Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cruising the Web

This is the sort of victory that the Congressional GOP don't get enough credit for. Paul Winfree from the Heritage Foundation gives the background.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced that insurers who lost money selling Obamacare would not get a $2.5-billion bailout. It was great news for taxpayers, but it didn’t happen by chance.

Both chambers of Congress worked very hard to make those savings possible. And lawmakers will have to continue working hard to keep bailouts like this from happening in the future.

Here’s how Congress did it this time. But first, some background.

Obamacare used generosity to overcome insurance companies’ objections to its excessive regulation. For starters, the law mandated that everyone buy their product. It created new subsidies to help people make those purchases. And it massively expanded Medicaid, which is largely administered by insurers.

The law also created two back-end bailout programs designed specifically to benefit insurers selling Obamacare plans in the individual market. Goody No. 1 was a reinsurance program that reimburses Obamacare plans for most of the expenses run up by people with high annual claims. Funded by a tax on everyone with non-Obamacare coverage, the reinsurance program shoveled nearly $8 billion to Obamacare insurers last year.

The second bailout provision was a “risk corridor” program designed to collect payments from insurers who made excess profits—as determined by the federal government—and make payments to insurers with excess losses. If the government didn’t collect enough from profitable insurers to cover the compensatory payments, taxpayers would be stuck with covering the “shortfall.”

The design amounted to a double bailout, with taxpayers on the hook for subsidizing insurance company losses on the back end as well as for the front-end subsidies and mandates that benefited insurers.

The Democratic leadership was able to bulldoze Obamacare through Congress. But many lawmakers felt that this sweetheart deal for insurers was a raw deal for taxpayers. In 2014, they decided to look into it.
The GOP figured out that HHS needed an appropriation for the bailouts and they were able to resist lobbying pressure to deny that appropriation. IN so doing they saved taxpayers $2.5 this year alone. This is kinda big deal, to paraphrase Joe Biden. Too bad the Republicans are too inept to even get out good news like this. Remember that the gafftastic statement that Kevin McCarthy made about the Benghazi Committee was his lame attempt to answer an inquiry as to GOP successes. That is why he couldn't be speaker - he couldn't come up with anything else as a success. Someone should let the GOP know that getting rid of the risk corridors in Obamacare is indeed an accomplishment.

The Washington Post went after Marco Rubio for being sick of the Senate and his poor record of showing up for votes on the Senate. It's a legitimate criticism that he isn't doing the job that Floridians sent him there to do and it isn't enough to just complain about how awful the Senate has become. But to tell the truth, I don't care if he's not there for everyday votes while he's running for president. As long as he's there for the key votes, that's enough. But the Democrats will have a hard time making that attack on Rubio. The Daily Mail has the data on some key Democrats and their voting records when they ran for the presidency.
A DailyMail.com analysis of Senate roll call records found that Rubio has missed 44.6 per cent of his votes since April, the month when he launched his Oval Office bid. That includes a 53.8 per cent absence rate in the third quarter of 2015, from July to September.

In the same quarter of 2007, as he frequently left Washington, D.C. for the Democratic primary's early voting states, Obama missed 56.3 of his votes.

The final quarter of 2007, leading up to the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary, saw the future president post even more dismal numbers – missing 89.4 per cent of his opportunities to shout 'aye' or 'nay.'
Clinton, in hot pursuit of Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, missed 83.5 per cent that quarter.

Throughout the months he was running for president in 2008, Obama skipped 64.3 per cent of his votes as an Illinois U.S. Senator.

Cliton's record was worse still in 2008 – a 68.4 per cent absence rate – through her withdrawal from the race on June 8 of that year.

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Jim Geraghty spoke at the Heritage Foundation and bemoaned the silly stuff we're talking about instead of hearing from the Republicans who were originally being touted as the deepest field ever.
You notice we’re not really having that debate.

Instead, we’re debating things like . . . if there was a Muslim presidential candidate, would you vote for him?

Could gun ownership have stopped the Holocaust?

