Free Markets, Free People

Michael Wade

White House Defends Czars

Pressure on the White House to justify its use of “czars” in administering policy has ramped up recently, most obviously after the dismissal/resignation of Van Jones. It’s become intense enough that the Obama administration decided to deliver some push back via its whitehouse.gov blog:

Last week, when the President addressed the Joint Session of Congress in a speech on health reform, he referred to some of the untruths – okay, lies – that have been spread about the plan and sent a clear message to those who seek to undermine his agenda and his presidency with these tactics: “We will call you out.” So consider this one of those calls.

Given the lessons from Joey Wilson’s War, that qualifies as hate speech.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen with increasing frequency and volume issues raised around the use of “czars” by this Administration. Although some Members have asked serious questions around the makeup of the White House staff, the bulk of the noise you hear began first with partisan commentators, suggesting that this is somehow a new and sinister development that threatens our democracy. This is, of course, ridiculous. Just to be clear, the job title “czar” doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration. Many of the officials cited by conservative commentators have been confirmed by the Senate. Many hold policy jobs that have existed in previous Administrations. And some hold jobs that involved coordinating the work of agencies on President Obama’s key policy priorities: health insurance reform, energy and green jobs, and building a new foundation for long-lasting economic growth

But of course, it’s really the hypocrisy here that is noteworthy. Just earlier today, Darrell Issa, a Republican from California and one of the leaders in calling for an investigation into the Obama Administration’s use of “czars”, had to admit to Fox News that he had never raised any objections to the Bush Administration’s use of “czars”. Many of these members who now decry the practice have called on Presidents in the past to appoint “czars” to coordinate activities within the government to address immediate challenges. What is clear is that all of this energy going into these attacks could be used to have a constructive conversation about bringing this country together to address our challenges moving forward – and it doesn’t take a “czar” to bring that about! Just some folks willing to act in good faith.

So, if you didn’t complain about czars before, then you can’t do so now? This is the change a lot of (foolish) people voted for? And is the White House really suggesting that there has not been a notable expansion of “czars” under this administration?

Also, keep this statement in mind, because we’ll come back to it: “Just to be clear, the job title “czar” doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration.” If in fact the Obama administration does refer to these people as “czars” wouldn’t that make this statement a blatant, unmitigated — dare I say it — lie?

Moving on, the White House does its best attempt at a “fact check”:

Rhetoric: Critics have claimed the Obama Administration is filled with new and unchecked czars.

Glenn Beck Claimed There Were 32 “Czars” In The Obama Administration. “The Brainroom counts 32 czars in the Obama administration, based on media reports from reputable sources that have identified the official in question as a czar.” [Glenn Beck Website, 8/21/09]

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Sen. Hutchison Claimed There Were An “Unprecedented 32 Czar Posts.” “A few of them have formal titles, but most are simply known as “czars.’ They hold unknown levels of power over broad swaths of policy. Under the Obama administration, we have an unprecedented 32 czar posts (a few of which it has yet to fill), including a ‘car czar,’ a ‘pay czar’ and an ‘information czar.’” [Washington Post, 9/13/09]

Reality: Many of the arbitrarily labeled “czars” on Beck’s list are Senate-confirmed appointees or advisory roles carried over from previous administrations. Others are advisors to the President’s Cabinet Secretaries. Beck himself says on his own website, “Since czar isn’t an official job title, the number is somewhat in the eye of the beholder.”

Missing from this “reality” is any claim that there are fewer than 32 czars, nor any explanation of how many the White House thinks there are. Virtually all of the push back from Obama is simply a tu quoque argument that exasperatingly waves its hands at Fox News and Republicans for not opposing, and some cases encouraging, Bush’s use of czars. Again, is this the change promised during the election? And how is this any justification for expanding the use of czars now?

The best defense offered is a listing of the czars who went through Senate confirmation:

Of the 32 “czars” on Beck’s list, nine were confirmed by the Senate:

Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes (“California Water Czar”)
Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske (“Drug Czar”)
OMB Deputy Director Jeff Zients (“Government Performance Czar”)
Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair (“Intelligence Czar”)
OMB Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Cass Sunstein (“Regulatory Czar”)
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and OSTP Director John Holdren (“Science Czar”)
Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Herb Allison (“TARP Czar”)
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ashton Carter (“Weapons Czar”)
OSTP Associate Director Aneesh Chopra (“Technology Czar”)

Strangely, each one of the names listed above is hotlinked by the White House blog, and all but one them are self-referential links to the post above (i.e. the links link to themselves).

In any case, it’s not made explicit, but it seems that the White House is claiming that these individuals are being classified as czars when in fact they hold legitimately created policy posts. Dave Weigel made the same argument last week:

Here’s the problem: Some of the people whom conservatives and mainstream media voices alike have labeled “czars” have been confirmed by the Senate. Some of them, and others, hold jobs that were created by previous presidents.

Take a look at Politico’s list of 31 “czars,” which shrinks to 30 without Van Jones. Republican strategists like Ed Rollins have used that “31″ number to allege that there’s a problem here. But perhaps the most controversial people labeled “czars” by Beck and by reporters have gone through Senate confirmations. Cass Sunstein, whom Politico labels the “regulatory czar,” is waiting for the end of a Republican filibuster so he can lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an office created in 1980. John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was confirmed by the Senate, unanimously, six months ago. But none of that seems to matter to their critics. Michelle Malkin, whom, again, Politico credited for making this an issue, relentlessly refers to Holdren as the “Science Czar” as if it was his actual title.

Weigel goes on to point out several czar positions that were created by previous administrations (the tu quoque argument again), five of which have been confirmed (according to the White House post). He alos lists several new positions created by Obama:

New jobs held by eminent people or people previously confirmed by the Senate:

“Afghanistan Czar” – Actually the United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the man holding that job, Richard Holbrooke went through a Senate confirmation hearing in 1999 when he became Bill Clinton’s U.N. ambassador.

