounts of ammunition to anti-Obamacare forces. Neat trick, especially considering the fact that he got paid nearly half a million dollars in order to both design Obamacare, and also sell it to the masses. Consider the latest video that has come out regarding Gruber’s . . . er . . . candid comments:

A third video emerged Wednesday of MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, insulting voters and suggesting their ignorance was exploited by those pushing passage of the health care law.

Neither the White House nor Gruber would comment.

In this one, Gruber was discussing how then-Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, pushed forward a way to add a tax on expensive health insurance plans, or “Cadillac Plans,” that would purportedly tax the insurance companies though Gruber suggests everyone knew the companies would just pass on the additional cost to customers.

“It’s a very clever, you know, basic exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter,” Gruber said at the Honors Colloquium 2012 at the University of Rhode Island.

The moment is at about 29:25 in this video. The video was first reported by The Daily Caller.

Over the weekend, media first became aware of a video of Gruber making a similar remark — that the unintelligent voters were hoodwinked by those pushing passage of Obamacare, which was in his view for the good.

That video, from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 (which you can see here) featured Gruber saying, “If you had a law which said healthy people are going to pay in — if you made it explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed, OK? Just like how people — transparent — lack of transparency is a huge advantage. And basically, you know, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever. But basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

To say that this entire episode is a complete disaster for Gruber’s reputation and for the pro-Obamacare side is to understate matters. Ian Tuttle:

When a different economist, Thomas Sowell, quipped that “the road to Hell is paved with Ivy League degrees,” he spoke more truth than he realized. Indeed, smart people often have bad policy ideas. But Hell is not about mistakes; it’s about sins. And despite its pragmatic, do-what-works rhetoric, the progressive Left is convinced not only of its own intellectual superiority but of its accompanying moral superiority. Among progressives, stupidity is sin.

Gruber’s comments are a perfect illustration of this belief. The “stupidity of the American voter,” of which he is obviously disdainful, is not an ignorance of facts. If Obamacare proponents had believed that was the case, they would simply have sought to explain the legislation, trusting that more information would be persuasive. The obfuscation in which they engaged would not have been necessary.

No, Obamacare proponents were certain that Americans could not be persuaded, no matter how much information they absorbed. The voters were incapable of recognizing that Obamacare was in their own best interests — or, to put it another way, they were (and remain) morally deficient, a failing impervious to reasoned argument. Their stupidity was a sin, against themselves and each other. Gruber and company were the messiahs they did not know they needed.

Avik Roy:

On Tuesday, it came out that MIT economist Jonathan Gruber—Obamacare’s architect—had said that he and his Democratic colleagues had concealed the health law’s true costs from the public in order to take advantage of the “stupidity of the American voter” and pass the bill. Gruber then went on MSNBC and claimed that his comments were “off the cuff” and should be disregarded. But two new videos have emerged: one in which he says that “Americans were too stupid to understand” Obamacare’s main tax hike, and another in which he boasts of Obamacare’s “exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.”

It’s clear from these videos that Gruber’s cracks about the intelligence of the American voter weren’t a spontaneous “off the cuff” outburst, but rather a regular punch line in his stump speech to audiences around the country. The first video is from a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania in October 2013; the second from another October 2013 event at Washington University in St. Louis; the third from a lecture at the University of Rhode Island on November 1, 2012, just before the presidential election of that year.

The most important part of that excerpt is, of course, the first sentence of the second paragraph. Remember that when Jonathan Gruber makes apologies regarding his comments, he is not apologizing for the fact that he made them. He is just sorry that he got caught. The distinction is crucial.

Ron Fournier:

“Those comments have struck a nerve on the right,” wrote Jose A. DelReal (emphasis added), “with some of the law’s critics pointing to Gruber’s comments as evidence that the administration intentionally deceived the American public on the costs of the programs.”

My first reaction was, “No! No! Not just on the right!” I strongly support bipartisan efforts to expand the availability of health coverage to the working poor, and bending the cost curve that threatens federal budgets for years to come. While I think President Obama and congressional Democrats helped contribute to the 2009 standoff over what became the Affordable Care Act, I’ve openly rooted for Obamacare’s success. I’ve denounced the knee-jerk opposition from the GOP, a party that once embraced key elements of Obamacare. My ideology is amorphous; I am not “on the right.”