Just a few days ago, “Did President Bush know about 9/11 before it happened?”

Where do you think Megyn Kelly had blood coming out of her?

What do you think of Carly Fiorina’s face?

You know how your teacher used to say, “There are no stupid questions?” She lied. Some of these are stupid questions. And the party and the country are not well served when our candidates are being forced to talk about these questions, instead of why the labor-force participation rate is at an all-time low for men, or what people are supposed to do with these skyrocketing insurance premiums under Obamacare, or what we should do about ISIS.

You’ve seen how this cycle works. Donald Trump is such a ratings magnet, the media are willing to have special rules for him. He gets to call in to Meet the Press! Do you think Rick Santorum or Lindsey Graham will ever get to do that?

Trump does the interview, and he says something controversial, and for the next 24 to 48 hours, when other candidates do get media attention, they get asked about what Trump just said. It’s a double-level media domination -- he gets a lot more earned media and air time, and when he’s not being interviewed, he’s often the topic of conversation.

We’ve been on this repeating cycle for about three or four months now. The consistent plurality of support for Trump -- sometimes as high as a third, more recently around a quarter, leading nationally, leading in Iowa until recently, leading in New Hampshire, leading in South Carolina -- indicates that there is a giant gap between a chunk of the self-described conservatives and conservatism as it has always been known.

So we have one front-runner or near-front-runner, Ben Carson, who seems to have the right instincts, probably the right general philosophy, but who seems to have not much familiarity with the policy details, and another front-runner whose thinking is in this irregular planetary orbit, sometimes passing through the conservative realm of space, and sometimes not.

I know what the Trump fans see in him: He’s a man to restore accountability. Every week on The Apprentice, he reviews what his teams have done, he gets down to what went wrong, he holds people accountable, he figures out who failed most consequentially, and he fires them. It’s a delightful contrast to our president, who never fires anyone, even after Healthcare.gov, the Veterans’ Administration scandals, the OPM hack, the EPA spill that turned that river mustard yellow, Benghazi . . . If I thought Donald Trump could do what his supporters think he will do, I would be much more enthusiastic.

I hope we see a whole lot more of Hillary Clinton playing the gender card against Bernie Sanders. It really is funny.
Hillary Clinton often bristles when her political opponents accuse her of playing the gender card, but she did just that in Iowa on Saturday when she accused Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders of sexism.

During a speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines, Clinton addressed Sanders’ past comments that “shouting” would not held solve the problem of gun crime.

Clinton apparently believes that Sanders was singling her out and that he was attacking her because she is a woman.

“I haven’t been shouting, but sometimes when a woman speaks out, some people think it’s shouting,” Clinton said during the speech.

But Clinton is either overly sensitive or using Sanders’ remarks for political gain.

As The New York Times noted, Sanders began decrying the “shouting” taking place in the gun debate well before Clinton staked out her position on the issue earlier this month.

In July, Sanders said people need to “stop shouting at each other” on gun issues. In August, he said that “people shouting at each other” is not going to solve the problems with gun violence. Clinton released her gun control policy proposal on Oct. 5.
Of course, if she should win the presidency, expect the gender card to be played even more than Obama's supporters play the race card.

Hillary is so eager to attack Republicans that she went out on a limb to claim that the VA scandal wasn't really that bad.
Democratic primary front-runner Hillary Clinton says the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) scandal is not as “widespread” of a problem as coverage would indicate.

She said the problem is real, but cautioned that “it’s not been as widespread as it has been made out to be” on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” on Friday.

The former first lady blamed Republicans for using the issue as part of an “ideological agenda” and said they want the VA to “fail.”

“Now nobody would believe that from the coverage you see, and the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans, in – in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have,” Clinton said.

“They try to create a downward spiral, don’t fund it to the extent that it needs to be funded, because they want it to fail, so then we can argue for privatization.”

Senate Democrats blocked a bill to fund the VA earlier this month in order to negotiate a larger budget deal.