“Economic Czar” – Actually the President’s Economic Recovery Board, chaired by Paul Volcker, the deeply uncontroversial former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

“Energy and Environment Czar” – This is Carol Browner, the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1993 to run the Environmental Protection Agency under Bill Clinton.

“Guantanamo Closure Czar” – Actually the Special Envoy to Guantanamo, Daniel Fried, who was the final Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the Bush administration.

Apparently Weigel thinks it’s just fine for unconfirmed appointees to hold these positions if they were confirmed for another post during some prior administration, or they are just very important people. He chalks all the controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s use of czars up to whining by Republicans and the conservative critics who, once again, are being terribly hypocritical.

Left unanswered, by either the White House or Weigel, is how many of those confirmed appointees are filling positions created by Congress. I haven’t checked, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say somewhere close to all of them were. It would be unusual (and probably unconstitutional) for Congress to give away the power to confirm officials placed in the offices it created. Accordingly, those congressmen lambasted for opposing the use of czars now, while encouraging the creation of them earlier, should be able to take refuge in the fact that the positions they advocated earlier would have likely required confirmation. Again, I haven’t checked, but since the argument is over the large number of unconfirmed appointees to czar positions, then accusations of hypocrisy don’t make much sense if those being called out only supported czars who would be subject to the confirmation process.

Also left unanswered are the following questions and concerns from a prominent Senator made in a letter to Pres. Obama:

As you know, there has been much discussion about your decisions to create and assign apparently significant policy-making responsibilities to White House and other executive positions; many of the persons filling these positions have come to be referred to in the media and even within your administration as policy “czars.” I heard firsthand about this issue on several occasions from my constituents in recent town hall meetings in Wisconsin.

So is this Senator actually calling the administration a bunch of liars for stating: “Just to be clear, the job title “czar” doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration”?

The Constitution gives the Senate the duty to oversee the appointment of Executive officers through the Appointments Clause in Article II, section 2. The Appointments Clause states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise proved for, and which shall be established by law.” This clause is an important part of the constitutional scheme of separation of powers, empowering the Senate to weigh in on the appropriateness of significant appointments and assisting in its oversight of the Executive Branch.

As a member of the Senate with the duty to oversee executive appointments and as the Chairman of the Senate Constitution Subcommittee, I respectfully urge you to disclose as much information as you can about these policy advisors and “czars.” Specifically, I ask that you identify these individuals’ roles and responsibilities, and provide the judgment(s) of your legal advisors as to whether and how these positions are consistent with the Appointments Clause. I hope that this information will help address some of the concerns that have been raised about new positions in the White House and elsewhere in the Executive Branch, and will inform any hearing that the Subcommittee holds on this topic.

After all the hyperventilating from the White House and its defenders about a partisan witch hunt regarding the czars, you’re probably wondering which Republican hypocrite wrote this letter?

Sincerely,

Russell D. Feingold
United States Senator

So, the concerns aren’t just partisan in nature then?

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) sent a letter to the president requesting the White House release information regarding the “roles and responsibilities” of the “czars.” The Senate Judiciary Committee member also requested that the president’s legal advisers prepare a “judgment” on the “czars'” constitutionality.

Feingold’s letter represents one of the first examples of Democratic scrutiny of the president’s “czars,” who are not required to be confirmed by the Senate.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has been absent from the Senate since experiencing health issues, also expressed skepticism of Obama’s use of policy “czars” in February.

Well, now that we know this is a bi-partisan concern, surely the White House will take it more seriously:

At today’s White House briefing, Robert Gibbs was asked about a letter raising constitutional concerns about the czar system not from a Republican, but from Obama’s former caucus-mate, Sen. Russ Feingold. The press secretary said he hadn’t seen the letter, but proceeded to echo many of the DNC’s points in a heated response.

“I’m struck by a little of the politics in this,” Gibbs said. He noted that “somebody referred to in the Bush administration as the abstinence czar was on the D.C. madam’s list,” and asked hypothetically: “Did that violate the Constitution or simply offend our sensibilities?”

Nope. Not even a little bit.

The fact remains that the Obama administration is avoiding the confirmation process and installing people into positions of power without any regard to the Constitution or the citizens of the United States. Van Jones was no accident. He is symptomatic of this administration’s determination to remake America in it’s own, nanny-state, progressive, social-justice image. Whether we want to or not.

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Initial Reactions to Obama’s Speech

More than anything else I couldn’t help but think that Pres. Obama doubled down tonight and went for broke. He’s going to have a health care insurance plan that includes (i) a public option, (ii) doesn’t add to the deficit, (iii) doesn’t cover illegal immigrants, (iv) covers everybody (whether they want to or not), (v) an independent panel of experts to decide whether doctors are providing the correct treatments or not, (vi) no cuts to Medicare or Medicaid, (vii) finally (FINALLY!) ending waste, fraud and abuse in the health care already provided by government, (viii) an independent panel (same? different?) that controls costs, and (ix) something undefined to address defensive medicine. Essentially, he’s promised HR 3200 plus a bunch of other stuff. In a nutshell, provided that he sticks to these promises (mmhmm) I think Obama just made sure that no health care insurance plan will ever be passed during his administration. Go Obama!

A couple of other quick thoughts:

(A) Regarding the public option, Obama claimed:

Despite all this, the insurance companies and their allies don’t like this idea. They argue that these private companies can’t fairly compete with the government. And they’d be right if taxpayers were subsidizing this public insurance option. But they won’t be. I have insisted that like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects. But by avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits, excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers.

