Friday, September 30, 2016

Cruising the Web

Ah, the Obama administration continues to find ways to circumvent the law in order to bolster Obamacare. They really are insidiously destroying the entire system of checks and balances. One of the unsung, but most important achievements of the Republican Congress has been to block the administration from using federal funds to bail out insurance companies losing money over Obamacare. So the administration is planning to just ignore that.
The Obama administration is maneuvering to pay health insurers billions of dollars the government owes under the Affordable Care Act, through a move that could circumvent Congress and help shore up the president’s signature legislative achievement before he leaves office.

Justice Department officials have privately told several health plans suing over the unpaid money that they are eager to negotiate a broad settlement, which could end up offering payments to about 175 health plans selling coverage on ACA marketplaces, according to insurance executives and lawyers familiar with the talks.

The payments most likely would draw from an obscure Treasury Department fund intended to cover federal legal claims, the executives and lawyers said. This approach would get around a recent congressional ban on the use of Health and Human Services money to pay the insurers.

The start of negotiations came amid an exodus of health plans from the insurance exchanges that are at the heart of the law. More than 10 million Americans have gained coverage through the marketplaces since they opened in 2014.

But many insurers are losing money on their new customers, who tend to be relatively sick and expensive to treat. As a result, some smaller plans have been driven out of business and a few major ones are defecting from exchanges for the coming year.
They want to use the Judgment Fund that was set up in the 1950s to pay claims against the federal government.
The fund’s website shows that it has been used for a few hundred claims against HHS in the past decade. Taken together, they amounted to about $18 million — a fraction of what the insurers are owed.

In the administration’s waning months, officials are continuing their upbeat portrayal of all aspects of the law. Behind the scenes, they think that making these payments to insurers — $2.5 billion for 2014 and an as-yet-undisclosed sum for 2015 — is crucial to the exchanges’ well-being.
You might remember the Judgment Fund. That is what Claudia Rosett reported about a month ago was used to pay the $1.3 billion ransom to Iran. Apparently, the Obama administration is using it as their personal slush fund to pay for whatever unpopular policy they want to carry out.

I guess the Obama attitude is "Après nous le déluge." What do they think will happen with all these precedents of ignoring Congress when another president they don't like is in office?

Chris Jacobs commented on the administration's plan to use the fund as a bailout for Obamacare and explained what the GOP could do to block this.
Apart from being bad policy — and a violation of Congress’s express language forbidding a taxpayer bailout — such a settlement could also violate the Justice Department’s own legal guidelines. Insurers are seeking to obtain from the Judgment Fund, the entity that pays out claims stemming from federal lawsuits, what they could not obtain from Congress. But a 1998 opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) called these backdoor bailouts improper and illegal:
The Judgment Fund does not become available simply because an agency may have insufficient funds at a particular time to pay a judgment. If the agency lacks sufficient funds to pay a judgment, but possesses statutory authority to make the payment, its recourse is to seek funds from Congress. Thus, if another appropriation or fund is legally available to pay a judgment or settlement, payment is “otherwise provided for” and the Judgment Fund is not available.
That’s exactly the situation facing CMS regarding risk corridors. Risk corridors are considered “user fees,” and CMS has a statutory appropriation to make those payments. But Congress explicitly prohibited CMS from using taxpayer funds to supplement those user fees. In other words, Congress has “otherwise provided for” risk-corridor payments — and insurers can’t use the Judgment Fund as an alternative source for bailout because they didn’t like Congress’s prohibition on a taxpayer-funded bailout.

At least, so say the Office of Legal Counsel in its 1998 memo (issued by the Clinton administration, remember), the comptroller general, and the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. But CMS, and possibly the Obama Justice Department, have other ideas. In defending the insurer lawsuits, Justice has not yet cited the OLC memo or made any claim that Congress, consistent with both the law and past precedent, should have the last word on any judgment. Friday’s memo clearly indicates the Obama administration’s desire for some type of corrupt bargain on its way out the door.