All of that, and yet: Gruber’s remarks struck a nerve with me.

[. . .]

He called you stupid. He admitted that the White House lied to you. Its officials lied to all of us—Republicans, Democrats, and independents; rich and poor; white and brown; men and women.

Liberals should be the angriest. Not only were they personally deceived, but the administration’s dishonest approach to health care reform has helped make Obamacare unpopular while undermining the public’s faith in an activist government. A double blow to progressives.

On top of that, Gruber has helped make the legal case for anti-Obamacare lawyers. In July, a year-old video surfaced in which Gruber said Washington legally withholds money from states that don’t create their own health care exchanges. That could be construed by the Supreme Court to buttress the case against health insurance subsidies.

Well put. Of course, most liberals don’t appear to be angry as a result of Gruber’s comments. To be sure, they would be angry if the comments came from the starboard side of the political divide, but since it comes from their side . . . well . . . outrage takes a back seat to trying to bury the story by not talking about it.

Hearings are being discussed. And why shouldn’t they be? Contrary to the beliefs of some, the Bush administration never lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But the Obama administration lied a lot about Obamacare, and the chief architect of Obamacare boasted about how successful all of the lying was.

Why Does Paul Krugman Still Have a Job at the New York Times?

It is a mystery. Intemperate language and pure ignorance are not exactly the ingredients for a persuasive and intelligent column on policy issues–or any other issues, for that matter–but increasingly, Krugman’s columns feature little else. Maybe the next time the New York Times wants to put out an editorial about legal issues, they will ask an actual lawyer–or someone who plays the role of a lawyer more convincingly than Krugman does–to do the writing. If it does so, the paper will be less likely to embarrass itself.

Why Vote for People Who Think You Are Stupid?

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who was the key outside consultant to have helped design and push for Obamacare–come on, you remember him–has decided to reveal to the entire planet just what port-side politicians and wonks think about the masses:

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO [Congressional Budget Office] scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay, so it’s written to do that.  In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in – you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed… Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical for the thing to pass….Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.”

Quoth Peter Suderman:

This validates much of what critics have said about the health care law, and the tactics used to pass it, for years.

For one thing, it is an explicit admission that the law was designed in such a way to avoid a CBO score that would have tanked the bill. Basically, the Democrats who wrote the bill knowingly gamed the CBO process.

It’s also an admission that the law’s authors understood that one of the effects of the bill would be to make healthy people pay for the sick, but declined to say this for fear that it would kill the bill’s chances. In other words, the law’s supporters believed the public would not like some of the bill’s consequences, and knowingly attempted to hide those consequences from the public.

Most importantly, however, it is an admission that Gruber thinks it’s acceptable to deceive people if he believes that’s the only way to achieve his policy preference. That’s not exactly surprising, given that he failed to disclose payments from the administration to consult on Obamacare even while providing the media with supposedly independent assessments of the law.

Keith Hennessey:

Apparently Dr. Gruber thinks it’s OK to lie to American voters when his allies are in power to enact policies that he wants but the voters wouldn’t. He then says American voters are “stupid” both for not agreeing with his value choices and for not figuring out the deception.

I disagree.

When you strip away all the complexity, economic policy is ultimately an expression of elected officials making difficult value choices. If over time these officials make value choices that do not reflect the values of the people whom they represent, they can, should, and will be replaced.

When these same elected officials, and those who advise them, deliberately construct policies to hide value choices that would be unpopular were they transparent and explicit, we end up with two terrible outcomes. We get policies that do not reflect our values, and we re-elect representatives who are lying to us.

All of these condemnations of Gruber’s comments are, of course, entirely accurate. And they lead to the question I ask in the title of this blog post. Politicians who ask for your vote are supposed to respect you. Political movements that seek your support are supposed to treat you like functioning adults and are supposed to understand that in a democratic republic, true power is in the hands of those who go to the polls to cast ballots. If one political movement or party insults voters and considers them stupid–and is made up of people who are dumb enough to admit on camera that they think voters are stupid and should be deceived/lied to–then there is no way on this or any other planet that the movement or party in question should win elections, either now or in the foreseeable future.