Clinton said veterans often report having a positive experience with the VA when they get treatment through the agency.

“I don’t understand why we have such a problem, because there have been a number of surveys of veterans, and, overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment,” she said.

Extended wait times at VA hospitals have provoked public outrage. An inspector general’s report last year found that veterans in Phoenix waited 115 days on average for an initial doctor’s appointment, while official data claimed that the average wait was only 24 days.

The report also found that 1,700 veterans were intentionally kept off of patient rolls and 40 veterans died waiting for treatment at the Phoenix facility.

A VA whistleblower offers to take Hillary on a tour of the Phoenix VA facility where the scandal first came to light.
“For Mrs. Clinton to say it’s an isolated incident, I’m prepared to meet her wherever she wants to meet,” Coleman said. “She can pick a VA facility. I’ll name some off for her right now: Tomah, Chicago, Minneapolis, we can go to Florida … We can talk to front-line employees and I bet you they’ll have similar stories to mine as to what’s going on at the VA.”

When mentioning the Phoenix VA specifically, the hospital where the waitlist manipulation scandal first kicked off in 2014, Coleman said that he’d like to take Clinton to the urology clinic, “where 45 veterans were not getting the care they deserved with stage 4 cancer.”

An October inspector general report ripped into the urology clinic at Phoenix, arguing that veterans died because of mismanagement and poor staffing. It’s not possible to arrive at a more precise number of veterans who suffered because medical records are in such disarray. But in half of the 10 cases examined, patients died from delays.

Pointing out problems at the VA and advocating for reform have nothing to do with partisan politics, said Coleman.

“I think the easy way out for her is to say that it’s a right-wing conspiracy. I’m not a Republican, I’m not a Democrat. I’m a veteran,” Coleman said.

But while Clinton apparently thinks that the problems are not terribly widespread, members of her own party have recently called for major VA reform—and not just at the facility in Phoenix. Earlier in October, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked the Department of Justice to conduct a criminal investigation into VA executives, who defrauded taxpayers by gaming a relocation payments program.
Expect to see that quote coming back next year in attack ads. They can contrast her nonchalance and desire to turn it all into a partisan battle with the report that found that close to 1000 American "veterans died as a result of a subpar treatment." What difference does it make, indeed.

Megan McArdle reviews the movie glorifying Dan Rather and Mary Mapes for their actions in Rathergate. Not only does the movie ignore the actual facts of the story, but it is tedious and continually self-congratulatory.
I watched the movie with two other journalists, and we all wondered how Vanderbilt managed to convince himself he was telling a story of noble journalists crushed by power, while showing us horrifying mistakes and lax editorial oversight. It was like watching a version of "Return of the Jedi" where the director thought the hero was Emperor Palpatine. When a source tells you three different stories about where he got some documents, each story crazier than the last, most journalists think “Maybe there’s a problem here.” Why doesn’t Mapes?

If you go along with the idea that Mapes did her job well and that the documents are plausible, then most of the events of the third act are inexplicable. Why were other journalists so down on the "60 Minutes" team? Did CBS employ the only four decent, truth-loving journalists in the country? Why did the independent commission that investigated the case issue such a scathing report? Why were so many people fired?

In order to cover up the widening gap between the narrative and the facts, Vanderbilt resorts to flat, one-note characters. On the one hand we have the team that put the story on air, sterling folks whose only flaws are the sort of things one confesses in job interviews, like “I work too hard” or “Sometimes, I just care too darn much.” Most of the other characters are soulless careerists or vicious partisans, interested only in saving their jobs, Bush’s electoral prospects and Viacom’s precious telecoms legislation.

The original sin of the movie was trying to make Mary Mapes the hero. Vanderbilt could have told a great story about someone who made a terrible yet basically understandable mistake, and who suffered horribly for it. Instead, he wanted to make a movie about someone who did a good job in a good cause, and suffered anyway. Since this story is not compatible with reality, he had to do what Mapes did: believe six impossible things before breakfast, to avoid facing one, glaringly obvious fact that doesn't reflect well on our hero. The result doesn’t really work on any level as a movie.