Congress could try to act legislatively to block a potential settlement, but it has another option at its disposal. Section 2(f)(2)(C) of the rules package adopted by the House of Representatives on the first day of the 114th Congress last January provided that “the authorities provided by House Resolution 676 of the 113th Congress remain in full force and effect in the 114th Congress.” That resolution, which led to the filing of the House v. Burwell case regarding Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies, gave the House speaker authorization
to initiate or intervene in one or more civil actions on behalf of the House . . . regarding the failure of the President, the head of any department or agency, or any other officer or employee of the executive branch, to act in a manner consistent with that official’s duties under the Constitution and the laws of the United States with respect to implementation of any provision of [Obamacare].
In other words, Speaker Ryan already has the authority necessary to intervene in the risk-corridor cases — to ensure that any potential “settlement” adheres to both Congress’s express will regarding bailouts and existing legal practice as outlined by both the comptroller general and the Department of Justice itself.

Whether judicially, legislatively, or both, Congress should act — and act now. The time between now and January 20 is short, and the potential for mischief high. The legislature should go to work immediately to stop both a massive illegal bailout and another massive usurpation of Congress’s own authority by an imperial executive. (Links in original)
What does the Obama administration care about other findings from legal authorities even if they are from a Democratic administration? Any circumvention of the law is permissible if it helps save Obamacare. And any such lawsuit, like House v. Burwell is headed toward the Supreme Court which is probably going to seat either Merrick Garland or a Hillary Clinton nominee in the near future. So all bets are off for what they could decide even though one federal judge has already ruled in favor of the House in this case. But then we learned from Hillary on Monday night that one federal judge's ruling that "stop and frisk" is unconstitutional meant that it was, therefore, unconstitutional. So the same thinking should apply to the Obama administration's actions in Obamacare, no? What am I thinking? Of course not. All conservative victories are temporary and all liberal victories must be permanent.

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Jonathan Tobin posits that the entire country is having an "Aleppo moment."
But judging by the content of the first debate involving the two candidates who actually have a chance of being elected and, indeed, much of the discourse on foreign policy during the campaign, it might be said that the American people in 2016 are having their own collective “Aleppo moment.”

Foreign policy didn’t play a large role in the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. When the subject did come up, it illustrated the dismal choice facing Americans.

Trump speculated about NATO being obsolete, showed he didn’t know its role in fighting terror since 9/11, and dismissed the cyber threat that Russia poses to the United States. He seemed to embrace Barack Obama’s foolish willingness to abandon America’s “first strike” option on nuclear weapons (a key factor in deterring war for the last 70 years), and launched into a confused ramble about how to deal with North Korea. Though we know Trump can name at least one foreign leader (Vladimir Putin), his grasp of foreign policy could actually be said to be worse than Johnson’a since at least the Libertarian knows he’s an ignoramus.

Clinton couldn’t quite match Trump’s flamboyant ignorance but made up for it in part by spouting false statements about the Iran nuclear deal and demonstrating that in virtually every respect her administration would be a continuation of President Obama’s march of folly abroad.

But what’s really awful is that both party’s bases don’t seem to care. We think it’s comical when Libertarians rationalize Johnson’s gaffes, but their “at least he’s honest about it” defense looks good when compared to the comments of Republicans who claim that Trump’s contradictory mix of isolationism, appeasement of Russia, and boasts about fighting ISIS make sense. The same applies to Democrats who are willing to pretend that Clinton is telling the truth about Iran, or who give her a pass for being unwilling to speak plainly about Islamist terror, or for her cavalier personal approach to national security.
And Clinton seems to be prepared to double down on the foreign policy mistakes of the Obama administration as she praises the Iran deal. That was one area in the debate where Trump was actually on to something in his criticism of the deal.
In response, Clinton claimed the only alternative was war. This is a lie. Had sanctions been not only continued but also strengthened to the point where Iran lost its ability to sell any of its oil anywhere, the chance of a deal that fulfilled Obama’s 2012 campaign promise to end Tehran’s nuclear program could have been salvaged and a despotic regime might have been fatally weakened instead of strengthened. At least that’s what Trump should have said. Instead he spent the next few minutes getting suckered into going down the rabbit hole of defending his lie about opposing the Iraq War before veering off into an argument about whether the U.S. Navy should be more aggressive in its patrolling in the Persian Gulf.

