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Free Markets, Free People

Downsizing Government

Our friends at the Cato Institute, the only think tank in DC dedicate to personal and economic liberty, have launched a new site,, committed to cutting waste from the federal budget.

From the press release:

The research on the site also exposes that many public outlays—though vigorously defended by the politicians who created them and the constituencies they purport to help—are remarkably ineffective at achieving their core aims.

“Some people have lofty visions about how government spending can help society,” said Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute and the project leader for “But the essays on this website put aside such bedtime stories about how government programs are supposed to work, and instead focus on how they actually work in the real world.” is an ongoing project that launches today with detailed information on five cabinet-level agencies: Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development. Subsequent departments will be added as they are completed in the coming months.

The site offers detailed examples of inefficiency, ineffectiveness, redundancy and corruption inside federal government agencies. It provides charts showing federal spending by department, federal aid to states and the number of subsidy programs.

You can follow Downsizing Government on Twitter @DownsizeTheFeds and you can become a fan on Facebook.

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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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An Interesting Point And An Interesting Question

Marty Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, has some interesting things to say about the Obama Olympic trip. He too seems to have come to the conclusion many of us have about our new Commander in Chief:

What I suspect is that the president is probably a clinical narcissist. This is not necessarily a bad condition if one maintains for oneself what the psychiatrists call an “optimal margin of illusion,” that is, the margin of hope that allows you to work. But what if his narcissism blinds him to the issues and problems in the world and the inveterate foes of the nation that are not susceptible to his charms?

Chicago will survive its disappointments and Obama will, as well. It is the other stage sets on which the president struts–like he strutted in Cairo and at the United Nations–that concern me.

To the point:

If Obama could not get Chicago over the finish line in Copenhagen, which was a test only of his charms, how will he persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons capacity or the Arabs, to whom he has tilted (we are told) only tactically, to sit down without their 60 year-old map as guide to what they demand from Israel.

Good question. To this point, “persuasion” seems to be the sum of our foreign policy strategy. What’s our alternate strategy if that doesn’t work? Or is our “clinical narcissist” beyond the “optimal margin of illusion” besides seeming to be in way over his head?


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Krugman – Another “History Began January 20th, 2009” Moment

Of course, it is a rather simple and transparent ploy to establish a basis for his broad brush defamation of the GOP (not that the GOP isn’t capable of doing that all by itself).  He begins by calling the failure of the US and Barack Obama to secure the Olympic bid “a teachable moment”.


Of course, for 8 years I don’t recall Krugman et. al, ever once finding similar teachable moments in the invective or demonstrations aimed at the Bush administration. Anyway, he wanders on with:

“Cheers erupted” at the headquarters of the conservative Weekly Standard, according to a blog post by a member of the magazine’s staff, with the headline “Obama loses! Obama loses!” Rush Limbaugh declared himself “gleeful.” “World Rejects Obama,” gloated the Drudge Report. And so on.

So what did we learn from this moment? For one thing, we learned that the modern conservative movement, which dominates the modern Republican Party, has the emotional maturity of a bratty 13-year-old.

When, exactly, did the “Weekly Standard”, Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report come to comprise “the modern Republican Party”?

Conflation is a favorite device of those who are really reaching to make a point and Krugman is reaching here. I’m not suggesting that the three cites he gives don’t indeed act with the “emotional maturity of a bratty 13-year-old” at times, I’m simply wondering how Krugman managed to make the leap from those three to “the modern Republican Party”?

Of course he did it to try to suggest they are representative of the GOP today and, in fact, this is the way the GOP has always been – unlike Democrats. And for those gullible enough to swallow his premise whole, he then throws his rewrite of history out there in an attempt to make his point that unlike Republicans, Democrats are and always have been the adults:

In 2005, when Democrats campaigned against Social Security privatization, their arguments were consistent with their underlying ideology: they argued that replacing guaranteed benefits with private accounts would expose retirees to too much risk.

In actuality, Democrats acted with “the emotional maturity of bratty 13-year-olds” by Krugman’s own standard:

* NW Progressive Institute, March 2005: “a boisterous crowd which frequently interrupted the discussion with shouts and hard nosed questions. … Democrats in the audience who were interrupting the panel…. the crowd erupted in anger… Democrats in the audience started shouting him down again.”

* Savannah Morning News, March 2005: “By now, Jack Kingston is used to shouted questions, interruptions and boos. Republican congressmen expect such responses these days when they meet with constituents about President Bush’s proposal to overhaul Social Security.”

* USA Today, March 2005: “Shaken by raucous protests at open “town hall”-style meetings last month … Santorum was among dozens of members of Congress who ran gantlets of demonstrators and shouted over hecklers at Social Security events last month. Many who showed up to protest were alerted by e-mails and bused in by anti-Bush organizations such as and USAction, a liberal advocacy group. They came with prepared questions and instructions on how to confront lawmakers.”

