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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Going on vacation

I'll probably be unavailable for blogging over the next week as I'm going on vacation out to New Mexico. Have a wonderful 4th of July and I'll start up again when I return.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Cruising the Web

Reuters interviews African Americans who regard the whole controversy over the Confederate flag a distraction. Ya think? And I'd go beyond the problems mentioned in the article about violence in their communities and racism from the police. There is a lot more to the economic problems so many blacks face and it has nothing to do with the Confederate flag.

Ah, the Greecification of the United States draws ever closer.
The governor of Puerto Rico has decided that the island cannot pay back more than $70 billion in debt, setting up an unprecedented financial crisis that could rock the municipal bond market and lead to higher borrowing costs for governments across the United States.

Puerto Rico’s move could roil financial markets already dealing with the turmoil of the renewed debt crisis in Greece. It also raises questions about the once-staid municipal bond market, which states and cities count on to pay upfront costs for public improvements such as roads, parks and hospitals.

For many years, those bonds were considered safe investments — but those assumptions have been shifting in recent years as a small but steady string of U.S. municipalities, including Detroit, as well as Stockton and Vallejo in California, have tumbled into bankruptcy.
But sure, let localities, cities, states, and the federal government just keep piling on more and more unfunded spending. That'll work.

Jim Geraghty looks at Katherine Archuleta, the head of the Office of Personnel Management, and the results of appointing someone for the political and demographic boxes she can tick off rather than for her true competence for the job.
Before becoming the head of OPM, Katherine Archuleta had no background in the kind of work the agency does. Archuleta, a lawyer and former Clinton administration official, was national political director for President Obama’s reelection campaign. She served as the chief of staff to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solís, and was the City of Denver’s lead planner for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Like the president, she has roots in “community organizing”: She co-founded the Latina Initiative, a Colorado organization aimed at getting more Hispanic voters involved in politics. (In 2011, the Latina Initiative suspended its operations, citing insufficient funding.) Nothing in this record suggests any expertise in the vitally important human resources and record-keeping functions OPM is supposed to serve.

Before the hack, Archuleta’s primary goals at OPM appeared to be increasing the diversity of the federal workforce and implementing Obamacare’s changes to federal workers’ health-insurance options.

Her July 2013 confirmation hearing was brief and relatively controversy-free. Senator Mark Udall, (D., Colo.), introduced her and declared, “she has an impressive range of accomplishments that make her completely, totally well-qualified to be director of OPM.”

Archuleta mentioned her determination to “build on OPM’s health care experience” including “implementing its provisions of the Affordable Care Act.” She did say she would “prioritize the improvement of the agency’s Information Technology systems” and pledge to create the position of Chief Technology Officer, but that came in the context of a discussion on OPM’s difficulty in moving to a digital system for handling retirement services for federal workers. The topic of cyber security only came up during a brief discussion of whether OPM had sufficiently skilled personnel in that area....

Upon her arrival in the post, she was touted by the Obama administration as “the first Latina Director” of OPM. The White House website declared, “Katherine shares President Obama’s vision for diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce” and added, “OPM has recognized and acknowledged the underrepresentation of Hispanics in the federal work force, and the potential and talent they have to offer.” Information technology and cyber-security were not mentioned.
The blame doesn't fall all on her, of course. The Congress could have been more concerned with cybersecurity, not only in her confirmation hearing, but all along. But she clearly wasn't qualified to deal with the threats the agency was facing even when it became quite clear that cyber attacks were a problem.
While Archuleta, the administration, and its allies were busy hailing a new era of diversity in the federal government, OPM’s apparently long-standing cybersecurity vulnerabilities remained unattended. Slate has noted that OPM knew as early as 2013 that “sensitive data was not secured” and “security measures were not even tested to make sure they worked.” Worse yet, the agency “was unsure even of how to fix these problems,” and hadn’t fixed them as recently as this past April, years after the system had been repeatedly breached.

When news broke of the first of those breaches, in early 2014, Archuleta went so far as to insist in public that there was nothing that needed fixing.

In March 2014, OPM became aware of a partially successful Chinese hack into its systems. On July 9, 2014, the New York Times reported that “Chinese hackers in March broke into the computer networks of the United States government agency that houses the personal information of all federal employees, according to senior American officials, targeting the files on tens of thousands of employees who have applied for top-secret security clearances.” Officials quoted in the story said the hackers gained access to some of OPM’s databases before federal authorities detected the threat and blocked them.

Archuleta was quick to downplay the breach, declaring in a July 21, 2014 interview with Washington’s ABC affiliate that, “We did not have a breach in security. There was no information that was lost. We were confident as we worked through this that we would be able to protect the data.”

Even now, as the full extent of OPM’s security failures is slowly beginning to come into public focus, Archuleta has barely backed off that stance. She repeatedly told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee two weeks ago that she couldn’t say if any non-personnel information was lost in the 2014 hack.

