Free Markets, Free People

Michael Wade

Crushing of ObamaCare Dissent

A couple of weeks ago we learned that the Obama administration was “warning” insurance companies about how they addressed concerns with the plans being pushed in Congress, and in one case the Health and Human Services Department, at the behest of Sen. Max Baucus, started an investigation of Humana, Inc. regarding a mailer it sent out to its customers:

The Obama administration warned insurance companies Monday they face possible legal action for allegedly trying to scare seniors with misleading information about the potential for lost benefits under health care legislation in Congress.

“As we continue our research into this issue, we are instructing you to immediately discontinue all such mailings to beneficiaries and to remove any related materials directed to Medicare enrollees from your Web sites,” said a notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

Teresa DeCaro, an agency official, sent the notice to all companies that sell private Medicare coverage and stand-alone drug plans to seniors. The warning came as President Barack Obama’s health care legislation is moving toward key tests in a Senate committee over the next several days, and with public polls showing widespread skepticism among seniors.

In one case, the Health and Human Services Department, which oversees CMS, launched an investigation of Humana after getting a complaint from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a senior lawmaker usually viewed as a reliable ally of the insurance industry.

“It is wholly unacceptable for insurance companies to mislead seniors regarding any subject — particularly on a subject as important to them, and to the nation, as health care reform,” Baucus said Monday, disclosing the HHS investigation.

It seems that at least one state is following in the federal government’s footsteps:

The Connecticut attorney general is seeking information about what the state’s five largest health insurers may have sent policyholders over legislation that would reform the Medicare program for the elderly.

[…]

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wants information from Aetna Inc (AET.N), UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N), Health Net (HNT.N), WellPoint Inc’s (WLP.N) Anthem Health Plans unit and ConnectiCare Inc.

[…]

Health insurers have argued that cuts to Medicare Advantage would raise costs and reduce benefits for those who want the private plans.

Blumenthal and Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo said they made their requests after reports that Humana sent policyholders “deceptive” materials urging them to oppose changes to the Medicare Advantage program.

“Health insurers must stop using seniors as pawns — scaring them with misinformation in mailings — to oppose cost-saving healthcare reforms,” Blumenthal said in a news release.

Stephen Jewett, a spokesman for ConnectiCare, said health insurers are already required by federal law to have Medicare Advantage marketing materials approved by CMS.

“ConnectiCare believes this request is being spurred by ‘health reform politics’ and is not warranted,” Jewett said in a statement.

Humana, and apparently others, had committed the great offense of warning its Medicare Advantage clients that the current legislation proposed would negatively affect their coverage, which according to the CBO is entirely truthful. In fact, this has been known for quite some time, and Obama himself has said that cuts to Medicare would be part of of the way he intends to realize savings in his health care overhaul. Nevertheless, Obama and Baucus sicced the government on Humana anyway for what they allege were false and misleading claims.

The free speech and abuse of power implications were enough to draw fire from Republicans in Congress, one of whom, Rep. Dave Camp, took CMS to task:

I am writing to express my deep suspicion that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may be selectively and inappropriately using its regulatory powers to intimidate and silence those who under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution are expressing legitimate facts about the Medicare cuts proposed by President Obama and Congressional Democrats.

[…]

Given the importance of health care to America’s seniors, I am sure you will agree seniors currently enrolled in MA have a right to know about how pending policy changes could affect them. I am certainly aware that MA marketing regulations are supposed to be used to ensure that communications from plan sponsors or affiliated groups do not include inaccurate information that would inappropriately steer seniors to certain MA plans. I have read the letter from Humana to its members and it does neither.

Moreover, I am concerned that CMS has taken action for political purposes, which threatens the integrity of the agency and of our democracy. To my knowledge, Humana is the only such plan to be targeted for investigation for speaking out against the Administration and Congressional Democrat’s plan. However, today CMS issued a ban on all MA health plans from distributing similar information.

Camp also pointed out that the AARP, “which has the largest MA plan in Medicare at 1.7 million enrollees, has been a vocal advocate in favor of the President Obama and Democrats’ health care proposals.”