This was his counter to the “myth” that government would not be taking over health care, and that you would be able to keep your plan if you like it. However, assuming the president is correct, if the public option does not have the same “overhead” going towards “profits, excessive administrative costs and executive salaries” then won’t it be passing those saving on to consumers? And if so, won’t that price the private plans out of the market? After all, why would anyone choose to pay more for coverage if they don’t have to?

(B) Also regarding the public option, Obama claimed that its purpose is to introduce competition into the market place for insurance. He even compared it to the way that public schools compete with private ones:

It would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities.

Of course, no one is required to go to college, and these are state-run organizations that are heavily subsidized. Yet, just two breaths earlier, Obama claimed that the public option would not be subsidized by the government (albeit while also claiming that people who could not afford it would be given tax credits to cover it, but one lie at a time please). In addition, don’t we hear more and more complaints every year about how quickly the costs of college are rising? In short, how is this in any way an apt comparison, or if it is, how does it support Obama’s case that a public option is a good thing?

(C) Obama also made this strange claim:

Finally, our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. When health care costs grow at the rate they have, it puts greater pressure on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.

Doctors and hospitals routinely state that because they are not fully compensated by Medicare/Medicaid for the work they do, they are forced to raise prices on patients who pay through private insurance. Now Obama is trying to claim that it’s private insurance causing Medicare/Medicaid to go bankrupt?

Anyway, those are just my initial reactions. I’m really wondering if anyone else sees the same thing I do with respect to Obama’s demanding a bill that includes absolutely everything essentially killing any chance of health care reform being enacted. If the progressives won’t accept anything less than a public option, and the Blue Dogs won’t vote for a public option, and Obama vetoes any bill that adds to the deficit, how the heck is Congress going to pass anything at all?

Jon Henke Challenges Rachel Maddow (Updated)

Here’s a very interesting clip with QandO’s founder, Jon Henke.

If you haven’t been following this, Jon, now at The Next Right which he helped co-found, has been at war with World Net Daily, claiming that the web site feeds the baser instincts of the right and distracts them from the more important issues. His call is for a boycott, not against WND, but those “respectable” institutions on the right, such as the Republican National Committee, who continue to associate and support WND.

Whether or not you agree, Jon’s point is that if credibility is an issue, and association with the fringe loony conspiracy theorists is a detriment to one’s credibility, then it is best, if you value your credibility, to distance yourself from that fringe.

Or said another way, if Van Jones can be found to be unacceptable for government service because he associated with and supported truthers, the very same credibility issue seems valid for those who associate with and support some fringe loony group on the right such as those who believe the Obama administration is planning to set up concentration camps for political dissidents.

It would be hard for anyone on the right to take anything Van Jones says seriously because his credibility is shot by such an association. How hard, then, is it to understand that when Michael Steel or the RNC say anything, their credibility is suspect because they associate and do business with an organization which claims that there are concentration camps being set up for political dissidents?

Anyway, what is most interesting about the clip is his challenge to Maddow at the end. She dodges it, suggesting that she’s really not that interested in doing what she claims to be interested in, but kudos to Jon for making it.

[HT: Liberty Papers]

~McQ

[UPDATE: MICHAELW]

Since very few of you (or anybody really) watch the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, you probably missed last night’s segment featuring QandO founder Jon Henke. Jon recently started a bit of a dust-up on the right by taking on WorldNetDaily and those who sponsor the publication’s efforts:

This is just hideously embarrassing for the Right.

[T]he Web site Worldnetdaily.com says that the government is considering Nazi-like concentration camps for dissidents. Jerome Corsi, the author of “The Obama Nation,” an anti-Obama book, says that a proposal in Congress “appears designed to create the type of detention center that those concerned about use of the military in domestic affairs fear could be used as concentration camps for political dissidents, such as occurred in Nazi Germany.”

In the 1960’s, William F. Buckley denounced the John Birch Society leadership for being “so far removed from common sense” and later said “We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner.”

[…]

I think it’s time to find out what conservative/libertarian organizations support WND through advertising, list rental or other commercial collaboration (email me if you know of any), and boycott any of those organizations that will not renounce any further support for WorldNetDaily.

Unsurprisingly, Jon has taken some grief (intermixed with some positive results) for his choice of target. On Maddow’s show, Jon summarizes the response as about one-third support for what he’s doing, one-third ambivalence, and one-third “no enemies on the right” reactions.

I guess I fall somewhat in the ambivalent crowd: I don’t disagree with Jon’s take on WND, but I also don’t think it’s worth challenging lest its profile be raised in importance. Frankly, everything negative that can be said about WND — e.g. promotes conspiracy theories, plays to the “fevered swamps”, detracts from the intellectual discourse regarding politics, etc. — can also be said about the New York Times, Washington Post and the Legacy Media. The difference, of course, is that far more people get their news from these traditional outlets than from WND. Indeed, if the MSM had not failed so miserably in holding government officials accountable (regardless of party), then I expect many in those fevered swamps would be less inclined to turn to oulets like WND for their “news”. As it stands, however, too many on the right see patently biased opinion pushed as incontrovertible fact and their reasonable critiques of lefty policy either ignored or ridiculed. It doesn’t take too long before they begin looking for a champion on the right, one that at least some of them have found in WND (which, I agree, is to their detriment).

I’m also somewhat disturbed by the notion that “elites” on the right “deserve” to be at the center of the discussion regarding the direction of the conservative/libertarian political movement. From where I sit, “deserve” has nothing to do with it, but instead those who advance the best ideas in line with conservative/libertarian principles, both through coherent thought and digestible delivery, will naturally get that coveted attention. What makes someone “elite” in this sense is his or her ability to connect with voters based on those conservative/libertarian ideas, not being really smart and/or educated at the correct places. That’s something that seems to have been lost recently amongst the self-designated elites on the right. And just as embattled righty voters feel abandoned by the media, in many ways I think they feel just as abandoned by their political leaders. They will fill that void with something if no one of substance steps up.