Her answers under oath in front of the Oversight Committee two weeks ago left Republicans and even some Democrats convinced she either knows exceptionally little about the state of her agency’s cyber-security or she’s comfortable lying about it, insisting that breaches aren’t really breaches and that obviously insecure systems are secure....

“Since 2007, the OPM Inspector General has continuously pointed out serious deficiencies in OPM’s cybersecurity posture. OPM’s response has been glacial,” wrote Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s cyber-security subcommittee, in a statement calling on Archuleta to resign. “While I appreciate that Ms. Archuleta inherited a difficult situation, her first budget request continued to reflect the status quo even as the OIG’s warnings continued.”

Langevin said cyber-threats can’t be solved, only managed, but admonished Archuleta for treating the difficulty of that task as an excuse for not developing “a risk-based cyber strategy.” He concluded, “I have seen no evidence Ms. Archuleta understands this central principle of cyber governance, and I am deeply concerned by her refusal to acknowledge her culpability in the breach.”
If this is the incompetence demonstrated by the leader of one previously rather obscure agency, just imagine the vulnerabilities in other government agencies? But, hey, what's the problem as long as we can have a diverse workforce?

As Republicans head out to vote in the GOP primaries next year, they'll be doing something that Donald Trump hasn't done in over a decade.
Records reviewed by National Review show that the mogul-turned-candidate never bothered to cast his vote in the past six presidential-primary elections — even in 2000, 2004, and 2012, years when he floated the idea of running for the Oval Office.

Even as Trump filled candidates’ coffers, he skipped the 2002 general election, failing to cast a vote for U.S. representative and governor, among other positions. He’s also sat out several city and state elections in the past 15 years, while donating heavily to candidates in the same races. In some of these elections, it appears Trump’s ever-changing party registration rendered him ineligible to cast a primary ballot. But in many others, he could have voted but didn’t.
I guess he has just figured out that money speaks louder than voting.
Records reviewed by National Review show that the mogul-turned-candidate never bothered to cast his vote in the past six presidential-primary elections — even in 2000, 2004, and 2012, years when he floated the idea of running for the Oval Office.

Even as Trump filled candidates’ coffers, he skipped the 2002 general election, failing to cast a vote for U.S. representative and governor, among other positions. He’s also sat out several city and state elections in the past 15 years, while donating heavily to candidates in the same races. In some of these elections, it appears Trump’s ever-changing party registration rendered him ineligible to cast a primary ballot. But in many others, he could have voted but didn’t.

The Washington Post has a big piece on how Jeb Bush profited from his connections to having a father who was president in the years before he became governor including a very questionable deal involving a Nigerian water project.
At first glance, Jeb Bush’s dual biography as a businessman-
politician can be hard to reconcile. Bush the politician presents the image of a man who is appealing, well-disciplined, intelligent and moderate. Bush the businessman has sometimes lent his name and credibility to money-making ventures that involved dubious characters.

He and his friends have explained this seeming incongruity by saying that he has been the victim of people who took advantage of his good nature.
Republicans might complain this is a hit job attempting to conflate Jeb's business background with the Clintons' sleazy deals. But, with all the possible candidates out there, it helps to have the media serve to thoroughly vet the candidates. Choosing Bush would immediately negate a line of negatives about Hillary - that she is the candidate of a dynasty from yesterday. Do we really want to surrender the high road when it comes to attacking the overall sleaziness of the Clinton rise to riches? That might be a risk worth taking for a top-flight candidate, but I'm just not convinced that Jeb is worth it.

Jennifer Rubin catalogs mistakes from Republican leaders in response to the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage. I must agree that I regard it as a disqualifier for a candidate for the presidency to talk about defunding the Supreme Court or ignoring its rulings. I didn't think Bobby Jindal had any chance for the nomination, but his response talking about getting rid of the Supreme Court greatly disappointed me. In response to a much worse decision, Abraham Lincoln didn't talk about getting rid of the Supreme Court after Dred Scott. And Rubin is right that Ted Cruz's hyperbole just makes him sound silly. No matter what one thinks about the decision, no Supreme Court decision ranks up with "some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation's history."

Robert George has some wise words on symbolism with regards to the Confederate flag and downplaying Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill.
Haley acknowledged that while the flag contained many positive connotations for the citizens of her state — regional pride, cultural heritage, familial connection — it was also inherently a divisive symbol. Many, after all, see it (fairly) as a banner of racism, slavery and terror.

In short, it wasn’t something all residents of the Palmetto State could look to with reverence and unity.