They have spent millions of dollars communicating to its members the group’s support of President Obama’s proposed changes to Medicare via bulletins, television ads, newsletters, and its website. According to USA Today, AARP sent 8 million direct letters about health care reform and Medicare policies under consideration in Washington to its members over Labor Day. Additionally AARP has a “Health Action Now!” website that asks seniors to contact Members of Congress using an AARP-drafted letter that seniors can send via e-mail. These communications seem to be largely similar to the communications sent by Humana, other than they are in support of President Obama’s position.

For example, AARP’s website states that it’s a “myth” that “health care reform will hurt Medicare”, saying that it’s a “fact” that “none of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.” This flies in the face of what the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has found as it relates to the MA cuts.

The reason behind the AARP’s advocacy may be good old-fashioned graft:

Again, how does AARP benefit from this? Why are they pushing this so hard to their members?

It benefits because along with the rest of the overhaul, Obama wants to institute changes to Medicare Advantage, the current public option for seniors.

Medicare Advantage is a catch-all program for low-income seniors which allows them to choose their drug insurance plan from a variety of companies. Basically, a senior pays into the program, picks an insurance company to go with, and the government subsidizes that company for the cost of the senior’s prescriptions. Everybody wins. (Note: This is different from the Medicare program, which is fully single payer, government run)

So if Obama cuts or eliminates Medicare Advantage, what will those seniors do? Well, they will either go directly to Medicare (the government single-payer option) or they will be forced to buy a supplementary package with a company like… AARP!

Currently, this supplementary drug option – called MediGap – accounts for 70% of AARP’s annual income. How much nicer would things be if they were the only game in town, huh?

Just to recap, the proposed ObamaCare plans will make cuts to the Medicare Advantage program, which will decidedly benefit MediGap policy sellers like the AARP. The AARP, in opposition to its members’ wishes, actively campaigns for ObamaCare, and in doing so spreads the myth that Medicare will not be changed by any of the proposed legislation. Meanwhile, insurance companies offering Medicare Advantage plans warn their clients that cuts are planned that will negatively affect their policies, a fact backed up by the CBO. The Obama administration, Max Baucus, the CMS, and no the Attorney General of Connecticut go after the insurance companies for allegedly spreading false and misleading information in an attempt to scare seniors away from supporting ObamaCare.

Recall also that the Obama administration, through the NEA, sought to enlist the artistic community’s support of its health care plans. This was a blatant attempt to create state-funded (or, at least, state-sanctioned) propaganda. Yet, insurance companies speaking the truth on behalf of themselves and their clients are besieged by the government? I repeat what I stated in the NEA post:

Now, you can call me a conspiracy theorist if it makes you feel important and wise, but how else other than “totalitarian” would you describe “free speech for me but not for thee” enforced at the end of a gun? Does that necessarily mean that we’re headed for gulags? No, but don’t let the failure to cross that line fool you. The Obama administration is putting on a full court press to pass its agenda, and apparently has no qualms about using every resource within its power, legal or otherwise, to accomplish that goal.

It should be clear by now that the only goal Obama truly wants to accomplish is universal health care, either straight away or in a time-release capsule. No other domestic policy takes up anywhere near as much of his time and effort, and his foreign policy is mostly an after thought. That’s fine. I believe he is damaging the country in pursuing this agenda, but it’s his presidency and his legacy, he can waste his political time as he sees fit. However, what is not acceptable in the least are the lengths to which he and his supporters are going to pass that agenda. That’s not just hurting the country from a policy perspective, it’s also seriously violating the constitution and further eroding any confidence the polity has in its government.

Again, was this the change people were hoping for?

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Podcast for 04 Oct 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Obama Enigma, the current state of politics, and Iran’s progress towards nuclear weapons.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

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.

IMF to UK: Universal Health Care Unsustainable

While Pres. Obama and Congress go merrily about their way cramming some sort of government funded and controlled health care down the throats of an American public who doesn’t want it, the IMF is sending drastic warnings to Britain about its system:

Gordon Brown was warned last night to raise the retirement age above 65 and introduce NHS charges to tackle the soaring state deficit.

In a devastating intervention, the International Monetary Fund called for radical changes to the pension system and spending cuts that go far beyond the plans outlined by the Prime Minister this week.

The global watchdog said root and branch changes to public sector spending would be necessary to ‘help keep a lid on the debt’ and restore financial stability.

The IMF’s broadside is highly unusual ahead of an election and reflects grave concern at the debt mountain built up by the Brown government.