As a metanarrative, on the other hand, it couldn’t be more perfect: Just like his hero, James Vanderbilt got taken by a source.

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Matt Lewis explains why the Truman Doctrine of "strength" should worry people.
The problem with having “strength” be your electoral rationale is that it’s value free — and philosophically neutral.

In this regard, the word “strength” is like the word “change.” Barack Obama inspired the masses with promises of change, without ever noting that change can be positive or disastrous. Likewise, the attribute of strength does not denote virtue or freedom. George Washington was strong — but so was Napoleon. Winston Churchill was strong — but so was Mussolini.

So how did we come to fetishize strength? In a world where politicians seem weak and effete and impotent, a sizable chunk of voters seem willing to toss the dice on a guy who makes things happen. (It hardly matters what things he makes happen.) An incompetent, corrupt, or anemic government sets the stage for public passions to be swept up by an inspiring figure who can restore a nation to its glory days. Thus, Mussolini can pretend he’s remaking the Roman Empire — just as Churchill can talk about defending Christendom and western civilization.

Don’t get me wrong, having seen Hillary Clinton dominate the debate stage and the Benghazi hearing, Republican voters would be wise to nominate someone who’s tough enough to go toe to toe with her. And having seen Barack Obama dither these last eight years, American needs a president who can project a strong image abroad. But while strength should certainly be one of the qualities we look for in a leader, it should, by no means, be the only — or even primary — attribute we look for.

Apparently, Marco Rubio has hooked up with some very aggressive political operatives in South Carolina and this may cause tensions with Nikki Haley who has been the target of one of those operatives. Who knows how much of all this hand-wringing matters. I would doubt that Haley would go against Rubio in the primary there just because she detests some of his operatives. She is more likely to play it neutral and wait to see who comes out of SC with a ticket to continue on in the further primaries. But Rubio needs to keep tight control over his staff so that their methods don't become a story that drowns out his message.

Leon Wolf at Red State notes that there is one political candidate whom Trump treats with respect - Hillary Clinton. He was happy to jump on the Democratic bandwagon and call the Benghazi hearing very partisan. How typical that he criticizes Republicans with Democratic talking points.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Trump has never during the course of this campaign showed this much willingness to defend anyone on the Republican side from attacks that were generated by either the press or other Republicans. Instead, he gleefully parroted those attacks, or even expanded on them.

You might excuse his unwillingness to show even basic decency to his primary opponents as part of a winner-take-all mentality that is just part of Trump’s unique personality, and to the fact that he has no real loyalty to or use for the party after this campaign is over. Maybe his supporters feel the same, and that’s fine.

But what’s the excuse for soft-pedaling on Hillary Clinton, who he must know he’s likely to face in the general, if he wins the primary (which he appears very confident that he will do)? There is none, unless he really doesn’t care if he beats Hillary, as long as he beats the other Republicans in the field.

But I guess he does have one thing in common with Hillary Clinton - they both are happy to poor-mouth their own wealth history. Now Trump's complaining about how difficult things were for him when he was starting out and had to take out a "small" million-dollar loan from his dad.

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Beyond Benghazi, there are quite a few elements of Hillary Clinton's leadership at State that do not reflect well on her. She might have thought it was fine to have her own server, but it appears that State's security for their email system wasn't all that great either.
The State Department was among the worst agencies in the federal government at protecting its computer networks while Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary from 2009 to 2013, a situation that continued to deteriorate as John Kerry took office and Russian hackers breached the department's email system, according to independent audits and interviews.

The State Department's compliance with federal cybersecurity standards was below average when Clinton took over but grew worse in each year of her tenure, according to an annual report card compiled by the White House based on audits by agency watchdogs. Network security continued to slip after Kerry replaced Clinton in February 2013, and remains substandard, according to the State Department inspector general.

In each year from 2011 to 2014, the State Department's poor cybersecurity was identified by the inspector general as a "significant deficiency" that put the department's information at risk.

