Free Markets, Free People

panic


Why Obama caved yesterday

Three primarily political reasons drove the Obama concession yesterday to allow insurance companies to continue to cover customers whose plans don’t meet ObamaCare standards. And none really had anything to do with doing what was right for the citizenry.  He wasn’t really doing anyone any favors except Democrats.  He was, as usual, focused solely on limiting political damage.

One reason that drove the concession was the usual – an attempt to start shifting the blame.  As Megan McArdle points out:

This may be a near-perfect specimen of that Washington perennial: the nonsolution solution. Insurers are already warning that they can’t simply allow people to stay on their old plans, firstly because all plans have to be approved by state insurers who haven’t signed onto this, and secondly because getting their computer systems to reissue the canceled policies is a hefty programming task that may not be possible to complete by the end of the year. But that’s not the administration’s problem, is it? They can say, “Hey, we changed the rule — if your insurer went ahead and canceled your policy anyway, that’s not our fault!”

Blame shifting is as natural to this administration as breathing is to the rest of us.  While they take more heat, they can now pass some of it off to insurers who were simply following the law as the Democrats and the administration had written it.  Now they’re the bad guys. As you might imagine, the insurance industry is furious.  And insurance regulators?  Well, they’re left wondering what is what.

Reason number two for the concession was Congressional Democrat panic.  Karl Rove has some thoughts on that:

Mr. Obama’s assertion in the NBC interview that “the majority of folks” whose coverage is canceled will “be able to get better care at the same cost or cheaper” is also likely to be false. The higher premiums that result from ObamaCare’s bells-and-whistles coverage mandates may be offset for some by subsidies, but most people will pay more.

This problem will get worse and poses a dilemma for Mr. Obama and Democrats. A March analysis by Healthpocket.com estimated that less than 2% of individual plans comply with ObamaCare’s mandates. A Nov. 7 study by McClatchy Newspapers suggests as many as 52 million people, including many covered by their employers, could lose their plan.

As the 2014 election approaches, these people will be (a) losing coverage or have lost it already, (b) shopping for new policies, (c) suffering sticker shock over higher premiums and deductibles and (d) wondering why Mr. Obama called their previous policy with doctors they liked “subpar.” Then, next September and October, they’ll be told about premium increases for 2015.

Democrats know this, and that is why they’re pushing so hard for a delay in these cancellations.  They’re really not so much interested in a “fix” as they are in enough time to avoid the consequences of the law in 2014.  So they’re very willing to grab this totally short-term political “solution” by kicking the can down the road in order to weather the 2014 midterms.  By the time this rears its ugly head again in full, they’re hoping the elections will be over.

Again, this isn’t about people losing coverage.  This is about Democrats losing office.

And finally the third reason was a real need to get out in front of the Upton bill in the House.  Kimberley Strassel covers that:

The primary purpose of the White House “fix” was to get out ahead of the planned Friday vote on Michigan Republican Fred Upton’s “Keep Your Health Plan Act.” The stage was set for dozens of Democrats to join with the GOP for passage—potentially creating a veto-proof majority, and putting enormous pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to follow suit.

The White House couldn’t risk such a bipartisan rebuke. Moreover, the Upton bill—while it lacks those GOP joy words of “delay” or “repeal”—poses a threat, since it would allow insurers to continue providing non-ObamaCare policies to any American who wants one. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu‘s version of the bill would in fact (unconstitutionally) order insurers to offer the plans in perpetuity. Both bills undermine the law’s central goal of forcing healthy people into costly ObamaCare exchange plans that subsidize the sick.

The president’s “fix” is designed to limit such grandfathering, but that’s why it is of dubious political help to Democrats. Within minutes of Mr. Obama’s announcement, several Democratic senators, including North Carolina’s Kay Hagan —whose poll numbers have plummeted in advance of her 2014 re-election bid—announced that they remain in favor of Landrieu-style legislation.

But it’s not going to happen.  Obama has already said he’d veto the Upton legislation.  There’s a message there for Mary Landrieu as well.

This was all about Barack Obama, as usual.  It is a result of raw political calculation – his only seeming area of competence.  He’s now managed a political solution which serves him  about as well as any solution can in the mess he and his administration have made of this atrocious law.  He’s found someone else to shift the blame too, he’s quieted Democrats, at least for the moment and he’s politically pre-empted a GOP move that would have seriously damaged his signature legislation and dumped his leadership and credibility ratings even lower.

For him, this is about as good as it gets.

~McQ


Japan’s nuclear problem and panic as policy

First, take a look at ABC News’ coverage of the nuclear problem in Japan. I don’t know about you, but it seems tinged with emotional sensationalism to me. That’s not to say the problem isn’t obviously serious, but it has that emotional element to it that, well, isn’t very objective. It also implies that the result is likely to be from a doomsday scenario.

 

Now watch this segment:

 

What you see here is the rush to judgment. The first thing that happens is politicians, seeing this as fertile ground for image polishing (seeming to take seriously what has been trumped as serious and seeming to take action to address a perceived problem) jump in front of a camera to make the case for protecting the public by implying that we’re in the same boat as the Japanese and they’re the only ones who can save us.