[…]

Oliver Blanchard, the IMF’s top economist, told a press conference at a joint annual meeting with the World Bank that the next British government will ‘have to take measures that improve the medium-term debt outlook’.

He added: ‘That means reforms of the retirement system, that means reform of the healthcare system.’

[…]

Mr Blanchard said reform was vital, adding that it would be ‘a joke’ if the Government settled instead for new fiscal rules that might be torn up at times of crisis.

The IMF estimated that by next year Britain’s debt will represent 81.7 per cent of output.

Even with planned cuts and tax increases, it predicted a figure of 98.3 per cent by 2014.

Supporters of ObamaCare will try to differentiate the crumbling NHS system, and the IMF’s prescription for it, by pointing out that the bills proposed here would require premium payments for health insurance. But that ignores the (highly front-loaded) $900 Billion price tag vaunted by the president himself which, when added to the costs of the already bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid programs, will balloon far beyond anything being promised. Combined with the also bankrupt Social Security system that is about to see a lot more beneficiaries come of age, the “Stimulus”, bailout funds, and whatever other pet projects the government finds to waste our tax dollars on, it’s difficult to see how we can avoid a similar diagnosis to that of the UK.

[HT: WTH]

Podcast for 29 Sep 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Obama Enigma, the current state of politics, and Iran’s progress towards nuclear weapons.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

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.

NEA Fallout: White House Responds

Jake Tapper reports the White House response to the Big Hollywood scoop:

An August 10, 2009 National Endowment for the Arts conference call in which artists were asked to help support President Obama’s agenda — a call that at least one good government group called “inappropriate” — has prompted the White House to issue new guidelines to prevent such a call from ever happening again.

“The point of the call was to encourage voluntary participation in a national service initiative by the arts community,” White House spokesman Bill Burton told ABC News. “To the extent there was any misunderstanding about what the NEA may do to support the national service initiative, we will correct it. We regret any comments on the call that may have been misunderstood or troubled other participants. We are fully committed to the NEA’s historic mission, and we will take all steps necessary to ensure that there is no further cause for questions or concerns about that commitment.”

It’s not clear why new guidelines are necessary. Is the Obama administration trying to suggest that the old guidelines are to blame?

White House officials say they are enacting specific steps to make sure such a call never happens again.

Today White House officials are meeting with the chiefs of staff of the executive branch agencies to discuss rules and best practices in this area, a conversation during which they will be told that that while White House lawyers do not believe that the NEA call violated the law, “the appearance issues troubled some participants,” Burton said. “It is the policy of the administration that grant decisions should be on the merits and that government officials should avoid even creating the incorrect appearance that politics has anything to do with these decisions.”

Well that should be an easy task:

Step 1 — Don’t call potential grant recipients and “ask” them to push your political agenda.

Step 2 — See Step 1; yes, even if you think you can get away with it.

Step 3 — Really, we know that the media won’t care, but there’s always some crybaby concerned citizen who will blab, so just go back to Step 1.

Step 4 — My, you are persistent, aren’t you! Please see David Axelrod for reassignment. We think he’ll find you to be a real “Winner”.

Step 5 — You aren’t the person we thought we knew. Please find room under the bus.

In any case, now that the White House has acknowledged at least some cause for concern over the conference call, the MSM has sprung into action. Here’s a list of the articles fr-om your major news organs:

New York Times — N/A
Washington Post — N/A
Los Angeles Times — N/A
MSNBC — N/A
ABC News — N/A (although, the Tapper article above can be found if you root around the site long enough)
CBS News — N/A

That’s your intrepid Fourth Estate for you. Meanwhile, there are tons of questions left to be answered, such as why Buffy Wicks (with the White House Office of Public Engagement) was involved on the call, and what her supervisor, Valeria Jarrett, knew about it. Why was an employee of Winner & Associates on the call? And, again, what was wrong with the old guidelines that they need to be revised? Moreover, what about the $2 Million in grant money doled out by the NEA (about $1 million of which was from stimulus funds) finding its way back to Washington in the form of political donations and lobbying expenses?

