Free Markets, Free People

Barack Obama

The Transparent Administration – Part II

I noted the other day that the Obama administration was hiding its revised budget numbers from the public until August. Obviously, in light of the push to pass health care legislation, they don’t want anymore bad news out there than the CBO has already delivered. And, of course, there’s no doubt that had the news been good, they’d have fallen all over themselves to publish it.

That brings us to our “transparency” moment today. This will probably ring a familiar bell:

Obama administration officials have rejected a watchdog group’s request for a list of healthcare industry executives who’ve been meeting secretly in the White House with Obama staffers to discuss healthcare changes being drafted there and in Congress.

According to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is suspicious of the influence of health industry lobbyists and company officers, it received a letter from the Secret Service citing an Obama Justice Department directive and denying access to visitor logs under the “presidential communications privilege.”

Sound familiar?

Of course it does. But since Darth Cheney and the evil oil executives weren’t involved, my guess is it will hardly make a ripple among lefty critics of the Bush administration.

Promises, promises, this guy was all about promises, remember?

The Problem

Lobbyists Write National Policies: For example, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force of oil and gas lobbyists met secretly to develop national energy policy.

Secrecy Dominates Government Actions: The Bush administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the “state secrets” privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court.

But you know, the new guy would never do that. He promised!

And you remember the criticism from Democrats and the left about Bush and his signing statements?  Well, guess what?

Congressional Democrats warned President Barack Obama on Tuesday that he sounded too much like George W. Bush when he declared this summer that the White House can ignore legislation he thinks oversteps the Constitution.

In a letter to the president, four senior House members said they were “surprised” and “chagrined” by Obama’s statement in June accompanying a war spending bill that he would ignore restrictions placed on aid provided to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The rebuff was reminiscent of Bush, who issued a record number of “signing statements” while in office. The statements put Congress on notice that the administration didn’t feel compelled to comply with provisions of legislation that it felt challenged the president’s authority as commander in chief.

Democrats, including Obama, sharply criticized Bush for his reliance on the statements. Obama said he would use them sparingly and only if authorized by the attorney general.

Hope and change.


Obama: Selling a Pig in a Poke

Does it bother you that a president who is out pushing like hell to pass a bill that will fundamentally change the way we receive health care, and apparently most now believe that change will be negative, apparently isn’t familiar with what he’s pushing?

With the public’s trust in his handling of health care tanking (50%-44% of Americans disapprove), the White House has launched a new phase of its strategy designed to pass Obamacare: all Obama, all the time. As part of that effort, Obama hosted a conference call with leftist bloggers urging them to pressure Congress to pass his health plan as soon as possible.

During the call, a blogger from Maine said he kept running into an Investors Business Daily article that claimed Section 102 of the House health legislation would outlaw private insurance. He asked: “Is this true? Will people be able to keep their insurance and will insurers be able to write new policies even though H.R. 3200 is passed?” President Obama replied: “You know, I have to say that I am not familiar with the provision you are talking about.”

It’s only a question that’s been in the news for a week after it was raised in an Investors Business Daily editorial. That’s the entire reason the blogger brought it up. Salesmanship 101 – know your product. He’s been so busy flapping his jaws about how we have to pass this now that he hasn’t even taken the time to understand what “this” is.

IBD said the provision would, in effect, outlaw private insurance.

The Heritage Foundation did a little digging into this provision to figure out the real impact it will have. Here’s what they have to say:

[T]he House bill does not outright outlaw private individual health insurance, but it does effectively regulate it out of existence. The House bill does allow private insurance to be sold, but only “Exchange-participating health benefits plans.” In order to qualify as an “Exchange-participating health benefits plan,” all health insurance plans must conform to a slew of new regulations, including community rating and guaranteed issue. These will all send the cost of private individual health insurance skyrocketing. Furthermore, all these new regulations would not apply just to individual insurance plans, but to all insurance plans. So the House bill will also drive up the cost of your existing employer coverage as well. Until, of course, it becomes so expensive that your company makes the perfectly economical decision to dump you into the government plan.

President Obama may not care to study how many people will lose their current health insurance if his plan becomes law, but like most Americans, we do. That is why we partnered with the Lewin Group to study how many Americans would be forced into the government “option” under the House health plan. Here is what we found:

* Approximately 103 million people would be covered under the new public plan and, as a consequence, about 83.4 million people would lose their private insurance. This would represent a 48.4 percent reduction in the number of people with private coverage.