Ben Carson is raising a whole lot of money, but his burn rate is quite high, though not as high as Hillary Clinton's. The Atlantic looks at what he's spending his money on. A lot is going to raise more money. I wouldn't like that sort of spending on fundraising in a charity and I would prefer not to see it in a politician.

This might explain why Donald Trump is suddenly talking about Seventh Day Adventists, Ben Carson's religion. Evangelicals much prefer Ben Carson. And that is very important for Iowa's GOP voters.
For evangelicals, it's likely that Trump's attacks on Ben Carson's Seventh Day Adventist faith and his almost laughable lack of knowledge of, or seriousness about, his professed Christian faith have damaged him. Or perhaps Christian voters see Trump as personifying the seven deadly sins better than any other candidate.

But the biggest factor may be the presence of a similar and less offensive alternative in Carson. Like Trump, Ben Carson is a straight-talking outsider with a penchant for making outrageous statements. But he is also a committed Christian, and that means a lot to committed Christian voters.
And that might explain why Trump can still be so far ahead in New Hampshire - the Evangelical vote isn't as important there.

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The low labor participation rate continues to be very concerning.
What we really need to spotlight is the crushing economic effect of a lower labor participation rate (LPR). There are now 100 million Americans over the age of 16 that are not working. The Obama Administration keeps running out the deceit that this is because of all the baby boomers retiring. The fact is that the labor force participation rate for the age group 16 to 24 is only 55.1%. That is a reduction of over 10% from 66% during the 1990’s. It is also down over 5% (60.8%) from 2005. Sure myopic minimum wage increases are harming the employment of this age group with the least work experience, but that is not the total explanation.

The Obama manipulation gets worse because the LPR is lower for the prime working years of 25-54 years old. In 2000 the LPR for this age group was almost 85%. It was down to 83% when the recession started, but has now plummeted to 80.7%. It is clear the baby boomers are not the only source of reduction in the LPR.

You may wonder why this is such a big deal. The LPR for September 2015 was 62.4%. That is 3.7% less than August, 2005 exactly ten years earlier. One can argue this reduction in rate has to do with the “Great Recession.” Not true. If you review the Dept. of Labor statistics you see virtually unstopped monthly decline in the LPR during the entire Obama Presidency. From the point that the recession was pronounced over the LPR has steadily declined by 3.3%.

As shown above this is not just because of old folks retiring. In fact, more and more seniors are working longer to compensate for inadequate retirement savings or just because they are healthy and want to continue working.

If you calculate what that means in human costs at least 12 million more people would be working today if we had the same LPR as ten years ago. And this rate isn’t even a high-water mark for the American economy.

If you are doing national budgeting that means 12 million less people are paying taxes and 12 million more people are drawing government benefits. Is it now clear why our national deficit has not shrunk to a lower amount than the estimated $439 billion for this fiscal year even though the Obama Administration is touting that as a victory?

Let’s just focus on one of the estimated 100 welfare programs the federal government operates – the food stamp program. One year after the end of the recession – 2010 – there were 40 million recipients of this program. In the latest year available, 2014, there were 46.5 million food stamp recipients. If the economy was improving one would expect the usage rate to plummet. Instead this increase is partially explained by the LPR.

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Hillary's plan to win young people's votes by promising to make college tuition free. Katie Kieffer has some suggestions for Republicans on how to answer her fantasy promises.

Byron York explains why other Republicans, except maybe Donald Trump who just can't help himself, will not be eager to attack Ben Carson. He's too well liked. And it looks like bullying if they attack someone who isn't attacking them. And then there is his race which probably also explains his high numbers. A lot of Republicans are quite eager to vote for a black conservative. I hope that Trump keeps attacking Carson for such stupid things as having low energy and for his religion.

Tec Cruz is getting frustrated with Donald Trump and Ben Carson's continued success.

Apparently, according to MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, using the term "hard worker" is now a demonstration of white and male privilege. They get crazier every day.