Digging deeper i-nto the grants only reveals more disturbing questions. Among the recipients of the grants, in this case, $50,000 fr-om the stimulus package, is a group named Americans for the Arts. According to federal records published at OpenSecrets.org, Americans for the Arts has already dedicated $250,000 to lobbying expenses this year alone. The president of Americans for the Arts is an Obama donor and the affiliated political action committee gave $48,000 to congressional Democrats in the last election cycle. According to NEA records analyzed by The Washington Times, donors to the PAC received more than an additional $500,000 in stimulus funds.

Surely there is some story to be written there.

Most interesting of all is that questions regarding the legality of the NEA propaganda push have all but been swept under the rug. Tapper reported that “White House lawyers do not believe that the NEA call violated the law,” which apparently suffices for the rest of the press corp.

All I can say is that if Breitbart decides to go public with one of his media ventures, I would rate that stock as a serious “buy and hold”.

NEA = Ministry of Propaganda (Update)

As teased last night, Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood has a bunch of new articles up today regarding the NEA efforts to push Pres. Obama’s agenda through propaganda:

Should the National Endowment for the Arts encourage artists to create art on issues being vehemently debated nationally?

That is the question that I set out to discuss a little over three weeks ago when I wrote an article on Big Hollywood entitled The National Endowment for the Art of Persuasion?”

The question still requires debate but the facts do not.

The NEA and the White House did encourage a handpicked, pro-Obama arts group to address politically controversial issues under contentious national debate. That fact is irrefutable.

But some have claimed that the invite and passages, pulled from the conference call that inspired the article, were taken out of context. Context is what I intend to establish here.

In addition to the Patrick Courrielche article above, Breitbart has a series of others dissecting and analyzing the NEA and White House actions on the Big Government site. While other than complete transcripts and audio of the conference call, not a whole lot new is revealed in these reports. There is a good rundown of the facts versus White House claims, as well as a link to some prior investigation into the money angle. However, I think Patterico cogently sums up the importance of this (still developing) story:

It would be a mistake to dismiss this story as unimportant because there is no jaw-dropping angle like ACORN staffers’ apparent complicity in trafficking in under-age children for prostitution. Consider what is happening: the NEA is encouraging artists to create propaganda for a president’s policy initiatives. This is a corrosive precedent — and what’s more, it illustrates the overarching danger of the Obama administration: government, by increasingly taking over various aspects of American society, threatens to bend society to the will of a single man.

It would also be a mistake to dismiss the story as old just because the basic contours of the story were revealed in August. Since then, the NEA and the Obama administration have denied pursuing a legislative agenda in the call; today it is clear that they lied. What’s more, they tried to cover it up with the reassignment of Sergant. And the media played right along, for the most part acting as though that was the end of it.

From a politics standpoint, the potential illegality involved here is the paramount issue, and the use of federal funds for propaganda runs a close (and closely related) second. However, from where I sit it’s the all-out assault on the traditional media that’s so interesting. Breitbart has now twice invited to MSM to look behind the curtain to see what they’re protecting, and twice they’ve passed. He forced them to cover the ACORN story. Will he do it again with the NEA scandal? Keep in mind that Breitbart has darkly hinted that there is more to come:

Everything you needed to know about the unorthodox roll out of the now-notorious ACORN sting videos was hidden in plain sight in my Sept. 7 column, “Katie Couric, Look in the Mirror.” ACORN was not the only target of those videos; so were Katie, Brian, Charlie and every other mainstream media pooh-bah.

They were not going to report this blockbuster unless they were forced to. And they were. What’s more, it ain’t over yet. Not every hint I dropped in that piece about what was to come has played itself out yet.Stay tuned.

Does that mean that there is yet more to come on the NEA promoting propaganda in support of the president’s agenda? It’s hard to say. If it turns out that some laws were broken, however, expect Breitbart to rub the MSM’s noses in it with as much publicity as he can muster (which is likely a tremendous amount).

UPDATE: While the Obama administration is busy using the tax-payer funded NEA to push its agenda, it’s also using its police powers to harass those who speak out against its agenda (via HotAir,):

The government is investigating a major insurance company for allegedly trying to scare seniors with a mailer warning they could lose important benefits under health care legislation in Congress.

The Health and Human Services Department launched its investigation of Humana after getting a complaint from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a senior lawmaker usually viewed as a reliable ally of the insurance industry.

“It is wholly unacceptable for insurance companies to mislead seniors regarding any subject — particularly on a subject as important to them, and to the nation, as health care reform,” Baucus said Monday, disclosing the HHS investigation.