Using Krugman’s logic above, the fact that MoveOn and USAction plus others shouted, heckled, disrupted and booed at these events (the “Weekly Standard”, Rush Limbaugh and Drudge Report equivalents on the left), his “bratty 13-year-old” characterization should easily extend to the Democratic party as well, correct?

Krugman then asks:

How did one of our great political parties become so ruthless, so willing to embrace scorched-earth tactics even if so doing undermines the ability of any future administration to govern?

Why not ask the Democrats of the last 8 years? Ask them how calling the president a “liar”, a “loser”, “incompetent” and many other things did anything but “undermine the ability of any future administration to govern”?

Another “history began January 20th, 2009” moment for the left.


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“Furious”? Really?

This article by the UK’s Telegraph is typical of the poor journalism we’re subjected too anymore. The headline blares:

Barack Obama furious at General Stanley McChrystal speech on Afghanistan

The subhead claims that Obama and McChyristal’s relationship has been put under “severe strain” since a speech in the UK.

But when you get into the body of the article, here’s what you find (HT: Mudville Gazzette):

According to sources close to the administration, Gen McChrystal shocked and angered presidential advisers with the bluntness of a speech given in London last week.


An adviser to the administration said: “People aren’t sure whether McChrystal is being naïve or an upstart. To my mind he doesn’t seem ready for this Washington hard-ball and is just speaking his mind too plainly.”


The remarks have been seen by some in the Obama administration as a barbed reference to the slow pace of debate within the White House.


A military expert said: “They still have working relationship but all in all it’s not great for now.”


Some commentators regarded the general’s London comments as verging on insubordination.

Not once is Obama identified by name as being “furious” with McChrystal. As for the “insubordination” charge, I have no idea where they get the idea that dismissing a strategy as one he wouldn’t favor is insubordination. Especially since no one in his chain of command (no, the VP isn’t in the chain of command) has recommended it. However this is one of two placees in the article where a name is named:

Bruce Ackerman, an expert on constitutional law at Yale University, said in the Washington Post: “As commanding general, McChrystal has no business making such public pronouncements.”

He added that it was highly unusual for a senior military officer to “pressure the president in public to adopt his strategy”.

What Ackerman contends isn’t true – generals often remark on strategy and what they think will and won’t work in their particular situation. That’s what they’re paid to do – assess strategies and pick the right one. The fact that he finds a particular strategy wanting doesn’t mean he’s attempting to apply pressure in public. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and in this case, as I understand it, he didn’t bring the subject up, he was answering a question.

But to the larger point – not one of these people seems to say anything that supports the headline or the contention in the sub-head. The Telegraph even goes to the extent of trying to make the 25 minute meeting with the president into something that was “awkward”, without anything to support that contention:

The next day he was summoned to an awkward 25-minute face-to-face meeting on board Air Force One on the tarmac in Copenhagen, where the president had arrived to tout Chicago’s unsuccessful Olympic bid.

Gen James Jones, the national security adviser, yesterday did little to allay the impression the meeting had been awkward.

Asked if the president had told the general to tone down his remarks, he told CBS: “I wasn’t there so I can’t answer that question. But it was an opportunity for them to get to know each other a little bit better. I am sure they exchanged direct views.”

I’m sure they did. As stated though, Jones wasn’t there so while it is technically true he didn’t “allay the impression” of an awkward meeting, he didn’t confirm it either. He said he didn’t know. He said he couldn’t “answer that question”.

This is a perfect example of a “journalistic” attempt to spread dissension, or at least claim it exits, where it isn’t clear it exists at all. Afghanistan is tough enough nut without manufactured rifts and dissent being thrown into the mix.

Of course the left has jumped all over this supposed bit of “insubordination” and the “rift” as a reason to get rid of McChrystal – something which would be useful to those who would prefer we not do what is necessary to be successful in the ‘necessary war’.


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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.


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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BlogTalk Radio – 8pm (EST) Tonight

Call in number: (718) 664-9614

Yes, friends, it is a call-in show, so do call in.

Subject(s): The economy, stupid! New unemployment figures. The Olympic bid and whether that is as big a deal as some are trying to make it. Polanski, Iran and anything else we can jam into the podcast. Join us.

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The Post-American Presidency?

Elliot Abrams, with a sense of deja vu, reviews Carter era foreign policy as one of weakness and accommodation leading to disaster. He’s seeing some eerie similarities in the foreign policy the Obama administration seems to be fashioning.

One begins to wonder how far we will drift into a new period of generalized disaster. In Honduras, we back the Hugo Chávez acolyte and say we won’t respect November’s free elections. In Israel, we latch on to the bizarre theory that settlement growth is the key obstacle to Middle East peace and try to bludgeon a newly elected prime minister into a freeze that is politically impossible–and also useless in actually achieving a peace settlement. In Eastern Europe, we discard a missile defense agreement with Poland and the Czechs and leave them convinced we do not mean to fight off Russian hegemony in the former Soviet sphere.