* About 88.1 million workers would see their current private, employer-sponsored health plan go away and would be shifted to the public plan.

* Yearly premiums for the typical American with private coverage could go up by as much as $460 per privately-insured person, as a result of increased cost-shifting stemming from a public plan modeled on Medicare.

So it ends up not killing the private insurance business outright with a bullet through the brain, but instead, by slow strangulation. Same effect, but it will just take much longer. Legislate rules and requirements which will up the cost of private insurance to the point that the economic incentive is to dump it in favor of the cheaper public option.

Like your plan? Like your doctor?

Too bad.

But the man who promised you could keep both couldn’t be bothered to become “familiar” with this particular “provision”.


Daddy Says, “Don’t Talk Like That”

Ever have your mom or dad say “I don’t like that tone, young man?” Or words to that effect? Well our national daddy is monitoring the speech of bankers and apparently he’s just not happy with their tone:

President Obama says he sees a lack of humility among leaders of the financial community.

While noting that some of the nation’s most powerful banks had repaid federal bailout money, Mr. Obama said: “What you haven’t seen (in the financial sector) is a change in culture, a certain humility where they kind of step back and say gosh, you know, we really messed things up.”

Speaking of lack of humility, I’m wondering is when he’ll step back, look at that pork laden “stimulus” bill which was nothing more than a political payoff and has done absolutely nothing to stimulate anything and say “gosh, you know, I really messed things up”.

Instead we get the spin cycle on steroids while he has the temerity to lecture others on “messing up”.


Obama Gives The Bill Cosby Speech. NAACP Hears Something Else.

And props to the Prez for doing so.  However, and you knew there’d be one or I wouldn’t be writing about it, it is interesting to note what the NAACP, to whom he addressed the speech, heard:

The organization’s president, Benjamin T. Jealous, said afterward that the address “was the most forthright speech on the racial disparities still plaguing our nation” Mr. Obama has given since moving into the White House.

A little confirmation bias maybe. This is what they wanted to hear (that’s what keeps them in business) and so that’s what they heard.

So lets see what he said and how they might have gotten that impression.

President Obama delivered a fiery sermon to black America on Thursday night, warning black parents that they must accept their own responsibilities by “putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour,” and telling black children that growing up poor is no reason to get bad grades.

“No one has written your destiny for you,” he said, directing his remarks to “all the other Barack Obamas out there” who might one day grow up to be president. “Your destiny is in your hands, and don’t you forget that. That’s what we have to teach all of our children! No excuses! No excuses!”

Sounds like the Bill Cosby speech to me – “no excuses!” means “no excuses!”, right?

Well sorta. Apparently after throwing that out there, he remembered to whom he was speaking and provided them the their portion of red meat:

Even as he urged blacks to take responsibility for themselves, he spoke of the societal ills — high unemployment, the housing and energy crisis — that have created the conditions for black joblessness. And he said the legacy of the Jim Crow era is still felt, albeit in different ways today.

“Make no mistake, no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America,” Mr. Obama said, by African-American women who are paid less for the same work as white men, by Latinos “made to feel unwelcome,” by Muslim Americans “viewed with suspicion” and by “our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.”

I’m sure the press will fact check all of this (who, btw is viewing “Muslim Americans” with suspicion and taunting and attacking “our gay brothers and sisters”? Is it those “white men” who’re being paid more than African-American women?), but there it is, the very part that Benjamin Jealous (I love that last name) decided to remember.

The put-away-the-X-Box-go-to-bed-and-study stuff – well, as I said, Bill Cosby has been giving that speech for years. Given the fact that Obama feels compelled to give it now should tell you why the NAACP chooses to ignore the “no excuses” portion in favor of the “racial disparities” portion.

Addendum: And, of course, I’ll be the racist for pointing this out – just hide and watch.


Rep. Waxman: Against the President = Traitor

Funny how the same people who threw hissy fits when challenged on actually rooting for the War in Iraq to fail, now find it perfectly acceptable to question anyone’s patriotism who doesn’t step in line with a hearty “Jawohl!” Well, more sad than funny really:

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who has had an eventful couple of weeks to say the least, believes House Republican opposition to climate change legislation and the stimulus indicates they’re cheering against the good ol’ US of A.

“It appears that the Republican Party leadership in the Congress has made a decision that they want to deny President Obama success, which means, in my mind, they are rooting against the country, as well,” the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman told WAMU radio host Diane Rehm on Tuesday morning, promoting his new book, “The Waxman Report.”