This failure is all the more frustrating because Iran’s recent provocative behavior illustrates the fallacies Clinton was defending. Its continued funding of international terrorism (made all the easier by Obama’s gifts and hostage payments), illegal missile tests, and continued threats against Israel illustrate that Obama’s belief that Iran wanted to “get right with the world” has been proven false.

Of course, Trump’s support for Russia’s re-entry into the Middle East and his incoherent stance on fighting ISIS (he wants to kick its ass but thinks other nations will do America’s dirty work for it while the U.S. pulls out of the region) explained why the catastrophe in Syria wasn’t raised by either candidate on Monday night. Trump would have to choose between his crush on Vladimir Putin and his desire to be tougher on Russia’s ally Iran, with whom it has waged a brutal war in Syria, and he won’t.

So even on the one foreign policy issue where Trump got it completely right, his own muddled and contradictory policy statements undercut the edge he ought to have over Clinton.

Along the same lines, the American people don't seem to be noticing that Obama's entire policy toward Russia is disintegrating before our eyes. Noah Rothman writes,
Today, the White House’s misguided Russia policy is going up in smoke.

In 2009, just one year after Moscow invaded and carved up Georgia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were posing for “reset” photo ops. In 2013, when the president wanted a way out of his pledge to punish Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons, the Russians were more than happy to oblige. Finally, when Western forces were compelled to intervene in Syria, Moscow stepped in to rescue its faltering client in Damascus. This bellicosity was rewarded by Obama in the form of legitimizing “non-confliction” agreements and de facto military partnerships. All of this was to protect and preserve the Obama administration’s singular mission: a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Today, with the third ceasefire agreement of 2016 dead and buried, Secretary of State John Kerry would like you to believe that he’s had all he can stand from the Russians. In a telephone call with Lavrov, Kerry struck a tough tone. He insisted that Moscow must take “immediate steps” to bring an end to the regime offensive on the rebel-held city of Aleppo—an offensive that Russian air assets are actively supporting. The Russians, for their part, have done nothing. And why would they? Obama has demonstrated clearly and for seven years that nothing Moscow can do—from invading and annexing territory in Europe, to harassing American air and naval assets, to displacing the United States in the Middle East as the diplomatic power of first resort—will dissuade the White House from seeking deeper bilateral ties.

Kerry’s furrowed-brow warnings come amid a series of unspeakable Russian atrocities in Syria. The United States alleges it was the Russian air force that targeted and neutralized a United Nations convoy of relief bound for Aleppo. It has not refuted reports that Russia is using cluster weapons, incendiary munitions, and white phosphorous against anti-Assad rebel targets in Syria. Kerry reportedly expressed “grave concern” over reports that Moscow is joining with Assad’s air forces to target civilian infrastructure and even hospitals.

Kerry’s grave concerns were expressed on the very same day that a Netherlands-based investigation into the 2014 destruction of a civilian airliner over Eastern Ukraine was the work of Moscow just one step removed.
And even though the administration thinks Russia was definitely responsible for hacking the DNC computers, they didn't want that information coming out.
According to BuzzFeed defense reporter Ali Watkins, the White House leaned on the ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees—Representative Adam Schiff and Senator Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats—to keep what they knew about the hacks and their Russian links quiet.
But hey, what does it matter when the Republican nominee just expresses admiration for Putin and defends Russia from hacking the DNC computers. Our collective "Aleppo moment" continues.

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Whenever Republicans advocate laws on having to show a photo ID for people to vote, Democrats respond that there are so few episodes of voter fraud that we don't need it. Of course, we don't know how many people are committing fraud if they're not caught while doing it. And since they don't have to show an ID, we don't have much opportunity to find out. But sometimes the truth comes out as it has concerning the man who shot up people in the Cascade Mall in Washington this past weekend.
The Cascade Mall shooting suspect, Arcan Cetin, may face an additional investigation related to his voting record and citizenship status.