In any case, Jon does make a good point that when establishments such as the RNC throw their support behind conspiracy-traffickers like WND it hurts the right. Marginalization, therefore, is a good strategy and one that can be fairly easily obtained. Whether it helps the conservative/libertarian movement, however, really depends on what the “elites” offer up to replace the red meat readily devoured by the fever swamps. I’m all for logical, reasoned and effective discourse in the political battle, but on some level that discourse has to connect with how the average voter.

In short, while WND may be a problem for the right it is really a symptom and not a cause. Many voters think that they have no voice in political matters any more, since the MSM all but ignores them except to ridicule them, and their leaders are either absent at worst or ineffectual at best. Personally, I think that is one of the primary reasons underlying the enormous groundswell of support for Tea Parties and townhall dissenters — if nobody is going to say it for them, they’ll do it themselves. If we truly want to marginalize outlets like WND then, the right will need for real leaders to find their way to the forefront. Seeing how leaders such as Sarah Palin (who is the only one talking like Reagan these days) have been treated by the self-appointed leaders on the right, while fools such as Megan McCain and David Brooks have been feted, I honestly don’t know who that will be.

~ MichaelW

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Breaking: Van Jones A Remarkably Bad Liar

Perhaps indicating why he has never been a politician, Van Jones lays a whopper on the American public (my emphasis):

A top environmental official of the Obama administration issued a statement Thursday apologizing for past incendiary statement and denying that he ever agreed with a 2004 petition on which his name appears, a petition calling for congressional hearings and an investigation by the New York Attorney General into “evidence that suggests high-level government officials may have deliberately allowed the September 11th attacks to occur.”

Van Jones, the Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is Number 46 of the petitioners from the so-called “Truther” movement which suggests that people in the administration of President George W. Bush “may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.”

In a statement issued Thursday evening Jones said of “the petition that was circulated today, I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever.”

He did not explain how his name came to be on the petition. A source said Jones did not carefully review the language in the petition before agreeing to add his name.

Jones’ statements are so laughable that one could be forgiven for thinking that this is a parody from The Onion (it’s not; I checked the URL … twice).

He and the Obama administration are really expecting us to believe that Jones didn’t know what he was signing? That just begs the question, what did he think it was? Why did Truther group come to him for a signature in the first place? What made them think he would sign it? Did they know of Jones’ apparent disdain for reading what he puts his name on and figure he would offer up his John Hancock without any issue? Or did they, being composed of several other statist weirdos (Cynthia McKinney, Howard Zinn), activists (Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans of Code Pink), and radicals (Ed Asner, Ralph Nader), know full well that Jones would happily sign the petition because it fits in with his own radical views?

Don’t expect any answers to these questions to be forthcoming.

At this point, the White House isn’t answering any of these questions, but they will have a difficult time sticking with the “I didn’t read it” defense for very long. To be sure, lots of excuses will be offered up by the media in an attempt to provide cover for Obama’s administration, but this isn’t a story that can just go quietly away. They tried to do that with Rev. Wright, but the buzz from non-MSM sources kept it alive until Obama was forced to throw Wright under the bus (with his own grandma!). Expect the same here.

Why Obama’s Kiddie Speech Is “Creepy”

In all honesty, I don’t have a big problem with Obama’s impending speech, primarily for tactical reasons. If he gives the speech that the right is worrying about (i.e. indoctrination towards his policy preferences such as universal health care, cap and trade, etc.) then his political world will crumble. Obama is smart enough to realize this. And I, as I expect are most American parents, am vigilant enough not to let such a message get too far with my kids. However, it’s the fact that any of us have to be on guard to such a speech that makes it creepy. Well, that and the President’s track record of seeking to use children to advance his own goals.

However, there is a current of thought that thinks it’s hypocritical to challenge Obama’s address to the nation’s children while ignoring others:

All this over a video address to kids telling them to stay in school.

I’ve got to wonder how these people felt twenty years ago when a Republican did it:

President Bush pleaded with young people around the nation today to stop using drugs and ”not to look the other way” when others do.

In a 15-minute nationally televised plea from the White House library, the President presented the latest round of an anti-drug campaign that began a week ago with another nationally broadcast message announcing a $7.9 billion package.

(…)

In the speech, Mr. Bush said that saying no to drugs ”won’t make you a nerd.”

”Presidents don’t often get the chance to talk directly to students,” Mr. Bush said. ”So today, for each of you sitting in a classroom or assembly hall, this message goes straight to you.

”Most of you are doing the right thing. But for those of you who let drugs make their decisions for them, you can almost hear the doors slamming shut.”

Equating drugs with death and displaying the badge of a slain 22-year-old rookie policeman, Mr. Bush said, ”I keep this badge in a drawer in my desk to remind me of that.”

Yea, I’m guessing they were pretty quiet back then when Bush 41 was advancing his ideological agenda and fighting the War On (Some) Drugs.

While I understand Doug’s disaffection with the Republican Party and its die-hard adherents (with good reason), I really don’t understand this line of attack. Is it really the same thing for a president to encourage kids to stay off of drugs as it is for a president to encourage school children to contemplate the many ways that they can fulfill the government’s wishes?

When Bush 41 was delivering his speech to the nation’s youth, he was at least spreading a message that had individual importance. There’s no question that avoiding recreational drugs is healthy way to live one’s life. It doesn’t justify the War on (Some) Drugs, but it’s not necessarily a message advocating fealty to government authority. In fact, the quotes above speak more to individual responsibility rather than respecting the president’s wishes: i.e eschewing drugs won’t make you a nerd, don’t let drugs make your decision for you, etc.