Frankly, that’s a wise view to take in considering objects that the government chooses to honor with an official imprimatur: Err on the side of those representing the polity’s common civic values.
Frankly, I don't care a bit about the Confederate flag and think Republicans are making a mistake to get so upset about what was for so long part of the Democratic Party. I grew up in Illinois, but have lived over 30 years in the South and I don't think that the Civil War is the high point for the South. It is quite possible to celebrate one's Southern heritage without celebrating the part of Southern history that symbolizes for so many people slavery and Jim Crow. And those who say the War was not about slavery because so many of the soldiers were poor whites who didn't own slaves ignore the truth that the war wouldn't have been declared in the first place if the leaders of the South had not feared that the Republican Party's opposition to the spread of slavery to the new territories would limit slavery in an impermissible way. Without that fear, there would have been no secession and without secession there would have been no war. Wealthy Southern whites were able to convince non-slaveholding whites that the war was about resisting Northern aggression, but secession preceded everything. Lincoln would never have conceived of sending troops to the South if there had not been secession and seizure of federal property. I know that some of my readers greatly disagree with my thoughts on this, but I've studied that period very intensively and read a lot of the speeches, documents, and letters from the time. I agree with what Ulysses Grant wrote in his memoirs about the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox:
I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us

And Robert George that, while it is just a symbol, having Alexander Hamilton on the currency rightly celebrates a leader of our nation's history and he should not be downgraded just because it is on the schedule to revamp the $10 bill next and there is so much pressure from some quarters to put a woman on the currency.
In other words, a bureaucrat opted to stick to a bureaucratic timetable, rather than looking at the larger picture.
And if ever a moment called for broader reflection, this is it.

Every time someone uses American (printed) money, they look at history; they engage with a figure the government has sanctioned and, likely, celebrated.

Save perhaps for George Washington himself, Alexander Hamilton is most responsible for much of the glue that binds this nation together — its financial system.

It was his firm belief that a young nation that fought a war for independence together should pay off its debts together. In that view, he was initially opposed by Thomas Jefferson, who thought Virginia shouldn’t be burdened by the financial problems of less-wealthy states.

Hamilton ended up winning the day and the Compromise of 1790 the two men forged (alas, the moving of the capital from New York to outside of Virginia was collateral damage) was one of the signature moments in the early days of the young United States.

More important to today (and the post-Confederate flag discussion), Hamilton was an abolitionist, whose best friend attempted to raise a regiment of slaves to fight in the Revolutionary War, promising them freedom for their service (a moment recognized in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” musical heading to Broadway next month).

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s currency timetable means Jackson’s $20 bill — adorned with the face of one of the biggest slaveholders to ever enter the White House (who, unlike Washington, opted not to free his slaves upon his death) — will remain untouched for at least another five years.

Jackson went from owning nine slaves when he purchased his Hermitage plantation to 150 at his death 40 years later.

While not alone among early presidents in owning slaves, Jackson adds the forced relocation of Indians from tribal lands to his ledger. The so-called “Trail of Tears” has often been referred to as genocide.

That this de facto founder of the modern Democratic Party was nicknamed the “people’s president” is one of the great ironies of history.

Look, slavery is a part of our nation’s history. It’s not something that we can ever expunge from our memory — nor should we try.

But we can — and should — take advantage of the moments when we’re already engaged in the discussion to consider which figures are worthy of remaining in the forefront of our national consciousness, and which ones can take, well, a back seat in the pantheon.

It's never enough, is it? Now Bernie Sanders wants to go beyond Obamacare to a single-payer system.
Bernie Sanders isn't satisfied with the Supreme Court's affirmation last week of President Barack Obama's health care law.

Instead, the Democratic presidential hopeful said on Sunday he wants the United States to adopt a "Medicare-for-all" single-payer health care plan.
I guess all his time in government has blinded him to how Medicare is bankrupting the country. Here is Avik Roy of Forbes from three years ago.
The Trustees of the Medicare program have released their annual report on the solvency of the program. They calculate that the program is “expected to remain solvent until 2024, the same as last year’s estimate.” But what that headline obfuscates is that Obamacare’s tax increases and spending cuts are counted towards the program’s alleged “deficit-neutrality,” Medicare is to go bankrupt in 2016. And if you listen to Medicare’s own actuary, Richard Foster, the program’s bankruptcy could come even sooner than that.

Here’s how the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services summarize the findings, which carry the formal title “2012 Annual Report of the Boards of Trustees of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds” :
[Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund] expenditures have exceeded income annually since 2008 and are projected to continue doing so under current law in all future years. Trust Fund interest earnings and asset redemptions are required to cover the difference. HI assets are projected to cover annual deficits through 2023, with asset depletion in 2024. After asset depletion, if Congress were to take no further action, projected HI Trust Fund revenue would be adequate to cover 87 percent of estimated expenditures in 2024 and 67 percent of projected costs in 2050. In practice, Congress has never allowed a Medicare trust fund to exhaust its assets.

The financial projections for Medicare reflect substantial cost savings resulting from the Affordable Care Act, but also show that further action is needed to address the program’s continuing cost growth.
The Trustees, by saying that Medicare will go bankrupt in 2024, instead of 2016, are simultaneously saying that the program will increase the deficit by several hundred billion dollars. This is precisely the insight that Charles Blahous, one of the Medicare Trustees, explained in his recent report on the program.
But Bernie Sanders would rather indulge in his Socialist fantasies than pay attention to fiscal realities. Maybe reporters can ask him about the increased spending he wants to pile onto the federal government in light of Puerto Rico's bankruptcy. But he probably wouldn't be able to see any connection.