I am sure that there are people who will claim that Jonathan Gruber’s latest comments do no reflect the views of Barack Obama, or anyone in his administration. To which I would reply as follows: Jonathan Gruber got paid over $400,000 to design and implement Obamacare, and to help sell it. If the president of the United States and his allies really didn’t want Jonathan Gruber to speak for them, then they shouldn’t have fattened his bank account by nearly half a million dollars.

Oh, and by the way, if any port-side pundits have condemned Gruber’s comments, I have yet to hear of it. Of course, it is entirely possible that port-side pundits agree completely with Gruber’s comments. I would not be surprised one bit if they do.

Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Thoughts

The president of Russia happens to think that the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 was not so bad, and possibly, fine and dandy. Of course, it ought to go without saying that he could not be more wrong in this assessment:

2014 will be remembered as a year in which Eastern Europe suffered one of its greatest crises since the collapse of the Soviet Union: the still-unfolding, still-destabilizing situation in eastern Ukraine. Some observers have noted how similarly Russia’s moves in the region track the USSR’s previous patterns of engagement with its “satellite states,” suggesting that we could be in the midst of a “new Cold War.” Others, the Obama administration among them, agree that the conflict’s threat to continental security is on a level unseen in recent decades, but does not approach the machinations that the USSR and the USA plied against each other at the height of hostilities. A more subtle stream of thought has fixated on Russia’s alleged “hybrid war” against Kiev, where the Kremlin has shaped the conflict as “an aggressor whose moves are shrouded in deception.”

In light of this recent “hybrid war,” Roger Moorhouse’s latest book, “The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941,” could not be more timely. Stridently anti-Soviet, it urges readers to harken back to the insidious intrigues of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between Hitler and Stalin on the cusp of World War II, an alliance that shocked both realists and ideologues worldwide when it was revealed. In this work, Moorhouse is largely successful in presenting and explaining the history of the pact and its implications on populations throughout the region. . . .

[. . .]

Moorhouse’s first target in the book is the sticky narrative that the USSR agreed to the pact for defensive reasons. The official Soviet argument for the pact, up until the regime’s collapse in 1991, was that it was meant to forestall a German invasion until the Red Army could modernize and challenge the Wehrmacht in battle. Yet Moorhouse makes clear that Stalin could have defensively allied with other powers that were just as repugnant ideologically to the Soviets as the Nazis were, such as the British. Moorhouse argues that while other considerations may have influenced Moscow, including its dislike of the United Kingdom, the prototypical “capitalist aggressor,” Stalin entered into an alliance with Germany because Hitler offered tangible territorial benefits. For the Kremlin, the lure of regaining the land it lost in the Brest-Litovsk Pact, regardless of it coming at the expense of Poland, the Baltic States and other countries, was too seductive to pass up.

And more from Linas Linkevičius, the foreign minister of Lithuania:

Vladimir Putin has stated that there was nothing wrong with the Nazi-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which was made 75 years ago on 23 August 1939. The Soviet Union simply did not want to go to war, Putin added.

Two tiny details seem to be ignored in this evaluation: the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact merely enslaved eastern Europe (by the Soviet Union, incidentally). Second, the pact led to the second world war. It was not an escape route by the Soviet Union, but instead a cold-blooded calculation to ignore Hitler’s growing appetite for territories.

Leaving history to historians, I would like to draw attention to the western responsibility here. We cannot let such statements go unnoticed because they are part of a bigger narrative, under which the Russian leadership now seeks endorsement for its aggressive and revisionist foreign policy.

Otherwise we, the western democracies, risk becoming part of a similar pact. Not by consciously entering into dirty deals with the aggressor, but by not doing enough to prevent it, and leaving the impression that anything is possible. True, the western response solidified recently, albeit a bit late. However, notions of the need to appease Russia are gaining speed.