Again, I’m not trying to condone the destructive policy pursued by the federal government with respect to certain drugs. But when a president encourages our children to stay off them, I’m hard pressed to see that as some sort of intrusion into the realm of the parent or individual, much less a blatant call for nation’s kids to ponder what it is they can do to further the president’s goals.

Therein lies the rub.

President Obama has already shown that he’s not above using children to advance his political agenda, so it’s not surprising that those opposed to his aims would be a bit skeptical of his speech. Adding to the wariness is the fact that he only seems to make these speeches when he needs help with bolstering his political capital (e.g. the “race speech” after Jeremiah Wright blew up in his face). After the battering his health care insurance reform plans took in August, it almost seems too convenient that he would suddenly want to address all the school kids in the nation, right about when he’s planning to try and save the one program he truly wants to enact.

On top of all these legitimate worries is the fact that Obama’s administration has prepared lesson plans for the kiddies to absorb in the afterglow. Surely it’s not the first time that a president has done so, but have any other post-speech plans been so blatantly pro-subservience? I mean, look at these suggested lessons:

What do you think the President wants us to do?
Does the speech make you want to do anything?
Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?

What, no questions such as “do you agree with the President’s position? Why/Why not?” Or how about, “Why should you do anything the President says?”, or “What are the pros and cons of the President’s proposals?”

Some of these wouldn’t make any sense if all Obama is going to do is encourage kids to stay in school and try theor best. But, then again, neither do the administration’s lesson plans. Nor the fact that Obama intends to do a live address rather than a taped PSA of some sort. All of which, again, provides plenty of reason to be skeptical of Obama’s speech.

In light of all the above, and regardless of whether anyone is being hypocritical or not, shouldn’t we all be a bit skeptical when the President of the United States decides to address our children when, at the same time, he is politically vulnerable and seeking some means of righting his listing ship? Maybe Republicans who are complaining now should have had more to say 20 years ago (if they were even politically aware back then), but that doesn’t mean they are wrong now. Charging hypocrisy does not negate the potential ill that may result from being less vigilant to government indoctrination. It only make that ill more possible

Podcast for 30 Aug 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael  and Dale discuss the top stories of the past week.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.  The link goes to BTR since my old computer is inexplicably dropping out of recording mode.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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PrObamaGanda

This is … disturbing:

“… I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to take part in a conference call that invited a group of rising artist and art community luminaries “to help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda – health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.”

Now admittedly, I’m a skeptic of BIG government. In my view, power tends to overreach whenever given the opportunity. It’s a law of human nature that has very few exceptions. That said, it felt to me that by providing issues as a cynosure for inspiration to a handpicked arts group – a group that played a key role in the President’s election as mentioned throughout the conference call – the National Endowment for the Arts was steering the art community toward creating art on the very issues that are currently under contentious national debate; those being health care reform and cap-and-trade legislation. Could the National Endowment for the Arts be looking to the art community to create an environment amenable to the administration’s positions?”

Hmmm. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I’ll go with “abso-freak’n-lutely” as my answer.

Oh, wait. Was that a rhetorical question?

I learned after the conference call that there were approximately 75 people participating, including many well respected street-artists, filmmakers, art galleries, music venues, musicians and music producers, writers, poets, actors, independent media outlets, marketers, and various other professionals from the creative community … Backed by the full weight of President Barack Obama’s call to service and the institutional weight of the NEA, the conference call was billed as an opportunity for those in the art community to inspire service in four key categories, and at the top of the list were “health care” and “energy and environment.” The service was to be attached to the President’s United We Serve campaign, a nationwide federal initiative to make service a way of life for all Americans.

[…]

We were encouraged to bring the same sense of enthusiasm to these “focus areas” as we had brought to Obama’s presidential campaign, and we were encouraged to create art and art initiatives that brought awareness to these issues. Throughout the conversation, we were reminded of our ability as artists and art professionals to “shape the lives” of those around us. The now famous Obama “Hope” poster, created by artist Shepard Fairey and promoted by many of those on the phone call, and will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” song and music video were presented as shining examples of our group’s clear role in the election.

Obama has a strong arts agenda, we were told, and has been very supportive of both using and supporting the arts in creative ways to talk about the issues facing the country. We were “selected for a reason,” they told us. We had played a key role in the election and now Obama was putting out the call of service to help create change. We knew “how to make a stink,” and were encouraged to do so.

Erm, yes, I guess that was a rhetorical question.

The NEA is the nation’s largest annual funder of the arts. That is right, the largest funder of the arts in the nation – a fact that I’m sure was not lost on those that were on the call, including myself. One of the NEA’s major functions is providing grants to artists and arts organizations. The NEA has also historically shown the ability to attract “matching funds” for the art projects and foundations that they select. So we have the nation’s largest arts funder, which is a federal agency staffed by the administration, with those that they potentially fund together on a conference call discussing taking action on issues under vigorous national debate. Does there appear to be any potential for conflict here?

Assuming that I can answer that one, I’d say the potential for conflict is rather high. If an entire industry is almost entirely supported by the government then, when that benefactor starts making “suggestions” about how that industry should behave, you can bet that the industry will respond. In this case, propaganda posters, statues, billboards and movies would be the expected outcome. In the American car business, increased hybrid car production is the most likely result of government intervention (that is why Fiat was brought in after all).

So what do you think will happen when the federal government is in charge of paying for health care? If the government were to “suggest” that certain medical procedures should be favored, or that certain patients should receive care before others, do you suppose that the medical industry will have much leverage to resist? And suppose that new reforms are proposed after passage of whatever bill is frankensteined together this Fall. If the government is going to be paying most of the bills, who do you think the insurance companies, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, et al. will be paying more attention to when the Obama administration and its minions come calling? Patients or the government?