Humana Inc., headquartered in Louisville, Ky., is cooperating with the investigation and stopped the mailer earlier this month, company spokesman Tom Noland said Monday.

Now, you can call me a conspiracy theorist if it makes you feel important and wise, but how else other than “totalitarian” would you describe “free speech for me but not for thee” enforced at the end of a gun? Does that necessarily mean that we’re headed for gulags? No, but don’t let the failure to cross that line fool you. The Obama administration is putting on a full court press to pass its agenda, and apparently has no qualms about using every resource within its power, legal or otherwise, to accomplish that goal.

[This post is authored by Michael Wade. Because of technical difficulties, it has been posted under my account – McQ]

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Breitbart Bombshell Set to Explode? (Updated)

The hum and twitter around the blogosphere is that Andrew Breitbart has something serious cooking, and it’s coming out this week. After the pantsing his site, BigGovernment.com, gave the national media with the O’Keefe and Giles ACORN sting, Breitbart is apparently poised to embarrass them again with a scoop that promises to be juicy. Right now, the best speculation is that it will have to do with the NEA. Patterico peruses an article in which Breitbart seems to give strong hints:

Ace is right [in this post]: in Breitbart’s column, he said:

When the next big scandal hits – and it will, and it most certainly won’t come from traditional journalism – all eyes will be on “Pinch” Sulzberger to see if he does his job.

With hindsight, it’s obvious that Breitbart was foreshadowing the release of the ACORN tapes. He even specifically mentioned ACORN in his column, as one of two stories that showed how the media was covering for Obama.

So, let’s see. He identified ACORN as one of the two big stories, and then he dropped a bomb on ACORN. Now he’s hinting that there’s another bomb coming.

See what I’m getting at here?

If you’re trying to figure out what the next big shoe to drop might be, I suggest that you consider re-reading his column to see what he identified as the second story that demonstrates the media’s complicity with the Democrat party. Namely, the NEA:

Another story not making the evening news is that of artist Patrick Courrielche, who has shown that the National Endowment of the Arts is seeking to use government funds to promote Obama administration initiatives. On Sunday’s “This Week,” George Will pierced the mainstream media veil.

“Recently there was a conference call arranged by the National Endowment for the Arts, with a representative of the White House, for potential grantees or actual grantees of the federal government, getting subsidies – the theme of it was how the arts community could advance the president’s agenda. Now I don’t know how many laws that breaks, but I am sure there are some.”

What are you waiting for, Katie Couric?

If I were a betting man, I’d be betting big that the upcoming bombshell will relate to the NEA. You read it here first.

You may recall the NEA story (which both Bruce and I covered) regarding how the agency actively encouraged artists to promote the Obama administration’s agenda through their works.

In addition to Patterico’s reading of the tea leaves, two names have been floating around in connection with a Breitbart blockbuster, both of which are also connected to the NEA: Yosi Sargent, its communications director and the leader of the conference call described above, and Buffy Wicks, a former Obama field organizer now with the White House Office of Public Engagement who was also on the call. If the speculation is right, I’d have to guess that Breitbart has uncovered something incriminating (assuming that the NEA conference call breached some law or regulation).

Whatever it is, I agree with those who are saying that Breitbart’s primary target in all of this is the MSM. I think it was the media who were the real losers in the ACORN story, just as they were in the Van Jones debacle. Ever since last summer the media has unashamedly supported Obama in every way that it can, and covered up for him where possible. Embarrassing connections are buried, misstatements and outright lies are routinely ignored, and opposition is either painted in a most unflattering light or marginalized as fringe elements of little import. And that’s not to mention the constant caterwauling about racism at every turn. Breitbart easily outmaneuvered them in the past few weeks since, like the hare found out, you can’t sleep on the job and expect to stay out in front. As Ace said, “He warned the media. They ignored the warning.” I look forward to whatever comeuppance Mr. Breitbart has in store for them this week.

UPDATE: Yep. It’s the NEA all right:

So what did happen on that call? Was the NEA coordinating with the White House to push their agenda on a group of artists eager for and reliant upon the NEA for grants, or is the NEA telling the truth that this call “was not a means to promote any legislative agenda”?

Tomorrow at noon ET, explosive new information will answer that question and raise many others.

Make sure to go and RTWT.

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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