Just to be clear, opposition to the President’s agenda means that you also oppose America, according to Waxman. Doesn’t that mean that Waxman and most of the rest of his Democratic allies, including our current President, were “against America” for not supporting Bush’s agenda?

Ah well. That was a different time, I guess. Things are so completely different now that questioning one’s patriotism is absolutely justified. At least that’s what Steve Benen seems to think:

This sounds like intemperate rhetoric, but under the circumstances, it’s hardly over the top.

It’s not immediately clear what “circumstances” we’re under that render such accusations perfectly acceptable to Benen, but one can’t help but recall Obama’s famous call to bi-partisanship: “I won.”

Podcast for 21 Jun 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Letterman/Palin controversy, and the situation in Iran.

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.

How many times do we have to tell you…

… that was then, this is now!

President Obama, to The New York Times, March 6, 2009, on how he’s not a socialist:

[I]t wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement… without a source of funding.

No sir. That wouldn’t be “entirely consistent with free-market principles.”

So I’m sure Pres. Obama will come up with something better than (a.) letting the Bush tax cuts expire and (b.) ending the Iraq War as a means of funding his massive new entitlement.  Because those things won’t even handle the existing structural deficit, much less a new program.

Obama and the Economy: Incompetence, Disinterest, or Something Else?

Over the past several weeks we’ve been pondering Pres. Obama’s handling of the economic crisis. For the most part we’ve all agreed that Obama’s lack of leadership (whether from a dearth of experience or ability) is only serving to exacerbate the situation. But we also have somewhat divergent views as to whether there is a method to Obama’s madness.

Bruce is pretty convinced that the problem is a lack of executive experience, and the fact that Obama is learning on the job, while in the one government position that simply won’t allow for that sort of training. Being devoid of leadership skills or abilities, and being overly confident in his abilities to talk his way out of trouble, is driving Obama into mistake after mistake. Call this the Boy-King scenario.

Dale has suggested that Obama is simply disinterested in things like foreign and economic policy, thus he’s put little effort into guiding those efforts, and instead has handed these messy areas off to subordinates. That those on whom he is depending are not terribly proficient is not helping matters (e.g. Hillary and the “reset” button). But at bottom, the real problem with Obama is that his only real concern is with implementing his social agenda. This is bascially the Louis XVI problem (the King who famously recorded “Rien” as the sole entry to his July 14, 1789 diary, referring to his hunting exploits that day).

Last night on the podcast, I ventured that, in addition to a lack of experience and a disinterest in anything other than social policy, Obama is perfectly happy to let the economy flounder because (he thinks) it will drive more people into the arms of government dependency, and allow him to push forward with the radical transformation he envisions for this country. What he wants most, in my opinion, is to greatly expand the desire and need for government, to instill “democratic” controls into as many areas of life as possible (and especially in economic affairs), and to revise what he sees as a top-down power structure into a bottom-up one. Regardless of whether Obama is right or wrong in any of his thinking, it seems to me that his apparent lack of concern with respect to the economic crisis (only one of seventeen post filled in Treasury, despite the frightening prospects of a new depression?) has more to do with the fact that he does not envision the crisis interfering with his social agenda, and perhaps sees it as an enabler of that agenda. Call this the Commodus explanation.

I’m loathe to suggest that Obama is some sort of Manchurian Candidate, aiming to secretly impose socialism on the US, primarily because we’ve been teetering on that edge for several decades now, and he’s not been shy about wanting to give the final nudge. At the same time, I believe that Obama truly wants what’s best for this country. It’s just that what he views as “best” is something similar to European social-democracy, to which I am absolutely opposed.

So, I’m curious. How do you all see it? Is Obama the Boy-King, Louis XVI, or Commodus? Some combination of the three? Something different altogether?

Podcast for 22 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about the AIG bonus Fiasco, limiting executive pay,  and the public’s tolerance for President Obama.

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.

Intellectually Incurious

Yesterday on the podcast, we talked about Pres. Obama’s attitude towards certain aspects of his presidential responsibilities.  Apropos of that discussion, he is receiving some criticism for his indifference to the markets.

Some Wall Street economists think President Obama could have voiced some sympathy about the plight of frightened shareholders when he compared the stock market’s plunge to an election tracking poll that “bobs up and down, day to day.”