That is a rhetorical question, because I already know the answer.

[HT: Greyhawk]

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Latest Health Care Myth: 80% of Americans Want Public Option! (Updated)

Coming soon from a lefty near you:

A new survey commissioned by the AARP asks respondents to what degree they support or oppose “[s]tarting a new federal health insurance plan that individuals could purchase if they can’t afford private plans offered to them” — a public option, in other words. The results are interesting, though not necessarily surprising to those who have been closely following the debate.

All: 79 percent favor/18 percent oppose
Democrats: 89 percent favor/8 percent oppose
Republicans: 61 percent favor/33 percent oppose
Independents: 80 percent favor/16 percent oppose

Let that sink in for a moment — 61% of Republicans and 80% of Independents support some sort of “federal health insurance plan” according to MyDD’s Jonathan Singer, who adds:

Indeed, a supermajority of even Republicans supports a federal program to provide individuals with a choice for their health insurance coverage, with just a third of the party membership opposing such a plan.

So why, again, are supporters of a public option finding such difficulty in Congress?

Regardless of the veracity of these numbers, you will hear them spouted over and over again by every leftwing outlet available (yes, that includes the MSM). It will become gospel amongst ObamaCare supporters that 80% of Americans support a public option, just as it’s become gospel that there are 47 Million uninsured individuals in this country, or that Tea Party advocates are in the paid employ of the health insurance lobby. Yet, problems abound with this survey.

Where to begin. Firstly, when I say “according to Jonathan Singer” above, I mean that the poll question he quotes is nowhere to be found publicly, so there is no way to verify its accuracy. The AARP has no link to it (and in fact does not even mention the poll), nor does the company, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (“PSB”), that conducted the survey.

If in fact the question was worded as described by Singer, then the inclusion of the phrase “if they can’t afford private plans offered to them” alters the results dramatically. Although some have suggested that this is the reason we need health care insurance reform so desperately, it completely ignores the fact that those who can’t afford health insurance are generally covered by Medicaid, SCHIP and other federal and state programs. So when respondents are asked whether such people should be covered, how do we know they aren’t thinking about those federal and state programs already in existence and not the public option as proposed by Obama and Congress? In short, we don’t. To be fair, the question allegedly refers to “starting a new” program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people understood the question to be asking about ObamaCare’s public option.

Indeed, according to PSB, “only 37 percent define ‘public option’ correctly” and “about one-fourth of those polled believe the ‘public option’ is a national health care system, similar to the one in Great Britain.” Of course, how to “correctly” define the public option is not revealed, but suffice it to say that the survey’s respondents did not reveal they had a concise grasp upon what a public option actually means.

Then there is the transparency problem. Although PSB claims (pdf) its survey has a margin of error of “+/- 3.10% at the 95% confidence level and larger for subgroups” it also states that it was done over the internet “on August 12-13, 2009 among 1,000 Americans”. Because the data are not released (at least, not to the public, although Singer apparently has access to a copy), it’s impossible to tell, and difficult to understand, how an internet survey could determine that only Americans responded, that the respondents were actually associated with any political party (e.g. registered voters), or that respondents were even separate people. In addition, how is that an “internet survey” completed over two days received only (and exactly!) 1,000 responses? Again, we don’t know because the actual poll data are hidden from public view. But it looks awfully suspect when such a survey has 61% of Republicans, and 79% overall, responding favorably to a public option, when numerous other polls out there show much lower support.

Finally, there is a potential bias problem. PSB, the company who conducted the survey, is not exactly a bystander in this debate. The “P” in “PSB” is Penn. As in Mark Penn. Remember him?

Mark Penn, the strategist who dashed Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes, is the Wall Street Journal’s “Microtrend”-spotting columnist. He’s also CEO of PR giant Burson-Marsteller. Only a scumbag would abuse the former to drum up business for the latter.

Scumbag spotted!

Mark Penn’s latest (old, and none too insightful) ‘Microtrend’ column is about “glamping”—glamorous camping. It ran last weekend. By Monday, according to an internal email obtained by Gawker, Burson was already trying to recruit companies from the industry featured in the column as clients. Burson Executive Vice President (and former Bill Clinton speechwriter) Josh Gottheimer urged Burson’s senior staff—including Founding Chairman Harold Burson, US President & CEO Patrick Ford, and others, to use Penn’s column as a tool to approach clients in the camping industry about business. Not only that—he recommends that Mark Penn “send a note” to the CEO of these potential clients requesting a meeting.

The WSJ is currently investigating whether the allegation that Penn used his column to generate business created any conflict of interest problems [Ed. – gee, you think?]. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by another one of his companies (PSB) is claiming that support is monstrously high for a public option. And what does PSB do?

Penn, Schoen & Berland (PSB), a member of the WPP Group, is a global research-based consultancy that specializes in messaging and communications strategy for blue-chip political, corporate and entertainment clients.

Any guesses as to which clients PSB might be after, and why they only released their survey results to friendly (i.e. partisan lefty) outlets?

It’s my guess that the 80% number is going to tossed around quite a bit in the next coming weeks as Congress gets back to work screwing us passing legislation in September. Just remember that, as of right now, there are many, many reasons to be quite skeptical about that number.

UPDATE: As bains points out in the comments, Jonathan Singer has amended his post, without explanation and (still) without any link to the data, so that “commissioned by the AARP” has been struck out. There’s really nothing wrong with that (it’s not as if the words disappeared altogether), but the omissions are more than a bit strange.

Also, with respect to polling data, Rasmussen released this today:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey show that 43% of voters nationwide favor the plan working its way through Congress while 53% are opposed. Those figures are virtually identical to results from two weeks ago.