I guess the triumphalism of the left and the demoralization of the right regarding the Supreme Court was a mite bit premature.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Obama administration failed to consider costs when deciding to regulate mercury pollution from power plants.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must consider costs before deciding whether regulation is "appropriate and necessary." Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority decision. Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Matthew Continetti analyzes Hillary's chameleon-like qualities.
What we have, on issue after issue, is a presidential frontrunner uninterested in leadership, who holds an ambivalent attitude toward notions of political courage and intellectual independence, who is devoted exclusively and mechanically to the capture of high office. She has latched on to the president’s ad hoc and failing Iraq policies because her party’s base supports them; gone from opposing same-sex marriage as recently as a few years ago to marching at the vanguard of America’s latest Cultural Revolution and saying that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed”; pledged to “go further” than Barack Obama’s constitutionally dubious executive amnesty despite being silent when her husband signed tough immigration bills in the ’90s, and despite having voted for an amendment that helped kill a pro-immigration bill in 2007; waffled on a trade agreement that she backed while secretary of state; and somehow avoided committing to an intelligible and consistent position on the Keystone Pipeline despite taking money from the anti-Keystone billionaire Tom Steyer. Is there any doubt that this supposed pro-Israel Democrat will back whatever nuclear agreement President Obama is able to reach with Iran, no matter how much he capitulates to the ayatollah’s demands?

Hillary Clinton’s approach to politics is cynical, uninspiring, robotic. She’s a chef who follows the recipe without exception, who’s too afraid of failure to challenge the authority of either her superiors or her customers. She’ll be a president suitable for the age of intelligent machines. Like a Terminator she is fixated on her mission – though the Terminator has more personality, greater charm. There’s an assumption behind all her latest moves, a programming code that determines the automaton’s behavior: that the country’s demographics and culture have changed to such an extent that a winning campaign needn’t do more than identify and mobilize core supporters by assuming the various poses most likely to drive them to the polls. There’s the chance the code could be garbage.

Clinton isn’t the first politician who’s inconsistent – far from it. What she and her husband have pioneered is a mode of inconsistency, an entire lifestyle of ideological flexibility the goal of which isn’t public-minded but wholly self-interested.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cruising the Web

Jonathan Last imagines how Bernie Sanders' success as a protest candidate will lead to Zombie Hillary, the undead candidate who just keeps attacking.
And if there's one thing we've learned about Hillary Clinton over the years, it's that she never backs down.

Not when the press went after her for Travelgate. Not when the House of Representatives was drafting articles of impeachment against her husband. Not when she was clearly losing the 2008 nomination. Not when she was being investigated for Whitewater, or Benghazi, or State Department emails, or ... well, you get the idea.

Like a zombie, Hillary keeps coming. Relentlessly. Remorselessly. It doesn't matter how damaged she is or how ridiculous she looks in whatever position she's taken.

So no, Bernie Sanders probably can't win enough delegates to deny Clinton the nomination. But by driving her to the left, alienating her from the Democrats' activist base, and showing that she can be beaten, he could turn her into a zombie candidate who takes for granted the 46 percent (or so) of the vote she has as a floor, but is never able to add to it.

That's pretty attractive scenario for Republicans. Except, of course, that it might not come to pass. And that even if it does, sometimes the zombies win.

Sean Trende had an interesting analysis of how political polarization has served to weaken support for the Confederate flag.
Because Democrats no longer see any electoral payoff in talking to guys with Confederate flags in the back of their pickup trucks, they no longer have any incentive to make even weak gestures toward keeping the flag around. Progressives are freed from their need to keep up their awkward dance with rural Southerners for the sake of maintaining some degree of power in the South (a dance that dates back at least to FDR’s reluctance to endorse anti-lynching laws). Polarization has forced them – and freed them – to explore new paths to power.

At the same time, it’s important to realize that most prominent Southern Republican politicians have roots in either the suburban or old establishment Democrat wings of the party. I doubt if Nikki Haley or Bobby Jindal grew up with much affection for the Confederate flag. The same goes for Mitch McConnell – who entered politics in Jefferson County (Louisville), an old Union town whose Republicanism was strong enough that it almost voted for Herbert Hoover in 1932.

This isn’t true across the board – Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who initially defended the flag, grew up in a rural small town in his state – but for the most part, I don’t think most Republicans in leadership positions ever had much use for the Confederate flag beyond political calculations. With rural whites now largely polarized into the Republican column, Southern Republicans no longer have to go hard after their votes. If anything, they need to watch their flanks in the suburbs and in the business wing of the party, and so it is now more natural for them to move against the flag.
That's not something I'd thought about, but it makes a lot of sense.