Manouchehr Mottaki, foreign minister of Iran, visited Washington, as noted, after such visits had been forbidden for a decade. High-ranking American officials have made six visits to Syria, even while the government of Iraq and our commanding general there complain of Syrian support for murderous jihadists. The highest ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba in decades recently toured Castro’s tropical paradise. The president won’t see the Dalai Lama, however, for fear of offending the Chinese.

This, of course, isn’t a particular surprise to those who listened to what Barack Obama said during the campaign. You really can’t hold something against a person who does what he says he’s going to do. The question is why weren’t enough listening to decide the possibility of disaster in the foreign policy arena was real enough to disqualify him from holding the highest office in the land? A question for a different post, I suppose. However, the most interesting part of the Abrams piece (Abrams, btw, used to work for Democrat Henry “Scoop” Jackson – sort of the Joe Liberman of his era when it came to foreign policy) was his take on the Obama UN speech:

See a pattern here? The president’s U.N. General Assembly speech tied all this together, perhaps unintentionally: Talk of allies and enemies and national interests was absent. Getting something for concessions we make is contrary to the new spirit of engagement. The president, transcending all such anachronisms, poses as the representative of .  .  . the world. So why would his country treat friends better than foes, and why would we bargain for reciprocal concessions? So old fashioned, so Cold War.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton called Barack Obama the “post-American” president. Abrams analysis seems to agree with that characterization. So the question, then, isn’t “why would his country treat friends better than foes”, but “why would he put American interests before those of the world at large as he hopes to shape it?” If Bolton and Abrams are correct, he wouldn’t.   And his speech confirms that:

Instead, he told us, “I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. These expectations are not about me. Rather, they are rooted–I believe–in a discontent with a status quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined by our differences.” (Did speechwriters substitute “discontent” for Carter’s famous “malaise”?) So we will turn away from such thinking: “It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009–more than at any point in human history–the interests of nations and peoples are shared.” Acting in the narrow interests of the United States and its friends and allies is passé: “Because the time has come for the world to move in a new direction. We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect, and our work must begin now.” This must sound to Ahmadinejad–or Putin or Assad or Chávez or Castro–rather the way Carter’s call to end our “inordinate fear of communism” sounded to Brezhnev.

Of course the key to the Obama vision is much like the key to world-wide nuclear disarmament. Unless all the players agree with the vision, it’s so much hot air. And nothing that is happening in the world today gives any indication that the players named by Abrams have any inclination at all to play Obama’s game.

In fact when I think of how Chávez and the rest must be reacting to this privately, Flounder from “Animal House” comes to my mind unbidden yelling, “Oh boy, is this gonna be great”. Naivete and narcissism (Count the unprecedented number of times he refers to himself in the UN speech. He did it 23 times in 13 paragraphs in his Olympic speech) in one package and the predators licking their chops and circling the prey, each trying to decide what piece they can tear off and get away with.

Unfortunately my guess is if we pursue this post-American foreign policy, as it appears we will, we won’t have long to wait to see the disasters begin to pile up as the world’s despots exploit the situations with which they’re naively presented.


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Cuba: “Vaccine? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Vaccine!”

Because Cuba has soldiers, a single-payer system and authoritarian rule.

Wasn’t this the health care system Michael Moore touted as so wonderful in “Sicko”?

Cuba is ready to use just about everything at its disposal, from its well-oiled civil defense system to the soldiers of a totalitarian government, to keep swine flu cases to a minimum.

Everything but a vaccine.

As the U.S. prepares an extensive health survey for side affects from its extensive inoculation plans, Cuba’s No. 2 health official says relying on a shot to contain a world pandemic is risky as best — and demoralizing at worst.

“Nobody knows if it would work,” said Dr. Luis Estruch. “How safe would it be?”

Yeah, how safe? Obviously if Cuba didn’t come up with it, well then it must be suspect. And beside they have a plan:

Swine flu plans for the new season involve all ministries, including the armed forces. If necessary, the government will isolate neighborhoods or entire villages, shut down highways and dispatch medical teams to communities affected by swine flu, Estruch said.

Soldiers can go door to door to enforce mandatory quarantines and evacuations — and authorities think nothing of severing areas from all contact with the outside world.

“In a matter of hours, we can determine what resources to send,” Estruch said. “We’ve thought it out.  . . .  We’ve considered what to do if we have to paralyze a town, if we have to stop public transit, if we have to close the schools.”

Hey, when you have an army, use it. Don’t let them sit around getting fat, dumb and lazy. Send them from door to door to become infected and spread the virus when the go back home or to the barracks to enforce quarantine and evacuations (to where, pray tell?).  Beats the heck out of spending money on vaccines doesn’t it?

Yup, when the government runs health care, you’re just covered up with options, aren’t you?


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