The confidence with which Russia is acting now comes partly from our inability to stand by our values and principles. Russia applied similar tactics in the case of Georgia in 2008. We searched for ways to get back to normal quickly, hoping that “normal” was also the intention of the Russian regime. It turned out it was not. So unwillingly, we became part of their plan. History repeats itself now.

Linkevičius is quite right in pointing out that history is being perverted here in order to justify imperialist and hegemonic acts on the part of Russia. The question, of course, is whether anyone of significance and note is going to speak out and object to this attempt to rewrite history. Thus far, in general, there has been silence from the West. I realize that not every lunatic pronouncement coming out of Moscow deserves note, mention and to be dignified with a comment, but surely, someone can say something about an attempt to portray the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as stuff that happens in the ordinary course of dealings between foreign ministers.

In which I Pretend to Take Buzzfeed Seriously

Normally, I would avoid listicles like this one like the plague, but oh, what the heck, let’s have a little fun and answer these allegedly hard-hitting questions:

1. Our flag is not on every corner, but we do happen to think our flag looks lovely, we are a patriotic lot, we enjoy flying it, and therefore, there is a proliferation of American flags in the United States. Hope that cleared things up for you.

2. We don’t supersize everything, but we certainly do believe in consumer choice, and as a consequence, if consumers want something supersized, we do our best to give it to them.

3. I don’t know. Ask Justin Bieber.

4. We are not against universal health care. In fact, many Americans are for universal health care. I happen to think that the best way to cover as many people as possible is to focus on cost and not universality. And it should be noted that any politician who says anything approximating “I don’t believe in universal health care” would substantially increase his/her chances of losing his/her next election.

5. If you can translate this question into English, I would be happy to answer it.

6. Oh, irony.

7. Unlike the terrorists whom we fight–and yes, they are terrorists–we do our utmost to avoid civilian casualties. Sometimes, we fail, and we are deeply sorry about that. But our failure is not for lack of effort or morals, and it should be noted that terrorists whom we fight–and again, yes, they are terrorists–oftentimes deliberately out the civilians they claim to care about in the line of fire so that if/when they are killed by military actions undertaken by enemies of terrorists, then the terrorists can try to claim some kind of grotesque, macabre propaganda victory. And of course, terrorism depends in significant and substantial part on deliberately targeting innocent civilians for murder in order to terrorize the rest of the targeted population. The United States does not do that, and that–among many other things–separates us from terrorist barbarism.

8. There is gun control. Even as the United Supreme Court affirmed an individual right to bear arms in D.C. v. Heller, it also affirmed that localities can pass laws regulating the ownership and use of firearms. Whether there is the specific kind of gun control that you would like is another matter altogether.

9. Because we believe in equal rights, liberty, democratic republicanism, and not treating other people like dirt simply because they come from a locality that you do not like.

10. While there is certainly a great deal of improvement to be desired from American media, the same could be said of media outlets all around the world. And for someone who accuses the American media of being “assumptive,” you appear to assume too much and paint the American media with too broad a brush.

11. We do question what we are told, whether the things we are told are by our own government, our own media, or by Canadians engaging in stereotypes. See what I did there?

12. There certainly is a middle ground in politics and attitudes, and if you knew anything about American politics, you would know that moderates and independents must be appealed to by any politician who wishes to win an election, especially one that is national in scope and consequence. To be sure, there is a lot of extremism on display, but that in large part is the consequence of the Internet and 24/7/365 cable news.

13. We are not all fat, but to be sure, there is an obesity problem in the United States. I imagine that there may be one as well in Canada, if Rob Ford is anything to go by. This obesity problem stems from the proliferation of fast food outlets, the relatively little time Americans feel they have to sit down and enjoy a nice, healthy, home cooked meal–eaten slowly, deliberately, and with pleasure taken from the digestion of every morsel of food–and the fact that unfortunately, there are people who don’t have sufficient monetary resources to go grocery shopping and purchase healthy food.

I hope this discussion was informative for Canadians who have a tendency to ask less-than-intelligent questions about the United States. The hardworking staff here at PejmanYousefzadeh.net really does try to provide quality service with a smile.