As has been true since the debate began, those opposed to the congressional overhaul feel more strongly about the legislation than supporters. Forty-three percent (43%) now Strongly Oppose the legislation while 23% Strongly Favor it. Those figures, too, are similar to results from earlier in August.

While supporters of the reform effort say it is needed to help reduce the cost of health care, 52% of voters believe it will have the opposite effect and lead to higher costs. Just 17% believe the plans now in Congress will reduce costs.

There’s lots more, so go RTWT.

And one last thing. Some of you may notice a certain comment that I let through the filters. It’s not technically spam, but it is one of those pernicious attempts to make some favorite meme go viral that it might as well be spam. You may also notice that I will have gone into the comment and ripped it to shreds. I reserve the right to do so at my leisure, because I have the power and spammenters (as I shall now call these vermin) do not. Neither do they have the common courtesy to even read the post, but instead they simply post their drivel whenever the come across the right keywords. In return, I shall treat these spamments (see what I did there!) as my own personal canvas upon which to express my personal disdain for such ignorant, disrespectful malcontents.

That is all.

MORE: OK, someone went ahead and deleted the comment after I approved it, thus depriving me of my fun. So … carry on.

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Health Care Reform Now A Moral Obligation

Once again the reasoning in support of a federal overhaul (and takeover) of national health care has shifted. It started out as a fiscal imperative with Pres. Obama claiming that our money woes were caused by the rising costs of health care. We were told that only government can contain administrative costs and deliver efficient, effective care. Later is was the need to control greedy insurance companies who treat their clients shoddily by denying coverage. Government run care would make sure that nobody was denied insurance, and that we would all pay basically the same rates. Of course, the infamous public option was touted as the primary tool for accomplishing this goal, carefully eliding past the “fiscal sanity” reasons for reform, which option has apparently been set out to pasture after facing fierce public resistance.

Yet, despite a full-court press on the issue, including unapologetic assistance from the media, the government’s plan(s) to change health care have grown steadily less popular.

So now the reasoning shifts again. As it turns out, you all are just bad, immoral people if you don’t approve of the government taking your money and running your health care.

President Obama sought Wednesday to reframe the health care debate as “a core ethical and moral obligation,” imploring a coalition of religious leaders to help promote the plan to lower costs and expand insurance coverage for all Americans.

“I know there’s been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness,” Mr. Obama told a multidenominational group of pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders who support his goal to remake the nation’s health care system.

Well, the President would know about bearing false witness, now wouldn’t he.

In any event, Obama’s attempt to turn this into a moral debate is not only a naked act of desperation to save his pet cause, it is also the closest to the true reason why health reform is so important to him, and the left in general, in the first place. Supporters of government-run health care are convinced that the presence of a profit motive in the delivery of health services is a bad thing and that wringing every last ounce of market incentive from the process will lead to wonderful new outcomes. And the way they are prepared to sell it is by pushing the idea that health care is a civil right.

Interestingly enough, Jonathan Alter started the ball rolling on this score just a few days before the President (it’s almost as if they are reading from the same playbook or something!):

The main reason that the bill isn’t sold as civil rights is that most Americans don’t believe there’s a “right” to health care. They see their rights as inalienable, and thus free, which health care isn’t. Serious illness is an abstraction (thankfully) for younger Americans. It’s something that happens to someone else, and if that someone else is older than 65, we know that Medicare will take care of it. Polls show that the 87 percent of Americans who have health insurance aren’t much interested in giving any new rights and entitlements to “them”—the uninsured.

But how about if you or someone you know loses a job and the them becomes “us”? The recession, which is thought to be harming the cause of reform, could be aiding it if the story were told with the proper sense of drama and fright. Since all versions of the pending bill ban discrimination by insurance companies against people with preexisting conditions, that provision isn’t controversial. Which means it gets little attention. Which means that the deep moral wrong that passage of this bill would remedy is somehow missing from the debate.

[…]

The only thing that should be unbreakable in a piece of legislation is the principle behind it. In the case of Social Security, it was the security and peace of mind that came with the knowledge of a guaranteed old-age benefit. (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush got slam-dunked when they tried to mess with that.) In the civil-rights bills, the principle was no discrimination on the basis of an unavoidable, preexisting “condition” like race.

The core principle behind health-care reform is—or should be—a combination of Social Security insurance and civil rights. Passage would end the shameful era in our nation’s history when we discriminated against people for no other reason than that they were sick. A decade from now, we will look back in wonder that we once lived in a country where half of all personal bankruptcies were caused by illness, where Americans lacked the basic security of knowing that if they lost their jobs they wouldn’t have to sell the house to pay for the medical treatments to keep them alive. We’ll look back in wonder—that is, if we pass the bill.

Just to focus the argument, Alter is suggesting that it is a violation of individual civil rights, akin to discriminating against someone on the basis of race (wow, didn’t see that coming), to deny one insurance because one is sick. This is ludicrous on a number of levels, but that it fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of insurance is one of its worst features. Insurance is meant to protect against the expense of unknown outcomes by paying a small premium based on the statistical probability that one will suffer such an outcome. However, if one of the outcomes already exists then the insurance premium would simply be equal to the cost of treatment since the probability of payment is 1:1. In Alter’s world,and that of too many government health care supporters, insurance isn’t a risk management tool, it’s a medical discount and income redistribution tool. Which leads to the primary failure of his argument.

In briefest terms, health care cannot be a “right” because it is entirely dependent on someone else providing it to you. “Rights” do not ever involve taking from someone and giving to someone else. In order to believe otherwise, one would have to believe that doctors are actually slaves who can legally be commanded to fulfill one’s “right” to health care or suffer the consequences. The very idea is preposterous, which is why, as Alter notes, Americans have not kenned to the idea of there being a “right” to health care.