They worry that the president is underestimating the important role the stock market plays in the economy’s performance, and that the markets’ precipitous slide is actually a vote of no confidence in the administration’s handling of the economy. There’s also a suspicion that Mr. Obama and his advisers think only wealthy people own stocks.

“There is some of that feeling that rich people are the ones who have stocks. He does have somewhat of that feeling. But you’ve got to remember that most people who own stocks aren’t rich,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s, the influential Wall Street financial research and forecasting firm…

…Mr. Wyss and some of his colleagues on Wall Street – where investors have lost trillions of dollars in savings and the market is not so much bobbing as dropping straight down – think Mr. Obama could have shown more concern for the markets, which represent the economy and signal its future direction.

During Mr. Bush’s tenure, there was constant criticism that he was “intellectually incurious”, e.g., he showed a lack of interest in the portions of his job he wasn’t required to be engaged in on a regular basis.  I wouldn’t dispute those criticisms, of course, but it seems to be a trait that Pres. Obama shares with his predecessor.

Pres. Obama appears to be fascinated by aspects of politics such as “green jobs” and health care that aren’t actually part of the president’s core portfolio, while being uninterested in the foreign and military policies that are essential parts of the president’s purview.At the moment, we’re in the midst of an economic crisis–and I use the word intentionally–that stems from a credit bubble collapse.  The stock market is a predictor of future earnings and profitability for private sector firms.  As such, it tells you things about the expectations investors (which at this point includes more than half of the population) have about the future income that their investments will produce.  What the collapse in the stock market tells us is that investors are voting with their money that future earnings will be substantially lower, meaning that firms all across the country will be less profitable.

What happens on a day-to-day basis, of course, may be subject to a variety of market whims and fancies, but long-term trends do indicate the direction of the economy.  The market is a leading indicator.  So when there are several straight weeks of decline in stock prices, the market is telling us something.

This seems not to be a reality that the president comprehends.

Instead, the president’s main focus seems to be on health care, green jobs, more policemen and prosecutors, and the like.  All of which may be wonderful things, and none of which will happen if the economy implodes. To the extent the current crisis forces him to concentrate on economic policy, he appears to resent it.

Similarly, the president has made missteps in foreign policy this week.  The Obama Administration apparently attempted to sell our Eastern European allies down the river by offering to shut them out of missile defense if the Russians cooperate on nuclear non-proliferation in Iran–until they got caught out on it.  That was a  major misstep.It was quickly followed by two minor missteps.

First was Sec. Clinton presenting the Russian foreign minister with a button which was supposed to say, in Russian, “Reset”, to symbolize the new engagement with the world the Obama Administration was supposed to bring about.  What the button actually said was “overcharge” in Russian.  On top of this, it’s generally a bad idea, symbolically, to present the Russians with a button to push of any sort, considering that the major foreign policy goal of the last half of the 20th century was to prevent the Russians from pushing “the button”.

Second was the treatment of Gordon Brown, the prime minister of the UK, during his visit.  Rather than pulling out all the stops to showcase the visit of the head of government of what, by nearly any measure, is the United States’ most important ally, Mr. Obama treated it as if the Deputy Agriculture Minister of Azerbaijan had showed up on the White House’s doorstep.  In what may be a first in my lifetime, the various press organs in Britain, from the commies at The Spectator Observer, to the staid tories of The Times of London all agreed that Pres. Obama’s treatment of Mr. Brown amounted to an egregious snub of the United Kingdom.

In addition to the above, one has to note the retention of Sec. gates at the DoD, along with the retention of the great majority of the Bush Administration’s positions on executive privilege and the prosecution of the Global War on Terror.

What all of these things add up to is a picture of a president who is essentially uninterested in military policy, or foreign policy, or, really, economic policy, and who in effect simply ignores them to the extent he is able, and delegates their operation to his subordinates.  What he cares about is government, and its ability to intervene in the marketplace, and to provide goods and services.  It is in those areas where his interest and attention actually lie, and the remainder of the executive branch can, as far as he’s concerned, operate on auto-pilot.

Take all of the above together, and it appears to present an emerging picture of a man who is truly intellectually incurious, and who wishes to ignore, to the extent possible, those aspects of the president’s job that he doesn’t find personally appealing.

Sadly, he appears to be fascinated by aspects of politics such as “green jobs” and health care that aren’t actually part of the president’s core portfolio, while being uninterested in the foreign and military policies that are essential parts of the president’s purview.