Why Wendy Davis Was a Disastrous Texas Gubernatorial Candidate

Ross Douthat:

. . . It should be said, and many people are saying it, that Davis and her team ran a poorer-than-expected campaign overall, and that the allegedly-brilliant team running the Democrats’ new Texas ground game were not in fact so brilliant. But the more important issue, surely, is that the Democrats decided that it made sense to run, well, Wendy Davis as their “change-the-map” candidate in Texas. Nunn and Carter in Georgia were nominations that fit reasonably well with the facts on the ground, and while they obviously disappointed Nunn did at least outperform the last two Democratic Senate nominees in her state. Davis, on the other hand, actually underperformed the Democratic nominee’s totals in the last two head-to-head races against Rick Perry … which is, again, pretty much exactly what you’d expect when you nominate a figure who owed her prominence to a filibuster on late-term abortion to contest a statewide rate in Texas.

Yes, the social conservatism of Hispanics, while real enough, is sometimes overstated; yes, polling on abortion is always fluid and complicated, in red states as well as blue. But it still should be obvious that if your long-term political vision requires consolidating and mobilizing a growing Hispanic bloc in a state that’s much more religious and conservative than average, nominating a culture-war lightning rod is just about the strangest possible way to go about realizing that goal, no matter what kind of brilliant get out the vote strategy you think you’ve conjured up or how much national money you think she’ll raise. It would be a little bit like, I don’t know, nominating a political-novice Tea Partier who owed her prior fame to a pro-abstinence campaign to contest a winnable race in a deep-blue, more-secular-than-average northeastern state. Not that the Republican Party would ever accidentally do anything like that, of course.

But even that joke is part of the point: The Christine O’Donnell thing really did happen more or less by accident, because she happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch an anti-establishment wave and win a primary in which she was supposed to be a protest candidate. Whereas the Davis experiment was intentionally designed: She was treated to fawning press coverage, lavished with funding, had the primary field mostly cleared for her, and was touted repeatedly as part of an actual party strategy for competing in a conservative-leaning state. Of course she had a much more impressive resume than O’Donnell, with less witchcraft and real political experience, and in that sense she made a more credible candidate overall. (Though, ahem, O’Donnell actually outperformed Davis at the polls in the end …) But in terms of their signature issues and their public profiles, they were equally absurd fits for the tasks they were assigned; it’s just that in Davis’s case nobody on the left of center wanted to acknowledge it.

For those of you who don’t know who Wendy Davis is, here is the shorthand description: She is the Democratic party’s answer to Sarah Palin; long on charisma, short on substance, utterly incapable of handling herself in the political arena, and totally lacking in street smarts.

If Barack Obama Were a Republican, There Would Be Shrieks and Hollers about “Neocons” Right about Now

The president who promised he would take us out of Iraq, the president who took us out of Iraq prematurely because his administration was too incompetent at arranging for American troops to stay in Iraq longer, is now getting us more and more enmeshed in Iraq:

A senior military official says that American military advisory teams will now go to Iraq’s western Anbar province where Islamic State militants have been gaining ground and slaying men, women and children.

The teams are part of President Barack Obama’s new directive to expand the U.S. mission in Iraq by deploying another 1,500 U.S. troops to serve as advisers, trainers and security personnel.

The official said it is likely that the bulk of the additional troops will be in Iraq by the end of the year. This would bring the total U.S. forces in Iraq to about 3,100, and would mark their first return to Anbar since the war ended.

The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Obama administration’s Iraq policy has been questionable at best, and disastrous at worst, for a very long time. The fact that we appear to be meandering into a war without any decisive plan to win it does nothing to cause me to think that the administration’s approach to Iraq is getting any better anytime soon.

Oh, and relating to the title of this blog post: Where are the peace demonstrations? Where is International ANSWER? Where are all of the left-of-center politicians and pundits who complained about neoconservatives and their supposedly pernicious influence when the Bush administration was in office? I don’t ask these questions because I expect decent answers to them. I ask these questions because it is worth remembering that when it comes to America’s policy vis-à-vis Iraq, there are a lot of hypocrites out there who wouldn’t know intellectual consistency if you slapped them in the face with it. And right now, they are showing their true colors.

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