And yet, this is apparently the ground, this moral Waterloo, upon which Obama will choose to support his cause. The offensive will depend on the idea that a government health care plan is a moral obligation, and a protection of civil rights. Naturally, some imbecilic politician will assert that opposition to the plan is an immoral position, seeking to demonize (yet again) those naysayers who aren’t too keen on more government interference in their lives. After all, why not? They’ve already accused us of being, alternately, well-dressed plants for the insurance lobby and ignorant, racist hicks who just can’t stand having a black man in the White House, and look what those lines of argument achieved. I predict that this latest attack will be equally as effective.

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Public Option Questions

The reasoning behind the much ballyhooed, on-again, off-again “Public Option” has never made much sense to me, but lately I’ve noticed a few things that make it even less understandable.

For example, as Bruce highlighted below, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said the following about it on Sunday:

“The only way we can be sure that very low-income people and persons who work for companies that don’t offer insurance have access to it, is through an option that would give the private insurance companies a little competition,” she said.

Johnson added that House liberals have already told Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that she should insist on White House support for a public option.

How does a public plan offer competition to insurance companies by covering people who don’t have access to insurance? Apparently, these are people who insurance companies aren’t interested in catering to, so there is no competition to gain them as clients. Giving them “free” health insurance from the government isn’t going to change that. Instead, it’s just going to cost more taxpayer money.

Here’s another head-scratcher from Susie Madrak:

Oh, the Republicans have been having a field day with this mantra – that employers would shunt their employees into the public plan. But they’re really upset for the same reason Sebelius mentioned as a positive: Job lock. Above all else, the Republican party stands for cheap, disposable labor with no rights or protections. God forbid you should have a public option – you could up and leave your job anytime you wanted!

While I agree that we would all be better off if health insurance was decoupled from our jobs, I’m not sure that the public option prevents “job lock”. Presumably, what keeps most of us from “up and leaving” our employment on a whim is the paycheck we receive and not the health care insurance. And even if we do, COBRA is already in place to help maintain coverage, and HIPAA prevents insurance companies from refusing to cover any pre-existing conditions. Moreover, if having a public option encourages people to cease being productive members of society (i.e. working at a job), that would be a net negative for society, and would surely cause a loss of tax revenues (which we would need a lot more of in order to pay for all that “free” health care). I just don’t see how a public option can prevent “job lock” any more than we already have now, and even if it did, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

And then there is this little ditty from Publius that requires the suspension of an enormous amount of disbelief to even begin pondering:

In terms of broader perspective, Jacob Hacker has one of the best defenses of the public option that I’ve seen. One important point he raises is that it’s actually a way to prevent overreliance on excessive regulations and bureaucracy.

The argument is fairly simple. Any type of reform is going to require a lot of regulatory oversight. That means detailed regulations, lots of regulators, etc. If, however, the country had a public option, the insurers would suddenly have a market incentive to comply with these requirements without so much regulatory coercion and administrative costs.

In this respect, the public option actually reduces the need for government — and reduces the threat of agency capture and other public choice-ish problems (especially at the state level).

First of all, has there ever been any government program that didn’t have a slew of regulators accompanying it, much less one so massive as to cover the entire nation?

Secondly, if you go and read Jacob Hacker’s post, you will see that the whole point of the public plan (in his view) is to make all the private plans that may be left (i.e. those accepted to be offered within the insurance exchange run by the government) act just like the public plan. Yet the private plans will never be able to function the same way that the Public Option does, and so the chances are that such plans will go bankrupt trying.

In essence, there would be three types of plans: Public Option, Inside the Exchange, and Outside the Exchange. The Outside plans would be prohibited from signing up new insureds, so they will eventually die off. The Inside plans will be forced to compete against the Public Option for new customers as well as for keeping the ones it already has. Because the Public Option will be unchallengeable — that is, immune from lawsuit by competitors — and financed by the deepest pockets in the world, the Inside plans will be at a grave disadvantage. Not only will the Public Option be able to offer lower cost plans at the expense of taxpayers, it will also have the ability to hide administrative costs thus making itself appear much more efficient than the Inside plans. The Inside plans, therefore, will have to compete against a much better capitalized, immune from lawsuit, more efficient on paper Public Option without any of the Public Option’s benefits or access. There is simply no way for them to act like a better government plan than the real thing, and they will eventually collapse.

How does that make anything better, much less cheaper, if the Public Option drives all the competition out of the market, leaving taxpayers holding the bag for everyone’s health care?

It is this competition that Hacker thinks will force the Inside plans to behave pursuant to the laws and regulation granting them access to the exchange, and which Publius thinks will save money on regulatory costs, etc. Yet those laws are going to have to be policed, and the regulations will still have to be promulgated to carry out the Act. While the Inside plans may have a little extra incentive to behave in the way that the government wants (Hacker’s example is using across-the-board community rating so that everyone pays the same premium for insurance) by having to compete against the Public Option, they would still have to comply with Act if there were no Public Option. Moreover, what would make the regulators jobs even easier is that each of Inside plans would be more than happy to rat out a plan that doesn’t behave, thus possibly reducing competition and grabbing a larger slice of the exchange market for itself.

In short, there is simply no way that having a Public Option is going shrink the government or save any money in regulatory costs. To believe so, one has to ignore all history of government and disregard how market competition under a regulatory regime actually works.

Those are just of few of the questions I’ve had about why a Public Option is so gosh darn important. The fact of the matter is that, other than the hardcore progressives, no one will say the real reason that they want the Public Option: so that all profit incentive is wrung out of the delivery of health care. It’s a stupid reason to want government run health care, but I think it’s pretty clear that’s the real reason. All these other excuses are lame attempts to hide the ball. Which is probably why they don’t make any sense.