Do you remember the map of the US in which the similar nuke sites to those in Japan flashed up?  Remember the map I showed you about significant earthquakes in the US for the past 200 years?  Theirs was up there quickly, and I may have missed it, but few if any of those plants fell in the real earthquake prone areas.  So to me, getting in front of a camera and pretending we’re in the same situation as that of the Japanese is simply scare mongering and irresponsible.  And that applies to both the politicians and news media types doing this.

It brings me to an Abe Greenwald piece in Commentary’s Contentions.  It is entitled “Panic as a Policy”.  He sets the stage by noting that Germany has gone absolutely bats over the Japanese crisis to the point that Angela Merkel, in the a political campaign, has decided to dump one of her most important policies of her second term – the extension of nuclear reactor lifetimes by an average of 12 years beyond their original scheduled phase-out date of 2012.  48 hours after the Japanese crisis, she ordered a three month moratorium on the extension.  7 of the oldest power stations will now be shut down immediately pending a 3 month safety review.

Says Greenwald:

Hysteria on the largest scale possible has become the default official response to all crises. A lay public furnished with near-instantaneous media coverage can be counted on to demand immediate and absolute measures so that the crisis can be scrubbed from consciousness, however crudely or illogically. And over-monitored leaders will be sure to comply. Today a politician can lose his job if he doesn’t swiftly change historical precedent to fit the frenzied misinterpretation of a still-breaking news story. This will continue to yield atrocious consequences.

I cannot agree more.  We have become, in many cases, victims of manufactured hysteria.  We get a fire hose effect of media stories, most of them pushed out in a way to grab attention and many incomplete or simply wrong. 

Did you note, for instance, the people ABC chose to interview for the 2nd piece?  The “GE 3”.  Labeled as “whistleblowers”, they layer the gloom and doom predictions with the supposed veneer of righteousness.  But again, these reactors have been operating safely for 40 years and it has taken a 9.0 earthquake, 33 foot tsunami and a total lack of power to get them in this position.  Also sort of blown by are the “safety upgrades” they’ve made since the reactors were built.   Anyone who thinks that these reactors didn’t receive many, many upgrades over their lifetimes really doesn’t understand the industry.  Finally, not a dissenting voice was sought out or if they were, their opinion wasn’t aired.  So you’re left with the impression that a fatally flawed product was allowed to be produced by an evil corporation in cahoots with various power companies, etc.

And, of course, you’re left with the impression that something must be done.  Which brings us to Greewald’s second point:

We have become accustomed to seeing collective shock elevated to the realm of policy. In fact, it’s what we expect of responsible leadership. There’s an oil spill? Ban drilling. A shooting? Forbid even speaking in martial metaphors. A nuclear accident? Kill nuclear energy. This crude emotionalism is actually liberalism at warp speed. It demands that governments alleviate the immediate discomfort of the onlooker without regard for accuracy or consequence. It will produce many more historic disasters than it can manage.

Again, I could not agree more.  I’ve called it “panic legislation” for years and it never turns out well.  The unfortunate fall-out of this (no pun intended) is probably the death knell of the nuclear power industry.  And, ironically, the fallback will be fossil fuel, most likely natural gas.  It is the cheapest and most efficient way to go, frankly and I have no problem with that, however, nuclear energy is still a clean, emissions free and powerful energy source that should be exploited in my humble opinion.  I know President Obama has reiterated his support of nuclear energy here, but let’s be honest, that doesn’t mean much.  If you think he’s going to get out in front of something panic driven polls say he should avoid, then I have some beachfront land in Nevada you might be interested in.

Greenwald’s points are important ones.  While we have access to 24/7 media and the media, in my opinion, often acts irresponsibly in their reporting, we have the responsibility to fill in the voids and gather the information that paints a more complete picture of what is happening.  One of the reasons for the rise of online media and blogging is a real need and desire by many to do that.  And the two reports by ABC only emphasize that point.

Panic legislation based on biased reporting and hysterical public reaction are no way to run a government.  One of the reasons I often don’t jump on a story right away is I’ve found the first bit of reporting is usually wrong and/or incomplete. Much of it is overly sensational.  I prefer to sit back and let it develop a bit, and gather as much information as I can before offering a view or opinion.  Unfortunately, that is not the media culture we have today, and for the most part we are ill served by it.  We are also ill served by self-serving politicians who deem every crisis an opportunity to advance their careers by pushing more government on us (the Rahm Emanuel rule – “never let a crisis go to waste”).

I’m not sure how we break this cycle, but as Greenwald says continuing it may “produce many more historic disasters than [government] can manage.” I’m not saying what is happening in Japan isn’t critical, dangerous or important. I’m saying instead that the rush to judgment isn’t taking into context what put the Japanese in that situation (quake,tsunami,power outage). If it was we’d understand that the likelihood of such a disaster visiting our nuclear plants is probably about the same as an asteroid of devastating size hitting the earth.

Panic at this time isn’t rational and the hysteria that seems to be building is unwarranted given the context in which the situation developed. Unfortunately I don’t think that is going to stop the panic legislation that will result and, as usual, we’ll all end up being the poorer for it.

~McQ

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