Federal sources confirm to KING 5 that Cetin was not a U.S. citizen, meaning legally he cannot vote. However, state records show Cetin registered to vote in 2014 and participated in three election cycles, including the May presidential primary.

Cetin, who immigrated to the United States from Turkey as a child, is considered a permanent resident or green card holder. While a permanent resident can apply for U.S. citizenship after a certain period of time, sources tell KING his status had not changed from green card holder to U.S. citizen.

While voters must attest to citizenship upon registering online or registering to vote at the Department of Licensing Office, Washington state doesn't require proof of citizenship. Therefore elections officials say the state's elections system operates, more or less, under an honor system.

"We don’t have a provision in state law that allows us either county elections officials or the Secretary of State's office to verify someone’s citizenship," explained Secretary of State Kim Wyman. "So, we’re in this place where we want to make sure we’re maintaining people’s confidence in the elections and the integrity of the process, but also that we’re giving this individual, like we would any voter, his due process. We’re moving forward, and that investigation is really coming out of the investigation from the shootings."

The penalty for voting as a non U.S. citizen could result in five years of prison time or a $10,000, according to Secretary of State's Office.
It makes one wonder how many non-citizens are voting. But we're told that it's racist to ask people to show proof of citizenship when they register. Allahpundit flags the same story and writes,
Let me remind you that a study was published two years ago estimating that more than six percent of all non-citizens in the U.S. voted in the 2008 elections. That was the year Al Franken won his Senate seat by 300+ votes in Minnesota; a year later, Franken cast the 60th and deciding vote when the Democratic Senate barely passed ObamaCare. Illegal voting by non-citizens doesn’t matter in blowouts but it does matter in close elections. And yet, despite hard evidence of this, at least one state doesn’t even bother policing its own registration requirements. If Trump loses a nailbiter this year, do you think he might bring this up, pointing directly at Cetin as proof that illegal voting does happen? I sure would.
And here's another example that ACORN-like shenanigans with voter registration are continuing.
The FBI and local police are investigating how at least 19 dead Virginians were recently re-registered to vote in this critical swing state.

One case came to light after relatives of a deceased man received a note congratulating him for registering, Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst said Thursday.

“His family members were very distraught,” said Garst, who confirmed the existence of the FBI and police investigation but said she could provide few details because the case is ongoing.

All 19 were initially registered as voters in the Shenandoah Valley city of Harrisonburg, although a clerk double-checking the entries later raised questions about one. She recognized the name of Richard Allen Claybrook Sr., who died in 2014 at age 87, because his son is a well-known local judge. She happened to recall that the judge’s father had died.

“He was a retired Fairfax County elementary school principal and had fought in World War II,” said his son, retired Harrisonburg General District Court Judge Richard Allen Claybrook Jr. “So our family is very disgusted that they would pick his name, because he was such a law-abiding citizen devoted to public service.”

All of the forms had been submitted by a private group that was working to register voters on the campus of James Madison University, according to the Harrisonburg registrar’s office. The group was not identified. No charges have been filed.

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Brad Slager writes about the newest trend on the left to purge anyone in the media who doesn't pay sufficient fealty to Hillary Clinton and also do enough to demonize Donald Trump. We saw Dr. Drew Pinski lose his show because he talked about Hillary's health and the care she may be receiving. Huffington Post writer David Seaman lost his connection to HuffPo because he also talked about Hillary's health. Matt Lauer received deep opprobrium from the left because they didn't think he was sufficiently tough on Trump in the Commander-in-Chief Forum. Now Jimmy Fallon is receiving the purge treatment.
This month, Jimmy Fallon invited Trump to appear on “The Tonight Show.” It was pretty much what you’d expect: The canned jovial atmosphere was spiced with a few choice barbs, but overall it was a harmless and forgettable interlude. The next day, however, Fallon came under fire from all sides of the media spectrum. What had the host done to raise such scorn?

The answer: nothing. He was demonized for not attacking The Donald, or even for simply having him on his program. Fallon—the man who “slow-jams the news” with President Obama—became a bison without a herd because he did what late-night hosts do: treat a politician kindly with lighthearted banter. What’s more, all this outcry took place after Hillary received fawning national coverage for appearing on Kimmel’s program and opening a pickle jar.