This is how far recycling mania has gotten. Trashmen are now employed to go through people's garbage to see if residents need to be fined for not following recycling rules for their garbage.

Kimberley Strassel has some fun with a new linguistic marker - interpreting statements under the John Roberts standard that words mean the exact opposite of what their clear meaning is.
The one fun part of this week’s Supreme Court decision on ObamaCare is that it has given the country a new way to evaluate everything Democrats say. Take Barack Obama’s pronouncement Thursday that the court’s ruling in King v. Burwell means “the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”

Those words are pretty clear. Mr. Obama surely meant them. Yet all we have to do is give them the old Roberts High Court treatment, and—voilà!—we discover the exact opposite meaning. Far from putting this debate behind us, the ruling has freed Washington to take it up. Now that the long months of waiting silently and expectantly for the court’s decision are over, debate on ObamaCare is about to explode in a way not witnessed since 2010.

The reason rests in another of Mr. Obama’s statements Thursday: “there can be no doubt this law is working.” Apply those Roberts Rules of Plain Textual Interpretation, and we find that what the president means is that families are still losing their doctors, still getting hit with double-digit premium hikes. What he means is that the law remains as unpopular as ever.

One big impact of Obamacare that people might not realize is the effect it has had on employment.
The economics of Obamacare are very bad. The law is inflicting broad damage on job creation and new-business formation. It ruins job incentives by making it pay more not to work, thereby intensifying a labor shortage that is holding back growth and in turn lowering incomes and spending.

Across-the-board Obamacare tax increases are inflicting heavy punishment on investment — right when the U.S. economy desperately needs more capital as a way of solving a steep productivity decline.

Because of Obamacare, there’s an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on salaries and self-employment income, a 3.8% tax increase on capital gains and dividends, a cap on health-care flexible spending accounts, a higher threshold for itemized medical-expense deductions, and a stiff penalty on employer reimbursements for individual employee health-policy premiums.

Each of these tax hikes is anti-growth and anti-job.

There is so much talk about “secular stagnation,” inequality, and stagnant wages these days. But there’s little talk about the negative economic impact of Obamacare. It’s a much bigger story than SCOTUS jurisprudence.

A couple of examples.

First, there’s the problem of the 49ers and the 29ers. The business mandates and penalties imposed by Obamacare when small firms hire a 50th employee or ask for a 30-hour workweek are so high that firms are opting to hold employment to 49 and hours worked to 29. Lower employment and fewer hours worked are a double death knell for growth.

The BLS sheds light on this: Although part-time work has fallen during the recovery, to 7 million from around 9 million, it hovered around 4 million during the prior recovery. Part-time employment, which as a share of total employment peaked at around 20% in 2010 and has slipped to about 19%, hovered around 17% during most of the prior expansion. Obamacare?

Everybody is complaining about the low labor-force participation rate and the equally stubborn reduction in the employment-to-population rate. But why are we surprised? Obamacare is effectively paying people not to work.

University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan argues that Obamacare disincentives will reduce full-time equivalent workers by about 4 million principally because it phases out health-insurance subsidies as worker income increases. In other words, Obamacare is a tax on full-time work. After-tax, people working part time yield more disposable income than working full time.

Once the Democratic celebration after winning King v. Burwell subsides, they might realize that they have complete ownership of the nightmare that the law has created of our nation's health care.
The driving force behind health reform has been the desire to control rising health-care costs. From 2008 onwards, President Obama promised that his reform agenda would reduce the annual cost for the typical American family by no less than $2,500. After a while, it became a rather tiresome talking point. But it was pure nonsense from the start.

Health-care spending increases were slowing down well before Congress enacted Obamacare. But with the onset of Obamacare, health-insurance premiums in the exchanges jumped by double digits, while deductibles increased dramatically. If you liked your doctor, you would be able to keep you doctor, the president insisted, but maybe not, in reality, depending upon whether or not your physician networks narrowed. Looking toward 2016, health insurers say premium costs will soar.

In the days, weeks and months leading up to the King v. Burwell decision, commentators obsessed over the roughly 6.4 million persons who could lose health-insurance subsidies. With the Court’s ruling, they can keep the federal subsidies. But that doesn’t come close to ending the debate.

Roughly 6.4 million persons in thirty-four states could have been negatively affected if the Court struck down the federal exchange subsidies. But there is a much wider universe of persons adversely affected by the law: the roughly 15 million persons in the individual and small group market who don’t get—and won’t get—the federal government’s health-insurance subsidies. Under Obamacare, millions of Americans are forced to pay more for their government standardized coverage, regardless of whether they like it or not, whether they want it or not, or whether or not it forces them to pay for medical procedures that violate their ethical, moral or religious convictions.