All the proof you need that the response was rigged? Consider the uniformity of the hysteria. The media often exposes its reliance on spoon-fed talking points via repetition. Friday outlets from The Atlantic, New Republic, New York Magazine, and even Samantha Bee echoed dismay at Fallon by criticizing how the segment “normalized Trump.”

....On September 16, we saw what it looks like when the media runs as one unit. Following a New York City explosion, news outlets blasted Trump for daring to describe the blast as the result of a “bomb,” before authorities classified it as such. At the same time, Hillary was asked for a statement on her plane—and referenced the New York “bombings” in her opening sentence.

A reporter immediately asked how it could be irresponsible of Trump to use the exact same term she had just used. In generations past, this would have been the stuff to distinguish an intrepid reporter and earn them notice. But once this niggling contradictory detail was revealed, CNN edited out Hillary’s use of “bomb” in its video and articles. All simply nod and repeat the approved narrative. Edit as needed.

This is 2016. Some candidates do not receive the interrogations of the past. Some candidates are not permitted to engage in comedic skits following the local news. And all media members are expected to behave accordingly—lest they be driven from the herd.
If she is elected, expect at least four years of this with any criticism of her being characterized as sexist bigotry. People who are tired of political correctness now have a lot worse to anticipate.

The New York Times reports on the Trump campaign and how much trouble they're having getting Trump to concentrate and get ready for the next debate. He sounds like a little kid who doesn't want to eat his vegetables. And he doesn't seem to think he had a problem in the first debate because useless online surveys said that he was the winner.
At a rally on Wednesday in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Mr. Trump bragged that he had won the debate by “a landslide.” He said he did not think Mrs. Clinton “did well in the debate at all,” and noted the feedback that he received from people as he took the stage for the rally.

“I just walked in, and I saw so many great people, and they said, ‘Wow, you did so great in the debate,’” he said. “And we understand that. We understand that.”

Even as Mr. Trump’s advisers publicly backed him and praised his debate performance, they were privately awash in second-guessing about why he stopped attacking Mrs. Clinton on trade and character issues and instead grew erratic, impatient and subdued as the night went on. In interviews, seven campaign aides and advisers, most of whom sought anonymity to speak candidly, expressed frustration and discouragement over their candidate’s performance Monday night.

They blamed his overstuffed schedule, including a last-minute rally in Virginia that was added days before the debate. They blamed the large number of voluble people on his prep team, including two retired military figures with no political background. And they blamed the lack of time spent on preparing a game plan in the first place.

Mr. Trump, for his part, sought to blame everything but himself. During an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday, he charged that the moderator, Lester Holt of NBC News, had become overly aggressive with him — although he inaccurately said that Mr. Holt had questioned him over a 1973 federal discrimination lawsuit against Mr. Trump’s company. (Mrs. Clinton had raised the lawsuit question.) He also suggested that his performance was related to a faulty mike — even though he was perfectly audible during the telecast — and that he may have been the victim of sabotage.
It seems rather notable that seven people in the campaign are willing to leak to the NYT their irritation over how Trump did on Monday night. He's already had several campaign shake-ups - will he launch another one at this point?

Don't expect a drastic improvement in the next debate which is the townhall format. He might want to attack Hillary more this time to make up for his inability to focus attacks on her on Monday night. But it's a different environment and he'll have to interact with ordinary citizens and seem sympathetic to their concerns. It doesn't sound like his forte.

And does this sound like a guy who is ready to take on the responsibilities of the presidency to listen to reports on problems from around the country and the world?
There were early efforts to run a more standard form of general election debate-prep camp, led by Roger Ailes, the ousted Fox News chief, at Mr. Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, N.J. But Mr. Trump found it hard to focus during those meetings, according to multiple people briefed on the process who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
I've long thought that we put too much stress on how candidates do in the debates since debating isn't a skill that a U.S. president needs to demonstrate in office. But reading briefing books and listening to reports from aides is something that a president needs to do on a daily basis. Does this story give anyone confidence that he would be able to do this in office?

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