So, the debate will intensify over the primary issue: costs. In every state, the fundamental components of state health-care costs—the demographics, the underlying costs of care delivery and the competitiveness of the markets—are juiced up by expensive federal benefit mandates and individual and group insurance rules and regulations. These all drive costs skyward. As my Heritage colleagues have demonstrated, this regulatory regime forces young people to pay up to 44 percent more in premiums. Washington’s subsidies simply try to hide the true costs of the law; they don’t control them.

The law remains unworkable. The complicated insurance subsidy program itself has been a mess. H&R Block reported that about two thirds of subsidy recipients had to repay money back to the government because they got bigger than allowable subsidies. With the individual mandate, the administration has been granting lots of exemptions to insulate most of the uninsured from any penalty. That’s rather predictable; after all, even candidate Barack Obama argued that an individual mandate was unfair and unenforceable.

Jim Geraghty explains why political offices should not be "family heirlooms."
Look, if you build the family business, you’re entitled to hand it down to your children. To contradict our president, “You built that. Somebody else didn’t make that happen.” If you do build something, you’ll have a lot of discretion about how you spend the money that comes in, and who takes over when you leave the scene. If you think junior’s got what it takes to run the place well, you go right ahead.

But political offices aren’t supposed to be family heirlooms. Because they didn’t build that. They don’t own those offices; they occupy them -- at our discretion.

Of course both parties have their dynasties and offspring gliding relatively easily into elected office. On the GOP side, there’s son-of-a-senator George H.W. Bush, and his offspring George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, and of course Jeb’s son, Texas land commissioner George P. Bush. Then there’s Liz Cheney, Ben Quayle, and Shelley Moore Capito (her father was governor of West Virginia),

Last November, the election of an 18-year-old Republican state delegate in West Virginia was a brief sensation . . . of course, her election seems less stunning when you realize her father is a state senator and was a state delegate for many years.

On the Democratic side, Hillary clearly climbed to the top with a lot of help from Bill; Almost every key race for Democrats in the red states in 2014 featured some offspring of a longtime political figure: Jimmy Carter’s grandson Jason Carter running for governor in Georgia, Florida congressional candidate Gwen Graham, Georgia Senate candidate Michelle Nunn, Senator Mark Begich (his father was Alaska’s congressman), Senator Mary Landrieu (her father was mayor of New Orleans), Arkansas senator Mark Pryor . . . then there’s New York governor Andrew Cuomo, California governor Jerry Brown (his father was governor), and the entire Kennedy clan . . . (You’ll recall quite a few folks contended Caroline Kennedy was a terrific choice for U.S. Ambassador to Japan because she had “good genes.” Suddenly there’s widespread belief that ambassadorial skill is contained in DNA strands.)

Joel K. Goldstein at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball refutes the idea that it is just about impossible for one party to hold the White House for three terms even though George H.W. Bush was the only one to do so since 1952.
In essence, the six “third term” elections the incumbent party lost since 1951 include one (1952) for a sixth term, one (2000) where it won the popular vote and narrowly lost the electoral vote, and three (1960, 1968, 1976) where it narrowly lost the popular vote and could have won the electoral vote with a shift of just a few votes. In these four elections, the incumbent party was hurt by its campaign behavior. So in the six races for a third term (excluding 1952), the incumbents won one decisively (1988), lost one decisively (2008), and lost four virtual dead heats marred by campaign problems, which generally included the failure to exploit or obtain cooperation from the incumbent president.

Running for a third term surely imposes some disadvantage. Change is an alluring campaign slogan that allows the outs to promise something better without specifics. The incumbent party has a record to defend, and weak points can be hammered without considering whether the outcome of roads advocated by the other party but not taken would have been worse.

The takeaway from campaign history since 1951 is not that an incumbent party faces long odds in winning a third term. It is rather that campaigns matter. It is hard to imagine McCain prevailing in 2008 given unhappiness with the war in Iraq and the economic collapse under George W. Bush. Yet Humphrey almost won despite Johnson’s disastrous Vietnam escalation, and Ford almost won notwithstanding Watergate and his then-unpopular decision to pardon Nixon, the mastermind of the cover-up. George H.W. Bush won, in part, because he ran a much better campaign than did his rival, Michael Dukakis, and he successfully enlisted Reagan to advance his cause. Had Nixon (1960) and Gore (2000) won, as they should have, and/or Humphrey and Ford, as they could have, no one would be claiming that presidential candidates from a party that has won two in a row are disadvantaged.
That's an analysis that the Clinton campaign must like. Of course, that means that she would have to run an excellent campaign, something she has not demonstrated that ability to do. But the GOP should bet their future on her political weaknesses.

Oh, how lovely. A battle between Donald Trump and Univision. They're offended by his idiotic remarks about Mexicans and are pulling out of televising Miss USA.

Well, of course. Using the phrase "trigger warning" is now a trigger.

Jonah Goldberg marvels of how liberals twist racial identities to suit their purposes. Elizabeth Warren can be a Native American simply if she wishes to define herself as one. But Bobby Jindal must be denied his Indian heritage since he believes in a Melting Pot-version of America.
So: We live in a world where Bobby Jindal is a fake Indian, but it’s racist to say an older white woman[Warren] isn’t a real one (the correct term being “Native American,” of course). Nikki Haley is a villain for “suppressing” her Indian roots, but Senator Ted Cruz is a fraud for touting his Cuban roots. (Cruz was recently grilled by Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin about how authentically Cuban he really is. At least Halperin later apologized.)

In Barack Obama: The Story, biographer David Maraniss recounts how Obama didn’t see himself as an American in college, mostly hanging out with Pakistani students as a fellow “outsider.” But as his political ambitions grew, he realized that had to change. His friend Beenu Mahmood told Maraniss that Obama was “the most deliberate person I ever met in terms of constructing his own identity.”

In Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father, he writes passionately about his conscious decision to identify as black, despite his mixed heritage, “to avoid being mistaken for a sellout.” Obama scrubbed any hint of white identity, eventually returning to the name “Barack” instead of “Barry.” One has to wonder: What if he’d made a different choice? Would the Washington Post and other outlets tout the line, “There isn’t a lot of black left in Barack Obama”?

I very much doubt it, so long as Obama ran as a Democrat.

This is one way to pretend that schools are improving.
The failing scores of five students who took the Regents in January were switched to passing scores of 65 or higher on their transcripts, the city Department of Education has confirmed.

One junior saw his scores upped to pass two exams required for graduation — Living Environment (biology) and algebra — even though he had failed both classes. The student insisted he deserved a break on the exams because “I studied my ass off.”

In 2011, the state banned “scrubbing” — the practice of re-scoring tests that fall just short of passing. In 2013, the DOE tried to fire a teacher who raised the scores of five students on a Regents physics exam. In 2014, city scores plummeted after a new rule barred teachers from grading tests given at their own schools.

Now, the city has sanctioned it.

“This is Scrubbing Part 2,” a veteran educator said of the Automotive HS score changes. “The teachers used to do it. Now it’s the administrators.”

Automotive HS is one of the city’s 94 low-performing “Renewal” schools — which Mayor de Blasio showered with $31 million this school year and has vowed to revamp with $163 million next school year. The state Education Department has branded Automotive and seven other city schools “out of time,” meaning the schools require significant revamping or a shutdown.

While declaring Regents scores “final,” state officials last week said exams may be re-scored “if the superintendent of schools has compelling reason to believe that an essay was not scored in accordance with the rating guide or according to the required procedures.”

Friday, June 26, 2015

Cruising the Web

Well, that was disappointing, but I hadn't really expected the Supreme Court to rule differently based on the questions asked at oral argument. It is very discouraging to have the principle that the bureaucracy and administration can determine what a law means even when they have to make up their interpretation. It's ironic that so many pundits are saying that having the decision go the way it did on King v. Burwell is a political plus for the Republicans since they don't have to figure out a way to give people subsidies while still remaining committed to ending Obamacare.

Yuval Levin explains the really disheartening aspect of Justice Roberts' decision.
He makes a much broader argument about the relationship between the vague, broadly stated aims and purposes of legislators and the role of judges interpreting the meaning of the particular laws those legislators then write. Roberts presses this point most firmly at the end of his decision, writing: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

In effect, this is a version of the president’s argument: Obamacare is not so much a particular law as an overarching desire “to improve health insurance markets” and so if at all possible it should be taken to mean whatever one believes would be involved in doing so. From the beginning of its implementation of this statute, that Obama administration has treated the words of the statute as far less relevant than the general aim of doing what it thinks would improve health insurance markets, and today the Supreme Court essentially endorsed this way of understanding the law and suggested it is how judges should think about laws more generally too.

This understanding of the role of the judge threatens to undermine the rule of law in the American system of government, because it undermines the central place assigned to written law, and to the legislator, in that system. Ironically, I think the Chief Justice intends his decision to be deferential to the Congress—to keep the Court’s footprint small in this arena by not reading laws in ways that require large transformations in the forms of their administration. But in effect, this is more contempt than deference. While it would seem to suggest that the will of the legislator should guide the system, in fact it means that the word of the legislator does not govern the other branches. It implies that Congress should have just passed a law that said “health insurance markets shall be improved,” and then left it to the executive agencies to decide how they wish to do that while judges nod in approval.
The danger in basing a decision on the perceived purpose of the legislators is that purpose can often be ambiguous or contradictory.
. While it would seem to suggest that the will of the legislator should guide the system, in fact it means that the word of the legislator does not govern the other branches. It implies that Congress should have just passed a law that said “health insurance markets shall be improved,” and then left it to the executive agencies to decide how they wish to do that while judges nod in approval.

But Congress is elected by the public, based in part on how its members explain their views to the public (including their views of how things like health insurance markets might be improved) and in part also on the public’s assessment of whether their attempted improvements in fact improve things. Members of Congress express their will through the particulars of the legislation they craft and enact, and when those particulars are flawed, contradictory, counterproductive, or misguided (and they are all of those things in this case) our system does not expect judges to provide the words of the statue with different meanings based on their own assessments of how the vague, broadly stated goals of the legislators might have been better achieved....

The health-care debate, in the context of which this case might originally have been understood, will continue because what Justice Roberts insists is impossible is true: Obamacare is a law that was intended to improve insurance markets but was designed in a way that will actually harm them. We can only hope that debate will ultimately be resolved in a way that also pushes back against the unexpected implications of this case and this decision by reasserting the supremacy of the law. It has long been clear that Obamacare was digging a deep hole out of which conservatives would have to help the country to climb. But today’s decision has left it deeper than ever.

Deception and incompetence following disaster. What a surprise for this administration.
The Obama administration reportedly concealed the true amount of information compromised by a cyberattack on the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for several days after the initial disclosure of the hack, according to a published report.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the day after the White House admitted that hackers had breached personnel files, OPM publicly denied that the security clearance forms had been compromised despite receiving information to the contrary from the FBI. The administration did not say that security clearance forms had likely been accessed by the intruders until more than a week had passed.

A OPM spokeswoman denied the claims, telling the Journal the agency had been "completely consistent" in its reporting of the data breach.

The Journal, citing U.S. officials, reported that lengthy period between disclosures was the result of a decision taken by both White House and OPM officials to report the cyberattack as two separate breaches, one of the personnel files and one of the security clearance forms. That meant that rather than saying the hack may have compromised the information of approximately 18 million people, including some who have never worked for the government, OPM initially said that only about four million people were affected.

By contrast, the paper reports, FBI officials who had to speak to lawmakers about the incident, including director James Comey, defined the theft as the result of one breach.
Maybe it was all the result of a hateful video.

Don't pin your hopes on Bernie Sanders humiliating Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire just yet. It's not clear legally whether he can even have his name on the New Hampshire ballot for the Democratic primary because he is not a registered Democrat and has a proud history of saying he's not a Democrat. What are the chances that the Clinton campaign would not take advantage of the way the NH law is worded to try to keep Sanders off the ballot? If polls like this continue, the Clintons might think that the bad press they'd get for going after Sanders would be worth avoiding a 1968-Democratic-primary-like result. A Clinton relying on legalistic wording to achieve a goal? Nyah. They'd never do something like that.

So it turns out that the sun is actually a thing. Who knew?
In a discovery scientists are calling "shocking," it turns out that solar output, that is, how much radiative heat the sun pumps out, is, get this, somewhat variable and changes over the years, and furthermore, changes in solar output may actually have effects in places as distant as -- well, let's say the Earth, for example.

And you're not going to believe this -- it also turns out the sun is currently experiencing a lower-than-normal output of radiative heating, and that this has "offset" the expected global warming, that is, this is a pretty good excuse as to why there has been no damn global warming at all for 17 years.

Now, while the scientists say that this lower-than-usual solar output may cause the current cooling, they do not, for reasons I can't quite guess at, postulate that perhaps higher-than-usual solar output was a major factor in the 1980-1998 warming cycle.

Nope- only this lower-than-average cycle can change things.

It says a lot about how terrible the President's deal with Iran is that members of his own staff who were involved with the talks and policy are publicly condemning it.
Doubts about President Obama’s Iran diplomacy are deepening, and some of the gravest misgivings are coming from his former top officials. That’s the import of a statement Wednesday from a bipartisan group under the auspices of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In measured language, the statement offers a list of musts for a good nuclear deal. They include granting nuclear inspectors access to all Iranian sites, including military ones; lifting sanctions only after Iran meets its nuclear obligations; requiring Tehran to come clean on its past nuclear work; and limiting the number of advanced centrifuges Iran can test and deploy. From what we know so far, Iran has balked on all of these points.

The signers include James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who became known as “Obama’s General.” Another is former CIA Director David Petraeus. Then there is Dennis Ross, Mr. Obama’s Iran czar in his first term; Gary Samore, previously Mr. Obama’s arms-control coordinator; James Jeffrey, formerly Mr. Obama’s ambassador in Baghdad; and Howard Berman, the last Democrat to chair the House Foreign Relations Committee. Some Republicans are also on the list, but a neoconservative cabal this is not.

President Obama and his aides often dismiss opponents of his nuclear diplomacy as always preferring war over diplomacy. But the striking fact is how widespread the concerns are as the White House appears to make ever more concessions.

Seth Mandel explains why liberals are attacking Bobby Jindal for being insufficiently Indian. They can't bear for any member of a minority to resist hyphenization.
Jindal’s argument is clear: Your ethnic or religious heritage doesn’t make you any less fully American. You don’t need a qualifier just because your parents or grandparents were born elsewhere. This is America, after all.
For the left, being “American” insufficiently describes you for the cultural commissars of modern identity politics.